- Arjuna was one of the five PANDAVAS in the MAHAB-HARATA epic, all of them sons of Kunti by different gods. Arjuna’s father was the king of the gods, Indra, hence his prominent role in the epic.It is Arjuna who won the Pandavas’ wife Draupadi at her “self-choice” ceremony, where the contestants competed in various challenges of strength and skill. The rule was that each of the five brothers would stay at night with Draupadi alone. No other brother was to enter their chamber on penalty of exile. Arjuna broke this agreement and was sent away from the other brothers for 12 years.During his exile Arjuna had relationships with many women. He married Krishna’s sister Sub-hadra, to whom was born their son Abhimanyu, who played an important role in the Mahabharata war. Arjuna at this time also met up with Para-shurama, the BRAHMIN warrior and incarnation of VISHNU; he taught Arjuna the use of magical weapons. For helping the god AGNI and KRISHNA burn down the Khandava forest, Arjuna received his bow Gandiva, his most cherished weapon.Returning home Arjuna was forced into soli-tary exile again for 13 years when his brother Yud-histhira lost everything to the Kauravas in a dice game. In his wanderings he met a hunter—Shiva in disguise—from whom he received the devas-tating Pashupata weapon. In the last year of his exile he served Virata, king of the Matsya people, disguised as a eunuch. There he taught music and dance to the women. He also helped Virata fight his enemies.In the final battle of Kurukshetra, the conclu-sive battle of the Mahabharata, Krishna served as Arjuna’s charioteer. The BHAGAVAD GITA details Arjuna’s momentary failure of will as the battle is about to begin and Krishna’s teachings to him. After the victory, when the customary ashva medha (HORSE SACRIFICE) was done, Arjuna followed the sacrificial horse on its wide wanderings, fighting many kings and claiming many countries for the Pandavas. During these wanderings he encoun-tered his own son Babhruvahana, whom he fought and killed. The son was revived, however, by a Naga princess (see NAGAS) who had once been his lover.After the war, in which most of Krishna’s Yadava tribe were killed, Arjuna himself performed the funeral rites for Krishna, who had accidentally been killed by a hunter, and for Krishna’s father, Vasudeva. Arjuna took the remnants of the Yadava tribe and their women back to Hastinapura, the Pandava capital.In his old age Arjuna went to live in the Hima-layas with his brothers and Draupadi, leaving the kingdom to his grandson, Parikshit (Abhimanyu’s son).Further reading: J. A. B. van Buitenen, trans., The Mahabharata. Vol. 1, The Book of the Beginnings, Vol. 2., The Book of the Assembly Hall, vol. 3., The Book of Virata and the Book of Effort (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973–78); Ruth C. Katz, Arjuna in the Mahab-harata: Where Krishna Is, There Is Victory (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1989); P. C. Roy, trans., The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, 12 vols. (Calcutta: Oriental, 1952–62).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.