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The brothers of Draupadi

Devdutt PattanaikDraupadi had two brothers. One was older and the other was her twin. Like her, they were all children that were conceived with a purpose — to take revenge. Draupadi’s elder brother was Shikhandi. He was born a woman but was raised as a man until the deception was discovered on her wedding night. He/she tried to commit suicide but was saved by a yaksha called Sthuna who lent her his male genitals thus turning her into a man. 

In her past life, she was Amba, the woman whose life was ruined by Bhisma, patriarch of the Kuru clan; she was determined to kill this man who had the gift of choosing the time of his own death and was told she could only do it in a future life.


Illustration/ Devdutt Pattanaik

When Draupada, king of Panchal, discovered his son/daughter existed to kill Bhisma, he was not entirely happy. For he wanted a son/daughter who would destroy Drona, teacher of the Kuru clan, and split the Kuru clan in two just as they had split hiskingdom in two.

And so he prayed to Shiva, and sought children who would satisfy his desire. From this came the twins: Dhristadhyumna who would kill Drona and Draupadi who would marry the Pandavas and split the Kuru clan forever.

Draupadi is born a grown woman and her relationship with her brothers is rarely explored in narratives. At best, we are told, she is influenced by Dhristadhyumna not to marry the low caste charioteer, Karna. Novels have romanticised the relationship of Draupadi and Krishna and one is left to speculate as to why Krishna did not seek Draupadi as a wife. There was no reason for him not to participate in her swayamvar.

We know little of how Draupadi looks upon her transgendered brother/sister, Shikhandi, and his/her wife. Did the elder brother feel inadequate because he was not a woman enough like Draupadi or man enough like Dhristadhyumna. Vyas who wrote the tale leaves out these details leaving one to speculate on the possibilities.

It is interesting that Draupadi has two sets of children through Shiva who is Ardhanareshwar, half-woman god. Both sets are androgynous. Shikhandi is both man and woman, mixed and merged. Draupadi is all woman and Dhristadhyumna is all man, though they are twins. What merges in Shikhandi splits as the twins. And these brothers of Draupadi, like Draupadi herself, wreak havoc in the Kuru clan.

The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at devdutt@devdutt.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

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