As per the myths, Draupadi and her brother Dhristadyumna emerged together from a sacrificial fire that King Drupada had lit to avenge the defeat that he faced from Drona who had conquered half his kingdom.
Drupada had prayed for a son, but Draupadi emerged as well. When she did, a divine voice said she would be the reason for the destruction of the Kurus. When Draupadi grew to be a young woman she was considered very beautiful, mainly for her glowing dark skin, large dark eyes and graceful figure. Due to her dark skin, she was also called by the name 'Krishna'. She seemed to have been blessed with powers from Goddess Kali for the purpose of destruction of Kauravas of Mahabharata.
Draupadi's devotion to Lord Krishna
Draupadi is regarded as Shakti (Goddess Kali) incarnate who was the sister of Vishnu. This makes Lord Krishna (an avtaar of Lord Vishnu) Draupadi's brother.
The incident wherein, Krishna cut his finger through his Sudarshan Chakra and Draupadi bound it with her sari was the origin of 'Rakhi' concept. This incident and the Cheer-Haran incident wherein Krishna saved Draupadi from being dishonoured is the foundational idea of Raksha Bandhan, which states that when the sister ties Rakhi on her brother's wrist, it becomes the duty of the brother to protect her.
Draupadi's Marriage to Pandavas
When Draupadi was very young, her father began to look for a suitable match for Draupadi. He conducted a swayamwara which was attended by many kshatriya kings. Duryodhana and Karna were also among them. The Pandavas too attended the Swayamwara under the disguise of Brahmins as they were still in exile.
Arjuna was successful in hitting the target and won Draupadi's hand in marriage. There was a contest whose winner would get Draupadi. The contest was that there would be a target. The target was a bird which is placed on a revolving disc. It should be struck by an arrow only by looking at its reflection in the water below. A huge bow was kept for that purpose. Most kings failed to even string the bow. Only Arjuna was successful in hitting the target and won Draupadi's hand in marriage.
During the period of exile Kunti had taught the Pandavas to share everything among them. When Arjuna came to Kunti and said that he has won a prize, Kunti without giving it a look told Arjuna to share him among all the brothers. Thus respecting his mother's words, all the brothers accepted Draupadi as their wife.
According to sage Vyasa, Draupadi's marriage with the five brothers was a result of her prayers in her last birth wherein, she had prayed to Lord Shiva for a husband with five qualities. Though Shiva tried to convince her that it's difficult to find a husband with these five qualities, she stood firmly to her decision. Happy with her devotion, Lord Shiva granted her wish and thus she got married to five men each representing a quality that she wished for in her last birth.
None of her children survive by the end of the Battle at Kurukshetra, except for Arjun's grandson Parikshit.
Cheer-Haran of Draupadi
Draupadi's Cheer-Haran was one of the central reasons for the Kurukshetra battle. The term literally means stripping one from their clothes.
The story goes that when Dhritarashtra had handed over an arid land of Hastinapur to Pandavas to look after it, the Pandavas within a short time turned it into a beautiful city called Indraprastha. The beauty of the city was widely discussed everywhere. When Duryodhana learnt about it, he went to see the city himself.
On entering the palace of the Pandavas, Duryodhana mistook water for floor and fell into it. On seeing this Draupadi burst out laughing and insulted him by saying that a blind man's son has to be blind. This enraged Duryodhana who returned to Hastinapur angrily. His uncle Shakuni understood the reason behind his rage and planned a plot to avenge his nephew's insult.
Shakuni invited the Pandavas for the 'dice' game. He played the game against Yudhisthir. Shakuni being an expert in the game begin to defeat Yudhisthir. Yudhisthir kept at stake his kingdom, then his brother and finally himself. In spite of loosing everything to Shakuni, Shakuni was not satisfied. He told Yudhisthir that he could get everything back on the condition that he has to keep his wife Draupadi on stake. To the astonishment of everybody, Yudhisthir kept his wife Draupadi on stake too. When Yudhisthir lost the game again, Shakuni ordered his second nephew Dushasana to bring Draupadi to the forum.
Acting upon his uncle's orders, Dushasana barged into the living quarters of the Pandavas and dragged Draupadi by her hair to the forum. When Bhima and Arjuna tried to help their distressed wife, Yudhisthir stopped them from doing so. Now the Pandavas had become the slaves of Kauravas.
Cheer Haran of Draupadi. As a mark of slavery, the Kauravas demanded the Pandavas to strip their upper garments. The five brothers adhered to their command. When Dushasana went ahead to strip Draupadi's sari, everyone were astonished to see that no brother came forward to help her. Draupadi pleaded to everyone present in the courtroom to save her modesty. But no one came forward to help her. Frantically she called out Krishna's name who worked a miracle so that as Dushasana unwraps layers and layers of her sari, her sari keeps getting extended. Tired, Dushasana gave up the idea of stripping Draupadi.
Finally when Dhritarashtra's conscience got stirred, he told everyone to stop it and asked Draupadi to wish for anything that she wanted. She asked the blind monarch to free her husbands from slavery. The monarch granted her wish.
The episode highlighted the male chauvinistic attitude of the Pandavas who considered their pledges more important than the safety of a woman who they had treated as a property.
Draupadi in the Draupadi Cult
The two dimensions of the Draupadi cult are of pivotal importance. They are the centrality of the goddess, and the determinativeness of the Mahabharata. In the Draupadi cult Draupadi is raised to the platform of a Goddess. She is sometimes regarded as Goddess Durga, Slayer of the Buffalo Demon, and Goddess Kali. In addition, Draupadi's Tamil milieu links her mythology with the goddess myths of the great South Indian Brahmanical temples, most notably those of Minaksi of Madurai, Kamaksi of Kanchipuram, and the buffalo-slaying and androgyne myths of the goddess of Tiruvannamalai. The classical epic of Mahabharata involves a central story. It is told through 18 Parvas of Mahabharata, whereas the Tamil version of the epic or as it is said the Draupadi cult only consists of twelve parvas. Draupadi cult's epic mythology cannot really be disentangled from its regional mythology. The Draupadi cult of South India has has both its Gingee and Kurukshetra variations. Hence it is evident that in southern parts of India Draupadi had a lot of prominence and a cult had started in the region. In those regions Draupadi was given the status of a goddess.
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