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.
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:
- Her speech should not become untrue.
- Draupadi should remain without sin (as a result of the solution).
- 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.