Kripa fights with Shikhandi (top right)
Shikhandi (Sanskrit: शिखंडी, Śikhaṇḍī ; Indonesian, Srikandi) is a character in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. He was born as a girl child named 'Shikhandini' to Drupada after much penance to Lord Shiva who promised that his child will attain sex change at a later stage, the king of Panchala. Shikhandi fought in the Kurukshetra war on the side of the Pandavas, along with his father Drupada and brother Dhristadyumna.
In the majority of the versions of the Mahabharat, there is the story of Shikhandi being Amba in his previous birth.
Shikhandini or Shikhandi had been born in a previous lifetime as a woman named Amba. Amba was the eldest daughter of King of Kashi. Along with her sisters Ambika and Ambalika, she was taken by force by Bhishma from their Swayamvara; Bhishma deemed this as punishment to Kashi for not inviting Hastinapur to the wedding. Defeating several kings, including Salwa, the King of Saubala, Bhisma absconded with the princesses and presented them for marriage to Vichitravirya, the crown prince of Hastinapur.
Vichitravirya married only her sisters, because Amba told Bhishma that she had fallen in love with Salwa, and was not ready to marry anyone else. Hearing this from her, Bhishma sent Amba with grandeur to Saubala. But Salwa rejected her as well, in shame of losing the combat against Bhishma. Amba then returned to Bhishma and demanded that he marry her according to Kshatriya dharma, but Bhishma declined due to his vow celibacy. Enraged at her humiliation, she tried to persuade other kings to wage a war with Bhishma and compel him to wed her. 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 Kartikeya and it was foretold that anyone wearing the garland would become the cause of Bhishma's death. She went to the Panchal, as they were a mighty empire known for its military prowess. However, no one was willing to champion her cause, fearful of antagonizing Bhishma. Amba, in anger, hung the garland on the gates of King Drupada and left in agony.
Amba did severe penance to Lord Shiva for a boon to cause Bhishma's death. Eventually, her prayers were answered. But, being a woman with no military training, she asked Shiva how should would accomplish her task, and he responded that her future incarnation would be the one to actually bring about Bhishma's demise. Eager to bring this about, Amba killed herself; in some versions of the story (to explain the time gap between the abduction at Kashi and the Kurukshetra war, Amba keeps on killing herself until she is incarnated into satisfactory situation. Amba was reborn as Shikhandini, the daughter of King Drupada
In most versions of the story, Shikhandi is male but born-female. When Shikhandini changes her sex, she becomes Sikhandi but is a eunuch. According to C. Rajagopalachari's Mahabharata, 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. When Drupada saw his daughter wearing the garland, he became fearful 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.
In another version of the story, Drupada desires an heir, and wanders the forest to settle his disquieted mind. He comes upon Shikhandini. Shikhandini is born through divine filiation from Shiva; when Drupada picks her up, a heavenly voice tells Drupada to raise her as a man. Drupada raised his daughter as a son and had Shikhandini married to a princess of Dasharna. She complained to her father, Hiranyavarna, that her husband was a woman. When the king sent people to check this fact, Shikhandini panicked and escaped into a forest, where she met a Yaksha who exchanged his sex with her. The Yaksha king sees the Yaksha as a girl and curses him that he will remain in the form till Shikhandi dies, keeping the sex-swap in place. In many versions of the story, the change results in Shikhandi being a eunuch; in others, it doesn't.
In some versions of the story, Amba is simply reborn as a male Shikhandi, sometimes whole and sometimes a eunuch. In even other versions, Shikhandi is a male but transgender, 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 a straight female. Because Panchala doesn't practice gender discrimination, she is trained to become a warrior and fights 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).
In the Ganguly translation of the Chatahurdi compilation, Shikhandi has son, whose name was Kshatradeva.
Battle of Mahabharat
In the battle of Kurukshetra, Bhishma recognised him as Amba reborn, and not wanting to fight a "woman" (or an actual woman, depending on the version), avoided battling Shikhandi. On the tenth day, Shikhandi rides in Arjuna's chariot, and together, they face Bhishma, forcing him to lower his weapons. Knowing that this would happen, Arjuna hid behind Shikhandi and attacked Bhishma with a devastating volley of arrows. Thus, Shikhandi was instrumental in Bhishma's death.
Shikhandi was finally killed by Ashwatthama on the 18th day of battle. Dazed and confused, Shikhandi is killed in a sword fight with Ashwatthama when Ashwatthama, Kripacharya, and Kritaverma attacked the Pandava camp on the night of the final day of battle. In some versions of the Mahabharat, Ashwatthama kills Shikhandi's lover (male or female) in front of him; in other versions, it is Shikhandini's partner (male/female) who is butchered.
- Sorabji, Cornelia, and Warwick Goble. Shikhandi: The Maiden-knight and Other Stories. Bombay: Blackie and Son, 1916. Print.
- Pattanaik, Devdutt. Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don't Tell You. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print
- Mahabharata Summary By Rajaji, Mahabharata Stories , Stories and Characters from Mahabharata, Mahabharatam in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi
- MAHABHARAT : The king of Kashi's three beautiful daughters, Amba, Ambika and Ambalika
- Gāḍīta, Jayanta. Shikhandi. Ahmedabad: Parshwa, 1990. Print.