Draupadi’s Dilemma

Draupadi plays a crucial role in the Mahabharatha. This is not just because she was the wife of the Pandavas, but it is also because she was a fiery feminist. There are many instances in the Mahabharatha where she proves this character of hers. One such instance is the gambling episode in which she talks courageously defending her rights despite the presence of many elders and wise men in the gambling hall.

The root cause of the entire gambling deceit was Duryodhana’s greed and jealousy. After having visited the residing palace of the Pandavas in Indraprastha, Duryodhana was depressed out of jealousy at his brothers’ wealth and status. The Pandavas have just organised a great sacrifice called the Rājasūya Yajna, in which Yudhishthira was crowned as an Emperor. To appease Duryodhana’s depression and to acquire wealth equal to the Pandavas’, Duryodhana’s uncle Shakuni, his dear friend Karna and his brother Duhshasana conceived a plot of deceit. Shakuni was well-versed in dice play and therefore, the plan was to invite the Pandavas for a gambling match in dice game, and win over their wealth.

When Duryodhana brought this appeal to his father and King of Hastinapur, Dhrdhirashthira, there were disagreements, but out of love for his son, the King became convinced. Thus, an invite was sent to Yudhishthira through Vidura. Emperor Yudhishthira accepted the invite because as per dharma a king is duty bound to accept invitations of such nature, especially when it comes from the King of Hastinapur. When the game began, the Pandavas were unaware of the deceit planned by Shakuni. Yudhishthira lost all his wealth, his brothers and finally himself. At that moment, Shakuni urged Yudhishthira to redeem all his wealth by staking the one possession he has left; the wife of the Pandavas, Draupadi. Yudhishthira accepted and lost the game, in which case, Draupadi became a slave to the Kauravas. When Draupadi was summoned into the gambling hall, she refused to come as she was adorned in a single piece of cloth, with her period and not having taken her ritual bath.

Being alarmed by the summons and realising the danger of the situation, she instead posed a question to Yudhishthira through the messenger who came to fetch her. After having refused twice, Draupadi was forcefully dragged by her hair into the hall by Duhshasana. In the hall, she persistently posed the same question to Yudhisthira:

“Whose lord wert thou (Yudhishthira) at the time thou lost me in play? Didst thou (Yudhishthira) lose thyself first or me?” – (Dyuta Parva, Chapter 67, Verse 7)

Draupadi pleads to Duhshasana not to drag her in this plight into the hall and yet she is forcibly done so. She is a devoted wife even in such a situation as she does not resort to cursing her husbands. She says instead,

“In speech even I am unwilling to admit an atom of fault in my lord (Yudhishthira) forgetting his virtues.” – (Dyuta Parva, Chapter 67, Verse 38)

The question she poses is thus not in the spirit of pointing out the fault in Yudhishthira’s action. It was in the spirit of ascertaining what is righteousness in such a situation of dharma sankata (dilemma). In essence, her question posits whether a wife is still subject to her husband even after the husband has lost himself and become a slave to another person. On one hand, dharma demands that the women be protected. Draupadi was accepted as a daughter-in-law with the promise that she will be well taken care of and protected. However, she was made a slave through deceitful means, and therefore, dharma fails. On the other hand, there is the dharma that a wife is always under the order and disposal of her husband. However, would this dharma apply even after Yudhishthira lost himself to Duryodhana?

This question is indeed difficult to answer. If the answer is “no”, then it would mean that Yudhishthira uttered a lie by mistakenly putting Draupadi as a stake. If the answer is “yes”, then it would mean that Yudhishthira put Draupadi into harm, instead of protecting her in the role of a husband.

This dilemma is only answered by two persons: Vidura and Vikarna. Vidura is a great personality and an embodiment of Dharma. Therefore, he never fails to warn and advice whenever necessary, despite many objections to him speaking out. Vidura firstly warns Dhritarashtra about Duryodhana’s intentions and advises the King to abandon Duryodhana. He further advises the King to embrace Pandavas, as inviting their anger will only cause war in the end. Vidura censures Duryodhana and is quick to pass his judgement. He says,

“In my judgement, slavery does not attach to Krishna, in as much as she was staked by the King after he had lost himself and ceased to be his own master.” – (Dyuta Parva, Chapter 66, Verse 4)

He says this even before Draupadi is forcefully dragging into the gambling hall. He is well aware that his words would be futile. If all the members in the hall were to raise their voices and show their disagreement with Duryodhana, then adharma (unrighteousness) could be won over. This is why Vidura urges the members of the hall to answer Draupadi’s question:

“Knowing the rules of morality, and having attended an assembly, he that doth not answer a query that is put, incurreth half the demerit that attacheth to a lie.” – (Dyuta Parva, Chapter 68, Verse 63)

However, the assembly was still silent out of fear of Duryodhana and the Kauravas.

When the arguments in the assembly had reached dangerously new heights, and when Bhima had announced his vow to break Duryodhana’s thigh, Vidura could not take it any longer. As a minister, his duty was to protect the kingdom. Being a righteous person, he quickly rose to pronounce the judgement on Draupadi’s question once again:

“If Yudhishthira had staked her before he was himself won, he would certainly have been regarded as her master. If, however a person staketh anything at a time when he himself is incapable of holding any wealth, to win it is very like obtaining wealth in a dream.” – (Dyuta Parva, Chapter 71, Verse 12)

Vidura, devoid of any emotion, is speaking only truths that seem disagreeable to the Kauravas. Yet, Vidura does not give up. He continues speaking those disagreeable words because it is Dharma. Vidura is a fine example of how Dharma should be protected. Even if what one is doing in a righteous manner is not bearing fruit, having known that what one doing is Dharma, one should be satisfied.

Vikarna, the youngest brother of Duryodhana, has to be applauded for his boldness in the hall because he knows that this will bring upon the wrath of his brothers. While all the other elders like Drona, Kripa and the rest in the hall were quiet in fear of Duryodhana and in fear of losing their respect, a young man like Vikarna was brave enough to stand up and make a resolution.

Vikarna gives three reasons for qualifying Draupadi as not being won by the Kauravas. Firstly, Yudhishthira was engrossed in the gambling match and thus, Dharma has been forsaken. He says that,

“Ye foremost of men, it hath been said that hunting, drinking, gambling, and too much enjoyment of women, are the four vices of kings. The man, that is addicted to these, liveth forsaking virtue.” – (Dyuta Parva, Chapter 68, Verse 20)

Secondly, Draupadi is the common wife of all five brothers and does not just belong to Yudhishthira alone. Lastly, according to Vikarna, Yudhishthira first lost himself before he put Draupadi as a stake, and that too only when prompted by Shakuni. In essence, Vikarna is saying that Yudhishthira was not in the right frame of mind to think about Dharma while gambling and therefore, it is not right to say that Draupadi has been won.

As we have seen earlier, Draupadi is a courageous woman. Imagine if she had not stood up for herself in the assembly. She and the Pandava brothers would have remained as slaves forever, if not for her courage and her ability to discern the situation of Dharma sankata even in that state. Any other woman in her place would have simply accepted her fate and moved on. But it was Draupadi’s wit that saved the day. Women like her who stand up against adharma need not be ashamed of the harassment they were subjected to, instead they should be praised and epitomized.

We can speculate that Draupadi herself knew the answer to the question that she was asking the assembly. With her words we can decipher that she believes that Yudhishthira was not his own lord while he put Draupadi at stake, therefore, she is not a slave. Vidura and Vikarna confirmed this openly. Draupadi herself confirmed this indirectly, when she said what she wanted for the two boons offered to her by Dhrdhirashthira. For the first boon she asked for the release of Yudhishthira from his slavery and for the second one she asked for the release of the rest of the Pandava brothers. While Dhrdhirashthira offered her a third boon, she did not want anything else. If she had believed herself to have been won over successfully, she would also have asked to release her from the bond of slavery. Since she did not ask for it, we can speculate that Draupadi did not consider herself as a slave for the Kauravas.

Krishna had not been in Dwaraka when Yudhishthira was invited for the gambling match as he had gone to fight a war. When the Pandavas accepted exile for failing in the gambling match, Krishna visited them in the forest where they were taking residence. It was during that time that Krishna assures them of the justice that will prevail. He tells Draupadi that all the women in Hastinapura would have to answer her tears through their own tears, when the men in their family perish during the war. He also tells the Pandavas that had he been in Dwaraka while the invite was issued, he would not have let Yudhishthira go. However, Krishna was absent in that crucial moment. As a result, the whole incident paved the way to the great war, which is the subject matter of the whole of Mahabharatha.

The modern woman’s plight is somewhat similar to Draupadi’s plight at the gambling match. While women (or men) don’t really belong to anyone else, we are often objectified as someone’s property. This happens both consciously and subconsciously. As a result, danger will follow no matter where we go, what we do and how we look like. It is no use to expect a knight in shining armour to come for our rescue. There will be some noble knights (like Vidura and Vikarna) who will come to our rescue, and there will also be silent spectators (like Drona and Bhishma). No matter what, we have to take matters in our own hands and it is always better not to rely on others. This is what we can learn from Draupadi.

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