Mahaabhaarat | General
3-Other Wives of Paandav
Dr Devdutt Pattanaik
Everyone knows that the five Paandav brothers in the epic Mahaabhaarat shared a wife called Draupadee. What most people do not know is that each of the brothers had other wives too.
In fact, the first brother to get married was not Arjun or the eldest Yudhishthir, but the mighty Bheem. After the Kaurav attempted to kill the Paandav by setting alight their palace (made of Lac) on fire, the Paandav hid in the forest, disguised as the sons of a Braahman widow. During this time, Bheem killed many Raakshas such as Bakaasur and Hidimb. Hidimb's sister, impressed by his strength, chose him as husband and they had a son called Ghatotkach.
Even before this, according to folktales in Raajasthaan and Orissaa, Bheem had married a Naag woman. When the Kaurav tried to poison him and drown him in a river, he was saved by Aahuk, a Naag, and taken to the realm of the serpents where he was given a wife. From that union was born a child called Bilalsen who played a role in the war later on. In variants of this legend, Bilalsen, also known as Barbareek, was the son of Ghatotkach, and hence was the grandson of Bheem, not his son.
The brothers agreed that Draupadee would stay with one brother for a year before moving to the next one, a shrewd move to prevent jealousy and to identity paternity of Draupadee's children. In the four years between each brother spent time with another wife.
Yudhishthir married Devikaa, the daughter of Govasan of the Shaivya tribe and begat upon her a son called Yaudheya. Bheem married Balandharaa, the daughter of the King of Kaashee and begat upon her a son named Sarvag. Nakul married Karenumatee, the princess of Chedi, and begat upon her a son named Niramitra. Sahadev obtained Vijayaa, the daughter of Dyutimaan, the king of Madra and begat upon her a son named Suhotra. All these wives lived with their sons in the house of their fathers.
When Draupadee agreed to be the common wife, her condition was that she would share her household with no other woman. In other words, disregarding popular practice of the times, the Paandav could not bring their other wives to Indraprasth. Arjun, however, succeeded in bringing one wife in. She was Krishn's sister, Subhadraa. And with a little advise from Krishn, she was able to trick her way into the household.
Though Draupadee's favorite, Arjun had the most number of wives amongst all brothers, the story goes that Arjun once entered Draupadee's chamber while she was with Yudhishthir. To atone for this trespassing, he went on a 'pilgrimage'. During this time he married many women.
In the classical Sanskrit retelling, Arjun married the Naag Kanyaa Uloopee, the princess Chitraangadaa of Manipur and finally Krishn's sister Subhadraa during this pilgrimage. But in Tamil retellings of the Mahaabhaarat, he married totally seven women. One of them was a warrior woman called Alee who refused to marry him but Arjun was so besotted that he sought Krishn's help. Krishn turned him into a snake and he slipped into Alee's bed at night and frightened her to become his wife. Some say he forced her to be his wife as he managed to spend the night in bed with her in the form of a snake. This clandestinely erotic folktale alludes to Paishaach Vivaah or the marriage by way of ghosts, that is mentioned in the Puraan.
Thus the world of the Mahaabhaarat very comfortably refers to polyandry (many husbands for one woman) as well as polygyny (many wives for one man). What is interesting to note is that most storytellers are embarrassed only by the former than the latter; hence there are tales to 'explain' Draupadee's many husbands but none to ex-plain each Paandav's other wives.
[The author has just published "Jaya: An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata" (Penguin, India) priced at Rs. 499.]
Created by Sushma Gupta On 05/27/04
Modified on 11/29/12