The Mahabharata is a collection of hundred Parvas (or ‘sections’) that tell the story of a long-standing family feud between two sets of cousins – the Kauravas and the Pandavas – for control of the Kuru throne in Hastinapur.
The climactic event of the story is an eighteen-day war that happens between the two factions on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
It is commonly understood that the Pandavas are the protagonists of this tale and the Kauravas the antagonists – though many retellings have appeared over the years that flip this structure.
In this post, we will summarize the Chaitraratha Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
The Chaitraratha Parva begins with an account – given to the Pandavas by a wandering Brahmin in Ekachakra – of the birth of Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi from the sacrificial fire at Drupada’s palace.
After the humiliation in the hands of Drona, Drupada is left seething for revenge. In time, he finds two sages, Yaja and Upayaja, who consent to performing a sacrifice intent on producing a son whose sole aim in life is to kill Dronacharya.
A great sacrificial fire is built for the purpose in the palace compound, and after all the complex rituals are completed, A full-grown youth springs out of the fire at the command of Yaja.
The first thing he does is to take a chariot and ride it around the field where the ceremony is being conducted. He comes forth with a crown on head, armour sheathing the body, hand bearing sword, and a bow hanging by the shoulder.
Amid cheers of all the gathered Panchala people, they give him the name of Dhrishtadyumna because of his excessive audacity and splendour.
Out of the same fire comes a young maiden, dark in complexion, of heavenly beauty. An incorporeal voice announces at this moment:
‘This girl will be the first of all women, and she will be the cause of the destruction of many Kshatriyas. She will accomplish the purpose of the gods, and due to her, many of the Kauravas will meet their deaths.’
After the birth of these two, Sudeshna, the wife of Drupada, asks for a boon from Yaja that the boy and the girl will know and love her as their real mother. The sage grants her her wish.
During the last days of the Pandavas’ time in Ekachakra, Vyasa pays them a visit and tells them the story of a Brahmin’s daughter.
This woman had everything a maiden could ask for – good looks, wealth of character, noble family – but was not able to procure for herself a husband.
This woman, desperate to be wedded, prayed to Shiva to grant her a suitable man. By severe asceticism she pleased the Destroyer, and when he appeared and granted her a boon, she said:
‘O Lord, why have I been denied the pleasure of marital union with a man when lesser women than I have had no such trouble?’
‘The acts of your previous life become your destiny in this one, maiden,’ replied Shiva. ‘Just as your acts in this life dictates what will come your way in the next.’
‘What awaits me, then, O Lord, in the next life?’
‘You will be wedded to five husbands of unmatched valour, born in the Bharata line of kings,’ said Shiva. ‘Each of the five princes will be begotten by a prominent god, and you shall have sons, too, of all of them.’
Wife to Five Husbands
‘But Lord Shiva,’ said the maiden, ‘all I wish for is one husband.’
‘That may be your wish,’ said Shiva. ‘But in your desperation, during your penance, you said the words “Grant me a husband” five times. And bound as I am by the power of your austerities, I must grant you your wish to the letter.
‘Therefore, in your next life, you shall be the wife of five husbands who shall conquer the world.’
Finishing the story, Vyasa tells the Pandavas, ‘This maiden, this Brahmin-born woman, had died soon after receiving the boon from Shiva, and now she has taken her next birth in Prishata’s line, during the sacrifice of Drupada.
‘Go, therefore, my children and Mother Kunti. Your time in Ekachakra has run its course. Panchala awaits your arrival.’
Thus, encouraged by the story they heard from the previous Brahmin (about the birth of Dhrishtadyumna and Draupadi) and the words of Vyasa, the Pandavas bid goodbye to Ekachakra and travel to Panchala.
Angaraparna the Gandharva
On their way from Ekachakra to Panchala, the Pandavas come to the bank of the Ganga one evening, just as the sun’s last hues are about to disappear from the sky.
Inadvertently, they come upon a group of Gandharvas sporting in the river. Their king, Angaraparna, gets displeased that mere humans have dared to disturb them.
‘Fie upon you, O stranger,’ says Angaraparna, emerging from the water and facing Arjuna. ‘The time of night has been reserved in the scriptures for the activities of Gandharvas, Yakshas and Rakshasas.
‘How dare you encroach upon our territory at our appointed time? I am Angaraparna, friend to Kubera the lord of wealth. You have angered me, now you must bear the consequences.’
Arjuna replies, ‘This river in which you sport belongs not just to you, O Gandharva. It belongs to the three worlds. Indeed, Ganga flows by the name of Alakananda in heaven, and she becomes Vaitarani in the land of the Pitris.
‘On Earth itself she has seven streams: Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Vitashtha, Sarayu, Gomati and Gandaki. Any creature of any race in the three worlds can approach the divine river at any time. She belongs to all of us equally.’
Arjuna Fights Angaraparna
This angers Angaraparna, and he shoots an arrow at Arjuna, who uses his lighted fire torch to deflect it. ‘Do not instigate those who are well-versed in the science of arms, O Gandharva,’ he says.
‘Now that you have, behold the power of the Agneyastra, which my preceptor Dronacharya received from Sage Agnivesa himself.’
And with one draw of the quiver and one twang of the bow, the Gandharva’s chariot is reduced to ashes. Angaraparna loses consciousness due to the power of the weapon.
As Arjuna is dragging him by his hair away from his chariot towards where his brothers were standing, the Gandharva’s wife, Kumbhinasi, pleads with Yudhishthir for mercy.
‘Arjuna,’ Yudhishthir calls to his brother, ‘let us not slay an enemy whom we have vanquished in fight, who has had his pride crushed, and who is being protected by a woman.’
Arjuna lets Angaraparna go, and in gratitude, the Gandharva gives two gifts to the Pandavas.
One is a science called Chakshushi, intended just for Arjuna, which is the method by which a Gandharva is able to see whatever he wishes to see, in whatever way he likes.
This is the power that renders Gandharvas superior to men and elevates them to the status of gods and other celestial beings.
The other gift, which he gives them all, is five hundred horses bred in the country of Gandharvas. These horses are leaner, swifter and more loyal than their earthly counterparts, and they can change their hue at the will of their owners.
In return for these gifts, Arjuna, on the request of Angaraparna, gives him the knowledge of how to use, control and recall the Agneyastra.
In a conversation that ensues between the Gandharva and the Pandavas, the former narrates stories concerning a number of secondary characters.
Here’s a list:
- Angaraparna reveals that Arjuna and the Pandavas are actually the descendants of the goddess Tapati. Tapati and her husband Samvarana have a son called Kuru, after whom the dynasty is named.
- Then he tells the Pandavas the tale of how Vasishtha and Vishwamitra had a long-standing feud with each other – and how Vishwamitra became a Brahmarshi.
- A longer story concerning Vasishtha’s adventures is then narrated by Angaraparna. He participates in the act of niyoga with Queen Madayanti – the wife of a king called Kalmashapada – and gives birth to a boy called Asmaka.
- Vasishtha’s daughter-in-law also carries a boy for twelve long years. When she delivers him, they name him Parashara. Yes, this is the same Parashara who will later father Vyasa with Satyavati.
- Vasishtha tells his grandson the story of Aurva, the thigh-born child.
After the long conversation with Angaraparna, the Pandavas prepare to leave.
After all the due processes and rituals are complete, Arjuna says, ‘O Gandharva, we wish to appoint a high-souled Brahmin as our priest. Do you know of anyone in these parts?’
Dhaumya Becomes Priest
Angaraparna directs them to the nearby shrine of Utkochaka, where Dhaumya has made his hermitage.
Dhaumya receives the Pandavas and Kunti with due respect, and consents to being their spiritual preceptor. He gives them some practical information about what to expect in Panchala, and offers to accompany them to the city.
With this, the Pandavas and Dhaumya set out for Panchala to the groom-choosing ceremony of Draupadi.
It brings to an end the Chaitraratha Parva, in which the main incident is the battle and eventual friendship between Arjuna and the Gandharva, Angaraparna, and the many stories he recites in the garden of Chaitraratha.