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: Why did Draupadi go to hell?
Draupadi goes to hell for a short period of time in order to atone for her sin of loving Arjuna more intensely despite being required to love all five Pandavas equally. However, by the time Yudhishthir reaches heaven, Draupadi has already finished her period of punishment and is seen sitting in Indra’s hall.
Read on to discover more about why Draupadi went to hell.
(For answers to all Draupadi-related questions, see Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
Loving Arjuna the most
During the Swargarohana Parva, with the Pandavas and Draupadi making a bid to ascend Mount Sumeru in their mortal bodies (in the hope that they will be allowed into heaven without having to go through the process of death), Draupadi is the first of the six to drop to her death.
Essentially, Draupadi has been denied entry into heaven in her earthly body. Bhima asks Yudhishthir why this is so, and Yudhishthir flatly replies, ‘Despite being wedded to all five of us, she loved Arjuna more than she loved the others.’
Whether this is merely jealous bickering on Yudhishthir’s part or whether he has noticed this quality in Draupadi, we cannot be sure. But it appears as though the gods agree with Yudhishthir, for he succeeds later in reaching heaven in his physical body.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 60: The Pandavas Die.)
Is unequal love a sin?
Here, it seems that Draupadi’s faithfulness as wife is being judged as inadequate. Though her loyalty to the Pandavas as a unit is unquestionably great, she has failed in portioning out her love equally between her husbands.
What is surprising is that the gods think that this is a sin grave enough to prevent Draupadi from entering heaven directly. She has to instead die first, atone for this mistake in hell for a shirt while, and then make her way to heaven.
For one, the same standard is not applied to the men. Arjuna, for instance, has three other wives – Ulupi, Chitrangada and Subhadra. It is often thought that he likes Subhadra the most among his wives, and that Abhimanyu is his favourite son.
Is Arjuna also considered sinful because he does not love all four of his wives equally? The short answer is no.
Sins of the Pandavas
Now let’s take a moment to consider some of the unethical acts the Pandavas committed in order to win the Mahabharata war. This is by no means a complete list, but it is enough to make the point.
- Bhima kills Duryodhana by crushing his thigh with his mace, knowing full well that hitting one’s opponent below the waist during combat is wrong.
- Yudhishthir lies to Drona that Ashwatthama is dead, so that the preceptor will relinquish his weapons and allow himself to be killed by Dhrishtadyumna.
- Arjuna shoots at his grandfather Bhishma while hiding behind Shikhandi – and becomes the indirect cause of Bhishma’s eventual death.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 42: Bhishma Falls.)
Even if all of the above can be explained away as necessary tactics to win a battle, it goes without saying that during the course of their lives, the Pandavas kill and injure thousands of people whereas Draupadi is not known to hurt even a single person.
And yet, with all that blood on the Pandavas’ hands, it is Draupadi’s partiality toward Arjuna that we’re supposed to believe is the biggest sin of them all.
Can Yudhishthir be wrong?
During the Pandavas’ final journey, it is Yudhishthir making pronouncements on why each person has fallen. In Arjuna’s case, the reason is pride about his skill. With Nakula it is vanity about his good looks, and with Sahadeva it is his high estimation of his own wisdom.
At last, when Bhima falls, Yudhishthir tells him that Bhima has always been a glutton for food, and that is why he has been denied entry into heaven.
During this entire scene, the reader is not certain whether Yudhishthir is speaking the gods’ truth or whether he is simply giving his opinion as to why his brothers and wife have fallen before him.
Of course, Yudhishthir is the only one of the six who ends up getting taken to heaven by Indra in a celestial chariot, but that does not mean that all of his opinions were truths.
It is entirely possible that the reasons for the deaths of his brothers and wife are different to what Yudhishthir thinks.
For instance, Arjuna may have been punished because of his indiscretion with Bhishma. Bhima may have been cast away because of his drinking of Duhsasana’s blood, or because he defeated Duryodhana unfairly, or because he laughed at Dhritarashtra toward the end.
Similarly, Draupadi may have been punished for her cruel mishandling of Karna, or for her jealousy toward Subhadra – or for any number of mistakes that she may have committed in her heart.
A more natural explanation
By the time of their final journeys, the Pandavas are old people. Draupadi is in her mid-eighties. After a long trip on foot around the country, she will have been exhausted by the time she reaches the foot of Mount Sumeru.
- The weather at Sumeru is likely to be near freezing – not comfortable for a woman of Draupadi’s age.
- Draupadi has spent a large part of her life being comfortable as queen of Indraprastha. Unlike the Pandavas, she has never trained for combat. Also, she has given birth to five children.
- On top of all this, Draupadi is a woman. So she is physically just a little bit weaker than the men she is accompanying.
With all of these factors, perhaps it is not surprising that she is the first of the six to fall.
Yudhishthir’s opinion on why Draupadi is sent to hell is that she loves Arjuna more than she loves her other four husbands. But we do not know for sure that this is true.
Especially considering that the Pandavas have done far worse, and that Arjuna himself loves Subhadra the most among his wives, this seems like a flimsy reason to send someone to hell – even for a short time.
A more realistic reason is that Draupadi is punished for some of her more serious indiscretions – like being jealous of Subhadra, rejecting Karna during her swayamvara and so on.
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
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story
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