Epic of the Bharatas
Book II. Swayamvara
(The Bride’s Choice)
 The mutual jealousies of the princes increased from day to day, and when Yudhishthir, the eldest of all the princes and the eldest son of the late king Pandu, was recognised heir-apparent, the anger of Duryodhan and his brothers knew no bounds. And they formed a dark scheme to kill the sons of Pandu.
The sons of Pandu were induced with their mother to pay a visit to a distant town called Varanavata. A house had been built there for their residence, constructed of inflammable materials. At the appointed time fire was set to the house; but the five brothers and their mother escaped the conflagration through a subterranean passage, retired into forests, and lived in the disguise of Brahmans.
In course of time they heard of the approaching celebration of the marriage of the princess of Panchala, an ancient kingdom in the vicinity of modern Kanouj. All the monarchs of Northern India were invited, and the bride would choose her husband from among the assembled kings according to the ancient Swayamvara custom. The five sons of Pandu decided to go and witness the ceremony.
The portion translated in this Book formed Sections clxxxiv. to cxxxix. of Book i. of the original text.
I. Journey to Panchala
 Now the righteous sons of Pandu, wand’ring far from day to day,
Unto South Panchala’s country glad and joyful held their way,
For when travelling with their mother, so it chanced by will of fate,
They were met by pious Brahmans bound for South Panchala’s State,
And the pure and holy Brahmans hailed the youths of noble fame,
Asked them whither they would journey, from what distant land they came,
‘‘From the land of Ekachakra,” good Yudhishthir answered so,
“With our ancient mother travelling unto distant lands we go.”
“Heard ye not,” the Brahmans questioned, “in Panchala’s fair domain,
Drupad, good and gracious monarch, doth a mighty feast ordain,
To that festive land we journey, Drupad’s bounteous gifts to share,
And to see the swayamvara of Panchala’s princess fair, –
Human mother never bore her, human bosom never fed,
From the Altar sprang the maiden who some noble prince will wed!
Soft her eyes like lotus-petal, sweet her tender jasmine form,
And a maiden’s stainless honour doth her gentle soul inform,
And her brother, mailed and arméd with his bow and arrows dire,
Radiant as the blazing altar, sprang from Sacrificial Fire!
Fair the sister slender-waisted, dowered with beauty rich and rare,
And like fragrance of blue lotus, perfumes all the sweetened air,
She will choose from noble suitors gathered from the west and east,
Bright and fair shall be the wedding, rich and bounteous be the feast!
 Kings will come from distant regions sacrificing wealth and gold,
Stainless monarchs versed in sastra, pious-hearted, mighty-souled,
Handsome youths and noble princes from each near and distant land,
Car-borne chieftains bold and skilful, brave of heart and stout of hand!
And to win the peerless princess they will scatter presents rare,
Food and milch-kine, wealth and jewels, gold and gifts and garments fair,
Noble gifts we take as Brahmans, bless the rite with gladsome heart,
Share the feast so rich and bounteous, then with joyful minds depart.
Actors, mimes and tuneful minstrels fair Panchala’s court will throng,
Famed reciters of puranas, dancers skilled and wrestlers strong,
Come with us, the wedding witness, share the banquet rich and rare,
Pleased with gifts and noble presents to your distant home repair.
Dowered ye are with princely beauty, like the radiant gods above,
Even on you the partial princess may surrender heart and love,
And this youth so tall and stalwart, mighty-arméd, strong and bold,
He may win in feats of valour rich renown and wealth untold!”
“Be it so,” Yudhishthir answered, “to Panchala we repair,
View the wedding of the princess and the royal bounty share,”
And the righteous sons of Pandu with the Brahmans took their way,
Where in South Panchala’s kingdom mighty Drupad held his sway.
Now it fell, the saintly rishi, deathless bard of deathless lay,
Herald of the holy Vedas, Vyasa stood before their way,
And the princes bowed unto him and received his blessings kind,
By his mandate to Panchala went with pleased and joyful mind!
Jungle woods and silver waters round their sylvan pathway lay,
Halting at each wayside station marched the princes day by day,
 Stainless and intent on sastra, fair in speech and pure in heart,
Travelling slow they reached Panchala, saw its spacious town and mart,
Saw the fort, bazaar and city, saw the spire and shining dome,
In a potter’s distant cottage made their humble unknown home,
And disguised as pious Brahmans sons of Pandu begged their food,
People knew not Kuru’s princes in that dwelling poor and rude.
II. The Wedding Assembly
To the helméd son of Pandu, Arjun pride of Kuru’s race,
Drupad longed to give his daughter peerless in her maiden grace,
And of massive wood unbending, Drupad made a stubborn bow,
Saving Arjun prince or chieftain might not bend the weapon low.
And he made a whirling discus, hung it ’neath the open sky,
And beyond the whirling discus placed a target far and high,
“Whoso strings this bow,” said Drupad, “hits the target in his pride
Through the high and circling discus, wins Panchala’s princely bride!”
And they spake the monarch’s mandate in the kingdoms near and far,
And from every town and country princes came and chiefs of war,
Came the pure and saintly rishis for to bless the holy rite,
Came the Kurus with brave Karna in their pride and matchless might,
Brahmans came from distant regions with their sacred learning blest,
Drupad with a royal welcome greeted every honoured guest.
Now the festal day approacheth! Gathering men with ocean’s voice,
Filled the wide and circling stages to behold the maiden’s choice,
 Royal guests and princely suitors came in pomp of wealth and pride,
Car-borne chiefs and mailéd warriors came to win the beauteous bride!
North-east of the festive city they enclosed a level ground,
Towering dome and stately palace cunning builders built around.
And by moat and wall surrounded, pierced by gate and archéd door,
By a canopy of splendour was the red field covered o’er!
Now the festal day approacheth! Sacred censers fragrance lent,
Sprinkled chandan spread its coolness, wreaths were hung of sweetest scent,
All around were swan-white mansions, lofty domes and turrets high,
Like the peaks of white Kailasa cleaving through the azure sky!
Sparkling gems the chambers lighted, golden nets the windows laced,
Spacious stairs so wide and lofty were with beauteous carpets graced,
Rich festoons and graceful garlands gently waved like streamers gay,
And the swan-like silver mansions glinted in the light of day!
Now the festal day approacheth! High the royal chambers lay,
With their lofty gilded turrets like the peaks of Himalay,
In these halls in pride and splendour dwelt each rich and royal guest,
Fired by mutual emulation, and in costly jewels drest.
Decked and perfumed sat these rulers, mighty-arméd, rich in fame,
Lion-monarchs, noble-destined, chiefs of pure and spotless name,
Pious to the mighty Brahma, and their subjects’ hope and stay,
Loved of all for noble actions, kind and virtuous in their sway.
Now the festal day approacheth! like the heaving of the main,
Surge the ranks of gathered nations o’er the wide and spacious plain,
 Pandu’s sons in guise of Brahmans mix with Brahmans versed in lore,
Mark proud Drupad’s wealth and splendour, gazing, wondering evermore,
Dancers charm the gathered people, singers sing and actors play,
Fifteen days of festive splendour greet the concourse rich and gay.
III. The Bride
Sound the drum and voice the sankha! Brightly dawns the bridal day,
Fresh from morning’s pure ablutions comes the bride in garments gay,
And her golden bridal garland carrying on her graceful arm,
Softly, sweetly, steps Draupadi, queen of every winning charm!
Then a Brahman versed in mantra, ancient priest of lunar race,
Lights the Fire, with pious offerings seeks its blessings and its grace,
Whispered words of benediction saints and holy men repeat,
Conch and trumpet’s voice is silent, hushed the lofty war-drum’s beat,
And there reigns a solemn silence, and in stately pomp and pride,
Drupad’s son leads forth his sister, fair Panchala’s beauteous bride!
In his loud and lofty accents like the distant thunder’s sound,
Drupad’s son his father’s wishes thus proclaims to all around:
“Mark this bow, assembled monarchs, and the target hung on high,
Through yon whirling piercéd discus let five glistening arrows fly,
Whoso, born of noble lineage, hits the far suspended aim,
Let him stand and as his guerdon Drupad’s beauteous maiden claim!”
Then he turns unto Draupadi, tells each prince and suitor’s name,
Tells his race and lofty lineage, and his warlike deeds of fame.
IV. The Suitors
 “Brave Duryodhan and his brothers, princes of the Kuruland,
Karna proud and peerless archer, sister! seek thy noble hand,
And Gandhara’s warlike princes, Bhoja’s monarch true and bold,
And the son of mighty Drona, all bedecked in gems and gold!
King and prince from Matsya kingdom grace this noble wedding-feast,
Monarchs from more distant regions north and south and west and east,
Tamralipta and Kalinga on the eastern ocean wave,
Pattan’s port whose hardy children western ocean’s dangers brave!
From the distant land of Madra car-borne monarch Salya came,
And from Dwarka’s sea-girt regions Valadeva known to fame,
Valadeva and his brother Krishna sprung from Yadu’s race,
Of the Vrishni clan descended, soul of truth and righteous grace!
This is mighty Jayadratha come from Sindhu’s sounding shore,
Famed for warlike feats of valour, famed alike for sacred lore,
This is fair Kosala’s monarch whose bright deeds our heralds sing,
From the sturdy soil of Chedi, this is Chedi’s peerless king!
This is mighty Jarasandha, come from far Magadha’s land,
These are other princely suitors, sister! eager for thy hand,
All the wide earth’s warlike rulers seek to shoot the distant aim,
Princess, whoso hits the target, choose as thine that prince of fame!”
Decked with jewels, young and valiant, all aflame with soft desire,
Conscious of their worth and valour, all the suitors rose in ire,
 Nobly born, of lofty presence, full of young unyielding pride,
Like the tuskers wild and lordly on Himalay’s wooded side!
Each his rival marks as foeman as in field of deadly strife,
Each regards the fair Draupadi as his own his queenly wife,
On the gorgeous field they gather by a maddening passion fired,
And they strive as strove the bright gods, when by Uma’s love inspired!
And the gods in cloud-borne chariots came to view the scene so fair,
Bright Adityas in their splendour, Maruts in the moving air,
Winged Suparnas, scaly Nagas, saints celestial pure and high,
For their music famed, Gandharvas, fair Apsaras of the sky!
Valadeva armed with ploughshare, Krishna chief of righteous fame,
With the other Yadu chieftains to that wondrous bridal came,
Krishna marked the sons of Pandu eager for the maiden queen,
Like wild tuskers for a lotus, like the fire that lurks unseen,
And he knew the warlike brothers in their holy Brahman guise,
Pointed them to Valadeva, gazing with a glad surprise!
But the other chiefs and monarchs with their eyes upon the bride,
Marked nor knew the sons of Pandu sitting speechless by their side,
And the long-armed sons of Pandu smitten by Kandarpa’s dart,
Looked on her with longing languor and with love-impassioned heart!
Bright Immortals gaily crowding viewed the scene surpassing fair,
Heavenly blossoms soft descending with a perfume filled the air,
Bright celestial cars in concourse sailed upon the cloudless sky,
Drum and flute and harp and tabor sounded deep and sounded high!
V. Trial of Skill
 Uprose one by one the suitors, marking still the distant aim,
Mighty monarchs, gallant princes, chiefs of proud and warlike fame,
Decked in golden crown and necklace, and inflamed by pride and love,
Stoutly strove the eager suitors viewing well the targe above,
Strove to string the weapon vainly, tough unbending was the bow,
Slightly bent, rebounding quickly, laid the gallant princes low!
Strove the handsome suitors vainly, decked in gem and burnished gold,
Reft of diadem and necklace, fell each chief and warrior bold,
Reft of golden crown and garland, shamed and humbled in their pride,
Groaned the suitors in their anguish, sought no more Panchala’s bride!
Uprose Karna, peerless archer, proudest of the archers he,
And he went and strung the weapon, fixed the arrows gallantly,
Stood like Surya in his splendour and like Agni in his flame, –
Pandu’s sons in terror whispered, Karna sure must hit the aim!
But in proud and queenly accents Drupad’s queenly daughter said:
“Monarch’s daughter, born a Kshatra, Suta’s son I will not wed,”
Karna heard with crimsoned forehead, left the emprise almost done,
Left the bow already circled, silent gazed upon the Sun!
Uprose Chedi’s haughty monarch, mightiest of the monarchs he,
Other kings had failed inglorious, Sisupala stood forth free,
Firm in heart and fixed in purpose, bent the tough unbending bow,
Vainly! for the bow rebounding laid the haughty monarch low!
Uprose sturdy Jarasandha, fair Magadha’s mighty chief,
Held the bow and stood undaunted, tall and stately as a cliff,
 But once more the bow rebounded, fell the monarch in his shame,
Left in haste Panchala’s mansions for the region whence he came!
Uprose Salya, king of Madra, with his wondrous skill and might,
Faltering, on his knees descending, fell in sad inglorious plight,
Thus each monarch fell and faltered, merry whispers went around,
And the sound of stifled laughter circled round the festive ground!
VI. The Disguised Arjun
Hushed the merry sound of laughter, hushed each suitor in his shame,
Arjun, godlike son of Pritha, from the ranks of Brahmans came,
Guised as priest serene and holy, fair as Indra’s rainbow bright,
All the Brahmans shook their deerskins, cheered him in their hearts’ delight!
Some there were with sad misgivings heard the sound of joyous cheer,
And their minds were strangely anxious, whispered murmurs spake their fear:
“Wondrous bow which Sisupala, mighty Salya could not strain,
Jarasandha famed for prowess strove to bend and string in vain,
Can a Brahman weak by nature, and in warlike arms untrained,
Wield the bow which crownéd monarchs, long-armed chieftains have not strained?
Sure the Brahman boy in folly dares a foolish thoughtless deed,
And amidst this throng of monarchs shame will be our only meed,
Youth in youthful pride or madness will a foolish emprise dare,
Sager men should stop his rashness and the Brahman’s honour spare!”
“Shame he will not bring unto us,” other Brahmans made reply,
“Rather, in this throng of monarchs, rich renown and honour high,
 Like a tusker strong and stately, like Himalay’s towering crest,
Stands unmoved the youthful Brahman, ample-shouldered, deep in chest,
Lion-like his gait is agile, and determined is his air,
Trust me he can do an emprise who hath lofty will to dare!
He will do the feat of valour, will not bring disgrace and stain,
Nor is task in all this wide earth which a Brahman tries in vain,
Holy men subsist on wild fruits, in the strength of penance strong,
Spare in form, in spirit mightier than the mightiest warlike throng!
Ask not if ’tis right or foolish when a Brahman tries his fate,
If it leads to woe or glory, fatal fall or fortune great,
Son of rishi Jamadagni baffled kings and chieftains high,
And Agastya stainless rishi drained the boundless ocean dry,
Let this young and daring Brahman undertake the warlike deed,
Let him try and by his prowess win the victor’s noble meed!”
While the Brahmans deep revolving hopes and timid fears expressed,
By the bow the youthful Arjun stood unmoved like mountain crest,
Silent round the wondrous weapon thrice the mighty warrior went,
To the God of Gods, Isana, in a silent prayer he bent,
Then the bow which gathered warriors vainly tried to bend and strain,
And the monarchs of the wide earth sought to string and wield in vain,
Godlike Arjun born of Indra, filled with Vishnu’s matchless might,
Bent the wondrous bow of Drupad, fixed the shining darts aright,
Through the disc the shining arrows fly with strange and hissing sound,
Hit and pierce the distant target, bring it thundering on the ground!
Shouts of joy and loud applauses did the mighty feat declare,
Heavenly blossoms soft descended, heavenly music thrilled the air,
 And the Brahmans shook their deerskins, but each irritated chief
In a lowly muttered whisper spake his rising rage and grief,
Sankha’s note and voice of trumpet Aryan’s glorious deed prolong,
Bards and heralds chant his praises in a proud and deathless song!
Drupad in the Brahman’s mantle knew the hero proud and brave,
’Gainst the rage of baffled suitors sought the gallant prince to save,
With his twin-born youngest brothers left Yudhishthir, peaceful, good,
Bhima marked the gathering tempest and by gallant Arjun stood!
Like a queen the beauteous maiden smiled upon the archer brave,
Flung on him the bridal garland and the bridal robe she gave,
Arjun by his skill and prowess won Panchala’s princess-bride,
People’s shouts and Brahmans’ blessings sounded joyful far and wide!
VII. The Tumult
Spake the suitors, anger-shaken, like a forest tempest-torn,
As Panchala’s courteous monarch came to greet a Brahman-born:
“Shall he like the grass of jungle trample us in haughty pride,
To a prating priest and Brahman wed the proud and peerless bride?
To our hopes like nourished saplings shall he now the fruit deny,
Monarch proud who insults monarchs sure a traitor’s death shall die,
Honour for his rank we know not, have no mercy for his age,
Perish foe of crownéd monarchs, victim to our righteous rage!
Hath he asked us to his palace, favoured us with royal grace,
Feasted us with princely bounty, but to compass our disgrace,
In this concourse of great monarchs, glorious like a heavenly band,
Doth he find no likely suitor for his beauteous daughter’s hand?
 And this rite of swayamvara, so our sacred laws ordain,
Is for warlike Kshatras only, priests that custom shall not stain,
If this maiden on a Brahman casts her eye, devoid of shame,
Let her expiate her folly in a pyre of blazing flame!
Leave the priestling in his folly sinning through a Brahman’s greed,
For we wage no war with Brahmans and forgive a foolish deed,
Much we owe to holy Brahmans for our realm and wealth and life,
Blood of priest or wise preceptor shall not stain our noble strife,
In the blood of sinful Drupad we the righteous laws maintain,
Such disgrace in future ages monarchs shall not meet again!”
Spake the suitors, tiger-hearted, iron-handed, bold and strong,
Fiercely bent on blood and vengeance blindly rose the maddened throng,
On they came, the angry monarchs, armed for cruel vengeful strife,
Drupad midst the holy Brahmans trembling fled for fear of life,
Like wild elephants of jungle rushed the kings upon their foes,
Calm and stately, stalwart Bhima and the gallant Arjun rose!
With a wilder rage the monarchs viewed these brothers cross their path,
Rushed upon the daring warriors for to slay them in their wrath,
Weaponless was noble Bhima, but in strength like lightning’s brand,
Tore a tree with peerless prowess, shook it as a mighty wand!
And the foe-compelling warrior held that mace of living wood,
Strong as Death with deadly weapon, facing all his foes he stood,
Arjun too with godlike valour stood unmoved, his bow in hand,
Side by side the dauntless brothers faced the fierce and fiery band!
VIII. Krishna to the Rescue
Krishna knew the sons of Pandu though in robes of Brahmans dressed,
To his elder, Valadeva, thus his inner thoughts expressed:
“Mark that youth with bow and arrow and with lion’s lordly gait,
He is helmet-wearing Arjun! greatest warrior midst the great,
Mark his mate, with tree uprooted how he meets the suitor band,
Save the tiger-waisted Bhima none can claim such strength of hand!
And the youth with eyes like lotus, he who left the court erewhile,
He is pious-souled Yudhishthir, man without a sin or guile,
And the others by Yudhishthir, Pandu’s twin-born sons are they,
With these sons the righteous Pritha ’scaped where death and danger lay,
For the jealous, fierce Duryodhan darkly schemed their death by fire,
But the righteous sons of Pandu ’scaped his unrelenting ire!”
Krishna rose amidst the monarchs, strove the tumult to appease,
And unto the angry suitors spake in words of righteous peace,
Monarchs bowed to Krishna’s mandate, left Panchala’s festive land,
Arjun took the beauteous princess, gently led her by the hand.