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The Choice of Draupadi

Drupada's Hope--Conditions for winning his Daughter--The Great Bow and Whirling Target--The Swayamvara--Pandavas in Disguise--Lovesick Rajahs put to Shame--Karna strings the Bow--Rejected as a Base-born Suitor--Arjuna's Triumph--Chosen by Princess--An Angry Scene--Rajahs seek Vengeance--Warriors attack Supposed Brahmans--Karna and Salya overcome--Princess taken to Potter's House--Pritha's Command--An Evening Meal--The Royal Spy.

Now Drupada had long cherished the hope that Arjuna would become his daughter's husband. He never revealed his wish to any man, but ere he proclaimed the swayamvara of Draupadi, he thought of the great Pandava archer, and caused to be made a powerful bow which only a strong man could bend and string. For a target he had constructed a strange and curious device: a high pole was erected, and it was surmounted by a golden fish, which was poised above a swiftly-revolving wheel. Then Drupada issued a proclamation far and wide summoning the regents and princes of the world to the swayamvara. He said: "The man who will bend the bow and shoot an arrow through the wheel which will strike and bring down the golden fish shall obtain my daughter in marriage." None but a mighty archer who was Arjuna's equal could hope to win the beautiful Draupadi, for five arrows only were allowed to each competitor, and the fish must needs be struck on an eye to be brought down.

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A great field was enclosed for the swayamvara. It was surrounded by a fosse and barrier and swan-white pavilions, with domes and turrets that were agleam with gold and jewels, festoons and streamers and bright gar-lands. The turrets of the royal mansion were lofty and golden like Himalayan mountain peaks.

For sixteen days there were sports and banquets, and everyone within the city made merry. Then came the great and festal day. At dawn trumpets and drums awakened the people, and flags and flowers decorated every street. The whole populace gathered on the plain and massed around the barriers. The rajah's soldiers kept order, and wrestlers and jugglers and dancers and musicians performed merrily until the appointed hour drew nigh.

At length the people roared their welcome to the king and the high-born ladies and all the royal guests, who thronged the galleries and pavilions. The mighty rajahs, frowning defiance one upon another, were ranged on lofty seats round the throne of King Drupada. Multitudes had gathered to gaze on the glittering scene, pressing against the barriers, or clustering on trees and scaffolds, while others looked down from lofty lattice and high house roofs. . . . A thousand trumpets clamoured; and the murmuring of the swaying people was like the voice of the heaving main.

Among others came in all her beauty the Princess Draupadi, stepping gently and sweet, bearing in a delicate hand the golden bridal garland, which was adorned with sparkling gems. Tardily she made approach, blushing with increasing loveliness, and appeared in the presence of the princes. Mighty and high-born men were there. The Pandavas beheld in the galleries their enemies Duryodhana, Karna, and all the great Kauravas, and they

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saw also Krishna, the amorous and powerful one, and his brother, the wine-drinking Balarama 1, the Yádava princes, the Rajah of Sindhu and his sons, the Rajah of Chedi, the Rajah of Kosala, the Rajah of Madra, and many more. Now the Pandavas were still disguised as Brahmans, and stood among the holy men.

An aged and white-haired Brahman, clad in white, approached the high altar, chanting mantras. He spread the holy grass and poured out oil; then he kindled the sacred fire, and the offering to the gods was blessed.

Thereafter the thousand trumpets were sounded, and a tense silence fell upon the buzzing crowd. In the solemn hush all eyes were turned towards the royal mansion as Drupada's valiant son, Dhrishta-dyumna, led forth his sister Draupadi, and in a voice like thunder proclaimed his father's will, saying:

"Here stands the noble princess, my sister. Whosoever can bend this bow, and strike with an arrow yonder whirling target set on high, may, if his lineage is noble, claim Draupadi for his bride. My words are truth!"

Having spoken thus, the prince recited to his sister the names of the royal guests, their lineage and their deeds of fame, and bade her award the golden garland to the successful archer.

The rajahs then descended from their gorgeous thrones and gathered around Draupadi as the bright gods gather around Párvati, the mountain bride of Shiva. Their hearts were filled with love for the maiden and with hate for one another. Rivals frowned upon rivals. Those who had been close friends became of a sudden angry enemies because that Draupadi was so beautiful. Krishna

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and Balarama alone remained aloof; calmly and self-restrained they stood apart, while rajah opposed rajah like to angry elephants.

Each of the love-sick monarchs gazed upon the mighty bow and upon the whirling target on high, and for a time no man sought to lift the bow lest he should be unable to bend it and then be put to shame. At length a rajah, more bold than the others, picked it up and tried his strength without avail; another followed and another, but failed to string it. Soon many rajahs strained their arms in vain, and some fell upon the ground and groaned, while the laughter of the people pealed around the barriers. . . . The gods had assembled in mid-air and looked down with steadfast eyes.

At length proud Karna strode forward; he took the bow and bent it and fixed the bowstring. Then he seized an arrow. Drupada and his son were alarmed, fearing he might succeed and claim the bride. Suddenly Draupadi intervened, for she would not have the son of a charioteer for her lord. She said, speaking loudly: "I am a king's daughter, and will not wed with the base-born. . . ."

Karna smiled bitterly, his face aflame. He cast down the bow and walked away, gazing towards the sun. He said: "O sun! be my witness that I cast aside the bow, not because I am unable to hit the mark, but because Draupadi scorns me."

Others sought to perform the feat, but in vain, and many rajahs feared to make attempt lest they should compel the laughter of the people. A buzz of merry voices arose from beyond the barriers.

Meanwhile the Pandava brethren, disguised as Brahmans, looked on with the others.

Then suddenly silence fell upon everyone, for Arjuna

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advanced from the priestly band to lift the bow. The Brahmans applauded him, shaking their deerskins.

Said the rajahs: "Can a weakly Brahman, who is a mere stripling, accomplish a feat which is beyond the strength of mighty warriors."

Others said: "The Brahman knoweth best his own skill. He would not go forward if he were not confident of success."

An aged priest endeavoured to restrain Arjuna, lest he should by his failure bring ridicule upon the Brahmans; but the hero would not be thwarted. He strode forward like to a stately elephant and bared his broad shoulders and ample chest. He was nimble as a lion, and calm and self-possessed.

Ere he lifted the bow, he walked round it; then he addressed a prayer to the gods. . . . He stood up unmoved and serene as a mountain peak, and he bent the bow and fixed an arrow in it. . . .

All eyes watched him. He drew the cord, and the arrow flew upwards with a hissing sound; it hit the target eye, and the golden fish fell over and clashed upon the ground.

Like distant thunder arose the plaudits of the multitude; hundreds of Brahmans shouted in ecstasy and waved their scarfs; a thousand trumpets clamoured in triumph, and the drums were beaten loud. . . .

The heart of Draupadi was filled with joy, and, smiling coyly, she advanced towards Arjuna and flung the golden bridal garland over his shoulders. Celestial blossoms fluttered, descending through the air, and the sound of celestial music was heard.

Drupada was well pleased, because he had already recognized the hero in his Brahman guise; but the jealous rajahs stormed in fury, and each said unto the other:

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[paragraph continues] "Behold! the king goeth to greet this youth. To him we are as worthless as jungle grass; he tramples upon us in his pride. . . . Are we to be humbled by a Brahman and denied the fruit of our nourished hopes? The daughter of a rajah must even choose a Kshatriya for her husband. . . . Verily, the life of a priest is sacred, but the rajah who scorns his peers must die--he and his son together. Let us seize also this shameless woman who honours the Brahman--that trespasser of our birthright--so that she may be burned at the stake!"

Shouting with anger one to another, the rajahs poured from the galleries with drawn swords and rushed towards Arjuna and the princess. Like ponderous wild elephants they advanced; but the Pandavas rose against them. Arjuna bent the great bow, and Bhima, having no weapon, uprooted a tree and stood defying them like to hell's stern judge wielding his mighty club. Yudhishthira and the younger brothers were soon beside them, and the Brahmans hastened also to give their aid.

For a moment the rajahs paused, wondering at the daring of the priestly band; but impatient Karna and angry Salya, Rajah of Madra, dashed forward like to infuriated elephants against Arjuna and Bhima. The brothers sustained the shock, and when Karna had been struck by Arjuna, he faltered in amaze and said: "Brahman, who art thou? Art thou a god in human guise? No Brahman could thus attack me, nor dost there live a man who can thwart me with defiance as thou hast done even now, save Arjuna alone."

Said Arjuna, "I am nor god nor hero, but a humble Brahman who hath been trained to use of arms. I have come hither to tame thy pride, thou haughty youth; therefore be firm."

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But Karna fell back, deeming it vain to oppose the power of a holy man.

Meanwhile Madra's king fought against peerless Bhima. Both were long-armed and of gigantic strength. Sharp and fierce was their conflict. When their clubs were splintered, they leapt one upon the other and wrestled fiercely, struggling with all their might. Then, of a sudden, Bhima stopped and swung aloft the mighty rajah and threw him heavily upon the ground, where he lay unconscious and bleeding before the eyes of the multitude.

The rajahs drew back, humbled because of Karna's flight and Salya's downfall.

"Brave, indeed, are the Brahmans," they said. "Who can they be? What is their lineage? and whence come they?"

The Pandavas scorned to make answer. But Krishna had knowledge of who they were, and he interposed with gentle words to soothe the angry rajahs. The monarchs heard him and withdrew, and the tumult was appeased.

Then Arjuna took Draupadi by the hand and led her away in peace from that scene of angry strife. So ended the swayamvara, and Krishna declared that the bride had been fairly won.

The Pandava brethren went towards the house of the potter, and they entered and addressed their mother Pritha, saying: "A great gift have we obtained this day."

Said Pritha: "Then share the gift between you, as becomes brethren."

Yudhishthira said: "What hast thou said, O mother? The gift is the Princess Draupadi whom Arjuna hath won at the swayamvara."

Said Pritha: "Alas! what have I said? I have sinned deeply in saying, 'Then share the gift between you, as

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becomes brethren.' But, O Yudhishthira, my son, the fatal words have been spoken; you must devise how they can be obeyed without involving one another in wrong."

Yudhishthira pondered a time and then spake to Arjuna, saying: "My brother, thou hast won Draupadi by thine own merit. She must therefore be thy bride."

Said Arjuna: "Thou, Yudhishthira, art our elder brother and we are thy servants. The princess is for thee."

Yudhishthira said: "Let this matter be arranged in accordance with the will of the gods. It is for Drupada to say unto which of us his daughter will be given."

Now, as hath already been told, each one of the Pandavas yearned in his secret heart to have Draupadi for his bride. . . .

Meanwhile the evening meal had been prepared, and Pritha desired that the princess should at once take her place, and serve out the portions to the brethren. So she said unto Draupadi: "Divide the food, and first set aside a share for the poor; then cut what is left into two parts, one part for Bhima, and the rest for my other sons and for thee and me."

The princess smiled when she beheld the great meal which Bhima devoured.

When they had all eaten they retired to rest. Draupadi slept with Pritha, and the brethren lay at their feet.

King Drupada was sore troubled in heart after his daughter had been led away to the potter's house, and he sent his valiant son to watch her. Dhrishta-dyumna went forth in disguise, and, listening at the window, he discovered to his joy that the Brahmans were no other than the Pandava brethren. He returned to his royal sire and related all that had happened, and what had been

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spoken at the evening meal. The king was well pleased because that the brethren were Kshatriyas and not Brahmans.

In the morning Drupada sent a priest to the potter's house to ask how it fared with all the brethren.

Said Yudhishthira: "Inform thou the rajah that his daughter hath been won by a family who will not bring shame or disgrace upon his royal name. None but a man of high birth could have shot down the fish of gold."

Drupada, ere this message was delivered unto him, sent a second messenger bidding the brethren to come to the palace because that the nuptial feast was ready. . . . Two chariots awaited them. Then Pritha and Draupadi entered one of the chariots together, and the five brethren entered the other, and they were all driven towards the royal palace.

When the people beheld the Pandavas and marked their comely bearing and royal gait, they knew that they were not Brahmans, but high-born Kshatriyas.

The Pandava guests were made welcome, and the king and his son and all his counsellors sat down to feast with them.

Said the rajah at length unto Yudhishthira: "I perceive that you are men of high birth. Tell me, therefore, I pray thee, who ye are--your names and your lineage."

Yudhishthira said: "We are of humble birth. Do now with us as is thy desire."

Said Drupada: "In Indra's name, I adjure thee to reveal yourselves unto me now."

Yudhishthira said: "Know, then, that we are the Pandava princes. . . . Our brother Arjuna was the winner of Draupadi. Thy daughter, like to a lotus,

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hath been but transferred from one lake to another. I have spoken what is true."

Drupada glowed with joy and satisfaction. He prevailed upon the brethren to remain at the palace, and entertained them for many days.

At length Yudhishthira was addressed by Drupada, who said: "Thou art the elder brother. Speak and say if it is thy desire that Arjuna be given Draupadi for his bride."

Said Yudhishthira: "I would fain speak with Vyasa, the great Rishi, regarding this matter."

Now Vyasa was in the city of Panchala at that time, and he was brought before the rajah, who spake to him regarding Draupadi.

The Rishi said: "The gods have already declared that she will become the wife of all the five Pandava brethren."

Drupada's son spoke and said: "With reverence I have heard thy words, O Vyasa, but to me it appears that Draupadi hath been betrothed unto Arjuna alone."

Said Yudhishthira: "Thou hast spoken truly, but there is wisdom in the words of Vyasa which in my heart I cannot condemn. Besides, our mother hath already commanded us to share our gift together."

Then Vyasa told that Draupadi was the re-incarnation of a pious woman who once prayed unto the god Shiva for a husband: five times she prayed, and the god rewarded her with the promise of five husbands in her next existence. Vyasa also revealed that the Pandava brethren were five incarnations of Indra, and thus were but as one.

Drupada then gave consent for his daughter to become the bride of all the brethren, and it was arranged that she should be married unto them all, one after the

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other, according to their ages. So on five successive days she was led round the holy fire by each of the five Pandava princes.

Drupada thereafter conferred great gifts upon his sons-in-law; he gave them much gold and many jewels, and he gave them numerous horses and chariots and elephants, and also a hundred female servants clad in many-coloured robes, and adorned with gems and bright garlands. Unto the Pandavas Krishna gave much raiment and ornaments of gold, and rare vessels sparkling with jewels, besides female servants from various kingdoms.

Now when Duryodhana came to know that the Pandava brethren were still alive, and had formed a powerful alliance with Drupada, he was moved to jealous wrath. A great council was held, at which the young men clamoured for war and the grave elders spoke in favour of peace. At length it was agreed that the Pandava princes should be invited to return to Hastinapur so that the raj might be divided between them and the sons of Dhritarashtra. Then Vidura was sent to Panchala to speak with the Rajah Drupada and his sons-in-law regarding this matter.


215:1 Pron. bal-a-rah´ma.

Next: Chapter XIV. Triumph of the Pandavas