Arjuna, in the Mahabharata, is the third, or middle, Pandava, best known for his skill as an archer, in many ways the hero par excellence of the epic. Son of Kunti by the god Indra, Arjuna wields the bow, Gandiva, carries the monkey Hanumat on his battle standard, and rides a chariot drawn by white horses. Among other early feats Arjuna wins Draupadi as a common wife for the Pandavas in a bow bending contest, strives with Shiva to win weapons before the Kuruksetta war, and visits Indra’s heaven. During the war itself, he is responsible for killing the Kaurava generals Bhisma and Karna, and many other victories.

Arjuna’s close friendship with Krishna is central to the Mahabharata’s structure. Among Arjuna’s wives is Subhadra, Krishna’s sister, the son of Arjuna and Subhadra is Abhimanyu, who dies in the Kuruksetta war. During the Kuruksetta war, Krishna serves as Arjuna’s charioteer and adviser, often inciting him and the other Pandavas to tricky means toward their end of victory. Perhaps the most famous incident of the Mahabharata is Arjuna’s failure of nerve before the war, in which he will be forced to kill his Kaurava relatives, resulting in Krishna’s expounding of the Bhagavad-Gita to encourage him to fight. In the Mahabharata, Arjuna’s friendship (devotion to) Krishna draws him beyond his humanity to semi-divinity. A.G.H.


Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 89