Arjuna surprises his mother when he returns with his wife-to-be.

The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. As the Mahabharata continues, Arjuna returns with Princess Draupadi to the potter's workshop where the Pandavas and their mother have been living, disguised as brahmanas. Arjuna has just won the hand of Draupadi in a competition among princes.


KUNTI, THE MOTHER of the Pandavas, knew only that her sons had gone out as usual to collect alms and that they had not returned on time. She began to imagine all sorts of calamities that might have befallen them. "I pray that Dhrtarastra's sons have not discovered and killed them, for my sons are the best of the Kurus. Could they have been waylaid by horrible Raksasas, who possess mystical powers and never forgive an enemy? But the great soul Vyasa declared that my sons would be victorious. Could his conclusion be in error?"

Filled with affection for her sons, Prtha thus worried over them until late in the afternoon, when Jisnu Arjuna returned. Like the bright sun surrounded by clouds, he came in surrounded by brahmanas, who kept the Absolute Truth before them.

Prtha's two exalted sons Bhima and Arjuna, the finest of men, went back to the potter's workshop with the greatest of joy. Finding Kunti home, they called to her, joking about Draupadi: "We brought alms!"

Kunti was inside the shop, and without looking at her sons she called back, "All of you enjoy the alms together."

When Kunti saw they had brought a girl, she cried out, "Oh, what a terrible thing I have said!" Embarrassed, and fearful of an irreligious act, Kunti took the very blissful Draupadi by the hand and went to see Yudhisthira.

Kunti said, "Your two younger brothers delivered to me the young daughter of King Drupada, and being distracted, son, I said as usual, 'All of you enjoy the alms together!' O best of the Kurus, how will my statement not prove false, [for I cannot lie]? Yet how will sin not overtake the sinless daughter of the king of Pancala?"

Yudhisthira, a king of tremendous ability, thought over the matter for some time. Then, trying his best to encourage Kunti, the courageous Kuru said to Dhananjaya Arjuna, "You have won Draupadi, O Pandava, and it is you who will satisfy the princess. Now let the sacred fire be ignited. May the offerings be made. You shall lawfully accept her hand."

Arjuna said, "Do not bestow upon me an irreligious deed, my king. What you propose is not the virtue people seek. You, as the eldest brother, will marry first, and then the mighty-armed Bhima, of inconceivable works. I come next, after me comes Nakula, and finally Madri's son Sahadeva will marry. Vrkodara Bhima, the twins, this girl, and I, O king, are all your subordinates. It being thus, you must carefully consider the situation and then do what must be done to enhance our virtue and reputation. Your actions must also be pleasing to Drupada, the king of Pancala. You may command us, for we are all prepared to obey you."

All the Pandavas then looked over at the glorious Draupadi, who stood before them, and then sat staring at one another, holding her within their hearts. Each of the Pandavas was a man of immeasurable vigor. As they went on looking at the maiden Krsna, a deep love arose in their hearts and forcibly took hold of their eyes and ears and all their senses. The creator of this world had personally designed the very attractive body of the Pancala princess, and all creatures were enchanted with her grace, for she was lovelier than other women.

Yudhisthira understood that all the Pandavas were absorbed in thinking of the lovely form of Draupadi, and he well remembered all that their grandfather Dvaipayana Vyasa had told them about their future marriage. The king then told his brothers, "To avoid the serious danger of division among us, pure-hearted Draupadi will be a wife to all of us."

The Pandavas thought about the instruction of their brother, Pandu's eldest son. Deep within their minds they meditated on the ultimate purpose and meaning of his decision, and thus those most able warriors simply sat in silence.

Krsna Meets the Pandavas

Meanwhile, the Vrsni hero Lord Krsna, surmising the identity of the Kuru heroes, went with Lord Balarama to the potter's workshop to see those valiant men.

Arriving there, Krsna and Balarama saw Yudhisthira, of wide, long arms, as he sat free of hatred and surrounded by his brothers, who were as bright as fire. Approaching Yudhisthira, the most distinguished of religious men, Lord Krsna, known as Vasudeva, affectionately pressed the feet of the rightful Kuru king and said, "I am Krsna."

Sri Balarama also touched Yudhisthira's feet, and the Kuru princes joyfully welcomed Krsna and Balarama. The two Yadu leaders also touched the feet of Their aunt Kunti, the sister of Their father.

King Yudhisthira, who saw no one as his enemy, then asked Lord Krsna about His well-being. Revealing their own state of affairs, he inquired, "Dear Krsna, we have all been living in disguise. How did You know who we are?"

Lord Krsna smiled and replied, "Fire, even when covered, is detected, O king. Who but the noble sons of Pandu, among all mankind, could perform such feats? Thank heaven all of you Pandavas were saved from that fire, and thank heaven Duryodhana, that sinful son of Dhrtarastra, and his minister could not accomplish their plan. May you all be blessed so that even in hiding you grow and prosper, shining like a steadily burning fire. We shall now go back to Our camp so that no one discovers who you are."

Granted His leave by the eldest Pandava, Sri Krsna, whose opulence is inexhaustible, departed quickly with His brother, Sri Baladeva.

Dhrstadyumna Listens In

Dhrstadyumna, prince of Pancala, had followed Bhima and Arjuna as they returned to the potter's shop. Hiding his men all around, he sat undetected near the workshop.

When night fell, Arjuna, the mighty twins, and Bhima, harasser of foes, happily gave Yudhisthira the alms they had begged. Then at the proper time generous Kunti said to Drupada's daughter, "Now, sweet girl, take the first portion of the collection and offer it to the Supreme Lord. Then give it in alms to a learned brahmana. And give some to whoever in this neighborhood desires food. Then quickly divide the remainder. Keep half for the four brothers and me and you, and give the other half, good woman, to Bhima. He's that son of mine who looks like a maddened bull. That swarthy young man is built very strongly and is our hero, but he always eats a lot."

The joy in the heart of the princess made her beauty shine. Accepting Kunti's words without the slightest doubt, the saintly young bride did exactly as instructed. And they all took their food.

Then Sahadeva, the expert son of Madri, put down a ground covering of kusa grass, and all the heroes spread out their deerskins on it to sleep on the earth. The men lay with their heads pointing toward the direction blessed by the sage Agastya [south]. Kunti was in front of them, and Draupadi was across from their feet. The princess lay on the earth with the sons of Pandu, as if a pillow for their feet. But there was no unhappiness in her heart, nor did she think less of those princes, who were the foremost of the Kurus.

As they lay there, talks arose among them. The mighty heroes began to tell wondrous stories of armies and governments, of divine weapons, chariots, and elephants, of swords, clubs, and deadly axes. And as they told their stories, Dhrstadyumna, the prince of Pancala, heard them, and his men saw how their princess lay there without any of her usual comforts.

Dhrstadyumna, King Drupada's son, eager to tell his father in detail all that the Pandavas and the women had said and done that night, hurried back to the palace.

Drupada Hears the Report

The king of Pancala looked worried and upset, for he did not know the identity of the Pandavas, to whom he had given his beloved daughter. As soon as his son returned, the exalted monarch questioned him: "Where has my daughter Krsna gone, and who led her away? Is the princess now the property of a low-class man? Is she in the hands of an outcaste? Or does she now serve a tax-paying merchant? Is a foot now stuck on my head? Has the royal garland fallen on the polluted ground where bodies are burned? Or has it been placed on a man of distinguished, kingly rank? Or was it one of still higher rank, a brahmana? Or is it, my son, that a lowly left foot has been thrust on my head by the man who carried away Krsna? Or may I yet dream that the sons of Pandu live and that I am now united with the very best of men? Tell me in truth! Who is that man of great power who has now won the right to my daughter?

Lord Krsna Introduced Himself To Yudhisthira

"Oh, Vicitravirya was such a hero for the Kurus! Can it be that sons in his line have prevailed? Can it be that the youngest son of Prtha grabbed that bow today and struck down the target?"

Then Prince Dhrstadyumna, the crown jewel of Pancala, enthusiastically related to his father what had happened and who had taken Draupadi.

"It was that youth with large copper-colored eyes and deerskin dress, the one as handsome as the gods, who strung the finest bow and sent the target falling to the earth. And without becoming entangled, he quickly left, all the while being praised on all sides by the finest brahmanas. He strode like thunder-wielding Indra, who is attended by all the gods and seers as he strides through the demon sons of Diti.

"Draupadi held on to his trailing deerskin, and he looked like a mighty elephant followed by his jubilant mate. All the kings were furious with indignation, and they assailed him as he departed. But in the midst of those monarchs another man appeared, uprooted a large tree that stood firmly in the earth, and furiously drove off and chased those rows of kings just as Death pursues all that breathe. And as all the kings watched them, Your Highness, those two extraordinary men, shining like the sun and the moon, took our Krsna and departed.

"They went outside the city to the workshop of a potter. There I saw a woman sitting, and she resembled a fire's flame. I reason that she is their mother. Sitting near her were three powerful men who appeared to be of the same family. They too shone like fire.

"The two men arrived from the stadium, offered their respects at the woman's feet, and had Draupadi do the same. They introduced Draupadi to the others, and then all the men went out to collect alms. As soon as they came back, Draupadi took the alms, made an offering to the Lord, and fed the brahmanas. With the remainder, she waited upon the older woman and the heroic men, serving them their meal, and then she ate. Then the men lay down to sleep, and Draupadi lay at their feet like their foot-pillow. Their bed was made of fine deerskins spread over darbha grass, and somehow it seemed appropriate for the occasion.

"They began to narrate stories with voices as deep and strong as doomsday clouds. And how they told those wonderful stories! These were not the stories that merchants and common laboring men would have to tell, nor would brahmanas speak like those heroes. The way they talked about battle and war, they are undoubtedly prominent warriors, O king.

"Clearly, our great hope will now be fulfilled, for we hear that Prtha's sons were saved from the fire! The forceful way that powerful young man strung the bow and struck the target, and the way they all speak to each other they are surely the Pandavas moving about in disguise."

Hridayananda Dasa Goswami led the team of devotee-scholars who completed the translation and commentary of the Srimad-Bhagavatam begun by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He is now doing graduate work in Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University.

Dramatic readings by Hridayananda Dasa Goswami of his Mahabharata translations may be purchased from: HDG Tape Ministry, P. O. Box 1156, Alachua, FL 32616. Phone: (904) 418-4644.