Other names: Parth, Dhananjay, Jishnu, Arjuna
Arjun was the son of Pandu, the King of Hastinapur and his wife Kunti. However, Kunti had summoned Lord Indra (Lord of the Devtas in the heaven) with the help of the mantra given to her by Sage Durvasa. Accordiing to the boon presented to her for serving him she had the power to summon a Deva to father a child with that particular Deva.
Through the liaison of Indra and Kunti, Arjun was born to her and Pandu. One of the names of Kunti was Prutha; that is why Arjun is also known as Parth. Arjun was the third of the five Pandavas. Arjun was also famed for his incredible skill in archery, using either hand. That is why he was called “Savyasachi”. Arjun took over many regions and kingdoms and acquired lots of wealth and so came to be known as “Dhananjay”. In fact Arjun was such a peerless archer that he is often referred to as “Jishnu” – the invincible.
Arjun is considered to be an incarnation of Nara, the younger brother of Narayan. He is sometimes referred to as the ‘fourth Krishna’ of the Mahabharata.
Arjun was the favourite student of Guru Dronacharya. A well known story about Arjun exemplifies his powers of concentration. Guru Dronacharya once decided to test his students’ archery skills. He hung a wooden bird from the branch of a tree and then summoned his students. He asked the first one to aim for the bird’s eye but not shoot just yet.
He then asked the student to describe what he could see. The student replied that he could see the garden, the tree, flowers, etc. Drona asked him to step aside and not shoot. He repeated the same process with a few other students. When it was Arjun’s turn, Arjun told his Guru that the only thing he could see was the bird’s eye. This response satisfied the Guru and Arjun was permitted to shoot the bird. The lesson here is the power of focus.
Arjun once noticed his brother, Bhima, who was a voracious eater, eating in the dark with as much facility as if it was daylight, and realized that if he could practice archery in the dark he would be a master.
Arjun had also learnt the science of arms from Parshuram. During the time of the Pandavas’ exile in the forest, Arjuna left his other brothers and embarked on a journey to the Himalayas to meditate upon Lord Shiva. Shiva was pleased with his adventurous nature and gifted him with the Pashupati Astra, Agneya Astra, Gandiv Dhanush and the Akshaya Tunir (quiver of arrows which never empties). Arjun was also gifted a huge chariot named Nandighosh by Lord Varun (Lord of Waters).
Arjun was an expert in archery and the use of arms, and a valiant warrior. He was also famous as a virtuous, justice- loving and a well-mannered person. Arjun had learnt the art of dance and music from Chitragupta himself.
The King of the Panchal region Drupad had organized a Swayamvar (choice of husband by a princess in a public ceremony) for his daughter Draupadi. A wooden fish was suspended high above a reflective pool of oil; furthermore, the fish rotated. Contestants were required to string a heavy bow and then hit the eye of the rotating fish with an arrow, but could aim only by looking at the fish’s reflection in the pool of oil. It was Arjun, the peerless archer, who alone was able to accomplish the set task, and so he was the one who married Draupadi. He also married Subhadra, sister of Shri Krishna.
With this marriage, Abhimanyu was born. By marrying Chitraganda, daughter of Manipur king, he became the father of a son named Babhruvahan. While his visit to Indrapuri (Indralok), a heavenly nymph named Urvashi was attracted to him. Urvashi expressed her love to Arjun but he rejected her, saying that as she was the nymph of Indra’s court and she was like a mother to him. At this, Urvashi got angry and cursed him to become a eunuch for one year.
During the one-year period of their living incognito (in disguise) to avoid the agents of Duryodhana, who were searching for them everywhere in order to kill them, the Pandavas spent this time at King Viraat’s house, living incognito as servants. There, Arjun taught music and dance to Viraat’s daughter Uttara in the disguise of Vrihannla, the eunuch.
Arjun and Shri Krishna were extremely fond of each other. It was due to this fondness he became the charioteer of Arjun in the war of Mahabharata. At the beginning of the war, on seeing the respectable elders Bhisma Pitamah, Guru Dronacharya and his brothers Kauravas in front of him, ready to fight to the death, Arjun became aghast at the thought of what he was about to do, and dropped his bow and arrows, thinking that he could not continue with the war. Then, Krishna revealed to him His identity in the dialogue known as the Bhagavad-Gita and thereby motivated him to continue and fight the war without further hesitation.
In the Gita, Krishna deemed it Arjun’s duty to struggle to uphold righteousness and to fight the war without consideration of personal loss, consequence or reward; the discharge of one’s moral duty, he said, supersedes all other pursuits, whether spiritual and material, in life.
Krishna also counseled Arjun on the greater idea of dharma or universal harmony and duty. He began with the tenet that, the soul was eternal and immortal. Any ‘death’ on the battlefield would involve only the shedding of the body, but the soul was permanent and undying. Arjun’s hesitation stemmed from a lack of right understanding of the ‘nature of things,’ the privileging of the unreal over the real. His fear and his reticence to kill his relatives and teachers became actual impediments to the proper balancing of the universal dharmic order, which called for him to fight the war and overthrow Duryodhana.
Essentially, Arjun wished to abandon the battle, to abstain from action; Krishna warned however, that without action, the cosmos would fall out of order and truth would be obscured; the warriors in front of him were all destined to die in any case; then why not die in a dharmic war, decreed by God Himself?
In order to clarify his point, Krishna expounded the various Yoga processes and understanding of the true nature of the universe. Krishna described the yogic paths of devotional service, action, meditation and knowledge.
Fundamentally, the Bhagavad-Gita proposes that true enlightenment comes from growing beyond identification with the temporal ego, the ‘False Self’, the ephemeral world, so that one identifies with the truth of the immortal self, the absolute soul or Atman. Through detachment from the material sense of ego, the Yogi, or follower of a particular path of Yoga, is able to transcend his/her illusory mortality and attachment to the material world and enter the realm of the Supreme. Thus the “sin” of destroying a family is subsumed in, and trumped by, the dharma of fighting the ‘righteous’ war.
Arjun played a major role in the victory of the Pandavas in the war of Mahabharata. After the end of the war, Arjun, along with his brothers and mother Kunti, went to the Himalayas, and there he left for his heavenly abode.