MBK: 1.9: The Gandharva Aṅgaraparna

When the sun rose the people of Ekacakra found Baka’s dead body. They were astonished to see it lying there in a twisted mess, its mouth and eyes wide open. The citizens’ hair stood on end and their mouths fell open in amazement. Thousands of people gathered, all asking who had killed him. Gradually they realized that it had been the Brahmin’s turn to take food to the demon the previous night. A noisy crowd soon gathered outside the Brahmin’s house. While the Pāṇḍavas remained inside, the Brahmin spoke to the people.

“Yesterday as I sat by the roadside weeping at the thought of mine and my family’s plight, a Brahmin came by. When he found out the cause of my distress, he promised to deliver me and the town from this constant danger. Learned in the incantations that invoke celestial weapons, the Brahmin assured me that he would take the food to Baka on my behalf and kill him. He must have been successful at this inconceivable feat, because Baka now lies dead.”

The people looked at one another in wonder. Then they laughed and shouted in joy. They declared a festival to the Rākṣasa’s death.

The Pāṇḍavas continued to live at the Brahmin’s house as Vyāsadeva had instructed them. It had been months since the sage had last spoken with them. They expected his return at any time, and they passed their days in begging alms and studying the Vedic scriptures.

One day a wandering ascetic came to the Brahmin’s house and accepted his invitation to stay for a few days. After he had been duly worshipped and fed by the Brahmin and his family, the ascetic told stories from his travels. The Pāṇḍavas listened along with the Brahmin’s family. They heard about a great svayaṁvara ceremony soon to be held in Kāmpilya for Draupadī, King Drupada’s daughter. This princess, the ascetic said, was not born of a woman but had been born, along with her brother Dṛṣṭadyumna, from the sacrificial fire.

The Pāṇḍavas were intrigued. They asked, “Please tell us how it is possible that Draupadī and her brother could appear from the fire. We desire to hear everything you know.”

The ascetic first told them about Droṇa. The sage Bharadvāja had once seen Gritachi, a divinely beautiful Apsarā, and as a result he had dropped his vital seed. He caught his seed in a pot and from that seed Droṇa was born. As a child Droṇa had been friends with Drupada, who had come to study at Bharadvāja’s hermitage.

Some time after Drupada left the hermitage, Droṇa heard that the invincible Brahmin-warrior Paraśurāma was retiring to the forest and was giving away all his possessions. Droṇa approached him and asked for charity. Paraśurāma replied, “Having once won this wide earth from the ruling class, I am now without wealth. I have already given it to the Brahmins. I possess only my body and my weapons. Which of these would you prefer, O Brahmin?”

Droṇa asked Paraśurāma for his celestial weapons, along with the knowledge to use them. The ṛṣi bestowed his weapons upon Droṇa, who then left to again see his friend Drupada. By then, Drupada had become the king of Pañchāla.

The Pāṇḍavas listened as the ascetic told them what they had already heard from Droṇa himself--how Drupada had insulted his friend most terribly. Not knowing that it was the Pāṇḍavas who were listening, the ascetic told them how Drupada had then been overpowered by the Pāṇḍavas at Droṇa’s command.

After being humiliated by Droṇa and losing half his kingdom, Drupada thought only of revenge. He knew he could never defeat Droṇa in battle, so he had gone to the forest to seek out a powerful Brahmin. He knew that only a Brahmin’s spiritual power could match Droṇa’s strength.

After some time Drupada came across two Brahmin brothers named Yaja and Upayaja, descendents of Kaśyapa, a powerful son of Brahmā. The king worshipped and served the two Brahmins for some time, then asked for their assistance. He approached the younger of the two, Upayaja, first, knowing him to be the more powerful. Drupada asked him to conduct a sacrifice that would give the king a son capable of killing Droṇa. Drupada offered him ten thousand cows as payment, but the Brahmin replied, “I shall not perform any act directed toward material gain, either for myself or for another.”

The disappointed Drupada continued serving Upayaja in the hope that he might relent. Finally after a full year had passed the Brahmin took pity on him and said, “I once saw my elder brother take up and eat a fruit from the ground without considering whether or not it was clean. When we were both boys studying in our guru’s house I often saw him eat the remnants of other people’s food. One who has no regard for purity in one thing will not have such regard in another. Therefore approach him, for he will surely perform your sacrifice.”

The Brahmin’s words proved true and Yaja agreed to Drupada’s proposal. The Brahmin, realizing what difficult a task the king had requested, engaged his younger brother to assist him. Although Upayaja had no personal desire to perform Drupada’s sacrifice, he could not refuse his elder brother’s request. Thus the two Brahmins went to Kāmpilya to perform a fire sacrifice intended to propitiate the gods headed by Lord Viṣṇu. Thus Drupada would be able to get a son capable of killing Droṇa.

As the sacrifice commenced the king again spoke with Yaja. Remembering the day he had been overpowered by Arjuna, he asked the priest if, as well as a son, he might obtain a beautiful daughter whom he could offer to Arjuna as his wife. Drupada thought that if Arjuna became his son-in-law, his happiness would be complete. Yaja replied, “It shall be so,” and Drupada joyfully sat down by the sacrifical fire with his queen.

As the ritual neared completion Yaja called for Drupada’s wife. “Come quickly, O queen. A son and daughter have now come for you.”

The queen replied, “O Brahmin, I am not pure. My mouth is filled with saffron and my body is smeared with perfumes. I am not ready to receive the sacrificial ghee.”

Yaja replied, “Whether or not you are ready the object of this sacrifice, which I have prepared and Upayaja has sanctified, cannot be thwarted.”

Yaja had then poured the oblation into the fire. Immediately there arose from the flames a god-like boy. He was encased in brilliant golden armor and he shone like fire. He wore a bright crown on his head and held a long bow and a sword. That youth was terrible to behold and he rose from the fire roaring. Stepping clear of the flames, he mounted the king’s chariot and immediately rode about, displaying all kinds of skill.

The people of Kāmpilya had shouted with joy upon seeing this boy who would fulfill the king’s desire and kill his enemy. As their cries of happiness resounded a celestial woman appeared from the fire. Her complexion was dark and her smiling eyes were shaped like lotus petals. Her long and curling hair was bluish in color and it fell down her back as she emerged from the flames. She had rising breasts and tapering thighs. At the end of her graceful fingers were nails that shone like bright copper. Her body emanated the sweet fragrance of blue lotuses which could be perceived at a distance of two miles. That divine woman captivated the mind of every man who saw her. She had no equal even among the gods or the Gandharvas.

The ascetic then told his attentive audience how a heavenly voice had spoken from the skies as soon as the boy and girl had appeared. Booming like thunder it had said, “This dark-skinned beauty will be the best of all women and she will be the cause of the destruction of the world’s warriors. The boy shall be called Dṛṣṭadyumna and he shall slay Droṇa.”

Droṇa heard about this prophesy, but, considering destiny to be supreme, he neverthless agreed to train Drupada’s son in martial arts. The noble Droṇa did this to repay Drupada for taking half his kingdom.

The ascetic stopped. Having heard that Dṛṣṭadyumna would kill their beloved teacher, the Pāṇḍavas felt as if their hearts had been pierced. Kuntī saw their perplexity and, after they had retired for the night, said to Yudhiṣṭhira, “We have lived here for many months. I think it would be wise to leave now. You are all restless. I also sense that you desire to go to Pañchāla for Draupadī’s svayaṁvara.”

Kuntī had seen her sons’ eyes open wide when the ascetic had described Draupadī’s celestial beauty. Therefore she suggested that they leave the next day for Pañchāla. All five brothers agreed to her proposal, and the following morning they made their farewells to the Brahmin and his family. Walking in a line with Kuntī in their middle, they then headed toward Pañchāla, traveling again through the forest.

On the first evening of their journey, as they sat around their fire, Vyāsadeva arrived. Upon seeing him, the Pāṇḍavas prostrated themselves at his feet. They then stood with their palms folded as Vyāsadeva offered them blessings. When everyone was seated, Vyāsadeva said, “O conquerors of foes, are you following the path of virtue enjoined in the scriptures? Do you worship the Brahmins? I hope you always honor those worthy of your respect.”

The ṛṣi spoke for some time, giving the attentive princes various instructions. At the end of his discourse, Vyāsadeva told them that they should try to win the hand of the princess of Pañchāla. Her father was setting an archery test in order to find her a qualified husband. Arjuna should enter the contest.

Vyāsadeva then stood up to leave and, after again receiving obeisances from the Pāṇḍavas, vanished into the woods.

Reassured by Vyāsadeva’s directions, the brothers continued their journey the next day with joyous hearts. They walked day and night, eager to arrive at Pañchāla in time for the svayaṁvara. It was just after nightfall several days later when they came upon the gently flowing waters of the Ganges. Arjuna was leading the party with a torch in his hand to light their way. They all bowed respectfully to the sacred river before walking along her banks, searching for a place to cross.

Suddenly, from out of the darkness, they heard a loud voice. “Halt! Who dares approach this river at such a time? The night belongs to Yakṣas, Gandharvas and Rākṣasas. Only during the first portion of night, the twilight time, are other beings allowed to bathe. You appear to be human beings, therefore return the way you have come.”

A shining figure emerged from the waters, rose into the air, and descended onto a golden chariot. Clasping a huge bow he continued to address them in a thunderous voice, “I am the Gandharva Aṅgaraparna, friend of Kuvera, treasurer of the gods. I am bathing here. Not even the gods or demons would dare come to this river when I am bathing. How then have you humans been so bold? Leave quickly or I will kill you. I fear no one.”

Arjuna could not tolerate the Gandharva’s haughty speech. “O wretch, rivers and mountains are never barred to anyone at any time. There is no such thing as a special time when we are not allowed to approach this sacred river, nor do we care for your threats. Only the weak would fear someone like you. Make way, because we are now going to bathe in this river.”

Aṅgaraparna blazed with anger. He drew his bow and shot a hundred arrows at the brothers. Arjuna moved with blinding speed and struck down all those shafts simply with the torch he was holding. He laughed at the Gandharva. “Do not attempt to frighten those who are skilled in warfare. Your weapons simply vanish like froth on the ocean when hurled at more powerful opponents. O sky-ranger, I know you are superior to men in prowess. Therefore I shall use a celestial missile against you. The fire-weapon I will now discharge was first given to Bharadvāja by Bṛhaspati. Bharadvāja then gave it to Agniveśya, who gave it to my preceptor Droṇa. Droṇa gave it to me. Guard yourself from its power if you can.”

Chanting the incantations to invoke the Āgneyāstra, Arjuna imbued his torch with its tremendous power. Angrily he threw it at Aṅgaraparna and his chariot was immediately destroyed, burnt black. The Gandharva fainted from the missile’s force and fell headlong from the smoking chariot. Arjuna seized him by his hair, which was adorned with garlands of flowers, and dragged him before Yudhiṣṭhira.

Suddenly a celestial woman rushed out of the water and approached Yudhiṣṭhira. Folding her palms she said, “O exalted one, I am Kumbhinashi, Aṅgaraparna’s wife. Please bestow your mercy upon me and set him free. I seek your protection.”

The Gandharva came to his senses and sat up before Yudhiṣṭhira, who said to him, “O Gandharva, who would slay one who has been vanquished in battle, who stands deprived of his fame, who is unable to protect himself, and who is being protected by a woman? You may go.”

Aṅgaraparna stood and offered his respects to Yudhiṣṭhira. He spoke with humility. “My pride has been crushed by your younger brother. My celestial chariot lies burnt to ashes. I had been known as Citraratha, ‘one of the beautiful chariot’ but from now on I shall call myself Dagdharatha, ‘he of the burnt chariot’.”

Aṅgaraparna thanked Arjuna for not killing him, even though able. In return for Arjuna’s mercy, Aṅgaraparna offered him the divine knowledge possessed by the Gandharvas along with a team of celestial horses. Smiling, Aṅgaraparna said, “This knowledge, known as Chakshushi, will give you the ability to see anything within the three worlds, along with that thing’s intrinsic nature. It is this knowledge that gives the Gandharvas the powers that make them superior to men.”

Aṅgaraparna waved his hand toward the river bank and the Pāṇḍavas saw there a group of lustrous white steeds. “These are the horses I wish to give you. They will go anywhere at their owner’s will. They are said to be a portion of Indra’s thunderbolt and will always unfailingly fulfill your desire.”

Arjuna said, “O Gandharva, if you desire to give your knowledge and these horses in return for your life, then I shall not accept them. It was my duty to release you on my brother’s order. I cannot accept charity, for that is never the duty of the ruling class.”

Aṅgaraparna smiled again. “This need not be charity. O best of the Bharata race, I desire to learn from you how to throw the fire weapon which you used to overpower me.”

Arjuna agreed to this exchange, but said he first wanted to know why the Gandharva had challenged him and his brothers, although they were all virtuous men, learned in the Vedas and born in a noble line of kings.

The Gandharva replied, “O Arjuna, I have heard from Nārada Ṛṣi of your ancestors’ great accomplishments. I also know your fathers personally because Dharma, Vāyu, Indra, the Aśvinīs and even Pāṇḍu all reside in heaven. Although I knew you are all high-souled, virtuous, powerful and obedient to your vows, I nevertheless censured you. No man, possessed of strength and arms, ought to tolerate a confrontation in front of his wife. I was overpowered by wrath.”

Aṅgaraparna went on to explain why Arjuna had been able to defeat him although he was a celestial. “Because you have been observing a vow of celibacy, O hero, your power became insurmountable. If a warrior engaged in satisfying his desires fights with the Gandharvas at night, he will not escape with his life.”

Aṅgaraparna said that even a warrior who is not celibate could defeat a powerful enemy if he is accompanied by a Brahmin priest. The Gandharva concluded, “Men with learned and self-controlled priests can conquer the earth and acquire every good fortune, finally attaining even heaven itself. Therefore, O descendent of Tapati, you should seek out a qualified priest as your guide.”

Arjuna was listening carefully. He was curious that Aṅgaraparna addressed him as a descendent of Tapati. He asked, “As the sons of Kuntī we are known as the Kaunteyas. Why did you address us as Tapatyas? I have not heard this before.”

It was a long story. Aṅgaraparna invited the brothers to sit comfortably on the river bank while he recited the history of their distant ancestor, Tapati, daughter of the sun-god. Tapati had descended from the heavens and married Saṁvaraṇa, an early king in the Pāṇḍavas’ line. The Gandharva narrated this history, along with many other incidental stories. He spoke for much of the night and the enthralled brothers could see the first faint glow of dawn when he finished his narration. Arjuna then said to him, “O Gandharva, you know everything and can see everything by your divine sight. Please tell us where we can find a Brahmin who knows the Vedas and can become our priest.”

Aṅgaraparna replied that not far from there was a forest ashram called Utkachaka. A Brahmin named Dhaumya, the younger brother of the famous Ṛṣi Devala, resided there. They should approach him and ask that he become their preceptor.

Seeing the Gandharva’s friendship toward them and grateful for his advice, Arjuna gave him the mantra by which he could call the Āgneyāstra. In return Aṅgaraparna again offered him the horses. Arjuna replied, “I will not take anything from you now. I do not desire your knowledge and we cannot take the horses at present. O best of the Gandharvas, your friendship is sufficient. Perhaps if a time comes when we need these steeds, we shall then take them.”

Aṅgaraparna and the Pāṇḍavas saluted one another respectfully and took their leave. The Gandharva and his wife disappeared into the sky, leaving the Pāṇḍavas to continue on their journey.

After Aṅgaraparna left, the Pāṇḍavas went north along the bank of the Ganges, toward where the Gandharva had indicated they would find Dhaumya’s ashram. The sun had risen, and they could now see many ṛṣis bathing in the river, wearing a single piece of cloth and with their matted locks tied in knots on their heads. The brothers could hear the sages reciting sacred hymns from the Vedas--some in praise of the sun-god Sūrya, some worshipping Śiva, the mighty destroyer, and others praying to the supremely powerful Lord Viṣṇu. The Pāṇḍavas took their own baths in the Ganges. Using the sacred clay from the river bank, they daubed their bodies with markings that showed them to be Vaiṣṇavas, devotees of Viṣṇu. Kuntī entered the water fully clothed and then changed her dress in a secluded place. She thought constantly of Kṛṣṇa, praying that He would help them through their difficulties.

The sages told the brothers where to find Dhaumya’s hermitage. They then approached Dhaumya and fell at his feet. Yudhiṣṭhira said, “O greatly learned one, we are Pāṇḍu’s sons, traveling with our mother Kuntī. On the Gandharvas’ advice we seek your shelter. Please become our guide and protector. We are your servants.”

The effulgent Dhaumya smiled and bade them be seated. His disciples brought them offerings of wild fruits and water. As he looked upon the five young princes and the gentle Kuntī, the ṛṣi felt affection rise in his heart. He could see that they worshipped Viṣṇu, his own deity, and this too attracted him. Therefore he consented to become their priest. The Pāṇḍavas were overjoyed and felt as if their wealth and kingdom had already been regained and Draupadī won. Dhaumya then formally accepted them as disciples by initiating them with Vedic mantras.

The many sages in Dhaumya’s ashram offered the princes their blessings. Seeing such godlike boys, the ṛṣis felt that the brothers, by their own accomplishments, would soon become rulers of the earth. Accompanied by Dhaumya, the Pāṇḍavas continued on their journey to Pañchāla.