Draupadi Swayamvara: Why Arjuna, and not Bhima?

In the Mahabharata, the episode of Draupadi Swayamvara is an extremely interesting one. Depending upon the version of Mahabharata one is reading, the same story can be interpreted differently. Also, many of the incidents that occur in this episode are difficult to comprehend if one sticks to just the original. This is where commentaries such as the Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya by Sri Madhvacharya come in very handy.

One of the questions that is constantly asked with regard to the Swayamvara is – why did Bhimasena not attempt to lift and string the bow?

One naive conclusion drawn usually is that it would not have been possible for him to lift or string the bow. It is established beyond a doubt, in the original Mahabharata itself, that Bhimasena is incomparably stronger than Arjuna.  Further, Draupadi herself declares in the Mahabharata that the three people who can string the Gandiva are Krishna, Arjuna and Bhima.

http://www.mahabharataonline.com/translation/mahabharata_03012.php Page 31

Therefore, the bow that Drupada had arranged for the contest would not have been a challenge for Bhimasena.

The other question – Did the Pandavas want Draupadi to marry Arjuna only? Is that the reason why Bhimasena did not attempt stringing the bow? That is also not true. Even before the Pandavas enter the city of the Panchalas, Lord Veda Vyasa visits them in the forest and informs them that the daughter of Draupadi will become the wives of all five Pandavas.

http://www.mahabharataonline.com/translation/mahabharata_01172.php Page 344

So all the Pandavas, especially Bhimasena, knew very well in advance that Draupadi would marry all of them. So it was a question of who would string the bow. And Arjuna did it.

One reason for Arjuna getting up ahead of Bhimasena is that, according to the Shastras, an achievement by the younger brother is also considered as an achievement of the older ones. The reverse is not true. Hence one could say that Arjuna stringing the bow is equivalent to Bhimasena stringing it as well. But that is just a less important reason. The real reason has been brought out beautifully by Sri Madhvacharya in the MBTN.

To understand that reason, we need to briefly recall the story associated with Drupada and the birth of Draupadi.

When Bhishma brought Amba, Ambika and Ambalika to Hastinapur as wives for Vichitravirya, Amba reveals that she likes Salva. Bhishma releases her and she approaches Salva. Salva refuses to accept her as he was defeated by Bhishma. She returns to Hastinapur and there she is rejected by Bhishma also. Dejected, she performs a penance. Lord Shiva appears in front of her and grants her two things. Firstly, he grants her a boon saying that she would, in her next life, be a important part of the plot in killing Bhishma. The same Amba is born as Shikhandini in her next life and later turns into a man called Shikhandi. Shikhandi is the reason why Bhishma lays down arms on the tenth day of the great war!

Secondly, Lord Shiva grants Amba a celestial garland and tells her that the person who wears the garland would kill Bhishma. Amba goes around many kingdoms asking people to wear the same. Knowing the boon of Shiva, and utterly scared of Bhishma, no one dares to accept the garland. Amba finally places the garland on the gates of Drupada’s palace and ends her life.

Drupada keeps the garland with him. During the early years of Shikhandi, the garland is worn by him once. Now, the same garland is given to Draupadi during the Swayamvara. Which means the person whom Draupadi garlands in the Swayamvara will (have to) kill Bhishma. Bhimasena, a true follower of the Bhagavata Dharma, would never kill a devotee of Krishna (Vishnu). And it is well known that Bhishma is a great devotee of Krishna (he gave us the Vishnu Sahasra Nama).

Therefore, since Bhimasena would not kill Bhishma at any cost, he would not accept that particular garland from Draupadi. Another thing to note is that Bhimasena in this case, decides to honor the boon, unlike in the cases of other Rakshasas who had boons from various Devatas. In those cases, Bhimasena simply disregards the boon and proceeds to destroy them. Amba, in her original form, is the wife of the Vasu Dyaus, who incarnates as Bhishma. The fulfillment of Amba’s vow would only unite them back and hence Lord Shiva’s boon was to be honored.

So, the real reason for Arjuna stringing the bow ahead of Bhimasena is because it is Arjuna who has to kill Bhishma and not Bhimasena.

Yudhisthira’s deviation from Dharma

The fact that “Dharma” is an extremely subjective issue is well known. In any given situation, the answer to “What is the right thing to say/do?” is tricky to determine.  Having the right principles and firm belief in those principles is what comes handy in situations requiring a finer interpretation of Dharma.

In the Mahabharata, Lord Bhimasena is a follower of the Bhagavata Dharma. One of the principles of this route is complete surrender to the Supreme Lord Vishnu. For the followers of this path, whatever Lord Vishnu states constitutes Dharma.  Bhimasena demonstrates this on numerous occasions. One such occasion was the slaying of Dronacharya.

On the 15th day of the great war, when Acharya Drona was staging an impressive battle destroying thousands of Pandavas, Lord Krishna decides that the time to end Drona has come. He instructs the Pandavas to adopt a seemingly incorrect method to kill Drona. He advises them to tell Drona that Ashwathama has been slain. This, he says, will make Drona lay down his arms. The reaction of the Pandavas clearly reflects the extent to which they follow Dharma. I reproduce the below paragraph from Ganguly’s translation of the Mahabharata.

“Beholding the sons of Kunti afflicted with the shafts of Drona and inspired with fear, Kesava, endued with great intelligence and, devoted to their welfare, addressed Arjuna and said, ‘This foremost of all bowmen is incapable of being ever vanquished by force in battle, by the very gods with Vasava at their head. When, however, he lays aside his weapons, he becomes capable of being slain on the field even by human beings. Casting aside virtue, ye sons of Pandu, adopt now some contrivance for gaining the victory, so that Drona of the golden car may not slay us all in battle. Upon the full of (his son) Aswatthaman he will cease to fight, I think. Let sonic man, therefore, tell him that Aswatthaman, hath been slain in battle.’ This advice, however, O kin was not approved by Kunti’s son, Dhananjaya. Others approved of it. But Yudhishthira accepted it with great difficulty. Then the mighty-armed Bhima, O king, slew with a mace a foe-crushing, terrible and huge elephant named Aswatthaman, of his own army, belonging to Indravarman, the chief of the Malavas. Approaching Drona then in that battle with some bashfulness Bhimasena began to exclaim aloud, ‘Aswatthaman hath been slain.‘ That elephant named Aswatthaman having been thus slain, Bhima spoke of Aswatthaman’s slaughter…”

All the Pandavas know very well that Krishna is the Supreme Lord himself. Still, Arjuna outrightly rejects the advice. Arjuna’s action is even more difficult to comprehend because just 15 days earlier, he listens to the Gita and swears that he would completely follow Krishna’s instructions (Bhagavadgita – Chapter 18 – Shloka 73). Clearly, this constituted a complete deviation from Dharma. Yudhishtira only hesitatingly accepts to do this.

Bhimasena, on the other hand, proceeds to kill an elephant named Ashwathama and immediately informs Drona that Ashwathama has been killed. Drona, expectedly does not believe him because he knows that Bhimasena always does what Krishna asks him to do. So, he questions Yudhishthira.  According to me, Bhimasena’s anticipates this and therefore kills the elephant. Otherwise, if Drona would accept his word itself, Bhimasena wouldn’t have even blinked to say the same without even bothering to kill the elephant.

Yudhisthira, with great difficulty, tells Drona that Ashwathama has died. He whispers at the end that it was an elephant that had died (“Ashwathamo hatha kunjaraha”). The chariot of Yudhisthira, which always stayed a few inches above the ground, comes down after this “Adharma”. Outwardly, it would appear that the chariot came down because of the lie. But, the real reason is that Yudhisthira did not follow the words of Krishna, which was Adharma and hence the chariot came down.

One of the names of Vishnu in the Vishnu Sahasranama is Dharma (“Dharmo dharmaviduttamaha….”). The Dharma in the world is governed by Krishna. What he says is Dharma. Hence, Yudhisthira not following Krishna’s words is very much against Dharma.

There is one more reason why Yudhishthira did a grave mistake. Just before the commencement of the war, on the battlefield, the Pandavas approach Bhishma and Drona. They seek their blessings and ask them how they can be slain. At that time, Drona clearly tells them (link – Page 101) that they would need to make him give up his arms in order to kill him. In effect, Drona permits them to do whatever is necessary to make him give up arms. So, Krishna was only advising them to follow the option provided by Drona. Even after this, Yudhisthira refuses to comply!

Lord Veda Vyasa

On account of Veda Vyasa Jayanthi, I am attempting to post a small article on Sri Veda Vyasa, the greatest of seers that our land has seen. I have also uploaded the Vyasa Stotram (Daridrya Hara Stotram) to the Mantras page.

Sri Vyasa was the Guru of Sri Madhvacharya and is an avatar of Vishnu. His life was just as amazing as the plethora of works he has given us. Sri Madhvacharya, in his magnum opus Mahabharata Tatparya Nirnaya, has written an entire chapter (9th) on Sri Vyasa.

The following article is a concise summary of the information contained in that chapter. Along with the original shlokas, I have used some of the commentary given by Sri Vyasanakere Prabhanjanacharya in his Kannada translation of the same.

  • Sri Maha Vishnu was prayed upon by the Gods, led by Brahma, to take avatar on Earth in order to counter the menace of Kali. The effect of Kali was to spread ignorance and false knowledge. Since Kali is the most powerful amongst the Daityas, the Gods requested the Supreme Paramatman to help them overcome his effects. Sri Vishnu obliged them and appeared on earth as Sri Veda Vyasa.
  • Sage Vasishta is the son of Lord Brahma. The daughter of Sage Kardama, Arundhati is the wife of Vasishta. They had 100 sons amongst whom Shakti was the eldest. Due to Sage Vasista’s confrontation with Vishwamitra, all the 100 sons were destroyed. At that time Adrushyanti, the wife of Shakti was pregnant. The child thus born was Sage Parashara.
  • Sage Parashara performed a lot of penance wishing that Vishnu be born as his son. Hence Vishnu obliged him by appearing to be born to him as Veda Vyasa.
  • Once an eagle was asked to transport the semen of King Vasu to his wife. The eagle dropped the same in the Yamuna river by mistake. The semen was consumed by a fish which was actually an Apsara by the name of Adrika. Adrika was the wife of a Vasu by name Ama. The fish was caught by some fishermen who realized that the fish was actually carrying and therefore took care of it (instead of killing it).
  • The fish delivered twins. The fishermen took the children to the King. The King, recognizing them as his own children, kept the male child and asked the fisherman to keep the girl child with him.
  • The girl child thus raised by the leader of the fishermen was Satyavati.
  • Vishnu, appeased with Sage Parashara’s penance, blessed him saying he would be “born” to him through Satyavati. Consequently, Sage Parashara approached Satyavati when she was transporting him across the Yamuna river.
  • Sri Maha Vishnu did not undergo the pain of birth. Being the Supreme Personality, he appeared to take birth. To think that the Lord undergoes the same troubles during birth as other mortals is sin.
  • Sage Veda Vyasa immediately underwent the Upanayana ceremony. He also made Sage Parashara fully aware of who he actually was. He also blessed his parents that he would appear before them whenever the desired to see him.
  • Sage Veda Vyasa then went to Mount Meru. He composed other Shastras and the Brahma Sutras. Brahma, Rudra, other devatas and seers heard all these Shastras for Veda Vyasa himself.
  • Sri Veda Vyasa then composed the great epic Mahabharata. This work serves as an analogy for all the Shastras. Mahabharata helps in digesting the essence of the Vedas. All the Gods and seers heard this from Sri Veda Vyasa himself.
  • Thereafter, Kali, who was residing in the form of ignorance in the minds of the Gods was vanquished when the Gods listened to the knowledge imparted by Sri Veda Vyasa.
  • Even after this, Kali continued to reside in humans and Daityas. To help them overcome the influence of Kali, Sri Veda Vyasa composed the Srimadbhagavatha Purana.
  • The influence of time led to the reduction in the average lifespan of humans as also their intelligence and their work ethics. In order to bless them to overcome these deficiencies, Sri Veda Vyasa classified the Vedas into four and also composed the Puranas that praised Lord Vishnu.
  • Once when Sri Veda Vyasa was traveling, he came across an insect. Sri Vyasa instructed the insect to give up the body and become a King. The insect refused to do so. So Sri Vyasa made the insect a King in the same form. The insect was a great devotee of Vishnu in its previous life. The insect was born as a pious brahmin in the next life and then obtained salvation.
  • Lord Shiva was desirous of being born as the son of Vyasa. So he performed a great penance. As a result, Shiva was born as Sage Shuka to Vyasa. Lord Vayu also entered the body of Sage Shuka. Sri Vyasa imparted all the knowledge of the Vedas, Puranas and Mahabharata to Sage Shuka.
  • Similarly Lord Shesha entered the body of Sage Paila. Garuda entered the body of Sage Sumantu. Lord Brahma entered Vaishampayana and Indra entered Jaimini. Sri Veda Vyasa made Paila responsible for the spreading of Rig Veda, Vaishampayana for Yajur Veda, Jaimini for Sama Veda and Sumantu for Atharva Veda. In addition, Surya was also made a propagator for Yajur Veda.
  • Vaishampayana was also given the responsibility of spreading the Mahabharata epic. Sage Shuka was made responsible for teaching the Mahabharata amongst Gandharvas and Sage Narada to do the same amongst Devatas.
  • Sage Vyasa then had a child named Romaharshana. Sage Romaharshana was given the responsibility of the Mahabharata, Puranas, Maha Ramayana and the Pancharatras. Lord Kama entered Sage Romaharshana to assist in this work.
  • Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumara and Sanatana were given the responsibility of Dhyana Yoga Shastra while Bhrigu and other sages were given the responsibility of the Karma Yoga Shastras. Sage Vyasa instructed Sage Jaimini to compose the Karma Mimamsa Shastra.
  • Sage Vyasa himself has composed the Vaishnava, Shaiva and the Braahma Puranas.
  • Thus, having imparted a lot of knowledge in this world, Sage Vyasa continues to reside in the Mount Meru and Uttara Badari region, being always served by Brahma and other Gods.

||  Sri Krishnaarpanamastu ||