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: 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.
Read on to discover more about what Arjuna did after Abhimanyu’s death.
(For answers to all Arjuna-related questions, see Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Fighting the Samshaptakas
On Day 13 of the Kurukshetra war, Drona promises Duryodhana that he will certainly kill at least one Pandava atiratha by sundown.
This comes on the heels of two days of lacklustre performance by the Kuru forces. On Days 11 and 12, Drona promises Duryodhana that he will capture Yudhishthir, but on both occasions the plan is foiled by Arjuna.
Drona therefore assigns to the Trigartas (led by King Susharma) the task of diverting Arjuna’s attention away from the main scene of battle. The Trigartas take the oath that they will fight Arjuna to the death – thus earning the name of ‘Samshaptakas’.
They perform their role admirably on the thirteenth day, luring Arjuna away so that Drona can spring the Chakravyuha on the Pandava forces. Abhimanyu gets trapped inside the formation, and eventually dies after a heroic display of skill.
(Suggested: Where was Arjuna during Chakravyuha?)
Arjuna Returns to Camp
Leaving the battlefield after killing thousands of Samshaptakas, Arjuna looks up at the setting sun and detects a faint sense of dread enveloping him. His right hand flies to his chest, and with a hesitant voice, he asks Krishna:
‘Do you feel the same way I do, O Madhava? At this moment of victory my speech falters. My limbs are weak. Evil omens surround me wherever I go. I wonder if everything is all right with my king Yudhishthir. Did Drona succeed in capturing him?’
Krishna replies, ‘Nothing can go wrong with your brothers, O Vibhatsu. Do not grieve; the omens you see point to a smaller evil, perhaps.’
The chariot makes its way into the Pandava camp. Arjuna is struck by the fact that the veena is not playing tonight. The trumpeters are not to be seen in their usual places.
Drummers and conch-bearers turn their faces away. ‘Is the ruler of the Panchalas well, Janardana?’ wonders the curly-haired one aloud. ‘Or perhaps Virata, the king of the Matsyas, our protector – he has fallen!’
Arjuna Guesses the Truth
But then he realizes that Abhimanyu – who always welcomes him home at the end of each day’s battle – is nowhere to be seen.
Krishna brings the vehicle to a stop outside Yudhishthir’s tent, and upon entering it, Arjuna is surrounded by his four brothers cheerless, sitting on the ground with their faces plunged in sorrow. Here, too, he does not see Abhimanyu.
‘Alas,’ he says, his voice breaking. ‘I heard that Drona has today formed the Chakra Vyuha. Among you, only Abhimanyu knew how to break it. I have not taught him yet the method by which one might exit the array. Could it be that you sent the boy into the formation all on his own?’
As he speaks, he becomes more and more convinced of the truth of his surmise.
‘With all the weapons at my disposal,’ he says, ‘with four godly men as my brothers, with the Gandiva as my bow, with Krishna as my charioteer – with all these, I was unable to protect my son from the jaws of death. Is this the lot of the greatest archer in the world, one who is called Vijaya?’
Arjuna asks Krishna
He turns to Krishna. ‘Why did you not tell me during the battle, O Hrishikesha? I would have abandoned the Samshaptakas and flown to my son’s rescue.
‘Imagine how in the last throes of death, he must have hoped that I would come and protect him. With all the Kaurava warriors surrounding him, he must have called out to me. To you, his uncle! Why did you not tell me if you knew?’
Krishna replies stoically, ‘Death on the battlefield is the route to eternal merit for all Kshatriyas, O Arjuna. For those who do not yield to fear and fight with their weapons, death is certain – if not today, then tomorrow.
‘Wipe your tears, for Abhimanyu has attained the kind of death that few are blessed with. Let us now think of the future.’
An Oath is Taken
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.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 25: Jayadratha Abducts Draupadi.)
Shaking feverishly and squeezing his hands, with eyes bathed in tears, he says:
‘I swear that tomorrow I shall slay Jayadratha. Unless he chooses to flee from fear of death or he seeks the protection of Krishna, as long as he turns up to fight tomorrow, I shall kill him for the part he played in Abhimanyu’s slaughter.
‘Whoever is protecting him tomorrow will have to face my wrath – whether it is Karna, Kritavarma, the preceptor Drona, the Kuru Elder Kripacharya, or that sly Ashwatthama.
‘Either I will kill Jayadratha by nightfall tomorrow,’ he says, ‘or I will consign myself to flames.’
Announcing his oath to the world thus, Arjuna raises his Gandiva and stretches its string with both his arms. He blows on the Devadatta, even as Krishna joins him with the Panchajanya.
Visiting Shiva in a Dream
Krishna is consumed by worry at the gravity of Arjuna’s vow, but Arjuna confidently predicts that he will kill Jayadratha by all means the next day.
However, as soon as he sleeps, he begins to dream. And in his dream, he is plagued by self-doubt.
‘The vow I took, O Krishna,’ he says, ‘is of grave import indeed. In order to keep me from fulfilling it, the Dhartarashtras will place Jayadratha right at the very rear of their formation, forcing me to fight through the entire army.
‘How will we even catch a glimpse of the Saindhava king? And having failed to kill him, how will I live? And having died in such infamy, how will Yudhishthir, my brother, win this war? All these thoughts envelop me tonight. I wish that morning would not come!’
Krishna now takes Arjuna in his chariot into the skies toward the north. They go past the Himavat and the Mainaka, beyond the realms of the Siddhas and the Charanas and the pleasure-gardens of Kubera’s city.
Flying past Mandara and the summit called Brahmatunga, they reach a place called the Vishnupada.
‘Shiva sits here in meditation,’ Krishna tells Arjuna, guiding him by the arm. ‘Let us go and tell him about your travails.’
The Pashupatastra – Again
They come upon the seated figure of the one with matted locks, with Parvati by his side. At the behest of Krishna, Arjuna begins to praise the lord in the company of hundreds of his ganas, even as the wielder of the Pinaka opens his eyes and welcomes them.
‘Nara and Narayana have come to visit me,’ he says, smiling. ‘What brings you here?’
The two of them describe to Shiva their doubts, and Arjuna requests the lord to give him the Pashupatastra. Shiva smiles and tells them:
‘Not far from here is a lake of nectar in which a bow and arrow of mine are preserved. Bring them back to me and I shall teach Jishnu the secret of the Pashupatastra.’
(Suggested: How did Arjuna get the Pashupatastra?)
Krishna and Arjuna make haste in finding the lake of nectar, and bring back Shiva’s bow along with the missile. After their return, Shiva teaches Arjuna the manner of stringing the great bow, along with the chants required to use the Pashupatastra.
Arjuna learns the process of hurling, controlling and recalling the great weapon, and before they leave Kailasa, Shiva blesses them with victory on the fourteenth day.
The Fourteenth Day
On the fourteenth day, Drona does as Arjuna fears, arranging the Kuru forces in an impenetrable triple array, with a box formation at the front (the Sakata Vyuha), followed by a lotus formation (the Padma Vyuha), and then a needle formation (the Soochimukha Vyuha) bringing up the rear.
He places Jayadratha right at the back of the Soochimukha, guarded by six atirathas.
Despite everything, though, with the help of Krishna – and with the courage he receives from the dream of Shiva – Arjuna succeeds in killing Jayadratha right at the stroke of sundown on this day.
Drona’s ‘impenetrable’ array is also penetrated by three different warriors – Arjuna, Bhima and Satyaki – thus shattering the morale of Duryodhana.
Arjuna thus succeeds in avenging the death of his favourite son.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 46: Arjuna Kills Jayadratha.)
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