India has produced many a great men and many a great women. Sita became the role model in India. Every father wants to see Sita in his daughter and every husband wants to see Sita in his wife. Why did Draupadi not become a role model? A better question might be if Draupadi should be the role model for the modern women? I am not trying to make the point that Sita should not be the role model. The point is should women have another role model to look up to. While Sita is an ideal wife to an ideal husband who could the women of today, who do not have the perfect and ideal husband, look up to as a role model.
If we realize that fear is deep rooted in the female kind especially that of the Indian women, then we can understand why many of the atrocities are committed against these women by ordinary men. If the women are ready to be tortured, if torture is accepted by the women kind, even the non torturing mind will get down to the torturing tricks. This is not to say that the men are not responsible at all. The point I am trying to emphasize here is that women need to look up to someone who took a firm stand in tough times. This can then give women the courage to believe in themselves enough to say that sometimes it is o.k. to take a stand. Draupadi is one such woman who while doing all her rightful duties is willing and bold enough to take a stand. Draupadi actually declared a war with the Kauravas long before it really happened in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. J.F. Kennedy in modern times is known for saying that it is o.k. to dream; Draupadi in ancient times said that it is sometimes o.k. for women to take a stand.
Duryodhana humiliated Draupadi in front of the five Pandava brothers and in front of many well-known dignitaries of those times on an open platform. Yudhisthir was challenged to play poker; he lost everything and in the end pawned Draupadi. There may be a lot of controversy whether or not he should have done it or not, but what followed was beyond belief. In front of every one in the open house, Dushashana (Duryodhana’s brother) held Draupadi by her hair and dragged her in. Duryodhana indicated Draupadi to sit in his lap. And, more despicably, they tried to disrobe her to nudity. Draupadi surrendered herself to Krishna for help and Krishna did help her such that the Kauravas failed in their misadventure. And then Draupadi vows that she would not wash her hair until she first washes them with the blood of Dushashana and Duryodhana. This is nothing short of declaring a war. Duryodhana is not going to cut his thigh himself to donate blood for Draupadi to wash her hairs.
This stand taken by Draupadi is so significant. In the scene described above, Draupadi actually won. She could have smiled at Duryodhana and said, “Well tried, try again.” They had failed miserably in trying to disrobe her. Kauravas had lost and Pandavas were full of shame. What Draupadi did was not so much for herself, but more so for the whole female kind. She is saying to the Kauravas not to mess with females as a whole. She is saying to the entire female world to take an appropriate stand. She did not go and confer with her husbands, or her brothers or even Krishna. She knew exactly what she had to do. She takes the stand, and the pieces of the rest of the puzzle fall together later. She must have thought that if Duryodhana can attempt such an insult and humiliation of Draupadi, what will he do to ordinary women.
It is interesting that Sita has become the role model of most Indian women. Draupadi is an interesting story but she never really becomes a role model. People in India, especially men, have always been uncomfortable with Draupadi. They are quite comfortable with Sita. She is not a threat. Sita sits in the garden of Ravana and waits for Rama to come. She does not declare any war. She utters no threat to Ravana. Rama asks her to sit in fire, she goes in; he asks her to leave the house and she obliges. Everyone wants his wife to behave like Sita. Draupadi does not give the same comfort zone. She is married to five brothers. She takes a stand when she is threatened. She declares a one sided war. She is not so predictable. How can she really be a role model?
We should not compare great men or women, but there is a need to understand the three most powerful women in Indian history, Sita, Radha and Draupadi. Sita is a powerful woman; she comes in the family of an enlightened King, Janaka. She actually is said to appear from the earth while some one was sloughing the field. This may be true literally or may not be. But, it definitely symbolizes what Sita’s temperament is going to be. She is representing the properties of the mother earth. She will be nourishing to every one and will not have complaints. She has the strength; She can bear anything. While she is young, she moves the bow by her hand easily; Ravana could not move the same bow later in the story. Ravana abducts her to Lanka but is scared to touch her.
Sita was no ordinary woman. But, she did not need to do what Draupadi had to. She did not need to take a stand. This has to be understood deeply. She is married to Rama, an avatar of Parmatma. It is not an accident that Sita is married to Rama. She is totally surrendered to the Parmatma. Once you surrender to the Parmatma, it is now Parmatma’s responsibility to see things through. Who are you to take a stand? Who are you to question his judgments? In reality, once you surrender, there is no one to take a stand and there is no one to ask questions. Sita is surrendering and Rama is a conformist.
Krishna and Radha is a different story. Radha is happy with her unconditional love to Krishna. Krishna is a rebel. He is willing to break rules; he helps Arjuna to take Subhadra against the wishes and accepted social norms of the time. He has no problem dancing with Radha
Sita is wife of Rama and Radha is in love with Krishna. Both are surrendered to Parmatma. Now, it is Parmatma’s responsibility to take the life further. Draupadi is a different story. She is human and is dealing with human husbands, not one but five of them. One husband can do several mistakes. You can imagine what will happen if the mistakes are multiplied by five. Draupadi is also surrendered to Parmatma, and the Parmatma (Krishna) helps her as a sister every time she needs help. But, she is married to five extra-ordinary yet human beings. They have their weak and strong points too.
Sita and Radha did not have to worry. Rama would not stake Sita in a game; this is unimaginable. He would not let Ravana touch Sita either. The question does not arise. Draupadi does not have this situation. She is in the real world with real people. Duryodhana is humiliating her and her husbands are watching silently. Not only are the husbands watching this but also are the so-called Gurus and even the Pitamah Bhishma. A public humiliation is on and no body is doing anything. She has to take the stand.
Draupadi is the one out of the three who is closer to the times of today. She deserves the attention of the modern women. Draupadi was born out of the Vedi of a Yajna; from the sacred fire. This may not be true literally, but is significant. It is symbolic of the fact that it indicates what the temperament of Draupadi is going to be like. She is not going to be passive woman. She will be fiery. She is not going to tolerate injustice. She will be brilliant and have the properties of purity and purification. Moreover, anyone that touches fire gets burnt. Fire is not that forgiving. Every one who tried to touch Draupadi with ulterior motives got burnt. This happened to Duryodhana, Dushashana and Jayadratha.
These properties are reflected in Draupadi’s character throughout her life with the Pandavas. She had a discussion with Yudhisthir when they were in the forest when she talks as if she does not believe in God. And, then Yudhisthir gives her this nice lecture on how not to reach to conclusions too soon about Parmatma. What follows from Draupadi is so beautiful. She says very clearly that she does believe in Dharma and Parmatma completely, but she will continue to complain anyway. She also talks about the importance of karma yoga. It takes a very deep Shradha (Trust) to be able to say that. I believe in Parmatma so completely that I can complain to him as well. Her trust in Parmatma is obvious by the fact that Krishna appears every time she remembers him.
Again, Satyabhama once comes to Draupadi in the jungle and asks Draupadi the tricks, mantras and yantras that Draupadi might be using to keep the trust of her husbands. Again what Draupadi says to Satyabhama should be read by every women of today. She almost feels offended by the question and advises Satybhama to never use such tricks. They never work; mostly they work against you and are matters of superstition. Draupadi then goes on to say how she stays away from jealousy, and does not do things merely to impress and so on. These are the gems of Mahabharata that should be the object of study by every man and women.
Draupadi is often criticized for her marriage to five brothers. There are few things that should be understood about this point.
People who happen to have different social norms are frowning upon a thing that happened five thousand years ago and was accepted by the people of those times today. For example even in the same times of today an Indian has different set of values when compared to those of Europeans or Americans. Slowly and slowly values of one is being tolerated if not accepted by the other groups of people. How can we really pass a judgement about the value systems which existed long time ago?
Draupadi's marriage: It was not Draupadi's choice to marry five brothers. She had just come with the Pandava brothers. Arjuna had won the championship and she had put the garland in his neck. As far as she was concerned she was marrying one of the brothers, Arjuna. I would say that it was a great sacrifice on her part to accept the wishes of the mother Kunti and her sons to marry and carry the marriage faithfully up to the end.
Again, who really knows if Kunti was really sleepy when the Pandava brothers came back home with Draupadi. It was not an ordinary event. Draupadi was so beautiful and full of radiating energy. I have a feeling that Kunti knew that if Arjuna alone married Draupadi there could be trouble in the family. Kunti might have asked for the marriage in her full senses and all the brothers not only agreed to it, but also were very happy with the decision.
In our current times we have a limited and narrow vision. We are limited by what we can see and what we can think. Our thinking is not multidimensional. We do not know if there is past lives or not, we do not know if devtas like Shiva exist. We are totally unaware and ignorant about our surroundings beyond our sensory perceptions. Suppose all the radio stations are gone and we loose the technology of capturing sound. Would that mean that the sound does not travel? Similarly, it may be that we have lost the esoteric existence and therefore cannot comprehend the esoteric history outlines in the Mahabharata. If you read Mahabharata you will find that the story involves the devtas and Rishis. The Rishis were aware of the past lives too. In Draupadi's past life, she had done tapasya and Shiva gave her the bardan that she will marry five brothers. This is a more of a holistic approach, which we are unaware of today. Someone who does not want to believe in these possibilities might say that these are logics used to explain Draupadi’s polyandry. But, I would agree that it is logic used precisely for that whether it is believed in or not.
Draupadi at the time of swargarohan falls first because she loved Arjuna more. Who and why should any one blame her for that. She was human and Arjuna was the one who had got the target in the Swayambara. This is fairly acceptable to me and after all what is expected of Draupadi. She was human.
It was different times. People had different values. Krishna could dance with married women, he could steal clothes from girls who were bathing nude in yamuna, Arjuna could marry and so could Bhima again and again. All these are simply described as is in the Mahabharata without saying that these were bad. Mahabharata is very clear when boundaries of social norms were crossed. When Jayadratha makes advances against Draupadi, it has been condemned without reservations.
Even if we accept this criticism of Draupadi, we still have to give credit to Draupadi for putting up with five husbands and taking up a stand when honor of a woman was at stake. I must point out that Draupadi did not leave the Pandava brothers after the insult by Duryodhana. She continued her role as a wife and was with them through the hard times in the Jungle and every other place. She maintained her stand all the time. Making a role model of Draupadi is not without problems. Men are too used to seeing the role of Sita in their wives. A questioning wife, an intelligent wife, and a wife who will take stand when needed may be incomprehensible by the men of India. A balance may have to be re established. But, that is a small price to pay for what has happened to women by having ideal Sita as a role model alone. It is easy to expect a wife like Sita, much harder to be a husband like Rama.
Draupadi declared the war with Kauravas long before it actually happened. She continued her role as a wife with the five brothers. Her forces were working behind the scenes and one day the war did happen. In some ways, she upheld the honor of women for all times.