Pandavas continued to live in Ekachakra for months after Bhima killed Bakasur. They used to learn scriptures and Vedas from the Brahmana in whose house they were living. One day, that Brahmana was visited by a sage who travelled across several remote regions. He stayed with Brahmana for few days and one day while sharing the stories of his voyage, he told Pandavas about Panchal kingdom. Panchal was ruled by king Drupada. Drupada was the same king whom Arjuna defeated in lieu of preceptor fee for Guru Drona.
Sage told Pandavas about the places he visited in detail. He shared the stories of many kingdoms and then he mentioned about the Swayamvar about to happen in Panchal, for the princess Draupadi, the daughter of Drupada. He shared how King Drupada had invited kings and princes of many regions to participate in the Swayamvar. And how the city was being decorated to host the event of its kind. He told about the richness of the city and how the citizens of Panchal lived in harmony and peacefully. He mentioned that those five brothers with mother can also go to Panchal and witness the grandeur. The sage thought Pandavas were Brahmanas and mentioned that they could also go to Panchal with other Brahmanas. Kunti gave a thought to the comments of sage. She reflected that finding food for all six of them in that small village was getting difficult day by day as they already stayed for many months in the village. She thought to continue their journey and go to Panchal in search of better life. She agreed and gave her affirmation for going to Panchal.
A day was decided and those five brothers with mother Kunti started their journey towards the new city. Days of travel and grouped with a troop of Brahmanas, Pandavas with mother Kunti reached Panchal. Panchal was getting ready for the grand event and thus the entire city was decked with decorations and divine fragrance. Special arrangements were being made for the guests. Palaces and apartments were being built for princes and kings invited and all necessary arrangements of comfort were visible in each street of the city. Panchal was about to host the Swayamvar of its adorable daughter, Draupadi.
Pandavas searched for a suitable place for their stay in Panchal and managed to get a place in a potter’s house. Pandavas with their mother Kunti settled there and started living as mendicants. There were enough resources for them in Panchal and above all, Panchal was ready to host many guests at that time.
As the day of Swayamvar approached, the guests started arriving in the city. Kings and princes from all directions and remotest regions were coming to participate in the event and prove their caliber for the princess of Panchal. Attractive sights and sporting events were arranged to entertain the invitees. A large and beautifully decorated stadium was set for the main event which was surrounded by the seating places of all kings and other visitors.
A podium was created at the center of the stadium. A mighty bow was kept on the dais with five arrows. A rotating machine was set at some height. It was sight for attraction for all visitors.
Finally, the day of Swayamvar came and the princes came to show their caliber and prove their might to win Draupadi started gathering in the main stadium. The kings and princes of remote kingdoms, small or big, all with great enthusiasm, with one dream of winning the beautiful Draupadi in Swayamvar started gathering. Duryodhana, Dushasana, Vikarna, Yuyutsu and other Kaurava brothers with Karna and Ashwatthama also came for the event. Panchal was garnered with warriors of different caliber and among them was seated the pride of Yadus, the lord of Dwarka, and the son of Devaki, Krishna. He came to support the king of Panchal with his elder Balarama and his dear friend Satyaki.
Then entered a large group of Brahmanas who came to witness the event and bless the king Drupada and his children. Amid them, Pandavas were seated, guised as Brahmanas. And when all guests were arrived and welcomed by King Drupada, entered the queen of desires of many men seated in stadium. Draupadi holding the hands of her brother Dhrishtadyumna, clad in flowing silk and coyly glancing the princes present there entered the arena. As the goddess of supreme beauty walked, all the eyes of mortals gazed at the divine grace.
Dhrishtadyumna then introduced all the invitees to Draupadi and then pointing at the mighty bow and five arrows, in loud voice said, “Here is the bow and these are five arrows. That is the target. Lift the bow, tie the string, and shoot the mark through the orifice of the machine with these five sharpened arrows. He who achieves this feat will win the challenge and if Draupadi agrees, he will get married to her.” Saying this he went back and sat next to his father. King Drupada then signaled the start of event. Monarchs one by one, attempted to beat the challenge, but failed. Hitting the target seemed distant as they were unable to lift even the bow. It became full chaotic and they started shouting that the king Drupada wanted to embarrass those warriors and thus he put that difficult task.
Then came the turn of Karna. His might and strength needed no introduction. A ray of hope sparkled among the warriors when Karna lifted the bow and tied the string. He stretched the bow with mounted arrow and was about to shoot the arrow when a voice stopped him. Draupadi rose from her seat and in loud voice said, “I will not marry a Suta.” This made Karna to leave the challenge. Once again there was a furor and chaos on who would be able to hit the target. Then, Arjuna sitting amid the group of Brahmanas stood and with full confidence walked towards the podium. All looked at him in awe and confusion as they never expected that someone from Brahmana group would attempt the challenge. He reached at the center and asked, “Can a Brahmana try to hit the target?”
Dhrishtadyumna signaled in affirmation and then Arjuna did something which was no less than extraordinaire for any human present in the stadium. He lifted the bow, mounted the arrows and in succession hit the target leaving everyone awestruck. The crowd was in tumult, but the princes went silent witnessing the extraordinary feat from an ordinary looking Brahmana. Brahmanas sitting in the stadium rejoiced in glory and bestowed their blessings on Arjuna. Draupadi smiled and walked towards Arjuna with a garland. She accepted Arjuna as her lord. But it didn’t go well with the Kshatriyas present there and they in unison shouted that a Brahmana shouldn’t be allowed to participate in Swayamvar. They feared that if the news of their failure would spread, no other king would call them in future events. They took Arjuna’s victory as their personal loss and all rushed towards the group of Brahmanas. Bhima, sensing the danger, rushed to counter the attacks and then both Arjuna and Bhima stood against those hundreds of princes.
The attacks and counter attacks started, and the stadium turned into a violent stage. Krishna and Balarama sensing the danger intervened and tried to calm the protests. Krishna said, “Draupadi rightfully belongs to the Brahmana who has hit the target as directed by King Drupada. There is no room for confusion.”
All five brothers with Draupadi then returned to the potter’s house where they were temporary residing. But it was not end to the confusions. As they reached, they thought of tricking their mother, and thus they said to Kunti, “Mother! we got today’s alms.” As always Kunti without looking back at them said, “Divide it among all of you.” The words of mother became the destiny of new bride. Realizing her mistake Kunti asked Yudhishthira to disprove her statement but Yudhishthira said, “Words of mother shouldn’t go in vain and thus all five of us would be called as husbands of Draupadi.”
Next day, the messengers of king Drupada came and as per the orders of the king invited the Pandavas to the palace for marriage rituals. All of them went and when asked by Drupada, Yudhishthira revealed their real identities. This sorted the confusion of Drupada, and he was excited finding that nobody but Arjuna won the challenge of Swayamvar. Drupada then requested Arjuna to proceed for the marriage rituals but he was surprised knowing that all five brothers wanted to marry his daughter Draupadi.
Skeptical Drupada left the decision on Kunti and Dhrishtadyumna. Seeing the reluctance of Drupada, Yudhishthira said, “Worry not O king! This arrangement is per our pledge and wish of our mother. Draupadi will be called as the common wife of all five Pandavas. Her place will always be supreme.” Finally, Drupada agreed and the marriage ceremony completed. After the marriage, Pandavas continued living in the palace of Panchal and soon the news of their marriage reached Hastinapur. News of their survival from the burning palace of wax in Varnavata and Arjuna’s prowess in winning the Swayamvar.
Bhishma was delighted knowing the news and he asked Dhritarashtra to call Pandavas with Kunti and Draupadi back to Hastinapur. Dhritarashtra was confused. Duryodhana was furious. Karna was bewildered and Shakuni was shocked. But they had no choice then to accept the truth.
On order of Dhritarashtra, Vidura went to Panchal with different gifts for king Drupada and message for the Pandavas to return to Hastinapur.