Why did Draupadi Vastraharan happen?

Why did Draupadi vastraharan happen - Featured Image - Picture of a woman being overpowered by a man.

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 vastraharan happen?

Draupadi’s vastraharan happens due to three reasons: (1) Yudhishthir loses himself before he loses Draupadi, (2) Draupadi frames the conversation as a legal point as opposed to an emotional one, and (3) Karna argues conclusively that Draupadi is both a slave and a prostitute; therefore she ought to be undressed in public.

Read on to discover more about why Draupadi vastraharan happened.

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

Prologue to Draupadi’s Vastraharan

In order to understand the reasons behind Draupadi’s disrobing, it is important to know what comes before it.

Yudhishthir and the Pandavas have earned unprecedented amounts of wealth and power, and the Rajasuya at Indraprastha has just ended. Duryodhana returns to Hastinapur mystified by the good fortune (as he sees it) of his cousins. He also confesses to Shakuni that he is besotted by envy toward the sons of Pandu.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 17: The Game of Dice.)

Shakuni warns Duryodhana that the Pandavas are impossible to defeat in a normal war. Instead, he suggests, Yudhishthir could be invited to play a game of dice in which he could be persuaded to stake and lose everything he has.

At the same time, Yudhishthir takes an oath that he will not say no to anything that Dhritarashtra says. So when the invitation comes from Hastinapur to play dice with Shakuni, the Pandavas – despite knowing that this will spell trouble – accept it.

As expected, Yudhishthir loses everything to Shakuni – including his brothers, himself and his wife Draupadi in that order.

Draupadi’s Question

The order in which Yudhishthir loses himself and Draupadi in subsequent moves of the game turns out to be important in hindsight. Immediately after it is established that Draupadi has been lost, Duryodhana sends a messenger to the ladies’ chamber commanding her immediate presence in the hall.

Draupadi is bemused by the authoritative tone of the message. When she comes to know that Yudhishthir has lost her, she sends back a message asking: ‘Did the king lose himself first or me?’

Enraged at the thought of a mere slave questioning her master, Duryodhana sends Duhsasana to Draupadi with the instruction of dragging her into the hall by force if necessary.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 18: Yudhishthir Loses Everything.)

Duhsasana does just that, holding her by the hair and presenting her in the hall.

Here, Draupadi once again asks the question. She turns to the elders of the court and says, ‘If the king lost himself first, did he still have the right to stake me?’

If Draupadi had instead begged for Dhritarashtra’s mercy right at the outset, she may have escaped further humiliation. But by framing the argument in terms of legality, she invites a lengthy debate about the property rights of slaves.

Karna’s Argument

While the Kuru elders refuse to take a side in the matter, Vikarna – one of Duryodhana’s brothers – comes to Draupadi’s rescue. He argues that Draupadi is right, that Yudhishthir did not have the right to pledge Draupadi after having lost himself.

But Karna rises in response and rebuffs Vikarna’s points. He explains that even slaves have wives and children, and they do have the right to consider their families to be their property. Therefore, every slave has the right to play dice, and to pledge his family members.

(Suggested: Why does Karna abuse Draupadi?)

None of the Kuru elders explicitly declare either Karna or Vikarna as the winner in this debate. But crucially, they also do not censure Karna for his words.

Emboldened by their silence, Karna goes a little further and accuses Draupadi as being a prostitute for having publicly taken five husbands. And he suggests that Draupadi should be disrobed in the manner befitting a woman of such loose morals.

Astoundingly, none of the Kuru leaders object to this either. We may conclude therefore that Karna has merely voiced the opinion held by the world at large.

Two Men Seeking Vengeance

Beyond the above, there is also the narrative of two men seeking vengeance from Draupadi for personal slights that have happened in the past.

The first of these is Karna, who still (presumably) bears a grudge against Draupadi for the manner in which she rejected him during the swayamvara. (In saying this, there is no ‘kind’ manner in which a maiden can reject a suitor in public.)

The second is Duryodhana, who claims that Draupadi had laughed at him when he accidentally fell into a pool of water at Yudhishthir’s hall constructed by Maya.

(Suggested: Did Draupadi insult Duryodhana?)

Both these men are driven by envy toward the Pandavas, but they also wish to target and personally humiliate Draupadi. That is why Karna goes to such great lengths to prove that Draupadi is Duryodhana’s slave.

And that is why Duryodhana slaps his thigh and beckons to Draupadi, as if inviting her to sit on it.

Vidura Restores Sanity

As Duhsasana approaches Draupadi with the intention of undressing her, Vidura makes an emotional plea to Dhritarashtra that has nothing to do with the legalities of the matter.

‘King,’ he says, ‘Draupadi is the daughter-in-law of the Kuru house. She is the fire-born princess of Panchala, the empress of Indraprastha. She is the very incarnation of Dharma.

‘If you steal her honour in such an uncouth manner, the Kuru dynasty will be destroyed. Enough of debate and conversation. End this debacle now!’

(Suggested: 12 Mahabharata Stories From the Sabha Parva.)

Note that Vidura also – wisely – does not seek to get into the argument of whether Draupadi has been won or not. Instead, he reframes the conversation around Draupadi’s status as Dhritarashtra’s daughter-in-law.

At the same time, a number of natural omens appear outside. This scares Dhritarashtra into calling an end to proceedings.

If Draupadi had begun with this frame – ‘Father, I am your daughter-in-law. Will you allow something like this to happen in your hall?’ – one imagines things would not have gone this far.

(This is, of course, not a criticism of Draupadi. She felt that she could demand justice for herself instead of asking for it. In hindsight, given the power transfer that had just occurred during the game of dice, this was a misguided move.)

Four Men Responsible

Overall, four men are responsible for Draupadi’s vastraharan:

  • Shakuni, for slyly reminding Yudhishthir – after the king had accepted defeat in the game – that he has not yet pledged Draupadi.
  • Karna, for conclusively arguing that Draupadi has lost her freedom and is now slave to Duryodhana.

(Suggested: What Happens during Draupadi’s Disrobing?)

  • Duryodhana, for orchestrating the entire event and driving it relentlessly forward without mercy.
  • Duhsasana, for obeying the commands of Duryodhana and Karna and by attempting to remove Draupadi’s clothes in public.

All four men earn the personal wrath of the Pandavas. Arjuna vows to kill Karna. Bhima promises his dead ancestors that he will without fail break Duryodhana’s thighs and drink Duhsasana’s raw blood. Sahadeva, meanwhile, vows to kill Shakuni.

In the Mahabharata war, all four of these oaths are successfully upheld.

Further Reading

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