Krishna is considered by many to be the hero of the Mahabharata. He is the eighth son of Devaki, the princess of Mathura, and Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena.
Krishna is raised in a cowherd settlement in Vrindavan for the first fifteen years of his life. Later, along with Balarama, he founds the seashore city of Dwaraka and builds a kingdom for the Yadavas – named Anarta.
He enters the Mahabharata story at Draupadi’s swayamvara, and quickly establishes friendly relations with the Pandavas – in particular with Arjuna. This friendship lasts all the way to the Kurukshetra war and beyond.
In this post, we will answer the question: How did Krishna meet the Pandavas?
Krishna sees the Pandavas for the first time at Draupadi’s swayamvara. At this time, the Pandavas are disguised as Brahmins. But Krishna recognizes them. After Draupadi has been won, Krishna and Balarama follow the Pandavas back to their hut and introduce themselves as the sons of Vasudeva.
Read on to discover more about how Krishna and the Pandavas first met.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Sons of Vasudeva
Krishna and Balarama are the sons of Vasudeva, who is the prince of a kingdom named Shurasena. The kingdom Shurasena is (confusingly) ruled by a king also named Shurasena, who is Vasudeva’s father.
Vasudeva marries Devaki, the daughter of king Ugrasena of Mathura. Ugrasena is friendly with Shurasena and its neighbour Kunti, whereas Ugrasena’s son, Kamsa, prefers alliances with kingdoms to Mathura’s east – like Chedi and Magadha.
Around the time of Devaki’s wedding to Vasudeva, Kamsa usurps the throne of Mathura for himself. This sets up a long period of antagonism between Mathura and Shurasena.
Into this political climate are born Krishna and Balarama – the former to Devaki and the latter to Rohini. Krishna and Balarama are therefore half-brothers, though some versions of the story claim that Balarama was conceived in Devaki’s womb and then miraculously transported to Rohini.
One of the meanings of the word Vaasudeva – with which Krishna is often addressed – means ‘son of Vasudeva’. Strictly speaking, the title applies equally to Balarama.
Sons of Kunti
Kunti begins life as Pritha, the daughter of King Shurasena and sister to Vasudeva. Very early on, she is given to King Kuntibhoja of Kunti to be fostered there.
Pritha grows up in the royal palace of Kunti, and as a maiden, has an encounter with Sage Durvasa who gives her a boon. From then on, she has the ability to summon any god of her choice and to have a son with him.
Pritha tries out this incantation out of pure curiosity, and calls on Surya, the sun god. With him, she has a child out of wedlock – a boy with divine armour and earrings who will grow up to be Karna.
Later, after marrying Prince Pandu of Hastinapur, she has three more sons – Yudhishthir, Bhima and Arjuna.
Then, after the death of Madri – the biological mother of Nakula and Sahadeva – Pritha (now called Kunti) becomes ‘mother’ to all five Pandavas.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 4: Kunti, Madri and Gandhari.)
The Pandavas are thus closely related by birth to Krishna. They are Krishna’s father’s sister’s sons.
Biologically, Nakula and Sahadeva are not related to Krishna at all, but since Kunti adopts the two brothers as her own, it is commonly said that Krishna and the Pandavas are first cousins.
It also bears noting at this point that Karna is also Krishna’s first cousin. In fact, Karna is more closely related to Krishna if we consider biological kinship. But various social factors come into play and ensure that these two men follow diverging paths.
Did the Pandavas and Krishna meet at all during their childhoods? It would appear not. Krishna grows up for the first fourteen (or so) years of his life in Vrindavan, and is immediately thrust into the deep end of Mathuran politics when he kills Kamsa and reinstates Ugrasena to the throne.
From then on, his life is fully taken up with fighting off Jarasandha’s repeated attacks. And later, the migration of Mathuran citizens westward to build the city of Dwaraka keeps him busy.
Similarly, the five Pandavas live on Mount Gandhamadana for the first few years, and return to Hastinapur only after the deaths of Pandu and Madri.
While their lives are relatively smooth compared to Krishna’s chaos, they are also embroiled in a sustained quarrel for the throne with their cousins, the Kauravas.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 6: Pandu Dies.)
Did they know of one another while they were growing up? They must have. Kunti must have told her sons about her maternal home, and the topic of Vasudeva and his two heroic sons would have naturally come up.
Similarly, Vasudeva would have told Krishna and Balarama about the Pandavas and the tragic story of their mother Kunti.
It is instructive that when Kunti is left rudderless after the deaths of Pandu and Madri, she does not even consider for a moment that she might seek refuge in Shurasena or Kunti.
Perhaps she would have done so if Dhritarashtra and Gandhari had driven her away at the palace gates. If that had happened, perhaps Krishna and the Pandavas would have met one another more often as they grew up.
As it happens, Draupadi’s swayamvara becomes the occasion at which the Pandavas and Krishna meet for the first time.
At the time of Draupadi’s swayamvara, Krishna and Balarama have just finished unifying the Vrishni factions of the west into one kingdom called Anarta. Its capital is Dwaraka.
Having established itself as the new kingdom on the map, Anarta is now looking to enter the geopolitical game. Krishna and Balarama arrive at Draupadi’s swayamvara with a wish to watch and meet with all the great kings of the land.
So far they have maintained a low profile, consumed by the task of building Anarta. Now they have come to engage with the rest of the world.
On the other hand, the Pandavas are living in Panchala as disguised Brahmins. They have escaped from the house of wax at Varanavata, spent a period of time in Ekachakra, and have come to Panchala on Vyasa’s advice – with the intention of participating and winning at Draupadi’s ceremony.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 12: Draupadi Enters.)
Recognizing the Pandavas
Krishna recognizes Arjuna when the latter steps up to the podium, and picks out the rest of the Pandavas who are in the Brahmins’ enclosure in Drupada’s hall.
Krishna then watches as Arjuna first wins Draupadi’s hand by completing the task that has eluded all the other suitors. He then witnesses Arjuna defeating Karna, and Bhima defeating Shalya.
As a man looking to build Anarta’s strength in friendships and alliances, Krishna realizes that the Pandavas will make excellent allies. He speaks on their behalf to the suitors – and after the Pandavas have left – follows them back to their hut.
We must note that at this stage, the Pandavas do not know who Krishna is. They have never seen him, so they would not have known the identity of this man who has spoken in their favour.
Back in the Hut
After the Pandavas return to their hut and introduce Draupadi to their mother, Krishna and Balarama arrive on the scene. They introduce themselves to their aunt and cousins.
This is the first time in the story that:
- Kunti meets Krishna
- The Pandavas meet Krishna
- Kunti meets Draupadi
- And Draupadi meets Krishna.
What they say to each other is not recorded in much detail. Neither is this a long meeting. After some polite introductions and small talk, Krishna and Balarama take their leave.
This is just as well, because the Pandavas and Kunti have to resolve the bigger issue of what to do with Draupadi. The story focuses on that for the next few chapters.
(Suggested: Why did Draupadi Marry Five Pandavas?)
Foundation for a Long Friendship
This meeting in a nondescript hut in Panchala becomes the foundation of a friendship that lasts years and years. Krishna and Arjuna forge an especially close bond, which helps both Anarta and Indraprastha become the two most powerful kingdoms in the world.
Krishna uses the strength and skill of Arjuna and Bhima to eliminate his arch-enemy, Jarasandha. He becomes the instrumental force behind Yudhishthir’s crowning as emperor.
Though Krishna maintains friendly relations with Duryodhana during the Pandavas’ exile, in the war he exerts himself to the fullest to ensure that the Pandavas win.
After the war, Indraprastha and Anarta become the two nuclei of power for a period of thirty six years, during which the Pandavas and Krishna maintain their friendship.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story