The Shiva Purana (English translation)

by J. L. Shastri | 1970 | 616,585 words

This page relates “description of arjuna’s penance” as found in the Shiva-purana, which, in Hinduism, represents one of the eighteen Mahapuranas. This work eulogizes Lord Shiva as the supreme deity, besides topics such as cosmology and philosophy. It is written in Sanskrit and claims to be a redaction of an original text consisting of 100,000 metrical verses.

Chapter 38 - The description of Arjuna’s penance

Nandīśvara said:—

1. Arjuna then appeared very brilliant and lustrous assuming unequalled splendour by means of Śiva mantra.

2. On seeing Arjuna the Pāṇḍavas were convinced. “Surely success will be ours, since Arjuna has achieved an extensive splendour.

3. The task can be achieved only by you and not by anyone else. It appears so through the words of Vyāsa. Make your life fruitful.”

4. After saying this, all of them, dejected by the impending separation, reluctantly bade farewell to Arjuna.

5. The grief-stricken, chaste Draupadī, controlling her tears, bade farewell to Arjuna and said.

Draupadī said:—

6. O king, you shall strenuously act according to the instructions of Vyāsa. May your path be auspicious. May Śiva be the benefactor.

Nandīśvara said:—

7. After bidding farewell to Arjuna lovingly all those five, remained there, highly distressed.

8. O excellent sage, remaining there they spoke to one another. Listen. “Even in misery, if there is a meeting with beloved persons it lessens sorrow.

9. In separation, misery is doubled. Even the boldest cannot retain his courage.”

10. O great sage, while the Pāṇḍavas were thus in grief, the excellent sage Vyāsa, the ocean of mercy, arrived there.

11. The Pāṇḍavas honoured and bowed to him with respect after offering him a seat. In their misery they joined their palms in reverence and spoke.

The Pāṇḍavas said:—

12. O holy lord, O excellent sage, we are burning in grief but on seeing you we derive consolation and pleasure.

13. O lord, O brahmin sage, please stay here for sometime and dispel our grief. By your very sight our miseries are dispelled.

Nandīśvara said:—

14. Thus requested, the excellent sage stayed there for their happiness, dispelling their grief by narrating various legends.

15. O good sage, in the course of conversation pursued with Vyāsa, Yudhiṣṭhira bowed to him humbly and spoke.

Yudhiṣṭhira said:—

16. O excellent sage, listen. I seek for the alleviation of our grief. O intelligent one, I am putting this humble question. O lord, you shall kindly explain.

17. Has anyone formerly suffered this sort of grief? Verily we alone have had it. None else.

Vyāsa said:—

18. Formerly, Nala,[1] the king of Niṣadha, the noble soul, had experienced a misery more than yours.

19. A great calamity and distress befell king Hariścandra.[2] It cannot be adequately described. It makes others too distressed.

20. O Pāṇḍavas, even Rāma[3] had to suffer that misery on hearing which men and women would be greatly affected.

21. Hence it is very difficult to explain this misery. The body is a heap of miseries. Considering this, you shall eschew all miseries.

22. By this misery alone is the body held and pervaded. There is no doubt in this. At the outset, the very birth in the mother’s womb is a cause of misery.

23. Even in infancy and childhood there is great misery in child’s sports. In youth man experiences misery even while enjoying pleasures.

24. When days come and go, when burdens of tasks are born in plenty, the life nears its end everyday. But man does not realize it.

25. In the end there is death. There is greater misery thereafter. There are different sorts of hellish trouble. All these are experienced by ignorant men.

26. Hence this world is untrue. You shall follow truth always. Man shall do such things as will statisfy Śiva.

Nandīívara said:—

27. Thus the brothers spent their time by various talks, discussions and schemes of all sorts.

28-30. Arjuna went over impassable mountains for the practice of his steady rites. He met a Yakṣa on the way and through him he slew many robbers.[4] He was delighted in his mind and reached the excellent mountain. Near Gaṅgā he saw a beautiful spot with Aśoka groves. It was excellent like the heaven. He halted there, took his bath and bowed to his venerable preceptor.

31. He assumed dress and features according to his instructions. He curbed his sense organs and the mind and stood steady.

32. He made a clay idol of Śiva even and beautiful. In front of it he stood in meditation on the excellent heap of splendour.

33. He took baths thrice a day. He performed various sorts of worship. He performed the Upāsti form of worship of Śiva again and again.

34-35. Indra’s spies saw the splendour-column coming out of his head. They were frightened by it. They thought within themselves—“When did he come in? Indra must be informed.” Saying so they went to Indra.

Indra’s spies said:—

36. O lord of gods, we do not know who it is. Some one is performing a penance in the forest, a god, a sage, the sun or the fire.

37. We are scorched by his splendour and have come near you. We have told you the details. Please do what is proper.

Nandīśvara said:—

38. Thus informed by the spies, Indra, the enemy of mountains, understood whatever his son Arjuna desired to do. He dismissed them and decided to go there to test him.

39. O leading brahmin, Indra, the lord of Śacī, assumed the form of an elderly brahmin bachelor and went there to test him.

40. On seeing him come, Arjuna worshipped him. After eulogising him he stood in front of him and said—“Whence do you come now? Please tell me”

41. The lord of gods thus requested by him spoke with a hint at testing his courage, out of love.

The brahmin said:—

42. O dear, why do you perform the penance in your prime of youth? Is it for salvation or for victory? In every respect this penance of yours is useless.

Nandīśvara said:—

43. Thus questioned by him he informed him of everything. On hearing that the brahmin spoke again.

The brahmin said:—

44. This is not proper on your part to pursue this penance for achieving happiness or for salvation by means of Kṣatraic rites, O excellent scion of the Kurus.

45. Indra is the bestower of happiness and not of salvation. O excellent one, it behoves you therefore to perform a more excellent penance.

46. On hearing his words Arjuna was angry. Slighting it but humbly, Arjuna of good rites replied.

Arjuna said:—

47. It is not for kingdom nor for salvation that this penance is resorted to. Why do you speak like this? I am performing this penance on the advice of Vyāsa.

48. O bachelor, go hence. Do you wish to cause my downfall? Of what use is this to you a bachelor?

Nandīśvara said:—

49. On being addressed thus he was delighted. He revealed his wonderfully beautiful form with all paraphernalia to him.

50. On seeing the form of Indra, Arjuna was ashamed. Indra spoke to him again after consoling him.

Indra said:—

51. “O dear, O Arjuna of great intellect, choose your boon, whatever you wish in your mind. There is nothing which cannot be given to you.”

52. On hearing the words of Indra, Arjuna replied “O father, bless me with victory. I am afflicted by enemies in every respect.”

Indra said:—

53. Your enemies, Duryodhana and others are very powerful. Droṇa, Bhīṣma, Karṇa and others are certainly invincible.

54. Aśvatthāman, son of Droṇa and a part of Rudra, is extremely invincible. But they can be withstood through me. Listen to what is wholesome to you.

55. O hero, none is capable of performing this Japa. Śiva is the greatest of all. Hence perform the Japa of Śiva now.

56. Śiva is the lord of worlds, the mobile and immobile beings. He is the lord of heaven. He can do everything. He is the bestower of worldly pleasures and salvation.

57. I, Brahmā and others, Viṣṇu the bestower of boons and those who crave for victory are the devotees of Śiva.

58. Now onwards leave that mantra and worship Śiva with devotion through the rules laid down for the worship of his day phallic image and by contemplating on him.

59. O Bhārata, by your devotional feelings and modes of service, you worship Śiva. Your achievement will be unshakable. No doubt need be entertained in this respect.

Nandīśvara said:—

60. After saying this he called out his spies and said—“All of you shall be cautious and attentive in protecting him always.”

61. Thus alerting his spies for the protection to be accorded to Arjuna, Indra spoke again to Arjuna with his heart full of fondness and affection.

Indra said:—

62. O Gentle one, O terrifier of enemies, you shall not commit blunders in the administration of your kingdom. This mantra will be conducive to your glory.

63. Always courage shall be maintained by an aspirant. Śiva the protector will give you riches and the fruits of your desire. This is undoubtedly true.

Nandīśvara said:—

64. After giving the boon to Arjuna, the lord of gods remembered the lotus-like feet of Śiva and went to his abode.

65. The heroic Arjuna bowing to the lord of gods, performed the penance with controlled mind with Śiva as his goal.

Footnotes and references:


Nala, king of Niṣadha, lost his kingdom in gambling to his rival Puṣkara and then wandered into the forest with his wife and suffered great privations. See Mbh. Vanaparva.


Hariścandra, son of Triśaṅku and king of the solar race, had to suffer at the hands of the relentless sage Viśvāmitra to whom he gave away his kingdom, son, wife, life and everything as the sacrificial gift.


Rāma, son of Daśaratha, had to roam into the forest for fourteen years owing to the jealousy of Kaikeyī who urged her husband Daśaratha to install her son Bharata and to send Rāma into exile.


In the Vedas Dasyus are represented as the aboriginal tribes-men who contended with the immigrant Āryans and were overpowered by the latter. In the Purāṇas the term Daṣyu means a barbarian, a robber or an outcaste.