Arjuna is the most powerful warrior in the Mahabharata universe. He is the third of the Pandavas in order of seniority, born after Yudhishthir and Bhimasena.
He is the last of Kunti’s children. After his birth, Kunti decides that she will summon no more gods and bear no more sons. Nakula and Sahadeva, the fourth and fifth of the Pandavas respectively, are born to Madri, Pandu’s second wife.
In this post, we will answer the question: Why did Arjuna marry Subhadra?
Arjuna marries Subhadra at Krishna’s urging. Krishna’s plan is to construct an alliance with the Pandavas. Around this time, Balarama is seriously considering giving Subhadra in marriage to Duryodhana. Krishna interrupts this by pushing Arjuna to carry Subhadra away. With this marriage, Dwaraka becomes an ally through marriage of the Pandavas.
Read on to discover more about Arjuna’s marriage to Subhadra.
(For answers to all Arjuna-related questions, see Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Arrival at Prabhasa
At the end of Arjuna’s travels along the southern coast of India (then called Bharatavarsha, one presumes), he reaches a sacred spot on the western coast called Prabhasa.
This place exists on the outskirts of the city of Dwaraka, where Balarama rules over the kingdom of Anarta with the help of his brother, Krishna.
At this point in the story, Krishna and Balarama have only once met the Pandavas – at Draupadi’s swayamvara – and there is no friendship to speak of between them.
Still, Arjuna is a close blood-relative, so when Krishna hears that his cousin has arrived at Prabhasa, he goes there and receives him with due respect. He asks after the welfare of the Pandavas, of Draupadi and of Kunti.
Arjuna tells Krishna everything about his travels, and the two men spend some quiet time together at Prabhasa. After this, Krishna takes his guest in a golden chariot into Dwaraka.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 13: Exile of Arjuna.)
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.’
‘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?’
Arjuna asks Krishna, ‘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.’
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 3: Amba, Ambika and Ambalika.)
‘She undoubtedly will. But that should not deter you, Partha, for this form of marriage has received sanction from the scriptures.’
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 were 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.
‘What do you have to say now, Krishna?’ asks Balarama. ‘It was on your say-so that we entertained Arjuna here in Dwaraka. And look how he has repaid us.
‘He has placed his foot on the crown on my head. How shall I tamely bear it? Today I shall single-handedly wipe out the Kauravas from the Earth, and Arjuna shall die in my hands.’
Krishna lets Balarama speak to the end, and then clears his throat. ‘You say that Arjuna has brought dishonour upon us, Brother,’ he says, ‘but you do not say how.
‘If anything, he has enhanced the reputation of the Vrishnis, because by performing this act, he has made it clear that he seeks an alliance of marriage with us while simultaneously displaying his strength and valour.
‘He did not wish to leave matters to chance at a swayamvara, so like any able-bodied Kshatriya, he performed the one act that was in his power.
‘If he reaches Indraprastha with Subhadra, then the reputation of the Yadavas is gone. So send some of your fastest riders behind him, but instead of asking them to fight Arjuna – for who can win against him in battle but Mahadeva himself? – ask them to invite him back to the kingdom.
‘If you ask me, Arjuna will be waiting for your messengers just outside the city.’
Indeed, it happens as Krishna says. Balarama sends out riders after Arjuna, who find him just outside Dwaraka’s border. They invite him back into the city so that he could be united in marriage to Subhadra.
Marriage to Subhadra
Arjuna spends a whole year in Dwaraka after the wedding, which happens to be the twelfth and last year of his exile. Soon after, he brings Subhadra to Khandavaprastha, the court of Yudhishthir.
Accompanying the couple are armies of servants and noblemen from the various Yadava tribes, with Balarama and Krishna at their head. They bring untold wealth with them as Subhadra’s dower.
It is said that Draupadi gets jealous at her husband’s philandering ways, and when she first meets Arjuna, she asks, ‘Why have you come here, Partha? Go to the Vrishni princess. After all, has it not been said that a man’s second wife is always the favoured one?’
Subhadra then, on the behest of Arjuna, dresses in the style of a simple cowherd and wins over Draupadi by proclaiming herself, with suitable theatrics, a mere maid of the queen.
Implications for Anarta
At first glance, this alliance is not very profitable for Balarama because Arjuna is only the third in line to the throne at Khandavaprastha, and even then, Arjuna’s first wife is Draupadi.
Subhadra’s children have no conceivable path to any position of status in Yudhishthir’s court. In contrast, if Balarama succeeds in marrying Subhadra off to – say – Duryodhana, then she has much better prospects. By association, Anarta’s future will also be brighter.
But this association with Arjuna is sought after almost exclusively by Krishna, who must have seen something about his friend during the time they spend together in Prabhasa.
He is convinced that the Pandavas are the future super powers, despite their current mediocre status. That is why he argues in Arjuna’s favour against Balarama and ensures that this wedding happens.
In hindsight, Anarta gains much from this renewed friendship with the Pandavas. They become an important ally to Yudhishthir when he becomes emperor. Equally, Anarta also maintains cordial relations with Kuru.
This diplomatic feat of being friendly with both quarrelling Kuru factions results in the ultimate coup: Anarta remains neutral – and therefore is harmed the least – in the Kurukshetra war. As the dust settles, Anarta emerges as the sole superpower.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 32: Krishna Becomes Charioteer.)
Implications for the Pandavas
On the other hand, this alliance is a wonderful opportunity for Yudhishthir’s foreign policy because Anarta is by this time already well-established in the west. Balarama had already united the Yadava tribes into one.
With this marriage, Yudhishthir also strengthens his ties indirectly with Shurasena and Kunti, which will later help him in his push against the likes of Magadha, Mathura and Chedi.
We must remember that at this time, Yudhishthir is not yet an emperor. He is only a small king of a part of the Kuru kingdom, still very much under the thumb of Dhritarashtra. Anarta, by any measure, is Yudhishthir’s first significant ally.
Immediately after the wedding, Krishna helps Arjuna in levelling the forest of Khandava, and in procuring the treasures of Vindu which lead directly to the building of the great hall of Indraprastha.
And then Krishna guides Yudhishthir carefully through the Rajasuya. He becomes instrumental in making Yudhishthir emperor of the world.
While Arjuna could not possibly have foreseen all of this at the time of his proposal to marry Subhadra, he must have seen the political advantages that will accrue to Yudhishthir with the support of Krishna and Balarama.
Arjuna visits Dwaraka toward the end of his twelve-year exile, and becomes the honoured guest of Krishna. He sees Subhadra, and is described as being smitten by her at first sight.
While romantic love may have played its part, Arjuna must have seen the potential diplomatic advantages that lie in strengthening the Pandava-Vrishni relationship by marrying Subhadra.
On the other side, Krishna must have foreseen that the Pandavas will rise in power in the near future, and that Anarta is better served being their ally while also remaining friendly with Kuru.
So he argues with Balarama in favour of Arjuna, and insists that the wedding should happen.
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