Long before the armies gathered in the battlefield where the Bhagavad Gita was spoken, Arjuna obtained the magic weapons and indestructible chariot that he would use in the Mahabharata war. And prior to that war, Krishna, his uncle and teacher had served Arjuna as his chariot driver on one other occasion. khandava-dahana-mahabharata-1

Arjuna, his four brothers and their families were living in their palace in the town of Indraprastha. One beautiful summer morning they awoke to find their uncle and teacher, Krishna, knocking on their door. They were excited and happy to see their teacher and surprised by his unexpected visit. Krishna suggested they all go to a nearby lake for a picnic and enjoy a day of rest.

Arjuna and his brothers had arranged a busy day of work for themselves, but it was traditional that when your teacher makes a suggestion you consider it very seriously. Hoping to learn from his teacher and knowing he would enjoy his teachers enlightening company and seeing the beauty of the warm summer day, Arjuna convinced his brothers that a picnic was in order. Consulting their wives and ordering food prepared in the kitchens the day of festivities began.

Wagons were quickly loaded and the whole clan rode to a beautiful lake on the edge of a dark forest. There they set up tents and arranged for games and swimming followed by a feast. After eating, Arjuna was settling in for a nap when Krishna approached him and suggested that the two of them take a walk. Arjuna’s eyes were heavy and he wanted his nap but again he honored the tradition and accompanied his teacher.

They walked down a country road that bordered the forest and Krishna spoke enthusiastically about meditation and karma yoga. Arjuna listened attentively but found himself puzzled. Krishna was not saying anything that he had not heard many times before. Arjuna knew that Krishna was very respectful of time and energy and would waste neither. He began to suspect that something else may be happening and became very alert.

In the distance Arjuna noticed a figure approaching them. He observed a man wearing an orange robe and concluded they were being approached by a monk. As the monk walked closer Arjuna noticed that his hair, eyes and teeth were the color of copper. Arjuna was amazed at the sight and greeted the mendicant with appropriate respect, asking if there was anything he needed for comfort and health.

The monk replied that he was very hungry. Arjuna’s response was to promise, “I will feed you.” He then offered to lead the monk back to the picnic site and gather a plate of leftovers for him. The monk interrupted Arjuna to exclaim, “I can’t eat that kind of food.” Arjuna became nervous. He looked to Krishna and saw a broad smile on his face. Arjuna realized that this whole day had been organized to lead him into this situation. He asked the monk, “What kind of food do you eat?”

The monk burst into flames. “I am Agni, the Fire God. At the beginning of time it was ordained that on this day I would eat the Kandava forest. But every time I begin to consume the forest, Indra causes a storm that wets the forest so I cannot burn it. I have become very hungry. You must help stop Indra so I can consume the forest.  Agni’s words terrified Arjuna because Indra was his father. In a faltering voice he asked Agni, “Why does Indra stop you from burning the forest?” Agni replied that Indra’s friend Takshaka, the serpent king, lived in the forest.

Krishna interrupted and said to Agni, “Arjuna and I will be happy to help you burn the forest, but if we are to fight Indra we need weapons to match Indra’s storm clouds and thunderbolt.

Agni chanted a mantra and Varuna, the Lord of the Oceans, appeared. Agni asked Varuna to give Arjuna all that he needed for the upcoming fight. Varuna chanted a mantra and a chariot appeared yoked to 4 white horses. Varuna described the chariot, “This chariot is as fast as the mind and the horses never tire. It is protected by mantas and cannot be damaged by any impact or fire.

Again Varuna chanted a mantra and a bow with two quivers of arrows appeared. This magic bow will shoot out 100 arrows every time one arrow is released and the quivers will never empty.

Arjuna strung the bow and put the quivers over his shoulders. He and Krishna mounted the chariot with Krishna as the driver and headed towards the Kandava forest.

Krishna began to drive the chariot around and around the forest. As the path cleared he drove faster and faster. Eventually, the chariot was moving so fast only a blur could be seen and it appeared to be everywhere at once. Krishna called to Agni and Agni began to burn the forest.

Very soon Indra appeared standing on a cloud. Immediately he caused a storm to form and torrential rain to fall on the forest. Arjuna began to quickly shoot arrows into the sky over the forest. The arrows converging from all sides formed an umbrella that shielded the forest from the rain. When the canopy fell, Arjuna built another. Upon seeing this, Indra hurled his lightening bolt and destroyed an umbrella but Arjuna immediately built another. Again and again he built umbrellas of arrows until Agni had consumed the forest.

As the forest burned, Takshaka’s home caught fire. Takshaka was away but his wife and son were in the house. The mother snake swallowed her son and flew into the sky. One of Arjuna’s arrows severed her neck. Her body fell into the fire and the child flew out her body and into the sky escaping the blaze.

When the forest was completely burned, Krishna slowed the chariot and Arjuna stopped shooting. They approached Agni who expressed satisfaction and gratitude before disappearing in a puff of smoke. Arjuna felt a wave of fear as he looked up to see a celestial chariot shooting down from the sky. The chariot landed and Indra, Lord of Heaven and Arjuna’s father stepped out. With his heart pounding Arjuna bowed respectfully to his father.

Indra approached the fearful Arjuna and said, “My son I am proud of you for your bravery and skill. Some day I will bring you to heaven and give you all of my celsetial weapons and I personally will teach you how to use them.