From Ekachakra, the Pandavas, disguised as Brahmins, arrived at Panchal to attend the swyambara ceremony of Draupadi. They already had heard of the heavenly beauty of Draupadi, the daughter of king Drupad.
At the swyambara assembly, the Pandavas sat next to other Brahmins, away from the royal dignitaries. No one in the assembly recognized the Pandavas. Krishna, the king of Dwarka, was present as an honored guest.
At the appropriate time, king Drupad greeted and honored all the participants and announced that his daughter Draupadi was going to enter the venue. Amidst the sounds of bugles, drums and melodious music, princess Draupadi, accompanied by her brother Dhrishtadyumna, entered the swyambara hall. As soon she entered, all eyes turned to her. She looked like a heavenly nymph.
Within a short while, Dhrishtadyumna addressing the gathering said, “Honorable princes, you can see a fish hanging from a revolving wheel fixed on the top of a pole. The reflection of the fish is seen in a wide pan full of oil, placed at the bottom of the pole. The competitor, who hits the eye of the fish while looking at the image, shall win the hands of my sister Draupadi.”
A bow with arrows had been placed on the stage for the feat.
The event began and a number of princes came forward and tried their luck one after another. But none of them were successful. One by one, they returned to their seats with a fallen face.
When Karna’s turn came Draupadi spoke out. She refused to marry Karna for lack of royal lineage. Karna was the son of a charioteer. Karna left the hall in resentment.
Drupad and Dhrishtadyumna were getting worried since all of the princes present at the function had failed. Finally, Arjuna, in the disguise of a Brahmin got up and advanced towards the stage. People were amazed to see a Brahmin challenging the valiant princes. Being a Brahmin in disguise, who belong to a superior cast than the Kshatriyas (the warrior princes), Arjuna could not be stopped.
“He must have gone crazy!” remarked one of the Brahmins.
Staying calm and composed, Arjuna picked up the bow and arrow. He looked down at the reflection of the fish in the oil pan and drew the cord of the bow and shot the arrow. In a flash, the arrow darted with a twang and pierced the eye of the fish. People could not believe that a Brahmin could master the skill of archery better than any prince could.
The princes felt insulted and came forward to kill Arjuna. Immediately the rest of the Pandavas grouped together to defend Arjuna. Soon enough, all the people realized the strength and skill of the five brothers, the Pandavas. Finally, Krishna stepped in and asked the frustrated princes to take their failure gracefully and the fighting stopped.
Duryodhana guessed that the winner must be Arjuna, and the four other Brahmins must be the Pandava brothers. He was amazed as to how they could escape the fire at Varnavat.
The Pandavas returned home with Draupadi as Arjuna’s wife. Kunti was waiting for them thinking that her five sons will return home soon with their daily collection of alms.
Yudhishthira spoke after reaching home, “Look mother what have we brought for you today!”
Kunti was inside and did not see what Yudhishthira was talking about. So she casually said without looking to them, “Divide it equally among yourselves.” But soon she noticed Draupadi and felt highly embarrassed at what she had said. She repented, “My sons, I was under an impression that you had brought something special by way of alms from some charitable wealthy person. That is why I directed you to share it equally.”
Once spoken, Kunti’s words could not be taken back and her dedicated five sons took Draupadi as their common wife. Draupadi accepted. She soon knew that the five brothers were the Pandavas. She then thanked her stars for becoming a bride of the royal family of Hastinapur.
After the swayambara, Dhrishtadyumna, Draupadi’s brother, stealthily followed the five Brahmin brothers and found out their identities. Happily he returned home and informed his father Drupada that they are none but the Pandavas. The royal family immediately decided to throw a party in celebration. During the celebration, the identities of the Pandavas were revealed and King Drupad became their close allies.
News reached Hastinapur. Bheeshma advised Dhritarashtra to give half of the kingdom to the Pandavas. Duryodhana did not like this idea but kept quiet and waited for the next opportunity to wipe off the Pandavas.
Dhritarashtra sent Vidur, the Prime Minister, to king Drupada for the return of the Pandavas to Hastinapur. Pandavas agreed and they proudly returned to Hastinapur along with Kunti and Draupadi. Upon their arrival, a grand welcome was accorded to the princes whom people believed to have died in the fair. They were delighted to see them and joined the celebration.
The Pandavas touched the feet of all the elders, Bheeshma, Dhritarashtra, Vidur, Dronacharya and others, and were happy to be back. Dhritarashtra, in consultation with other members of the cabinet, offered Khandavprastha to the Pandavas to settle. Yudhishthira, modest and accommodating as he was, accepted the offer and proceeded to Khandavprastha, their own kingdom.
In due course of time, the Pandavas made Indraprastha as the capital of Khandaprastha. Indraprastha took the shape of a beautiful township with an impressive palace. People were happy and loved their king, Yudhishthira.
In order to avoid misunderstanding, Narada advised the Pandavas to draw up a code of conduct whereby each brother was to enjoy Draupadi’s company in complete privacy. If this was interrupted, the violator was to go into exile for a period of twelve years.
Everything was going smooth until one day, a Brahmin came wailing bitterly to Arjuna. Thieves had stolen his cows. Arjuna consoled and promised to go after the thieves. But he suddenly realized that his weapons were left in Draupadi’s bedchamber and Yudhishthira was enjoying her company at that time. Arjuna was in a dilemma. But he chose to violate the code and go for the exile instead of falling short in his promises to the Brahmin. He knocked the door, begged excuse, picked up his bow and arrow, and went after the thieves.
Arjuna returned after restoring the cows to the Brahmin. Then he came straight to his elder brother Yudhisthira and apologized for breaking the code.
Arjuna said, “I am guilty of violating our mutually agreed arrangement and now I seek your permission to go into exile for twelve years.”
Yudhisthira tried to persuade Arjuna to change his mind by arguing that he entered the private room in order to protect his subject and not for any personal reason. But Arjuna insisted to obey the rules laid down by sage Narada without making any exception and soon left for the forest.
From Indraprastha, Arjuna first went to the Himalayas and passed his time in the company of sages, attending their discourses and performing the religious rituals.
One day Ulupi, daughter of the Naga king, who was the ruler of the serpent world under water, saw Arjuna engaged in his religious pursuits. Arjuna’s handsome personality always attracted the damsels. Ulupi was no exception. She immediately fell in love and decided to abduct Arjuna and marry him. So, when Arjuna went for a bath in the river, she grabbed him and took him to her father’s under water palace. Arjuna was puzzled by the abduction and asked Ulupi about her intentions.
Ulupi explained, “I am the princess of the Naga kingdom. I am sorry for the inconvenience caused to you. I have brought you here to make you my husband. You have no way to escape.”
Arjuna had no choice. He accepted the proposal offered by Ulupi and stayed with her for a while. Then one day Arjuna appealed to Ulupi the reason for his inability to continue staying with her when he was expected
to travel during his period of exile. Ulupi agreed and returned Arjuna to the surface. Before bidding him farewell, she gave Arjuna a boon of protection from the bite of any water creature.
Arjuna then went on a long journey towards the east and finally reached Manipur. Chitravahana was then the king of Manipur. He accorded him a warm welcome and Arjuna decided to stay with him for a while. Chitravahana had a beautiful daughter, Chitrangada.
Arjuna was fascinated by Chitrangada’s beauty and decided to marry her. So he approached Chitravahana asking for Chitrangada’s hand in marriage. Chitravahana was happy, but he put a condition for the marriage.
“Chitrangada is my only child and I do not have an heir to continue my dynasty. So, I have decided to adopt her son. If you plan to marry Chitrangada, you must give me her son who will be the crown prince of my kingdom.”
Arjuna accepted the condition and married Chitrangada. Finally, a son was born after three years whom Chitravahana adopted. Then Arjuna continued his journey, as expected, leaving Chitrangada in Manipur.
After leaving Manipur, Arjuna moved southward reaching the seashore (close to the present pilgrimage center of Puri). There he was once again in the company of sages and saints.
One day, the sages complained to Arjuna that the nearby waters were infested with ferocious crocodiles. They had to go a long way to other back waters in order to take a bath. Arjuna promised to do away with the crocodiles. Mindful of Ulupi’s boon, Arjuna jumped into the waters to kill the crocodiles. Soon a huge crocodile caught his leg and Arjuna promptly dragged the crocodile out of the water. To his utter surprise, the crocodile was instantaneously transformed into a heavenly nymph.
Arjuna asked, “Who are you?”
The nymph answered, “Long ago, my four friends and I were playing in water and offended a sage. The sage cursed us to become crocodiles and stay in water forever. We apologized and begged for mercy. The sage took pity on us and toned the curse down by saying that we would be rescued many years later when a virtuous warrior would pull us out of the water. We would then be transformed into our true self. So, please be kind to rescue my other four friends also.”
Arjuna agreed and one by one pulled out the remaining four crocodiles. Like the previous one, they also got back into their real form of heavenly maidens. They all thanked Arjuna heartily for liberating them; they then departed to their heavenly abode.
After a while, Arjuna headed towards Prabhas, located on the west coast of India, to spend time in meditation. There he decided to move to Dwaraka to stay with Krishna, his best friend. Krishna’s elder brother Balarama, the king, gave a warm welcome to Arjuna and Arjuna stayed in Dwaraka for few days.
One day Arjuna caught sight of Subhadra, Krishna’s sister, and fell in love with her. Balarama, however, already chose Duryodhana as Subhadra’s future husband. When Krishna foresaw the situation, he indirectly suggested Arjuna to elope with Subhadra, saying, “A Kshatriya like you never begs to win his lady-love. He wins her hand by force.”
Arjuna got the clue. He borrowed Krishna’s chariot and forcibly took Subhadra away when she was returning from the temple. Balarama flew into a rage and called for Krishna before waging war against Arjuna. He had guessed that the abduction must have been committed with the connivance of Krishna.
Balarama burst out at Krishna. “It is disgraceful to tolerate the misdoing of Arjuna, your best friend. I could never imagine that a royal guest like him will return our favor by this mean act. What do you have to say before we go after Arjuna?”
Krishna heard the allegations carefully and spoke in a pacifying mood.
“Brother Balarama, isn’t it a pride for us to be related to the Pandavas? They will be our strong allies. Arjuna is invincible, and if we are defeated, it will be more disgraceful. I will suggest that we honorably call Arjuna back and arrange for a royal marriage between Subhadra and Arjuna.”
Balarama comprehended the gravity of the situation and realized the odds of winning a fight against Arjuna. Thus, he soon arranged for their royal marriage and Arjuna moved to Pushkar, near modern Ajmer. Here he spent the rest of his period of exile.
After the completion of the exile period, Arjuna returned to Indraprashtha with Subhadra. As Arjuna went to see Yudhishthira to pay his respect, Subhadra went to see Kunti and touched her feet with great reverence. Draupadi was quite upset in the beginning but Subhadra’s humility won her heart in no time.
“Sister, kindly accept me as your maid-in-attendance” said Subhadra in a humble voice.
Balarama and Krishna came to Indraprastha to join the celebration of Arjuna’s return and strengthening their ties with the Pandavas as their in-laws. After few days Balarama returned to Dwaraka and Krishna chose to stay behind.
In due course of time, Subhadra gave birth to a lovely son who was named Abhimanyu. Draupadi gave birth to five sons – one from each of her husband. Gradually the princes of the Pandavas grew up to their manhood as strong as their parents and uncles and everyone was proud of them.
One day, while Krishna and Arjuna were talking under a tree during Krishna’s visit with the Pandavas, a Brahmin approached and requested for their help.
“How can we help you?” asked Krishna.
The Brahmin replied, “I am Agni, the fire-god. I am very hungry to eat meat. I am tired of eating only ghee, that is concentrated butter, offered to me by the sages. Help me to eat the animals of the Khandava forest. I tried to accomplish this task by myself several times, but unfortunately, Indra, the god of weather, protects the Khandava forest. As soon as I try to burn the forest, Indra pours rain and I am extinguished. I need your help to stall Indra until I am done consuming the Khandava forest.”
Krishna and Arjuna agreed to help Agni. However, they did not have any celestial weapon to fight Indra. They told Agni of their limitations. Then Agni, through his divine powers, produced the celestial weapons that Krishna and Arjuna needed.
When everything was ready, Agni ignited the forest and in no time the entire forest was in flame. Indra was promptly informed and he rushed with his army to protect the Khandava forest. Krishna and Arjuna successfully kept Indra’s army at bay. Suddenly Krishna saw a demon running out of the forest and Agni was chasing him. The demon sought Arjuna’s asylum. The fire-god turned back and left him with Arjuna. Finally, Agni was satisfied and thanked Krishna and Arjuna.
When Agni left, the demon introduced himself to Krishna and Arjuna. “I am Maya (illusion), the architect of Vishwakarma. I possess a miraculous skill in architecture. Allow me to do something for you in return for saving my life”, he said.
Krishna asked Maya to build a palace for King Yudhishthira, which would be the best on the earth. Maya gladly agreed.
In no time, a beautiful palace was built in Indraprastha, the kingdom of the Pandavas. The royal priest suggested that an inauguration be made for the palace before it is occupied. The Pandavas, in consultation with Krishna, decided to perform Rajasuya Yajna for its inauguration. One of the conditions of the Rajasuya Yajna is that the neighboring kingdoms must accept the supremacy of the performer, the Pandavas. The only one who objected to this was Jarasandha, the ruler of Magadh.
Upon Krishna’s advice, Yudhishthira sent the party of Bheema, Arjuna and Krishna to Magadh to meet Jarasandha. Jarasandha had imprisoned many kings and occupied their kingdoms by defeating them on a dual. He was blessed by Shiva and was practically invincible.
The story says that Jarasandha’s father was desperate for a son and had prayed to Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva was pleased and gave
him a fruit. Shiva said, “Ask your wife to eat the fruit and she will soon have a child,” But Jarasandha’s father had two wives. He had to be fair to both and so he split the fruit, giving one half to each wife. As a result, each was born with one half of the child. A witch, named Jara, joined these two pieces and thus the son was named Jarasandha. Jarasandha’s body had a vertical joint running from top to the lower end of the backbone. The only way he could be killed was to tear him apart and no one was strong enough to do that. However, Krishna knew the secret of killing Jarasandha. He revealed this secret to Bheema.
Jarasandha was informed about the arrival of the party of Krishna, Bheema and Arjuna. As expected, Jarasandha refused to accept the supremacy of the Pandavas. Thus, Krishna asked him to choose one of the Pandavas to settle the matter. Jarasandha knew that he would be no match for Arjuna because of his superior skills in archery. So, he chose Bheema and was confident to defeat him in the dual. They both promised to fight each other untill death.
The fight continued for many hours and finally Bheema lifted him up and flung him down with a thud. Then he tore Jarasandha’s body into two halves. Jarasandha was dead. All the kings were released from prison. They thanked Krishna and Bheema for saving their lives. They became friends of the Pandavas and accepted their supremacy. Jarasandha’s son, Sahadev succeeded the throne of Magadh and became one of the strong allies of the Pandavas.
All kings, including the Kauravas, were invited to the Rajasuya Yajna and the fire worship was completed with great enthusiasm. All the dignitaries honored Krishna. Bheeshma, the grandfather, spoke very highly of him and declared him as the Godhead in a human body.
The only one who was not happy of Krishna’s presence was Sishupal, Krishna’s cousin. He was jealous of Krishna. Sishupal’s mother knew of her son’s shortcomings and Krishna’s power. So, she made Krishna promise that he will not take any action against her son until Sishupal insulted Krishna more than one hundred times. Sishupal publicly insulted Krishna at the ceremony in spite of Bheeshma’s request to stop. Krishna stayed calm until the insults exceeded one hundred times. Then Krishna cut his head off with his chakra (disc).
Following the great ceremony, all the guests left with a great appreciation of the Pandavas. But Duryodhana and his maternal uncle Shakuni extended their stay as special royal guests in order to enjoy the grandeur of the beautiful palace of Yudhishthira. The palace was full of illusionary things. Duryodhanaa was repeatedly fooled and his appreciation soon turned into sheer jealousy. He said to Shakuni, “Uncle, I cannot bear the prosperity of the Pandavas. I feel like attacking them and take away all their wealth.”
“I know a way they can be ripped off and sent to exile” replied Shakuni in his cunning voice.
Duryodhana was getting impatient to know of Shakuni’s trick. Shakuni however asked him to wait until they got out of the charming palace. “Who knows, the walls may have ears,” Shakuni said with agitation.