Draupadi was the beautiful girl of King Drupad. When she attained youth, Drupad wanted her wedding to happen. Thus, Draupadi swayamvara ( the ceremony of choosing a groom) was organised with great fanfare. When this ceremony happened, Pandavas were supposed to be dead in the house of Lakshagriha.
Many dignitaries, who hoped to win her hand were present. Duryodhana was present along with Karna. Shri Krishna was also present. Balrama, the brother of Shri Krishna present there. Kings of Kosala, Madra and Chedi were also present in the swayamvara.
And last, but not the least, the Pandavas were also present at the Swayamvara, but in the guise of Brahmins. No body knew that they were alive and participating in this event.
Draupadi’s father, Drupad was fond of Arjuna and secretly hoped that Arjuna will win her daughter’s hand. Thus he set forth a condition which was impossible for anyone except Arjuna, to fulfill.
The challenge was to pierce the eye of a revolving fish, which was erected on a pole, by looking at the reflection in a water filled vessel. The bow was a heavy one, and very few could lift it.
Announcement by Dhristadyumna
Dhristadyumna, the brother of Draupadi, announced that whosoever can bend the bow and pierce the eye of the fish, may marry Draupadi.
Having spoken thus, the prince recited to his sister the names of the royal guests, their lineage and their deeds of fame, and bade her award the golden garland to the successful archer.
The rajahs then descended from their gorgeous thrones and gathered around Draupadi as the bright gods gather around Párvati, the mountain bride of Shiva. Their hearts were filled with love for the maiden and with hate for one another. Rivals frowned upon rivals. Those who had been close friends became of a sudden angry enemies because that Draupadi was so beautiful. Shri Krishna, and Balarama alone remained aloof; calmly and self-restrained they stood apart, while rajah opposed rajah like to angry elephants.
The competition begins
One by one , the kings came and tried to lift the bow. But none of them were able to do so, putting the arrow on the bow was a tough ask. Duryodhana and Dushashana also failed to lift the bow. Thus, to defend the honour of Hastinapur, Karna decided to take part in the competition.
Karna lifts the bow
Karna, arguable the best archer along with Arjuna, could lift the bow easily. It appeared that he would achieve the condition which Drupada set forth. 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. . . .
Thus Karna, left the competition without having to try.
As the day passed and Kings failed, it appeared that no one could be able to fulfill the condition set forth by Drupada. A gloom was descending over the court.
A young brahmin arises
Just when it looked at no body could fulfill the target, Arjuna , clad in the guise of Brahmin, rose.
All kings thought that how a weak looking Brahmin can achieve the feat where all the kings have failed. But Arjuna, took the permission of Dhristadyumna and confidently walked towards the target.
Some ridiculed his efforts, while some said that the Brahmin knows best his own skill. He would not go forward if he were not sure of success.
An aged priest endeavoured to restrain Arjuna, lest he should by his failure bring ridicule upon the Brahmans; but the hero would not be thwarted. He strode forward like to a stately elephant and bared his broad shoulders and ample chest. He was nimble as a lion, and calm and self-possessed.
Ere he lifted the bow, he walked round it; then he addressed a prayer to the gods. He stood up unmoved and serene as a mountain peak, and he bent the bow and fixed an arrow in it.
The young brahmin pierces the target
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.
Like distant thunder arose the plaudits of the multitude; hundreds of Brahmans shouted in ecstasy and waved their scarfs. A thousand trumpets clamoured in triumph, and the drums were beaten loud.
Draupadi is overjoyed and garlands Arjuna
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 is also visibly pleased.
Finally, the objective of having Draupadi swayamvara was fulfilled.
The protest of Kings
When the reality dawned over the kings, they felt humiliated that what they could not do, a weak Brahmin has achieved. Citing that Draupadi should be married to warrior class (Kshatriya), they attacked the humble Brahmin.
Pandavas rose in unison
As Arjuna was attacked, Bhima gave him company with an uprooted tree. Yudhishthira and the younger brothers were soon helping them, and the Brahmins also came forward to give their aid.
For a moment the kings paused, pondering at the daring of the priestly band, but impatient Karna and angry Shalya, King of Madra, dashed forward like two infuriated elephants against Arjuna and Bhima.
The duel of Karna and Arjuna
The brothers sustained the attack, and soon Karna was struck by Arjuna. Karna was amazed with the skills of the Brahmin, and enquired that who was he to possess the great skill of an archer. He said “There is no man who can thwart me with defiance as you have done even now, save Arjuna alone.”
Arjuna politely replied that I am a humble Brahmin who wants to protect himself. Soon Karna withdrew, realizing that this was no ordinary Brahmin, but Bhima and Shalya fought valiantly. Fighting furious like two elephants, they continued for a while, before Bhima defeated him.
Arjuna takes Draupadi
Soon enough, Arjuna took Draupadi by the hand and led her away in peace from that scene of angry strife. So ended the Draupadi swayamvara, and Krishna declared that the bride had been fairly won.
Pandavas were recognised
Drishtdyumna, Draupadi’s brother, followed them to find out who the Brahmin was. When they reached their hut, the Pandavas called out to their mother, Kunti, “Look, Mother, what we have brought.” Kunti replied from inside the hut, “Share it among yourselves,” thinking that they had brought food.
Draupadi marries Pandavas
When she saw the bride and was told that she was Arjuna’s wife, Kunti was very unhappy at what she had said. As a custom, the Pandavas would have to obey every word that she had said – Draupadi would have to become the wife of all five brothers. Just then Krishna came to their hut. He told Kunti, “in her previous life Draupadi had worshipped Shiva to get a husband with certain qualities. So, Lord Shiva had given her a boon which has resulted in her having five husbands” On hearing this Kunti felt satisfied and Draupadi became the wife of all five Pandavas.
Dhrishtadyumna who had followed them, heard all this. He went back to his father Drupada and said, “I have good news for you. The brave Brahmin who married Draupadi was none other than the great Arjuna.” Drupada was delighted to hear this. But when he came to know that Draupadi was to be the wife of all the five Pandavas, he was sad, because this was against the law. At that time, Sage Vyasa came there. He told Drupada, “Though such a marriage is not permitted in the Holy Scriptures, this particular marriage is a result of a boon by Shiva himself, so it is not against the law.” Satisfied Drupada arranged for a reception at the palace. The Pandavas were invited and the wedding between the Pandavas and Draupadi was performed with great splendour.