Gandiva: Excalibur of Archery

The Commonwealth Games is coming just days from now and it is time for me to revisit my archery campaign. When I began my campaign I went in search of sponsors and supporters of the campaign. One of them was a company called Legend Archery, who are one of the prime makers of archery equipment carrier bags. I decided to advance my own archery career by asking for sponsorship from them as they were supportive of my campaign. They agreed in return for a six month role writing for their blog.

This was something that I was more than happy to do. For me it was an opportunity to push my campaign and to get more supporters. Also I managed to get a free backpack for my archery gear.

I was combining my skills as a political activist with my passion for sport. Of the blog posts that I wrote some of them covered Commonwealth related stories, which I wrote to help sell the acceptance of archery as a core Commonwealth sport. After a year of blogging Legend Archery decided to stop taking freelancers so that they can control the quality content, some of my posts got removed. Fortunately I have saved copies of those posts because I really liked them and so I have decided to repost them here on my own blog. This first one is about the cultural connection of archery, India and the Commonwealth.

Many mythical and legendary heroes are paired with a weapon that works like a pen that writes their history. King Arthur is one of them. A legendary English king whose story is told by many a fabled twist that constantly reinvents the legend. One of his traits that is always with him is his own sword called Excalibur. According to the Arthurian story Excalibur came into Arthur’s possession in a number of ways. One of them is ‘the Sword in the Stone’ where Arthur pulled out the famous sword from a stone, which made him the divinely appointed ruler and heir of Uther Pendragon’s kingdom of Britain. Another tale tells us that Excalibur was a sword of magical powers given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake, a reincarnation of a mystical sorceress who grants Arthur the power to become the guardian of the kingdom. Now if a sword can write the history of a great nation through a knight is there an archer with a bow and arrow that is the equivalent of Excalibur. It turns out there is but it’s not an English legend, it’s an Indian legend called Arjuna, whose bow was called Gandiva.

The legend of Arjuna and Gandiva comes from a Hindu text called Mahabharata. This is a major Sanskrit epic of ancient India which tells the story of the Kurukshetra War and the fates of Indian princes from the Pandava and Kaurava families who fought for the claim to the throne of Kuru. The Mahabharata also contains philosophical teachings, which includes the four goals of life known as purusharthas and the book itself is the longest known epic poem in ancient literature. It’s importance to world civilization is comparable to that of the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, the Iliad and the Quran. Arjuna is the third of three Pandava brothers in the royal family of Hastinapura. He had training in religion, science, administration and military arts by Bhisma. Later comes another tutor called Drona who becomes the Kuru princes’ teacher of weaponry.

Drona taught weaponry to all the princes and Arjuna was his favourite and most accomplished pupil. Arjuna becomes a master in archery and in one famous incident he shot a bird straight in the eye on a tree, which proved his ability with accuracy to be the best in India. To test his students and for Arjuna to show off just how skilled he was with a bow Drona put himself in danger and got Arjuna to save him from a crocodile attack. There was also another act of showmanship where Arjuna shot accurately without visualizing his target. Drona was so impressed that he promised to coach him to become the greatest archer that ever lived. Drona did so by disposing of the talents of other archers who could challenge his skills by demanding another archer with a superior ability with a bow called Ekalavya to cut his own thumb off.

As part of his gurudakshina, a tradition where the student reciprocates his training to his master, Arjuna and his brothers attacked and captured King Drupada. Drona had a grudge against Drupada and after his capture the king was so impressed he wanted Arjuna to marry his daughter Draupadi. That came later after when the feud with the Kaurava family had begun. While in disguise at a royal challenge to win over her heart he had to perform a very complicated archery skill. It involved the use of a bow of the Hindu god Shiva called Pinaka or Shiva Dhanush. The trick shot was use Pinaka to shoot and pierce the eye of a golden fish whilst looking at it’s reflection. Arjuna scored a direct hit and won her over much to Drupadaa’s delight.

After a while the Kauravas come out of hiding and when they show up they become leaders of one half of the Kingdom of Kuru called Hastinapur. At this point his cousin Krishna comes into the story and they develop their friendship. This is where the Gandiva bow comes into the legacy of Arjuna. While roaming in the Khandava Vana, Arjuna and Krishna meet the god of fire, Agni. Agni is hungry for something to unleash his fire throwing abilities and enlists them to help him in burning down Khandava Vana. They help by bringing in the god of the oceans, Varuna who blesses Arjuna with Gandiva. This is how he came into possession of the bow. The fire god Agni was then able to burn down Khandava Vana along with all it’s demons and evil spirits.


Now that Arjuna’s story has come full circle to Gandiva it’s only logical that the story of Gandiva comes to the fore. Gandiva was created by Brahma, the creator of the universe and it was passed onto several different hands for five hundred years between each hand. Varuna was the sixth person to own it and passed it onto Arjuna with a chariot and two quivers with unlimited arrows in them. According to the text the bow had hundreds of gold bosses and radiant ends. In the hands of Arjuna he was invincible and when he fired an arrow on Gandiva it made a rumble like the sound of thunder. The bow had a number of some very incredible features. It had 108 bow strings and could fire hundreds of arrows at a time with a great range of several miles. Gandiva had killed many great warriors and the gods themselves. This bow was forged by Brahma out of a heavenly tree called the Gandi. It was so heavy that very few people could truly wield it, including Arjuna who was believed to be worth of wielding it just like the gods that it had exchanged hands with. Gandiva is designed as a double curve and the strings had a celestial origin and therefore they were unbreakable. Every time the bow was fired the bow glowed so brightly not many people could look at it properly. Making Gandiva a celestial weapon of dominance on the battlefield in the Kurukshetra war.

After the war Arjuna returns Gandiva to Agni along with the quivers.  

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