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Painting of Arjuna winning Draupadi's hand in marriage, 1885

Svayamvara (Sanskrit: स्वयंवर, romanizedsvayaṃvara lit.'self-choice'[1]) is a type of marriage mentioned in Hindu mythology where a woman chose a man as her husband from a group of suitors. The bride wishing to marry would select an auspicious time and venue and then broadcast her intentions. Kings typically sent messengers to outside lands, while commoners simply spread the news within the local community. On the appointed day, suitors would gather at the venue and declare their qualifications. The bride would place a garland on the man of her choice and a wedding ceremony was held immediately. However, this type of marriage is not attested in any Dharmaśāstra.


Svayaṁ in Sanskrit means 'self' and vara means 'groom'.

Indian literature[edit]


Prajapati Daksha held a svayamvara ceremony for his daughter Sati in which he invited all deities except Shiva, disapproving him for his appearance despite the fact that Sati wished to marry him. Sati is believed to have meditated upon Shiva with all her concentration and garlanded the thin air in front of her, where Shiva appeared spontaneously and hence was chosen as her husband.[2]


In the Hindu epic Ramayana, King Janaka proclaimed that Sita would be wed to the man who could lift and string the Pinaka (Shiva's bow), calling this feat vīrya śulka, meaning the cost to be paid by a suitor.[3] Sita married Rama, the only man strong enough to lift and string the bow.


King Kuntibhoja arranged a svayamvara for his adopted daughter Kunti in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Many kings and princes from the Aryan region attended her svayamvara. Among them was Pandu, the king of Hastinapura. Kunti chose Pandu as her husband.


For Draupadi, the daughter of King Drupada of Panchala in the Mahabharata, prospective grooms had to hit a fish's eye with a bow and arrow. This fish was an image on a rotating wheel placed over a pan filled with oil. The many suitors had to aim using the reflection of the fish in the oil. Arjuna wins her hand in marriage by succeeding in this contest.[4]


Another famous svayamvara from the Mahabharata is found in the story of Damayanti, who chose Nala for her husband, against the wishes of the gods.

Modern literature[edit]

The Bearded Prince tells the story of Princess Roopali, whose father holds a svayamvara for her to select her groom.[5]

Roshani Chokshi's The Star-Touched Queen has the heroine Maya's father stage a svayamvara for her early in the novel.

Iranian literature[edit]


The Shahnama of Ferdausi records a similar tradition in pre-Islamic Iran, of one Kitayun, eldest daughter of the Emperor of Constantinople, selecting the Iranian Gushtasp. With a view to procure a husband for one of his daughters, the Byzantine emperor determined to hold a grand assembly of illustrious and wise men for her to see and select from. She did not find a suitable husband in the first assembly, so a second one was held, where she placed the crown on Gushtasp's head. Gushtasp, also known as Vishtaspa, returned to Iran with his bride and was crowned King.[6]

As per the custom of Rum, when a princess reached marriageable age, all the princes and nobles would gather in a hall where the princess would enter with her handmaidens and would select one of the princes to be her husband.[7]

Rum (literally "Rome") was the common name used for the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire by Middle Eastern people.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Johnson, W. J. (2009-02-12). A Dictionary of Hinduism. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-861025-0.
  2. ^ Phillips, Charles; Kerrigan, Michael; Gould, David (2011-12-15). Ancient India's Myths and Beliefs. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. p. 96. ISBN 978-1-4488-5990-0.
  3. ^ "I was given thus to Rama in that Svayamvara, a process of self-choosing marriage. I became devoted, by my good works, to my husband who is excellent among men of strength."
  4. ^ Kapoor, Subodh (2004). A Dictionary of Hinduism: Including Its Mythology, Religion, History, Literature, and Pantheon. Cosmo Publications. p. 31. ISBN 978-81-7755-874-6.
  5. ^ "Review of the Bearded Prince". 2 August 2012.
  6. ^ The Shah-Namah of Fardausi, translated by Alexanders Rogers, LP Publications page 280
  7. ^ Mazda-Yasni and Zorastranian Tales (Book Two) as retold by Kuku S Shabbir, PAGE 28, ISBN 81-85684-06-5, ISBN 81-85685-01-0,
  8. ^ Mazda-Yasni and Zorastranian Tales (Book Two) as retold by Kuku S Shabbir, Page 33, ISBN 81-85684-06-5, ISBN 81-85685-01-0

Further reading[edit]

  • Bakker, Hans (1996). "PĀRVATĪ'S SVAYAṂVARA (Studies in the Skandapurāṇa I)". Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens [Vienna Journal of South Asian Studies]. 40: 5–43. JSTOR 24007767. Accessed 22 Dec. 2022.
  • BIARDEAU, M. (1985). "NALA ET DAMAYANTĪ, HÉROS ÉPIQUES". Indo-Iranian Journal. 28 (1): 1–34. JSTOR 24653943. Accessed 22 Dec. 2022.
  • Insler, S. (1989). "Damayantī's Svayaṁvara". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 109 (4): 577–80. doi:10.2307/604081. JSTOR 604081. Accessed 22 Dec. 2022.
  • Mehendale, M. A. (1991). "DAMAYANTĪ'S SVAYAṀVARA". Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 72/73 (1/4): 483–86. JSTOR 41694912. Accessed 22 Dec. 2022.
  • Parkhill, Thomas (1984). "From Trifle to Story: A Study of 'Nala and Damayantī'". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 52 (2): 325–41. doi:10.1093/jaarel/52.2.325. JSTOR 1464002. Accessed 22 Dec. 2022.
  • Sutherland, Sally J. (1989). "Sītā and Draupadī: Aggressive Behavior and Female Role-Models in the Sanskrit Epics". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 109 (1): 63–79. doi:10.2307/604337. JSTOR 604337. Accessed 22 Dec. 2022.