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Kripa fights with Shikhandi (top right).

Shikhandi (Sanskrit: शिखंडी, Śikhaṇḍī ; Indonesian, Srikandi) is a character in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. He was originally born as a girl child named 'Shikhandini' to Drupada, the king of Panchala. Shikhandi fought in the Kurukshetra war on the side of the Pandavas, along with his father Drupada and brother Dhristadyumna. His son's name was Kshatradeva.[1]

Past Life[edit]

Shikhandi had been born in an earlier lifetime as a woman named Amba. Amba was the eldest daughter of King of Kashi, Kashiraj. Along with her sisters Ambika and Ambalika, she was taken by force by Bhishma from their Swayamvara. He presented them to Satyavati for marriage to Vichitravirya, the king of Hastinapur.[2]

Vichitravirya married only her sisters, because Amba told Bhishma that she had been promised to the Shalva, the King of Saubala and was not ready to marry anyone else. Hearing this from her, Bhishma sent Amba with grandeur to Shalva's place. But Shalva rejected her as well, in shame of losing the combat against Bhishma at the Swayamvara. Amba then returned to Bhishma and demanded that he marry her. He declined since he had already taken a vow of celibacy.

Enraged that she was going to be an unmarried woman, she swore to kill him, and tried to persuade other kings to wage a war with Bhishma. None agreed for they were afraid of incurring the wrath of the great warrior. Amba managed to get Parashurama, Bhishma's guru, to champion her cause. However, not even Parashurama could defeat Bhishma.

According to the summary by C. Rajagopalachari, she resorted to penance and received a garland of blue lotuses from Lord Subrahmanya and it was foretold that anyone wearing the garland would become the cause of Bhishma's death. She again with no avail tried to persuade the warriors to accept the garland and champion her cause. But again none wanted to antagonize Bhishma. Amba, in anger, hung the garland on the gates of King Drupada and left in agony.[3]

Amba was reborn as Shikhandini, the daughter of King Drupada.

Childhood and Sex-change[edit]

According to C. Rajagopalachari's Mahabharata summary, when Shikhandini was still a young woman she discovered the garland of ever-blooming blue lotuses hung on the palace gate. Shikhandini put it around her neck. Actually it was Amba (now Shikhandini) who had hung the garland given to her by Lord Kartikeya. When Drupada saw his daughter wearing the garland, he quaked with fear at the thought of becoming Bhishma's enemy and Shikhandini was banished from the kingdom. She performed austerities in the forest and was transformed into a male named Shikhandi.[4] According to Vyasa Mahabharata Shikhandini exchanged her sex with a Yaksha who wanted to be a female.[5][6] Thus Shikhandini became Shikhandi.

In some versions of the story, Amba is simply reborn as a male Shikhandi. In what is perhaps the most popularized version, when Shikhandini changes her sex, she becomes Shikhandi but is a eunuch. In even other versions, Shikhandi is male, due to Shiva's boon that Amba will remember all the details of her past life. In early versions of the Mahabharatha, Shikhandi is still Amba-reborn, but also a complete female. Because Panchala doesn't practice gender discrimination, she is trained to become a warrior and allowed to fight in the Kurukshetra War (this being the original reason why Amba kills herself again and again, wanting to be born to a culture that will allow her to fight Bhishma).

Battle of Mahabharat[edit]

Bhishma refuses to fight Shikhandi

In the battle of Kurukshetra, Bhishma recognised him as Amba reborn, and not wanting to fight 'a woman', lowered his weapons. Knowing that Bhishma would react thus to Shikhandi, Arjuna hid behind Shikhandi and attacked Bhishma with a devastating volley of arrows. Thus, Shikhandi's role was instrumental in Bhisma's death.

Shikhandi was finally killed by Ashwatthama on the 18th day of battle.[7]


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