“He lifted my chin with his finger gingerly. He was breathing in, holding his breath, and then exhaling. His deep breaths and the way he clutched the fraying ends of his carpet! It was as if he was about to gaze at Brahmi herself! Such reverence his eyes had portrayed! When he fixated his eyes on me and on my face, his lips had quivered. He mumbled and muttered praises to the Lord under his breath. It was the only moment that Rishi Vyasa’s visage, his eyes, and his expressions had betrayed his volition. Rishi Vyasa, who habitually dons unfazed and serene bearings, grinned away ecstatically the first time he saw me. His eyes had brightened several hues symbolizing enthusiasm contrasting to the regal look he bears everywhere else. ‘Yajnaseni in her most divine form.’ He had whispered those words in reverence.”

Draupadi recounted to her Dhai Ma.

Dhai Ma unimpressed by Draupadi’s tale chastised her, “Sleep, young lady. It is not advisable to strain your body when you are menstruating. You should cherish this hour and unwind when you can .”Draupadi peered at her and clicked her tongue. “This tale renders me the most refreshed for it was that day that I truly found a name that aptly describes my spirit.” Dhai Ma put down the garish jewelry, she was sorting and she raised a delicate golden earring to inspect it meticulously but Draupadi knew Dhai Ma was quite simply buying time so that she could cook up another tedious tale to stop the Draupadi’s train of thoughts. 

“A lady should not question. She should smile.” Even though she reiterated these words time and again, she never dismissed Draupadi whenever curiosity overwhelmed her for Dhai Ma knew that Draupadi was not a helpless doe. She was a majestic tigress, who was meant to leave an unforgettable impression on the world. Many illustrious bards sing praises in honour of Draupadi but only a few sing in praise of Dhai Ma, the woman who goaded Draupadi to perceive the world a little vaguely than the rest.

"All your names are sacred. They are symbolic of all those who came before you . All those that make you.” Dhai Ma muttered. "No, what defines me is my soul. It is my indomitable will. I may exist because of my ancestors but I do not exist for them. I live for me. My name should describe me.” Draupadi argued. "You are Draupadi, which means daughter of Drupad. You are Krishnaa which is the female adaptation of Krishna.” Dhai Ma protested. "Why do the men in my life dictate how others should perceive me? Am I nothing more than King Drupad's daughter? I cannot comprehend how my relationship with other men aptly describes me. It does not. King Drupad and Krishna are inarguably irreplaceable parts of me but they are not me.” Draupadi responded. “Okay, so which name does define you?” Draupadi beamed, "Panchaali. Rishi Vyasa had named me so. His gaze had lingered for a while on my eyes. When he broke the suffocating silence he had implied that my eyes are sharp and focused yet they teem with an unfettered desire for knowledge. He described my eyes to be as beautiful as lotus petals. He went on to describe my face to be as resplendent and as bright as the fire that I was born out of. He then named me Panchaali for he foretold that one day the whole world would relentlessly sing my praises and I shall be known as the greatest queen in the history of mankind. He added that when people would narrate tales beginning with ' In the days of yore’, my name would be an inevitable part of their tales. He foretold that I shall bring glory to Panchal hence I should be called as Panchaali”

Draupadi finally breathed. She rose to her feet and scurried toward the mirror. Draupadi silently admired her reflection. She touched her long gorgeous hair. The colour of liquid night and as dark as a moon -lit night sky. Every person touched her hair with so much awe. Even her Sayindri loved to weave delicate diamonds in her hair for they resembled twinkling stars adorning the enigmatic night sky. She was the empress of the quaintest yet fascinating ‘Palace of Illusions.’ She was the beloved queen of her content subjects at Indraprastha. She was more than just a showpiece unlike most other queens. She was wise, percipient and her husbands' most trusted adviser. She plucked out her chudamani from her glossy hair. Her chudamani was mesmerising. A symbol of love and pride, her chudamani was made from the finest and richest gold in all of Bharat. Intricate and punctilious etchings embellished it. However, it was not the rich gold body of the chudamani or the valuable emeralds bordering it that had rendered Draupadi entranced by the Chudamani. Draupadi loved the five stones that were gifted to her by Krishna, that were set into the Chudamani. The stones were cerulean, a shiny blue. Krishna was a man who had an extremely dark complexion which often made his skin appear a shiny blue just like the stones. A tiny yellow sapphire dominated the center of the round and polished stones. Yellow was Krishna’s favourite colour and he had a predilection for wearing yellow silk cloths. The stones, five in number, were a reminder of her five husbands. They signalled the advent of peace in her life. The stones were the harbingers of prosperity, love, and abundance in her life.

Suddenly, Draupadi heard some commotion emanating from an unknown source from the entrance of the royal women’s quarters. She ordered Dhai Ma to inform her about the cause of the commotion. Dhai Ma hastily scampered away. When she re-entered Draupadi's chambers, she looked distraught and appalled. She kept shaking her head vigorously as if she was trying to dispel some horrible image from her eyes. The mousy maids who had entered along with Dhai Ma were quaking. Draupadi inquired about the reason of the commotion rather sharply. The timid maids flinched at the cold edge of her voice. Dhai Ma who had always tolerated Draupadi’s razor sharp tongue wrung her hands and paced the chamber. Draupadi deftly clutched her shoulder, steadying her. "Why would she not meet my eyes ?” Draupadi wondered. An uneasiness and a disastrous feeling had rooted themselves in her stomach. The poison leeched all her ecstasy and zen till her heart was bereft of any joy. “What is it?” She yelled and yelled repeatedly, more with fright than impatience and annoyance . “ King Yudishthira has bet everything, Draupadi. He now does not have even a single penny to his name. He wagered his pocket till Duryodhana and Shakuni bled it dry. He wagered your palace ! He even wagered his kingdom and he lost it. He lost it all.” She crashed onto the floor and wailed despairingly. Draupadi knelt down beside Dhai Ma, her back ramrod straight and not a hint of expression visible on her face. To the maids who witnessed her that day assumed that Draupadi was too vain to care about her husbands. In reality, Draupadi was shocked. She felt as if someone had slapped her. She could feel the burn and metallic sting of the slap of destiny and time. She was seething in anger. "How dare that gambling addict wager her palace ! I had drilled into his thick head that he should not be swept off in a competitive spirit.” Dhai Ma , “ He should have stopped after that and accepted his defeat yet he sat there, rooted. He wagered his brothers and one by one, he lost them all. He relinquished his brothers as slaves to that Duryodhana. One by one, all your husbands became Duryodhana's slave and were made to kneel in front of the entire Kuru sabha. Yudishthira then lost himself . He tried to quit . That was when that malicious Shakuni inquired whether Yudishthira had any other precious possession. Yudishthira could not fathom what he had with him. Shakuni then had the audacity to take your name.” Draupadi drew a sharp breath. She could not collect her bearings. Her eyes were glassy . "Please tell me. Did he gamble me ?” Draupadi whispered. “ Yes , he did . You are now Duryodhana's slave.” a maid mumbled and immediately clapped her hand to her mouth. Draupadi pounced on her. She was ready to rip the maid into pieces just like the tigress she was . “I am no material possession . I am no object and I am no slave.” Draupadi yelled as she furiously upturned a crystal table which fell and the silver ware placed on it noisily crashed onto the floor. “I shall not be humiliated!” She shrieked as she threw a giant jug at her mirror, shattering it. “A messenger was here to convey the orders of his master, Prince Duryodhana. He has commanded you to present yourself in the sabha.” Dhai Ma wept.

“I shall not obey some upstart prince . I am Empress Panchaali .” The doors flew open and someone out Draupadi's words short. “You will . You dirty slave. You shall be presented in the Kuru court so walk,” the voice command in a deep, husky tone. Dushasana was the speaker He was the second brother of the hundred Kaurava brothers. He grinned at Draupadi with such contempt and lust in his eyes that she was forced to look elsewhere in disgust. Dushasana stalked towards her deliberatively. "You are our slave now and we will force our will upon you,” he spat out these words as he drooled . Draupadi wanted to slap him back to his wits and so she did that. She poised herself and threw her hand, savagely hitting Dushasana . Taken aback by her reaction he was overpowered by rage. He recovered from the shock in a second and grabbed Draupadi’s hand. He managed to pull Draupadi out of her chambers not before shoving a pleading Dhai Ma carelessly. Draupadi jabbed Dushasana by her elbow and snatched her hand from his clutches. She marched in the direction of queen Gandhari's chambers . She was walking with her head held high when Dushasana violently grabbed her tresses and flung her on the ground. He kicked her in the stomach and proceeded to drag her to court. Draupadi protested and screamed and bit is hand and slapped it but Dushasana did not loosen his grip . Draupadi felt as if he would rip her hair off her scalp, such ruthless was the treatment he metted out. Draupadi pleaded, “Please stop. I am your sister -in-law. I am our family's Kulvadhu. Drag me not into the court in a single translucent garment.” Dushasana spat “ Enough with your assumed modesty. My brother wants you to be presented in the sabha. He shall put your haughty self in its place in full view of everyone.”

He dragged her down the stairs . Her head hit each and every step with a numbing force and by the time they descended the long flight of steps, Draupadi’s lips were cut and swollen. Her eyes were bloodshot and her nails were broken from scratching Dushasana and attempting to clutch the steps to stop him. Dushasana threw her into the hall room.

Garish lights blinded Draupadi. She raised her head to find King Dhritarashtra shifting uncomfortably on his throne atop a gold dais. Seated beside him on a gigantic silver throne was Grandfather Bheeshma. His face was scrunched up in an ugly scowl and his lips quivered in fury. His eyes looked glazed over and dried up tears stained his cheek. His eyes were beseeching and yearning to run and embrace Draupadi, his daughter but he did nothing except be a silent spectator. Dronacharya, Kripacharya and Prime minister Vidur sat hopelessly with their heads hung in their hands. She looked at her husbands. Her husbands knelt with their heads bowed. Someone had peeled off their ostentations and their heads were bare and devoid of their stately crowns. They all glanced at Draupadi when she was tossed into the room yet they did not move so much as a muscle. They were bound by shackles after all. Shackles of vanity, false sense of pride, materialism and grave misunderstanding of their duty. Their Dharma.

Draupadi knew she was alone in this room full of people, who although were her family members, did not mutter even a syllable in revolt , as if they were strangers to Draupadi.

She scoffed and got up. Her legs were trembling but she pushed her shoulders back, held her head up high and took a few deep breaths. Scanning the hall once again, she chuckled. She observed that every ‘man’ in the sabha recoiled at the sound of her chuckle. “ Is this what the shasthras teach the warriors' duty is? All of you seated here are seasoned warriors . You are legends. All of you are noble, brave, skilled, fair, righteous and possess greater erudition and knowledge than any man or woman in all of Bharat does. Alas! How wrongly all of you have comprehended your duty! You have insulted your dharma by stoically sitting on your seats. Is this your dharma? Is this the way that shastras delegate women be treated? Is sitting as silent and lifeless as a cadaver while some sinister person humiliates and assaults a woman your duty ? Is this how the Kulvadhu of the mighty Hastinapur supposed to be treated?” she thundered.

“Don’t you dare address the gathering once again! You have no right to question the royalty of Hastinapur. You are nothing but a slave. My slave!” Duryodhana barked. Paying no heed to Duryodhona, Draupadi continued with a pleading look in her eyes,” You all have the power to stop this rubbish with just one word . Please do not insult your daughter-in-law any further. I bring wealth and joy to my family. I am sacred. Are these your morals?”

Duryodhana and Dushasana burst into laughter. They guffawed until they could not breathe and slapped Draupadi. “You woman. You are married to five husbands . You do not talk about righteousness. The word ‘moral’ sounds derogatory when you spit the word. You are characterless. You deserve to be humiliated.” Duryodhana held up five fingers and brandished it to the whole court. He then strode up to his seat and reclined on his plump cushion, the colour of ripe blueberries. A revered, worshipped and celebrated Draupadi never thought that mere words could break her but time has a funny way of proving people wrong. Draupadi found herself holding back her tears for if she wept there , the undying fire in her heart would be extinguished perpetually.

Duryodhana prepared his ravenous eyes to feast on her sorrow and humiliation . “Strip this characterless woman naked,” ordered Duryodhana . Draupadi felt a tug. A sharp tug . All those lascivious eyes yearning to humiliate her , strip her off her dignity made Draupadi tremble. She noticed her husbands lamenting in a corner , hands bound by vanity and heads hung low in shame and disgrace. The sight of Grandfather Bheeshma begging Duryodhana to restrain himself from committing a heinous sin did not perturb her. She had to save herself. “My existence shall surely pulverize.” Draupadi declared.

“Have faith in me sakhi .” She heard the musical tingling of Krishna’s ethereal voice and she could hear his entrancing flute play at a distance. Draupadi envisioned herself running on dewy crisp grass in a beautiful valley. She beheld Krishna. She gazed at his peacock feather fluttering languidly in the gentle breeze. She saw his shiny blue skin. His eyes were closed as he played divinely, surrounded by cows , deer and birds, bewitched by the music. She collapsed at his feet. He smiled at her.

His smile acted like a shield, protecting her from all the ravenous glares. It embraced Draupadi in a cocoon of warmth and security. “Give me your hand Krishnaa.” Draupadi had never trusted anyone more than her best friend Krishna . And as Draupadi dropped her hand in Krishna’s, the entire Kuru sabha witnessed Draupadi shoot her hands up in the sky and finally succumb to Dushasana’s cruelty. A blinding flash of light ensconced Draupadi as the miracle unfolded. Dushasana pulled relentlessly but Draupadi’s saree seemed endless . Utterly exhausted, Dushasana dropped onto the floor . He wailed as his body ached . Draupadi snapped her eyes open. “Krishna saved me.” Holding Krishna’s hand had rendered Draupadi calm with not an irk of anger left in her . She turned to leave the sabha when she stepped on the golden body of her chudamani.

Her chudamani had then become a symbol of her husband’s cowardice and hypocrisy. It no longer signified love. It had become a reminder of her yearning for vengeance. It had become a reminder of her helplessness and utter humiliation. It had become a dagger that penetrated her heart and left it bleeding till there was not an inkling of light, love and benevolence left in Draupadi’s heart. Her chudamani had become the messenger signaling the advent of a great war that would completely change the trajectory of history.

All the rage and blinding fury of the recent occurring inundated Draupadi’s mind. Her tranquil state of mind had been very fragile. It slipped away like fine grains of sand. She turned to face the sabha once again. “I shall not wear any ornaments in my hair or comb it till I have washed my hair in Dushasana’s blood,” She roared . Draupadi knew that she must hold back her curse but the sight of Duryodhana guffawing and slapping his thigh was afresh in her mind. He had ordered Draupadi to sit on his thigh, naked . The sight burnt her eyes for it was vivid and she could not check her contempt , her seething hatred and her profound desire for vengeance. She cursed Dhritarashtra that the entire Kaurava clan shall be decimated and there shall not be an heir of Dhritarashtra alive to inherit the throne. She cursed the entire sabha and shoved them onto the path leading to their dooms.

In that moment Draupadi knew what she had done. She knew that she had become the cause of a great war that would definitely destroy the entire Kaurava family. She knew she had sentenced several soldiers to martyrdom, women to widowhood and children to live their lives as orphans. Draupadi would not cower. She was destined to change the world. She was Yajnaseni and the fire still burnt in her heart . She was no ordinary woman. She was Panchaali. She picked the stones of her chudamani that lay cluttered on the floor and strutted out of the hall without paying any deference to the Kuru elders . She did not cast a backward glance, not even at her husbands.

Paanchali never did look back.

.    .    .