Shikandi, who became a man to satisfy her wife
|Bhisma taking the three princes of Kashi|
There was once a princess called Amba, who wanted to marry a man called Shalva. But on the day she was to select him as her husband, a warrior called Bhisma abducted her and her sisters and took them to his city of Hastinapur where they were told they would have to marry his younger and far less competent half-brother, Vichitravirya.
Amba begged that she be allowed to marry the man of her choice and Vichitravirya let her go, as the idea of having to satisfy two wives was stressful enough.
Unfortunately for Amba, Shalva refused to accept her as his wife as she had been tainted, touched by another man. So Amba returned to Vichitravirya. He too refused to accept her, as 'a "gift" given away,' he said, 'cannot be taken back'.
Amba then went to Bhisma and begged him to marry her. He said he could not as he had taken the vow of celibacy. 'Go back to your father,' he said, 'Or stay in the palace as a maid.'
A furious Amba prayed to Kartikeya, god of war, killer of men, who gave her a garland of ever fresh lotuses. Anyone who accepted this garland would kill Bhisma. Unfortunately, no man on earth accepted it, celestial grace notwithstanding.
When even Drupada, powerful king of Panchala, turned his back on her, a frustrated Amba flung the garland and it landed up hanging from a pillar in Drupada's palace.
Amba then approached Parashuram, a sage who was expert in the martial arts, and who was renowned for his hatred or warriors. She requested him to be her champion and punish Bhisma, who had ruined her life. Parashuram tried, but failed, 'His vow of celibacy has granted him the power to choose the time of his death. I cannot defeat him,' he said.
Death of Amba
A desperate Amba invoked Shiva, the destroyer. Shiva appeared, pleased with her intense austerities, and said rather cryptically that she would be the cause of Bhisma's death but only in her next life. To hasten her next life, Amba leapt into the fire and died.
Appearance of Shiva
She was reborn as Drupada's daughter. But Drupada wanted a son and had been promised one by Shiva. Convinced that Shiva would not lie to him, Drupada claimed his daughter was actually his son and ordered her to be raised as one.
Birth of Shikhandi
The girl, named Shikhandi, was taught all the skills reserved for men. She grew up believing she was a warrior. She was even given a wife. But on the wedding night, when the bride discovered that her husband was a woman, Shikhandini not Shikandi, she ran to her father in a state of shock.
Determined to avenge this insult, the bride's father, King Hianyavarna of Dasarna, raised an army and threatened to invade Panchala. Drupada knew that the only way to save his kingdom was to prove that his 'son' was truly a man. He also knew that this was impossible.
Confronted with her femininity for the first time in her life, Shikhandi felt responsible for this calamity. Resolving to kill herself, she went to the forest. But a yaksha called Sthuna saved her. Was it a woman he saved or a man? For the girl thought like a man and felt like a man and had always been treated as a man. But that body of hers was certainly not a man's.
On hearing Shikhandi's story, Sthuna lent her his manhood for one night. Thus equipped. Shikhandi could prove his masculinity to anyone who cared to test it. Hiranyavarna sent his courtesans who sent back a satisfactory report. Concluding that his daughter had made a mistake, Hiranyavarna apologized to Drupada and sent his daughter back. Shikhandi then performed his husbandly duties to the satisfaction of his newly wedded wife.
Kubera, king of yakshas, was very angry with Sthuna for lending out his manhood; such things are not to be done. But when Shikhandi, true to his promise, came to the yaksha to return the borrowed organ, Kubera was so pleased with his integrity that he allowed Shikhandi use of the yasha's manhood as long as he lived. It would return to Sthuna only after Shikhandi died.
Drupada was happy to finally get a son, but then, to his dismay, Shikhandi in a rather cavalier moment placed around his neck Amba's garland of ever-fresh lotus flower that for years had been hanging on a pillar of his palace. 'He will kill Bhisma,' moaned Drupada. 'But I need a son who will kill Drona.'
|Dronacharya, as commander-in-chief of|
Drupada wanted a son who would kill Drona and a daughter who would divide the Kuru household that had supported Drona. Shikhandi could be neither one nor the other. He was useless. So Drupada conducted a yagna that would give him the children he wanted. The fire yielded Draupadi, the perfect woman and Dhristadhyumn, the perfect man.
Draupadi became the common wife of the five Pandava brothers who demanded a kingdom of their own as the hundred Kauravas refused to share Hastinapur with them. Bhisma gave them the forest of Khandavprastha on which they built the very impressive city of Indraprastha, rivaling the old city of Hastinapur. Thus did Drupada's daughter fulfill her father's wish.
The jealous Kauravas invited the Pandavas to a game of dice during which the Pandavas were lured into wagering their kingdom. Foolishly they gambled and lost their kingdom. Control over it could only be regained after thirteen years of forest exile.
When the Pandavas returned from exile, the Kauravas refused to return even a needlepoint of Indraprastha. The only way to get back what was theirs was by declaring war. Drupada offered his army, led by Dhristadhyumna to his sons-in-law, knowing well that Drona would join the Kaurava side, giving his son the chance to fulfill his wish.
Unfortunately, the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas reached no conclusion despite nine days of fighting. Bhisma led the Kaurava forces. Though old, he was still formidable force in battle. 'As long as I hold the bow, my children, no arrow will get past me. Besides no one can kill me as I can choose the time of my death,' declared Bhishma.
This was the clue Krishna was looking for Krishna, cousin of the Pandavas and friend to Draupadi, said, 'He cannot be killed but he can be pinned to the ground by arrows. For that we have to get him to lower his bow. He will lower his bow not before a man but certainly before a woman. But how do we get a woman into the battlefield? That is not permitted by law.'
Death of Bhishma
Drupada then offered his eldest child Shikhandi who was born a woman and had become a man. 'Bhisma will see him as a woman. But we will contest his view, for now he is a man with a wife who no longer doubts his masculinity.
On the tenth day, Shikhandi rode into battle on Krishna's chariot. Behind him was Arjuna, the third Pandava, greatest archer in the world. Sure enough Bhisma refused to raise his bow against him declaring, 'Born a woman you are always a woman.' Taking advantage of this Arjuna released a volley of arrows and pinned the old man to the ground.
Death of Drupada
Following this incident, Drona was made commander of the Kaurava armies. He managed to kill Drupada. Dhristadhyumna avenged his father's death and fulfilled his destiny by eventually beheading Drona, something no one dared do as Drona was a brahmin.
Eventually all the Kauravas were killed and the kingdoms of Hastinapur and Indraprastha came under Pandava control. But it was no happy ending.
Death of Shikhandi
On the night of victory, Drona's son attached the Pandava camp when all the soldiers were sleeping and killed everyone there. Draupadi's sons were beheaded, her twin brother Dhristadhyumna was strangulated and her elder brother Shikhandi was found split in two.
Source: Excerpts from the book "SHIKHANDI and other talents they don't tell you" written by Devdutt Pattnaik.