Kartavirya Arjuna was a great king. He was from the Haihaya dynasty, a branch of the Yadava dynasty. He ruled from Mahishmati on the banks of the Narmada river. Kartavirya Arjuna was also known as Sahasrabahu Arjuna. He ruled the entire Earth and was a great conqueror. He was a great worshiper of Bhagvati Amba. But with all the power he became arrogant and cruel, so he was killed by Parshurama.
- Father: Kritavirya
- Mother: Padmini
- Brothers: Many
- Sister: Bhanumati
- Sons: 100 Sons (called the Talajanghas) led by Jayadhvaja
King Kritavirya of Haihaya had many wives but he didn’t have even one son. He performed many penances but still didn’t obtain a son. One of his wives, Padmini, unable to bear the anguish of Kritavirya, went to Anasuya, the wife of Atri rishi, for assistance.
Ansuya told her about the specific days that they should do penance to beget a son. Kritavirya and Padmini went to the forest and did penance on those days.
Once, while they were lost in meditation, a voice came from the sky saying, “Open your eyes”. They opened their eyes and were astonished to find Lord Dattatreya standing in front of him. “I will bless you with what you want,” Lord Dattatreya said, smiling.
“O Lord, all we want is a son. A son that is unconquered and will rule the entire world. A son that can’t be defeated by anybody except you,” Kritavirya requested. Dattatreya nodded and disappeared.
Soon after, Kritavirya and Padmini had a son. He was named Kartavirya Arjuna. He was born with a 1000 arms, so he was also called Sahasrabahu Arjuna. Soon, Kritavirya had other sons with his other wives and a daughter named Bhanumati.
Becoming King and Disciple to Dattatreya
Soon, Kritavirya died and there was peril in the kingdom. The candidates for the throne were Kritavirya’s 3 brothers, his son-in-law Ahamyati, and his sons including Kartavirya Arjuna.
The ministers and citizens discussed who should be the next king. Rishi Garga asserted that Kartavirya Arjuna should become the king. Soon, people realized that Rishi Garga was correct and that there was no good candidate except for Kartavirya Arjuna. It was decided that Arjuna would become the next king of Haihaya.
But Kartavirya Arjuna didn’t want to be king. He didn’t want all the power and fame or the kingdom itself.
“If I am unable to protect the subjects, I will go to hell. I cannot take this responsibility. I might fail in protecting the citizens. I might be defeated by another king or fail my duties. Pick someone else, not me,” Arjuna argued.
“No one can see the future. As long as you try your best, you are following your duties. Do not fear the future right now. Look at the present,” Rishi Garga argued back.
“As long as I know I am not powerful enough, I will not accept kingship,” Arjuna replied firmly.
“Well then go to Lord Dattatreya, the avatar of Lord Vishnu. He will make you realize your duties and make you powerful,” Rishi Garga replied.
Arjuna went to Dattatreya. He became a perfect disciple, observing all his duties with alertness and punctuality. He soon realized his duties. At the end of his training, Dattatreya told him to ask for six boons. Arjuna asked for these boons:
- Give me the power to protect my subjects
- Make me know the secret to anyone’s heart
- Make me invincible
- Make it so that my thousand arms don’t disable my body
- Make it so that even if I give away wealth, my wealth won’t decrease
Dattatreya was impressed with the boons Arjuna asked for. He requested Arjuna to ask for 2 more boons. For the two additional boons, Arjuna asked for:
- Make it so that I die at the hands of a great person after a glorious reign
- Make it so that I never waver from the path of righteousness. Make it so that there are always people guiding me to the right path.
Dattatreya granted all eight boons to Arjuna. Dattatreya also gave him a flying chariot. Kartavirya Arjuna then came back to Mahishmati and accepted kingship.
Kartavirya Arjuna conducted 10 great yagnas in each of the seven continents. So in total, he conducted 700 yagnas. All of the yagnas were splendorous and had plenty of grandeur. Gold altars were used in all of them. All of them were performed with sacrificial pots made of gold. The Devas, Gandharvas, and Apsaras watched these yagnas from the sky.
Kartavirya Arjuna and Ravana
Kartavirya Arjuna once went to bathe in the Narmada River with his wives. Meanwhile, Ravana, the king of Lanka, also came to the Narmada with his ministers. They were more upstream than Arjuna.
“My Lord, you are very powerful. But I want to test your strength,” one of Arjuna’s wives said jokingly.
“What would you like me to do,” Arjuna asked.
“Stop the flow of the river. If you can do this, you are truly the most powerful person alive,” his wife asked of him.
Arjuna sat in the middle of the river and raised his arms. He concentrated hard. Soon, the river flow completely stopped. With the flow of the river stopped, the water level rose and the water started going on to the shores. The small islands started getting submerged.
Upstream, Ravana was praying on the shore. Suddenly, strong waves of water started washing onto the shore. They ran along the shoreline to find out the cause of this. They saw Arjuna sitting in the middle of the river with his arms blocking all the water. Seeing a thousand arms on the king, the ministers were slightly scared. They went back to Ravana.
Ravana opened his eyes from his prayers and realized the water rising. He looked at his ministers and saw scared expressions on their faces. He realized that this was the work of someone powerful.
“Why are you just standing there, you fools. Tell me what happened!” Ravana barked at his ministers.
“Your majesty. A th…thousand-armed king has stopped the river,” his ministers replied, pointing down the river.
Ravana immediately knew that it was Kartavirya Arjuna. He picked up his mace and got on his Pushpaka Vimana. “Forward!” Ravana screamed, commanding the vehicle to go to Arjuna.
Ravana saw Arjuna drying himself and bellowed. “Just because you can stop a river doesn’t mean you are powerful. If you’re actually powerful, then fight me!” Ravana bellowed.
“Ravana! I will fight you. Get down from your chariot, or are you a coward?” Arjuna said, smiling.
Ravana jumped down from his Pushpaka Vimana with his mace in his hand. Arjuna instantly grabbed his mace and met Ravana’s blow. The two continued fighting for a long time. Arjuna’s queens and Ravana’s ministers watched, horrified. After a fierce fight, Arjuna managed to make Ravana unconscious. Arjuna captured Ravana and took him back to Mahishmati. Arjuna imprisoned Ravana.
A few days later, Sage Pulatsya (one of the mind-born sons of Brahma and Ravana’s grandfather) came to Mahishmati.
“Arjuna, I have heard that you defeated my grandson and you have him imprisoned here,” Pulatsya said. “I am sure that he has learned his lesson and will never pick a fight with you again. Please let him go.”
Arjuna willingly let Ravana go. Ravana went back to Lanka on his Pushpaka Vimana after receiving many gifts from Arjuna.
Curse by Rishi Apava
Once, the thirsty Surya deva begged Kartavirya Arjuna for alms. As alms, Kartavirya Arjuna gave Surya the seven continents of the earth.
Thus, Surya started burning all the cities, towns, villages, and cowherd colonies. Blazing, Surya deva also started burning mountains and forests. When Surya was burning the seven continents, Sage Apava’s (a son of Varuna) ashram was also burned.
Rishi Apava was enraged. He knew that Kartavirya Arjuna was the cause of this. He cursed Arjuna that he would die at the hands of Parshuram. On learning that Kartavirya Arjuna wanted to die at the hands of a great person like Parshuram (one of his boons from Dattatreya), Rishi Apava decided to add to the curse.
“May your exploits and achievements be bettered by another Arjuna. You have burnt a whole forest. But this Arjuna will do the same much more. He will outshine your accomplishments!” Rishi Apava cursed.
As per Rishi Apava’s curse, during the Mahabharata, Arjuna the Pandava was born. He burnt the Khandava forest and did much more which surpassed Kartavirya Arjuna.
“Sage Jamadagni’s son Parshuram had defeated countless Kshatriyas. He is the only one who can defeat you,” Varuna replied.
Arjuna was enraged. He wanted to be the most powerful in the world. He immediately went to Jamadagni’s ashram. Arjuna was greeted kindly. Jamadagni served food to Arjuna and his entire army from the divine cow, Kamadhenu. Arjuna wanted the cow and told his minister Chandragupta to go ask for it.
“O King, unfortunately, I cannot give you this cow. I need it for religious ceremonies,” Jamadagni refused.
Soon, the two started furiously arguing over the cow. After some time, Kartavirya Arjuna lost his cool. He took out his sword and chopped off the head of Sage Jamadagni. Arjuna then seized Kamadhenu and took her back to Mahishmati.
Parshuram had been out at that time. When he returned, he saw his father’s head lying on the ground. He was shocked. His mother Renuka told him what happened. Parshuram decided to take revenge on Kartavirya Arjuna.
Death by Parshuram
Parshuram marched to Mahishmati. The seventeen akshaunis of Kartavirya Arjuna came to meet him.
In the following battle, Parushuram massacred the entire army of Arjuna. Parshuram and Arjuna then had a fierce battle in which Parshuram finally killed Arjuna with the battleax given to him by Shiva.