Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mahabharat : Part 3 : Draupadi and Partition.

Panchal's princess Drupad's daughter Krishnaa (a.k.a. Draupadi / Panchali) was the most desirable princess in India. Her Swayamvar (Groom-choosing ceremony) saw the invitation of all kings and princes of India. The Pandavs reached Kampilya, the capital of Panchal and participated in the ceremony as disguised scholars; which saw the convergence of all political powers of the Indian subcontinent. King Drupad was himself looking out for a strong ally in his future son-in-law, now that the Pandavs were presumed dead in Varanavat. Krishna and Balaram were also present on the occasion.

The potential grooms had a test of their archery skill as a condition for the marriage. The target was revolving fish at the ceiling, to be hit by aiming at its reflection in a pool of oil beneath. No ordinary archer could do it. Ang's governor Karna had almost succeeded, when Draupadi rejected him. Hastinapur, wanting a strong ally in Drupad, was represented by Duryodhan; who failed miserably (he was a mace-specialist). At last, the skilled Arjun, in his disguise, advanced and hit the target precisely and effortlessly, much to the surprise and envy of the kings. Drupad became worried about the future of this daughter as a wife of a poor scholar, but Krishna was happy. He had investigated the ruins of the Varanavat wax-house, and did not find the mortal remains of the Pandavs there. He was convinced that they were still living, incognito. He was desperately searching for their whereabouts. Seeing the fish-target being hit, he was sure that it was none other than Arjun.

The Pandavs brought Draupadi home. Kunti was happy to see a beautiful daughter-in-law, but was worried about a potential discord between her five sons in future. An idea hit her. Why not link the sons together with a common wife? That would bind the five brothers into one family for the rest of their lives, and prevent the dissipation of the Pandav power against Hastinapur. She tricked all of them into agreeing to marry Draupadi. Krishna met the Pandav family and supported the polyandry (Kunti took him into confidence).

Having won the powerful king Drupad as their father-in-law, the Pandavs found the political climate suitable to declare their existence. News reached Hastinapur, with Duryodhan disappointed with the failure of the Varanavat conspiracy, and Dritarashtra wary of a political rival he presumed dead. As a courtesy, he invited them back to Hastinapur. Krishna accompanied his aunt Kunti and cousins (Pandavs) to Hastinapur with Balaram.(They became the political allies of the Pandavs from then on).

How can a kingdom have two crown princes? Who should be asked to resign, Yudhisthir or Duryodhan? Dritarashtra's Council of ministers could not reach an unanimous decision. The subjects favored Yudhisthir, but Duryodhan threatened suicide to his blind father. Helplessly, Bhishma suggested the partition of the kingdom equally between the two princes. The Pandavs resented the decision, but Krishna convinced them to take it as an opportunity to build their own power base, independent of Dritarashtra.

The Pandavs migrated west of Yamuna, in the sparsely populated arid region called Khandavprastha (Delhi). Balaram introduced cultivation and afforestation, increasing the annual rainfall. Farmers and agro-based merchants flourished, paving way for more capital investment and population inflow into Khandavprastha. Six to seven years of hard work established the prosperous capital Indraprastha, planned and designed by Engineer-Architect Vishwakarma. Indraprashtha soon became more attractive than Hastinapur as a destination for the common man seeking a better future. Yudhisthir established a corruption-free kingdom, with an efficient bureaucracy and a powerful army.

Draupadi lived with each of the Pandav brother for a year, and had a son each. Krishna continued to be the friend and counsel of the five brothers. Having established a strong kingdom, the Pandavs grew ambitious to establish their supremacy over the Indian subcontinent (at least North India). They figured out two ways to do that : (a) establish matrimonial alliances with kingdoms, and (b) conquer the kingdom and make it a tax-payer to Indraprashtha. Not wanting to fight unecessary wars, Arjun married the princesses of Manipur (Chitrangada), Nagaland (Ulupi) and finally Gujarat (Subhadra, Krishna's half-sister). Later, Nakul married the Princess of  Magadh, and Sahadev married the Princess of Chedi (Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh).

Duryodhan and Shakuni set enough spies to follow Arjun in his travels all over India. Trying to counter-balance his matrimonial alliances, Duryodhan proposed marriage to Subhadra, Krishna's sister. Balaram taught advanced mace-fighting to Duryodhana, and the latter impressed his teacher enough to extract the promise of marriage with Subhadra. Balaram returned from Hastinapur to Dwaraka, and tried to convince his parents Vasudev and Devaki for the alliance. Krishna secretly invited the touring Arjun to Gujarat. Subhadra was already an ardent admirer of the great archer, and Arjun liked her too. The day Duryodhan arrived at Dwaraka as a groom to wed Subhadra, she eloped with Arjun to Indrprashtha. Duryodhan returned disappointed, and Balaram agreed to the Arjun-Subhadra alliance after Krishna coaxed him.

...... to be continued.

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