How did Draupadi’s Vastraharan Lead to the Downfall of the Kauravas in the Mahabharata?

Mahabharata is undoubtedly the greatest tragedy of the Bharatvarsha. Many events led to this Great War. One of these, according to many, is the sole reason for the downfall of the Kauravas- the 'Cheer Haran' or 'Vastraharan' of Draupadi.

Dusshasana trying to disrobe Draupadi by (Source: The San Diego Museum of Art Collection)

The Pandavas were invited for a game of dice (Dyutkrida) by their cousins, the Kauravas. According to the Mahabharata, the dice for this game were made from Subala’s thigh bones. But according to Mrityunjay, a novel written by Shivaji Sawant, the dice were made out of Jarasandha’s bones. While Subala was the deceased father of Gandhari and Shakuni, Jarasandha was a powerful king of Magadha who was later killed by Bhima in a duel.

In the courtroom of Hastinapur, the Pandavas gambled off all their wealth, weapons, and lands. Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five, decided to step down, but Shakuni encouraged him by saying that he still had his brothers, and maybe if he won the next round he could win back whatever he had lost. The offer was enticing, and despite the protests of his younger brothers, he agreed. Eventually, he lost all his brothers and himself too. He hung his head low in humiliation and decided it was time to stop the game.

He was again encouraged by the Kauravas to keep Draupadi, the common wife of the Pandavas, as the bet. Yudhishthira agreed. By then, his brothers were furious with him but as he was the eldest of all they didn't stop him from committing this grave mistake.

The game began, once again, the Pandavas lost! Duryodhana, the eldest Kaurava, was ecstatic. He smirked and asked a servant to bring Draupadi, his new “slave,” in the courtroom. Male servants weren’t allowed in the female quarters, so the servant sent by Duryodhana was ordered to return by Draupadi’s maids.

Provoked, Duryodhana ordered his younger brother Dusshasana to bring Draupadi in the courtroom in whatever position he found her. Following Duryodhana's orders, Dusshasana broke into Draupadi's quarters and commanded her to come with him. According to sources, Draupadi was a Rajaswala (a woman in her monthly menstrual cycle) at that time. As per the rules of the palace, a Rajaswala was not allowed in the courtroom. A violation of this rule was considered highly disrespectful. Also, being a Rajaswala she was Ekvastri i.e. adorned in a single cloth.

When she refused to come with him, Dushasana slapped her and pulled her by her hair. Draupadi, the daughter of the king Drupada, the wife of the Pandavas, the daughter-in-law of the Kurus, and the queen of Indraprastha was dragged by her hair to the courtroom of Hastinapur. She pleaded and thrashed, but Dusshasana didn’t budge. After humiliating and hurling hideous remarks towards Draupadi, Duryodhana ordered Dusshasana to disrobe her publicly in front of the entire court of Hastinapur.

With a sneer on his face, Dusshasana began the horrific Cheer Haran/Vastraharan (disrobing). Draupadi, understanding that no one, including her husbands, in-laws, and the few people who sympathised with her would come forward to stop this shameful event, started praying to Lord Krishna. To everyone’s astonishment, the Ekvastra didn’t end. Dusshasana endlessly pulled at the blood-stained cloth, but it seemed never-ending. After hours of trying, Dusshasana collapsed in sheer exhaustion. Witnessing this miracle, the blind king of Hastinapur and the father of the Kauravas, Dhritrashtra, ordered to stop the game immediately.

Draupadi is saved by Krishna

In rage, Bhima, the second eldest of the Pandavas then swore to kill all the hundred Kaurava brothers and thus, it is beleived that this incident led to the Great War of Mahabharata. Looking at the incident closely, we notice that the Kauravas were not solely responsible for this tragedy. Who else were?

Let’s begin with Yudhishthira. Yudhishthira was also known as Dharmaraja (one who’s righteous). It is said that he never strayed from the path of righteousness (Dharma). As we see in multiple tales, Yudhishthira accepted the invitation to the Dyut Krida, without paying any heed to the advice of others.

In the beginning, the Pandavas were constantly winning. Out of arrogance, Yudhishthira continued to play the game further. Is arrogance Dharma? Was it the right thing for him to do? Also as, Draupadi later pointed out, after he bid himself off, he didn’t even own himself. Then how was it Dharma/right to bid his wife? The wife, who I might add was not just his wife but also of his other four brothers.

Now let’s talk about how Duryodhana dug his own grave and also of his brothers. According to some legends, when the Pandavas were performing the Rajsuya Yagya to declare Yudhishithir as the Chakravarti Samrat (emperor of emperors), there was a moment of conflict. Duryodhana and some of his brothers committed the crime of raising their weapons in front of Yudhishthir, the punishment for which was immediate death. To avoid bloodshed, Draupadi asked her husbands to do the Astraharan (taking away of the weapons) of the accused. It was said that taking away the weapons from the Kshatriyas was equal to taking away their life from them. In a fit of rage, Duryodhana swore to have his vengeance on Draupadi by doing her Vastraharan.

The blame of the disgraceful treatment meted out to Draupadi also relays upon Dhritrashtra, the king of Hastinapur, and more importantly, in this context, the father of the Kauravas. Being the king, he had all the rights and power to stop his sons from committing this hideous sin. In a moment of selfishness, he ignored all the right things and let his sons continue the grave sin.

After a careful study of the events leading up to the great war of Mahabharata, we cannot point a finger at the incident of Draupadi's cheerharan as the sole incensing cause of the war, but certainly a significant one.

Draupadi’s character is questioned for having been a polyandrous wife. What people don’t generally acknowledge is that Draupadi was the only mythological heroine who stood up for herself, who was fiery, who spoke for herself, and went against her husbands when necessary. Draupadi was a strong woman, wife, and mother who despite, knowing that all her sons would die in the war, encouraged them to participate in it for the accomplishment of Dharma. She was a great woman, and it was a shame that neither the Kauravas nor the Pandavas understood her value.



Aayushi Wadale

Pratha Content Writing Intern