The Mahabharata is a collection of hundred Parvas (or ‘sections’) that tell the story of a long-standing family feud between two sets of cousins – the Kauravas and the Pandavas – for control of the Kuru throne in Hastinapur.
The climactic event of the story is an eighteen-day war that happens between the two factions on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
It is commonly understood that the Pandavas are the protagonists of this tale and the Kauravas the antagonists – though many retellings have appeared over the years that flip this structure.
In this post, we will summarize the Subhadra Harana Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
Arjuna Meets Subhadra
A short while after Arjuna’s arrival in Dwaraka, a large festival is conducted on the Raivataka Mountain, to which the Bhojas, the Vrishnis and the Andhakas come by the thousands.
During this gathering, Arjuna happens to see Subhadra, the daughter of Vasudeva and Rohini, Balarama’s birth sister and Krishna’s half-sister.
Seeing with amusement how Arjuna is affected by the sight of the Yadava princess, Krishna says, ‘You have taken the vow of celibacy, dear friend, and you have travelled the world in your time. How is it that the god of desire still agitates your heart so?’
When Arjuna is rendered speechless, preoccupied still by the sight of Subhadra, Krishna continues, ‘That is the daughter of the Vrishnis, dear sister to Balarama and I. Tell me if you wish her to be your wife, for I can then speak to my father myself.’
‘Tell me, O Janardana,’ says Arjuna, ‘how I can make that maiden my wife. I shall do anything in my power to obtain her.’
Krishna Makes a Suggestion
‘Well,’ says Krishna, ‘if I go and speak to my father, he will say that the right thing to do would be to arrange for a groom-choosing ceremony, where Subhadra will have the choice of a thousand kings lining up for her.
‘You shall be one of them, of course, Partha, but what if her heart sets upon another before you have had a chance to woo it? Who can know which way a maiden might turn of her own will?’
‘Then what shall we do?’
‘Your grandsire, Bhishma,’ Krishna replies, ‘wanted to procure the princesses of Kasi for King Vichitraveerya. He did not wish to play to the whims of a swayamvara. What did he do?’
‘Are you saying that I must abduct her?’ Arjuna asks, looking at Krishna. ‘But she does not know me. She might resist.’
‘She undoubtedly will. But that should not deter you, Partha, for this form of marriage has received sanction from the scriptures.’
The Abduction of Subhadra
Thus blessed, and after sending a messenger to Yudhishthir and receiving his assent, Arjuna yokes two of the fastest horses from Krishna’s stable – Saivya and Sugriva – to his chariot.
Early one morning, while Subhadra is returning to Dwaraka from the Raivataka Mountain after her prayers, the Pandava descends upon her and carries her away in the blink of an eye.
The maids who are accompanying the princess drop all their plates on the ground and come rushing into the city to raise alarm.
In no time at all word goes all the way up to Balarama, that an honoured guest at the palace had dared to make away with princess Subhadra, and all the princes and chieftains that were gathered there rush to pick up arms.
While chariots are being summoned and men are wearing their armours, Balarama notices that Krishna is sitting in silence, his mind evidently elsewhere.
Balarama Questions Krishna
Balarama first asks all his chieftains to restrain themselves. ‘Why do you all speak while Krishna sits here silently?’ he asks. And as the chiefs take their seats, he addresses Krishna.
‘Why are you quiet, Krishna?’ asks Balarama. ‘It is for your sake that we have welcomed the son of Pritha into our midst. But it seems that he did not deserve our honour.
‘What man born of a respectable family will break the plate of his host after first dining in it? Even if one desires an alliance with someone, it is not proper to act in such a manner.
‘Arjuna should have approached me with his thoughts of marrying Subhadra. Instead, he carried her away by force! In doing so, he has placed his foot on the crown of my head.
‘He has crushed the self-respect of the Vrishnis. He has insulted us. How shall I tamely bear this? As the king of Anarta, as the unifier of the Vrishni tribes, it is indeed proper that I must now rescue my sister.
‘I cannot sit by and put up with this transgression. I shall make sure that the Earth is rid of the Kuru dynasty!’
While Balarama makes this speech, the surrounding Vrishnis, Bhojas and Andhakas cheer him on. Krishna is still quiet, though.
This brings to an end the Subhadra Harana Parva. Krishna’s response and the following incidents are recorded in the Haranaharana Parva.