In This Article Draupadī

  • Introduction
  • Gender and the Mahābhārata
  • Draupadī and Sītā
  • Indo-European Studies
  • The Jaina Mahābhārata Tradition
  • Classical Sanskrit Drama
  • Indian Folk Traditions
  • Television
  • Indian Literature and Performance in the 20th and 21st Centuries: Primary Sources
  • Indian Literature and Performance in the 20th and 21st Centuries: Critical Studies
  • Contemporary Culture

Hinduism Draupadī
by
Emily T. Hudson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 September 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0186

Introduction

Draupadī is the central heroine of the classical Sanskrit epic the Mahābhārata, which tells the tale of a fratricidal war between two sets of cousins (the Pāṇḍavas and the Kauravas), resulting in the near devastation of their world. Draupadī is born from a sacrificial fire; jointly marries the five Pāṇḍava brothers; is humiliated, sexually harassed, and nearly publicly stripped by the Kauravas after her eldest husband loses her in a dice game; joins her husbands in their thirteen-year exile during which she is sexually assaulted twice; spurs them to avenge her in battle against the Kauravas; and finally, after the Pāṇḍavas’ pyrrhic victory and thirty-six-year-long rule, accompanies them to Mount Meru on their journey of ascent to heaven. Even though the epic presents her as an incarnation of the goddess Śrī (prosperity), she has little theological significance in the story. However, in folk reimaginings of the epic in Tamil Nadu, she becomes the virginal embodiment of the supreme goddess Parāśakti and is worshipped in many temple festivals in that region. Interpreted variously through the ages as a scholar; a model of Hindu womanhood; a goddess; Mother India; a head-strong, opinionated woman; an instigator of war; and a seductress, Draupadī is often compared to the more subservient and mild-mannered Sītā, the heroine of the Rāmāyaṇa. While Sītā is the more popular of the two, it is hard to overestimate the impact that Draupadī and the sexual violation she endures at the hands of the Kauravas in the dicing scene has had on Indian culture and consciousness. This scene has been reimagined in numerous plays, novels, dances, and songs from a variety of feminist, colonial, and postcolonial perspectives, and has provided the culture with its preeminent metaphor of intolerable violence and injustice at the hands of blind male authority. Since the turn of the 21st century, Draupadī has also been adopted by transnational feminists as a symbol for violence against women. Draupadī is known by several names: Yajñasenī (which means “daughter of Yajñasena”), Pāñcalī (referring to her status as princess of Pāñcala), and Kṛṣṇā (dark one), which highlights her associations with the god Kṛṣṇa as well as her destructive elements.

Draupadī in the Mahābhārata

Draupadī makes her first appearance in the Indian tradition in the Sanskrit Mahābhārata (400 BCE–400 CE), and it is from this text that all later renditions of her story derive. To a large degree, Draupadī fuels the engine for the narrative, since her humiliating treatment at the hands of the Kauravas in the dicing scene and her subsequent quest for revenge make the apocalyptic war between the Kauravas and Pāṇḍavas inevitable.

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