Draupadi is the ’emerged’ daughter of King Drupada of Panchāla and the wife of the five Pandavas in the epic Mahābhārata.
She is also variously referred to as Panchali (meaning one from the kingdom of Panchala), Yajnaseni (meaning one born from a Yajna or fire-sacrifice), Mahabhaaratii (great wife of the five descendents of Bharata) and Sairandhri (literally: an expert maid, her assumed name during her second exile in which she worked as Virat kingdom’s queen Sudeshna’s hair-stylist). When Yudhisthira became the king of Hastinapura at the end of the war, Draupadi (again) became the queen of Indraprastha. She had five sons, one by each of the Pandavas: Prativindhya from Yudhishthira, Sutasoma from Bheema, Srutakarma from Arjuna, Satanika from Nakula, and Srutasena from Sahadeva. She is described in the Mahābhārata as being extraordinarily beautiful, unsurpassed by any other woman of her time. Draupadi is one of the Panch-Kanya (The Five Virgins) of the ancient Hindu epic, as is her Mother-in-Law, Kunti.
Up to now, mankind has thought of love in terms of petty relationship – relationship between two persons. We have yet to know love that is a state of mind, and not just relationship. And this is what comes in our way of understanding Draupadi.
If I am loving, if love is the state of my being, then it is not possible to confine my love to a single person, or even a few persons. When love enters my life and becomes my nature, then I am capable of loving any number of people. Then it is not even a question of one or many; then I am loving, and my love reaches everywhere. If I am loving to one and unloving to all others, even my love for the one will wither away. It is impossible to be loving to one and unloving to the rest. If someone is loving just for an hour every day and remains unloving for the rest of the time, his lovelessness will eventually smother his small love and turn his life into a wasteland of hate and hostility.
It is unfortunate that people all around the world are trying to capture love and keep it caged in their relationships. But it is not possible to make a captive of love, the moment you try to capture it, it ceases to be love. Love is like air; you cannot hold it in your fist. It is possible to have a little air on your open palm, but if you try to enclose it in your fist, the air escapes. It is a paradox of life that when you try to imprison love, to put it in bondage, love degenerates and dies. And we have all killed love in our foolish attempts to possess it. Really we don’t know what love is.
The day really loving people
will walk on this earth,
the personal ownership of love
rampant today in the form of marriages,
families and groups, will disappear.
We find it hard to understand how Draupadi could love five persons together. Not only we, even the five Pandava brothers had difficulty in understanding Draupadi. The trouble is understandable, even the Pandavas thought that Draupadi was more loving to one of them. Four of them believed that she favored Arjuna in particular, and they felt envious of him. So they had a kind of division of her time and attention. When one of the Pandava brothers was with her, others were debarred from visiting her.
Like us, they believed that it is impossible for someone to love more than one person at a time. We cannot think of love as anything different from a relationship between two persons – a man and a woman. We cannot conceive that love is a state of being, it is not directed to individuals. Love, like air, sunshine and rain, is available to all without any distinctions.
We have our own ideas of what love is and should be, and that is why we misunderstand Draupadi. Despite our best efforts to understand her rightly, there is a lurking suspicion in our minds that there is an element of prostitution in Draupadi: our very definition of a sati, a faithful and loyal wife, turns Draupadi into a prostitute.
We think that love
is a relationship
between two persons,
which it is not.
It is amazing that the tradition of this country respects Draupadi as one of the five most virtuous women of the past. The people who included her among the five great women of history must have been extraordinarily intelligent. The fact that she was the common wife of five Pandavas was known to them, and that is what makes their evaluation of Draupadi tremendously significant. For them it did not matter whether love was confined to one or many; the real question was whether or not one had love. They knew that if really there was love, it could flow endlessly in any number of channels; it could not be controlled and manipulated. It was symbolic to say that Draupadi had five husbands; it meant that one could love five, fifty, five hundred thousand people at the same time. There is no end to love’s power and capacity.
The day really loving people will walk on this earth, the personal ownership of love rampant today in the form of marriages, families and groups, will disappear. It will not mean that the love relationship between two human beings will be prohibited and declared to be sinful – that would be going to the other extreme of stupidity. No, everybody will be free to be himself, and to function within his limits and no one will impose his will and ideas on others. Love and freedom will go together.
Draupadi’s love is riverlike, overflowing. She does not deny her love even for a moment. Her marriage to the Pandava brothers is an extraordinary event – it came about almost playfully. The Pandavas came home with Draupadi, who they had won in a contest. They told their mother they had brought a very precious thing with them. Kunti, their mother, without asking what the precious object was, said, “If it is precious then share it together.”
The Pandava brothers had no idea that their mother would say this; they just wanted to tease her. But now they had to do their mother’s bidding; they made Draupadi their common wife. And she accepted it without complaint. It was possible because of her infinite love. She has so much that she loved all her husbands profoundly, yet never felt any shortage of love in her heart. She had no difficulty whatsoever in playing her role as their common beloved, and she never discriminated between them.
In a matriarchy
a woman did not belong
to any man;
no man could possess her.
Draupadi is certainly a unique woman. Women, in general, are very jealous; they really live in jealousy. If one wants to characterize man and woman, he can say that while ego is the chief characteristic of man, jealousy is the chief characteristic of woman. Man lives by ego and woman by jealousy. Really jealousy is the passive form of ego, and ego is the active form of jealousy. But here is a woman who rose above jealousy and pettiness; she loved the Pandavas without any reservations. In many ways Draupadi towered over her husbands who were very jealous of one another on account of her love. They remained in constant psychological conflict with each other, while Draupadi went through this complex relationship with perfect ease and equanimity.
We are to blame for our failure to understand Draupadi. We think that love is a relationship between two persons, which it is not. And because of this misconception we have to go through all kinds of torment and misery in life. Love is a flower which once in a while blooms without any cause or purpose. It can happen to anyone who is open. And love accepts no bonds. no constraints on its freedom. But because society has fettered love in many ways we do everything to smother it, to escape it. Thus love has become so scarce, and we have to go without it. We live a loveless life.
We are a strange people; we can go without love, but we cannot love someone without possessing him or her. We can very well starve ourselves of love, but we cannot tolerate that the person I love should share his or her love with anybody else. To deprive others of love we can easily give up our own share of it. We don’t know how terribly we suffer because of our ego and jealousy.
It is good to know that Draupadi is not a solitary case of this kind; she may be the last in a long line. The society that preceded Draupadi was matriarchal; perhaps Draupadi is the last vestige of that disintegrating social order. In a matriarchial society the mother was the head of the family and descent was reckoned through the female line. In a matriarchy a woman did not belong to any man; no man could possess her. A kind of polyandry was in vogue for a long time, and Draupadi seems to be the last of it. Today there are only a few primitive tribes who practice polyandry. That is why the society of her times accepted Draupadi and her marriage and did not raise any objections. If it was wrong, Kunti would have changed her instructions to her sons, but she did not. If there was anything immoral in polyandry even the Pandava brothers would have asked their mother to change her order. But nothing of the kind happened, because it was acceptable to the existing society.
… polygamy became a necessity
and it had a moral aura about it.
It happens that a custom that is perfectly moral in one society appears completely immoral to another. Mohammed had nine wives, and his Koran allows every Mohammedan man to have four wives. In the context of modern societies, polygamy and polyandry are considered highly immoral. And the prophet of Islam had nine wives. When he had his first marriage he was twenty-four years old, while his wife was forty.
But the society in which Mohammed was born was very different from ours and its circumstances were such that polygamy became both necessary and moral. They were warring tribes who constantly fought among themselves. Consequently they were always short of male members – many of whom were killed in fighting – while the number of their women went on growing. Out of four persons, three were women. So Mohammed ordained that each man should have four wives. If it was not done, then three out of four women would have been forced to live a loveless life or take to prostitution. That would have been really immoral.
So polygamy became a necessity and it had a moral aura about it. And to set a bold example, Mohammed himself took nine women as his wives, and permitted each of his male followers to have four. No one in Arabia objected to it; there was nothing immoral about it.
The society in which the Mahābhārat happened was in the last stages of matriarchy, and therefore polyandry was accepted. But that society is long dead and with it polygamy and polyandry are now things of the past. They have no relevance in a society where the numbers of men and women are in equal proportion. When this balance is disturbed for some reason, customs like polygamy and polyandry appear on the scene. So there was nothing immoral about Draupadi.
Even today I say that Draupadi was not an ordinary woman; she was unique and rare. The woman who loved five men together and loved them equally and who lived on their love could not be an ordinary woman. She was tremendously loving and it was indeed a great thing. We fail to understand her because of our narrow idea of love.
Osho, Krishna: The Man and His Philosophy, Ch 11, Q 1 (excerpt)