Arjuna's Pilgrimage

Created by Jijith Nadumuri at 08 Oct 2010 14:08 and updated at 12 Oct 2010 19:11

Created by Jijith Nadumuri at 08 Oct 2010 14:08

This article describes the long pilgrimage journey of Arjuna from Indraprastha to various places in the ancient Indian peninsula. It was a circuitous journey in which he went along the shores of Ganga, the eastern and the western shores of India and finally return back to Indraprastha. This article is part of a series of articles related to narrations of journeys mentioned in Mahabharata. These travel narratives are extremely important for researchers who study about the ancient geography that existed during the period of Mahabharata.

Based on an analysis I have done on the age of Bhishma, Vyasa, Yudhisthira and Arjuna it is highly likely that the total duration of Arjuna's pilgrimage was not twelve years as mentioned in Mahabharata but only two years.

Gangadwara (Haridwar)

Mbh.1.215:- Followed by Brahmanas conversant with the Vedas and their branches and devoted to the contemplation of the Supreme Spirit, by persons skilled in music, by ascetics devoted to the Deity, by reciters of Puranas, by narrators of sacred stories by devotees leading celibate lives, by Vanaprasthas, by Brahmanas sweetly reciting celestial histories, and by various other classes of persons of sweet speeches, Arjuna journeyed. He saw many delightful and picturesque forests, lakes, rivers, seas, provinces, and waters in his journey. At length, on arriving at the source of the Ganges the mighty hero thought of settling there.

After leaving his city viz. Indraprastha, Arjuna finally reaches the source of Ganga. It was also known as Gangadwara (Haridwar). There Arjuna met Ulupi, the daughter of a Naga king who belonged to the Kauravya branch of the Airavata Nagas. His palace seems to be at Nagal, very close to Rishikesh. Arjuna went to the palace of Kauravya and spent one night with Ulupi. (Their union resulted in the birth of a great Naga warrior by the name Iravat. The name indicate that he belonged to the Airavata Naga race.) In the next day morning Ulupi took back Arjuna to Gangadwara and left him there.

Arjuna's journey into Gangadwara and the Himalayan Peaks. Click to Enlarge.

The Himalayan peaks

Mbh.1.216:- Then Arjuna set out for the breast of Himavat. Arriving at the spot called Agastyavata, he next went to Vasishtha's peak. Thence the son of Kunti proceeded to the peak of Bhrigu. Thence that best of men proceeded to the sacred asylum called Hiranyavindu. Performing his ablutions there, that foremost of the sons of Pandu saw many holy regions. Descending from those heights that chief of men, accompanied by the Brahmanas, journeyed towards the east, desiring to behold the regions that lay in that direction.

After returning to Gangadwara (Haridwar), Arjuna ascended the Himalayan ranges. Agastyavata, Vasistha's peak and Brhigu's peak, named after the sages Agastya, Vasistha and Bhrigu, were mountains peaks on the Himalayas, occurring one after the other in succession as one proceed to ascend in a northern direction. These successive peaks also indicate the connection between Agastya, Vasistha and Bhrigu. Agastya and Vasistha were mentioned as sons of Mitra-Varuni. Mitra-Varuni is usually interpreted as Mitra and Varuna, but this name can also be interpreted as a Bhargava (meaning, a descendant of Bhrigu), since Bhargavas were also known a Varunis. The asylum of Hiranyavindu was the last spot visited by Arjuna in the Himalayas. After resting for sometime at Hiranyavindu and bathing there, Arjuna descended the mountains. He might have come back to Gangadwara (Haridwar or went to a spot in Himalayas where river Gomati Gomti originated or where it entered the plains, because by tracing the river Gomati, he can reach the forest of Naimisha on its banks. (Interestingly a locality in the name of Vasistha in the Himalayas in Pilibhit is considered to be the source of river Gomati.) He then traveled towards east in the direction of the forest of Naimisha, along Gomati river. (Actually he traveled in a south-eastern direction.)

Agastyavata is now known as Agastyamuni, a peak 11 km north of Rudraprayag in Uttaranchal. Bhrigu's peak is now known as Bhrigu Parvat. It has an altitude of 6,041 m. It is in the north of Manda Peak and near Gangotri. There is a cave named after Vasistha close to Rishikesh. Hover Vasistha's peak seems to be some peak that lied between Agastyamuni peak and Bhrigu Parvat. It could be some peak in Kedarnath. The sacred asylum of Hiranyavindu seems to be Tapovan to the east of Bhrigu Parvat, close to Shivling Peak (6543 m). Hiranyavindu means the golden spot. The name could be derived from the golden color of the Gangotri glacier snow as well as the surrounding peaks, when lit by morning or evening sun-light. Gangotri glacier is extend here to the east of Tapovan. It was a famous Tirta (sacred water) where pilgrims come and bath.

Journey towards the east

Mbh.1.216:- Arjuna saw many regions of sacred waters one after another. And beholding in the forest of Naimisha the delightful river Utpalini full of lotuses and the Nanda and the Apara Nanda, the far-famed Kausiki, and the mighty rivers Gaya and Ganga, and all the regions of sacred water, he purified himself, with the usual rites.


After descending the Himalayas Arjuna traveled towards east or south-eastern direction, probably following the Gomati (Gomti) river and reached the forest of Naimisha (modern day Sitapur district in Uttarpradesh). This forest was spread along the banks of Gomati and separated Panchala from Kosala in the east. A place in this region is still known as Naimisharanya and as Neemsar near Beniganj. Utpalini was a small river inside the forest of Naimisha that was filled with lotuses. The word Utpalini means lotus pond. This river could be one of the tributaries of Gomati river that flows through Naimisha forest, like Sarayan or Sai, or the name of Gomati river itself at the location of a lotus filled lake in it.

Arjuna's journey through Naimisharanya. Click to Enlarge.

Gaya and Kausiki

Traveling along the western coast-line of Gomati, Arjuna reached Ganga and traveled eastward along Ganga, tracing its southern coast-line. There is a place named Gaya and the river that flow through this place, a was called Phalgu ( Falgu) river. This river joins Punpun_River which merges with Ganga 25 km east of Patna at Fatuha. The Falgu stream and Pupin river together is sometimes considered as the Gaya-river. Arjuna might have reached Gaya and then traveled towards the confluence of the river with Ganga. This was part of the territory of Magadha kingdom. Kausiki (Koshi_River) is a big river that joins Ganga towards east of the Gaya-Ganga confluence. The confluence of Kausaki and Ganga belonged to Anga kingdom.

The name Gaya means cow or mother-earth in the form of a cow. A sage in the line of Vasistha lived here, protected by sea-faring tribes like the Dravidas, Yavanas (Indo-Greeks or Ionian Greeks), and Chinas. One day, king Viswamitra of Kusika race who was also the king of Kanyakubja (Kanauj) attacked Vasistha. The army of Dravidas, Yavanas etc protected Vasistha from the army of Viswamitra. Viswamitra was defeated. Thus defeated by Vasistha, Viswamitra gave up kingdom and chose to became an ascetic. Viswamitra led his life as an ascetic on the banks of Kausiki. The name Kausiki means, belonging to the Kusika, named after Viswamitra of Kusika's race.

Arjuna's journey through Gaya, Kausiki, Nanda and Aparananda. Click to Enlarge.

Nanda and Apara-Nanda

There is a river towards the east of Koshi_River named Mahananda. This river seems to be the river Nanda mentioned in this passage. Apara-Nanda, seems to be another river flowing parallel to Nanda, towards its east. The name Apara-Nanda means (the river) that comes after Nanda (river). Currently the Karatoya_River lies to the east of Mahananda. However Karatoya is well known to the narrators of Mahabharata, and if Arjuna visited it, it would have been stated so. Hence this could be another river that existed in those times to the east of Nanda and the west of Karatoya. The path of rivers in this region had changed drastically during the period of recorded history itself. Kausiki has moved westward. Other rivers in this region too had drastically changed their courses.

Kalinga territories

Mbh.1.216:- Whatever regions of sacred waters and whatever other holy palaces there were in Vanga and Kalinga, Arjuna visited all of them. Then, all those Brahmanas following the son of Pandu, bade him farewell at the gate of the kingdom of Kalinga and desisted from proceeding with him any further. The brave Dhananjaya, the son of Kunti, obtaining their leave, went towards the ocean, accompanied by only a few attendants. Crossing the country of the Kalingas, the mighty one proceeded, seeing on his way diverse countries and sacred spots and diverse delightful mansions and houses. Beholding the Mahendra mountain adorned with the ascetics residing there, he went to Manipura, proceeding slowly along the sea-shore.

Due to the size of this section on Kalinga territories and the city of Manipura, it is moved into a new article named Manipura.

There is a village named Manipura, a river named Manipura and an ancient-port city named Manikapatana in Kendrapara district of Orissa. Due to this and various other factors which I have mentioned in this article, location of Manipura lies in Kalinga territories (coastal-Orissa). Mahendra mountains are the western boundary of the Kalinga territories.


Mbh.1.218:- Seeing Chitrangada once more, Arjuna proceeded towards the spot called Gokarna.

After seeing Chitrangada, the princess of Manipura once again, Arjuna proceeded towards Gokarna. There are many places in India with the name Gokarna. The Gokarna in coastal Karnataka is the most famous among them. There is a village named Gokarna at [wikipedia:Kandi,_Murshidabad] in West-Bengal. However what is more significant to Arjuna's journey is that, there are several places named Gokarna, like Gokarna-puram and Gokarna-palli in Srikakulam a disctrict in the northern coastal Andra-Pradesh. What is relevant in this context is that these places are to the immediate south of Mahendra mountains, that boarder the west of the Kalinga (coastal Orissa) kingdom. Gokarna-puram is only 18 km south of [wikipedia:Mahendragiri,_Orissa]. Gokarna-palli is around 75 km south-west of Gokarna-puram. From Gokarna-palli it is around 260 km to river Godavari. The river Godavari is significant because, tracing this river Arjuna can reach the western shore of India very close to Prabhasa region (coastal Gojarat), his next destination.

Thus there is a high probability that Arjuna went to the Gokarna in Srikakulam, that marked the southern gate of Kalinga territories. From Gokarna he went to Godavari_River at (Rajahmundry and traveled along the river to reach the western coast between Mumbai and Surat. This region was known as Saurashtra in ancient times. Now this term is applied to the peninsular-Gujarat. The ancient sea-port in this region is now the city of Surat. The name Surat is the corrupt form of Su-rashtra or Sau-rashtra. Close to the | Saurashtra-region and probably overlapping with it was the region named Prabhasa.

If Arjuna had to go to Gokarna in Karnataka, he had to cross Godavari and go further south to Vijayawada and travel along the Krishna_River (known then as krishnavenna) and take a diversion along its southern tributary viz. Tungabhadra. If Arjuna had set his mind to reach Prabhasa, it is unlikely that he would chose that southerly route which would take him father from Prabhasa.

Arjuna's journey from Manipura towards Southern Ocean, Gokarna, Prabhasa, Raivataka, Dwaraka, Pushkara and back to Indraprastha. Three possible routes are shown. Godavari route is more likely. Route through Krishna river reaching Gokarna of Karnataka as well as route through Kanyakumari are less likely. The arrow indicates that the Manipura tribe in Kalinga had migrated to Manipur state of India. Click to Enlarge.


Mbh.1.219:- Then Arjuna saw, one after another, all the sacred waters and other holy places that were on the shores of the western ocean. Arjuna (finally) reached the sacred spot called Prabhasa.

The name Prabhasa was used for a region now occupied by the peninsular-Gujarat or to the southern coast of Gujarat. It is now known as the Saurashtra region. There is still a place called Prabhas_Patan near Somnath in the southern coast of Gujarat. This is a remnant of the ancient name Prabhasa given to the region.

The Raivataka mountains

Mbh.1.219:- When the invincible Arjuna arrived at Prabhasa, Krishna heard of it. Madhava soon went there to see his friend, the son of Kunti. Krishna and Arjuna having sported as they liked, for some time at Prabhasa, went to the Raivataka mountain to pass some days there.

As he reached Prabhasa, Arjuna got the company of his friend and cousin viz. Vasudeva-Krishna. Krishna took Arjuna to Raivataka mountains. These mountains are now known as Girnar mountains that lies to the east of Junagadh. The highest peaks are around 1000 meters high.


Riding upon a golden car, the hero then set out for Dwaraka, the capital of the Yadavas.

After spending some time at Raivataka, Krishna took Arjuna to Dwaraka, the capital of the Yadavas. This city was on an island close to the Raivataka hills. A city in Gujarat now named Dwarka in south-western shore of Gujarat is the remnant of this ancient city. Archeologists also has unearthed a sub-merged city 9 km off the coast of Dwarka. This could be part of the Dwaraka city mentioned in Mahabharata. Dwaraka island comprised a larger region including the sub-merged city, the modern Dwarka and Bet Dwarka peninsula. Dwaraka was a port-city. It has trade relations with many sea-faring kingdoms that existed in the world during the period of Mahabharata (3000 BCE). Some of the other port-cities that traded with Dwaraka included Saurashtra-(Surat) and Surparaka (Sopara) in the western coast, Pattanam in Kerala kingdom and the port-cities of Pandya, Chola, Kalinga and Vanga kingdoms. Thus most of the sea-shore centers in peninsular India was in cultural exchange with Dwaraka. It also traded with sea-ports of Sauvira (Sindh, Pakistan) and ancient Muscat. Besides this the trade goods for and from the land locked countries like Madra, Kekaya, Gandhara, Kamboja and Kasmira passed through the port-city of Dwaraka. This made the city of Dwaraka very rich.


section-222:- Arjuna returned to Dwaraka and was united in marriage with Subhadra. Worshipped by the sons of Vrishni's race, Arjuna, sporting there as he pleased, passed a whole year in Dwaraka. The last year of his exile the exalted one passed at the sacred region of Pushkara. After the twelve years were complete he came back to Khandavaprastha.

While staying in the territories controlled by Dwaraka, Arjuna was attracted to Subhadra, the sister of Vasudeva-Krishna and married her. Arjuna first took Subhadra into his chariot while she was at Raivataka and rode towards Indraprastha, after the consent of Krishna. they were then taken back to Dwaraka and united in marriage. Then, leaving Dwaraka, he returned to his own city viz. Indraprastha (Delhi). He is mentioned as staying at Dwaraka for one year and in the region of Pushkara for one year. Puskara was a large lake. However the duration could be lesser. If Arjuna stayed at Dwaraka and Pushkara for one year each, after marrying Subhadra, it is likely that his son Abhimanyu was already born while he entered Indraprastha. But we learn from Mahabharata that Abhimanyu was born well after Arjuna reached Indraprastha. Nor is it mentioned that Subhadra was pregnant while entering the city of Indraprastha. Hence we can assume his stay at Dwaraka and Puskara to be not more than a month each.

Puskhara is now known as Pushkar_Lake. It is in Rajastan, in a town named Pushkar in Ajmer district. It lied in the Arvuda mountain ranges (Aravalli_Range). Hence from Dwaraka, Arjuna would have traced the Lavanavati river (Luni_River along the Arvuda (Aravalli) mountain ranges to reach the lake of Puskara.

From Pushkara he might have passed through Nishada, Matsya or Salwa kingdom to reach the path leading to Khandavaprastha. Khandavaprastha is the greater region (southern Delhi) where the city of Indraprastha was located.

The duration of the journey

Thus as per my analysis the journey took only two years. In this, around one month he stayed in and around Gangadwara. One year he stayed in and around the city of Manipura in Kalinga. One month he stayed at Raivataka and Dwaraka before marrying Subhadra. One month he stayed at Dwaraka after marrying Subhadra. One month he stayed at Puskhara. The remaining eight months he spend in traveling.

Even if we consider that Arjuna took the longest route (visiting Kanyakumari), it will be around 8000 km of distance. At an average speed of 40 km per day (10 hours per day; 4 km per hour), he could traverse that distance in 200 days or seven months. Arjuna traversed most of the journey on foot. He had the luxury of a chariot only during his trip from Raivata to Dwaraka and from Dwaraka to Indraprastha through Pushkara. Average walking speed is calculated to be around 5 km per hour. Hence our calculation of Arjuna's average speed to be 40 km per day is quite reasonable. While ranging mountains, the speed will be less though like 1 km or 2 km per hour. The speed of a horse is 40 km to 60 km per hour. The speed of a chariot driven by swift horses is 30 to 40 km per hour. Thus his journey from Dwaraka to Indraprastha was faster at 40 km per hour.

After Arjuna entered Kalinga territories he was traveling along with his close attendants and the large group of Brahmanas had stopped following him from that point. Hence it is possible for Arjuna to travel on horse-top from that point onwards. In this case, his journeys will be several times faster. But Mahabharata offers no information to support this.

If Arjuna's journey from Kalinga to Gokarna and Prabhasa was along the Krishna river rather than through Kanyakumari he would save one month of traveling time. If he traveled along Godavari he would save two months of traveling time. This is very important especially for a traveler on foot. The saved traveling time can be used to rest at intermediate spots. Resting periods can be a few days to a week.


  1. Bhrigu Parvat, Gangotri, Uttaranchal
  2. Bhrigu Parvat, sage Valikhilya and the Pandavas
  3. Manikapatana or Manikapatna
  4. Pancha-tirtha of Puri
  5. Gokarnapuram of Srikakulam
  6. Gokarnapuram of Srikakulam
  7. Gokarnapalli of Srikakulam

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