Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Pancali included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Pāñcālī

Draupadī, wife of the Pāṇḍavas.

i). Previous births. Pāñcālī had many previous births. During all these births many gods blessed her saying that she would have five husbands when she was born as the daughter of Drupada. Stories about her previous births lying scattered in the Purāṇas are given below:—


When Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa were in exile in the forest with Sītā, Agni came to Rāma once and told him in private thus: "Oh Rāma, you have incarnated on earth to kill Rāvaṇa. The time for that is drawing nigh and ere long Rāvaṇa would carry away Sītā. It is not proper that Sītā, the incarnation of Lakṣmī, should be touched by Rāvaṇa. Therefore I shall keep Sītā safe with me and I am giving you a phantom Sītā to be with you in her stead." Śrī Rāma took the Māyāsītā from Agni without even Lakṣmaṇa knowing it and handed over the original Sītā to the custody of Agni.

While thus Śrī Rāma, Lakṣmaṇa and Māyāsītā were living together in their hermitage a golden deer was seen one day in the precincts of their āśrama. Sītā was enamoured of the beautiful deer and wanted it. So Rāma keeping Lakṣmaṇa to watch over Sītā went in search of the deer. Śrī Rāma tried his best to capture the deer alive. But all his efforts failed and by that time he had come far from the āśrama following the deer. So he discharged an arrow and killed it. While falling dead the deer raised a cry imitating that of Rāma’s and called Lakṣmaṇa for help. The deer was none other than Mārīca, the uncle of Rāvaṇa. On hearing the call for help Lakṣmaṇa rushed to the spot from where the sound came and Sītā was left alone for some time. Rāvaṇa came to the āśrama at that time and took the Māyāsītā away to Laṅkā.

Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa went to Laṅkā with an army of monkeys and after killing Rāvaṇa took back Sītā to Ayodhyā. Then Rāma in deference to public opinion put Sītā into the fire to test her purity. At that time god Agni taking back Māyāsītā gave the real Sītā to Rāma, unscathed by the fire. Then, when Māyāsītā was thus abandoned by Rāma she bowed down before Śrī Rāma and Agni and asked them thus "What am I to do now? Where should I go?" They advised her to go to Puṣkara and do penance there and blessed her saying that at the successful end of her penance she would become Svargalakṣmī. Paramaśiva was pleased by her penance and appearing before her asked her what boon she wanted. Māyāsītā who had become Svargalakṣmī by then requested Śiva to give her a husband. She repeated the request 'Patiṃ dehi' (Give me a husband) five times and Śiva said that she would have five husbands in her next life as the daughter of the King of Pāñcāla with the name Kṛṣṇā. (9th Skandha, Devī Bhāgavata).

ii) Nālāyaṇī (Indrasenā). Once there was an aged sage named Maudgalya. Nālāyaṇī alias Indrasenā was the wife of Maudgalya. Even though the wife was young and the husband old, Nālāyaṇī was very chaste. The sage became very old, grey-haired and rugous, skeletonlike with a foul smell emanating from his body. He was always in an angry mood. Still Nālāyaṇī stuck to him as a chaste, loving and dutiful wife. As time passed on Maudgalya became a leper. One day while the sage was eating, a finger of his broke and fell into the rice. With great calmness and devotion Nālāyaṇī removed the finger from the rice and ate the rice. Greatly pleased at this act of hers the sage asked her what boon she wanted an she replied she desired to have an amorous life with him as Pañcaśarīra. Maudgalya granted her the boon and they both travelled the whole world enjoying an amorous life. When the sage took the form of a mountain Nālāyaṇī became a river and when the sage took the shape of a flowering tree she became a creeper on it. They spent thousands of years like that and then Maudgalya became tired of a sexual life and returned to the ascetic life. Even after such a long period of erotic life Nālāyaṇī was still lustful and she resented the decision of her husband to go back to the life of a hermit. She begged her husband to continue the same life for some more time. Maudgalya got cross when she thus caused hindrance to his penance and cursed her saying that she would in her next life be born as the daughter of the King of Pāñcāla when she would have five husbands to satisfy her lust. Greatly grieved at this curse she practised severe austerities standing in the midst of Pañcāgni. Pleased with her penance Śiva appeared before her and blessed her saying that she would be born in her next birth in a very noble family and she would then have five husbands, good-natured, doing godly work and equal in valour to Indra. She then pleaded that she should be granted the boon to remain a virgin during the coitus with each of her husbands. Śiva granted that wish. Then Śiva sent her to the river Gaṅgā, and asked her to fetch a beautiful young man whom she would be seeing there. Accordingly she went to the river to do as she was directed.

At that time all the devas joined together and performed a Yāga at Naimiṣāraṇya. Kāla, the god of Death, was one of the chief priests for the function. The Yāga lasted for a long time and since Kāla was consecrated for the Yāga he did not attend to his duties as the god of Death. Death came to a dead stop and men increased in alarming numbers and the devas were perplexed. They went to Brahmā and acquainted him with the frightening situation. Brahmā sent them to Naimiṣāraṇya. They went there and were talking to Kāla when they saw a few golden flowers coming down the river. Getting curious Indra walked up the river to locate the origin of these flowers. When he reached the place of origin of Gaṅgā he saw Nālāyaṇī there. Nālāyaṇī took the beautiful young man to Śiva. Śiva was at that time engaged in a game of dice with Pārvatī and Indra did not then recognise Śiva. Indra in his arrogance argued that the whole universe belonged to him. Śiva jumped up enraged and ran after Indra who ran to the mouth of a cave. Śiva caught him and said that he would show him four Indras inside that cave. Both of them entered the cave and to the amazement of Indra he saw four other Indras sitting inside the cave. They were all the creation of Śiva and with the original Indra the number of Indras came to five. Then addressing Nālāyaṇī who had followed them Śiva said, "Oh beautiful girl, do not be worried. All these five are your husbands. You will be born as the daughter of the King of Pāñcāla. Then all these five will be born in the lunar race and will marry you."

The Indras agreed to be born on earth and do the work of God. After that they all went to Mahāviṣṇu and requested him to give them mighty accomplices to fulfil their mission. Then Mahāviṣṇu plucked two hairs from his body, one white and the other black, and dropped them on the ground. The black hair was born as Śrī Kṛṣṇa and the white hair was born as Balarāma, to help the Pāṇḍavas later.

Pāñcālī’s two previous births can be explained thus: Agnideva created Māyāsītā who in turn became Svargalakṣmī to be born as Pāñcālī. Māyāsītā was a part of Mahālakṣmī and so also Nālāyaṇī who became Pāñcālī was a part of Lakṣmī. Pāṇḍavas are known to be the sons of five gods and they used for the procreation of the Pāṇḍavas Indrāṃśa (part of Indra) thus making them all Indras. (Chapters 197 and 198, Ādi Parva).

Birth of Pāñcālī.

Pāñcālī was born in the palace of Drupada, King of Pāñcāla. She had a brother named Dhṛṣṭadyumna. There is a story about their birth in the Purāṇas:

Drupada insulted Droṇa his classmate in the Gurukula and Droṇa kept in mind the insult to wreak vengeance on Drupada. Drupada, therefore, wanted a son to be born who would defeat Droṇa in a battle. Brahmins advised him to conduct a Yāga for that purpose. He decided to conduct one on a large scale and went about in search of a Yajvā (one who performs sacrifices according to Vedic rites) and reached Kalmāṣapurī on the banks of the river Gaṅgā. There he saw a brahmin’s house where lived two sages named Yāja and Upayāja. They were in figure and nature alike. At first Drupada went to the younger of the two, Upayāja. He went near him and after massaging his feet and legs requested him to officiate in a Yāga aimed at getting for him a son to conquer Droṇa in a battle. He promised to give him ten crores of cattle for that and also anything else the sage wanted. These promises did not make the sage consent to conduct the Yāga and so the King stayed at the āśrama serving the sage. A year went by and one day the sage appeared cheerful and told Drupada thus: "Oh King, my brother who was walking one day in a storm saw a fruit lying on his way and ate it without first ascertaining whether the fruit was pure or not. Again, I have seen him taking food from others freely and eating it. I think he is wishful about wealth and, perhaps, if you approach him he may help you."

Drupada went to Yāja and after serving him to please him made his request promising him much wealth. Yāja was ready to perform the Yajña. Upayāja came to them at that time and Yāja consulted his brother before going to perform the Yajña. The Yāga was successfully conducted and at the end the priest Yāja called the wife of Drupada and gave her havya (clarified butter). Because the havya was prepared by Yāja and was offered by Upayāja the sages said that the queen would get two children. While Yāja was offering oblations to the sacrificial fire a boy with a crown on his head and bearing a sword and a bow in his hands rose from the fire. The ṛṣis present there then said that, that boy would kill Droṇa. He was named Dhṛṣṭadyumna. Then from the dais of the Yāga-fire emerged a beautiful lady of dazzling brilliance. Immediately a voice from heaven was heard to say thus: "This Sumadhyamā (a girl in her blossoming youth) would work on the side of God and will cause terror to the Kauravas."

Yāja blessed the wife of Drupada saying that the two children would thenceforth call her mother. Yāja himself named the boy Dhṛṣṭadyumna and the girl according to the ethereal voice, Kṛṣṇā. Kṛṣṇā was dark in complexion. Kṛṣṇā was called Pārṣaṭī because she was the grand-daughter of Pṛṣata and Draupadī because she was the daughter of Drupada and Pāñcālī because she was the daughter of the King of Pāñcāla. Pāñcālī grew up in the palace of Drupada. (Chapter 167, Ādi Parva).


After escaping from the lac palace the Pāṇḍavas reached a village named Ekacakrā after walking a long time through the forests. There they stayed in a brahmin’s house. Every morning they would go in disguise for begging and return with the alms in the evening. This was their daily routine and one day while they were in their daily round they saw a group of brahmins and they said they were going to the Svayaṃvara of the daughter of the King of Pāñcāla. The brahmins invited them also to come along with them describing in detail the beauty of the girl and the elaborate and festive arrangements made for the marriage. The Pāṇḍavas went to Pāñcāla along with the brahmins. On the way they met Vedavyāsa and receiving blessings from him they went to the capital city of Pāñcāla and took their abode in the house of a potter. Nobody knew who they were.

Drupada had placed a mighty steel bow in the marriage hall. When all the distinguished guests were seated in the marriage hall, the King announced that his daughter would be given in marriage to him who bent the steel bow and with it shot a steel arrow, through the central aperture of a revolving disc, at a target placed above. Many valiant princes from all parts of Bhārata including the Kauravas had gathered there. When it was time for the ceremonies to begin Pāñcālī clad in beautiful robes with a bewitching charm which excited the royal assemblage entered the hall with a garland in her hands. Then Dhṛṣṭadyumna brother of Pāñcālī said "Hear ye, oh princes, seated in state in this assembly, here is the bow and arrow. He who sends five arrows in succession through the hole in the wheel and unerringly hits the target shall win my sister."

Many noted princes rose one after another and tried in vain to string the bow. It was too heavy and stiff for them. Then Arjuna rose and meditating on Nārāyaṇa, the Supreme God, strung the bow with ease and hit at the target. Pāñcālī then put the garland on Arjuna’s neck and accepting him as her husband went with him and stayed that night at the house of the potter. Drupada that night went to the house of the potter to make enquiries about his daughter and son-in-law. His joy knew no bounds when he knew that his son-in-law was none other than the celebrated Arjuna. The Pāṇḍavas then took Pañcālī to their home in Ekacakrā and as soon as Kuntīdevī heard the footsteps of her sons outside she said from inside asking them to share that day’s alms among themselves little knowing that it was a bride that had been brought by them. Thus Pāñcālī became the common consort of the five Pāṇḍavas. Then the marriage of Pāñcālī was ceremoniously conducted after inviting friends and relatives. The Pāṇḍavas then built a new palace at Indraprastha and lived there. (Chapters 190 to 220, Ādi Parva).

Śrī Kṛṣṇa was present there along with the leading members of the clan of Vṛṣṇi. He could recognise the Pāṇḍavas in spite of their disguise. Śrī Kṛṣṇa went to the potter’s house and visited them. He gave them valuable presents on the occasion of their marriage.

Making Draupadī naked.

Once Duryodhana challenged Dharmaputra to a game of dice. Dharmaputra lost all and in the end in despair pledged Draupadī and lost her. Immediately Duryodhana asked Vidura to bring Draupadī to his palace and make her serve as a servant-maid. Vidura did not consent to that. Then Duryodhana asked Prātikāmi to bring her. While entering the palace of Draupadī, Prātikāmi was as timid as a dog about to enter the cage of a lion. He informed Draupadī of his mission. Draupadī sent him back and then Duryodhana sent another messenger. Draupadī went with him to the court of the Kauravas. As soon as Duśśāsana saw Draupadī he jumped at her and caught hold of her hair and dragged her to the centre of the assembly. When Duśśāsana dragged her thus she said in piteous tones "I am in my monthly period and I have only the upper garment on me. Please do not take me to the assembly." Duśśāsana was not moved by these pleadings and he dragged her still.

Bhīma could not hold himself calm against this atrocity any longer and in a roar of wrath he abused Dharmaputra for pledging Pāñcālī thus and losing her. Arjuna however remonstrated gently with Bhīma. Then to the consternation of all, Duśśāsana started his shameful work of pulling at Pāñcālī’s robes to strip her of all the clothes. All earthly aid having failed Draupadī in utter helplessness implored divine mercy and succour. Then a miracle occurred. In vain did Duśśāsana toil to pull the garments completely and make her naked. As he pulled off each, fresh garments were seen to come from somewhere and cover her nudity. Duśśāsana retired from his work exhausted and disappointed. Then Karṇa ordered that Draupadī should be sent to the palace of Duryodhana as a servant-maid. Hearing this Duśśāsana once again started dragging her. Draupadī wept. Bhīma roared in fury and said that if his brother, Dharmaputra, gave him permission he would at that instant smash to death the Kauravas just like a lion killing the animals. Bhīṣma and Droṇa interfered and pacified him. Duryodhana stood up and striking his right thigh with his right hand challenged Bhīma to a fight. Bhīmasena did not like Duryodhana exhibiting his naked thigh in front of Draupadī and an angered Bhīma declared that he would in a battle break Duryodhana’s thigh with his mace. Dhṛtarāṣṭra came to the scene and pacified both of them and turning to Pāñcālī asked her to name any boon she wanted from him. Pāñcālī said: "In order that my son, Prativindhya, should not be called a 'dāsaputra' (son of a servant) his father Dharmaputra should be released from his servitude." The boon was granted. Then she requested that all the other Pāṇḍavas should be set free. That was also allowed. Dhṛtarāṣṭra then asked her to name a third boon. Pāñcālī then said that all Kṣatriya women were entitled only to two boons and so there was no need for a third one. Then Draupadī took a vow that her hair which was let lose by the wicked Duśśāsana would be tied properly only by a hand tainted by the blood of Duśśāsana. After that in strict obedience to the conditions of the wager the Pāṇḍavas started for the forests with Draupadī to spend twelve years in the forests and one year incognito. (Ten Chapters from Chapter 68, Sabhā Parva).

Vanavāsa of Pāñcālī.

(Life in the forests). During the exile of the Pāṇḍavas in the forests Pāñcālī was involved in many events of which a few important ones are given below:

(i) Kirmīra’s attack. When the Pāṇḍavas were in the Kāmyakavana, Kirmīra, the brother of Baka, came to the āśrama where Pāñcālī was taking rest. The demon was such a fierce-looking giant that Pāñcālī was forced to shut her eyes by fright and she became wearied like a river in the midst of five hillocks. Bhīmasena immediately ran to her rescue and killed Kirmīra. (Chapter 11, Vana Parva).

(ii) Pāñcālī consoled Dharmaputra by her soothing words. (Chapter 27, Vana Parva).

(iii) Once when her woes became unbearable she condemned the devas. (Chapter 3, Vana Parva).

(iv) While the Pāṇḍavas were on the mountain Gandhamādana, Pāñcālī persuaded Bhīma to bring for her the Saugandhika flower. (See under Bhīma).

(v) While the Pāṇḍavas were living in the Badarikāśrama waiting for the return of Arjuna who had gone on a year’s pilgrimage, Pāñcālī was carried away by Jaṭāsura. (See under Jaṭāsura).

(vi) After she was rescued from Jaṭāsura, Pāñcālī along with her husbands dwelt in the hermitage of Ārṣṭiṣeṇa. (See under Ārṣṭiṣeṇa).

(vii) Once Draupadī gave instructions on the duties of a wife to Satyabhāmā who came to the forests along with Śrī Kṛṣṇa. (Chapters 233 and 234, Vana Parva).

(viii) Once Durvāsas with his disciples came to the forest as the guests of the Pāṇḍavas. They came late and Pāñcālī had taken her food already. The Akṣayapātra (the never-empty pot) could not be invoked to produce anything that day and Pāñcālī was greatly agitated and worried. She prayed to Śrī Kṛṣṇa for succour and Śrī Kṛṣṇa also coming hungry searched in the pot for something to eat and finding a bit of spinach sticking to the sides of the pot grabbed it with avidity and ate it. The guests felt as if they had enjoyed a sumptuous feast and left the place well pleased. (See para XII under Duryodhana).

(ix) Jayadratha carried away Pāñcālī from the forests once. The Pāṇḍavas rescued her. (Para 4 under Jayadratha).

Life incognito.

After their twelve years of exile in the forests the time for living in disguise for a year came and Dharmaputra and his brothers with Pāñcālī spent that period in the palace of the King Virāṭa. Each assumed a new name and accepted different types of service under the King. Pāñcālī took the name of Sairandhrī and served as a companion and attendant to the princess. One day Kīcaka, the mighty brother-in-law of the King, tried to molest Pāñcālī and Bhīmasena killed him. (See under Kīcaka). It was at the time when the incognito life was coming to an end that the Kaurava army headed by Duryodhana carried away the cattle of the King Virāṭa. The King was absent from the palace at that time and the prince, Uttara, had not the guts to go and attack the Kaurava army. It was Pāñcālī who then suggested sending of Bṛhannala of the palace (Arjuna) to serve as charioteer of Uttara. (See under Arjuna, Para 24).

Subsequent events.

The thirteen years of life in exile and incognito came to an end. But the Kauravas were not prepared to give half of the kingdom to the Pāṇḍavas. The differences between them increased and it led to a great war. Śrī Kṛṣṇa agreed to go as a messenger to the court of Dhṛtarāṣṭra and ask for the share of the Pāṇḍavas. Before leaving he asked each of the Pāṇḍavas what he should say at the court of Dhṛtarāṣṭra. Pāñcālī then approached Kṛṣṇa in private and said she desired for a war to defeat the Kauravas. She then reminded Kṛṣṇa of a vow taken by Bhīmasena that he would tie her hair with his hands smeared with the blood from the thigh of Duśśāsana.

The peace-mission of Kṛṣṇa failed and the famous Kurukṣetra battle started. Many valiant warriors on both the sides were killed. When Abhimanyu was killed Subhadrā wept bitterly and Pāñcālī who went to console her fainted. Śrī Kṛṣṇa revived her. Pāñcālī asked Bhīmasena to bring to her the inborn jewel on the head of Aśvatthāmā, son of Droṇa. She wanted to take revenge on him for killing her brother Dhṛṣṭadyumna. After a fierce battle for eighteen days the Kauravas were defeated and their tribe annihilated. Pāṇḍavas took hold of Hastināpura and Pāñcālī was one among those who persuaded Dharmaputra to take charge of the administration of the state as its ruler. Dharmaputra performed an Aśvamedhayajña and Pāñcālī gave presents to Citrāṅgadā and Ulūpī who were present for the function then. After the Aśvamedha Draupadī lived in Hastināpura serving Kuntī and Gāndhārī alike for a long time. It was at that time that Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Gāndhārī and Kuntī went to the forests and Draupadī expressed her desire to go along with them to be of help to them. But they did not allow her to do so. While the Pāṇḍavas were living in Hastināpura as the rulers of the country eminent ṛṣis from different parts of the country visited them and some of the Siddhas (realised souls) among them saw Pāñcālī as the goddess Mahālakṣmī herself. (Śloka 9, Chapter 25, Āśramavāsika Parva).

Death of Pāñcālī.

At the fag end of their life the Pāṇḍavas crowned Parīkṣit as the King of Hastināpura and started on their Mahāprasthāna. They travelled for long through the Himālayas and reached Mahāmeru. At that time Pāñcālī fell down dead. Then Bhīmasena asked Yudhiṣṭhira why without any particular ailment Pāñcālī died. Yudhiṣṭhira replied that it was because she showed special interest in Arjuna The Pāṇḍavas walked on and all of them excepting Dharmaputra died on the way one by one. Even before Dharmaputra entered svarga Pāñcālī and the four brothers had reached there. (Chapters 1 to 4, Mahāprasthānika Parva).

Sons of Pāñcālī.

Pāñcālī had five sons one each from each of the five husbands. She got Prativindhya of Yudhiṣṭhira, Śrutasoma of Bhīmasena, Śrutakīrti of Arjuna, Śatānīka of Nakula and Śrutakarmā of Sahadeva. (Śloka 73, Chapter 95, Ādi Parva).

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