Good Woman or Evil Woman? Draupadī as Active Agent in the Mahābhārata

By Matt Bennett.

Published by The Humanities Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the Mahābhārata, when Draupadī’s eldest husband, Yudiṣṭhira, loses her and her family their freedom in a dice match to his enemies, her mother-in-law, Kuntī, gives her this advice: “Good women are never worried about the future… Your great virtue will protect you and you will soon gain prosperity.” In this presentation, I examine the extent to which Draupadī remains a “good woman” in heeding Kuntī’s advice by remaining passive, and to what extent she becomes an active agent, shaping her own destiny and helping to move forward the primary narrative of the epic tale. The general dichotomy between the “good,” passive, obedient woman and the aggressive, active woman in Indian society and in cultural production as a reflection of that society closely parallels the Western psychoanalytic theory Laura Mulvey proposes in her essay from 1975, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” In particular, I find useful her argument that the image of woman, in her “to-be-looked-at-ness,” is commonly used to interrupt the flow of narrative and provide an arresting, erotically-charged spectacle.

Applying this and other theoretical frameworks to interpretations of the Mahābhārata, from written epic to dramatic performance to television and filmic adaptations, I argue that Draupadī remains a paradoxical figure throughout; when an attempt is made to use her as passive, erotic spectacle, she defies and subverts the role inscribed for her in order to appropriate active, aggressive power, typically coded as male, and to move the narrative forward toward its conclusion. In so doing, she continually moves between the poles of “good woman” and “evil woman,” so that she appears as a complex, fickle, and inconsistent personality who exhibits realistic human behavior and emotions.

Keywords: Draupadī, Mahābhārata, Dopdi, Mulvey, India, Epic, Film, Television, Theatre, Feminism, Gaze, Spectacle

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 9, pp.145-154. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 682.233KB).

Matt Bennett

Assistant Librarian, Department of Electronic Media, Raymond Walters College, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Matt Bennett, Assistant Professor in the Electronic Media department at Raymond Walters College, University of Cincinnati, teaches courses in film history, theory, and aesthetics. He holds undergraduate degrees in English and Communication (University of Louisville) and in Electronic Media (Xavier University), as well as a Master’s in Humanities (Xavier University). He is currently finishing the thesis for a second M.A. in Art History (University of Cincinnati), with a concentration in Asian art. His research deals primarily with elements of visual culture that reveal a dissolution of dualistic thought.

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