A statue of Arjuna on a street in Bali

Arjuna (Devanagari: अर्जुन, Thai: อรชุน, Orachun, Tamil: Arjunan, Indonesian and Javanese: Harjuna, Harjuno, Herjuno, Malay: Ranjuna; pronounced [ɐrˈɟunɐ] in classical Sanskrit) in Indian mythology is the greatest warrior on earth and is one of the Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahābhārata. Arjuna, whose name means 'bright', 'shining', 'white' or 'silver' (cf. Latin argentum),[1] was such a peerless archer that he is often referred to as Jishnu – the unbeatable.

The third of the five Pandava brothers, Arjuna was the son of the king of gods, Indra, and Kunti, wife of king Pandu of Kuru. Arjuna was an ambidextrous master archer and as a Maharathi played a key role in the victory of Yudhisthira in the Mahabharata War. Taught by the master of military arts Drona, Arjuna used the magnificent bow Gāndeeva, and killed many Kaurava generals like Karna and Jayadratha. He was also a close friend of Krishna, an Avatar of god Vishnu. Arjuna had four wives, Subhadra, Draupadi, Chitrangada and Ulupi.

In the epic, Arjuna is said to have an amsha, or spiritual element, of sage Nara. Nara is the eternal companion of Narayana (identified with Vishnu), and sometimes considered one of the forms of Narayana.[2][3] One of his most important roles was as the dear friend and brother-in-law of Lord Krishna, from whom he heard the Bhagavad Gita before the battle of Kurukshetra, and who acted as his charioteer during the battle. Arjuna is sometimes referred to as the 'fourth Krishna' of the Mahabharata.[4]



Arjuna was an ambidextrous master archer and played a central role in the conflict between the Pandavas and their adversaries, the sons of Dhritarashtra, known as the Kauravas. Arjuna was reluctant to take part in the battle because he knew he would be expected to potentially kill the enemy, which included many kin. The dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna about issues related to the war—courage, a warrior’s duty, the nature of human life and the soul, and the role of gods—forms the subject of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the key episodes in the epic Mahābhārata. He also played a key role in the killing of Karna, his arch-rival, in reality an unknown brother, on the side of the Kauravas. He bears an additional ten names: Kaunteya (son of Kunti), Phalguna (born in the Indian calendar month Phalguni when the star Uttara Phalguni was in ascension), Jishnu (the victorious one), Kireeti (one adorned with the ornamental crown or Kireetam; it was given by Indra in gratitude), Shwetavaahana (one with chariot drawn by white horses), Bheebhatsu (the fair fighter), Vijaya (the victorious one), Pārtha (son of Pritha aka Kunti), Savyasaachi (one who can shoot arrows with both hands and is ambidextrous), Dhananjaya (one who has gained wealth; this was the wealth that Arjuna won for his elder brother prior to the Rajasooya Yagna) and Gudakesha (one who has conquered sleep). Arjuna was son of Indra. From the Nara-Narayana pair, Krishna was Narayana, the divine soul, while Arjuna was Nara, the human soul. In this manner they came about to be friends and cousins.


Pandu was unable to sire a child due to a curse. His first wife Kunti had, in her maiden days, received a boon from the sage Durvasa, which enabled her to invoke any deity of her choice and to beget a child by that deity. Pandu and Kunti decided to make use of this boon; Kunti invoked in turn dharma, Vayu and Indra and gave birth to three sons. Arjuna was the third son, born of Indra, king of the heavenly gods (devas).


Arjuna as seen in the Javanese shadow puppet play (wayang)

The son of Indra, Arjuna is said to have been well-built and extremely handsome; he married 4 times. Arjuna was also true and loyal to his friends, among others the great warrior Satyaki and his cousin and brother-in-law, Sri Krishna. He was also sensitive and thoughtful, as demonstrated by his misgivings about the Kurukshetra war, which caused Sri Krishna to impart the Gita to him. He was the only Purna Purush on the Earth (He did not have breasts like any other man, this was the symbol of Purn Purush). His sense of duty was acute; he once chose to go into exile rather than refuse to help a brahmin subject.

A diligent student

Arjuna is known as a great warrior. The foundation of his career as a warrior was laid down when he was young; Arjuna learned everything that his guru Dronacharya could teach him, attaining the status of "Maharathi" or outstanding warrior.

A well known story about Arjuna exemplifies his powers of concentration"

Guru Dronacharya decided to test his students in their skill of archery. He hung a wooden bird from the branch of a tree and then summoned his students. He asked the first one to aim for the bird's eye but not shoot just yet. He then asked the student what the student could see. The student replied that he could see the garden, the tree, flowers, etc. Drona asked him to step aside and not shoot. He repeated the same process with a few other students. When it was Arjuna's turn, Arjuna told his Guru that the only thing he could see was the bird's eye. This satisfied the Guru and he allowed Arjuna to shoot the bird. The lesson here is the power of focus.

Arjuna once noticed his brother, Bhima, who was a voracious eater, eating in the dark as though it was daylight, and realized that if he could practice archery in the dark he would become an even greater master of this skill. This skill proved to be instrumental in the slaying of Jayadratha during the Kurukshetra war.


Sculptural depiction of the contest (centre) in a Hoysala temple.

His skill in archery played an unusual role in his life, in that it won him the hand of Draupadi, his first wife, the daughter of Drupada, king of Panchala. Drupada held a contest to choose a suitable match for his daughter. A wooden fish was suspended high above a reflective pool of oil; furthermore, the fish rotated. Contestants were required to string a heavy bow and then hit the eye of the rotating fish, but were allowed to aim only by looking at the fish's reflection in the pool of oil. Many princes and noblemen vied for the hand of the princess of Panchala. Although the Pandavas were in hiding at that time, Arjuna had dressed as a high-caste snaataka Brahmin and was allowed to compete. Only Arjuna was able to accomplish the set task.

All the five Pandava brothers had attended the tournament without informing Kunti, their mother. They returned home in triumph, bringing the princess Draupadi with them. From outside the house, they called out: "Mother, you will never believe what we have got here! Make a guess!" Busy with her work, Kunti refused to be baited. "Whatever it is, share it between yourselves equally, and do not quarrel over the matter," she said. So seriously did the brothers take even this casual statement of their mother, that they resolved upon making Draupadi their common wife. It says something about the magnanimity of Arjuna that, having won his bride single-handedly, he 'shared' her with all his brothers willingly. Despite marrying all five brothers, Draupadi loved Arjuna the most and always favoured him.

Legend has it that Draupadi had requested of the god Shiva, in a previous life, that she wanted to have a husband with five desirable husbandly traits in the one person. Despite being warned by Lord Shiva that this wasn't possible she insisted and the result was the separate embodiment of each of the five qualities in the Pandava brothers.

Another version says that Draupadi in her previous birth performed severe penance to obtain a virteous husband; when Lord Shiva pleased by her austerities appeared before and wished to grant ger a boon she in her excited stated asked for a virteous husband five times and Lord Shiva ordained that she will have five husbands in her next life.

Adherence to his duty

The brothers agreed upon a protocol governing their relations with Draupadi, their common wife. No brother would disturb the couple when another brother was alone with Draupadi; the penalty for doing so was exile for twelve years. Once, when the Pandavas were still ruling over a prosperous Indraprastha, a brahmin came in great agitation to Arjuna and sought his help: a pack of cattle-thieves had seized his herd and only Arjuna could retrieve them. Arjuna was in a dilemma: his weaponry was in the room where Draupadi and Yudhishthira were alone together, and disturbing them would incur the penalty agreed upon. Arjuna hesitated for a brief moment; in his mind, coming to the aid of his subject in distress, especially a brahmin, was the duty of a prince. The prospect of exile did not deter him from fulfilling his duty of aiding the brahmin; he disturbed the conjugal couple, took up his weaponry and rode forth to subdue the cattle-thieves. After finishing the task, despite the opposition of his entire family including the two people whom he had disturbed, he insisted that the penalty of exile be carried out.

Arjuna's exile led him eventually to Manipur and it was there that the Naga princess Ulupi became infatuated with him and asked him to beget a child. Arjuna refuses at first, but then Ulupi explains to him that the meaning of the exile is with respect to Draupadi and not absolute. So, as long as he stays away from Draupadi, his vow would not be falsified. Arjuna agrees with her. During this 12-year period, he visited numerous neighboring kingdoms and entered into marital alliances with their princesses in order to strengthen the Pandavas' support-base, especially in view of the Rajasuya Yagya planned by Yudishthira. However, he accorded importance to only a handful of them, as enumerated in the following section. Some scholars[Who?] view the "exile" as a scheme to throw the major rivals of the Pandavas, including the Kauravas, off-track.

Marital engagements

Arjuna had more than forty main wives and hundreds others in course of his adventures. Among them, those who played some role in the epic are:

Draupadi: The most notable wife of Arjuna, she was wed to him following a swayamvar – a practice where a woman is allowed to choose her life mate by placing a garland on his neck. After marrying Draupadi, the [Pandavas] who were disguised as brahmans came home – which at that time was in a forest and told their mother Kunti that their brother had got 'bhiksha'. Kunti, without seeing what they had got, told them to divide the bhiksha among the brothers. She felt sorry after realizing that the Pandavas actually meant that Arjuna had got a daughter-in-law for her. Since a mother's wish could not be rejected, all the Pandavas were wondering what could be done – as polyandry was not practiced in Vedic India. In the meanwhile, Lord Sri Krishna came and he made Draupadi remember her wish which she asked from Mahadeva (Lord Shiva). Draupadi wanted a man who would be strong, was an ace archer, was good in making wise decisions, attractive and also patient. Krishna told Draupadi that she could not refuse Mahadeva's gift that was bestowed upon her. She had a strong husband in Bhima, an ace archer in Arjuna, a wise man in Yudhishthira, an attractive man as Nakula and a patient man as Sahadeva. Thus Arjuna's wife Draupadi then became the wife of all Pandavas. Panchali means lady from kingdom of Panchala.

Arjuna and Subhadra.
Painting by Raja Ravi Varma.

Chitrāngadā: Arjuna traveled the length and breadth of India during his term of exile. His wanderings took him to ancient Manipur in the eastern Himalayas, an almost mystic kingdom renowned for its natural beauty. Here he met the gentle Chitrāngadā, daughter of the king of Manipura, and was moved to seek her hand in marriage. Her father demurred on the plea that, according to the matrilineal customs of his people, the children born of Chitrāngadā were heirs to Manipur; he could not allow his heirs to be taken away from Manipur by their father. Arjuna agreed to the stipulation that he would take away neither his wife Chitrāngadā nor any children borne by her from Manipur. A son, whom they named Babruvāhana, was soon born to the happy couple and thus became the heir to his grandfather's kingdom. It is said that Arjuna was killed on one of his military expedition's after the Kurukshetra war (Ashwamedha Yagya) by this son of his and was later revived back to life by his wife Ulupi. This was as a result of a curse by River Ganga after Arjuna was instrumental for the fall of her son Bheeshma in the Kurukshetra war.

Ulupi: While Arjuna was in Manipur, Ulupi, a Naga princess of noble character, became infatuated with him. One son was born to them and was named Iravan who died in the Kurukshetra War. Ulupi abducted Arjuna to her realm in the netherworld so he might become her husband, but later restored Arjuna to the lamenting Chitrāngadā. Ulupi played a major part in the upbringing of Babruvāhana and had much influence with him; he allowed her to restore Arjuna to life after he was slain in battle by Babruvāhana.

Subhadrā: Arjuna decided to spend the last portion of his term of exile in an orchard near Dwarka, the residence of his cousins Balarama, Krishna and Subhadrā, who were the children of his maternal uncle Vasudeva. He and Subhadrā fell in love with each other, aided by Krishna, who loved both Arjuna and Subhadrā. Knowing that the entire family would view with disfavour the prospect of Subhadrā becoming the fourth wife of her cousin Arjuna, Krishna facilitated the elopement of the couple and their departure for Indraprastha. On Krishna's advice, Subhadrā drove the chariot from Dwarka to Indraprastha. Krishna used this fact to persuade his family that Arjuna had not abducted Subhadrā, but rather she had kidnapped him. A son, Abhimanyu, was born to Arjuna and Subhadra. Parikshita, son of Abhimanyu and Uttarā, born after Abhimanyu was killed in the battlefield, was the sole surviving dynast of the Kuru clan, and succeeded Yudhishtra as the emperor of the Pandava kingdom.


Shortly after his return to Indraprastha, Arjuna visited the Khandava forest with Krishna. They encountered Agni, the fire-god, who was ill from consuming ghee as one king had performed many 'yagnas' (ritual invocations with fire), thus feeding ghee to Agni. He asked for Arjuna's and Krishna's help in consuming the forest in its entirety to restore him to health. Takshaka, the serpent-king, a friend of Indra's, resided there and Indra caused rain whenever Agni tried to burn his friend's home (it was due to this fire that the serpent king fled from there and took refuge with Karna and told him that he can use him at the tip of his arrow when fighting with Arjuna). Arjuna told Agni that he must possess a powerful unbreakable bow to withstand the power of Indra's astras. Agni invoked Varuna, and gave Arjuna the Gāndeeva, an incredibly powerful bow, which gave its master victory in battle and a divine chariot, with powerful white horses that did not tire and could not be wounded by ordinary weapons.

Arjuna told Agni to proceed, and fought a duel with his father which lasted several days and nights. A voice from the sky eventually proclaimed Arjuna and Krishna to be the victors, and told Indra to withdraw.

It is said that the Gandeeva was created by Brahma himself (Karn Parv, sec 72).


In the burning of the forest, Arjuna spared one Asura, named Maya, who was a gifted architect. In his gratitude, Maya built Yudhishtra a magnificent royal hall, unparalleled in the world. It is this hall, which triggers the pinnacle of Duryodhana's envy, causing the game of dice to be played.

In exile

After Arjuna's return to Indraprastha, several crucial incidents described in the Mahābhārata took place, culminating in the exile of all the five Pandava brothers and of their common wife Draupadi. Arjuna's training during this period is particularly significant in the war to come.

Shiva presents the Pashupata to Arjuna


During the fifth year of their exile, Arjuna leaves the others to do tapas for Lord Shiva, to obtain the Pashupata, Shiva's personal astra (i.e. "weapon"), one so powerful as to lack any counter-astra. Shiva, pleased with his penance, decides to test him further. He causes an asura in the shape of a wild boar to disturb Arjuna's penance. Incensed at the boar, Arjuna chases it, and shoots an arrow at it. At the same instant, another arrow from the bow of Shiva in the guise of a rude hunter also hits the boar. The hunter and Arjuna argue about whose arrow killed the boar. This leads to an intense duel between the two, the hunter depriving Arjuna of all his weapons. Arjuna, ashamed at this defeat, turns to the Shivalinga that he has been worshiping during his penance, and offers it some flowers in prayer, only to find that the flowers have miraculously appeared on the body of the hunter instead. Arjuna realizes the hunter's identity, and falls at Shiva's feet. Shiva grants him knowledge of the Pashupata. This episode was the basis of a Sanskrit epic known as Kirātārjunīya, and is also depicted on a massive scale at Mahabalipuram.

After obtaining this astra, he proceeded to Indraloka (Indra's heaven), spending time with his father Indra, and acquiring further training from the devas. He destroys the Nivatakavachas and Kalakeyas, two powerful asura clans that resided in the skies and menaced the gods. The clans had obtained boons from Brahma as to be invincible towards the gods. Arjuna, being a mortal man, could destroy them with his training.

Urvashi's curse

While in Indraloka, Arjuna was propositioned by the apsara (celestial danseuse) Urvashi. Urvashi had once been married to a king named Pururavas, and had borne him a son named Ayus. Ayus was a distant forebearer of Arjuna, hence he regarded Urvashi as a mother. Arjuna reminded Urvashi of this connection while rejecting her advances. Urvashi got annoyed at this rejection, saying Arjuna has insulted her by spurning her advances. She rebuked Arjuna and told him that a danseuse is not concerned with earthly relations of any sort. Yet Arjuna could not overcome his scruples, saying "I am a child in front of you". Chagrined at this response, Urvashi cursed Arjuna with impotence. Later, at Indra's behest she modified her curse to last only one year, and Arjuna could choose any one year of his life during which to suffer the life of a eunuch. This curse proved fortuitous as Arjuna used it as a disguise for the period of one year when he, his brothers, and Draupadi lived incognito while in exile.

After spending 12 years in the forest, the Pandavas spent the thirteenth year of exile incognito, as stipulated by their agreement with the Kauravas, in disguise at the court of King Virāta. Arjuna made use of the curse put on him by Urvashi and chose this year in which to live the life of a eunuch. He assumed the name Brihannala. At the end of one year, Arjuna single-handedly defeated a Kaurava army that had invaded Virāta's kingdom. In appreciation of this valour, and being appraised of the true identity of the Pandavas, King Virāta offered Arjuna his daughter in marriage. Arjuna demurred on grounds of age as well as that Uttarā was like a daughter to him, owing to his having been (as a eunuch) her tutor in song and dance. He proposed that Uttarā marry his young son Abhimanyu. This wedding duly took place; the son born of that union Parikshit was destined to be the sole surviving dynast of the entire Kuru clan.

Arjuna and Hanuman

In addition to the guidance of and personal attention from Krishna, Arjuna had the support of Hanuman during the great battle of Kurukshetra. Arjuna entered the battlefield with the flag of Hanuman on his chariot. This came about when Hanuman appeared as a small talking monkey before Arjuna at Rameshwaram, where Sri Rama had built the great bridge to cross over to Lanka to rescue Sita. Upon Arjuna's wondering out aloud at Sri Rama's taking the help of "monkeys" rather than building a bridge of arrows, Hanuman (in the form of the little monkey) challenged him to build one capable of bearing him alone. Unaware of the monkey's true identity, Arjuna accepted the challenge. Hanuman then destroyed all Arjuna's bridges, who then decided to take his own life. Vishnu appeared before them both, chiding Arjuna for his vanity, and Hanuman for making the accomplished warrior Arjuna feel incompetent. As an act of 'penitence', Hanuman agreed to help Arjuna by stabilizing and strengthening his chariot during the upcoming great battle.

Outbreak of war

Upon finishing the period of their exile, the Pandavas seek the return of their kingdom from the Kauravas, who refuse to honour the terms of the agreement. War breaks out.

The Bhagavad Gita

Krishna, Arjuna at Kurukshetra. Krishna gives the discourse of the Bhagavad Gita. 18–19 th century painting. Freer Sackler Gallery.

Krishna's elder half brother, Balarama, ruler of Dwaraka, remained neutral, as both Kauravas and Pandavas are kinsmen of the Yadavas. Krishna became Arjuna's personal charioteer during the 18-day war and protects Arjuna upon numerous occasions from injury and death. The term "Arjuna's Charioteer" i.e. "Parthasarathy" in connection to Krishna is interpreted as "One who guides" or "One who shows the way"; apart from protecting Arjuna from all mishap, Krishna also showed Arjuna the righteous way by revealing the Bhagavad Gita to him in the hours preceding the battle.

As the two armies fell into battle-formation and faced each other on the battlefield, Arjuna's heart grew heavy. He saw arrayed before him his own kinsfolk: the elders of his clan on whose knees he had once been dandled as a child, the very guru Dronacharya who first taught him to wield the bow all those decades ago. Will it be worthwhile, he asked himself, to annihilate his own kindred for the sake of a kingdom? Arjuna falters as the war is about to begin; he resorts to Krishna for guidance.

It is at this juncture that Lord Krishna reveals the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. In it, Krishna deems it Arjuna's duty to struggle to uphold righteousness, without consideration of personal loss, consequence or reward; the discharge of one's moral duty in life, he says, supersedes all other pursuits, both spiritual and material.

Arjuna's expeditions

Completion of military education

The Mahabharata mentioned Arjuna made many journeys. After completing his education in military science from preceptor Drona, Arjuna set forth to north and north west, to proclaim his skills as the greatest bowman in the world. (MBh 1.141). He defeated King Vipula and King Sumitra of Sauvira and a Yavana (foreign) king in these expeditions.

Arjuna's pilgrimage

Arjuna reached the source of river Ganges traveled along the Gangatic plain to reach the eastern ocean near Vanga and Kalinga, then traveled south along the coast and back up the western shore to Prabhasa near Dwarka where he fell in love with Subhadra, the sister of Vasudeva Krishna. At the source of the Ganges he met the Nāga princess Ulupi. At Manipura, he met princess Chitrangata. He beget a son named Iravat upon Ulupi and another son named Vabhruvahana upon Chitrangata. Subhadra's son Abhimanyu was Arjuna's most dearest son.

Arjuna's military expedition to north for Rajasuya

Arjuna's military expedition to the northern kingdoms, in the Mahabharata. He seemed to have followed the Uttarapatha route and then diverted to some ancient silk route along Indus river leading to Tibet

Other expeditions

During the time of Pandava exile into woods, Arjuna left his other brothers and embarked on a journey to the Himalayas to meditate upon lord Shiva. He obtained celestial weapons from Shiva. From there he was taken by Indra into the domains of Devas (assumed to be in Tibet, beyond the Yaksha and Gandharva territories surrounding Kailas range and Manasa lake). He took part in several wars that took place in this region between Devas and a group of Asuras called Nivatakavachas. Arjuna is mentioned as helping Devas to fight against the Nivatakavachas (who dwells near the sea). A lengthy passage (Mbh 3. 166 to 3. 173) mentions how Arjuna went into the wonderful cities in the enemy territory and raided an Asura city named Hiranyapura, destroying it.

After the Kurukshetra War, Arjuna set for yet another expedition, for collecting tribute for king Yudhisthira's Ashwamedha sacrifice (MBh 14.82 to 14.87).

Sons of Arjuna

  1. Arjuna and SubhadraAbhimanyu
  2. Arjuna and ChitrāngadāBabruvāhana
  3. Arjuna and UlupiIravan
  4. Arjuna and Draupadi – Shrutasena

All of Arjuna's sons were slain in the great Mahabharata war, except for Babruvāhana who did not participate in the war because of the promise made to Chitrāngadā's father.

The Kurukshetra war

Thus fortified in his belief of the righteousness of his chosen course of action, Arjuna takes up arms and essays an important role in the winning of the war by the Pandavas.

Before the war

Just before the Kurukshetra war, Lord Sri Krishna was concerned about Arjuna, as Karna at that time possessed the Shakti astra, procured from Lord Indra, in return for Karna's kavach, which could be fatal to anyone against whom it is being used including Arjuna. He tells Arjuna to pray to Goddess Durga to protect him. Following a short tapasya (worship), Goddess Durga appears before Arjuna and blesses him and tells him that he would be safe in the Kurukshetra war. Lord Krishna also tells Arjuna that it was a blessing that Karna would not fight against him as Bhishma had promised to become the chief of the Kaurava army on the condition that Karna would not fight. However, after Bhishma's fall, Karna does fight in the Kurukshetra war against Arjuna. Bhishma put this condition because of two reasons first reason is that he does not want two brothers fighting with each other (he knows that Karna is a son of Kunti) and second reason is that Karna has insulted his guru Parsuram by insulting Draupadi in the dyut krida.

The slaying of Jayadratha

In another memorable battle, Arjuna annihilates a whole akshouhini (109,350) of Kaurava soldiers in one day to avenge the unrighteous and brutal murder of his son Abhimanyu, by the Kaurava warriors. Having pledged to self immolate if he failed to kill the Sindhu king Jayadratha, whom he held responsible for his son Abhimanyu's death, by the end of the day, Arjuna slays the army to reach him.

The news of the terrible pledge taken by Arjuna reaches the Kaurava camp before the dawn. Jayadratha is terrified and wants to flee the battlefield, but he is persuaded to stay back by Duryodhana, Drona, Karna and Sakuni. Drona promises to keep Jayadratha safe by means of Padmavyuh, an impenetrable battle formation. Drona stations himself and Kritvarma at the helm of the formidable array which is miles in length and breadth. At the very rear of the formation, he stations six formidable chariot-warriors along with another battalion of soldiers. Seeing the arrangement, Jayadratha becomes relaxed and cheerful considering that no one can possibly penetrate the battery of soldiers that stood between him and the Pandava forces.

Arjuna starts the battle by blowing his conch and twanging his Gandiva's bowstring. He seems to waste time in the duel, so Krishna asks him to bypass Drona. Arjuna agrees and asks Krishna to take the chariot into the array avoiding Drona. When Krishna is doing so, Drona asks Arjuna to continue fight, but he refuses saying that Drona is his preceptor and another formidable task awaits him. Drona tries to follow and stop Arjuna, but fails to do so. And Arjuna is able to enter the hostile array. Drona comes back to the van and sets his eye on capturing king Yudhisthira. Arjuna, in the midst of the Kaurava host, seems to be unstoppable and keeps slaying any mighty chariot-warrior who comes in his way. By means of celestial weapons, he wreaks havoc among the infantry and elephant divisions. As mighty chariot warriors are slain, their respective armies break rank and flee from Arjuna. He is able to transgress the first formidable array and almost completely destroys the backbone of the defense. By this time, he has penetrated too far into the Kaurava host. Protectors of his chariot are not able to enter the array and are stopped at the van itself by Kritavarma. Meanwhile, Bheema, Satyaki and Drishtadyumna keep Drona at bay and Drona is not able to capture Yudhishthira.

When Arjuna has penetrated far enough into the Kaurava host, Yudhishthira sends Satyaki and Bheema one by one to help Arjuna, who is alone among the hostile enemies. Both Satyaki and Bheema, contrary to Arjuna, defeats Drona to enter the Kaurava host. None of them faces any challenge from the already destroyed first array of the Kauravas. Seeing Satyaki come to Arjuna's rescue, Karna goes to fight with him, and defeats Satyaki and goes back to his original position. After this, when Bheema enters the Kaurava army, Karna engages in a prolonged fight with him. Bheema succeeds in making Karna chariot-less by killing the horses and charioteer. But since Karna is fighting in his own army, he avails of another chariot instantly. Finally, Karna succeeds in defeating Bheema and making him chariot-less but does not kill him. Karna had promised Kunti not to kill any Pandava except Arjuna. Karna insults Bheema using bitter words when he succeeds in making Bheema chariot-less. Bheema becomes enraged at the wordy darts, but considering the more important tasks, ascends on the chariot of Satyaki to proceed.

Seeing Arjuna not far away from Jayadratha, Duryodhana asks Drona to stop him. But Drona doesn't want to waste the opportunity to capture king and asks Duryodhana to go and fight with Arjuna himself. Duryodhan says he is incompetent to stop Arjuna. So, Drona ties an impenetrable Armour to Duryodhana's body and assures him of victory against Arjuna. Duryodhana then becomes confident and marches towards the direction of Arjuna. Krishna meanwhile unyokes the steeds of the chariot of Arjuna to give them rest as well as to make them free from the stuck arrows. After refreshing the steeds, they start the battle again. Duryodhana reaches Arjuna to stop him, but he is easily defeated by Arjuna even with the armor. Ashwatthama, Duhshasana and Kripa intervene and save Duryodhana at this moment and take him away from Arjuna.

Arjuna then starts fighting with the six mighty car-warriors which include Karna, Ashwatthama, Kripa and Duryodhana. The fight with these warriors seems to last longer than expected, so Krishna tells Arjuna that he will create darkness by the prowess of his Sudarshan Chakra and availing this opportunity, he should slay Jayadratha. Then Krishna resorts to the Sudarshan Chakra and darkness surrounds the battlefield, all the Kaurava warriors think sun to be set. Thinking the Sun has set, Jayadratha foolishly leaves the safety of the army to come out in the open. Arjuna then takes out his celestial arrow and slays Jayadratha instantly. Arjuna makes sure that Jayadratha's head would fall on his father's lap (who is meditating not far away from the battlefield) itself and not on ground because Jayadratha had a boon that the one who makes his head fall on ground would die immediately.

The slaying of Karna

Arjuna and His Charioteer Krishna Confront Karna.

Arjuna killed his maternal half brother Karna, another formidable warrior who was fighting in aid of the Kauravas against the Pandavas, not realizing their relationship.

Karna and Arjun formed a terrible rivalry when Karna sought to avenge his humiliation by Arjun's guru and the princely order. Arjun is further provoked when Karna insulted him and Draupadi and has an indirect role in the murder of Arjun's son Abhimanyu in battle. They both bring this terrible and personal rivalry to a climactic battle of terrifying proportions. For a long time, powerful weapons are discharged by both warriors relentlessly at a terrifying pace. The prowess and courage of both is marveled by the millions of other soldiers. Karna had however promised his mother Kunti that only one out of Arjun and himself would remain alive because killing Arjun was the ultimate aim of his life.

Indra realized that Karna would be invincible and immortal in battle as long as he had the golden armour suit and earrings that he was born with. So he went in a disguise of a brahmin to Karna and begs for Karna's armor. Karna was born with the armor attached. It was a gift from his father Surya – the Sun God. Karna gives away his armor, after ripping it from his body. Indra's desperate to see Arjuna win, so he resorts to this trick. Moved by the magnanimity of Karna, he gave Karna a weapon called the Indrastra Vasavi Shakti. The weapon can be used by Karna only once, which he does, to kill Ghatotkach, Bheema's son, in the battle.

In course of the battle, Karna defeated Yudhishthira and forces him to leave the battlefield. Arjun then went to face Karna who has already lost the infallible dart of Indra. A fierce duel took place between the two brothers. They fought with diverse weapons including divyastras. At this point, neither of them appeared to hold an upper-hand in the battle. Seeing that Arjuna cannot be defeated by means of ordinary weapons or common divyastras, Karna used his snake arrows, the Nagastra. A snake Aswasena, whose mother was killed by Arjuna years ago, had entered the weapon, unknown to Karna, making it infallible. Lord Krishna saved his friend and devotee Arjuna at this crucial juncture.

On the next day the war resumed and the Karna suffered the consequences of all his curses at same moment coincidently. As a result of Parashurama's curse, Karna forgot the mantras required to invoke the Brahmastra. Due to another curse, his chariot wheel sank in the battlefield. Both incidents tilted the balance decisively in favor of Arjuna. However, Karna continued battling with Arjuna. Arjuna asked Sri Krishna to stop their chariot as well, so the fight can continue on equal ground against his arch-enemy. However, it became more and more difficult for Karna to counter Arjuna's arrows as a result of his immobile chariot. Arjuna then invoked a divine weapon named Rudra. Karna tried to invoke Brahmastra to counter it but failed to do so. Karna descended from the chariot and asked Arjuna to wait for the sake of DHARMA until he could free his chariot from soil. Arjuna then recalled the Rudra weapon. But Krishna reminded Arjuna of how Karna helped in the killing of Abhimanyu and all of Karna'a bad acts and advised him not to show mercy to Karna. Arjuna then used the Anjalika weapon and killed Karna by beheading him.

After the war

After the conclusion of the war, the Pandavas take charge of Hastinapura, the undivided realm of their ancestors. Their great victory, the wide support they gained for their cause and the defeat of the many kings who had supported the Kauravas, all unite to make them feel that the time is right to hazard the performance of the Asvamedha Yagna, or "horse sacrifice", to grant them the title of Chakravarti ("Emperor"). The sacrifice required that after preliminary rituals, a horse is let loose to wander where it will. The kings upon whose lands the horse wanders all have a choice: they may either accept the master of the horse as their own liege lord and offer their submission to him, or they may resist. Arjuna led the armed host which followed the horse around its random wanderings. He receives the submission of many kings, either without or following an armed confrontation. He was thus instrumental in the expansion of the Pandava domains. His war campaign into the Uttarapatha resulted in the reduction of over thirty tribes/Kingdoms including those of Pragjyotisha, Uluka, Modapura, Vamadeva, Sudaman, Susankula, Northern Uluka, Puru kingdom of Viswagaswa, Utsava-Sanketa, Lohita, Trigarta, Darava, Abhisara, Kokonada, Ursa, Simhapura, Suhma, Sumala, Balhika, Darada, Kamboja. After subjugating the robber tribes of the mountains, Arjuna went to the Transoxiana region (Sakadvipa or Scythia) and conquered the Lohas, Parama Kambojas, Northern Rishikas (or Parama Rishikas), Limpurushas, Haratakas, Gandharvas and the Uttarakurus.


Arjuna first gets opposition from sons and grandsons of Trigata's who fought in Kurukshetra. This great tribe of car-warriors fight Arjuna's army for 3 days. Ketuvarman, younger brother of Suryavarman, is the first to attack and is slain by Vibhatsu. Dhritivarman then comes to fight and Arjuna is impressed by this young cub and at one time, Dhritivarman pierces Arjuna's Hand and Gandiva falls from his hands. Arjuna retaliates and injures Dhritivarman but does not kill him, as per orders of Maharaja Yudhishthira. Other Tigarta's fall on Arjuna but are repelled and killed. They finally accept defeat and agree to come to the Ashwamedha Yajna at Hastinapura.[5]


King Bagdatta's son Vajradatta, on his might elephant comes to capture the horse and angers Arjuna. Bhagdatta and Pandu were close friends and Bhagdatta was killed by Arjuna by cutting the eyelids of the old man. A fight ensues for 3 days and Vajradatta finally falls on ground. Injured there, he is requested by Arjuna to accept Yudhishther as sovereign and he agrees.[6]


Next war was against Saindhava people and they first attacked Vibhatsu who was on foot with the steed (horse). Remembering the killing of Jaidratha by Arjuna, they fiercely attack him in hordes on carts and at one point injured Arjuna and he fell unconscious. The Rishi and Deities became worried and blessed him with powers. Arjuna thus recovered, wielded Gandiva and attacked and slain the Saindhava's, who started to run from battlefield. Arjuna asked for peace from Saindhavas and asked them the use of fight, the Saindhava's accepted King Yudhishther's sovereignty. The Saindavas continued their fight and at last were really beaten on battlefield. At this point Arjuna's Sister, Jaydrath's widow and Dhritrashtra's daughter Dushala came to battlefield with her grandson and son of her son Surath in hand and asked the protection of her grandson. Both brother sister lamented with grief at their losses, could not look anywhere but the earth. Arjuna comforted her and agreed for all what she asked for and asked her to return to her palace.[7]


Arjuna is killed by his son Babhnu Vahana in battle,-A COMPOSITE RAZMNAMA ILLUSTRATION CIRCA 1616

The steed went to Manipura, where the king of Babruvāhana. Seeing his father he came all the way to receive Arjuna. Arjuna was very upset that Babruvāhana did not respect the duties worthy of a King and did not ask for war. He cursed his son as a coward and asked him to prepare for war. At that point Ulupi, his mother came up front and asked him to fight his father for he had indeed come into his kingdom. Also, the kingdom was his maternal grandfather's kingdom and he was a caretaker and hence by law and religious protocol, should protect it.

Thus ensued the fight between father and son. At the end of which both father and son were badly injured. Hearing this Chitrangada, the princess of Manipura and mother of Babruvāhana came rushing to field. She felt saddened, took her Arjuna in her lap and sat and decided to immolate herself. Vabhruvana came to senses and was deeply disturbed for at the sake of religious protocol he had indeed sinned by killing his father. He took an oath that if his father does not come to senses, he will starve himself to death at that very battlefield. At this point Ulupi the snake princess got the Nagmani and by its powers made Arjuna alive again.

Arjuna asked Ulupi why she had instigated Vabhruvana, she explained that by killing Bhishma, the grand sire of Arjuna, by using Shikhandi, Arjuna had sinned and that by this act of Vabhruvana he was now himself killed by his son and this way Arjuna was free of his own sin.


The steed went to Magadha Rajgriha where ruled the son of Sahadeva called Meghasandhi. He came out to challenge his uncle as per Kshatriya duties. The fight ensued and warriors fought one to one. Arjuna was very proud of his nephew and his heart swelled with pride. He did finally defeat Meghasandhi and asked him to not be heartless as he had indeed observed the Kshatriya duties. Arjuna said he is letting him live as per the orders of Yudhishter who asked Arjuna not to kill anyone whose family was part of great war. Meghasandhi accepted and then worshipped his uncle and asked for his blessings.

Chedi and other kingdoms

The steed came to Chedi, where king Saurabha, son of Shishupala, fought bravely and then was spared by Arjuna and was invited to the great yagya of Yudhisther.

The steed then moved through Kasi, Anga, Kosala, Kirata and Tanga kingdoms. Arjuna accepted due honors from respective rulers.


The steed then proceeded to dakarna, the king Chitrangada and Arjuna fought a fierce battle. Arjuna managed to defeat him and the steed moved to Nishada, where Eklavya's son ruled. Arjuna was able to defeat Nishada King.

Southern journey

The steed moved south, where the Dravida and Andhra people along with Mahishaksha and tribes of Kolwa hills resited Arjuna who defeated them. The steed then moved to saurashtra and Arjuna came to Gokarn city and then to Prabhaska. Next he came to Dwarvati where Vrishni race was ruling. The youths of Yadava tried to forcefully abduct the steed but King Ugrasen quickly came in and asked them not to touch the horse. Then the ruler of Vrishin and Andhaka issuing out of his palace with Vasudeva, maternal uncle of Arjuna and father of Lord SriKrishna, came out to meet him and showered their love and blessings.

Punjab and Gandhara

The steed went towards land of five rivers and from there went to Gandhara. The son of Shakuni with his force came out to fight with his elephants and carts and a large army. Arjuna was angry and cut many off. The army of Gandhara began to fly and was pursued by Arjuna. Hearing the news, Shakuni's widow came out and asked for peace. Vibhatsu, son of Dhritrashtra, touched her feet and asked the son of Shakuni to calm down. A peace treaty ensued between them and Gandhara king was summoned to come to the great sacrifice of horse.

Last Act

The Pandava brothers decide, at an advanced age, to renounce the world. They entrust the kingdom to Parikshita, the son of Abhimanyu and grandson of Arjuna. The Pandavas, including Arjuna, then retire to the Himalayas and depart the world.

Fight with Abhiras

According to the Mahabharata Arjuna, the brave Pandava hero, had to face defeat from the hands of the Abhiras. Arjuna was sent to bring the survivors of the Yadavas, but on his way back he was attacked and defeated by the Abhiras. Those Abhiras who looted Arjuna were the supporters of the Kauravas.[8][9] According to Reginald Edward Enthoven Arjuna was overtaken and stripped of his possessions by them in the Panchanada country, which is the Punjab.[10][11]

Contrast with Karna

There are many parallels between Arjuna and Karna. Both were master archers, competed for Draupadi's hand, and fought their brothers in the war. A deeper connection lies in the fact that the two felt strong ties to the Kaurava side, both through friendship and through blood. Karna's ride with Krishna is very similar to the Sacred Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna reminded Arjuna of his duty. Their decisions, along with the consequences to themselves and their families, are used to emphasize the importance of following duty, as Krishna expounded.

Arjuna serves as an excellent example of a diligent student, epitome of concentration and skillful individual who was blessed and protected with more boons because of Lord Krishna's attachment towards him.

Other names of Arjuna

  1. Parth (scholar student, son of Prutha—other name of Kunti).
  2. Jishnu (the Irrepressible, Unconquerable)
  3. Kiriti (He who wears the Shining Diadem, which was gifted by Indra)
  4. Shvethavahana (one of Shining Steeds: He whose chariot is drawn by white horses)
  5. Bheebhatsu (the Fair Fighter: Terrifying to behold in battle)
  6. Vijaya (the Victorious) also Jaya (Victory)
  7. Phalguna (one born under the auspicious asterism "Uttara Phalguna")
  8. Savyasaachi (The ambidextrous one, capable of working a bow with either hand)
  9. Dhananjaya (धनन्‍जय) (winner of Great Wealth)
  10. Gandeevi (the owner of Gandeeva, his bow)
  11. Krishna (the dark-skinned one, named by Pandu out of his admiration of Krishna)
  12. Gudaakesha (conqueror of sleep, given in childhood itself, after he started practising archery skills in the dead of night)
  13. Kaunteya (Son of Kunti)
  14. Parangam (Capable)
  15. Mahabahu (He whose arms are mighty)
  16. Pandava madhyama (Son of Pandu)
  17. Permadi/Janaka – in his youth (Java, Indonesia)[12]
  18. Bhaarata – Scion of an ancient Indian king by the same name (one of righteous birth)

Additional information

  • He is said to be an incarnation of the primordial sage Nara.
  • In Sanskrit it means 'white' or 'unblemished'
  • There is a Jataka reference to king Dhananjaya introduced as a prince from the race of Yudhishtira.
  • An epithet of Agni (fire) worshiped as a God by the Hindus & described in the Sanskrit Vedic literature as a very important deity.
  • A renowned Sanskrit scholar of 10th century A.D. He was a courtier of king Munja (Vakpati Raja 2nd) of the Parmar dynasty of Malawa in India. He wrote an important treatise on Sanskrit dramaturgy entitled Dasharupakam.
  • Diadem: A crown worn as a sign of royalty. Royal power or dignity
  • Also a descendant of sage Vasistha
  • He was Ambidextrous
  • He had a sign of a full stretched bow with an arrow mounted on his palm and on both his soles of his feet he had a sign of chariot with a flag (karn parv, sec 74)
  • On one of the days of the great battle Arjun single handedly slaughters 1 Akshauhini of the Kaurava army. An Akshauhini (Sanskrit: अक्शौहिनि), was an ancient battle formation that consisted of 21,870 chariots; 21,870 elephants; 65,610 horse-mounted warriors and 109,350 infantry,

See also


  1. ^ Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on the Bhagavad-Gita, a New Translation and Commentary, Chapter 1–6. Penguin Books, 1969, p. 31 (v. 4)
  2. ^ Mahābhārata, Adi Parva, Section I
  3. ^ Devi Bhagawatam, fourth book, chapter XXII
  4. ^ Hiltebeitel, Alf (1990). The ritual of battle: Krishna in the Mahābhārata. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press. p. 61. ISBN 0-7914-0249-5. 
  5. ^ Pratāpacandra Rāya, 13, p. 192
  6. ^ Pratāpacandra Rāya, p. 190
  7. ^ Pratāpacandra Rāya, p. 194
  8. ^ M. S. A. Rao (1 May 1979). Social movements and social transformation: a study of two backward classes movements in India. Macmillan. Retrieved 20 November 2011. 
  9. ^ Social movements and social transformation: a study of two backward classes movements in India
  10. ^ Reginald Edward Enthoven (1 January 1990). The tribes and castes of Bombay. Asian Educational Services. pp. 23–. ISBN 978-81-206-0630-2. Retrieved 20 November 2011. 
  11. ^ Reginald Edward Enthoven The tribes and castes of Bombay, Volume 1, Asian Educational Services, 1990 ISBN 8120606302
  12. ^ Claire Holt, Art in Indonesia, Cornell University Press, 1967, p. 271


  • Pratāpacandra Rāya, Kisari Mohan Ganguli, The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, Volume 13

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