Hava Nagila!

Everything does pass, and we can endure and we can survive!! – Rahul Dravid

Arjuna’s Pilgrimage

The Pandavas escaped the wax palace built by Duryodhana to kill them after Yudhishtra was appointed crown prince. they emerged out of incognito only after Draupadi Swayamvaram. Subsequently, the Pandavas were given half the kingdom by the king and their uncle, Dhritharashtra. They were given barren land and an old capital – Khandavaprastha. Yudhishtra and the Pandavas accepted it and by effort, sweat, toil and the divine grace of their cousins Balarama and Sri Krishna, turned it into Indraprastha – a land of riches, over a period of few years.

The two immediate episodes after the creation of Indraprastha is Arjuna’a pilgrimage and Subadhra’s wedding. These two incidents hold a lot of political significance and involve superbly strategic moves by Krishna and Sakuni to prepare for the war that must anyway happen.

India has always been a land of many kingdoms. Although Dhritharashtra was considered Emperor, there were many small kings who didn’t pay tribute to him and many who refused to subjugate to his rule. Upon creating Indraprastha, the brothers decide that inorder to avoid any misunderstandings among themselves, when one of them is alone with Draupadi, the others shouldn’t interfere. If one of them does interfere, then, he has to go on exile for a few years. One day, a Brahmin comes to Arjuna saying his cows have been stolen and Arjuna gets his weapons from Draupadi’s chamber (when she was with Yudhishtra), captures the thief and rescues the cows. Although Yudhishtra forgives him for the offence, Arjuna insists on going for the Yatra.

On the surface of it, this is the story. Upon deeper analysis, it is a grand plot. Prior to his departure to Dwarka, Krishna had counseled Arjuna on strengthening their political allies. At that stage, the Pandavas had only Drupada as an ally. Those days, an ally was formed either by subjugation or by friendship. If the Pandavas undertook a series of subjugations or openly extended hands of friendship to many kingdoms, the Kauravas would be alerted. Krishna advises Arjuna that matrimony is the best of form of creating political allies. In Hindu culture, matrimony is a sacred thing – it is rarely broken and those in matrimony support each other during crises. This culture has continued through millennia in India. We have seen Babar, Akbar and other Mughals marrying Rajput princesses. Akbar, especially, got the support of most of Rajputana through matrimonial alliances. He gave the Rajputs high posts in his court and military line ups, he gave his Rajput queens equal respect and status as his other queens. In fact, the son born of a Rajput princess to Akbar – Jahangir – ascended the throne after Akbar.

It was very clear to Arjuna that he had to seek matrimony from many kingdoms without the knowledge of the Kauravas. Hence, the drama of Arjuna entering Draupadi’s room when she was with Yudhishtra and his subsequent pilgrimage was enacted. Shakuni in the Kaurava camp sees through Krishna’s plans. He warns his nephew and tells him that a kshatriya of Arjuna’s stature won’t leave his weapons inside his queen’s chambers. And on having watched Arjuna for a few months, they learn that he has married Ulupi, the powerful Naga princess, Chitrangada – the daughter of the King of Manipura, a couple of others and is moving towards Dwaraka. Arjuna in fact covered a big circle entering into many a wedlock.

Arjuna's Pilgrimage

Arjuna’s Pilgrimage

Duryodhana is sent to urge Balarama to give his sister Shubadra in marriage to him; to gain the alliance of the powerful Yadava clan. Duryodhana, being Balarama’s favourite student at mace fighting, convinces Balarama to give him his word.

Krishna sees through this strategy of Shakuni’s and when it is very clear that Arjuna and Subadhra have fallen for each other, he asks Arjuna to usurp Subhadra from Dwaraka. He also explains to Balarama that he had no rights to give word without asking his sister. Arjuna marries Subhadra and the valiant hero Abhimanyu is born to them in course of time.

Arjuna’s entire pilgrimage was an impressive strategy to prepare the Pandavas for war. Despite their exile term of 13 years, these alliances were all retained and all of them fought on their side in the Battle of Kurukshetra, only because of matrimony. Even after this, they went in disguise as Brahmins, without the knowledge of the Kauravas and Bhima killed Jarasandha in a one on one combat. The entire kingdom of Magadha became an ally to the Pandavas.

Only after gaining the support of the Vrishnis, the Magadhas, the Manipura kingdom and the Nagas, Yudhishtra openly sent his brothers to extend hands of friendship or subjugate the other kingdoms as preparation for the Rajasuya Yagna – formal ritual and ceremony anointing Yudhistra as the Emperor.

Our epics, especially the Mahabharata is full of such strategies and it is indeed a great learning and pleasure to read through them.


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This entry was posted on March 13, 2013 by in Thoughts and tagged , , .

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