Brihannala (also written as Brihannada, Brihannata, or Vrihannala), was the name assumed by Arjuna in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Arjuna spent the thirteenth year of his exile as Brihannala at King Virata’s Matsya Kingdom. He taught song and dance to the princess Uttara.
Background: Curse by Urvashi
Once Arjuna was invited to the palace of Indra, his father. Urvashi, one of the heavenly maidens at Indra’s palace was strongly attracted to Arjuna. Indra also noted that his son was also bewitched by Urvashi’s beauty. So Indra took it upon himself to offer Urvashi to Arjuna. Having received Indra’s instructions, Urvashi reached Arjuna’s room one night. But Arjuna did not have any intentions of making love to Urvashi. Instead he called her the “mother” of the Kuru race. Urvashi felt insulted, now that a mere mortal was able to resist her. She cursed him that Arjuna will be a eunuch for the rest of his life, who could only sing and dance with other women. Later on Indra’s request, Urvashi curtailed the curse to a period of one year, which would be the thirteenth year of the Pandavas’ exile.
At Virata’s Kingdom
With the arrival of the thirteenth year, Arjuna reached Virata’s palace as Brihannala. He apprised the king of his singing and dancing skills which he had learnt under Chitrasena, a Gandharva at Indra’s abode. Though the king had grave suspicions about him being a eunuch, he checked and confirmed that Brihannala was really one. Thereafter Brihannala took over as the dance master of Princess Uttara. Brihannala stayed at the palace for women, moving about and making friends with other maids and princess’ friends.
As charioteer to Prince Uttara Kumara
Kauravas suspected that the Pandavas were sheltered at Virata’s kingdom and attacked them by stealing the cows in the kingdom. The next day after the robbery, the Kauravas gathered a great force including Bheeshma and Karna and approached the area. Draupadi, who had assumed the name of Sairandhri, convinced Prince Uttara Kumara to approach the invaders with Brihannala as the sarathi (chariot driver). This was also the last day of the Pandavas’ exile and Arjuna’s curse. In the middle of the journey to meet the invaders, Brihannala transformed back as Arjuna. He then revealed the secret about the Pandavas to Uttara and convinced him by telling him his ten different names and the meaning for each of them (Arjuna, Phalguna, Jishnu, Kiriti, Swetavahana, Bhibhatsu, Vijaya, Partha, Savyasachi and Dhananjaya).
In his true form as Arjuna, he retrieved his Gandiva and the arrows and went to the battle with the Kauravas. With the assistance of Uttara's chariot-riding, he was able to drive out the Kauravas and retrieve the cows of Matsya Kingdom.
Taking Uttara as daughter-in-law
King Virata was surprised to know the real identities of the Pandavas. He offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to Arjuna, the greatest warrior on the planet. However Arjuna rejected this offer as he had been a teacher to her and considered her a daughter. But he suggested Uttara marry his son Abhimanyu, and the king and princess agreed.
- Menon, [translated by] Ramesh (2006). The Mahabharata : a modern rendering. New York: iUniverse, Inc. p. 458. ISBN 9780595401871.
- Verma, retold & edited by T.R. Bhanot ; art work by K.L. (1990). The Mahabharata. New Delhi: Dreamland Publications. p. 19. ISBN 9788173010453.
- Menon, [translated by] Ramesh (2006). The Mahabharata : a modern rendering. New York: iUniverse, Inc. pp. 464–467. ISBN 9780595401871.
- Mittal, J.P. (2006). History of ancient India : a new version. New Delhi: Atlantic. pp. 530–531. ISBN 9788126906161.
- Menon, [translated by] Ramesh (2006). The Mahabharata : a modern rendering. New York: iUniverse, Inc. p. 679. ISBN 9780595401871.