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.