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Was Draupadi a virgin?

Was Draupadi a virgin - Featured Image - Picture of an olive tree representing purity and virginity

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: Was Draupadi a virgin?

Draupadi marries each of the Pandava brothers on subsequent days. On this occasion, Vyasa tells her that she will sleep with each brother on the day she marries him, but by his magic she will wake up each morning a virgin. If this power is permanent, then Draupadi remains a virgin throughout her life – even after she gives birth to five sons.

Read on to discover more about whether or not Draupadi was a virgin.

(For answers to all Draupadi-related questions, see Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)

Physical Virginity

It is often unclear as to what the exact meaning is of the word ‘virginity’ when someone promises a maiden that she will remain a virgin even after sexual intercourse.

This sort of promise is given a number of times in the Mahabharata. For instance:

  • Pritha, when she summons the sun god Surya in her innocence, is assured that her virginity will be returned to her after the son is born.
  • Sage Parashara, while soliciting the maiden Satyavati, tells her that she will not have to worry about losing her virginity – that it will return as soon as she gives birth to their child.
  • Sage Vyasa, at the time of Draupadi’s five-day wedding, assures her that her virginity will restore itself after each night after she sleeps with each Pandava.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 2: Satyavati Marries Shantanu.)

Promises of this sort are given almost always as a means to convince the woman to participate in questionable sexual activity. In Pritha and Satyavati’s cases, they are both unwed maidens. In Draupadi’s case, she is being asked to marry five men – and consummate each marriage – over the course of five nights.

If we take the word literally to mean that the woman’s hymen will regenerate after her sexual activity – in some cases even childbirth – it is clear that the promise is unrealistic.

But in the magical world of the Mahabharata, it is not unreasonable to suppose that some women have the gift of never losing their virginity. Under this assumption, we may admit that Draupadi enters each wedding night a virgin.

We must also note that Vyasa’s promise only pertains to the duration of Draupadi’s wedding – not her entire life. Presumably, therefore, she loses her virginity after her fifth wedding night with Sahadeva.

Moral Virginity

It is also possible that when people say refer to a woman’s ‘virginity’ in the Mahabharata, they mean her ‘purity’ – or the quality that determines the propriety of her sexual behaviour.

For instance, a woman is not meant to engage in pre-marital sex. She is also not meant to engage in extramarital sex. Such a woman who obeys all the rules controlling her sexual behaviour is said to be ‘virginal’.

After all, it is entirely possible for a woman who has lost her hymen (through non-sexual activity) to be a virgin otherwise. Equally, a woman who has her hymen intact might have had multiple sexual partners.

If we take this to be the meaning of the word, we can interpret the assurance of Vyasa to mean: ‘Do not worry that marrying five men and sleeping with them over the course of five nights will taint your purity. It will not, because you are engaging in these acts with full agreement of priests and scripture.’

Similarly, Parashara and Surya – when they give their assurances – are merely seeking to remove doubts in the woman’s mind about the immorality of the proposed act.

None of them are actually saying that the woman’s hymen will be restored. They’re saying that the woman’s purity will not be diminished.

(Suggested: Why did Draupadi marry five Pandavas?)

Reputational Virginity

Yet another way of thinking about the word ‘virginity’ is to imagine it referring chiefly to a woman’s sexual reputation.

A woman may be physically and morally a virgin and somehow garner a reputation of being sexually loose. (This can be a result of the woman’s own behaviour in public, or she can be a victim of propaganda.)

At the other extreme end, a woman may be physically and morally promiscuous and yet have the reputation of being pure. In order to achieve this, the woman needs access to two things:

  • Her partner should keep her secret and refrain from disclosing their private moments to others. (This is not an insignificant detail: men who sleep with women are often tempted to brag about their conquests to others. That is how, after all, a woman gains a ‘reputation’.)
  • In case a pregnancy results from the encounter, she needs means and support to either: (a) end the pregnancy in secret, or (b) carry the baby to full term behind closed doors and give it up to fostering.

The woman, in other words, needs to have a small number of trusted aides that can keep her secret. As long as she is able to keep her sexual relationships secret and private, her reputation will not suffer.

In the eyes of the world, she will remain a ‘virgin’.

If we take this to be Vyasa’s meaning, what he is actually saying is: ‘Do not worry that the world will think ill of you for marrying five husbands and having sons with them. I will give you my assurance that your reputation as a pure woman will not suffer.’

Similarly, Parashara and Surya are only assuring their partners that no social fallout will occur because of their association. They’re also promising their women that they will keep the story of their encounter secret.

Conclusion

Depending on which definition of virginity appeals to you, the answer to whether or not Draupadi is a virgin will differ. For instance:

  • If we are talking about physical virginity, Draupadi gets a magical gift from Vyasa that she will remain a virgin during her five-day wedding. After that, she loses her virginity.
  • If we are talking about moral virginity, Draupadi remains a virgin throughout her life because she is fiercely loyal and faithful to her husbands. She does not engage in any form of sexual behaviour that is frowned upon by the moralists of the day.
  • If we are talking about reputational virginity, Draupadi suffers because she marries and has sons with five men. Karna brings attention to this at the dice game, and no one disagrees with him about it.

Over time, however, Draupadi garners a reputation as a pati vrata. Her reputational virginity, therefore, can be said to have been restored between the dice game and her death.

Further Reading

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Enjoy!