Burning of the Khandava Forest

Part 5: The Khandava Battle

In the last article we saw how Arjuna had used the Vayavya astra to calm all the fierce winds sent by Indra. The skies were cleared of the dark clouds, the sun re-appeared, and all the obstacles disappeared; Agni was then free to burn the forest to his heart’s content. In his joy of burning the fat of the dead animals, Agni’s flames danced in seven different forms and in different colours, spinning and twirling, trying to reach the sky.

Now beings of the netherworld that were protecting the forest started appearing out of nowhere. They were rakshasas, asuras, gandharvas, yakshas, and pannagas. They charged on both, Arjuna and Sri Krishna, to engage them in battle. In great anger they, using wooden crossbows and fast moving slings, started showering Arjuna and Sri Krishna with iron pipes and huge stones. Arjuna cut off their heads with his extremely sharp arrows. Then a whole army of daityas attacked Sri Krishna. With his Sudarshana Chakra, he was able to severe their heads off too. When Indra, sitting on a white elephant, saw that Sri Krishna and Arjuna had defeated all the different kinds of demons and demi-gods he had sent, he charged at them throwing flashes of lightning and bolts of thunder. He also provoked his fellow gods to come battle alongside him and they all did.

Let us see what Vyasji is trying to convey in the above lines. We have seen that the burning of the Khandava forest is symbolic of the student working with his deep unconscious mind. This unseen and dark side of us is full of passions and desires. The army that attacked Arjuna and Sri Krishna was of ‘rakshasas’. This word comes from the word ‘rakhsa’ or to save; the Sanskrit meaning being that from which the sacrificial fire has to be saved. Sacrifice means yagna. There are two types of efforts, one is called ‘yagna-karma’, the karma we do for the general good with no personal motive, not even for fame or merit. The other is ‘kamya-karma’ or that which only fulfils personal desire. Suppose we want to provide a large donation; the idea of donating is to free oneself of the inner bondage of ownership or possessiveness. When we say that ‘this is the money I have earned’ – we cannot see and are oblivious to the notion that it has been loaned to us from a central bank and we just enjoy it for some time. So by donating, we rise above the feeling of mine. This donation is now a yagna-karma. But when we give the donation and feel that people should acknowledge us as donors, we do not see that the demon of possessiveness has come just in another form this time around. So that from which the yagna-karma of donation has to be protected is the rakshasa of the ego, the one who asks for merit. These rakshasas are masters of illusion and magic. How easily we fall prey to the illusion that we have done something good!

Then were the ‘Asuras’, this comes from the word ‘as’ meaning to be and ‘sura’ meaning drunk. Our unconscious mind is full of desires for power and when we get power, we are drunk with it. Also there were the ‘Gandharvas’; this word comes from the root ‘gandha’ or smell. Many of the desires and patterns we are holding onto smell worse than the gutter; actually we live in a psychological gutter of self-love, jealousy, meanness, and pettiness – the gandharvas within that we have to kill.

The ‘Yakshas’ are kind of ghosts that protect the hidden treasures. Hidden within us are great treasures – one is conscience or the power to discriminate between right and wrong and true and false. Patanjali calls this viveka. How many a times we fall prey to the false? This treasure of discrimination must be unlocked and those guarding it killed. Finally, there were ‘Pannagas’, kind of serpents which represent the coiled energy lying in our unconscious that manifest as sexual dreams and/or desires.

Then, Vyasji tells us that Sri Krishna was attached by an army of ‘daityas’. He used his Sudarshana to severe off their heads. ‘Daitya’ comes from ‘dwaita’ or duality and ‘Sudarshana’ means right observation. All of us are hypnotised by duality and the truth is in between the two ends. Everything in our life is dual in nature – such as love and hate, beauty and ugliness, happiness and sorrow. We swing to the law of the pendulum – from one extreme to the other. With right observation, all dualities fall and we see that even though their nature is dual, in fact they just complement each other. This state of seeing these opposites as parts of one whole comes only after years of right inner observation.

The gods all came to help Indra in his battle with Sri Krishna and Arjuna. Each of the gods came with their personal weapons. Yama came with his ‘Kaaldand’ or rod of time. The physical body is bound by the rod of time, but when we separate from our physical appetites and are able to hold consciousness, we defeat the god of death. Kubera, the god of riches, came with his ‘gada’ (or mace), meaning to speak with harsh words. Rich represents pride and vanity, which results in harsh language and if we have overpowered these two giants, we have defeated Kubera. Jesus said ‘A camel will pass through the eye of a needle, but a rich man will not enter the kingdom of God’, implying that one who is rich in pride and vanity can never attain the kingdom of God.

Varuna, the god of water, comes from the root ‘vru’ meaning to choose. He has two weapons – a lasso and a thunderbolt; the rope binds and the thunderbolt shocks. Water represents our emotions, which binds us in attachment and gives us the shock of separation. We choose that which we like and dislike what we dislike; represented by the lasso and the thunderbolt. Kartikka, or Shiva’s son, came with his Shakti, or power of dissolution. We should harness this power and use it for dissolution of the ego. The twin gods, the Ashwinikumars, came with flaming herbs that scorch and burn. The emotions of jealousy and envy are twins within us. The god Dhata came with his bow representing the diaphragm, our breathing and the prana currents in the body. These are nearly always in a state of agitation and chaos; through deep relaxation and rhythmic breathing we can calm them and provide the correct direction to the pranic currents.

Arjuna and Sri Krishna were able to defeat all the gods. This actually made Indra happy and he came to bless Arjuna, who is actually his son born through Kunti.