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Chapter 11

The Pāṇḍavas Wed Draupadī

Bhīma and Arjuna, both bruised and bloody from the battle with the kings, turned and walked toward the stadium’s southern gate. They were surrounded by Brahmins, who praised them with great joy. With difficulty the two brothers pushed their way through the crowd and out of the arena, appearing like the sun and the moon emerging from behind clouds. Some way from the stadium by the roadside the other Pāṇḍavas and Draupadī were waiting for them. Seeing them returning safely from the fight, they embraced the two heroes and together proceeded to the potter’s house.

At the house Kuntī, who had not accompanied her sons to the svayaṁvara for fear of discovery, was feeling great anxiety. It was past sunset and her sons had still not returned. What could have delayed them? Perhaps the Kauravas had recognized them and had them killed, or maybe the Rākṣasas had come together to avenge the killing of Hiḍimba and Baka. Kuntī remembered Vyāsadeva’s assurances. Could the great sage have been wrong?

As Kuntī sat in the still evening air lost in thoughts of affection for her children, Arjuna suddenly entered the hut and called out, “O Mother, we have returned bringing excellent alms. Just see the wonderful jewel we have obtained today!”

Filled with relief and happiness to hear her son’s voice, Kuntī called back, “Share among yourselves whatever you have acquired.” She looked up and saw Arjuna enter her room accompanied by Draupadī, who immediately bowed low at her feet. The princess had discovered the identity of the brothers and was joyful to know she had been won by Arjuna. She greeted the venerable Kuru queen with appropriate words of respect.

When Kuntī saw the white-robed princess bowing before her, she gasped in horror. “What have I done! How can you all share this woman?” Kuntī caught the still smiling Draupadī by the hand and went out to see Yudhiṣṭhira. “My words have never been false. Indeed, I cannot utter untruth. When Arjuna said he had brought alms I had no idea he meant this princess and I thus said, ‘Share it among yourselves.’ It must therefore be so. What then should be done?”

Kuntī felt her religious principles threatened. She valued truth above all else. Even in jest she never lied. Fearful that her virtue had suffered a diminution, she looked anxiously at Yudhiṣṭhira. “Tell me, dear son, how my words may prove true and at the same time this princess may not be touched by sin.” It was virtually unheard of for a woman to marry more than one man. Marrying five men was unthinkable.

Yudhiṣṭhira looked thoughtful. He consoled his mother and assured her that neither she nor Draupadī would be touched by sin. He turned to Arjuna and said, “Dear Phālgunī, you have won this maiden. It is therefore proper that you marry her with due ritual. Kindle the sacred fire and accept her hand with the blessings of the Brahmins.”

Arjuna was surprised. “O King, do not hurl me onto the path of the wicked. Your command is not consistent with virtue, in my view. How could I accept this princess in your presence while you remain unmarried? Surely you should accept her hand. Then, if you so command, Bhīma may marry her and only then myself and the twins.”

Hearing Arjuna’s respectful words, the other Pāṇḍavas glanced at Draupadī. They had all expected that she would become Arjuna’s wife, but as they looked at her, the Pañchāla princess returned their glances. All the brothers felt their hearts invaded by love. They had never seen such a maiden. It was as if she had been personally fashioned by the Creator himself. She was as resplendent as the Goddess Lakṣmī, Viṣṇu’s eternal consort.

Yudhiṣṭhira could understand his brothers’ minds. He recalled Vyāsadeva’s words. Even though he had advised Arjuna to try to win Draupadī’s hand, the sage had seemed to intimate that Draupadī should become the wife of all of them. Although rare, such an act need not be unrighteous if sanctioned by an authority like Vyāsadeva, especially if it was performed in order to preserve some other, higher religious purpose. If Draupadī became the wife of only one of them, it would most certainly create rivalry and dissension among them. And Kuntī’s words would also become false. This seemed to be a divine arrangement. Making up his mind, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “We shall all marry the blessed Draupadī.”

Upon hearing Yudhiṣṭhira’s words, all the brothers became joyful. Yudhiṣṭhira was equal to their father Pāṇḍu. His authority was final, his word to them non-different from an order given by the Supreme Lord Himself. Draupadī must surely become their wife. They all now glanced openly at her, and she looked down shyly. As they pondered the import of Yudhiṣṭhira’s command, the potter came to inform them that they had visitors: Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma were at the door.

The two Yādava heroes entered the room and saw Yudhiṣṭhira seated on the floor surrounded by his brothers. With his powerful shoulders and well-developed arms, the handsome prince resembled Indra sitting amid the principal gods. Kṛṣṇa folded His palms and said, “I am Kṛṣṇa and this is Baladeva, My elder brother.” The Pāṇḍavas were delighted to see their cousins. They stood up at once and Kṛṣṇa touched Yudhiṣṭhira’s feet in respect. He embraced Bhīma and Arjuna and received the twins’ respect. Both Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma also touched Kuntī’s feet as she shed tears of happiness upon seeing Them.

After they had all exchanged appropriate greetings according to their status, the Pāṇḍavas gazed at Kṛṣṇa. They marveled at how, although He was the Supreme Lord of the entire creation, He had accepted the role of a human being and was now their relative and friend. Kṛṣṇa enquired after their welfare. Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “We are all well, O Kṛṣṇa, but tell me, how did You manage to trace us?”

Kṛṣṇa smiled, “Fire is always visible even when covered. Who but the Pāṇḍavas could have performed such feats at the svayaṁvara? O conquerors of foes, by sheer good fortune you have escaped from the fire. By the same good fortune have Duryodhana’s sinful plans come to nothing. Be blessed. May you grow in prosperity as a fire in a cave gradually grows and spreads itself around.”

Kṛṣṇa then said He had best leave before He drew attention to the brothers and gave away their disguise. He and Balarāma stood and left quietly. The Pāṇḍavas sat for some time thinking about Kṛṣṇa. They were heartened by His show of support and encouragement. They felt sure they would soon be restored to their proper position in Hastināpura.

Unknown to the brothers, Dṛṣṭadyumna had also followed them back and was now lying concealed near the hut. He watched in surprise as Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma came and went. Who were these Brahmins that the two all-powerful Yādava heroes felt the need to visit? They must not be ordinary ascetics. Dṛṣṭadyumna cautiously moved closer and peered through the window. Kuntī was in the middle of instructing Draupadī how to prepare the Pāṇḍavas’ meal. She told the princess that after having offered the food to the Lord and giving a portion to the Brahmins, she should divide what was left into two parts. She should then give one-half to Bhīma and divide the rest between the other four brothers and themselves.

Dṛṣṭadyumna watched as his sister cheerfully did as she was instructed, giving half of the food to the huge-bodied youth who had thrown Śalya down in the arena, and distributing the remainder to the others. After they had all eaten they lay down to sleep on beds of deerskins spread over soft grass, their heads pointing toward the south. Kuntī lay across the line of their heads and Draupadī lay at their feet. Dṛṣṭadyumna saw her smiling in great happiness as she accepted her new, apparently humble, position. As they lay there the brothers began to speak together. From his position at the window the prince heard them talking about celestial weapons, chariots, elephants, bows, arrows and swords. They discussed the battle with the kings in the stadium, laughing as they described how Bhīma and Arjuna had routed the bellicose monarchs.

The prince had seen and heard enough. It was obvious that these men were powerful warriors. Surely they were royalty in disguise. Dṛṣṭadyumna quietly left and went back to his capital to inform his father of everything he had witnessed.

Back in Pañchāla, King Drupada was anxious. His beloved daughter was gone but he did not know who had taken her. He pondered on the day’s events. Who was that man who had hit the target? Was he really a Brahmin? Maybe it had been simply by luck that he had succeeded in the test. Perhaps he was a vaiśyā or even a śūdra, casting Drupada’s noble line into disrepute. Or maybe he was a great hero of the royal order. Then why would he have disguised himself as a Brahmin? Perhaps he was actually Arjuna, somehow survived from the terrible fire at Vāraṇāvata. Surely that was too much to hope.

As the king sat absorbed in thought, his son entered his chamber. After bowing at his father’s feet the prince described everything he had seen. Dṛṣṭadyumna was convinced it was the Pāṇḍavas who had won Draupadī, and he happily explained how he had followed them to a hut on the city’s outskirts, how Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma had visited, and how he had heard them speak the language of warriors.

“The two Brahmins who fought in the hall left and joined three others. They appear to be brothers. In their midst was a lady who shone like fire. I believe she is their mother. They spoke together in voices as deep as black thunderclouds. There is no doubt that these men are neither śūdras nor vaiśyās. They are certainly of the royal order. In my opinion they are the Pāṇḍavas, who are living in disguise since escaping Vāraṇāvata.”

Drupada was extremely pleased by his son’s words. As soon as dawn broke, he called for his priest and asked him to go to the potter’s hut to ascertain the Brahmins’ identities. The priest left at once and, arriving at the hut, applauded the Pāṇḍavas for their prowess. Then he said, “O worshipable ones, the great King Drupada desires to know your names. Please tell me your family name and race. Are you by any chance the Pāṇḍavas? It was ever the king’s wish that his daughter be united with Arjuna. If this has transpired, then nothing could be more conducive to our fame and virtue.”

Yudhiṣṭhira turned to his brothers and said, “Bring water and wash this Brahmin’s feet. He is worthy of our worship. Because he is Drupada’s royal priest, we should especially respect him.”

Bhīma immediately did as his elder brother had directed. He had the priest sit comfortably, then offered him arghya. Yudhiṣṭhira then said, “O Brahmin, the king fixed a certain price for gaining his daughter. She was not given freely. Therefore he has nothing to say about the lineage of the man who has passed his test. All his questions about our family and race have been answered by the stringing of the bow and the striking down of the target.”

Yudhiṣṭhira smiled. He assured him that Drupada need have no regrets. His long-cherished desire would soon be fulfilled. Draupadī was clearly endowed with the auspicious marks of one who would be married to kings. The Pāṇḍava continued, “What man of low birth or one unaccomplished in arms could have shot down the mark? It was done fairly and there is no one who can now undo that act. The king should not grieve.”

As Yudhiṣṭhira spoke, another messenger arrived to tell them that a great feast had been prepared in the city. He asked the Pāṇḍavas to please come with him to the king’s palace where the wedding ceremony could be properly performed.

Yudhiṣṭhira assented and the messenger showed the brothers to a couple of golden chariots which Drupada had sent. After placing Kuntī and Draupadī on one of them, they mounted the other and all of them left for Kāmpilya. The white steeds drawing the chariots soon brought them to Drupada’s palace. As the Pāṇḍavas dismounted they were greeted by the king’s ministers, who led them to the hall where the feast was waiting. Headed by Yudhiṣṭhira, the brothers entered the vast chamber which was spread with costly rugs. Many long tables lined the walls, which were studded with countless gems. On one table the king had placed various items associated with Brahminical life--sacrificial paraphernalia, holy books and garlands. On another were items used by the vaiśyā class--farming implements, ropes, seeds and the like. On yet another were weapons, armor, shields, rockets and other instruments of war, and expensive cloths, gold ornaments and other fine things of different types.

Everyone gazed at the brothers as they strode into the hall. Seeing those powerful men clad in black deerskins--each with the gait of a sportive lion, broad shoulders, long and well-muscled arms resembling serpents, eyes like furious bulls--the king and his relatives, ministers and attendants were gladdened. Without hesitation the heroes, in order of age, fearlessly sat upon seats of gold furnished with silk and provided with footstools. At once well-dressed servants and maids fetched many kinds of delicious foods on gold and silver plates. The brothers dined with pleasure on the rich preparations brought before them--food worthy of kings.

When the meal was over they rose and went to the table containing the weapons and royal items. They carefully examined all the pieces, discussing them among themselves. To Drupada and his sons and counselors it was obvious that the brothers belonged to the royal order.

Drupada approached Yudhiṣṭhira and said, “Sir, are we to know you as Brahmins or kṣatriyas of the royal order? Are you vaiśyās? Or even śūdras? Perhaps you are celestials who have assumed the disguise of Brahmins and are roaming the earth. Please truly tell us. Truth becomes monarchs even more than sacrifice or charity. Once we have ascertained the order to which you belong, we can arrange an appropriate wedding ceremony.”

Yudhiṣṭhira looked at the king and smiled. He spoke in a voice as deep as the rumbling of clouds. “O King, you may dispel your doubts and be cheerful. There is no doubt that your desire has been fulfilled. We five are royalty, the sons of the illustrious Pāṇḍu. I am Yudhiṣṭhira. Your daughter was won by Arjuna who, along with Bhīma, fought with the other kings. She is like a lotus that has been transplanted from one clear lake to another. With Draupadī in the ladies’ chamber is Kuntī, our mother.”

Yudhiṣṭhira folded his palms and said that he had told the king everything that needed to be told. Surrounded by his brothers, he added, “O King, you are our revered elder and superior. We now take shelter of you. Tell us, what should be done?”

Drupada was filled with delight. Tears flowed from his eyes and he was unable to speak. He stood for some moments with all his limbs trembling. Finally he managed with great effort to suppress his joy. He said, “O hero, I cannot express my happiness in words. Today my birth stands fulfilled and my dreams are realized. This is indeed an auspicious day. Tell me, how did you all escape from the fire at Vāraṇāvata?”

Drupada and his two sons, Dhṛṣṭadyumna and Śikhaṇḍī, listened as Yudhiṣṭhira narrated the story. When he had finished they censured Duryodhana and his weak father. Drupada gave every assurance to Yudhiṣṭhira, vowing that he would somehow restore him to his rightful position as king in Hastināpura. He gave the brothers accommodations in his own palace and treated them with all respect.

The following day Drupada again spoke to Yudhiṣṭhira. “O mighty-armed one, today is a day marked by favorable stars. Let Arjuna take my daughter’s hand with all due rites.”

Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “O King, if my younger brother is to marry today, then I shall also have to accept a bride, for that is the religious ordinance.”

Drupada nodded understandingly. “Then you must accept the hand of Draupadī in the sacred marriage ceremony. Or give her to whichever of your brothers as pleases you.”

Yudhiṣṭhira said, “The princess shall become the wife of us all. Our mother has ordered this. It was Dhanañjaya who won your jewel of a daughter, but the rule among us is that we share equally any jewels we obtain. Therefore Draupadī may accept each of us, one after another, according to age.”

Drupada stepped back, his eyes wide with surprise. “O mighty-armed hero, I have heard that a man may accept many wives, but never that a woman may accept more than one husband. You are famed for your virtue. How then can you approve an act so contrary to tradition and indeed scriptural injunction?”

The king was surrounded by his sons and ministers and they all listened carefully as the Pāṇḍava prince replied. He told them that morality was subtle and its application was dependent upon circumstances. One therefore had to follow the authorities. His mother had ordered them all to marry the princess and that order had found acceptance in Yudhiṣṭhira’s mind, which had never entertained thought of sin in his life. The prince was certain there would be no sin if Draupadī married all five brothers.

Drupada was still not convinced. He wanted more time to think. It was entirely unprecedented that a woman could marry many men at the same time. He asked Yudhiṣṭhira if they could discuss the matter further with Kuntī, Dhṛṣṭadyumna and the learned Brahmins in his court. Yudhiṣṭhira agreed and sat in the king’s council chamber for the discussion.

They had only been speaking a short while when the palace attendants announced Vyāsadeva’s arrival. As the sage was shown in, everyone present offered their respectful obeisances at his feet. Vyāsadeva greeted them in return and offered blessings to Drupada and the Pāṇḍavas. After they had taken their seats, Drupada asked, “O illustrious one, is it possible for one woman to marry many men without being defiled by sin? Please tell me truly.”

Vyāsadeva replied that such a practice was certainly opposed to both the direction of the Vedas and tradition. Although practiced in former ages it had long become obsolete. The sage looked at Drupada and Yudhiṣṭhira and asked both of them for their opinions. Drupada revealed his doubts. He could not see any way by which the five brothers could all become Draupadī’s husband. It would mean that the elder brother would be approaching his junior’s wife. According to scripture, that would be the same as approaching his daughter.

Yudhiṣṭhira replied that his heart, which could never turn to sin, felt no misgivings about the proposed marriage. He cited a historical example of a Brahmin girl named Jatila who had married seven ṛṣis at once. There was also the case of the famous ascetics known as the Pracetās. They too, being brothers, had accepted one woman as their shared wife. These examples were found in the Vedas and were not considered sinful. In certain circumstances even established rules may be broken in order to preserve a higher religious principle.

Kuntī agreed with her son and asked the sage how she could be saved from untruth. Vyāsadeva replied, “O gentle lady, you shall certainly be saved from sin. This is eternal virtue.”

The sage turned to Drupada and said, “I wish to speak with you in confidence, O King.” Vyāsadeva rose and took hold of Drupada’s hand. They went into the king’s chamber while everyone waited outside. When they were alone Vyāsadeva explained to the king why the marriage conformed with virtue. The ascetic told Drupada that Draupadī had been the daughter of a ṛṣi in a previous life. She had prayed to Śiva for a husband. In her prayer she asked the deity five times for a powerful husband. Śiva had replied, “Since you have asked me five times, in your next birth you shall have five husbands.” Śiva could not possibly ordain a sinful act.

Vyāsadeva further explained that the princess was an expansion of the Goddess Lakṣmī. She had appeared from the sacrificial fire in order to become the Pāṇḍavas’ wife, who themselves had all been gods in their past lives. In fact, the sage explained, all the brothers had been incarnations of Indra in different millenniums.

Vyāsadeva bestowed upon the king the divine sight to see the Pāṇḍavas as they had been in previous lives. In his inner vision Drupada saw the blazing form of Indra that each brother had possessed--their celestial bodies adorned with golden crowns and garlands.

Struck with wonder, Drupada folded his palms and said to the sage, “O great Ṛṣi, there is nothing outside your knowledge or capabilities. My mind is now satisfied. What has been ordained by the celestials must always come to pass. We are all instruments in the hands of destiny. Let my daughter accept all five brothers as her husbands.”

The king and the sage rejoined the others and informed them of Drupada’s change of heart. Vyāsadeva said, “Today the moon has entered the auspicious constellation of Puṣyā. The first ceremony should be performed at once and Yudhiṣṭhira can accept Draupadī’s hand.”

Drupada ordered his ministers and priests to make all the arrangements. A sacred fire was lit in the vast inner courtyard of the king’s palace. Rows of pennants bearing the emblems of the gods lined the sacrificial arena, which was full of Brahmins chanting hymns. A beautiful altar was constructed from coral and gold and bedecked with sparkling jewels. Fragrant garlands were draped everywhere and the aroma of costly incenses wafted throughout the courtyard.

The king with his relatives and friends took their places in the compound, which lay next to a large lake of lotuses. Citizens of all classes assembled in the courtyard to observe the ceremony--Brahmins with their heads covered by simple cloths, wealthy merchants shielding themselves from the bright sunshine with decorated parasols, and śūdras in their brightest clothes. All watched as the five brothers, dressed in silk robes and adorned with shining gold earrings, entered the compound like mighty bulls entering their pen. Dhaumya walked at their head. His bodily luster was as brilliant as the sun. He sat by the fire and offered libations of ghee. As the flames rose he chanted mantras invoking the presence of Viṣṇu and the prinicipal deities. Then he called Yudhiṣṭhira to come forward and accept Draupadī’s hand. The dark-complexioned princess, clad in bright yellow silks and decorated with many precious jewels, her long curling hair adorned with flowers, stood to receive Yudhiṣṭhira. The bride and groom took each other’s hand and walked around the sacred fire seven times, sealing their union.

On the days following Yudhiṣṭhira’s wedding, each of the brothers married the Pañchāla princess. Vyāsadeva informed the king that by the gods’ arrangement, his daughter regained her virginity each day after a marriage and before the next marriage took place. When all five weddings had been sanctified, Drupada sat before the sacred fire and gave the brothers charity. To each of them he gifted one hundred golden chariots drawn by four excellent steeds, one hundred mature elephants and one hundred maidservants adorned with ornaments and flower garlands. He also gave them large amounts of gold, various precious stones and many valuable robes. Like so many celestials the brothers began passing their days in joy in Pañchāla, the king’s capital. For his part, having formed an alliance with the Pāṇḍavas, Drupada did not fear even the gods in heaven.

After arriving back at Mathurā, Kṛṣṇa arranged for vast amounts of wealth to be sent as a gift to the Pāṇḍavas. Great heaps of unworked gold bricks and piles of precious stones, including numbers of priceless vaidurya gems, soon arrived at Kāmpilya and were offered to the brothers. Costly carpets, robes, blankets and skins were placed before them in piles. Kṛṣṇa also sent them thousands of maidservants--all young, beautiful and highly accomplished. Well-trained elephants and horses, as well as hundreds of chariots, were also presented.

Out of love for Kṛṣṇa, Yudhiṣṭhira graciously accepted the wealth and sent back a message of gratitude. Secure in the knowledge of Kṛṣṇa’s friendship and blessings, all the brothers felt their good fortune assured in every way.