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: Why was Arjuna killed by Babruvahana?
Babruvahana kills Arjuna during a battle for the defence of Manipura. During Yudhishthir’s Ashwamedha, the sacrificial horse wanders into Manipura with Arjuna guarding it. As is the duty of the defending kingdom, Babruvahana meets his father in full battle gear. He defeats Arjuna and ultimately kills him.
Read on to discover more about why Arjuna was killed by Babruvahana in the Mahabharata.
(For answers to all Arjuna-related questions, see Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
Arjuna kills Bhishma
The story of the fight between Arjuna and Babruvahana actually begins on the tenth day of the Mahabharata war, when Arjuna fatally wounds Bhishma by unjustly shooting arrows at him from behind Shikhandi.
This is a plan that the Pandavas devise in consultation with Bhishma himself, who tells Yudhishthir that he has taken an oath to never fight back or defend himself against a woman – or a person who has once been a woman.
By Day 10 of the war, Bhishma has already whittled down the Panchala and Somaka forces to a fraction of what they once were, and Krishna warns the Pandavas that they will soon run out of an army if Bhishma keeps going in the same vein.
The Pandavas are therefore forced to use this stratagem against Bhishma: Shikhandi becomes the central focal point of the Panchala forces on the tenth day, and he follows Bhishma around the battlefield.
When Shikhandi’s arrows prove to be powerless at stopping Bhishma on their own, Arjuna begins to shoot some of his own arrows at the grandsire while remaining hidden behind Shikhandi.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 42: Bhishma Falls.)
This act by Arjuna is considered by Ganga – who is the mother of Bhishma – as highly unethical. The Vasus – elemental gods who are Bhishma’s brothers – are also suitably angered at the deceit.
At the fall of Bhishma, the Vasus come to the bank of the Ganga and requests their mother to create a curse which will punish Arjuna for his unworthy deed.
Ganga decrees that Arjuna will have to meet his death at the hands of his son, and that only then will the sin of having killed Bhishma leave him. If he is to die without performing this cleansing ritual, he will have to be cast into hell.
Now, Ulupi the Naga princess – one of Arjuna’s consorts – lives in the riverbed, so she overhears this conversation. She also asks King Chitravahana, her father, to confirm with the Vasus the nature of the curse that Ganga has placed on Arjuna.
By the time the Mahabharata war ends, three of Arjuna’s four sons – Abhimanyu, Shrutakarma and Iravan – die. The only son of his that is alive is Babruvahana, who is ruling over Manipura with his mother, Chitrangada.
If Arjuna has to atone properly for his sin of killing Bhishma, therefore, he has to die at the hands of Babruvahana. There is no other option.
Around this time, Yudhishthir performs the Ashwamedha sacrifice, and Arjuna accompanies the sacrificial horse in its wanderings. He arrives in Manipura, setting up a possible conflict with Babruvahana.
This awakens Ulupi to the possibility that Arjuna and Babruvahana may be persuaded to fight one another. She hurries over to Manipura and waits for Arjuna’s arrival.
Arjuna Arrives in Manipura
As soon as Babruvahana realizes that his father has come into the city, he sets out in the garb of a priest with a retinue of courtiers in order to invite him in with all honours. But Arjuna does not take kindly to this gesture.
‘Are you a true Kshatriya, my son?’ he asks, quite harshly, when the prince extends his arms of welcome. ‘I have come following the sacred horse of Yudhishthir, and we have trespassed into your city.
‘Is this how you have been taught to deal with unwelcome visitors to your land? I wished that you will encounter me with bow and arrow, not with a plate of gifts! Indeed, you look like a woman in these robes, not like the son of a Pandava.’
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 57: Arjuna Fights Babruvahana.)
While Babruvahana is weighing his options in the face of this unexpected speech from his father, Ulupi springs out of the earth and addresses her step-son with the following words.
‘My name is Ulupi, O Baburavahana,’ she says, ‘and I am the daughter of the Naga king that rules the kingdom that lies west of here. Do not doubt whether or not you must fight your father today, for it is in the performing of your order’s dictates that you make yourself worthy.
‘Even if you have to clash weapons with your sire, you must do so. Do not, therefore, tarry any longer, return to this field in your battle-gear.’
Thus advised by his step-mother to fight against his father, Babruvahana reluctantly picks up his weapon and challenges Arjuna to a duel.
Almost immediately, he proves himself an able warrior, shooting arrows through the arm of Arjuna, and then sending one slicing through the Pandava’s shoulder. Arjuna loses consciousness owing to this relentless onslaught.
Before anyone can rush to his help, his breathing slows down to a stop.
This causes much alarm in the battlefield, for not even the spectators of the fight might have expected Arjuna to die at the hands of his son. More distraught is Babruvahana himself, who is now saddled with the sin of killing his own father.
Ulupi is standing aside watching, and Chitrangada comes out of the palace too, no doubt having heard the news, and throws herself at the body of Arjuna, ready to tear out her hair in grief.
Ulupi Revives Arjuna
‘Look, Ulupi!’ says Chitrangada. ‘Behold our ever-victorious husband slain in battle by none other than his own son! Are you a woman who knows what is good and what is bad?
‘Are you not conversant with the dictates of virtue? It is due to your suggestion that my son fought with his sire, and it is due to you that our husband is now dead. What have you done, O Princess? Why did you do this?’
Ulupi, for her part, is calm and composed, as if she has been expecting all this to happen. She takes out from her garment a jewel of the Naga kingdom, and placing it on the chest of Arjuna, utters a chant under her breath.
No sooner have the words left her mouth than Arjuna’s eyes blink open, and he is restored to life.
Ulupi then tells Arjuna about everything that has happened with Ganga and the Vasus, and assures her husband that he is now freed from the sin of having killed Bhishma.
Babruvahana kills Arjuna therefore in his capacity of king of Manipura, in order to defend his kingdom against the wandering sacrificial horse of Yudhishthir.
As is the custom of the day, the ruling king has to either accept Yudhishthir’s supremacy or challenge the horse’s guardian to a duel. Babruvahana does the latter.
His fight against Arjuna is encouraged by Ulupi because she alone knows that Arjuna is required to die at the hands of his son in order to atone for the sin of killing Bhishma. This is a curse placed on him by Ganga and the Vasus.
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