How did Yudhishthir become emperor?

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Yudhishthir is the eldest of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata. He is the second biological son of Kunti – her first being Karna. His biological father is Yama, the god of justice. Pandu, the king of Hastinapur, is his adoptive father.

Yudhishthir is described by many other characters in the story as the paragon of virtue. He is said to have never spoken an untruth.

He is the only character in the Mahabharata that succeeds in reaching heaven at the end of his life – without having to endure the physical experience of death.

In this post, we will answer the question: How did Yudhishthir become emperor?

Yudhishthir is given a portion of the Kuru kingdom as his inheritance. He makes his capital at Khandavaprastha. After ruling here for twelve years, he decides to launch an expedition of conquest in all four directions to become an emperor. His four brothers help him in this quest, and make him a chakravarti.

Read on to discover more about how Yudhishthir became emperor.

(For answers to all Yudhishthir-related questions, see Yudhishthir: 10 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)

Marriage to Draupadi

Draupadi’s swayamvara happens at the same time Yudhishthir and his brothers are hiding out in Ekachakra, after having narrowly escaped death by fire in the wax palace of Varanavata.

Sage Vyasa encourages the Pandavas to attend this ceremony, and even tells them that Draupadi, in her previous life, had been promised by Shiva that she will become wife to five men.

Arjuna enters the competition that King Drupada conducts in lieu of Draupadi’s hand, and handsomely wins it. He and Bhima then fight off the rejected suitors and take Draupadi home. Yudhishthir then decides that Draupadi will become a common wife to all five brothers.

After some cajoling, Drupada and Dhrishtadyumna agree to this strange proposal. Draupadi weds the Pandavas one after the other, over five days.

This marriage gives Yudhishthir his first real ally in Panchala.

(Suggested: Why did Draupadi Marry five Pandavas?)


The Draupadi-Pandava wedding is quite an embarrassment to the Kuru household because of two reasons:

  • This is when the Kuru elders come to know that the Pandavas are alive. All this time, they have been thinking that the brothers and Kunti have died in the fire at Varanavata.
  • Panchala has long been an enemy state for Kuru. The fact that the Pandavas are now allied with the enemy makes Kuru’s position a bit tricky.

If Kuru chooses to ignore the event, the Pandavas will eventually gain significant footholds in Panchala, and become a powerful threat in the future with Drupada’s help.

The other option is to invite the Pandavas back to Kuru, give them a small part of the kingdom, and allow them to rule from their own little capital. While this is maddening to Duryodhana, Bhishma believes that it has to be done in order to manage the threat that the Pandavas will otherwise pose to Kuru.

Yudhishthir’s marriage to Draupadi, therefore, directly leads to him being given the city of Khandavaprastha as inheritance.

This is when he becomes king for the first time. It is a small part of Kuru, and the capital city is insignificant compared to Hastinapur, but it is a start.

Krishna’s Friendship

Arjuna’s twelve-year exile – which begins almost immediately after Yudhishthir’s crowning as king of Khandavaprastha – brings the Pandavas some more allies.

Arjuna marries three women during sojourn around the subcontinent:

  • Ulupi, the daughter of King Kauravya, who bears him a son called Iravan;
  • Chitrangada, the daughter of King Chitravahana, with whom he has a son called Babruvahana;
  • And Subhadra, the sister of Krishna and Balarama, who bears him Abhimanyu.

These three alliances strengthen Yudhishthir’s position somewhat, though he is nowhere close to the web of geopolitical influence that Bhishma has built over the years for Hastinapur.

Of the three wives of Arjuna, though, Subhadra becomes the most significant because she is the only one who comes to live with Arjuna at his home. (Ulupi and Chitrangada stay back at their fathers’ kingdoms.)

The friendship that the Pandavas build with Krishna – and by extension with Balarama’s kingdom Anarta – will hold them in good stead for their future endeavours.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 13: Exile of Arjuna.)

Death of Jarasandha

Krishna helps Yudhishthir in two specific ways immediately after the marriage of Subhadra:

  • Along with Arjuna, he clears the forest of Khandava, thus freeing up plenty of land for Yudhishthir to claim as his own. In this land, the Asura Maya builds for Yudhishthir a great hall. Khandavaprastha is now renamed Indraprastha.
  • When Yudhishthir wonders out loud if the time has come for him to perform the Rajasuya, Krishna encourages him. He also tells him that until Jarasandha is dead, Yudhishthir cannot become emperor.

Krishna then goes an extra mile to take Arjuna and Bhima along with him to Magadha – where they challenge Jarasandha to a wrestling match and kill him.

This, of course, is a two-pronged move. Krishna is not only clearing Yudhishthir’s path to emperorship, he is also ensuring the safety of Anarta, Kunti and Shurasena against future violence from Magadha.

With the death of Jarasandha, Yudhishthir’s only rival for the Rajasuya – according to Krishna anyway – is eliminated.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 14: Massacre at Khandava.)

Expedition of Conquest

After Jarasandha has been killed, Yudhishthir sends his four brothers in four different directions to offer all the kings in their paths an ultimatum: either accept Yudhishthir as their king and agree to pay tribute, or fight.

Krishna supports Yudhishthir on this quest. What is not clear is whether or not Kuru does. From all appearances, it seems clear that Yudhishthir does not send any army to Hastinapur. From this, we can assume that before this expedition begins, Yudhishthir seeks and receives the approval of Dhritarashtra.

In effect, therefore, Yudhishthir builds on the support of Anarta and Kuru to launch a bid to become emperor.

Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva fulfil their roles admirably. They return to Indraprastha with a long list of alliances, and untold amounts of gold that will make its way to Yudhishthir’s treasury.

From here, all that is left for Yudhishthir to do is to formalize his title as emperor. In order to do this, he performs the Rajasuya – and invites all of his new allies to attend the ceremony.

Death of Shishupala

At the Rajasuya, Shishupala, the king of Chedi, threatens to begin an uprising. Shishupala is the son of Damaghosha, who had had close ties in the past with Jarasandha.

While Jarasandha’s death has weakened Chedi’s influence, Shishupala tries to use the Rajasuya as a convenient location to gather support against the Pandavas. He does this by publicly criticising Yudhishthir’s choice of chief guest: Krishna.

(Incidentally, the fact that Yudhishthir chooses Krishna as chief guest is further acknowledgement of how much support he has received from the Dwaraka prince.)

For a while Shishupala threatens to make a good fist of his prospects. By insulting everyone in the assembly – the Pandavas, Bhishma, Drona and Krishna – he builds a narrative of the Pandavas as ungrateful, power-hungry men.

Yudhishthir finds himself bound by the solemnity of the occasion and does not answer Shishupala. Things reach a fever-pitch when a section of rulers stand up and say, ‘We will not allow this ceremony to be completed.’

Krishna once again comes to Yudhishthir’s rescue. He addresses the gathering, tells them Shishupala’s story, and proceeds to behead him with his Sudarshana Chakra.

With the death of Shishupala, the last remnant of Jarasandha’s power structure crumbles. Yudhishthir is then crowned emperor.

(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 16: Krishna Kills Shishupala.)


At the time of their hiding in Ekachakra as Brahmins, the Pandavas are friendless and almost forgotten. From there, Yudhishthir becomes emperor in a few years. He takes the following path:

  • He marries Draupadi and builds an alliance with Panchala, which prompts Kuru to invite the Pandavas back home.
  • As the king of lowly Khandavaprastha, he sends Arjuna out on an alliance-building mission which wins him important friends – of whom Krishna is the most important.
  • The burning of the Khandava forest gives Yudhishthir more land, and therefore more power.
  • With the death of Jarasandha, his most likely rival to the Rajasuya is removed.
  • His four brothers successfully complete an expedition of conquest and bring the entire world under his feet.
  • Finally, at the Rajasuya, when Shishupala threatens to cause a revolt, Krishna kills him and ensures that Yudhishthir becomes emperor

As emperor, Yudhishthir counts Kuru, Panchala and Anarta as his main allies.

Further Reading

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