Draupadi is the most prominent female character in the Mahabharata. Her given name at birth is Krishnaa, but since she is the daughter of Drupada she is called Draupadi. She is also known as Panchali – or the ‘daughter of Panchala’.
Draupadi is often considered the primary reason for the destruction of the Kuru dynasty. She takes birth as a grown young woman in a sacrifice performed by Drupada, in which the king asks for a ‘weapon’ with which the Kurus can be defeated.
In this post, we will answer the question: How was Draupadi shared between the Pandavas?
The Pandavas’ arrangement for sharing Draupadi is a simple one: when one of the five brothers wishes to spend time alone with Draupadi, he is to approach her – only if she is alone. If he finds her with another brother, he is to retreat respectfully without disturbing their privacy.
Read on to discover how Draupadi was shared between the Pandavas.
(For answers to all Draupadi-related questions, see Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
After the wedding
Draupadi weds the Pandavas over five days, starting with Yudhishthir on the first and ending with Sahadeva on the fifth. Vyasa gives the new bride the gift of remaining virginal through the five nights.
The implication in Vyasa’s words is, of course, that Draupadi consummates her union with each of the five Pandavas on each wedding night.
But these unions are presumably not procreative; otherwise it would have been impossible to know just whose son Prativindhya – Draupadi’s firstborn – is.
(Suggested: Why did Draupadi Marry Five Pandavas?)
(Even in those days, we must assume that couples practiced some form of contraceptive methods during their lovemaking. It is too unrealistic to assume that all sex was procreative.)
This is consistent with Vyasa’s assurance that Draupadi would not lose her virginity during the five-day wedding.
Some theorists have taken this to mean that Draupadi remains a virgin throughout her life, and that her virginity returns after each birth.
This is impossible, of course, in a natural world, but in the magical Mahabharata universe, ‘returning virginity’ is a commonly recurring theme.
(Suggested: Was Arjuna happy to share Draupadi?)
How does virginity return?
It is not clear whether the word ‘virginity’ is used in a physical sense or a metaphorical sense in these conversations. For instance:
- Sage Parashara promises Satyavati that her virginity will be returned to her after she gives birth to their child.
- Sage Durvasa assures Kunti that after each of her unions with a god of her choice, her virginity will return.
- Vyasa tells Draupadi that she will remain virginal through her wedding to the five Pandavas – as if to imply that the five brothers are but one unit.
In each of these scenes, ‘virginity’ can be taken to mean ‘a woman with an unbroken hymen’ – if one takes the word literally.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 2: Satyavati Marries Shantanu.)
But of course, if one considers the metaphorical or social meaning, it means that the woman’s ‘reputation as a chaste woman’ will not suffer.
In Satyavati and Kunti’s case, this is obvious because their respective sexual intercourses happen outside the institution of marriage. All that needs to be done after that is for both parties – the man and the woman – to honour their vow of secrecy.
In Draupadi’s case, because she is married to the five men and therefore compelled to sleep with each one, Vyasa assures her that her ‘virginity’ will remain intact. In other words: she will remain a ‘pure’ woman.
(Suggested: Did Kunti sleep with gods?)
My preference when encountering such scene is to favour the second interpretation – of ‘virginity’ being used as a proxy for a woman’s reputation.
But if you like the concept of a woman continuously regenerating her hymen after each sexual and birthing experience, there is nothing in the text to stop you.
After that first five-day union between Draupadi and the Pandavas, the next time this matter is addressed is in the early days of Yudhishthir’s rule as emperor – after the destruction of Khandava and the construction of Indraprastha.
The conjugal arrangements in the intervening period – between Draupadi’s wedding and Yudhishthir’s coronation – are not clear.
However, when Narada arrives at Yudhishthir’s court, tells the story of Sunda and Upasunda, two inseparable brothers who had been torn apart by mutual desire for Tilottama, the divine dancer.
(Suggested: Was Draupadi a virgin?)
Narada recommends to Yudhishthir that the Pandavas ought to come up with some agreement on how to share Draupadi. ‘Otherwise,’ he warns, ‘she has the power to cause strife among the five of you.’
The Pandavas immediately comply with the sage’s wishes. Their plan is relatively simple: whenever any of the brothers wishes to spend time with Draupadi and finds her in the company of someone else, he is to retreat without disturbing them in any way.
Soon after this rule is set up, it so happens that Arjuna has to retrieve his Gandiva from Yudhishthir’s chambers to help a Brahmin chase away some robbers.
At the moment he enters the room, it so happens that Yudhishthir and Draupadi are sharing a private moment.
(Why is Arjuna’s Gandiva locked up in Yudhishthir’s room? Why can Arjuna not fight mere robbers with a borrowed bow? These are reasonable questions, but the story requires Arjuna to go on a twelve-year exile – so he will.)
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 14: Exile of Arjuna.)
Both Yudhishthir and Draupadi ask Arjuna not to be so hard on himself, but the third Pandavas insists that he has committed a sin and that he should atone for it with a twelve-year period of celibacy.
And during this period, he marries three different women and has a son each with all of them. It is also during this exile that he marries Subhadra and fathers Abhimanyu with her.
In other words, Arjuna’s exile is an important part of the Mahabharata story, so it appears in hindsight as if the visit by Narada – and the Pandavas’ subsequent guideline for sharing Draupadi – is just a plot device to make it happen.
(Suggested: Why did Arjuna marry Subhadra?)
Rules for Procreation
While the ‘first come, first served’ rule works well enough with companionship and non-procreative activities of love, when it comes time for the Pandavas to father children with Draupadi, this rule is woefully insufficient.
Why? Because the Pandavas would like to establish paternity with their children. At the very least, it has to be clear to everyone in the kingdom who Yudhishthir’s son is so that he can succeed his father to the throne.
For paternity to be established beyond doubt, Draupadi will have to remain exclusive (sexually, though perhaps not romantically) to one Pandava until she becomes pregnant with his child.
(Suggested: Did Draupadi have children?)
After she gives birth, she can then become exclusive to the ‘next’ Pandava.
Speaking in general, we can assume that during her childbearing years, Draupadi’s sharing details are something like this:
- First, she sleeps exclusively with Yudhishthir until she becomes pregnant with Prativindhya.
- After she gives birth to Prativindhya, she becomes exclusive to Bhima until she becomes pregnant with Sutasoma.
- After Sutasoma is born, she becomes exclusive to Nakula until she becomes pregnant with Satanika.
- After Satanika is born, she becomes exclusive to Sahadeva until she becomes pregnant with Shrutasena.
- After Arjuna’s return from his exile, Draupadi becomes exclusive to him until she becomes pregnant with Shrutakarma.
Something of this sort would have been in place so that everyone knows whose son is who.
(Suggested: Did Draupadi love Arjuna the most?)
A Private Matter
In saying all this, one must hasten to add that the Mahabharata does not make any explicit mentions of Draupadi’s sexual arrangements with her husbands. All we are assured of is that the marriage between the six of them is a harmonious one.
Whatever arrangement they decided amongst themselves, therefore, it worked well over a period of decades.
In the absence of any other qualifying detail, we may assume that before and after Draupadi’s childbearing years, the Pandavas went back to the ‘first come, first served’ arrangement.
(Suggested: How did Draupadi manage five husbands?)
It is noteworthy that Arjuna’s mistimed interruption of Yudhishthir and Draupadi is the only recorded instance of a clash regarding Draupadi’s sharing. All in all, everyone seems to have gotten along well enough.
The Mahabharata rightly treats Draupadi’s marriage to the Pandavas as ‘just another marriage’. It does not feel the need to speculate about details regarding the sexual practices of the people involved.
If you liked this post, you may find this interesting also: Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.