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A statue of Arjuna on a street in Bali

Arjuna (Devanagari: अर्जुन, Thai: อรชุน Orachun, Tamil: அர்ஜுனன் Arjunan, Indonesian and Javanese: Harjuna, Harjuno, Herjuno, Malay: Ranjuna; pronounced [ɐrˈɟunɐ] in classical Sanskrit (lit. bright or silver (cf. Latin argentum)) is the third of the Pandavas and, with Krishna, is considered the hero of Hindu epic Mahabharata. He plays the listener in the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita which is a philosophical conversation between Arjuna and Krishna. Arjuna, considered the finest archer and a peerless warrior by many notable figures in the Mahabharata such as Bhishma, Drona, Krishna, Vidura, Sage Naradha and Dhiritharashtra, played a key role in ensuring the defeat of the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra War. He is the only undefeated hero in the Mahabharata. Arjuna was an avatar of Nara, who along with the avatar of Narayana, Krishna, established Dharma in the Dvapara Yuga.[1]

Etymology and other names

The Mahabharata refers to Arjuna by ten different names. The names and their meanings are as follows.[2][3][4]

  • Arjuna - one of taintless fame and glow like silver (Argentum)
  • Phalguna - one born on the star of Phalguna
  • Jishnu - conqueror of enemies
  • Kiriti - one who wears the celestial diadem, Kiriti, presented by Indra
  • Swetavahana - one with white horses mounted to his chariot
  • Bibhatsu - one who always fights wars in a fair manner
  • Vijaya - victorious warrior
  • Partha - Son of Partha or Kunti
  • Savyasachi - Skillful in using both arms, ambidextrous
  • Dhananjaya - one who conquers riches
  • Gudakesa - Conqueror of sleep

Birth and early years

Once, a Brahmin rishi named Kindama and his wife were making love in the forest when Arjuna's father Pandu accidentally shot at them, mistaking them for deer. Before dying, Kindama cursed the king to die when he engages in intercourse. Due to this curse, Pandu was unable to father children. As an additional penance for the murder, Pandu abdicated the throne of Hastinapura and his blind brother Dhritarashtra took over the reins of the kingdom.[5]

After Pandu's disability, the Pandavas were conceived in an unusual way. His mother, Queen Kunti, had in her youth been granted the power to invoke the Devas by Rishi Durvasa. Each Deva, when invoked, would bless her with a child. Urged by Pandu to use her boons, Kunti gave birth to Arjuna by invoking the Lord of Heaven, Indra. King Pandu and Kunti purified themselves by severe austerities to Indra for one year before he was born. No other birth in the Mahabharata except Krishna's was celebrated by the devas, sages and apsaras.

Along with other Pandava brothers, Arjuna was trained in religion, science, administration and military arts by the Kuru preceptors, Kripa and Drona. Specifically, he became a master in using the bow and the arrow. Arjuna's strength lay in his extraordinary levels of concentration. In a famous incident under Drona's tutelage, Drona deemed none of his students other than Arjuna had the steadfast focus to shoot a bird on a tree and was proved right by Arjuna.[6]

Arjuna’s Tirtha-yatra

the Swayamvara of Panchala's princess, Draupadi

The Pandavas attended the Swayamvara of Panchala's princess, Draupadi, while they were in duisgise of Brahamans. Among all great kings and other Kaurava princes, Arjuna was the only one to shoot the arrows to break a fish doll, as demanded by the Panchala King Draupada. As per Kunti's wish, along with his brothers, Arjuna was married to Draupadi, who gave birth to a son, Srutakriti.[7]

The brothers followed Narada’s advice on a sharing arrangement with regard to Draupadi: each brother will have exclusive rights over her for a year, after which the mantle will shift to the next brother. Moreover, any brother intruding on the privacy of the couple will have to go on a 12-year Tirtha-yatra (pilgrimage). However, during a freak incident involving chasing out some bandits, Arjuna was forced to enter into the private space of Yudhistira and Draupadi. He accepted the punishment agreed with Narada and set off on a 12-year pilgrimage.

Arjuna meets Sri Krishma at Prabhasa teertha

Meeting Ulupi

Arjuna started his pilgrimage by visiting the source of river Ganga. It was here that he accidentally met the Naga princess, Ulupi. She was deeply infatuated by him and the couple were drawn into days of passionate love-making. Before departing, Ulupi granted him the boon of invincibility in water bodies. Iravan was Arjuna's son with Ulupi.[8][9]

Chitrangadaa at Manipura

Arjuna roamed around other Tirthas in India, including Kalinga and the ashrams of the Saptarishis, Agastya, Vasishta and Bhrigu. Finally he reached the palace of Manipura. Here he was seduced by the king Chitravahana's daughter, Chitrangadaa. He fell in love with her and requested the king for his daughter's hand in marriage. The king readily agreed when he knew about Arjuna's real identity, but sought a promise from Arjuna that their son would remain in Manipura and take over the reins of the kingdom succeeding him. Arjuna agreed, and later spent time in the palace till the birth of his son, Babruvahana.[10][11]

Reaching Dwarka and Subhadra

Arjuna and Subhadra.
Painting by Raja Ravi Varma.

Arjuna moved to other Tirthas, including the southern regions in Kerala. Finally he reached Dwarka, the place where his cousin Krishna resided. Arjuna had, in his childhood, heard about Krishna's ravishing sister, Subhadra. Now he was in Dwarka, he felt an intense longing to see her. Krishna knew of Arjuna's yearning and devised a plan to arrange their meet. Accordingly, Arjuna disguised himself as a “yati” and stayed at Subhadra’s palace. Soon the couple managed to fall in love. They spent a year together in Dwarka. Later they moved to a small ashram in Pushkara where they stayed for another year, before moving to Indraprastha. After a few years Abhimanyu was born to Arjuna and Subhadra.[12][13]

Burning of Khandava Vana

Srikrishna offer to build a palace, to mayasura

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 to help him realize his goal.[14]

The three of them then invoked Varuna, the God of the oceans, who blessed them with the Gandiva – the moon bow created by Brahma. Agni also gave Arjuna an incandescent chariot with four horses yoked and bearing a flag of Hanuman.[15] Arjuna uses the weapon and chariot to fight the Kurukshetra War during the later parts of the epic. Agni presented Krishna with the Sudarshana Chakra.[16] Together with these weapons, Arjuna and Krishna waged a successful battle against Indra and helped Agni burn down the entire Khandava Vana including all its demons and evil spirits.

Saving Mayasura

In their demolition of Khandava Krishna and Arjuna had saved one demon, Mayasura.[17] Mayasura was a great architect who soon constructed the Maya assembly hall – a gigantic palance for the Pandavas in Indraprastha.[18]

Conquest for Rajasuya


Possible route taken by Arjuna for the Rajasuya sacrifice.

Arjuna was sent north by Yudhisthira to subjugate kingdoms for the Rajasuya Yagya, after crowning as the Emperor of Indraprastha. The Mahabharata mentions several kingdoms to the east of Indraprastha which were conquered by Bhima. Some of them are as under.[19]

  • Bhagadatta of Pragjyotisha, Dhananjaya
  • Vrihanta, the king of Uluka
  • Modapura, Vamadeva, Sudaman, Susankula, the Northern Ulukas, and the kings of those countries and peoples
  • Devaprastha, the city of Senavindu
  • Viswagaswa of Puru's race
  • Seven tribes called Utsava-sanketa
  • Kshatriyas of Kashmira and also king Lohita along with ten minor chiefs
  • Trigartas, the Daravas, the Kokonadas, and various other Kshatriyas
  • town of Avisari
  • Rochamana ruling in Uraga
  • Singhapura
  • Regions Suhma and Sumala
  • Valhikas
  • Daradas along with the Kambojas
  • Robber tribes that dwelt in the north-eastern regions
  • Lohas, the eastern Kambojas, and northern Rishikas
  • country of the Limpurushas ruled by Durmaputra
  • Harataka
  • Various lakes and tanks sacred to the Rishis
  • regions ruled by the Gandharvas that lay around the Harataka territories. Here the conqueror took, as tribute from the country, numerous excellent horses called Tittiri, Kalmasha, Manduka.
  • North Harivarsha
  • city of Sakraprastha


After Yudhisthira succumbed to Shakuni's challenge in the game of dice, the Pandavas were forced to be in exile for 13 years, which included one year in anonymity.

Penance for Pashupatastra

Indra had promised Arjuna to give all his weapons before the eventual war with the Kauravas, but on the condition that he would receive the Pashupatastra from Lord Shiva. Sage Vyasa advised Arjuna to go on a tapasya to fetch this divine weapon. Arjuna left his brothers for a penance. Arjuna travelled for a while before reaching the mountain Indrakila. Here he sat in meditation of the name of Lord Shiva. Shiva appeared soon enough in the guise of a hunter. Shiva challenged Arjuna for a fight and although he defeated Arjuna, Shiva was very pleased with bravery and prowess of the prince. Consequently, Shiva transformed himself to show his real avatar and blessed Arjuna with the Pashupatastra. Other Devas like Kubera, Yama, Varuna and Indra followed suit and blessed each of their potent weapons to Arjuna. Indra also invited his son to his palace in the Heaven. Arjuna was amazed at the splendor of his father's palace at Amaravathi. Dancers like Urvashi, Tilottama, Rambha and Menaka entertained him. There was a huge banquet serving different varieties of tasty and heavenly dishes. Arjuna learnt song and dance from the Gandharva, Chitrasena. Indra himself taught him to wield the divine astras, and also gifted him with his own Vajra.

Urvashi’s curse

After coming from Heaven Arjuna meet Pandavas

Indra had noted the passionate glances exchanged between Arjuna and Urvashi during his stay. He commanded Urvashi to spend a night with Arjuna. However Arjuna did not have any sexual attraction for Urvashi, and so called her a mother, equal in respect to Kunti.[20] Urvashi was annoyed and cursed him that he will become a eunuch who will live among women, singing and dancing. On Indra's request, Urvashi reduced her curse to a period of one year, the thirteenth year of Pandavas’ exile.

Trial with Devastras : Slaying Rakshasas at heaven

Arjuna got the opportunity to test his skills with the divine weapons at Indra's palace itself. Arjuna was taken to the palace of the Nivatakavachas, a tribe of Rakshasas who had a magnificent palace under the oceans. Arjuna used the mohini astra and the madhava astra to demolish these asuras.

He was also taken to Hiranyapuri, a palace in the sky created by a witch Puloma and his asura tribe of the Kaalakeyas. Here Arjuna used the Pashupatastra and annihilated the demons.

Eunuch at Virata’s Kingdom

Along with his brothers, Arjuna spent his last year of exile in the kingdom of Virata. Urvashi's curse came true and he became a eunuch and called himself Brihannala (within themselves Pandavas called him Vijaya).[21] He taught song and dance, qualities he had learnt from Chitrasena, to the king's daughter, Uttarā_(Mahabharata). Later Arjuna arranged for Uttara to become his daughter-in-law by marrying his son Abhimanyu to her. At Virata, a host of Kaurava warriors that included Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Ashwattama and Duryodhana attacked Virata. Arjuna single-handedly defeated this great host of Kaurava warriors with only the prince of Virata (who was only a mere boy) for a charioteer.

Kurukshetra War

Bhagavad Gita

A statue of Arjuna and Lord Krishna, with Krishna as the sarathi or charioteer

As the battle nears, Arjuna was overcome with self-doubts about the righteousness of the war against his own kith and kin. He was aggrieved at having to fight his dear teacher, Drona and the fatherlike Bhishma. It was then that Krishna took charge and explained the necessity and inevitability of the war to Arjuna. This conversation is a key part of the Mahabharata and is considered as a holy scripture of Hinduism.

Battles fought at Kurukshetra

Arjuna was a key Pandava warrior and played a huge role in the Kurukshetra war. His flag bore the symbol of Hanuman.[22] Some of the crucial battles fought by Arjuna are as follows:

  • Defeat of Jayadratha: Arjuna held Jayadratha responsible for Abhimanyu's death on the thirteenth day of the war. He vowed to kill him the very next day before sunset, failing which he would kill himself by jumping in a pyre. The Kauravas smartly hid Jayadratha from Arjuna, in a back-handed way to kill Arjuna. However Krishna created an artificial eclipse by using his Sudarshana Chakra to hide the sun, forcing Kauravas to believe the day was over and Arjuna's death was imminent. Presently Jayadratha reappeared in joy, even as the sun emerged from the eclipse. Arjuna promptly used his most powerful weapon, Pashupatastra to slaughter Jayadratha.
  • Defeat of Karna: Karna and Arjuna were sworn enemies in the epic, each having taken an oath to kill the other in the battle. On the seventeenth day of battle the two foes faced each other once more. This battle between Arjuna and Karna is perhaps the most cataclysmic and awesome of the great epic. The warriors on the battlefield and the Devas in Swarga watched the battle in speechless amazement and terrified admiration of the strength and skill of these greatest of warriors. The epic states that initially the battle was even between the two foes but then Karna's chariot wheel gets stuck in the mud. Further, owing to a curse Karna received from his guru Parasurama, Karna forgets the mantra to invoke the Brahmastra. The epic states that Arjuna, always righteous, hesitates to attack his foe at this juncture but Krishna commands Arjuna to attack Karna and reminds Arjuna of all the atrocities that Karna committed against the Pandavas, such as, his instigation and participation of their wife Draupadi's public humiliation and disrobing, and his participation in the treacherous and cowardly killing of Arjuna's son Abhimanyu. Krishna reminds Arjuna that Karna sided with adharma (unrighteousness) and had no right at this point in his life to invoke dharma (righteousness). Arjuna hence kills Karna using the Anjalika weapon to decapitate him.

Conquest for Ashvamedha

After the conclusion of the war, the Pandavas take charge of Hastinapura, the undivided realm of their ancestors. Yudhishira appointed Arjuna as the in-charge for the army and security forces of Hastinapura.[23]

Yudhisthira decided to hold the Ashvamedha Yagna, or "horse sacrifice", to grant them the title of Chakravarti ("Emperor"). Arjuna led the armed forces which followed the horse around its random wanderings. He received the submission of many kings, either without or following an armed confrontation. He was thus instrumental in the expansion of the Pandava domains. Some of the campaigns are as under:

  • Uttarapatha, 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.
  • Transoxiana region (Sakadvipa or Scythia), the Lohas, Parama Kambojas, Northern Rishikas (or Parama Rishikas), Limpurushas, Haratakas, Gandharvas and the Uttarakurus.
  • Trigarta: Ketuvarman and Dhritavarman
  • King Vajradatta, son of Bhagadatta
  • Saindhava
  • Manipura and death by Babruvahana:

Arjuna is killed by his son Babhruvahana in battle - a composite Razmnama illustration circa 1616

Arjuna went to Manipura, where the king was Babruvahana, his own son with Chitrangadaa. Seeing his father Babruvahana came all the way to receive Arjuna. Arjuna was very upset that Babruvahana 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. In the fight between father and son Babruvahana killed Arjuna, but Ulupi, the snake-princess used the Mritasanjivani, a boon from Ganga Devi to bring Arjuna back to life. It is later stated that the defeat was because of Arjuna’s using Shikhandi to plot Bhishma’s death.[24]
  • Magadha, Rajagriha and King Meghasandhi
  • Chedi and other kingdoms
  • Kasi, Anga, Kosala, Kirata and Tanga kingdoms. Arjuna accepted due honors from respective rulers.
  • Dakarna
  • Nishada: Arjuna was able to defeat the Nishada King, the son of Eklavya.
  • Andhra people led by Mahishaksha, tribes of Kolwa hills
  • Saurashtra, Gokarn city and Prabhaska
  • Dwarvati and Vrishni race
  • Punjab
  • Gandhara


Upon the onset of the Kali yuga and the death of Krishna, Bhima and other Pandavas retired, leaving the throne to their only descendant to survive the war of Kurukshetra, Arjuna's grandson Parikshit. Giving up all their belongings and ties, the Pandavas, accompanied by a dog, made their final journey of pilgrimage to the Himalayas. It is also to be noted that the listener of the Mahabharata is Janamejaya, a son in the lineage of Arjuna.

Character of Arjuna

The character of Arjuna is described as one whose mind is spotless and clean of all impurities. Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita refers to Arjuna as Anagha, which means pure of heart or sinless. On the 17th day of the Great War when Karna is trying to extricate his chariot from the mud, Arjuna (in spite of all the cruelty and unchivalrous acts previously meted out by Karna to the Pandavas) hesitates to kill Karna. He does so only at the behest of Krishna. This reveals his restrain and self-control. Arjuna's nobility is manifested in his magnanimity in victory and compassion towards adversaries. He bears all the injustice of the Kauravas with stoicism and yet hesitates to kill them just before the war.

As Nara of Nara Narayana (an avatar of Vishnu), Arjuna embodies Kshatriya manhood. Krishna being Narayana of the Nara Narayana avatar, symbolizes the atman, and hence the two are inseparable. Arjuna was chosen by Krishna to be his dearest friend and disciple. In the great epic, on several occasions, Krishna reveals his great and eternal love for Arjuna. Krishna states that no one in the world is dearer to him that Arjuna and that there is nothing in the world that he wouldn’t give his friend. In the epic, when Arjuna takes a vow to either kill Jayadratha before sunset or else immolate himself, Krishna remarks to his charioteer, Daruka, that neither his wives nor friends nor kinsmen nor relatives nor any other is dearer to him than Arjuna. He further states that he is unable to live in a world deprived of Arjuna for even a moment. Krishna refers to Arjuna as Purusharshva, which translates to best of men.

Modern references

Arjuna's extraordinary talent and skills have made him a common name in popular culture.

  • The American astronomer Tom Gehrels named a class of asteroids with low inclination, low eccentricity and earth-like orbital period as Arjuna asteroids.[25][26]
  • The Arjuna Award is presented every year in India to one talented sportsman in every national sport.
  • Arjun is a third generation main battle tank developed for the Indian Army.
  • Mayilpeeli Thookkam is a ritual art of dance performed in the temples of Kerala. It is also known as Arjuna Nrithyam (lit. Arjuna's dance) as a tribute to his dancing abilities.

There have been a serial and a film based on Arjuna's life and exploits.

  • Earth Maiden Arjuna is a Japanese animated television series created by Shoji Kawamori. This series is based on Arjuna and the Mahabharata. Arjuna: Into the Another World is the soundtrack produced for the series.
  • Arjun: The Warrior Prince is a 2012-mythological action film narrating the events in Arjuna's life.


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