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: Who was Arjuna’s favourite son?
Arjuna does not explicitly state which one of his four sons is his favourite. But when Iravan dies in the Mahabharata war, his reaction is far more muted to how he mourns over Abhimanyu. As for Babruvahana, his contact with his father is minimal. This may be enough to conclude that Arjuna’s favourite son was Abhimanyu.
Read on to discover more about who Arjuna’s favourite son was in the Mahabharata.
(For answers to all Arjuna-related questions, see Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
The firstborn son of Arjuna is Iravan, born to Ulupi – a Naga princess – after a night of passion. This relationship is completely driven by Ulupi: she sees him bathing on the riverbank, takes a liking to him, and approaches him with an offer of love.
Arjuna does hesitate – he is after all on a celibate exile – but Ulupi counters him by threatening to give up her life in case she is rejected by the Pandava.
It is not clear why Ulupi is so desperately attracted to Arjuna – especially when he is removed from his usual princely splendour. In the absence of any such information, we can only surmise that Arjuna is a handsome man.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 14: Exile of Arjuna.)
Arjuna relents and accompanies Ulupi back to her kingdom at the bottom of the sea. Here he spends precisely one night with her, and immediately resumes his journey the next morning.
Out of this union is born Iravan. He grows up with his mother, but with full knowledge of his parentage. In time, he becomes a ruler of the Nagas.
Arjuna and Iravan do not spend much time together; in fact, the Mahabharata does not record even one conversation that happens between father and son. However, when Iravan dies in the war, Arjuna is described as grief-stricken.
Arjuna’s next son in order of birth is Babruvahana. He has this child with Chitrangada, the princess of Manipura. Here, Arjuna does all the chasing: he sees Chitrangada, likes her, and approaches her father for her hand in marriage.
Chitrangada, however, happens to be a putrika, which means that she is forbidden from leaving her father’s place after her marriage. Her children will remain in Manipura and grow up to be kings.
Arjuna lives for a whole year in Manipura, staying with Chitrangada until his son is born. Then he bids goodbye to his wife and son, and moves on.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 57: Arjuna Fights Babruvahana.)
Babruvahana does not fight in the Kurukshetra war. (We are not told why, though the implication is that Manipura is not a significant kingdom either way.) But after the war has been won, he fights Arjuna when the latter wanders into the kingdom behind Yudhishthir’s sacrificial horse.
Babruvahana conducts himself well in this duel; in fact, he defeats and kills Arjuna. Of course, Ulupi appears out of nowhere and revives her husband, and assures him that being defeated by one’s son does not count as a defeat.
Arjuna and Babruvahana also do not have much of a relationship, since Manipura is far removed from Indraprastha.
Third on the list of Arjuna’s sons is Abhimanyu, born through his marriage with Subhadra, the sister of Krishna.
Krishna invites Arjuna to abduct Subhadra and stake a claim on her. Arjuna obeys Krishna’s orders, and after a brief moment of consternation where the Yadavas are outraged at their pride being shattered, Balarama agrees to the marriage.
Arjuna weds Subhadra amid all pomp and ceremony in Dwaraka. He stays with her for a year – presumably until Abhimanyu is born – and then brings her back to Khandavaprastha.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 0: Why did the Mahabharata Happen?)
We must note here that Subhadra is the only wife of Arjuna’s that he brings back home; Ulupi and Chitrangada, for different reasons, elect to stay back at their respective fathers’ places.
Abhimanyu and Arjuna appear to have a close relationship. Though we don’t see evidence of this explicitly, the way in which Arjuna reacts at the death of Abhimanyu makes it clear that he is deeply attached to his son.
After Arjuna’s return to Khandavaprastha, within a year he has a son with Draupadi named Shrutakarma. This is Arjuna’s last and fourth son, and Draupadi’s last with the Pandavas as well.
Little is known of Shrutakarma, and even less is known about his relationship with Arjuna. The two of them hardly ever share any space together anywhere.
Soon after Shrutakarma’s birth, the Pandavas play and lose the game of dice, and they’re banished into the woods for thirteen years. We know that Abhimanyu was sixteen during the war, so at the time of the Pandavas’ exile, Abhimanyu would have been two or three, and Shrutakarma a mere infant.
(Suggested: Did Draupadi have children?)
When Shrutakarma dies on the night of the eighteenth day, he would have been no older than fourteen. But Arjuna’s reaction at his death is not even recorded.
By this time, the Pandavas are numb to the horrors of war. They have already seen too much. They have no more tears to shed.
It is not an exaggeration, therefore, to say that Shrutakarma is probably the least significant of Arjuna’s sons. Even in the hierarchy of the Upapandavas, as the youngest of them all he is on the bottommost rung.
Who is Arjuna’s favourite?
Of all his sons, there is a good chance that Arjuna’s favourite is Abhimanyu, for the following reasons:
- Abhimanyu is the son of Subhadra who is Krishna’s sister. Arjuna has a long and deep friendship with Krishna, not to mention that they are also first cousins. Arjuna would therefore have been well-disposed toward Abhimanyu by association.
- Subhadra is often considered to be Arjuna’s favourite wife – because the other choices are Ulupi and Chitrangada whom he had to leave behind, and Draupadi whom he had to share with his brothers. It stands to reason that the favourite wife’s son will automatically become the favourite son.
- Arjuna teaches Abhimanyu the art of entering the chakravyuha. This suggests that Arjuna and Abhimanyu have trained together, or at the very least discussed strategy together. Arjuna does this with neither Shrutakarma nor Iravan – both of whom also fight in the war.
- Lastly, and more significantly, it is Abhimanyu’s death that rattles Arjuna to his core. With Iravan and Shrutakarma’s deaths, Arjuna seems to view them objectively – as casualties of war. But with Abhimanyu, he takes it as a personal affront, and vows to kill Jayadratha as revenge.
Therefore, while it is not explicitly mentioned anywhere who Arjuna’s favourite son is, all reasonable guesses point to Abhimanyu.
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