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ETHICAL DIMENSIONS BEHIND DRAUPADI’S CHEER-HARAN

Author: Asmita Srivastava, II year of B.B.A.,LL.B. from Symbiosis Law School


Mahabharata is an epic written by Ved-vyas, telling the story of the throne of the Hastinapur and the dynastic conflict behind this throne. This story has everything a modern- day thriller contains and lot more. Every time one reads this great epic, there is always something new to discover in here. No character is flawless or divided between black and white. All the characters have their strengths and flaws and their respective grey shade. There are many lessons hidden everywhere and for everyone in this story. One of the greatest lesson this epic teaches is the one of Karma. This epic has something for everyone.


Draupadi’s Cheer-haran was that one event that changed the course of history. A dice game gone wrong, and a woman paid the price. She was dishonoured and insulted in one of the most prestigious courtsof that era. Why was the court silent? why were the husbands of this woman silently looking at everything that was happening? Why was this not stopped?

This event of history has always been under the lens of the people of anyone that has remote knowledge of Mahabharata. People of all generations have asked questions that very are similar to the ones that I asked earlier. In this essay, I would like to analyze the moral dimensions and ethical dilemma that filled the court that unfortunate day.


This all started when the Pandavs were ruling Indraprasth and one day Duryodhan invited them for a game of dice. Duryodhan and Shakuni (his maternal uncle) trapped the brothers into betting their empire, wealth and then themselves as well. Shakuni was a master at the game of dice and the dice that he played with was made of this father’s bones, which meant that the dice would always play in the favour of Shakuni. After this, Shakuni suggested them to put their wife, Draupadi to wager everything they lost in the gameand Yudhishthira plays into the ploy of Shakuni and stakes Draupadi in the game and losses her as well.

After losing everything they ever owned in the game of dice, they were in line to watch the greatest tragedy in the story, the Cheer-haran of Draupadi. As soon as they lost the bet, Duryodhan orders her to the join court, when she doesn’t return after her first call. Dushasana goes to bring her to the court. Dushasana slaps her then drags her to the court with her hair. And then after the order of Duryodhan, he starts to disrobe her in the presence of the whole court. Seeing that all her husbands are helpless, she starts praying to Lord Krishana to save her from this travesty. And Krishana listens to her prayers and adds on lines and lines of clothes into her garment, while Dushasanakeeps trying to reach the end of it. This goes on for quite some time when he tires himself and gives up.

When all this comes to a stop, a grief stricken Draupadi curses the whole court to their deaths. She also decides not to tie her hair till she washes it with the blood of her molester, Dushasana while Bhīma pledges to drink his blood as revenge and break the lap of Duryodhan, the one he offered to her to sit on. And thus the clock for the War of Kurukshetra began ticking.


Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandav Brothers. The son of Yama: God of Dharma and Death.He was master in spear-fighting and chariot racing. Yudhishthira was a polyglot, knowing unusual languages. He was known for his honesty, justice, sagacity, tolerance, good behaviour and discernment[1]. The most respected man in Pandavs and someone who is idealised by a lot of people but the flaws of his character were on display during this event.


From the beginning of the gamble the Pandavs were doomed, they were a lot of things that Yudhishthira could have avoided. He gambled his empire, his wealth and himself but he had no right to gamble his brothers or his wife. It was his moral responsibility to keep his brothers and his wife safe. And his silence put huge question marks on his ethical character.

How did his principles allow him to stay put, while his wife was being disrobed in public and was able to remain silent? The ethical dilemma between being someone’s slave and a husband put him in position where silence seemed like the best option, but was it?

A king gambling his kingdom, a brother gambling his brothers and a husband gambling his wife, no dharma allows these sins. The man that had upheld dharma on his shoulder, fell to his knees with a simple game of dice. To a limit all the deeds of his could be justified, but under no circumstance can his silence during the ‘Cheer-haran’ can be seen as anything but an act of cowardice. According to the ethics, he was supposed to stand up for his wife. He should have stopped Dushasana from dragging his wife into to the court, or Duryondhana asking her to sit on his laps or disrobing her but he put his head down and did nothing. Just because he was enslaved, doesn’t mean he had no right to protect her. If had the right to gamble her off, then it was his moral responsibility to protect her from the consequences of his action.


And all these accusations are not limited to the eldest Pandav. None of the brothers, tried to stop their elder brother from gambling everything away. Bhīma, the son of the Vayu; Arujan, the son of Indra and Nakul and Sahdev, the sons of Ashwini brothers; all of them masters of different arts, wise and were upholders of dharma like their brother. So, why were they silent when their empire and wealth was getting gambled away. Why did none of the brothers think it was their moral and ethical responsibility to stir their brother away from the part of destruction?

Their silence and helplessness was all the made-up in their mind. All it takes is one voice of reason, before a destruction to save everything. Ethically, as the guardians of a kingdom, the safety and the well-fare of the people in their kingdom was their responsibility, and to silently let it be handed-over in a game of dice, doesn’t account for Dharma or gambling away their wife.

Yudhishthira should not be blamed alone, he was just the voice but due the silence all of brothers they are considered as an active participant and are the equal shareholder of the blame.


Next-in-line would be the godfather of the Throne of Hastinapur; Bhishma. The man with skills of a god, wisdom of the world, spine of steel and whose words were as good aspermanent. He was present in the court that day and was silent just like all the knowledgeable people there. His ethical dilemma lied between being loyal to the throne and to save a woman from being dishonoured in the court.


But, his loyalty towards the throne, should have instantly brought Draupadi in his protection. A woman has always been a symbol of ‘shanthi’ (peace), Lakshmi (wealth) and respect, Draupadi was the wife of the Pandavs, the daughter-in-law to the King Pandu and the ‘Kul-vadhu’ of the Kuru Dynasty. She was symbolic embodiment of the Respect and modesty of the Kuru dynasty. And that meant she should have been protected by the guardian of this dynasty. There was hardly anyone that could surpass Bhishma, so why didn’t he do his duty?

Ethically, Bhishma should have stopped this on its very early stages but his delusion on his ethical responsibility and loyalty for the throne blinded him enough for him to become helpless at the hands of his own mind, when he had a lot more power than that.


After that comes, The Raj guru; Dronacharya another one of the prestigious member of the court and also the one that didn’t utter a word during the whole cheer-haran. He was the one that taught all the various weaponry art that the pandav and the karuva learnt in their childhood. He was respected member in the court and yet he remained silent. His dilemma was very similar to the one with Bhishma, and just like in the case of Bhishma he was helpless in his own making.


Dhritarashtra, the king of Hastinapur and father of hundred kaurav brothers. Though blind, but had the strength of 100 elephants, mastered the skills of weapons but remained in silence when his son disrobed his (brother’s) daughter-in-law in a court full of men. Dhritarashtra, was a wise man but someone who had religiously taken side of his sons even when they were at wrong and more often than not manipulated by his sons into something that’s not right. The biggest problem with him was not his blindness of his eyes but his mind.

Even though he was king and every right to stop his sons from doing what they did, he saw the whole spectacle with sombre silence. He never asked duryodhana to stop, why didn’t he? He was aware that whatever that happening in the court was absolutely wrong, his ethical dilemma lied between his blind faith in his son and his responsibility as the king to maintain the decorum of the court. It was obvious who won that fight. A king’s silence towards an atrocity like this makes a huge negative statement. The man with the strength of 100 elephants but couldn’t stop an open molestation of not just any women but his family’s daughter-in-law.


Ethical dilemma at its worst, has brought down many great people to their knees and tied their tongue, something that was similar to a lot of people in the court that unforgettable day. I also believe that all these characters till here, paid the prices of their actions in the War itself.

Yudhishthira and the brothers had to kill people of their own family to end all the misery. Bhishma got killed by Arjun, while Shikandi stood there, Dronachrya was tricked by Yudhishthira about Ashwathama and Dhritarashtra saw all his sons die. The all paid for their karma.


Before I discuss Karn, Duryodhan and Dushasana. I would like to bring into notice a brave soul and the only person who stood up for Draupadi, Vikarana ironically he was a Kaurav. He was the only person who pointed out Draupadi, is not a property to be gambled and mistreated. Though he was shut down quickly by his other brothers, but he followed his ethics and the path to righteousness. Bhīma killed him with utter respect and out of sheer necessity as they both were opponents, but he proclaimed that Vikarana was one of the most noble warriors in the ‘Kaurav Sena’.


Suryaputra Karn, the son of a Charioteer, best friend of duryodhana, illegitimate child of kunti, competitor of Arjun, ‘Danraaj’ Karn and there are many other aspects of this great warrior. But the aspect that I would like to look into the one that was an active participant in the Cheer-Haran of Draupadi. In the Kaurav side there were very few people that understood the concept of Dharma, one of whom was Karn himself. So why did he let this happen?


Sadly enough, Karn was not in any sort of ethical dilemma, he taunts Panchali for having five husbands and also calls her unceremonious names in a court filled with men. This seemed like a revenge for her insult during her swayamwar. But should he have that dragged it as far as calling her name and stripping her of any dignity and modesty she possessed.

It was his ethical obligation to make sure his friend is not getting to far ahead of his friends and makes blunder that could cost him his life. Karn always looked at Duryodhan as someone to whom he was obligated to show loyalty towards rather than as a friend. Which is why he never felt the need to stop what was happening in the court that day, as that would have brought questions to his loyalty and he also wanted to take revenge from Draupadi. His tactful death was a price of his Karma.


Duryodhana, the man that was the brains behind this humiliating incident. He was brilliant but a bitter man and with consistent toxic doses given by Shakuni, all he could think of how to torment the Pandav brothers and get the throne of Hastinapur. And to get that, he forgot all the boundaries ever set. The Kshatriya Dharma says not to hurt women and children during any conflict. His revenge could have ended with the brothers but, the greed of revenge blinded him. He ordered her to come into the court even when she was on her menstrual cycle. And when she doesn’t agree to it, he sends Dushasana to bring her in the court. As he drags her into the court with her hair, he offers her to sit on his lap. And then orders Dushasana to disrobe her. Did he go too far with that? Was all this a revenge on her for a misplaced a laugh she had at her palace?


The conflict was between the brothers, he stripped them clean of everything he could in the game of dice. Then why did he drag Draupadi into this? He was the next-in-line for the throne or otherwise known as ‘Yuvraaj’, it was his responsibility his kingdom and also to take care of his family, especially the women and children, which extended to Draupadi as well seeing she was his sister-in-law. To molest a woman in the name revenge, can never be justifies or go unpunished. And he never got his hand dirty, he made his younger brother do the job for him. Which is why, he did pay for his sins by seeing all his brothers die in front of him due his own actions and got tricked in the fight with Bhīma and lost and died by his hands.


To the last character, Dushasana, the face and hands of this Molestation. Though he was religiously following orders of his elder brother, but his sins were considered just as bad his elder brother. Something to be noted here is that, when Duryodhana asks Dushasana to bring Draupadi in the court, he never asks him to slap her or drag her in with hair. This was all his personal doings. And trying to disrobe a woman, without her consent is a crime and a sin, for which paid dearly.

Draupadi washed her hair in his blood, while Bhīma drank his blood to satisfy themselves of the revenge for all the humiliation that took place that day. For the sake of the arguments, let’s say that Draupadi was a slave to the Kauravs. But does that mean she loses her dignity and her right to respect in the court full of men. Should a women be molested in the court even if she is just a slave?


While looking at all the aspects that came in play, in Draupadi’s Cheer-haran it is clear as a day that this was one of the darkest-days in the epic of Mahabharata. A women’s dignity was robbed in the broad-day light with the presence of people from all over their kingdom and not one had the courage to stop it. It is often noticed, a women scarred always brings a battle, where not many live to tale the tale. And this event made sure that a war did take place and anyone and everyone paid the prices of their actions.

[1] Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, January 6). Mahabharata. Wikipedia. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahabharata

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