Kripa fights with Shikhandi (top right)
GenderFemale turned Male[1]
FamilyDrupada (father)
Prishati (mother)
Dhristadyumna (brother)
Draupadi (sister)
Spousea Dasarna princess

Shikhandi (Sanskrit: शिखण्डी, Śikhaṇḍī) is an androgynous character in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. He is born as female called Shikandini to Drupada, the king of Panchala, and later transforms into a male. He is the brother of Draupadi, the female protagonist of the epic and common wife of the Pandavas.

Shikhandi is the reincarnation of Amba, who was scorned by Bhishma. Shikhandi fought in the Kurukshetra war for his brothers-in-law, the Pandavas, and was instrumental in the death of Bhishma. Other than killing Bhishma, he also fought great warriors like Ashwathama, Kripacharya and Krithavarma.

In Javanese wayang tradition, Shikhandi is known as Srikandi and is born as a male, and changes into female. She becomes the second wife of the Pandava brother Arjuna; Draupadi being the first.[2][3]

Past Life

In the majority of the versions of the Mahabharata,[4] there is the story of Shikhandi being Amba in her previous birth.

Shikhandi had been born in a previous life as a woman named Amba. Amba was the eldest daughter of the King of Kashi. Along with her sisters Ambika and Ambalika, she was abducted from their Swayamvara by Bhishma, as punishment to the Kingdom of Kashi for not inviting Hastinapur nobility to the event. After defeating several kings, including Salwa, the King of Saubala, Bhishma returned to Hastinapur with the princesses and presented as the potential brides to his younger half-brother, Vichitravirya, the crown prince of Hastinapur.[5]

Vichitravirya married only two sisters because Amba told Bhishma that she had fallen in love with the king of 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 of 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 got Parashurama, Bhishma's guru, to champion her cause. However, Parshurama couldn't defeat Bhishma and their fight resulted in a draw.[5]

According to the summary by C. Rajagopalachari, she resorted to penance and received a garland of blue lotuses from the god 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.[6]

Amba did severe penance to the god Shiva for a boon to cause Bhishma's death. Eventually, her prayers were answered (she would become cause of his death only when Bhishma is fighting against the rules of dharma). But, being a woman with no military training, she asked Shiva how she 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 a satisfactory situation.[7] Amba was reborn as Shikhandini, the daughter of Drupada.


In early versions of the Mahabharata, Shikhandi is still Amba-reborn, but a female. Because Panchala doesn't practice gender discrimination, she is trained to become a warrior and 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). In most versions of the story, Shikhandi is male but born female. When Shikhandini changes her sex, she becomes Shikhandi, but is a eunuch.[4] According to C. Rajagopalachari's Mahabharata, when Shikhandini was still living as 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 child 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.[8]

In another version of the story, Drupada desires an heir and wanders the forest to settle his disquieted mind. He comes upon the toddler Shikhandini. 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.[9] In many versions of the story, the change results in Shikhandi being a eunuch; in others, it doesn't.[10]

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.[7]

In the Ganguly translation of the Chatahurdi compilation, Shikhandi had a son named Kshatradeva.[11]

Battle of Mahabharata

Bhishma refuses to fight Shikhandi
Bhishma refuses to fight Shikhandi

Before the war, Bhima opts for Shikandi to be commander in chief of the Pandava army as he is born to kill Bhishma but Arjuna and Krishna prefer Dhrishtadyumna instead. However, Shikandi is made commander of one of the seven akshauhinis of the Pandava army.

On the first day of the war, Shikhandi confronts Ashwathama and both warriors wound each other several times before withdrawing. On the seventh day of the war, he confronts Ashwathama again and manages to wound him on the forehead. However, an enraged Ashwathama destroys his chariot and wounds him. Luckily, Satyaki comes to his rescue.

On the night of the 9th day of battle, the Pandavas and Krishna devise that Bhishma won't fight Shikhandi, as he would recognize him as Amba reborn, and would not want to fight a "woman" (or an actual woman, depending on the version). So, in the next day's fight, Shikhandi rides with Arjuna. Numerous wariors of the Kaurava army attempt to stop the pair from reaching Bhishma. However, with support from the warriors of the Pandava army, Arjuna and Shikhandi push through and reach Bhishma. Hiding behind Shikhandi, Arjuna attacks Bhishma with a devastating volley of arrows, the latter unable to counter with Shikhandi in the way. Thus, Shikhandi was instrumental in Bhishma's death.

On the 12th day of the war, Shikkandi’s only son Kshatradeva is killed by Duryodhana’s son Laxmana. On the night of 14th day, Shikandi is defeated by Kripacharya and is wounded on the 16th day and faints when Krithavarma's arrow pierces his armour. After the death of Shalya, Shikandi greatly destroys the retreating Kaurava army on the 17th day of war.

Shikhandi is killed by Ashwatthama on the night of 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 at night.[12] 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.[7]


  1. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 8: Karna Parva: Section 6". Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  2. ^ Studies in Indo-Asian Art and Culture. International Academy of Indian Culture. 1980. p. 283.
  3. ^ Hartana, S.S., 2017. Origins, journeys, encounters: a cultural analysis of wayang performances in North America (Doctoral dissertation).page=49[1]
  4. ^ a b Sorabji, Cornelia, and Warwick Goble. Shikhandi: The Maiden-knight and Other Stories. Bombay: Blackie and Son, 1916. Print.
  5. ^ a b "The Mahabharata, Book 1: Adi Parva: Sambhava Parva: Section LXVII".
  6. ^ Rajagopalachari, Raja (1951). Mahabharata. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. p. 22.
  7. ^ a b c Pattanaik, Devdutt. Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don't Tell You. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print
  8. ^ Mahabharata Summary By Rajaji, Mahabharata Stories, Stories and Characters from Mahabharata, Mahabharatam in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi
  9. ^ MAHABHARAT: The king of Kashi's three beautiful daughters, Amba, Ambika and Ambalika Archived 12 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Gāḍīta, Jayanta. Shikhandi. Ahmedabad: Parshwa, 1990. Print.
  11. ^ "The Mahabharata, Book 8: Karna Parva: Section 6".
  12. ^ "MAHABHARATA - After the Battle". Archived from the original on 17 June 2012. Retrieved 17 June 2012.