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The Dark Beauty
Painting by Raja Ravi Varma
|Other names||Krishnā, Yagnaseni , Paanchali|
|Affiliation||Character of Mahabharata, Panchakanya|
|Siblings||Dhristadyumna(brother), Shikhandi (sister later brother)|
|Spouse||Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahadeva|
|Children||Prativindhya, Satanika, Sutasoma, Srutasena, Srutakarma|
Like other epic characters, Draupadi is referred to by multiple names in the Mahabharata. Her names are as follows:
- Draupadī – (Sanskrit: द्रौपदी) – daughter of Drupada.
- Kṛṣṇā – (Sanskrit: कृष्णा) – one who has a dark complexion.
- Panchalī – (Sanskrit: पाञ्चाली) – one from the land of Panchala.
- Yajñasenī – (Sanskrit: याज्ञसेनी) or Yajñasenā (याज्ञसेना) – daughter of Yajnasena, another name of Drupada. Alternately, one born from a Yajña or sacrificial fire. Of the two variants of the name, the effeminate former is preferred over the more classical latter in Puranic texts.
- Drupadakanya – (Sanskrit: द्रुपदकन्या) – the daughter of Drupada.
- Sairandhrī – (Sanskrit: सैरन्ध्री) – an expert maid (her assumed name during her second exile in which she worked as Virat kingdom's queen Sudeshna's hair-stylist.)
- Parṣatī – (Sanskrit: पर्षती) – the granddaughter of Pṛṣata.
- Nityayuvanī – (Sanskrit: नित्ययुवनी) – one who never becomes old.
- Mālinī – (Sanskrit: मालिनी) – one who makes garlands.
According to the epic Mahābhārata, Bareilly region (Panchala, in present - day Uttar Pradesh and nearby regions) is said to be the birthplace of Draupadi, who was also referred to as 'Panchali'. King Drupada of Panchala had been defeated by the Pandava prince Arjuna on behalf of Drona, who subsequently took half his kingdom. To gain revenge on Drona, he performed a yajña called Putrakameshti yajna to obtain a means of blessing him. From the sacrificial fire, Draupadi emerged as a beautiful dark-skinned young woman after her sibling Dhrishtadyumna. When she emerged from the fire, a heavenly voice said that she would bring about a big change in the future of dharma of Bharatvarsha.
Drupada intended to wed his daughter to Arjuna. Upon hearing of the Pandavas' supposed death at Varnavata, he set up a Swayamvara contest for Draupadi to choose her husband from the competitive contest. The test was to lift and string a bow, and fire arrows to pierce the eye of a golden fish only by looking at its reflection in the water. At the Swayamvara, almost all the assorted monarchs were unable to complete the challenge. There are three primary variations regarding Karna's participation. The popular rendition shows Draupadi refusing to marry Karna on account of being a Suta, other versions describe him failing to string the bow by the "breadth of a hair", while some do not present his participation in the event clearly. The Critical Edition of Mahabharat compiled by Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute has officially identified Draupadi's rejection of Karna as a later insertion and omitted it from the text. It is ambiguous, however, whether Karna failed or didn't participate at all.
At the end, Arjuna succeeds in task, dressed as a Brahmin. As the other attendees, including the Kauravas, protest at a Brahmin winning the competition and attack, Arjuna and Bhima protect Draupadi and are able to retreat. When Draupadi arrives with the five Pandavas to meet Kunti, they inform her that Arjuna won alms, to which Kunti says, "Share the alms equally". This motherly command leads the five brothers to become the five husbands of Draupadi.
Draupadi as the Empress
With the Pandavas' survival revealed, a succession crisis was started. Upon the news of Pandavas' death at Varnavrat, the title of crown prince had fallen to Duryodhana. Dhritrashtra invites the Pandavas to Hastinapur and proposes that the kingdom be divided. The Pandavas are assigned the wasteland Khandavprastha, referred to as unreclaimed desert. With the help of Krishna, Pandavas rebuilt Khandavprastha into the glorious Indraprastha. The crown jewel of the kingdom was built at the Khandava forest, where Draupadi resided in the "Palace of Illusions". Yudhishthira performed the Rajasuya Yagna with Draupadi by his side; the Pandavas gained lordship over many regions.
A lesser known fact is Draupadi's role as an Empress. Trained in economy, she took upon the responsibility of looking after the treasury of the Empire, and also ran a citizen liaison. Her duties as a busy Empress are mentioned in her famous conversation with Satyabhama, Krishna's favourite wife, during their exile.
There is a popular myth that is believed to be the reason why Duryodhana hated Draupadi. Duryodhana and his entourage were exploring the keep during their visit to Yudhishthira's Rajasuya Yagna. While touring the grounds, an unsuspecting Duryodhana fell prey to one of the many illusions that could be seen all around the palace. When he stepped on the apparently solid part of the courtyard, there was a splash and Duryodhana found himself waist deep in water, drenched from head to foot by the hidden pool. The myth is, Draupadi and her maids saw this from the balcony with amusement, and joked Andhasya Putra Andhaha meaning 'a blind man's son is blind'. This famous story does not feature in Veda Vyasa's Mahabharatha, but is the figment of imagination of a much later playwright. It gained immense popularity gradually through repeated depictions in various screen and written adaptations of the epic across the length and breadth of the country. The most popular depictions were by B.R. Chopra's masterpiece Mahabharata series that aired on Doordarshan in 1988 and famous Telugu film 'Daana Veera Soora Karna' starring Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao as Duryodhana, where Draupadi's laughter was singled out for dramatic effect.
In Vyasa's Sanskrit epic, the scene is quite different. It was Bhima, Arjuna, and the twin brothers alongside their retinues who had witnessed Duryodhana's fall and laughed along with their servants. In the Sanskrit text, Draupadi is not mentioned in the scene at all, either laughing or insulting Duryodhana. Nonetheless, Duryodhana felt insulted by the behavior of the four Pandavas, stoking his hatred of them. Later on, he went back to Hastinapur, and expressed his immense agony on witnessing the riches of the Pandavas to his blind father, which was the root cause for inviting his cousins for the dice-game. His main wish was to usurp the wealth of his cousins which they had accumulated on account of the Rajasuya Yajna. Known to few, during this conversation, Duryodhan mentions how he had observed Draupadi serving food to everyone, including physically challenged citizens as the Empress. He says to his father,"And, O king, Yajnaseni, without having eaten herself, daily seeth whether everybody, including even the deformed and the dwarfs, hath eaten or not."
He then went on to express his wrath at having fallen into a pool of water, and being laughed at mockingly, mainly by Bhima, followed by Arjun, Nakul, Sahadeva and other menials in the palace. It is here, where he fleetingly mentioned Draupadi's name, who accordingly to Duryodhan, had "joined in the laughter with other females." Whether Duryodhana was speaking an untruth or her name was a later addition into this part of the text is debatable.
Draupadi's laughter went on to be singled out and romanticized by writers for centuries as a cause for the dice-game, and the war. In Vyasa's Sanskrit epic, however, her role in the scene is trivial compared to the exaggerated treatment it has received in popular adaptations. 
Game of dice
Together with his maternal uncle Shakuni, Duryodhana conspired to call on the Pandavas to Hastinapur and win their kingdoms in a game of gambling. There is famous folklore that the plan's architect, Shakuni had magic dice that would never disobey his will, as they were made from the bones of Shakuni's father. This story, however, is non-existent in the Sanskrit epic. As the game proceeds, Yudhishthira loses everything at first. In the second round, Yudhishthira's brother Nakula is stake, and Yudhishthira loses him. Yudhisthira subsequently gambles away Sahdev, Arjuna and Bhima. Finally, Yudhishthira puts himself at stake, and loses again. For Duryodhana, the humiliation of the Pandavas was not complete. He prods Yudhishthira that he has not lost everything yet; Yudhishthira still has Draupadi with him and if he wishes he can win everything back by putting Draupadi at stake. Inebriated by the game, Yudhishthira, to the horror of everybody present, puts Draupadi up as a bet for the next round. Playing the next round, Shakuni wins. Draupadi was horrified after hearing that she was staked in the game and now is a slave for Duryodhana. Draupadi questions Yudhishthira's right on her as he had lost himself first and she was still the queen. Duryodhana, angry with Draupadi's questions, commands his younger brother Dushasana to bring her into the court, forcefully if he must.
Dushasana drags Draupadi to the court by the hair. Seeing this, Bhima pledges to cut off Dushasana's hands, as they touched Draupadi's hair. Now in an emotional appeal to the elders present in the forum, Draupadi repeatedly questions the legality of the right of Yudhishthira to place her at stake.
In order to provoke the Pandavas further, Duryodhana bares and pats his thigh looking into Draupadi's eyes, implying that she should sit on his thigh. The engraged Bhima vows in front of the entire assembly that he would break Duryodhana's thigh, or else accept being Duryodhana's slave for seven lifetimes. At this time Vikarna, a brother of Duryodhana asks the kings assembled in the court to answer the question of Draupadi. He gives his opinion that Draupadi is not won rightfully as Yudhishthira lost himself first before staking her. Besides, no one has right to put a woman on bet according to shastras; not a husband, father, or even the gods. Hearing these words, Karna gets angry and says that when Yudhishthira lost all his possession he also lost Draupadi, even specifically staking her. Karna calls Draupadi "unchaste" for being the wedded wife of five men, adding that dragging her to court is not surprising act whether she be attired or naked. He orders Dushasana to remove the garments of Draupadi. After her husbands fail to assist her, Draupadi prays to Krishna to protect her. Dushasana attempts to disrobe her, but she is miraculously protected by Krishna, and Dushasana finds that as he continues to unwrap the layers of her sari, the amount of fabric covering her never lessens. Dushasana is eventually reduces to exhaustion, as the awed court observes that Draupadi is still chastely dressed. At this point, a furious Bhima vows to drink the blood from Dushasana'schest, at the pain of not seeing his ancestors/entering heaven. This vow unsettles the entire court.
The only Kauravas who object to the disrobing of Draupadi in the court are Vikarna and Yuyutsu. Vidura openly calls Duryodhana a snake and a demon, but after finding no support even from his own brother, Vidura is helpless. Karna further orders Dushasana to take Draupadi to the servants' quarters and derisively asks her to choose another husband who unlike Yudhistira would not gamble her away. Just then, jackals call out as a mark of evil omen. Queen mother Gandhari enters the scene and counsels Dhritarashtra to undo her sons' misdeeds. Fearing the ill-omens, Dhritarashtra intervenes and grants Draupadi a boon. Draupadi asks that her husband Yudisthir be freed from bondage so her son Prativindhya would not be called a slave. In order to pacify her further, Dhritarashtra offers a second boon. Calmly, she asks for the freedom of the Pandavas along with their weapons. When Dhritarashtra asks her for her third wish, she reminds him that a kshatriya woman can seek only two wishes, three would be a sign of greed. Dhristarashtra gives them back their wealth, and grants them permission to go home.
Amused by the sudden turn of events, Karna remarks that they "have never heard of such an act, performed by any of the women noted in this world for their beauty." He taunts the Pandavas by praising their wife, as she had rescued them "like a boat from their ocean of distress"
Having restored their pride and wealth, the Pandavas and Draupadi leave for Indraprastha, only to receive another invitation for a game of dice, in which the loser would be given an exile of 12 years followed by a year of Agnathavas, meaning "living in incognito". Yudhishtira yet again accepts the invitation and loses, and goes on an exile with his brothers and wife Draupadi.
Living in exile
Abduction by Jayadratha
While the Pandavas were in the Kamyaka forest, they often went hunting, leaving Draupadi alone. At this time Jayadratha, the son of Vriddhakshatra and the husband of Duryodhana's sister Dussala, passed through Kamyaka forest on the way to Salwa Desa. Jayadratha met Draupadi and then started beseeching her to go away with him and desert her husbands. Draupadi pointed out the immorality of deserting one's spouses when they were in difficulty, and attempted to stall and dissuade Jayadradtha by describing how the Pandavas would punish him. Failing with words, Jayadratha forced her onto his chariot. Meanwhile, the Pandavas finished their hunt and found Draupadi missing. Learning of their wife's abduction by Jayadratha they rushed to save her. On seeing the Pandavas coming after him, Jayadratha left Draupadi on the road, though ultimately the Pandavas managed to arrest him. Yudhishthira urged Bhima to spare Jayadratha's life for the sake of Dussala and Gandhari, much to the indignation of Draupadi. In some versions of the story, Yudhishthira asks Draupadi to pass the sentence since it was she who was attacked, and she begrudgingly counsels to spare him because of the relations they share. Before freeing him, the Pandavas shaved Jayadratha's head at five places in order to publicly humiliate him.
On the year they had to go into exile, the Pandavas chose to stay in the Matsya Kingdom.
One day Kichaka, and the commander of king Virata's forces, happened to see Draupadi. He was filled with lust by looking at her and requested her hand in marriage. Draupadi refused him, saying that she was already married to Gandharvas. She warned Kichaka that her husbands were very strong and that he would not be able to escape death at their hands. Later, he forced his sister, the queen Sudeshna, to help him win Draupadi. Sudeshana ordered Draupadi to fetch wine from Kichaka's house, overriding Draupadi's protests. When Draupadi went to get wine, Kichaka tried to molest her. Draupadi escaped and runs into the court of Virata. Kichaka kicked her in front of all the courtiers, including Yudhishthira. Fearful of losing his most powerful warrior, even Virat did not take any action. Bhima is present, and only a look from Yudhishthira prevents him from attacking Kichaka. Furious, Draupadi asked about the duties of a king and dharma. Draupadi then cursed Kichaka with death by her husband's hand. Laughing it off, Kichaka only doubted their whereabouts and asked those present where the Ghandaravas were. Yudhishthira then told Sairandhri to go to the temple, as Kichaka would not do anything to her there (in some versions, he recommends she seeks refuge with the queen). With this, the king asked Kichaka to leave and praised Yudhishthira's reply as he himself could not think of anything.
Later that night, Arjuna consoled Draupadi, and with Bhima, they hatched a plan to kill Kichaka. Draupadi meets with Kichaka, pretending to actually love him and agreeing to marry him on the condition that none of his friends or brothers would know about their relationship. Kichaka accepted her condition. Draupadi asked Kichaka to come to the dancing hall at night. Bhima (in the guise of Draupadi), fights with Kichaka and kills him.
There is a popular myth often depicted in well-known adaptations on Mahabharata. It says that, Draupadi washed her hair with her brother-in-law Dushasana's blood, as a mark of her vengeance against the molestation she had suffered at the dice-game. Though an extremely powerful and symbolic theme, this incident does not appear in Vyasa's Sanskrit Mahabharata. Alf Hiltebeitel in his acclaimed research work, "The Cult of Draupadi" explores the source of this myth as he travels through the rural areas of India. He discovers that the first literary mention of the blood-washing theme appeared in "Venisamhara"  or "Braiding The Hair (of Draupadi)", a Sanskrit play written in the Pallava period by eminent playwright Bhatta Narayana. Since then, this powerful theme of vengeance had been used in most retellings and adaptations on Mahabharat, thus mistakenly attributing the authorship to Veda Vyasa.
Ashwathama, in order to avenge his father's as well as other Kuru warriors' deceitful killing by the Pandavas, attacks their camp at night with Kripacharya and Kritavarma. Ashwathama killed Dhrishtadyumna, Shikhandi, Upapandavas, and the remaining Pandava and Panchala army. In the morning, Yudhishthira hears the news and asks Nakula to bring Draupadi from Matsya kingdom. Draupadi vows that if the Pandavas do not kill Ashwatthama, she would fast to death. The Pandavas find Ashwatthama at Vyasa's hut. Arjuna and Ashwatthama end up firing the Brahmashirsha astra at each other. Vyasa intervenes and asks the two warriors to withdraw the destructive weapon. Not endowed with the knowledge to do so, Ashwatthama instead redirects the weapon to Uttara's womb, killing the Pandavas' only heir. Krishna curses him for this act. Ashwathama is caught by the Pandavas, and his jewel is taken away. Draupadi gives the jewel to Yudisthir and forgives the killer of her children. Due to the power of meditation, her wrath is subdued and she lets go off Ashwathama, son of their preceptor Drona saying, "I desired to only pay off our debt for the injury we have sustained. The preceptor's son is worthy of my reverence as the preceptor himself. Let the king bind this gem on his head, O Bharata!"
Death and to heaven
When her husbands retired from the world and went on their journey towards the Himalayas and heaven, she accompanied them, and was the first to fall on the journey. When Bhima asked Yudhishthira why Draupadi had fallen, Yudhishthira replied,
Draupadi had five sons, one son each from the Pandava brothers. They were known as Upapandavas. Their names were Prativindhya, Sutasoma, Shrutakarma, Satanika, and Shrutasena. Ashwatthama killed Upapandavas during his surprise raid on Pandava camp.
Polyandry, was not regarded without censure by the society spoken of in the epic. The Vedic texts have not discriminated between polyandry and polygamy but usually, the women of royal families were allowed to indulge in polyandry for expansion of progeny, although polygamy was more common among men of higher social ranks. Her marriage to five men was controversial for political reasons as that was an advantage for Prince Duryodhana to get the throne of Bharat Varsha. However, when questioned by Kunti to give an example of polyandry, Yudhishthira cites Gautam-clan Jatila (married to seven Saptarishi) and Hiranyaksha's sister Pracheti (married to ten brothers).
There are many women of high born classes or royal class like Princess Mādhavi who had 4 husbands, the only daughter of King Yayati. Polyandry was but common in the royal class but under the strict guidance of the Vedic sages exactly like polygamous marriages of ancient Indian kings were under strict supervision and guidance of the Vedic laws and Vedic sages.
Draupadi as a goddess and deity
The Draupadi Amman sect (or Draupadi devotional sect) is a tradition that binds together a community of people in worshipping Draupadi Amman as a village goddess with unique rituals and mythologies. The sect believes that Draupadi is the incarnation of goddess Kali. Fire walking or theemithi is a popular ritual enacted at Draupadi Amman temples. At the ancient religious festival of Bengalore named Karaga, Draupadi is worshipped as an incarnation of Adishakti and Parvati in the nine-day event.
There are over 400 temples dedicated to Draupadi in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and other countries like Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius, Réunion, South Africa. In these regions, Draupadi is worshipped mainly by people of the Vanniyar caste. There are a few processions and festivals which are conducted for about 3 weeks a year. The most famous festival is in the village Durgasamudram, Tirupati of Chittoor district.
In media and television
In Suryaputra Karna (2015 TV Series) Draupadi was portrayed by Pankhuri Awasthy.
The fiery heroine of Mahabharata has been the topic of research and debate for centuries. There are various plays and novels about her.
- Yajnaseni by Pratibha Ray – This novel, originally written in Oriya was the recipient of Jnanpith Award. It was also translated in various languages like English, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, etc.
- The Palace of Illusions: A Novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – Deviating much from the Sanskrit text, Divakaruni brings up the emotions of Draupadi, re-imagining the whole epic from her perspective.
- The Cult of Draupadi by Alf Hiltebeitel – This trilogy is an exhaustive, scholarly account of the various folk traditions surrounding Draupadi in South India. Hiltebeitel travels through various parts of India, tracing and recording the lesser-known customs and tribes in Gingi Cult and much more, who extensively worship Draupadi as their deity – a status which has been attained by few Mahabharat characters. There are over 31 plays and ballads that are conducted in over 400 temples, that are dedicated to Draupadi Amman.
- Nathabati Anathbat by Shaoli Mitra – This is a stage play depicting the agony of Draupadi as a woman who "has five husbands, and yet none to protect her."
- Dropodi by Mahasweta Devi in Bengali – A contemporary tale of oppression with Draupadi as the lead character.
- The Great Indian Novel by Dr. Shashi Tharoor - Written as a fictional work that is analogous to the events featured in the Mahabharata in order to describe contemporary Indian Politics, Dr.Tharoor has described the character of 'Draupadi' as 'Di Mokrasi', who is an illegitimate daughter of 'Dhritarasthra' and 'Lady Drewpad' in the novel. Tharoor likens Draupadi to the tenets of 'Democracy'. As mentioned in Ved Vyasa's epic, he ascribes her to be the wife to all five 'Pandyas', who are themselves an abbreviation of different facets of Indian politics.
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