Arjuna stood there and undertook a terrible penance, subsisting entirely on fruits and leaves. Aggrieved by this, all the great seers in that region went to meet Śiva. Giving them solace, Śiva said, “All you return to your homes with joy and contentment; I know about Arjuna’s saṅkalpa (intention, conviction); he desires not the heavens, or wealth, or long life; what he wishes for, I shall send it to him at once!” He then donned the garb of a hunter, took his bow Pināka, and set out along with Pārvatī. To match with Śiva’s attire, Pārvatī dressed herself as a hunter-woman; she looked beautiful in those clothes. When they left, a retinue of bhūtas—all wearing appropriate costumes—followed them. As they neared Arjuna, they saw him being attacked by the asura Mūka who had taken the form of a pig. Arjuna held his Gāṇḍīva and said, “You’re coming to kill an innocent, faultless person like me? Before you kill me, I shall kill you!” Saying this, he was on the verge of shooting an arrow. At that instant, Śaṅkara came forward and stopped him saying, “I had chased this animal this far; this is mine; don’t shoot it!” Arjuna paid no heed to his words and proceeded with his shot. Śaṅkara too shot an arrow. Both arrows pierced the body of the pig at once. The pig died after changing back into a rākṣasa body. Arjuna then looked at the tawny-coloured hunter who stood along with his wife and said, “Who are you, my man? You’re walking about with women in this uninhabited forest; aren’t you afraid? Why did you shoot the animal that I shot at? This is not the dharma of a hunter; therefore, I shall kill you!” The hunter said with a smile, “I had aimed at it first! The beast died because of my arrow. Don’t blame me for your mistake. You’re going to kill me, eh? Go on, shoot your arrows! I too shall do so!” Arjuna rained arrows on the hunter. Śaṅkara accepted them peacefully. His body was not wounded at all; it stood firm like a hill, without the slightest budging. Arjuna was surprised. “Wow! Wonderful! This delicate-bodied man who resides on the summit of the Himalayas has calmly withstood the arrows shot by the Gāṇḍīva! Who is he? Is he Rudra himself, or a Yakṣa, or Devendra? These mountains are home to devatas it is said,” he thought to himself and then continued shooting arrows. It was like a hailstorm falling on a mountain; within moments all his arrows were exhausted. “The inexhaustible quiver gifted by Agni has dried up! Who is this man who has swallowed my arrows from all sides? I shall strike him with my bow and finish him!” So saying, he lifted his bow. The hunter grabbed his bow. After that Arjuna used all his strength and struck the hunter’s head with his sword. The moment the sword came in contact with his head, the sword broke into two. Then Arjuna punched him. The hunter also hit Arjuna. Arjuna’s body was thrashed but he continued wrestling. His hands and legs were entangled in the powerful arms of the hunter; he was unable to move his limbs and was finding it difficult to breathe. Arjuna fell down unconscious. Then Śaṅkara said, “Arjuna! Arise, awake, look at me! I am delighted to see your bravery and courage. Among the kṣatriyas, none is your equal.” Arjuna got up and offered salutations to Śiva, begging to be pardoned for his impetuous act that was a result of ignorance. Śaṅkara forgave him and returned his inexhaustible quiver of arrows and the Gāṇḍīva, both of which he had snatched away from him. Just as Arjuna desired, Śaṅkara gifted him the Pāśupatāstra. Śaṅkara warned Arjuna: “Don’t use the Pāśupatāstra without careful thought; if you use it on a commoner, the entire world will be destroyed. Saying this, Śaṅkara disappeared into space—in front of Arjuna’s eyes—just like the setting sun. Soon after that, Varuṇa, Kubera, Yama, and Indra came there. Varuṇa gave Arjuna the Varuṇāstra, Kubera gave him the Antardhānāstra, and Yama the Daṇḍāstra. Indra told Arjuna that he would send his chariot along with Mātali and if Arjuna boarded it and came to svarga, he would receive all the astras from Indra. Arjuna paid his respects to all of them and they went away. In a short while, Mātali came there with Devendra’s chariot. As soon as Arjuna got on to it, the chariot rose in the air; the earth became invisible; the moon and the sun became invisible. There, light was purely emanating from the brightness of the puṇya of each person. Thus proceeding forward, Arjuna finally laid his eyes on Amarāvatī. It was magnificent. Trees that gave flowers and fruits in all seasons were the only ones that existed in Nandanavana, the pleasure gardens of Amarāvatī. The breeze that was flowing had been scented by the fragrance of the Saugandhikā trees. Arjuna felt as if the trees filled with divine flowers were calling him. The city was full of multi-storeyed buildings. Siddhas, cāraṇas, gandharvas, and apsaras roamed about the city. Their immortal music could be heard. Those who never performed tapas, or those who never gained puṇya, or those who turned their backs in war never get to see this world. As soon as they reached Indra’s palace, Arjuna got off the chariot and saw Indra, who was seated on a throne, which had a white umbrella and golden staff. Apsaras were constantly fanning him with cāmaras that had been sprinkled with divine fragrances. The gandharvas were worshipping Indra by singing his praises. Arjuna bowed down and offered his respects to Indra, who got down from his throne and embraced Arjuna; then he held Arjuna’s hand and led him to a seat next to his own on the throne. Sitting there, Arjuna looked like a second Indra. Looking at the resplendent face of Arjuna, Indra, with his hands of sacred fragrance, lovingly stroked him; with his diamond-like strong hands, Indra repeatedly patted the powerful shoulders of Arjuna that were beautiful like golden pillars and made strong by the constant strikes of the bowstring. With his thousand eyes that had blossomed with joy, he was looking at Arjuna with great delight. He simply could not get enough of Arjuna’s presence; no amount of looking at him would bring Indra satisfaction. A wonderful Sāma-gāna was sung in the presence of these two heroes seated on the throne, luminescent like the Sun and the Moon; the gandharvas and tumburus sang songs; Rambhā, Ūrvaśi, and other apsaras danced with playful side-glances, suggestive gestures, beautiful expressions, and with finesse. After that, upon Indra’s orders, the devatas and gandharvas paid their respects to Arjuna in the traditional manner by offering arghya and washing his feet; then they led him into the palace. In this manner, having gone to his father’s house, Arjuna learnt the use of a variety of weapons—the mahāstras, the vajrāstras, and the aśanis—from Indra. That apart, upon Indra’s instruction, he learnt the divine arts of dancing, singing, and playing musical instruments from a gandharva named Citrasena. It took him five years to learn all this. After Arjuna had left for the realm of Indra to obtain divine weapons, back in the forest, seated on a grassy patch of land, the Pāṇḍavas were in a pensive mood. At that point, Bhīma said, “Mahārāja! Arjuna was indeed our life; as per your command, he went away from us. If anything happens to him, we five, the Pāñcālas, Sātyaki, Vāsudeva – all of us will be as good as destroyed! In order to fulfil your command, god knows what all difficulties he’s having to experience! Mahārāja! Even before it is twelve years, let us go and annihilate the Kauravas! I will go and bring Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa; after we have killed and destroyed all the people who have opposed us, if you so desire, return to the forest and complete your twelve-year-exile. It won’t be wrong if that happens; to repent for those sins, if need be, we can undertake some yajñas and yāgas. Adhere to kṣatriya dharma, O great king! Most definitely forest exile is not aligned to the dharma of a kṣatriya!” Dharmarāja did not agree with Bhīma; he said, “Let thirteen years pass, Bhīma! After that, you and Arjuna can put an end to Duryodhana. It is not the time for that now; I cannot go against Truth!” While they were talking thus, a seer by name Bṛhadaśva came there. Yudhiṣṭhira paid his respects to the seer and while discussing something with him said, “I lost my kingdom and my treasures; those skilled in the game of dice and deceit duped me, seizing all that I owned. They dragged my wife—who is dearer to me than my own life—to the assembly. Is there any other king in the whole world who is as struck by misfortune as I am? Nobody ever suffered like me!” He thus expressed his grief. In response, Bṛhadaśva said, “Long time ago, there was a king by name Naḻa. He suffered much more than you. An evil man by name Puṣkara cheated him in a game of dice and he was exiled to the forest along with his wife. At least you have your heroic brothers who are like devatas; he had nobody! Therefore, don’t feel sad.” Yudhiṣṭhira said, “It is my ardent desire to listen to that story in detail,” and Bṛhadaśva began narrating the story of Naḻa and Damayantī. To be continued… This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata published in a serialized form. Thanks to Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh for his review and astute feedback.