Draupadi is the central character of Mahakavya Mahabharata. She is probably the strongest, most complex and most studied character after Krishna himself. No wonder so many authors, especially women authors have chosen to explore her character, and see the story of Mahabharata from her perspective. Draupadi The Tale of an Empress by Saiswaroopa Iyer is the 3rd book I read on Panchali.
My favorite still remains the one by Pratibha Ray, originally written in Odiya. Chitra Divakaruni’s book is extremely popular but I found it too shallow after having read the Pratibha Ray’s Yagnaseni.
Saiswaroopa’s Draupadi has been written in the age of feminism, where we tend to see everything from a feminist lens. So, all the women characters in the story take the center stage. Most men take a backstage barring, of course, Krishna who transcends all kinds of divides even today. Thank God for that.
The story is narrated by Uttara to her grandson Janamajeya. Now Mahabharat is indeed narrated to him. But Saiswaroopa chooses Uttara – the sole woman whose name we remember after the war to tell the story. She appears only in the first and the last chapter. Throughout the book, I almost forgot she was telling the story. The story is not written in a conversational style as being told but is being told by the author.
Saiswaroopa brings out the women in Draupadi who is fiercely independent and someone who is in charge of the lives of her husbands, their family, and the kingdom. I like the way she is advised by Krishna to see herself as the mother of the Bharatvarsha and nurture it. From this lens, her husbands become the different strengths that must be kept bound to each other as one. She treats even her insult as a tool to bind them towards a single goal.
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The only person who can influence her is Krishna, whom she prioritizes above everyone else in life. Her personality as it comes out is more cerebral than humanly emotional. The basic premise that Saiswaroopa has taken that Draupadi is the Ichhashakti or the will power powered by the Gyan Shakti or the knowledge of Krishna to push the Pandavas as Kriya Shakti or the force to execute. She introduced this concept in her introduction. And then wraps up her story with this like a mathematics theorem has QED or hence proved written at the end.
Read More – Yugandhar by Shivaji Sawant
A lot of narrations of Mahabharat show a tension between Kunti and Draupadi. I have even heard versions where they say it is all about a Saas-Bahu Saga or a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law conflict. Saiswaroopa brings out the camaraderie between them. She almost makes you feel that Draupadi is taking on the baton from Kunti. Just as she would inherit the right of being the empress of Bharatvarsha from her.
Read More – Abhaya by Saiswaroopa Iyer
Women as Noble and Strong
All the women in this story are portrayed as noble and strong. To top it, they all live in absolute harmony, be it the co-wives or even the wives of the enemies. I found it a bit too stretched. Because if it was such, the women could have averted battle or influenced men. My belief is that women and men had their own roles in circumstances that led to the ultimate battle. A perfect world would have the right balance of male and female energies. One dominating the other would keep bringing back similar debates.
Read More – Govinda by Krishna Udayasankar
As I mentioned in the review of Sai’s earlier book Abhaya, there is a lot of modern-day jargon like parenting that creeps in her language that disturbs the time setting of the story for me as a reader. I do not mind the story being ported to today’s time. But then I would have expected a logical explanation of Saris or clothes coming to her when she was disrobed.
Read More – Vaishali ki Nagarvadhu by Acharya Chatursen
There are editing errors. Like Duryodhana’s wife, Bhanumati is mentioned as princess of Kalinga at one place and Kashi at other.
Overall, Draupadi The Tale of an Empress is a very 21st CE feminist take on an age-old story aimed at feminist readers. So, take your call.