Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered

Arjuna Questions Answered - Featured Image - Picture of a mythical fish surrounded by water, fire and a lotus. Representing Arjuna

Arjuna is the most powerful warrior in the Mahabharata universe. He is the third of the Pandavas in order of seniority, born after Yudhishthir and Bhimasena.

He is the last of Kunti’s children. After his birth, Kunti decides that she will summon no more gods and bear no more sons. Nakula and Sahadeva, the fourth and fifth of the Pandavas respectively, are born to Madri, Pandu’s second wife.

During his childhood and early youth, Arjuna gains a reputation as being the most skilful of all the Pandava brothers with bow and arrow. As the story progresses, he successfully performs several quests, earns several divine weapons, and becomes the most powerful warrior of the known world.

His arch enemy – and also the only hero capable of killing him – is Karna, whom he kills after a lengthy duel during the climactic battle of the Kurukshetra war.

In this post, we will answer all the questions you’ve ever had about Arjuna.

Table of Contents

What are the different names of Arjuna?

Arjuna has twelve different names. They are: Arjuna, Falguna, Jishnu, Kiriti, Shwetavahana, Vibhatsu, Vijaya, Krishna, Savyasachi, Gudakesha, Kapidhwaja, and Dhananjaya.

Dhananjaya: he who has won wealth (during his many battles in many kingdoms)

Vijaya: he who always wins

Shwetavahana: he whose chariots are pulled by white horses (Shweta = white, vahana = vehicle)

Falguna: he who was born on a day when the constellation of Uttara Falguna was in the ascendant

Kiriti: he who wears the resplendent diadem that Indra placed on his head after his victory against the Danavas

Vibhatsu: he who has never committed an unvirtuous act on a battlefield

Savyasachi: he who can wield the Gandiva equally well with both hands

Arjuna: he who is always righteous, and whose complexion is not found among men of Earth

Jishnu: he who is second to none, and who is incapable of being surpassed

Krishna: he who is dark-skinned

Gudakesha: he who is curly-haired (or / and) he who has conquered sleep

Kapidhwaja: he who has Kapi (Hanuman) on his chariot’s flagstaff

The story of when Arjuna is asked for his names in the Mahabharata is a fascinating one. You can read about it in this post: What are the different names of Arjuna?

Did Arjuna use the Pashupatastra?

Arjuna does not use the Pashupatastra in the Mahabharata war, nor does he use any of the other divine weapons that he procures during his many quests. The Pashupatastra is such a powerful weapon that using it on an unworthy enemy might destroy the three worlds. Arjuna is therefore warned not to use it.

During the first year of the Pandavas’ exile, Arjuna leaves on a quest to acquire as many divine weapons as he can in order to become powerful enough to defeat Drona and Bhishma.

His first acquisition is the Pashupatastra of Lord Shiva. After that, he goes to Amaravati and gets given a whole list of great weapons by all the gods of the pantheon – including Indra.

On his return to the forest, soon upon reuniting with his brothers and wife, Arjuna lays out all his weapons to show Yudhishthir how strong he has become. But a number of fearsome portents appear in that moment.

Narada arrives there hurriedly and warns Arjuna that the weapons should never even be unsheathed, and that they should almost never be used. ‘Do not ever display them to anyone, Dhananjaya,’ says Narada.

Thus, Arjuna never uses the Pashupatastra. But the fact that he has it in his possession increases his confidence immeasurably, and gives him an aura of invincibility. 

Did Arjuna love Draupadi?

It is often taken as fact that Draupadi loved Arjuna the most among all her husbands. But whether Arjuna loved Draupadi is less certain. He must have had some affection for her, and he certainly desired her, but the fact that he had had to share her with four of his brothers would have made it tough for him to love her unconditionally.

What we can say for certain is that Arjuna must have felt a certain right of possession for Draupadi because he was the one who won her at her swayamvara.

We can also be sure that he desired Draupadi on the day that he brought her back. When Yudhishthir surveys his brothers’ faces as they debate Draupadi’s marriage, he finds that all of them desire Draupadi.

But after the decision is made that Draupadi should marry all the Pandavas, the text is completely silent about Arjuna’s feelings on the matter. While he does and says the right things – he proclaims himself completely willing to follow Yudhishthir’s instructions – it is possible that a part of him resents that he is being compelled to share Draupadi with his other brothers.

This would have – over time – lessened his desire for her.

Also, Arjuna’s behaviour during the many years following his marriage to Draupadi suggests that he is eager to procure wives that are entirely his own. And out of these, he shows special affection toward Subhadra.

All in all, one can conclude that Arjuna loves Draupadi after a fashion, but not with the same intensity with which Draupadi loves Arjuna.

Detailed Answer: Did Arjuna love Draupadi?

Did Arjuna defeat Shiva?

During his quest to earn the Pashupatastra, Arjuna propitiates Lord Shiva. Shiva appears to him disguised as a hunter and challenges him to a duel over the carcass of a boar. In the ensuing fight, Shiva defeats Arjuna easily, quells his pride, and then gifts him the Pashupatastra.

Early on during the Pandavas’ exile, Arjuna decides to procure some divine weapons in order to become powerful enough to challenge Drona and Bhishma in battle.

The first of these weapons is the Pashupatastra, which Arjuna plans to earn after pleasing Lord Shiva with his penances.

After four months of intense austerities, Shiva is happy enough with Arjuna to gift him the weapon. But before he does so, he appears to the Pandava disguised as a hunter, and deliberately picks a fight with him over the carcass of a wild boar.

Arjuna, proud in his ways, challenges the measly hunter to a duel. He thinks that he can easily win, but arrow after arrow leaves his Gandiva without making so much as a scratch on the hunter’s person.

The fight ends with Arjuna running in Shiva’s direction and attempting to hit him on the head with the Gandiva. As he gets closer, he realizes that this is no common hunter but the lord himself.

Arjuna then begs for Shiva’s forgiveness and declares himself humbled. Shiva smiles and parts with the Pashupatastra.

(This theme of first stripping a hero of his vanity and then gifting him a cherished weapon is a recurring one. Later, Hanuman does much the same thing with Bhimasena, and Shiva himself humbles Ashwatthama during the Sauptika Parva.)

Did Arjuna go to heaven?

Arjuna does go to heaven at the end of the Mahabharata, along with his brothers the Pandavas and his wife Draupadi. However, he endures a short period of strife in hell to atone for two sins: (1) his vanity and self-possession, and (2) for having killed Bhishma unfairly during the Kurukshetra war.

Arjuna does eventually go to heaven; we know this because when Yudhishthir passes all of his tests and is granted admittance to heaven in his mortal body, he sees Draupadi and the rest of the Pandavas there in Indra’s hall.

But Arjuna is also made to go through the experience of death first, which means that soon after he falls to his death at the base of Sumeru, he is taken to hell for a short period to serve punishment for his sins.

His biggest sin, at least according to Yudhishthir, is his vanity about being the most powerful warrior in the world. Arjuna does get humbled several times during the story – when Shiva defeats him, when Krishna chides him after his chariot is burned, and at the very end when he is defeated by robbers – but he continues to cling to his pride.

His other significant sin – though he atones for it by dying at the hands of Babruvahana – is the unjust manner in which he kills Bhishma during the Mahabharata war.

After these two sins have been spoken for, Arjuna is taken to heaven where he is expected to live for all eternity.

To learn more about how Bhishma is killed, see Mahabharata Episode 42: Bhishma Falls.

Did Arjuna abduct Subhadra?

Arjuna abducts Subhadra at the encouragement of Krishna. During the end of his twelve-year exile, Arjuna visits Dwaraka and has a chance meeting with Subhadra. Krishna notices that his friend is smitten by his sister, and advises Arjuna to abduct her. Arjuna obeys Krishna and carries Subhadra away one morning during her temple visit.

However, Arjuna does not carry Subhadra all the way away from Dwaraka to Indraprastha. He waits with her on the outskirts of Dwaraka for further word from Krishna.

Meanwhile, Krishna pacifies the rousing tempers of all the Vrishni chieftains who are bristling about how Arjuna insulted their pride by carrying away Subhadra. Krishna tells them, ‘On the contrary, by signalling his desire to become our relative, he has given us the respect we deserve.’

Krishna convinces Balarama that the right thing to do is to welcome Arjuna back into the city and give Subhadra’s hand to him with due ceremony. Balarama eventually agrees, and Subhadra thus becomes Arjuna’s fourth wedded wife – after Draupadi, Ulupi and Chitrangada.

The act of abducting a woman from her swayamvara is not considered immoral – because in doing so, the man also issues a challenge to all assembled suitors to stop him if they can. This is the process that Bhishma uses to bring Amba, Ambika and Ambalika as wives for Vichitraveerya.

But the act of abducting a woman privately is considered heinous and cowardly. The Vrishnis are therefore right to be angry at Arjuna’s behaviour. This is why Krishna asks Arjuna to wait on the outskirts of Dwaraka. Carrying her off to Indraprastha would have been taking things too far.

For more detail on this incident, see Mahabharata Episode 14: Exile of Arjuna.

What did Arjuna do after Abhimanyu’s death?

Arjuna comes to know of Abhimanyu’s death on the evening of the thirteenth day. No one gives him the news explicitly. He guesses it by the facts that he cannot see Abhimanyu anywhere and that his brothers are all plunged in grief. After he comes to know about how Abhimanyu died, Arjuna takes an oath to kill Jayadratha by sundown on Day 14.

On Day 13 of the Kurukshetra war, Arjuna is lured away by the Samshaptakas (a name given to the Trigartas led by Susharma) so that he is otherwise engaged the whole day. As night approaches, when Arjuna’s chariot enters the Pandava camp, he notices that the musical instruments are quiet.

‘Abhimanyu always comes running to greet me in the evening,’ says Arjuna to Krishna. ‘I wonder where he is today.’

Then he sees other signs: all the soldiers that come face to face with his chariot turn away in gloom. When he enters Yudhishthir’s tent, he finds all four of his brothers overcome by shame and grief.

Then the realization strikes Arjuna. He places a hand to his forehead and says, ‘Alas, Abhimanyu is no more.’

Yudhishthir then fills in Arjuna about what had happened – how Drona had set up the Chakravyuha, how Abhimanyu had accepted the task of breaking it open, how the plan was for Bhima and the rest to follow the young man into the array, and how Jayadratha prevented them from doing so.

After hearing the whole story, Arjuna decides that it is Jayadratha who is most responsible for Abhimanyu’s death. He takes an oath that he will slay the Saindhava king by sundown on the next day.

‘Either I will kill Jayadratha by nightfall tomorrow,’ he says, ‘or I will consign myself to flames.’

Detailed Answer: What did Arjuna do after Abhimanyu’s death?

Was Arjuna stronger than Karna?

Yes. Arjuna defeats Karna on three separate occasions during the Mahabharata: (1) at Draupadi’s swayamvara, after a lengthy battle, Karna withdraws from fighting Arjuna; (2) during the end of the Virata Parva when Arjuna defends Matsya’s cattle against the Kuru army; (3) during the final man-to-man duel on the seventeenth day of the war.

Karna is often called Arjuna’s equal in terms of skill with bow and arrow, but over the course of the story Arjuna’s achievements far outshine Karna’s.

Several times, Arjuna completes a task or a quest at which Karna has just failed. At other times, Arjuna pulls off unbelievable victories when the odds are stacked up against him. Karna has no such victories to his name.

For instance:

  • After Karna and Duryodhana try in vain to capture Drupada as Drona’s Guru Dakshina, Arjuna succeeds in doing so.
  • At Draupadi’s swayamvara, Arjuna gains a victory over Karna after the latter’s forfeiture.
  • During the Pandavas’ exile, Arjuna travels to Amaravati and wages a successful battle against the Nivatakavachas.
  • When Karna flees in fear at the prospect of fighting a Gandharva army to free Duryodhana, Arjuna succeeds.
  • During the end of the Virata Parva, Arjuna secures a victory while fighting single-handedly against the Kuru army – which includes Karna.
  • In the final battle, Arjuna wins several key battles on the way to finally killing his arch nemesis Karna.

The weight of evidence suggests, therefore, that Arjuna is stronger than Karna.

Did Arjuna have the Narayanastra?

Ashwatthama is the only warrior in the Mahabharata who has the Narayanastra. He casts it on the fifteenth day of the war, eager to avenge the death of his father, Drona. It is Krishna who advises the Pandava army that the only way to quell the Narayanastra is to submit to it. Arjuna does not have any means of neutralizing it.

If Arjuna had had the Narayanastra, he would have been able to cast it in its defensive form to defend against Ashwatthama’s Narayanastra. Later in the story, when Ashwatthama casts his Brahmastra at Arjuna, the latter does use his own Brahmastra as a defence against it.

In this case, though, it is left to Krishna to reveal to the Pandava leaders that the Narayanastra does not hurt people who have given up all thirst of violence in their hearts.

‘Remove from your minds all the intention to fight,’ says Krishna, ‘and lay down your weapons. The missile will not hurt you.’

As the Pandava soldiers obey, the Narayanastra hovers in the air harmlessly. However, there is a brief moment of alarm when Bhima insists on shooting arrows and throwing darts at the missile. For his effort he is rewarded with a few bruises and cuts.

Krishna then firmly drags Bhima away from the field of battle and tells him to set aside his weapons. Bhima listens.

After a suitable amount of time has passed, the Narayanastra passes without danger. Krishna then gives the signal to everyone that battle can resume.

Detailed Answer: Did Arjuna have the Narayanastra?

Did Arjuna kill Yudhishthir?

On the seventeenth day of the Mahabharata war, Arjuna and Yudhishthir have a quarrel and Arjuna rises to kill Yudhishthir with a raised sword. Krishna intervenes and ensures no damage is done, but later instructs Arjuna to insult Yudhishthir with harsh words, saying: ‘When a younger person insults an older person, the older person is considered to have been killed.’

A strange sequence of events happens on the seventeenth day. Yudhishthir is chased back into his camp by a rampaging Karna, and Arjuna and Krishna arrive at the tent to ask after his welfare.

Yudhishthir, however, mistakenly thinks that Arjuna and Krishna have come to share with him the good news that they have killed Karna. He welcomes Arjuna warmly into the tent and says, ‘Glory to you, Dhananjaya! You have vanquished your foe!’

When a bemused Arjuna confesses that Karna still lives, Yudhishthir angrily proclaims: ‘Perhaps you should give your Gandiva away, Arjuna, to someone who is worthier of it than you are.’

Now, Arjuna happens to have taken a vow in the past that he will kill anyone who suggests that he should give up the Gandiva. He asks Krishna to resolve the dilemma. ‘How can I be true to my vow and save myself from the sin of killing my elder brother?’

Krishna replies, ‘Speak with Yudhishthir in the harshest words that come to your mind, and insult him as callously as you can. It has been said that when a younger brother insults the older brother in this way, the latter has been killed by the former.’

Arjuna proceeds to insult Yudhishthir, then, and fulfils his vow of needing to ‘kill’ him.

Detailed Answer: Did Arjuna kill Yudhishthir?

Did Arjuna know Karna was his brother?

Arjuna does not know that Karna is his brother until after Karna’s death. Krishna, Kunti and Bhishma are the only three people to know the secret of Karna’s birth (besides himself). After Karna’s death, Kunti reveals the information to her sons. The Pandavas, including Arjuna, are distraught at the thought that they have killed their elder brother.

At the beginning, only Kunti knows about the true identity of Karna. When she first spots Karna at the graduation ceremony, she faints because she recognizes the marks on her son’s body.

As time passes, though, more and more people are brought in on the secret. Krishna, when he arrives in Hastinapur, reveals that he knows. But the reader is not told how. One assumes that Kunti tells Krishna about it at Vidura’s house in the hope that Krishna can then leverage it for Arjuna’s benefit.

Bhishma, on the night of the tenth day of battle, admits to Karna: ‘I know that you are Kunti’s firstborn.’ His source of information is Vyasa. How Vyasa came to know, we do not know. Either he has been told by Kunti on some prior occasion, or he has been told by Surya, or he just knows because he is Vyasa.

Karna, of course, hears of it for the first time from Krishna’s mouth. And he hears it for a second time from Kunti, which is then corroborated by a divine voice that belongs to Surya.

Besides these five characters, as long as Karna lives, no one knows the truth about his birth.

Krishna keeps this truth purposefully from Arjuna and the others out of fear that they would refuse to fight their elder brother if they knew. Kunti tells her sons about her secret only after the war has ended.

The Pandavas are stricken by despair at the thought that they had not only killed their grandfather and their preceptor but also their elder brother. They perform all of Karna’s last rites with respect.

Did Arjuna never sleep?

It is not true that Arjuna never slept. At various times in his life, Arjuna went through periods during which he conquered sleep. This is especially true when he prays to Lord Shiva in the hope of procuring the Pashupatastra. During his normal life, Arjuna certainly slept. He even dreams on the night of the thirteenth day, after Abhimanyu’s death.

The myth that Arjuna never sleeps appears to have risen because of his name ‘Gudakesha’, which some sources have mistakenly interpreted as ‘one who has conquered sleep’. In reality, the word ‘Gudakesha’ means ‘one with curly hair’.

Even if we allow that the interpretation is correct, it is not true that Arjuna has conquered sleep forever and that he is always awake. It is just an acknowledgement of Arjuna’s conquest of sleep on a certain occasion or two.

For instance, during his early youth, Arjuna displays more interest in shooting arrows in the dark than in sleeping. One may conclude that this counts as ‘conquering sleep’.

On a later occasion, in his bid to acquire the Pashupatastra, Arjuna prays to Lord Shiva for a period of four months without stopping to eat or sleep. For this four-month period, temporarily, Arjuna conquers sleep.

But outside of these times, Arjuna certainly sleeps. The whole premise of Duryodhana’s plan in Varanavata (to set fire to the house of wax as the Pandavas slept) would have been superfluous otherwise.

Also, on the night of Abhimanyu’s death, Arjuna is shown sleeping in his tent. He dreams that he and Krishna rise up into the heavens to meet Shiva, where the lord gifts him the Pashupatastra and assures him of victory.

Did Arjuna regret killing Karna?

Arjuna does not immediately regret killing Karna, but he encounters a feeling of unease when Karna dies. He asks Krishna how a warrior of Karna’s ability had been defeated, and Krishna gives a list of all of Karna’s misfortunes. Later, when Kunti reveals her secret, Arjuna – along with his brothers – deeply regrets having killed his elder brother.

Immediately after Karna’s death on the battlefield, Arjuna does not feel the elation in his heart that he might have expected from finally killing his nemesis. He finds himself sympathetic to Karna’s situation.

‘How did a warrior of such ability lose to me on this day, Krishna?’ he asks. To which Krishna replies, ‘A number of people across space and time have united to make this victory of yours possible, Dhananjaya.’

And he names himself, Arjuna, Kunti, Indra, the goddess Earth, and Shalya among the chief killers of Karna.

In contrast, when Bhimasena kills Duhsasana, the other main character to have caused Draupadi’s disrobing, there are much more animalistic emotions in view. Bhima tears open Duhsasana’s chest and drinks his blood – as he had promised.

Later, when the Pandavas are performing the last rites of all the ‘good’ men they have lost in the war, Kunti arrives and says, ‘Include Karna among those you honour.’ And then she tells them her long-held secret.

The Pandavas – including Arjuna – are struck by shock and grief at this revelation. Yudhishthir goes so far as to curse womankind with the ability to keep secrets. Afterward, the Pandavas perform all of Karna’s rituals with respect.

Can Arjuna defeat Karna without Krishna?

Arjuna faces Karna on two occasions without Krishna’s help, and wins both times. One of these battles – during the Gograhana Parva – is conclusive: Arjuna defeats an entire division of the Kuru army by himself. The other battle – during Draupadi’s swayamvara – ends with Karna withdrawing from the duel mid-way, giving Arjuna a victory.

This does not mean, of course, that Arjuna can defeat Karna on every occasion they fight – whether or not in Krishna’s presence. If one is able to simulate a hundred Arjuna-Karna confrontations, Karna will probably win ten or more of them.

Also, we must remember that what we call ‘skill of a warrior’ is not a constant quality. It ebbs and flows. It is affected by a number of controllable factors – the amount of deliberate practice the hero has put in, the amount of thought he has given to strategy – and uncontrollable ones – like the mood of your charioteer, the number of divine weapons you’ve been given etc.

All said, Arjuna and Karna are considered near equals in terms of skill. So if one were to neutralize all the other factors – meaning we ask them to fight with normal bows and arrows while on foot – we may expect about a fifty-fifty share of the spoils.

By the time of the Kurukshetra war, though, Arjuna is incredibly powerful (through a combination of his skill and his acquisitions). Karna, on the other hand, is severely handicapped because of Shalya’s machinations.

There is a moment in the final battle where Karna shoots an arrow (the Naga Aswasena) at Arjuna – and it only misses because Krishna stamps down on the chariot with enough force to sink its wheels in the mud.

So if Krishna had not been Arjuna’s charioteer in the battle with Karna, Arjuna would have died.

Detailed Answer: Can Arjuna defeat Karna without Krishna?

Can Arjuna defeat Dronacharya?

Before the exile, Arjuna is not skilful enough to defeat Drona. Indeed, the intention behind his quest to acquire divine weapons is to become more powerful than Drona and Bhishma. By the time of the Virata Parva, though, Arjuna is powerful enough to single-handedly defeat an entire army containing Drona, Bhishma, Karna, Ashwatthama and Kripa.

But the stakes in the ‘battle of Virata’s cattle’ are lopsided. On the one hand, Arjuna is defending his king’s dominion. On the other, the Kuru army is on a routine raiding operation. They are caught off-guard with Arjuna’s presence, so they haven’t had a chance to strategize against him.

Also, Arjuna is very much an unknown quantity at this stage. Arjuna uses all of these intangible factors to his advantage and steals a victory from under their noses.

In the Kurukshetra war, the stakes are about even. Both sides are about equally motivated to fight. Also, all the stalwarts in the Kuru army now have seen Arjuna in his current form. They know what to expect. They have had time to think about how Arjuna might be beaten.

Therefore, when Arjuna meets Drona in the final war, the battle between them is about even. In fact, on the fourteenth day, with Drona stationing himself at the mouth of his array, Arjuna salutes him and says, ‘I do not have time to parry with you today, Acharya. I am going in search of Jayadratha!’

This implies that in Arjuna’s mind (and in Krishna’s), he and Drona are about evenly matched.

Can Arjuna defeat Parashurama?

Arjuna and Parashurama never meet in battle in the Mahabharata, so one cannot answer this conclusively. However, Bhishma defeats Parashurama during the matter concerning Amba. Since Arjuna is considered more powerful than Bhishma, we can surmise that Arjuna will win at least six out of ten duels against Parashurama.

Parashurama is one of the great sages of the age, and he is known for exterminating – with his own axe – the race of Kshatriyas not once but twenty one times. He is undoubtedly a very powerful warrior.

He trains Karna and Bhishma in their formative years. He is evidently a good teacher as well.

However, when Bhishma is in his prime, Parashurama loses to his disciple when he tries to fight him into submission regarding the Amba situation.

That gives us the only data point with which we might assess a possible Arjuna-Parashurama battle. If both heroes meet each other at their peaks, we might say that Arjuna will win at least six out of ten matches against Parashurama.

But of course, the result will depend on many factors, such as:

  • What are they fighting over? An issue, a person, a piece of land, a principle?
  • Are they fighting with or without divine weapons?
  • Are they fighting in a war scenario where there are plenty of other variables to keep track of, or are they fighting in a private clearing in a forest?
  • Who are their charioteers? Or are they challenging each other on foot?

And so on.

Why did Arjuna marry Chitrangada?

Arjuna meets Chitrangada in her city of Manipura while on his twelve-year exile from Indraprastha. He falls in love with Chitrangada and asks for her hand from her father. No reason is given for his behaviour – but one can surmise that he thinks an alliance with Manipura will strengthen Indraprastha and Yudhishthir’s reach.

Marriages in the Mahabharata are hardly ever a result of purely romantic or carnal intentions. Male members of the royal family – one supposes – have plenty of access to women and their sexual companionship.

When it comes to marriage, plenty of other factors enter the picture – not least the relative strengths and synergies of the respective kingdoms.

Arjuna’s self-imposed exile during the first year of Yudhishthir’s reign as emperor is supposed to be a celibate one. But by the time he enters the kingdom of Manipura, he had already been seduced by Ulupi the Naga princess. He may have therefore thought: ‘My vow of celibacy has been broken. Let me at least be of some service to Yudhishthir and forge an alliance with Manipura.’

He must have seen something about Manipura that made him think that it will be a strong ally to Yudhishthir. So he approaches the king and asks him for his daughter’s hand.

And of course, it helps that Chitrangada is beautiful and desirable in her own right.

Detailed Answer: Why did Arjuna marry Chitrangada?

Why did Arjuna marry Ulupi?

During his exile, Arjuna is abducted by Ulupi when he is performing his daily morning routine. Ulupi tells him that she desires to be his wife. When Arjuna tells her that he had taken the vow of celibacy, she counters him by taking a vow that she will kill herself if he refuses to marry her. Thus cornered, Arjuna consents.

The scene of the incident is the origin point of the Ganga, where Arjuna and a few Brahmins assemble to live a life of purity and chastity. One morning, when the Pandava descends into the river to take his path, he gets abducted by Ulupi deep into the river, to the land of her father, Kauravya.

Over there, Arjuna first completes his daily rites to the lord of fire, and then asks the maiden who had brought him: ‘Who are you, timid maiden? (Not sure why he addresses a woman who had just kidnapped him with the word ‘timid’.) And why have you brought me here?’

‘I am the daughter of King Kauravya, O Prince, and they call me Ulupi,’ replies the girl. ‘The moment I saw you, the god of desire has shot his arrows into my heart, and I wish for you to be my husband.’

‘I am afraid that cannot be, Princess,’ says Arjuna. ‘I have taken the vow of celibacy for the mistake I committed. Is there any way I can give you pleasure while staying true to my word?’

‘I know the circumstances that have led to your exile, Arjuna,’ says Ulupi. ‘And it is true that if you break your vow of celibacy, your austerities will suffer a small dent. But if you do not satisfy my desire, I promise you that I shall consign myself to flames, and then your practice will suffer a great deal more because you will have the death of a Naga maiden hanging about your heart.

‘Also, O sinless one, you are a married man. Your celibacy has already been broken once. The strength of such a vow taken by a married man is not significant, O Prince, because it is taken for the sake of your wife. Whoever has heard of a Brahmachari who has to remain so out of respect for his wife?’

Armed with this double-edged argument, Ulupi manages to seduce Arjuna into taking her as his lover for one night. Out of this union is born a son named Iravan, who fights and dies in the Kurukshetra war.

Detailed Answer: Why did Arjuna marry Ulupi?

Why did Arjuna go on exile?

Arjuna goes on exile as penance for an indiscretion he commits: he disturbs Yudhishthir and Draupadi during a private moment. Neither Yudhishthir nor Draupadi wish Arjuna to punish himself, but Arjuna insists. He imposes upon himself a twelve-year exile for breaking the pact that none of the Pandava brothers should impinge upon Draupadi’s privacy.

During the early days of Yudhishthir reign as emperor of Indraprastha, he gets a visit from Sage Narada, who recommends that the Pandavas draw among themselves an agreement regarding how they are going to share Draupadi amicably.

The Pandavas come up with a commonsense approach: the first of the husbands to approach Draupadi for private companionship will have access to her. If one of the brothers finds Draupadi in the company of another Pandava, he is to retreat quietly and try his luck again later.

Soon after these rules are drawn up, it so happens that Arjuna has to go into Yudhishthir’s private chambers in order to retrieve the Gandiva. (A Brahmin needs some help driving away some robbers.)

When Arjuna enters the bedchamber, he finds Yudhishthir and Draupadi together. He follows through with his quest: he takes his weapons and helps the Brahmin. But after he returns, he announces that he has broken the pact and that he is punishing himself with twelve years in exile.

This seems like an overreaction, and Yudhishthir and Draupadi tell him that. But Arjuna is adamant.

Over the course of his exile, he circumnavigates the country and meets a number of kings. He takes three wives: Ulupi, Chitrangada and Subhadra. With each one of them he has a son: Iravan, Babruvahana and Abhimanyu respectively.

Detailed Answer: Why did Arjuna go on exile?

Why did Arjuna go to hell?

The ostensible reason for which Arjuna goes to hell is to atone for his vanity. Arjuna is known throughout his life as the most powerful of warriors, and that status makes him vain. The other reason for Arjuna’s short period in hell is the unjust manner in which he kills Bhishma in the Kurukshetra war.

Arjuna is the third of the Pandavas to fall on their ascent up Mount Sumeru during the Swargarohana Parva. Bhima asks Yudhishthir why Arjuna had fallen, and in response Yudhishthir says: ‘Because he has not succeeded in conquering pride in his skill and power as archer.’

For this sin, soon after his death, Arjuna is taken to hell by Yama and given the relevant punishment. After a short period of this, he is taken to heaven where he is installed a throne for eternity.

In addition to this sin, Arjuna is also expected to atone for the manner in which he killed Bhishma during the Kurukshetra war. Propelled by desperation to defeat the grandsire, Arjuna fights using Shikhandi as a human shield.

Arjuna spends only a small amount of time in hell. When Yudhishthir enters heaven in his mortal body, he finds all of his brothers and his wife already present in Indra’s hall.

Detailed Answer: Why did Arjuna go to hell?

Why did Arjuna leave Chitrangada?

Chitrangada is the princess of a kingdom called Manipura ruled by King Chitravahana. She is a putrika, which means that she will remain with Chitravahana after her marriage. Her son will succeed Chitravahana to the throne of Manipura. Arjuna is therefore compelled to leave Chitrangada behind in Manipura after their marriage.

Arjuna meets Chitrangada during his twelve-year exile and falls in love with her. When he approaches Chitravahana and asks him for her hand, the king replies:

‘There was a king in our line called Prabhankara who was childless. With severe penance he pleased Lord Shiva and asked him for a child. The lord was so pleased with Prabhankara’s conduct that he granted that every generation of kings following Prabhankara’s will give birth to one child and one child only.

‘However, the lord assured my ancestor that none of the children will die before they have had an opportunity to sire a child themselves. So the throne of Manipura will never be left heirless, nor will it ever succumb to infighting because there is always just one successor.

‘All my ancestors after Prabhankara have been male. But to me was born Chitrangada, the princess whom you wish to marry. In order for her to continue the line of her father, I made her my putrika. So she will bear only one child, and her child will remain in Manipura and rule the land in due course.’

‘What if Chitrangada also has a daughter, O King?’ asks Arjuna.

‘She will be made a putrika as well, and she will remain in the kingdom after her marriage, so that her children will be brought up in Manipura to become rulers in their time.’

Arjuna thus becomes husband to the princess of Manipura and lives with her in the palace for three years. At the end of this period, Chitrangada gives birth to a boy named Babruvahana.

As soon as he is born, Arjuna bids goodbye to his wife and child and continues on his journey.

Detailed Answer: Why did Arjuna marry Chitrangada?

Why did Arjuna choose Krishna?

Arjuna chooses Krishna over the Narayana Sena because he (rightly) reasons that Krishna’s strategic nous is much more valuable to the Pandava cause than the numerical contribution of his army. Also, Arjuna and Krishna are good friends and close relatives – it would have been unimaginable for Arjuna to face Krishna in battle.

As the Kurukshetra war draws near, Krishna offers Duryodhana and Arjuna a deal. ‘I will not take up arms in this war,’ he says. ‘But I will serve – in any unarmed capacity – the side that wants me. On the other side will fight my entire Narayana Sena.’

He gives Arjuna first pick, and the latter unhesitatingly picks Krishna over his army. Duryodhana is secretly pleased at Arjuna’s naivety. This suggests to the reader that had Duryodhana been given first choice, he would have picked the army over Krishna.

Arjuna explains his choice thus: ‘I am strong enough to obliterate any army on my own, Krishna,’ he says. ‘But to fight against you would have broken my spirit. Having you on our side is enough to make us victorious, no matter how large an army Duryodhana amasses.’

Detailed Answer: Why did Arjuna choose Krishna?

Why did Arjuna marry Subhadra?

Arjuna marries Subhadra at Krishna’s urging. Krishna’s plan is to construct an alliance with the Pandavas. Around this time, Balarama is seriously considering giving Subhadra in marriage to Duryodhana. Krishna interrupts this by pushing Arjuna to carry Subhadra away. With this marriage, Dwaraka becomes an ally through marriage of the Pandavas.

This marriage is not high-stakes for the Pandavas. After all, Arjuna is only the third brother among the Pandavas with no line of sight to the throne. Subhadra is also Arjuna’s third wife, after Ulupi and Chitrangada.

(However, one must remember that both Iravan – Ulupi’s son – and Babruvahana – Chitrangada’s son – are expected to be raised with their mothers and take over kingship of the Nagas and of Manipura respectively. Neither of them will have a claim to the throne of Indraprastha if it came to that.)

For Anarta, though, this alliance is an important strategic move. Balarama already has a long association with Duryodhana, and a deep friendship with the Kuru house. Instead of further deepening an existing relationship, this pivot by Krishna ensures that Anarta is equally invested in the fortunes of both Hastinapur and Indraprastha.

No matter who among the Kauravas and Pandavas are on the ascendant, Anarta will experience no interruptions on its journey. Even at the end, Balarama can afford to sit out the war citing this ‘equal love’ for both families.

Anarta therefore becomes the most powerful kingdom by refusing to take sides in the Kuru family feud. While Krishna remains friendly with the Pandavas, Balarama continues to maintain cordial relations with Duryodhana.

Detailed Answer: Why did Arjuna marry Subhadra?

Why did Arjuna kill Jayadratha?

Arjuna kills Jayadratha because he feels that Jayadratha is the man most responsible for his son Abhimanyu’s death. Though it is Drona that crafts the Chakravyuha, Jayadratha prevents reinforcements from following Abhimanyu into the array after it has been broken. Arjuna therefore vows to kill Jayadratha on the fourteenth day, and does.

The thirteenth and fourteenth days of the Kurukshetra war are easily the most eventful of them all. On the thirteenth, Abhimanyu ventures alone into Drona’s array, knowing full well that if he gets trapped inside it, he is going to die because he has not yet learnt the art of exiting a Chakravyuha.

This is the sequence of events that lead to Arjuna killing Jayadratha:

  • Early on the thirteenth day, the Samshaptakas lure Arjuna away to a remote corner of the battlefield so that he is not at hand to help break open Drona’s arrangement.
  • Yudhishthir gives Abhimanyu the responsibility of entering the Chakravyuha. Bhima, Satyaki, Nakula and Sahadeva promise to follow close on his heels so that the formation does not heal.
  • However, Jayadratha, stationed at the mouth of the array, displays rare valour in preventing Abhimanyu’s reinforcements from reaching him. Abhimanyu is thus trapped inside the Chakravyuha.
  • Abhimanyu is killed inside the formation.
  • At the end of the day, Arjuna asks Yudhishthir to tell him all that had happened. Upon listening to how the action unfolded, Arjuna decides that Jayadratha is the one to take the most blame for Abhimanyu’s death.
  • He takes a vow that he will kill Jayadratha on the fourteenth day – or consign himself to flames if he fails.
  • On the fourteenth day, with help from Krishna, Arjuna does kill Jayadratha despite the entire Kaurava army trying desperately to protect the Saindhava king from him.

Why did Arjuna kill Bhishma?

On the ninth day of the war, Bhishma adopts a strategy of killing as many common soldiers of the Panchala army so that the Pandavas will be left without any means with which to fight. To counter this, on the tenth day, Arjuna uses Shikhandi as a human shield in order to defeat Bhishma and remove him from the battlefield.

Arjuna’s arrows do not kill Bhishma, though. Owing to a boon he has received from Shantanu, he has the ability to choose the moment of his death. Bhishma hangs on to life grimly while remaining suspended on a bed of arrows.

After the war is finished, Bhishma gives Yudhishthir a long discourse on how to rule his kingdom – and then dies at an auspicious time.

When Yudhishthir and the other Pandavas approach him on the ninth evening and ask him how he can be killed, he replies, ‘I shall not fight Shikhandi because he was born a woman.’

Taking that clue, the Pandava strategy on the tenth day is to keep Shikhandi at the head of their forces so that Arjuna can keep shooting at Bhishma from behind the Panchala prince.

Bhishma refuses to shoot back at Shikhandi, and even as he falls, he says, ‘I am falling to Arjuna’s arrows. Not Shikhandi’s!’

Detailed Answer: Why did Arjuna kill Bhishma?

Why did Arjuna become a eunuch?

Arjuna becomes a eunuch as a result of a curse placed on him by Urvasi, a dancer in Indra’s court. During his visit to Amaravati, Arjuna rejects Urvasi’s advances when she propositions him. Urvasi then curses Arjuna that for a year of his life, he will have to live as a eunuch to atone for the hurt he caused her.

Most of Arjuna’s time in Amaravati is spent fulfilling two quests for the benefit of Indra:

  • He defeats the Nivatakavachas, a class of Asuras that have earned the boon that they can be killed only by a human.
  • He frees the city of Hiranyapuri from the clutches of Rakshasas.

Meanwhile, he also learns dancing from a Gandharva named Chitrasena. Incidentally, he meets Chitrasena again later when he has to rescue Duryodhana from the clutches of a Gandharva army.

The last significant event that happens during Arjuna’s stay in Amaravati is that he gets cursed by Urvasi. When the celestial dancer approaches Arjuna with the intention of uniting with him, Arjuna rejects her, claiming that it would be a sin on his part to think of his ancestress in that way.

Urvasi tries to reason with him but fails. Exasperated with this, she curses him to become a eunuch for a full year of his life.

Arjuna is at first distraught at being cursed this way, but Indra takes him aside and assures him that everything will be all right. True enough, Arjuna uses the dance skills of Chitrasena and the curse of Urvasi to turn into Brihannala during the Virata Parva.

Detailed Answer: Why did Arjuna become a eunuch?

Why was Arjuna cursed by Ganga?

Ganga curses Arjuna to punish him for the unjust manner in which he defeats and kills Bhishma. Since Ganga is Bhishma’s mother, she is especially hurt by the way Arjuna hides behind Shikhandi and shoots arrow after arrow at Bhishma. The curse is that Arjuna will have to pay for the crime with his life.

The Naga queen Ulupi overhears Ganga and the Vasus speaking angrily about how to punish Arjuna. At this time, Arjuna is escorting Yudhishthir’s Ashwamedha horse around the country from kingdom to kingdom.

When he arrives in Manipura, Ulupi contrives to orchestrate a battle between Arjuna and Babruvahana. Babruvahana ends up killing Arjuna in this duel, after which Ulupi revives her husband using a magic herb.

Ulupi explains to Arjuna then why she had encouraged Babruvahana to kill Arjuna. She also assures Arjuna that his name of ‘Vijaya’ (the undefeated) is still intact despite this loss to Babruvahana because one’s son is considered to be a version of oneself, so Arjuna has merely lost to himself in this fight.

Arjuna thus atones for his sins against Bhishma by dying at the hands of Babruvahana.

Why was Arjuna killed by Babruvahana?

Babruvahana kills Arjuna during a battle for the defence of Manipura. During Yudhishthir’s Ashwamedha, the sacrificial horse wanders into Manipura with Arjuna guarding it. As is the duty of the defending kingdom, Babruvahana meets his father in full battle gear. He defeats Arjuna and ultimately kills him.

Babruvahana’s first reaction at knowing that Arjuna has arrived in Manipura is to go out to the city gates with his priests to welcome his father. Arjuna, however, is not amused at this behaviour.

‘Are you a true Kshatriya, my son?’ he asks, quite harshly, when the prince extends his arms of welcome. ‘I have come following the sacred horse of Yudhishthir, and we have trespassed into your city. Is this how you have been taught to deal with unwelcome visitors to your land?’

While Babruvahana is weighing his options in the face of this unexpected speech from his father, another surprise visitor appears there. Ulupi, the other wife of Arjuna, springs out of the earth and addresses her step-son with the following words.

‘My name is Ulupi, O Baburavahana,’ she says, ‘and I am the daughter of the Naga king that rules the kingdom that lies west of here. Do not doubt whether or not you must fight your father today, for it is in the performing of your order’s dictates that you make yourself worthy.

‘Even if you have to clash weapons with your sire, you must do so. Do not, therefore, tarry any longer, Prince, and return to this field in your battle-gear.’

In the ensuing battle, Babruvahana not only defeats Arjuna but also kills him. Ulupi, however, is unfazed by this. She immediately revives her husband with the help of a herb and explains that she came there that day in order to bring Ganga’s curse on Arjuna to fruition.

It turns out that Ganga, when she comes to know how her son Bhishma has been defeated, flies into a fit of rage and curses Arjuna with death for the unjust way in which he fought Bhishma. Ulupi overhears this conversation and hastens to Manipura to make this event happen without any dire consequences.

Arjuna thus dies at the hands of his son.

Detailed Answer: Why was Arjuna killed by Babruvahana?

Why was Arjuna Drona’s favourite pupil?

Drona’s love for Arjuna can be traced back to two incidents: (1) When asked to shoot at the eye of a bird, Arjuna is the only one to focus upon it single-mindedly, and (2) Drona witnesses Arjuna practicing shooting arrows in the dark with the intention of honing his archer’s instincts. Because of Arjuna’s twin qualities of focus and dedication, he becomes Drona’s favourite.

In the first instance, Drona is shown conducting a routine target-shooting test with the Kuru princes. He points at a bird in a tree and asks his wards to step forward one by one.

As each prince comes up and settles into a shooting stance, Drona asks him a question: ‘What do you see?’

And the prince – invariably eager to please the teacher – goes into a lengthy description of all that he can see: the tree, the branch, the leaves, the sky and so on.

Each time Drona hears the answer, and commands the child to step back and rejoin the group. When Arjuna’s turn comes, his reply is: ‘I can see nothing but the eye of the bird, Acharya.’

This is clearly the answer that Drona is looking for. With a smile he gives Arjuna permission to shoot.

In the second instance, when Arjuna is eating dinner one day, a gust of wind blows off all the candles in the room and leaves it in pitch darkness. Arjuna continues to eat before realizing that his fingers knew exactly where to find his mouth.

Wondering if he can make shooting arrows in the dark a similarly instinctive habit, he begins to practicing in the dark. One such night, the twang of his bow awakens Drona, who comes out to investigate.

Drona is pleased with Arjuna’s dedication to archery. He embraces him and says, ‘I will make you the best archer in the world.’

From this time on, Arjuna becomes Drona’s favourite pupil.

Detailed Answer: Why was Arjuna Drona’s favourite pupil?

Why does Arjuna refuse to fight the Kauravas?

On the first day of the Kurukshetra war, Arjuna sees that among the warriors arrayed against him that morning are Bhishma, Kripa and Drona. He wonders if all the wealth in the world is worth acquiring if one needs to kill one’s grandfather and preceptors to get it. He tells Krishna that he does not wish to fight. He throws away his Gandiva.

‘Is it possible at all to derive pleasure from killing your grandfather, Krishna?’ asks Arjuna. ‘Is it possible to laugh while one’s preceptor succumbs to your arrows? No matter what the provocation, can it ever be acceptable that we have come here to kill the sons of our father’s brother? No. No!’

Saying so, Arjuna casts aside his bow and arrows to sit down in his chariot, his mind troubled with grief. This sets the stage for perhaps the most popular dialogue in Hinduism where Krishna advises Arjuna on life and how to derive meaning within it.

The gist of this conversation has later come to be collected in its own book-form and given the name, The Bhagavad Gita.

Krishna does not take the seemingly logical approach of reminding Arjuna again of all the wrongs committed by the sons of Dhritarashtra. Instead, he informs Arjuna of a few primary truths:

  • Everyone in the world is part of the same life force called Brahman. Life and death are natural phenomena. It is not up to Arjuna to mourn the future deaths of Bhishma and Drona, because Arjuna himself will one day die.
  • Do not be caught in binaries of pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow, life and death. Embrace the duty that your order has placed upon you. And that duty compels you to fight today.
  • Be attached to action itself, not to the consequences or the emotions that arise from it. Complete the work that has been assigned to you. Do it to the best of your ability.
  • The best state of mind is one of devotion to one’s duty. Perform your duty for its own sake, not in hope of rewards or in fear of punishments.

After Krishna gives this discourse, Arjuna picks up his bow and prepares to fight.

Why did Arjuna have to fight?

Arjuna has to fight in the Kurukshetra war because it is his duty to do so. He has made a vow to avenge Draupadi’s humiliation, and to avenge the unjust manner in which the Pandavas were tricked into losing their wealth. Krishna tells Arjuna that a man should be attached only to fulfilling his duty, not to its consequences.

If Arjuna chooses not to fight, we may ask the question, ‘What is the alternative?’ Consider this scenario:

The Pandavas withdraw from the battle because of Arjuna’s reluctance. They leave Indraprastha and Hastinapur to Duryodhana, and take up residence in – say – a kingdom like Matsya or Panchala. Over time, they may develop their new home into a power centre, and Yudhishthir may become a noteworthy king in a few years.

What happens then? Duryodhana will again seek them out for a battle. He may even make a few sinister plans to have the Pandavas killed by nefarious means.

Withdrawing from this battle, therefore, does not mean that the Pandava-Kaurava conflict will come to an end. It will continue until either Duryodhana dies or the Pandavas die.

If anything, the last-minute forfeiture by the Pandavas is likely to embolden Duryodhana into thinking that he can do anything. He has frightened his cousins into surrendering. That must mean only one thing: he is stronger than they are, and they know it.

These are all the practical implications of Arjuna relinquishing his weapons on the morning of the war. Krishna, however, speaks to him from a philosophical point of view: the main thrust of his argument is that Arjuna should surrender the idea of control over consequences and results.

Krishna advises Arjuna to be attached to action – action that needs to be taken to fulfil one’s duty – and not to consequences emerging from that action. And the only choice left for Arjuna is to fight.

Detailed Answer: Why did Arjuna have to fight the war?

Why does Arjuna hate Karna?

Arjuna hates Karna because of Karna’s active involvement in the abuse and humiliation of Draupadi during the dice game. Karna argues that Draupadi’s enslavement is valid, and that she is a prostitute for having married five men. He recommends that Draupadi should be publicly disrobed. For this, Arjuna vows to kill Karna.

Arjuna and Karna share a mutually fractious relationship throughout the story. Right from the beginning when Karna appears at the graduation ceremony and repeats all of Arjuna’s feats, the two are locked in a battle for supremacy.

Arjuna’s ambition is to become the best archer of all time. Karna keeps proving that he is Arjuna’s equal. One can understand Arjuna’s frustration at this.

Until the dice game, though, the enmity between Arjuna and Karna is purely professional. The Pandavas have not interacted with Karna for a period of twelve or so years, and they have become the most powerful men in the world.

It is at the dice game that Arjuna’s dislike for Karna turns into hate. Karna takes on the mantle of chief antagonist during this scene, and accuses Draupadi of being no better than a prostitute. He commands Duhsasana to disrobe Draupadi publicly and ‘show her her place.’

If Karna had not spoken up at all during this incident, it is likely that Draupadi would never have had to defend herself in so shameful a manner.

Arjuna therefore rightly concludes that Karna is the man most responsible for what has happened. So he takes a vow that he will kill Karna to avenge Draupadi’s humiliation. And he fulfils the vow fourteen years or so later in the Kurukshetra war.

Detailed Answer: Why does Arjuna hate Karna?

Why does Hanuman sit on Arjuna’s chariot?

Hanuman offers to sit on the mast of Arjuna’s chariot in order to imbue it with all his power and to assist the Pandavas in securing victory against the Kuru army. In the eleventh year of the Pandavas’ exile, Bhima meets Hanuman by accident in a mountain cave. Among other things, Hanuman promises Bhima that he will ascend Arjuna’s chariot.

Like Arjuna is humbled by Shiva during the acquisition of the Pashupatastra, Hanuman humbles Bhima during this scene by pretending to be an old monkey who cannot move his tail.

Bhima acts with arrogance with the old man and tries to kick the tail away. But it does not move. He then tries to lift it with all his might and fails. This gives him the realization that there is more to the monkey.

Hanuman reveals himself, cautions Bhima against pride, and assures him that the Pandavas will emerge victorious in the war against their cousins.

Hanuman also tells Bhima that he will perch upon Arjuna’s chariot’s mast and lend all of his energy to it so that it will be impossible to break it with any weapon.

It is not clear why Hanuman wishes to strengthen Arjuna’s chariot – which is pretty much invincible already with Agni and Krishna doing their bits – as opposed to Bhima’s chariot. Perhaps he thinks that Bhima does not need the help.

In any case, Arjuna thus receives help from another divine being – but this time he does nothing to earn it.

Why is Arjuna called Partha?

The word ‘Partha’ means ‘son of Pritha’. Pritha is the maiden name of Kunti, the name she is known by before her marriage to Pandu. In this sense, the first three Pandavas – and Karna – are all deserving of being called Partha. But in practice, only Arjuna is referred to by that name, most often by Krishna.

Nakula and Sahadeva are sometimes called ‘Madreyas’ to describe them as the ‘sons of Madri’. Another word that describes the first three Pandavas – and Karna – is ‘Kaunteya’, which means ‘son of Kunti’.

This practice of describing a character as an extension of his or her parents’ names is a common one in the Mahabharata universe. For instance:

  • Bhishma is called Gangeya (son of Ganga) and Shantanava (son of Shantanu).
  • The hundred Kaurava brothers are called Dhartarashtras (sons of Dhritarashtra).
  • Krishna’s name of Vasudeva (with the longer ‘a’ sound) describes him as the ‘son of Vasudeva’. This also applies equally to Balarama.
  • Karna is often called Radheya (son of Radha), though she is not his biological mother.
  • Yuyudhana is known as Satyaki (son of Satyaka) and as Saineya (grandson of Sini) and as a Varshneya (son of the Vrishni clan).
  • And so on…

As for why only Arjuna is known as Partha and not any of the other men who deserve the name equally, it is probably an acknowledgement by the story that Arjuna is the most prominent son of Pritha. He is the ‘chosen one’.

Also, the most popular conversation in the Mahabharata happens between Krishna and Arjuna during the Bhagavad Gita. Here, Krishna repeatedly addresses Arjuna as ‘Partha’.

This may have crystallized in public consciousness the idea that (only) Arjuna is Partha.

Why was Arjuna chosen by Krishna?

Krishna chooses Arjuna for two reasons: (1) As the incarnation of Narayana, he knows that Arjuna is the incarnation of Nara, and that they have together come to Earth to fight evil. (2) As the regent of Anarta, Krishna secures the safety of his kingdom by establishing a strong friendship with the strongest warrior of his age.

One can answer this question from two vantage points. First, if we buy into the theory that Arjuna and Krishna are the incarnations of the sages Nara and Narayana, and that Krishna knows that he is Narayana, then the friendship between them is inevitable.

As the person who knows their true identities, it becomes Krishna’s role to ‘court’ Arjuna and build a strong relationship with him. Also, it is understandable that they find so much in common with each other. Theirs is a bond that has endured over the ages.

On the other hand, if we wish to divorce the Mahabharata universe from incarnations and so on, even from a geopolitical angle, Krishna’s actions make perfect sense.

At the time of Arjuna’s visit to Dwaraka during his twelve-year exile, Anarta is already on friendly terms with Kuru owing to Balarama’s relationship with Duryodhana. Now, Krishna wishes to diversify Anarta’s alliances and forge a relationship with the Pandavas as well.

By being an ally of both the Pandavas and the Kauravas, Anarta can ensure that no matter who wins the family feud, its prospects will not suffer.

Krishna is already a good friend of the Pandavas by this point – he has helped Arjuna clear the Khandava forest, he has accepted the arghya at Yudhishthir’s Rajasuya – but he wishes to win the personal favour of the most powerful of the Pandavas: Arjuna.

So he offers him Subhadra’s hand in marriage.

Why was Arjuna invincible?

Arjuna was invincible because of four main reasons: (1) He was the most skilled archer in of his time, (2) He was blessed with many divine weapons that belonged to gods, (3) He was not burdened by responsibilities of a king, and (4) He enjoyed the numerous benefits that came with being the best friend of Krishna.

By the time of the beginning of the Kurukshetra war, Arjuna is indeed the most powerful warrior of the two sides. When asked to classify him as a ratha or an atiratha, Bhishma chooses to refrain from classifying Arjuna altogether, stating that he is in an unattainable class of his own.

At the beginning of the story, during his graduation as prince, Arjuna is merely the most skilled of the Kuru cousins. But as the story progresses, he gradually transforms into the world’s most powerful warrior.

How does this happen? A number of factors come together to propel him from promise to greatness. Namely:

  • He performs a number of quests for gods – the clearing of the Khandava forest, the killing of the Nivatakavachas and so on – and he is gifted several divine weapons as gifts. Examples include the Gandiva, two inexhaustible quivers, a chariot that cannot be damaged, and some destructive missiles like the Pashupatastra.
  • Because he is not a king and does not have to attend to a king’s responsibilities, Arjuna is able to continually work at his craft and hone it. He continues to improve as an archer without distractions.
  • He is undoubtedly blessed with skill and dedication, qualities that catch the eye of Dronacharya early on, who then makes it his mission to make Arjuna the best archer ever.
  • Last but not the least, Arjuna becomes the best friend of Krishna – and is fortunate enough to have Krishna serve as his charioteer during the war.

Despite all of this, Arjuna is only near invincible – not actually so. The only chink in his armour is that he does not have a counter to Karna’s Vasava dart.

This is why Krishna tries his best to bribe Karna into fighting for the Pandavas, and later sacrifices Ghatotkacha to Karna’s deadly missile in order to protect Arjuna.

Once Karna is deprived of the Vasava – which happens on the night of the fourteenth day – Arjuna becomes truly invincible.

Detailed Answer: Why was Arjuna Invincible?

Was Arjuna arrogant?

Arjuna was not an arrogant man in general. But he was proud of his status as the world’s best archer, and by extension, the world’s most powerful hero. He gives several subtle indications of this pride, not least when he reacts with anger against Yudhishthir for suggesting that the Gandiva should be taken away from him.

The only time Arjuna is plagued by self-doubt is at the very beginning of the war, and the reason for his ambivalence is psychological: he does not wish to fight his kinsmen out of greed for wealth.

Not once in the entire story does Arjuna ever doubt his own prowess when a battle is imminent. He is always confident. He never once flees or forfeits. He never loses a single duel – hence his title ‘Vijaya’.

(He does pass Drona on the fourteenth day of battle because he is in a hurry to get to Jayadratha. This is entirely different to fleeing out of fear. Also, he does lose one battle in his life – against Babruvahana.)

On the seventeenth day of the war, Yudhishthir suggests in frustration that Arjuna is not performing to his potential. ‘If you give away the Gandiva to a worthier man, perhaps he will win the war for us,’ he says.

In reply, Arjuna is so consumed by rage that he raises his sword as if to strike Yudhishthir down.

At the end of the story, when the Pandavas and Draupadi try to scale Mount Sumeru in their mortal bodies, Arjuna falls to his death in order to atone for this pride that he had never been able to conquer.

Was Arjuna a womanizer?

Arjuna certainly has the most number of wives – four – of all the Pandava brothers. By that metric alone, one may conclude that Arjuna is the most profligate womanizer of the five. Also, owing to his stature as warrior and his handsomeness, he often attracts the attention of maidens and their fathers.

Of the five Pandavas, it is Nakula is who is said to be the handsomest, but being fair of face is not the only criterion that makes a man desirable to a woman.

Time and again, we see Arjuna being sought after specifically by either women or by male relatives of unmarried women eager to forge an alliance with the Pandavas. Here are a few examples:

  • Drupada, in setting up Draupadi’s swayamvara, does so with the express intention of ensuring that no one but Arjuna wins his daughter’s hand. His most fervent desire is to cultivate a friendship with the Pandavas, and he sees Arjuna as a way in.
  • During his twelve-year exile, Arjuna gets propositioned by Ulupi, a Naga princess. In their conversation, it becomes apparent that Ulupi has recognized Arjuna from the stories she had heard of him.
  • With Subhadra, Krishna asks Arjuna to abduct his sister so that they may be married at a later date.
  • During his stay in Amaravati, Arjuna gets propositioned by Urvasi, one of Indra’s celestial dancers. Urvasi does not want children or marriage; she merely wishes to make love to him. By this we can deduce that Arjuna is an attractive man in his own right, irrespective of whether or not he is a Pandava.
  • At the end of the Virata Parva, Virata offers his daughter Uttara’s hand in marriage to Arjuna.

Though he is often seen to be on the receiving end of female attention, Arjuna displays considerable restraint and judiciousness in whether or not he says yes. In the case of Urvasi, he rejects her on the basis that she is his ancestress, and for that earns a curse from her to become a eunuch.

He rejects Uttara as well saying that it would be improper to marry a maiden who had been his student for a year. He then proposes that she should marry Abhimanyu instead.

All of this suggests that while Arjuna is a desirable man and enjoys the company of women, he is also not decadent in his choices like a womanizer – like Indra, his father – would have been.

Was Arjuna the best archer?

When he is young, Arjuna is the best archer among all the Kuru princes. Two other men display comparable amounts of skill to him. One is Karna, who appears at the graduation ceremony and repeats all of Arjuna’s feats. The other is Ekalavya, a Nishada prince who learns archery on his own and surpasses Arjuna.

Being a good archer and being a good warrior in battle aren’t always the same. While all good warriors are necessarily good archers, not all good archers are necessarily good warriors.

Fighting in a battle requires more skills than those that go into making a good archer. These may include strategic nous, an ability to learn the right lessons from past experiences, and an ability to improvise on the spot.

Also, many uncontrollable factors go into whether you win on the battlefield or not: chiefly, it is important to fight with the right people, in the right environment, with the right weapons.

With Karna and Ekalavya, we only know that they are as skilled as Arjuna is only to the extent of archery. In the case of Ekalavya, Drona sees to it that the boy never competes with Arjuna even on that front.

As he grows into youth and then into adulthood, Arjuna becomes a better archer, yes, but more importantly he becomes a powerful warrior. He gets given weapons that make him invincible. He fights with Krishna as his charioteer, and he is supported in most battles ably by Bhimasena – himself a great atiratha.

One may conclude, therefore, that Arjuna is only one of the greatest archers of his time (the others being Karna and Ekalavya, as far as we know), but he is the most powerful warrior of his time because of all the other factors that work in his favour.

Detailed Answer: Was Arjuna the best archer?

Who was Arjuna’s favourite son?

Arjuna does not explicitly state which one of his four sons is his favourite. But when Iravan dies in the Mahabharata war, his reaction is far more muted to how he mourns over Abhimanyu. As for Babruvahana, his contact with his father is minimal. This may be enough to conclude that Arjuna’s favourite son was Abhimanyu.

A few other points of evidence to support this view:

  • Arjuna does not seem to have much of a connection with Shrutakarma, the son he has with Draupadi. They hardly ever speak a word to or about each other. When Shrutakarma dies at the end, there is barely a mention of Arjuna’s reaction.
  • Arjuna teaches Abhimanyu – but not Iravan – the art of entering the Chakravyuha. This may be just a matter of access; Iravan lives with his mother Ulupi whereas Abhimanyu is in Dwaraka. But it may also point to favouritism.
  • Of the four wives that Arjuna takes – Draupadi, Ulupi, Chitrangada and Subhadra – it is often assumed that Subhadra is his favourite. She is the only one among his wives who is both exclusively his and also lives with him. Therefore it stands to reason that the son she bears him becomes his favourite.
  • Abhimanyu and Subhadra strengthen the relationship that Arjuna has with Krishna, and anything that pulls him closer to Krishna is right up Arjuna’s alley.
  • Of the three sons, it appears that Babruvahana is in fact the best warrior: indeed, he defeats and kills Arjuna in battle after the Kurukshetra war has ended. So Arjuna’s love for Abhimanyu has little to do with his abilities as a hero.
  • When Iravan dies in the war, we’re told that Arjuna sheds a few tears. But when Abhimanyu dies, Arjuna takes a vow to kill the man most responsible for his son’s death, despite the fact that none of the deaths in the war are personal.

From all of the above, we can safely say that Arjuna’s favourite son is Abhimanyu.

Detailed Answer: Who was Arjuna’s Favourite Son?

Was Arjuna happy to share Draupadi?

Before it is decided that Draupadi is to marry all five Pandavas, Yudhishthir asks Arjuna for advice in the matter. Arjuna replies, ‘You are our elder brother. I am certain your decision will be proper.’ Even after the wedding, Arjuna does not ever appear unhappy to share Draupadi. However, he would not be human if he did not carry some resentment.

Some modern storytellers have characterized the Arjuna-Yudhishthir-Draupadi situation as a triangle of love and deceit. In it, Yudhishthir is the lustful antagonist who concocts a shady plan to snatch Draupadi for himself. Arjuna and Draupadi are painted as the couple in love.

In reality, the decision to make Draupadi the common wife for all the Pandavas is ratified by several elders: Vyasa and Drupada to name a couple. The reasons behind it are sound – if Draupadi marries any one of the brothers, he is certain to become the target of envy from the other four. This envy would almost certainly, over time, degrade into violence.

Arjuna understands this situation. He does not voice any objections to the proposal of sharing Draupadi, nor does he betray any dissatisfaction.

Like a dutiful younger brother, he submits willingly to his older brother’s – and Vyasa’s – suggestions.

But considering that Arjuna is human, and also only a young man of perhaps seventeen at the time, he would have certainly carried some disappointment in his heart. It is I who won Draupadi, he may have thought. Why should I share her with the others?

Detailed Answer: Was Arjuna happy to share Draupadi?

Was Arjuna a maharatha?

When Duryodhana asks Bhishma to classify Arjuna as either a ratha or an atiratha (a synonym for maharatha), Bhishma refrains from doing so. He says that Arjuna cannot be classified, that he is in an exalted league of his own that is higher than an atiratha.

There are two classes of warriors in the Mahabharata universe: rathas and atirathas.

(The word ‘ratha’ means ‘chariot’. In this context, a ‘ratha’ is a great chariot-warrior. An atiratha is considered to be equal in skill and power to eight rathas.)

Before the war begins, Duryodhana attempts to quantify the number of rathas and atirathas in both armies so as to judge their relative strengths. Bhishma first rates the Kaurava army and then comes to the Pandavas.

When faced with the prospect of putting Arjuna in one of the two baskets, Bhishma refuses to so, claiming that Arjuna has become so powerful over the years that he is now significantly powerful than even an atiratha.

Bhishma cites Arjuna as being ‘impossible to classify’, and implies that he is in a league of his own.

Detailed Answer: Was Arjuna a Maharatha?

Was Arjuna more powerful than Bhishma?

Arjuna is more powerful than every other warrior that fights in the Kurukshetra war. However, Arjuna places on himself a restriction that he must not use any of his most powerful divine weapons – like the Pashupatastra. With this caveat in place, and with Arjuna’s hesitation in hurting Bhishma, the two warriors are about equally matched.

Arjuna is more powerful than Bhishma if one takes a ‘hard accounting’ approach to their relative strengths. Arjuna has the Gandiva, the inexhaustible quivers, the indestructible chariot, the constant support of Krishna, and a whole array of divine weapons capable of finishing the war in a mere blink of an eye.

Bhishma also has access to several divine weapons, but none of them are as strong as Arjuna’s. He is the son of a celestial like Arjuna is, but Arjuna’s father is Indra, a much more powerful entity than Bhishma’s mother Ganga.

On Bhishma’s side is experience and wisdom, and perhaps a more deeply hewn strategic sense of battle, but that is counterbalanced by Krishna’s presence in Arjuna’s chariot.

Given all of this, a fight to the finish between Arjuna and Bhishma should always end with the former winning. But in this war, Arjuna decides to not use any of his upper-tier divine weapons – like the Pashupatastra.

His intention is to fight with earthly weapons for as long as possible, and to use the divine weapons only if a desperate moment arises.

Also, Arjuna is constantly pulling himself back against Bhishma, because he is his grandfather. Only on the tenth day, with Krishna’s constant goading and with Shikhandi acting as his shield, Arjuna lets go of himself a little bit.

Due to all of these factors, Arjuna and Bhishma are about equally matched in the battle of Kurukshetra.

Was Arjuna stronger than Bhima?

Bhima is physically the strongest of the Pandavas. He is also the best all-round warrior among the five brothers, as judged by Bhishma. Arjuna far outranks him in skill with bow and arrow, but with Bhima’s abilities with the mace and his bare hands, in a general sense Bhima is more powerful than Arjuna.

Arjuna and Bhima never fight each other, so we do not know for sure who is the stronger of the two. One assessment we can make for sure is that if they fight each other on chariots with bows and arrows, Arjuna will definitely win.

This is irrespective of where they fight and who their charioteers are. Arjuna is simply miles ahead of Bhima as an archer.

That does not mean, of course, that Bhima is useless while fighting from a chariot. He is often able to improvise mid-battle enough to surprise his opponents. In the war, he secures important victories against Karna and Drona by mixing up various styles of fighting.

Whereas with Arjuna you will get relentless and sustained pressure with arrows of different kinds, Bhima will keep you on your toes. He might hurl a scimitar or lance at you, or he might leap off his chariot and advance at you with a mace. Or he may pound your horses to death with his bare hands.

If the hypothetical battle between Arjuna and Bhima occurs on foot or with weapons that are more combat-based, like maces or swords, Bhima will certainly win.

Detailed Answer: Was Arjuna stronger than Bhima?

Was Arjuna son of Indra?

In the Mahabharata, Arjuna is described as the son of Indra. When he is born, a divine voice proclaims that he will become the greatest archer the world has ever seen. However, alternate retellings of the story have speculated that the Pandavas – including Arjuna – are fathered by sages at Gandhamadana to help Pandu and his wives produce heirs.

The process of a Brahmin being summoned to father children with a queen when the king is dead (or impotent) is rather common in the Mahabharata universe. It is given the name of niyoga.

For instance, when Vichitraveerya dies childless, Vyasa performs niyoga with Ambika and Ambalika to give birth to Pandu and Dhritarashtra.

Children born as a result of this process are considered to be the progeny of the legal father, not the biological one. So Pandu and Dhritarashtra are never considered Vyasa’s children. They’re known as the sons of Vichitraveerya.

Now, the question is this: who are the men with whom Kunti and Madri performed their respective niyogas during their stay at the Gandhamadana? The official version of the story states that gods were summoned with the help of Kunti’s magic.

But alternate theorists propose that in a ‘realistic’ world, Kunti and Madri would have had children with the help of sages present at the hermitage in the mountains. And to the world they would have lied that their children were sons of gods.

Similarly, Kunti’s firstborn – according to this theory – is actually not the son of the Sun god but of Durvasa the sage, or another lover of Kunti’s whose identity we do not know.

Detailed Answer: Was Arjuna son of Indra?

How did Arjuna kill Bhishma?

Arjuna defeats Bhishma by shooting at him from behind Shikhandi. Bhishma has a moral scruple against fighting Shikhandi because the Panchala prince was born a woman. Knowing this, on the tenth day of the war, the Pandavas place Shikhandi is at the forefront facing Bhishma. Bhishma falls to Arjuna’s arrows and dies after the war is finished.

Shikhandi is born as a girl named Shikhandini, and when she is in her youth, exchanges genders with a Yaksha and becomes a man. Bhishma suspects that the girl who took birth in Drupada’s house under the name of Shikhandini is none other than Amba, the princess who had vowed revenge on him all those years ago.

(How Bhishma makes this connection between Amba and Shikhandi is not explained. He does mention offhandedly, though, that he had spies closely following Amba throughout her life.)

The story is that Amba tries to regain her lost status by convincing Bhishma to marry her. When he refuses, she goes into the forest and calls upon Lord Shiva for help. Shiva tells her that she will kill Bhishma in her next life.

Keen for that next life to arrive immediately, Amba consigns herself to flames. She takes birth in Drupada’s palace and is given the name Shikhandini.

In the way, therefore, Bhishma has a self-imposed rule that he must not fight against Shikhandi. Knowing this, on the tenth day of the war, the Pandavas ensure that Shikhandi and Arjuna together fight Bhishma.

Arjuna stations himself behind Shikhandi, and the both of them shoot arrows at Bhishma. Bhishma refuses to fight, and before long he falls to the ground propped up by the arrows sticking out of his body.

He does not die, though. He has a boon that he can choose the moment of his death. He watches the entire war and dies only after it is finished, and after he has given Yudhishthir a lengthy discourse on how to rule.

Detailed Answer: How did Arjuna kill Bhishma?

How did Arjuna and Krishna meet?

Arjuna and Krishna meet for the first time at Draupadi’s swayamvara. Krishna arrives at the swayamvara intending to watch proceedings, and Arjuna arrives there with his brothers intending to participate and win the hand of the bride. Krishna and Balarama follow the Pandavas back to their hut and introduce themselves.

Arjuna and Krishna are together at the same place for the first time at Draupadi’s swayamvara. Arjuna does not know or see Krishna, but Krishna points out the five Brahmins to Balarama and remarks that they look like the sons of Kunti.

This is Krishna and Balarama’s first public appearance in one of the northern kingdoms. Thus far, they have been busily building their own kingdom in Anarta, fighting off raids and conquests from the likes of Jarasandha (of Magadha) and Damaghosha (of Chedi).

After Arjuna wins Draupadi, and after Bhima and Arjuna defeat Shalya and Karna respectively, the Pandavas take their new ‘acquisition’ and head back home. Krishna and Balarama follow them.

Back in the hut, before the topic of what to do with Draupadi is earnestly discussed, Krishna and Balarama introduce themselves to their cousins, pay their respects to Kunti, and leave immediately.

This is the first time that Krishna and Balarama exchange pleasantries with the Pandavas, Draupadi and Kunti.

Detailed Answer: How did Arjuna and Krishna meet?

Where was Arjuna during chakravyuha?

During the thirteenth day of the Kurukshetra war, Arjuna is busy fighting the Samshaptakas. These are soldiers belonging to the kingdom of Trigarta, employed specifically by the Kauravas to keep Arjuna occupied so that Drona can fulfil his promise to Duryodhana of killing at least one Pandava atiratha.

Drona takes over as commander of the Kuru troops at the beginning of Day 11, after the fall of Bhishma. Drona promises Duryodhana to capture Yudhishthir, but both on the eleventh and twelfth days, Arjuna rescues his elder brother from the preceptor’s plans.

For the thirteenth day, Drona promises an exasperated Duryodhana that he will at all costs kill at least on Pandava atiratha by sundown.

His only condition? Keep Arjuna busy and away from the main battle area.

In order to facilitate this, the Trigartan soldiers fighting under King Susharma take an oath that they will fight to the death against Arjuna. This gives them the name of ‘Samshaptakas’ (‘those who have vowed to conquer or die’).

The Samshaptakas lure Arjuna away to one edge of the battlefield and keep him there all day. Using this opportunity, Drona arranges the Kuru forces in the Chakravyuha, a formation that only Krishna and Arjuna in the Pandava army know how to break.

However, Abhimanyu knows how to enter the array. Yudhishthir gives him the task of doing so, promising that Bhima and Satyaki will follow close on his heels. But Jayadratha prevents this, and Abhimanyu ends up dying.

Drona thus fulfils his promise of killing a Pandava atiratha.

Detailed Answer: Where was Arjuna during Chakravyuha?

How did Arjuna get the Gandiva?

Arjuna receives the Gandiva from Agni, the god of fire, during the burning of the Khandava forest. He also receives two inexhaustible quivers and Agni’s chariot as gifts. Agni gives Krishna the Sudarshana Chakra and a mace called Kaumodaki. Arjuna and Krishna then help Agni in destroying the Khandava.

The story behind the Khandava Dahana Parva is that once upon a time, Agni – owing to a long sacrifice conducted by a king called Swetaki – develops a case of indigestion. When he approaches Brahma for help, the grandsire advises Agni to devour the Khandava forest with all its resident animals and birds.

Agni tries to do this, but living inside the Khandava is the Naga king Takshaka along with his wives and sons. Since Takshaka is a friend of Indra’s, each time Agni tries to burn the forest, Indra intervenes and rains upon it.

In desperation, Agni approaches Krishna and Arjuna to stand guard and ensure that there are no interruptions while he attends to his task. In return, he gives Krishna and Arjuna plenty of divine weapons.

This is where Arjuna procures his Gandiva, his two inexhaustible quivers of arrows, and the indestructible chariot.

Arjuna and Krishna, after receiving their weapons, allow Agni to devour the Khandava forest completely. When Indra appears with an army, Krishna and Arjuna fight him and drive him away.

In the land that is reclaimed from this act, the Pandavas build for themselves the city of Indraprastha.

Detailed Answer: How did Arjuna get the Gandiva?

How did Arjuna get the Pashupatastra?

Arjuna receives the Pashupatastra from Lord Shiva during the first year of the Pandavas’ exile. Arjuna sets out on a quest to acquire divine weapons from the gods in order to become powerful enough to defeat Bhishma and Drona. The Pashupatastra is the first of these weapons, and he gets it after Shiva humbles him in the garb of a hunter.

At about the same time that Arjuna is praying to Shiva, an Asura called Muka disguises himself as a wild boar with the intention of killing Arjuna. As the boar is charging at the prince, he interrupts his worship to pick up the bow and shoot at the beast one well-aimed arrow.

But two arrows strike the boar on the side, and it falls to its death. One of them is Arjuna’s. The other belongs to a hunter who steps into the clearing accompanied by his wife.

He tells the prince, ‘You have ventured into my part of the woods, O Brahmin. And the beast you shot at was first felled by my arrow. The meat is therefore mine.’

‘I have no need for food, O Hunter,’ Arjuna says, ‘for I have long given up food for the worship of my lord. But your arrogance astounds me. Do you know who you speak to?

‘I am the brother of King Yudhishthir, who is the emperor of all the lands you have never heard of. Just to teach you a lesson I will fight you and take that pig’s carcass for myself.’

The smiling hunter does not rise to the bait, but he does not remove his foot from the side of the dead boar either. ‘I would like to see you try, O Prince,’ he says.

In the resulting battle, Arjuna is unable to defeat the hunter despite his best efforts. Even the Gandiva misses its mark repeatedly.

At the end, Arjuna realizes that something is not right, and just as he is about to piece things together, Shiva shows him his true form, and grants him the use of the Pashupatastra.

Detailed Answer: How did Arjuna get the Pashupatastra?

How old was Arjuna when he died?

Arjuna is eighty four years old when he dies. This takes into account certain assumptions about stretches of time that the Mahabharata does not explicitly measure. Regardless, it is a safe estimate to say that Arjuna is between eighty and ninety years old at the end of his life.

Here is a quick timeline of Arjuna’s life from marriage to death. Please note that I am making certain assumptions about how long each of the interludes in the story last.

  • Assumption: Arjuna is eighteen when he gets married to Draupadi.
  • Assumption: Arjuna leaves on his twelve-year exile in the first year of Yudhishthir’s reign. By the time he returns, he is thirty.
  • Arjuna and Draupadi have their son, Shrutakarma, the following year. Arjuna is thirty one.
  • Assumption: the Pandavas take two years to build Indraprastha and to conquer the world. Arjuna is thirty three when Yudhishthir becomes emperor of Indraprastha.
  • Assumption: Draupadi’s disrobing happens the same year. So at the beginning of the Pandavas’ exile, Arjuna is thirty three.
  • Since the exile is thirteen years long, Arjuna is forty six years old by the time of Abhimanyu’s wedding to Uttara.
  • Assumption: the war of Kurukshetra happens the following year, when Arjuna is forty seven.
  • After the Kurukshetra war ends, Yudhishthir rules for a period of thirty six years before giving up the throne and setting out on a ‘final journey’. Arjuna is therefore eighty three years old at this point.
  • Assumption: the Pandavas and Draupadi take a year to circumnavigate the subcontinent. At the time of their arrival at the base of Mount Sumeru, Arjuna is eighty four years old.

The above is only a ‘reasonable’ (according to me) timeline of events. Another reader may insert different numbers into the equation and come up with slightly altered answers.

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