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.
Etymology of Draupadi
The etymology of Draupadi, a prominent character in the epic Mahabharata, reveals a fascinating array of names and epithets that reflect various aspects of her persona and lineage. The term "Draupadi," literally translating to 'daughter of Drupada,' is a patronymic derived from the name Drupada, which interestingly signifies 'pillar.'
As customary with epic characters, Draupadi is recognized by multiple names throughout the Mahabharata. Among these notable appellations are:
Krishnaa: This denotes 'one who possesses a dark complexion' and serves as Draupadi's birth name.
Panchali: Signifying 'one hailing from Panchala,' a region she originates from. Yajnaseni: Another patronymic derived from her father Drupada's alternative name, Yajnasena, which translates to 'he whose army is sacrificial.' Alternatively, this name could also signify her miraculous birth from a Yajna.
Drupadakanya: Meaning 'the daughter of Drupada,' emphasizing her lineage.
Sairandhri: This pseudonym was adopted by Draupadi during her concealed life as an 'expert maid.'
Parshati: Referring to Draupadi as the 'granddaughter of Prishata' or 'daughter of Prishati,' both names being derived from her father's ancestors.
Nityayuvani: Highlighting the concept of eternal youthfulness and never succumbing to old age.
Mahabharati: This epithet extols her virtuous nature as the devoted wife of the great descendants of Bharata, the Pandavas.
Agnisuta: Meaning 'Daughter of fire,' possibly alluding to her exceptional birth from the sacred flames.
Kalyani: A name used by Yudhishthira, signifying 'One who brings fortune.'
Malini: Representing 'fragrant' or 'one who makes garlands.'
Panchavallabha: Denoting 'Beloved of the five Pandavas,' underscoring her cherished status among the Pandavas.
Pandusharmila: Referring to Draupadi as the 'Daughter-in-law of Pandu,' acknowledging her relationship with the esteemed king.
Birth of Draupadi
The legend of Draupadi's birth, as recounted in the Adi Parva of Hindu texts, bestows upon her a unique and mystical origin. She is often described as an ayonija, signifying that she was not born from a woman's womb. The tale unfolds with the defeat of Drupada, the ruler of Panchala, at the hands of Drona, the esteemed teacher of the Kuru princes. Drona, with the assistance of his students, claims half of Panchala as his victory.
Seeking revenge but realizing the lack of a suitable heir capable of slaying Drona, Drupada resolves to conduct a yajna, a profound fire-sacrifice, to obtain a powerful offspring. The yajna is presided over by the venerable sages Yaja and Upyaja. During the ceremony's culmination, the priests instruct Prishati, Drupada's wife, to partake in the offering. However, Prishati hesitates and requests time to cleanse herself before consuming the oblation.
Impatient to wait, Yaja proceeds to pour the offering into the altar, resulting in the miraculous emergence of a youthful man named Dhrishtadyumna and a woman known by the patronymic "Draupadi." The latter, Draupadi, is chosen as her appellation. Both Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi accept Drupada and Prishati as their parents and are raised within the opulent confines of Drupada's palace.
Draupadi is described in the Mahabharata by the sage Vyasa, its revered author, as possessing unparalleled beauty. Her enchanting allure is captured in the verses, painting a picture of dark lotus-like eyes, beautiful copper nails, and lustrous, dark curly hair. Her radiance is further heightened by an alluring fragrance reminiscent of the celestial blue lotus.
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.
Children of Draupadi
Draupadi, as the virtuous wife of the Pandava brothers, bore five sons, each one fathered by a different Pandava, and they came to be known as the Upapandavas. The names of her beloved sons were Prativindhya (fathered by Yudhishthira), Sutasoma (by Bhima), Shrutakarma (by Arjuna), Satanika (by Nakula), and Shrutasena (by Sahadeva). Regrettably, a tragic event befell them during the great war—the Kurukshetra War.
On the eighteenth day of the war, the formidable warrior Ashwatthama, seeking vengeance for the loss of his father Drona, launched a surprise raid on the Pandava camp. In his fierce rage, he tragically slew the Upapandavas, causing immense grief and sorrow to their noble mother Draupadi and the Pandava brothers. The loss of her sons was a heartrending moment in the epic saga, further underscoring the profound sacrifices and consequences of the Kurukshetra War. None of her children survive by the end of the Battle at Kurukshetra, except for Arjun's grandson Parikshit.
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 in Indraprastha
Following the dramatic revelation of the Pandavas' survival, a tumultuous succession crisis emerged. The title of 'the crown prince' had fallen upon Duryodhana, owing to the false news of the Pandavas' demise at Varnavrat. However, upon discovering the truth, Dhritrashtra extended an invitation to the Pandavas to Hastinapur and proposed a division of the kingdom.
In this division, the Pandavas were allotted the seemingly barren and uncultivable wasteland known as Khandavprastha. Yet, with the invaluable assistance of Krishna, the Pandavas embarked on the task of transforming Khandavprastha into the splendid realm of Indraprastha. In this new kingdom, a shining jewel was the majestic edifice called the "Palace of Illusions," nestled within the Khandava forest, where Draupadi, the illustrious queen, resided.
At the heart of Indraprastha's rise to glory was the momentous Rajasuya Yagna, presided over by Yudhishthira, which Draupadi graced by his side. Through this sacred ritual, the Pandavas ascended to a position of supreme authority, gaining lordship over vast territories and regions.
Notably, Draupadi's role extended beyond her regal title, for she possessed remarkable acumen in economics and was entrusted with the treasury of the Empire. Additionally, she assumed the vital responsibility of citizen liaison, fostering a direct connection between the royal court and the people.
The duties of this esteemed Empress were known to be demanding and all-encompassing. In a poignant exchange during their period of exile, Draupadi engaged in a memorable conversation with Satyabhama, the beloved wife of Krishna. This discourse unveiled the intricacies of her multifaceted role and underscored her dedication to her royal duties even amidst challenging circumstances.
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 during Exile
Throughout the arduous period of exile faced by the Pandavas, Draupadi exemplified strength and resilience, overcoming numerous challenges that revealed diverse facets of her character.
One notable incident occurred when the Pandavas, along with Draupadi, finished a meal prepared from the Akshay Patra, a divine vessel granting unlimited food. During this time, sage Durvasa and his pupils arrived at their dwelling, sent by the resentful Duryodhana with the intention of cursing the Pandavas. With gracious hospitality, the brothers welcomed the sage and his disciples, but as Durvasa sought sustenance, Draupadi found herself without any food left to offer. Fearful of the sage's curse, Draupadi turned to divine intervention, fervently praying to the gods for assistance. Lord Krishna, in response to her plea, appeared before her and, with a single grain of rice, satisfied the sage and his followers, who left the place with contentment.
Another significant episode unfolded while the Pandavas were residing in the Kamyaka forest during their exile. Frequently engaged in hunting, the brothers would leave Draupadi alone. During one such instance, Jayadratha, the husband of Duryodhana's sister, encountered Draupadi and shamelessly implored her to abandon her husband and accompany him. In the face of temptation, Draupadi stood steadfast, firmly advocating the sanctity of marriage and dissuading Jayadratha from his immoral pursuit. Nevertheless, Jayadratha, undeterred by her words, abducted her and compelled her onto his chariot.
On realizing Draupadi's disappearance, the Pandavas swiftly pursued Jayadratha, eventually rescuing her. Bhima, being the powerful warrior held Jayadratha's life in his hands. In an act of mercy, Yudhishthira urged Bhima to spare Jayadratha's life, considering the relations he shared with Duryodhana's family.
During the thirteenth year of their exile, the Pandavas sought refuge in the Matsya Kingdom. In this time, Draupadi assumed the role of a maid to the queen, Sudeshna, to protect her identity. Tragically, Kichaka, Sudeshna's brother and the commander of the king's forces, noticed Draupadi and was consumed by lust. Despite her firm refusals, Kichaka persisted in his pursuit, even enlisting Sudeshna's help in his endeavors.
When Draupadi tried to fetch wine from Kichaka's house, he attempted to molest her. Escaping from his clutches, she sought refuge in the court of King Virata. Astonishingly, Kichaka brazenly kicked her in front of the courtiers, including Yudhishthira, yet no action was taken by the king to protect her due to fear of losing a powerful warrior. Bhima's restraint, urged by Yudhishthira, prevented him from retaliating against Kichaka.
In her justifiably furious state, Draupadi questioned the king's sense of duty and adherence to dharma. She then pronounced a curse upon Kichaka, decreeing his death at the hands of her husbands. This curse only incited laughter from Kichaka, who remained skeptical about the existence of her Gandharva husbands. Yudhishthira, addressing Draupadi as Sairandhri, ordered her to seek refuge in the temple, assuring her of safety. Later that night, Bhima devised a plan to eliminate Kichaka by disguising himself as Draupadi, leading to Kichaka's death.
Subsequently, Draupadi confronted Kichaka's family, presenting them with his mutilated body and attributing his death to her Gandharva husbands. Furious, Kichaka's brothers sought revenge by deciding to burn Draupadi along with Kichaka's body. With King Virata's consent, Draupadi was forcibly bound to Kichaka's pyre. Frantically pleading for help, she was ultimately rescued by Bhima, who confronted and killed Kichaka's brothers, sparing her from the gruesome fate of being burnt alive.
Draupadi during Kurukshetra War
During the tumultuous Kurukshetra War, Draupadi remained at Ekachakra, seeking solace and strength among other women. On the 16th day of the war, a pivotal and emotionally charged moment unfolded when Bhima, fulfilling his long-standing oath, vanquished Dushasana, the perpetrator of Draupadi's dishonorable molestation during the fateful dice game.
A widely known myth, often portrayed in popular adaptations of the Mahabharata, depicts Draupadi washing her hair with Dushasana's blood as a potent symbol of her vengeance against the egregious assault she endured at the hands of her brother-in-law. While this act is a remarkably powerful theme, it is essential to note that it does not originate from Vyasa's Sanskrit Mahabharata. Despite its origin, the image of Draupadi's hair being cleansed with Dushasana's blood remains a powerful and evocative symbol of her resilience and determination in the face of immense adversity.
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.
Draupadi as Goddess
In the sacred verses of the Sanskrit Mahabharata, Draupadi is revered as a divine embodiment, associated with different goddesses. Within the Sambhava section of the Adi Parva, she is depicted as a partial incarnation of the revered Goddess Shachi, also known as Sachi. However, in the Vaivahika section of the same Parva, the venerable sage Vyasa describes Draupadi as the celestial Sri, signifying her divine essence. In the Svargarohanika Parva, Yudhishthira's celestial journey to heaven offers a moment of revelation, as he beholds Draupadi seated as the goddess Sri, further highlighting her elevated status in the realm of divinity.
The worship of Draupadi as the benevolent village goddess, known as Draupadi Amman, forms the foundation of a devoted sect that brings together a community of faithful adherents. Unique rituals and mythology surround the veneration of Draupadi Amman, with fire walking or Thimithi being a popular ceremonial practice at Draupadi Amman temples.
Notably, during the ancient religious festival of Bengaluru Pete, known as Bangalore Karaga, Draupadi is worshipped as an incarnation of Adishakti and Parvati, in a grand nine-day celebration filled with devotion and reverence. Across the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and other nations, more than 400 temples are dedicated to Draupadi, demonstrating the wide-ranging adoration she receives from countless devotees. The worship of Draupadi predominantly resonates with the Konar (Yadavas), Vanniyar (Kshatriyas), and Mutaliyar caste in these regions.
Among the Pillais, Vanniyars, Mudaliyars, Konars, and Gounder communities of Tamil Nadu, as well as the Tigala community of Karnataka, Draupadi Amman is revered as an incarnation of Adi Parashakti and revered as the cherished household goddess (kuladevi) of their respective communities. These South Indian villages host numerous temples dedicated to Draupadi Amman, where annual festivals are observed with great fervor and devotion. One such popular temple, the Sri Dharmarayaswamy-Draupadi temple, is situated in the heart of Bengaluru, Karnataka.
Draupadi in other Religion
In various religious traditions, Draupadi's character finds intriguing interpretations that offer unique perspectives on her identity and journey. In Buddhism, K??na Draupadi is mentioned among a group of eight goddesses residing in the western cardinal direction, as documented in the Mahavastu and the Lalitavistara. This portrayal places her in a celestial context, embodying divine qualities. Within the Digambara Jain scriptures, such as the Harivamsa Purana, Draupadi's polyandrous marriage is refuted, asserting that she was wed solely to Arjuna.