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Svayamvara (Sanskrit: स्वयंवर, ISO: svayaṁvara), in ancient India, was a practice in which a girl of marriageable age chose a husband from a group of suitors. In this context, svayaṁ in Sanskrit means 'self' and vara means 'groom'. A girl 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, the girl garlanded the man of her choice and a marriage ceremony was held immediately.
In the Hindu epic Ramayana, King Janak proclaims that Sita will be wed to the man who can lift and string the Shiva Dhanush (Shiva's bow), calling this feat vīrya śulka, meaning the cost to be paid by a suitor. Sita marries Rama, the only one strong enough to lift and string the bow.
King Kuntibhoja arranges 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 Draupadī (द्रौपदी), the daughter of King Drupada of Paanchal in the Mahabharata (महाभारत), aspirants had to hit a fish's eye with a bow and arrow. This fish was just 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. Only three men of marriageable could do it. They were King Karna of Anga, Hastinapur Prince Arjuna, who was the third among the Pandava, attending incognito, and Prince Krishna of Dvapara Yuga. Krishna didn't wish to marry Draupadī, but attended to ensure Arjuna's success. Though Karna was highly qualified and capable, Draupadī rejected him, stating that his low birth as a charioteer made him unworthy to marry a god-born princess like her, and so she chose and married Arjuna.
The Bearded Prince tells the story of Princess Roopali, whose father holds a svayamvara for her to select her groom.
The Shahnama of Fardausi 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 Emperor determines to hold a grand assembly of illustrious and wise men for her to see and select from. She does not find a suitable husband in the first assembly and a second one is held, where she places the crown on Gushtap's head. Gushtasp, also known as Vishtaspa, returns to Iran with his bride and is crowned King.
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.
- "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."http://www.valmikiramayan.net/ayodhya/sarga118/ayodhya_118_frame.htm
- The Shah-Namah of Fardausi, translated by Alexanders Rogers, LP Publications page 280
- 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,
- 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