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 Krishna allow Draupadi vastraharan?
Krishna is not present at Draupadi’s vastraharan. At the time, he is otherwise engaged in a battle against Salwa, the king of Saubha, who had invaded and looted Dwaraka in Krishna’s absence. When news of the dice game arrives at Dwaraka, therefore, Krishna is in the middle of a battle. He is therefore not able to stop Draupadi’s disrobing.
Read on to discover more about why Krishna allowed Draupadi’s vastraharan to happen.
(For answers to all Draupadi-related questions, see Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
First of all, we must admit that Krishna does intervene in the Draupadi disrobing incident in a small way.
With Duhsasana taking it upon himself to disrobe Draupadi, she begins to sing the praises of Krishna, who hears her all the way from Dwaraka and arranges for vast swathes of clothes to appear miraculously to clothe Draupadi’s naked body.
We have seen this many times on television and in plays. Duhsasana is heaving at Draupadi’s garments. Draupadi is twirling round and round, praying to Krishna.
And in the corner, invisible to everyone, is the lord himself, holding up his hand from which flow saris of different colours in Draupadi’s direction. At last, broken by fatigue, Duhsasana drops to the ground, defeated.
(Suggested: What happens during Draupadi’s disrobing?)
Problems with Consistency
However, there are a few issues with the manner in which this little mini-scene wedges itself into the larger narrative. For instance:
- How does Krishna hear Draupadi’s cries all the way from Dwaraka? (In fact, we will see later in this article that he was not present even in Dwaraka. But let us put that quibble aside for now.)
- If Krishna could have stopped the incident, why did he not choose a less dramatic way than to magically provide Draupadi with clothing? He could have asked Duhsasana to stop. He could have censured Dhritarashtra, and so on.
- Krishna appears and disappears in the course of a quick paragraph. None of the characters present at the hall comment on Krishna’s appearance or the magical clothes.
- The conversation before Krishna’s appearance is about Draupadi’s question. As soon as Krishna disappears, the debate resumes in the hall, with Vidura taking up Draupadi’s cause. It is as if Krishna never appears.
Perhaps most tellingly, later on in the story – when the Pandavas have just begun their exile – Krishna regretfully comments that if he had been around at the time of the dice game, he would have ensured that it did not happen.
All of this suggests that Krishna’s appearance at Draupadi’s disrobing is a convenient, later insertion into the story.
Where was Krishna?
If Krishna was not present at the dice game, where was he?
Krishna himself answers this question when the Vrishnis and Panchalas come to the forest of Kamakya at the beginning of the Pandavas’ exile. Draupadi breaks down and implores Krishna to ensure that her humiliation will be avenged.
Krishna promises her that this will be so. Then, to Yudhishthir he says, ‘If I had been in Dwaraka, and if news of this game had reached me in time, I would not have allowed it to happen.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 19: The Pandavas in Exile.)
‘I would have used all my powers of persuasion to prevent Dhritarashtra from taking such a step. It is unfortunate that I got to know of what had happened only after I had returned to Dwaraka, and by then it was already too late.’
Yudhishthir asks Krishna, ‘If you were not in Dwaraka, O Krishna, where were you? And what were you engaged with so that you were not able to give attention to the happenings at Hastinapur?’
While Krishna was staying back in Indraprastha after the completion of the Rajasuya, Salwa, the king of Saubha, attacks Dwaraka with an army in order to avenge the death of Shishupala.
(From the name it sounds like this is the same man for whom Amba gives up the opportunity to become the queen of Hastinapur. But the text does not make any reference to that effect.)
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 38: Amba and Shikhandi.)
In any case, Salwa attacks Dwaraka with an entire army, and he defeats all the great Yadava warriors. By the time Krishna returns, he finds his city shorn of all its splendour, with gardens uprooted, houses mangled, and treasury looted.
‘Defend the city against further attacks,’ he commands Satyaki and the others. ‘I will go and punish that arrogant man for his deeds.’
Battle with Salwa
So Krishna takes a portion of the Yadava army with him to the city of Saubha, and in the battle that follows, Salwa proves to be quite a match.
He takes the help of Danavas, Yakshas and Rakshasas to fight with Krishna, and uses many illusions to trip up the Yadava prince. The most powerful of these is when he creates the vision of a man dressed in the garb of a Dwaraka messenger, who goes to Krishna in the middle of battle and says:
‘O Prince of Dwaraka, stop fighting! Your father, Vasudeva, has been slain by the army of Salwa. The city is in ruins. They need you to retreat and protect them.’
Krishna almost believes the messenger and asks his charioteer to retreat, but on closer thought, remembers that all the great Vrishni maharathas – Balarama, Pradyumna, Satyaki – could not have been defeated by Salwa’s army in Salwa’s absence.
So he soldiers on, and after another long period of fighting, kills Salwa and returns to Dwaraka victorious.
During this Interval
It is during this interval that the game of dice happens in Hastinapur, and the news reaches Krishna only after the battle with Salwa is finished, by which time the Pandavas had already lost their kingdoms and made their homes in Kamyaka.
‘Had I been present,’ says Krishna to Yudhishthir, ‘I would have even killed Duryodhana if necessary. I would not have allowed the game to take place. But what can one do now? One cannot mend the flow of a river after the dam has broken.’
Saying so, after giving the Pandavas an explanation of why he could not come to their aid when they needed him, Krishna departs from Kamyaka, once again reminding Draupadi that her loss of honour will eventually be avenged.
On the other hand…
The main thrust of the scholarly argument is that the passage during Draupadi’s disrobing had been inserted at a later date by people who wished to enhance the role of Krishna as a hero-god.
Now, the mirror image of this position is that the explanation by Krishna about his absence from Dwaraka is the later interpolation – made by people eager to diminish Krishna’s divinity.
What is true? Unfortunately, we cannot say for sure. My personal preference after having read the Mahabharata is to agree with the first theory, but I am willing to admit that the second is not impossible.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 39: The Bhagavad Gita.)
Your mileage, as they say, may vary. But if you do believe in the truth of the second explanation, then you’re again stuck at the question of why Krishna – if he were all powerful – did not protect Draupadi effectively.
Usually, those who believe that Krishna is a god answer all such questions by saying: ‘He knows better. He wanted it to happen that way.’
So that is the other – shorter – answer: ‘Because he chose not to for mysterious reasons.’
All in all, Krishna himself gives an explanation as to why he was not able to stop Draupadi’s disrobing from happening.
The reason is that he was away fighting a war against King Salwa, who had used Krishna’s absence from Dwaraka as an opportune moment to sack and loot it.
Krishna therefore invades Salwa’s kingdom and kills him. That battle is a long, fierce one, and it takes all of Krishna’s time and attention. By the time he returns victorious from it, he hears that the Pandavas have already lost Indraprastha.
Seen from this angle, the short paragraph describing Krishna’s magical intervention at Draupadi’s disrobing appears to be a later interpolation seeking to enhance Krishna’s divinity.
(Of course, this is only a suggestion. If you insist on personally believing that Krishna did semi-protect Draupadi by magically sending her garments, you’re welcome to do so.)
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
- 300+ Mahabharata Stories to Thrill, Delight and Enchant You