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.
In this post, we will answer the question: 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.
Read on to discover more about how Arjuna and Krishna met.
(For answers to all Arjuna-related questions, see Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Krishna and Balarama are the sons of Vasudeva. (Krishna is born to Devaki while Balarama is born to Rohini, another wife of Vasudeva’s.) Vasudeva is the son of King Shurasena, who rules over the kingdom Shurasena.
Shurasena also has two other daughters. One is Srutashrava, who grows up and marries King Damaghosha of Chedi. With him she gives birth to Shishupala who later allies with Jarasandha and against Krishna.
The other daughter of Shurasena that plays a prominent role in the Mahabharata is Pritha. She is given up very early on for fostering at the court of King Kuntibhoja. After her marriage to Pandu of Hastinapur, Pritha comes to be commonly addressed as Kunti.
Arjuna is therefore Krishna’s (and Balarama’s) father’s sister’s son. They are first cousins.
Did they meet as children?
If Krishna had had a traditional upbringing, he and the Pandavas would have been occasional playmates as children. Although Kunti would have spent much of her time in Hastinapur, it is not inconceivable that she would visit Shurasena now and then.
But Krishna takes birth among extremely tumultuous times for Vasudeva. Both Krishna and Balarama are given up for fostering in secret at a far-flung settlement of cowherds called Vrindavan.
Krishna bursts into prominence as a fourteen (or thereabouts) year old boy when he overthrows Kamsa of Mathura and helps Vasudeva annex it to Shurasena. This sets up a long-standing feud with Jarasandha, in which the two boys become embroiled for the next several years.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 15: The Rajasuya.)
Jarasandha is the ruler of Magadha, and is hell-bent on taking Mathura back. Krishna and Balarama try to ward him off, but after a number of bruising battles, they decide that it is time to migrate westward to the seashore.
Here, they build a city called Dwaraka on the oceanfront. They also unite a number of Vrishni tribes to found a kingdom called Anarta.
By the time all of this is done, Krishna is around twenty years old. The Pandavas, for their part, have already had a number of adventures and are currently living in disguise in the town of Ekachakra.
Krishna and Arjuna see each other for the first time at Draupadi’s swayamvara. There is no indication that Arjuna recognizes his cousin, but Krishna does. He points out to Balarama that the ‘disguised Brahmins look a lot like the Pandavas’.
We must pause and note here that both Arjuna and Krishna know of each other: each knows that the other exists. They have just not had an opportunity to see one another in the flesh.
Krishna watches from the sidelines as Arjuna wins Draupadi’s hand. He also speaks to Draupadi’s defeated suitors and soothes their feelings after Arjuna and Bhima takes Draupadi away to their hut.
Krishna and Balarama now follow the Pandavas back to their house, and here they introduce themselves to their aunt and their cousins. This is also, by all accounts, the first time Kunti is meeting her nephews – and the first time Krishna and Draupadi are meeting.
This is a short meeting – Krishna and Balarama leave immediately after the introductions are done. The story then focuses on details regarding Draupadi’s marriage to the Pandavas.
Immediately after Draupadi’s marriage, Arjuna leaves on a twelve-year exile. There is no record of Arjuna and Krishna meeting in this interim period, though it is likely that they maintained cordial relations with each other.
Their association develops into friendship toward the end of Arjuna’s exile, when he visits Dwaraka as part of his circumnavigation around the subcontinent. Here, Krishna hosts him, and the two of them spend a significant amount of time in each other’s company.
Perhaps as a result of this closeness, Krishna suggests that Arjuna should marry Subhadra, thus strengthening even further the alliance between Anarta and the Pandavas.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 14: Exile of Arjuna.)
(A point to note here is that Krishna does not seek an alliance with the Pandavas in general; otherwise he would have recommended that Subhadra marry Yudhishthir. The fact that he goes after Arjuna means that he wishes to build a personal relationship with the third Pandava specifically.)
After marriage to Subhadra, Arjuna continues to live in Dwaraka for a year, until his exile is finished.
The next time we see Arjuna and Krishna in action together, it is shortly after Arjuna has returned to Khandavaprastha.
(For these twelve years, Yudhishthir has been ruling his half of Hastinapur from Khandavaprastha. We’re not told much about the details concerning his rule, though the unsaid assumption is that he is a just and wise king.)
Arjuna and Krishna then team up to help Agni burn down the forest of Khandava. Agni does this in order to cure himself of indigestion caused by the many sacrifices performed by King Swetaki.
While Agni is devouring Khandava, Krishna and Arjuna guard the forest so that none of the animals residing in it can escape, and also to defend it from Indra – who is keen on interrupting Agni and saving his best friend Takshaka.
During this battle, Arjuna is given a number of divine gifts – the Gandiva among them. It is also at this time that Krishna earns the Sudarshana Chakra for himself.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 13: Massacre at Khandava.)
Arjuna and Krishna are repeatedly referred to by other characters as the incarnation of two sages – Nara and Narayana. Their abode is a place called Vadari, a small glade tucked away out of sight somewhere in the northern mountains.
During their exile, the Pandavas journey up north in the company of sages, and they hear the story of how Nara and Narayana took birth on Earth in order to destroy the evil that has begun to run rampant.
Arjuna also has numerous quests to fulfil during the first five years of the exile. He wins the Pashupatastra from Shiva, and then he goes to Amaravati to perform a few heroic tasks for his father Indra.
After his return, the Pandavas live for a long time in Kailasa, under Kubera’s hospitality. All this while, therefore, Arjuna’s contact with Krishna is minimal.
Just before the beginning of the thirteenth year, Krishna and Satyabhama visit the Pandavas in the forest for a short while.
A Test for Arjuna?
While the battle lines are being drawn, Anarta finds itself in a quandary: on the one hand Krishna is very friendly toward Arjuna and the Pandavas. On the other, Balarama likes Duryodhana and has maintained friendly relations with him through his reign.
Duryodhana and Arjuna together come to ask Krishna for help in the war. Krishna divides his support into two portions: himself as one and the Narayana Sena (his army of cowherds) as the other.
He says, ‘One of you will get all of my army and one of you will get me. But bear in mind that I will not touch a weapon.’
The choice is given first to Arjuna. It is not explicitly stated this way, but this can be seen as a subtle test that Krishna is giving Arjuna. He wishes to see whether Arjuna will repay all the trust he has placed in him over the years.
It turns out that he does. Arjuna chooses Krishna over his army, even though he knows that the Pandava army is significantly smaller and could use the extra numbers.
This incident solidifies the Krishna-Arjuna friendship even more.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 32: Krishna Becomes Charioteer.)
During the War
Krishna becomes an indefatigable source of support and guidance for Arjuna during the war. Here are a few ways in which he helps:
- At the very beginning of the battle, with Arjuna disheartened and ridden with despair at the prospect of fighting his kinsmen, Krishna rouses him with a monologue on duty. This has become the Bhagavad Gita.
- Krishna plays an important role in the defeat of Bhishma, urging Arjuna on to take on the grandsire by any means necessary.
- On the fourteenth day, with Arjuna racing the setting sun in pursuit of Jayadratha, it is Krishna who gives him pointed advice on how to kill the Saindhava king.
- Krishna saves Arjuna’s life during the final battle against Karna. Later, when Karna begs Arjuna for some time so that he could attend to his chariot wheel, Krishna flatly orders him to shoot at Karna and kill him.
- Krishna plays an important role in the punishment of Ashwatthama, and in the eventual resurrection of Parikshit in the womb of Subhadra.
After the war
During the events of the Mausala Parva, with Gandhari’s curse striking the Yadava race and with Dwaraka sinking into the sea, Krishna takes Arjuna’s help in taking some survivors back to Hastinapur.
There is no final meeting of goodbye between the friends. By the time Arjuna receives Krishna’s message and hastens to arrive in Dwaraka, Krishna and Balarama have already died.
Arjuna meets Vasudeva in his final moments, who requests the Pandava to take the women of Dwaraka to safety.
Arjuna tries to do this, but on their way back, the royal retinue is attacked by robbers. Arjuna finds that he is no longer the archer he once was. But he does bring back a small number of citizens, and gives them a new home in Hastinapur.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 59: Krishna and the Yadavas Die.)
Krishna and Arjuna therefore enjoy a close and loving friendship for more than sixty years. They first meet during Draupadi’s swayamvara, and they perform various great deeds together – not least of which is winning the Mahabharata war for the rightful king Yudhishthir.
After Yudhishthir reaches heaven, he sees Arjuna and Krishna seated next to one another in Indra’s hall.
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