MBK: 1.29: Arjuna Returns

Although offered every kind of enjoyable thing by their celestial hosts on Gandhamādana, the Pāṇḍavas thought only of Arjuna. They could not wait to see him again, and the days passed slowly as they expected his return at any moment. The Yakṣas brought Dhaumya and Draupadī to the mountain summit to be with the Pāṇḍavas and to greet Arjuna when he arrived.

On the seventh day from the battle, the Pāṇḍavas saw in the sky Indra’s brilliant chariot approaching the mountain, resembling a meteor emerging from the clouds. Upon it they saw Arjuna seated like Indra himself. He was wearing glowing silk robes and was adorned with celestial ornaments and garlands, a brilliantly jeweled coronet on his head.

The Pāṇḍavas stood to receive him. All of them felt the greatest happiness as the chariot slowly descended, drawn by its ten thousand steeds. As it reached the ground, Arjuna got down and bowed at Dhaumya’s feet, then at Yudhiṣṭhira and Bhīma’s. The twins then bowed to him and he greeted Draupadī with gentle words. He handed her a number of celestial gems of sun-like splendor which Indra had given to him.

Yudhiṣṭhira also greeted and worshipped Mātali as if he were Indra himself. He inquired from him about the gods’ welfare. Mātali spoke affectionately to the Pāṇḍavas as a father might speak to his sons. Then he ascended the chariot and returned to Amarāvatī.

Arjuna sat amid his brothers while they asked him to tell them all about his adventures. He narrated everything he had experienced, beginning from his first meeting with Indra in the form of a Brahmin up to his departure from heaven. Arjuna told them that after he had received his training from Indra, he had to offer him dakṣiṇa. Indra had said to Arjuna, “There is nothing in the three worlds which you cannot now achieve. You are master of all the divine weapons and have no equal in warfare. I desire that you destroy my enemies, the Nivātakavacas, a race of fierce Dānavas who dwell in the womb of the ocean in great forts. By killing these demons you will fully gratify me, O hero, and repay your debt to me.”

Indra then allowed Arjuna to use his chariot and gave him a suit of impenetrable armor. He had also placed upon his head the coronet, saying, “Be victorious!”

Blessed by the celestials, Arjuna then set out on Indra’s chariot. As he was leaving, the gods presented him with a conch shell called the Devadatta, whose sound could disperse his foes. Mātali drove the chariot and they soon approached the ocean. Arjuna described the ocean to his brothers. “That dreadful and inexhaustible lord of the waters was covered by swelling waves that dashed against each other, appearing like moving hills. I saw ships full of gems sailing the sea, as well as whales, timiṅgilas, serpents and other fierce aquatics. Through the waters I could see submerged shells and heaps of precious stones. They appeared like stars on a night covered with light clouds.”

Arjuna described how Mātali had steered the mystical chariot, which could travel anywhere in the three worlds, through the ocean toward the Dānavas’ city. As it entered the nether regions and approached the city it made the whole region resound with the fearful clatter of its wheels. Hearing the thunderous sound, the Dānavas considered that Indra must be approaching to do battle with them.

“They closed the city gates and manned the ramparts. I saw thousands of demons standing with bows, swords, javelins, axes, maces and clubs, their hearts filled with fear and their limbs trembling. Taking out the Devadatta, I let out many mighty blasts which made all creatures hide in fear. The Nivātakavacas then poured out of their city by the tens of thousands. They were clad in shining mail and they clutched maces, spears, clubs, sabers, hatchets, rockets, guns and swords ornamented with gold and jewels.

“Mātali maneuvered the chariot skillfully and baffled the demons’ advance. Indeed, he moved the chariot so swiftly that I could perceive nothing at all. My enemies sounded their strange musical instruments, creating a discordant blare that filled the battlefield and stupefied the minds of all beings.

“As the Dānavas rushed at me releasing hundreds of thousands of arrows, I saw in the sky the ṛṣis who had come to witness the fight. They eulogized me with select Vedic prayers and thus inspired me. I was surrounded and enveloped by sheets of fierce-looking shafts, but I countered the demons’ arrows and the downpour of spears, maces and clubs.

“The chariot moved with the speed of the wind. Freed from the assault, I counterattacked the Dānavas. With straight-coursing arrows I drove them back, piercing each demon with a number of deadly shafts. At the same time, Mātali urged my ten thousand steeds toward the enemy and trampled vast numbers of them. He drove the chariot with such dexterity that it seemed as if it was being drawn by only one horse.

“Firing my arrows with unerring accuracy, I cut off the outstretched arms of the demons, which fell to the ground still clutching their weapons. Their helmeted heads rolled on the earth like so many ripe fruits shaken from trees. The Dānavas came at me in wave after wave. I charged my arrows with the Brahmā mantras and cut them down as they rushed upon me, but so great was their number that I became sorely oppressed on all sides. I then took up Indra’s weapon, the mighty thunderbolt, and hurled it against the demons. It threw them away from the chariot and smashed all their weapons to pieces. I quickly followed this move by shooting ten arrows at each of my assailants.

“Seeing shafts leaving my bow like rows of black bees, Mātali praised me. The arrows, inspired by mantras, drove back the enemy and mangled the soldiers. Blood was flowing like rivulets during the rainy season.

“The infuriated demons then began to fight by using illusions.

“Instantly the Dānavas vanished and rocks showered from the sky. Aiming upward and whirling quickly about, I checked the rocks with crescent-headed arrows, smashing them to pieces. Then the demons sent down torrents of rain, accompanied by a fierce wind. The whole area was flooded and no difference could be perceived between earth and sky. There seemed to be an endless sheet of water covering everything. Struggling to keep my mind controlled, I invoked the flaming Visoshana weapon, which Indra had also given me. It immediately dried up the waters and the air was filled with a massive cloud of steam.

“I could hear the demons’ terrible shouts, although they remained invisible. They sent tongues of fire at me and a screaming hurricane. I countered the fire with a celestial water weapon and stopped the wind with a mountain weapon. Then they caused a fearful darkness so that I could see neither Mātali nor my own hands wielding the bow. A shower of iron clubs fell from above and the Dānavas let out horrible screams on all sides. The steeds drew back and Mātali dropped his whip and cried out, ‘Where are you, Arjuna? What has happened?’

“Both of us were struck with terror. Mātali said, ‘O sinless Arjuna, although I have accompanied Indra in many encounters with the demons, I have never been confounded in this way and lost control of the horses. It seems that this battle has been ordained by the creator himself, who now desires the destruction of the universe. Surely no other outcome is possible from such a terrible fight.’

“I stood silent for some moments to gain control over my mind. Then I replied, ‘Be at ease, charioteer. See now the prowess of my arms and my weapons. I shall counter these illusions with the Gāṇḍīva bow.’

“I then invoked astras capable of stupefying the enemy and the Dānavas’ illusions were dispelled. They again appeared before me. Without delay, they produced more illusions that stunned my mind and senses. At one moment the earth seemed covered by darkness, then it seemed to be submerged in water, then it disappeared completely so that my chariot appeared as if suspended in space.

“I released the Shabdavedi weapon and dispelled that illusion, whereupon Mātali again steered the chariot toward the enemy. The demons flew toward me in a rage. I cut them down remorselessly with great volleys of razor-faced arrows. Then they vanished again, continuing to fight invisibly. By using celestial weapons capable of seeking them out, I continued to slay them.

“The Nivātakavacas then gave up their illusions and retreated into their city. At once everything became visible. I saw the ground covered with their mangled bodies, their weapons, ornaments, armor and limbs. It was impossible for the horses even to step. Mātali urged them upward and the chariot sprang into the sky.

“Seeing my foes retreat I relaxed, but the next moment the demons invisibly attacked me again. A thick shower of mountain crags rained down upon me. From beneath me I felt the Dānavas grasping hold of the horses’ legs and pulling them down. So many rocks were falling that it seemed as if my chariot was in a cave. Again I was gripped by fear. Seeing this Mātali said, ‘O Arjuna, take heart. Use Indra’s thunderbolt weapon. It will destroy these rocks.’

“I chanted the mantras to invoke Indra’s weapon while placing iron darts on the Gāṇḍīva. Charged with the power of Indra’s Vajra, the darts sped toward the crags and smashed them to powder. The darts also dispelled the demons’ illusions and struck them down from the sky. They fell screaming on all sides like huge meteors dropping from the heavens. Many of them fled and entered the bowels of the earth, while others vanished into the sky.

“Realizing that the demons had been defeated, I told Mātali to drive the chariot into the city. He gazed about the battlefield in amazement and said, ‘I have never witnessed such prowess, not even from the gods. These demons have until now been impossible to conquer, even by the combined efforts of the gods.’

“Mātali drove the chariot toward the city gates and I reflected on the battle. Although hundreds of thousands of Dānavas, each like a mountain, lay dead, neither Mātali nor myself had been injured. This was wonderful. Without doubt it was Kṛṣṇa’s potency alone that had protected us and enabled me to defeat the gods’ mighty foes.

“We entered the Dānavas’ city and saw thousands of wailing women. They fell back in fear as we passed, terrified by the chariot’s thunderous rattle. The clash of their jewels and ornaments as they fled resembled the sound of hail falling upon a mountain. I saw the ladies quickly disappear into their golden palaces, which were bedecked with countless gems.

“Astonished to see the city’s opulence, I said to Mātali, ‘This place appears superior to Amarāvatī. How is it that the gods do not reside here?’

“Mātali replied that the city had once been Indra’s residence, but the demons gained possession of it after pleasing Brahmā through asceticism. Brahmā gave them boons which rendered them invincible to the gods. Indra had then gone to Śiva and asked his assistance, whereupon Siva replied, ‘You shall regain this city in the future when you assume a different body.’”

As Arjuna spoke his brothers looked at him in amazement. His prowess in battle now exceeded even that of his illustrious father, the lord of the gods.

Arjuna continued: “I then left the Dānava city and headed back toward Amarāvatī. On the way back, the chariot passed another great city which floated in the sky and shone like a second sun. It was full of trees made of jewels and adorned with golden towers and palaces. Four impregnable gateways stood on each side of the city, studded with iridescent gems that radiated countless hues. I have never seen anything like them.

“Mātali told me that this was the city of the Kalakanyas, a class of fierce Daityas. It was called Hiraṇyapura, and even the gods could not conquer it. Therefore the demons dwelt there without fear. The Kalakanyas were destined to be killed by a mortal by Brahmā’s arrangement. Thus Mātali urged me to rush upon the Daityas and please Indra.

“I replied, ‘Take me there at once. The gods have no enemies whom I do not also consider my enemies.’

“As we approached the city, the demons charged out in a body, thinking that Indra had come to fight. Without a second’s delay, they rained weapons upon me--arrows, maces, swords, axes, darts and lances. I countered their attack with mighty volleys of shafts from the Gāṇḍīva. Mātali drove with such skill that the Daityas were bewildered and they fell upon one another in their attempts to attack me.

“Realizing that I was a formidable enemy, the Daityas retreated into their city, which then began to move in all directions. Sometimes it appeared in the sky, then under the ocean, then it disappeared altogether. Then it suddenly reappeared in front of me, shot upward, and made various curving motions through the air. Although I found it difficult to follow its movements, I managed to check its progress with straight-coursing arrows inspired by mantras. I released so many shafts that the city was torn to pieces and it fell to the ground in flames.

“The Daityas rose into the sky and continued to fight. Mātali then brought us down to earth and I was immediately hemmed in by more than fifty thousand chariots. I fought them with celestial weapons, but the powerful Daityas gradually repelled my missiles. The mighty demons stood before me encased in brilliant golden armor, wearing helmets and celestial garlands, and with chariots decorated with rows of flags. My mind was attracted by the sight of the Daityas in battle array and I struggled in vain to overpower them.

“I was sorely oppressed by their weapons. Sinking in the ocean of the Kalakanyas, I suddenly remembered Śiva’s weapon. Mustering up my courage, I uttered the mantras sacred to the three-eyed deity. At once there appeared before me a huge personality with three heads, nine eyes, six arms, and hair blazing like fire. His clothes consisted of great serpents whose tongues darted back and forth.

“I shook off my fear and bowed to that awful form of the eternal Śiva. Then I fixed on my bow the Rudra-astra and, continuously chanting the mantras, released it to destroy the Daityas.

“Thousands of diversely shaped missiles spread out across the battlefield as the weapon was fired. Some resembled lions, some tigers, and others bears and buffaloes. There were serpent-shaped missiles and others shaped like elephants, bulls, boars and cats. Simultaneously, the battlefield filled up with Śiva’s followers--innumerable Guhyakas, Yakṣas, Piśācas, Bhūtas, and other ghostly beings. All of them rushed toward the Daityas with frightening roars.

“As the Rudra-astra wrought havoc among the enemy, I fired a ceaseless shower of arrows glaring like fire and made of the essence of rocks. The Daityas were routed and the few that survived fled in fear. Seeing that my victory was due only to Śiva’s weapon, I bowed down to him right on the battlefield. Mātali praised me and we then returned to Indra’s abode.

“When Indra heard of my achievement he was pleased and blessed me that I would always remain cool-headed in battle and would always discharge my weapons unerringly. He also said that no celestial fighters, --whether Dānavas, Daityas, Nāgas, Gandharvas, Suparṇas, or Yakṣas--would be able to overcome me. He told me that I would conquer the earth and hand it to Yudhiṣṭhira. He gave me this impenetrable armor I now wear and fixed this coronet upon my head. He also presented me with the Devadatta; then he brought me back to this mountain.”

As Arjuna ended his narration, Yudhiṣṭhira was awestruck. He said, “O Dhanañjaya, it is fortunate indeed that you have met the most powerful gods and received from them all the divine weapons. I consider the earth already conquered and Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s sons subdued. O Bharata, I should like to see the weapons with which you defeated the demons.”

Arjuna assented to his elder brother’s request and prepared to display the weapons. With the earth as his chariot, the Pāṇḍava stood holding the Gāṇḍīva and recalled the mantras to invoke the various missiles. In his celestial armor and diadem, he faced east and silently concentrated his mind on the prayers.

Just as he was about to exhibit the weapons, the earth trembled and the mountain seemed ready to split. The sun was covered and the wind ceased to blow. Brahmins found themselves unable to recite the Vedas and all creatures felt oppressed. Suddenly, the Pāṇḍavas saw in the sky the powerful four-headed Brahmā surrounded by all the gods. The Gandharvas and Apsarās also appeared, dancing and singing on the mountainsides. A shower of flowers fell upon Arjuna as he looked about in amazement. Before him appeared the divine sage Nārada, sent by the gods.

Nārada said, “O hero, do not discharge the celestial weapons for no purpose or they will destroy the three worlds. These weapons should only be used against powerful foes in battle. Do not be so rash.”

Nārada turned to Yudhiṣṭhira, “O Ajātaśatru, you will see all the weapons when Arjuna uses them in the war against the Kauravas.”

The brothers bowed to Nārada and he departed, along with all the gods.