We are living in a complex world. We have to interact with many unknown people, people whom we do not know much about and people whom we know but are beyond our influence. Therefore every one of us have to face situations where we have to sacrifice one relationship for sake of another or sacrifice our principle for sake of a relationship. These conundrums frustrate us and also fail us at times. We repent the decisions we make. Let us now discuss the conundrum that Drupada faced in Mahabharat and how he dealt with it. Let us derive principles that will help us to make wise decisions in such conundrums that propel us forward and prosper in life.
Back in Panchala, King Drupada was anxious. His beloved daughter was gone after the Svayamvara but he did not know who had taken her. Who was that brahmana who had hit the target? Who was the other brahmana who defeated the great Salya? As the king sat absorbed in thought, his son Dhrstadyumna entered his chamber. Dhrstadyumna followed Draupadi and the two brahmanas to the potter’s hut after the Svayamvara. He narrated to his father what he had witnessed – the five brothers with their mother, their meeting with Krishna Balarama and their warrior-like language and dealings. Dhrstadyumna assured his father that the family was certainly of a royal order and most likely they were Pandavas.
Drupada was overjoyed on hearing this report. He at once sent his priest to ascertain the identity of the five brothers. Then, he arranged a grand feast and invited the five brothers and their family. After the feast, the king approached Yudhistira and said, “Sir, are we to know you as Brahmins or kñatriyas of the royal order? Once we have ascertained the order to which you belong, we can arrange an appropriate wedding ceremony.” Yudhistira revealed their original identities as Pandavas. Drupada was filled with delight. Tears flowed from his eyes. Since the next day was an auspicious day, Drupada proposed that Draupadi could be married to Arjuna.
Yudhistira replied, “O King, if my younger brother is to marry today, then I shall also have to accept a bride, for that is the religious ordinance.”
Drupada nodded understandingly. “Then you must accept the hand of Draupadi in the sacred marriage ceremony. Or give her to whichever of your brothers as pleases you.”
Yudhisthira said, “The princess shall become the wife of us all. Our mother has ordered this. It was Dhananjaya who won your jewel of a daughter, but the rule among us is that we share equally any jewels we obtain. Therefore Draupadi may accept each of us, one after another, according to age.”
Drupada was shocked. “O mighty-armed hero, I have heard that a man may accept many wives, but never that a woman may accept more than one husband. You are famed for your virtue. How then can you approve an act so contrary to tradition and indeed scriptural injunction?”
The king was surrounded by his sons and ministers and they all listened carefully as the Pandava prince replied. He told them that morality was subtle and its application was dependent upon circumstances. One therefore had to follow the authorities. His mother had ordered them all to marry the princess and that order had found acceptance in Yudhisthira’s mind, which had never entertained thought of sin in his life. The prince was certain there would be no sin if Draupadé married all five brothers.
Drupada was still not convinced. It was entirely unprecedented that a woman could marry many men at the same time. He could not see any way by which the five brothers could all become Draupadé’s husband. It would mean that the elder brother would be approaching his junior’s wife. According to scripture, that would be the same as approaching his daughter. He wanted more time to think.
The first thing to do in dealing with a conundrum is to exercise patience. We need to wait and invest time in thinking. Patience helps us to come out of the initial anxiety that ensues as we become aware of the conundrum. To the extent our expectations are high, to that extent our anxiety will be high. It will take some time for the anxiety to recede and for us to come in terms with reality and accept the conundrum. Then we can analyze the two conflicting situations – study the background, weigh the conflicting situations from different angles and listing the pros and cons. We can check if there is any historical precedent.
Drupada asked Yudhisthira if they could discuss the matter further with Kunti, Dhristadyumna and the learned Brahmins in his court. Yudhisthira agreed and sat in the king’s council chamber for the discussion. Yudhisthira replied that his heart, which could never turn to sin, felt no misgivings about the proposed marriage. He cited a historical example of a Brahmin girl named Jatila who had married seven rsis at once. There was also the case of the famous ascetics known as the Pracetas. They too, being brothers, had accepted one woman as their shared wife. These examples were found in the Vedas and were not considered sinful. In certain circumstances even established rules may be broken in order to preserve a higher religious principle.
Consult the wise
Our knowledge is limited. Our intelligence is also limited. Therefore our ability to understand and analyze and resolve the conundrum at hand is limited. We need to take help of others who are knowledgeable and intelligent. The second step is to consult others. We can consult those who are our well-wishers or those who are concerned about the conundrum at hand. We can get our analysis evaluated. We can get a better and perhaps an unbiased perspective. We can also get help in making the decision. We can also get the inspiration and confidence to execute the decision.
As Drupada was about to discuss with Yudhistira and the council of ministers, the palace attendants announced Vyasadeva’s arrival. Vyasadev heard the arguments of Yudhistira and the concern of Drupada. The sage turned to Drupada and said, “I wish to speak with you in confidence, O King.” Vyasadeva rose and took hold of Drupada’s hand. They went into the king’s chamber while everyone waited outside. When they were alone Vyasadeva explained to the king why the marriage conformed with virtue. The ascetic told Drupada that Draupadi had been the daughter of a rsi in a previous life. She had prayed to Shiva for a husband. In her prayer she asked the deity five times for a powerful husband. Shiva had replied, “Since you have asked me five times, in your next birth you shall have five husbands.” Shiva could not possibly ordain a sinful act.
Vyäsadeva further explained that the princess was an expansion of the Goddess Lakshmi. She had appeared from the sacrificial fire in order to become the Pandavas’ wife, who themselves had all been gods in their past lives. In fact, the sage explained, all the brothers had been incarnations of Indra in different millenniums.
Struck with wonder, Drupada folded his palms and said to the sage, “O great Rsi, there is nothing outside your knowledge or capabilities. My mind is now satisfied. What has been ordained by the celestials must always come to pass. We are all instruments in the hands of destiny. Let my daughter accept all five brothers as her husbands.”
Stand by virtue
When we stand on the side of virtue, our purpose will be clear. Vice and sensuality leads to confusion, crookedness and chaos. Wisdom scriptures like Vedas and Bhagavad Gita provide us the guidelines to decide (BG 16.24). When we commit ourselves to virtue, we receive the grace of God. Krishna declares in BG 4.7 and BG 4.8 that maintaining virtue and protecting the virtuous are his duties. If we protect virtue, virtue protects us and guides us in the time of need. Drupada and Pandavas were always virtuous – protected and uphold virtue at all times. Therefore God protected them at the time of need by sending Vyasadeva.