Krishna is considered by many as the hero of the Mahabharata. He is the eighth son of Devaki, the princess of Mathura, and Vasudeva, the prince of Shurasena.
Krishna is raised in a cowherd settlement in Vrindavan for the first fifteen years of his life. Later, along with Balarama, he founds the seashore city of Dwaraka and builds a kingdom for the Yadavas – named Anarta.
He enters the Mahabharata story at Draupadi’s swayamvara, and quickly establishes friendly relations with the Pandavas – in particular with Arjuna. This friendship lasts all the way to the Kurukshetra war and beyond.
In this post, we will answer the question: How did Krishna and Arjuna become friends?
Though Arjuna and Krishna meet for the first time at Draupadi’s swayamvara, they do not become friends until Arjuna pays Dwaraka a visit toward the end of his twelve-year exile. During this meeting, the two heroes spend enough time together for friendship to bloom. Krishna solidifies this bond by giving his sister Subhadra in marriage to Arjuna.
Read on to discover more about how Krishna and Arjuna became friends.
(For answers to all Krishna-related questions, see Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Krishna sees Arjuna for the first time at Draupadi’s swayamvara. Though the Pandavas are disguised as Brahmins and take care to sit in the Brahmins’ enclosure, Krishna recognizes them and points them out to Balarama.
Krishna watches Arjuna shoot the revolving fish in the eye to win Draupadi’s hand. Then he sees the extent of Arjuna’s prowess with bow and arrow when the Pandava clashes in a personal challenge with Karna.
At the same event, Bhima also wins a mace duel against Shalya. Witnessing these acts of strength from the two Pandavas, Krishna begins to formulate in his mind an alliance that may form between Anarta and the sons of Pandu.
This alliance will need to be separate from the official Kuru-Anarta relationship, because after all, the Pandavas and the Kuru establishment are already at odds with one another.
The first time Krishna and Arjuna speak to one another is at the Pandavas’ hut, where they take their new bride Draupadi after winning her. Krishna and Balarama follow them back home, interrupt them for a few minutes, and introduce themselves.
Nothing of great importance is said during this first meeting. But Krishna has seen enough to know that he wants to cultivate friendship with the Pandavas.
(Suggested: What Happens during Draupadi’s Swayamvara?)
It is not until the end of Arjuna’s twelve-year exile – when the Pandava visits Krishna in Dwaraka – that the friendship between the two men takes off.
Krishna hosts Arjuna at a natural reserve – called Prabhasa – on the outskirts of Dwaraka. Here he spends a few days one-on-one with his guest, observing him, talking to him, ascertaining his ambitions and so on.
At this time, Yudhishthir is still under the wing of Dhritarashtra, ruling in a small capacity from Khandavaprastha. He does not have much of a standing in the world: everyone thinks of him as a king who has just inherited part of his father’s kingdom.
Arjuna probably tells Krishna about how Yudhishthir wishes to one day become the emperor of the world. Krishna’s intention to deepen the Anarta-Pandava bond becomes stronger.
Marriage to Subhadra
Toward the end of Arjuna’s stay in Dwaraka, Krishna offers him Subhadra in marriage. A couple of points to note about this proposition:
- Krishna has no intentions of signalling a competitive interest in the actual throne of Yudhishthir. Otherwise, he would have offered Subhadra as wife to Yudhishthir. This would have set up Anarta as possible rival to Panchala.
- His wish is to pursue a friendship with Arjuna – whom he rightly sees as the most powerful of the five brothers – and use it to exert influence upon the rest of the Pandavas.
- This is an unofficial friendship. Arjuna is already married three times by now, so Subhadra’s political rights are almost non-existent. This will be seen as entirely non-threatening by the likes of Kuru, with whom Anarta wishes to maintain friendly official relations.
Krishna’s strategy, therefore, is two-fold. He wishes the official Anarta policy to be friendly toward the Kurus, but he also wants to unofficially develop close ties with the Pandavas.
And his gateway to building a relationship with the Pandavas is Arjuna.
(Suggested: Why did Arjuna marry Subhadra?)
Khandava and Rajasuya
Soon after the marriage of Subhadra, Krishna helps Arjuna level the forest of Khandava. He oversees the building of the great hall for Yudhishthir. Then, with the help of Arjuna and Bhima, orchestrates the killing of Jarasandha.
This death of Jarasandha is often described in perfunctory terms in the Mahabharata, but it is a significant event in Krishna’s life. It represents victory over a long-term foe who had repeatedly defeated him.
The fact that Krishna uses Arjuna and Bhima as tools to defeat Jarasandha should suggest to the reader that the relationship between them is a symbiotic one.
(Though Krishna frames the death of Jarasandha as necessary for Yudhishthir to become emperor, we must note that he does not pursue any other diplomatic means to secure the Magadha king’s support. The only option, he says, is to kill him.)
At the Rajasuya, Krishna kills Shishupala and eliminates all sources of antagonism among the middle kingdoms. Magadha, Chedi and Mathura all come under Yudhishthir’s grasp.
All of these events strengthen the friendship between Krishna and Arjuna.
During the Pandavas’ exile, Krishna remains almost entirely off-screen. He is carrying out his administrative duties as regent of Anarta, and is maintaining healthy friendships with all the kingdoms on the map – including Kuru and Panchala.
Once the Pandavas return, though, Krishna slips back into his role as their friend and benefactor.
When the time comes for his own military resources to be split between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, he gives Arjuna a choice: you can have me, but I vow not to fight – or you can have my Narayana Sena, in which case I will guide the Kauravas.
This is not an easy choice for Arjuna, who knows that the army gathered by Yudhishthir is much smaller in sheer numbers than Duryodhana’s. It might have been tempting to add the large Narayana Sena to their forces.
Krishna knows this, of course. His offer to Arjuna is a test of their friendship. And Arjuna repays Krishna’s trust by picking him over his army.
This further solidifies their friendship.
(Suggested: Why did Arjuna choose Krishna?)
Krishna and Arjuna are often described by other characters in the story as incarnations of two great sages: Nara and Narayana.
The narrative is that the two sages were requested by the gods to take human forms and come to Earth in order to defeat the growing forces of evil. They are said to live in a beautiful mountain reserve called Vadari.
The bond between Krishna and Arjuna, therefore, carries over from the deep friendship they share in their true forms.
‘Nara’ means ‘man’, and ‘Narayana’ is another name for Vishnu. The sage duo, Nara-Narayana, is therefore a metaphor for the symbiotic relationship between man and god, who constantly recreate each other in every epoch.
Krishna performs the ultimate coup by becoming the charioteer of Arjuna and guiding him throughout the battle. Not only does he give Arjuna the encouragement to fight – via the Bhagavad Gita – he also carefully plots the deaths of Bhishma and Drona, opening up Duryodhana’s forces.
Krishna also proves instrumental in the deaths of Jayadratha, Karna, Bhurishrava and Duryodhana. It is not hyperbole to suggest that it is he who is most responsible for the Pandavas winning the war.
By doing this, not only does Krishna ensure stable reign at Indraprastha, but he also secures Anarta’s future. His friendship with Arjuna makes all of this possible.
If you liked this post, you may find these interesting also:
- Krishna: 36 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Karna: 41 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered
- Draupadi: 46 Questions about the Mahabharata Heroine Answered
- 60 Mahabharata Episodes that Tell You the Whole Story