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.
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)
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
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.
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