Shikhandi was the son of the king Drupada of Panchala. However, Shikhandi was born as a daughter of the king and in due course she became a man and was responsible for the destruction of Bhishma in the great battle at Kurukshetra. In the previous life, Shikhandi was the eldest daughter of the raja of Kasi and was called Amba, the other two daughters being Ambika and Mabalika. The raja of Kasi invited princes and kings from all the kingdoms for the swayamvara of his three daughters, but he neglected the kingdom of Hastinapur. When Bhishma came to know of it, he went to Kasi with arms and forcibly seized Amba, Ambika and Ambalika and carried them with him to Hastinapur
for his half brother Vichitravirya. As the wedding days neared, Amba told to Bhishma that she was engaged before to the king of Salwa and thus Bhishma returned her to the kingdom of the Salwas. However, the king of rejected her since she was abducted by Bhishma and thus Amba returned from the Salwas to the hermitage of saints and there she vowed to take revenge from Bhishma. A battle was fought between Parasurama
and Bhishma and Parasurama fought for Amba. The battle ended with the intervention of the gods and afterwards Amba sacrificed herself in a burning pyre and killed herself. Then she was born as the daughter of the king of Panchala.
Drupada`s Queen Begets a Daughter
The eldest queen of Drupada
was childless for many years and Drupada worshipped Lord Shiva
daily, praying that a son, not a daughter, might be born unto him. At last, after much prayer and severe austerity, Shiva blessed him that he would, in due course, have a child who will be first a daughter and then a son. Accordingly the queen gave birth to a daughter of great beauty, but from the strength of her belief that the promise of Shiva would be fulfilled she declared that she gave birth to a son. Drupada had all the rites performed that were proper on the birth of a son. The queen carefully kept her own counsel and placed her trust firmly in Shiva, and the father always told that the child was a son and no one in the entire city suspected that concealed daughter was not a son. The name given to the child was Shikhandi, because that name had a feminine form which was Shikhan-dini, and for the education of this child, every care was taken by Drupada. She learned writing and painting and all the arts of a man. The king and the queen lived daily in expectation of a miracle. In shooting and fencing the child became a disciple of the royal guru Dronacharya
, and was as good as other princes in the management of weapons.
When Shikhandi grew up, her mother urged Drupada to find a wife for their supposed son and marry him in the sight of the whole world to some princess of royal family. Then Drupada sent embassies of betrothal in all directions, and finally selected a maiden to whom marriage was to be proposed on behalf of Shikhandi. The maiden was the daughter of a king. However, for the first time, the dread secret began to be whispered, and it came to the ears of the royal father of the princess who was promised to Shikhandi in marriage. And he, thinking he had been purposely insulted in that dearest point, the honour of the names of the women of his house, threatened Drupada. He declared that he would destroy his city, and kill both Drupada and his daughter, and capture his kingdom.
Resolve of Shikhandi
When Drupada was threatened by the king whose daughter was to be married off to Shikhandi, Drupada started the refortification of his kingdom and strengthened his defenses. He was utterly upset and scared and prayed to all the gods and goddesses for help. Shikhandi once heard the sorrowful conversation between his father and mother and realized her uselessness and thought that she was the reason for all the problems to her family and the kingdom. She thought of killing herself for she knew she was a burden to her parents and after her there would be no threat to Panchala. Thinking thus in heavy despondency, she rode out of the city and wandered on and on alone till she came to the edge of a dark and lonely forest. The forest was reputed for being haunted and there stood an abandoned grange, with high walls and gateway, and rich with fragrance of smoke and grain. Even if one wanders through that house day after day, one would never meet the owner of the house, and yet never feel that it had no owner. The house was, in fact, the abode of a powerful spirit, a Yaksha, known as Sthuna. The Yaksha was full of kindness, and yet the name of the house was a word of dread amongst the peasant folk in the country-side because of the emptiness and mystery that hung about it. But Shikhandi had no idea of that when she entered the place. She was attracted by the open door and the peace and silence; and after entering, she sat down on the floor plunged in sorrow, and remained so for hours and days, forgetting to eat.
The maiden who became a knight
Shikhandi sat inside the haunted house for days without food and wept all the way. The kind-hearted yaksha saw her, and grew more and more disturbed at her evident distress. At last the friendly yaksha appeared before her, and urged her to tell him what it was she wanted. Yaksha told that he was the follower of Kubera
, God of Wealth. There was nothing that he could not grant if he were asked. Shikhandi was unable to resist the kindness of Yaksha which was so overwhelming when her need was so desperate and asked the yaksha to make her a perfect man. Since her father was going to be destroyed and the kingdom was to be invaded, and if she were a man the situation had been different. She promised Yaksha to make her a man, and let her keep that manhood till her father was saved.
After hearing from Shikhandi about her problem in life and her wish, the kind-hearted Yaksha became eager to do anything in the world, even the absurd thing she asked for, if only it would comfort the unhappy lady. So then and there he made a contract with her. He decided to give her his blazing form and his manhood and all his strength and he would himself become a woman in her place and remain hidden in his house. But after Shikhandi had saved her father from trouble, she was to return and once more make the exchange. Then she would once more become the princess and the Yaksha would get his manhood as before. Thus, Shikhandi became a man and returned to his kingdom and saved his father and the kingdom from the enemy.
There in the jungle, Kuvera once came for a visit and was unable to find Yaksha. He sent orders to call yaksha and yaksha, in his altered garb and form, appeared before him in shamefaced fashion. Kuvera got disgusted and cursed Yaksha that he would remain like that and Shikhandi would remain as a knight. But he softened his curse and told that Yaksha would remain a woman until Shikhandi`s death. And in due time, all being safe and at peace, the prince Shikhandi returned to Sthuna, as he had promised, to give up his treasured manhood. And when the yaksha saw that in the heart of this mortal there was no guile he was touched and told him the truth. He was doomed to persist in his newly acquired womanhood and comforted the young knight for the injury he had unwittingly done to him by saying that the same was the wish of destiny. Thus, Shikhandi acquired manhood for the rest of his life.
Previous Life of Shikhandi
In the previous life, Shikhandi was the eldest daughter of the king of Kasi
and was called Amba
. Her two other younger daughters were Ambika
and Ambalika. The raja of Kasi once arranged for the Swayamvara
of his three daughters and he invited all the rulers except the kingdom of Hastinapur
, the protector of the kingdom of Hastinapur, decided to bring all the three daughters of the raja of Kasi to his Kingdom for his half brother Vichitravirya
. Bhishma defeated all the kings and princes and abducted Amba, Ambika and Ambalika and carried them to Hastinapur. When the date of marriage neared, Amba informed Bhishma of her prior engagement to the raja of Salwa. Then Bhishma sent her back to the Salwas along with her maids but there Amba was rejected by the king since she was won by Bhishma in the battle and was abducted by him.
After being humiliated in the kingdom of the Salwas, Amba returned to the hermitages of the saints and requested Parasurama, incarnation of Vishnu
, to fight for her cause. Parasurama fought with Bhishma for Amba and the battle between then was stopped by the gods. After that, Amba thanked Parasurama and she herself took severe penance and fasted for long in order to please lord Shiva. At last, Lord Shiva
was pleased by her prayer and blessed her that she would be the cause of destruction of Bhishma and in the next life she would born as a girl but in due course she would get perfect manhood. Thus, blessed by Shiva, Amba prepared a funeral pyre and sacrificed herself in that.