In one of the most important incidents with far-reaching consequences in Mahabharat, Draupadi poses a question to the Kuru Court. The question stumps the luminaries present on various counts. Some try to avoid it and some try to answer in their own ways.
When Yudhisthir is challenged by Duryodhan to a game of dice he agrees to Shakuni, the clever master of dice, to play on behalf of Duryodhan. After losing all his belongings, he offers one by one his brothers and then himself as stake, loses promptly and declares he has nothing more to offer. At that point Shakuni suggests, “there is still one stake dear to thee that is still unwon... Stake thou Krishna, the princess of Panchal. By her, win thyself back.” [Sabha Parva, Section LXIV]*. Yudhishthir, thinking in a typical gambler’s way, imagines that Draupadi will bring him luck as he had gained Indraprasth after marriage with her, offers her in a gamble to win back what he has lost and ends up losing her too.
In a disastrous sequence of events Duryodhan first orders Vidur to take Draupadi to the maids’ quarters. However, Vidur refuses castigating Duryodhan and opines that she is not a slave, since Yudhishtir lost her after losing himself. Then Duryodhan sends a messenger to take Draupadi to the servants’ quarters. Draupadi, having ascertained that Yudhishthir lost himself first and then her, refuses to come to the hall as she was in her monthly period and clad in but one garment. Instead she raises the question implying, “How can Yudhishthir offer me as stake, after he has lost himself?” Duryodhan sends back a message asking her to come to the court and present her question in person. When the messenger fails to bring her to the hall, Duryodhan orders Duhshasan, who drags her by the hair to the hall.
Draupadi then poses the question to the assembled gathering. The Kuru elders Bhishm, Vidur and the preceptors Krupa, Dron are unable to provide a clear answer to Draupadi’s question, nor does Dhrutarashtra. Even Yudhishthir does not answer Draupadi.
Vikarn, one of Duryodhan’s younger brothers, unable to brook the atrocity committed on that chaste woman, ventures to offer his answer. His reply is quite logical and precise. He opines that Draupadi has not been won by Duryodhan on three counts. First, gambling is one of the four vices attributed to Kings. The acts of person engaged in a vice cannot be said to be of any authority. Secondly, Shakuni prompted Yudhishthir to offer Draupadi as stake; Yudhishthir did not do so on his own volition, which is against the rules of the game. Thirdly, Draupadi is not only Yudhishthir’s wife but the common wife of all five brothers and since he has not taken permission of his brothers, he cannot offer her as stake. Lastly, Yudhishthir had lost himself, so he had no right to offer Draupadi as stake. He concludes, “Drapadi has not been won by Duryodhan.”
Duryodhan’s friend Karn counters Vikarn’s statement by saying, “Yudhishthir had already lost her when he lost himself.” Strangely enough, in the same breath Karn contradicts himself by saying, “O handsome one, select thou another husband now, one who will not make thee a slave by gambling... Thy husbands that are slaves cannot continue to be thy lords any longer...”
In my own view, a fitting reply to Karn’s contention that ‘Yudhir lost her when he lost himself’, would be ‘why did Shakuni then suggest to Yudhir to offer her as wager, if she were already won?’ Shakuni is the mastermind behind all of Duryodhan’s plots. He would not suggest Yudhir to play again with Draupadi as stake, if she were already won. Surprisingly, no one in Mahabharat extends this argument.
Various scholars have diametrically opposite opinions on this issue. In Ravindra Shobhane’s opinion, Draupadi is a supercilious and vain woman and her question is preposterous (Mahabharatacha Moolyavedh, Dr. Ravindra Shobhane, p. 134). Whereas M.A. Mehendale applauds Draupadi for her very intelligent question (Prachin Bharat Samaj Ani Sanskruti, Pradnyapathshala Mandal, Vai, 2001, p. 65-83). He examines the whole sequence of events step by step. He points out that, when the Kuru leaders fails to answer her question, Duryodhan asks the Pandavs to answer it. Bheem, out of respect to Yudhishthir deigns, but Arjun asks, ‘whose owner can he be when Yudhishthir lost himself.’ It is after Arjun’s answer that Dhrutarashtra conferred boons on Draupadi. Using this opportunity, Draupadi asked for Yudhishthir and then the other Pandavs to be released from slavery. It is important to note that she did not ask herself to be freed from slavery for she had already proved that she was a free woman.
Unlike Ravindra Shobhane, I consider Druapadi to be one of the intelligent women in the epic. It will not be out of place here to recall a dialogue between Draupadi and Krishna’s wife Satyabhama while the latter visited the Panadavs in the forest during their period of exile. In that conversation, Draupadi tells Satyabhama, that ‘she managed’ ‘the staff’ and ‘the treasury of Indraprasth.’ [Van Parva, Section CCXXXI]* This does not concur at all with the view that her question to the court was supercilious. In fact if she had not posed this question, she along with the Pandavs would have become Duryodhan’s slaves. One has to conclude, that it was Draupadi who, with her intelligent question, rescued the Pandavs from slavery.