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Arjuna statue in Bali, Indonesia
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Arjuna (in Devanagari: अर्जुन arjuna) is the main central character of the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata and plays a key role in the Bhagavad Gita alongside Krishna. Arjuna was the son of Indra, the king of the celestials, born of Kunti, the first wife of King Pandu in the Kuru Kingdom. In a previous birth he was a saint named Nara who was the lifelong companion of another saint Narayana an incarnation of Lord Vishnu who took rebirth as Lord Krishna. He was the third of the Pandava brothers and was married to Draupadi, Ulupi, Chitrangada and Subhadra (Krishna's and Balarama's sister) at different times. His children included Srutakarma, Iravan, Babruvahana, and Abhimanyu. Arjuna was equal to 2 maharatha class warriors.[1]

Etymology and other names[edit]

The name Arjuna has among its meanings "white"/"clear" and "silver".

  • Phalguna (फाल्गुन) - one born under the star named 'Uttara Phalguni'.
  • Jishnu (जिष्णु) - triumphant.
  • Kiritin (किरीटिन्) - one who wears the celestial diadem, Kiriti, presented by Indra.
  • Shwetavahana (श्वेतवाहन) - one with white horses mounted to his chariot.
  • Bibhatsu (बीभत्सु) - one who always fights wars in a fair manner.
  • Vijaya (विजय) - always wins on war.
  • Partha (पार्थ) - son of Pritha, another name for Kunti.
  • Savyasachin (सव्यसाचिन्) - ambidextrous
  • Dhananjaya (धनञ्जय) - one who brings prosperity and wealth in the land where he goes to.
  • Gudakesha (गुडाकेश) - someone who have control over sleeps
  • Kapidhwaja (कपिध्वज) - having flag of Kapi (monkey) in his chariot (Arjuna's flag displayed an image of Hanuman from a previous encounter).
  • Parantapa (परन्तप) - one who concentrates the most, destroyer of enemies from his concentration.
  • Gandivadhanvan (गाण्डीवधन्वन्) - one who possessed the mighty bow named 'Gandiva' which was created by Lord Brahma.
  • Gandivadhara (गाण्डीवधर) - Gandiva holder
  • Madhyapandava (मध्यपाण्डव) - the third of Pandavas, younger to Yudhisthira and Bhima and elder to Nakula and Sahadeva.

Birth and youth[edit]

Indra bestows a favor on Kunti

Arjuna's birth is most celebrated one and he was born 9 months after the birth of krishna. A prophesy is said about his birth and so many gods attended to see him. [2]

After the death of Pandu (and Madri's subsequent sati), the Pandavas and their mother lived in Hastinapura, where they were brought up together with their cousins, the Kaurava brothers. Along with his brothers, Arjuna was trained in religion, science, administration and military arts by Bhishma, their granduncle.[3]

One day, when the princes were playing a game, they lost their ball in a well. When the rest of the children gave up the ball as being lost, Arjuna stayed behind trying to get it. A stranger came by and extracted the ball for him by making a chain of "sarkanda" (a wild grass). When an astonished Arjuna related the story to Bhishma, Bhishma realised that the stranger was none other than Drona. Bhishma asked Drona to become the Kuru princes' teacher. Seeking refuge from Panchala, Drona agreed.[4] Many asuras were killed by him.

Tutelage under Drona[edit]

Under Drona's tutelage, the Kauravas and the Pandavas, along with the princes of Hastinapura's allies and vassals, learned weaponry. Arjuna became Drona's favorite and most accomplished pupil; specifically, he became a master in using the bow and the arrow. In a famous incident, Drona deemed that out of all his students, even his own son Ashwatthama, none but Arjuna had the steadfast focus to shoot the eye of a bird on a tree; he was proven right.[5]

Marriage to Draupadi[edit]

the Swayamvara of Panchala's princess, Draupadi

Pandavas secretly went from Varnavrat after saving themselves from evil plan of Duryodhana, Shakuni and Karna.[6] Still in hiding, the Pandavas disguise themselves as brahmins and attend the Swayamvara of Panchala princess Draupadi. Out of all of the great kings and other Kaurava princes, only Arjuna are able to do the established challenge, the test is to lift, string, and fire Pinakin to pierce the eye of a golden fish whilst only looking at its reflection; Drupada had designed this test with Arjuna in mind. All Kings including Karna and Shalya failed to string the bow and got defeated in task.[7]At last Arjuna came forward and lifted bow with just one hand and hit the target hence he won Draupadi.[8]

Later Karna attacked Arjuna on jealousy but Arjuna easily defeated him then Karna asked about his real identity, Arjuna smiled and said that he is brahmin then Karna praised him by comparing him with Lord Vishnu. Arjuna threatened to kill Karna which made Karna flee from battlefield.

When the brothers returned with Draupadi, Pandavas joked to his mother that they had brought alms. Dismissively, and without looking because she was preoccupied, Kunti asks him to share it with his brothers. Holding his mother's orders as a divine command, he requested his elder brother to accept Draupadi. Draupadi had to marry all five of the Pandavas. Her five sons, one from each of the Pandava brothers, are known as the Upapandavas.[citation needed] Srutakarma is the son of Arjuna.

At this point in the Mahabharata, the Pandavas revealed that they were alive, with both Duryodhana and Yudhishthira being crown princes, tensions are high. Under Bhishma's advice, the kingdom is split, with the Kauravas getting Hastinapur and the Pandavas getting Khandavaprastha. Khandavaprastha, however, was an extremely underdeveloped land and had infertile soil, requiring extensive tilling, so the Pandavas set to work rebuilding the land by burning thousand acre of forest, their cousins Krishna and Balarama gave them aid.[citation needed]

Love of Lord Krishna for Arjuna[edit]

The friendship bond of Lord Krishna and Arjuna is the most celebrated bond in Hindu mythology followed by the bond of Lord Rama and Lord Hanumana. According to Mahabharata, Arjuna was the incarnation of Lord Nara who was the best friend of Lord Vishnu and along with Nara, Lord Vishnu defeated all the demons after the churning of Ocean ( Samudra Manthan ). According to Lord Shiva, Nara and Lord Vishnu holds the whole universe and incarnates in every Yuga to end the evil and establish righteousness, the love of Lord Krishna for Arjuna is evident from Adi Parva where after the fight in Khandava forest instead of asking any weapon or power Lord Krishna asked Indra that his friendship with Arjuna will remain forever when the latter asked Lord Krishna to ask for a boon. Lord Krishna also described his love for Arjuna in Vana Parva by saying that whoever will hate Arjuna will hate Lord Krishna and whoever will follow Arjuna will follow Lord Krishna, he even said that nobody in the whole world is dearer to him than Arjuna and he can sacrifice anything including his sons, wives and citizens just for the sake of Arjuna. During his final conversation with his father Vasudeva he told him that he wants Arjuna to perform his last rights and also said that Lord Krishna is Arjuna and Arjuna is Lord Krishna, such was the greatness of Arjuna that the supreme god Lord Krishna was ready to sacrifice anything for him.[9]

Burning of Khandava Vana[edit]

The story, this was the first time Arjuna meets Krishna; in any case, Khandavaprastha was where Arjuna and Krishna's friendship is truly forged. Once when roaming in the Khandava Vana, Arjuna and Krishna met the god of fire, Agni. Agni was in great hunger and needed to burn down the entire Khandava Vana to quench his hunger, but Takshaka, the serpent-king lived in the same forest and was a friend of Indra's. So the latter brought down heavy rains to thwart Agni's plans to burn the woods. Agni requested Krishna and Arjuna to help him realise his goal.[10]

Arjuna asked Agni for Gandiva as normal bows were not capable to bear the strength of his arms, the three of them then invoked Varuna, the God of the oceans, who blessed Arjuna with the Gandiva – the agni-moon bow created by Brahma. In this way, Arjuna came into possession of his famous bow. Agni also gave Arjuna an incandescent chariot with four horses yoked, and bearing a flag that would one-day be occupied by celestial apes of Vishwkarma.Arjuna also obtained his famous conch.[citation needed]

With Krishna using the Sudarshana Chakra[11] Arjuna and Krishna waged a successful battle against Indra and helped Agni burn down the entire Khandava Vana. Indra's pride in Arjuna's success overcame his anger, and he bestowed greater powers on him, at last all gods, demons and snakes got defeated by Arjuna at this Khandava war.

Saving Mayasura[edit]

Sri Krishna tells Mayasura to build a palace.

In their demolition of Khandava, Krishna and Arjuna had saved one demon, Mayasura to build their palace,[10] thus owing Arjuna a favor, and after being so directed by Krishna, Mayasura said that he would build a palace for Yudhishtra. As Mayasura was a great architect of the Asuras, he soon constructed the Maya assembly hall – a gigantic palace for the Pandavas, filled with ancient books, artifacts, and jewels, this hall was famous for visual illusions. Thus, Khandavaprastha was renamed Indraprastha.[12]

Arjuna's Tirtha-yatra and Indraprastha[edit]

Arjuna enters Dharma's Boudoir

Arjuna violated Yudhishthira and Draupadi's privacy while they were playing the game of dice, as he had left the Gandiva in their room. Despite the understanding of all and being forgiven by both Yudhishthira and Draupadi, Arjuna accepted the punishment agreed with Narada and set off on a twelve-year tirtha-yatra. According to Narada, Arjuna must retire to forest and pass his days as Brahmacharin so Arjuna retired to forest for 12 years.

Chitrangadaa at Manipura[edit]

Arjuna visited other Tirthas in India, including Kalinga and the ashrams of the Saptarishis, Agastya, Vasishta and Bhrigu. Finally he reached the palace of Manipur. Here he met King Chitravahana's daughter, Chitrangadaa, after seeing the beauty of Chitrangadaa, Arjuna fall in love with her hence he asked that the king let them marry. The king accepted Arjuna's proposal because Arjuna was extermely handsome, intelligent and attractive.

Reaching Dwarka and Subhadra[edit]

Arjuna and Subhadra,
Painting by Raja Ravi Varma.

Arjuna moved to other Tirthas, including the southern regions in Kerala. Finally he reached Dwarka, the place where his cousin Krishna resided. Arjuna had, in his childhood, heard about Krishna's sister, Subhadra. Krishna, wishing to further tie their families, knew of Arjuna's visit and devised a plan to arrange their meeting. Accordingly, Arjuna disguised himself as a Yati and stayed at Krishna's palace. Arjuna was attracted to Subhadra and desired to marry her, Krishna understood Arjuna's intension and advised him to kidnap Subhadra then Arjuna kidnapped Subhadra and married with her, after this Balarama became furious upon learning of the abduction but was pacified by Vasudeva, his father, because Lord Krishna knew that whole Dwarka warriors can not defeat Arjuna alone as Arjun was invicible and undefeatable in battle.[13] The couple stayed in Dwaraka for a year, and then another year in Pushkar. However, Draupadi had made it clear that no other Pandava wife would be allowed to stay in her city, so Arjuna, as Krishna had advised, tricked Draupadi into meeting Subhadra as a milkmaid. Draupadi realized she had been tricked, but she forgave Subhadra and let her stay in Indraprastha, allowing her to keep company with Arjuna in the four years when he was not with Draupadi; in due course, the union of Arjuna and Subhadra produced a son, Abhimanyu.[14][15]

Conquest for Rajasuya[edit]

Arjuna on his way to the Rajasuya Yaga
Possible route taken by Arjuna for the Rajasuya sacrifice.

Arjuna was sent south by Yudhishthira to subjugate kingdoms for the Rajasuya Yagya, so that he could be crowned Emperor of Indraprastha. The Mahabharata mentions several kingdoms to the north of Indraprastha which were conquered (or otherwise peacefully bent-the-knee) by Arjuna;[16] in this conquest Arjuna had conquered Northern kurus which was the territory of Lord Indra,[17] It was really the difficult feats for any warrior but Arjuna easily achieved many feats in Rajasuya conquest.


After Yudhishthira succumbed to Shakuni's challenge in the game of dice, the Pandavas were forced to be in exile for 13 years, which included one year in anonymity.

Penance for Pashupatastra[edit]

From the epic poem Kiratarjuniya: Arjuna recognizes Shiva and surrenders to him. Painting by Raja Ravi Varma, 19th century.

After the battle at Khandava Indra had promised Arjuna to give him all his weapons as a boon for matching him in battle with the requirement that Shiva is pleased with him. Following the advice of Yudhistira to go on a meditation or "tapasya" to attain this divine weapon, Arjuna left his brothers for a penance.

Arjuna traveled for a while before reaching the mountain Indra keeladri, Vijayawada. Here he sat in meditation in the name of Lord Shiva. Arjuna managed to please Lord Shiva by his severe penance in just months because his penance generated so much intense heat that was unbearable to all living creatures of earth which ultimately forced Lord Shiva to come to earth.[18] Shiva appeared soon enough in the guise of a hunter, who challenged Arjuna to a fight; in that fierce battle even 8 forms of Lord Shiva failed to defeat Arjuna,[19] At last Arjuna gratified Mahadeva in battle by showing his prowess then Hunter(Shiva) transformed himself to show his real avatar and blessed Arjuna with the Pashupatastra. Shiva lectures Arjuna on the abilities of the weapon, as well as the judgement he must use while wielding it, it is said that, apart from Lord Shiva and Arjuna no one possessed Pasupata weapon which was capable to destroy whole world.[20]

After Shiva left, the Lokapalas appeared before Arjuna and then Kubera, Yama, and Varuna also blessed each of their potent weapons to Arjuna. Indra then invited his son to his palace in heaven.

Arjuna was amazed at the splendor of his father's palace at Amaravati. Dancers like Urvashi, Tilottama, Rambha and Menaka entertained him. There was a huge banquet serving different varieties of heavenly dishes. Arjuna learnt song and dance from the Gandharva, Chitrasena and Indra himself taught him all the divine weapons and also gave him his Vajra.[21]

Nivata-kavachas and Hiranyapura[edit]

Arjuna got the opportunity to test his skill when Indra asked him to defeat his enemy as the price of his training. Arjuna was taken to the palace of the Nivata-kavachas, a tribe of Asuras who had a magnificent palace under the oceans. Arjuna used the Mohini-astra and the Madhava-astra to demolish these asuras.

He was also taken to Hiranyapura, a palace in the sky created by a witch Puloma and his asura tribe of the Kalakanjas. Here Arjuna uses the Raudra-astra and annihilates the demons.[22]

At Virata's Kingdom[edit]

Brihannala – Eunuch at Virata's Kingdom

Along with his brothers, Arjuna spent his last year of exile in the kingdom of Matsya, this is the place where Urvashi's curse is implemented and Arjuna becomes a eunuch called Brihannala (within themselves Pandavas called him Vijaya).[23] At the palace, he teaches song and dance, qualities he had learnt from Chitrasena [King of the Gandharvas in Devalok], to the King Virata's daughter, Uttarā. Later, Arjuna arranges for Uttara to become his daughter-in-law by marrying his son Abhimanyu to her, at the same time, he prevents Subhadra from marrying Abhimanyu to Balarama's daughter Vatsala, as the Kurus find marriages between cousins taboo. But Arjuna and Subhadra are cousins too since Kunti (Arjun's Mother) and Vasudeva (Subhadra's father) are brother and sister.

Hearing about the death of Kichaka, Duryodhana surmises that the Pandavas were hiding in Matsya. A host of Kaurava warriors attack Virata, presumably to steal their cattle, but in reality, desiring to pierce the Pandavas' veil of anonymity. Full of bravado, Virata's son Uttar attempts to take on the army by himself while the rest of the Matsya army has been lured away to fight Susharma and the Trigartas, as suggested by Draupadi, Uttar takes Brihannala with him, as his charioteer. When he sees the Kaurava army, Uttar loses his nerve and attempts to flee. There, Arjuna reveals his identity and those of his brothers'. Switching places with Uttar, Arjuna takes up the Gandiva and Devadatta. Eager to defend the land that had given him refuge, Arjuna engaged the legion of Kaurava warriors. All the warriors including Bhisma, Drona, Karna, Kripa and Ashwthama together attacked Arjuna to kill him but Arjuna defeated all of them multiple times,[24] during the battle Arjuna also killed Sangramjit the foster brother of Karna and instead of taking the revenge of his brother, Karna took heroice flight in order to save his life from Arjuna.[25]

Kurukshetra War[edit]

Bhagavad Gita[edit]

Arjuna and Lord Krishna, with Krishna as the sarathi or charioteer

As the battle draws close, Arjuna is overcome with self-doubt about the righteousness of the war against his own kith and kin, he is distraught at the thought of having to fight with his friends and family such as his dear teacher, Drona and grandsire Bhishma. It was then that Krishna took charge and explained the necessity and inevitability of the war to Arjuna, this conversation is a key part of the Mahabharata known as Bhagavad gita, and is considered as a holy scripture of Hinduism.

Arjuna plays the role of the reader in the Bhagavad Gita, as Krishna dispenses the advice, Arjuna asks the questions.The Bhagavad Gita primarily takes the form of philosophical dialogue between Prince Arjuna and Krishna.

Battles fought at Kurukshetra[edit]

Defeat of Jayadratha

Arjuna was a key Pandava warrior and played a huge role in the Pandava victory in the Kurukshetra war, his flag bore the symbol of Hanuman.[citation needed]

Some of the crucial battles fought by Arjuna are as follows:

  • Fall of Bhishma: According to original Mahabharat Arjuna fairly killed Bhisma on 10th day of kuru war, Shikhandi does not have any role in the matter, though as per one narrative it is Shikhandi who killed Bhisma.
  • Death of Bhagadatta: On the 12th day of the war, Arjuna killed Bhagadatta.
  • Killing of the Trigartas: On 17th day of war, Arjuna killed all the Trigartas.
  • Death of Jayadratha: Arjuna held Jayadratha responsible for Abhimanyu's death on the 13th day of the war. He vowed to kill him the very next day before sunset, failing which he would kill himself by jumping in a pyre.The Kauravas hid Jayadratha from Arjuna in a formation, knowing that Arjuna's death would result in a Kaurava victory. Finally Arjuna defeated all protector of Jaydratha including Karna and Ashwthama and beheaded Jayadratha and made his arrows to carry away Jayadratha's head,[26] this was because Jayadratha had a boon from his father that whoever would be responsible for his head falling to the ground would have his own head blown up. That is why Arjuna carried the severed head of Jayadratha to his father, who was awoken from his meditation by the sudden landing of a severed head on his body and since he ended up dropping it to the ground, he had his head blown up.
Arjuna Slays Karna, page from a copy of the Razmnama, Mughal period
  • Death of Karna: The battle between the two continued fiercely. Finally Arjuna killed Karna.

Conquest for Ashvamedha[edit]

After the conclusion of the war, the Pandavas take charge of Hastinapura, the undivided realm of their ancestors. Yudhishira appointed Arjuna as the Yuvaraj of Hastinapura.[28]

Yudhishthira decided to hold the Ashvamedha Yagna, or "horse sacrifice", to grant them the title of Chakravarti ("Emperor"). Arjuna led the armed forces which followed the horse around its random wanderings, he received the submission of many kings, either without or following an armed confrontation. He was thus instrumental in the expansion of the Pandava domains. Arjuna was the only warrior who alone conquered whole word in Mahabharat, Apart from Arjuna no one warrior ever achieved this feats.

Arjuna built the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple during his conquest in South India. Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple is one of the "Divya Desams", the 108 temples of Vishnu revered by the 12 poet saints, or Alwars[29] located near Aranmula, a village in Pathanamthitta District, Kerala, South India.

Chaubis Avtar[edit]

Arjuna is considered as 22th avtar of Lord Vishnu in chaubis avtar, a composition in Dasam Granth traditionally and historically attributed to Guru Gobind Singh.[30]


Arjuna throws his weapons in water as advised by Agni

After Sri Krishna left his mortal body, Arjuna took the citizens of Dwaraka, including 16,100 wives of Krishna, to Indraprastha, on the way, they were attacked by a group of bandits. Arjuna desisted fighting seeing the law of time.

Upon the onset of the Kali yuga and acting on the advice of Vyasa, Arjuna and other Pandavas retired, leaving the throne to their only descendant to survive the war of Kurukshetra, Arjuna's grandson Parikshit. Giving up all their belongings and ties, the Pandavas, accompanied by a dog, made their final journey of pilgrimage to the Himalayas, it is also to be noted that the listener of the Mahabharata is Janamejaya, Parikshit's son.[31]

Except for Yudhishthira, all of the Pandavas grew weak and died before reaching heaven (only Yudhishthira is allowed to keep his mortal body). Arjuna was the fourth one to fall after Draupadi, Sahadeva and Nakula. When Bhima asks Yudhishthira why Arjuna isn't permitted the same, the reason given is Arjuna's over confidence in his skills. Draupadi also falls because while she claimed to love all the Pandavas equally, she had a soft spot for Arjuna . Bhima was the fifth to fall after Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva[32]

In popular culture[edit]

Arjuna is a popular choice of name for a Hindu male child in the Indian subcontinent, as told in the verses in Harivamsha or Harivamsha Purana, the name Arjuna is cursed by the sage Parashurama. After the defeat of the mighty and evil king Kartavirya Arjuna or otherwise called Sahasra Arjuna, Sage Parashurama pronounced the curse that whoever holds the name Arjuna will never become a king and always be a servant of others.[33]

Modern references[edit]

Arjuna Wijaya monument in Jakarta, Indonesia

Arjuna's extraordinary talents and skills have made him a common name in popular culture.

  • The American astronomer Tom Gehrels named a class of asteroids with low inclination, low eccentricity and earth-like orbital period as Arjuna asteroids.[34][35][36]
  • The Arjuna Award is presented every year in India to one talented sportsman in every national sport.
  • Arjun is a third generation main battle tank developed for the Indian Army.
  • Mayilpeeli Thookkam is a ritual art of dance performed in the temples of Kerala. It is also known as Arjuna Nrithyam (lit. Arjuna's dance) as a tribute to his dancing abilities.

There have been a serial and a film based on Arjuna's life and exploits.

Additionally, the protagonist in Steven Pressfield's book The Legend of Bagger Vance, Rannulph Junuh, is based in part on Arjuna (R. Junuh).[37]

Arjuna is also an Archer class Servant in the mobile game Fate/Grand Order, he is a minor antagonist in the E Pluribus Unum story chapter, where he wishes to fight Karna again.

In modern television[edit]

In B.R.Chopra's Mahabharat, Arjuna's role is played by Arjun (Firoz Khan).

In 2013 Mahabharat television series, Arjuna is portrayed by Shaheer Sheikh.

Mani Ratnam's 1991 blockbuster Thalapathi was loosely based on the Mahabharata. In the film, Arvind Swamy's character was loosely based on Arjuna.

In Dharmakshetra 2014, actor Ankit Arora portrayed Arjuna.

In 2015 Sony TV serial Suryaputra Karn, actor Navi bhangu played the role of Arjuna.

In Nagarjuna 2015 serial, Rahul Sharma (actor) played Arjuna.


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