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The Sacrificial Horse and the Death of Arjuna
After the passing away of grandfather Bhishma, Lord Krishna caused Maharaja Yudhisthira to conduct three well-performed Ashvamedha (horse) sacrifices. These sacrifices required the subordination of all earthly Kings. Maharaja Yudhisthira released the sacrificial horse and ordered Arjuna to follow it wherever it went and to fight with any belligerent rulers, who did not want to accept the King's sovereignty. (The sacrificial horse was freed from the city of Hastinapura and allowed to wander wherever it wished. If the horse entered a kingdom and was taken captive, the warrior following the horse fought with the challengers.) He also ordered Arjuna not to kill any descendants of those who fought at Kurukshetra.
Thus Arjuna followed the sacrificial horse as it roamed from one country to another. When the descendants of the Trigartas learned that the sacrificial horse had entered their kingdom, they came out to challenge the mighty armed Arjuna. They carried a hatred for the Pandavas like their forefathers had. The Trigartas endeavored to capture the horse, but Arjuna forbid them to do so. Disregarding Arjuna's orders, the Trigartas assaulted Arjuna with their full prowess. The King of the Trigartas, Suryavarman, attacked Arjuna with a barrage of arrows, but Partha countered his arrows and defeated Susharman's son with his selected weapons. Suryavarman was furious and attacked Arjuna with greater determination. Arjuna laughed with scorn at the young King and pierced his armor with many arrows.
Assisting Suryavarman was his younger brother, Ketuvarman, who made the mistake of assailing Arjuna with his weapons of fury. Not knowing that he was like a moth entering fire, Ketuvarman was killed by Arjuna's sharp arrows. Upon Ketuvarman's fall, the mighty car-warrior, Dhritavarman, assaulted Arjuna, showering him with a downpour of arrows. Beholding the lightness of hand displayed by the youthful prince, Gudakesha (Arjuna) was pleased with him. The son of Indra could not see when the young warrior took out his arrows and when he placed them on his bow-string. He only saw lightning fast arrows coming towards him. For a brief space of time, Arjuna gladdened his enemy and mentally admired his heroism and skill. The Kuru hero, smiling the whole time, fought with that youth who resembled an angry cobra. While Arjuna was fighting mildly with him, Dhritavarman released an arrow that pierced Arjuna's hand. The Gandiva bow fell to the ground and Dhritavarman laughed loudly, thinking he had become victorious. Arjuna was incensed, and once more picking up his bow, he vanquished the Trigarta army with his superior weapons. Beholding Arjuna in a fit of rage and releasing arrows like Yamaraja, the Trigarta army broke and fled in all directions. They surrendered to Arjuna pleading, We yield to you rulership! We have now become your slaves. Please command us according to your will. Arjuna ordered that they accept subordination to Maharaja Yudhisthira. The Trigartas agreed and once more the sacrificial horse was freed.
The sacrificial horse then proceeded to the kingdom of Pragjyotishapura. Hearing of this, the son of Bhagadatta, Vajradatta, came out to fight with Arjuna. He seized the sacrificial horse and then entered his own city. He mounted his foremost elephant and came out to fight with Arjuna. Impelled by childishness, he challenged Arjuna to fight. The enraged prince then urged the elephant towards Arjuna's chariot. The elephant resembled a veritable mountain, and from his temples and mouth issued temporal juice, indicating that the elephant was mad and uncontrolled. Urged on by the prince with his hook, that elephant cut through the air like a flying hill. Arjuna descended from his chariot and stood prepared to meet the onslaught of Bhagadatta's son. Vajradatta released countless arrows from his mighty bow, but these were all countered by Partha. Not wanting to waste time, Arjuna released a number of arrows equipped with golden wings. Vajradatta was hit by those arrows and fell from the back of his elephant. Coming back to consciousness, the prince once again mounted his elephant and fought with Arjuna, using his best weapons. Arjuna pierced the elephant on which the prince was riding and blood flowed from its many wounds.
The Battle between the mighty armed Arjuna and the son of Bhagadatta waged on for three days. On the fourth day, Vajradatta laughed loudly and exclaimed, Wait! Wait, O Arjuna! You shall not escape with your life. By killing you, I shall repay the debt I owe my deceased father. You killed my father, who was a friend to Pandu, only because of his advanced years. Now you must fight with me who am but a mere boy. Vajradatta then urged his elephant, whose every step cause the earth to tremble. Beholding the gigantic beast coming towards him, Arjuna released with full force a shaft that resembled a veritable flame of fire. When struck by that arrow, the elephant fell to the ground like a mountain hit by a thunderbolt. Dhananjaya then addressed the fallen King, Do not fear for your life. I have been ordered by my older brother not to slay those that challenge me. Rise up, O King, return to your city safe and sound. When the full moon day comes, you should arrive at the city of Hastinapura to witness the Ashvamedha sacrifice of King Yudhisthira. When Vajradatta heard Arjuna's order, he agreed with the proposal and again entered his city.
The challenge horse then entered the province of Manipur. The ruler of Manipur was Arjuna's son named Babhruvahana. Hearing that his father had come to his country, Babhruvahana came out of his city with all humility followed by a number of brahmanas. Seeing this, Arjuna was not pleased. The highly intelligent Arjuna then chastised his son, Your conduct is not befitting a king. You have fallen from the duties of a kshatriya. I have come here as the protector of Yudhisthira's sacrificial horse. Why, O son, will you not fight with me? Shame on you for not exhibiting your prowess! Shame on you for acting like a woman! Shame on you for receiving me peacefully!
Upon hearing Arjuna's chiding words, Ulupi, one of Arjuna's wives, pierced the earth and encouraged Babhruvahana, Know that I am your step mother, Ulupi. If you follow my instructions you will attain lasting fame. You should fight with this foremost descendent of the Bharata dynasty. If you do so, he will be pacified.
Incited by his stepmother, Babhruvahana mounted his chariot which was equipped with many different kinds of weapons. His horses traveled at the speed of the mind. He hoisted his standard which bore the mark of a golden lion. Readied for battle, King Babhruvahana proceeded against his father. He caused the sacrificial horse to be taken captive, indicating that he was ready to fight. Partha descended from his chariot and began to fight his son on foot. They covered each other with their formidable shafts and the fight was, indeed, wonderful. Babhruvahana pierced his father's shoulder and the arrow then entered the earth. Feeling acute pain, Arjuna supported himself on his bow and appeared like one who had left his body. Coming to his senses he praised his son, Excellent, excellent, O mighty armed son of Chitrangada! On beholding this feat, I am pleased with you. I shall now release my arrows. Stand for a while and do not run away.
Arjuna then released many arrows, but they were cut up by his son. Arjuna then cut off the royal standard of the Manipur King and killed his horses. Babhruvahana was red hot with anger, and descending from his chariot, he fought his father on foot. He then released an arrow that pierced Arjuna's chest, entering deep within his body. The mighty son of Pandu then fell to the earth devoid of life. King Babhruvahana had also been pierced with many arrows, and upon seeing the fall of his father, he also fell to the ground unconsciousness. At that time Babhruvahana's mother, Chitrangada, appeared on the scene and lamented the death of Arjuna. When Ulupi again appeared, Chitrangada chastised her, Behold, O Ulupi, our husband slain in battle by my son. This fault lies on you. It is through your action that our husband now lies dead. If you have the power, bring him back to life so that we will not have to indulge in grief. Chitrangada then took her husband's feet in her lap and shed tears of grief.
At that time King Babhruvahana awoke from his unconscious state. Seeing his dead father and his weeping mother, he was pained at heart. He addressed his mother, Alas, this foremost wielder of weapons has been slain by me. Alas, his golden mail, which was cut from his body by my arrows, lies by his side. O great brahmanas, what atonement is there for one who kills his father in battle. I am a wretched and sinful person. O daughter of the Snake King, I accomplished what you desired. However, I am now unable to live any longer. If you are not willing to bring him back to life, then I will give up this body by fasting. Having made up his mind to fast until death, King Babhruvahana touched water and made the following statement, O Ulupi, I make the following vow. If my father does not rise up with his life, then I will give up this body by fasting. There is no atonement for killing one's father. Therefore, surely, I will have to dwell in hell.
When the King of Manipur had made his firm vow, he sat down on the ground in meditation. At that time Ulupi informed the King, Do not lament or take any unnecessary vows. I will revive your father. In my possession, I have a jewel that is capable of bringing anyone back to life. This great hero cannot be slain by the gods and demons combined. I have exhibited this illusion for your father's benefit. Do not think that you have committed any sin. It was for testing your prowess that this battle took place. I shall now revive Arjuna with this precious jewel.
Ulupi then approached Arjuna and touched the jewel to his chest. When she did, Arjuna rose up like one awaking from sleep. Witnessing his father return to life, Babhruvahana approached him and worshiped him with many prayers. The king of heaven, Indra, then showered flowers upon the earth and caused the celestial denizens to sound their instruments. In the heavens were heard the sounds, Well done! Well done! Arjuna then embraced his son and smelled his head. When he saw Chitrangada and Ulupi lamenting in the distance, Arjuna questioned his son, Why, O Babhruvahana, is there simultaneously joy, sorrow, and wonder in all directions? Please explain this to me. I desire to know what has brought these ladies to this field.
Babhruvahana replied, I think that you should question Ulupi in this regard.
Arjuna then turned to his wife and inquired from her, Why have you come here, O daughter of the snakes? Have you come here with some evil intention? I hope that neither I nor my son Babhruvahana have offended you in any way.
You have not offended me in any way, nor has your son. Ulupi replied. Do not be angry with me and listen patiently to the reason I have acted in the way I did. In the great battle of the Bharata princes, you had slain Shantanu's royal son, Bhishma, unfairly. He was not engaged in battle with you when he was slain. He had laid aside his weapons because of the presence of Shikhandin. Relying on Shikhandi's help, you were able to overthrow the mighty Bhishma. By acting in the way I did, I have vanquished the sinful reaction to the unfair killing of the grandsire. If this sinful reaction had not been eradicated, then you would have surely seen hell. After Bhishma's death, the Vasus came to the bank of the Ganges and called for the goddess by reciting various prayers. With her permission, they cursed you to die. When I informed my father of this, he went to the Vasus and asked that the curse be removed. The Vasus replied to him, Arjuna has a powerful son who is the ruler of Manipur. In battle his son will slay him. At that time Arjuna will be freed from this curse.' I have acted in the way I did to free you from this curse. Please do not be angry with me.
Hearing about the true situation from Ulupi, Vijaya (Arjuna) became joyful and said, I find all this most pleasing. Arjuna then ordered his son, The horse sacrifice of King Yudhisthira will take place on the full moon day in the month of Chaitra. Come there, O King, with your mother and your counselors. Babhruvahana agreed with his father's wishes. After Arjuna had been sufficiently worshiped by his son, he left that place and continued following the sacrificial horse.
The sacrificial horse proceeded all over the earth. The horse entered the kingdom of Maghadha that was formerly ruled by Jarasandha. The son of Jarasandha was Sahadeva. He had fought for the Pandavas at Kurukshetra and was killed. Sahadeva's son was Meghasandhi. Following the duties of a kshatriya, Meghasandhi came out and challenged Arjuna. When the son of Sahadeva was defeated, he agreed to become subservient to King Yudhisthira's desires.
Arjuna then entered the kingdom of the Chedis. The son of Shishupala was Sarabha. He also fought with Arjuna and was defeated. After defeating the King of the Chedis, the sacrificial horse proceeded to the kingdoms of the Kashis, the Angas, the Koshalas, the Kiratas and the Tanganas. Receiving respect and worship from these kingdoms, Arjuna changed his course. He entered the kingdom of Gandhara and fought with Shakuni's son who remembered his father's hatred for the Pandavas. After Arjuna had fought with him and defeated him, he headed for the kingdoms of the Yadus. King Ugrasena greeted Arjuna and offered him every kind of hospitality. The sacrificial horse then headed in the direction of Hastinapura.
Arjuna soon entered the beautiful city of Hastinapura and was greeted royally by the citizens. Yudhisthira was overjoyed at his brother's return, and heard from him how he had singlehandedly subjugated the whole world. The kings from all provinces on the planet Earth then came to Hastinapura and were respectfully received by Maharaja Yudhisthira. Lord Krishna, accompanied by His elder brother Balarama, came to the horse sacrifice of Maharaja Yudhisthira. By the grace of Lord Krishna, the sacrifice was completed and all were satisfied. The brahmanas were given many valuable articles in charity and even the lower classes were given ample food and clothing. Thus Maharaja Yudhisthira successfully performed three Ashvamedha horse sacrifices, and the Earth's kings were gratified by his humility.
Thus ends the Ashvamedha Parva.