Swayamvara Stories

By Srinidhi Murthy

In ancient India, a swayamvara was a practice that allowed a young maiden to choose her husband from a group of eligible suitors. There are many instances of swayamvara taking place in Indian mythology and some of these were monumental events that had far-reaching effects. Here are some such memorable swayamvara stories from mythology.


Nala was the generous and noble king of Nishada. He wished to marry Damayanti, the daughter of king Bheema of Kundanpur, after hearing about her from Sage Narada. One day, Nala saw a beautiful lake full of graceful swans. A small swan with golden plumes instantly caught his attention. He caught the swan by its leg and the bird cried out in pain. Nala assured the bird that he wouldn’t kill him, and that he wished to keep the swan in his palace.

Script: Abid Surti; Illustration: Souren Roy

One day soon after, the swan saw Nala weeping. When questioned by the swan, Nala told him about his wish to marry Damayanti. The swan promised the king his help and left, with the intention of returning within a week. The swan flew away and reached the royal gardens of Kundanpur. There, the bird chanted Nala’s name in front of Damayanti. Damayanti was intrigued and asked him about the identity of Nala. The swan told her all about Nala and his excellent character. Impressed, Damayanti decided that she would only marry Nala. As promised, the swan came back to Nala and told him about what had transpired. Nala was so delighted with the news that he set the swan free and sent him back to the lake. Soon, a swayamvara was arranged for Damayanti and Nala was invited to the event. On the day of swayamvara, princes from various kingdoms had gathered in a hall, but Damayanti had eyes only for Nala. She immediately put the garland around his neck, declaring her choice. After their wedding, Nala brought Damayanti to his palace, much to the joy of his subjects. 

Amba, Ambika and Ambalika

Amba, Ambika and Ambalika were the daughters of the king of Kashi. The king decided to organise a swayamvara for his three daughters and invited all the eligible suitors to participate. With the permission of his stepmother Satyavati, Bheeshma, the chief of the Kurus, reached the swayamvara hall, on behalf of his brother, King Vichitraveerya of Hastinapura. He announced in the hall that he was going to take the three maidens with him to wed them to his brother and that he was ready to combat any king who would try to stop him.

Script: Kamala Chandrakant; Illustration: Subba Rao

Many kings stood up in anger to fight against Bheeshma but were defeated. He took the princesses with him and turned his chariot towards Hastinapura. Suddenly he was stopped by Shalva, the king of Saubha, who challenged him to single combat. However, Shalva was no match for Bheeshma. Bheeshma slayed Shalva’s steeds and charioteer but spared his life. Soon, he brought the three princesses to Hastinapur and the wedding date was fixed. Before the ceremony, however,  Amba, the eldest of the sisters, revealed that she had already chosen Shalva as her husband, even before her swayamvara. Bheeshma allowed Amba to return to Shalva and Vichitraveerya married Ambika and Ambalika in a grand wedding ceremony.


Pritha was the first-born child of Shoora, a Yadava king. Shoora had promised to give his first-born to the childless Kuntibhoja, the son of his paternal aunt. So, Pritha was adopted by Kuntibhoja and came to be known as Kunti in her new home. Kunti grew up to be a beautiful maiden. Hence, Kuntibhoja decided to arrange a swayamvara for her. He invited several kings and princes so that his daughter could choose her husband among them. Kunti looked at the assembled suitors and she chose Pandu, the king of Hastinapura, who looked resplendent in his royal attire. The wedding took place with full splendour and Pandu returned to Hastinapura with his wife and many gifts, presented by Kuntibhoja.

Script: Kamala Chandrakant; Illustration: Subba Rao

Draupadi was the daughter of king Drupada of Panchala. She emerged as a maiden, from the sacrificial fire with her twin brother, Dhrishtadyumna. Drupada decided to arrange a swayamvara for Draupadi, but with a contest. Drupada had always wanted Arjuna to wed his daughter. However, at the time, it was believed that Arjuna, with his four brothers and mother, had perished in a fire at Varanavata. Hence, Drupada decided to create an archery contest which could only be won by an ace archer like Arjuna. Unknown to others, the Pandavas and their mother, Kunti, was living in disguise as Brahmanas. Hearing of the swayamvara, they all arrived at Panchala.

On the day, Dhrishtadyumna announced that in order to win Draupadi’s hand, the suitors would have to string an enormous bow and then shoot five arrows simultaneously onto the eye of a revolving fish, through a revolving ring. Many kings, including Duryodhana, Karna, Shishupala and Jarasandha came to Panchala to participate in the swayamvara. The Pandavas were also in the hall, in their disguise. One by one, the suitors came, tried and failed. When Karna strung the bow and took aim, Draupadi refused to let him participate because he belonged to the Suta caste. It was then that Arjuna confidently stepped forward and his arrow found its mark. Full of joy, Draupadi garlanded Arjuna and this swayamvara changed the course of history for the entire Kuru clan. 

Script: Kamala Chandrakant; Illustration: TMP Nedungadi

Lakshmana was the daughter of king Brihatsena. While she was courted by many prosperous kings, she was determined to marry Krishna and expressed her wish to her father. Brihatsena was happy with Lakshmana’s choice as he had great regard for Krishna and his prowess as an archer. However, the king was worried about the wrath of other kings who also wanted to marry Lakshmana. To avoid this, Brihatsena came up with the idea to hold a swayamvara with a contest. He told Lakshmana that only Krishna could emerge victorious in the contest and claim her hand, without offending other kings.

Script: Editorial Team; Illustration: Ram Waeerkar

Invitations were sent to all eligible suitors including Krishna. When they all assembled for the contest, Brihatsena explained the rules to them. He said that the suitors had to attempt to shoot down the fish in a revolving machine, only by looking at its reflection in the water below.  The contest turned out to be extremely difficult and many failed to even lift the bow. Some of them found it impossible to string it and those who successfully strung it, failed to shoot straight. Then Krishna came and lifted the bow with ease. He strung it with a smile and looked at the reflection, took aim and let go of the arrow. The aim was perfect and the fish came down in pieces. Lakshmana stepped forward happily and garlanded him. After taking leave of Brihatsena, Krishna and Lakshmana reached Dwaraka, where Rukmini and Satyabhama received them with joy. 



The word Ketuman has many references in the Puranas. Here are some of them:

Illustration: Tithee Dixit
  1. Ketuman is another name for a demon or Asura called Ketu, who was the son of Sage Kashyapa and his wife, Danu.
  2. Sudatta, the wife of Krishna, lived in a palace called Ketuman in Dwaraka.
  3. According to the Bhagvat Purana, Ketuman was the name of the son of Dhanvantari, who rose from the churning of the ocean and gave Ayurveda to the world.



Bheema is one of the most important characters of the Mahabharata, the son of Kunti and Pandu through Vayu, he is also blessed with incredible physical strength. Here is a look at his ancestry and descendants. 

Lakshmi and Uchhaisravas

According to legends, Lakshmi emerged from the cosmic ocean during the Samudra Manthan done by the Devas and Asuras to obtain Amrit. Similarly, a pure white, seven-headed horse called Uchhaisravas also emerged from the ocean at the same time. Since both Lakshmi and Ucchaisravas were “born” from the Kshirsagar, they are considered siblings.



The word Kapila has several references in the Puranas. Here are some of them:

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazra
1. A grandson of Brahma who was known to be a fierce sage. He is believed to be a form of Vishnu. It was Kapila who cursed the sons of Sagara to be burnt to ashes. His curse led to Bhagirath bringing Ganga down to earth!
2. Another name of Surya, which means “The red one”.
3. A serpent king who holds the earth in its position along with Dharma, Kama, Kala, Vasu, Vasuki and Ananta.


Illustration: Tejeshwar Vasu

The word ‘Dharana’ finds many mentions in the Puranas. Some of them are:

1. Dharana is one of the eight raja yogas, a kind of meditation
2. Dharana was a king born in the family of Chandravatsa
3. A naga born in the family of Kashyapa was named Dharana
4. Dharana, also known as Karsapana, is an ancient silver coin.

Kunti – The Mother of the Pandavas and Karna

Kunti was the first-born child of Shurasena, a Yadava ruler. She was the sister of Vasudeva, Krishna’s father, the wife of Pandu and the mother of Karna and the Pandavas. Here are some lesser-known stories from the life of Kunti.   

Birth and childhood of Kunti

Born as the daughter of Shurasena, a Yadava ruler, Kunti was named Pritha at birth. Shurasena gave his first-born child to his childless cousin, Kuntibhoja, due to a promise he’d made earlier. In her new home, Pritha came to be known as Kunti. Later, Arjuna also came to be known as Parth since he was the son of Pritha. As a maiden, Kunti served Sage Durvasa with reverence. Pleased with her hospitality, he gave her a special boon, due to which she could summon any celestial being of her choice in order to beget children from them.  

Script: Kamala Chandrakant; Illustration: Subba Rao and TNP Nedungadi
Penance for Arjuna

After the birth of Yudhishthira and Bheema, Pandu wanted a son who would win the admiration of the world. Pandu wanted to invoke Indra, to obtain a son from him. Hence to gratify Indra, Pandu suggested a year-long observance for Kunti. He also observed dire penances and mediation, standing on one leg from sunrise to sunset. Pleased with their penance, Indra came to Pandu and said he would give him a son who would be famous in all three worlds. As soon as Arjuna was born, Kunti heard voices from realms that addressed her. The voices said that this invincible child of hers would make her famous. The voices added that her son would win the admiration of Shiva in combat. Hence, he would obtain the Pashupatastra from him. 

Madri’s wish

Following the death of Pandu, Kunti told Madri, Pandu’s second wife, that she would follow Pandu in death as she was his first wife and asked Madri to take care of her children. However, Madri, full of grief, told her that if she survived, she would not be able to rear Kunti’s children as her own. Madri was convinced that Kunti would raise all the children with equal affection. Madri also added that since she was the cause of Pandu’s death, it was her wish to leave the world with her husband. With these words, Madri ascended the funeral pyre of her husband. 

Role in Bakasura’s death

After their escape from the forest of Varnavrata, the Pandavas went into hiding and lived in disguise in the house of a Brahmana family in a village named Ekachakra. One day, Kunti noticed that the family was distressed and weeping due to the misfortune that had befallen them. When asked the reason, they explained that a rakshasa named Baka was protecting their land and in return, demanded a meal of a cartload of rice, two buffaloes, and also the man, who took them to him, as his food. Kunti consoled the family and ordered Bheema to take the food to Baka, instead of one of the members of the family. When Yudhishthira questioned his mother about sending Bheema to the rakshasa, Kunti said that she assigned this task to Bheema as she was aware of his strength. She also added that it is the duty of a Kshatriya to protect those in distress. As expected, Bheema killed Bakasura, thus ending his tyranny.  

Script: Kamala Chandrakant, Illustration: TMP Nedungadi
Kunti’s message before the war

When Krishna visited Hastinapura as an envoy to make a peace offering on behalf of the Pandavas, he was given a warm welcome at the court. After exchanging some pleasantries with the Kauravas, Krishna went to visit Kunti, his paternal aunt. Kunti asked about the well-being of her sons and daughter-in-law. She told Krishna to convey her message to her sons. Kunti declared that the time had come for them to show themselves as true Kshatriyas. She added that if they failed to uphold Dharma now, she would forsake them forever. 


After the coronation of Yudhishthira, Gandhari and Dhritarashtra decided to retire to the forest. But when the couple emerged from the palace, the Pandavas were surprised to see Kunti leading their way. Surprised Yudhishthira asked Kunti how could she leave them now when she was the one who encouraged them to fight for the throne. Kunti calmly replied that whatever she did so far was for the welfare and safety of her sons. Now that they were secure, she decided to follow Gandhari and Dhritarashtra on their last journey. Accompanied by Vidura, Sanjaya, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, Kunti left Hastinapura to spend the rest of her days in the forest. 

The last days 

Kunti and Gandhari, with Dhritarashtra, spent their days in the forest in prayers and fasting. One day, a storm broke and with it, a forest fire. Vidura had already passed, but the trio persuaded Sanjaya to escape as they had become too weak and helpless to run away from the fire. Sanjaya reached the Himalayas. Unfortunately, Gandhari, Dhritarashtra, and Kunti were consumed by the forest fire. 

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Illustration: Sanjhiya Mayekar

The word Vamana has many references in the Puranic texts. Some of them are:

1. Vamana is the fifth incarnation in Vishnu’s Dashaavatar or ten incarnations.
2. Vamana is the name of one of the eight elephants that support the universe on their backs.
3. A holy place at the borders of Kurukshetra is called Vamana. In this place is a pond named Vishnupada. Legend says that if one bathes in it, their sins will be washed away and they will be granted entry into Vishnu’s abode.

Shakuntala, Dushyanta and the Birth of Bharata

By Srinidhi Murthy

Shakuntala was the daughter of Sage Vishwamitra and Menaka, a heavenly nymph. She was raised by sage Kanwa and married to Dushyanta, the king of Hastinapur. Later, she gave birth to Bharata, the ancestor of the Kuru clan. Her story is an important part of the Mahabharata

Shakuntala’s Birth and Childhood
Script: Dalat Doongaji and A.K. Lavangia; Illustration: P.B. Kavadi

Menaka, a heavenly nymph, left her newborn baby, near the hermitage of Sage Kanwa. The baby girl was adopted by the sage and was named Shakuntala. The name Shakuntala was bestowed upon her by Kanwa as she was found surrounded by the Shakuntala birds. Shakuntala spent her entire childhood under the care of Kanwa and enjoyed taking care of the animals around her. Soon, she grew into a beautiful maiden.

Gandharva Marriage 

One day, Dushyanta, the king of Hastinapur, visited the hermitage of Sage Kanwa. As the sage was not there at the time of Dushyanta’s arrival, Shakuntala received him with all due honour. Impressed by her beauty and grace, the king asked her to marry him. Shakuntala asked the king to wait for the return of her father as he would be the one to bestow his blessings upon their marriage. Upon hearing this, Dushyanta suggested Gandharva marriage, which required only the sanction of those who were to marry. Shakuntala agreed to wed him through Gandharva marriage with a condition that the son, born of their union, would be declared as his heir-apparent. Dushyanta agreed to her condition and they soon got married. He then left her, with a promise to send his troops to escort her to the capital as his wife and queen. 

Script: Dalat Doongaji and A.K. Lavangia; Illustration: P.B. Kavadi
Dushyanta and Shakuntala’s son 

When Kanwa returned, he learnt about the events that happened in his absence, through his ascetic power. He was pleased with the marriage and blessed Shakuntala, telling her that her son would be mighty and illustrious. Soon, Shakuntala gave birth to a healthy boy. Six years passed since Dushyanta had left Shakuntala, with a promise of return. The son of Shakuntala and Dushyanta grew into a strong boy and showed great courage. Soon, the sage decided that it was time for the boy to meet his father. Hence, Kanwa, Shakuntala and her son started their journey toward Hastinapur.

Dushyanta’s Rejection 

Upon her arrival, Shakuntala presented her son to Dushyanta. Though he remembered everything, Dushyanta refused to acknowledge both Shakuntala and their son. Shakuntala felt angered and hurt by his rejection. She said, “God has witnessed everything. The truth cannot be hidden. I cannot bear this disrespect. I shall return to my father’s hermitage but acknowledge and accept our son.” However, Dushyanta refused to do so. Enraged, Shakuntala stated that one day her son would rule the earth. 

The Birth Of Bharatavarsha
Script: Kamala Chandrakant; Illustration: T.M.P. Nedungadi

As soon as Shakuntala spoke these words, a voice from the realms above addressed Dushyanta, confirming Shakuntala’s statement. The voice then asked Dushyanta to willingly accept her and their son. Hearing those words, Dushyanta was overjoyed. Addressing the court, he said that he knew that the boy was his son. He further stated that had he accepted the boy only because of Shakuntala’s claim, his paternity would always have been questioned. Now that the celestial voice had confirmed their truth, Dushyanta happily embraced Shakuntala and their son. He named their son, Bharata and announced him as his heir. Bharata, the son of Shakuntala and Dushyanta, reigned after his father, conquering all other kingdoms, and giving birth to our nation, Bharatavarsha. 

Nandi – The Meditative Bull

By Komal Narwani

Long ago, in a small village, lived Sage Shilada. He sat in deep meditation, praying to Shiva for a child. Years later, Shiva appeared before him and blessed him. The next day, Sage Shilada found a little boy lying in the field near his ashram. Thanking Shiva for his boon, he picked up the boy and named him Nandi. 

Script: Sanjana Kapur; Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

Nandi grew up to be a bright child with unparalleled wisdom. One day, two sages, Mitra and Varuna, visited Shilada’s ashram. They received a warm welcome from the sage and Nandi, who made their stay very comfortable. When it was time to leave, the sages blessed Shilada with a long life and Nandi with a happy life. The evident difference in blessings got Shilada curious. When questioned by Shilada, they revealed the bitter truth of Nandi’s short lifespan. Shilada was in tears. When Nandi learnt of this, he assured his father that Shiva would not let anything harm his true devotees. 

Script: Sanjana Kapur; Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

With his father’s blessings, Nandi left to embark on a deep devotional journey. He sat on the banks of river Bhuvana and chanted verses in honour of Shiva. Later, when Shiva asked for Nandi’s wish. He said, “O Shiva! Give me strength to chant verses in your honour for another year.” Shiva blessed him. However, after the first year, when Shiva appeared before him the second time, Nandi sought the same boon, which Shiva granted happily. The cycle repeated and formed a continuous loop until, one day, Shiva said, “Open your eyes, Nandi, you do not have to do this anymore. You are already immortal. Ask for any other wish.” Delighted, Nandi replied, “All I wish is to be at your side forever.”

Script: Sanjana Kapur; Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

Transforming the boy into a divine bull, Shiva said, “So be it. You will be my vahana and my closest aide. Let’s head to our home, Mount Kailash.” Since then, Nandi has been Shiva’s most loyal and trusted ally. Every Shiva temple has a statue of Nandi directly in front of the main sanctum sanctorum. Nandi sits there guarding his lord through eternity. Legends say it was Nandi who taught Hanuman the hymns to praise Shiva.

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