The tale of Mahabharata is one of the greatest in the Hindu Dharma. Set in the Dvapara yug the tale of the Kauravas and the Pandavas who fought the righteous war, it was the ultimate holy war of Good vs Evil. It was during the great Mahabharat war that Lord Krishna revealed his divine self to Arjuna when he as in mortal dilemma to continue the war with those he considered family. It’s a complex tale of human emotions and reactions that shape our karma and leads us towards our Dharma. The Mahabharata also gave us characters we love respect and some we despised.
To Err is human they say, every character in the Mahabharata is deeply flawed yet each is given a road to redemption while some take it and learn from it and the others their path to ignorance and perish in the end. Even Lord Krishna through his meddling and warmongering manages to bring balance to the Dharma and does so to bless Arjuna with the victory they rightfully deserved. The most skillful archer of his time, loved by his Gurus and wife Draupadi till the end, here is an attempt to understand the flawed yet loyal warrior – Arjuna.
Birth and Childhood of Arjuna
Prince Pandu was cursed which made him unable to sire children without being killed. Rishi Durvasa had blessed Kunti, first wife of Pandu, to have kids by the means of a secret sacred formula, she was able to summon up gods at will to beget children with her. Kunti used the boons given to her by Sage Durvasa to bear three sons—Yudhishthira (by Yama), Bhima (by Vayu), and Arjuna (by Indra). Kunti having warmed up to Madri during their exile shares the mantra with her, on the condition that she only use it once. Madri cleverly summons the Ashvins, who give her twin sons Nakula and Sahadeva. Previously a young naive and unwed Kunti invoked the mantra and accidentally bore Karna from Surya, whom she wrapped in a basket and floated it on the river, who would grow up to be Karna.
After the deaths of Pandu(succumbed to the curse after consummation with Madri) and Madri(who preferred to punish herself by ending her life with Pandu) the Pandavas and their mother lived in Hastinapura. They were brought up together with their cousins, the Kaurava brothers. Along with his brothers, Arjuna was trained in religion, science, administration and military arts by Bhishma.
Arjuna – the exemplary student
Being Indra’s son, Arjuna was destined to embody his father, the warrior king. He was a diligent student of the combative arts, learning everything that his guru, Dronacharya, could teach him, and attaining the status of “Maharathi” or outstanding warrior. He was particularly skilled in archery, with much of his proficiency attributable to his habit of practicing in the dark. As Dronacharya’s best pupil, Arjuna received instruction in the use of the Brahmasira, an immensely powerful weapon of mass destruction.
Dronacharya found that Arjun was an exceptional student and stood out from the rest of the princes. He outshined everybody in all the tests and built immense focus and concentration-two abilities that won him his wife in his later years. With his enormous drive and dedication towards learning, Arjun held a special place in the heart of his guru. It is even said that Dronacharya loved Arjun like his own child.
Dronacharya was popularly known as the guru of Arjuna, although he served as a guru in the royal court and taught military and archery lessons to both, the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Dronacharya conducted a test. He placed a bird made of wood on the branch of a tree and told them to focus on the bird’s eye without shooting it. He called his students one by one and asked what they saw. Most students said they saw flowers, tree etc but when Arjun’s turn came, he said he saw only the bird’s eye. Guru Dronacharya was so happy with the response and motioned Arjun to shoot at it. The arrow hit exactly on the bird’s eye. Guru was so impressed that he presented him the ‘Brahmastra’, a divine weapon of Brahma and advised him not to use against an ordinary warrior. Due to his unwavering spirit of mastering the art of archery and being dedicated towards his goal, Arjuna earned a special place in the heart of his Guru.
Pandavas and the first exile
As the rightful heir to the throne, Dhritarashtra had to announce Yudhishthira as the crown prince, much to their cousin Duryodhana and his maternal uncle Shakuni’s dismay. Yet they found a way to get rid of the clan.Shakuni commissioned the construction of a palace in Varnavrata, secretly built by incorporating flammable materials into the structure, most notably the lacquer known as lac. This palace was known as Lakshagraha. As the Pandavas and their mother Kunti rested there, Vidur their paternal uncle informed them of the scheme and were escorted out via a tunnel. They ended up hiding in the forests as Brahmins for twelve long years.
Arjuna and Draupadi
Panchalnareash Drupud wanted his daughter Draupadi’s marriage to be with Arjun and therefore a Swayamvara was arranged with such an arrow that nobody could use and hanged such an instrument in the sky that kept revolving. This instrument in the sky was to be targeted. Drupad knew that no one but Arjun will be able to do this task. Having heard from fellow travelers about the Swayamvara, the Pandavas in disguise decided to join it.
Arjuna, who was a peerless archer, entered the competition and won. When the brothers took Draupadi to introduce her to their mother, they announced to Kunti that they had arrived with excellent alms. Kunti was busy with some work and replied without turning to look at Draupadi (who was the alms referred to) ordering the brothers to share the alms equally amongst the five of them. Even when uttered erroneously, their mother’s word was supreme for the Pandavas, and they agreed to share the princess, who was subsequently married to all five brothers.
Draupadi may have been the common wife of the Pandavas and sworn to love them all equally but to her dying breath, she loved Arjuna more than the others. Draupadi nursed her forbidden love for Arjuna in the innermost recesses of her heart and pined away for him for the duration of her natural life.
When Dhritarashtra heard that the five brothers were alive, he invited them back to the kingdom. However, in their absence, Duryodhana had succeeded in being made the crown prince. To make him look just and fair Dhritarashtra retained the developed Hastinapur for himself and Duryodhana and gave the barren, arid and hostile lands of Khandavaprastha to the Pandavas. The Pandavas successfully developed their land and built a great and lavish city, which was considered comparable to the heavens, and thus came to be known as Indraprastha.
Jealous of their achievement and due mockery of Duryodhana by Draupadi in their palace of illusion, Shakuni sired yet another ploy and got Duryodhana to invite the Pandavas over to his court for a game of dice (gambling). During the game, Yudhisthira lost everything including Draupadi who was de-clothed in front of the entire court, yet somehow saved by her brother Lord Krishna.
(according to the Mahabharata Draupadi was an incarnation of Mahamaya whom Lord Vishu considers his sister and hence krishna treated draupadi as his sister.) At the end, they ended up being condemned to 12 years of exile into forests and a 13th year to be spent incognito, and if the cover be blown during the 13th year, another cycle of 13 years would ensue.
Arjuna and his other wives
The Pandava brothers agreed upon a number of protocols governing their relations with Draupadi. One of the foremost points of this agreement was that no brother would disturb the couple when another brother was alone with Draupadi. The penalty for doing so was an exile. Once, a Brahmin came in great agitation to Arjuna and sought his help, informing him that a pack of cattle-thieves had seized his herd. Arjuna was thrust into a dilemma! Arjuna hesitated only a moment, the prospect of exile did not deter him from fulfilling the duty of aiding the brahmin, and so he disturbed the conjugal couple, took up his weaponry and rode forth to subdue the cattle-thieves. Once he had finished the task, he insisted upon going away on exile, despite opposition from his entire family, including the two people whom he had disturbed.
Arjuna and Ulupi
While on exile, Arjuna decided to spend first few days on the banks of river Ganga Ghat. The daughter of the Nagas, Ulupi (who was living in the Ganga with her father, the king of snakes, Kouravya) use to see him daily and fell for him. It is said that one fine day, she dragged Arjuna inside the water, to her private chamber and asked for love, to which, Arjuna declined. However, Ulupi convinced Arjuna with her arguments and they spent the night together. Arjun made her his wife and Iravan was born.
Arjuna and Chitrangada
Arjuna then went on a long journey towards the east and finally reached Manipur. Chitravahana was then the king of Manipur. He accorded him a warm welcome and Arjuna decided to stay with him for a while. Chitravahana had a beautiful daughter, Chitrangada. Arjuna was fascinated by Chitrangada’s beauty and decided to marry her. So he approached Chitravahana asking for Chitrangada’s hand in marriage. The king was happy, but he put a condition for the marriage. “Chitrangada is my only child and I do not have an heir to continue my dynasty. So, I have decided to adopt her son. If you plan to marry Chitrangada, you must give me her son who will be the crown prince of my kingdom.” Arjuna accepted the condition and married Chitrangada. Finally, a son was born after three years whom Chitravahana adopted. Then Arjuna continued his journey, as expected, leaving Chitrangada in Manipur.
Arjuna and Subhadra
When Arjuna had been a disciple in the hermitage of Drona, he had formed a friendship with Gada, who belonged to the Vrishni house. He had described the beauty of his cousin Subhadra who was Krishna’s half sister. Hearing the description of her beauty, Arjuna had fallen in love with her. Now that he was free to roam around the country, and happening to be close to Dwaraka, Arjuna decided to pay a visit. Krishna went to Arjuna, who had taken shelter under a banyan tree, sitting deep in meditation. Arjuna at once saw that his mentor had recognized him. He narrated all the incidents that had taken place on his pilgrimage up to this point. He said, “Madhava, you know what is there in my heart, please help me marry your beautiful sister Subhadra.”But Balarama had other plans for her, marriage to Duryodhana. Krishna replied,” I will arrange for you to meet my sister. If you can make her fall in love with you, then it will be best for you to abduct her and marry her out of hand. It is a well-known custom, suitable for Kshatriyas.” Krishna and Gada had spoken very highly about Arjuna. Naturally, Subhadra had a great admiration for the third Pandava. “Everyday my sister goes to worship the Lord Rudra at the temple. I shall lend you my chariot. You must abduct her from there. Carry her off to your kingdom and marry her there.” So the elopement took place and Subhadra and Arjuna made way to Hastinapur.
Arjuna and his Gandiva
Once when roaming in the Khandava Vana, Arjuna and Krishna met the god of fire, Agni. Agni was in great hunger and needed to burn down the entire Khandava Vana to quench his hunger. But Takshaka, the serpent-king lived in the same forest and was a friend of Indra’s. So the latter brought down heavy rains to thwart Agni’s plans to burn the woods. Agni requested Krishna and Arjuna for help get rid of all the evil in the Vana.
The three of them then invoked Varuna, the God of the oceans, who blessed Arjuna with the Gandiva – the Agni-moon bow created by Brahma. In this way, Arjuna came into possession of his famous bow. Agni also gave Arjuna an incandescent chariot with four horses yoked and bearing a flag that would one-day be occupied by Hanuman. Arjuna also obtained his famous conch
Arjuna and Pashupathastra
While on exile with his brothers, Arjuna decided to perform penances and win the favor of Shiva, the destroyer. Pleased with his dedication, Shiva himself appeared before him in the guise of a hunter. Not recognizing the truth, Arjuna got into a fight with the object of his worship and was pummeled to within an inch of his life. But when he found out the truth he apologized and mercifully was forgiven by the three – eyed God. Shiva was very pleased with the bravery and prowess of the prince. Consequently, blessed Arjuna with the Pashupatastra.
After Shiva left, the Lokapalas appeared before Arjuna and then Kubera, Yama, and Varuna also blessed each of their potent weapons to Arjuna. Indra then invited his son to his palace in heaven.
Arjuna was amazed at the splendor of his father’s palace at Amaravati. Dancers like Urvashi, Tilottama, Rambha, and Menaka entertained him. Arjuna learned song and dance from the Gandharva, Chitrasena and Indra himself taught him all the divine weapons and also gave him his Vajra.
Arjuna and the Curse
While he was in the heavens he displeased Urvashi, the heavenly nymph, by turning away her advances. She cursed him out of anger to turn into a eunuch for a year in his life as chosen by him.
Arjuna took advantage of the curse he got from Urvashi and turned himself into Brihannala, a eunuch and acted as dance master for the royal household, especially Uttara, the daughter of Virat. At the end of the one year stay, he helped king Virat by fighting a battle with Kauravas who invaded his kingdom. After realizing that the five people who working in his court were indeed Pandavas in disguise, king Virat offered to marry his daughter to Abhimanyu the son of Arjuna in return for the services rendered by the brothers, a marriage that proved crucial in the post mahabharata period as the son borne out of the wedlock was the only surviving member of the Pandava clan.
Arjuna, Lord Krishna, and Bhagavad Gita
During the 12 years of exile in the forest, they prepared for war. Upon completion of the terms of the last bet, the Pandavas returned and demanded that their kingdom be rightfully returned to them. Duryodhana refused to yield Indraprastha. For the sake of peace and to avert a disastrous war, Krishna proposed that if Hastinapur agrees to give the Pandavas only five villages, they would be satisfied and would make no more demands. Duryodhana vehemently refused, commenting that he would not part even with the land as much as the point of a needle. Thus the stage was set for the great war, for which the epic of Mahabharata is known most of all.
Lord Krishna agrees to be the charioteer and yet when Arjuna refuses to participate in the war and kill his family and teachers Lord Krishna tells him the following:
Arjuna: “na yotsya iti govindam, na yotsya iti govindam…Hey Govind, the very thought of war itself gives me grief and I feel dejected, therefore, I will not fight.”
Krishna: “ashochann vashochatsvam pragyaaddanshch bhaashase, gataasoon gtaasoonshch naanushochanti panditaah… Hey Arjun, you grieve for those who should not be grieved for and yet seemingly speak like a wise man; but the wise men do not grieve for the living or the dead.”
Arjuna: “nimittaani ch pashyaami vipritaani Keshav…Hey Keshav! Wherever I look, I see nothing but evil and unpleasant omens in the upcoming battle.”
Krishna: “yah sarvatraanbhistrehast-tattpraapya shubhashubham…a karma-yogi does not care for omens. He is unattached to everything because he neither rejoices when meeting pleasant circumstances nor does he ever feel dejected if he encounters any unpleasant events.” And furthermore: “shubhaashubh parityaagi bhaktimaanyah sa me priyah…my devotee always renounces good and evil premonitions and circumstances, and he, while fixing his mind on me, by my grace, overcomes all difficulties.”
Arjuna: “In this battle, I do not foresee any good resulting from the slaughter of my friends and relatives.”
Krishna: “sarva-dharmamapi chaavekshya na vikampitum-arhasi…there is nothing more welcome to a warrior than a righteous war, Arjun. One’s own duty though devoid of merit is preferable to the duty of another well performed, because even death in the performance of one’s duty brings happiness.”
Arjuna: “na kaankshe vijayam krishna na ch raajayam sukhaani ch…But I do not covet victory, kingdom or even luxuries. And of what use will this kingdom, luxuries or even life be to us, hey Keshav, if we kill all the friends of our childhood days.”
Krishna: “A Karma-yogi should fight while treating victory and defeat alike, gain and loss alike, pain and pleasure alike and fighting thus, he does not incur sin.”
Arjuna: “ye shaamarthe kaankshitam no raajayam bhogaah sukhaani ch…those for whose sake we seek kingdom and pleasure- teachers, uncles, sons, nephews, grand uncles and other relatives, they all stand here today on the battlefield staking their lives, property and wealth.”
Krishna: “niraashi nirmamo bhootva yudhyasva vigatjvarah…Dedicating all actions to Me and with your mind fixed on Me, freed from the feelings of hope and sadness and cured of mental fever, Hey Arjun, you must fight. Because he who has given up all desires and has become free from the feelings of “I” and “Mine” eventually attains peace.”
Arjuna: “nihatya dhaartraashtraanah kaa preetih syaaj janaardan…Hey Govind, I have yet to understand, what delight can we derive by slaying the relatives of Dhritraashtra.”
Krishna: “raagdvesh_viyukttaistu vishayaanindriyaishchran…Delight is not derived either by fighting or by not fighting. On the contrary, it is derived by being free from likes and dislikes and that too, only after controlling one’s senses.”
Arjuna: “Will I not incur sin by slaying my friends, relatives, and my teachers?”
Krishna: “Hey Arjun, if you refuse to fight this righteous war and shy away from your innate duty, you will lose your reputation as a warrior and thus you will definitely incur sin.”
Arjuna: “How can we be happy by slaying our own friends, relatives or even the noble elders. Because even after killing them, we will only enjoy the blood stained pleasures in the form of wealth and sense-enjoyments.”
Krishna: “Happy are the warriors who obtain such an unsolicited opportunity for war which opens the door to heaven. Stand up and perform your duty and, therefore, fight with peace in thy soul.”
The war was intense and lasted 18 days, over the course of which both parties worked around, bent and even broke rules of warfare. At the end, all 100 Kaurava brothers and their entire army was slain, with only four surviving on their side. The Pandavas too lost several allies but the five brothers survived. After having won the war Yudhishthira was crowned the king.
Arjuna and his death
After Arjuna witnesses the death of Krishna and the demise of his clan, the brothers and Draupadi decide to retire to a forest and travels towards heaven and appoint Parikshit as a successor of King’s throne.
On the way, one by one falls dead according to their nature, the first one being Draupadi (for having more love towards Arjun than others), Sahadev and Nakul for having pride on their intelligence and Looks.
And next Arjuna falls dead. When Bhim asks for the reason, Arjuna was more proud and over his archery skills and had pride that he was the most powerful warrior in the world. Thus was the end of the great warrior.