Mahabharat Episode 21: Draupadi - Born for Revenge
In this Mahabharat episode, we see why Draupadi came into being, as a means for her father to extract revenge upon Drona and the Kuru clan.
The Kaurava brothers went on an attack with great fervor, while the Pandavas stayed back and watched. Drupada’s army was completely unprepared. They did not understand why these guys were suddenly coming and attacking the city for no apparent reason. When they realized they were being attacked, the common citizenry came out of their homes with kitchen knives, ladles, sticks and whatever else they could lay their hands on. They fought the Kauravas and beat them back. Defeated by common people, the Kaurava brothers returned in shame. Then Drona said to Arjuna, “It is you who has to offer the guru dakshina. You must get Drupada.”
Bhima and Arjuna went, quietly slipped into the city, captured Drupada, tied him up, took him with them, and laid him at Drona’s feet. The moment Drupada looked at Drona, he knew Drona was the one who got these young boys to capture him, a great warrior, and throw him at Drona’s feet as a prisoner. Then Drona said, “Now we cannot talk about sharing, because we are not equals. You are lying before me as a slave. I received you as a gift from my boys. I can do whatever I please. But I have been your friend – I will spare your life.”
For a Kshatriya, the worst thing that you can do is defeat him and spare his life. That is what Drona wanted. He knew that telling Drupada that he would spare his life was the worst thing to happen to him, even more so since it came from a Brahmana. He continued saying, “Half of your kingdom is mine. As a friend, I will give you the other half. Go and rule the other half – one part of the kingdom is mine.” Burning with shame, rage, and hatred, Drupada went back to the other half of his kingdom, unable to face his citizenry after this great humiliation. That was not something that people could accept. He was raging.
He prayed to Shiva and said, “I want a child who will take revenge,” because once he had lost a battle with someone, he had lost the right to call him for a duel. A child was born, but it was a girl. Drupada could not believe it. He asked Shiva, “I wanted a child to take revenge. But now I got a girl. How will this girl take revenge?” From day one, he started dressing her up like a boy. He did not want people to know that she was a girl. He pretended that she was a boy and started training her as if she was a boy. This girl was the reincarnation of Amba, who was now known as Shikhandi.
Drupada not only wanted to take revenge on Drona but on the whole Kuru clan, because these boys were the ones who captured him. He wanted to kill them all, and the pillar of the Kuru clan was Bhishma. He knew that if he knocked Bhishma down, the whole clan would collapse. At the age of fourteen, Shikhandi disappeared. They were distraught and looked for her everywhere, but they could not find her. She went into the forest to train by herself, because she had come of age and wanted to hide it. She did not want anyone to know that she was a girl. Seeing her plight, Stunakarna, a yaksha in the forest, helped her. He said, “I will give you manhood,” and using his magical powers he made her into a man. He said, “This will see you through in social situations. In real terms, you are still a woman.”
Born of Fire
Drupada’s only purpose of life was to somehow bring Drona to shame and the Kuru clan down. He looked for someone who could perform a yagna for him that would give him children who would be capable of defeating Drona and the Kuru clan. He got Yaja and Upayaja, two well-known tantrics of the time, to perform a Putrakarma Yagna for him. Drupada prayed, “I want a son who will kill Drona, and a daughter who will divide the Kuru House.” After an elaborate yagna, they extracted a young man and a young woman from the fire.
These two, Drishtadhyumna and Draupadi, were not born out of the union of a man and a woman – they were born of fire. They came to life with the single purpose of revenge. From the outset, Drupada kept telling them their only purpose of life was to take revenge on Drona and the Kuru clan. That means while the Kuru clan was struggling among themselves, a formidable enemy was growing in their neighborhood.
Drupada wanted his daughter to get married to the greatest archer and warrior, so that they could take revenge. He looked for a suitable candidate but did not find anyone who could beat Drona. Then he came to hear of all the battles Krishna had fought successfully. Seventeen times, Jarasandha and his army attacked Mathura. Though the Yadava army was only one tenth of Jarasandha’s army, Krishna and Balarama beat them back every time with guile and valor.
For the eighteenth attack, Jarasandha gathered a few other kings from the northwest, in the present region of Afghanistan. They came with their armies and surrounded Mathura from all directions. When Krishna saw that an overwhelming military force surrounded Mathura and would annihilate the Yadavas if they stayed and tried to fight them back, he convinced the whole population to leave Mathura and travel thirteen hundred kilometers down to Dwaraka in Gujarat. Hundreds of people died on this exodus through the desert of Rajasthan.
Moving to Dwaraka
Originally, they had planned to build a new city, but when they came to Dwaraka, they found a well-built city on a small island. Krishna felt that this island city was strategically the best location for them. The city was ruled by King Revata. King Revata had a daughter whose name was Revati. In a strategic alliance, Krishna got Balarama married to Revati, and they occupied Dwaraka. The Yadavas moved into Dwaraka, and Krishna effortlessly seized the surrounding small kingdoms. Wherever conquest was needed, he conquered them. Wherever he could include them through a strategic marriage, he married a princess to establish peace.
In those days, family relations were most important, and strategic marriages were sometimes the only way to make peace with an opponent. If you give your daughter in marriage to someone, you cannot wage a war against him anymore. Krishna also abducted Rukmini, and defeated her elder brother Rukmi, who was a great warrior, and Shishupala, who was known as the Bull of Chedi. Krishna had even shamed Jarasandha once in a duel. Because of all these feats, his valor and skill as a warrior became widely recognized.
A Dangerous Beauty
Drupada thought Krishna was the best man for his daughter. He sent word to Krishna, asking him to marry her. Krishna tried to dodge it, but the problem was, had he flatly refused, it would have been an affront, and Drupada would have called for battle. But since he did not want to marry Draupadi, Krishna extricated himself out of the situation in a very artful way, saying, “I am just a cowherd. How can I marry Draupadi? She is a queen.”
Krishna married many other queens, but Draupadi stood out. The scripture describes her as the most beautiful woman on the planet. She had a dark, velvety complexion. It also says that when a woman is this beautiful, invariably, she will cause problems. Invariably, people will fight over her. Countries will be divided; brothers will fight; bad things will happen.
Krishna tried to convince Drupada to arrange a swayamvara. At first, Drupada objected, saying that he did not see any warriors who were sufficiently capable. But Krishna said, “A fiery woman like Draupadi should make her own choice. You should not choose for her.” He suggested setting up a swayamvara with a contest, and Draupadi could choose whoever won. Krishna’s guru, Sandipani himself, devised the competition. They created a matsya yantra, which was a simple machine with a wooden fish on the top that was revolving. There was a pool of oil next to it.
The archer was supposed to hit the eye of the fish, only looking at the reflection of it in the oil. The one who hit the mark would get a chance to marry the princess, if she chose him. After much debate with Krishna, Drupada agreed to this idea and announced the swayamvara.
To be continued…
Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published in Isha Forest Flower October 2016. Download as PDF on a “name your price, no minimum” basis or subscribe to the print version.