Arjuna was the third among the five Pandavas. His father was Kuru king Pandu and mother was the Yadava princess Kunti. Arjuna was born and brought up along with his brothers Yudhishthira, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva in recluse of sages, in a forest surrounding the valley of Satasringa mountains, believed to be somewhere in Uttaranchal. Arjuna later moved along with his brothers to live in the city of Hastinapura, the capital of Kuru kingdom.
Arjuna, the Archer
Arjuna studied archery under the preceptor Drona and became an expert in archery especially in using a bow from a fast moving chariot. He was capable of shooting arrows with great precision, even from a moving chariot and even if the target is far away, making him a dreadful warrior in battles. He became popular among the warriors as the best among the wielders of bows and arrows. Arjuna's biggest opponent was Karna. Karna's skill was in shooting different types of arrows and in use of arrows in connection with other weapons involving fire and chemicals. Karna learned such skills from scions of military science like Parasurama. Arjuna too updated his skills in archery by learning from the tribes of Kiratas (in Uttaranchal and Nepal) and the tribes of Devas (in Tibet). This enhanced his knowledge of using arrows in connection with advanced weaponry.
Arjuna with the help of his brother Bhima is mentioned as defeating many kings including the kings of Sauvira difficult in vanquishing. (The kingdom of Sauvira is mentioned in the Bible as Ophir and was known to Egyptians as Sofir. It is located in Sindh.) Arjuna had shown his skill in archery during the days of his internship with Drona, by defeating the Panchala king Drupada and his troops, for the sake of Drona. King Drupada soon became the admirer of Arjuna. He wished to make Arjuna his ally by marrying his daughter to Arjuna. During the self-choice ceremony of Panchali, the daughter of Drupada, an archery competition was held. Only an archer with extreme accuracy and having the skill to aim at fast moving targets could win that competition. Aruna won the competition and obtained Panchali as his wife.
Arjuna, the Military General
When the eldest Pandava, viz. Yudhisthira became king, Arjuna, and his brothers Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva became military chiefs. As a military general, Arjuna led two crucial military campaigns for Yudhisthira. The first one was for the Rajasuya Yajna and another was for the Ashwamedha Yajna.
During the military campaigns that preceded the Rajasuya Yajna (project / sacrifice) of king Yudhisthira, Arjuna was sent to the northern regions where as his brothers were sent to other directions. The mighty mace-fighter Bhima was sent to the east well known for elephant warfare and mace-fight. Nakula and Sahadeva who were skilled in sword fight were sent to the west and to the south. Southerners and Westerners were well versed in sword fight. Arjuna was sent to the north since the foremost of archers were found in the north. He fought with the tribes of Yakshas and Kimpurushas in Tibet. He also traversed through a route that lead him to Simhapura, a city of the Kambojas and to the silk route which passed through modern day Leh (then known as Loha). He also reached the Uttarakuru territory, which is speculated as the same as or close to the territory of the Devas with Indra as their king. This territory was also known as Harivarsha.
During the Aswamedha military campaign, Arjuna went to western and eastern regions. In the west he defeated the kingdoms like Sindhu (Sindh) ruled by Jayadratha's son and Gandhara (north-western Pakistan) ruled by Sakuni's descendants. In the east he reached Anga and Vanga (Bengal) as well as the kingdom of his own son Vabhruvahana situated in southern-Kalinga (southern-Orissa and northern-Andhara_Pradesh).
Arjuna in Kurukshetra war
In Kurukshetra war, Arjuna's foremost opponent was Karna. He had defeated Karna in previous battles. One was during the 12 year forest life of the Pandavas when Duryodhana came to insult them. Another was when they were living incognito at the city of Matsya king Virata when the Kaurvas and the Trigartas attacked the Matsyas to steal their cattle. In the first case, it was a minor skirmish. In the second case it was a surprise attack. In both cases Karna was not well prepared to fight with Arjuna. During Kurukshetra war, the situation was different. Karna had sharpened his skills and Arjuna was unable to defeat him after several encounters. In a final encounter, Arjuna killed Karna while he was trying to lift the wheel of his chariot that got stuck in mud. But there is some mystery in this narration in Mahabharata as Karna's chariot driver Shalya is no where in the scene as this happened. A few verses also indicate that Karna was mortally wounded by Arjuna by straight arrows before this incident happened. It is possible that the story of Arjuna killing Karna while he was not fighting is invented by the bards who favored Karna. It is also possible that this was a plot in which Shalya trapped Karna's chariot into mud, in frond of Arjuna and then fled. This is possible since Shalya was originally a supporter of the Pandavas and was forced by Duryodhana to become his ally and finally to serve as the charioteer of Karna.
The fraternity of the warriors of Trigarta (Jalandhar, Punjab), known as Samsaptakas, who pledged to either kill Arjuna or die in battle, were another force that gave stiff resistance to Arjuna in Kurukshetra war. He managed to kill all of them with his skill in archery. The enmity of the Trigartas started since the Rajasuya military campaign in which Arjuna defeated all of them in their own territory. It increased after their shameful defeat during their battle with the Matsyas in which the Pandavas helped the Matsyas (north-eastern Rajastan).
Arjuna defeated several heroes on the Kaurava side during the battle including Duryodhana, Kripa, Ashwathama and Drona. He was instrumental in the killing of Bhishma, Drona and Bhurisrava. Arjuna also slew Jayadratha, his brother-in-law (husband of Kaurva princess Duhsala whom Arjuna considered as his sister) out of passion and rage, since Jayadratha was instrumental in the killing of Arjuna's beloved son Abhimanyu.
Arjuna's first wife was Panchali. The name Panchali indicate her tribal name. She originally belonged to a fire-worshiping tribe allied to the Panchalas. Her maiden name is unknown. She was also known as Draupadi since she was raised or adopted by Drupada as his own daughter. It is speculated that king Drupada adopted her along with her elder brother Dhristadyumna since Drupada's own son Shikhandi turned out to be of neutral gender. Panchali was also known as Krishna due to her darker complexion compared to other women.
Arjuna later married the sister of Vasudeva-Krishna-Yadava, viz. Subhadra and beget the famous warrior Abhimanyu. This alliance strengthened the relationship of the Pandavas with the Vrishni-Yadava tribe in which Krishna and Subhadra belonged. After king Yudhisthira, Abhimanyu's son Parikshit ascended the throne of Hastinapura. Arjuna had two more wives viz. Ulupi and Chitrangada belonging to the tribes of Nagas and Dravidas respectively. The Nagas and Dravidas were prominent forces in ancient India during the time of the Pandavas. Hence, relationships with these tribes were important for the Pandavas. Ulupi was the daughter of a Naga king of Airavata dynasty who ruled in a territory bordering the eastern shore of Ganga. This territory lied close to Ahichatra (Ramnagar, Uttar-Pradesh), their former capital taken over by the Panchala tribe. Arjuna's son by Ulupi was known by the name Iravat, which is his tribal name. Arjuna's son by Chitrangada was known by the name Babhruvahana. The name indicates that he had brown colored horses for his chariot or that he rode a brown colored horse. Babruvahana ruled a Dravida kingdom with its capital named Manipura, believed to be a Southern-Kalinga port-city. The Dravida tribe in which Babruvahana belonged seems to have some kinship with the Airavata-Nagas in which Ulupi belonged.
Arjuna's friendship with (Vasudeva) Krishna
Arjuna was the son of Krishna's aunt Kunti. Krishna considered all of the five Pandavas as his kinsmen and his natural allies. However he had a special bond with Arjuna since he was of the same age. Krishna was slightly elder than Arjuna by a few months. King Yudhisthira was around three years elder to Krishna. Bhima was one and a half years elder. The twins Nakula and Sahadeva were one year younger to him. Krishna met the Pandavas including Arjuna during the self-choice ceremony of Panchali at Kampilya (Kampil, Uttar-Pradesh), the southern capital of Panchala. The friendship between Krishna and Arjuna developed when they together worked to establish the city of Indraprastha (Indraprast, Delhi), a new city, that has to serve as the capital for the new kingdom inherited by the Pandavas.
Krishna and Arjuna also shared many common interests. Both liked to travel far and wide and wanted to know different cultures and geographies of ancient India. Both liked music, dance and acting. Both of them treated men and women equally. Both of them earned the attention of women very easily. Both liked philosophical concepts. Both were educated in Vedas and wanted to improve the well being of the Vedic society through their own contributions. Both of them were strategists, planners and city-builders. These two men were revolutionary in their attitude. They studied the structure of the Vedic society and identified its weaknesses and strengths. They reviewed all the prevailing beliefs with a critical eye. Their interests pondered around varied subjects, from city-building and long distant travel to high philosophy. Krishna firmly believed in action and was critical of the popular ascetic notion that one can attain salvation by doing nothing. Krishna asserted that salvation is achieved not by renouncing action but doing action while staying unattached to the results of action. Both believed that the four orders of society were to be reckoned based on ones actions rather than on ones birth, a view shared by king Yudhisthira too. However this was against the prevailing orthodox view. Krishna also questioned the blind following of Vedic rituals. Krishna and Arjuna thus brought forth a new way of life and a new philosophy and perspective for ancient India. Krishna took the lead and Arjuna was his natural assistant.
The conversation of Krishna and Arjuna, on the various philosophies that existed during their period and on the new philosophy of Krishna, (which is a blend of various existing philosophies with a stress on the performance of action) later became known as Bhagavat_Gita. Popular belief is that all of this was told by Krishna to Arjuna on the first day of the eighteen day long Kurukshetra-War. But this seems to be extremely unlikely. Most likely, much of this conversation might have happened when Krishna and Arjuna were together at various events in their life, when the bards and eulogists were present to listen their conversation. The author of Mahabharata, viz. Vyasa, who lived during the period of Krishna and Arjuna might have then collected and compiled all of these. Vyasa too shared with Krishna, the same philosophy and social outlook. He might have added his own perspectives to the conversation and finally he added it as part of Mahabharata. There is a possibility that more verses were added to Bhagavat Gita even after the life of fist Vyasa, by other Vyasas in his lineage.
Arjuna, the Dancer
An interesting aspect of Arjuna's skill and diversity is revealed during the one year life in anonymity of the Pandavas in the kingdom of the Matsyas. During this period, Arjuna chose to be a dancer of the neuter gender. Arjuna had studied music and dance while he was at the palace of Indra (in Tibet), under the Gandharva dancers whose skill in music and dance were then known to the whole world. Arjuna also had got chance to observe the behavior of Sikhandi, his brother-in-law, who was of neuter gender. Arjuna was probably acting out Sikhandi at palace of king Virata combining it with the skill of music and dance he learned. This also shows Arjuna's skill as an actor and an imitator. This skill was crucial because without this, for a great warrior like Arjuna, it will be too difficult to live without being easily recognized by the spies of Duryodhana. Myth-makers however attribute Arjuna's skills to a curse of an Apsara named Urvasi who was fatally attracted to Arjuna during his life in Indra's palace.
Arjuna, the Traveler
The Pandavas were extensive travelers from their birth till their death. They have crisscrossed the whole of ancient India (Bharatavarsha). Among them, Arjuna was the one who traveled most. During the Rajasuya military campaign he traveled north beyond Kasmira (Kashmir valley) and Loha (Leh). He traveled through the route that later became famous as the silk route. He traced the Sindhu (Indus) river up to its source in Tibet at lake Manasa (Manasarovar). He reached up to the boundary of the northern Kurus (Uttarakuru) beyond which lied the territories of Devas. During the 12 year long forest life of exile, Arjuna went even further into the territories of the Devas. There he met Deva king Indra. (The myth-makers portray Indra as Arjuna's father, though it seems to be invented by the bards and eulogists who followed Arjuna.) From Indra's city, Arjuna went further north and west to conquer the territories of the Asuras (the Daityas and the Danavas) who were enemies of Indra. He went to the territories of a tribe of Asuras named Nivatakavachas. These territories are believed to be in Russia and Central Asian Republics, especially the regions in and around the mountains and valleys of the Urals and large lakes like Caspean_Sea and Baikal.
During his city-life at Indraprastha, Arjuna went for a long journey. Starting from Indraprastha (Delhi), he first traced the river Ganga from its origin up to where it joined the sea in Vanga (Bengal). Then he traveled along the east coast of India towards the south. After seeing the southern tip of India viz. the Kumari region (Kanyakumari) he went northwards along the west coast of India, finally reaching Prabhasa (Gujarat) where lied the island of Dwaraka. After winning Subhadra as bride he left Dwaraka and reached back Indraprastha traversing the Arbuda (Mount_Abu and the Aravali Range, Rajastan) mountains.
Arjuna was also part of the expedition from Indraprastha to Girivraja, the capital of ancient Magadha (southern Bihar) kingdom ruled by Jarasandha. During the Aswamedha-military campaign Arjuna visited all kingdoms that lied along the banks of river Sindhu and Ganga and reached as far south as the southern-Kalinga (southern-Orissa and northern-Andhara_Pradesh) ruled by Babhruvahana. On their last journey, Arjuna along with the other Pandavas left their capital Hastinapura and wandered far and wide, finally reaching the Himalayas in Uttaranchal, the very place they were all born.