During the time Ravana ruled over the heavens and the earth, there lived a king called Kritavirya. He ruled the kingdom of Mahishmati. Though he had many wives and he performed several penances, he remained childless for a long time.....
One of his wives Padmini, unable to bear the anguish of the King approached Anusuya, the daughter of Sage Kardama and Devahuti and the wife of Sage Atri.
Anusuya told her of the days to perform the penance so that the King and Queen would get their heart's desire. So Padmini and Kirtavirya went to the forest and strictly observed the penance for the days as told by Anusuya.
As the king and the queen were lost in meditation, 'Open your eyes!' came a voice.
The king and the queen opened their eyes and were amazed to see Lord Dattatreyan standing before them.
The king and the queen fell at the feet of the Lord. The Lord smiled and said, 'I know what you wish...Ask your heart's desire and I will grant it to you!'
The king spoke with tears in his eyes, 'Lord! It is said that the doors of the heavens are closed to any person who does not have any children. That is all I wish for....A son.... A son who cannot be defeated by any demigod, humans, snakes, demons or any goblins....' The king nodded and continued, 'A powerful son, who can be defeated only by you!'
Lord Dattatreyan nodded his head and vanished from there.
Soon after a son was born to Kirtaviryan and Padmini. He was called Kartivirya Arjuna. Kartivirya Arjuna was born with a thousand arms so he is also sometimes called as Sahasra Arjuna.
Arjuna was a kind and great king. He loved his people and took good care of them. Because of the penance of his father, he obtained a golden chariot, which would move at his will and the power to enforce justice and root out evil.
Kartivirya Arjuna had once gone to bathe in the Narmada river with his wives.
It was at the same time that Ravana, the King of Lanka came to the Narmada, in the Pushpaka Vimana with some of his ministers.
Ravana took bath in the river and settled down near the shores of the river to pray to Lord Shiva.
Meanwhile Kartivirya's wife spoke jokingly to him, 'Your majesty! I know you are powerful! But I wish to test your strength...' She said teasingly at him.
Kartivirya looked amused, 'How should I show you my strength, my Queen?'
The wife laughed, 'The river, Lord! Can you stop the river?'
Arjuna looked at the river and then at his wife. He smiled. 'Deal!'
Arjuna sat in the middle of the river and raised his arms. The king looked at the river with concentration and held his breath.
The water of the Narmada was flowing....The queen watched with amazement as the water substantially stopped flowing beyond the king....Behind the king, the river was just coming out in sprinkles....The king concentrated some more as the river completely stopped flowing beyond him.
The queen looked at the king, laughed and clapped her hands...'That was great! You are indeed the most powerful man, I have ever seen!'
Neither the king nor the queen realized the result of what they had done....
As Arjuna stopped the flow of the Narmada, the water in the front of the king started rising. It started submerging the smaller islands on its side....The water in the shore started increasing....
Ravana's minister watched in horror as the water started increasing, while the king was praying....They ran through the shore to find out why the water was raising.....
They saw the awesome king with his thousand arms. The ministers got genuinely afraid of the thousand armed king and slunk back to Ravana hoping that nothing would happen while Ravana prayed...
As Ravana opened his eyes, he saw in surprise, the water rising around him....Looking at the water and the expression of his scared ministers, he knew that this was not a natural phenomenon...far from it.
'What is the reason for this?' He barked at his ministers.
The ministers struggled with the words, 'Your majesty! There....there...' the minister pointed further down. 'a man...a king with a thousand arms....he stopped the river!' The minister said hastily.
Ravana got angry...Kartivirya Arjuna....He was the king of Mahishmati and he was powerful enough to stop the river and had a thousand arms....How dare he disturb my prayer? I will have his head for this...
Ravana picked up his mace and got on his Pushpaka Vimana, 'Forward!' He commanded as the vehicle took him towards Arjuna.
He saw the king now drying himself and bellowed loudly. Arjuna looked up with frown when he heard the bellow.
Ravana roared, 'Just because you can stop a river, you think you are strong....Why are you showing your power towards something which is not fighting back at you....Show me how powerful you are!' Ravana said in an insulting voice.
Arjuna shook his head and smiled. 'Ravana! Why don't you get down from your vimana and I will give you what you want!'
Seeing that the king was not even worried, let alone scared, Ravana jumped down from his vimana and let out another roar and came forward with the mace in his hands. Arjuna with his lightening fast reflexes picked up his own mace...
The maces met in mid air.....Ravana and Arjuna both of them strained and stared at each other. Arjuna kicked Ravana. Ravana fell down and jumped immediately. The battle between the two kings continued for a long time as Ravana's ministers and Arjuna's queens watched....
Finally with the super human strength of his thousand arms, Kartivirya Arjuna knocked Ravana with the mace. For a second Ravana felt dizzy and then everything went black.....
A few days later, the kingdom of Mahishmati received a great visitor....Sage Pulatsya [Pulatsya in one of the ten 'Mind sons' of Lord Brahma]
Arjuna bowed to the great sage, 'Great sage! I am indeed blessed that a great man like yourself should come to meet me! Please be seated and enjoy our hospitality....' The king with his queen looked after the sage very well.
Pleased the sage then spoke to Arjuna, 'I hear that you defeated my grandson in battle and have kept him in prison....' [Sage Pulatsya is the father of Vishravas who is the father of Ravana]
Arjuna nodded his head. 'Yes my Lord! He came for a battle...I am afraid, he is very hot headed!'
Pulatsya spoke quietly, 'I am sure my grandson has learnt his lesson. He will never cross paths with you....I am sure he will respect your friendship...please let him go!'
Arjuna nodded his head without any hesitation. 'My Lord! You need not have come here for that...I would have let him go, if you had just told me...'
Arjuna realized that Ravana would never come to battle with him again.....Sage Pulatsya was even more happy as the king immediately gave orders for the release of Ravana.
[Ravana had the boon that he could never be defeated by any Deva, asura, rakshasa or yaksha..... Because of sheer arrogance he had never asked to be more powerful than humans... Kartivirya Arjuna because of the boon of his father was more powerful than all beings and could be defeated only by the Lord Vishnu. Kartivirya Arjuna being a human could defeat Ravana]
With gifts from Arjuna, Ravana and Sage Pulatsya left for Lanka in the pushpaka vimana....
True to the boon of his father Kartivirya Arjuna was defeated and killed by Parashurama, the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu....
From the Ramayana