Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

The Burning of the Khandava Forest

Mahabharata


While Krishna was staying in Indraprastha, a Brahmana came to meet Arjuna. This man presented a wondrous appearance. His body glowed like molten gold, his beard was tawny and fire seemed to be emanating from his bright eyes. He addressed both the friends and said, "No matter what I do, my hunger does not get quenched. I feel that only you two will be able to give me food befitting me, whereby I may be satiated."

Arjuna said, "I have sworn to help anyone who approaches me with a legitimate request. It is not right that you should go hungry, when there is so much food in the world. If you tell me what sort of food you like, I shall arrange to have it brought to you. I promise that you shall not go hungry any longer."

The Brahmana then revealed himself to be Agni. He said, "It is my nature to burn. I have been longing to burn this Khandava forest, which has been apportioned to me by food. However, Indra's friend Takshaka, the king of snakes resides there with his friends. The lives of all in that forest is forfeit to me, but out of affection for his friend, Indra is preventing me from consuming this forest. Whenever I begin to burn it, he orders his thunder clouds to cause pouring rain, dousing my flames. This hunger has started consuming my very self, I cannot bear it any longer. I ask you to protect me while I burn the Khandava forest."

[NOTE: The real reason why Agni wants to burn this forest is to cure his stomach ailment. The story of how he got sick is narrated here.]

Arjuna said, "Since I have promised to help you, so I shall protect you. You do not need to worry about anyone as long as myself and Madhava (Krishna) are on your side. We possess knowledge of many divine Astras that can prevent the rain from reaching the forest. But, if we have to contend with the might of Indra, I would need a bow that can withstand the speed at which I shall be dispatching the arrows. I will also need a suitable chariot, which will move as swift as my thoughts. Krishna shall also need suitable weapons to assist you. If these things can be arranged, there will be no problem."

Agni thought over this and said, "Varuna possess a divine bow given to him by Soma. He owes me a favor, so I can get you this bow. I have a chariot that moves as swift as thoughts, so you shall get this also. As for Krishna, what more suitable a weapon than the Sudarsana--Chakra (discus), with which he used to slay the Daithya's (Asuras) of old as Vishnu? Now that you are suitably armed, let us go to forest and let me burn it."

Arjuna's heart was filled with joy when he beheld his divine bow, which was named Gandiva. It rivalled Pinaka, the bow of Lord Shiva himself. The chariot was made of solid gold and had thoroughbred horses yoked to it. Krishna assumed charge of his Sudarsana-Chakra. There was also a mace named Kaumodaki for Krishna. All three of them proceeded to the edge of the forest.

Agni transformed into his primeval form, of the raging elemental fire. The whole forest was ablaze. The various creatures which were residing in the forest began to run here and there. The birds tried to rise high above the flames and escape the fire. However, the two friends were more than equal to the task. As the birds tried to flee, Arjuna pierced them with his arrows, causing them to fall back dead onto the flames. Krishna took care of any creature that tried to flee the forest on foot. It was a gory sight.

News reached Indra that the Khandava forest was ablaze. Indra knew that his friend Takshaka was away, but his family was still trapped in the fire. He summoned his favorite storm clouds named Pushkala and Avartaka, and commanded them to put out the fire. They tried their level best, the rain descended upon the forest like the primordial flood that had immersed the world. However, Arjuna built a barrier of arrows in the sky, which made sure that not even a single drop of this water could reach the forest. Indra was furious. He came out of his palace, armed for battle, accompanied by Yama with his mace, Varuna with his noose, Kubera with a club, and Rudra with his trident came to assist the ruler of heaven.

The battle began in dead earnest. Arjuna and Krishna held their own, and sorely harassed the Gods with their arrows. Indra launched various Astras at Arjuna, but to no avail as his son knew the counter Astras for whatever his father could throw at him. As for Krishna, who can stand against the Lord of the Universe in battle? Meanwhile, the son of Takshaka named Asvasena escaped from the forest, assisted by his mother. But Arjuna was furious at this event and slew the wife of Takshaka with three well placed arrows. The fight between the two friends and the Gods went on for a long time.

A disembodied voice boomed from the sky, "Indra, you have already done enough. Thanks to your assistance, you have saved Asvasena, the son of your friend. Know that Arjuna is Nara and Krishna is an incarnation of Naryana. There is no force in the universe that can defeat them. Desist from your futile efforts."

Indra stopped his attempts to save the forest. Meanwhile, Maya, the architect of the Asuras was trapped in the forest. He managed to run out from there and was spotted by Krishna, who lifted his arm to hurl the discus at him. In desperation, Maya sought the protection of Arjuna, who granted him asylum. Since his friend had taken Maya under the wing, Krishna refrained from killing the Asura.

Slowly the flames started to die out. The entire forest had been burnt to ashes. Agni resumed his form as the Brahmana and said, "You two have helped me satisfy my hunger. You have performed a feat that was impossible for even the Gods. As a token of my appreciation, you may keep the weapons and chariot that I gave you. I will always be on your side." After this Agni vanished. Maya who had been saved by Arjuna promised to build a palace for the Pandavas, the likes of which had not been seen till now.

Apart from Asvasena and Maya, the only creatures that escaped alive were some young Saranga birds. The reason for their survival was as follows: In the past, there was a great sage named Mandapala, who had amassed a lot of good Karma, by his penances. One day when he happened to meet some sages, the discussion turned to the concept of salvation and heaven. He was amazed to learn from them that a man without an issue is not eligible for either. He had not married, so immersed had he been in his austerities. So he transformed himself into a Saranga bird and married a she-bird named Jaritha. He had a bunch of young birds as his children. Since he wanted to produce as many descendants as possible, he also married a bird named Lapitha. This caused a great deal of grief to his first-wife, who sent him away from her nest. When the fire started burning the forest, the chicks said to their mother (they could talk, as they were sons of a great sage), "Mother, We cannot fly away from this fire, for our wings are still immature. You however, can escape. You should abandon us to our fate and save yourself. You can have more children in the future, so to safeguard their interests you must save yourself."

When the mother-bird heard this, it was touched. It however was adamant that life had no meaning to it without its children. However, after a lengthy argument it acceded to the wishes of its children and saved itself by flying away. Meanwhile, Mandapala had sensed that his children were in danger. When his other wife Lapitha accused him of caring more for his first wife and children than her, he realized what a fool he had been. He rushed to save his children from the fire.

It would have been too late but for one fact. As the young birds felt the fire approaching them, they started meditating upon Agni, beseeching him to spare their lives. They sang many praises, extolling the glory of Agni in verse. Impressed by the clear thinking and devotion of these birds, Agni spared their lives. This was how the young Saranga birds escaped from the burning of the Khandava forest.

This concludes the first part of Mahabharata, know as the Adhi Parva, as it deals with the initial incidents. (Adhi = Initial in Sanskrit).

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Last Modified At: Sat Nov 13 12:33:50 2004