Arjuna: The Peerless Archer and Hero of the Mahabharata

Arjuna, the third son of King Pandu and Queen Kunti, is one of the most illustrious characters in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. In the Mahabharata, Arjuna is recognized by many names, with “Partha” and “Dhananjaya” being the most prominent. “Partha” stems from his mother’s name, Pritha (Kunti), and Krishna frequently employs it to address him.

On the other hand, “Dhananjaya,” meaning “winner of wealth,” underscores Arjuna’s expertise in accumulating worldly and spiritual riches. Krishna and others utilize this name to laud his martial prowess and adeptness at surmounting battlefield challenges.

Arjuna’s prowess as an archer was unparalleled. His skill with the bow and arrow earned him the title of “Arjuna,” meaning “bright” or “shining.” His feats in archery remain iconic and set him apart as a legendary warrior.

In this article, we explore Arjuna’s character and delve into his family life, major events in the Mahabharata, significant roles and his ideological philosophy that shaped the destiny of the Pandavas.

Family Life

Father:King Pandu, God Indra
Wives: Draupadi, Chitrāngadā, Subhadra, and Ulupi
Sons:Babruvahana (via Chitrāngadā) , Iravan (via Ulupi), Abhimanyu (via Subhadra), Srutakarma (via Draupadi)
Brothers:Yudhishthira, Bhima, Nakula, Sahadeva, Karna
Other names of ArjunaPartha, Dhananjaya, Savyasachi, Kaunteya (also used for other sons of Kunti), Phalguna, Jaya, Kriti, Gudakesha, Bibhatsu, Vijaya, Gandivadhanva, Jishnu and Shvetavahana.

Birth of Arjuna

Pandu desired a supreme son and decided to please Indra, the king of gods, through rigorous austerities. After consulting with sages, he instructed Kunti to observe a sacred vow for a year while he himself performed severe austerities. Indra eventually responded, promising to grant them a son renowned in the three worlds.

Following Indra’s instructions, Pandu instructed Kunti to summon him, and she did so. Kunti had a son, Arjuna through Indra. Immediately after his birth, a celestial voice proclaimed that Arjuna would possess the prowess of Kartavirya and Shibi, be invincible like Indra, and spread Kunti’s fame far and wide. Similar to how Vishnu brought joy to Aditi, Arjuna would bring happiness to Kunti. The prophecy also foretold that Arjuna would conquer and establish the prosperity of various kingdoms including Madra, Kuru, Kekaya, Chedi, Kashi, and Karusha.

The celestial voices also proclaimed that Arjuna (Havyavahana) would possess unparalleled valor. He would be as valorous as Vishnu and Parashurama, acquiring divine weapons and regaining lost fortune. These prophecies were heard not only by Kunti but also by ascetics residing on Shatashringa. This leads to immense joy and celebrations among gods too, with the sky resounding with the sounds of drums and a shower of flowers.

Arjuna was honored by various classes of gods including gandharvas, apsaras, and the seven maharshis. Apsaras danced and sang praises for him, while gandharvas sang melodious songs. The apsaras, adorned with divine garlands and ornaments, danced gracefully. Various celestial beings, including gods, Rudra, Ashvins, vasus, Maruts, vishvadevas, and saddhyas, gathered in the sky to enhance the glory of Arjuna. Witnessing this extraordinary sight, the supreme hermits were filled with astonishment and their admiration for Pandu’s son (Partha) grew even stronger.

After the deaths of Pandu and Madri, the Pandavas returned to Hastinapura. Concurrently, Drona, having faced humiliation from Draupada, arrived seeking a pupil capable of defeating him. Drona started teaching Kuru princes. Arjuna was exceptional and dear to him.

Bow Test: Arjuna’s Triumph

Drona gathered the princes to test their weapon skills. He placed an artificial bird atop a tree and instructed the princes to shoot at it with their bows. They were to aim at the bird’s head and wait for his signal to release their arrows.

Yudhishthira, instructed by Drona, aimed at the bird with a bow that made a loud noise, awaiting further instructions from his preceptor. Drona questioned Yudhishthira, Can you see that bird on the top of the tree?” “I can see it,” Yudhishthira replied.

After some time, Drona again asked, “Can you see the tree? Can you see me? Can you see your brothers?” Yudhishthira affirmed that he could see them all. However, displeased with his response, Drona expressed doubt about his ability to hit the target.

Drona tested Duryodhana and Dhritarashtra’s other sons, Bhima, and other students and kings from different countries by asking if they could see the bird, the tree, himself, and their brothers. All claimed they could see everything and were scolded by Drona.

Drona called upon Arjuna, instructing him to aim at the target and wait for his command. Arjuna obediently drew his bow, aimed at the target, and awaited further instruction from his preceptor.

After a while, Drona asked him the same question. “O Arjuna! Do you see the bird seated there? Do you see the tree? Do you see me?” Arjuna responded, stating that he could only see the bird, not the tree or Drona. Drona asked Arjuna to describe the bird, to which Arjuna answered that he could only see the bird’s head and not its body. Drona was pleased with Arjuna’s answer.

Arjuna successfully shot the arrow, slicing off the bird’s head as instructed by Drona. Impressed by Arjuna’s skill, Drona embraced him and inferred that Drupada and his relatives had already been defeated in battle.

Arjuna got Brahmashira from Guru Drona

During a bathing excursion to the Ganga with his students, Drona was attacked by a mighty crocodile, which clamped onto his thigh. Despite his ability to save himself, Drona instructed his students to kill the crocodile and swiftly rescue him.

Bibhatsu (Arjuna) quickly responded to Drona’s plea by releasing five sharp arrows, swiftly killing the crocodile underwater. The others were still standing around, looking confused. Impressed by his speed and skill, Drona concluded that Bibhatsu was the best among his students.

Partha’s arrows swiftly dismembered the crocodile, freeing Drona from its grip. Impressed by Arjuna’s prowess, Drona gave him the powerful and supreme weapon called Brahmashira and the knowledge of how to deploy and retrieve it.

Drona instructs Arjuna on adequately using the Brahmashira weapon, advising him never to employ it against humans. He warns that if used against a weaker opponent, it could potentially destroy the universe. Drona emphasizes the weapon’s supreme power and advises Arjuna to preserve it carefully and only use it against superhuman adversaries if necessary.

Arjuna humbly accepted the supreme weapon with joined hands, promising to follow his preceptor’s instructions. Drona reiterated his belief in Arjuna’s unparalleled archery skills, affirming that no one in the world would surpass him.

Arjun’s Married Life

Arjuna’s marital life was intricate, with alliances spanning across kingdoms. He has four wives; Draupadi, Ulupi, Chitrāngadā and Subhadra.

Arjuna’s exceptional archery skills led to his victory in Draupadi’s swayamvara, where he successfully pierced the target and won her hand in marriage. Pre-destined to be the wife of five Pandavas because of her boon in her previous birth, Draupadi became the wife of five Pandavas because Kunti asked Arjuna & Bhima to share the alms with all the brothers, not knowing that, this time, the alms they referred was Draupadi.

Arjuna also married Subhadra, Lord Krishna’s sister. Arjuna has four sons; Babruvahana (via Chitrāngadā), Iravan (via Ulupi), Abhimanyu (via Subhadra), Srutakarma (via Draupadi).

Arjuna’s sojourn in the forest

After listening to the story of Sunda and Upasunda and following the advice of the Narada to minimize the conflicts among brothers because of Draupadi, Pandavas consulted with each other and made a rule. The rule was that if any one of them set eyes on Draupadi when she was lying with any one of the others, he would retire to the forest and live the life of a brahmachari for twelve years.

A Brahmana whose cattle were stolen by thieves went to Khandavaprastha and angrily confronted the Pandavas, accusing them of allowing thieves to plunder his wealth within their kingdom. He implored them to take action and retrieve his stolen property, emphasizing the threat to righteousness and prosperity if such injustices were unchecked. Dhananjaya (Arjuna) heard the Brahmana’s plea for help. But he could not help him as his weapons were in the room where Dharmaraja Yudhishthira was lying with Krishna (Draupadi).

Upon hearing the Brahmana’s distress, Arjuna, feeling conflicted, reflected on his duty to protect the Brahmana’s wealth. Despite knowing that entering the room where Yudhishthira and Krishna were lying without permission would result in banishment in the forest, Arjuna resolved to uphold dharma and protect the Brahmana’s interests. Ultimately, he entered the room and sought Yudhishthira’s permission to take action.

Arjuna, armed with his bow and riding a chariot, swiftly pursued and defeated the thieves who had stolen the Brahmana’s cattle, returning the stolen riches to him. Upon his return, Arjuna expressed his intention to fulfill his vow by dwelling in the forest for twelve years. He asked Dharmaraja to permit him to observe his vow.

Arjuna said, “On seeing you, I violated the rule and must go and dwell in the forest”. Dharmaraja said, “I know all the reasons why you entered the room and caused me displeasure. He explains that it is not sinful for a younger brother to enter a room where the elder brother is with his wife, but it is improper for the elder brother to enter a room where the younger brother is with his wife”.

Dharmaraja eventually understood Arjuna’s commitment to dharma and permitted him to observe his vow. Arjuna, unwavering in his adherence to truth and duty, left for the forest to fulfill his vow of brahmacharya.

Arjuna’s Encounter with Ulupi

Arjuna settled at the source of the Ganga and lived there with the Brahmanas, performing numerous agnihotras rituals, kindling fires, and making offerings into them. The learned and virtuous Brahmanas adorned both sides of the river with flower offerings, consecrating the area and making it exceptionally beautiful.

While bathing in the Ganga, Arjuna was pulled underwater by Ulupi, the daughter of the king of the nagas. She took him to the palace of the naga named Kouravya, where Arjuna performed his rites in a well-built fire.

After performing his rites, Arjuna asked Ulupi about her courageous act and their place. Ulupi revealed that she was the daughter of the serpent king Kouravya and had been captivated by Arjuna’s presence. She expressed her desire for Arjuna to be with her to satisfy her longing.

Arjuna expressed his situation to Ulupi, stating that he was bound by his duty to observe Brahmacharya for twelve years as per Dharmaraja’s command. He was torn between fulfilling Ulupi’s desires and adhering to his dharma.

Ulupi understood Arjuna’s situation and reassured him, telling him this was the rule you made among yourselves for Drupada’s daughter, so the exile was for the sake of Draupadi. She said he must protect those in distress, which did not contradict his vow of Brahmacharya. She encouraged him to stay with her, saying this does not violate dharma.

Ulupi pleaded with Arjuna to grant her life by fulfilling her desire, asserting that doing so would lead to greater righteousness, even if it involved a slight transgression of dharma. She sought refuge with Arjuna, appealing to his compassion and protective nature. Arjuna ultimately did what she wanted, accepting dharma to be the reason. He spent the night with her in the palace of the serpent.

Marriage with Chitrangada

After that, Arjuna headed towards the Himalayas. He visited sacred sites like Agastya’s banyan tree, Vasishtha’s mountain, and Bhrigu’s peak. Journeying eastward, he explored numerous pilgrimage spots, including rivers like Nanda, Upananda, Koushiki, Gaya, and Ganga. Upon reaching the gates of Kalinga, the Brahmanas bid farewell, and Arjuna continued. He then ventured beyond Kalinga, encountering beautiful landscapes and devout followers of dharma. Eventually, he arrived in Manalura after traveling along the ocean’s shores.

In Manalura he encountered King Chitravahana, known for his adherence to dharma, and his stunning daughter, Chitrangada. Upon seeing her, Arjuna was filled with desire and expressed his intentions to marry her to the king.

King Chitravahana explained to Arjuna that Lord Shiva had blessed his lineage, granting them a single offspring in each generation. As a result, despite his desire for a son, he had a daughter, whom he considered his heir (she is supposed to carry forward his lineage). 

Following tradition, he had designated her as his putrika*, and the condition for marrying her was that Arjuna would be regarded as the bride price. Arjuna accepted the condition and married Chitrangada Chitravahana’s daughter. After that, he lived in the city for three winters.

*A putrika is a daughter treated as a son in her father’s household. After her marriage, she continues to reside in her father’s home, and her son is considered her father’s son, thus becoming the heir to the family.

While visiting sacred places of pilgrimage to the South, near the ocean, Arjuna came to know about five places of pilgrimage named Agastyatirtha, Soubhadra, Poulama, Karandhama, and Bharadvaja, which are abandoned by ascetics because of the fear of crocodiles leaving there. Curious, Arjuna planned to visit those trithas (pilgrim sites), though ascetics tried to restrain him. He went to Soubhadra, took a holy bath, and when a giant crocodile grasped him, he seized the crocodile and dragged it out. 

The crocodile turned into a beautiful woman and introduced herself as Apsara, cursed to be the crocodile as she and her friends tried to tempt a Brahmana fixed in his austerities. She also said that sage Narada foretold Arjuna would come there and free them from their sins. Arjuna also freed her friends from that curse and returned to Manulura to see Chintrangada. Through her, he had given birth to a son named King Babhruvahana.

Marriage to Subhadra:

Arjuna first saw Subhadra, Vasudeva’s daughter and Krishna’s sister, when he was strolling in Mount Raivataka. He instantly fell in love with her, which Krishna noticed. When Arjuna expressed willingness to marry Subhadra, Krisha suggested that abduction (Haryana) for marriage would be appropriate. Arjuna abducted Subhadra and married her.

You can read details about Subhadra Harana in this post.

Arjuna’s union with Subhadra resulted in the birth of Abhimanyu, who later played a crucial role in the Kurukshetra War.

Exile and the Incognito Year (Agyatvas):

Following the game of dice, Arjuna and the Pandavas endured twelve years of exile and an additional year incognito, concealing their true identities. During this time, Arjuna served as a eunuch dance teacher named Brihannala.

The Bhagavad Gita:

Arjuna’s relationship with Lord Krishna extended beyond friendship. Krishna served as Arjuna’s charioteer and guide during the Kurukshetra War. The bond between Arjuna and Krishna is a central theme in the Mahabharata.

The Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text within the Mahabharata, is a profound conversation between Arjuna and Lord Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Facing a moral dilemma about fighting against his relatives, Arjuna receives guidance from Krishna on duty, righteousness, and the nature of existence.

The Kurukshetra War:

Arjuna played a central role in the Kurukshetra War, serving as the commander-in-chief of the Pandava army. His iconic feats include destroying the Kaurava army’s divisions and his legendary battle with Karna.

Defeat of Jayadratha:

Arjuna’s vow to kill Jayadratha by sunset on the fourteenth day of the war became a critical moment. Despite challenges, he fulfilled his pledge, displaying his prowess as a warrior.

Ashwamedha Yagna and Departure:

Post-war, Arjuna conducted the Ashwamedha Yagna to establish the Pandava rule. Later, he departed for the Himalayas, seeking salvation and leaving the throne to his grandson, Parikshit.

Major Weapons Used by Arjuna 

Gandiva (Sanskrit: गाण्डीव)

Gandiva is a divine celestial bow made by Brahma. Agni requests Basudeva and Arjuna to assist him in burning down the Khandava forest, as Indra’s interruption has failed his earlier attempts. Arjuna said he could restrain Indra from raining down in this extensive forest, but he did not have the needed equipment. 

Arjuna said that I do not possess a bow that can bear the strength of my arms and withstand the strength and speed I bring to battle. Because of my speed, I need inexhaustible arrows, but my chariot cannot bear all the arrows I desire. I want divine horses that are white and as swift as the wind. And a chariot that will shine like the sun in its energy and will thunder like the clouds.

Gandiva is an extraordinary gem of a bow that had been worshipped by the gods, the Danavas and the Gandharvas, for an eternity. It was endowed with great valour and capable of extending fame and deeds. It was radiant, smooth, and unblemished everywhere and adorned with many colors. It was the chief of all weapons and was the destroyer of enemy armies. Any weapon could not hurt it, but it could destroy all weapons.

Agni’s (god of fire) request Varuna (god of oceans) to give Arjuna this celestial bow, Gandiva, to stop Indra.  In Mahabharata, Adi Parva mentions the burning of Khandavaprastha or Khandava Forest and the making of Indraprastha.  While burning the Khandava forest, Agni did not burn six beings; Ashvasena, Maya, and the four Sharngakas.


Brahmastra is a celestial weapon created by Lord Brahma which is capable of destroying entire armies. Arjuna knew about using the Brahmastra, although he did not use it in the Kurukshetra War. Arjuna obtained the knowledge of the Brahmastra and knowledge of using it, from Guru Drona.


Arjuna was known for his proficiency in archery, and he wielded various arrows with different attributes, such as Agneyastra (fire arrows) and Varunastra (water arrows).


A powerful weapon gifted to Arjuna by Lord Shiva. The Pashupatastra was a fearsome celestial weapon capable of immense destruction.

Mahabharata’s Vana Parva, Chapter 3, details how Arjuna obtained the Pashupatastra through an intense encounter with Lord Shiva in his Kirata (hunter) form. A fierce battle ensues between a disguised form of Shiva and Arjuna, where Arjuna showcases his archery skills. Recognizing Lord Shiva’s true identity, Arjuna humbly surrenders. Pleased with Arjuna’s valor and humility, Lord Shiva grants him the powerful Pashupatastra.

Divine Chariot

On the request of Agni, Arjuna also received a supreme chariot with divine horses from Varuna. Prajapati Bhoumana created the chariot through his ascetic powers. The horses were silvery and from the land of the gandharvas. They were in golden harnesses, as swift as the wind or the mind, and resembled white clouds. Their form was like the sun’s and could not be gazed at. On this chariot, Lord Soma ascended when he defeated the danavas.

The chariot was radiant in its beauty and was gigantic, like an elephant or a cloud. On this supreme of chariots was an excellent flagpole, golden and shining like Shakra’s weapon. On the flagpole was a divine monkey marked with the signs of the lion and the tiger. It seemed to roar out from that adorned perch. Many other great beings were on that flag, and their roars made enemy soldiers lose their senses.


A celestial weapon granted to Arjuna by Lord Vishnu. The Narayanastra had the power to unleash a powerful storm of arrows that could annihilate large armies.


Arjuna also had access to the Vajra, a celestial weapon associated with Lord Indra.

Major Sayings

Arjuna’s character is enriched with profound sayings that reflect his philosophical insights:

On Discipline and Control:

“One can rise through the efforts of one’s mind; the self is one’s friend and enemy.”

Arjuna emphasizes the power of self-discipline and control over one’s mind, highlighting the pivotal role of individual effort in personal growth.

On Detachment:

“Perform your duty equipoised, O Arjuna, abandoning all attachment to success or failure. Such equanimity is called yoga.”

Arjuna’s understanding of detachment and the concept of performing one’s duty without attachment is a central theme in the Bhagavad Gita.

On Dharma:

“Better to live in this world by begging than to live at the cost of the lives of great souls who are my teachers. Even though they are avaricious, they are nonetheless superiors.”

Arjuna reflects on the importance of upholding dharma and expresses his reluctance to derive benefits at the expense of his revered teachers’ lives.

Ideological Philosophy

Arjuna’s ideological philosophy evolves significantly throughout the Mahabharata:

Dharma and Duty:

Arjuna’s initial dilemma on the battlefield reflects his internal conflict between duty (dharma) and the moral consequences of fighting against his kin. The Bhagavad Gita addresses this dilemma, emphasizing the duty to fight for righteousness and justice.

Detachment and Selflessness:

Arjuna learns the principles of detachment and selflessness from Lord Krishna. The concept of performing one’s duties without attachment to the results becomes a guiding principle for Arjuna.

Yoga and Union:

The Bhagavad Gita introduces Arjuna to the path of yoga, emphasizing the union of the individual soul with the Supreme. This spiritual insight transforms Arjuna’s perspective on life and duty.

Eternal Soul (Atman):

Arjuna gains insights into the nature of the eternal soul (atman) and the concept of rebirth. This understanding fosters a sense of acceptance and resilience in the face of life’s challenges.

Path of Devotion (Bhakti Yoga):

Arjuna learns about the path of devotion (bhakti yoga) to attain spiritual realization. His surrender to Lord Krishna and acceptance of divine guidance exemplify the essence of devotion.


Arjuna’s life is a testament to the transformative power of philosophy, introspection, and the pursuit of righteousness. From a skilled archer to a seeker of spiritual wisdom, Arjuna’s character exemplifies the multifaceted dimensions of human existence. His journey, as portrayed in the Mahabharata, continues to inspire and offer profound insights into duty, morality, and the eternal quest for self-realization.

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We, a group of youths born into Hindu families, were raised in the rich culture of Vedic Sanatan Dharma, embracing its cultures and traditions. Post-graduation, recognizing the immense value of our Sanatan Dharma for humanity, we initiated the "Why Hindu" project. With guidance from our elders, we aim to create awareness about Hindu Dharma, delve into Vedic scripture, explore Vedic mantras, and elucidate the significance of festivals. Through this endeavor, we strive to share the profound teachings of our heritage, fostering understanding and appreciation for the timeless principles of Sanatan Dharma.

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