Arjuna, Bhima and the disrobing of Draupadi

draupadi1Reflections on the conduct of the Pandavas during the Gambling Match

I’ve often felt that while Draupadi was being humiliated by Duryodhana and assaulted by Dushashana in the court of Hustinapur; why did her mighty warrior husbands not get up there and then and then and fight? Also, while Yuddhistira was gambling away recklessly, why didn’t one or more of the other brothers slap him and say “look enough is enough; we’re not going along with this”?

However to really understand the values of another era – we have to look at the difference between our mentality and theirs. Nowadays we defy loved ones very easily. Be it parents, cousins, brothers, sisters – it is commonplace. The strength of family bonds or respect for an elder or wiser person than us are not so pronounced in our society. The strength of the bonds of restraint and respect were a lot stronger between the Pandavas; it is difficult to grasp this after a gap of thousands of years in a society with different values.

On the other hand there must by a limit into which you can follow your loved ones in their mistakes. Some characters of the epics have not followed their brothers into evil. One is Vibhishana (abandoning Ravana) and another is Yuyutsu (abandoning Duryodhana).

It could be understood that Yuddishtira was generally known to be most just and learned, calm and compassionate, unlike Ravana and Duryodhana. But surely in the individual reckless act of gambling away one’s kingdom and sacrificing the dignity of his wife, he should have been defied?

On the whole, I do feel that in an absolute sense it was a mistake of the other Pandavas to allow Yuddhistira to continue in stupidity and not defy him; and even more so for not defending Draupadi.  Krishna scolded them severely for it. The sorry tale shows that Pandavas were indeed a much less effective unit when Krishna was not present.

The great thing about the Mahabharata is that nobody is wholly good or nobody is wholly bad. Yuddhishtira, the very epitome of righteousness had a weakness for gambling which he never repeated, but which was devastating in its effect.

To Krishna, despite their weaknesses, the Pandavas were to be instrumental in bringing about the kind society he wished. Krishna didn’t become discouraged by the huge setback, he just kept working with a delayed or longer vision.

When I look at the Mahabharata, I do not look upon the conduct of the great characters as something to be emulated in its own right. I reflect on the various incidents and stories, and try and understand the spirit that animated the actions.

That which has a living truth behind it, which can be reformulated or have relevance beyond the immediate time and place should be imbibed and understood, and where possible take a living presence in our lives.

If our sincere enquiry and reflection leads us to disagree with a cultural hero or even with an Avatar, that is fine. As long as you truly think for yourself, with an open mind.

When I reflect on the spirit behind Arjuna and Bhima’s restraint in the court of Hustinapur on that fateful day, I do not agree with their actions. However, I do not wish to reject the honour and respect with which they followed their older brother which displays a stronger, more powerful familial bond than we have today. Yet familial bonds and respect are also to have their limit. Yuddhishtira despite his devastating weakness as a gambler on that day was a character who was otherwise worthy of honour, someone who was learned and strove for dharma. Affording the same honour to someone like Ravana or Duryodhana is a step too far.


  1. First and foremost is the reverence they show to their elder brother. In the present day logics it is not acceptable but times were different. Again in Mahabharata, there are quite a jnumber of questions – unjustified actions of Krishna, Dronacharya etc. But we have to accept the fact the final destiny was fixed and these were only steps towards that goal!

  2. Another point in this topic is that the Pandavas follow the Kshatriya code in which a challenge must always be accepted. They were manipulated to accept challenge after challenge as per Shakunis master plan. When taking a gamble, Yudistir would have used his intelligence to determine the odds and his chances of winning, however the dice was fixed and he was cheated again and again! Yudistir being the epitome of truth was also true to the rules by giving up all that he waged in the gambling game, unfortunately including Draupadi.

    As per Krishnas divine arrangement, this lila was displayed to benefit all of human kind. Draupadi displayed her complete surrender to Krishna by letting go of her own sari and showing complete faith in Krishna even when her elders and 5 husbands could not protect her dignity.

  3. To my humble opinion, it is very hard to come and criticize the Pandavas on such an incident. You can come and criticize a lot of characters in the Mahabharta, from Yudhishtira to Lord krishna, but we all know that is a part of the Lord’s lila, part of the happening needed to take place. As the Mahabharata is the end of Dwapara Yuga, and it must be so, in order for the world to continue in its course, Krishna didn’t stop the armies from fighting, and (here come the critics) encouraged Arjuna to fight! (which is not as simple as it looks).

    so we need to learn from those epics instead of looking for errors in it.

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