Draupadi and Arjuna are two of the main characters of the Mahabharata. She is the princess of Panchala who ends up marrying the Pandavas, while he is the one that wins Draupadi’s hand, and is the most skilled archer of his time.
In this post, we will answer the question: What was the relationship between Draupadi and Arjuna like?
Draupadi loves Arjuna more than she loves the other Pandavas, because it is Arjuna who wins her hand. Also, she knows that her swayamvara was only a pretext to lure Arjuna out of hiding. But Arjuna, on the other hand, always thinks of Draupadi as a ‘prize’ he has won for himself and his brothers. His feelings for her are more aligned with duty and loyalty than with love.
(For a comprehensive resource on Draupadi, see Draupadi: 50+ Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
Draupadi and Arjuna meet for the first time at the former’s swayamvara. In fact, Draupadi’s swayamvara is an important event in the Mahabharata, where a number of subsequently vital plot points are introduced. Namely:
- Krishna and Balarama make their first appearance here, though they announce themselves not as suitors but as spectators.
- Draupadi publicly rejects Karna’s bid to win her hand, thus paving the way to a fractious relationship in the future.
- Arjuna wins Draupadi’s hand, and her heart.
- After the swayamvara is complete, Arjuna and Bhima together defend their ‘prize’ from all the other suitors at the ceremony, who are angry at having lost.
It is only after reaching the house of the Pandavas that the thought of how to divide Draupadi comes up. Until then, in Draupadi’s mind, she has become Arjuna’s wife.
If anything, Draupadi may have harboured some level of affection for Bhima as well, because at the swayamvara, Bhima helps Arjuna in defending her from the other kings.
Draupadi therefore spends at least a few tumultuous hours thinking of herself as solely the wife of Arjuna. In her heart, she is Arjuna’s wife first and foremost.
This is important context to understand how the relationship between Draupadi and Arjuna evolves over the years.
(Suggested: What happens during Draupadi’s Swayamvara?)
Why did Draupadi reject Karna?
Draupadi’s swayamvara is designed especially to lure Arjuna out of hiding. But when Karna gets up to try his hand at the task, Draupadi becomes afraid that the intention of the entire swayamvara may be compromised.
So she exercises her right to reject him – and announces that she does not want to marry a Sutaputra.
The often-cited reason for Draupadi’s rejection of Karna is the one she states in the assembly: that she does not – in all honesty – want to get married to someone low-born as him.
While she is presumably within her rights to do this (no one at the assembly protest or speak up in Karna’s favour), there is a reason to believe that her actions are premeditated.
Drupada organizes the entire swayamvara of Draupadi with one intention: to stand the best chance of bringing Arjuna out of hiding and to ensure that he alone wins Draupadi. So he designs an archery test so complex that only Arjuna can pass it.
However, the conundrum is this: whatever Arjuna can do with bow and arrow, so can Karna. And Karna will be present at the ceremony.
It is entirely possible, therefore, that Drupada anticipates Karna’s attempting to win Draupadi, and instructs his daughter that should Karna rise in his seat and walk up to the podium, she should reject him.
This will ensure that the only other person capable of completing the task is disqualified. The path for Arjuna is cleared.
All of this suggests that Draupadi may have thought of herself as being Arjuna’s wife for all the months leading up to her swayamvara, as preparations are taking place in Panchala.
Drupada would have told her that he intends to get her married to Arjuna alone. Indeed, the entire ceremony is only a pretext to bring Arjuna out of hiding.
So it is not Draupadi’s fault that she gives her heart in private to Arjuna in the time leading up to her swayamvara.
(Suggested: Why did Draupadi reject Karna?)
Was Arjuna happy to share Draupadi?
Before it is decided that Draupadi is to marry all five Pandavas, Yudhishthir asks Arjuna for advice in the matter. Arjuna replies, ‘You are our elder brother. I am certain your decision will be proper.’
Even after the wedding, Arjuna does not ever appear unhappy to share Draupadi. However, he would not be human if he did not carry some resentment.
Some modern storytellers have characterized the Arjuna-Yudhishthir-Draupadi situation as a triangle of love and deceit.
In it, Yudhishthir is the lustful antagonist who concocts a shady plan to snatch Draupadi for himself. Arjuna and Draupadi are painted as the couple in love.
In reality, the decision to make Draupadi the common wife for all the Pandavas is ratified by several elders: Vyasa and Drupada to name a couple.
The reasons behind it are sound – if Draupadi marries any one of the brothers, he is certain to become the target of envy from the other four. This envy would almost certainly, over time, degrade into violence.
Arjuna understands this situation. He does not voice any objections to the proposal of sharing Draupadi, nor does he betray any dissatisfaction.
Like a dutiful younger brother, he submits willingly to his older brother’s – and Vyasa’s – suggestions.
But considering that Arjuna is human, and also only a young man of perhaps seventeen at the time, he would have certainly carried some disappointment in his heart. It is I who won Draupadi, he may have thought. Why should I share her with the others?
(Suggested: Was Arjuna happy to share Draupadi?)
Did Arjuna love Draupadi?
It is often taken as fact that Draupadi loved Arjuna the most among all her husbands. But whether Arjuna loved Draupadi is less certain.
He must have had some affection for her, and he certainly desired her, but the fact that he had had to share her with four of his brothers would have made it tough for him to love her unconditionally.
What we can say for certain is that Arjuna must have felt a certain right of possession for Draupadi because he was the one who won her at her swayamvara.
We can also be sure that he desired Draupadi on the day that he brought her back. When Yudhishthir surveys his brothers’ faces as they debate Draupadi’s marriage, he finds that all of them desire Draupadi.
But after the decision is made that Draupadi should marry all the Pandavas, the text is completely silent about Arjuna’s feelings on the matter.
While he does and says the right things – he proclaims himself completely willing to follow Yudhishthir’s instructions – it is possible that a part of him resents that he is being compelled to share Draupadi with his other brothers.
This would have – over time – lessened his desire for her.
Also, Arjuna behaviour during the many years following his marriage to Draupadi suggests that he is eager to procure wives that are entirely his own. And out of these, he shows special affection toward Subhadra.
All in all, one can conclude that Arjuna loves Draupadi after a fashion, but not with the same intensity with which Draupadi loves Arjuna.
(Suggested: Did Arjuna love Draupadi?)
Did Draupadi love Arjuna the most?
One of the accusations levelled against Draupadi (by Yudhishthir at the end) is that despite being wife of all five brothers, Draupadi committed the sin of loving Arjuna the most.
While one cannot answer for certain about another person’s love, and while love cannot be measured, it is likely that Draupadi had a special place in her heart for Arjuna. Arjuna is the man who did win her at the swayamvara.
It is also true that Draupadi’s entire swayamvara was only a thinly-veiled attempt at bringing Arjuna out into the open. Drupada arranges for the archery test to be so difficult that only Arjuna (and presumably Karna) can surpass it.
All of this means that for a period of at least a few months, Draupadi would have known that she was intended for Arjuna. And she must have spent that time thinking of herself as Arjuna’s wife.
There is also another angle to this.
After getting married to the five Pandavas, let us give Draupadi the benefit of the doubt. Let us assume that she wills herself to love all five of her husbands equally.
But owing to circumstances, Arjuna gets separated from her (and from the other Pandavas) for long periods on two occasions:
- First, soon after their wedding, Arjuna departs on a twelve-year-long exile while Draupadi stays back in Indraprastha, serving as Yudhishthir’s queen.
- Second, during their exile, Arjuna goes on a five-year-long quest to Amaravati and other places to collect weapons strong enough to defeat the Kauravas.
So in the first twenty five years of their marriage, Draupadi is separated from Arjuna for seventeen. This may have made Draupadi pine for Arjuna and think of him more often than she did for the other Pandavas.
(Suggested: Did Draupadi love Arjuna the most?)
Was Draupadi jealous of Subhadra?
Another incident that shows the depth of Draupadi’s feelings for Arjuna is how she reacts when Arjuna brings Subhadra back to Indraprastha after his twelve-year exile.
Draupadi has been waiting to meet him, but on discovering that he has returned with a wife, she lashes out with anger.
Draupadi’s initial cruelty toward Subhadra is understandable for the following reasons:
- She has not seen Arjuna – the man who won her hand – for twelve years. Now that she is all set to welcome him home, she realizes that he is bringing home another woman.
- Arjuna’s ostensible goal on his exile was to observe the vow of chastity. Ironically, he marries three women and has sons with all three of them during this period. Draupadi is right to be angry at this flagrant disregard for vows.
- Draupadi must be annoyed that despite being the first to be won by Arjuna, she is the last to have a chance to have a child with him. Ulupi, Chitrangada and Subhadra all beat her to it.
- Draupadi’s annoyance is further exacerbated by the fact that despite winning her himself, Arjuna is the last among the brothers to have a child with her. Yudhishthir, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva beat him to it.
With all these annoyances bubbling under the surface, Draupadi welcomes Subhadra with harsh words and insinuates that the princess of Dwaraka had seduced Arjuna away from his vow.
This jealousy slowly morphs into friendship as she gives birth to Shrutakarma with Arjuna. But Arjuna’s continued insistence at being partial to Subhadra and Abhimanyu gives Draupadi a constant reason to be just a little angry with her younger co-wife.
Who was Arjuna’s favourite wife?
Though it is never explicitly stated, it is often implied that Subhadra is Arjuna’s favourite wife. Of the four women that he marries – Draupadi, Ulupi, Chitrangada and Subhadra – it is the last that captures his heart like no other.
There are a number of reasons for this. With Draupadi, Arjuna was only performing a role – that of winning a prize – for his elder brother, on the instruction of Vyasa.
With Ulupi, it is the Naga princess who pursues and wins Arjuna. Their association lasts only one night.
With Chitrangada, Arjuna knows right from the moment of his union with her that she will never leave her kingdom, Manipura. He knows that she and their son will forever remain at Manipura, and that he will have no chance to build a relationship with them.
But with Subhadra, none of these objections are true. She will be truly his, and only his. It is he who falls in love with her at first sight. And she is more than willing to bear him sons, and to accompany him back to Indraprastha.
Above all, Subhadra happens to be the sister of Krishna – who happens to be Arjuna’s closest friend and companion.
What all of this means is that beginning from his exile, Arjuna’s attention is pulled away from Draupadi. While Draupadi remains in Indraprastha and misses Arjuna (among other things; she also has other duties), Arjuna firmly veers away from her path.
Draupadi ends up being just one of Arjuna’s wives. He is fiercely protective of her, as are all the other Pandavas, but only more out of a sense of duty than as an expression of love.
The relationship between Draupadi and Arjuna is complicated by the fact that Arjuna chooses to share Draupadi with his four brothers – without Draupadi’s consent.
Draupadi is right to think of Arjuna as her ‘real’ husband, because he is the one who wins her hand, and he is the one for whom Drupada arranges his daughter’s swayamvara in the first place.
Draupadi’s love for Arjuna is intensified by the seventeen years (in total) of separation that she endures with him. Arjuna leaves for a twelve-year exile soon after their marriage, and then on a five-year quest during the Pandavas’ exile.
Arjuna, on the other hand, does not seem to think of Draupadi as his lover at any point. Right from the beginning, he is told by Vyasa that Draupadi’s destiny is to be wife to all five brothers. So he knows from the outset that she will never be exclusively his.
His primary feelings toward Draupadi, therefore, are those of duty and loyalty more than love.
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