Draupadi’s Question

Source: Wiki Commons
Source: Wiki Commons
The messenger enters Drapadi’s chamber and asks her to be present in the assembly after the cruel throw of fate.She sends him back with the question “Whom did you lose first, yourself or me ?” It was legal question at that point of time. But later, she turns it into a moral question in the assembly “Is it right or fair that a woman, let alone a queen, become a slave because her husband staked her in a gambling game ?”

Though the legal aspect resounded completely, the moral one fell short in one aspect – If she could be won at a contest, so could she be lost, taking into cognizance the prevalent customs of those times.But a lady who could stand up and ask this question in the face of dire adversity indicated courage,clear thinking and a will to preserve her dignity at any cost. It could only point to a trait of boldness above all else.

Therefore, it came something as a surprise when I read a completely different interpretation by Iravati Karve, of the very same incident. Quoting from her book, she says..

“Draupadi’s question was not only foolish, it was terrible. No matter what answer was given, her position was desperate.If Bhishma told her that her husband’s rights over her did not cease, that even though he became a slave, she was in his power and he had the right to stake her, her slavery would have been confirmed. If Bhishma had argued that because of her slavery, her husband had no more rights over her, then her plight would have been truly pitiable… She had made many mistakes in her life that were forgivable, but by putting on airs in front of the whole assembly, she had put Dharma into a dilemma and insulted him…Though she was only a young bride of the house, she had spoken in an assembly of men, something she should have known she must not do.Over and above, to pretend that she could understand questions that baffled her elders – that was inexcusable arrogance.”

She further espouses that instead of arguing about the legal technicalities like a lady pundit, she should have cried out for decency and pity in the name of the Kshatriya code. Had she done so perhaps things would not have gone so far.

There are some definite points which struck me – Draupadi had the guts to speak in an assembly of men and elders who might have been more learned than her but who were also prepared at that point of time, to be mute spectators to her humiliation. To think, that at a moment of adversity such as this, a woman would have the capacity to put on airs instead of focusing on using all weapons at hand to defend herself, is also casting an unjust aspersion on her.Though there are sexist connotations and it abounds in far too many patriarchal interpretations for my liking, I had to acknowledge there are facets which are interesting and deserve further thought.

In the face of adversity, which one should a person rely on – Courage or Practicality ? Is a courage;which is guaranteed to lead one to failure, only false bravado. Is practicality which dictates a person to appear weak and grovel, more worthwhile if it guarantees success.Will the ‘success’ earned in this manner be devoid of shame.

Everyday, there are enough and more instances, wherein this question finds its way into conscious thought. There are innumerable cases of victims of rape, some who lose their lives as well and some who fortunately survive to tell their tale. In those darkened alleys and corners, when terror strikes, the question of courage versus practicality would haunt the person who faces it. For all we know, their choice may not have mattered and affected their ultimate fate, but yet again, it could have.

In historical times, there have been enough tales of courage and valor. The story of Chittorgarh is worth remembering in this context.Though the women sacrificed their lives for saving their honor, an idea which can be disputed in the current world context, its a story of courage nonetheless. Was it a story of success or failure or would it be too naive to bracket it so narrowly.In today’s context, there was a case of a woman attacked at an Bangalore ATM. The fact that she resisted a machete wielding man and refused to hand over the money was almost laughable to me.Being practical was a clear winner there. But there are more gory cases of rape which at times lead to murder, some of whom bring forth the question – could the victim have saved herself by being practical.

The importance of Draupadi’s question would find no relevance for an audience which lacks the will and the power to arrive at the right answer.The fact that she asked the question also shows that she reposed faith in their moral dharma and their system of governance even though her faith was later proved to be misplaced.In today’s world, there will be no divine intervention when a woman is being disrobed. It will be entirely upto the woman to keep her wits about herself and figure out the answer to Draupadi’s dilemma.

25 thoughts on “Draupadi’s Question

  1. I don’t like the analysis of Iravati Karve. Why are women who display courage are looked down upon? Well, Mahabharata was written by a man and it was he who asked the question through the character of Draupadi…that goes to say that somewhere he too did not agree with these patriarchal rules made only for men. But there were women were strong enough to lead their spouses in war…

    1. True. If fact, it was definitely more to question the patriarchal system prevailing at that time, that such a question could been raised through the character of Draupadi. And by no means, is Draupadi a weak character. Even I didn’t like Iravati’s analysis, considering that I didn’t even think such an interpretation could be possible. But it did raise the question in terms of its present world context, leaving aside all its sexist connotations, whether truly one can change fate based on courage alone or should practicality rule the mind.

    2. Srividya

      She was won in a contest??? that is a swayamvara where the woman was given the freedom to choose the best warrior as her husband.

  2. Frankly I didnt like Iravati’s analusis either. I understand the times were different then but a woman of today’s world interpreting it so and defending the view… it kinda makes you feel that the adage that women bring down women.. is so true..
    A line you penned actually made me think *The importance of Draupadiโ€™s question would find no relevance for an audience which lacks the will and the power to arrive at the right answer.*
    Frankly the audience then and the audience now is no different. We lacked the will and the power then, we lack it today. Its a shame, really a shame on us.

    1. Even I was surprised by her analysis, coz I didnt even think such an interpretation was possible.
      I am glad you highlighted that sentence. That was a key thing on my mind, with respect to the amenability of an audience to be ‘just’ – people who otherwise are rational, knowledgeable but don’t react even in the face of injustice.

  3. I am afraid that the very premise if wrong, Asha! If you talk of rapists – their idea is of sex as a domination game and, whichever way the theme goes after the ‘practicality’ there is a feeling of shame for the victim. I do not know if the physical violation itself feels far more shameful but, I do think that to be put in a position of having to plead is a violation in itself. AND, I daresay, for rapists this is very unlikely to work since their game IS domination.

    As for Draupadi – I think that Iravati’s ideas were not in consonance with me either. In fact, if I remember right, Duryodhan did say,”It matters not. Since your husband is my slave, you, as his wife, are also my slave. So, how does it matter when he staked you?” So, effectively, this argument of ‘if the husband had a right to stake, then the right does not cease upon his becoming a slave’ was already disposed of by Duryodhan. As for the pleading part, she had used that as well – about being the daughter-in-law of the house. (Understand, though, it was not her arguments but the attempted disrobing and its failure that caused the change. Pleading, in any case, would have been no help.)

    Iravati also seems not to understand much of Kshatriya dharma as practiced. The unfortunate truth is that ‘prisoners of war’ were enslaved AND, apparently, the game of dice was treated akin to war and, once someone was won in a game of dice, enslavement was a given. It is this same idea of ‘Kshatriya dharma’ that keeps Bhishma et al silent through the enslavement of the Pandavas AND Draupadi. So, I fail to see the logic of Iravati’s argument that pleading on the ground of Kshatriya dharma would have been better.

    ‘Inexcusable arrogance’? A risible idea. So, the judge knows more than the accused and the accused should not put up a defense because it would be ‘inexcusable arrogance’? ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thanks Suresh for such a good analysis. Was hoping to exactly get these different perspectives ! The POW aspect is definitely true and that leaves no room for discussion. Still considering that the gathering consisted of relatives could be a factor worth considering.
      The domination aspect of rapists is also completely true. My only point was whether the domination urge would be satisfied by the pleading and hence , let the victim at least escape with her life. For that matter even resistance and fight, which can lead to sure death is also something that was on my mind.
      In the light of that, the question & the significance of the same in the final repercussions seemed interesting to analyze.

      1. Those are calls very difficult to take, Asha! if a rapist goes ahead with the crime, the possibility is very real that he will kill to hide it. So, submitting rather than fighting may not only be demeaning but also a sure death and resistance could possibly lead to escape. Delving into which of the options could prove right is tough – and, under those circumstances, one really is not in a position to do an analysis of all factors. People can only react and they will end up reacting by instinct.

      2. There I agree with you. Difficult to gauge what reaction it will evoke. But I would definitely want the victim to escape with her life, to at least, make a later retribution possible. One needs to be able to gauge and assess whether a fight even makes sense if one is outnumbered.

  4. It is easy to ignore laughable interpretations of pseudo intellectuals like the one you have quoted above. It is much harder to answer the question you have put before the reader. I agree what the lady inside the ATM at Bangalore did was a folly. Yet, what is the guarantee the beast with the machete might not have sliced her all the same? Who knows how the girls of Badaun might have fought or accepted the gruesome rampage of their bodies leading to but their slaughter either way? However, minimizing the damage in a calamity would be prudent, if possible.

    1. That is true Uma. There are no easy answers and neither can one be prepared for it. But I think, in today’s day and age, its better to think and dwell on it. Who knows, it might make one slightly more prepared for any attack. The beasts in Badaun were ‘beasts’ without mind or concerns of a human being, where neither of these tactics could have possibly worked. The only hope is something might work, if its possible to communicate with a any vestigial human emotion that might still exist under the beast.

  5. Iravati Karve’s analysis lead to too many que in my mind. Being courageous is not bad. Such women do inspire in times of distress but ya it all depends on the moment and the crime but I am sure no one will just submit or surrender themselves with out fighting !
    Finally glad that I found ur blog ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thanks for reading mine

    1. Welcome to my blog Afshan ๐Ÿ™‚

      True, I think it can only be circumstantial but its always good to keep your mind working and thinking and figuring out means of escape.

  6. Phillyguy

    Whenever I think of Draupadi I am always conflicted, sure in the gambling chamber she is an absolute heroine, but as Asha points out in several comments, in such a situation wouldn’t focusing on survival be better?

    What people forget about this lady though is that she along with her mother-in-law Kunti makes a deadly team of two amongst the three principal architects of the great war. The third one is the sly fox Shakuni of course. If Draupadi had not been outright insolent, had she not been a bully to begin with, the course of history would have been different. She was the one that insulted Duryodhana (andhe ka putra andha!), she was the one that insulted Karna (Sutaputra!), mocking the peace negotiations, reminding her husbands of their violent pledges, etc. The list is very long.

    Note that I am not trying to justify the behavior of the drunkard kuru princes and Karna in that gambling chamber, no woman, no human being should be subjected to that horror. Nor am I trying to defend her rather impotent five husbands (imagine that five of them…..and not one stood up, she should have divorced every single of those idiots right there!). Divorce was not an option then you say? Well then let’s not examine this whole thing with modern eyes either ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Phillyguy, what you say about her insolence is so true and also about goading her husbands to war. Interestingly, I read about the two Dharmas which used to govern men at that time – one’s own caste dharma or the sva-dharma and the general dharma based on a person’s conscience or the sadharna-dharma. The conflict mainly occurs because Draupadi speaks from a sva-dharma perspective while Yuddhishtira speaks from a sadharna-dharma perspective. Even now, in modern times, this is the reason for our not seeing eye to eyes with the sva-dharma perspective.

  7. I am sorry, but I did not understand what and why is hue and cry over Draupadi’s protest? Talking about practicality, If a royal woman is summoned in a courtyard as a “slave lost in petty game” where she was a pawn without her will or consent or leave alone them, her knowledge. What kind of practicality should we expect there?
    This looks like, she was kind of being used to or exposed to such things and hence she should weave a practical way of scooting out rather than being her trueself? If her being true self was being angry and questioning, so be it.. It is her right. We talk about Dharma but then which Dharma asks us to pawn other people in our game?

    Draupadi wanted her husband to take revenge..war is a sub factor of various other things.

    1. Thanks for your comment Ekta. Draupadi’s question has been a point of dispute is several texts mainly because of what she should or should not have said. As I had mentioned about Iravati Karve’s analysis, though it reeks of patriarchal thoughts, it was only the question about ‘doing what is required’ to save yourself , caught my attention. If being your true self, is not ‘practical’, because it could lead to a consequence which is best avoided, should it be avoided, is precisely the point of discussion. By ‘Practicality’, I mean a person’s prudence to decide to do which will eventually lead to a positive consequence, rather than anything else.

  8. What was she thinking when she wrote that? I mean, it reminds me of one self styled guru’s quote – Victim would have called her rapist bhaiya. Anyway, we all are free to draw our own conclusions and what we think, describes who we truly are.

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