Draupadi: Nemesis of the Kauravas:
Without Draupadi, would there be a Kurukshetra war or the Mahabharata epic? The answer is a resounding No. Draupadi, who plays a major role in the Mahabharata, was born to King Drupada and was originally called Krishnaa, for her dark complexion Drupada had been humiliated by Drona, the guru of the Pandava prince, Arjuna. So he performed a great sacrifice for a powerful son who would kill Drona and avenge his humiliation. He also prayed for a very beautiful daughter, and thus, Draupadi emerged along with Drishtadyumna from the Yagna fire. The moment she emerged, a divine voice was heard saying that the Kauravas would be destroyed by her.
Mythology says that Goddess Kali had given Draupadi some of her powers in order to destroy the Kauravas. As Drupada ruled the kingdom of Panchala, Draupadi was also called Paanchali. The Pandava prince won Draupadi’s hand in a swayamvar and took her home. The Pandavas were living in exile then.
Draupadi: Wife of the 5 Pandavas:
Kunti, the mother of the 5 Pandavas, had told her sons to share everything they got as alms, equally. So when Arjuna told his mother to see what he had brought that day, as alms, Kunti, not aware that Arjuna was referring to Draupadi, told her son to share it with his brothers. This was how Draupadi became the wife of all the five brothers, which is called fraternal polyandry.
Another story says that Sage Vyasa told Draupadi that her polyandry as the wife of five men was because of an incident in her former life. In that life, she had prayed to Shiva to grant her a husband with five qualities. Shiva replied that it was hard to get a husband with the five qualities that she wanted. But she insisted on it, and finally, Shiva granted her the boon. In her next birth, therefore, she was married to five brothers, each of whom represented a particular quality.
The Disrobing of Draupadi:
The Mahabharata says that Duryodhana’s hatred of his Pandava cousins became more intense after Draupadi mocked him once when he was visiting the Pandavas at Indraprastha. As for Draupadi, she vowed not to rest until the Kaurava clan was annihilated after the Kaurava prince, Dushasana, disrobed her in front of her husbands and the elders of the Hastinapur court. In the great Kurukshetra war, all the Kauravas perished. Though the Pandavas survived, Draupadi's children did not survive. Only Parikshit, the grandson of Subhadra and Arjuna, survives to continue the Kuru lineage.
The disrobing of Draupadi marks a turning point in the narrative of the Mahabharata. It is the main reason for the great Kurukshetra Yudh (war). The Pandava -Kaurava rivalry was a more general cause. After a rigged game of dice, the Pandavas lost everything to the Kauravas. Finally, Yudhishtira wagers Drauapadi but loses her too. It was then that Duryodhana, seeing a chance to avenge his insult, orders his brother, Dushasana, to bring Draupadi before the royal court and disrobe her. As her husbands could not help her, Draupadi prayed to Krishna, her trusted friend, to protect her modesty. As Dushasana disrobed her, her sari became longer and longer until finally, he became tired and stopped. This was Krishna’s miracle to protect Draupadi’s dignty.
Draupadi: A Composite Avatar:
The Narada and Vayu Puranas say that Draupadi was a composite Avatar of several Goddesses. They include Shyamala (Dharma’s wife), Bharati (Vayu’s wife), Sachi (Indra’s wife), Usha (Ashwini Kumaras’ wife). They got married to their earthly counterparts, who were the five Pandavas. The story goes that Brahma was angered by a joke made by Parvati and the four goddesses, and cursed them to be born as humans. Parvati’s solution was that they would be born as one woman, Draupadi.
Draupadi could be said to have had ‘anger issues’ and was intolerant of injustice. This is a reflection of Parvati or Shakti. Kali inhabits Draupadi 's body at times. On other occasions, Draupadi behaved in a docile manner. This reflects the qualities of goddesses like Sachi and Usha. And at other times, she displayed guile and cunning, by using Bhima to kill Keechaka, in the manner of Goddess Bharati. Draupadi was also a form of Goddess Shree or Wealth, who was the common wife of five Indras, aka Five Pandavas. She was cursed to be born many times for imprisoning the Indras. Vedavati, who cursed Ravana, was her first birth, and then she was reborn as Maya-Sita to take revenge on Ravana while Agni concealed the actual Sita. Her third birth was partial, as both Damayanti (her husband Nala was the equivalent of Dharma, Vayu, and Indra, like the Pandavas) and her daughter, Nalayani, who was the wife of Sage Mudgala. Draupadi was her fifth birth. Thus, she was a composite avatar of 8 goddesses – Parvati, Kali, Sachi, Shyamala, Usha, Bharati, Shree, and Swaha (wife of Agni).
Draupadi and Krishna:
To Krishna, Draupadi was his ‘sakhi’, a friend. A story says that his reason for helping Draupadi is that she prayed to him with utmost devotion. When Krishna injured his finger on the Sudarshan Chakra, she tied it using her sari. It was this gesture that lies behind the origin of Rakhi, the festival that celebrates the brother-sister bond.
Draupadi, to many, exemplifies the notion of bhakti or devotion to God. She had the utmost faith in Krishna, and he never failed her in her hour of need.