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 is Draupadi called a pativrata?
Draupadi is considered a pativrata despite the fact that she has five husbands because: (1) she is fiercely loyal to them at all times, (2) she participates equally in their fortunes and misfortunes, and (3) she rescues the Pandavas after they have been enslaved by Duryodhana during the dice game.
Read on to discover more about why Draupadi is called a pativrata.
(For answers to all Draupadi-related questions, see Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
Meaning of the word
The word ‘pativrata’ is used to describe a woman who distinguishes herself as a model wife. More specifically, this woman obeys all the rules written out for her in the scriptures, and lives harmoniously with her husband.
There are a number of women considered to be pativratas in Indian mythology, though there isn’t a definitive list. Among the women usually considered deserving of the title are Sita, Savitri, Arundhati, Anasuya, Sati and Damayanti.
In some people’s opinion, Draupadi is also a pativrata despite being married to five men.
If we have to distil the qualities of a pativrata into a handful, they would be the following:
- She is faithful to her husband in thought and deed.
- She participates equally in her husband’s fortunes and misfortunes.
- She rescues her husband from some strife with the help of her wit, wisdom or perseverance. (We see this in the case of Savitri.)
Despite the fact that Draupadi is married to five men, she displays fierce loyalty to her husbands at all times. For instance:
- When Jayadratha abducts her and asks her to forsake the Pandavas, she coolly informs him that her husbands will soon rescue her, and that he is committing an act that he will regret far into the future.
- When Kichaka, the brother-in-law of King Virata, desires to marry her, Draupadi tells him that she is married to five powerful Gandharvas who always keep an eye on her and who don’t hesitate to kill any man who misbehaves with her.
- When Karna suggests at the dice game – just before her disrobing – that Draupadi should take Duryodhana as her husband, she reacts with anger and carries the grudge all the way to the Kurukshetra war.
In fact, Draupadi’s marriage to the Pandavas does her a disservice: it sends out a (wrong) signal to the men of the world that she possesses loose sexual morals. This could also be a reason why she is always attracting the interest of lustful men.
(Suggested: Why did Draupadi marry five Pandavas?)
When the Pandavas lose during their second dice game and get consigned to the forest for twelve years as a result, Draupadi has the option of not accompanying them.
There is no rule that compels the wife of an exiled king to go with him into the forest. Indeed, one imagines that in most such cases, the queen will allow herself to be excused so as not to ‘become a burden’ on the king during his exile.
When Nala gets exiled as a result of a loss in a dice game, Damayanti accompanies him. So does Sita when Rama is sent to the forest by the whim of Kaikeyi in the Ramayana. This is among the reasons why they are called pativratas.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 19: The Pandavas in Exile.)
Similarly, none of the other wives of the Pandavas offer to go with them into the woods. Nor is there an expectation on them to do so. Subhadra, for instance, goes to Dwaraka and raises the Upapandavas and Abhimanyu over there.
Draupadi, on the other hand, chooses to follow in the footsteps of Sita and Damayanti. She goes with her husbands and makes a home with them in forests, in hermitages, on mountains – wherever they go.
She thus partakes of an equal share of her husbands’ suffering; not just their joy.
Rescuing the Pandavas
At the end of the first dice game, just after her disrobing ordeal comes to an end thanks to a litany of protests voiced by natural elements, Dhritarashtra offers her a boon.
Instead of asking for her own freedom, Draupadi asks for Yudhishthir’s freedom, and for his wealth to be given back.
Impressed with her selflessness, Dhritarashtra grants her another boon, whereupon Draupadi asks for Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva to be freed from bondage. She still doesn’t ask for anything for herself.
(Suggested: What did Draupadi say after Vastraharan?)
When Dhritarashtra gives her yet another boon, Draupadi respectfully declines, saying, ‘A Kshatriya woman is not to ask for more than two wishes even if someone is ready to offer them to her.’
Her implication is that now that her husbands have been freed from slavery, they will look after the process of freeing her from Duryodhana’s clutches. She does not need to wish anything for herself.
Dhritarashtra renders this unnecessary, of course, by freeing her of his own accord. At this point, Karna voices admiration for Draupadi. He says:
‘The Pandavas have been rescued by Krishnaa today, even though they have failed to rescue her. She has become the boat that brought the Pandavas ashore in this violent sea.’
Despite being the only woman in history (as far as she knew) saddled with the responsibility of making home with five men, Draupadi makes a good fist of it.
Their married life is reasonably harmonious; the only time she is seen arguing with any of her husbands is when they find that their desire for vengeance upon the Kauravas has begun to flag. She then fires them up again.
During her conversation with Satyabhama toward the end of their exile, she confesses that she misses each of her husbands equally when he is away from them for a long time. She also advises Satyabhama about the proper conduct of a wife.
Her relationship with Nakula and Sahadeva is not recorded with much detail, but she seems to have different marriages with each of the first three Pandavas.
- With Yudhishthir she debates and discusses various points of scripture. She learns at the feet of sages along with him.
- She considers Bhima to be her ‘knight in shining armour’. It is Bhima who protects her, performs quests for her, and is keen to avenge her wrongs in the most visceral way possible.
- She loves Arjuna the most – perhaps because he is the one to have won her, or perhaps because he is away a lot. She seems to think of herself as his equal, and is often seen speaking to him as a friend.
Finally, she is with her husbands right to the very end, going with them on their final journeys and attempting to scale the mountain Sumeru so that they may all reach heaven in their mortal bodies.
Thus, Draupadi does all that is expected of her as a wife and more. Despite being wife to five men (which immediately qualifies her for the title of ‘harlot’), she earns the right to be called a pativrata.
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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