The Vana Parva or “The Book of the Forest” (also Aranyaka Parva, Aranya Parva), is the book in the Mahabharat that discusses the twelve-year exile of the Pandavas in the forest. It is one of the longest of the 18 books in the Mahabharat, and contains in it both the story of Arjun and the Kirata, and that of Nala and Damayanti.
Vana Parva starts with the slaying of demon Kirmira by Bheem. Bheem was still seething in anger at the humiliation of Draupadi. When accosted and challenged by the demon Kirmira, his full wrath fell upon the demon and he crushed the demon.
Once of the most important part of the book is “Arjun’s quest for celestial weapons” that made Arjun the complete invincible in war. This is described in the section of sub-parva named Kiratarjuniya. It predominantly features the Vira rasa, or the mood of valour. While the Pandavas are exiled in the forest, Draupadi and Bhima incite Yudhisthir to declare war with the Kauravas, while he does not relent. Yudhisthir explains that things are no more the same. While they themselves are paupers with only a limited support, their adverseries are strong. Pitamah Bhishm, Acharya Drona, Acharya Kripa, Guruputra Ashwathama, Karna, etc. are well versed in the martial arts and are invincble maharathis. They have huge army and untold wealth. Many former Pandava allies are with them. This makes the rest of the Pandavas think back, start worrying and becoming gloomy. At this time Vyasa arrives to their dwelling and encourages all of them. Thereafter, Arjun, on the behest of advices from many fronts, decides to embark upon a journey to acquire the celestial weapons.
Arjun, at the instruction of Indra, propitiates god Shiva with penance (tapasya) in the forest. Pleased by his austerities, Shiva decides to reward him. When a demon named Muka, in the form of a wild boar, charges toward Arjun, Shiva appears in the form of a Kirata, a wild mountaineer. Arjun and the Kirata simultaneously shoot an arrow at the boar, and kill it. They argue over who shot first, and a battle ensues. They fight for a long time, and Arjun is shocked that he cannot conquer this Kirata. Finally, he recognises the god, and surrenders to him. Shiva, pleased with his bravery, gives him the powerful weapon, the Pashupatastra, which later in the Mahabharata aids him against Karna and the Kauravas during the Kurukshetra war.
The Nala-Damayanti episode is another sub-story that explains the avarices of gambling.
Vana Parva has many sub-plots such as:
- Pandavas piligrimage to various holy places
- Visit of Durvasa rishi to Pandavas sent by Duryodhana with an intent to getting displeasure and then cursing them but Lord Krishna intervenes and saves the day.
- Pandavas stay at Dwaitvana where Duryodhana and “his usual henchmen” arrive with an intention of humilating Pandavas. Duryodhan, Karna, Shakuni and all the 99 brothers are defeated by Chitrasen, the Gandharva. Karna runs away while Duryodhan is taken captive. Thereafter, on the behest of Yudhishthir, the other four brothers defeat Chitrasen and rescue Duryodhan.
- The dialog between Yudhishthir and his father Dharmaraj Yama disguised as a Yaksha. Lord Yama tests Yudhishthir on many fronts and finally blesses him on his victory in the coming eventual war.
- This book also describes the mini-Ramayan about Lord Ram’s struggles, kidnapping of Sita, the march to Lanka and defeat of Ravana. This Ramayan was narrated by rishi Markandeya to instill hope into the suffering Pandavas.
(to be continued)…
(picture shows Arjun acquiring the all powerful Pashupatiastra from Lord Shiva)