Skip to main content


Arjuna with a bow over his shoulder in front of a dramatic sea and background

Arjuna is a hero of a great many tales from the Mahabharata. It is no wonder that many people look up to him!

Who is Arjuna? Well, he is one of the main characters in the Mahabharata, a very important ancient poem for those who follow the Hindu religion. He is a warrior prince and an incredible archer who has many adventures. He is also a brother, one of five to be exact, who are called the Pandavas. They are the sons of King Pandu of Hastinapur and his two wives. They are like most siblings, they have adventures, but they do not always get along!

So, what is Mahabharata?

The Mahabharata is one of the longest epic poems ever written. It has over 200,000 verse lines, 1.8 million words and it is believed that it could have taken over 600 years to write! The oldest surviving piece of text is believed to be dated from 400BCE. Can you imagine writing all of that?

Some believe that the Mahabharata was originally narrated by Vyasa, who is said to be the greatest sage (really wise person) in the history of Hinduism and that the poem was written down by Ganesha (Hindu god of new beginnings). The term ‘Mahabharata’ itself translates to ‘the great tale of the Bhārata dynasty’. How grand and epic.

Stories are often changed and adapted over time, and the Mahabharata is no different. Even though it is hundreds of years old, the epic remains popular and important to this day. Paintings, sculptures, architecture, plays and films are just a few things the Mahabharata has inspired. One of the plays about the poem is 9 hours long. The first film about the poem was made in India in 1920.

Hindu god Ganesha writes the Mahabharata while Vyasa narrates

This image shows Vyasa (right) telling the Hindu god of new beginnings, Ganesha (left), the stories that make the Mahabharata. With that many words, it must have taken a long time to write!

So what actually happens in the Mahabharata?

The main story in the poem is about two groups of cousins, the Pandavas brothers and the Kauravas brothers. These cousins fought a ferocious struggle for the throne of a place called Hastinapur. This conflict ended in the mighty Kurukshetra War, an eighteen day battle so bloody that it is said 1.66 billion warriors lost their lives. Arjuna played a major role in this battle and killed many powerful and important warriors on the Kauravas side. As well as tales of adventure , there are also important tips and guides on how to live a good live and important teachings. Things like standing by what you believe is right, that friendship is very important, that being greedy is bad and can lead to your downfall, and importantly for such an old text, that women are equal to men.

Arjuna and Krishna Advance Against the Kauravas

In this 19th century painting you can see Arjuna and Krishna in the chariot that is being pulled by white horses and charging to the left. Arjuna has his bow up and is ready to strike while Krishna is controlling the horses. They and their army are fighting against the Kauravas brothers, which is the army on the left side of the painting. You can see that bows and arrows are the main weapon on this battlefield, and there are elephants to the top of the painting too!  © 2020 Philadelphia Museum of Art

Like most heroes, Arjuna does not show up to battles depicted in the Mahabharata empty-handed. To help him in his adventures, Arjuna carries the mighty Gandiva bow. This weapon has amazing powers that gives the user bags of self-confidence, as well as having an unlimited number of arrows! Arjuna also travels in style. He uses a chariot pulled by four horses to get around.

So are the events in the Mahabharata true?

No one can be sure how true the events mentioned in the epic are true but some people believe that they are based on true events, possibly a real war that took place before the text was written. What we do know is that Arjuna’s archery skills and epic adventures make him a true hero and someone that we should all look up to.

Other fun things to do

Watch the story telling of how Arjuna helped the god of fire, Argni against Indra, the god of war. Then read all about how Indian heroes used archery to show off their skills. Then download the Arjuna Fun Activity Pack (pdf, 2MB) to dive into the world of Mahabharata and the Pandavas brothers, then see how to sign ‘Archer’ in British Sign Language and Makaton.

Alternative communication formats

Please contact us if you require any of our downloadable documents in an alternative format.

Related stories

Load more