Sunday, October 30, 2016

Was Draupadi's swayamvara fixed ?

From this extremely believable account of the Mahabharta War we are led to consider if it might have been a war, not between cousins but THE LAST WAR between two clans which were always at war: The Kuru-s and The Panchala-s. 

In that light, if we look at the way in which Draupadi's swayamvara was held and the criterion imposed, it appears that all of it might have been simply a show put on by the Panchala-s to acquire some strong allies from within the Kuru-s.
After North-Panchala was annexed by the Kuru-s (by an army motivated by Drona), the Panchala-s would have been looking for opportunities to get back the lost territory and perhaps even avenge the loss. According to Kshatriya code, even when the king is defeated in battle, he cannot be deprived of his land, which Drupada was. So there could have been more than an average bitterness in the Panchala-s. They sensed an opportunity when the Kuru cousins fell apart and might have wanted to forge an alliance with the Pandava-s.
When the Pandava-s were sent to Varnavrata, they were warned by Vidura that Dhuryodhana was plotting to kill them in the flammable mansion. Thanks to the warning the Pandava-s escaped but remained hidden, avoiding a direct face-off with Dhuryodhana because they had neither allies nor wealth. It is possible that Pachala king knew of the escape (through his own spies) and continued to follow their movements but was also waiting for a sound way to enter into alliance with them. What is a more solid base to build an alliance than a marriage. But Drupada could not openly approach the Pandava-s because they were presumed dead.

Hence the swayamvara was arranged and announced. An open challenge was thrown. This ensured that the Pandava-s, who were disguised as Brahamans could also participate. The criterion was one involving archery which removed people like Dhuryodhana etc from excelling. And the test was made so difficult that archers of only the highest skill could pass. Now, there were only two such archers in that period, Arjuna and Karna (and perhaps even Ashwathaama but he might have been too young). There is a debate if Karna even tried to win Draupadi. In the version that he did, it is said that Draupadi insulted his low-birth and refused to marry him even if he succeeded in the test (after it was a swayam-vara). This left Arjuna as the sole candidate who could even have a fair shot at the test. Arjuna proved not only fit for it but also successfully passed it to the great relief of Drupada.

With the marriage, both the Panchala-s and Pandava-s found a solid ally in each other. The alliance was made even stronger when Kunti wedded Draupadi to all the five brothers. This was important because Nakula and Sahadeva, unlike the other 3, were sons of Madri and there was a chance that they could demand their own kingdom in time either by their own accord or by being instigated by Dhuryodhana. If they did, it would cause a further split in the kingdom and a decrease in the support which Dharma might require to be crowned King of Kuru-s.

It is after this marriage that the Pandava-s got a piece of land where they could build a kingdom (and hence an army), perform the Rajasuya yagna and declare Dharma as Samrat, the title which could give him a lot of mileage in seeking further allies.

This could be a mere conspiracy theory which occurred to me during my long visits to the toilet and perhaps, even after a more thorough reading of the text, it will remain  so. Nevertheless, it is a fun possibility to consider.

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