Encouraged by Lord Krsna,
Arjuna takes a bride in the chivalrous way of a warrior.
The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. As the narration continues, the Pandava Arjuna, during a one-year exile, is visiting Lord Krsna in the great city of Dvaraka.
After Some Days had passed, O king, the Vrsni, Bhoja, and Andhaka dynasties staged a huge festival on Raivataka Mountain. The heroes of these dynasties gave charity to thousands of brahmanas. With elegant cottages and colorful jewels spread all around the mountain, the whole region looked gorgeous, O king. On all sides the trees were beautifully lit up with lamps. Dancers danced, singers sang their songs, and skilled musicians sounded their instruments.
The powerful Vrsni boys, nicely dressed and ornamented, dashed about in golden chariots. By the hundreds and thousands the men of the city came on foot with their wives and followers in varieties of simple and elaborate vehicles.
Almighty Lord Balarama, intoxicated from drinking Varuni honey and followed by the Gandharvas, came strolling about with His wife Revati. Similarly, the mighty Ugrasena, king of the Vrsnis, being praised in song by the Gandharvas, walked about with a thousand female companions. Two of Lord Krsna's sons, Pradyumna and Samba, who could fight with frenzied might, were also affected by drinking heavenly beverages. Sporting divine garlands, they enjoyed themselves like immortal gods.
Gada, Bhanu, Prthu, Viprthu, Akrura, Sarana, Nisatha, Satyaka, Satyaki, Hardikya, Viduratha, Carudesna, Bhangakara, Krtavarma, and all those not mentioned were individually praised in song by the Gandharvas. Surrounded by ladies, the Vrsnis made the festival at Raivataka Mountain a striking affair.
In the midst of the thrill, splendor, and excitement, Lord Krsna, son of Vasudeva, and Arjuna, son of Kunti, walked around together. As the two transcendental friends strolled about the festival ground, they saw Vasudeva's lovely daughter, Subhadra, Sri Krsna's younger sister, in the midst of her friends. She was gorgeously decorated and radiant with pure goodness. As soon as Arjuna saw her, Cupid rose up in his heart.
Krsna noted at once that Arjuna's mind was fixed on His sister. As if to tease Arjuna, the lotus-eyed Krsna said, "O Bharata, what is this? The mind of a saintly forest-dweller is agitated by romantic desire! Arjuna, she is my sister, and the sister of my brother Sarana, born of the same mother. If you are seriously thinking about her, I myself shall speak to our father."
Arjuna said, "Whom would she not bewilder with her perfect beauty, the daughter of Vasudeva and sister of Sri Krsna? If your sister, the Vrsni princess, could become my queen, then I surely must have done all that is good and noble. But what means should I use to win her? Please tell me, Janardana [Krsna], and I shall do it precisely, if it can be done."
Lord Krsna said, "Among warriors, marriages are normally decided by the bride's own choice at a svayamvara ceremony. But it is doubtful that your sentiments would influence Subhadra to choose you. Those who know the sacred law have stated, 'Among warriors who have proven to be heroes, forcibly taking a princess for marriage is approved.' Therefore you should take My noble sister by force."
Arjuna's Bold Act
[After some days had passed,] Arjuna and Krsna made up their minds: "Let us do it!" They dispatched speedy men to go at once to deliver their proposal to Dharmaraja Yudhisthira, who was staying at Indraprastha. As soon as Yudhisthira, the mighty-armed Pandava king, heard the plan, he gave his approval.
When Arjuna learned that Subhadra had gone to Raivataka Mountain, he met with Krsna, and the Lord said, "Let it be done."
Abiding by Krsna's decision, Arjuna departed in a golden chariot built to scriptural code, yoked with the horses Sainya and Sugriva, delicately adorned with a garland of bells, and equipped with a full assortment of weapons. The chariot rumbled like a rain cloud, shone like blazing fire, and struck dead the hopes of the hostile. Arjuna, tightly fitted with armor and wielding a sword, set out at once on the pretext of a hunting expedition, his finger- and wrist-guards fastened.
Subhadra offered reverence to Raivata, the great stone mountain, to all the deities who resided there, and to the brahmanas, having them invoke good fortune with their chants.
After respectfully walking around the mountain, Subhadra was about to depart for Dvaraka when Arjuna, son of Kunti, rushed up to her and forcibly placed her in his chariot. Taking the girl, who was smiling innocently, the tigerlike Arjuna departed for his city in the chariot, which could travel in the sky.
When Subhadra's military escort saw that she was being stolen away, they cried out and then hurried back to Dvaraka to sound the alarm. They went at once to Sudharma, the royal assembly hall, and fully explained Arjuna's bold act to the assembly leader. Hearing this, the leader repeatedly struck the gold-encircled battle drum, and it reverberated throughout the city.
Stirred by the sound, the Bhojas, Vrsnis, and Andhakas put aside their eating and drinking and rushed to the assembly hall. Then, as fires blaze on the sacred altars, so those tigerlike men of the Vrsnis and Andhakas maharatha warriors who shone like swirling fire took their seats by the hundreds on royal thrones wrought in gold, upholstered with costly cushions, and colorfully studded with gems and coral. When all were seated like the gods in session, the assembly chief and his assistants told what Arjuna had done.
When the Vrsni heroes heard this, their eyes turned red with rage, for they could not tolerate Arjuna's deed, and they proudly rose up together and sent forth a war cry: "Yoke the chariots at once! Bring the lances, the full armor, and the most prized bows!"
Some warriors cried out to their chariot drivers, "Yoke the chariots!" while other warriors brought their own swift horses, adorned in gold. As the chariots, armor, and flags were being brought forward, and as the heroic men roared instructions, a great crowd and commotion arose about them.
Lord Balarama Speaks
But Lord Balarama spoke. Standing garbed in blue, sporting a garland of forest flowers, acting as if drunk and emboldened by Varuni beverage, Lord Balarama, as big and strong as the peak of Mount Kailasa, said, "What is this you are all doing without knowledge when you see that Lord Krsna remains silent? Without knowing His feelings you are all enraged and roaring in vain. Let Him, with His great mind, explain to you His own plan and what He would like to do, and then do that with full attention."
Hearing these authoritative words from Balarama, all became silent, and then they began to say, "Yes, He is right. That is best." Thus, having heard these balanced, objective words from the intelligent Balarama, all the men again took their seats in the assembly.
Then Lord Balarama asked victorious Lord Krsna, "My dear Krsna, why do You remain seated, watching all this in silence? O infallible one, for Your sake all of us honored Arjuna, but it seems that he did not deserve the honor, for he has a wicked mind and has disgraced his family. Indeed, what man anywhere, having eaten our food, should then break our dish and still consider himself born in a noble family? Who would behave so rashly and inconsiderately, having come here seeking our friendship, beseeching our help, and knowing all that we have done for him? Insulting us and disregarding You, he has stolen Subhadra, and thus he has taken death upon himself.
"How can I tolerate it, Govinda, when he puts his foot right on My head, for he is treading on the head of a cobra? Today I alone shall rid the earth of the Kauravas, for I will not tolerate such an offense from Arjuna."
All the Bhojas, Vrsnis, and Andhakas agreed, and they supported Lord Balarama, whose deep and grave voice vibrated like kettledrums or rumbling clouds.
(continued in the next issue)
Hridayananda Dasa Goswami, who holds a Ph.D. in Indology from Harvard University, is Professor of Vaisnava Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He frequently speaks at universities and is translating the Mahabharata and other Sanskrit works.