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.

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.

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.