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 characterless?
Draupadi is accused as characterless by Karna, for the fact that she has taken five husbands. According to scriptures of the time, a woman is considered a harlot if she takes five or more lovers during her life. But Draupadi is considered a woman of very high honour despite this fact because of her dignity, composure and self-respect.
Read on to discover whether or not Draupadi was characterless.
(For answers to all Draupadi-related questions, see Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
During the dice game, Karna states that the scriptural definition of a characterless woman (in other words, a woman of loose sexual morals) is one who takes five or more paramours during the course of her life.
There is in fact support for this line of thinking from another part of the story. Kunti, when she wishes to stop having children after the birth of Arjuna, tells Pandu: ‘Including you and the three gods, my lord, I have slept with four men. If I summon one more god, I will have become unchaste in the eyes of the world.’
(Of course, what Pandu doesn’t know – and Kunti does – is that Kunti took Surya as a lover before her marriage. From this, we can surmise that Kunti does not believe in the truth of what scripture says but is happy to use it for her benefit.)
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 5: Pandavas and Kauravas.)
In Draupadi’s case, she does not get the option of abstaining from sex with her fifth lover. When she gets married to the Pandavas, it is understood that she will have children with each one of them.
At least Kunti can claim to be married to just one man – Pandu – and to have practiced the ritual of niyoga for children. Draupadi cannot even do that. She therefore not only becomes a characterless woman, but she also has no way of concealing it from the world.
Other People’s Decision
However, Draupadi’s marriage to the Pandavas is not her choice. It is a decision forced upon her by people of authority – like Sage Vyasa, Yudhishthir, Kunti, and Drupada.
There are various reasons for this:
- Yudhishthir thinks that Draupadi becoming a common wife will ensure that none of the five Pandavas will have reason to envy one another.
- Kunti thinks that Draupadi will potentially become the singular cause around which the Pandavas can rally in the future – and that she will become the binding agent of unity among them.
- Drupada prefers Draupadi to marry Yudhishthir because there is much more wealth, status and power in store for Panchala if the kingdom’s daughter marries the eldest of the Pandavas – not the middle brother.
- Vyasa tells everyone that there is nothing wrong with all of this because Draupadi was in her previous birth a Brahmin woman who was promised five husbands by Lord Shiva.
(Suggested: Why did Draupadi Marry Five Pandavas?)
Therefore, one counterpoint to the ‘she has five husbands’ accusation is that it was never Draupadi’s choice. In Kunti’s case, one can argue that she had full agency in choosing her lovers. Draupadi does not get that luxury.
Behaviour in Adversity
And of course, even a staunch student of the scripture will agree that the mere number of husbands does not make a woman’s character. One must also examine her behaviour in adversity to judge what she is made of.
Draupadi displays exemplary behaviour in the toughest of times. Here are some examples of her conduct:
- At the time of her marriage to the Pandavas, she does not protest the decision despite knowing that it will give birth to a number of problems in her future – not least the tag of being a ‘disgraceful’ woman.
- During the dice game, despite the option of begging for Dhritarashtra’s forgiveness, she chooses to fight for her rights as a human being on the strength of judicial ethics alone.
- When Dhritarashtra offers her a boon, she does not ask anything for herself. She opts to free her enslaved husbands.
- When she is abducted by Jayadratha, she remains utterly confident that the Pandavas will come and rescue her. They do, and the resulting enmity with Jayadratha costs them a crucial battle on the thirteenth day of the war.
- In the Virata Parva, while working for Queen Sudeshna as a maid, she places a condition that she will not visit the bedchambers of the king or any nobleman. She risks the possibility of exposure in rejecting Kichaka’s advances.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 29: Kichaka is Killed.)
Time and again, Draupadi displays behaviour which is inconsistent with that of a sexually loose woman. It would have been practically expedient to submit to Jayadratha or Kichaka – especially the latter because of the situation the Pandavas were in. But she chooses to remain loyal and chaste.
But for the number of husbands she possesses – five as opposed to one – she is utterly faithful to them in thought and deed.
Rescuing the Pandavas
During the events of the dice game, Draupadi also rescues her husbands from slavery and strife. When Dhritarashtra offers her a boon, she could have easily asked for her own freedom, but she chooses to put her husbands before herself.
‘I do not wish King Yudhishthir’s name to be dragged to the dust,’ she says. ‘And I do not want my son Prativindhya to grow up a son of a slave. So please, Your Majesty, give back to my husband all that he has lost today.’
This, we must remember, is right after she has been put through the trauma of being almost disrobed in public. Dhritarashtra is suitably impressed by this act of Draupadi, so much so that he gives her back her freedom as well.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 18: Yudhishthir Loses Everything.)
Karna, in a rare moment of appreciation, grudgingly admits that Draupadi has saved the Pandavas in the manner of a boat protecting its owner from a tempestuous sea.
Had Draupadi been truly of a questionable character, she would not have put the well-being of her husbands and children ahead of her own.
Accompanying the Pandavas
Draupadi does enough during the dice game to prove her detractors wrong. But where she really earns her stripes is during the thirteen years of exile with the Pandavas.
As the main wife of Yudhishthir and the sitting empress, she is expected to accompany the Pandavas into the forest. None of the other wives of the Pandavas come with them.
Draupadi could also have taken the easier way out and gone to live at Panchala or at Dwaraka. She would have been welcome at either place. But she chooses to take equal part in the trials and tribulations of her husbands.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 19: The Pandavas in Exile.)
She becomes their partner in the true sense of the word – not just enjoying their wealth and power but also sharing in their deepest desolations.
Needless to say, a woman of no integrity would not have made this choice. She would have simply claimed that the forest is no place for a woman of her upbringing (she would have been right) and found refuge in a more hospitable place.
Despite Karna’s attempt to paint Draupadi as a characterless woman, therefore, we must admit that she is only ‘technically’ an unchaste woman (because of the number of her husbands).
In all other respects – loyalty, courage, dignity, and behaviour in adversity – Draupadi proves herself a woman of exceptional character. Even Karna acknowledges this at the dice game when Draupadi rescues the Pandavas from slavery.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
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