Mahabharata : Arjuna, the Greatest Archer and Disciple

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by Smt Smrithi Adi­narayanan

When­ev­er we think of an ide­al stu­dent, Arju­na’s name comes to our mind. He was con­sid­ered to be the most sin­cere and capa­ble stu­dent not with­out a rea­son. Today researchers are keen­ly study­ing the cog­ni­tive process­es and how they con­tribute to suc­cess. The Mahab­hara­ta has numer­ous ref­er­ences to the cog­ni­tive capa­bil­i­ties of Arju­na.

Cog­ni­tion is the process of assim­i­lat­ing and pro­cess­ing of knowl­edge that we receive through the var­i­ous sens­es. Cog­ni­tive exec­u­tive func­tions, which help us to achieve some­thing through cog­ni­tion, include atten­tion­al con­trol, cog­ni­tive inhi­bi­tion, inhibito­ry con­trol, work­ing mem­o­ry, and cog­ni­tive flex­i­bil­i­ty.

Atten­tion Con­trol
Dronacharya, the Guru of the Pan­davas and Kau­ravas, sum­moned his dis­ci­ples to test them. He placed a wood­en bird on top of the tree and asked them to cut off the bird’s head. He first invit­ed Yud­histhi­ra and asked him what he could see. Yud­histhi­ra replied “I see the tree, myself, my broth­ers and the bird” Drona asked him to step aside. The oth­er Pan­da­va Kau­ra­va broth­ers replied in a sim­i­lar man­ner. When Arju­na was invit­ed, he said “I nei­ther see you nor the tree, I see only the bird”. Dronacharya fur­ther asked “If you see the bird, describe it to me”. Arju­na replied that “I see only the bird’s head, not the bird”. Dronacharya com­mand­ed “Shoot!”. Arju­na’s atten­tion­al con­trol, an exec­u­tive func­tion that helps him choose what he pays atten­tion to and what he ignores made him the great­est archer of the Mahab­hara­ta times.

Sin­gle Point Focus on the Guru
One day Dronacharya had gone to bathe in Gan­ga along with his dis­ci­ples. When Drona entered the stream, an alli­ga­tor caught hold of him. Though he was capa­ble of res­cu­ing him­self, he called out to his dis­ci­ples to save him. The moment he cried out, Arju­na swift­ly show­ered sharp arrows with­in the water and killed the mon­ster. While the oth­er dis­ci­ples where either con­fused or still engaged in bathing, Arju­na act­ed almost instan­ta­neous­ly. His con­stant focus on his Guru and elim­i­nat­ing all oth­er dis­trac­tions made him the great­est shishya.

Cog­ni­tive Flex­i­bil­i­ty
Arju­na’s devo­tion to the ser­vice of his pre­cep­tor as also to arms was very great and he soon became the favourite of his pre­cep­tor. Look­ing at Arju­na’s devo­tion, Drona once told his cook, ‘Nev­er give Arju­na his food in the dark, nor tell him that I have told you this.’ There was a strong wind once and the lamp went off. Arju­na con­tin­ued eat­ing in the dark as his hand auto­mat­i­cal­ly went to his mouth. He under­stood that because of prac­tice he did not need light for his hand to go his mouth. When the lights came back, Arju­na was out prac­tic­ing. Drona, hear­ing the twang of his bow­string in the night, came to him, and clasp­ing him, said, ‘I will make you the great­est archer in the world”.

Today cog­ni­tive sci­ence talks of dual chan­nels and how the audi­to­ry sense can be used with the visu­al sens­es to enhance per­cep­tion and how visu­al­ly chal­lenged peo­ple form new learn­ing path­ways in their brain through the audi­to­ry sens­es.

These episodes illus­trate how Arju­na came to be known as the great­est dis­ci­ple and excelled in the archery. Con­sis­tent efforts can make any­thing hap­pen. More on Arju­na in future edi­tions of Parni­ka.