Before the Mahabharata war began, Lord Krishna asked all the Pandavas how many days they would take to finish Mahabharata war alone. Bhishma answered that he would take 20 days to finish the war. Dronacharya replied that it would take him 25 days. When Karna was asked, he said he would take 24 days. Arjuna told Krishna it would take 28 days for him to complete the battle by himself. In this manner, Lord Krishna asked each warrior and received an answer. Krishna disguised as a Brahmin, stopped Barbarika to examine his strength. When asked how many days he would take to finish the war alone, Barbarika answered that he could finish it in one minute. Krishna then asked Barbarika how he’d finish the great battle with just three arrows. Barbarika replied that a single arrow was enough to destroy all his opponents in the war, and it would then return to his quiver. He stated that, the first arrow is used to mark all the things that he wants to destroy. If he uses the second arrow, then the second arrow will mark all the things that he wants to save. On using the third arrow, it will destroy all the things that are not marked and then return to his quiver. In other words, with one arrow he can fix all his targets and with the other he can destroy them.
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Krishna challenged Barbarika to tie all the leaves of the Peepal tree under which he was standing, using his arrows. Barbarika accepts the challenge and starts meditating to release his arrow by closing his eyes. As Barbarika starts meditating, Krishna quietly plucks a leaf from the tree and hides it under his foot. When Barbarika releases his first arrow, it marks all the leaves of the tree and finally started hovering around the leg of Krishna. Krishna asks Barbarika why the arrow was hovering over his foot. Barbarika replies that there must be a leaf under his foot and the arrow was targeting his foot to mark the leaf that is hidden underneath. Barbarika advises Krishna to lift his leg, otherwise the arrow would mark the leaf by piercing Krishna’s foot. Krishna then lifts his foot and the first arrow also marks the hidden leaf. The third arrow then collects all the leaves (including the hidden leaf ) and ties them together. By this Krishna concludes that the arrows are so powerful and infallible, that even if Barbarika is unaware of the whereabouts of his targets, his arrows can still navigate and trace his intended targets. The moral of this incident is that, in a real battle field, if Krishna wants to isolate someone (for example: the 5 Pandava brothers) and hide them elsewhere in order to prevent them from being Barbarika’s victim, he would not be successful as the arrows could trace even the hidden targets and destroy them. So, nobody would be able to escape from these arrows. Thus Krishna gets a deeper insight about Barbarika’s phenomenal power.
Once Lord Brahma and several other Devas came to Vaikuntha and complained to Lord Vishnu that the Adharma on Earth was increasing; it was not possible for them to bear the tortures causes by the wicked people. Hence they came to seek the help of Lord Vishnu to check them. Lord Vishnu told the Devas that he will soon be incarnated on Earth as a human being and destroy all the evil forces. Then, a Yaksha told the Devas that he alone is enough to kill all evil elements on the Earth, and it was not necessary for Lord Vishnu to descend to Earth. This hurt Lord Brahma very much. Lord Brahma cursed this Yaksha that whenever the time comes to eliminate all the evil forces on Earth, then Lord Vishnu will first kill him. Later, the Yaksha takes birth as Barbarika and Lord Krishna seeks his head in charity as a result of this curse.
When Krishna asks Barbarika whom he would favour in the war. Barbarika reveals that he intends to fight for the side whichever is weak. As the Pandavas have only seven Akshauhini armies compared to the eleven of the Kauravas, he considers that the Pandavas to be relatively the weaker side and hence wants to support them. But Krishna asks him, if he had seriously given a thought about the consequences, before giving such a word to his mother (about supporting the weaker side). Barbarika assumes that his support, to the relatively weaker Pandava side, will make them victorious. But, Krishna reveals the actual consequences of his word to his mother: Krishna tells that whichever side he supports will end up making the other side weaker due to his power. Nobody will be able to defeat him. Hence, as he will be forced switch sides to support the other side that has become weaker (due to his word to his mother). Thus, in an actual war, he will keep oscillating between two sides, thereby destroying the entire army of both sides and eventually only he would remain. Subsequently, none of the sides would become victorious and he would be the lone survivor. Hence, Krishna avoids his participation in the war by seeking his head in charity. Barbarika was shocked. Perceiving that all was not as it appeared, he requested the Brahmin (Krishna) to disclose his real identity. Krishna showed Barbarika a vision of His Divine Form and Barbarika was thus graced. Krishna then explained to him that before a battle, the head of the bravest Kshatriya needs to be sacrificed, in order to worship/sanctify the battlefield. Krishna said that he considered Barbarika to be the bravest among Kshatriyas, and was hence asking for his head in charity. In fulfillment of his promise, and in compliance with the Krishna’s command, Barbarika gave his head to him in charity.
The three arrows are signs of three ‘taapa’s that a human being experiences. These include the physical, the mental and the emotional turmoils, conflicts and confusions that are found almost everywhere. These three ‘taapa’s are cleared with chanting of name of Shri Krishna. Thus, giving Barabarika the name “Shyaam”, the Lord intended to remove the three ‘taapa’s of human life, symbolized by the three arrows, without which it might not be possible to destroy or overcome the ‘taapa’s. One another legend says that the three arrows of Barabarika can be used as follows: First arrow to mark all the near and dear ones, relatives, etc., Second arrow to mark the people who are not part of the war or who are not taking any side in the war, and the third arrow to destroy everything that is not marked by first and second arrows.