Mahabharat Episode 37: Arjuna’s Astras
What has happened so far: After Yudhishthira lost the famous game of dice, the Pandavas and an enraged Druapadi were exiled to the forest. Still not satisfied with this imposition, Duryodhana and Karna, contrived to crush them - an attempt to hunt them down was halted by Dhritarashtra upon Vidura's pleading. A contrivance to have them cursed by Sage Durvasa was thwarted by Krishna. An effort to humiliate and taunt them backfired when the Gandharvas defeated and tied up Duryodhana and his retinue, only for the Pandavas to come to their rescue and free them. Life in the forest continued and with Draupadi’s magic bowl, food was provided to all who came.
Draupadi Tries to Incite Yudhishthira
The Pandavas saw that they were having too many guests in their forest dwelling. Once people came to know that there was food and that the Pandavas were there, they started to visit them in big numbers. The place did not even feel like a jungle anymore – rather like an ill-equipped palace. So they decided to move further into the jungle. They moved to another forest called Dvaita Vana, which was between the rivers of Yamuna and Saraswati; an extraordinarily beautiful place, totally free from civilization. Once they moved into this much thicker forest range, and the little comfort and support of people coming every day, bringing gifts, was gone, Draupadi went into depression. And when she went into depression, it was better you not be around, because she would make sure everyone was in a deeper pit than herself.
Draupadi gave hell to Yudhishthira. She taunted him; she abused him; she harassed him in every possible way. Whatever she did, Bhima would resonate the same and add to it. In many ways, Draupadi had Bhima wrapped around her little finger. Bhima was different compared to Arjuna. Bhima was a huge man, also very masculine, but not the hero kind. He was the hero’s assistant kind. Whenever Draupadi wanted something done, she knew Yudhishthira would not do it, and the other brothers would also not do it without his permission. Unless Yudhishthira said so, they would not take a single step – that was their vow. But Bhima was so fond of Draupadi that he ignored the instructions and always did something for her. Many times, this put all the five or six at great risk. But whenever it was needed, she acted, and it worked out in the end.
So Draupadi and Bhima started working on Yudhishthira. They were trying to somehow make him so angry that he would gather an army and ride towards Hastinapur. Then Yudhishthira said, “No matter what, even if you leave me, I will not break my word – I said I will go into exile for twelve years, and that is what I will do.” That kind of settled it, and Draupadi worked herself out of depression.
Arjuna Acquires Astras
After about six years of living in the forest exile with his brothers and Draupadi, Arjuna decided to go and equip himself for the coming war. Except for Yudhishthira, who still had trust in the Kauravas, the Pandavas had no illusions – they knew there would be war anyway. They knew that when their exile gets over, Duryodhana would not keep his word to give back what was rightfully theirs. So Arjuna said, “I want to go and do sadhana, to acquire astras.” Astras are weapons that are empowered with occult powers. Arjuna went off and worshipped Varuna and got the Varunastra. Likewise, he went to various gods and sages, gathering blessings and astras. But his aim was to get the Pashupatastra from Shiva himself.
Arjuna went into the Himalayas and sat in meditation, trying to please Shiva. One day, after many days of sitting, he was very hungry, and he heard the grunt of a wild boar. He opened his eyes and saw the boar, picked up his bow and arrow, and effortlessly shot it. He got up and went close to the boar, and to his amazement, there were two arrows. Who shot the other arrow? A tribal man came with his wife and said, “Who are you, sitting here like a sage but carrying a bow and arrow? This doesn’t make sense. Anyway, I shot this boar first. Look, it is my arrow which has gone into the heart of the boar. The boar is mine.” Arjuna said, “How dare you!” He had these big vanity issues – he was highborn, a Kshatriya, and believed he was the greatest archer.
Arjuna always thought he was a better archer than everyone else. He was competitive. No one should be better than him. And in case he saw someone better, he somehow tried to make sure that eventually he himself was better, even if that meant the removal of that person’s thumb, as in the case of Ekalavya. This was his worst streak – everything else was absolutely noble in this man. Now he got into a kind of altercation with this tribal man, and they decided to duel. The duel of arrows ended in a tie. Then they decided to wrestle. They wrestled and the tribal man was more than a match for Arjuna and got him down. Then, not knowing what to do, Arjuna started to throw whatever he got a hold of at the man. In this effort, he pulled out a flowering plant and threw it. It hit the man, and he receded a little.
Arjuna knew that if this man came back again, he had nothing to defend himself with. Arjuna turned to the linga that he had been worshipping and doing his sadhana at. He bowed down to the linga and said, “Give me strength, Mahadeva. After all, I have been sitting here in anticipation of you. And who is this wild man from the forest, coming and putting me to shame?” Arjuna put a flower on the linga. As he turned back, he saw this same flower on top of the tribal man’s head. Then Arjuna knew who he was, fell at his feet, and Shiva returned to his original form. Pleased with Arjuna, Shiva gave him the Pashupatastra. The Pashupatastra was the most powerful weapon in those days. Arjuna knew that armed with this astra, he could win the war.
Arjuna Stays With His Father Indra
Then Indra, Arjuna’s father, came in a spacecraft and took Arjuna with him to his abode Amaravati. Arjuna was very happy to be with his father for the first time. And his father was very proud of who his son was. They spent time together; they fought battles together, and Indra asked him to learn dance and music. Initially, Arjuna thought, “I am a warrior – why should I learn dance and music?” Indra told him, “Someday, it will be useful for you. There is nothing wrong in learning dance and music and you will be a better warrior with a song in your heart and a little dance in your feet.” The Gandharvas who were with Indra were the best dancers and musicians. Arjuna got Chitrasena as his teacher and became an accomplished dancer and singer.
There was an apsara, a celestial being, in Indra’s kingdom whose name was Urvashi. She was described as the most beautiful feminine being anywhere in creation. Urvashi was the wife of King Pururava who, in the lineage, was a forefather of Arjuna. She saw Arjuna, desired him, and came to him as a woman. Arjuna bowed down to her and said, “As beautiful as you are, I see you as my mother because you are Pururava’s wife. I cannot see you as a woman.” Urvashi said, “These morals that you are talking about are for the humans. I am not a human being, so it doesn’t matter.” But Arjuna said, “I am human, so it matters to me, and I bow down to you as a mother.”
Urvashi felt insulted and cursed Arjuna, “May you become a eunuch! I’ve come to you as a woman. As a man, you have refused me, so you shall become a eunuch.” The macho man got cursed to be a eunuch. Completely distressed, Arjuna went to Indra. Indra pleaded with Urvashi, and she reduced the duration of the curse to one year.
To be continued...
Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published in the Forest Flower magazine, March 2018.