We are all familiar with Draupadi as the heroine of the epic Mahabharata but, there is another Draupadi, a raging and fierce goddess, who lives in folk tales and myths in parts of south India and in Rajasthan. Alf Hiletbeitel who has studied the cult of Draupadi in great detail speaks of how she is seen as a caste goddess (Konar caste) in the Melacceri-Gingee region. She is worshipped in these places in a pure, virginal and fiery form.
One such story about Draupadi as the goddess of the forests goes thus. The Pandavas were in exile, eking out a living from the forest. Draupadi was with them and during the day, was by their side, sharing their sufferings and joys in equal measure. However as night fell, she would disappear and for a long time, her flight from her tent went unnoticed as no one dared to look in on her, without her wish.
Night after night, this was the story until one day Bhima saw her leaving the campsite. He was perturbed and asked Krishna about it who, of course, knew the whole story. He warned Bhima that he should not try and stop her, for if he did, she would devour him. But Krishna also told him that would need to devise a way to keep Draupadi confined to her tent at night. For the form that she took every night as she went out into the forest, Krishna said, was a danger to all of them.
Draupadi was another form of the goddess (Bhadra Kali, Celiyamman and such others), said Krishna, and every night she went into the forest as she sought the sacrifices due to her. She raided the forest for animals and birds and when she was satiated, she resumed her day-time form as the wife of the Pandavas.
There was only one way to stop her Krishna told Bhima and that would be to lock her up within her palm leaf hut and not let her out until she promised to give up her nocturnal adventures.
Bhima managed to lock her in but Draupadi was so angry that she pierced Bhima’s wrist with her sharp finger nails and five drops of his blood fell on to the forest floor giving birth to five sons. There could be many interpretations as to why Draupadi takes on such a form, but what is striking is the depiction of a heroine from epic as a strong and violent goddess, who is feared by all, even the brave Pandavas.
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