Mahabharata: Draupadi’s Single Garment,

and Disrobing in Dice Game Sabha

In two articles before, Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya (‘Was Draupadi Ever Disrobed?’) and Satya Chaitanya-ji (‘Was Draupadi Disrobed in the Dice Hall of Hastinapura?’) argued convincingly with overwhelming evidences from the text and elsewhere that Draupadi was not actually disrobed or no attempt to disrobing her was made in Kuru Sabha – that is, the Popular Myth regarding the episode is actually based on – what I call Text Myth based on Dominant Narrative without regarding the Alternative Narratives.

Dr. Bhattacharya concludes:

“The internal and external evidence, therefore, indicate that the incident of stripping that has so powerfully ruled the popular imagination and featured on stage, paintings, films and television, was not part of the original text but was added by one or more highly competent redactors.”

Satya Chaitanya-ji has rightly observed:

“This enduring picture of horror and humiliation of a woman … has become one of the central images of the Mahabharata. It is difficult to imagine the epic without that haunting scene. Imagining the Mahabharata without the stripping of Draupadi is like imagining the Ramayana without Rama’s exile to the forest, without Sita’s agni-pravesha.”

After reading their papers, and reading the Mahabharata, I have come to two conclusions:

  1. Nothing can be argued against them, however, something more can be added.
  2. The Draupadi-disrobing episode is intrinsically linked with two other themes – equally dominant in Popular Myth – Draupadi-staking at Dice Game, and single-dress-clad menstruating Draupadi being dragged to the Sabha by Duhshashana.

I feel, the learned scholars have not chosen to explore the intrinsic link of these three dominant Popular Myth – and that is indeed one raison d'être of my present article.

In this article, I intend to go one step further – to show that the whole staking matter of brothers and wife (except Yudhishthira’s playing Dice Game and thus staking himself) is created by a very mature later poet, second only to Vyasa, to infuse ‘holes’ in that narrative he had heard (or found already incorporated in the Mahabharata corpus) to enable us understand the episode of staking did not happen/ is not part of Vyasa’s ‘original’ Text. Secondly, I will argue and show on the evidence of lacunae in the image of Draupadi's “single dress” that the ‘fact’ of her menstruating state is actually her Performance; ‘political’, yes, but ‘political’ in a different sense than we are used to understand politics nowadays.

In this part, I will begin with the disrobing matter – though chronologically it comes last of the stated three themes – because my discussion on this would be brief, and I would not repeat what Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya and Satya Chaitanya-ji have already said.

Draupadi Disrobing

Let us begin with a hypothetical question. Even if the attempted disrobing were authentic, even if Duhshashana tries to disrobe Draupadi and succeeds in disrobing Draupadi – what would he have gained? If Draupadi were forced to stand nude in Sabha what would have happened?

In fact, politically, the Kurus stand to lose more, nay, lose absolutely, than any gain visible or imaginable. Dhritarashtra would have been dethroned immediately by the mass (yes, citizens had such power those days – and there are instances aplenty of the father-son duo’s fear of citizens; besides, in the Dice Game Sabha, several ‘senior’ citizens were also present other than several kings, not all of them could be Kuru allies); and Duryodhana, Karna, Duhshashana, and Shakuni would have been killed immediately. Why would Duryodhana et al invite such a prospect?

Let us remember, Duryodhana, Karna, Duhshashana, and Shakuni are no petty eve-teasers or rapists. In whole of Mahabharata is there a single other evidence where these four rape a woman or strip her in public? Karna and Shakuni are kings of two influential Rashtras – Anga and Gandhar, they have their compulsions back home to lead their people as Ideal King.

Actually, the whole reaction to this Image of Draupadi-disrobing in our Culture, arises from at least three factors:

  •  our failure to see Mahabharata as a political narrative, and thus confusing general mass psychology with the general psychology of political ‘class’ or Ruling Class

  • projecting general mass psychology on the general psychology of ‘political class’ or Ruling Class

  •  familiarizing or domestication of Mahabharata, so that such episodes like these are interpreted Only in terms of contemporary reality and experience of rape, molestation, public stripping of women etc.

Moreover, it is one general tendency of mass psychology to react against a futuristic scene that has not happened yet! Thus, Draupadi’s stripping that has not happened, but could happen, or is about to happen, or is in the verge of happening – is a drama, that fires up general mass memory more than anything else. The Alternative Narratives, where this scene exists not, are thus conveniently de-memorized or completely forgotten because they lack this drama to offer possible views of a woman’s nude body. However, only when we muster courage to try to imagine that futuristic prospect as has happened, do we begin to find our own limitations of rationality – our pettiness being effectively disrobed thus to our conscientious selves.

Kshatradharma in those days, and the art of ruling (public administration) of our days are ‘specialized’ arenas; in the sense, they have their own logic and wisdom of functioning. The dichotomy between the Ruler and Ruled is so much, so unbridgeable, that an emotional or sentimental person who reacts against all futuristic possibilities concerning his/her family and as such regarded and revered as a ‘great’ and ‘loving’ and ‘caring’ person on that count, would be considered and proved to be nothing but a dumb ass if he/she applies that household psychology (applied psychology?) while in office of public administration. That is not to say that the Ruling Class or Rulers do not have emotion or sentiment. Yes, they have so – but in their personal lives – however, when they display emotion or sentiment in ‘public’, much calculation or Objectivity is involved, and if they ever express emotion or sentiment Naturally and Spontaneously (being Human, they certainly do so), then the next moment they have to think of it Objectively in terms of gain of public image. Needless to say, if such Natural and Spontaneous expression of emotion-sentiment is frequent, and excessive, then the graph of public image goes down rapidly until the smooth transition of his/her Ruler-status to Ruled-status is complete.

The problem of general Mass Psychology is that, the mass knows this whole matter including its hypocrisy in heart, but is not ready to believe or accept. That is why a politician (political party) who unleashes Tyrannous Rule for 5 years and is voted out, has great chance of coming back to power in the next sixth year, if he/she goes on pleading mercy as public show, and displaying all Politically Correct Body Language of repentance for the next 5 years. It is this idiocy of majority of Human Beings coupled with poor memory and poor capability to learn from own firsthand experience that has created these two universal classes – the Ruler (always minority) and the Ruled (always majority). Ironically, and paradoxically, the wretched condition of our present human civilization is owing to this Minority Rule.

I think that is enough introductions to come to the point that the narrative of Draupadi's disrobing is more a matter of politics and Political Propaganda between the Kuru-Pandavas than a matter of sentiment and emotion. We must remember that Vyasa writes an Itihasa for us on the nature of Power and Power-System in Human Society, and its relation and location in Cosmic Reality, and not a Lalla Lalla Lori to fan our petty sentiments – that Krishna calls kshudram hrdayadaurvalyam.

Now, the particular point of the disrobing scene. I would invite readers’ attention to to a particular line, a particular word to be specific – and that word is Uttariiya. Yes, just that word - Uttariiya.

What does Uttariiya mean in Mahabharatan context? We get the answer just before Duhshashana pulls at Draupadi's “single dress.” Karna asks Dushshasana to remove the clothes of the Pandavas as well as of Draupadi [Pandavanam cha vasansi draupadyashchapyupahara – Sabha 68.38]. In response to Karna's words, the Pandavas remove their Uttariiyas –


Do the Pandavas stand naked thus?

No. The Pandavas get away by submitting their Uttariiyas – that suggests, Uttariiya is a separate piece of garment other than the lower garment. In ancient dress custom, Uttariya is worn separately, and it even implies the occasional presence of an Antariya (inner garment).

Since the Kurus do not object to the Pandavas’ submitting Uttariiya only, and do not insist on their submitting lower garment, it is evident that the token of submitting Uttariiya is accepted as full disrobing in the Kshatriya Value-System of those days.

We may obviously question at this point: why doesn’t Draupadi simply do that?

No, we need not be offended at this futuristic prospect. Breast-covering for women in the Victorian style was not a norm those days, nor the Un-Victorianizing style of nowadays; otherwise, even in ‘normal’ times, Ravana and Kichaka could not have described Sita and Draupadi’s breasts respectively so sensuously and in such details. And certainly, Valmiki and Vyasa too could not have described Sita and Draupadi’s breasts so poetically, complete with observation of auspicious marks. For example, when Draupadi laments before Krishna–Arjuna about her plight, Vyasa narrates how “the tears of Panchali begot of grief washed her deep, plump and graceful breasts crowned with auspicious marks” Vyasa’s description clearly shows there is no breast cover here as we are supposed to believe – otherwise how could he comment on “auspicious marks”?

Though we cannot be entirely certain about dress custom of late Vedic age or Mahabharatan times, the Itihasa of Mahabharata being located in pre-Upanishadik times could not have been much different from Vedic times in matters of custom. Even our ‘medieval’ Temple Sculptures depict exposed breasts of woman quite candidly.

If my question still seems offensive to some pious souls, let me assure that Draupadi certainly has enough Intellect to manage that/those even after submitting Uttariiya. Remember Aphrodite sculptures? Or, Draupadi might have enough jewellery on her neck. The Dharmashastras never totally agree in opinion about the rituals of menstruation or dress code regarding jewellery.

But then, this whole imagination of the drama of author’s question and reader’s dislike becomes redundant on the face of a simple question.

How could Draupadi wear Uttariiya? Isn’t she menstruating? Isn’t she in “single dress”? Doesn’t she appear in the Dice Game Sabha as ekavastraa adhoniivii rodamaanaa rajasvalaa? We hear again and again in the entire narrative that Draupadi wears “single dress.”

So, that is why Duhshashana starts pulling her dress – and the famous disrobing scene ensues.

Now, the crucial point.

If Draupadi is in “single dress,” what about the Shlokas that describe Duhshashana dragging Draupadi to the Sabha?

Let us read this carefully -

taam.kRSyamaaNaam.ca.rajasvalaam.ca;srasta. Uttariiyaam.atad.arhamaaNaam./

“And seeing menstruating Draupadi dragged thus, her Uttariiya loosened, Bhima gives way to wrath fixing his eyes on Yudhishthira, seeing her helpless condition.”

Well, well… if Draupadi is ekavastraa adhoniivii rodamaanaa rajasvalaa – that is wearing “single dress,” where does the Uttariya come from?

If it is argued that Uttariiya here means the long end of the “single dress” for Draupadi to cover her upper part, the argument does not hold. If Vyasa really wants to suggest that, why he, the greatest master of Sanskrit, would not use any other word? Why Uttariya? Why Uttariya, the same word he uses in the same context about Pandavas to suggest upper garment – a separate garment? Secondly, Vyasa does not say that even after Draupadi’s Uttariiya has loosened, her breasts have been exposed. We must remember that customary to ancient times, the poets never miss a chance to describe breasts even in most difficult times! Thus, Valmiki does his poet’s job even when Ravana is abducting Sita.

Now, this single and simple Uttariiya brings us to a great deal of predicament – not to me of course, but to upholders of Popular Myth in the name of various “isms.”

If Draupadi wears a lower garment as well as separate Uttariya, upper garment, that dress does not suit the rajasvalaa state - because Draupadi is then no more ekavastraa, the word that is harped on repeatedly – and thus, the Reality of her menstruation becomes suspect. Again, if we take the much-trod path that this Shloka has been interpolated, then the whole matter of Duhshashana dragging her becomes suspect too. (As I shall show later, that is indeed so.)

In fact, it is Double … I mean Double Trap whether we give Draupadi this Uttariiya or not.

Draupadi-disrobing is convincingly suspect; now if the ‘facts’ of Draupadi’s menstruation and Duhshashana’s dragging her to Sabha become doubtful, then the entire Dice Game including its staking narrative is doubtful.

This Uttariya mention is conclusive proof to me that the whole Dice Game episode has been tampered much by later poets, as in this case by very immature poets (if not super-mature to feign that immaturity), who are as eager to disrobe Draupadi as to robe her!

Just as the two learned scholars’ articles have no noticeable impact on Popular Myth about Draupadi-disrobing – and some famous artistic performers go on disrobing Draupadi (Ganesh Pyne, and M.F. Hussain have famous paintings on this), my article too is doomed, or perhaps more doomed, and therefore, the million-dollar question of billion-dollar aspiring minds will still remain: why is the Draupadi-disrobing episode feature like a jewel in the crown of the Dominant Narrative and corpus of Classical Mahabharata?

For the consolation of my perturbed and disturbed Atma, I can only repeat what I have said before, this time adding an Uttariiya of further explanation.

Probably some pro-Duryodhana poet/s added brother-staking and wife-staking to demean Yudhishthira, and then some pro-Pandava poet/s retained the same to Subvert it from within.

How? If pro-Duryodhana poets invented brother and wife-staking to demean Yudhishthira, pro-Pandava poets invented Draupadi-disrobing to demean Duryodhana. Later poets – when Mahabharata has completely transformed into a pro-Pandava narrative, further transformed the Draupadi-disrobing episode to include Krishna/Dharma to glorify Krishna/Dharma, and for that they again needed Draupadi-disrobing and staking.

Did the pro-Duryodhana and pro-Pandava poets invent all by themselves? NO. I believe they found their clues in Tradition. After the Dice Game, both pro-Duryodhana and pro-Pandava spies (that includes, ascetics, Pura?ik Kathaka – Sutas – poets etc.) started creating Narratives as part of Political Propaganda, that is, just after the Dice Game, the more important Political Game began.

That is Power, counter-Power, Subversion, counter-Subversion of discourse and narrative – and the Show Must Go On! So Modern, and so Post-Modern! None cares how the actual character of Draupadi is humiliated in this process. Patriarchy and anti-Patriarchy form a symbiotic nexus to keep the Myth alive.

I will end this part with an image of depiction of the Draupadi-humiliation scene in Temple Sculpture shot by myself at Halebidu Hoysaleshwar Temple last January.

As we can see from this picture, the Sculptor-Poet is very rational in his depiction of the scene. There is no disrobing here; Duhshashana is grabbing Draupadi’s hair. Draupadi has fallen on the ground, but she does not appear like a sentimental lady nagging at victimization.

Note her Body-Presence and Body Language. Her backbone is erect; naturally highlighting the beauty of her breasts, (the ancient poetic custom seems to have infected me!). Sign of fight-back is evident in her confident posture. She turns slightly to her right, perhaps it is her oblique Glance to the Pandavas sitting on that side, as also to see what is happening on her right.

On our right is certainly Vidura, approaching her with a dress. The gesture is to comfort and console her rather than to wrap her “disrobed” body. The Sculptor-Poet’s rationality does not permit Krishna/Dharma’s Supernatural intervention, rather Vidura to him is Dharma who provides Draupadi a garment.

Who is on our left? Who is that person holding Duhshashana’s right hand? In all probability, he is Vikarna. (On first sight, the curvature of the person’s body and hairstyle might appear feminine, but in Temple Sculptures, both Male-Female bodies are endowed with similar curves.)

The obscured faces of the figures (courtesy erosion by agency of Time and human neglect) provide a universal dimension to the episode, and transform the characters into Archetypes.

If the Sculptor-Poet of 1st half of 12th century could Read Mahabharata so rationally, and could see so much strength in Draupadi’s character even in the face of oppression, why cannot most of our Modern/Post-Modern artists (in all fields of Culture) portray her thus? Why do most of them endlessly nag about Draupadi's victimization, thereby actually victimizing her?

I repeat, it is a Strategy of both Patriarchy and so-called anti-Patriarchy camp to perpetuate the scenario of Woman-exploitation and victimization at the hand of certain Males; the former wants that for exploitation of Woman and Self-Image, and the later for exploitation of that exploitation, for Male Exploitation and Self-Image.

In the next part, I will discuss on Draupadi-staking to show how that narrative is equally absurd, and also on Draupadi's menstruation to show how Draupadi is the genius of Intellect and Performance.

I end this part here with a Shakespeare-do, “There are more things in Mahabharata and Draupadi, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” – obviously replacing ‘Horatio’ with ‘Readeretio’, ‘Scholaretio’ and of course- ‘Indrajitetio’!

To be Continued…

Continued to "Draupadi Disrobing Episode- An Allegory of Vak"


More by :  Indrajit Bandyopadhyay

Top | Hinduism

Views: 4187      Comments: 8

Comment what is uttariya .......is it
rapped from top to bottom in mahabharat times

21-Apr-2020 05:40 AM

Comment The narrative of the victors is always suspect and I wonder why there are not more articles questioning this incident. Is it because there is an element of fantasy fulfillment in this or is it because it proves the divinity of Krishna?

I refuse to believe that an assembly which had Bhishm, Drona, Vidur could simply stand by and watch a woman being dragged and disrobed. Further, the Kauravas, Karna, and Shakuni, for all their faults, (and as you have pointed out) were not molesters of women.

There ought to be more of a debate on the Mahabharat. Looking forward to the next part.

18-Oct-2015 21:22 PM

Comment Dear Sir,

You are a more learned man than I am therefore I may be wrong in what I hereby state.

The disrobing is mentioned in both Ganguly and the critical edition. The miracle of the garment being unending is in both texts. What is not in the critical edition is the part about Draupadi's appeal to Krishna/Hari etc. and Dharma saving her honour by providing her garment while being disrobed.

The Kauravas had all the reason to humiliate the Pandavas. They always harboured evil notions about them. Moreover, Duryodhana specifically mentions to Dritharashtra about Draupadi laughing at him for falling down etc in the Pandava palace although in an earlier section it is not mentioned that Draupadi laughed at him.

As for the sculpture you have shown, it shows a woman held by her hair by a man and two "women", one trying to stop the man and the other helping the woman on the ground. It is wishful thinking to say that this is a scene in the Dyuta sabha and other observations you made on this scene. IMHO, the only time Dhushashana grabbing Draupadi by her hair in Draupadi's quarters when she tries to run away. The women must be her maids. This is not the disrobing scene at all. This is the dragging-her-from-the-lady's-quarters scene.

Sriram Iyer
12-Aug-2014 03:43 AM

Comment @ Medha
thanx for commenting ...
yes ... I will try to answer your queries in the next part of this article ... pl wait for that ...

18-Jul-2014 00:04 AM

Comment @ Minna
thanx for your comments .... you have provided some valuable information ...

18-Jul-2014 00:02 AM

Comment I agree that Mahabharata, more so the dyuta episode is not seen as a political narrative . I wanted to know the political consequences IF Yudhishthira had not staked her in dice? What if he were adamant saying he wouldn't stake her and she was the symbol of their honour
What would have happened to Draupadi's identity? How safe was she when her husbands were all slaves ?
Please answer what do you think

17-Jul-2014 05:15 AM

Comment Hi Indrajit , after reading your article , I was thinking about the whole vastraharan drama. I have a possible explanation for ekavastra. You might have seen the traditional womens wear in Kerala , which consists of two pieces of white clothes worn like a sari. The lower part of the garment is actually a dhoti. This can be ottamundu (literally Ekavastra in sanskrit!) or double. The ottamundu is wrapped around in one layer. Double is a dhoti with double the length which is folded and worn as two layers.My mothers generation says they wear ottamundu even though the garment is supplemented by petticoat, blouse and neriyathu (the white cloth across the upper half). In my childhood, wearing double instead of ottamundu was a sign of affluence. My mother says in her childhood everyone wore ottamundu and double was unheard of. Still the dress was called ottamundu meaning someone was wearing multi-layers. So I guess single-layer was costume of ordinary people, while royals wore multi-layers.

What I am trying to say is that Droupadi's ekavastra may mean single layer of clothing, not a single piece of clothing. perhaps Droupadi wore elaborate multi-layered costume on normal days, and a single layer wraparound on that day, adequately supported by Uttariya and inner garments of course. perhaps Ekavastra is just a code for not being dressed in pretty clothes, ornaments and makeup, which means 'not dressed' in feminine speech. perhaps Duryodhana and Yudhistira , even Vyasa had no clue what is Ekavastra.

06-Dec-2013 10:23 AM

Comment Prof.Bandyopadhyay
No one has written so well on this subject ever before.I look forward to your next "Indrajitetio"

Suresh Mandan
03-Jun-2013 15:07 PM

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