The abduction of Subhadra

During the last stage of his exile, Arjuna meets Krishna in Dwarka and the two spend time together.

Published: 10th June 2017 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th June 2017 10:17 PM   |  A+A-

During the last stage of his exile, Arjuna meets Krishna in Dwarka and the two spend time together. They attend a large festival, involving the worship of a mountain named Raivataka (probably somewhere in the Aravalis).

There, Arjuna sees Krishna’s step-sister, Subhadra. Krishna notices the look in Arjuna’s eyes, and when Arjuna expresses his desire to marry Subhadra (another clear violation of his vow of brahmacharya), the two discuss ways in which the union may be brought about. One wonders if Krishna’s advice to Arjuna is driven by something rooted in the palace politics in his kingdom, for it appears, at first, to be an advice inimical to the kingdom’s reputation.

Krishna tells Arjuna that Subhadra’s swayamvara might not turn out to be favourable for him. Note, here, that not all swayamvaras involve competitions like in Draupadi’s event, and most are about a woman selecting a husband from a number of suitors. So it might be prudent, Krishna suggests, resorting to another sort of marriage, an option open only for kshatriyas: marriage by abduction.

This option has been exercised once before in the text, when Bhishma abducts the three daughters of the king of Kashi — Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika — for his half-brother, Vichitravirya. The normal route, of simply asking for Subhadra’s hand, is probably inapplicable here as Arjuna is already married to Draupadi.
Krishna supplies a chariot and horses to Arjuna, who then proceeds to take Subhadra by force.

The act causes considerable ruckus in the Yadava kingdom, and some of the key personalities, including Krishna’s brother Balarama, are in favour of killing Arjuna to avenge the dishonour he has caused them. Krishna, of course, intervenes, and convinces all present there that they should accept Arjuna as a good match for Subhadra. The marriage concludes.

The biggest outcome of the marriage is the reinforcement of the alliance between the Yadavas and the Pandavas. When Arjuna takes Subhadra to Indraprastha (after a stay in Pushkara), he is followed by Krishna and his entourage, who carry a huge dowry with them. After the gift-sharing is concluded, Krishna stays back in Indraprastha.

It is notable, of course, that throughout this section of the Mahabharata, which is named Subhadra Haran Parva, there is not a single utterance by Subhadra herself. That she didn’t fancy Arjuna is clear. So perhaps we should understand her silence as another testament to the total objectification of women in the epic.
After Arjuna’s return, we are provided names of Draupadi’s five sons from the five brothers.

Prativindhya from Yudhistira, Sutasoma from Bhim, Shrutakarman from Arjun, Shatanika from Nakul, and Shrutasena from Sahadeva. Abhimanyu is born from Arjuna’s marriage with Subhadra, and must have been a particularly tough child, for his name’s literal translation is ‘extreme anger’. Draupadi has agreed not to be Subhadra’s rival for Arjuna’s affections. What this really means is unclear, for, as mentioned above, Arjuna does father Shrutakarman.

(The writer is reading the unabridged Mahabharata)

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