In this series of posts, I am reconstructing the Mahabharata as a sequence of episodes. This will provide a quick and easy way for someone new to the story to become acquainted with it.
(For the previous post in this series, see Episode 11: Ghatotkacha is Born.
To access the full repository of Mahabharata episodes, see: 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story.)
During the Pandavas’ time in Ekachakra, a wandering Brahmin tells them a tale of how Drupada – the king of Panchala – has acquired a son and a daughter from a sacrificial fire.
After the humiliation in the hands of Drona, we have seen how Drupada was left pining for revenge. In time, he finds two sages, Yaja and Upayaja, who consent to performing a sacrifice intent on producing a son whose sole aim in life is to kill Dronacharya.
A great sacrificial fire is built for the purpose in the palace compound, and after all the complex rituals are completed, A full-grown youth springs out of the fire at the command of Yaja, and the first thing he does is to take a chariot and ride it around the field where the ceremony is being conducted.
He comes forth with a crown on head, armour sheathing the body, hand bearing sword, and a bow hanging by the shoulder. Amid cheers of all the gathered Panchala people, they give him the name of Dhrishtadyumna because of his excessive audacity and splendour.
Out of the same fire comes a young maiden, dark in complexion, of heavenly beauty. An incorporeal voice announces at this moment: ‘This girl will be the first of all women, and she will be the cause of the destruction of many Kshatriyas. She will accomplish the purpose of the gods, and due to her, many of the Kauravas will meet their deaths.’
This maiden comes to be known as Krishnaa (‘the dark-skinned one’), Draupadi (‘the daughter of Drupada’), Panchali (‘the daughter of Panchala’) or Yajnaseni (‘the daughter of Yajnasena’).
After the birth of these two, Sudeshna, the queen of Drupada, asks for a boon from Yaja that the boy and the girl will know and love her as their real mother. The sage grants her her wish.
In Her Previous Birth
At around the same time, Vyasa pays the Pandavas a visit and tells them the story of a Brahmin’s daughter (whom he doesn’t name) who had everything a maiden could ask for – good looks, wealth of character, noble family – but was not able to procure for herself a husband.
This woman, desperate to be wedded, prayed to Shiva to grant her a suitable man. By severe asceticism she pleased the Destroyer, and when he appeared and granted her a boon, she said, ‘O Lord, why have I been denied the pleasure of marital union with a man when lesser women than I have had no such trouble?’
‘The acts of your previous life become your destiny in this one, maiden,’ replied Shiva. ‘Just as your acts in this life dictates what will come your way in the next.’
‘What awaits me, then, O Lord, in the next life?’
‘You will be wedded to five husbands of unmatched valour, born in the Bharata line of kings,’ said Shiva. ‘Each of the five princes will be begotten by a prominent god, and you shall have sons, too, of all of them.’
‘But Lord Shiva,’ said the maiden, ‘all I wish for is one husband.’
‘That may be your wish,’ said Shiva. ‘But in your desperation, during your penance, you said the words “Grant me a husband” five times. And bound as I am by the power of your austerities, I must grant you your wish to the letter. Therefore, in your next life, you shall be the wife of five husbands who shall conquer the world.’
Finishing the story, Vyasa tells the Pandavas, ‘This maiden, this Brahmin-born woman, had died soon after receiving the boon from Shiva, and now she has taken her next birth in Prishata’s line, during the sacrifice of Drupada.
‘Go, therefore, my children and Mother Kunti. Your time in Ekachakra has run its course. Panchala awaits your arrival.’
Arjuna Wins Draupadi
The Pandavas arrive in Panchala disguised as Brahmins, and on the day of the swayamvara of Draupadi, they arrive at Drupada’s palace. They take their places in the throng of commonfolk that are allowed in to witness the spectacle.
All the great kings of the world are invitees to the event. Duryodhana is here. Karna. Shalya of Madra. Krishna and Balarama from Dwaraka. These last two, however, make it clear right at the beginning that they’ve only arrived as visitors – not competitors.
Drupada, for his part, has made sure that this ceremony is designed as an archery competition, with Draupadi being given away as prize to any man who performs the assigned task successfully.
So while this is called a swayamvara, it is also a misnomer because Draupadi has no choice but to marry the completer of the task.
However, she does have the freedom to reject a suitor before he has had a chance to try his hand. In fact, she does this very thing with Karna steps up to the podium and declares his intention to compete. She says flatly, ‘I do not intend to marry a Sutaputra.’
Many of the assembled kings attempt to complete Drupada’s task, but they fail. At the end, with pressure mounting on the king to give away his daughter to someone, Arjuna – in his disguise as a Brahmin – tries his hand at it. And of course, he succeeds.
(For a more detailed look at this event, see: What happens during Draupadi’s swayamvara?)
Who owns Draupadi?
A number of things happen after Arjuna wins Draupadi:
- First, all the assembled suitors are outraged that they have been bested by a Brahmin. In their anger, they take up arms against Arjuna. Sensing carnage, Yudhishthir takes Nakula and Sahadeva and slips out quietly.
- Bhima accompanies Arjuna in fighting against the disaffected suitors. More specifically, two battles happen: one between Karna and Arjuna (which Arjuna wins) and one between Bhima and Shalya (which Bhima wins).
- The five brothers then take Draupadi home, where Kunti – in a now famous utterance – says with her back turned to them: ‘Whatever it is, share it between the five of you.’
- Yudhishthir, meanwhile, notices that all five brothers are consumed by desire for Draupadi. He foresees that if one of them were to have her, the other four would be torn by envy. So he decrees that Draupadi will become wife to all of them.
Meanwhile, Dhrishtadyumna follows the Pandavas back home and realizes that they are Kuru princes in disguise. When he goes back and reports to his father, Drupada invites all of them over.
Drupada and Dhrishtadyumna want Draupadi to be married to Yudhishthir, because after all, he is the oldest of them all and it is his wife that will get all the benefits of status.
Draupadi Marries Five Pandavas
A bit of a debate develops at Drupada’s palace about whom Draupadi should marry. On the one hand, she had been won by Arjuna. On the other, everything that Arjuna ‘wins’ is the rightful possession of Yudhishthir.
Keeping rights to one side, from a more practical point of view, it is in Panchala’s greater interest that Draupadi marries Yudhishthir. While the Pandavas at this stage are not wealthy, there is a possibility of wealth and power in their future. And all of it will flow toward the eldest of the five.
Arjuna, for his part, does not state a preference either way. He defers the decision entirely to Yudhishthir.
And Yudhishthir wants Draupadi to be married to all five brothers.
While this argument is going on, Vyasa arrives at Drupada’s court and votes for the five-husband choice. He assures Drupada that the destinies of everybody involved will be best served by this course of action alone.
Thus, Draupadi is wedded over the course of five days to each of the five Pandavas.
(For a more detailed look at this aspect of the story, see: Why did Draupadi marry five Pandavas?)
No mention is made during this event of the Pandavas’ earlier encounter with Drupada – during which Arjuna overpowers the king of Panchala and delivers him as guru dakshina to Drona.
It is a little unbelievable that Drupada is able to forgive the Pandavas so easily. If he seethes with anger at Drona for defeating him, he should also feel the same way about the Pandavas. But he doesn’t. Why?
One possible explanation is that in the couple of years that have passed since the guru dakshina episode, things have changed. The Pandavas have fallen out of favour while Drona has aligned himself to the Kuru throne. So the political strategist in Drupada may have observed that the Pandavas and Drona are no longer on the same side.
So he may have thought that befriending the Pandavas is a great way to get back at Drona.
You used the Pandavas once to defeat me, he may have spoken in his mind to Drona, now watch me use them to defeat you.
The other explanation, of course, is that the Pandavas did not feature in the siege of North Panchala at all. All of Drupada’s animosity is therefore directed at (a) Kuru, and (b) Drona for having led the campaign in the name of Bhishma.
(For a more detailed look at this alternative narration of the guru dakshina event, see: Episode 9: Invasion of Panchala.)
The Pandavas Return
The Pandavas live for a period of time in Panchala, as Drupada’s guests. As news of their marriage to Draupadi travels to Hastinapur, the Kuru elders decide that the best course of action is to invite the Pandavas back home and give them a share of the kingdom.
Here, we must note that the proponents of this choice are chiefly Bhishma and Vidura. They tell Dhritarashtra that the Pandavas are very powerful, and that it is better to foster friendship rather than enmity with them.
Duryodhana and Karna, as expected, are against the idea.
In any case, Vidura is sent as a messenger to Panchala, with the assurance that the Pandavas will be given a fair share of their inheritance. (Here we must ask: is a ‘fair share’ half of the kingdom? Or five parts out of a hundred and five?)
We will see how the Pandavas established their own kingdom in Indraprastha – in the next episode.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story
- 300+ Mahabharata Stories to Thrill, Delight and Enchant You
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered