Challenged by an angry Gandharva, Arjuna quickly shows his fighting skill.
The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. The Pandavas, living disguised as brahmanas in a brahmana's house, have just heard the history of the birth of Princess Draupadi of the Pancalas. As the Mahabharata continues, the Pandavas decide to leave for the Pancala kingdom.
HEARING OF THE birth of beautiful Draupadi, or Krsna, the Pandavas felt as if darts had pierced their hearts. All of them, mighty warriors, lost their normal composure and seemed to forget themselves.
The ever truthful Kunti, seeing her sons so confused and almost unconscious, said in private to her son Yudhisthira, "We have been living for a long time here in the brahmana's house, enjoying the charming city and collecting alms. O enemy-tamer, we have seen all the lovely forests and groves again and again. If we see them yet again, O Kuru child, they will not give us any more pleasure. Nor can we go on collecting alms as before. I think it good that we visit the land of the Pancalas, if of course you agree.
"We have never seen that place, son, and it will be quite a pleasant experience. O mighty one, the Pancalas are said to be a generous people who give freely in alms. And we have heard that King Drupada is very kind to brahmanas. I do not think it good for us to stay a long time in one place. So if you agree, my son, let us go straight there."
Yudhisthira Maharaja said, "Whatever you think should be done, I accept as the very best for us. But I don't know whether my younger brothers want to travel."
Kunti then spoke to Bhimasena, Arjuna, and the twins about the trip, and they all agreed. Then, taking permission of their brahmana host, Kunti and her sons departed for the charming capital city of the great soul Drupada.
Meeting with Vyasadeva
When those great souls, the Pandavas, were living in disguise, Vyasadeva, son of Satyavati, came to visit them. Seeing that he had come, those fierce princes rose from their seats and offered their prostrate obeisances. Respectfully greeting him, they stood reverently before him with folded hands.
Thus honored by the Pandavas, the holy sage was pleased. After greeting them in return and bidding them all sit down, Vyasadeva spoke to them out of his deep love for the family of Pandu.
"Are you living according to the laws of God, carefully following the holy books? O mighty princes, do you honor without fail the saintly brahmanas and all those worthy of honor?"
The saintly Vyasa, an incarnation of the Godhead, then spoke to them about their religious life and their practical plans. And after narrating for them many fascinating histories and tales, he said, "Once in a forest where ascetics dwell lived a great-souled sage whose daughter was endowed with all good qualities. She was very lovely, with a thin waist, curving hips, and tender brows. But by her activities in a former life, she suffered ill fortune and could not find a husband. She was unhappy, and to get a husband she began to perform austerities. By her severe self-denial she pleased Lord Siva.
"Being satisfied with her, Lord Siva said to the ascetic maiden, 'Dear humble girl, I am a giver of blessings. You may now choose a blessing from me, for I wish all good for you.'
"The girl was anxious to fulfill her wish, and so again and again she said to the lord, 'I desire a husband who has all good qualities.'
"The eloquent Lord Siva replied, 'My sweet child, you will have five husbands.'
"The girl said, 'Please give me just one husband.'
"Lord Siva again spoke to her in the finest language. 'Five times you told me to give you a husband. So when you have gone on to your next body, it will be just as you said.'
"That girl has recently been born in the family of King Drupada, and she is as lovely as a goddess. Her name is Krsna. This faultless maiden, in the line of King Prsata, is destined by the decree of Providence to be the wife of you five Pandavas. Therefore, mighty princes, enter the capital of Pancala, for when you win that girl you will be very happy without a doubt."
Having thus spoken, the greatly fortunate grandfather of the Pandavas, that great ascetic, bid Kunti and her sons farewell and departed.
The Gandharva's Challenge
Carefully protecting their mother and keeping her always in view in front of them, the Pandavas, strong as bulls, set out toward the north on the smooth and recommended roads. The powerful sons of Pandu traveled day and night until they reached the sacred area known as Soma-sravayana, on the bank of the Ganges. [As the sun set,] admirable Arjuna went in front of them, holding up a torch to illumine the path for safety.
They came to a lovely deserted stretch of the Ganges where a jealous Gandharva* king had come to play in the water with his women. As the Pandavas came down to the water's edge, the Gandharva king heard the noise, which drove that mighty being into a fierce rage.
*The Gandharvas are a type of celestial beings.
Seeing the valiant Pandavas there with their mother, the Gandharva brandished his awful bow and said, "When early evening enters and the forbidding twilight is stained with red, only the first eighty moments are fit for you people to be about. All the darkening time thereafter has been ordained for Yaksas, Gandharvas, and Raksasas to move about as they will. If human beings, in their selfish confusion, come roaming about at those hours, we and the Raksasas deal with those childish fools and drag them down. Therefore scholars of the Vedic science condemn any men though they be kings and armies who come to these waters at night.
"Stay back where you are! Don't come close to me! Why do you not recognize me, who have come here to the waters of the Ganges? Know that I am the Gandharva Angaraparna and I live by my own power. I am proud and jealous, for I am the dear friend of the great Kuvera. This forest along the Ganges, also called Angaraparna, is mine, and the colorful settlement called Vaka wherein I dwell is also mine. Not even a dead body is allowed here, nor gods, nor human beings, nor beasts with horns. How then do you people dare come here?"
Arjuna said, "You fool! In night or day or the time between, who dares claim the ocean or the Himalayan mountain or this sacred river? We are ready with power, and we dare to approach you now at the wrong time, for it is certain that only weak and powerless men will obey you in the hour of your cruelty.
"The Ganges flows freely from a golden peak in the Himalayas. Transforming into seven branches, she goes to the waters of the sea. She is a sacred river, Gandharva, and you cannot obstruct her or drive people away from her, because her pure waters lead to the kingdom of God. How could you even think to close off this river, an act against the eternal law? How can we not bathe in the pure waters of the Ganges as much as we desire? Her waters cannot be obstructed by your mere words."
Hearing these words, Angaraparna was furious. Bending his bow, he fired blazing arrows that shot out like deadly poisonous snakes. But Arjuna, whirling his torch like the finest of shields, drove away every one of the arrows.
Arjuna said, "These scare tactics are not effective with those who know weapons. Rather, such attempts to frighten collapse like bubbles and foam when used on an expert fighter. I recognize that all Gandharvas are superior to human beings. Therefore I shall employ divine weapons, Gandharva, and not mere magic. Brhaspati, the guru of Lord Indra, long ago gave this fiery weapon of the gods called Rgneya unto Bharadvaja, who then taught it to Agnivesya, who delivered it to my guru. And he, Drona, the best of brahmanas, gave it unto me."
Having thus spoken, the furious Pandava Arjuna released his blazing Rgneya weapon against the Gandharva, burning his chariot to ashes. Stunned by the missile's heat and bereft of his chariot, the mighty Gandharva tottered and fell head first toward the ground. Arjuna seized him by the hair on his head, which was adorned with wreaths, and dragged him back to show his brothers.
By this time the Gandharva was unconscious from the effect of the weapon. His wife, Kumbhinasi, desperate to save his life, surrendered to Yudhisthira and begged for asylum.
The Gandharva lady said, "O lord, my name is Kumbhinasi. I am a Gandharva woman, and I have come to you for shelter. Please, I beg you, Maharaja, forgive and protect us and release my husband." Yudhisthira Maharaja said, "Who would kill an enemy defeated in battle and deprived of his glory, especially the husband of a good woman and no longer resisting? Arjuna, O slayer of enemies, release him."
Arjuna said, "Take him, brother. Go now, Gandharva! Don't worry. Yudhisthira, the Kuru king, grants you immunity from all punishment."
The Gandharva's Gifts
The Gandharva said, "I admit defeat. I am giving up my name Angaraparna, for I can no longer be proud of my strength or name in a public assembly. With all my pride I tried to fight a younger, stronger man who holds divine weapons. But even in defeat I have achieved an excellent boon, for I have had the chance to know you.
"By the fire of your weapon, my fabulous chariot burned to ashes. So I who was known as Citra-ratha, 'he of the wonderful chariot,' have now earned the name Dagdha-ratha, 'he of the burnt chariot.'
"Whatever knowledge I have of the military science, I acquired by my previous austerities. I shall now give it all to the great soul who gave me back my life. When a warrior saves the life of an enemy whom he has quickly stunned and defeated and who has come to him for shelter, what beautiful gifts does he not deserve?
"First I give to you the science known as Caksusi, which Manu gave to Soma, who gave it to Visvavasu, who gave it to me. Even if given by a guru, if this science falls into the hands of a coward it automatically vanishes.
"I have told you the lineage of this science. Now I shall describe its power, so listen carefully.
"Anything within the universe a person wishes to see, he may see with this science, and exactly in the manner he desires. If a person stands on one foot for six months continuously, he may obtain this knowledge, but I present it to you, for so I have vowed. It is by this technology, O king, that we Gandharvas rise above the human kind, for by the power of this science we have become virtually indistinguishable from the gods.
"O best of men, I now wish to offer each of you five brothers a hundred horses of the type bred by the Gandharvas. The mounts of the gods and Gandharvas exude a celestial fragrance, and they move at the speed of the mind. Even when their energy is spent, they do not diminish their speed.
"These Gandharva horses change color at will and fly at the speed they desire. And simply by your desire they will appear before you, ready to serve. Indeed, these horses will always honor your wish."
Arjuna said, "Whether you have given these gifts out of love or in fear of your life, Gandharva, I do not want to take your science or wealth or even your accumulated knowledge."
The Gandharva said, "It is clearly seen that when people actually sit down together and unite in friendship, they derive a special pleasure. You have given me the gift of life. I am moved by what you have done, and I therefore give you this science. O best of the Bharata race, I shall take from you the superb Rgneya weapon, and thus our friendship will long endure."
Arjuna said, "I then choose from you the gift of your horses. May our alliance last forever. Now, my friend, tell me how people can be free of their fear of you Gandharvas. Tell me, O tamer of enemies, why you attacked us as we traveled at night, though we are knowers of the Supreme."
The Gandharva's Instructions
The Gandharva said, "You had no sacred fire or sacrificial offerings, nor did you place a priest before you. Thus I attacked you, O son of Pandu.
"O hero, the Yaksas, Raksasas, Gandharvas, Pisacas, Uragas, and human beings all discuss at length the glorious Kuru dynasty. I myself have listened to godly sages like Narada narrate the histories of your wise forefathers. And as I wander all about the ocean-skirted earth, I have witnessed the power of your family. I am familiar with your military professor, who taught you the Dhanur Veda, for that illustrious son of Bharadvaja is known throughout the three worlds.
"O tiger of the Kurus, I know well that six mighty beings the lord of justice, the wind-god, Indra, the twin Asvins, and your own father, Pandu are the force behind the Kuru empire. These forefathers of yours are truly the best among gods and men. Thus it is not surprising that all you Pandava brothers are divine beings, great souls who excel in all weapons, heroes who faithfully act for the good of all creatures. Actually, all of you possess a spiritual mind and intelligence, for your consciousness is fixed on the Supreme.
"Although I knew this, Partha, I still attacked you on the riverbank. In the company of women, Kauravya, a man cannot tolerate being slighted, and he tries to assert his own strength and prestige. At night our strength very much increases, and that is why, Kaunteya, my wife and I allowed ourselves to become so angry.
"O glory of the Kurus, you have defeated me in battle, but listen now as I tell you the principles by which you gained your victory.
"Celibacy in the service of God is the best religious principle, and you have regularly practiced it. Any ksatriya warrior who lives a promiscuous life should be opposed in battle at night, for there is no way he will keep his life. But even though a king may live a lusty life, he will be victorious in battle over all the creatures of the night if he is led by a saintly priest. Therefore, whatever benefit men hope to achieve, they must engage self-controlled priests in the task.
"Those who know and follow the laws of God, who are clean in body and mind, who are devoted to the essence of the six-limbed Veda, and who speak the truth should be the priests of kings. Victory on earth and then promotion to heaven are assured for a king whose priest knows and speaks the principles of religion, who practices them in his own life, and who is thus pure in spirit. A king who appoints and follows a fully qualified priest will gain all he lacks and preserve all he has.
"A monarch who abides by the decision of his priest may aspire to attain all the ocean-skirted earth, with handsome Mount Meru as its crown. A king who does not serve a brahmana will never conquer the world through family alliances or naked heroism. But a kingdom led by brahmanas, O glory of the Kurus, can be preserved for a long time."
Hridayananda Dasa Goswami led the team of devotee-scholars who completed the translation and commentary of the Srimad-Bhagavatam begun by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He is now doing graduate work in Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University.