With all its heroic and valiant, and an unparalleled plot, the Hindu epic Mahabharata has been ruling the hearts and minds of the majority of the people, greatly so after it was revived as a television series initially on Doordarshan, and then with a vibrant cast and location on Star Plus, notably for a younger generation.
While holding the formidability of many of the male characters the prime instances of the lessons to be learnt from this longest Sanskrit epic in India, Draupadi many a time remains in the background as one of the many unsung female leads of the epic. While also in the other instances, she has been an unforgettable mention in symbolising the rise of feminism in the Hindu mythology. She has been rightly called so if we analyse her with a lens that encapsulates the gender roles of the society in question.
Saptroshi Das explains her enigmatic charm as “if Mahabharata is an intricately women saga of hatred and love, bloodshed and noble thoughts, beauty and gentleness, victory and defeat, then Draupadi is its shining jewel, casting the shadow of her towering personality over the epic poem and the all destroying war described.” Preeti Chaudhary even describes her as a cult Goddess worshipped in many temples of South India.
While on one hand, she was feminine, tender and, compassionate, on the other hand, she would ‘ask her husbands’ to uproot an entire kingdom that made her body a site of the male hegemonic structures that operated. She becomes a feminist figure because she is able to articulate her stance against the idea of a woman’s body being a symbol of honour and dishonour and therefore outrageously denying the commodification of women in society. Her fierce image is all set when she comes out unscathed during the disrobing episode.
But what remains to be ruminated concerning Draupadi is not her eloquence against her body being allegedly granted the status of someone else’s (her husband’s) property but as a woman, who was disrobed in a hall and had to be saved by Krishna, a man. This image of Draupadi that makes her a mere damsel in distress and a woman who could be saved of her honour only by another man when her husbands were not able to do so needs to be transformed to Dopadi Mejhen the protagonist from Mahashewta Devi’s short story “Draupadi” that is chillingly relevant today.
Dopadi of Mahasweta Devi outrivals Draupadi of Mahabharata in articulating her ‘indomitable laughter’ after the rape episode rather than being a woman who waited for a male to rescue her. Unlike Draupadi, Dopadi Mejhen knows to execute herself directly without any need of an agency to act for her. When the officers ask Dopadi to cover herself after they are done violating her body, Dopadi presenting a fiercer feminist figure than Draupadi rips off her clothes and walks toward officer “…naked. Thigh and pubic hair matted with dry blood. Two breasts. Two wounds”. Senayanak, the main culprit is shocked by her sheer defiance as she stands before him “with her hand on her hip” as “the object of [his] search” and exclaims, “There isn’t a man here that I should be ashamed.”
Thus she subverts the narrative of the original plot and instead of acting as a victim becomes an agency to leave the men ‘terribly afraid’. This exactly is the boundary that Draupadi from Mahabharat needs to cross in order to get a glorifiable transformation to Dopadi Mejhen from Mahashweta Devi’s “Draupadi” because “Dopadi is what Draupadi- written into the patriarchal and authoritative secret text as proof of male power could not be”. This exactly is the point where Draupadi needs Dopadi because Draupadi must know that “there isn’t a man here that she should be ashamed”.