Iravan, Son of Arjuna, Part Two


Aravan shrine, Sri Mariamman Temple
[ Photo courtesy PrettyKateMachine@Flikr ]

Dec 16, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) —

In Bhisma Parva, the sixth book of the epic Mahabharata, we find Arjuna exiled from Indraprastha and going on a one-year pilgrimage as penance for violating the terms of his marriage to Draupadi. When Arjuna reached the northeast regions he met and fell in love with Ulupi, a widowed Naga princess. The two married and she gave him a son who was named Iravan. Later on, however, Arjuna proceeded on with his pilgrimage, leaving Iravan and mother Ulupi behind in Nagaloka, the abode of the Nagas.

Iravan is described as being born parakshetre, or "in a region belonging to another person". In fact, he grew up in Nagaloka under the protection of his mother, but he was rejected by his maternal uncle because of the uncle's hatred for Arjuna. After reaching maturity, Iravan wished to reunite with his father, and he departed for Indraloka, the abode of the god Indra, who fathered Arjuna.

Iravan asked for Indra's help in fighting the Kurukshetra War. On the first day of the great battle Iravan fights a duel with Srutayush, a kshatriya king who had been a daitya named Krodhavasa in a previous life. Srutayush is later killed by Arjuna. On the seventh day of the battle, Iravan defeats Vinda and Anuvinda, the princes of Avanti, who are also killed later by Arjuna.

Aravan shrine
[ Photo courtesy PrettyKateMachine@Flikr ]

On the eighth day of the war, Iravan fought the princes of Gandhara, the sons of King Suvala, and the younger brothers of Shakuni, the treacherous maternal uncle of the Kauravas. The brothers Gaya, Gavaksha, Vrishava, Charmavat, Arjava, and Suka all attacked Iravan, supported by the whole Kaurava army, but Iravan's army of Nagas slayed all but one of their opponents. Iravan, the "chastiser of foes"—versed in maya (illusion)—slayed five Gandhara princes in a sword fight; Vrishava alone escaped death.

Agitated by this reversal, the eldest Kaurava, Duryodhana, ordered the rakshasa (giant) Alamvusha (or Alambusha), son of Rishyasringa, to kill Iravan. This time Alambusha, as well as Iravan, use illusion in combat. Alambusha attacks Iravan with a bow but Iravan counters, breaking Alambusha's bow and slicing the giant into several pieces.

Alambusha's body, however, reconstitutes itself. Then Iravan assumes the form of the serpent Shesha, and his serpent army surrounds him with protection. Alambusha counters this by assuming the form of Garuda, the eternal foe of the serpents, and devours the serpent army.

Ultimately, Alambusha kills Iravan by cutting off his head, although Iravan is later avenged when Ghatotkacha, his cousin, finally kills the demon Alambusha.

Aravan procession - Draupadi cult

Devotees of the Draupadi cult commemorate these pastimes from the Battle of Kurukshetra by conducting an annual festival known as Patukalam. The festival usually begins with a kuttu (drama) re-enacting Draupadi's wedding. During the festival, the actor playing the part of Draupadi, along with other women participating in the public ceremonies, lament the death of Aravan and the other heroes of the great war. Wherever the ritual kalappali is performed, that place is declared to be, symbolically, the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

Sources: Srimad Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, Wiki


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