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Draupadi’s admirable character is revealed in the most humiliating incident of her life – her disrobing by the wicked Dushasana. Though she was victimised but her exceptional character transforms the lowest point in her life to the most honourable moments in the history of Hindu Mythology.
Victim of power play
On that fateful day, she puts on her royal dress as the chief queen of the reigning monarch, Yudhishthira. Little did she know, that she was a part of a gamble and in a rigged gambling match, she has lost everything including the property and the brothers. After the Kauravas win Draupadi, the jeering Karna suggests that she be summoned to the assembly and disrobed publicly as she is now the Kauravas’ slave, bound to do their bidding. The reprehensible scheme to disrobe her was not just by driven by lust but also as tool to demean the Pandavas. Dushasana strides to her chamber, catching her by her hair and drags her to the assembly, hurling her to the ground in the middle of the hall.
Technicality and travesty
Duryodhana, enjoying the Pandavas’ discomfiture, tries to pit wife against husband by announcing that if Draupadi admits that dharma-raja Yudhishthira has violated dharma by gambling her, he would release all the Pandavas. Shrewdly, she rejects Duryodhana’s bait. She refuses to cast any blame on her husband, not because he is to be forgiven– which he certainly isn’t – and not because she is blind to his mistakes, but because she wanted to honour the decisions made by her loved ones and she decided to publicly stand by them. Just because we are let down by others doesn’t mean that we have to let them down.`
Karna inexplicably chooses to fight dirty – he justifies the atrocious dishonoring of Draupadi by assassinating her character. He even labels her a prostitute for having married five men.
Draupadi’s polyandry was unusual, but not improper. She hadn’t done anything objectionable to snag five husbands. It was a result of the decisions taken by her elders and ultimately, the imperatives of forces greater than human. Her polyandry had been sanctioned by sages of the caliber of Vyasa and Narada – how could it ever be compared with prostitution ?
The inexhaustible robe and the exhausted disrober
Duryodhana asks his brother Dushasana to strip Draupadi. She holds on to her saree desperately, but she is no match to that huge brute. Finally, she raises her hands in supplication to her Lord, Krishna, and begs him to rescue her from sinking in the well of shame. By Krishna’s mystic power, her saree becomes endless. Dushasana keeps pulling the saree – but all in vain. He gets exhausted, but her saree remains inexhaustible. The whole assembly applauds Draupadi’s virtuousness that has attracted such supernatural protection and censures the Kauravas for dishonoring her.
Significantly, the miracle doesn’t slow down the Mahabharata’s narrative. It’s focus remains on discerning dharma, and dharma centers on human actions, not divine interventions.
Unsurprisingly, the adharmic Kauravas aren’t fazed by the miracle. Their inability to disrobe Draupadi doesn’t make them rethink their maliciousness – it just makes them suspend their intention to disrobe her. Rather than realising their unworthy actions, they decide to send Draupadi to the maids’ quarters and be taught to sweep their palace.
Dhritarashtra tells Draupadi to ask for some boon. She asks for the release of her husband – not Arjuna who had won her, but Yudhishthira who had lost her.
Even in the closest of relationships, we all commit mistakes, and most of us do have conscience, which makes us realise when we act harshly. That pinch of conscience is a burning wound for sensitive people, enough to impel them towards self-correction. When we hurt someone, we often feel regretful and repentant. But when the victim hits back at us with harsh words, those words frequently become like salt on the wounds of our self-recrimination. The aggravated sting changes our attitude from self-corrective to ultra-defensive, thereby worsening the situation. Resisting the urge to hit back when one has been hurt requires great fortitude.
Exhibiting such fortitude, Draupadi resists the temptation to put any salt on Yudhishthira’s wounds. Instead, by asking that he be released, she helps the mortified king regain his dignity.
Dhritarashtra asks her to demand for some other benediction. Draupadi asks that all her husbands be released along with their weapons, saying that with those weapons they would regain everything else. The king says that he is still not satisfied and she should ask for more benedictions. When Draupadi declines, quoting an ancient standard which forbids kshatriya women from asking more than two benedictions. The king in a rare display of magnanimity returns the Pandavas everything they had lost. (Later, they are recalled for another rigged gambling match, which after losing, they are exiled to the forest.)
In this incident, Draupadi emerges as the brightest character. The character who emerges the darkest is not Dushasana, although he gets immortalized infamously as Draupadi’s disrober. The darkest character is not Duryodhana, whose exposing his bare thigh to Draupadi eventually leads to his death through the breaking of that very thigh. The darkest character is Karna, not just because he behaves so reprehensibly, but because such behavior is so out-of-character for him. To his credit, he regrets his actions, as he admits in the Mahabharata while speaking to Krishna and then to Bhishma. In contrast, Dushasana and Duryodhana never regret their vile deeds – their only regret is that they couldn’t dishonor the Pandavas more.
A spine of steel
In this incident, Lord Krishna is highlighted as a saviour. Also, we have witnessed here, Draupadi’s consistent strength of character. Within her frail female form, runs a spine of steel that stands erect throughout. While miraculous rescues aren’t usually available to us, a character of steel is a trait that all women can aspire for, no matter what indignity the world subjects us to.
Draupadi reveals that strength comes from one’s innate dignity, by sheltering one’s identity not in one’s femininity, but in one’s spirituality.