Sunday, November 14, 2010

The infamous five

The five Pandavs, as we all know, were split quite well into groups of three and two:
Group 1: Gambler, Obelix and Casanova.
Group 2: Hello Kaun? Pehchan Kaun?

However disparity might be there in the acquired fame of the brethren, one thing remains for sure: as a group they were quite famous, and is possibly the most famous quintet in the history of fiction (way ahead than all of Enid Blyton's creations put together).

The five of them, as we all know, landed up marrying the same woman (their mother had herself landed up with four men, er, Gods, but that's another story, mentioned in details here).

As all virile men land up doing, they managed to churn one son each out of The Woman.

Obvious question: How did they know who belonged to whom? Was there a DNA test?
Not-so-obvious answer: No. The brethren had struck a deal: they took turns with Her Highness, getting to spend time for a year with Her. Since this is meant to be an innocent, informative article, I won't emphasise much on this "getting to spend time" bit here.

But what if the pact was broken?
Simple. If anyone intruded while one of the brothers was getting to spend time with Draupadi, he would be sent to exile. This was possibly imposed all through their married lives, but was really brought into limelight during their thirteen years spent in exile: twelve in the forests and one in anonymity.

I found it really interesting that none of their other wives accompanied them to the forest. Possibly they preferred their own cosy comfort zones to getting to spend time. Even Hidimba, who resided in a forest anyway. Possibly the Pandavs had found out that getting to spend time with the other wives was not as interesting.

The list might be worth mentioning here:
Yudhishthir was married to Devika, princess of Kekay. This was from where Kaikeyi of Ramayan fame hailed.
Bhim was married to Hidimba (possibly the first instance of a generally accepted inter-caste marriage) and Balandhara, princess of Kashi. I wouldn't be surprised if Maganlal Meghraj was born in the lineage. Some sources suggest that he was also married to Kali, princess of Madra, Shalya's daughter.
Nakul was married to Karenumati, princess of Chedi (of Shishupal fame) and Jarasandha's daughter (obviously after Bhim had done a disintegration by parts on him), whose name I do not know.
Sahadev was the most intriguing of the lot: he was married to Vijaya, princess of Madra and Jarasandha's granddaughter, whose name I do not know either. Why are these intriguing? Because:
1. The probable king of Madra at that point of time was Shalya, Madri's brother. This would mean that Sahadev married his cousin.
2. Sahadev also married his twin brother's wife's niece.
3. Sahadev's father-in-law was also called Sahadev. Makes me shudder.

The intriguing bit was that Arjun was, well, quite committed to Her Highness when 12+1 took off. On reaching the forest, three unfortunate aspects dawned upon him:
1. Assuming the sequence of getting to spend time was chronological, and that they were married for 5n years at the point of the twin trip, Yudhishthir would get to spend the first year.
2. After Yudhishthir it would take another year. This year would be no normal year, since it would be Bhim's turn.
3. There wasn't a second option available. His Casanova skills would be wasted on fauna and fasting rishikanyas.

Frustrated at this triple prospect, Arjun got desperate and took the first opportunity to step in while Yudhishthir was getting to spend time with The Wife. His wish was granted. He set out on a conquest. He got married thrice in the process:

First came (no pun intended there) Chitrangada of Manipur (why did Arjun walk that long to have his first shot?), who changed her looks to win over our hero. She duly got her share of getting to spend time. As a result she gave birth to Babhruvahan, who later felled his father in a duel.

Next came (see above) Ulupi of Nagbhumi, which was presumably Nagaland (it seems Arjun could wait for the first time, but once he got the taste he forgot what patience used to be like). The getting to spend time saga continued. The valiant Iravan was born a few months later, and fought bravely at Kurukshetra to die a hero's death.

Next came was Subhadra. Arjun was possibly feeling content and a tad guilty by now, but he couldn't refuse Krishna. He abducted, married, got to spend time with and recited the Cracking-The-Chakravyuha-for-Beginners-Part-I to Subhadra.

Do note that Vasudev was Kunti's brother. Getting married to maternal uncles' daughters was apparently in vogue in their generation, and Arjun kept true to the fashion.

By now, Arjun was bored of getting to spend time, and he came back to Draupadi some time during Bhim's year.


This article, however, is not about all this. This is about a relatively lesser known quintet: Draupadi's sons. They were called Prativindhya, Sutasom, Shrutakirti, Shatanik and Srutasen, and, in assuming normal pregnancies (which were a rarity in the epic), took five years to be born (remember the annual getting to spend time bit?).

Fact 1: Abhimanyu was conceived in the first year of the Pandav's exile. Even if we delay this as much as possible, he was born, say, nine months into the second year. So, when the exile ended for the Pandav's, Abhimanyu was at least eleven years and three months old (which was when he got married to Uttara).
Fact 2: Abhimanyu was killed at the age of 16. Even if this meant sixteen years eleven months, The War happened at most (16 yr 11 mon - 11 yr 3 mon) five years eight months after the exile was over.
Fact 3: Draupadi's sons took part in The War and were killed by Ashwatthama in that fateful night when the head count came down to eleven (from eighteen akshauhinis to start with).
Fact 4: There is no reference to Draupadi's pregnancies or childbirths during the thirteen-year-long exile.

All these facts point to one thing: the sons were, in fact, elder to all of Arjun's sons, and were conceived and born before they went into exile.

Assuming that, and the fact that Abhimanyu's son Parikshit succeeded Yudhishthir to the throne, it can be assumed that none of the half-brothers had a son. Even if we assume that Abhimanyu would get priority over Madri's twins, it can be safely assumed that Prativindhya and Sutasom didn't have sons. Exactly why Babhruvahan was not considered still eludes me, but there must be some reason or the other. Probably they wanted to please Krishna.

So, we basically see, that though Draupadi was the main queen (everyone preferred leaving their own existing wives to spend their allotted quota of 20% to get to spend time with her), her sons never got the glamour they deserved.

Abhimanyu died a hero's death in the Chakravyuha.
Ghatotkach did his bit, and played out Karna's quota of overs.
Babhruvahan felled Arjun.
Even Iravan turned out to be a thorn in the Kaurava flesh, and it required the rakshas Alambush to slay him.

But the five remain almost unmentioned (though they survived the war before they were slayed in Ashwatthama in their sleep). They are as anonymous in their births as in their deaths. When Uttara's hand was available, Arjun recommended Abhimanyu, not Ghatokatch (the eldest, possibly because of his genes), Prativindhya (the eldest of the fully humans) or Shrutakirti (his eldest son). After all, Krishna had to be pleased.

It was apparently a very common practice in those polygammous days to be rejected by the father and to be brought up by the mother. Most Pandava offsprings faced this fate. These kids were deprived of both parents, despite them being alive and having quite illustrious careers (yes, I know we need to add Nakul and Sahadev's glamour quotient and multiply the sum by forty-two to come close to the others, but still). Poor kids.


Happy Children's Day, people.


PS: I tried to insert a family tree involving Madri and her sons and their partners. I think it would require a four-dimensional Visio. Can anyone help?


  1. Happy Children`s Year after this post! :O

  2. got it.
    this one for family planning.

  3. Another one that I enjoyed a lot.

  4. Visio... ha ha ha... now I am reminded that u are also in Analytics like me!!

  5. Rereading all your mythology posts and it's quite a pleasure, especially since I am reading it after having read Jaya.

  6. Always wondered about the age inconsistencies here.. And, precisely how old were the Pandavas and Kauravas at time of war? Arjun was an inch away from having a grandchild.. How old must Karna be?

  7. Actually you could write a post on Draupadi alone - the princess, the wife, the lover, the mother.

    True, she had an extremely downtrodden career as a mother. But i still wonder if her kids could be really young at the time of war. Which twenty-something years olds sleep like five brothers in a row, just so that Vyasdev could finish off his novel hurriedly before he is bored.