Shakuni making his move in the game of dice

When an event of great significance occurs in a story, the reactions of people, in response to that event, give us insights into their nature. These insights help us unravel the thread of subtle dharma in works such as the Mahabharata.
As we know, Duryodhan was filled with jealousy when he witnessed Yudhishthira’s affluence, popularity, virtue, and power during the latter’s Rajasuya Yagna at Indraprastha. Unable to control his jealousy, Duryodhana convinced his father — King Dhritarashtra — to invite the Pandavas to a game of dice. He planned to appoint Shakuni to play on his behalf and rob the Pandavas of their wealth and kingdom.
Shakuni defeated Yudhishthira, through deceitful play, and won the Pandava’s wealth and kingdom. However, by this time, Shakuni, who was drunk on his winning streak, prodded Yudhishthira (who was weakened by his resolve to not decline a challenge) to stake his brothers and himself.
Unsurprisingly, Shakuni won, but, what was surprising is that the game did not stop even then. Shakuni prodded Yudhishthira to stake Draupadi.
It was unimaginable, but Yudhishthira agreed, and all the elders in the assembly hall were shocked and agitated and fell into grief as we see in the two excerpts below.

However, there was one elder who, despite an outward act of virtue, was quite pleased and eager to witness the Pandavas’ humiliation. That elder was Dhritarashtra, as we see in the excerpt below.

Karna and Dussasana laughed, Shakuni was eager to win, and everyone else cried with grief.

Credit: The above excerpts are from Kisari Mohan Ganguli’s translation of The Mahabharata.

Author’s Note: I was surprised by two characters’ responses while reading this passage.

The first was Dhritarashtra. His indulgent attitude toward Duryodhan and jealousy toward the Pandavas are well known. It came as no surprise when he sanctioned the game of dice, but it was a big surprise to see the King so eager to witness Draupadi being lost in the game of dice.

The other moment of surprise was Karna’s reaction. He is popularly thought of as a generous and noble person who had to deal with exceedingly unfortunate circumstances. However, laughing when Draupadi was staked is hardly a sign of nobility. While it is true that Karna was generous, his nobility is questionable. We will see in future posts that Karna behaved quite abhorrently after Yudhishthira lost Draupadi.

Duryodhana falls into water
Duryodhana falling into an indoor water body

There is an often attributed incident to Draupadi, where she is said to have called Duryodhan a “blind man’s son” after he mistook an artificial pond in their palace at Indraprastha for a crystal floor and slipped into the water. This narrative has been promoted by TV serials, abridged versions, and retellings of the epic. The dialogue that’s popularly used is “Andhe ka putra bhi andha!” It means: a blind man’s son is also blind.

But is this incident really mentioned in the Mahabharata? The short answer is NO — it is not mentioned anywhere in the Unabridged Mahabharata. In the rest of the article, I will describe (with quotes) everything that happened in the Pandava’s palace at Indraprastha, the day after the Rajasuya Yagna, when Duryodhan fell into the indoor pond of water.

I’ll begin with a little background.

The Pandavas established Indraprastha as the capital city of their Kingdom after Dritarashtra gave them the Khandavprastha region, of the ancestral kingdom, as their share. The first goal of the Pandavas was to bring well-being and prosperity to the citizens of the kingdom. After succeeding in this goal, Yudhishthira expressed the desire to perform the Rajasuya Yagna and become the emperor of Bharat. Subsequently, the four Pandavas (Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadev) set out in the four directions, brought all the surrounding kingdoms under their sway, and returned to Indraprastha with large tributes.

Sometime after this, Yudhishthira invited all the kings, who had accepted him as the emperor, and relatives/well-wishers to the final Rajasuya Yagna where he would be crowned as the emperor of Bharat. After the yagna was complete, all the kings returned to their respective kingdoms. However, Duryodhana and Sakuni stayed back to inspect the Pandavas’ magnificent palace.

The day after the yagna, Duryodhan and Sakuni walked around the palace and marveled at the extraordinary designs of the kind they had never seen before in Hastinapur. As we will see in the passage below, Duryodhan bumbled a lot in the palace. He mistook the crystal floor to be an indoor pond and he mistook an indoor pond for a crystal floor. As a result, he fell into the water and got himself wet. When the Pandava brothers saw his bumbling, they laughed aloud. Even the menials laughed at Duryodhan.

The passage where the Pandavas laughed at Duryodhan

Unfortunately, Duryodhan’s misery had no bounds because he went on to be further confounded in the palace. He mistook doors for walls and walls for doors, as seen in the passage below. After several such moments, he took leave from the Pandavas and returned to Hastinapur with his uncle, Shakuni.

Duryodhan leaves for Hastinpur after a few more embarrassing incidents.

As we can see, Draupadi was not even in the picture, so there was no question of her insulting Duryodhan and King Dhritarashtra.

Another important point to note (as we will see in future posts) is that Draupadi did not insult the Kuru elders even when she was disrobed after the game of dice, so it’s really far-fetched to assume that she would have uttered unkind words to uncle, Dhritarashtra, and brother-in-law, Duryodhan, in her own palace.

Now, I’ll jump ahead to another passage. Later, when Duryodhan reached his palace, he recounted the incident to his father, Dhritarashtra. In this talk, he mentioned that Draupadi had laughed at him.

See the passage below.

The passage where Duryodhan narrates, to Dritharashtra, how he was insulted.

As we can see in the passage above, the only thing Duryodhana mentioned to his father was that Draupadi and other servants laughed at him. There was no mention of Draupadi calling him a blind man’s son.

This incident of Draupadi telling Duryodhana: “Andhe ka putra bhi andha,” is purely a figment of certain people’s imagination that has been repeated without verification.

Reading the critical edition of the Vyasa Mahabharata will debunk many such ‘common myths’ and help us separate fact from fiction. Check out the English translation of the critical edition by Bibek Debroy. The Mahabharata: Volume 2 covers this incident and more.

The reason why I consider this piece of information important is because the Mahabharata is an epic about the subtle dharma. In certain instances, the subtle dharma is clearly elucidated by Vyasa Muni and, in other instances, it is left to the reader to introspect and decipher the subtle dharma. In this spiritual exercise, the actions, words, and dilemmas of the characters in the Mahabharata become pointers to the subtle dharma (that is described as being beyond human logic and morality). These are small factoids that the reader considers to understand what the subtle dharma might mean. When we twist these seemingly small details, we obscure the subtle dharma that Vyasa-Muni wanted to describe, thus reducing the Mahabharata from being the fifth Veda into being a mere story of the rivalry between cousins.

When Draupadi and the Pandavas returned to Hastinapur after their marriage, King Dritharashtra, divided the Kuru kingdom into two parts. He gave half the kingdom to the Pandavas and the other half to the Kauravas. The Pandavas were given a region called Khandavaprastha which was the most barren part of the Kuru kingdom, while the Kauravas retained the part of the kingdom that flourished. However, even though the Pandavas got the shorter end of the stick, they did not raise any objection. They were content with what they got and worked jointly to turn the barren land into a paradise of abundance, peace, and virtue.

Draupadi lived with her five husbands in the capital city — Indraprastha. It is here that she gave birth to five sons from each of her husbands — the five Pandavas. Each child was born at a gap of one year.

What follows are the names of the five sons of Draupadi along with a description of why that particular name was chosen for the child.


The first child, Prativindhya, was born to Draupadi and Yudhishthira. He was called Prativindhya because he was very strong and had the capacity, much like the Vindhya mountains, to bear any weapon hurled by enemy warriors.


Sutasoma, the second child, was born to Draupadi and Bhima. He was known as Sutasoma because he was born after Bhima performed one thousand sacrifices to the moon deity (Soma).


The third child, Srutakarman, was born to Draupadi and Arjuna. He was known as Srutakarman because he was born after Arjuna had returned from his twelve-year exile where he had performed many brave and valorous actions (karmas).


Draupadi and Nakula’s child, Satanika, was the fourth child. He was named after an illustrious ancestor of the Kuru race.


Srutasena, the fifth child, was born from the union of Draupadi and Sahadev. He was born when the Krittika nakshatra was rising in the heavens. Therefore, he was named from one of the many names of Kartikeyan who is considered to be the general of the Krittika nakshatra.

Grab this 42-book hardcover collection of the Mahabharata with illustrations by Amar Chitra Katha. If you want a Kindle version, check out this compact translation by C Rajagopalachari.

Author’s Note: All of Draupadi’s children were born after Abhimanyu, the son of Subhadra and Arjuna. However, Abhimanyu also wasn’t the eldest of the Uppapandavas (sons of the Pandavas). Abhimanyu had three elder brothers. The eldest was Ghatotkacha (son of Hidimba and Bhima) followed by Iravana (son of Ulupi and Arjuna) followed by Babruvahana (son of Chitrangada and Arjuna).

Image Credit: Statute of Karna from Bali

When Karna and Duryodhana learned that the Pandavas had planned to return to Hastinapura after their marriage with Draupadi, they were concerned about Duryodhana losing their power in the Kuru kingdom. Duryodhana was the crowned prince and did not want to lose that position. Karna, being his close friend, and someone who disliked the Pandavas with the same intensity, supported Duryodhana in every way he could. With a mutual desire to keep the Pandavas out of power, they approached the king, Dhritarashtra, to make a plan against the Pandavas.

After Duryodhana proposed his plan to use deceit against the Pandavas, Karna was asked for his opinion. He began by explaining to Duryodhana why his strategies may not work against the Pandavas, and then went on to propose his own strategy which was to defeat the Pandavas by force.

Karna explains to Duryodhana why using deceit to injure the Pandavas won’t work.
Karna explains to Duryodhana why creating disunion among the Pandavas and Draupadi was not possible.
Karna explains to Duryodhana why King Drupada cannot be turned against the Pandavas.

After politely refuting Duryodhana’s strategy, Karna proposed his own strategy of using force against the Pandavas as long as they were weaker than the Kauravas.

Karna explains to Duryodhana how to use force against the Pandavas.

Karna follows on to justify his proposal using examples of Indra and Bharat. Both Indra, the lord of heaven, and Bharat, an illustrious Kuru ancestor, had used force to bring their opponents under their control. Therefore, according to Karna, using force was the right way for the brave.

Karna’s reasons for using prowess against the Pandavas.

As we can see, Duryodhana wanted to use deceit while Karna wanted to use force to smite the Pandavas. If you’re wondering whose strategy was used, the answer is — in this case, neither. When they presented their strategies to the king, Dhritarashtra asked them to consult with Bhishma and Drona before finalizing the strategy. When they met Bhishma and Drona, Duryodhana did not even put forth his proposal of deceit while Karna’s proposal of using force against the Pandavas was unacceptable to both the elders. Eventually, it was decided that half the kingdom would be given to the Pandavas.

However, the Kauravas did use deceit. While dividing the kingdom, Dhritarashtra gave Khandavaprastha — the most barren part of the kingdom — to the Pandavas, and kept the part that flourished, for his son Duryodhana.

Author’s Note: I am amazed at how this beautiful epic — The Mahabharata — constantly gives us examples that illustrate the subtle dharma — the dharma that goes beyond rules and formulae. Sri Krishna exhorts us to cultivate “yogastha buddhi” to understand the subtle dharma.

In this example, we see how Karna used the same strategy that the great emperor Bharath had used, and yet, King Bharat’s actions were aligned with dharma while Karna’s were not.

Duryodhana as depicted in Javanese Wayang

Duryodhana hated the Pandavas from the very moment they arrived in Hastinapur unannounced after their father, Pandu’s, death. They were bright, noble, and loved by everyone in the royal court and the kingdom. This not only made Duryodhana jealous but also made him insecure because the Pandavas made more worthy contenders to the Kuru throne.

He started plotting against the Pandavas right from when he and the Pandavas were all children. He attempted to kill Bhima but, due to his plot, Bhima became stronger.

Later, he tried to burn them, along with their mother Kunti, in the house of lac. But the Pandavas and their mother escaped that too. Eventually, while they were still in hiding, the Pandavas married Draupadi (the princess of Panchala) and bounced back with greater strength and allies.

Since they were disguised as brahmanas in Draupadi’s swayamavara, nobody knew the Pandavas had escaped, so when Duryodhana heard about their marriage with Draupadi, he was shocked and alarmed. Shocked because he wasn’t expecting them to be alive, and alarmed, because the Pandavas were now stronger with King Drupada and his relatives as their allies.

Duryodhana feared that he would lose the throne of Hastinapur if they returned, so, once again, his devious mind started hatching plots against his cousins. This time, Duryodhana, along with his co-conspirator, Karna, approached Dritharashtra soon after Vidura informed the king about the Pandavas safe escape from the burning house and their marriage to Draupadi.

Duryodhana’s agitated mind had come up with a few scattered ideas to eliminate the Pandavas, or at least, reduce their threat to him. He lay down his ideas to Dhritarashtra and Karna for their opinion.

Duryodhana began his speech by impressing upon Dhritharashtra the importance of acting quickly against the Pandavas.

Following his warning for quick action, Duryodhana proposed these ideas to eliminate or weaken the Pandavas. These ideas give us a clear glimpse into his desperation and deviousness.

Duryodhana’s seemed to have a preference for creating dissent among the Pandavas and Draupadi because he proposed five ideas to this effect.

(Above) Duryodhana’s proposal to use skillful brahmanas to create enmity between the sons of Kunti (Yudhishthira, Bhima, and Arjuna) and the sons of Madri (Nakula and Sahadev)
Proposal to employ spies to create dissent among all the Pandavas.
Proposal to use spies to incite Draupadi against her five Pandava husbands.
Duryodhana’s proposal to somehow turn the Pandavas against Draupadi.
Proposal to tempt the Pandavas with beautiful maidens to turn Draupadi against them.

However, the scheming did not stop here. Duryodhana had a bagful of tricks. One of his big concerns was the Pandavas’ alliance with King Drupada which increased their military might. He made one proposal to prevent King Drupada from supporting the Pandavas in their claim to Hastinapura’s throne.

Duryodhana’s proposal to bribe King Drupada and his ministers.

In this bag of devious tricks were two proposals that were slightly less devious. One was to convince the Pandavas to settle in the land of their father-in-law, thereby removing any threat from them to Hastinapura’s throne. The other was to use politics to keep the Pandavas under control if they appeared to be obedient to the Kuru elders upon returning to Hastinapura.

Proposal to convince the Pandavas to settle in Panchala (away from Hastinapura).
Duryodhana’s proposal to control the obedient Pandavas using politics.

However, last but not the least, Duryodhana’s final two proposals were the most sinister. The first among them was to slay Bhima and, thereby, weaken the Pandavas while the second was to slay all the Pandavas before they reached Hastinapura.

Duryodhana’s proposal to weaken the Pandavas by slaying Bhima.
Duryodhana’s proposal to slay all the Pandavas.

After her wedding with the five Pandavas, Draupadi approached her mother-in-law, Kunti, with reverence. Kunti, filled with joy, pronounced several blessings on Draupadi.

I read through this passage of the Unabridged Mahabharata with a lot of interest because the blessings pronounced by elders to the younger members of their family give us insight into what the culture and that particular section of society held as important.

Let’s take a look at Kunti’s blessings to Draupadi with this view of understanding what a noble and royal mother-in-law would bless her daughter-in-law with.

First of all, Kunti blesses Draupadi with the characteristics of illustrious women known at that time.

Next, she blesses Draupadi with happiness resulting from material possessions, luck, and prosperity.

After that, Kunti blesses Draupadi with the ability to be devoted to her husbands and to wait on her noble husbands when they are engaged in grand sacrifices. Along with devotion to her husbands, Kunti also blesses her daughter-in-law with generosity, so she may not only entertain worthy guests who come to her palace but also give away to brahmanas the material things of the world that have been conquered by her husbands.

She blesses Draupadi with a long life and, as a queen, she is also blessed with the possession of gems that would make Draupadi happy. I like how Kunti balances the material with the spiritual, or artha with dharma.

Finally, Kunti blesses Draupadi with heroic children as well as male progeny who would take their ancestral line ahead.

Author’s Note: These blessings pronounced by Kunti to Draupadi give us a glimpse into what was considered important by those who were noble and royal, in those times. I love how Kunti balances artha, kama, and dharma in her blessings. This balance has always been the foundation of the Sanatana Dharma. Interestingly, Kunti doesn’t speak of moksha, perhaps, because it is not in her power to bless someone with moksha. Those blessings would come from higher spiritual forces such as Lord Krishna or Lord Shiva.

fight after Draupadi's swayamvar

As we know, King Drupada secretly wanted his daughter, Draupadi, to marry the great archer, Arjuna. Therefore, he devised a challenge for Draupadi’s swayamvara, that could only be completed by Arjuna. The challenge was to string a very heavy bow and shoot down a mark that had been placed high up on specially erected machinery.

Powerful kings and princes had come from near and distant kingdoms to participate in the swayamvara. However, none of them were even able to string the bow, let alone shoot the mark.

Note: Karna was able to string the bow, but was restrained by Draupadi from participating in the challenge.

After everyone else had failed, Arjuna (who was disguised as a brahmana youth) got up, strung the bow in the blink of an eye, and shot down the mark with five simultaneous arrows.

King Drupada was delighted and so was Draupadi. Draupadi got up and approached Arjuna with a white robe and garland. I’ve inserted quotes from Kisari Mohan’s translation of the Mahabharata where he describes the expressions of King Drupada and Draupadi (called Krishna in the quote) after Arjuna shot down the mark.

Yudhishthira and the twins leave the swayamvara to return to the potter’s cottage.

However, the monarchs who had assembled there to participate in the swayamvara were deeply unhappy when Drupada expressed his consent to the marriage. They were kings and princes, and even though they were clearly aware of the rules of the challenge, they considered themselves superior in might and splendour to the brahmana youth who had shot down the mark. They believed themselves to be more deserving of Draupadi.

So strong was their insult and indignation that, after a brief consultation with each other, they made a collective decision to spare the brahmana youth and slay Drupada.

When Drupada saw the kings, with Karna leading them, rush towards him with arms in their hands and hostility on their faces, he was taken aback. He took a step back because he feared for his life, however, the brahmana youths (Bhima and Arjuna), comforted him and prepared to fight the assailants.

Bhima uprooted a tree with his bare hands and stood there to face the threat, while Arjuna readied himself with his bow and arrow.

As the monarchs came near, Karna rushed to fight with Arjuna, and Salya (the king of Madra), rushed to fight Bhima. Duryodhana and a few other kshatriyas had minor skirmishes with the other brahmanas in the audience.

Arjuna, who was already prepared with his bow and arrows, shot a volley of arrows at Karna. So quick and fierce was Arjuna’s attack that Karna fainted. However, he recovered quickly and fought with greater care. Both the archers enveloped each other with a shower of arrows until they became invisible to everyone. Only their words could be heard emanating from a cloud of arrows. Karna fought with all his might, but he could not defeat the brahmana. Astonished, Karna asked the brahmana to reveal his identity. However, Arjuna simply said that he was an ordinary brahmana who had been graced by his teacher in the mastery of Brahma and Paurandara weapons. Karna decided to retreat from the fight thinking that Brahma energy was invincible.

Meanwhile, not too far away, Salya and Bhima fought with their hands and legs. They punched each other with their fists and knees. Sometimes, Salya threw Bhima on the ground and dragged him, while, at other times, Bhima threw Salya on the ground and dragged him. The fight continued until Bhima lifted Salya and threw him with enormous force several metres away. Being both noble and skilled, Bhima threw his opponent with perfect dexterity so as to not hurt Salya much.

The remaining kings were alarmed when they saw Salya on the ground and Karna struck with feat (of his opponent’s Brahma energy). They realised these brahmanas were mighty warriors and decided to stop fighting. They agreed, among themselves, that kshatriyas should protect brahmanas and not fight with them.

However, everyone assembled there was curious about one thing — they wanted to know the identity of the brahmanas who had fought so valiantly.

Lord Krishna was also present there and he knew that the brahmanas were none other than Arjuna and Bhima, and he also knew the importance of keeping their identity a secret. Stepping in at the right time, he gently addressed the monarchs and convinced them that the brahmana youth had justly fulfilled the condition of the challenge by bringing down the mark and it was best for everyone to return to their kingdoms without pursuing the matter further.

The kings and princes were convinced by Krishna’s words and prepared to return to their kingdoms without asking any further questions to Drupada or the brahmanas.

Author’s Notes: I’ve read several stories about devas and asuras, and two tendencies (a similarity and a difference) have consistently stood out through these stories. Very often, both the devas and asuras, perform actions motivated by lower emotions such as greed, lust, vengeance, etc. However, a big difference between them is that when the devas are made to understand their wrong ways (usually by the trinity — Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh), they seek forgiveness and try to make amends. The asuras, on the other hand, never (or in very rare cases) accept their mistake. Not only do they never make amends, but they usually dig in their heels and increase the intensity of their adharmic actions.

This tendency is seen in humans also — as we see it in this story, where the kings through fury and jealousy in the spur of the moment, they retreated when Sri Krishna convinced them to do so.

After escaping from the house of lac in Varnavata, Arjuna and the other Pandavas had gone into hiding. Consequently, they lived disguised as brahmanas. The Pandavas continued their disguise even when they went to the Panchala country to attend Draupadi’s swayamvara. Within the amphitheater, they sat, dressed in deesskin, with other brahmanas.

Arjuna did not participate in the contest when the swayamvara began. He remained seated and waited for all the kings and princes to try and bring down the target. However, when none of them were able to attain success, Arjuna got up from his seat and proceeded towards the center of the amphitheater to string the bow and shoot the target.

When the brahmanas saw Arjuna proceed towards the bow, many were happy and cheered for him, some were displeased and actively discouraged him, and the others wondered if he would be able to accomplish such a difficult feat.

It’s a delight to understand these reactions with the help of quotes from the Unabridged Mahabharata.

As we can see from the quote below, most of the brahmanas were happy to see Arjuna proceed towards the bow.

However, not all were happy. They thought a brahmana was naturally unskilled and weak to accomplish a task that required strength and training in arms. They were worried that he would fail and make them the laughing stock of the assembly hall, or, even worse, they might incur the anger of the kings because one of them dared to participate in an event where all the great warriors had failed. Let’s examine the exact words.

However, many brahmanas who saw Arjuna’s strength also spoke out in his favor comparing him with the great brahmana warrior, Parashurama.

I find this incident interesting because it shows how people react when someone tries to step out of their prescribed periphery to accomplish a task that his lot has not yet accomplished. Regardless of their reasons, some will support and some will oppose, some will encourage and some will discourage. But, at the end of the day, we see how Arjuna just went ahead and did what he had to do. And, just like Arjuna, so must we.

Draupadi in the swayamvara hall

King Drupada had erected a massive amphitheater for Draupadi’s swayamvara. It was a grand event where kings and princes arrived from across the country in the hope of winning her hand in marriage.

When Draupadi entered the amphitheater on the 16th day, her brother, Drishtadyumna, took her hand and addressed the assembled kings and princes in a voice as deep as thunder. He explained the challenge devised by his father, King Drupada, to win his sister’s hand in marriage. He went on to tell them that anyone possessed with lineage, beauty, and strength, who is able to shoot the target through the orifice with the five decorated arrows may wed Draupadi.

Here are the exact words according to the Unabridged Mahabharata.

Then he introduced all the kings and princes who were present there, to Draupadi. One by one, he told her their names, lineages, and achievements. After he had introduced everyone to his sister, he invited the participants to approach the bow and target and apply their skills and strength.

The common understanding about Draupadi’s swayamvara is that any person who fulfilled the challenge would marry Draupadi. Many people even think of this challenge disparagingly, because it makes Draupadi appear as some kind of an object that would be awarded to the person who fulfilled the challenge. However, this is not the truth. The contest was designed to ensure that only Arjuna could complete the challenge, and, in the case, someone else got close to winning the challenge, enough stipulations were put in place (along with Draupadi’s own power to deny participation to anyone she did not wish to marry) to ensure they would not be able to marry her.

We see clearly, in the Unabridged Mahabharata, that Drishtadyumna also mentions lineage, beauty, and strength as being necessary for a person to wed Draupadi. It’s a different matter we never encounter the situation where someone who did not possess these qualities shot the target. In fact, none of the participants were even able to string the bow. Not even the mighty Jarasandha. Karna may have succeeded, but Draupadi stopped him. Arjuna, even though dressed in a brahmanas simple garb, was not stopped by anyone. Most likely, because he looked very noble; like a celestial being. We know that from these words a few brahmana friends of the Pandavas used to describe them. (Note: In the passage below, Draupadi is referred to as Krishna)

The simple truth is that Draupadi was not an object that would be given away to the person who won the contest. Far from it. She was the goddess incarnate and the contest was designed to ensure that only Arjuna could win it.

After Draupadi’s swayamvar, she (cheerfully) went with Arjuna and Bhima to the potter’s house where the Pandavas were staying in disguise.

The next day, King Drupada (Draupadi’s father), sent his priest to the potter’s house to invite them for a feast at his palace.

Till this point, the king did not know their identity. He had a strong feeling, based on his son, Dhrishtadyumna’s, secret observations, that the youth who had fulfilled the difficult challenge, was none other than Arjuna, but he still wasn’t certain. After Kunti, Draupadi, and the Pandavas arrived at his palace, Drupada asked Yudhishthira about their identity. Yudhishthira, knew that King Drupada cherished the desire to marry his daughter Draupadi to Arjuna. He finally revealed their true identity to King Drupada in his palace.

King Drupada was not only relieved that his daughter was about to be married into a noble and virtuous family, but he was also overjoyed and exuberant that his desire for obtaining Arjuna as his son-in-law was fulfilled. He suggested that Arjuna and Draupadi perform the marriage rites immediately since it was an auspicious day. Till this point, King Drupada was unaware of what had transpired at the potter’s house between Kunti, Draupadi, and the five Pandavas, and about the proposal that she marry all five brothers.

It was only when he suggested the marriage rites, that Yudhishthira said, he too would have to marry Draupadi. This took the king by surprise. He (possibly) did not register the implication of what Yudhishthira had just said, so he suggested that instead of Arjuna marrying Draupadi, Yudhishthira, being the eldest brother, may marry her. However, Yudhishthira clarified that all five brothers would have to marry Draupadi.

This proposal made King Drupada very uneasy. He was put into a dilemma, because he was unsure of the morality of one woman marrying five men and, he did not want his daughter to enter into a morally questionable alliance.

It was during this critical and delicate situation that Ved Vyasa came to the palace. Everyone immediately stopped the discussion to welcome and worship the great rishi. After honouring the sage, the king approached him with his doubts regarding the proposed marriage.

Quoting from the unabridged Mahabaharata, below.

Ved Vyasa replied that the practice of one woman having many husbands had become obsolete because it was opposed to the Vedas and present-day customs, but, that didn’t mean it was sinful. However, before giving further explanations, he asked everyone assembled there to share their opinion.

What follows are the opinions of King Drupada, his son, Drishtadyumna, Yudhishthira, and Kunti. Finally, after hearing them, Ved Vyasa presents his own views about the marriage.

King Drupada’s Opinion

Drupada went by social precedence as well as the Vedas. He wasn’t aware of any precedence where one woman had taken many husbands, and because this practice was opposed to the Vedas, he was not in favour of the proposal. Quoting the exact passage below.

Drishtadyumna’s Opinion

Drishtadyumna believed that an elder brother of good conscience would never approach his younger brother’s wife. He agreed that the ways of morality were subtle and he also confessed that the subtlety was beyond his understanding, and therefore, he could not agree to this proposal with a clear conscience. Quoting the exact passage below.

Yudhishthira’s Opinion

Yudhishthira took a different approach to the dilemma. He was aware of two precedences where a (virtuous) woman had many husbands. But along with precedence, he also gave importance to his inner feeling. He believed that his purity and truthfulness made his disposition such that he would not incline toward a sinful act. If an act was sinful, his heart would instinctively reject it, and because his heart approved of this marriage, it was not immoral.

He went on to cite the two precedences. The first example was from the Puranas, where a virtuous maiden called Jatila (of the Gotama race) had married seven rishis. In the second example, he cited the case of an ascetic’s daughter who had married ten brothers who were also exalted ascetics themselves.

Finally, he went on to say that because his mother (whom he considered the foremost among superiors) had said so, the marriage couldn’t be immoral.

Quoting the exact passage below.

Kunti’s Opinion

Kunti regarded her eldest son Yudhishthira (who was born of her union with Dharmaraja himself) as an authority on dharma. Therefore, since he approved of the marriage, she did not believe it to be incorrect. However, she did put forth her concern about her speech becoming untrue and having to face the consequences of that.

Ved Vyasa’s Answer to Everyone

Ved Vyasa first addressed Kunti to ease her conscience. He remarked that even the (genuine) concern she had of saving herself from the consequences of untruth showed how pure she was, and this itself was eternal virtue.

He went on to agree with Yudhishthira’s reasoning, however, he did not want King Drupada to simply take his word on the matter and agree to the marriage. He wanted to reveal to King Drupada, the subtle and celestial forces that acted behind the material world. Therefore, he took King Drupada to a room, where they would be alone, and revealed the celestial form of Draupadi and the Pandavas. Click here to read the story that describes how Drupadi was the Goddess Adi Para Shakti herself and the five Pandavas were five Indras.

I am quoting Ved Vyasa’s words below.

After saying this, Ved Vyasa took the King to a separate room and explained to him that Draupadi was actually the Goddess Adi Para Shakti herself, and the five Pandavas were five Indra. He went on to describe how their marriage was ordained by Lord Shiva himself. Not only did Ved Vyasa explain all this, but he also granted the king, divine sight, through which he could see his daughter and the five Pandavas in their celestial form.

King Drupada’s dilemma was resolved after seeing Drupadi and the five Pandavas in their celestial form and understanding that Lord Shiva himself had ordained this marriage. If Lord Shiva had ordained it then it was beyond simple moral law and he had no objection.

You can read the detailed story of the celestial form of Draupadi and the five Pandavas by clicking here.

Some Additional Thoughts

I like this particular interaction between Ved Vyasa and the others because in dealing with the issue of Draupadi’s marriage, it also points to the larger issue of social norms, the Vedas, and morality. Vyasa muni shows us how Divine forces act behind the scenes to influence human life, and because we are not aware of these forces, we cannot judge morality based solely on logic, precedence, and even the Vedas. However, that doesn’t mean we can totally disregard morality. I’ll leave you with three quotes by the Auroville Mother (Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual partner) on this topic.

The (Auroville) Mother

You can break the moral rules only when you observe the Divine Law.

The Mother, May 1966

You have no right to dispense with morality unless you submit yourself to a law that is higher and much more rigorous than any moral law.

The Mother, 28th May 1947

Moral laws have only a very relative value from the point of view of Truth. Besides, they vary considerably according to country, climate and period. Discussions are generally sterile and without productive value. If each one makes a personal effort of perfect sincerity, uprightness and good-will, the best conditions for the work will be realised.

The Mother, August 1966

Draupadi Amman idol in a temple near Thiruvallur


Most people know Draupadi as King Drupada’s daughter, the wife of the five Pandavas, and the queen who was wrongfully insulted in the Hastinapura court.

Some people also believe her to be a revengeful queen who caused the war at Kurukshetra.

However, there is much more to Draupadi than what we commonly know from the abridged versions and retellings of the Mahabharata. One of those is her celestial identity.

Let me tell you the story of who Draupadi was in the celestial regions. We may even call this her higher and more authentic identity.

This story is narrated in the Adi Parva (Vaivahika Parva subsection) by Ved Vyasa to Draupadi’s father, King Drupada.

The Time When Humans Became Immortal

In the days of yore, long before the birth of the Pandavas, there was a time when humans became immortal. They stopped dying because the celestials were performing a grand sacrifice in the Naimisha forest, and Yama, being busy with the sacrifice, had no time to take human lives. Consequently, the human population on earth started to increase.

This became a matter of huge concern for the celestials. Vexed by the fact that humans had become immortal, they decided to approach Lord Shiva to voice their concerns. However, Lord Shiva couldn’t understand their fear. The celestials were already immortal. Why then, was human immortality of any threat to them?

This is what they said when questioned by Lord Shiva.

“The mortals have all become immortal. There is no distinction now between us and them. Vexed at the disappearance of all distinction, we have come to thee in order that thou mayest distinguish us from them.”

The celestials to Lord Shiva

The celestials wanted the distinction between them and humans to continue. They wanted to maintain their superiority.

Lord Shiva smiled and told them that human immortality was temporary because Yama was busy with the sacrifice. Everything would return to normal after the sacrifice, he assured.

The Golden Lotuses

Relieved by Lord Shiva’s words, the celestials returned to the ongoing sacrifice by the banks of the Ganges. Very soon, they noticed a golden lotus being carried downstream by the river’s current. They marveled at the lotus and saw it flow by with the river’s current, and just as they were about to return their attention back to the sacrifice, they saw another lotus and then another, followed by even more lotuses. The celestials were awed by the beautiful lotuses and wondered where they came from. Piqued with curiosity, Indra decided to go up the river to find the origin of the lotuses.

Indra’s journey up the river led him to the very source of the Ganga, where he saw a beautiful maiden who shone like the sun. She stood there weeping a constant stream of tears. When her tears touched the water of the Ganges, they instantly became golden lotuses.

Concerned about the maiden’s grief, Indra walked up to her and asked why she was crying. Instead of answering his question, the maiden asked Indra to follow her. She took him to a place in the Himalayas, where Indra saw a handsome young man engrossed in a game of dice with a beautiful young lady. Both were seated on thrones placed on one of the Himalayan peaks. Assuming the young man to be the reason for the maiden’s grief, Indra called out to him and said:

Know, intelligent youth, that this universe is under my sway.

— Indra to the young man playing dice

However, the young man was so engrossed in his game that he didn’t even move his eyes, let alone his face. This impudence infuriated Indra and he thundered repeatedly at the youth as if to warn him:

“I am the lord of the universe!”

— Indra to the young man playing dice

The young man remained unperturbed by Indra’s words. He simply smiled and cast a sideways glance. However, this was no ordinary glance. It held within it the fire and fury of the universe. It terrified Indra so much that he froze on the spot. Unable to move, Indra stood there like a staff.

After the game of dice ended, the young man — who was none other than Lord Shiva — addressed the weeping woman and asked her to bring Indra to him.

“Bring Sakra hither, for I shall soon so deal with him that pride may not enter his heart.”

— Lord Shiva to the weeping maiden

But the weeping woman was no ordinary maiden. She was the great goddess Devi Adi Para Shakti herself. When the goddess touched Indra, he collapsed on the ground, as if paralyzed, like a piece of cloth falling on the floor. Lord Shiva looked at Indra and thundered!

Act not Sakra, ever in this way again.

— Lord Shiva to Indra

Lord Shiva Orders Indra to Enter a Cave

After uttering these words, Lord Shiva commanded Indra to enter a nearby cave and see for himself what his future had in store. In the cave, Indra saw four other devas (celestial beings) like himself. They had once been great and powerful but were now in a wretched and pitiable state.

Indra cowered with fear. He folded his hands to the great lord and begged forgiveness, but Lord Shiva shut him with these words:

“Those that are of disposition like thine never obtain my grace. These others had at one time been like thee. Enter thou this cave, therefore, and lie there for some time. The fate of you all shall certainly be the same. All you will have to take birth as humans. After achieving many difficult feats and slaying a large number of humans, you will return to the celestial region.”

— Lord Shiva to Indra

It was clear to the five Indras they would have to be reborn on earth to fulfill their destiny before they could return to the celestial regions. Lord Shiva always meant what he said. Resigning to their fate, they folded their hands and requested Lord Shiva that they be born on earth through celestial fathers.

“We shall go from our celestial regions even unto the region of men where salvation is ordained to be difficult of acquisition. But let the gods Dharma, Vayu, Maghavat, and the twin Aswins beget us upon our would-be mother.”

— The five Indras to Lord Shiva

The current Indra (Maghavat) requested Lord Shiva that instead of being born on earth, he would create a fifth person through a portion of his energy. This person would fulfill all the tasks that Lord Shiva had ordained.

Shiva agreed to all these requests and asked Devi Adi Para Shakti to also be reborn as the wife of the five Indras (to play a part in the events that had to occur on earth before it entered the new era called Kaliyuga, or the age of darkness).

Many years later, the five Indras were born as the five Pandavas, and Devi Adi Para Shakti, as Draupadi.

Ved Vyasa Grants Divine Sight to King Drupada

Ved Vyasa grants divine sight to King Drupada to see Draupadi and the Pandavas in their celestial form

After enlightening King Drupada about his daughter’s celestial identity and explaining how the threads of destiny had come together in this life leading Draupadi to marry the five Pandavas, Vyasa granted divine sight to Drupada so he could see his daughter and the Pandavas in their celestial splendour.

When King Drupada saw Draupadi and the five Pandavas as celestial beings, shining the like the sun, noble, splendid, decked with beautiful jewels and celestial garments, he was awestruck and he wondered about how the divine forces worked on earth through deep disguise.

Interesting Facts

Have you ever wondered if India has any temples dedicated to Draupadi? According to this TOI article, there are close to 800 temples dedicated to Draupadi Amman in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, and Kerala.

Her temples are usually small and situated in remote places. Devi Draupadi or Draupadi Amman is worshipped as the village deity (Gram Devi) as well as the family deity (Kula Devi) in these places. The villagers pray to her for protection, rain, and good crops.

An idol of The Reclining Draupadi Near Auroville

After Draupadi’s swayamvar, when she went with Arjuna to the potter’s house where the Pandavas were staying (in disguise), it was soon proposed that Draupadi marry all the five Pandava brothers. Polyandry was not socially common or acceptable at that time. Therefore, it concerned her father, King Drupada. He did not want her to perform an act that might be sinful.

Image of Draupadi (far right) with the five Pandavas — Dasavatar Temple, Deogarh

It is at this critical time of the epic, that Ved Vyasa assuaged King Drupada’s concern by telling him the story of a boon Lord Shiva had given to Draupadi in one of her previous lives.

This narration can be found in the Adi Parva (Vaivahika Parva subsection) of the Unabridged Mahabharata.

In one of Draupadi’s previous lives, she was the daughter of an illustrious Rishi. Even though Draupadi was very beautiful and virtuous, in that life, she was unable to find a good husband. So she prayed to Lord Shiva by performing various ascetic practices.

Lord Shiva was soon pleased with her penance and appeared before her to grant a boon.

“Ask thou the boon thou desirest.”

— Lord Shiva to the maiden (who was Draupadi in a previous life)
Kashi: The Valiant History of a Sacred Geography by Aditi Banerjee is a tribute to the land of Shiva.

This virtuous maiden overwhelmed and delighted by the great lord’s presence repeated her desire multiple times:

“I desire to obtain a husband possessed of every accomplishment.”

— The maiden asking a boon from Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva smiled and said:

“Thou shall have, amiable maiden, five husbands.”

— Lord Shiva to the maiden

The maiden was confused. She had asked for only one husband. Why did the Lord bless her with five? She folded her hands and said:

“O Sankara, I desire to obtain from thee only one husband possessed of every virtue.”

— The maiden to Lord Shiva

Though Shiva wasn’t an active part of the Mahabharata like Krishna (Vishnu), he played a vital role by giving boons to many people like Draupadi (in her past life), Amba, Jayadratha, etc. He gifted the Pasupata astra to Arjuna and arrived when Ashwatthama involved him in Sauptika Parva. Check out this illustrated collection of Stories of Shiva by Amar Chitra Katha.

Lord Shiva continued smiling. He was pleased with her, so he explained that she had repeated her request five times and hence she was blessed with five virtuous husbands. However, he added, the blessing would come to fruition in a future life.

Through this story, Ved Vyasa explained to King Drupada that it wasn’t sinful for Draupadi to marry the five Pandavas since this destiny was pre-ordained by Lord Shiva himself.


Image Credit: By User:Arjuna Filips – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0