Duryodhana, the eldest Kaurava was jealous of the Pandavas, his cousins. Time and again the only wish he ever had was to humiliate the Pandavas.
With the help of his scheming uncle Shakuni, Duryodhana invited the Pandavas to a game of dice. Shakuni was an expert in playing with loaded dice. Yudhishtara the eldest Pandava lost everything in the gamble..his money, his army, his kingdom... Yudhishtara even bet his brothers and himself and lost it all to Shakuni in the game.
Finally Yudhishtara staked Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas...and lost her too....
Draupadi was humiliated in the Kaurava court.
Despite this, Draupadi argued brilliantly before the elders in the Kaurava assembly and won back all the riches that her husband had lost in the game of dice.
As they were returning back to Indraparastha, Duryodhana invited the Pandavas once again to a game of dice.
Though his brothers objected to Yudhishtara taking up the challenge, he convinced them citing reasons like honour and promise and sat down for the game of dice for the second time with Shakuni. However this time, the bet was different. If the Pandavas lost, then they would have to go on exile for 13 years. The last year of the exile had to be spent in hiding. If the Kauravas found the Pandavas during the last year, the Pandavas had to undergo another 12 years of exile and the thirteenth year in hiding....
Yudhishtara accepted. And lost the game....The Pandavas were sent in exile, their hearts burning with revenge.
After what Duryodhana and his brothers had done to Draupadi, all of them knew that war between the two sides was inevitable....it was only a matter of time....
So under the advice of Sage Veda Vyasa, Arjuna set out to the Himalayas to perform penance and obtain celestial weapons of the Gods.
As he went to the Himalayas, the other sages saw the dark warrior, dressed in rags carrying his weapons and sit down in a posture ready for penance.
They were surprised and hurriedly went before him, trying to stop him. 'This is not a place for weapons, my son! This is place for performing meditation and penance! This is a place of peace. Either leave your weapons or go somewhere else!'
Arjuna heard them, but he did not heed to any of them. He made a linga out of the mud and sat before it, deep in meditation....
Meanwhile Duryodhana, through his spies learnt that Arjuna was in the Himalayas performing deep penance. He was worried. Arjuna even on normal days was a formidable warrior, if he obtained the celestial weapons, he would become almost impossible to defeat....
Worried, Duryodhana went to his friend Mooka. Mooka was an asura who could turn his form at will....
Arjuna was deep in meditation, when he heard a loud snort. He ignored it and continued with his meditation. But then the snort grew louder...The snort was coming towards him...Arjuna could also hear the scream of the sages whenever he heard the snort.
As Arjuna was busy listening, he saw a huge boar run towards him. The boar was mauling a sage as it made its way towards him. In a flash Arjuna picked up his bow and let the arrow fly.
The arrow as usual was unerring in its aim. Mookasura who had disguised himself as the boar fell dead before he could come anywhere near Arjuna….
Arjuna smiled and was about to go near the boar when he heard a burst of derisive laughter coming from a woman. Surprised he turned and saw a hunter chief and his wife leading a group of hunters who were obviously chasing the boar.
Arjuna was also puzzled why the woman had laughed at him. He looked at the group waiting for them to speak.
'You are really a brave man!' She said mockingly, her eyes twinkling, 'You are shooting an already dead boar and claiming it as your kill!' The woman was arrogantly looking at Arjuna as she sided with the chief hunter who had a a bow in his hand.
For a second, Arjuna did not even understand what the woman was trying to say. Then he spied another arrow sticking out of the dead boar from the other side. Numbly he put together what the woman said...The woman thought her husband had shot the arrow before him!
Arjuna looked at the man and spoke quietly, 'I shot the arrow before you! The kill is mine!'
The hunter laughed as his men laughed with him. 'Your kill? How is that even possible? I am the best wielder of any weapon. And you puny human..' the hunter looked scornfully at Arjuna, 'have the audacity to come and tell me that you shot the arrow before me!'
Arjuna looked at the hunter in slow anger. 'The boar was coming for me! And I am Arjuna, the Pandava!' Usually when anyone else heard these words, they looked at Arjuna with surprise and wonder. However the hunter and his group looked decidedly unimpressed. 'Nobody can shoot arrows faster than me!' Arjuna said a little boastfully.
His statement was met with derisive laughter from the entire hunter group and finally Arjuna's anger broke through. 'You uncouth hunter! You think you can make a statement at your will and get away with it? ' Arjuna said angrily. 'I challenge you to a fight! Then I will show you who shot the arrow first!'
The hunter shrugged in a 'whatever-you-want' manner and grinned cheekily. Arjuna was more than annoyed. He was going to teach a lesson to the arrogant hunter...
And so the fight started...
Arjuna had utmost confidence in himself. He knew he could not be beaten by any other human other than Karna...But Arjuna was in for a surprise, it was more of a rude shock.
Not even one arrow of Arjuna was able to pierce the hunter. The hunter was able to effectively destroy the arrows almost as soon as they left Arjuna's bow...Arjuna on the other hand was bleeding heavily from the arrows of the hunter.
To his surprise, Arjuna found that his quiver which was blessed with inexhaustible supply of arrows was empty...Before he had time to even reflect upon it, the hunter started his attack again. Undaunted Arjuna pulled out his sword and the fight continued.....Arjuna, despite his anger at the hunter, could only marvel at the swordsmanship of the hunter.
Before long, Arjuna's sword lay broken in half and the hunter was looking at him with a jeering smile in his face.
In anger, Arjuna threw down the half broken sword and rushed at the hunter to fight with his bare arms. It seemed as if the hunter did not care whether Arjuna fought with weapons or his bare hands.
The hunter picked up Arjuna and threw him on the ground as if he was a bag of saw dust. Dazed, Arjuna slowly got up from the ground. Groggily he attacked the hunter again, but the hunter punched Arjuna straight in the face and in the abdomen. Arjuna collapsed and mercifully blacked out.......
Arjuna opened his eyes. More than seeing, he sensed that the hunter was still there with his group. The hunter ignored him and was talking with his men. Arjuna focused his eyes ignoring the pain and made a linga out of the mud before him and started worshiping...
Lord Shiva! Where are you now? A hunter with no special skills is making mockery out of me...I was so proud that I could not be defeated in battle by anyone other than Karna...My brothers rely on me for fighting the war for them...And here I am broken and hopeless unable to defeat even a hunter....Arjuna placed a garland on the linga and closed his eyes trying to concentrate on his prayers. Please help me Lord! Come to my aid!
Slowly Arjuna opened his eyes. Determined he looked at the hunter and blinked...For a second Arjuna could not believe what he was seeing...The garland...the garland he had placed on the linga was lying around the hunter's neck...
For the second time that day Arjuna felt numb...This time however his face broke into a happy whoop of joy! He now knew who the hunter was!
He fell at the feet of the hunter, feeling a little ashamed of himself that he could not even identify the three eyed Lord and his Goddess, who had come to meet him.
Lord Shiva embraced Arjuna. 'Your penance, meditation and concentration is amazing! I am very impressed!'
Arjuna felt a doubt nag his head as he asked the Lord in a quiet voice, 'But those sages....they said I was not to bring any weapons!'
Lord Shiva laughed, 'You are a warrior! You are performing penance for the celestial weapons!' Lord Shiva grinned. 'I do not think there is anything wrong in bringing weapons for performing a penance like that!'
Arjuna felt his heart racing, but he did not say anything. He wished....he wished that Lord Shiva would give him his heart's desire....
Lord Shiva smiled, 'You are definitely worthy of it, my son! I have never seen a more courageous warrior! You just did not give up, no matter what! I think you will definitely be worthy of handling the Pashupatastra!’ Lord Shiva nodded to himself and then looked at Arjuna, ‘Besides, my son, you are going to need the Pashupatastra to fulfill your purpose on the earth…’
Arjuna blinked as he looked at the kind face of Lord Shiva. ‘My purpose?’ Arjuna looked blankly. ‘What purpose? The only reaon I want the celestial weapons is in case war breaks out between us and Kauravas….I...’ Arjuna shook his head uncertainly as he looked at the Lord.
Lord Shiva smiled sadly. ‘There is no question of the war not happening! It will…it has to!’
Arjuna wondered what the Lord was trying to say, when Lord Shiva continued, ‘My son, the Dwapara yuga is going to come to an end and the Kali yuga will start….Before the start of the last Kali yuga, the arrogant warriors and the kings have to destroyed….they cannot be allowed to continue from the Dwapara yuga! That would be disastrous!’
Arjuna shivered as he looked at the three-eyed Lord. Lord Shiva looked at him with a melancholy smile, 'Many thousands of years back there were two sages who were also brilliant warriors. They were called Nara and Narayana!' Arjuna felt something deep stir within himself but he could not exactly put the finger on what it was. Lord Shiva continued. 'Throughout their life they destroyed the arrogant and the haughty demons, asuras, warriors and kings...' Lord Shiva looked at Arjuna straight in the eye. 'Their mission has continued even to this yuga!'
Arjuna listened without understanding. He knew this story was somehow important, but he did not know how.
Lord Shiva shook himself out of his reverie. 'But what is important right now...'He continued in a business like manner, 'is to teach you how to use the Pashupatastra!'
Arjuna watched with awe as the Lord taught him how to use the weapon and the shlokas to summon the weapon to him.
Looking at Arjuna learn how to use the Pashupatastra, Lord Shiva realized that Arjuna was the perfect student for handling the weapon. He would fulfill the purpose of his life...
[In Hindu mythology it is believed that Arjuna was Nara and Krishna was Narayana, in their previous births]
As Arjuna practiced the Pashupatastra, his eyes shone with a new light. It was the ultimate weapon of destruction, a weapon to end all wars….
Arjuna shivered again as he remembered the words of the Lord... There is no question of the war not happening! It will…it has to.
Somewhere deep down Arjuna hit realization Everything he and his brothers underwent, everything that had happened to Draupadi, all of it, was meant to lead to the war….the great war between his brothers and his cousins….a war to end all the wars and for the destruction of the warriors…all of them.
With the blessings of Lord Shiva, Arjuna gained complete mastery over the Pashupatastra....
The author thanks Mr. A. Narayanan for his review comments.
The author thanks Mr. A. Narayanan for his review comments.