- Draupadi is the joint wife of the five PANDAVA brothers in the Indian epic MAHABHARATA. Her name derives from her father, King Drupada, of the Panchalas.Draupadi and her brother, Dhristhadymna, were born from the sacrificial fire in the altar of the house of Drupada. She was a partial incarna-tion of the goddess SRI, who is associated with kingship and kingly success. As she was supremely attractive and desirable her father decided to hold a “self-choice” festival, where, after a competi-tion of her kingly, princely, and other suitors, she would be able to choose her husband. In the competition, whoever among the suitors could hit a revolving, fish-shaped object suspended from a tall pole would receive Draupadi in marriage.KRISHNA and BALARAMA, the two AVATARS of VISHNU, participated in the contest, but it was the Pandava ARJUNA who successfully hit the target and was garlanded by Draupadi. The five Panda-vas, accustomed to sharing travails and rewards, argued on the way home as to who should receive this lovely woman as his wife. When they arrived at home and announced that they had obtained a prize, their mother, distracted with another task, absentmindedly told them that they should share it as brothers. Because holding to one’s word was more important than anything in those times, the mother, KUNTI, could not release them from her command; nor could they refuse a mother’s direct requirement. Therefore, Draupadi became the wife for all five. Henceforth, she stayed two days with each husband in turn.Draupadi figures prominently in the famous “dice scene” in the MAHABHARATA. YUDHISHTHIRA, trying to win his kingdom back from his evil cousins the KAURAVAS, wagers everything he owns—and loses. Finally he offers his wife, Draupadi, as a wager. He loses her as well. Drau-padi, in menstruation, was rudely taken from her quarters into public view by the Kauravas. Drau-padi argues that since Yudhishthira has already lost himself in the dice game and has become a slave, he can no longer be considered in posses-sion of her and his wager was invalid. Angered at this “arrogance,” DURYODHANA, eldest of Kaura-vas, commands Duhshana, one of the Kauravas, to disrobe Draupadi in order to humiliate her. As Duhshasana grasps her sari, Draupadi prays to Krishna for protection. Krishna answers her prayers and her sari becomes an endless garment that cannot be removed.The disrobing of Draupadi is one of the most popular and reenacted parts of the Mahabharata. For this act Draupadi swears that she will not adorn her hair again until the blood of Duryod-hana and Duhshasana flows in defeat on the battlefield. Draupadi accompanies her husbands through their exiles and experiences everything along with them. In the great war all five of her sons die, but she does eventually see the day when she can adorn her hair once again.In regional mythology Draupadi is often con-sidered the Great Goddess. This tradition is partic-ularly well developed in the Tamil country, where she takes on not only the role of the goddess Sri, but also exhibits the characteristics of KALI and is celebrated in many shrines, rituals, and dramas. The dramas are often accompanied by possession rituals and walking on burning coals.Further reading: J. A. B. van Buitenen, trans. The Mahabharata, Vol. 1, The Book of the Beginnings. Vol. 2, The Book of the Assembly Hall. Vol. 3, The Book of Virata and the Book of Effort (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973–78); Alf Hiltebeitl, The Cult of Draupadi. Vol. 1, Mythologies: From Gingee to Kuruksetra (Chi-cago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1988); ———, The Cult of Draupadi. Vol. 2, On Hindu Ritual and the Goddess (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1991).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.