Painting in Angkor Wat of Vyasa narrating the Mahabharata to Sri Ganesha (contributed by By Janice)

Table of Contents (The Complete Condensed Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Satyavati’s Birth

Satyavati grew up into a virtuous and beautiful young woman, and because she was around fisherfolk all the time, her body smelled of fish. This young maiden ferried a boat across the Yamuna River to help her foster family.

One day, Rishi Parashar saw Satyavati when he happened to pass through that region. He became so enamoured by her beauty that a strong desire to unite with this young woman arose in him. 

He approached Satyavati and said, “Accept my embrace, O blessed one.”

Satyavati replied, “O holy one, there are rishis standing on both the banks of the Yamuna. How can I grant you this wish when they can see us clearly?”

Hearing Satyavati’s words, Rishi Parashar created a fog that enveloped that entire region in darkness. Satyavati was filled with wonder when she witnessed this feat of the rishi, and she blushed as soon as she realised the implication of the fog. Feeling shy and embarrassed she said, “O holy one, I am a maiden who lives in her father’s house. I will lose my virginity if I accept your embrace. O sinless one, how will I return home? Think about this O holy one and then do what is correct.”

The noble rishi was pleased by her words. He replied, “O beautiful maiden, you will remain a virgin even if you grant my wish. O maiden with a beautiful smile, ask me for a boon. My words have always come true.”

Satyavati asked the rishi to remove the swell of fish that emanated from her body and replace it with a sweet fragrance. Rishi Parashar immediately granted her wish.

Pleased that her wish was fulfilled, Satyavati’s body immediately manifested its fertile season and she accepted the embrace of the rishi.

After this event, Satyavati always emitted a sweet and beautiful fragrance wherever she went. She became known as Gandhavati and Yojanagandha because her sweet smell left its mark for the distance of one yojana.

The child conceived from her union with Rishi Parashar was born that day itself on an island in the Yamuna. This child was gifted with immense energy. As soon as he was born, he asked for his mother’s permission to practise asceticism and left the island saying that he would appear before her as soon as she thought of him.

This child was called Krishna-Dwaipayana. ‘Krishna’ because he had a dark complexion, and ‘Dwaipayana’ because he was born on an island.

After leaving the island where he was born, the learned Dwaipayana saw, through his inner vision, that virtue and the strength of humans and their lifespan diminishes with the passing of every yuga. 

Motivated by the desire to obtain the favour of Brahman Deva and the brahmanas, Rishi Dwaipayana, organised and classified the four Vedas and was thereafter known as Vyasa. Sometime after that, he composed the Mahabharata which is also known as the fifth Veda.

He taught all these works to Sumanta, Jaimini, Paila, his son Suka, and Vaishampayana.

Next Post: A Summary of the Birth of the Main Characters in the Mahabharata

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Note: The 8th parva of the Mahabharata is the Karna Parva. This parva deals with two and a half days of the war when Karna was appointed the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army after Drona’s death.

This parva contains 4964 shlokas divided into 69 sections.

The Karna Parva begins with the appointment of Karna as the commander and Salya (king of Madra) as his charioteer.

Next is narrated the story of how the asura, Tripura was vanquished.

This parva contains the quarrel between Karna and his charioter, Salya, where they insulted each other with words and parables. 

The high-souled son of Drona, Ashwattham, slayed a warrior called Pandya in this parva.

Other warriors who met their end in this parva were Dandasena and Darda.

After that, Yudhishthira and Karna engaged in a one-on-one combat. This move was very risky for Yudhishthira.

Then came the quarrel between Yudhishthira and Arjuna in which Arjuna was pacified by Krishna.

The next incident in this parva was the battle between Bhima and Dussasana. Bhima vanquished Dussasana and ripped open his chest to drink blood from Dussasana’s heart to fulfil his vow to Draupadi.

The Karna Parva ends with the death of Karna at the hands of Arjuna.

Table of Contents

Previous: A Summary of the Drona Parva

Next: A Summary of the Shalya Parva

Drupadi’s father, King Drupada, was a generous king, so it’s not surprising that he had made lavish and extravagant preparations for his daughter’s swayamvara.

The swayamvara was to be conducted in a large amphitheater built in an auspicious location, on level ground. It was situated in the north-east direction of the Panchala capital. This large amphitheater was covered with a canopy of various colors and was scented with black aloes and water made from sandalwood paste. The entire space was decorated with beautiful flowers of many varieties and it resounded with the notes of a thousand trumpets.

Beautiful mansions circled the amphitheater and the entire complex was protected by a high wall that had several arched doorways and a moat.

The mansions surrounding the amphitheater were built as residences for the kings and princes who would come from kingdoms all over Bharatvarsha to the swayamvara. These mansions were pure-white 7-storeyed buildings. Their color is compared to the Himalayas by Ved Vyasa in the Mahabharata.

The windows of these mansions were covered with networks of gold and the walls were studded with diamonds and other precious stones. Comfortable and exquisitely decorated beds were made for the royals and the floor was further decorated with lovely carpets.

The inner and outer walls of the mansions were adorned with garlands of flowers and were scented with excellent aloes such that their fragrance would be perceived from a distance of one yojana (eight miles).

All mansions were 7-storeyed but their widths varied. The larger mansions were assigned to more powerful kings. Many of these mansions were large enough to accommodate a hundred doors.

The entire event lasted for sixteen days. The guests included people from all strata of society. They came from all over Drupada’s kingdom, neighboring kingdoms, and then, of course, there were the kings and princes who had come to participate in the swayamvar. The kings came from near and distant kingdoms. They had all heard of Draupadi’s beauty and each one carried a wish in his heart to be the chosen one.

King Drupada entered the amphitheater from the north-eastern gate.

The first fifteen of the sixteen days were filled with performances and entertainment by actors, dancers, athletes, and performers of various arts. The entire amphitheater was filled with people who had come to partake in the celebrations while the kings and princes watched the performances from the balconies of their mansions. The Pandavas sat with their brahmana friends and other regular folks in the amphitheater. For these fifteen days, the amphitheater resounded with applause from the audience and generous gifts were bestowed by the visiting kings to the performers.

During these first 16 days, various actors, dancers, and performers made their performances and were handsomely rewarded by the kings who were present.

In the center of the amphitheater was an apparatus (Ved Vyasa describes it as machinery) that contained a target and on the ground, near the apparatus was a stiff bow. The target and the bow were part of a challenge designed by King Drupada, however, they would be used only on the sixteenth day when Draupadi entered the amphitheater.

Image of Kunti apologizing in front of Draupadi, and her son, Yudhishthira

After the swayamvara, Druapadi, Arjuna, and Bhima walked to the potter’s house where the Pandavas and their mother, Kunti, were staying disguised as brahmanas.

Upon entering the cottage, Arjuna did not tell his mother about what had transpired at the swayamvara. He did not tell her that he had fulfilled the challenge designed by King Drupada and that Draupadi had chosen him as her husband. He did not tell his mother that he had returned home accompanied by Draupadi (also known as Yajnaseni) herself.

He simply told his mother, perhaps as he had been doing every day after they started staying at the potter’s house, that he had bought home alms. Here are the exact words used in the unabridged Mahabharata.

We don’t know why Arjuna said “alms” instead of Draupadi. It’s possible he wanted to surprise his mother, but that’s just my extrapolation. However, what we do know is what Kunti said next and how she responded when she realized she had made a mistake.

Kunti, without seeing Arjuna, simply said: “Enjoy ye all.” A moment after that, Kunti saw Draupadi (also known as Krishna) and she immediately realized her mistake and exclaimed, “Oh, what have I said?” Quoting the exact passage below.

Upon realizing her mistake, she took Draupadi gently by her hand and went to her eldest son Yudhishthira, who was well-known for his wisdom and knowledge of dharma, to ask him for a solution. Presenting a passage from the Mahabharata.

The passage above clearly shows that the Pandavas did not marry Draupadi simply because their mother said so. In fact, Kunti, herself, confessed that she had uttered those words out of ignorance. She wanted to find a solution that fulfilled three criteria:

  1. Her speech should not become untrue.
  2. Draupadi should remain without sin (as a result of the solution).
  3. Draupadi should not be uncomfortable with the solution.

Modern readers might be surprised about Kunti’s concern for her speech not becoming untrue. We might think all she had to do was take back her words, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. In those times, words, once spoken, had a certain power. They could not be recalled or gone back upon with the same ease with which we do so in modern times.

We have to understand the mindset of people who followed the dharma during those times. They gave a lot of importance to truth and purity of speech. Words were not uttered frivolously, and a noble person would think a hundred times before uttering even half a lie. Thoughts and words were treated with reverence. From that perspective, it is not very difficult to understand why Kunti was concerned about her words becoming untrue. However, she did not want Draupadi to bear the consequence of the mistake she’d made out of ignorance. She made that very clear when she said that Draupadi should remain without sin and should not be uncomfortable with the solution.

So, Kunti’s response upon realizing her mistake was to explore a solution that was correct and in accordance with the dharma. In those times, when faced with a dilemma, people of a noble disposition tried to find a solution that was aligned with the dharma and also correctly balanced all the issues involved.

Did you know the Pandava brothers were told about Draupadi’s destiny to marry all of them even before they went to her swayamvara? Did you know that all the five Pandava brothers were smitten by Draupadi when they heard about her the first time?

These stories are not commonly narrated, so there is a good chance you haven’t heard of these events.

Let’s backtrack to the unabridged Mahabharata, translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli, to find out what the Pandava brothers knew before they went to Panchala to participate in Draupadi’s swayamvara.

What a Learned Brahmana Tells the Pandavas About Draupadi

The location in Ekachakra village (West Bengal) where the Pandavas are said to have stayed after escaping from the house of lac

After escaping unhurt from the highly-inflammable house of lac at Varanavata, the Pandavas were convinced that Duryodhana and his supporters would go to any length to remove the Pandavas from their path and ensure that Duryodhan ascends the throne of Hastinapura — even if it meant slaying the Pandavas.

Duryodhana not only had powerful supporters but also had an army at his disposal. The Pandavas, on the other hand, had only each other. In such a situation, they had no option but to remain undercover until a solution presented itself. Therefore, the Pandavas and their mother, Kunti, disguised themselves as brahmanas and took up residence as guests at a brahmana’s house in a village called Ekachakra.

It was while they were in Ekachakra that another wise brahmana came to stay with their host for a few days. As was the custom, everyone worshipped the learned guest and requested him to narrate stories of his experiences while wandering in different lands. After telling them stories about various countries, kings, rivers, and shrines, the brahmana told them about Draupadi, the princess of Panchala. He told them the story of her birth — how she was born from the fire during a great sacrifice conducted by her father, Drupada. He then went on to describe her beauty and told the Pandavas that Draupadi’s father, King Drupada, was hosting a swayamvara (self-choice ceremony) in the coming days for his daughter to choose a husband.

According to Kisari Mohan Ganguli’s translation of the epic, the Pandava brothers went into a daze after hearing about Draupadi and her beauty. Here are the exact words used by Kisari Mohan Ganguli in the Adi Parva (Chaitraratha Parva subsection):

Quote from Kisari Mohan Ganguli’s translation describing how the Pandavas reacted after hearing the brahmana speak about Draupadi.

This quote shows that all five brothers were smitten by Draupadi. But there’s more.

What Ved Vyasa Tells the Pandavas About Draupadi’s Destiny

Soon after the learned brahmana left, Ved Vyasa visited the Pandavas in Ekachakra.

Ved Vyasa also spoke to them about Draupadi. He told them the story of how a maiden had received a boon from Lord Shiva that she would have five husbands in a future life. Ved Vyasa went on to tell the Pandavas that the maiden had been born as King Drupada’s daughter, Draupadi, and she was destined to have all the five Pandava brothers as her husbands.

Quoting Kisari Mohan Ganguli from the Adi Parva (Chaitraratha Parva subsection) verse CLXXI:

Ved Yasa’s words to the Pandavas at the brahmana’s house in Ekachakra

The Pandavas left for Panchala after hearing Ved Vyasa’s counsel.

The unabridged Mahabharata makes it clear that not only were all the Pandavas smitten by Draupadi, but were also informed by Ved Vyasa about their destiny to marry her, and that the marriage would bring them great happiness.

I find these stories interesting because they show us how the threads of destiny come together. They show us how the marriage was fated and how two brahmanas arrived as messengers of destiny to ensure that the Pandavas were in the right place at the right time for the fated event to occur.

Draupadi is known as the fire-born princess because she was born from the sacrificial fire when her father, King Drupada, conducted a great sacrifice to beget a son who would slay the great warrior-brahmin, Dronacharya (Drona).

Let’s take a step. Why did Drupada want to slay Dronacharya? And if the sacrifice was for a son who would slay Dronacharya, then why did it bear a daughter as well?

Why Did King Drupada Want to Slay Drona?

The relationship between Drupada and Drona went a long way back. Drona’s father, the great sage Bhradawaja, and Drupada’s father, Prishata, the king of Panchala, were very good friends. King Prishata sent his son, Drupada, to study at Sage Bharadawaja’s hermitage. At the hermitage, Drupada and the sage’s son, Drona, who were of the same age, became very good friends.

In childhood innocence, Drupada once promised his dear friend, Drona, that whatever belonged to him also belonged to Drona by virtue of their friendship. Years later when Drupada became the king of Panchala, Drona went to his court and reminded him of their friendship. Drona had expected a warm embrace from his childhood friend, instead, Drupada insulted him with these words:

“One of low birth can never be the friend of one whose lineage is pure, nor can one who is not a car-warrior have a car-warrior as his friend. So also one who is not a king cannot have a king as his friend. Why dost though, therefore, desire (to revive our) former friendship?”

King Drupada to his childhood friend Drona

Drona was mortified by his friend’s words. He left Drupada’s palace with a resolve to humiliate the king. Soon after that, Drona went to Hastinapura and became the teacher of the Kuru princes. He taught them the art of combat and the usage of various weapons. After their education was complete, Drona asked his students to capture King Drupada and present the king to him.

His students, especially Arjuna, vanquished Drupada’s army and presented the defeated king to Drona. With the king defeated, his kingdom officially belonged to Drona. However, Drona did not care for the kingdom. He wanted to teach the king a lesson for insulting him, so he returned half the kingdom to Drupada, and once again solicited his friendship, as an equal.

The vanquished king maintained a pleasant front and accepted his offer, but the humiliation ate into his psyche. He lost all peace of mind. Such was his mental torment, that he spent his entire day thinking about how to defeat or slay Drona.

Drupada knew that his child Shikandi did not have the power to defeat Drona. Even the best warriors in his army were no match for Drona’s power and skill. Since neither his child nor his army could match Drona’s prowess, he decided to visit the accomplished sages in the hope of finding someone who would conduct a sacrificial rite to help him win a battle against Drona.

One day, while wandering along the banks of the Ganga and the Yamuna, he came across a hermitage that housed sages of the highest order. There he met Yaja and Upayaja, who, he could see, had the power and knowledge to perform the sacrificial rites.

King Drupada spend several days serving them. After winning their trust, he requested Upayaja, the more knowledgeable of the two, to help him win against Drona. He even promised generous gifts to Upayaja for performing the sacrifice, but Upayaja declined. He also did not consider it appropriate to use his knowledge for such matters. However, his younger brother Yaja accepted the king’s offer. He performed the sacrifice successfully. When the final libations were poured into the fire, there emerged from it, not one, but two children. The first was a son, Drishtadyumna, who would eventually slay Drona in the battle at Kurukshetra, and the second was a daughter, Draupadi, who would become the catalyst for the battle.

As the above story suggests, Draupadi was born from the fire as the result of Drupada’s desire to avenge the humiliation he received from Drona. However, that’s only part of the story.

The other part of the story is that Draupadi was destined to be born at that time, she was destined to marry five husbands, and her five husbands were destined to be the Pandava princes. She was destined to be a catalyst for the fierce battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas at Kurukshetra.

So Draupadi had to be born at that time, and because she was The Goddess Sri (Adi Para Shakti) herself, she had to be born in a special way. This is not my extrapolation. Ved Vyasa himself said these words in a conversation with King Drupada.

Thus, O king, they who have been born as the Pandavas are none else than the Indras of old. And the celestial Sri herself who had been appointed as their wife is this Draupadi of extraordinary beauty. How could she whose effulgence is like that of the sun or the moon, whose fragrance spreads for two miles around, take her birth in any other than an extraordinary way, viz., from within the earth, by virtue of the sacrificial rites?

— Ved Vyasa to King Drupada (Adi Parva, Vaivahika Parva subsection, verse CLXLIX)