For their year of anonymity, the five Pandava brothers, along with Draupadi, take up new identities and find salaried jobs in the court of king Virata. For Draupadi, the difficulties are greater than for her husbands. This is because she cannot possibly be in the service of another man, or take up a job in which a man might get the opportunity to express his desire for her. She applies, therefore, for the role of a hairdresser in the queen’s entourage.
While interviewing Draupadi for the job, Queen Sudeshna expresses the fear that when the king looks at her, he might be smitten and abandon the queen in favour of the maidservant. To this, Draupadi’s response is that she is married to and protected by five gandharvas (superhuman creatures), and that anyone who eyes her disrespectfully will have to pay for it with his life.
The other requirement Draupadi makes of her recruiter is that she never be asked to wash anyone’s feet and never be offered leftover food. Note here that in the time of the Mahabharata, wives washed the feet of their husbands and ate leftovers from them. So this is Draupadi ensuring that she doesn’t have to do with another man things that are the absolute privilege of her husbands.
A point to pause on is the choice of her profession, that of a hairdresser. The common legend about Draupadi’s hairstyle after her public disrobement in Hastinapura is that she vowed to keep her hair open all the time and to eventually wash them with Duhshasana’s blood. This doesn’t seem to be upheld in the text. In preparation for the interview, Draupadi is mentioned as having ‘braided her hair, with curls at the tips’. Yet, her job choice does suggest a particular skill in hairdressing; it also gives a clue as to why the makers of the legend must have felt inclined to do so. Hairdressing is important for Draupadi. Just as gambling is (now) for Yudhisthira, cooking for Bhima, horse-rearing for Nakula, cattle-rearing for Sahadeva, and music & dance for Arjuna.
Another important point to note is how Arjuna, in the guise of the eunuch Brihannada, becomes the tutor of Virata’s princess Uttara. Uttara will later become Arjuna’s daughter-in-law by marrying Abhimanyu. The Pandavas and their wife spend a profitable year in the kingdom of Virata, running a little syndicate of sorts. Yudhisthira increases the money they save. For all, Bhima pilfers meat and other eatables from the kitchen. Sahadeva does similarly for dairy products. Nakula, in charge of the horses, is able to trade these goods for others swiftly. Arjuna sells the old garments in the inner quarters and passes the proceeds to the common pool. Draupadi takes care of her husbands and helps them upkeep their disguises (perchance due to a particular skill in hairstyling/ make-up).
They even become part of the kingdom’s cultural life. In the fourth month, during a gladiatorial tournament, Bhima wrestles in the name of king Virata.
The writer is reading the unabridged Mahabharata