Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Urvashi's Curse

Mahabharata


This episode is from [Maha:3.40-3.46].

Arjuna stood at the summit of the Himavat, with a heart overflowing with happiness, for he had obtained the favour of the three-eyed Lord of the world. With the knowledge of the Brahmasiras, he was sure that he would be able to defeat any foe in battle, regardless of his opponent's skills.

Presently, a blazing light appeared in the heavens above, and the Lokapalas appeared before him. Arjuna fell at once at their feet in worship.

Yama,the guardian of south, touched the shoulder of the Pandava and bade him to rise. In a booming voice, the Lord of death said, "O Arjuna, you have fulfilled the destiny that was foretold when you were born. Know that you were a great Rishi in your previous birth, and were the friend and companion of Vishnu. When he had to take birth as a mortal, he bade you also to accompany him, and promised you that you will obtain great honors. You have gratified the great Shiva, by engaging him in single combat. Such a feat has not been achieved even by the celestials! As a mark of my appreciation for your determination, here is my mace, that has ever been my companion in battle."

With a deep bow, Arjuna received the weapon of Yama.

Varuna, the Lord of the waters, spoke next. He said, "Everyone knows that my noose is all powerful. As a token of my regard, I gift you my noose, and my favorite weapons, the secret of using which is known only to me and to Brihaspati, my teacher. These weapons were created by him to recover his wife Tara, for my use in the great battle between the celestials and the Daityas."

Once again, Arjuna bowed reverently and received the weapons, along with the instructions for their use.

Kubera, the guardian of North and the Lord of wealth, said, "I am also exceedingly gratified by your dedication to your cause. Here is my weapon known as Antarddhana, endued with extreme energy. It is capable of decimating your foes, regardless of their strength. This weapon was used by Lord Shiva to slay countless Asuras when he burnt their three cities known as Tripura. (See 'The Destruction of Tripura') You are worthy of wielding this weapon, that has been used only by Mahadeva and myself."

Arjuna received the Antarddhana with the reverence due to it.

Indra said, "My son, you have now obtained the divine weapons of the Lokapalas. Wait here for a little while, I will send my own chariot driven by Matali to take you to my abode. There, you will continue your education in arms and other sciences."

The Lokapalas and Indra disappeared after blessing Arjuna. The Pandava then sat down in a pose of meditation and began a prayer to the celestials, thanking them for the great favor they had shown him.

Within a short while, as promised by Indra, his charioteer Matali arrived to take Arjuna to Indraloka. In the blink of an eye, the chariot had entered the gates of heaven. Arjuna gazed around him in wonder: he saw countless celestials engaged in pleasurable pursuits; he saw the famous Nandana gardens, where the Apsaras were fond of frolicking; he saw many of his ancestors, who had attained the heavens as a consequence of their meritorious deeds. He also saw large number of sages, who had ascended to heaven by their ascetic merit.

He was ushered into the court of Indra. His father gazed at him with great fondness. He at once left his throne and embraced his son, a son of whom any father might be proud. At a sign from Indra, the Gandharvas started playing divine music and the Apsaras resumed their dancing that had been interrupted by Arjuna's arrival. Other Gandharvas brought the material for offering Arghya (worship) to the guest.

After he had been duly worshiped, Arjuna was introduced to the prominent Devas and other divine beings. Indra looked upon this scene with a heart overflowing with pride, for no one else there had a son to match his heroic Arjuna.

After the introductions were complete, Indra took his son to the throne, and both of them sat down together on it. No one else had ever had the honour of sitting on Indra's throne, save for the occasional Asura king who seized the throne by defeating the celestials.

Indra said to his son, "You will live here with me for a while. I will personally teach you the use of my weapons, the irresistible thunderbolts. You shall also learn the tactics of war from our Guru Brihaspati. There will also be plenty of opportunity for pleasurable pursuits, of listening to the music of the Gandharvas and for witnessing the bewitching dances of the celestial nymphs."

Arjuna thanked his father for these blessings. From that day, beginning at daybreak, Indra took his son to the field and taught him the use of his divine weapons. In the afternoon, the Pandava learned battle-tactics from Brihaspati. The evenings were spent agreeably, watching the Apsaras dance to the music of the Gandharvas.

After a few weeks, Indra said to Arjuna, "You have now mastered my weapons and the battle-tactics known to my Guru. It is my desire that you become proficient in dance and music as well. There is no better teacher than Chitrasena, the Gandharva who is my chief musician. From today, you will live with him and learn the fine arts."

Accordingly, from that day, Arjuna resided with Chitrasena, and who instructed him in dance and music. Chitrasena was delighted to obtain a pupil who had such a great aptitude for the arts, and Arjuna greatly admired the skill of his teacher. Soon, they had become close friends.

One day, Indra noticed that Arjuna was gazing rivetedly at Urvashi, as the Apsara was dancing in the court. The king of the celestials smiled to himself, for it was indeed a rare man who would not be captivated by that most beautiful of the divine nymphs. After the court was dismissed that day, he took his friend Chitrasena aside and asked, "Did you notice how my son was staring at Urvashi in court today?".

Chitrasena replied, "Indeed sire, I noticed that he had no eyes for anyone else. If I am not very much mistaken, he has been smitten by the shafts of Kama."

Indra said, "That is my opinion also. Go to Urvashi and represent these facts to her. Tell her that she would greatly gratify me if she will sport with Arjuna. There is no doubt that she would be very pleased to obtain so personable a young man, and such a great hero as her lover."

When Chitrasena conveyed Indra's message to her, Urvashi was very glad. She told Chitrasena that she will carry out her sovereign's wishes. That night, she dressed herself with great care, and decorated herself with beautiful jewels and applied divine perfumes to her person. She too had noticed how ardently the Pandava prince had looked at her in the assembly. Her vanity was gratified, and besides she too was attracted to the handsome prince.

Soon, she arrived at Arjuna's abode and sent word through his attendants that she had come to visit him. She was immediately led inside. When Arjuna entered the room, he was filled with exceeding wonder, and a nameless fear, as he saw the resplendent form of the divine nymph. He received her with great respect, but averted his eyes from modesty, for she was clad rather scantily and seductively. He said to her, "O Lady, I am indeed honored by your presence. I am your servant, command me."

Urvashi was by this time completely under the influence of her passions. With deep sighs, she told him about the command of his father, and of how it coincided with her great passion for him. She concluded with, "I have come here by the command of your father and driven by my own desire. Do that which will be agreeable to me, you and that which will gratify your father also.A maiden asks you to gratify her out of love for you, act as a man should, when faced with such a request."

Arjuna recoiled from her. He shut his ears with his hands, fixed his gaze firmly on the ground, and said in a voice choked with emotion, "Blessed lady, are my ears deceiving me? I have ever regarded you as my superior, and my regard for you is as that of mine for Kunti, my mother. Do not utter words that are unbecoming, against the scriptures, and that cause me so much pain to hear."

Urvashi was amazed. She said, "What is this nonsense? I am a woman, and you are a man. I tell you I have cherished a great passion for you since I first beheld you. My heart craves your embraces, I am well-nigh distracted by the grip of my desire. And here you are, recoiling from me as from a snake! Did I not see you gaze longingly at me today in the assembly? Indeed, I could not be mistaken, for even Indra and Chitrasena had noticed it. It was but today that you cast such glances betraying your desire for me, and now you are claiming that--"

Arjuna interrupted her with, "Stop! Stop! O divine lady, do not traduce my character so! It is indeed true that I gazed admiringly at you today while you were dancing, but my sole thought was: 'It is this beautiful lady that is the progenitor of the Kuru race'. You were the wife of my ancestor Puroorava, and thus I am your lineal descendant. Just as I revere my mother Kunti, just as I revere Lady Sachi, the wife of my father Indra, just so do I worship you as my mother. I am indeed sorry to have behaved in a way that led you and my father to misconstrue my true feelings. You have been momentarily distracted, please regard me as your son, and behave accordingly."

"Indra's son, you are confused. The Apsaras are immortal, they do not have any relations as mortals do. We are free spirits, and sport with whoever strikes our fancy. The sons and grandsons of Purooravas race, who have attained heaven at the end of their days, have sported with me without incurring any sin. I am an eternal virgin, not your mother. Today, I am a maiden who desires you, that is all that you need to know. Our union shall not be one of sin, it will be just the culmination of our mutual desires."

Arjuna replied, "Beautiful lady, listen! Let the celestials witness my assertion. Just as Kunti, Madri, and Sachi are my mothers, so are you, the parent of my race, and an object of reverence to me. Return to your palace, O amiable one. I worship you as my mother, it behooves you to protect me as a son."

Hearing these words of the Pandava, Urvashi's desire turned into wrath. Her whole body shook with anger. She said, "Since you have turned away a woman who had come to you of her own accord, one who, dead to all shame, has openly avowed her desire for you, may you lose your manliness and have to spend time among women, unregarded, and scorned as an eunuch."

With these words, the Apsara fled precipitately from Arjuna's abode. Arjuna stood rooted to the floor, pondering the violence of the curse pronounced by her. He soon regained control over his stupefaction and sought out Chitrasena. He narrated all that had passed between Urvashi and himself. Chitrasena took him to Indra and explained the situation to the sovereign.

Indra embraced his son and said, "I always knew you were a brave warrior, but today you have surpassed even my expectations. Not even the Rishis with their senses under complete control could have resisted the temptation of Urvashi's embrace, especially when she had come inflamed by her desire. You have demonstrated your rigid self-control. As for her curse, fear not. It will be to your benefit. I shall grant you the boon that you will be an eunuch for the period of just one year, and that of your own choosing. It will be useful to you when you have to spend the thirteenth year of your exile incognito."

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Last Modified At: Sat May 21 19:16:07 2005