Reading Guide. You have seen some dramatic swayamwaras so far: Sita's swayamwara in the Ramayana, the swayamwara when Bhishma abducted the three brides earlier in the Mahabharata — and now the dramatic swayamwara of Draupadi.
Source. Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913). [700 words]
Now Drupada had long cherished the hope that Arjuna would become his daughter's husband. He never revealed his wish to any man, but before he proclaimed the swayamvara of Draupadi, he thought of the great Pandava archer, and caused to be made a powerful bow which only a strong man could bend and string. For a target he had constructed a strange and curious device: a high pole was erected, and it was surmounted by a golden fish, which was poised above a swiftly-revolving wheel. Then Drupada issued a proclamation far and wide summoning the regents and princes of the world to the swayamvara. He said, "The man who will bend the bow and shoot an arrow through the wheel which will strike and bring down the golden fish shall obtain my daughter in marriage." None but a mighty archer who was Arjuna's equal could hope to win the beautiful Draupadi, for five arrows only were allowed to each competitor, and the fish must needs be struck on an eye to be brought down.
Mighty and high-born men were there. The Pandavas beheld in the galleries their enemies Duryodhana, Karna, and all the great Kauravas, and they saw also Krishna, the amorous and powerful one, and his brother, the wine-drinking Balarama, the Yadava princes, the Rajah of Sindhu and his sons, the Rajah of Chedi, the Rajah of Kosala, the Rajah of Madra, and many more. Now the Pandavas were still disguised as brahmins, and stood among the holy men.
Each of the love-sick monarchs gazed upon the mighty bow and upon the whirling target on high, and for a time no man sought to lift the bow lest he should be unable to bend it and then be put to shame. At length a rajah, more bold than the others, picked it up and tried his strength without avail; another followed and another, but failed to string it. Soon many rajahs strained their arms in vain, and some fell upon the ground and groaned, while the laughter of the people pealed around the barriers.
At length proud Karna strode forward; he took the bow and bent it and fixed the bowstring. Then he seized an arrow. Drupada and his son were alarmed, fearing he might succeed and claim the bride. Suddenly Draupadi intervened, for she would not have the son of a charioteer for her lord. She said, speaking loudly, "I am a king's daughter, and will not wed with the base-born."
Karna smiled bitterly, his face aflame. He cast down the bow and walked away, gazing towards the sun. He said, "O Sun! Be my witness that I cast aside the bow, not because I am unable to hit the mark, but because Draupadi scorns me."
Meanwhile the Pandava brethren, disguised as brahmins, looked on with the others. Then suddenly silence fell upon everyone, for Arjuna advanced from the priestly band to lift the bow.
He strode forward like to a stately elephant and bared his broad shoulders and ample chest. All eyes watched him. He drew the cord, and the arrow flew upwards with a hissing sound; it hit the target eye, and the golden fish fell over and clashed upon the ground.
The heart of Draupadi was filled with joy, and, smiling coyly, she advanced towards Arjuna and flung the golden bridal garland over his shoulders. Celestial blossoms fluttered, descending through the air, and the sound of celestial music was heard.
Drupada was well pleased, because he had already recognized the hero in his brahmin guise, but the jealous rajahs stormed in fury. Shouting with anger one to another, the rajahs poured from the galleries with drawn swords and rushed towards Arjuna and the princess. Like ponderous wild elephants they advanced, but the Pandavas rose against them.
"Brave, indeed, are the brahmins," said the rajahs. "Who can they be? What is their lineage? And whence come they?"
The Pandavas scorned to make answer. But Krishna had knowledge of who they were, and he interposed with gentle words to soothe the angry rajahs. The monarchs heard him and withdrew, and the tumult was appeased.
Then Arjuna took Draupadi by the hand and led her away in peace from that scene of angry strife. So ended the swayamvara, and Krishna declared that the bride had been fairly won.