Merit cannot be hidden.
Long ago in the land of Panchala, in Bharat, that is India, on a morning in the joyful season of spring, people were seen hurrying to the village green. Word spread that an important announcement was to be made. They spotted the crier standing in ceremony along with buglers and drummers in the center of a vast ground. When there was a sizable crowd, bugles sounded and the drums beat. The crier stood on a raised platform and solemnly announced in a stentorian voice,
“Listen folks! Our king Drupada hereby announces his daughter’s . There is, however, a challenge for the suitors. Let those who desire to marry the matchless maiden, Draupadi, come to the swayamvara to test their skill and stamina in archery, on the second day after the full moon.” Drums beat and bugles sounded marking the end of the announcement.
The crowd started dispersing, murmuring among themselves about the novelty and thrill of the process of their princess’ swayamvara. They looked forward for a week long feasting and festivities during the royal wedding.
Unknown to them there were five young men apparently looking like who took note of the ensuing swayamvara of the princess of Panchala, and quietly slipped away to Ekachakrapura, a town they were living at.
At the humble dwelling of a potter in Ekachakrapura, Kunti, an elderly widow, clad in worn out white garments was trying to fix dinner. Wandering from place to place like nomads took toll on her. She tried hard not to weep at the turn of events.
“Oh God, why are you testing my darling sons? When will they get back to their deserving place of honor and dignity? Oh, Heavenly God, I pray thee! Please return them to their former times of prosperity.” Desperate tears started flowing down her pale cheeks.
Soon, there was a knock and a call “Mother, we are here.”
Kunti hurried to open the door. Her eyes lit up when she saw her five sons, tall and handsome; their warrior demeanor could hardly be hidden in humble Brahmin guises.
“Mother, here are the alms we gathered,” said the middle son Bheema, the strongest of them all, lowering a large bundle of vegetables and rice to the small kitchen floor.
“Go, have your bath, and attend to evening prayers. I will get your dinner by then,” replied a relieved Kunti.
“It is truly a challenge to you, Arjuna,” said, Yudhishtira, the eldest of them all.
They were walking in a small wood nearby, after dinner. The pale moon shed enough light for them to stroll along.
Arjuna, the second son, was known to be the best archer in Hastinapur, their native city. People called him No wonder he was the most beloved disciple of Drona, his teacher in archery.
“How can he take the challenge, now that we are living incognito,” asked Nakula, the fourth sibling, a bit puzzled at their eldest brother’s suggestion.
“No one knows who we are. There’s no risk whatever,” assured Sahadeva, the fifth and the youngest of them all. He was right. No one knew that the Pandava princes had escaped their cousins’ plot of burning them alive in the house made of lac.
On the appointed day of the swayamvara, the palace gates were thrown open to one and all. There was an atmosphere of gaiety and joy as in the hearts of people.
The five sons of Kunti went to the King’s palace and sat among the crowd of people. The grand hall of audience wore a festive look. The palace was decorated in colored designs and scented flowers. There were rows of ceremonial chairs for the suitors who started arriving in their finery.
Soon, the arrival of the King was announced with great fanfare. To the accompaniment of sweet music and a shower of praises by the courtiers, Drupada, the king of Panchala, arrived with his daughter Draupadi. Dressed in brocade and silk, Draupadi shone like a polished gem. Her lovely face, behind a thin golden yellow veil, thrilled those around her. Her long and dark tresses were plaited in an attractive style. The jasmine and rose in her thick hair spread their fragrance creating a sense of delight all around.
Doe-eyed, tall and dusky Draupadi, besides her beauty was also known for her knowledge of the Vedas, art and war. Looking dignified, elegant and majestic, she sat by her father’s side demurely, waiting for the events to begin.
Drupada stood up and addressed the august gathering.
“My dear honored Lords of different regions, and people of the land, it is my pleasure to welcome you all to the swayamvara of my only daughter, Draupadi. There is however, a challenge to face for the suitors to get the hand of my daughter in marriage. Here is how it goes. You will have to shoot the fish fixed in a revolving mechanism in the ceiling by looking at its reflection in the pot of water placed below, with the bronze bow and arrow you find nearby. Whoever succeeds at shooting the fish, will marry the princess.”
With that short address, Drupada signaled to his sentries to flag off the competition.
One by one, the suitors came in, tried to lift the large bronze bow to fix the string across. But alas! A majority failed at the very first step of the competition, for, it was a heavy bow and to string it would no doubt, call for Himalayan effort. Some succeeded at lifting the bow, but failed to string it. The mighty princes of numerous independent republics of Bharat, sweated and puffed, yet could achieve little.
After several suitors failed, Yudhishtira nodded to Arjuna to go forth into the fray. Arjuna, glowing like a moonbeam, rose in one fluid movement and walked like a prince that he was to the competing platform. His gait was dignified, his pace unhurried and confident. A half smile played on his handsome face. Draupadi looked up at him, fascinated. A rosy blush crept up her face and her lips trembled with unknown emotion.
A hush fell around the assembly of princes and other dignitaries. And then several doubts were raised and voices were heard like the buzzing of bees.
“How can a Brahmin take part in the swayamvara of a princess?”
“Who is he? What are his credentials? He is supposed to be introduced to the gathering.”
Arjuna turned to Drupada greeted him with folded hands, and asked for permission to shoot the fish. Drupada gave it without hesitation, for the competition was open to all without discrimination of caste or credentials.
The Pandava prince walked up to the bow and lifted it with ease. A great cheer went up the hall. After stringing it like a professional archer, he took five bronze arrows from a quiver placed nearby. Positioning himself below the fish, he bent like a stalk of a reed over the pot of water in concentration to aim at the target above. There was pin drop silence in the crowd. Eyes were fixed on the scene before them. The drama of man’s eternal urge for challenge, and his invincible courage and indefatigable energy to face it, unfolded before them.
He shot five arrows in a row piercing the target with perfect precision. A cheer went up. To the sound of clapping and congratulations, Drupada’s ministers accompanied Arjuna to the royal platform where Draupadi garlanded him, thus conveying her willingness to marry him.
All the five brothers went back to Ekachakrapura to impart the good tidings to Kunti.
Arjuna said, “Mother, we have brought you a rare fruit from Panchala.”
“Share it equally amongst you all, my son,” replied Kunti.
Now, how they were going to share the “fruit” Draupadi, made another story of great
Word count: 1334