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: Why did Draupadi not marry Krishna?
Krishna attends Draupadi’s swayamvara and announces that he does not intend to participate in the event. This is a signal sent out to everyone – including Draupadi – that he is not interested in marrying her. Also, Drupada wishes his daughter to be married to Arjuna. Draupadi therefore never looks at herself as Krishna’s prospective wife.
Read on to discover more about why Draupadi did not marry Krishna in the Mahabharata.
(For answers to all Draupadi-related questions, see Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered.)
A swayamvara that is not
Though Drupada organises a ceremony to choose a groom for Draupadi and calls it a swayamvara (loosely translates to ‘self-choice’), the rules surrounding the event are such that Draupadi has little to no freedom about whom to marry.
Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of swayamvaras in the Mahabharata and Ramayana universes:
- The first is a ‘true’ swayamvara in which the maiden walks around the hall from suitor to suitor, garland in hand, while one of her companions introduces each man. When the princess finds someone she likes, she garlands him.
- The second is a competition in which all suitors hoping to win the maiden’s hand should participate. The winner will be given the girl in marriage as a prize.
Readers will note that in the Ramayana, Sita’s swayamvara is also of the latter kind: Janaka announces that whoever is able to wield the bow of Shiva will become husband to the princess.
In the Mahabharata, Drupada designs one such test for Draupadi’s suitors. He decrees that whoever shoots a revolving fish in the eye while looking at its reflection in the water will marry his daughter.
(Suggested: What happens during Draupadi’s swayamvara?)
The Woman’s Freedom
Needless to say, this sort of swayamvara is not worthy of the name at all because the woman is stripped of all her freedom. She has no control over who will win the test that has been set. And she has no right to reject a suitor after he has won the game.
However, it does seem from Draupadi’s rejection of Karna – and its mute acceptance by all attendees – that the girl does have the right to reject a suitor before he tries his hand at the task.
In the Ramayana, though, in some versions, Sita is depicted as being stricken with fear when Ravana strides up to Shiva’s bow with the intention of picking it up. If she had the right to reject him, why didn’t she?
This point, therefore, is debatable. Perhaps Draupadi’s rejection of Karna does not attract any backlash because Karna is a low-born man – whereas Ravana in the Ramayana is one of the great kings.
Design with a Purpose
Generally, this swayamvara format is favoured by kings who know two things:
- Their daughters are beautiful enough to attract a large number of eligible and powerful suitors
- Their kingdoms are big and influential enough so that they want their daughters to marry someone who is comparable in wealth.
In Drupada’s case, he wishes Draupadi to marry the Pandavas and hopefully become their primary political ally in their ongoing quarrel against the Kuru house. So he designs a task that only Arjuna can successfully complete.
(Suggested: Did Draupadi insult Karna?)
All of this is of course known to Draupadi. Going into the swayamvara, therefore, she knows that the intended winner of the event is Arjuna alone. The rest of it is just political theatre.
Her rejection of Karna is also probably planned by Drupada. Because it is well-known that any archery feat that Arjuna can perform is also within Karna’s reach, Drupada instructs Draupadi to reject Karna publicly in the event he tries to participate.
Krishna and Balarama
Draupadi’s swayamvara is also significant to the story for one another reason: it is where Balarama and Krishna make their first appearance.
Thus far, they have been busy making a name for themselves among the middle kingdoms. A summary of their life so far:
- They grew up fostered in the house of Nanda in Vrindavan, as cowherds.
- They overthrew their uncle Kamsa and annexed Mathura their parent kingdom of Shurasena.
- They clashed with Jarasandha of Magadha, lost, and migrated westward to the ocean’s edge, where they founded a city called Dwaraka.
- Here they unified the Vrishni tribes under one banner, and set up a kingdom called Anarta.
At this point in the tale, it does not seem as if any of the northern kingdoms – Kuru, Panchala and so on – have much of an idea or opinion about Krishna or Balarama.
Whether Drupada invites them personally or whether they attend on their own (as people are allowed to at a swayamvara) is also unclear. But what is clear is this: they announce right at the outset that they do not intend to compete for Draupadi’s hand.
We can therefore speculate about Krishna and Balarama’s intentions for attending Draupadi’s swayamvara. If they do not wish to participate, why are they there?
It is probable that around this time, Krishna and Balarama have secured a firm footing as rulers of Anarta. They are now looking to expand their reach into the northern part of the country.
(Suggested: Did Draupadi love Krishna?)
We must note that their strategy to unite the Vrishnis has been almost entirely diplomatic. They had failed with violence and war against Jarasandha. So their plan for extending Anarta’s power northward would have been – at this stage – to get to know the main players and perhaps create some trade alliances.
They would have figured that Draupadi’s swayamvara would attract all the powerful kings. So they decide to attend as mere ‘spectators’.
Why did Krishna not participate?
If the preceding section is assumed to be true, would it not be in Krishna’s best interests – some may ask – to participate in the ceremony, win Draupadi’s hand, and immediately gain Panchala as an ally?
This looks persuasive at first glance, but let us examine the possibilities:
- Krishna perhaps is not as good an archer as Arjuna and Karna. He would have immediately judged the task as beyond his ability. Instead of publicly failing at the feat, he decides it is better to abstain.
- Even if Krishna is capable of shooting the fish in the eye, he would have seen that winning Draupadi’s hand on that day will win him more enemies – out of envy, because he is a stranger, and so on – than friends.
(Suggested: How was Draupadi related to Krishna?)
- Panchala, at this point, is not powerful enough to interest Anarta. We must remember that Panchala has recently lost half its kingdom to Kuru. Krishna’s sights are set – probably – on Kuru, therefore.
All of this means that Krishna is not interested in Draupadi as his bride.
But we must also note one thing: even if he had participated and won her hand, Krishna would have handed her over to Balarama as wife because a strong alliance between Anarta and Panchala would happen only if Balarama the king marries Drupada’s daughter.
Let us recap once again why Krishna and Draupadi do not marry each other:
- Drupada’s intention is for Draupadi to get married to Arjuna – so that she will give him the leverage required to win his old feud with Kuru and Drona.
- Draupadi’s expectation is also to marry Arjuna. She does not have the freedom to choose her suitor, even allowing for the assumption that she knows about Krishna and would have garlanded him in a more traditional event.
- Krishna does not wish to win Draupadi’s hand because Panchala is not a desirable ally for Anarta at this stage. It is also possible that he is not skilful enough to complete the archery task set by Drupada.
Krishna and Draupadi, therefore, settle into a sibling-like relationship after her marriage to the Pandavas.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story
- 300+ Mahabharata Stories to Thrill, Delight and Enchant You