Draupadi’s Mahabharata

Phew! Just finished reading the book!! Since both our epics make me very angry with their reinforcement of (or recommendation of?) gender and caste bias, I grab any reading material that discusses them unbiased. This book is simply Mahabharata retold from a thinking woman’s perspective.

What did Draupadi think of her mother in law Kunti who made Arjuna share his wife with his brothers?Her power struggle with Kunti; her relationship with Krishna; her lack of a relationship with the one with ‘ancient eyes’; all this beautifully retold.

Draupadi tells us her side of the story. She tells us what she thought of being married to five men she did not love. She talks of which one of Kunti’s sons made her heart beat faster.Like Scarlet O’Hara of ‘Gone with the wind’, Panchali pines for the one she can never have. She is in love with a man her husbands hate. Some of her most unfortunate decisions spring from this yearning.

Whether or not you are familiar with the Mahabharata, this book makes an interesting read.

Not as good or as strong as Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’, it’s still very much worth reading.

I wish somebody will write Ramayana as told by Urmila, Laxman’s wife and Sita’s sister. Urmila spends fourteen years of Laxman’s exile in learning and argues against Sita’s banishment. Even a child without any learning can tell it was wrong but since people listen to learned talk, powered with vedic commands, such a book would help people take a relook at our patriarchal, archaic texts.

Editing to add this very interesting link by Anuradha, who says, “Here is a fantastic interpretation of the Draupdi as she should be seen in real sense a – rebel and dare i say a feminist instead of a victim.” Do take a look, here.

Edited to add: And read about Modern Draupadies here.

Related Posts:

Draupadi, Sita and Helen of Troy

55 thoughts on “Draupadi’s Mahabharata

  1. Hey nice post….u know I remember a Hindi poem in school where it was the viewpoint of Urmila.I found it quite impressive as it tells that all the glory was with Ram,Sita and Laxman bcos they obeyed and for Laxman bcos he followed his brother but what about Urmila….she also was in her own personal exile away from her husband.It was really interesting as it was the first time I was made to think of a different viewpoint. a different perspective.Made me realise all stories have to be examined by all angles.

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  2. Interesting… would love to read this book.
    I think I’ve forgotten the stories of Ramayana/Mahabharata because I don’t remember Urmila😦

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  3. Sounds like an intersting book.. but more than the book, your wooden trunck(or watever it is called!) caught my eye! its beautiful!!!

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  4. homecooked Who was the poet? Was it Maithilisharan Gupta? How true, examining other angles like this one also gets us into the much needed, habit of questioning set norms and opinions. Maithilisharan Gupta also wrote about how Kaikeyi felt. I must say those days seem more liberal than these days, when our fundamentalist politicians start burning buses at the smallest dissension!

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  5. churningthewordmill – Thanks!I also love that wooden chest…I thought it went with an ancient epic retold. Do read the book, it has Mills & Boon style romance also, guess who was this noble, courageous, loyal but cursed guy she loved? I love this interpretation. You will also love her depiction of Krishna.

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  6. I have been dying to read this book!! If only i got the time *sigh*…

    btw the poem that homecooked is talking about finds mention in the Ravan serial on Zee Tv. An episode was dedicated to it.

    Was gonna come here to vent about u missing from your blog, and u have 2 posts!😀

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  7. Maithli Sharan Gupt did write the Ramayan from Urmila’s point of view…. its in Hindi…and in verse.. pity I do not remember

    Also Buddha’s enlightenment from Yashodhara’s perspective( “sakhi vo keh ke jaate”)

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  8. Actually I dont remember the poet.I never really liked poetry in school but a few did make an impact.Maybe its the same poet bcos I remember my teacher talking about Kaikeyi too about how she did everything because she loved her son and how mothers do everything for their childrens good….I hope I am not wrong about this,but I cant be sure.

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  9. By the way,who was Draupadi in love with? Was it Karan? I remember only the principal characters of Mahabharat but I dont really remember if Karan fought with the Pandavs or against them.

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  10. jyoti – I am really touched! You noticed I was missing:)Husband back after a long time, then friends visiting…and all the time I am thinking, this is worth blogging, this will be a good picture to add with this post.
    I did not know about this serial on Zee TV. It’s really nice that they are showing such progressive stuff. I am going to find some more info on Maithali Sharan Gupta.

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  11. alankrita You are right! I asked my mother and now I remember reading excerpts from this verse. Urmila, Kaikayi and Yashodhara’s side of the stories were a part of the Hindi Syllabus in most Indian boards. It’s wonderful. It seems these versions have been very popular with the masses. Unfortunately along with that they also say, “If they could not escape their destiny, how can you hope to?” Well, many of us are:)

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  12. anonymous Yes, I just took a look at this ..will read it at leisure and review it too. But I have a question, if a message is meant for the masses, but not easily understood by the masses, then isn’t it a waste?

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  13. homecooked You want me tell you the name!! It will spoil the fun, but actually I saw in many reviews on the net they have mentioned the name anyway, yes you are right it was Karan. What’s really interesting and fascinating is how she first sees him, what she feels, what she likes or not like about him, how does she think he’s better than her husbands, and does he know? What does he feel? Karan is Kunti’s first born son, son of Surya, he was born when she was a young girl and she had to abandon him. My another grouse with our culture is this, why should she have had to do this??? It proves Mahabharat happened because we punished a mother and child for our society’s biased laws. We made her go against nature.Karan has been more popular than Arjuna all along. More people name their boys Karan than Yudhishthir, Bhim, Nakul or Sahadeva and in this generation, even Arjuna.

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  14. Have to read this one. Another excellent book written about Draupadi is Pratibha Ray’s ‘Yajnaseni’. (The Oriya original was published in 1985, the English translation in 1996).
    Urmila’s ‘vyatha’ deserves more publicity!
    The trouble with most of the tragedies in our epics that they are all due to the working out of past ‘karma’, so there seems to be no scope for rational decision-making by anybody. Even Draupadi having five husbands is supposed to be because of her careless utterance when she was granted a boon by Lord Shiva.
    Is this the message they convey? Of fatalistic acceptance? Not useful, I think!

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  15. Dipali – I am going to find both ‘Vyatha’ and ‘Yajnaseni’ Thanks!
    Yes I agre with you I was disappointed with the power given to destiny, karma and ‘vidhi ka vidhan’. I wish Divakaruni had made Draupadi argue against this justification for all the injustice meted out to the characters. In Mahabharata (original version), was Draupadi in love with Karan? Wasn’t it against her ‘pativrata dharam’ to even think of another man, even when they married many times? She has made Panchali strong, but she could have been stronger.

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  16. Wasn’t it by Maithali Sharan Gupta? My mother said she does not remember the name but has read excerpts from the book.

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  17. ever since i read the synopsis i have been wanting to read this book…

    and ur the first person i have come across who has already read it…gotta get em this book…soon!!!

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  18. Aryan Welcome! I hope you enjoy my blog: )Yes, do read this book, I found from my mom that she has changed it somewhat from the older interpretations, which have made it far more interesting. Tell me what you think once you’ve read it…

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  19. Imp’s mom – Do read it, it has a touch of feminism, in the sense that Draupadi is not too pleased with the way her future is decided by her father and Kunti; and she is no obedient wife, her opinion of our Yudhishthir’s gambling and Arjuna’s meekness in front of his mother and his infidelities, shows she is nobody’s fool. Today’s women will identify with her. And then there’s Karan. It’s available in Landmark, I am sure in Crossword too…buy it before somebody bans it! Or better still, wait till it is banned, then it will be available on every road side for 75/-Rs.

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  20. Hi Indian Homemaker, I have read quiet a lot of your comments on Unchahi blog and came across this post of yours. I think patriarchy in India has tried time and time again to rewrite and reinterpret the character of Draupadi into more conventional norms when she actually was a very feminist character. They prefer to call her sati when infact she is known originally as one of the panchkanya – a rather curious thing to call a women married to five men. Here is a fantastic interpretation of the Draupdi as she should be seen in real sense a – rebel and dare i say a feminist instead of a victim.
    http://www.manushi-india.org/pdfs_issues/PDF%20144/Panchkanya%2019-30.pdf

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  21. IHM – I went out and bought the book after reading yr post . Although I dont much care for CBD’s style , this book is quite good in terms of the subject matter . I am going to look for Professor Lal’s volume on Karna – I dont know whether there’s one on Panchali, though.
    And Dipali- if you come back here , you can borrow my copy after Im through!

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  22. Anuradha I have added your link to this post,but the difference between that depiction and C B Divakaruni’s Panchali is that CBD’s Panchali is more real, you can actually identify with her. She THINKS and she QUESTIONS, she disapproves, she is NO sati, she is blind to no faults of her husbands. I also liked the Karna angle.

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  23. eve’s lungs What I loved about this book is that CBD’s Panchali is so, so real. And Karna of course. Did you find Professor Lal’s Karna?

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  24. Hi Indian Homemaker, I blog-hopped to your place from don’t-remember-where and loved it! Your handle for starters, it’s nice to know an intelligent thinking woman who does not hesitate to call herself a ‘homemaker’.🙂

    I finished reading ‘The Palace of Illusions’ a couple of weeks back and liked it for the most of the same reasons you mentioned. The best part is that it ‘personalized’ history and mythology for me. Loved that aspect!

    Hey, and can I blogroll you? I’m going right ahead assuming you won’t mind!😉

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  25. devaki I am honored to be on your blog roll:)
    I liked Draupadi’s anger when they started discussing her life and future without even consulting her! Now I am hopping to your blog🙂

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  26. i picked the book up on the fly on my trip to the bookstore. I must say i loved the book… it is a great read and recommend that everyone, even if you arent familiar with the Mahabharata, to pick up and read the book… Is there any truth to the love Draupadi felt for Karna (in the Mahabharata text) or simply adding masala?

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  27. Both Hindu mythology epics have disturbing tales. Though they teach us the tale of ‘achaai ki buraai pe jeet’, there is a lot of dirt involved. I am not sure if I would be able to justify why Ram didn’t trust Sita or why Draupadi was shared by Pandavas if I am asked by some foreigner or by my nephew/nieces.

    Gulshan Grover infact said in an interview that he doesn’t allow his kids to watch Mahabharat as he thinks it is not a suitable thing for them to see.

    It will be an interesting take to read it from the female protagonist’s view.
    Nice post. And thank you for the pingback to the story ‘Modern Draupadi’.

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    • Just finished reading it! Thanks. Now why don’t our serial makers make some serials with such accounts too, I a sure women would love them as much as the present serials. And hopefully from these we could gradually move to stories that convey positive messages.

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  28. I absolutely loved this book! When I watched Mahabharat on TV (was a kid then), didn’t really think about what Draupadi felt when she was asked to share her life with five husbands or what her views really were ..or how she must have felt…..was good to read this book from her viewpoint (though a little fictionalized) and also liked the fact that she had an independent personality and brains of her own🙂

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  29. Another version of Mahabharata is ‘Bhimsen’ by Prem Panicker. It is the Mahabharata from Bhima’s point of view. Very interesting read. It is available on the net.

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  30. ur idea of a strong, feminist draupadi is somebody who likes a person who calls her a prostitute? Heaven help you!
    some nondesript author gets someone to make a film of her book. and suddenly, all she writes becomes gospel truth? Wake up and stop believing all the nonsense doled out in the name of free literature

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    • I don’t know if Draupadi was a feminist, but in this version she was aware that she was being treated very unfairly. And Karan has been a favorite with a lot of people, more than Arjun, all along. She might have liked him, maybe she had a crush on him, but it didn’t make her forgive him, I think.

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    • Not just “calls” her a prostitute, a whore. He also orders Dussasan to “strip that whore”. So the actual vastra haran is due to Dussasan and Karna.

      After reading this in the actual text of the Mahabharata, I wondered why did Karna become such a fan favourite, since, I can now just see him as a molester/rapist.
      The justification given is also so patriarchal: because Draupadi called him sutaputra.
      So that gives him license to molest her?! It was her swayamvar, if she didn’t want to marry a charioteer, fine, its her choice.

      Apart from saying that she will not marry a charioteer’s son, she doesn’t insult him at all. And he was a charioteer’s son at that point, was he not? Was she not speaking the truth?

      What gave Karna this moral “superiority” to insult and molest her?! I am quite hacked off by this character of Karna that I once used to adore!

      The same thing with Duryodhan: Draupadi never called him “blind man’s blind son”. Even if she had, can it be used as justification for revenge-rape/molestation?

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  31. While I loved the book, I think Divakurni rather degraded Krishnaa-Draupadi’s character when she wrote in the Karna angle, just for masala. And just because Karna is a fan favourite.
    While I have no problem with Draupadi having a crush on Karna, it makes no sense, given her actual actions and words. And Divakurni has not been able to give adequate explanation to any of the events in which Karna and Draupadi faced each other.
    Also, she makes the term “feminist ” laughable and ironic, given that she has her protagonist wishing relentlessly for a man who called a “five-husbanded, whore, prostitute” in public. Not only that, in Vyas’s actual Mahabharata,
    guess who says this line “Dussasan, Strip that
    whore, Draupadi!” ?
    It is not Duryodhan. It is Karna!

    Now why should a “strong, independent thinking, intelligent” woman ever forgive such a
    man, let alone desire him, is anyone’s guess!

    The best thing about the book is Krishna though. And the OCs thrown in like Dhai ma. Even “Dhri” is a nice touch. Loved the scene with brahmin boy-teacher who is teaching Dhri and is shocked by Panchaali. Another aspect is her supposed favourite name of ‘Panchaali’ in the novel. IMO, the author should have called Krishnaa as her real name, because that’s the
    name which is actually announced when she comes out of the yagna. And it is more true to her and her alone as it describes her completely: dark and irresistible.
    Both the other names viz. Draupadi and Panchaali are more of Drupada’s “tags” on her and indicate his ambitions which he fulfills through her. Panchaali also means puppet which isn’t exactly flattering.

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    • Hmmm… I agree with you that it doesn’t make sense for such a strong woman to be so infatuated with a man who insulted her, but also consider, 1. She doesn’t really do anything about her infatuation and 2. She wasn’t really spoilt for choice😦

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      • “She doesn’t really do anything about it”.
        Agreed. But she thinks it. And we, as readers, are subjected to her thoughts that a man who ordered her disrobing, is the one who rules her heart!
        Its very anti-feminist and makes Draupadi into this weak woman and sends out wrong messages.

        “She wasn’t really spoilt for choice.”

        Not really! Arjuna was her first and only “choice” as such. And though she waqs forcibly married off to 4 other men, “she” herself was stubbornly, only wife to Arjuna, in heart. To the point that Yudhisthira so jealously claims that her reason for falling down, at her death, is because she preferred one husband to others.
        They can make her physically married to the other four. But they can’t change her allegiance, in her mind and heart.

        If Karna had not been responsible for the vastra haran, I would have loved to explore Draupadi/Karna. But since he was, till the end, actively involved in that shameful episode, I really can’t stomach it, at least, not from Draupadi’s side. Wouldn’t have minded it if it was unrequited from Karna’s side because he was the one who said about Draupadi: “What a woman! I have seen many beautiful women in this world, but none who have accomplished what she has”.

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  32. Also disappointing is her portrayal of Kunti, which is not rounded at all. In her rush to do away with the image of Kunti as the sweet, innocent lady of BR Chopras tv show, Divakurni has only managed to show the relation between Draupadi and Kunti as heroine and villain.
    The decision to marry Draupadi off to all brothers is not just to “ensure that Arjuna is not under Draupadi’s sway” but a political strategy made to ensure not just the unity of the brothers but also to enlist the political might if King Drupada, who may not have so vociferously supported the claims of a third son (Arjuna) who is not even entitled to the throne. Draupadi was supposed to be highly intelligent and quick witted (see her quick silver arguments and decisions in the vastra haran episode). So why couldn’t or wouldn’t she have been able to see the political machinations of Kunti?
    It would have been far more interesting to see Draupadi’s political and economic acumen when she was ruling Indraprastha. That was hardly mentioned in passing.

    Coming back to Kunti, despite maneuvering her so ruthlessly, Draupadi is her fav. bahu, as she keeps on blurting at various points in original MBH. In fact she keeps on reminding her hapless sons about the disrobing incident and even tells Arjuna specifically to “follow Draupadi’s lead in everything”.
    “The loss of the kingdom and wealth did not affect me, the staking of the brothers did not affect me, as much as the dragging of the princess of Panchala, my first and foremost daughter in law, into the Kuru court did!”-Kunti to Vasudev Krishna in Udyoga parva.

    So I wish it had been a more rounded relation, rather than a complete out and out saas bahu fight for dominance as shown in the book.

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  33. Hey btw, I forgot to recommend another book on the mahabharata, a different take on it: Aryavarta Chronicles by Krishna Udayasankar.

    It deals with MBH much like Bhimsen by Prem Panicker. All the divine aspects are knocked out. Krishna is not a God but merely a master political strategist with a vision of an ideal society and empire, who plays the role of a Kingmaker by destroying the incumbent Emperor (Jarasandh)

    Though it has many POVs, Panchali is a major character in it, along with the main mastermind Krishna. Do check it out

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  34. There have been many myths about Goddess Draupadi, many are mis-interpretations, base-less. She is considered to be the grama devetha and kula devatha for many people. There are many shrines for Goddess Draupadi, spread in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. One of the shrines, where She is a Grama-Devatha and Kula-Devatha to many, is located in one of the small villages of Tamil Nadu.

    The village is named KONDAL, Mayiladuthurai Taluk, Nagapattinam District, Nidur P.O, Tamil Nadu. There are more details about Goddess and way to the shrine at:

    http://blog.thitherwards.com/draupadi/

    Draupadi Amman Thunai – May Her blessing be always on you all!!

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  35. Pingback: Wk 12 (Pt D) Reading Diary: Palace of Illusions – IndiaEpic

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