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(Swayamvara Parva continued)

“Vaisampayana said, ‘Then those youthful princes adorned with ear-rings, vying with one another and each regarding himself accomplished in arms and gifted with might, stood up brandishing their weapons.

And intoxicated with pride of beauty, prowess, lineage, knowledge, wealth, and youth, they were like Himalayan elephants in the season of rut with crowns split from excess of temporal juice. And beholding each other with jealousy and influenced by the god of desire, they suddenly rose up from their royal seats, exclaiming ‘Krishna shall be mine.’ And the Kshatriyas assembled in that amphitheatre, each desirous of winning the daughter of Drupada, looked like the celestial (of old) standing round Uma, the daughter of the King of mountains. Afflicted with the shafts of the god of the flowery bow and with hearts utterly lost in the contemplation of Krishna, those princes descended into the amphitheatre for winning the Panchala maiden and began to regard even their best friends with jealousy. And there came also the celestials on their cars, with the Rudras and the Adityas, the Vasus and the twin Aswins, the Swadhas and all the Marutas, and Kuvera with Yama walking ahead.

And there came also the Daityas and the Suparnas, the great Nagas and the celestial Rishis, the Guhyakas and the Charanas and Viswavasu and Narada and Parvata, and the principal Gandharvas with Apsaras. And Halayudha (Valadeva) and Janardana (Krishna) and the chief of the Vrishni, Andhaka, and Yadava tribes who obeyed the leadership of Krishna were also there, viewing the scene. And beholding those elephants in rut–the five (Pandavas)–attracted towards Draupadi like mighty elephants towards a lake overgrown with lotuses, or like fire covered with ashes, Krishna the foremost of Yadu heroes began to reflect. And he said unto Rama (Valadeva), ‘That is Yudhishthira; that is Bhima with Jishnu (Arjuna); and those are the twin heroes.’ And Rama surveying them slowly cast a glance of satisfaction at Krishna. Biting their nether lips in wrath, the other heroes there–sons and grandsons of kings–with their eyes and hearts and thoughts set on Krishna, looked with expanded eyes on Draupadi alone without noticing the Pandavas. And the sons of Pritha also, of mighty arms, and the illustrious twin heroes, beholding Draupadi, were all likewise struck by the shafts of Kama.

And crowded with celestial Rishis and Gandharvas and Suparnas and Nagas and Asuras and Siddhas, and filled with celestial perfumes and scattered over with celestial flowers, and resounding with the kettle-drum and the deep hum of infinite voices, and echoing with the softer music of the flute, the Vina, and the tabor, the cars of the celestials could scarcely find a passage through the firmament. Then those princes–Karna, Duryodhana, Salwa, Salya, Aswatthaman, Kratha, Sunitha, Vakra, the ruler of Kalinga and Banga, Pandya, Paundra, the ruler of Videha, the chief of the Yavanas, and many other sons and grandsons of kings,–sovereigns of territories with eyes like lotus-petals,–one after another began to exhibit prowess for (winning) that maiden of unrivalled beauty. Adorned with crowns, garlands, bracelets, and other ornaments, endued with mighty arms, possessed of prowess and vigour and bursting with strength and energy, those princes could not, even in imagination, string that bow of extraordinary stiffness.

“And (some amongst) those kings in exerting with swelling lips each according to his strength, education, skill, and energy,–to string that bow, were tossed on the ground and lay perfectly motionless for some time. Their strength spent and their crowns and garlands loosened from their persons, they began to pant for breath and their ambition of winning that fair maiden was cooled. Tossed by that tough bow, and their garlands and bracelets and other ornaments disordered, they began to utter exclamations of woe. And that assemblage of monarchs, their hope of obtaining Krishna gone, looked sad and woeful. And beholding the plight of those monarchs, Karna that foremost of all wielders of the bow went to where the bow was, and quickly raising it strung it and placed the arrows on the string.

And beholding the son of Surya–Karna of the Suta tribe–like unto fire, or Soma, or Surya himself, resolved to shoot the mark, those foremost of bowmen–the sons of Pandu–regarded the mark as already shot and brought down upon the ground. But seeing Karna, Draupadi loudly said, ‘I will not select a Suta for my lord.’ Then Karna, laughing in vexation and casting glance at the Sun, threw aside the bow already drawn to a circle.

Then when all those Kshatriyas gave up the task, the heroic king of the Chedis–mighty as Yama (Pluto) himself–the illustrious and determined Sisupala, the son of Damaghosa, in endeavouring to string the bow, himself fell upon his knees on the ground. Then king Jarasandha endued with great strength and powers, approaching the bow stood there for some moment, fixed and motionless like a mountain.

Tossed by the bow, he too fell upon his knees on the ground, and rising up, the monarch left the amphitheatre for (returning to) his kingdom. Then the great hero Salya, the king of Madra, endued with great strength, in endeavouring to string the bow fell upon his knees on the ground. At last when in that assemblage consisting of highly respectable people, all the monarchs had become subjects of derisive talk that foremost of heroes–Jishnu, the son of Kunti–desired to string the bow and placed the arrows on the bow-string.’”

(Swayamvara Parva continued)

“Vaisampayana continued, ‘When all the monarchs had desisted from stringing that bow, the high-souled Jishnu arose from among the crowd of Brahmanas seated in that assembly. And beholding Partha possessing the complexion of Indra’s banner, advancing towards the bow, the principal Brahmanas shaking their deer-skins raised a loud clamour. And while some were displeased, there were others that were well-pleased. And some there were, possessed of intelligence and foresight, who addressing one another said,

‘Ye Brahmanas, how can a Brahmana stripling unpractised in arms and weak in strength, string that bow which such celebrated Kshatriyas as Salya and others endued with might and accomplished in the science and practice of arms could not? If he doth not achieve success in this untried task which he hath undertaken from a spirit of boyish unsteadiness, the entire body of Brahmanas here will be rendered ridiculous in the eyes of the assembled monarchs.

Therefore, forbid this Brahmana that he may not go to string the bow which he is even now desirous of doing from vanity, childish daring, or mere unsteadiness.’ Others replied, ‘We shall not be made ridiculous, nor shall we incur the disrespect of anybody or the displeasure of the sovereigns. Some remarked, ‘This handsome youth is even like the trunk of a mighty elephant, whose shoulders and arms and thighs are so well-built, who in patience looks like the Himavat, whose gait is even like that of the lion, and whose prowess seems to be like that of an elephant in rut, and who is so resolute, that it is probable that he will accomplish this feat. He has strength and resolution.

If he had none, he would never go of his own accord. Besides, there is nothing in the three worlds that Brahmanas of all mortal men cannot accomplish. Abstaining from all food or living upon air or eating of fruits, persevering in their vows, and emaciated and weak, Brahmanas are ever strong in their own energy.

One should never disregard a Brahmana whether his acts be right or wrong, by supposing him incapable of achieving any task that is great or little, or that is fraught with bliss or woe. Rama the son of Jamadagni defeated in battle, all the Kshatriyas. Agastya by his Brahma energy drank off the fathomless ocean. Therefore, say ye, ‘Let this youth bend the bow and string it with ease’ (and many said), ‘So be it.’ And the Brahmanas continued speaking unto one another these and other words. Then Arjuna approached the bow and stood there like a mountain. And walking round that bow, and bending his head unto that giver of boons–the lord Isana–and remembering Krishna also, he took it up. And that bow which Rukma, Sunitha, Vakra, Radha’s son, Duryodhana, Salya, and many other kings accomplished in the science and practice of arms, could not even with great exertion, string, Arjuna, the son of Indra, that foremost of all persons endued with energy and like unto the younger brother of Indra (Vishnu) in might, strung in the twinkling of an eye.

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