Mahabharat Episode 22: Draupadi’s Predicament
In this Mahabharat episode, Arjuna emerges victorious at Draupadi’s swayamvara, but a command from Kunti turns into a predicament for the bride, who suddenly finds herself with five husbands instead of one.
What has happened so far: Drupada announced the swayamvara for his daughter Draupadi, which was to include a competition that only the best warriors could win.Sadhguru: The five Pandava brothers heard of the swayamvara, and so did every other Kshatriya in Bharatvarsh. They invited as many eligible candidates as possible so that the bravest and most skillful warrior would become Drupada’s son-in-law. After all, the purpose of this marriage was revenge on Drona and the House of Kuru.
When the time of the swayamvara came, all these warriors gathered, including Duryodhana and the Kauravas, Karna, and the Pandavas, who were still in disguise. No one knew they were still alive – except Krishna, who had sent his spies and found out that it was the Nishada woman and her five children who died in the fire, not Kunti and the Pandava brothers. He did not know where they were, but there was no doubt in his mind that once they got the news, they would not be able to resist – they would definitely participate.
Krishna came with his Yadava warriors to surround the swayamvara, to be able to intervene if trouble broke out. Everyone wanted the hand of Draupadi. One reason was that she was an incredibly beautiful woman; another reason was that Drupada was a very powerful king. His was a huge empire that everyone wanted to forge an alliance with.
On the day of the contest, there was a flurry of events. Every candidate came, one by one, trying his luck. But many of them did not even know how to string this special, occult bow. And the warriors who did manage to string it could not shoot it straight, looking at the reflection of the rotating fish alone.
Duryodhana Bows Out
Duryodhana would have wanted to enter and win the challenge himself, but he did not want to take a chance and lose, so he first sent his brother Dusshasana to try the challenge without winning it. Dusshasana, a proud and brave warrior, went and tried to string the bow, but he failed. Upon seeing that his brother could not do it, Duryodhana left it too, to avoid the shame of failure. Then Karna stepped forward – he was among the last of the warriors who had lined up for the contest.
He walked in with a swagger, effortlessly strung the bow, and got ready to shoot. Looking at him, Arjuna knew he would hit the fish’s eye. But he also knew that even though Duryodhana had made him a king and included him as one of them, he still had the reputation of being a suta putra – a charioteer’s son. Likewise, Krishna saw that Karna entering the competition was not part of the plan, and that this formidable warrior had the ability to strike home.
Every time a new warrior came, Draupadi glanced at Krishna, waiting for a signal from him if that was the suitor she should choose. So far, every time, Krishna had smiled, enjoying the whole show. Then she knew that this was not the right one. Anyway, a lot of them could not even string the bow, let alone hit the fish’s eye. But even if they did not succeed in the contest, she still could have chosen one of them if she wanted.
When Karna came, Krishna closed his eyes and said to Draupadi, “I fear for you because this is not according to the script. This one would be able to do it.” Draupadi stood there with the wedding garland in her hands and her brother Drishtadhyumna by her side. When Karna came closer, she told her brother, loud enough for Karna to hear it, “I don’t want to marry a suta.” She did not even say “suta putra.”
Drishtadhyumna proclaimed, “My sister does not want to marry a suta. So don’t take the trouble of even trying.” Shamed in front of the whole assembly, Karna put his head down but gave Draupadi a vengeful glance and said, “When my time comes, I will not spare you.” He withdrew in great shame.
Then Arjuna, in the guise of a young Brahmana, stood up, came forward, and said, “Now that none of the Kshatriyas have been able to win the contest, can I have a shot?” Drishtadhyumna was confused, not knowing if he should allow a Brahmana to compete. He looked at Krishna. Krishna dropped something and bent down to pick it up, which was as good as a nod. Drishtadhyumna said, “Yes, if you want to compete, you may. But all the warriors have failed. How will you do it?”
The Brahmana came, did three pradakshinas for the bow, prostrated before it as if it was the culmination of his destiny, then picked up the bow, effortlessly strung it, looked at the reflection, and shot. Every warrior had five chances to hit the eye of the fish. He shot five arrows in such quick succession that a line of arrows hit the eye and the fish fell down.
There was a roar of appreciation from the Brahmanas and other non-Kshatriyas who had come to see the contest. The Kshatriyas however, roared in anger, “This is not right! How can a princess get married to a Brahmana? Now a Brahmana has won the contest, and, according to the Arya dharma, we cannot kill a Brahmana. But it is Drishtadhyumna who allowed him to participate. Let us kill him.” They all drew their swords.
Immediately, Bhima, Nakula, Sahadeva, and Arjuna stood up, ready to fight. Bhima uprooted a small tree and used it to knock everyone down who went towards Drishtadhyumna. Arjuna picked up the bow and created havoc around him. Then the Yadavas moved in to back them up. Together, they managed to gain control of the situation.
Draupadi garlanded Arjuna. Arjuna and his four brothers took her to their mother’s home. Kunti was cooking. Whenever they, in the guise of Brahmanas, went out to beg for food, upon their return, they always placed it at her feet. It was up to her to divide the food, and she always divided it into two halves – one for Bhima, the other for the four brothers.
They walked in and said, “Mother, see what we have brought today.” Without looking up, she said, “Whatever it is, share it among yourselves.” Aghast, they said, “Mother, it’s a woman. We have brought a princess.” She turned around, looked at Draupadi, the most stunning woman she had ever seen, and said, “It doesn’t matter. I told you to share, and that’s it.”
They were confused; Draupadi was shocked. She was happy that this brave warrior had won her hand in the contest, but this mother saying they should share her was not going according to plan. The brothers did not know how to go about it. They went back to Drupada’s palace. Krishna and Vyasa were also present there.
A debate arose, “How can five men marry one woman?” The Pandava brothers said to Drupada, “Once our mother wills something, whatever it is, we have to do it. Arjuna alone cannot marry her. Either all five of us marry her, or you can take your daughter back.”
The Five Husbands
It would have been a complete insult for Drupada if someone returned his daughter after the swayamvara. Still, he did not know what to do. People asked Krishna for his advice, but he deliberately remained silent, looking at the ceiling with a big smile.
Draupadi fell at Vyasa’s feet and said, “You are a wise man. Tell me, how can they get me into such a situation that I have to marry five men? This is not dharma, and I will not do it.” Vyasa said, “You have three options. You can marry only Arjuna now; he will take you away, he will be in love with you, but after some time, he will resent it because he had to leave his brothers and his mother for you. Resentment will slowly turn into bitterness; bitterness will turn into hatred over a period of time.”
He added, “This is how most couples live.” Initially, it is a big love affair. But if someone insists you must part with your mother, your brothers, and your clan, this love affair will turn into resentment over a period of time. Especially for Arjuna, this would have held absolutely true.
“So this is your choice – you can enjoy a short, great love affair with your husband, but over time, he will resent the separation from his brothers and mother and hold you responsible for that. Or you can reject the whole marriage and go back to your father. But then, no other great warrior will come forward to marry you, because they will not see you as a prize anymore. You may remain a spinster forever and stay in your father’s house, which your brother will resent after some time.
Or you marry these five men. If these five brothers stay together, they will make their own destiny and rule the world. And you, as their common wife, will have the pride of keeping them together. These are the three options you have. Choose whatever you wish.”
Overwhelmed by these choices, she fainted. They brought her back to consciousness. Then Vyasa went a step further and made her see that in her previous life, she was the daughter of Nala and Damayanti. Nala was the king of Vidarbha, and, according to the lore, the best cook on the planet. The love between Nala and Damayanti is legendary. In that lifetime, when she was a young woman, she prayed to Shiva.
In response to her penance, Shiva appeared, slightly inebriated, and in a generous mood. She said, “Oh Mahadeva, I want a husband. I want a just husband; I want a strong husband; I want a brave husband; I want a wise husband, and I want a very handsome husband. Shiva said, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes,” – five times. When Draupadi had this glimpse into her past life, she realized it was her own doing. Although what she actually wanted was one husband with all these qualities, she inadvertently had asked for five husbands. And Shiva granted that wish. So she married the five men.
Krishna stepped in and suggested a marital arrangement between Draupadi and her five husbands. He said to her, “Be with each brother for one year. If during that one year, another brother even as much as inadvertently steps into your bedroom, he has to go into the jungle for one year.”
They were allowed to take other wives outside of this arrangement, but those wives were not supposed to live in the palace. Their common wife Draupadi became the binding force that kept the five Pandava brothers together. This empowered them to work towards the fulfillment of their destiny: ruling the nation. Additionally strengthened through the alliance with Drupada, they went back to Hastinapura.
To be continued…
Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published in Isha Forest Flower November 2016. Download as PDF on a “name your price, no minimum” basis or subscribe to the print version.