Arjuna statue in Bali, Indonesia
Arjuna (in Devanagari: arjuna) along with Krishna is the protagonist of the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata and plays a key role in the Bhagavad Gita alongside Krishna. Arjuna was the son of Indra, the king of the celestials, born of Kunti, the first wife of King Pandu in the Kuru Kingdom. In a previous birth he was a saint named Nara who was the lifelong companion of another saint Narayana an incarnation of Lord Vishnu who took rebirth as Lord Krishna. He was the third of the Pandava brothers and was married to Draupadi, Ulupi, Chitrangada and Subhadra (Krishna's sister) at different times. His children included Srutakarma, Iravan, Babruvahana, and Abhimanyu.
The name Arjuna has among its meanings "white"/"clear" and "silver". Cognates of "Arjuna" are Latin "regens" meaning "ruler", Hindi "raj" meaning "king", and English "regal".
The Mahabharata refers to Arjuna by twelve different names. In the story, these names are given when Prince Uttara of Matsya asks Arjuna to prove his identity. The first ten names are spoken by Arjuna himself, while the name "Kapi Dhwaja" is also used to refer to his chariot, the "Nandi Ghosha". The names and their meanings are as follows:
After the death of Pandu (and Madri's subsequent sati), the Pandavas and their mother lived in Hastinapura, where they were brought up together with their cousins, the Kaurava brothers. Along with his brothers, Arjuna was trained in religion, science, administration and military arts by Bhishma.
One day, when the princes were playing a game, they lost their ball in a well. When the rest of the children gave up the ball as being lost, Arjuna stayed behind trying to get it. A stranger came by and extracted the ball for him by making a chain of "sarkanda" (a wild grass). When an astonished Arjuna related the story to Bhishma, Bhishma realised that the stranger was none other than Drona. Bhishma asked Drona to become the Kuru princes' teacher. Seeking refuge from Panchala, Drona agreed. Many asuras were killed by him.
Under Drona's tutelage, the Kauravas and the Pandavas, along with the princes of Hastinapura's allies and vassals, learned weaponry. Arjuna became Drona's favorite and most accomplished pupil; specifically, he became a master in using the bow and the arrow. In a famous incident, Drona deemed that out of all his students, even his own son Ashwatthama, none but Arjuna had the steadfast focus to shoot the eye of a bird on a tree; he was proven right.
Still in hiding, the Pandavas disguise themselves as brahmins and attend the Swayamvara of Panchala princess Draupadi. Out of all of the great kings and other Kaurava princes, only Karna and Arjuna are able to do the established challenge. The test is to lift, string, and fire Pinakin to pierce the eye of a golden fish whilst only looking at its reflection; Drupada had designed this test with Arjuna in mind. At first Karna is able to lift and string the bow, but when he is aiming to fire the shot, Draupadi rejects Karna (in some depictions with Krishna's prodding) for his low-birth. Afterwards, the disguised Arjuna accomplished the stringing and shooting of the bow.
In some versions of the story, Arjuna is the only prince (of the Kaurava/Pandava party) to have interacted with Draupadi before. When attacking Drupada, Draupadi, trained in martial arts due to Panchal's attitudes towards gender neutrality, fights with Arjuna, but Arjuna after some while stops and evades Draupadi, saying that he cannot fight a woman.
In some versions of the Swayamvara, Arjuna is forbidden by Kunti to attend the Swayamvara. Kunti's reasoning is that only Yudhishthira and Duryodhana would be acceptable candidates for Draupadi's hand; anyone else, not set to inherit the throne, would be an insult to Panchal. She allows Bhima to attend because he is Yudhishthira's heir and could win Draupadi for his brother without controversy. When Arjuna disobeys her anyway, as he is firing the arrow, he swears to God that if he wins Draupadi's hand, he would never disobey his mother's commands.
When the brothers returned with Draupadi, Arjuna joked to his mother that they had brought alms. Dismissively, and without looking because she was preoccupied, Kunti asks him to share it with his brothers. Holding his mother's orders as a divine command, he requested his elder brother to accept Draupadi. Draupadi had to marry all five of the Pandavas. Her five sons, one from each of the Pandava brothers, are known as the Upapandavas.Srutakarma is the son of Arjuna.
The brothers follow Vyasa's advice on a sharing arrangement with regard to Draupadi: each brother would have exclusive rights over her for a year, after which the mantle would shift to the next brother. Moreover, any brother intruding on the privacy of the couple would have to go on a twelve-year Tirtha-yatra.
At this point in the Mahabharata, the Pandavas revealed that they were alive. With both Duryodhana and Yudhishthira being crown princes, tensions are high. Under Bhishma's advice, the kingdom is split, with the Kauravas getting Hastinapur and the Pandavas getting Khandavaprastha. Khandavaprastha, however, was an extremely underdeveloped land and had infertile soil, requiring extensive tilling, so the Pandavas set to work rebuilding the land. Their cousins Krishna and Balarama gave them aid.
In some versions of the story, this was the first time Arjuna meets Krishna. In any case, Khandavaprastha was where Arjuna and Krishna's friendship is truly forged. 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 realise his goal.
The three of them then invoked Varuna, the God of the oceans, who blessed Arjuna with the Gandiva - the agni-moon bow created by Brahma. In this way, Arjuna came into possession of his famous bow. Agni also gave Arjuna an incandescent chariot with four horses yoked, and bearing a flag that would one-day be occupied by Hanuman. Arjuna also obtained his famous conch.
With Krishna using the Sudarshana Chakra 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. Indra's pride in Arjuna's success overcame his anger, and he bestowed greater powers on him.
In their demolition of Khandava, Krishna and Arjuna had saved one demon, Mayasura. Thus owing Arjuna a favor, and after being so directed by Krishna, Mayasura said that he would build a palace for Yudhishtra. As Mayasura was a great architect of the Asuras, he soon constructed the Maya assembly hall - a gigantic palace for the Pandavas, filled with ancient books, artifacts, and jewels. This hall was famous for visual illusions. Thus, Khandavaprastha was renamed Indraprastha.
During an incident when Takshaka stole Brahmins cows, Arjuna was forced to violate Yudhishthira and Draupadi's privacy while they were playing the game of dice, as he had left the Gandiva in their room. Despite the understanding of all and being forgiven by both Yudhishthira and Draupadi, Arjuna accepted the punishment agreed with Narada and set off on a twelve-year tirtha-yatra.
Arjuna visited other Tirthas in India, including Kalinga and the ashrams of the Saptarishis, Agastya, Vasishta and Bhrigu. Finally he reached the palace of Manipur. Here he met King Chitravahana's daughter, Chitrangadaa. Arjuna fell in love with her and requested that the king let them marry. Upon discovering Arjuna's true identity, the king readily agreed. Since Chitrangadaa was his oldest child and Manipur practiced equal primogeniture, which Hastinapur did not practice, the king sought a promise from Arjuna that Chitrangadaa and any of her and Arjuna's children would remain in Manipur as Chitravahana's heirs. Arjuna thought for some while and agreed. They had a son, who survived the Mahabharata war and ruled the small kingdom peacefully.
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 sister, Subhadra. Krishna, wishing to further tie their families, knew of Arjuna's visit and devised a plan to arrange their meeting. Accordingly, Arjuna disguised himself as a Yati and stayed at Krishna's palace. Arjuna fell in love with Subhadra and desired to marry her. Because Balarama had already promised Subhadra to his favorite disciple, Duryodhana, Krishna advised Arjuna to kidnap Subhadra. Balarama became furious upon learning of the abduction but was pacified by Krishna, after he showed that the Mangala sutra was in Subhadra's hand, which showed her consent. The couple stayed in Dwaraka for a year, and then another year in Pushkar. However, Draupadi had made it clear that no other Pandava wife would be allowed to stay in her city, so Arjuna, as Krishna had advised, tricked Draupadi into meeting Subhadra as a milkmaid. Draupadi realized she had been tricked, but she forgave Subhadra and let her stay in Indraprastha, allowing her to keep company with Arjuna in the four years when he was not with Draupadi. In due course, the union of Arjuna and Subhadra produced a son, Abhimanyu.
Arjuna was sent south by Yudhishthira to subjugate kingdoms for the Rajasuya Yagya, so that he could be crowned Emperor of Indraprastha. The Mahabharata mentions several kingdoms to the east of Indraprastha which were conquered (or otherwise peacefully bent-the-knee) by Arjuna. Most notably, he defeats Bhagadatta of Pragjyotisha who repelled Arjuna for eight days straight but impressed with Arjuna's skill agreed to pay tribute. Bhagadatta was also a great friend of Pandu.
After the battle at Khandava Indra had promised Arjuna to give him all his weapons as a boon for matching him in battle with the requirement that Shiva is pleased with him. Sensing an impending war with the Kauravas, Sage Vyasa advised Arjuna that he obtain the Pashupatastra from Lord Shiva. Following the advice of Sage Vyasa to go on a meditation or "tapasya" to attain this divine weapon, Arjuna left his brothers for a penance.
Arjuna traveled for a while before reaching the mountain Indra keeladri, Vijayawada. Here he sat in meditation in the name of Lord Shiva. Shiva appeared soon enough in the guise of a hunter, who challenged Arjuna to a fight. While being thoroughly dominated by Shiva, Arjuna became confused as to how an ordinary hunter could beat a warrior like himself. He prays to Shiva for strength, and then sees the offerings he made to Shiva around the hunter's neck. Shiva was very pleased with the bravery and prowess of the prince. Consequently, Shiva transformed himself to show his real avatar and blessed Arjuna with the Pashupatastra. Shiva lectures Arjuna on the abilities of the weapon, as well as the judgement he must use while wielding it.
Arjuna was amazed at the splendor of his father's palace at Amaravati. Dancers like Urvashi, Tilottama, Rambha and Menaka entertained him. There was a huge banquet serving different varieties of heavenly dishes. Arjuna learnt song and dance from the Gandharva, Chitrasena and Indra himself taught him all the divine weapons and also gave him his Vajra.
Arjuna got the opportunity to test his skill when Indra asked him to defeat his enemy as the price of his training. Arjuna was taken to the palace of the Nivata-kavachas, 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.
Continuing his quest, Arjuna visits the site of Rama Setu in Dhanushkodi. There, he openly questions why, if Rama had been such a great archer, he hadn't simply built the bridge out of arrows. Angered at Arjuna's tone and his apparent questioning of Rama's prowess, Hanuman confronts Arjuna in the form of an ordinary monkey and challenges him to prove his superiority by building a bridge of arrows that could bear his (Hanuman's) weight. Tensions escalate until Arjuna pledges to defeat Hanuman or kill himself, going so far as to frivolously use divine weapons to build bridge after bridge, while Hanuman uses his god-given strength to destroy them all. Eventually, Krishna intervenes, chiding Arjuna for his excessive pride and Hanuman for allowing his love of Rama to overcome his pacifism. Regaining his composure, Hanuman pledges to reside in Arjuna's battle standard (flag) during the Kurukshetra war.
Along with his brothers, Arjuna spent his last year of exile in the kingdom of Matsya. This is the place where Urvashi's curse is implemented and Arjuna becomes a eunuch called Brihannala (within themselves Pandavas called him Vijaya). At the palace, he teaches song and dance, qualities he had learnt from Chitrasena [King of the Gandharvas in Devalok], to the King Virata's daughter, Uttar?. Later, Arjuna arranges for Uttara to become his daughter-in-law by marrying his son Abhimanyu to her. At the same time, he prevents Subhadra from marrying Abhimanyu to Balarama's daughter Vatsala, as the Kurus find marriages between cousins taboo. But Arjuna and Subhadra are cousins too since Kunti (Arjun's Mother) and Vasudeva (Subhadra's father) are brother and sister.
Hearing about the death of Kichaka, Duryodhana surmises that the Pandavas were hiding in Matsya. A host of Kaurava warriors attack Virata, presumably to steal their cattle, but in reality, desiring to pierce the Pandavas' veil of anonymity. Full of bravado, Virata's son Uttar attempts to take on the army by himself while the rest of the Matsya army has been lured away to fight Susharma and the Trigartas. As suggested by Draupadi, Uttar takes Brihannala with him, as his charioteer. When he sees the Kaurava army, Uttar loses his nerve and attempts to flee. There, Arjuna reveals his identity and those of his brothers'. Switching places with Uttar, Arjuna takes up the Gandiva and Devadatta. Eager to defend the land that had given him refuge, Arjuna (dressed up as Brihannala) engaged the legion of Kaurava warriors, leading Matsya to victory and giving all credit for the victory to Uttar in his place.
As the battle draws close, Arjuna is overcome with self-doubt about the righteousness of the war against his own kith and kin. He is distraught at the thought of having to fight with his friends and family such as his dear teacher, Drona and grandsire 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 known as Bhagavad gita, and is considered as a holy scripture of Hinduism.
Arjuna plays the role of the reader in the Bhagavad Gita. As Krishna dispenses the advice, Arjuna asks the questions.
Arjuna was a key Pandava warrior and played a huge role in the Pandava victory in the Kurukshetra war. His flag bore the symbol of Hanuman.
Some of the crucial battles fought by Arjuna are as follows:
Some interpretations claim that it is actually Krishna who killed Karna, using Arjuna as his vessel, thereby freeing Arjuna of the shame of blatantly violating the rules of war.
After the eighteenth day of war at Kurukshetra, King Duryodhana was slain in a mace fight with Bhima by unfair means. Soon after Duryodhana's fall, the Pandavas went to celebrate their victory by entering the palaces of the Kauravas. When they reached the pavilion of the Kauravas, Lord Krishna advised Arjuna to take his divine bow Gandiva and get down from his chariot immediately. After Arjuna did so, Lord Hanuman disappeared from his flag and Lord Krishna also got down from the chariot. Soon after Lord Krishna releases the horses and then gets down from the chariot. The chariot explodes into pieces. That was due to the devastating effect of the astras such Brahmastras which were used by Karna and Drona and other warriors in the battle. Arjuna wondered at seeing such a horrible scene and asked Krishna about the reason. Lord Krishna said that the divine chariot of Arjuna had already been burnt by consuming diverse kinds of weapons, including the Brahmastras , that they had shot against Arjuna during the fighting. It was because of his power that the divine chariot of it remained un-burnt throughout the battle. 
Yudhishthira 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.
Arjuna built the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple during his conquest in South India. Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple is one of the "Divya Desams", the 108 temples of Vishnu revered by the 12 poet saints, or Alwars located near Aranmula, a village in Pathanamthitta District, Kerala, South India. The temple is dedicated to Parthasarathy, Lord Krishna's role as Arjuna's Charioteer in the Mahabharata war. Legend has it that Arjuna built this temple, to expiate for the sin of having killed Karna on the battlefield, against the dharma of killing an unarmed enemy.
Arjuna went to Manipur, 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 of Shikhandi to plot Bhishma's death and the unethical killing of Karna.
After Sri Krishna left his mortal body, Arjuna took the citizens of Dwaraka, including 16,000 women that had formed Krishna's harem, to Indraprastha. On the way, they were attacked by a group of bandits. Arjuna fought with them but he had already lost his divine energy and even lost the power to wield the celestial bow Gandiva. Arjuna forgot all his celestial weapons and soon his inexhaustible quiver became empty due to the disappearance of divine energy owing to the death of Krishna.
Upon the onset of the Kali yuga and acting on the advice of Vyasa, Arjuna 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, Parikshit's son.
Except for Yudhishthira, all of the Pandavas grew weak and died before reaching heaven (only Yudhishthira is allowed to keep his mortal body). Arjuna was the fourth one to fall after Draupadi, Sahadeva and Nakula. When Bhima asks Yudhishthira why Arjuna isn't permitted the same, the reason given is Arjuna's extreme pride in his skills as an archer. Draupadi also falls because while she claimed to love all the Pandavas equally, she had a soft spot for Arjuna .
Arjuna is a popular choice of name for a Hindu male child in the Indian subcontinent. As told in the verses in Harivamsha or Harivamsha Purana, the name Arjuna is cursed by the sage Parashurama. After the defeat of the mighty and evil king Kartavirya Arjuna or otherwise called Sahasra Arjuna, Sage Parashurama pronounced the curse that whoever holds the name Arjuna will never become a king and always be a servant of others.
Arjuna's extraordinary talents and skills have made him a common name in popular culture.
There have been a serial and a film based on Arjuna's life and exploits.
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