Pandava Draupadi Marriage

- Coded Message On Rajadharma and Ideal Governance

The Ancient Sages of Bharatavarsha did not theorize on Life and Society. Theory was not the mode of communication of the state of affairs of Life and Society. Perhaps they realized that theories do not last long and are prone to misinterpretation and manipulation that defeats the original purpose. Perhaps they realized that Theory is only Intellectual Trap that renders an endless Cyclic Process of Theories and Discourses – as we see it today.

The Itihasa of Ancient Bharatavarsha has been rendered mostly through Kavya, and Itihasa-Purana (narrative). One erroneous approach to this Itihasa stems from the Colonial Legacy of misunderstanding Itihasa courtesy mistranslating Itihasa as ‘history,’ just as Dharma is absurdly translated as Religion or Law.

Kautilya defines Itihasa as: puraanam itivrttam aakhyaayika udaaharanam Dharma shaastram artha shaastram ca iti itihasah (1.5.14). Kalhana (c.12th century), a Kashmiri Brahmin, and author of Rajatarangini (1147-1149 CE.) – defines Itihasa as:

puurvavrttam kathaayuktamItihasah pracakshate

Thus, Itihasa is a wider concept than History.

Chaandogya Upanishad (B.C.E 900 or more ancient) first stresses the importance of Itihasa-Purana in a mystic mantra:

“The Mantras of the Atharvaangirasa is Bee, Itihasa-Purana is Flower, and the Watery Madhu drawn from it is Amrta. When Atharvaangirasa Mantra ‘heated’ Itihasa-Purana, the Rasa of Yasha (Fame), Teja (Splendour), Power of Sense Organs, Viirya, and Food emanated (III.iv.1-2).”

Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad (B.C.E 900 or more ancient) also states: “As from a fire kindled with wet faggot diverse kinds of smoke issue, even so, my dear, the Rig-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda, Atharvangirasa, history, mythology, arts, Upanishads, pithy verses, aphorisms, elucidations and explanations are (like) the breath of this infinite Reality. They are like the breath of this (Supreme Self).” (II-iv-10; IV-v-11)

At IV-i-2, Yaajnavalka tells King Janaka that Vaak (Speech) is Emperor and Brahma (vaag vai samraat paramam brahma) because all beings and knowledge including Itihasa-Purana are known through Vaak.

The Dharmashaastras also attest the importance of Itihasa-Purana. For example, Vashishtha Dharmasuutra suggests strengthening the Veda by (studying) Itihasa-Purana (27.6), and Gautama Dharmasuutra defines bahushruto (one of formidable knowledge) as one, who is apt or skillful in Itihasa-Purana (1.8.5(8.5-6).”

Kautilya depends on Itihasa-Purana to formulate his theory on statecraft in Arthashaastra, and recommends:

“Even if the king is held by the chiefs under their influence, the minister may, through the medium of the king's favourites, teach him the principles of polity with illustrations, taken from the Itihasa and Puraana (5.6.47).”

Kautilya’s Arthashaastra has undoubtedly been influenced by Mahabharata. He has immense reverence to Itihasa-Veda (obviously Mahabharata) in setting it at par with the three Vedas (1.3.2). Not only do Yudhishthira, Duryodhana, Krshna, Kamsa, and other known characters of Mahabharata (1.6.8-10; 8.3.43) find mention in Kautilya’s Arthashaastra, but there is also clear resemblance (sometimes matching words and Shlokas) of many a discourse with Mahabharata, and the shadows of many a Mahabharata events and narratives in Kautilya’s discourses and policy formulations.

Raajaa Ramamohana Ray was the first to suggest a rational approach to Ancient Scriptures and Literature, which, particularly the Supernatural and Mythical Narratives, he suggested could be taken allegorically. Later, Rsi Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay analyzed Mahabharata rationally in his Krshnacaritra and considered the Supernatural and Mythical Narratives as interpolation.

In the tradition of the two great personalities of Bengal Renaissance, I suggest, instead of rejecting the Supernatural and Mythical Narratives as interpolation, given the importance of Itihasa-Purana in Ancient Bharatavarsha, they are to be understood not just as phantasmagoria or Fantastic Tales, or Kavya of Imagination, but as Coded Messages.

In this paper, I shall take the episode of Pandavas and Draupadi marriage from Mahabharata, and show how Vyaasa narrates not only Itihasa but also encodes message on Arthashaastra, particularly on Governance and Rajadharma (roughly translatable as Politics) through it. In other words, the Pandavas and Draupadi marriage is not only a celebrated polyandrous marriage but also a Coded Message through Kavya.

1. Pandavas and Draupadi Marriage: Supernatural and Mythical Narrative

In Mahabharata, there are three/four Mythical Narratives regarding the actual identity of the Pandavas. It is as follows:

Yudhishthira: Ex-Indra incarnate, Dharma, Dharma’s son, Dharma’s Amsha (Dharma is sometimes Dharma, and sometimes identified with Yama) Bhiima: Ex-Indra incarnate, Vayu, Vayu’s son, Vayu’s Amsha (Vayu is sometimes Vayu, sometimes identified with RgVedic Gods Maaruta) Arjuna: ‘Present’-Indra (Shakra) incarnate, Shakra, Shakra’s son, Shakra’s Amsha, Nara ?shi incarnate, Paandu’s biological son Nakula-Sahadeva: Ex-Indra incarnates, Ashvins, Ashvins’ sons, Ashvins’ Amsha
Draupadi is hailed as Shri-Lakshmii created by Shiva as common wife for Pandavas (1.189.29c; 18.4.9-10), [1] and also as Shachi-Indrani (1.61.95; 1.190.18; also Maarkandeya Purana-5.23-26). [2]

Draupadi as Shachi-Indraanii is naturally Indra-Pandavas’ wife; however, Mahabharata as ‘Vedaan Pancamaan’ (1.57.74) also re-creates the RgVedic Tradition of Shri as Indra’s consort because in RgVeda, Shri is established in Indra (RV-3.44.2, 8.92.20). Thus it befits that Draupadi-Shri is ‘established’ in Indra-Pandavas – and a clear rationale of the Supernatural and Mythical Narrative is detectable here.

Mahabharata is basically a Political narrative, and being primarily an Itihasa of Human Narrative provides us ample clues that the God-aspects and Birth-Myths of the characters are eulogistic, and in the light of Kautilya’s Arthashaastra we understand that they were perhaps Political Propaganda too. [3]

2. Indra-Pandavas and Shri-Draupadi Marriage

The central concern of RgVeda, Upanishad, Ramayana and Mahabharata is Ideal Governance - an all-inclusive principle that integrates Self, Social, and Rashtriya Level of Human Existence.

In RgVeda, Indra is the Ideal King (Indra is neither a single entity nor a gendered male entity; Indra is also Female and Feminine) [4] - and the Ideal King is one who is conqueror of both Internal and External Reality. The Upanishads portray Indra as the Ideal of Internal Conquest, and the Ramayana and Mahabharata, again, re-interpreting and bringing back the RgVedic concept of Indra, shows Indra as the Ideal of Self-Social-Rashtriya Level Existence. The Dharma Shaastras, Kautilya’s Arthashaastra, and Vaatsyaayana’s Kaamasuutra also celebrate Indra as the Ideal King, rather as the symbol of Power. It is only in Puranas that Indra is transformed into a mere lecherous king, and no more the ideal.

The central imagery of Power as operative in Internal and External Reality is Maatsyanyaaya. [5] Indra as the Ideal King is Dandadhara and arrestor of Maatsyanyaaya, and for that he is knower of Arthashaastra. Maatsyanyaaya is actually a discourse on and in Arthashaastra. Arthashaastra has a wider connotation than just good governance or Economics. It is ‘Policy’ that can destroy enemy - arthashaastraani shatruhan (13.39.9) – in fact, Kuuta-Niiti, or Kuuta-Kaushala as Survival Strategy.

Arjuna (12.15) [6], Bhiishma (Bharadvaaja: 12.67; Brhaspati: 12.68) [7] describe anarchic state in Maatsyanyaaya Imagery and speak for the necessity of an Ideal King like Indra, Danda, and the king’s role as Dandadhara, to arrest Maatsyanyaaya.

People devour each other like fishes if the king does not protect - yadi raajaa na paalayet (Brhaspati: 12.68.8-14). Subjects ‘eat’ each other - khaadanti parasparam (12.68.8), and Powerful kills the Weak - hareyur balavanto hi durbalaanaam parigrahaan (12.68.14).

In another Mythical Narrative, Prthivii – though not mentioning Maatsyanyaaya explicitly – speaks of anarchy (araajake) and wants a king from Kashyapa (12.49.62).
Ideal King is Indra – (Bhiishma: indram enam pravrnute yad raajaanam iti shrutih, 12.67.4).’ Indra is also the symbol of Powerful –indraaya sa pranamate namate yo baliiyase (11; also RV-1.106.6).

The Pandavas as Indras represent and embody all these principles.

Draupadi as Shri-Lakshmii is not only allegory of Indra’s prosperity, but is also indicative of Active Role in Governance. Significantly, Shri is one name of Danda (12.121.19-21). Indra possessing Shri is thus possessor of Danda, or Dandadhara. The Pandavas and Draupadi together therefore, represent the principle of Dandadhara.

Again, ‘Shachi’ has two significant connotations – Eloquence and Shakti (Power) (Monier-Williams)– the two essential qualities of not only Ideal King or Ideal Kshatriya but also of Ideal Man. Draupadi is Vaak personified [8] – her role particularly in the Dice-Game Sabhaa is well known – besides, in her dominant Kshatriya-spirit, she indeed is Pandavas’ Shakti.

Other than high praises of her Physical Beauty, Draupadi's Intellect and Wisdom is praised again and again. She is manasvinii (1.175.8a); dharmaarthakushalaa dharmacaarinii (Vidura, 2.69.9); dharmacaariniim (Samjaya: 2.72.6c); sarvadharmajnaam paribhuuya yashasviniim (Dhrtaraashtra: 2.72.13c); priyaa ca darshaniiyaa ca panditaa ca pativrataa (3.28.2a); teja eva tu kevalam (Dhrtaraashtra: 3.28.9c); prthakshaastravidah sarve sarve mantravishaaradaah/ samdhivigrahakaalajnaa (3.299.29); sarvadharmavisheshajnaam (Kunti: 5.135.11a); sarvadharmopacaayinii (Kunti: 5.135.15a); brhatii shyaamaa /striidharminii kshatradharmarataa sadaa (Kunti: 5.88.85a, 135.17-18); raajnaa dharmajnaa dharmadarshinii (12.14.4c); brhatii shyaamaa Shrimaty (Kunti: 15.23.9a); shyaamaa /yoshitaam shreshthaa (17.1.30); brhatii shyaamaa buddhisattvagunaanvitaa/ yoshitaam shreshthaa (Yudhishthira: 17.3.36).

Dhrtaraashtra says that Yajnasena’s daughter is Teja’s Self (yajnasenasya duhitaa teja eva tu kevalam, 3.228.9c)

Draupadi is Paanditaa in Dharmashaastra and Arthashaastra (2.69.9), and Arjuna is arthashaastravishaaradah (12.161.9), one lesser noticed and often ignored, if not completely overlooked side of his character. They two act as Yudhishthira’s adviser in Arthashaastra as also the ‘executer’ of Arthashaastra – of course in two different ways.

Arjuna is more inclined to the ‘war-side’ or Danda-implementing aspect of Arthashaastra, and Draupadi as “brhatii shyaamaa buddhisattvagunaanvitaa (17.3.36)” is the theoretical side of Arthashaastra more inclined to the ministerial-side of Danda - her administrative acumens evident in Draupadi-Satyabhaamaa narrative.

Yudhishthira is specifically hailed as Dharma or Dharma’s son or Dharma’s Amsha, and his marriage with Shri-Draupadi is therefore, as we shall see, another Coded Message on Governance.

3. Dharma-Yudhishthira and Shri-Draupadi Marriage

Mythically, Shri is Dharma's wife (1.60.12-14) – and that is the rationale why Draupadi is Yudhishthira’s wife.

Anarchy-Maatsyanyaaya results from Adharma (Bhiishma: 12.67.3) and over-inclination to Artha. The Indra-king must be Dhaarmik to counter it, because King is the root of all men’s Dharma - raajamuulo mahaaraaja dharmo lokasya lakshyate (Brhaspati: 12.68.8-14) - implying, Dhaarmik King, as Arthashaastra-knower is the ideal Fisherman-King. [9]

In Bhiishma’s narrative to Yudhishthira, a golden Lotus was born from Vishnu’s brow - vishnor lalaataat kamalam sauvarnam abhavat tadaa (- one is reminded of Athena’s birth from Jupiter’s brow in Greek and Roman mythology -) after Vishnu’s seventh generation Prthu’s birth, , and Shri was born from that Lotus. She became Dharma’s wife, and their son is Artha. All the three - Dharma, Artha and Shri – were established in sovereignty - atha dharmas tathaivaarthah Shrish ca raajye pratishthitaa (12.59.133-134). Thus, Artha born of Dharma-Shri is – I would call – Shri-Artha.

This Mythical Narrative explains the allegory of Dharma-Yudhishthira and Shri-Draupadi marriage.

In a Mythical Narrative of Indra-Bali conversation, Shri tells Indra that she dwells with victorious and Dhaarmik sovereigns, warriors unretreating from battle, spiritual and humanitarian monarchs (12.221.23).’

In other words, if Indra is Dhaarmik then Shri stays with her – just as Draupadi stays with Yudhishthira through all suffering..

In another Mythical Narrative, Darpa (that stems from Ahamkaara) is also born of Shri, and Adharma is his father (darpo naama shriyah putro jajne 'dharmaad iti shrutih). Darpa, causes loss of Shri of many Devas, Asuras, and Raajarshis (raajarshayash ca bahavas tasmaad budhyasva paarthiva, 12.91.24-25).

Krshna categorises human beings into two – Deva and Asura – dvau bhuutasargau loke 'smin daiva aasura eva ca (Giitaa-16.6). He makes a clear distinction between Deva and Asura nature (Giitaa-16.3-4), saying dambha, darpa, Krodha, and Ajnaanam are Asurik.. In Shatapatha Braahmana ( Vrtra-Asura is indeed hunger.

In short –

a) Dharma+ Shri = Shri-Artha = Indra-Artha = arrestor of Maatsyanyaaya = aim of Arthashaastra discourse

b) Adharma+ Shri = Darpa-Artha that propels Maatsyanyaaya = Vrtra-Artha = Asurik Power-Hunger

Thus, Indra-Vrtra opposition (or, Deva-Asura struggle) is not only a fight of Power for the throne of Svarga, but Indra’s fight to establish Dharma-Shri-Artha through Arthashaastra.

Dharma-Indra-Yudhishthira (also Indra-Pandavas) and Shri-Draupadi marriage is thus an allegory of Arthashaastra that arrests Maatsyanyaaya.

Both Kaala-Time and Shri are aniisha – without master (12.220.94), just as Draupadi is Kanyaa [10]; and Kaala-Time moves Shri from one place to another (12.218.10), just as Draupadi travels much.

The Dharma-Shri marriage is also a metaphor for blending of Braahmana Guna and Shudra Guna [11] - which is also the Guna of Ideal King as evident in Janaka.

In the Samudramanthana Mythical Narrative, Shri rises during manthana (Shrir anantaram utpannaa ghrtaat paanduravaasinii, 1.16.34), implying Shri’s birth through manual labour. Shri has Shudra parents (1.60.9-14).

Shri with Shudra parent and born of manual labour is Black, and born of Vishnu’s brow is White; thus, Shri is both Braahmana and Shudra.[12]

Similarly, Dharma is also Braahmana and Shuudra –

a) Being Kshatriya of Kshatriyas or Controller of Kshatriya (Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad- 1.4.14), Dharma is Braahmana and superior Kshatriya or Fisherman-Kshatriya. Thus, Dharma is White.

b) Again, since Purusha created Dharma after creating the four Varnas, Dharma as the ‘fifth’ (Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad) has also the status of Varnasamkara. That explains why some Nishaada (foremost of Varnasamkara) characters like Dharmavyaadha in Mahabharata speak of the highest Dharma of Ahimsaa and AAnrshamsyam in Mahabharata. That also explains Vidura’s birth in SHuudra’s womb, and why Vidura is called Dharma. Besides, Vidura being Vyasa’s son is also Fisherman [13] – Nishaada. As ‘fifth,’ and as Vidura in Mahabharata, Dharma is Shudra – therefore, Black.

The Yudhishthira/Pandavas and Draupadi marriage is therefore, an allegory of blending of Varna-Gunas.

4. Conclusion

Vyasa, in a discourse to Shuka, connects the Braahmana Guna of Prajnaa and Vidyaa with Vaarttaa - krshyaadiini hi karmaani sasyasamharanaani ca – and with manual labour i.e. Shudra (12.229.7-10).

Arjuna speaks of the centrality of Artha in Trivarga. The worldly life is Karmabhuumi, and among Karma includes the Karma of all VarnasVaarttaa, krshi, vaanijya, gorakshyam, and shilpaani. The aim of Karma is Artha, and without Artha, Dharma and Kaama are unattainable (12.161.10-11). [14]

In similar vein, Kautilya says, Vaarttaa (krshi.paashupaalye vanijyaa ca vaartaa 1.4.1) – that belongs to Vaishya and Shudra (KA- 1.3.7-8) is Vidyaa at par with Anviikshikii (1.2.10), three Vedas and Danda Niiti (KA- 1.2.1). It is imperative for the king to learn Vaarttaa (1.5.8).

The Vidyaa-Vaarttaa connection also explains the mythological significance of Shri in Mahabharata. We may recall, Shri-Draupadi as Sairandhrii performs the Varnasamkara function in Matsya kingdom.

In the Indra-Bali-Shri narrative, Indra’s compassion for Bali Vairocani when Shri deserts him (12.220) suggests Anrshamsyam, and Shri stays with Indra forever (sthaasyaami nityam) only when Indra shares her with others (12.218.19).

That Dharma-Shri-Indra-Artha is connected with Anrshamsyam and sharing of Power, is indeed manifest in Yudhishthira’s Rashtriya policy. [15]

The Pandavas and Draupadi polyandrous marriage is therefore, also an allegory of sharing Power and Shri-Artha. The Pandava-Indras ‘share’ Draupadi-Shri, and thus Yudhishthira-Indra shares Draupadi-Shri and prosperity-Shri with his brothers, and Power-Shri and prosperity-Shri with Dhrtaraashtra, Vidura, Yuyutsu and his subjects, so that Shri never deserts him, and in adverse days when Raajya-Shri is not with him, Draupadi-Shri is still with him. The Dharma-Shri marriage is unbreakable, and Darpa-Duryodhana cannot disrobe, enslave or sexually enjoy Shri-Draupadi because she is his mother (Darpa being Adharma’s son in Shri’s womb).

Thus, in the final battle at Kurukshetra, Yudhishthira-Indra and Pandava-Indras defeat Duryodhana who represents Adharma-Vrtra-Artha-Darpa. And in that battle, if Arjuna is the chief architect of Pandava victory, then Krshna's Giitaa is the architect of Arjuna that gives the Pandavas Shri and Vijaya. Significantly, one name of Arjuna is Vijaya, and even more significantly, Danda is identified with God forces of Vishnu, Naaraayana, Lakshmii, Niiti, Sarasvatii, Jagaddhaatrii, Brahmaa, Sarasvatii, and Vashishtha (12.121. 11-12, 22-23), and have the names - Dharma, Shri, Vijaya, soul of Rudra (asango rudratanayo), doer of good (shivamkarah) (12.121.19-21).

Krshna-Draupadi Sakhaa-Sakhi relation in Mahabharata is a spiritual relation, and that again is appropriate because Shri prefers one established in Svadharma (12.221.28) – the Central Doctrine of Gita - indicating a deep philosophic connection of Shri and Krshna. This is already evident in one Mythical Narrative where Shri-Lakshmii is Vishnu’s consort, and Krshna is Vishnu-incarnate. Arjuna too is hailed as Amsha of Vishnu, and Shri-Draupadi is indeed his consort..

The last Shloka of Giitaa mentions Shri and Vijaya together:

yatra yogeshvarah krshno yatra paartho dhanurdharah /
tatra Shrir vijayo bhuutir dhruvaa niitir matir mama // (Giitaa-18.78c; MBh_6.40.78c]

Giitaa, a discourse on Dharma and Karma Yoga, is therefore, not just a discourse on transcendental philosophy, but a pragmatic philosophy pointing to attainment of Shri-Artha through conquest of Internal-Maatsyanyaaya. Thus, Krshna invokes Arjuna to enjoy the earth - bhokshyase mahiim (Giitaa-2.37).

Indeed, the Pandavas triumph at the end with Vijaya and Shri, and Krshna remains Shri-Krshna.

[Originally published as “Yudhishthira/Pandava and Draupadi marriage: Coded Message of Ideal Governance, and Rajadharma” in Interdisciplinary Journal of Sciences and Humanities. Vol.1, No.1, January, 2014, ISSN 2348-3822 p-84]


  1. All references of Mahabharata are taken from the Critical Edition of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
  2. Bandyopadhyay, Indrajit. Why Draupadi is Sachi-Indrani? 24th April, 2011
  3. See Bandyopadhyay, Indrajit. Mahabharata: Rational Reading in the light of Kautilya’s Arthasastra. ; The Mystery of the Pandava ‘God-Fathers’. ; Karna's Father Found.
  4. In RgVeda, Indra is compared with Mother (RV—8.1.6; 8.87.11), with loving Woman (8.62.9). More prominently, he is called Devii (deviirindram, 7.85.3). In Mahabharata, following Indra’s Ahalya adventure, his gender becomes ambiguous, because he now has bhagasahasrena (13.34.25c), and he is bhagankaparicihnitah (13.41.21c). In Shatapatha Brahmana, Indra is addressed as “Wife of Vrishanashva (3:3:4:18),” and he is also Vak (11:1:6:18) – the Goddess identified with Sarasvati.
  5. Bandyopadhyay, Indrajit. Mahabharata: Matsyanyaya Game of Power. Lulu 2/20/2013, ISBN:  978-1-300-47354-1 Also see, Fish and Fisherman Imagery in Shri-Ramakrishna’s Teachings: Discourses on Power and Beyond in the light of Vedas and Mahabharata, in Sri Ramakrishna’s Ideas and Our Times: A retrospect on His 175th Birth Anniversary. Ramkrishna Mission Vidyamandir and Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 28/03/2013. ISBN 978-93-81325-25-4
  6.  shuule matsyan ivapakshyan durbalan balavattarah (12.15.30)
  7. A character-name followed by ‘colon’ (:) and a Shloka number will imply that he/she is the speaker
  8. Bandyopadhyay, Indrajit. “Fall of Draupadi And The Pandavas: Upanishadic Significance.” Mahabharata: A Tribute of Four Essays. Lulu 2011, ISBN: 978-1-105-11865-4.
  9. For more on the Material and Spiritual significance of Matsyanyaya and Fisherman, see Indrajit Bandyopadhyay, Sri Ramakrishna’s Ideas and Our Times: A retrospect on His 175th Birth Anniversary. Ramkrishna Mission Vidyamandir and Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, 28/03/2013. ISBN 978-93-81325-25-4
  10. Draupadii is one of the Pancha-Kanyas: Ahalya Draupadii Kunti Tara Mandodari tatha Panchakanya  smaranityam mahapataka nashaka (Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari: constantly remembering these virgins five destroys great failings.)
  11. The Social Identity of Brahmana, or Shudra in Varna System originally referred to Functions. ‘Caste’ evolved much later in Itihasa
  12. The Colour-Varna Doctrine in Mahabharata states that Brahmana is White, Kshatriya is Red, and Vaishya is Yellow, and Shudra is Black  (see Bhrgu and Bharadvaja conversation at 12.181)
  13. Vyasa’s mother Satyavati was born in the womb of Fish, and raised as Fisherman's daughter
  14. Bandyopadhyay, Indrajit. Krishivanijyagorakshyam (Agriculture-Trade-Cattle rearing) in Ancient Bharatavarsha: Metaphor and Discourse Strategy for Ideal Governance as Rashtriya Policy. Pre-Colonial Mode of Production in India, Granthamitra, Kolkata, ISBN 978-81-88171-88-0
  15. ibid.


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