King Drupada and his son doubt:
Should Draupadi marry five men?
The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. The Pandavas are living disguised as brahmanas in a brahmana's house. Arjuna, one of the five Pandava brothers, won the hand of Princess Draupadi in an archery match. After the match, her brother Dhrstadyumna secretly followed the Pandavas to their hideout to learn their identities. He has just returned to tell his father, King Drupada, that the "brahmana" who won his daughter is probably Arjuna, whom the king has long hoped would marry her.
King Drupada Was Overjoyed. He called his royal priest to deliver this message: "We must know who you are, great souls whether or not you are the sons of Pandu."
Taking the king's words, the priest went and recited to the Pandavas the king's complete message just as the king had spoken it, and in the proper sequence, for the messenger understood the importance of sequence.
"Most worthy ones, King Drupada, lord of this land, desires to know you, for having witnessed how one of you struck down the target, the king now sees no end to his happiness.
"[The king says,] 'Please explain the lineage of your family and community. Place your foot on the heads of the envious and bring pleasure to this heart of mine and to the hearts of those who follow me, the king of Pancala.'
"King Pandu was a beloved friend of King Drupada's, and Drupada loved him like his very self. This was Drupada's desire: 'If only my daughter could be the daughter-in-law of Pandu, the Kaurava king!' O men of flawless form, this desire of King Drupada's has ever stayed in his heart 'Arjuna, with his long, wide arms, should accept my daughter in sacred marriage!' "
Having spoken the message, the priest stood humbly before them.
Yudhisthira looked up at him and then ordered Bhima, who stood close by, "We must honor this person with footbath and gifts. He is the royal priest of King Drupada, and he is to be offered the highest honors."
Bhima did exactly that, O king, and the priest accepted the honors in a noble fashion.
When the brahmana was seated at his leisure, Yudhisthira said to him, "The Pancala king Drupada has released his daughter in accordance with his religious duty and following his own desire. The heroic King Drupada designated this princess as a royal gift, and he has honored his word. There is no need here for an investigation into our social class, our means of livelihood, or our family or lineage. Because a great soul strung the bow and pierced the target in the midst of the earthly kings, he fairly won this girl Draupadi, and she was properly entrusted to him.
"Things being what they are, the king of the Pancalas should not lament and make himself miserable. You stated that King Drupada has long desired to marry his daughter to the son of Pandu, and his majesty's wish shall certainly come to pass. Dearbrahmana, such a beautiful princess was virtually unattainable. That bow could not possibly have been strung by a dull or weak man. Indeed, how could a man unschooled in weapons or of wretched birth have struck down the target? Therefore, there is no reason for the Pancala king to grieve over his daughter. Nor is there any man on earth who can change the fact that the target was brought down."
Drupada Prepares a Test
As Yudhisthira was thus speaking, another messenger came running from the Pancala king and announced that a feast was ready.
The messenger said, "On the occasion of his daughter's marriage, and in honor of the bridegroom's party, King Drupada has arranged a splendid meal. All of you are urged to complete your religious duties and without delay come with Draupadi for the feast. These chariots yoked with fine horses and adorned with gold lotuses are worthy of kings. All of you should mount them and proceed to the home of the Pancala king."
Placing the royal priest on the first chariot, the rightful leaders of the Kurus mounted those grand chariots and departed. Kunti and Draupadi went with them.
Hearing from his priest what Yudhisthira had said, King Drupada, hoping to learn the identity of the Kuru leaders, brought various gifts appropriate for all the social classes. He collected fruits and other simple foods [preferred by the brahmanas], and beautifully woven armor, shields, garlands, and royal seats. For the farmers there were gifts of cows, ropes, and other such implements. And he brought all the tools and materials used for the crafts and trades, with nothing left out. The king also collected all the necessary equipment for sports and recreation.
[Still, Dhrstadyumna had indicated that they were probably warriors, and so the king especially prepared gifts suitable for warriors.] There were large swords, excellent bows, the best arrows, bright chariots of various styles, brilliant sets of armor for chariot horses, and lances and spears beautifully adorned with gold. There were javelins, explosives, battle-axes all that is used in battle and the most exquisitely wrought beds and chairs in plentiful variety.
The Pandavas In the Palace
Taking hold of the saintly Draupadi, Kunti entered the inner sanctum of the palace [reserved for the women]. There all the ladies sincerely and generously honored the wife of the Kaurava king Pandu. Meanwhile, King Drupada along with his sons and ministers, the close friends of the family, and all the royal attendants got their first opportunity to see the Pandavas at close quarters. Observing their lionlike gait, their large eyes like those of a mighty bull, their massive shoulders draped in deerskin, and their long arms, bulging like ruling serpents, the king and his associates were filled with great joy.
The courageous brothers then took their seats in the finest chairs with exquisite foot-rests. They accepted such royal opulence without hesitation, for the grand riches spread before them did not surprise or affect them, and those noblest of men calmly sat according to age.
The male and female attendants and cooks, all in spotless uniforms, brought out all sorts of simple and elaborate foods fit for kings and served in bowls and dishes of silver and gold. Then those heroes of men ate to their full satisfaction. With full trust in King Drupada, they relaxed in a most cheerful mood. Passing over all of the ornate and opulent gifts, they made straight for the collections of military articles, for they had come to earth to be warriors.
Drupada, his son, and all the important ministers marked their behavior. Approaching the sons of Kunti, who were sons and grandsons of monarchs, they joyfully accorded them the highest honors.
Drupada, the brilliant king of Pancala, then called for Yudhisthira, the son of a king, and formally welcomed him with the welcome offered to brahmanas.
With a generous, open mind, Drupada asked Kunti's shining son, "How can we know whether you are warriors, brahmanas, qualified merchants, or the sons of working-class mothers? Or are you perfected mystics who wander in all directions displaying your magical powers, having descended now from heaven to meet my daughter Krsna [Draupadi]? Sir, tell us the truth of this matter, for we are burdened by a heavy doubt. When our doubts are dispelled and we know you, satisfaction will dwell in our minds. Does a good and noble lot await us, O fiery champion? Kindly speak the truth, for the truth when spoken shines beautifully among kings, more so than sacrifice or gifts, whereas falsehood clearly has no such appeal among noble men. I see that you are a true warrior, for you shine like the gods, and upon hearing your words I shall certainly arrange a proper wedding."
Yudhisthira Maharaja said: "My dear king of Pancala, do not despair. Rather, you should be pleased, for your cherished desire has certainly been fulfilled. We are royalty, O king, the sons of the great soul Pandu. Know me to be the eldest son of Kunti, and those two are Bhima and Arjuna. It is they who won your daughter, O king, in the meeting of monarchs. Over there are the twin sons of Madri, where Krsna is standing. Let the sorrow in your heart be dispelled, O best of kings, for we are ksatriyas and your daughter is like a lotus plant that has gone from one clear lake to another. I am now telling you everything as it is, Maharaja, for you, sir, are our guru and our greatest shelter."
King Drupada was so deeply moved with joy that he could not even see what was in front of him. Although he wanted to respond properly to Yudhisthira, he was unable to speak. With much effort, however, the fiery old warrior restrained his jubilation, and with the manners of a noble king he replied in a befitting way. The righteous ruler then inquired as to how the Pandavas had fled from those who had tried to murder them. Yudhisthira, the eldest Pandava, explained everything in the order that it had happened.
Hearing the statements of Kunti's son, King Drupada condemned the leadership of Dhrtarastra and consoled and encouraged Yudhisthira. The eloquent Drupada then promised that he would strive to help the Pandavas regain their rightful kingdom. Then at the king's behest, Kunti, Draupadi, Bhimasena, Arjuna, and the twins, along with Yudhisthira, moved into the royal palace and began to live there, O king, well attended and honored by Drupada.
Drupada Questions the Marriage
When the Pandavas had rested and were refreshed, the king came to them with his sons and said, "On this very day, the Kuru prince should take my daughter's hand in sacred marriage. It is a holy day, and mighty-armed Arjuna should take the opportunity."
King Yudhisthira, son of Dharma, then said to him, "O king, [being the eldest brother] it is I who am first to accept a wife."
King Drupada said, "Then you, sir, being a hero or whomever you designate as the proper one for Krsna may take my daughter's hand in sacred marriage."
Yudhisthira said, "Draupadi will be the queen of all of us, O king, for that is what our mother has decreed. I am unmarried at present, and so is Pandava Bhimasena. Arjuna has won your daughter, who is like a jewel, and the agreement in our family, O king, is that a jewel will be shared equally. O best of rulers, we have no desire to renounce our pact. By our religious principles Krsna will be queen to all of us. So let her take the hand of each of us, in order, before the ritual fire."
King Drupada said, "My dear Kuru prince, it is ordained that one king may accept many queens, but many kings have never been authorized to marry a single queen. You are a most decent and religious man, Kaunteya, and you should not perform an irreligious act that violates the Vedas, as well as common morality. Why is your mind fixed like that?"
Yudhisthira said, "Virtue can be subtle, Maharaja, and we do not always understand where it will lead us. But with firm conviction we follow step by step the path of our venerable superiors and predecessors. I have never spoken a lie, nor does my mind dwell in the irreligious. I have simply repeated to you what my venerable mother has said and what is my own conviction. This is indeed in accord with dharma, O king, and you should accept it without analyzing it any further. Your Majesty, you should have no doubt in this matter."
King Drupada said, "You, your mother, and my son Dhrstadyumna should discuss what is to be done. Whatever you all decide we shall carry out tomorrow morning."
Srila Vyasadeva Arrives
All of them then met together and began to discuss, O Bharata, when suddenly Dvaipayana Vyasa happened to arrive.
Seeing the arrival of holy Vyasa, the Pandavas and the illustrious Pancala king rose to meet and honor him. He greeted them in turn, inquiring about their health and happiness. At last that great-minded one sat down on a shining golden seat. With the permission of Srila Vyasa, all those illustrious people sat down on very costly seats.
After a moment King Drupada, in a kind and gentle voice, asked the great soul Vyasa about Princess Draupadi: "How can one woman accept many men and not violate our religious law? My lord, explain all this to us as it is."
Srila Vyasa said, "It appears to be a violation indeed almost a mockery of religious law, an act incompatible with the Vedas as well as common morality. I want to hear everyone's view."
King Drupada said, "I feel that this act is irreligious, for it contradicts the holy scriptures and traditional morality. One woman does not become the wife of many men, O best of brahmanas. Nor was this custom of polyandry ever practiced by our forefathers, who were great and learned souls. Thus it cannot be sanatana-dharma, the eternal law of God. That is why I cannot be convinced about this procedure, for to me its virtue and authority are covered with doubt."
Dhrstadyumna said, "O noble twice-born one, how can an elder brother who follows the spiritual path act in such an aggressive manner with the wife of his younger brother? O brahmana rich in austerity, however subtle or intangible religion may be we do not understand how it can possibly lead to such a conclusion. Simply by one's own determination one cannot turn irreligion into religion. Therefore, I am not convinced that people of our culture should commit such an act. In no way should Draupadi become the queen of five men."
Yudhisthira said, "My voice has never uttered a lie, nor does my mind dwell on irreligion, yet still my mind favors this course, for it is not at all irreligious. Most virtuous sage, in the Puranas authorities say that a brahmana woman named Jatila, in the line of Gautama, had intercourse with seven sages. You know best what is the law, and certainly the order of a guru is law. Of all gurus, the highest is a saintly mother. Thinking we had brought alms, our mother said, 'Whatever you have brought you must all enjoy equally.' Therefore I consider our decision to be dharma, the path of virtue."
Kunti Devi said, "Yudhisthira always treads the path of righteousness, and the situation is just as he said. I have an acute fear of untruth, so how can I be saved from speaking falsely?"
Srila Vyasa said, "You shall be saved from untruth, good woman, for this marriage is in obedience to the eternal law of God. I shall not speak now to everyone, but rather I shall explain to you privately, O Pancala king, how this unusual religious duty was ordained and why it is accepted as being in accord with the eternal law of God, for, just as Yudhisthira stated, this is indeed a moral act without doubt."
The divine incarnation Vyasa then got up, took the king's hand, and went with him to the king's quarters. Kunti, the Pandavas, and Dhrstadyumna did not know what to think. They waited anxiously for both of them to return. Meanwhile, Dvaipayana Vyasa then explained to the king, who was a great soul, exactly why it was permitted by religious law for a single wife to have many husbands.
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, USA. Phone: (904) 418-4644.