One must never underestimate the abilities of a daughter. Girls can outdo boys in unexpected ways, as is evident in this five thousand year old tale of Draupadi.

Yajnaseni, as Draupadi was first known, came out of the fire of a yagya conducted by Drupada, the king of Panchal, fully grown as a 16-year old, following her diadem-crested twin brother Dhrishtadyumna. It is important to remember that she was an additional and unintended product of the yagya.

Drupada’s yagya was conducted because Arjuna had soundly defeated him, and then, seized and bound, he had been unceremoniously dragged along the ground, to be thrown at the youth’s guru Dronacharya’s feet, as guru dakshina demanded by the maverick teacher, after the Kauravas and their opportunistic ally Karna failed to do so.

This incident led to the splitting of Panchala, with the northern part, or Ahichhatra, claimed by Drona and given to his son Ashwatthama to rule. The rest of Panchal was returned to Drupada, with Drona scornfully reminding him of the childhood pact that they had made as colleagues while studying together, where both had agreed to share everything equally. It was a pact that Drupada later scoffed at, saying that friendship was possible only among equals, when Drona had come to him in his hour of dire need.

It is this humiliation by Dronacharya, using his ablest student Arjuna, that had made Drupada conduct his vengeful yagya, out of which the twins Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi had emerged fully grown, to take revenge on Kuruvamsa for him. Drupada, considering Dhrishtadyumna the fruit of his yagya, decided to have Draupadi married off and quickly announced her swayamvara.

A lot was happening in the Kuru camp during this time, with the Pandavas secretly escaping being burnt alive in the lakshagraha-the house of wax, leaving behind six charred corpses, and then hiding at Ekachakra village, where Bhima killed Bakasura. Subsequently, Bhima sired a son, Ghatotkacha, with the demoness Hidimbi, after killing her brother.

It is now that Krishna appeared in Vyasa’s tale for the very first time. He met the Pandavas and mentioned Drupada’s swayamvara to Draupadi. Krishna suggested the Pandavas go to Panchal disguised as Brahmins to win her hand. The alliance would be essential in making a powerful ally of the Panchalas, to counter the constant threat upon them from the Kaurava camp, especially from Duryodhana and Karna.

The swayamvara involved Draupadi’s rejection of Karna from the contest for being a lowborn sutaputra. Arjuna won Draupadi by firing an arrow into the eye of a rotating fish placed on a spinning wheel above him while looking at its reflection in a pool of water. Many contestants objected to a Brahmin being permitted to compete, leading to mayhem and bloodshed at the Panchal court. Since no archer on earth except Arjuna could have managed this formidable feat, this act also revealed to the Kurus that the Pandavas were very much alive. The plot of the Mahabharata meanders along, reaching its end in the bloody carnage at Kurukshetra.

Significantly, although Draupadi was won by Arjuna, she was shared by the five Pandavas, and eventually became the queen of Hastinapura as Yudhishthira’s wife. She always hankered for Arjuna’s love, but he was totally in love with Subhadra, Krishna’s foster-sister. The only person who really loved Draupadi with all his heart and soul, was Bhimasena, but sadly, Draupadi only used his loyalty for her personal gains. She never really felt any love or deep emotion for him. Draupadi, who had a dusky complexion, is also called Krishnaa, an incarnation of the bloodthirsty goddess Kali. In the canon of Draupadi literature, Pratibha Ray’s Yajnaseni stands out as a monumental work, enhancing the original mythical status of this powerful and alluring queen of Hastinapura.

Ironically, Drupada believed all throughout his life that it was Dhrishtadyumna who would do him the honour of avenging Dronacharya’s insult, not his unwanted daughter Panchali. However, it is she who subtly engineered the annihilation of the entire Kuruvamsa through the terrible Kurukshetra war, for which cause she had, in fact, fortuitously chosen to emerge out of the yagya of Drupada, uninvited.

Captain Deepam Chatterjee (Retired) has recently written The Millennial Yogi published by Penguin Random House India.

Captain Deepam Chatterjee (Retired) has recently written The Millennial Yogi published by Penguin Random House India.