“One day while Krishna was staying with the Pandavas, He and Arjuna prepared themselves to go to the forest to hunt. Both of them sat down on the chariot, which flew a flag with a picture of Hanuman. Arjuna's special chariot is always marked with the picture of Hanuman, and therefore his name is also Kapidhvaja. (Kapi means Hanuman, and dhvaja means ‘flag.’)” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 3)Download this episode (right click and save)
Arjuna was capable. He had his chariot. He had his powerful bow. On a previous occasion he proved his amazing marksmanship. He was acknowledged to be the best fighter in the world with the bow and arrow, the weapon of choice in the time period in question.
Ever increasing the odds of success, Arjuna had Shri Krishna as his charioteer. Krishna is Narayana in a human form. Not exactly human, but something resembling a mortal, Shri Krishna was the well-wisher of the Pandava brothers, who unfairly had their kingdom taken away from them. The wicked Duryodhana refused to give it back, and so war was inevitable.
Arjuna had the support of Krishna as his guide. Arjuna had the support of his arms in battle. But you can never have enough support in a struggle against a powerful foe. There was a flag with a noteworthy image hanging from Arjuna’s chariot. The choice of flag was significant.
1. The meeting of Hanuman and Bhima
Arjuna is known as Kapidhvaja since he has the flag of Hanuman on his chariot. Shri Hanuman is one of the heroes of the Ramayana, a Sanskrit work of epic length. Hanuman is an eternally liberated soul appearing in the body of a monkey. The Sanskrit word kapi means “monkey,” and so one of the ways Arjuna is known is through his flying the flag of the monkey-servant Hanuman on his chariot.
Hanuman is a dear servant of the Supreme Lord, and one time he had the chance to speak about the service to Bhima, who was one of Arjuna’s brothers. Bhima was searching for a flower on a mountain when he ran into Hanuman. Both Hanuman and Bhima come from the wind-god, Vayu, so they are also brothers.
The meeting was auspicious on both sides. Being pleased with Bhima triggering remembrance of Shri Rama in Hanuman, the great servant asked Bhima to take a boon. As a result, Hanuman promised to be on the battlefield with the brothers through the flag on Arjuna’s chariot. Rama is the same Krishna. Both Arjuna and Hanuman are great devotees of the Supreme Lord, heroically entering into battle to uphold dharma.
2. The meeting of Hanuman and Arjuna
The events described in Vedic literature don’t all take place in the same period of creation. The universe goes through cycles of creation and dissolution. Many of the same events take place, but the exact sequence may be different, with nuances changing here and there.
In the aural tradition passed on through the ages, there is a story of a meeting between Hanuman and Arjuna. Arjuna wants to know why Shri Rama required a bridge made of stones to cross the ocean to Lanka. For starters, Hanuman made the journey through a single leap. Rama is supposed to be God, so why did He require help from monkeys and stones to defeat Ravana, the evil king of Lanka who had taken away Rama’s wife in secret?
In their meeting, Hanuman explained to Arjuna that rocks would not have held the weight of the powerful monkeys. Feeling proud of his ability, Arjuna then proceeded to make a bridge of arrows, which would ostensibly support anyone, including Hanuman. Hanuman carried through with the test by breaking the bridge. Because of the defeat Arjuna was ready to enter fire. Then the Supreme Lord appeared and explained the situation. Both Arjuna and Hanuman were great devotees, and so there was no reason to quarrel. Hanuman would stay with Arjuna on the flag on his chariot.
3. Hanuman’s presence is a reminder of perseverance
Hanuman’s journey to Lanka did not go smoothly. There were obstacles along the way, both physical and mental. Hanuman was strong enough to defeat anyone, but at key moments the righteous path was not always clear. There were celestials to consider and boons they had given to others. There were females in hideous forms obstructing his way. Then there was also lack of success, as Hanuman had done so much and still not found Sita Devi.
Perseverance was necessary, and Hanuman had it. That perseverance was rooted in love for Shri Rama. Because of that love Hanuman eventually succeeded. That same perseverance would be needed by Arjuna. There would be many battles in the Bharata war, and at times things wouldn’t look good. Hanuman’s presence is a reminder that perseverance in devotional service pays off.
4. Arjuna is also a servant of God
Though Arjuna was related to Krishna as a cousin and also a good friend, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra he was a servant. Though Krishna was steering the chariot, Arjuna was the one serving the cause of righteousness. This was for Krishna’s pleasure, as the Lord wanted the burden of unrighteous men removed from the earth. Arjuna was fighting valiantly in service, as Hanuman had done previously. Therefore the flag of Hanuman was most appropriate to fly from Arjuna’s chariot.
5. The flag of devotion
There was yuddha, or conflict, but actually the same perseverance and strength are applied by Hanuman in everything he does for Rama. His work is devotional service, after all. Though he is the most powerful, Hanuman is not concerned with his strength. Bhima wanted Hanuman to show a gigantic form, and Hanuman only agreed reluctantly. Hanuman explained that the form wasn’t so important.
The flag of devotion appropriately flew on the chariot of devotion steered by Krishna and directed by Arjuna. The devotee who is in yoga has that unbreakable connection with the Supreme Lord. Krishna guides from within as the chaitya-guru, ensuring that all work has the positive end result of continued connection in bliss to the Divine.
When flag on Arjuna’s chariot to see,
Reminded of Hanuman, how wonderful is he.
How with brother Bhima one time met,
And broke Partha’s arrow-bridge carefully set.
Hanuman for Rama flying here and there,
By obstacles and dissuading time never scared.
A flag of devotion flying most of all,
Continuing in service, stature large or small.