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Draupadi’s life in the Mahabharata was not an easy one. Born—like the other kanyas—not of a mortal mother but of supernatural forces, she was raised in a palace by a king. There was joy and comfort, and at first she appears as the model of ‘good’ womanly conduct. But then reality strikes and the fairy-tale breaks. As a girl, she becomes Arjuna’s wife through a Swayamvara, but finds that she must distribute her affections among the other four Pandavas also—it is said that after a year with each husband, Draupadi went to the next as a virgin, or kanya. But this hardly communicates the turmoil of having to live with a group of men, who at some times were her spouses, while at other times became brothers in law, treating her with sisterly reverence. In addition, external circumstances also affected Draupadi’s fate through the actions and inactions of her men: she was gambled away, humiliated in court, faced exile and abduction, and even had to serve as a maid. Draupadi, however, never let go of her own wit and intelligence, even if larger forces pushed the Pandavas into uncertain situations, Draupadi never ceased to try and shape it to her advantage. Her fury is proverbial: more than once she had enemies liquidated, and famously vowed to wash her hair in the blood of a particularly vicious adversary. Draupadi is shown here on the day of her Swayamvara at her father’s palace. She has just seen Arjuna and is smitten by his noble bearing and charisma, blissfully unaware of what lies ahead of her.

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