Profile: Gandiva

Posted on June 14, 2010

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Some interesting facts about Arjuna’s weapon:

- Brahma created the Gandiva and retained it with him for 1000 years; Prajapati* then owned it for 503 years, Indra for 85, Chandra for 500, after which Varuna kept it for 100 years. Arjuna then used it for 65 years. (Mbh 4.43)

- Arjuna received Gandiva from Varuna who offered the bow at Agni‘s recommendation. Varuna also gave Arjuna, two inexhaustible quivers, a chariot made by Viswakarma that had Hanuman in its banner, and white steeds that were born in the region of Gandharva (Mbh 1.226)

- The inexhaustible supply of arrows were however exhausted during Arjuna’s encounter with Shiva. An alarmed Arjuna then attacked Mahadeva with Gandiva. But Shiva snatched the bow from the Arjuna’s hands. (Mbh. 3.39).

- When Arjuna visited the heaven,  Indra strung a durable string on the Gandiva (Mbh 3.167)

- Gandiva is said to bear a heavy weight (Mbh 4.40), and is a ‘tãlamãtra‘ long (Mbh 5.161, 8.68).  Interpretation of Tãlamãtra varies across translations (a palm tree, palm’s length, arm’s length, four to six cubits, etc)

- Arjuna was also known as Savyasachin as he could draw the bow with either hands (Mbh 4.44)

- Arjuna had taken a secret oath to cut anyone’s head off who asked him to give the bow to anyone else (Mbh 8.69)

- During the Pandavas’ final days on earth, Arjuna, at Agni’s advise, returned the Gandiva and the quivers to Varuna by throwing them into the sea. (Mbh. 17.1)

* Note: Many english translations quote the bow being owned first by Shiva for 1000 years, followed by Brahma for 503 years – but multiple Sanskrit editions quote ownership by Brahma for 1000 years, followed by Prajapati for 503. All translations however agree that Brahma created the bow.

एतद वर्षसहस्रं तु ब्रह्मा पूर्वमधारयधारयत्
ततॊऽनन्तरमेएवाथ प्रजापतिरधारयत्
त्रीणि पञ्चशतं चैव शक्रोऽशीति च पञ्च च…

Since Brahma is also mentioned in the verse, the term Prajapati can be taken as a reference to Shiva, who is one of the 21 Prajapatis (Mbh 12.334).

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