The name of Draupadi leads to discussions and analysis of her character, her relationship with her husbands, and her fictional love for Karna. Here, we’ll discuss Draupadi’s various roles throughout her life and how the retellings differ from the original in portraying her character.
Draupadi of Mahabharata is the most prominent character in the epic. She is considered the core reason for the destruction of the Kuru dynasty. However, Draupadi’s character has many facets, making her a prime choice for creative retelling. Of course, to what extent the retellings do justice to her and the original Mahabharata is debatable.
On this page, we’ll look at Draupadi’s story and try to analyze her characters (Vyasa’s and retellings). Before that, let’s check out what her various names mean and how they hint at her personality.
As with most characters and gods from ancient times, Draupadi also has more than one name. While the ones like Malini and Sairandhri are limited to her playing a part in disguise, the others are often used in Mahabharata to address Draupadi.
Here’s a brief list of Draupadi’s names and meanings:
- Draupadi – daughter of King Draupada
- Krishnaa (Kṛṣṇā) – in the color or Krishna (the one with a dark complexion)
- Panchali – daughter/ princess of Panchala kingdom
- Yajnaseni – the one born through yajna (fire sacrifice/ ceremony)
- Draupadakanya – daughter of Draupada
- Parṣatī – granddaughter of King Parsati
- Sairandhri – an excellent maid (when Draupadi has to live a year in disguise along with her five Pandava husbands)
- Malini – garland weaver (another name for Sairandhri)
- Yojanagandha – the one whose fragrance spreads miles (Draupadi’s natural scent could spread for over three and a half kilometers)
- Nityayuvani – the one who doesn’t become old (not to be confused with immortality)
Apart from the above names, you can also check out Draupadi 108 Names (Astottara Shatanamavali), where she is worshipped as a goddess – Draupadi Amman. You can find temples for Draupadi Amman in South India.
One final note on names. The meaning of Draupadi in Hindi is the same as the meaning of one of her other names mentioned above — Drupadakanya. So this name reflects her parentage but does not tell us anything about her character.
Draupadi Character Analysis – Vyasa’s Version vs. Retellings
A quick search on the internet will show quite a few fictional retellings of Mahabharata. Many of these are written from Draupadi’s perspective and claim to present her side of the story. But how many of them align with the original?
This is an interesting question, one that reflects how people perceive Draupadi’s character. Are writers trying to understand her based on the original Vyasa’s Mahabharata, or are they creating a new version based on their perspectives and ideologies?
Of course, there are certain elements many seem to agree upon. Draupadi is undoubtedly a strong woman capable of thought, action, and emotion. She is considered a symbol of feminine power – a queen who knows how to run the kingdom and a family.
Draupadi as a Binding Agent
After all, she had to manage five men with varying temperaments and keep them together. Post Draupadi’s marriage to the Pandavas, Kunti pretty much handed over the responsibility to her daughter-in-law. And remember that the Pandava brothers have different parentage. Yudhishthira, Bheema, and Arujna have different fathers. Nakula and Sahadeva have a different mother and fathers.
With the Kauravas already plotting against the brothers, the only chance of survival comes from staying together and loyal to each other, no matter what. In such instances, every word Draupadi spoke, every action, and every gesture could have long-lasting implications on their lives. Imagine the kind of wisdom and strength she would have possessed to sustain a healthy relationship with her husbands and ensure they continued to be a team.
Here, we should also include the other wives the Pandava brothers had taken over the years. Draupadi had to maintain good relations with her co-wives too. She did manage to keep them all together for decades and through various hardships.
Draupadi and Subhadra
During his twelve-year exile, Arjuna abducts Subhadra (Krishna’s sister) with Krishna’s permission and marries her. Subhadra loved him with all her heart and was happy with the events. Arjuna already had two wives (rather, three wives) by then. He married Ulupi, a Naga princess, and Chitrangada, a Manipur warrior princess. Draupadi was his first wife, though they were yet to live as a couple.
There are various versions of how Draupadi reacted when Arjuna brought Subhadra to Indraprastha. Some turn it into a melodrama where Draupadi flows into a rage and accuses Arjuna of breaking his promise (the Pandava brothers had to keep their wives in the outer perimeters of the kingdom). However, Vyasa’s Mahabharata doesn’t go into much detail about this. In fact, it only shows that Draupadi was saddened by the news but handled it with grace and dignity. While she did not immediately forgive Arjuna, she did accept Subhadra into the family.
In fact, the duo become good friends and even bond as sisters. Draupadi loved Abhimanyu, Subhadra and Arjuna’s son, as her own child. Subhadra, in turn, took care of the Upapandavas (Draupadi’s children) when the Pandavas went into exile with Draupadi.
Despite having other wives, the Pandava brothers were devoted to Draupadi. She was the only one who stayed with them as a queen and a pauper. In many places throughout Mahabharata, the brothers call Draupadi their beloved wife, while the co-wives get fewer mentions.
Draupadi the Strategist
Draupadi’s story cannot be complete without mentioning her role in ruling the kingdom and making political decisions. Right from Yudhishthira’s marriage with Devika to the Kurukshetra war, Draupadi had a central role she played with ease. For example, Draupadi, Arjuna, Krishna, and Satyabhama were the only ones to strategize in Upalaya (in King Virata’s Kingdom) and plan their approach to defeat Kauravas in the Kurukshetra war. Even Abhimanyu and Subhadra were not allowed to join the meeting.
Furthermore, Draupadi kept the flame of revenge alive in the Pandava brothers during their exile. She would remind them how the Kauravas and Karna insulted and disrobed her in public after Yudhishthira lost the game of dice. However, she didn’t express her anger at Yudhishthira for pledging her. Draupadi retained the focus on the Kauravas without causing a rift between the Pandava brothers.
Draupadi and Karna – The Most Distorted Relationship
As humans, we thrive on drama and the sense of saviorism we feel by supporting the ‘underrepresented’ or ‘misunderstood’. With Karna being a complex character in Mahabharata, it’s no surprise that a good portion of readers focus only on his good traits and ignore the rest. The non-existent love story between Draupadi and Karna stems from the same ‘sense of justice’ people exhibit.
In contrast to how Draupadi Hindi serials portray this relationship, in Vyasa’s Mahabharata, Draupadi and Karna have minimum interaction (around three to four times). The first interaction is during her swayamwar, where she stops Karna from participating by saying she would not marry a Sutaputra. However, this too is debatable. When the Bhandarkar Institute was working on creating the critical edition of the Mahabharata, they found a reference to the “suta putra” statement only in five manuscripts. In many other manuscripts, Karna is shown as attempting but failing in the challenge.
Furthermore, Karna was already married and much older than the Pandava brothers (he was, after all, the first child Kunti delivered as an unwed teen). Would Draupadi willingly marry him even in her swayamwar? He had a total of 3 or 4 wives, though they aren’t named in Mahabharata.
The next is during the Rajasuya sacrifice of Yudhisthira, and the final interaction is when Draupadi is dragged into the court after the Pandavas lose the game of dice. In this scene, Karna calls her a prostitute for marrying five men and says she deserves to be disrobed in public.
In fact, when Draupadi raises her questions at the events, Vikarna (the third Kaurava son) supports her. It is Karna who justifies the act and takes perverse pleasure in Draupadi’s abuse. Furthermore, he even goads Dhuryodha in insulting Draupadi.
In Vyasa’s Mahabharata, Draupadi makes it clear that she hates Karna as much as she hates the Kauravas. On more than one occasion, she says she would see their end. Vyasa’s Draupadi has self-respect and dignity.
Unfortunately, certain fictional retellings turn her into a lovesick teen with raging hormones where she not only lusts after Karna but is also willing to forgive him for his actions. Are we presenting her feminine strength, or downgrading her personality to someone who would lust for a toxic man?
Remember, she is the same Draupadi who vowed to rub Duhsasana’s rakta into her hair as revenge for dragging her into the court from her chambers. Draupadi was Yagnaseni, born from a flaming hot fire. Would a woman like her accept the worst kind of insults Karna threw at her?
While there’s no denying that Karna had the raw end of the deal and a tough life, we cannot ignore that he made many decisions that weren’t aligned with dharma. Despite the hardships, he had loving adoptive parents, he had the opportunity to learn the art of warfare from Dronacharya, the royal teacher, and he had very good wives. He could have made better decisions, but he didn’t.
In playing savior and delivering perceived justice through retellings, we should not forget the basic ethics upon which the world sustains. Whitewashing and romanticizing characters like Karna, from the Mahabharata, and Ravana, from the Ramayana, might do more harm than good.
To Sum Up
Draupadi character can be compared to the raging flames in a yagna. She is fire personified – willful, resilient, dignified, strong, determined, capable, pure, and loving. Draupadi is an inspiration for women of all ages as a person who stood for dharma and truth.