The other Wives

Mahabharata 49 Comments

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, September 05, 2010

Everyone knows that the five Pandava brothers in the epic Mahabharata shared a wife called Draupadi. 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 Arjuna or the eldest, Yudhishtira, but the mighty Bhima. After the Kauravas attempted to kill the Pandavas by setting alight their palace (made of lac) on fire, the Pandavas hid in the forest, disguised as the sons of a Brahmin widow. During this time, Bhima killed many Rakshasas such as Baka and Hidimba. Hidimba’s sister, impressed by his strength, chose him as husband and they had a son called Ghatotkacha.

Even before this, according to folktales in Rajasthan, and Orissa, Bhima had married a Naga woman. When the Kauravas tried to poison him and drown him in a river, he was saved by Ahuka, a Naga, 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 Ghatotkacha, and hence was grandson of Bhima, not son.

The brothers agreed that Draupadi 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 Draupadi’s children. In the four years between, each brother spent time with another wife.

Yudhishtira married Devika, the daughter of Govasana of the Saivya tribe, and begat upon her a son called Yaudheya. Bhima married Valandhara, the daughter of the king of Kashi, and begat upon her a son named Sarvaga. Nakula married Karenumati, the princess of Chedi, and begat upon her a son named Niramitra. Sahadeva obtained Vijaya, the daughter of Dyutimat, 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 Draupadi 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 Pandavas could not bring their other wives to Indra-prastha. Arjuna, however, succeeded in bringing one wife in. She was Krishna’s sister, Subhadra. And with a little advise from Krishna, she was able to trick her way into the household.

Though Draupadi’s favourite, Arjuna had the most number of wives amongst all brothers. The story goes that Arjuna once entered Draupadi’s chamber while she was with Yudhishtira. To atone for this trespassing, he went on a ‘pilgrimage’. During this time he married many women.

In the classical Sanskrit retelling, Arjuna married the Naga Ulupi, the princess Chitrangada of Manipur and finally Krishna’s sister Subhadra during this pilgrimage. But in Tamil retellings of the Mahabharata, he married totally seven women. One of them was a warrior woman called Ali who refused to marry him but Arjuna was so besotted that he sought Krishna’s help. Krishna turned him into a snake and he slipped into Ali’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 Pisacha-vivah, or the marriage by way of ghosts, that is condemned in the Puranas.

Thus the world of the Mahabharata 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’ Draupadi’s many husbands but none to explain each Pandava’s other wives.

  • well….double standards from ancient times…still prevail in society….will they ever change?

    • Ramdas

      When Women will play the ROLE of “Provider” and “Protector” without asking too many FAVOURS, the day so called DOUBLE STANDARD will end.

      I know, it will not happen because, what was/is there, is Output of People’s choice no matter HOW hard we try.

      Nature Prevail.

      • Ankita

        Women have played every possible role in this world but men tend to look at only that role which they find most comforting and convenient to please themselves and to avoid keeping blame for their own deeds by which they hurt women.

        No doubt Nature Prevail…

        • Ramdas

          Dear Ankita,

          Did you understand what my comment says?

          Why are you so EAGER to show ‘Typical Feminine Character’?

          Read, Ponder and understand the content then and then only you will able to find “Action Items” for yourself.

          Cheer !

          • Could you please clarify your comments?
            and why are you so eager to show ‘typical masculine character’?

  • Interesting that Yudhisthir decided to gamble the common wife, rather than his personal wife !

    • Ravi

      HA HA … well said :)

    • Well said….

    • Ramdas

      jo bikata hai, usi ko hi bik sakte hai.

      jo nahi bikta, us ko ‘dust-bin’ mai phek do.

    • PBS

      Yudhisthara’s wife is not mentioned as present or living when Pandavas take leave of their wives after the dice game. She is not mentioned as going to Hastinapur after the war or when all have dream sequence where all dead warriors return for one night. She is not mentioned when all wives go to meet Kunti in hermitage later so one may conclude that Yudhisthara may have a wife but she passed away probably in childbirth.

      Yudhisthara is mentioned as related by marriage (sambhandhi) to Kasiraja and Shiviraja when they brought in the armies for war. Yudhsithara ‘s wife is also called Shaivya in puranas but listed as someone else’s daughter. and Abhibhu the Kasiraja ‘s daughter is not mentioned at all. So those relationship may be to Yudhisthara’s sons who may have shivi and kasi princesses as wives. Another hint comes when Yuuyutsu joins Pandava side, dhritrastra recalls how Yuyutsu had helped pandavas before by killing a rapist who threatened the kasi princess. (Bhima ‘s wife Jalandhara and wives of Duryodhana and Dushhasana were also Kashi princesses from previous generation)

      Yudhisthara is more of one wife guy. His only official wife who proudly called herself that (aka married only to Yudhisthara) was the lady dragged to the court by dushasana and there she proclaimed she is married to Yudhisthara only but would be free as he bet himslef ahead of her, the Draupadi of extended silks. Most likely, Drupada may have several daughters and they all may have practised polyandry, but because Draupadi name became famous, literally all the charcaters of several other wives got subsumed by one name Draupadi. Her personal name is Krishna but other legends record Aditi, Kavita etc as well.

      In tribal legends, dharmaraja and arjuna had a tribal wives before Bhima, Dharma’s lady died young. Draupadi found their children much later.
      In oriya legends, Yudhisthara married a tribal girl before going to Himalayas. In Jaina Mahabharata, Arjuna is more of one woman, maybe 2 woman guy but Yudhisthara has many many many wives.
      In Budhhist versions, Arjuna is eldest but Yudhisthara ‘s immense progeny rule Indraprastha.
      Pathaniya rajputs are descended from Yudhishthara as are Johiyas.

  • I guess the problem is with discomfort of the narrator rather than the narration itself. The hero – villain concept always deteriorates the real picture and the balance is justified using unnecessary customs and explanations which was originally not there at all.

    I hope there are also stories in the Mahabharatha where this caste problem is vividly pictured. We only debate on what stupid explanations are in the media today.

  • Nataraj

    Devdutt saab,

    this article is half written…incomplete!!!!!!! You forgot to bring in the today’s corporate into this article….

    But still I liked this article….

    • Narayan

      Why in the world should every story or narration have a corporate connection or link?
      Our puranas are stories of inspiration and teaching and grossification for the sake of understanding and symbolism for the sake of conveying a subtler meaning.

      Lets not fall into a stereotype here…Devdutt is doing a fine job of invoking in us all a deeper interest in the puranas as well as pointing out that there is a greater meaning to it all- one among them being a possible linkage to current corporate world!

      • whatisinaname

        Look at it this way narayanji,

        1.The narrator has a active corporate life and and I assume many readers also are working, who have easy access to the net.

        2. Dutt saab started publishing in the corporate dossier, I stand to be corrected. So a number of his fan following is from the corporate world.

        3.Finally, by giving a corporate linkage he is giving an example on common ground. only thing common across India its diversity, i think the author is doing a fine job by not giving other example. May hurt some sentiments.

        4. Today a lot of do our karma in the corporate world, in the rat race.

        Guess that is the reason

        Jai ho!

  • Hats off to your research…do continue to enlighten us



    But sadly, we Indians can gulp this fact…

    But as Nataraj asked for a Corporate Comparison..

    Then i think all the Extra Marital Affairs happening in today’s Corporate World can be compared with the Pandava Story…

    But Seriously, Our Male Dominated Society will always penalise the Poor Women for their affairs and not the Men themselves….

    But as someone said, Every Coin has 2 sides, the more we delve into the Corporate World, the more we will find these Indian Rules broken…We are becoming like the Americans now…

    Polygamous Men and Women are the Future of Love and u know….

  • Sree Nair

    Unlike your normal articles this one lacks any insight.

    No message. No link to current world/Corporate world.
    Are you inadvertently advising something ?

  • Pradip Bhattacharya

    curious feature: we hear of none of these sons by other wives except Ghatotkacha. No purana provides any information–surely a Pandava progeny would have sired a dynasty in Kashi/Madra/Chedi? Particularly when Yaudheya was the eldest’s son, why does the kingdom go to Abhimanyu’s son and Indraprastha is given to Vajra, Krishna’s great grandson? Defies normal custom of succession and suggests all along a Yadava hand behind all the happens.

    • aarthi raghavan

      in the mahabhrata war all of the pandava sons died.at the end of the war abimanyu’s wife gave birth to parikshit & he was the only heir alive.so he was given the kingdom!

      • Sachin Chitnis

        Even after war of Mahabharat, It is documented that Draupadi had children but Parikshit being eldest among the descendents was crowned.

    • PBS

      Vajra was son of Suthanu and hence grandson to Yudhisthara, he would be logical choice to succeed. Most likely the Kritvarma and Satyaki grandsons who suceeded had a parent in common with upa-pandavas. Buddhist legends and jatakas keep mentioning Yudhisthara gotra as ruling Indrapata while noting Arjuna’s was elder line. Actually, half of Panchala was mentioned as under Kurus in jatakas.

      Also in Harivansha, did not Sahadeva marry a granddaughter of Krishna.

      Duryodhana was closely related to Balarama. Balarama ‘s Mother was sister to Somadutta and hence more allied to Kauravas than Pandavas who were related to Balarama through the Father. Female succession in not frowned upon in India.

      • Pratyasha

        Hi! I am great doubt regarding this. From where does Suthanu’s name come up? where is she mentioned as Yudhishthir and draupadi’s daughter?

        • Arunita

          haha count me in this doubt where it was written Suthanu was daughter of Yudhisthir and Draupadi? and married to Krishna-Satyabhama’s son Bhanu. Vajra was son of Aniruddha and Usha and great grandson of Krishna how come Vajra becomes Suthanu’s son?

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  • Nonyameko Afiya

    Very good article/story. Still learning.

    Keep up the good work. Very inspiring to me. Will send you the second copy of my book when I get it finished. Just got to the middle of the book.


  • Jayshree

    Too Good!I was not aware of the Pandavas having many wifes

    • Ramdas

      When Women will play the ROLE of “Provider” and “Protector” without asking too many FAVOURS, the day so called DOUBLE STANDARD will end.

      Nature Prevail.

  • The reason, why polyandry attracts attention or comments from people, is because of its being the most uncommon thing, whether it is in those days of Dvaparyuga or in the present days of Kaliyuga. In the whole of Mahabharata, there is no other case of polyandry, as far as my knowledge goes. It is exactly like a man, more so a woman, walking naked, without any clothes on, on the road, attracting everybody’s attention, whereas thousands of men, walking on the road wearing clothes, going unnoticed. What is worth appreciating behind this accidental happening of polyandry in Mahabharata is the importance attached to the word of a mother, which was treated as more than a word of God, by the devout sons of Kunti. Even though the words of kunti, the mother of the pandavas (“share the bhiksha (alms)brought by Arjuna, equally amoung all of you, my sons!”), were uttered unintentionally, the dutiful sons carried it out, without thinking about the consequences, or difficulties involved in carrying it out. When we contrast this with the present generation, where even the most legitimate instructions of parents are thrown to wind, it is highly agonising.

    • The polyandry of mahAbhArata is NOT accidental happening. It is the real practice among the hilly regions of Himachala Pradesh even to this day (or at least a few decades back).

      This is done due to economic hardships in the region and not due to some sexiest perverted reason that people in other regions dream about.

      This practice of the pANDavas was not looked upon comfortably among the urban audience of the story, and hence justifications need to be given. Something like why an Italian widow can run the nation needs some explanation once in a while. :)

    • PBS

      Polyandry was common in those times as was polygamy. Extended Widowhood was rare. Widow remarriage was present.
      Satyavati had children by Parashara, Shantanu, was also connected to Asita-devala and Durmukha and even Narada. Actually Satyavati Narada are listed as one of ideal pairs.
      Kunti had children from 4 different fathers other than her husband.
      Virata, Matsaya king gave shelter to sairandhri said to be wife of 5 gandharvas without question, because Virata’s mother, Satyavati’s grand-daughter-in law Shaivya was married to 5 brothers too. Virata being her eldest son.
      Kunti’s atleast two sisters had children by second husband, one was Eklavya and other was Keechaka.

      Virata himself was son of Shaivya (5 husbands), grandson of rektawati, (daughter of Satyavati from Parashara) herself a daughter of women with more than one live husband at same time.

      Bhima’s wife Hidimba remarried Bana and had 3 more sons and 2 daughters including Usha, wife to Anirudhha. Pradyumana’s wife was wife to Shamabara and Pradyumana.

      Widow remarriage: Kunti declines to go to forest with Pandavas as she has to look after her aged father-in-law and mother-in-law.
      Satyavati is espoused by Durmukha as soon as Shantanu died. Arjuna married Uloopi, a naga warrior’s widow. Arjuna married Bhanumati, widow of Duryodhana and later Chitrahoyi, another hero’s widow.

      Nothing different now, Pandey Saheb did marry Chulbul’s mother who was a widow :-)

  • there was no need for any story teller to be apolegetic or explain about other wives of pandavas as no significant role was assigned to them in mahabharata by vyasa,while draupadi is the cause celebre for the epic battle.

  • In the world of Mahabharata ,Kings had more than one wife.A woman having more than one HUSBAND is not only UNCOMMON in those days but also unheard of.Thus Draupadi remains a rare woman ,so the embarrassment.

  • hello,

    a few days back i had been to Sun Temple at Modhera, near Ahmedabad. Fascinating it was to see the walls as well as insides of the main temple adorned by erotic postures of man and woman communion.
    More striking fact, the reason i am mentioning it here, is that most of those postures had more than two individuals depicted in the act. Many women with one man, many men with one woman, many men with many women etc.
    Amazing to see that around 1000 years back, the perception of sex was totally different from what it is today.
    Amazes me! Acts which we consider ‘crminal’, ‘unnatural’ are graphically depicted in a temple premise!!!!

    Would like Mr. Devdutt to enlighten on this phenomenon.

    • Musunuri Venkata Rama Eswar

      The sculptors were engaged for years together to bring out the beautiful temples like Modehra, Konark. These sculptors were not allowed to go homes and literally were away from family life, Obviously they have cnverted their inner desires or dreams into great sculptures. The sexual postures on the temple walls therefore could also be imaginative !!!

  • I never read anything about this warrior woman named Ali…..Could u pls tell me where can I read more abt this episode…..the source perhaps…

    Beautiful art in ur blog…Kudos


    • Devdutt

      Its part of Tamil Mahabharata tradition in Arcot area

  • SP

    Monogamy is/was seen everywhere, in almost all religions.
    If you see, most kings had multiple wives but the always had a lead queen. only 1 or 2 out of many were remembered. The idea of polygyny is not so much mutual here. Kings used to win the wives in swayamwars.

    Also, In case of drupadi (polyandry), the wife was shared by command of their mother. Here the relation might be healthy but if you notice that draupadi has a condition that no other wife can stay in the palace than her. which means there was a jealousy or she wasnt in a position to share yet.
    There is a twist as well, only subadhra was all allowed in the palace and shared arjun as their husband.

    My position to the whole idea of polygamy is:
    Polygamy can work when all the participants mutually agree with the whole idea. It might fail when the game of possession of one over other start to emerge.

    However Monogamy is likely to work given that possession is natural and infact encouraged, however it might fail due to lack of trust and dis-satisfaction (in terms of wealth, success or sex) in the relationship.

  • Supriya

    Is it true that Krishna had incest with his sister Subhadra or is it just distortion introduced by mischievious elements? If true, woudl like to know its references and if there werr any other incest relations in Mahabharata.

    • Devdutt

      True? Whatever uplifts you, I guess….who knows who is mischievous, who is manipulative and who is sincere?

  • PBS

    Question regarding why Yudhisthara gambled the common wife and not the personal wife:
    Devika is not mentioned other than Adiparva, Yaudheyas fought on Kaurava side, Devika is not mentioned with other Pandava wives after the War so she was probably not alive maybe not even at time of Dice game. second, during Draupadi ‘s questioning by Duryodhana, she specifically mentions she is wife of Yudhisthara (not all 5) and mentions her one son Prativindhya, not the other sons. Drauapdi is most famous wife and the known name and i am sure that several times story tellers and Vyas himself subsituted deeds of others for the most famous name Draupadi. In other words, she became a composite for all wives of Pandavas. The archer warrior who defeated duryodhana in kannada retelling and archer in indonesian retelling is more akin to Subhadra who was expert charioteer and archer or even Chitrangada. The girlfriend who sends Bhima chasing the flower or seducing him to kill Kichaka could be Balandhara who selected Bhima in first place. The lady who questioned the kuru elders and ran the kingdom as well as the exile kitchen would be Draupadi the princess, trained so by the loving father.

  • Vaijyanti

    “What is interesting to note is that most storytellers are embarrassed only by the former than the latter; hence there are tales to ‘explain’ Draupadi’s many husbands but none to explain each Pandava’s other wives.”

    What I like about you is that you not only have deep knowledge of what you write about but are also able to give it a different readings and also question the need for the justifications we find it necessary to provide for certain issues. Wow!

  • Jambulingam

    I found this discussion very interesting.

    Please justify polygyny and polyandry by some means …

  • suresh

    Thanks for your BBB and LSD concept
    It helps me to work with satisfaction.

    sir is mythology says having more than one wive or husband is natural?

    is it saying right to have connections with other women or men like other’s wife or husband?

    if we married to a woman then is it not wrong to marry another woman?

    please give your views.

  • Urni

    As I read your article I keep wondering why did none of the Pandavas have any daughter. Or could it be that daughters’ names were not registered as the other sons enter back into the main story during the epic war.

  • Deepak Sharma

    If we don’t eradicate the practice of female feticide in India, very soon the practice of polyandry will become a necessity with the rapidly falling female to male ratio.

  • Olivia Dey

    Arjun “s character is horrible. he married so many woman and yet was not satisfied! he forced a innocent woman to marry him ! why did Krishna helped him ?

    • Sachin Chitnis

      Most marriages of Arjun were for political alliances for the unification of small kingdoms into One large kingdom.
      Indraprastha was not separate state from Hastinapur To elevate state to be independent, Pandavas needed political alliance. As Arjuna was Charming Warrior, whom young princesses adored, he was chosen by Lord Krushna for Marital Alliance across Aryavarta.

  • Parthasarathy P Ramaswami

    Nalayini [ who stopped dawn to save her husband ] prayed to shiva to have a good husband. In her anxiety she asked five time and shiva blessed her five times. she asked for boga and yoga togather which are disjoint but shiva bless her with the same. She was blessed that her husband would be the ex-indras and she will not be born out of mother womb. she came out of the fire. all human are made of five elements and she represent fire

  • Parthasarathy P Ramaswami

    women were given freedom to choose their partners between every menstrual cycle for certainity of the father. In the story of yayati, the slave demon princess ask yayati to give her the pleasure of ruthu and they have children. Later when sukracharya comes to know that yayati cheated on his daugther he cursed him to become old. When he gave the details of the dharma, sukracharya gave him the leeway that he can give his old age to one of his sons and take their youth. only his last son gave the youth and hence he made him as the king after him. he is called guru and that is the reason the clan was guruvamsha