Polyandry, Patriarchy and Penance [Book Club – The Mahabharata]

Dipa: What is the story behind Queen Draupadi?

Udita: The princess of Panchal has a very unique story of birth. King Draupad wanted a son to defeat Dronacharya and hence was trying, by all means, to get one. No one knew that along with a son, a daughter will also be born. As Draupadi emerged from the sacrificial fire, a heavenly voice announced that this girl will change the course of Bharat (modern-day India) in the future.

Draupadi got similar teachings to her brother Drishtyadumna and therefore was skilled in warfare. She was a woman of great caliber who always put her family before her own desires. She was dark-skinned, but was always confident about herself which made her even more attractive to others. She never hesitated to raise her voice against wrongdoings.

In the Dvapara Yuga, she symbolizes a woman with a strong and enticing personality who challenges the atrocities imposed on her.

Vyasa_telling_the_secret_of_birth_of_Drupadi_to_Drupada.jpg
Vyasa telling the secret of birth of Draupadi to Drupada.

Dipa: Why do you think Queen Draupadi’s polyandrous marriage to five husbands unsettles people so much? It was perfectly legal at the time and there were many rules set in place regarding how it was practised.

Udita: In my opinion, the lack of acceptance of Draupadi’s polyandrous marriage can be attributed to the fact that in our culture, women are perceived of good character or eligible for marriage on the basis of their virginity. Men are entitled to polyandrous marriages as they are responsible to maintain their dynasty and women simply facilitate this process. People are completely okay with men having more than one wife as they feel virginity is a trait that only women need to possess. 

In the epic, Draupadi was questioned repeatedly on the basis of her chastity. Owing to her five marriages, Kauravas find it acceptable to publicly disrobe her as they thought she is of loose character. Rules were set in place in the practise of polyandry – and it was perfectly acceptable at that time. Nevertheless, people are still not able to overcome the burden and legacy of patriarchal mentality.

Dipa: Stories that are passed down about Draupadi tend to focus on the molestation scene where she is put down as a bet during a game of dice. What are your thoughts regarding the incident?

Udita: According to me, the whole act was highly condemnable. This kind of act questions the fundamentals of the Indian culture in which a sister-in-law is treated as a mother figure. Moreover, putting your wife as a bet was not allowed in the game of dice as per its rules and regulations. But everything was ignored to claim revenge. What saddens me more is that there was no sane person to stop this in that room full of splendorous and wise men.

Dipa: When I came back to Singapore, I visited Sri Mariamman Temple and was surprised to find a shrine where she is referred to as ‘Draupadi Amman’ or Mother Draupadi. People don’t usually portray her as a ‘mother’. Why do you think that is?

Udita: I feel this might be because we have preconceived notions about a mother figure. We define mother as a respectful loyal monogamous person with a humongous amount of love and affection for her children. This traditional definition of mother acts as a blockage to accept Draupadi as a mother as she lacks one of the most important traits i.e. monogamy. 

Dipa: At that same temple, an annual fire-walking festival known as Theemithi is held in Draupadi Amman’s honour. It is when male devotees walk across a fire pit. There are many stories behind why this festival is held. Some people say it is in exchange for a wish or blessing granted by the Goddess Draupadi. Whilst others say that it is held to perform penance for the grave humiliation in a public arena by the Kauravas that the Pandavas – her five husbands – failed to stop. What is your view regarding this practise?

Udita: As only men are performing this ritual, this could be happening as an act of repentance. What was done in the public arena by the Kauravas has been condemned by the people of both the genders. People have realized how grave a mistake their ancestors have committed and want to offer their apology for the same to Draupadi by doing this ritual. In Hindu Mythology, fire and chastity go hand in hand. 

Dipa: All over the world, there are many Hindu temples that venerate the Goddess. The irony is that Indian culture is still deeply patriarchal. How does a young woman like yourself reconcile these two contradictory facets of our culture?

Udita: One of the most enlightening experiences in my life was when I visited the Kamakhya Temple in Assam, India. I was totally unaware that there exists a temple where female genitals are worshipped. The irony was that this all was happening in the same country where there are so many taboos related to menstruating women and the highly coveted topic i.e. virginity of women.

I come from a well-educated family where I never faced any discrimination on the basis of my gender. But, at the same time, I was also surrounded by girls who were continuously facing it even after belonging to well-off families. So what was the missing link here? Was it their education? Actually, no. Even educated people believe in such long lost myths. Their family members have inherited these beliefs from their forefathers. Education has alleviated the matter but not completely.

I reconcile this quandary in the thought process of people by a simple approach. I believe in the power of ripple effect. If I am able to create a difference even in the life of one person, I feel I have done a great deal. Because that one person after being uplifted will try to uplift others.

At the professional front also, I encountered women who were doing exceptionally well and there were people doubting their integrity. These women kept breaking the ceilings and the myths of these judgemental patriarchs without giving any heed to their unwelcoming opinions. My manager was one such woman and she has inspired me in innumerable ways. I wish to do the same for people around me irrespective of their gender or race.

About Us

IMG_4767 2Dipa Sanatani is the Merchant of Stories. She delights in gazing out at the ocean and jumping in. She sees life as one great adventure and is an ardent student of the human experience. She is the author of The Little Light and the Founder of Mith Books. She works in a top secret day job.

Udita Mith books

Udita Nayak is a bibliophile who wants to explore the world and pen down all her adventures. She has an inclination towards things that have artistic significance. She strongly believes in the power of ripple effect and dreams of publishing her own book in future. By day, she works in consulting. 

Author: Dipa

Founder of Mith Books | The Merchant of Stories | In the Business of Sharing Stories with the World

2 thoughts

  1. Totally agree with every word said here. Draupadi is my favorite mythological character and I feel an intimate connection with her, as if a part of her lives within me. Also, I loved the concept of the ripple effect. From now on, I’ll too believe in its power and strive towards creating a difference. The post was truly enlightening.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It is amazing how something like patriarchy exists even in situations and ideas that are supposed to empower women or at least give them more freedom to live their lives.

    This made me think so much more than the stories that I grew up listening…amazing work!

    Liked by 2 people

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