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 Digvijaya Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
Arjuna versus Vrihanta
At the start of the Digvijaya Parva, the four Pandava brothers – Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva – set out in all four directions with the intention of conquering the world for the sake of their elder brother, Yudhishthir.
Arjuna sets out to the North, known as the direction presided over by the lord of treasures (Kubera).
Arjuna then conquers the mountainous tracts and their outskirts, as also the hilly regions. Having conquered all the mountains and the kings that ruled there, and bringing them under his sway, he exacts tributes from them all.
He next marches against Vrihanta, the king of Uluka, making this earth tremble with the sound of his drums, his chariot-wheels, and the elephants in his train.
Vrihanta, however, quickly coming out of his city followed by his army consisting of four kinds of troops, fought against Arjuna.
Though the battle that happens between Vrihanta and Arjuna is terrible, the end-result is that the Pandava wins.
Vrihanta then honours Arjuna with all his wealth. Arjuna takes it all back to Yudhishthir.
The Tribute of Harivarsha
At last Arjuna arrives in the country of North Harivarsha and desires to conquer it. The guards of the city stop him and say:
‘This country can never be conquered by you or by anyone else, O son of Kunti. This is the land of the North Kurus. They live here in peace, without ever countenancing war.
‘If a human ever enters the kingdom of Harivarsha, he is sure to perish. So if you wish your own good, turn back and return to Indraprastha.’
Arjuna smilingly receives the warning of the guards and replies: ‘If your kingdom is close to human beings, then I shall not enter it! But I also wish to take back tribute from your land to King Yudhishthir.’
The citizens of Harivarsha agree to pay this tribute. They send back cartloads of ornaments and silks with Arjuna, along with best wishes for Yudhishthir’s reign.
Thus, Arjuna returns after subjugating the entire northern regions, and places at Yudhishthir’s feet all the wealth he has earned.
Bhima to the East
In the meantime, Bhimasena heads to the East. After conquering plenty of small kingdoms, he arrives at Chedi. Shishupala, the king of Chedi, receives Bhima with due respect.
The meeting is altogether friendly. They enquire after each other’s welfare. Shishupala offers his kingdom to Bhima and promises to be a staunch ally to Yudhishthir.
After receiving the support of Chedi in this manner – without even having to fight – Bhima continues on his expedition.
Bhima fights and wins against several kingdoms and kings. Here is a quick list:
- He defeats the virtuous and mighty king Dirghayaghna of Ayodhya.
- Next, the son of Pandu conquers the country of Bhallata, as also the mountain of Suktimanta that was by the side of Bhallata.
- Then Bhima vanquishes in battle the unrelenting Subahu, the king of Kasi, brought him under complete sway.
- The country called Vatsabhumi, and the king of the Bhargas, as also the ruler of the Nishadas and Manimat and numerous other kings are attacked by Bhima and brought under control.
- Bhima also defeats with comparative ease that lord of earth, Janaka the king of the Videhas.
- He marches against Magadha and brings Sahadeva, the son of Jarasandha, around to support Yudhishthir. He does not need to fight him; this is achieved through policy alone.
- His final trip is to the land of the Mlechcha people, who live in the marshy regions of the eastern sea coast. They give him pearls, gold, silver and corals as tribute to take back to Indraprastha.
Bhima thus returns triumphantly to Indraprastha and empties all the wealth into Yudhishthir’s treasury.
Sahadeva to the South
Of all of Sahadeva’s many duels, the most significant one concerns his visit to a certain kingdom called Mahishmati – ruled by King Nila.
Nila does not accept Yudhishthir’s offer of becoming a mere vassal state, so he fights the youngest Pandava.
This duel quickly turns into a nasty one in which Sahadeva is brought uncomfortably close to death. This happens because Agni fights on the side of Nila, and causes flames to consume Sahadeva’s chariot, armour and weapons.
Why does Agni fight on Nila’s side? The story goes that the lord of fire had once fallen in love with a daughter of Nila, and the maiden returned his affection.
Disguised as a Brahmin, Agni used to visit his beloved in her chambers in secret. But one day, Nila catches the couple in a private moment and proceeds to give an order to punish the transgressing man.
But when Agni flares up in his true form, the king relents and offers his daughter’s hand to the god in marriage.
Pleased with this turn of events, Agni says to Nila, ‘Ask me for a boon, O King, on this happy occasion.’
‘Grant me, O lord, that you will protect the city of Mahishmati from all invaders.’
And so it comes to pass that Agni himself defends Mahishmati against any kingdom that takes up arms against it. Sahadeva, coming to know of this, casts away his weapons and sits down on a patch of kusa grass. Assuming a yogic posture, he begins to sing praises of Agni.
‘It is for your sake that we are doing all of this, O Agni,’ he says. ‘My brother, King Yudhishthir, is preparing for the Rajasuya, in which he will offer you the wealth of all the three worlds. By defending Mahishmati against me, you are working against your own future good.’
Agni smiles at the young Pandava. ‘I know who you are, Sahadeva, and why you have come,’ he says.
‘I shall not allow you to conquer Mahishmati, for that will go against the promise I made to the king, but I shall speak to Nila on your behalf, and the path of your brother will once again be made free of hurdles.’
Agni does stay true to his word, and in due course of time, Nila sends word to Sahadeva that he has accepted Yudhishthir’s supremacy.
Nakula to the West
Meanwhile, Nakula, surrounded by a large host, sets out from Khandavaprastha for the west, making this earth tremble with the shouts and roars of his warriors.
The country that he invades first is called Rohitaka that is dear to Kartikeya (the General of Indra’s army) and which was delightful and prosperous and full of kine and every kind of wealth and produce.
Nakula’s other exploits are as follows:
- He conquers the whole of the desert country and the entire region known as the Sairishaka.
- He subjugates the Dasarnas, the Sivis, the Trigartas, the Amvashthas, the Malavas, and a bunch of small Mlechcha tribes that insist on fighting him.
- Next, he camps at a kingdom called Uttarayotisha and sends a team of messengers to Vasudeva in Anarta. Krishna and Balarama, of course, accept Yudhishthir’s supremacy without a fight.
- All the Vrishnis and Yadavas under Vasudeva’s rule – the likes of Satyaki and Kritavarma – also do the same.
- Nakula then visits the Madra kingdom where his uncle Shalya rules. Like the Yadavas, Shalya also does not fight. He welcomes Nakula, entertains him for a while in Madra, and sends him back with plenty of wealth.
Nakula returns to Indraprastha with ten thousand camels laden with treasure. He presents it all to Yudhishthir.
With this, the four brothers of Yudhishthir succeed in bringing the entire world under their sway. Yudhishthir becomes the unchallenged emperor of the world.
This brings the Digvijaya Parva to an end.