'Her intelligence is unrivaled!' The people whispered.
'She is supposed to be as beautiful as Goddess Sri herself!' Others spoke.
'The fragrance from her body is supposed to spread for two miles!' Yet another spoke.
The Pandavas heard the words of people around them as they were walking towards the Panchala kingdom to attend the swayamvara of the fire-born princess. As they were still in hiding from the Kauravas, the Pandavas joined with the Scholars of the Vedas and dressed as the scholars as they went to the Panchala kingdom.
The swayamvara of Princess Draupadi was a colourful affair to say the least. The festivities were nothing compared to anything ever seen in the country. Princes and Kings from the entire country had gathered to see the swayamvara...all of them nursing a secret hope of marrying the glorious princess.
And when the royalty saw Draupadi, they all realized that all that they had done was still not worth it. The dark princess with her intelligent, sharp eyes was beyond any wealth that the monarchs could offer.
Dhrishtadyumna led his sister to the hall and the entire hall drew collective gasp at the sight of the princess. Realizing that he had the attention of every single person in the hall, Dhrishtadhyumna pointed to the heavy bow lying on a pedestal in the middle of the hall. 'Any person who strings this bow and hits the tiny target on the machine above shall win my sister's hand!'
Dhrishtadhyumna introduced his sister to all the suitors as she signaled for the people to start with the competition.
All the princes came and tried their luck. But none of them could even lift the heavy bow...stringing it...was a distant dream.
Looking disdainfully at all of them, Karna got up as he went towards the bow. He effortlessly lifted it and was about to string it when Draupadi called out. 'I will not marry him!'
And so that was it. Even before Karna could participate in the swayamvara, Draupadi rejected him as her suitor. Karna was vexed as he dropped the bow back and walked back to his seat.
(As Veda Vyasa's Mahabharatha makes no mention of anybody protesting Draupadi's comment, it is obvious that during the swayamvara, the bride could decide who could or could not participate in the tournament. )
In the first row of the royalty was a dark prince watching the events. He eyed all the princes who had come and was shaking his head as he saw them one by one. He then turned his attention to the scholars who had come to attend the event. He watched all of them and suddenly his eyes widened. He turned to his brother beside him. 'Rama! Do you see those five scholars?' he whispered
The strong Rama turned to the people whom his brother was pointing and grinned to himself. 'Those scholars look smitten by the princess of Panchala! And....' Rama frowned as he studied them again. 'These men hardly look like scholars....They look so strong and powerful....'
'Yes they do!' his brother said nodding as he smiled....
Drupada was getting worried. He expected that the competition that he had set for the person winning his daughter's hand was difficult....but this was getting out of hand. Almost all the princes had tried to lift the bow and none of them had succeeded....
Dhrishtadhyumna sensing his father's discomfiture called out to all the people in the assembly. 'This competition is open to all the people here! Any of you may also try to lift the bow....'
The princes and the kings scoffed at this idea. When the mighty warriors were struggling with to even lift the bow, there was no way that the puny scholars could do anything....But the warriors were in for a surprise.
Among the scholars, a man came forward. The man looked powerful...hardly like any scholar that the royalty had ever seen. The scholar looked at Draupadi before going towards the bow. The princess and the commoner saw each other....speaking volumes without uttering word.
The scholar came forward and much to the surprise of all the people there, the man first prostrated to the bow. Getting up, the man touched the bow and before anybody could blink, the man picked up the bow and began to string it....
The warriors were awestruck as the man picked up the arrow and shot at the tiny target in the machine...The five arrows flew in one after the other in such quick succession that nobody was even able to see the five arrows being shot...
The entire assembly watched as the fire-born princess eagerly came forward with a beautiful smile as shegarlanded the scholar...
The dark prince was watching the entire event with a smile....
The kings and the princes could not believe it. The dark Panchali was going to be the wife of a scholar...There was a big uproar in the assembly as the kings and the princes were now angrily pulling out their swords trying to kill the man whom Panchali had chosen as her husband.
But then none of the princes knew who they were up against.
The scholar was able to swiftly deal with all of them. Karna and the scholar fought with each other but as the fight progressed, Karna began to have doubts of who the man was....The man fought like someone else that Karna knew....But then, Karna believing that the man was not a warrior, stopped the fighting. Meanwhile another gigantic hefty scholar was fighting with Shalya, the king of Madra and effortlessly defeated him.
In the ensuring confusion, five scholars led the princess of Panchala away with them....
'Mother!' Arjuna shouted as he came inside the house of the potter that they were staying for the night. 'Mother! See what I have brought!'
Kunti was worried about her sons gone for so long and missed her son's ecstatic expression. 'Share it between your brothers!' she said absently looking for her other sons.
Kunti was lost for words when she saw five shocked expressions looking back at her. Frowning she wondered what she had said wrong, when she spied a heavenly perfume in the room. She saw at the door and saw a gloriously beautiful girl standing there. That was when Kunti realized the folly of what she had said. It dawned on her that her son had won the swayamvara...The Princess of Panchala had chosen Arjuna as her husband and she, Kunti, had unthinkingly asked Arjuna to...Kunti shook her head trying to clear it wondering how she had spoken without thinking.
'I spoke without realizing...' Kunti said looking very embarrassed.
Yudhishtara felt as if someone had just flicked on a light in his head. He remembered what his great grandfather Veda Vyasa had said just before they had come here...
You shall not have one husband...but five of them....
'Do you know who I am?' A mischievous voice reached the group as they all turned. Standing before them was a tall, sturdily built, dark man with a smiling face.
The five Pandavas looked at each other and then their mother who was looking speechless as the dark prince continued. 'I am Krishna, a prince of the Yadavas and I am also....' Krishna looked at Kunti with a another mischievous smile. '...your mother's brother's son!' (Surasena was the father of Vasudeva and Prutha. Surasena gave Prutha in adoption to his cousin Kuntibhoja who changed Prutha's name to Kunti. Krishna was Vasudeva's son and the Pandavas were the sons of Kunti.)
'How did you know that we were alive?'Yudhishtara asked as he looked at the Dark Lord, bewildered.
'Whatever you do, you can never hide who you really are!' Krishna said as he watched the five Pandavas with their mother and Draupadi. 'I am really glad that you survived the fire at the house of lac!' Krishna said.
Then realizing that the Pandavas were still in hiding from the Kauravas and that they were drawing unnecessary attention to themselves by staying there, Krishna and Balarama left the place as quickly as they had come...
Drupada badly wanted to know the name of the man who had won the competition. Seeing the man in action, for one second Drupada wondered whether it was indeed the great Arjuna himself. But then remembering that Arjuna had perished in the house of lac, Drupada had tried to come forward trying to know more about the man.
But the fight between the princes and man whom Draupadi had chosen, made it impossible for Drupada to come any closer.
And by the time all the mess was sorted out, the princess and the winner were both missing.
Drupada sent his son Dhristadhyumna to find out about the people, wondering who the winner really was....
Dhrishtadhyumna followed his sister and quietly overheard the conversation of the people in the potter's hut and realized that whoever the people were, they were warriors...He happily went back and reported the matter to his father.
Drupada called on the people in the potter's house and invited them to the palace.
The five Pandavas came with Kunti and Draupadi to the Panchala palace. Drupada was ecstatic when he realized that it was indeed the great Arjuna who had won his daughter's hand.
But then he was in for a shock...
'All the five of us would marry the princess of Panchala!' Yudhishtara, the eldest Pandava told the flabbergasted king.
Yudhishtara was badly worried as he saw the shocked expression on the face of the king and was almost relieved when he heard a voice behind him. 'Yes! That is what is meant to be, King Drupada!'
King Drupada and Yudhishtara turned as they saw Veda Vyasa come inside the royal palace. 'Yudhishtara speaks the truth! The princess of Panchala is meant to marry all the five Pandavas!' the sage said in a grave voice.
Before Drupada could speak, Sage Vyasa continued. 'Before you speak, there is a story from the ancient times which you must know!' Drupada sat in an uneasy silence as Sage Veda Vyasa continued.
'There was a time when Lord Shiva was playing dice with the Goddess! It was during this time that Lord Indra was very disrespectful towards the couple! Lord Shiva got very angry with Indra and pushed Indra inside a cave! Inside that cave Indra was in for a surprise as he found that there were four other people! The other four men were all powerful Indras, of different times. The five Indras who were named Vishwabhuk, Bhutadhaman, Sivi, Santi and Tejaswin were all looking morose because they had all at some point of time angered the three eyed Lord.
Lord Shiva looked at the five Indras and cursed them 'It is only when the five of you are born among humans and fight with ordinary and celestial weapons that you will regain your place in the heavens!' he thundered.
The present Indra however appealed to Lord Shiva. 'Please your Lord, instead of me being born as a human...I would send a portion of myself with all my energy...and create a person and please send that person to earth, instead of me! Please Lord concede this one wish!'
Lord Shiva relented and granted this wish. He allowed the five Indras to each create a human being who would have a portion of their powers and be born on earth as them.
Seeing them, the Goddess Sri herself agreed to be the wife of the five Indras in the mortal human world.
Veda Vyasa smiled as he looked at Drupada. 'The five Pandavas that you see are the five Indras of old....'
'That means...' Drupada asked shocked as Veda Vyasa nodded his head.
'Draupadi is the incarnation of Goddess Sri! And she is meant to marry all the five of them!' Veda Vyasa said firmly.
Drupada looked shocked as Veda Vyasa continued and told Drupada the story of the daughter of the sage who prayed to Lord Shiva for a husband. 'The daughter asked for a husband who had every single accomplishment, in the world! Lord Shiva knew that it was impossible for one man to have all those characteristics, which is why Lord Shiva made sure that the sage's daughter married five men!' Veda Vyasa said finally.