The Burning of the Khandava Forest
The birth of the boys brought a wave of great happiness to the kingdom of the Pandavas. Everyone was thrilled, and in every town and village of Indra-prastha the event was celebrated for days.
The Vrishni had left, but Krishna had remained. His presence gave the court an atmosphere of spirituality and joy, and especially Arjuna, with whom he spent most of his time, was delighted with his presence.
One day, the two friends were walking along the banks of the Yamuna, near the forest of Khandava and were talking about Krishna’s childhood, his adoptive parents Yashoda and Nanda, his friends and family, and the gopis, first of all Radharani, when a Brahmana of sunlike brilliance approached them. His bearing was so solemn, his figure so tall and majestic that the two stood up and greeted him with respect.
“Oh Brahmana who shine like a Deva,” Krishna greeted him, “tell us what we can do for you.”
“I’m sick,” he replied. “For a long time I have suffered from a serious illness and the doctors have assigned me a diet to regain my health; but I cannot find anyone who is able to provide me with the foods I need. You are famous warriors in the world and the first duty of your social class is to support and help the Brahmanas. Would you like to help me find the food I need?”
“Of course, we are willing to do anything for you,” the two said. “What do we have to do?”
The strange character decided to reveal his true identity.
“Dear friends, I am not a Brahmana, but Agni, the Deva of the fire, the one to whom the Brahmanas offer all the Vedic sacrifices. I will tell you how I got sick.”
“A long time ago king Svetaki performed five fire sacrifices which lasted twelve years and caused such a quantity of ghee to pour into the flames that gradually my health conditions deteriorated. From that day on I stopped burning in the Vedic hotra, so the Brahmanas were alarmed to the point of fright: not burning the sacred fire the whole society suffered from lack of virtue and material needs. Then Brahma intervened and said to me:
“You must start burning again!”
I replied telling him that I was sick, and that I couldn’t. Then, he advised me:
“To regain your health, you must devour the forest of Khandava with your flames”.
“So, I, immediately came to this place and started to cause fires. But unfortunately the snake Takshaka, who is a great friend of Indra lives here with all his family, so every time I try to burn Khandava, he drops rivers of water that extinguishes my flames and I am forced to retire. Since then, my health has been getting worse and worse and I absolutely have to heal. I need two powerful warriors who know how to keep Indra away from the forest: only in this way will I have the chance to devour it. Help me, and I will be grateful to you.”
Without delay, the two friends agreed to help Agni.
“But if we have to fight against the Devas,” they said, “we will need weapons. With these we have we would not be able to face such a battle. Give us the right weapons, then.”
Agni agreed and called Varuna. The two Devas delivered to their transcendental friends celestial weapons with which they could face any enemy. Arjuna was offered the Gandiva bow and a miraculous quiver that never ran out of arrows, as well as a stunning war chariot, while Krishna received the Sudarshana disc from Agni.
Having obtained these and other weapons, the two felt ready for the difficult undertaking. At that point, Agni already felt victorious and threw himself into the woods of Khandava, expanding its raging flames. In a few minutes, the forest became a hell of screams of men and animals, mingled with the crackle of flames and the roar of falling trees; the noise was really deafening.
And as the smoke rose very high, heavy black clouds began to gather in the sky, increasing more and more with each passing minute. Then, the first lightnings arrived, and the first drops of rain began to fall. Indra was coming.
Krishna and Arjuna prepared for the fight, and when the rain began to fall, the two flooded the sky with fiery weapons, draining the clouds. Then the battle became fierce; the Devas counterattacked, until the duel became direct. After a violent battle, Indra was defeated.
He, who had admired his son’s magnificent valor during the fight, retired, letting the forest burn. Besides, Takshaka was elsewhere and was in no danger.
Khandava burned for days on end, restoring Agni’s health.
When the fury of the flames subsided, Krishna and Arjuna refreshed themselves with satisfaction in the clear waters of the Yamuna.
This is a section of the book “Maha-bharata, Vol. 1”.
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