Kartavirya Arjuna – The Mighty King Who Defeated Ravana

History is full of mighty heroes who met an end pitfall because they got to carry away, drunk in power and lost touch with humanity. One such tale is that of the mighty of Haihayas (In the Mahabharata epic, the Heheya Kingdom (also known as Haihaya, Haiheya, Heiheya, etc.) is one of the kingdoms ruled by Chandravanshi Kshatriya kings in the central and western India)- Kartavirya Arjuna.

Kartavirya Arjuna

The Boon and the Birth

During the time Ravana ruled over the heavens and the earth, there lived a king called Kartavirya Arjuna, a member of the Yadava dynasty. He was the descendant of the Aila Chandravanshi Kings like Nahusha, Yayati, and Yadu. He ruled the kingdom of Mahishmati. Though he had many wives and he performed several penances, he remained childless for a long time. One of his wives Padmini, unable to bear the anguish of the King approached Anusuya, the daughter of Sage Kardama and Devahuti and the wife of Sage Atri.

Anusuya told her of the days to perform the penance so that the King and Queen would get their heart’s desire. So Padmini and Kirtavirya went to the forest and strictly observed the penance for the days as told by Anusuya. Finally after fasting during the Padmini Ekadasi was she blessed by the divine darshan.

Lord Dattatreya appeased by their devotion decided to bless them. When asked for a boon the king said,” I wish for a son. A son who cannot be defeated by any demigod, humans, snakes, demons or any goblins….’ The king nodded and continued, ‘A powerful son, who can be defeated only by you!’ Lord Dattatreya blessed them and left. Soon the royal household was blessed with a prince. Queen Padmini and the King were ecstatic. He was called Kartavirya Arjuna. Kartavirya Arjuna. was born with a thousand arms so he is also sometimes called Sahasra Arjuna.

Kartavirya Arjuna

Having the desire to be a powerful monarch, Kartavirya on the advice of his teacher, Sage Garga performed rigorous penances for 10,000 years and pleased the spiritual ascetic Dattatreya, the son of Brahmarshi Atri and a partial incarnation of Vishnu.

Dattatreya granted Kartavirya multiple boons upon the latter’s request. Here is the list:

  1. 1000 exceedingly, quick, powerful human arms, which could regenerate when cut off, appear and disappear at his will.
  2. conquest of the whole earth with his own prowess
  3. the ability to discharge his duties as a king and a Kshatriya and fulfill them successfully
  4. knowledge of Dharma, law, and justice
  5. victory over his enemies
  6. invincibility over humans and all races
  7. knowledge of the customs of others
  8. inexhaustible wealth
  9. ability to feed superior Brahmans
  10. ability to prevent catastrophes that may affect his kingdom
  11. devotion to Lord Dattatreya
  12. death at the hands of a warrior more powerful than him

Kartavirya became empowered by these boons and conquered the world with all its continents. He defeated Karkotaka Naga and made his city, Mahishmati (near Narmada river) as his capital.

-Rig Veda (VIII.45.26)

He married thousands of beautiful princesses and enjoyed undiminished strength, sensual pleasures, unfailing memories, and continuous opulence.

By his Yogic Powers, he caused rainfall. There was none who could rival him in Sacrifices, Charity, Learning, Austerity, Battlefield Exploits, Feats, Strength, Mercy, Generosity, or Power.

Sometimes, Kartavirya would dive into the oceans, causing them to be turbulent. Whirlpools were formed, stormy waves were restrained by the king, and floods were caused in the nearby regions.

Kartavirya Arjuna ruled as the Samrat Chakravartin (Universal Emperor) for 85,000 years and during his reign, it is said nobody was poor, nobody was miserable and there was no anarchy.

Asuras and Nagas and other aquatic creatures were afraid of the might of the king. Kartavirya could wield five hundred bows simultaneously and shoot five hundred arrows in one go.

His rule as told by Vayu Purana

Having worshipped a portion of the divine being Dattatreya, sprung from the race of Atri, he sought and obtained these boons: a thousand arms and a golden chariot that went wheresoever he willed it to go; the power of restraining wrong by justice; the conquest of the earth and the disposition to rule it righteously; invincibility by enemies, and death at the hands of a man who was more powerful than himself. By him this earth was perfectly governed,” and of him, it is said:-“No other king shall ever equal Kartavirya in regard to sacrifices, liberality, austerities, courtesy, and self-restraint.” “Thus he ruled for 85,000 years with unbroken health, prosperity, strength, and valor.

Kartavirya Arjuna and Ravana

Kartavirya’s power is popularly told in the Ramayana. He was the contemporary of Ravana. The story goes that once when Kartavirya Arjuna was having a bath in the river Narmada along with his wives, he stopped the force of the river with his thousand arms from both sides. Dasagriva (Ravana), who was singing the hymns of Shiva and praying to him, made him lose his concentration. Enraged, he challenged the former for combat. Ravana was defeated and was put to humiliation.

Then at the request of his paternal grandfather Pulastya Rishi, the great Emperor Kartavirya Arjuna released Ravana.

Another account states that when Ravana came “in the course of his campaign of conquest to Mahishmati (the capital of Kartavirya), he was captured without difficulty, and was confined like a wild beast in the corner of his city.”

The Vayu Purana states that Kartavirya invaded Lanka and took Ravana as a prisoner, but later, he was killed by Parashurama, and Ravana was rescued from Kartavirya.

The fall of the mighty king

Like all good things come to an end, success and ego got to the head of Kartavirya Arjuna. He met his end by the hands of Lord Narayana Himself. He oppressed his subjects and Brahmans and had the audacity to insult Indra himself.

Kartavirya once-troubled Varuna and asked him if there was anyone equal to him in power. Varuna replied that only Jamadagni’s son, Parashurama rivaled Kartavirya. Enraged, Kartavirya went to Jamadagni’s hermitage to see Parashurama’s prowess.

The Puranas recount that Kartavirya Arjuna and his army visited a rishi named Jamadagni, who fed his guest and the whole army with offerings from his divine cow Kamadhenu. The king demanded the cow for the betterment of his subjects. Jamadagni refused because he needed the cow for his religious ceremonies.

King Kartavirya Arjuna sent his soldiers to take the cow. As the conflict developed between the Jamadagni and the King, Kartavirya Arjuna lost his cool and chopped off the head of Jamadagni.

When Parashurama (Jamadagni’s son and one of the Daśāvatāras of Vishnu) returned to the hermitage, he was informed of the context by his mother. In revenge, Parashurama chopped off his 1000 arms and killed him and the entire clan of Kartavirya Arjuna with a battleaxe given to him by Shiva, thus conquering the entire earth, which he gave to Brahmanas. Also, he gets back the divine cow with him.

According to another legend, Kartavirya Arjuna visited the hermitage of Jamadagni and was received by that sage’s wife Renuka with all respect; but he made an ill return for her hospitality and carried off by violence “the calf of the milch-cow of the sacred oblation.” For this outrage, Parashurama cut off his thousand arms and killed him.

In other legends, Kartavirya sent seventeen Akshauhinis to fight against the lone Parashurama who was on foot. The Brahmana single handly slew the entire army and spared no one alive. Kartavirya arrived in his divine golden chariot, which could go anywhere unobstructed. The King himself was a powerful archer, capable of simultaneously wielding five hundred bows and shooting five hundred arrows at a time. Parashurama broke Kartavirya’s bows, slew his horses and charioteer, and destroyed the chariot with his arrows.

Kartavirya hurled many weapons, rocks, and trees at Parashurama, but the sage parried all these. Parashurama hacked off his thousand arms with arrows and dismembered him with his axe.

A different character is given to him in another place and more in accordance with his behavior at Jamadagni’s hut. “He oppressed both men and gods,” so the latter appealed to Vishnu for succor. That God then came down to the earth as Parashurama for the special purpose of killing him

The lineage of Kartavirya Arjuna

The most notable descendants of Kartavirya Arjuna were the Vrishnis. These included men like Bhagawan Sri Krishna, Balarama, Kamsa, Ugrasena, Vasudeva, Sini, Satyaki, Hridaka, Kritaverma, Pradyumna, Charudeshna, Samba, and Aniruddha.

The Pandava Prince Arjuna was named after Kartavirya Arjuna (Sahastrarjuna or Sahastrabahu). This one was the son of Kunti, who was herself a descendant of Kartavirya. Like Kartavirya, the Pandava Arjuna also burnt a forest (Khandava) to appease the hunger of Agni. Like Kartavirya, the Pandava Arjuna was also a great warrior who could shoot five hundred arrows in one go.