I t is during Draupadi’s swayamvara that we first see Krishna in the Mahabharata. But Krishna is not there to participate in the contest for Draupadi. Then, why is Krishna there at all?
After Arjuna, in the disguise of a common Brahman, wins the challenge for Draupadi’s hand, a conflict erupts in Drupada’s court. Many Kshatriya kings present there, after seeing a Brahman’s victory as an affront, attack Drupada to avenge their pride. Arjuna and Bhima protect Drupada in the scuffle.
Krishna and his elder brother, Balarama, observe the fighting without getting involved in it. They are able to identify the two Brahmans as Arjuna and Bhima. After a while, Krishna rises and says to all present there: “This lady has been won by Dharma”. His words are respected and the fighting ceases.
What elevated position did Krishna enjoy among the Kshatriyas is not really explained at that point in the text, which, in fact, presents Krishna as someone who might already be known to the reader. Many Indologists have argued that, Krishna presence in Draupadi’s swayamvara is only to give consent to Draupadi’s marriage to Arjuna. This brings us to the question of: What is Krishna’s position with respect
To explain this, we have to move away from the epic-historical plane of the action to that of a mythological plane. Draupadi, we learn, is an incarnation of Shri, Vishnu’s wife. And Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu. So if Vishnu’s wife is to be married to someone else (for epic-historical necessities), then surely Vishnu must be present at the place to ‘allow’ for it to happen.
But ‘why must an incarnation of Shri be married to one of the Pandavas — who are only semi-divine’? And ‘why must Draupadi marry all five of them, and not just the son of Indra, Arjuna’?
The proposed polyandrous arrangement is definitely a taboo during the times of the Mahabharata, for the text resorts to various shenanigans to justify it. In an earlier life, Draupadi (this time only the human element in Draupadi, not her being an incarnation of Shri) had asked Shiva for a ideal husband repeatedly, and Shiva had ordained, perhaps in exasperation, that she would have five husbands. Once again, the Mahabharata explains by using a simple logic: ‘it is destined’.
When king Drupada is troubled by the polyandrous proposal, he is comforted with the same ‘it is destined’ logic by none other than the writer, ‘Veda Vyasa’, himself. Veda Vyasa again tells a mythological story, and a very illogical one at that. There, out of some quarrel, Shiva paralyses Indra and confines him to a cave. When Indra begs, Shiva grants an incomprehensible solution that involves being born as a man and marrying Shri’s incarnation. Vishnu approves there as well, of course.
Between Shiva and Vishnu, we see a strange relationship. Shiva often ordains the absurd, which Vishnu, through his consent and direction, brings to the zone of possibility. Sometimes, though, adharma is unavoidable.
(The writer is reading the unabridged Mahabharata)