A long time ago, Brahma made this bow with his powers of creation. The purpose behind this bow was to destroy the wicked and unjust.
Brahma kept the bow with himself for a thousand years. After that, he gave the bow to one of the Prajapatis for another thousand years. Prajapati then handed the bow to Indra, who used it for 3585 years. Next, Chandra got it from Indra and used it for 500 years. Varuna then came in possession of the bow. He used it for 100 years and then gave it to Arjuna, who used it for 65 years. Arjuna then returned it to Varuna.
Arjuna and the Gandiva
After the Pandavas built Indraprastha, they focused on other parts of the half of the kingdom that had been given to them. Krishna and Arjuna went to the Khandava forest, thinking of how to make Khandavaprasta into a beautiful city. At that time, Agni appeared in front. He told them how he had been plagued by indigestion due to King Svetaki’s yagna, and he would only be cured if he burned the Khandava forest. (For the full story, see Agni)
“I have tried countless times to burn this forest, but my efforts are always futile due to Indra. His friend Takshaka, the king of the Nagas, resides in this forest. Every time I set off a fire, Indra sends down rains to protect his friend’s tribe,” Agni explained.
Arjuna and Krishna agreed to help Agni. But they needed to arm themselves. Agni gave Arjuna a chariot bearing the flag of Hanuman and four white horses. Arjuna then prayed to Varuna deva, who gave him the Gandiva bow and two inexhaustible quivers.
Agni then started burning the forest. Immediately, Indra sent down a rainstorm, but Arjuna created a canopy of arrows above the forest to block the rain. Krishna used his Sudarshan chakra and assisted Arjuna. Soon, the entire forest was reduced to ashes and Agni was cured of his indigestion. That day, Arjuna took a vow that he would kill whoever asks him to give up the Gandiva.
During the Mahabharata war, Arjuna used the Gandiva to kill many warriors. On the seventeenth day, Karna defeated and humiliated Yudhistira. Yudhistira was angered at his defeat. When Arjuna came to see him, Yudhistira criticized him because killing Karna was his job and he hadn’t done it yet. In anger, Yudhistira told Arjuna to give up the Gandiva. Remembering his vow, Arjuna rushed at Yudhistira with his sword. But Lord Krishna intervened and suggests that Arjuna insults his brother verbally.
After heavily insulting his brother, Arjuna feels really guilty and takes out his sword to commit suicide. But Krishna again stops him and says that suicide is a sin. He suggests that Arjuna should praise himself because that is as bad as suicide. Thus, Arjuna praises himself and then falls at the feet of Yudhistira. Yudhistira consoles him and they pardon each other.
Arjuna gives up the Gandiva
After the Mahabharata war, Yudhistira was crowned king. Soon, the Pandavas became tired of mundane life. They left the crown to Parikshit and went to the forest. During their journey, Agni deva appeared in front of them. He said, “Oh Pandavas, Arjuna requires the bow no more. I got it from Varuna for Arjuna. Therefore, return it to Varuna.”
Arjuna immediately dropped the Gandiva and his inexhaustible quivers into the water. Thus, the Gandiva was returned to Varuna deva. Agni deva disappeared and the Pandavas continued their journey.
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