Arjuna Fights Lord Shiva,
gets Pasupatha asthram (weapon)
Arjuna and his four brothers were called the Pandavas, or sons of King Pandu. Due to a curse, Pandu could not have sons. Fortunately, Kunti, the eldest wife of Pandu, had a boon from Sage Durvasasa. She could invoke a god and immediately give birth to a child. Pandu asked her to use the mantra, with which she conceived the eldest son Yudhisthira, then Bhimasena, then Arjuna. They were the sons of Dharma, Vayu, and Indra, respectively. The younger wife, Madri, also conceived two sons, twins, sons of the Ashwins, the Divine Physicians.
Being the sons of gods, the Pandavas were always good natured and righteous. At the same time, many demonic souls incarnated as their cousins, the Kauravas. The Kauravas were always jealous of the Pandavas and wanted to destroy them. Legally, the Pandavas should have inherited the kingdom of their father, but out of generosity, they gave half the kingdom to their cousins. Even this was not enough for their cousins. Through a rigged card game, they cheated the Pandavas out of their half of the Kingdom and sent them into exile for twelve years.
Knowing that eventually war might break out with his cousins, Arjuna went to the Himalayas to perform tapas. Tapas means austerity. In the current time, if we just skip a meal, we consider that great tapas! But in the old times, when people were more virtuous, their bodies were much tougher and could withstand great austerity. It is said that through tapas
one can achieve anything. Arjuna's purpose was to obtain divine weapons to fight his cousins. Dressed in rags, Arjuna ate only a small amount each day, consisting of some bark and leaves. He meditated constantly on Lord Shiva for many months.
One day, during his meditation, Arjuna opened his eyes to see a huge wild boar fast approaching him. He pulled out his bow and arrows to shoot the boar down. Arjuna was considered the best archer of his day. At that moment, a woodsman appeared. At the same time as Arjuna, the woodsman shot an arrow at the boar. Both arrows hit the boar, which fell down dead. Now, an argument ensued between the woodsmen and Arjuna. Why had the woodsman interfered? Arjuna had seen the boar first, and Arjuna said he rightfully should have shot first! The argument got more heated. Arjuna was a warrior, and warriors are heated by nature. During tapas, the heat in the body increases more and one can become even more irritable. Arjuna got so angry he said he would send the woodsman to Yama's abode (hell) if he did not immediately apologize!
Soon a battle broke out between the two. Arjuna shot all his fiery arrows at the woodsman, but the woodsman was not hurt.
In frustration, Arjuna took his sword and broke it over the woodsman's head! But the woodsman was still unhurt. Next, Arjuna broke his bow over the woodsman's head. Still, he was unharmed! Arjuna next grasped the woodsman in a wrestler's hold. They struggled for a long time, until Arjuna fell down exhausted. When he came back to consciousness, he made a small Shiva lingam out of the dirt, and worshipped it, putting a little mala of flowers around it, praying to Shiva, the God of gods to give him help in defeating this woodsman.
To his surprise, when he looked up, he saw the woodsmen with the same flower mala on top of his head! Arjuna quickly realized he had been fighting Lord Shiva Himself! He begged Shiva for forgiveness. Shiva told him he was very pleased with him. He gave Arjuna his Pashupata weapon, and disappeared. Years later Arjuna used this Pasupathi Asthra in his war against Karna.
After that Matali, the charioteer for Lord Indra appeared. He took Arjuna in Indra's chariot to heaven. He was taken up into his father Indra's lap and given a royal welcome. Arjuna stayed in Indra loka for five years. You know the saying, "time flies when you're having fun?" This expression also applies to heaven. It is said the enjoyment in heaven is hundreds of times greater than any enjoyment found on Earth. Therefore, what might seem like 24 hours on Earth would seem to pass in just a few moments in heaven.
In heaven, Arjuna learned the art of dance from the Gandharva King, who became his friend. He was also witness to all the divine dances and other goings on in Indra Loka. One night he watched Urvasi, one of the most famous of the divine dancers, perform. It is said that the beauty of the divine dancers is something that far surpasses anything that can be seen on Earth. Ordinary mortals lose all sense of self watching them. After the dance, Urvasi invited Arjuna to come and enjoy conjugal bliss with her. Arjuna recalled that she had also enjoyed relations with one of his ancestors, Pururavas. Therefore he told her, "You are like Mother to me, I cannot fulfill your request." As the saying goes, "there is no fury like a woman scorned". Urvasi cursed Arjuna to spend one year as a eunuch during his lifetime.
Before he left heaven, Indra and the other deities all gave him their various divine weapons. Having achieved his objective, Arjuna returned to Earth to finish out the exile with his brothers.
Veda Vyasa wrote the stories of the Mahabharata not for money or fame, like modern authors. He wrote them to teach us about life. In the Mahabharata, we encounter good characters like Arjuna and his brothers, and bad characters, like his cousins. In the story, we learn about how each fare in the game of life.
Arjuna and his brothers were always optimistic and happy, even when forced to live in the forest in exile. His cousins, even when they were surrounded with wealth, were never completely happy, because they always lusted for more material possessions. This is the lesson Veda Vyasa was teaching. The Pandavas attached themselves to God, and never felt a lack. Their cousins attached themselves to material possesions, and often felt unsatisfied.
The story illustrates the path to success. Arjuna was born great, but he still had to work very hard at tapas to get divine weapons to protect his family. He never gave up, even when faced by Lord Shiva as an opponent. He never lost his head, or was lured by sensual attachment, as seen in the story of Urvasi. His friendship with Krishna ultimately protected him. Like Arjuna, we may experience a lot of trouble and difficulty in life, but we should never give up our love, faith, and hope.