Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Arjuna's Quest

Mahabharata


This episode is from [Maha:3.36-3.40].

Though Bheema outwardly affected to despise Karna and to belittle his prowess in battle, in reality he had a very deep respect for the skill of that son of Radha. It was well known that the armour of Karna was of celestial origin. It was also generally believed that he was invincible as long as possessed it.

In addition to his obvious skill with the bow and his impregnable armour, Karna had obtained many missiles of divine origin, both from his Guru Parashurama and by pleasing various deities by his devotions. In addition, he was beloved of learned Brahmanas and of the poor, for he was a notable philanthropist. His character, save for the virulent animosity he cherished towards the Pandavas, was without blemish, and it was known that he had the favour of many deities, especially Surya, to whom he offered special worship daily.

So the objection raised by Yudhishtra was based on sound reasoning. It is very well to seek revenge, when you believe that your cause is just, but only a fool would rush to face an army led by Karna, Drona and Bhishma, without first obtaining means of neutralizing them.

While Yudhishtra and Bheema were pondering this conundrum, the sage Parasara came there. By his yogic powers, he already knew the thoughts going through the minds of the two brothers.

Yudhishtra rose immediately from his seat, and offered welcome to the sage as befitting his ascetic merit. The sage spoke, "Dear Yudhishtra, the unmerited hardships undergone by you have caused a great deal of sorrow among the sages. Our sympathies are entirely on your side. I also know that you are wondering if your combined might will be able to defeat the Kuru army in the inevitable battle to come. We have a suggestion for you. To increase your strength, one of you must please the celestials with your devotions and obtain powerful boons and weapons. Among you five, Arjuna is possessed of the most self-control. He would be the ideal person to embark on this quest.

"Send him to the Himalayas to do his penance. He is sure to obtain the favour of Mahadeva and Indra. It is also not proper for you to reside in the same place for a long time. Already this part of the forest has be denuded of its plant and animal life. You must seek out another place to establish your camp while Arjuna is gone."

Yudhishtra readily acquiesced to this plan. Then the sage imparted knowledge concerning the interpretation of omens and celestial signs to the prince, and took his leave.

Mindful of the Rishi's instructions, the Pandavas then went to reside in another portion of the Kamyaka forest. After they had settled into a routine there, Yudhishtra recalled the advice of Parasara and also that of Vyasa, and called Arjuna to him.

He said, "Dear brother, you know very well that trusting to your prowess with the bow, and the great strength of Bheema, we cherish hopes of winning back our patrimony, so cruelly snatched away by our kinsmen. Knowing the enormity of the task ahead of us, the great sages have advised me to send you to obtain the favour of your divine father. Go forth and please Indra by your devotions. Obtain from him powerful boons and all his divine missiles. With the help of these we shall conquer the strong army of the Kurus."

Arjuna readily consented to it. On the very same day, at an auspicious time, he set forth on this quest, first saluting and circumambulating his elder brothers and his priest Dhaumya. All the Brahmanas assembled there uttered benedictions for the success of his endeavors.

Knowing no fatigue, Arjuna walked without resting, crossing many great rivers, climbing over many inhospitable mountains, his goal being the great mountain of Himavat in the north. Neither men, nor animals dared to obstruct him, none of them crossed his path, for one look at the radiant warrior, with his massive bow and inexhaustible quivers was enough for them to know that he was not a man to be trifled with.

Possessing great speed, Arjuna reached Himavat in a single day, after crossing the Gandhamadana mountains. When he arrived at Indrakila, a hallowed spot on this mountain, he stopped for a while. While he was taking a well earned rest, a booming voice addressed him.

He looked around and saw that he was being addressed by an ascetic, who was standing in the shade of a nearby tree. It was at once obvious to the Pandava that this was no ordinary person. The sense of power exuded from this being was not merely from his eyes, which were very remarkable, but his whole body shone with divine radiance. He was of a tawny colour and exceedingly thin.

The ascetic said to Arjuna, "You appear to be of the Kshatriya order. I can see by your bow that you have come here prepared for battle. Know that this place is sacred, and there is no need for weapons of any kind here. Only the blessed, the truly brave and virtuous can reach here. You have attained a great position merely by making it this far. Discard your weapons, and take to asceticism."

Arjuna introduced himself, and told his purpose in coming there. The ascetic once again asked Arjuna to embrace a life of austerity and to discard his weapons. However, Arjuna was unmoved.

His obstinacy, instead of angering the ascetic, seemed to please him. At last, the sage said, "Such devotion to a cause is praiseworthy indeed! You have gratified me, your father, for I am none other than Indra. Ask me what boon you will."

Arjuna worshiped his father with great love and said, "Lord, if it pleases you, I desire instruction from you in the art of war, and for all your divine missiles. Armed with these I shall scatter the host of the Kurus."

Indra replied, "When you have obtained the favour of the three-eyed lord of the world, the great Shiva, all that you seek shall be yours. Endeavour to please him by devotions, and victory will be assured." With these words, Indra disappeared.

Arjuna then fashioned a Linga (an iconic representation of Shiva, roughly cylindrical with the top being domed) out of clay and began his penance to please the supreme deity, Mahadeva. He wore the same clothes that he wore in the forest, made of grass and black deerskin. He ate nought but the withered leaves fallen on the ground. He supplemented this diet by eating some fruits every third night. He continued this regimen for a month. In the next month, he reduced his food by eating fruits only every sixth day. The third month saw a further reduction, and he ate only once a fortnight. Still, there was no sign of Shiva. When the fourth month came, he gave up all food, and began to subsist on air alone.

In the higher regions, there was a great deal of speculation about the object of this severe asceticism. As a consequence of the rigid penance, the celestials were tormented by the blaze of Arjuna's asceticism. Unable to bear this pain, they went to Shiva and beseeched him to intervene.

Shiva said, "I know fully well the objective of this Pandava. He has proven his devotion and strength of mind. I shall go to him and bring his penance to a logical conclusion. Have no fears."

Shiva took the guise of a hunter and went to the place where Arjuna was performing his penance. He was accompanied by Parvati who was disguised as a huntress. The Ganas accompanied them, becoming the dogs of the hunt. At the same time, impelled by his fate, a Rakshasa named Muka, who had cherished an enmity with Arjuna arrived there, assuming the shape of a boar, and sought to gore the Pandava to death.

Though he was deep in meditation, a sixth sense warned Arjuna of the danger, and he immediately took up his bow and shot his unerring arrows at the boar's mouth. At the same time, Shiva, as the hunter, had also shot arrows from his divine bow at the boar. Muka fell down dead, his looking more like a porcupine than a boar.

As per the law of the hunt, Arjuna came to the boar to claim his kill. He found a hunter already in possession of the carcass. Both of them staked a claim for the body of the boar.

"I aimed first at the boar, and mine was the arrow that slew him. Yours arrived later. So the boar is mine. Yield its body to me!", said the hunter.

"It cannot be! My arrows were the swiftest. Besides, the demon had come to kill me, and as per the law of the hunt, this boar is mine!", argued Arjuna.

Neither would yield. Finally in exasperation, Arjuna challenged the hunter to a duel. The hunter gladly accepted the challenge and a very intense, wonderful battle began to shape.

Arjuna began with utmost confidence. Though he realized that the hunter was a very good archer, he believed that apart from Karna, no mortal, indeed none of the celestials could equal him in archery. He shot arrow upon arrow on the hunter, using both his hands with great effect.

However, his confidence soon gave way to a burning desire to worst the hunter, for he saw that his opponent was handling this shower of arrows with the utmost ease, cutting off the arrows from the Gandiva in mid air.

With a voice quivering with wonder, he asked the hunter, "Tell me, who are you? You cannot be an ordinary hunter. Perhaps you are a god in disguise, for no mere mortal can withstand the might of the Gandiva in battle! Are you my father Indra? Or are you one of the Lokapalas?"

The hunter continued to assert that he was no such thing. Meanwhile, while he had been rarely hit by Arjuna's arrows, many of his shafts went home, and Arjuna's body was covered with blood flowing from numerous wounds on his body."

Arjuna was shocked to see that his quivers had become empty. These inexhaustible quivers were a gift from Agni, and such a thing had never happened before. Undaunted, he struck the hunter with his bow and tried to catch and drag him with his bowstring.

The hunter proved adept at such a combat also. With the greatest ease, he snatched the bow from Arjuna's hands. Thereupon, Arjuna drew his sword and hit the hunter. However, the sword of the finest steel broke into many pieces when it struck the head of the hunter.

Undaunted, the Pandava then closed with the hunter and struck him with his fists. The hunter abandoned his weapons and wrestled with Arjuna. He caught Arjuna in a bear hug and crushed the breath out of his body. Soon, the mighty Pandava was prostrate on the ground, as one who was dead.

However, he soon regained his senses. He went to the clay image of Shiva and started worshiping it with offerings of floral garlands. To his great wonder, he saw that the floral garlands were magically appearing on the hunter! He then realized the identity of this mysterious hunter and was filled with a sense of joy, mixed with apprehension, for he had fought with the great lord himself. He immediately prostrated himself at the feet of Shiva and begged for forgiveness.

Shiva made him raise, and then embraced him with great affection. He said, "O Phalguna, I am extremely pleased with your devotions. Do not apologize for fighting with me. It was a great pleasure for me to pit my skill with the bow against yours. There is no mortal, no God equal to you for skill with the bow. Since you have pleased me so much, I will give you a supreme weapon, for you alone are very worthy of wielding it."

The Pandava gratefully received this weapon from Mahadeva. He once again begged the Lord's pardon for his presumption in fighting with him.

Shiva smiled and said, "I have forgiven you. Since you have pleased me so much, I will tell you a little about your past life. You were originally Nara, the friend of Naryana. You are the essence of the universal male being. Here, you can have back your bow, that I snatched from you by my occult powers. Your quivers that had become empty during the combat, shall once again regain their inexhaustible property. If there is aught else that you need, ask, and it shall be yours."

"I would like to possess your special weapon, known as the Brahmasiras —the weapon that you will use to destroy the universe at the time of the great dissolution. Let me have your blessings to obtain victory over the Kuru host, led by Bhishma, Drona, Kripa and my nemesis, Karna."

"Here is my favorite weapon—Brahmasiras, that is also known as the Pasupata. The knowledge to wield, hurl and withdraw this weapon shall become known to you by my grace. This knowledge is not available to Devas, nor to the Yakshas. Why, even Yama, the lord of death is ignorant of this. However, you may not hurl this weapon without just cause; if it be hurled at a mean foe, unworthy of it, it may destroy the entire universe!", warned Shiva.

Arjuna promised to treat the weapon carefully and gratefully received it from the Lord. After uttering a final benediction, Shiva left for his abode, accompanied by his wife and followers. Arjuna watched the departure of the Lord, with his head bowed in a mark of respect.

[Note— The Brahmasiras alias Pashupata is the most powerful weapon among them all. It belongs to Lord Shiva.]

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Last Modified At: Sat May 21 16:31:27 2005