Indra was once again pouring torrential rain over the Khandava forest, foiling Agni’s plans. Agni was furious and wanted to defeat Indra. He needed someone who could do that.

Here in Indraprastha, Arjuna was getting married to Subhadra. The ceremony continued for a very long time, with all the fanfare that royal weddings demand. After the ceremony Arjuna and Krishna went to the nearby Khandava forest with their wives for a little picnic. While they were at the forest, Agni, disguised as a Brahmin, approached them. He asked Krishna and Arjuna’s help in fulfilling his wish for a good meal. He complained that too much offering of ghee in the yagnas had made him sick and he needed something green and fresh to eat. The forest.

“What could be better than the Khandava forest full of wild creatures and trees? he asked. “It will help me regain the strength and energy of my youth.”

But Indra seemed determined to destroy his plans. He needed help. Krishna and Arjuna knew better than to let a Brahmin return empty handed. They promised to help him. Agni lit up the forest. Huge flames ravenously moved forward. Krishna and Arjuna stood at the edge of the forest killing every fleeing being and fighting battles with Indra. The earth and the sky were flaming orange….

– Adapted from the Khandav van dahan episode in the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata.

Listen to Anshu Malviya recite the poem

खाण्डव वन

खाण्डव वन जल रहा है धर्मराज!

वन से उठता गाढ़ा काला धुआँ
हमारी नाक की सुरंगों से होता हुआ
फेफड़ों के गहवरों में पैठता जाता है
हिंस्र पशुओं की मानिन्द ....

अँधेरे में चमकती हैं
अंगारों सी आँखें
भय से घिघ्घी बँध जाती है हमारी
और हमारे फेफड़े सूखे हुए अंगूर के गुच्छों की तरह
स्याह, बदरंग रस टपकाते;

राष्ट्र का दम घुट रहा है

खाण्डव वन जल रहा है!!

नगर सेठों के लिप्सा यज्ञों से तृप्त
राजाओं के वासना यज्ञों से
काम - श्लथ
ब्राह्मण वेशधारी अग्नि को
ऑक्सीजन चाहिए
अपने यौवन को दहकाने के लिए;
उसे चाहिए ताज़ा पेड़ों का लहू
उसे चाहिए पशुओं की चिरायंध
उसे चाहिए ....
इंसानी चीख ....
लकड़ियों की चिटकती कातर पुकार के पार्श्व में,

'तथास्तु' कृष्ण बोला

'काम हो जाएगा: अर्जुन ने मूँछ पर हाथ फेरा ....
और खाण्डव वन दहक उठा ....

खाण्डव वन जल रहा है

दम घुटने से भाग रहे हैं
पशु रम्भाते हुए
परों से पकड़कर चिड़ियों को वापस लपटों में पटक रहा है

भील, कोल, किरात, नाग .... अनागरिक जन
एक चुल्लू ऑक्सीजन के लिए छटपटाते हुए
भाग रहे हैं जंगल से बाहर -


खाण्डव वन की चौहद्दी पर खड़ा है कृष्ण,
मैरेय से मत्र हैं आँखें,

खड़ा है अर्जुन ड्यूटी पर
आग से बचकर भागते लोगों को
मौत के घाट उतारता
वापस अग्नि कुंड में झोंकता ....

हमें ऑक्सीजन बख़्श दो
महाभारत के विजेताओं
ये भारत तुम्हारा
ये महाभारत तुम्हारा
ये धरती, ये धन - धान्य,
ये धर्म, ये नीति
गत - आगत सब तुम्हारा
हमें बस एक सिलेन्डर ऑक्सीजन चाहिए .... मधुसूदन
ये ऑक्सीजन अग्नि का खाद्दय नहीं
हमारा जीवन है

तुमने कहा था न!
अग्नि आत्मा को नहीं जला सकता
लेकिन ये वन हमारी आत्मा था और
अब ये जल रहा है

खाण्डव वन जल रहा है
खाण्डव वन एक विशाल चिता जैसा
धू - धू कर
जल रहा है!!

Khandava Van

Khandava is burning, Dharmaraja!

Thick-black smoke
billowing from the forest
tunnels through our nostrils
rushing like wild animals
to fill the hollows of our lungs…

Eyes are embers glowing in the dark
Our tongues freeze with fear
A dark, discolored sap
drips from our lungs,
like bunches of dried grapes.

The nation is choking!

Khandava forest is afire!!

Satiated with greed-filled oblations of the city’s rich,
and lustful offering of the rulers,
the gluttonous Agni,
dressed like a Brahmin,
still wants more oxygen.
To fire up his youth,
he covets the blood of the blooming trees
he craves for the smell of charred animal bodies
he lusts for screams of human beings
coming from behind the anguished crackle
of the burning timber

Tathastu’ said Krishna.
So be it.

‘It will be done,’ said Arjuna,
stroking his moustache –
and Khandava burned …

Khandava van is burning

Suffocated, the animals run
Agni catches the escaping birds
by their wings
flings them back into the flames;

Bhil, Kol, Kirat, Nag –
denizens of the forest,
are fleeing the woods,
thrashing about in agony
for an ounce of oxygen.

Trahimam !
Save us! Save us!

Krishna stands
at the edge of the forest
with intoxicated eyes

Arjuna on duty
slaughters the ones who try to run,
escaping the fire,
catching and throwing them back
into the inferno…

Please spare some oxygen for us
You victorious warriors of Mahabharata!
Let this Bharata be yours
Let the Mahabharata be yours
this earth, these riches,
this dharma, these codes
the past that is gone
the time that is to come
let it all.. all be yours
We want just one oxygen cylinder…Madhusudan!
The oxygen is no food for fire
It’s our life

Remember what you said,
Agni can never destroy the soul!
But this forest is our soul
And it is burning now

Khandava is burning
like some giant pyre
dhoo …dhoo…dhoo…
with that noisy sputter
it is burning!


Adi Parva : the section of the Mahabharata in which the episode mentioned in the introductory text here occurs, in chapters 214 to 219.

Dharmaraja : refers to Yudhishthira.

Yogiraj, Yogeshvar, Madhusudhan, Giteshwar : all refer to Krishna.

Poem and Text : Anshu Malviya

Anshu Malviya is a Hindi poet with three published collections of poems. He is based in Allahabad and is also a social and cultural activist, who works with the urban poor and informal sector workers, and on composite heritage.

Other stories by Anshu Malviya
English Translation : Saumya Malviya

Saumya Malviya is an Ahmedabad-based sociologist and poet with a published collection to his credit. His work focuses on the anthropology of mathematics.

Other stories by Saumya Malviya
Paintings : Antara Raman

Antara Raman is an illustrator and website designer with an interest in social processes and mythological imagery. A graduate of the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, she believes that the world of storytelling and illustration are symbiotic.

Other stories by Antara Raman