Adi Parva 52. The Burning of the Khandava Forest

Agni then put forth his most energetic form, and got ready to consume the forest. Surrounding it on all sides with his seven flames, he began to consume the forest of Khandava, exhibiting his all-consuming form like the fire at the end of the Yuga. 

Surrounding that forest from all sides and roaring like the clouds, Agni made every creature residing there tremble in fear. That burning forest looked resplendent like Meru, the king of mountains, blazing with the rays of the sun that have fallen on it.

Krishna and Arjuna, riding in their cars and placing themselves on opposite sides of that forest, began a great slaughter of the creatures dwelling in Khandava. When they saw some creatures trying to escape, they rushed to that place to prevent them from escaping.

As the forest was burning, hundreds of thousands of living creatures, uttering frightful yells, began to run about in all directions. Some had some of their limbs burnt, some were scorched with excessive heat, and some ran about from fear. And some clasping their children and some their parents and brothers chose to die rather than escape after abandoning their beloved kin.

Many creatures rose upwards but soon fell whirling into the blazing fire below. Some rolled on the ground with wings, eyes, and feet scorched and burnt. These creatures died at those spots almost immediately.

The tanks and ponds within that forest, heated by the fire around, began to boil, causing the fishes and the tortoises in them to perish The spectre of the burning bodies of various animals looked as if fire itself had assumed many forms.

The birds that tried to fly away from that conflagration were pierced by Arjuna’s arrows or cut into pieces. Pierced all over by Arjuna’s arrows, the birds dropped down into the burning forest, uttering loud cries. The yelling of the creatures struck by the arrows resembled the frightful uproar heard during the churning of the ocean (in days of yore).

The mighty flames of the blazing fire reaching the firmament, caused great anxiety to the celestials themselves. They went to their Chief Indra, the one with thousand eyes, the slayer of Asuras and the one who had performed hundred sacrifices, and said “O, lord of immortals, why does Agni burn these creatures below? Has the time come for the destruction of the world?”

Hearing this, Indra, who himself was witnessing the spectacle with concern, set out to protect the forest of Khandava. Covering the sky with masses of clouds, he commanded the clouds to shower on the burning forest. Those masses of clouds, commanded by Indra, began to pour rain on Khandava in heavy showers. But the showers were all dried up in the sky itself by the heat of the fire and could not, therefore, reach the fire at all!

Indra got angry with Agni, gathered huge masses of clouds and made them deliver a heavy  downpour. The showers falling on the fire caused a lot of smoke, which, together with flashes of lightning, presented a horrible sight.

Arjuna, using his powerful weapons, countered the shower of rain with the shower of his arrows. With the sky above that forest being covered by Arjuna’s arrows, no living creature was able to escape from the forest.

It so happened that Takshaka was not in the forest when it was burning, But his son Aswasena was there. He made great efforts to escape from the forest but could not find a way through Arjuna’s arrows. His mother tried to save him by swallowing him. She swallowed his head and even while swallowing his tail,she rose up above the ground, trying to fly away.

Seeing her escape, Arjuna cut off her head using an arrow. Indra who was watching this, in an effort to save his friend’s son, created a violent wind that made Arjuna unconscious for a while. Using this brief time, Aswasena succeeded in escaping. Enraged by this deception, Arjuna cut every animal trying to escape, into several pieces.

Angered by Indra’s act, Arjuna tried to fight with him, by hurling his weapons in the sky. Indra countered these weapons by discharging heavy winds that assembled masses of clouds which gave rise to torrents of rains.

Arjuna then hurled a weapon called Vavavya to dispel the clouds. This weapon destroyed the clouds and dried up the rains. In a moment, the sky was cleared and the Sun appeared on the sky like a disc and in place of heavy winds, a cool breeze began to blow.

Agni, gladdened by these developments, blazed forth with more energy, assuming various forms, with his power increased by the fats of the animals burnt by the fire. 

Numerous birds of the Garuda tribe descended from the sky intending to attack Arjuna and Krishna with their thunder-like wings and sharp beaks and claws. A number of snakes also descended from above emitting poison.

Seeing the birds and snakes descending down, Arjuna cut them into pieces using arrows, steeped in the fire of his anger. The birds and snakes fell into the fire.

Others like Asuras, Gandharvas, Yakshas and Nagas also came, with terrifying cries, to fight Arjuna, Armed with machines emitting iron balls and bullets from their mouths and catapults that would propel huge stones and rockets, they began to attack Arjuna and Krishna. Arjuna cut off their heads using his powerful arrows. Krishna also attacked the Daityas and Danavas with his disk and killed them.

Then Indra, riding on his white elephant hurled his Vajrayuta, which would never go in vain, on Arjuna and Krishna. Other celestials also took up their weapons in their hands. Yama took up his mace, Kubera his spiked club, Varuna his noose, Skanda his long lance, the Aswini Devatas their resplendent plants, Dhatri his bow, Jaya his thick club, Tvashta a huge mountain, Surya a bright dart, Mrityu a battle-axe, Aryaman a bludgeon with sharp spikes, Mitra a discus and Pusha, Bagha and Savitr, bows.

Rudras, Vasus, Maruts, Viswedevas and Sadhyas and other celestials also took up their weapons. All of them charged towards Arjuna and Krishna.

Arjuna and Krishna, fearless and invincible in battle, seeing Indra and other celestials charging towards them, calmly waited, with bows in their hands. Skilled in battle, these two heroes assailed them with their own weapons and drove them away. The celestials ran away in fear and sought the protection of Indra. The sages who witnessed the battle from the skies were amazed by the feat of Arjuna and Krishna.

Indra caused a heavy shower of stones which were dispelled by Arjuna, using his arrows. Indra then tore up a large peak from the Mandara mountain and hurled it toward Arjuna. Arjuna cut it into a thousand pieces by his fire emitting arrows. 

The fall of the fragments of that mountain on the earth looked like the Sun, the Moon and the other planets falling on the earth after being displaced from their positions These fragments falling on the forest caused the death of numerous living creatures living in the forest.

The inhabitants of the forest of Khandava, the Danavas and Rakshasas and Nagas, wolves and bears and other wild animals, elephants, tigers, lions, manes, deer, buffaloes, various birds, and various other creatures, frightened at the falling stones  began to fly in all directions.

They saw the forest burning all around and Krishna and Arjuna also ready with their weapons. Frightened at the terrible sounds, those creatures lost their power of movement. They emitted a frightful roar.

Krishna hurled his large and fierce discus at the animal to hasten their death. The forest-dwellers including the Danavas and the Rakshasas, afflicted by that weapon, were cut into hundreds of pieces and fell unto the mouth of Agni. Mangled by Krishna’s discus, the Asuras were besmeared with blood and fat and looked like evening clouds.

Krishna moved like death itself, slaying Pisachas and birds and Nagas and other creatures by thousands. The discus itself, repeatedly hurled from the hands of Krishna, came back to his hands after slaughtering many creatures. The face and form of Krishna – that soul of every created thing – became fierce to behold while he was thus employed in the slaughter of the Pisachas, Nagas and Rakshasas.

No one among the celestials, who had mustered there could vanquish in battle Krishna and Arjuna. When the celestials saw that they could not protect that forest from the might of Krishna and Arjuna by extinguishing that conflagration, they retired from the scene.

Then, Indra, beholding the celestials  retreat, applauded Krishna and Arjuna. A voice from the skies, addressing Indra, said, “Your friend Takshaka, that chief of snakes, has not been slain! Before the conflagration commenced in Khandava, he had  left for Kurukshetra. Know from my words, O Indra that Vasudeva and Arjuna are incapable of being vanquished in battle by any one! They are Nara and Narayana – those gods of ancient times, well known in heaven! You know what their energy and strength are. These best of old Rishis are unconquerable by any one in all the worlds! They deserve the most reverential worship of all the celestials and Asuras; of Yakshas and Rakshasas and Gandharvas, of human beings and Kinnaras and Nagas. Therefore,  it will be worthy of you and the celestials to go back to your abodes. The destruction of Khandava hath been ordained by Fate!”

Then the chief of the immortals, knowing these words to be true, gave up his anger and jealousy, and went back to heaven. The celestials followed their chief, along with their soldiers. Seeing the retreat of Indra and other celestials, the duo roared like lions.

After Indra had left the scene, these two heroes continued to assist in  the conflagration of the forest. No creature survived the onslaught of Arjuna. All of them fell into the  mouth of Agni. 

Gratified with large quantities of flesh, blood, and fat, Agni,  with his blazing  eyes, and flaming tongue and large mouth, drank that nectar-like stream of animal fat, became filled with joy. Gratified greatly, Agni derived much happiness.

An Asura by name Maya who was trying to escape from the fire was pursued by Krishna and Agni. Maya sought protection from Arjuna. Arjuna promised him that he being the brother of Namuchi (who was killed by Indra), he won’t be killed. Accordingly, Agni also spared him.

Agni burnt the forest for fifteen days  and only six of its dwellers were not killed in the fire. They were Aswasena, Maya and four birds called Sarangas.


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