Another Arjun, one with a thousand arms

Kartavirya Arjun was a Haihaya king who was so powerful that he was given the name Sahasrabahu or the One with a thousand arms. As always the gods were never too far from these tales of impossible numbers of limbs or children, Dattatreya being the one to give Arjun these amazing powers. But even the strong and many armed must come to an end and Arjun did too; punished by the warrior Brahmin Parashuram for stealing his father Jamadagni’s pet cow Surabhi and cutting down all the trees around the hermitage. Parashurama went to Arjun’s palace and cut off all his arms and eventually his head. Then Arjun’s many sons, angry and obviously thinking themselves above the law like sons of powerful men usually do,paid a visit to Jamadagni and killed the old man in return. This got Parashuram really upset and he went around the world three times, clearing it of Kshatriyas wherever he found them.
Arjuna_humbles_ravana.jpg
(Arjuna humbles Ravan)
 
Why was Parashuram a warrior but not a Kshatriya? Well, that was because when the sage Richik had made a special porridge for both his wife and his mother-in-law to eat, he had intended his wife Satyavati to have a son with the qualities of a Brahmin and his mother-in-law who was King Gadhi’s queen to give birth to a Kshatriya prince. But he had not reckoned with the mischief that is in a woman’s heart.
Mother and daughter hardly believed Richik had such powers and exchanged the bowls of porridge, perhaps just to prove him wrong. Or perhaps the ageing queen simply wanted a son who would not be interested in war and winning. Satyavati gave birth to Jamadagni, the Brahmin who was like the Kshatriyas in preferring war and her mother gave birth to the peaceable Vishwamitra whose name itself means friend to the world.
Caste was not a fixed thing in early Brahmanic history but this story shows an attempt to legitimize the interchange. Parashuram was like his father and preferred fighting to prayers.
 
Parashurama_killing_Kartavirya_Arjuna.jpg
(Parashuram killing Kartavirya Arjun)

How did Richik marry a king’s daughter in the first place? Well, he almost did not get to marry Satyavati.
Her father King Gadhi of Kanyakubja was not going to let his beautiful daughter be wedded to a man with ash smeared on his body and his hair in matted dreadlocks.
But the task he set Richik – to bring him a thousand brown horses each with one light coloured ear was easily accomplished with the help of the god Varun. Ironically, Richik married Satyavati in the very city where he had found the horses from, right under her father’s nose – Gadhi’s capital Kanyakubja.
 
At least Satyavati did not suffer the fate of the one hundred daughters of King Kusanabha who refused to marry the wind god Vayu and ended up cursed to be hunchbacks forever. That was how Kanyakubja or Kanauj supposedly got its name.
 
But that is a story for another day.
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