How did Draupadi’s sons die?

How did Draupadi's sons die - Featured Image - Picture of a child in the womb.

Draupadi is the most prominent female character in the Mahabharata. Her given name at birth is Krishnaa, but since she is the daughter of Drupada she is called Draupadi. She is also known as Panchali – or the ‘daughter of Panchala’.

Draupadi is often considered the primary reason for the destruction of the Kuru dynasty. She takes birth as a grown young woman in a sacrifice performed by Drupada, in which the king asks for a ‘weapon’ with which the Kurus can be defeated.

In this post, we will answer the question: How did Draupadi’s sons die?

Draupadi’s sons, the Upapandavas, die on the eighteenth night of the Mahabharata war, after the Pandavas and Krishna have announced themselves victors. Armed with Lord Shiva’s blessings, Ashwatthama unleashes a torrent of bloodshed on the sleeping Panchala and Somaka forces. Singlehandedly he kills them all.

Read on to discover more about how Draupadi’s sons died in the Mahabharata.

(For answers to all Draupadi-related questions, see Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)

Names of Draupadi’s sons

Draupadi has five sons with her five husbands. Their names are Prativindhya (with Yudhishthir), Sutasoma (with Bhima), Shrutakarma (with Arjuna), Satanika (with Nakula) and Shrutasena (with Sahadeva).

The order of their births is descending order of seniority of the Pandavas – with the exception of Shrutakarma who is born last.

This is because Arjuna leaves on a twelve-year exile almost immediately after Yudhishthir’s ascent to the throne of Indraprastha. Draupadi has a son with him only after his return – after she has had sons with all the rest of the Pandava brothers.

Arjuna also, meanwhile, has three sons during his exile years:

  • Iravan with a Naga princess called Ulupi,
  • Babruvahana with the princess of Manipura called Chitrangada, and
  • Abhimanyu with the sister of Krishna, Subhadra.

Shrutakarma, therefore, is the youngest of Draupadi’s sons. He is presumably between twelve and fourteen years old at the time of the Mahabharata war.

(Suggested: Did Draupadi have children?)

The End of the War

During the climactic mace battle on the evening of the eighteenth day of the war, Bhima crushes Duryodhana’s thighs and causes him to fall to the ground in defeat.

Krishna blows on his conch and declares that the Pandavas have won the war. He takes them – and Satyaki – to the bank of the river Oghavati to spend the night.

(Does he have a premonition about what is to occur that night? Perhaps. Perhaps not.)

However, Duryodhana is not yet dead. Three warriors from his army are still alive and in fighting form: Ashwatthama the son of Drona, Kripacharya the son of Saradwat, and Kritavarma the Yadava chieftain.

Ashwatthama announces his desire to keep fighting and to avenge the death of his father. Duryodhana is not hopeful of any success, but nevertheless, he anoints the son of Drona as the next commander of his army.

With Kripa and Kritavarma by his side, Ashwatthama sets out to raid the Pandava camp in the dead of the night.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 53: Bhima Defeats Duryodhana.)

Help from Lord Shiva

Helping Ashwatthama in his quest is Lord Shiva himself, who imbues the Brahmin with all the power of his ganas. Despite the fact that killing one’s enemy when he is sleeping is considered the lowest form of behaviour for a warrior, Ashwatthama lets loose on the unsuspecting Panchalas and Somakas.

The Upapandavas are among the casualties of this dreadful night.

Ashwatthama’s motivating force is to avenge the death of his father Drona – who has been killed with unjust means by the Pandavas. He single-handedly fights the entire Somaka and Panchala army on his own, and obliterates it.

Among his victims are Shikhandi and Dhrishtadyumna as well.

Ashwatthama is able to perform this miraculous deed because of the power granted to him by Shiva. Krishna reveals later that he had known Shiva’s intention of destroying the Panchalas, and that was why he had taken the Pandavas and Satyaki away to River Oghavati.

The Mahabharata war thus begins its ghastly epilogue. What began as a ‘Dharma Yuddha’ (a ‘righteous’ war) ends with a man massacring all of his sleeping enemies at night.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 54: Ashwatthama Rages.)

Draupadi’s Despair

When news reaches Draupadi that her sons and kinsmen have been killed by Ashwatthama, she implores Yudhishthir to avenge her. ‘The war is not finished,’ she says angrily, ‘until you have killed that wicked son of Drona.’

But Yudhishthir is already jaded by all that has happened over the last eighteen days. He seems reluctant to pick up weapons again. Sensing his apathy, Draupadi turns to Bhima, the one man among her husbands who had always defended her honour passionately.

‘Vrikodara,’ she says, ‘you have answered my call every time in the past I needed your help. Now I am asking you one last time – ride out in that chariot and bring me back the diadem that Ashwatthama wears on his forehead.’

Bhima calls for his vehicle and sets out in Ashwatthama’s wake. Watching him leave, Krishna tells Arjuna: ‘In the mood Ashwatthama is in, I fear that he may even kill Bhima.’ The Pandavas thus set out together in the company of Krishna.

Arjuna and Ashwatthama do battle with each other at Vyasa’s hermitage, and at the end of it all, Krishna curses the wicked man with eternal suffering.

The Pandavas bring back Ashwatthama’s jewel for Draupadi. Her grief is somewhat slaked.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 55: Ashwatthama is Cursed.)

The Only Heir

Draupadi thus loses all her sons in the war. Iravan and Abhimanyu, the sons of Arjuna, are also dead. The only son of Arjuna that is alive is Babruvahana, but he rules over the distant kingdom of Manipura – and such he is not eligible as heir to the throne of Indraprastha.

The only surviving male child who can become the future king is Parikshit, as yet unborn, in the womb of Uttara (the widow of Abhimanyu).

Just before he is defeated by Arjuna, Ashwatthama summons a Brahmastra and hurls it at all the wombs of the Kuru women, causing them to instantly become infertile. This weapon also strikes at Uttara’s foetus and kills him.

In due course of time, Uttara gives birth to a stillborn child. However, Krishna is right at hand to apply some magical healing powers to revive the boy.

For thirty six years after this incident, Yudhishthir rules the world from Indraprastha. Then, as the Pandavas leave for their final journeys, he installs Parikshit on the throne.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 60: The Pandavas Die.)

Did the Upapandavas not have children?

Since Prativindhya, the son of Yudhishthir, is around the age of twenty eight at the time of the war, one may ask whether he was not married with children.

Surely, if Abhimanyu was old enough to leave behind a pregnant wife, then it follows that Prativindhya, Sutasoma, Satanika and Shrutasena – all of whom are older than Abhimanyu – would also at least be married.

The Mahabharata is silent on this matter. As readers, we can only speculate therefore that for some reason, none of the four Upapandavas mentioned above have left behind male children.

Yudhishthir and Draupadi’s bloodline thus ends with the Mahabharata war. The Kuru dynasty is carried forward through the descendants of Arjuna and Subhadra.

Further Reading

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