Despite an unconventional marriage to five men, her surrender and
unalloyed devotion to Krishna proved she was untouched by sin.
As a girl rose from the fire, a voice rang out from the heaven, foretelling a terrible destiny. “This dark-skinned beauty will be best of all women and will cause the destruction of countless warriors.” The daughter of King Drupada, she was known as Draupadi, and as the princess of Panchaladesha, she was known as Pancali. Because she was dark-complexioned, she was also called Krishna.
King Drupada had nursed a grudge against Drona, the military teacher of the Kauravas and Pandavas, for a long time. He decided to perform the sacrifice known as putrakama-yajna, under the superintendence of priest Yaja. He had just witnessed Arjuna’s valor in battle and been favorably impressed, despite also being humbled by him in battle. So the King performed the sacrifice with a dual objective: to get a son to kill Drona and a daughter to marry Arjuna. The sacrifice produced Dhristadyumna and Draupadi.
Draupadi was as beautiful as a demigoddess. Her smiling eyes were black and shaped like lotus petals. Her long, curly blue-black hair cascaded down her back. She had raised breasts and tapering thighs. At the end of her graceful fingers her nails shone bright like copper. She emanated a sweet fragrance, like blue lotuses an aroma that traveled two full miles.
King Drupada had arranged a great svayamvara ceremony in Kampilya for his daughter’s marriage. Confident Arjuna would try to win Draupadi, Drupada created an archery challenge only Arjuna could master: candidates had to pierce the eye of a fish suspended on the ceiling by looking at its reflection in a pot of water on the floor.
As expected, the Pandavas came to the svayamvara, eager to see Arjuna marry Draupadi. And in a highly competitive contest, Arjuna successfully won Draupadi as his wife.
When the Pandavas returned home, Arjuna called out to his mother, Kunti, “O Mother, just see the wonderful treasure we have obtained today!” Filled with relief and happiness that her sons were home safe after hours away, Kunti called back, “Whatever it is, share it among yourselves.”
Then Kunti came to the door to greet her sons. When she saw the princess, she gasped in horror. “What have I done! My words can never be false, and yet how can you share this woman?”
After considering the matter, Yudhisthira consoled his mother and assured her that neither she nor Draupadi would be touched by sin if they followed Kunti’s words. He recalled how the great sage Vyasadeva had once said that Draupadi should marry all of them. Although rare, such a marriage need not be unrighteous if sanctioned by an authority like Vyasadeva, especially if performed in order to preserve a higher religious purpose. If Draupadi became the wife only of Arjuna, dissension and rivalry could arise among the five brothers. Considering the situation from all angles, Yudhisthira declared, “We shall all marry the blessed Draupadi.”
Drupada, however, was confused by Yudhisthira’s decision. How could he allow his daughter to become wife to five husbands? Vyasadeva then arrived and revealed to Drupada how Draupadi had received a boon from Lord Siva to marry five elevated men. He granted Drupada divine vision so he could see how the five Pandavas had been Indras in previous kalpas and how Draupadi had been Sachi, Indra’s wife, in her previous life. Drupada was convinced and agreed to the marriage. Then Dhaumya, the Pandavas’ priest, lit the sacrificial fire by reciting Vedic mantras. He called the Pandavas one by one and had them circumambulate the fire, each holding Draupadi’s hand.
Threats Against Draupadi’s Chastity
Draupadi’s stunning beauty made even the best of men lose their good sense. Even though she was innocent and chaste, her beauty aroused many men, who tried to forcibly enjoy her. One time when the Pandavas were in exile, Jayadratha approached her with illicit intentions at a time when her husbands were not home. As a respectable hostess, Draupadi welcomed Jayadratha and his men, offering them seats and asking them to wait till her husbands returned. But Jayadratha was afflicted with lust and repeatedly approached Draupadi. Each time, Draupadi vehemently rejected his proposal. Jayadratha finally dragged her to his chariot and began to race away. It was only by the intervention of Dhaumya and the timely arrival of the Pandavas that saved her from being polluted.
Another time, when the Pandavas were living incognito in the kingdom of Virata, Kichaka, the commander of the king’s army, was attracted to Draupadi’s beauty and wanted to enjoy her. Only by the secret intervention of Bhima was Kichaka destroyed and her chastity maintained.
Draupadi’s Exemplary Devotion to Krishna
Draupadi is famous for her deep devotion and helpless surrender to Krishna. The scriptures explain that one who remembers Krishna or utters His holy name is immediately freed from all sins, so imagine the reward for someone who has wholeheartedly surrendered his or her life.
When Duhshasana dragged Draupadi into the Kuru assembly hoping to insult her, she was wearing only a single cloth and her hair was unbound. In front of the whole assembly, Duhshasana attempted to pull off her sari. At first Draupadi tried to protect herself, but then she raised her arms and cried, “O Govinda! O Keshava! You are the destroyer of all afflictions. Save me, who am distressed and losing my senses in this evil assembly. There is no one but You to whom I can turn.” When Krishna heard her piteous cries, He immediately appeared and supplied her with unlimited cloth until Duhshasana was exhausted by his attempt to disrobe her.
Another time, when the Pandavas were in the forest during their exile, the sage Durvasa and ten thousand of his disciples visited them in the forest, spurred on by Duryodhana, who wanted to cause them trouble. Yudhisthira welcomed the sages and suggested they bathe in the river while Draupadi prepared lunch for them. The sun god had given Draupadi an Akshaya-patra, a mystical vessel that would supply unlimited food as long as she herself had not eaten that day. When Yudhisthira learned that Draupadi had just finished her meal, he was in great anxiety: everyone knew that Durvasa was a hot-tempered sage. If he was dissatisfied he would curse everyone and cause havoc. In this dangerous circumstance Draupadi prayed intensely to Krishna, who immediately appeared to rescue her. Krishna asked to see the mystical pot. When He found a particle of vegetable sticking to the rim of the vessel He ate it and mysteriously, Durvasa and his company felt their hunger satisfied. They didn’t return to Yudhisthira but went away, not wanting to find themselves embarrassed by their inability to accept his hospitality.
Draupadi, a Reservoir of Compassion
Asvatthama, the son of Drona, had mercilessly killed the five sleeping sons of Draupadi in the middle of the night. Krishna, Arjuna and Bhima went and captured Asvatthama and brought him to Draupadi for her to take the final decision. Draupadi, however, displayed an amazing sense of compassion when Asvatthama sat with his head down. Although Krishna told her that there was no sin involved in killing such a murderer, Draupadi could feel the pain Drona’s wife could feel at the loss of her son. She said to Arjuna, “Release him, Arjuna, for he is the son of your martial teacher. It is said that the son is one with his father, and thus it is as if Drona himself were here. Indeed, Drona’s wife did not ascend his funeral pyre because she had a son. Killing Asvatthama will cause her, our worshipful superior, grief and cannot be in accord with religious principles. My lord, do not make her cry like me. Nor should we, the kingly order, become guilty of the sin of needlessly slaying brahmanas. Such a sin can burn the whole body of a royal family to ashes.”
Thus we see that Draupadi was no ordinary lady. She displayed the highest limits of devotion and compassion, a characteristic of extraordinary devotees of the Lord. It is said that after the Pandavas finished their earthly pastimes, they all ascended to heaven. There Yudhisthira saw how Draupadi was gloriously present as Goddess of Fortune, Sri Herself. She had appeared on the earth by the order of Lord Krishna.
Rasa Purusa Dasa is a disciple of His Holiness Gopala Krishna Goswami Maharaja and is based in Mumbai. He is a retired Chartered Engineer and was working with the Government of Haryana. The writer is currently undertaking a deep study of the Mahabharata. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org