The most widely known of the five Pāṇḍava princes, the great hero of the Kurukṣetra war and the instrumental cause of the immortal Bhagavadgītā, Arjuna occupies a very important place in the epic Mahābhārata. Born to Kuntī, the senior queen of the King Pāṇḍu, by the grace of the god Indra, Arjuna exhibited his valour and skill in archery even from his childhood days, thus becoming the most favourite disciple of Droṇācārya, the superb master of the science of archery. Bent upon settling scores with the King Drupada, who had humiliated him, Droṇācārya sought Arjuna’s help in humbling the king’s pride. Arjuna responded enthusiastically and fulfilled his guru’s wish. Later, disguised as a brāhmaṇa, Arjuna successfully pierced the matsya-yantra (a contrivance for testing the skill in archery) and won the hand of Draupadī, Drupada’s daughter. However, a curious interference of fate made Draupadī, the common wife of all the Pāṇḍava princes. Apart from Draupadī, Arjuna had three more wives: Subhadrā, Ulūpī and Citrāṅgadā.
Once he performed severe penance at the Indrakīla mountains to propitiate Lord Śiva. Śiva however appeared in the guise of a hunter chieftain and man-oeuvred a situation in which Arjuna was obliged to fight him! Of course Śiva was pleased with his courage and prowess, and granted him the celestial weapon pāśupatāstra.
Living in disguise under the assumed name Bṛhannalā at the court of the king Virāṭa, he taught dancing to Virāṭa’s daughter, Uttarā. Later he participated in the operation to rescue Virāṭa’s cows from the clutches of the Kauravas, who were decisively beaten in the battle.
Before the Kurukṣetra war, he approached Śrī Kṛṣṇa for help and preferred him (as his charioteer) to the Yādava army without Kṛṣṇa.
At the commencement of the war, he was overcome by intense remorse and abhorrence of the killing involved, and refused to fight. After Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s teaching (known as the Bhagavadgītā) dispelled his ignorance and delusion, he got up and fought, bringing ultimate victory and glory to the Pāṇḍavas.
After Kṛṣṇa’s demise, he went to Dvārakā and while escorting the Yādava ladies to Hastināvatī, was ambushed and conquered by robbers, thereby obliging him to realize that all his strength had been derived from Kṛṣṇa’s grace! He died during the Mahāprasthāna (great journey), while ascending to heaven.
Among his children, Abhimanyu, the son of Subhadrā, was slain in the Kuru-kṣetra war. Babhruvāhana, the son of Citrāṅgadā became the ruler of Maṇipura. Parīkṣit, the son of Abhimanyu, succeeded to the royal throne after its abdication by Yudhiṣṭhira.
Kārtavīrya, the king of Haihaya, who was reputed to have one thousand arms, was also known as Arjuna. (See KĀRTAVĪRYĀRJUNA.)
The well-known Buddhist work Lalitavistara mentions one mathematician Arjuna who was aware of the system of calculating numerals in multiples of 100, commencing from koṭi (one crore), up to 1053.