The Pandavas at Ekachakra
The Pandavas, along with Kunti, as per Vyasa Maharishi’s advice, go to Ekachakra, which though under a particular king, is not sufficiently protected by that king, and hence has fallen in the hands of an asura-Bakasura. The deal is that instead of Bakasura deliberately killing and murdering people, each family will take turns to give him food and also offer themselves as food. The Pandavas, in the guise of brahmanas, go for bhiksha everyday. They are staying in the household of a particular brahmana as advised by Vyasa Maharishi and life goes on. Bhima, especially, is the worst affected, because whatever they get by begging is hardly sufficient for him.
Bhima fights Bakasura
He is also called ‘Vrikodara’ meaning, ‘one with the stomach of a wolf’. If one observes a wolf’s body, it has a broad chest, but a tapering, almost non-existent stomach. However much it eats, its appetite is so high, that it digests very fast. The Jataragni-the digestive fire, is so high that it digests just like that. Bhima is generally depicted as a bulky man in many Indian television serials. He is not bulky; he is all sinew, rough and tough- strong beyond imagination.
So he is called Vrikodara and bhiksha is not at all sufficient to satisfy his appetite.Whatever they get in bhiksha, Kunti distributes it in this manner : She keeps half of whatever has been gotten for Bhimasena and the remaining half is shared by the four brothers and herself. Now, the turn of the brahmana family they live with comes, and they are in deep fear and anxiety. The father, mother and the two children each say, “I will go to Bakasura”. Their reasoning is very intense and makes one’s heart tremble. On hearing this Kunti suggests that her son Bhimasena can go. So Bhima goes with cartloads of delicious food. Now, Bhima has not had such good food in a long time and this is a great opportunity for him. He stops right before Bakasura’s cave and he eats, enjoying and relishing his food. In the meantime Bakasura is hungry and impatient- “What is happening? Where is my food?”. So he comes out, roars and finds Bhima, a puny human being, eating up all the cartloads of food. He is an asura‑a great asura-and Bhima does not even care to look at him!
He is really enjoying his food. He has been on diet for so long. After a diet, one really relishes food. In Tamil, they say “Pasi irunthaal rusi irukkum”. (Meaning: With appropriate hunger, one’s taste buds are kindled).
So when Bhima, completely relishing his food, does not care to look at him, Bakasura gets angry. He comes out and dashes his fist on Bhima’s back, but there is no response from him. Bakasura is amazed! He becomes really angry. He is going to do away with Bhima in the most cruel manner-or that’s what he thinks. Bhima, once he is done eating and he is satisfied, becomes ready for the duel. So he takes up Bakasura and leaves the mangled body of Bakasura right outside the gate of Ekachakra! People see it and they think it might have been gandharvas or devas who have done this. They are all extremely happy. This is how time passes in Ekachakra.
The story of Draupadi and Drishtadyumna
Then, the Pandavas hear the news of the swayamvara of Draupadi in Panchaladesha. They hear about the miraculous birth of Draupadi and her brother Drishtadyumna. We have seen earlier that Drona developed enmity against Drupada and took his revenge against him through the Pandavas, especially Arjuna. After that, it is like a festering wound within Drupada. He wants revenge against Drona. So he approaches two rishis-Yaja and Upayaja, who conduct a yajna, and out of the yajnakunda, come Drishtadyumna-the awesome Drishtadyumna and Draupadi-the world renowned beauty Draupadi. She is also called ‘Krishnaa’ meaning ‘the dark one’. She is a dark beauty.
Interestingly, in the Mahabharata, we find that the most beautiful people are dark-skinned. For example, Nakula is considered the most handsome person in the whole of the Mahabharata. And he is dark. Bhagavan Sri Krishna is dark. Krishnaa or Draupadi is dark and extremely beautiful.
The swayamvara of Draupadi
So, Draupadi arises out of the fire and word is sent out that her swayamvara is going to be conducted. All the kings from all the lands assemble there because her beauty has, by now, become something like a legend, and every kshatriya aspires for her hand in marriage. But Drupada has in mind Arjuna, because he wants him as an ally. For Arjuna had been the one who had defeated him-the powerful Drupada. So, if Arjuna becomes his son-in-law, nobody would be able to defeat him. Drishtadyumna is born to take revenge on Drona-to eliminate him. So the Pandavas, along with Kunti go to Panchaladesha, again as per Vyasa’a advice.
Vyasa Maharishi appears at key points. He just appears out of thin air, simply materializing himself. And then, when his job is done, he dematerializes-vanishes into thin air again! This is awesome! It is not fantasy, it is very real. Vyasa advises them to seek the hand of Draupadi. Everyone is assembled. The Pandavas are disguised as brahmanas, not kshatriyas. So nobody knows them. After the episode at Varanavata, everyone is under the impression that the Pandavas are dead – that they have been burnt. Hence, nobody expects them. They stay at a potter’s house and have a very good time. So, when the swayamvara arrives, the Pandavas go there. To win the hand of Draupadi, the kshatriyas have to shoot a Matsya Yantra — a machine of a fish. They have to fire arrows and bring that machine down. But, not everybody can string it. Great kshatriyas — powerful kshatriyas — try to lift the bow and they find themselves incapable of even moving the bow! Everybody is surprised. Finally Karna comes. He picks the bow-there is a huge applause-and he strings it.But then, Draupadi intervenes and says,”I will not marry a sutaputra.” And that’s a great insult to Karna. He leaves the bow there and goes away. Karna is now the Raja of Angadesha, and Draupadi insults him in front of everybody, calling him a sutaputra- a charioteer’s son. He feels greatly insulted. Then, from the brahmana’s side, Arjuna stands up and comes forward. There is a huge uproar. The kshatriyas say, “In an assembly of kshatriyas, how can a mere brahmana come forward?”. But some of the brahmanas present there argue, “Did not Agastya, did not Bhargava Rama take up arms? Why can’t a brahmana do it? In fact kshatriyas have come forth only from brahmanas.”-that is the course of evolution, as we have seen earlier. So Arjuna comes forward. Without even looking at the yantra, he justs shoots five arrows and brings it down.
Sri Krishna enters the scene
And there is a huge applause as well as an uproar. In the audience, are Sri Krishna and Balarama. Krishna knows clearly that it was Arjuna. He looks at all the Panchapandavas and he knows them. Till then, they have never met each other, but Krishna knows. Krishna has made the Yadus, the Andhakas, the Bhojas, and the Vrishnis not to participate in the swayamvara. Because if they participate, if Krishna participates, everything is lost. So, he strategically prevents the participation of his clan in this swayamvara. So Arjuna is the hero, but the kshatriyas cannot take this lying down. So they challenge him. Arjuna and Bhima become ready for the challenge. Arjuna and Karna meet in a duel and Salya and Bhimasena meet in a duel.
But finally the kshatriyas resolve it. Krishna convinces everyone. Krishna is always sweet-speeched. Sweet words come out of his mouth. Sri Krishna’s speech is madhura-like honey. So Krishna cajoles everyone saying, “These are brahmanas…let them be.If they have won the swayamvara, so be it.” Everyone agrees and the kshatriyas resolve saying, “After all, these are brahmanas. Why should we fight with them? If they have won the swayamvara, so be it. If they have won the hand of Draupadi, so be it”. And the crowd disperses.
Draupadi’s marriage to the Panchapandavas
Now, along with Draupadi, the Pandavas go back to Kunti. Kunti, as in the habit says, “Share the alms, bhiksha, amongst yourselves.” But the “alms” is Draupadi! But a mother’s word cannot become untrue, and hence they decide that all five of them will marry Draupadi together. That’s how it is decided. Drishtadyumna, after the swayamvara, follows the five brahmanas and finds out their true identity as the Panchapandavas. Krishna and Balarama, just before then, follow the Pandavas back to where Kunti is. Krishna and Balarama introduce themselves, and fall at their feet, because they are younger to Yudhishthira. They are happy, everybody is very happy, but Krishna and Balarama quickly retreat, because it is not yet time for the Pandavas to be discovered. Duryodhana has very good spies everywhere and he might harm them. Drishtadyumna goes back to Drupada and Drupada invites them for a formal marriage. There, Yudhishthira introduces themselves as the Pandavas and says, “All five of us will marry Draupadi”. On knowing that they are the Pandavas, Drupada is very happy and thinks,” Oh! So, Arjuna has won her hand!” But on coming to know that all five Pandavas will marry a single lady, he is mighty unhappy. That’s when Vyasa Maharishi enters. Vyasa Maharishi takes Drupada to a different chamber and explains the background. He explains what had happened in some previous births.
The story of the past lives of Draupadi and the Panchapandavas
It so happens that once on a time, beings don’t die, because Surya is conducting a yajna and Yama is part of it. Hence, Yama does not do his work. For the time being, there is a holiday. So, human beings don’t die. That’s a good time for everybody. There is also Indra participating in the yajna. He sees golden lotuses coming down the celestial river Ganga. He is curious as to where they are coming from. As he follows it upstream in the Himalayas, he comes across a lady who is crying, and each of her tears become golden lotuses that float downstream. So Indra asks the lady, “What is the problem? Who are you?” She leads him to a place where there is a youth, who is playing. So Indra announces himself, “I am the lord of the universe.” The youth does not even pay attention to him and is busy playing.Indra gets angry and says, “How dare you insult the lord of the universe?”-For which, one glance from the youth — Kataksha – and Indra is paralyzed. ‘Kataksha’ means ‘one side glance’. A direct glance might burn the person! One side glance and Indra is paralyzed. Then he comes to realize that the youth is Shiva Mahadeva. He is just a deva. He is just a god. Shiva is the God of gods-the Lord of the Universe. Now Indra has had it. Shiva says, “You are arrogant. You need to be taught a lesson”, all the while smiling! So Shiva takes him to a cave, and when they get inside the cave, there are four other Indras.
Now, ’Indra’ is a position‑a title. People’s positions keep changing. Likewise, these are former Indras. They are Vishwabhuk, Bhoothadhaman, Sibi, Shanti and Tejaswin. These are the Indras. They are shut inside the cave. Shiva has a good reason to do that. These five are born as the Panchapandavas later on. Shiva says, “This lady who was crying is Sri Lakshmi herself. In a future birth, she will be born and will marry all five of you. For a length of time, you will be in this cave, until you realize your arrogance and it dies down and you come back in humility”. These are the Panchapandavas, who, in their past births, were five Indras. Vyasa explains all this. He further explains that Sri Lakshmi was later born as a rishiputri-the daughter of a famous rishi. She did tremendous tapas, because she did not have a husband. So Shankara (Shiva) was gratified and appeared in front of her. She asked him, “I want a husband”. There was no response from Shiva. So she asked again, “I want a husband.” No response.”Husband!” No response. “Husband!” Then Shiva granted her wish “So be it. You will have five husbands”. She had been under the impression that Shiva was not listening. Poor lady! So she had asked five times! She is born later as Draupadi and she is destined to have five husbands, but excellent husbands-these five Indras. When Vyasa explains all this, Drupada is satisfied and agrees to the marriage.
The duel with Angaraparna and meeting their Guru
An important event happens when the Pandavas are on their way to Draupadi’s swayamvara — the Pandavas find their Guru. Before the marriage, they are actually without a Guru — a spiritual preceptor — one who can take care of them. On the way to the swayamvara, they encounter a gandharva named Angaraparna. Angaraparna is haughty. He is a gandharva. He is sporting along with his wives in a river. How dare these human beings disturb him? He is annoyed and says, “Get lost”. But Arjuna and the other Pandavas are in no mood to listen. They say, “Who are you? This is a common place. Earth is a place for everybody. Rivers are for everybody. Everybody can enjoy. Who are you to ask us to get lost?” There happens a duel, and Angaraparna is defeated badly. ‘Angaraparna’ means ‘fiery chariot’. His ratha- chariot- is burnt and hence he gives up the name Angaraparna. He says, “I am not worthy of the name, because I have been defeated by a mere human”. So, in exchange, he wants the friendship of Arjuna and the knowledge of the astra that Arjuna used in their duel. Arjuna gives it willingly, and in exchange, Angaraparna gifts him a wonderful chariot and steeds, which when thought of, will appear. Arjuna receives excellent horses that are not found on earth. The horses are lean, but can go at tremendous speeds, and do not get tired. Anagaraparna also gives him the science of Chakshasi-the science of distant-seeing, to Arjuna. He advises the need for a Guru. He points the Pandavas to Sage Dhaumya. Hence Dhaumya is approached and the Pandavas request him to be their Guru. Dhaumya agrees. From then on, Dhaumya is along with the Pandavas in whatever they do. Angaraparna calls Arjuna ‘Tapatya’. Arjuna is amused,” ’Tapatya’? Why do you call us ‘Tapatya’?” Angaraparna explains,“You are the son in the lineage of Tapati, the daughter of Surya, who married Samvarana.” Samvarana, belonged to the lineage of Puru. Samvarana and Tapati give birth to Kuru, whose descendants are the Kauravas. The Pandavas also belong to the Kuru lineage.