Draupadi — The Red Woman
She came out of her evening shower. As she neared her bed to get her robe, she caught her own image in the mirror across the room. Her reflection smiled at her. She gave in to vanity, dropped the idea on her bed next to her dress and walked over to the mirror. She had always been a fan of how her jet black hair fell gloriously down to her waist. She caressed it with her long, thin fingers. As they waded through the black, she heaved a sigh of pleasure. Her left shoulder covered itself from any eyes only with the blackness that flowed down. Draupadi admired the beauty of her body, evidence of her recent bath sprinkled across it. The fingers that swam through her hair came to rest on her waist. Just as her fingers started exploring deeper, there was a knock on the door, and her hands inadvertently reached for the scarlet saree placed next to her bed.
She thought she had the day all to herself. She was going to relax in the hospitality of the rulers of Hastinapur, but this was unexpected. Perhaps, she had lost track of time being in love with herself. Smiling to herself and rolling the saree around just enough to cover her nakedness, she raised her voice and spoke to the person outside the door.
“Who is it?”
“My Queen, I am Pratikamin. I come from the Hastinapur courtroom with a message. Your presence has been demanded at the Hastinapur court”, the voice responded. The response was not what she expected.
“Demanded? Pratikamin, please send them a message on my behalf that I cannot go to a public gathering today. Remind them that my husbands will not be pleased to hear about this”, Draupadi said clearly and with politeness in her voice.
“But… my Queen…”
This was the voice of a man in great grief. She was worried now. She began to wear her saree better. She might be needed for something important.
“What is it? Your voice tells me there is more to what you’ve told me. What is bothering you?”
“Duryodhana, the prince of Hastinapur, said he wanted you to go with me to the court because… because you’re his slave.”
“Slave? Did you say I am Duryodhana’s slave? What atrocity is this! Pray tell me what happened”, Draupadi enquired seriously.
“O Draupadi! Your husband, King Yudhisthira played against the Kauravas in a game of dice. He wagered and lost his brothers, and his kingdom in the gambling match to Shakuni and the Kauravas’ eldest, and then he wagered you, my Queen. He lost you.”
His words were earnest. She knew he was being honest. Her heart sank. Her mind refused to accept what she had heard.
“Lost me in a gambling match? What kind of a man wages his own wife in a contest?”, she said, her voice beginning to break between stifled sobs, “Pratikamin, did he lose himself to the Kauravas before he wagered me?”
“Yes, my Queen.”
“Then go back to the elders and ask them how a man can wager his woman if he is already a slave. Tell them I do not accept the rules of the wager. Tell them I consider this an insult. Go!”
“Yes. Yes, I will, my Queen”, his voice sounded less sad this time before the sound of his footsteps faded away.
Draupadi sat back down. She had held back tears but her heart was racing. Her anger for the Pandavas knew no bounds. She wanted to think it was all a joke. She could not imagine the princes of Hastinapur hated her family so much as to let such an atrocious dishonour befall her and her husbands. This was injustice. This was humiliation. She heard footsteps again. These were much faster.
“Pratikamin?” asked Draupadi expecting the messenger.
“No, my Queen. I was sent by King Yudhisthira to deliver you a message faster than the eagle flies across the sky”, said the messenger outside her door.
“What is the message, my good man?”, asked Draupadi hoping for a positive response.
“My Queen! Yudhisthira wanted me to tell you that you should wear your saree, and come to the court even though it is not the right time of the month…”
Her hands clutched her saree tighter. Before she could muster up a reply and figure a way out of this miserable situation, footsteps louder than thunder, those of a man in anger, echoed outside her door. She heard the messenger being pushed aside as he screamed in pain.
“Draupadi! Slave, open the door.”
The bitterness in his voice left nothing to be guessed. It was Dushasana, one of the Kauravas, and Duryodhana’s most loyal brother. She knew as soon as she heard his voice that everything she had told the messenger had been dismissed by the court. She knew she was going to have to put up a fight. She stayed quiet, composing herself, calculating options. The banging on the door stopped. She hoped, she prayed he was gone. She was wrong. The doors were broken open. He barged in without leave.
Draupadi yelled at him, “You fiend! You dare enter my chambers without my permission! Leave this instant, and I shall ask my husbands to spare your life.”
“Spare my life? Your husbands bow to us now. You’re no more a queen. Don’t talk like one. A good slave is one who obeys”, Dushasana spoke angrily, still she could hear the happiness in his voice behind all the anger. He was rejoicing the moment.
“Fool! Do not insult the daughter-in-law of the Kurus. It will haunt you forever”, she threatened him, hoping he will back off, but he just laughed at her.
“You are nothing but a slave now, Draupadi. Don’t make me drag you to the courts. My brother is not a patient man.”
Draupadi had heard enough. She wanted to slap him across the face, but she was still conscious of her saree. Her right shoulder was still exposed. Her poorly tied saree revealed her navel. She tried to cover herself better, for deep down she knew this was not going to go the way she wanted it to.
“I shall not go anywhere with you, Dushasana. I order you to leave my chambers right now”, she said once again.
Dushasana let out an angry yell, walked up to her and dragged her by her hands. She resisted, swearing at him. She was no match for his strength. Her body could not obey her mind’s desire to resist. She was being hurtled through the corridors by the muscle of that monster. As they neared the royal courtroom, her feet found strength. Her willingness to resist grew stronger. Getting in front of dozens of men in the state she was in would be humiliating. She was worried they would know she was menstruating. The woman in her preferred certain things to be kept private, but the woman in her was not physically capable of fighting Dushasana. In her struggle, she fell to the floor.
“Get up you slave”, Dushasana yelled, ignoring every protest and request she was making.
She could hear the buzzing in the royal courtroom. They were almost there. Draupadi steeled herself as Dushasana held her by her hair and dragged her to the entrance of the courtroom. Draupadi clawed the arms of her assailant but he seemed only to enjoy the feeling. Her struggle seemed to have no effect on his speed. Despite all her efforts, Dushasana pulled her through the door.
Silence fell upon the courtroom. Her chest heaved. She was not sure if it was anger or lack of breath that got her panting. Draupadi, the Queen of Indraprastha, had been dragged forcefully into public view, into the royal courtroom of Hastinapur, to the midst of Bhishma, Dronacharya and Vidura. The king sat in his throne, motionless and blind to his son’s actions. Draupadi took one look at her husbands whose heads hung in shame, before she was hurled to the floor. The red floor turned vermillion. Her dark skinned forehead bled red. She stayed down.
“Get up, slave! You cannot lay there all day.”
Duryodhana’s words tore through the air and rang in her ears. His sinister laugh made her heart ache. Her throbbing temple tempted her to end herself. It was her eyes that suggested otherwise. They looked at her blood that had made the floor impure just a few seconds ago and she remembered who she was. She rose to a stature of a Queen once again.
“O’ King of Hastinapur”, she addressed the blind king, “how can you allow your son to treat your family’s daughter-in-law and a guest like a slave? Is it not a sin for a man to disrespect his brother’s wife? I am an equivalent of his mother — ”
“Mother?”, Duryodhana laughed, “You are the woman that your own husband did not care enough about. You are the property of a man who threw you away just to get a chance to win his kingdom back. You are my servant. You are the bitch that shall forever obey me.”
Biting down her tongue, Draupadi looked towards Bhishma. The grand old man of Hastinapur, the pride of the Kurus was in tears. She spoke to his heart.
“Grandfather, is it right for a man, who has already lost himself in a wager, to wage his wife in a gambling game? Is it not injustice? How did you allow this to happen?”
Bhishma remained silent. The shock of his silence made her knees tremble. Hope that had held her together was beginning to fade away. She turned to Dronacharya who turned his face away quicker than Bhishma had done. Vidura was her last resort.
“Uncle, you’re a man of righteousness and an expert in the laws of our land . Please answer my questions. Is it Dharma to gamble on the life of a woman? How can the royalty of Hastinapur be spectators to humans being treated as property? How can a slave pledge his wife?” She looked at her husband Yudhisthira with disgust as she spoke.
“My dear one, I do not believe it was right. I do not believe this whole thing should have happened”, Vidura said earnestly, before turning to his brother and king, “O’ Dhritarashtra, stop being blind to the injustice happening in your court. Stop your sons from continuing this insanity. The pride of Kurus can still be salvaged.”
Dhritarashtra stuttered, as he always did with his children, “My son, Duryodhana, stop this craziness. Please.”
His words lacked conviction. He was enjoying the misfortune of his brother Pandu’s sons, but his heart told him these actions of his sons would lead to an even greater adversity. His son Duryodhana, however, was immune to any such fear at the time.
“Father, I have every right to do as I please with my slaves. If you really want to question righteousness, let’s ask Yudhisthira himself”, Duryodhana addressed the man who was the epitome of Dharma, “Dear brother, can I do as I please with Draupadi?”
“Yes”, Draupadi’s husband answered. Even in the face of utmost misery for himself and his family, even when everything good had turned itself away from protecting the honour of his wife, Yudhisthira would not lie.
Draupadi’s eyes flooded with pain and grief. Yudhisthira’s eyes reflected his shame. Shakuni, the evil uncle of Kauravas, made no attempts to conceal the happiness in his eyes. The blind king showed no signs of putting an end to the sin being committed.
“Draupadi”, Duryodhana called out, baring his thighs, “come sit on my lap. You belong to me now.”
She could feel her feminine self crying out from inside her, tears exploding in her womb. The Mother and the Queen did not exist at that moment. It was rage, the woman. It was pain, the woman. It was Draupadi, the woman. She still had one quality that had always been exaggerated out of proportion — patience, but her husband Bheema did not share her virtue.
“Duryodhana”, he roared, “I shall kill you. I swear on the purity of Draupadi that I shall break your thighs, hear your screams and laugh at your misery as you do at her today.”
Bheema’s voice shook the earth. The man with the might of a thousand elephants had just made a vow from the deepest of his heart. His anger frightened even some of his brothers. Arjuna, however, sat in silence. He simply stared at his wife who looked at him, inexplicably, with affection.
Duryodhana was not amused. His greatest enemies were now his property and he was not going to let them get away. He declared to the court, “You are all bound by your self-righteousness and moral codes. I am not. The truth you hold as the basis of all your feigned goodness does not exist. This woman, Draupadi is full of pride and ego, qualities not befitting a good woman. The way she treated me when I was in Indraprastha alone deserves punishment.”
Draupadi looked up at the towering image of Duryodhana. She glowered. Her eyes reflected the highest state of reason achieved solely out of rage. She spoke calmly.
“In the palace of Indraprastha, you were an invited guest. You were treated with respect. On the contrary, you insulted us by threatening and abusing the Guest of Honour. A man who has chosen to stay peaceful because of his enlightenment. His anger is always reasonable and was directed at the soul of the disgusting Shishupala. It was Krishna’s duty to deliver the death of the evil king. You had no right intervening”, said Draupadi.
As a madman would look to defend himself when he understood his guilt, Duryodhana spoke, “Shishupala was right about everything. Krishna had no right to kill him. He was my friend. A friend of the same gender. Unlike you and Krishna. You defend Krishna because of your love for him. What kind of woman — “
“Duryodhana”, Draupadi’s voice threatened calmly, “Choose your next words very carefully. Your very fate may rest upon them.”
“Ha! How dare you interrupt me! Why? Are you afraid that the world will find out about the two of you? I noticed how you jumped to his side when he killed Shishupala. I saw you tear off your saree to stop the bleeding in his hand. Your husbands, these wretched excuses for real men, watched you do that, and did nothing to stop you. You are a dishonourable woman married to dishonourable men”, Duryodhana rambled on. He was possessed by something beyond this earth. All his actions from his previous births had come together at that moment. He finished with the words, “and I am going to reveal your naked self here today for the world to see. Dushasana, release her from the bounds of her saree. Disrobe her.”
The lamps in the royal courtroom were put out instantly by the weight of his words. Darkness filled the Hastinapur streets. The Sun struggled to get itself seen. Bhishma shook his head in disbelief, still bound by his self righteousness. Drona was agitated and seconds away from using his Astras on the speaker of those words. The Pandavas, infuriated, screamed out the Kaurava prince’s name. Arjuna still sat in silence. Draupadi looked at him, knowing what was going through his mind. She turned to the court and spoke.
“I’m not going to stop you all from your own destruction.”
Dushasana laughed and walked towards the center of the floor where Draupadi stood. Vikarna, one of his ninety nine brothers stepped between them. With restrained anger and forced politeness, he tried to reason with his brother.
“Dear brother, this is a sin. A woman cannot be treated in this manner. It will result in great dishonour to our name.”
Dushasana intervened, “Vikana, have you chosen to side with the Pandavas again? Don’t betray your own. You are the son of Dhritarashtra. Remember that.”
“Brother, It is your blood that runs in me and that is why I want to prevent you from committing the highest of sins possible to a woman. Please listen to me”, Vikana continued to protest.
Duryodhana spoke up, “Draupadi was responsible for the injustice done to us. She and the Pandavas stripped your brothers of their weapons. It was the greatest humiliation a warrior can be put through.”
“To strip a woman of her clothes is not the same as what you went through, dear brother. Please think before you act. I don’t have the power to stop you. So I beg you to consider the Dharma.”
Darkness continued to haunt the city. Karna, born of the Sun, wounded by the society and filled with thoughts of revenge for Draupadi brought upon by her words in the past, abandoned his righteousness. The goodness that was housed in him abdicated the throne of his heart. The Sun remained hidden behind the clouds as Karna struck the final blow.
“Dharma? Dharma is applicable to people who follow it. According to Dharma, a woman who has more than four men in her life loses her right to be treated with respect. Draupadi is married to five men. She is a whore. What difference does a piece of cloth make to a whore?”
The Sun set at the horizon early that day. Blackness took over the world. Everyone in the room was too stunned to say a word. Karna had used the very Dharma that had been against him all these years, to inflict pain upon a faultless woman. He had fallen prey to his own anger and emotions. Draupadi looked at him, the pain of hearing his words visible in her eyes.
The protests were not existent anymore. No elder had anything left to say. The Pandavas remained silent with their hands behind their back, their knees hoping the earth would open up to take them in. Draupadi stepped to the center of the floor as Dushasana grabbed her saree and started to unroll it off her. As the fabric began to leave her beautiful being, the royal court of Hastinapur began to lose its respect, honour and pride.
Draupadi closed her eyes, hands bowed in silent prayer, her body turning to the tune of Dushasana’s hands, and uttered the words, “My dear friend Krishna, I leave this up to you now.”
Several thousand miles away, Lord Krishna nodded at her words and shed the first drop of tear in his life. The woman who had grown up as he watched needed him at that moment and he was far, far away. But at that moment, he knew She was going to be a lesson to the world for generations to come. She was going to change the world. Draupadi, his friend, the one who shared his name, skin color and love for mischief was being insulted and humiliated. Krishna was angry.
At Hastinapur, in the royal courtroom, a glow emanated from the woman on the floor. Before the men watching could take in what they were seeing, the lamps in the room came back to life. The temple bells around the city chimed their loudest. The pillars of the palace shook from their very foundations.
The lamps in the room burnt red. The eyes of the elders turned red with tears. The palms of the Pandavas turned red as they clenched their fists. The floor that had stolen the purity of Draupadi’s blood turned vermillion. As Dushasana continued to pull the saree off her, the glow surrounding Draupadi grew resplendent. Her dark skin flamed red. The Dharma inherent in Draupadi, the purity in the soul of the woman also called Krishna, ascended from inside her. The glow rose and danced an angry dance, and in one wave of siky magnificence, it transformed into a scarlet saree, its one end on her waist and another far away, past the heavens and the seven seas, past the present and past the past. The fabric of time bowed to Draupadi’s power.
For every inch the Kaurava sibling removed off the woman, a mile of silk appeared around her. Her purity was endless. Her loyalty was beyond question. Her divinity was born that second beneath the layers of blood red silk. Her saree continued to grow in size. Bales of silk lay upon the floor next to Dushasana, as he tried to strip Draupadi of her purity in vain. The men in that courtroom were witnessing the birth of a Goddess.
Dushasana grew tired. His arms turned limp. His breath tempted to leave him. Finally, he gave up and fell to the ground. Draupadi stood at the center. Her saree was perfect. She opened her eyes. The elders paid obeisance to Her. Draupadi took a deep breath. Her skin shone a dark blue and Her saree, a bright red. Her voice echoed to the skies and back as she began, “Hmmm!”
The sound of Her voice made the lamps in the room tremble. Duryodhana and Shakuni looked at Her in shock and fear. Reverence overwhelmed Bhishma, Drona and Vidura. Dhritarashtra held on to his throne in fear. The Pandavas finally chose to raise their heads, shedding their shame momentarily. Draupadi’s eyes looked at every single Kaurava in the room as she spoke, fury accentuating every word, “Every man in this court will endure the most painful of times starting this day. O’ Men, by insulting the honour of a woman and violating the morals of respect, you have become the architect of your own destruction.”
Draupadi turned to the Kauravas and continued, “Duryodhana, you have brought the wrath of every woman in this world upon yourself. Dushasana, let it be known that no man shall touch a woman with evil intentions, that no being shall dare to defy the boundaries of a woman without her consent, and anyone who does shall live a life of misery and face a lonely death.”
She then turned to Her husbands who immediately hung their heads in shame. Only Arjuna was brave enough to look at Her eyes. Her inflamed heart expressed itself in the pained look She gave him. Draupadi looked at the ring that Arjuna had given Her the day they were married. The ruby on the ring had lost its sheen. With a grave heart, and a lonely tear that left her eyes, She removed the ring and cast it at the feet of Her beloved one. Arjuna closed his eyes in silent acceptance. She spoke to the five of them with the serenity of an angry woman with conflicting emotions of love and denial.
“Dear sons of Pandu, for the past several years I have held you above all else. I have lived as you please. I have lived to please you. Today, you broke the bond of protection and love that made me happy to be yours. Yudhisthira, you are rightfully called Dharmarajan. Even your enemies cite you as an example of righteousness. Not today, my King! You have mistaken the laws of the land for the morals of the living. Rajadharma is not Dharma. You upheld your role as a ruler and a denizen. You failed in the Dharma of protecting the innocent, of not letting harm befall the harmless. You gave up on your own wife.”
Yudhisthira nodded in agreement, as Panchali turned to Bheema and said softly, “Bheema, I know your love for me. I valued it above all else. I can only imagine the anger inside you. Why, oh, why did you let your respect for your brother’s orders blind you from your heart’s commands?”
Bheema stood up with shame. With the rage of an elephant whose mahout was disappointed at his inability, Bheema raged at the Kaurava brother, “Dushasana, I shall not rest until I rip the arms that disrobed Draupadi off your shoulders. I shall break open your chest and drink your blood.”
Every soul in that courtroom felt Bheema’s threat. The very instant he uttered those words, everyone became aware of the inevitability of his words. Bheema did not stop, “I shall kill every single Kaurava brother. I shall bring my wife the blood of each and every one of them to undo the shame brought upon Her today.” Dhritarashtra trembled in his chair.
Draupadi, unflustered by the fury emanating from Bheema’s words, addressed the sons of Madri, “Nakula, does the beauty of your soul prevent you from rising against injustice? Is it merely a facade for a man who is not truly beautiful? Sahadeva, O learned one, do you see a good that will come out of what happened here today? Did your own knowledge prevent you from standing up for your wife?”
The twins shook their heads fully aware of the sin they had committed, and the choices they had made that day. Draupadi, the woman in red, the daughter of the mighty Drupada and the beloved wife of the greatest warrior of his time, looked at the man She loved beyond the limits of truth, beyond the conditions of Dharma, and said, “O’ Arjuna, the one who won my heart with your love, and my hand with the bow, where did all your might disappear? I believed in your skills more than I believed in my father’s care, but you let me down in front of the world. I shall never forget this disappointment, but I do have one request to make of you.”
Arjuna looked at Her enquiringly, tears waiting to well up his eyes. Draupadi stated Her request, “I want you to avenge my dishonour.”
Arjuna rose up from where he knelt. He nodded at the woman he respected as much as he did his mother and loved more than he did himself. After several minutes of restrained emotions and unsaid words, he bared his teeth at Duryodhana and stated simply, “Your end has begun today. I shall ensure there is not a single soul that stands in the way of you and death. My Gandeepam will have the response to every question that was failed to be answered this day”, he continued as the skies trembled with the intensity of his voice, “I swear today that I shall be the bringer of death to all that is evil and all that stands by it.”
Draupadi’s chest rose and fell in anger. Her rage fueled by Her lover’s words, Draupadi uttered Her vow, “The hair that my parents touched to give me their blessings, the hair that my husbands caressed with love, the hair that I had cared for and groomed every single day was made impure today by the hands of the devil himself. I take a vow in front of all of you today, that I shall not tie my hair till I adorn it with the blood of Dushasana.”
As the fear of Her wrath began to take over the hearts of men in the room, Draupadi began to spell out Her curse to the Kauravas, “I am not a mere mortal. I was born of the fire. I am the epitome of purity. I am the symbol of all women in this land. I am no more a wife. I am not bound by the laws of the land any more. I am divine. Today, I have been tested with the sufferings and humiliation of every woman in this land. On their behalf and on behalf of honour and respect, I curse every single person in the Kuru dynasty to -”
“Draupadi!” yelled Gandhari, the mother of Kauravas and the queen of Hastinapur as she came running into the courtroom, her eyes still blinded by the piece of cloth she had tied around her eyes, “please don’t. I entreat you. From one mother to another, please spare my sons.”
Draupadi’s respect for the queen was the only thing that held Her back. She listened patiently as Gandhari proceeded to reprimand her sons and her husband, Dhritarashtra. Draupadi waited as the queen advised the king to undo all that happened. Dhritarashtra, who had by then given in to the fear and worried about his bloodline, hurried down from his throne to where Draupadi stood. He reached out to touch his daughter-in-law but pulled his hand back as the air around Draupadi flamed hot.
“My dear one, please forgive my sons for whatever happened here today. Ask me three boons that I can grant. Give me a chance to redeem myself as a father, a king and a person”, the king implored Draupadi.
Draupadi’s mind filled itself with words that were befitting a lesser person. She could not believe the nerves of the man who had just asked for forgiveness. He had the condescension of a man in power, but that was what he was — a man in power. So, his sons enjoyed all the power they could. Draupadi knew the way to end it. With a thought so calculatively typical of a woman with great knowledge, Draupadi asked for Her first boon.
“Release the sons of Pandu and free them of any bondage they have been put under”, She named Her wish. The sons of Pandu, Her husbands, were Her best chance to extract revenge for whatever injustice had happened. She gambled, for that is how it all started.
“Yes, my dear. I free them. I free all of them. Please name your second wish”, Dhritarashtra’s tone betrayed his eagerness to be rid of his sins.
“Restore all of their wealth and their weapons”, She ordered serenely. She had found Her advantage.
“Granted, my dear one. What is the third boon you want?” Dhritarashtra asked. Gandhari waited for Draupadi’s answer just like everyone else. Duryodhana fidgeted, trying to interrupt, but his uncle Shakuni held him back. Shakuni understood the danger his nephew was in.
Draupadi, however, did not ask for the third boon. She merely said, “I have what I need. Anything more will be a sign of greed. I have the sons of Pandu and everything else that belongs to them. I need nothing more.”
The Pandavas were at their most powerful with their Astras. Draupadi did not care for their well-being. All She wanted was for them to feel ashamed, wounded, and embarrassed. An angry man with a disappointed woman he is in love with was a force that a Woman could toy with. She had five of them now. The Pandavas were not Her husbands anymore. They were Her Weapons.
Draupadi turned around and walked away from all the fear She had incited, all the reverence She had earned. Her feet did not seem to touch the ground as she moved with the grace of a wounded lioness. Her long red saree trailed behind her as she walked. It severed itself from the heavens as She left the courtroom.
At Dwaraka, Lord Krishna unrolled the piece of red saree Draupadi had tied on his hand several months ago. His was not the blood that was going to be spilled.