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Chapter 25

Arjuna Goes to Heaven

When the Brahmins determined an auspicious day, Yudhiṣṭhira taught Arjuna the Pratismriti mantras. The king had delayed teaching him as he knew that Arjuna would leave for the Himālayas as soon as he had the knowledge. It would be difficult to live without him. But it was Vyāsadeva’s desire that he go, so Yudhiṣṭhira knew the separation could not be avoided forever. Ultimately, it was probably their only chance to be successful in recovering their kingdom.

Taking Arjuna aside, Yudhiṣṭhira held him by the hands and said, “O descendent of Bharata, the four divisions of the science of arms are held by Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa, Karṇa and Aśvatthāmā. They have all received divine instructions and know how to use every sort of weapon. Having been honored, gratified and supported by Duryodhana, they always seek to do him good. We should not doubt that they will support him in battle. The whole world is now under Duryodhana’s sway, and he is our avowed enemy. You are our sole refuge. Depending on you we shall regain our kingdom from Duryodhana. Listen now as I tell you what should be done.”

Yudhiṣṭhira then informed Arjuna of Vyāsadeva’s instructions. He told him that he should leave as soon as possible for the Himālayas and, by meditating on the mantras he was now going to repeat, he should seek the gods’ audience in order to receive their weapons. “Allow me to initiate you today, O virtuous one, and go at once to propitiate Indra. Being pleased with you I am sure Indra will give you his weapons and, by his order, so will the other gods.”

Arjuna fully controlled his mind and senses. Then, with due rites, Yudhiṣṭhira bestowed the Pratismriti mantras on him. When he was finished Yudhiṣṭhira stood up, with tears pricking his eyes as he thought of Arjuna’s separation. “Now go, dear brother.”

With his arms and hands clad in iguana skin gauntlets and gloves, and his body covered in golden mail, Arjuna took up his Gāṇḍīva bow and his two inexhaustible quivers and stood ready to depart. Brahmins and Siddhas uttered blessings upon him and, not knowing how long he would be gone, he bade an affectionate farewell to his brothers.

As Arjuna was about to depart, Draupadī came before him and said, “O mighty-armed Dhanañjaya, may all that the noble Kuntī desired at your birth, and all that you yourself desire, be accomplished. May none of us ever take birth again in this terrible kṣatriya order. I offer my respects to the ascetic Brahmins, who are detached from this miserable world. My heart still burns with Duryodhana’s insult, but today I grieve even more because you are departing. In your absence we will spend our time thinking only of you. There will be no joy without you. All our hopes rest in you, O hero. May the Lord and all His energies protect you at all times, and may success be yours. Go now and attain your goal.”

Arjuna smiled at Draupadī, circumambulated his brothers and Dhaumya, and then began running swiftly along the path, frightening creatures along the way with his speed. By chanting the mantras Yudhiṣṭhira had given him, he felt himself travelling over mountains and forests at the speed of mind. By the end of the first day he arrived at the great Mandara mountain. Arjuna stopped and looked around. The mountain was beautiful with its bluish stone rising up into the clouds. It was covered with blossoming trees, their many-colored flowers creating rich tableaus and their scent captivating his mind. The sound of peacocks, cranes and cuckoos filled the air, and he could see Siddhas and Cāraṇas sporting on the mountain slopes. Arjuna decided to climb the mountain and begin his austerities there.

Upon reaching a plateau high on the mountain, he suddenly heard a voice resounding in the sky. “Stop!” Arjuna looked around and saw an ascetic sitting at the foot of a tree. The tawny-colored Brahmin had a brilliant aura. His lean body was covered in deerskin and his matted locks hung down to his shoulders. The ascetic said, “O child, who are you? You appear to be a kṣatriya. Do you not know that this is the abode of peaceful Brahmins who are free from anger? Even to have been able to reach this spot indicates that you already attained a high state of purity. Now perfect your life. You have no need of weapons here. Throw them away.”

Arjuna made it clear that he had no plans to renounce his weapons. “I need my weapons to serve my elder brother Yudhiṣṭhira, who has been wrongfully deprived of his kingdom. O Brahmin, I will not cast them aside.”

Seeing Arjuna’s dedication to duty, the ascetic replied, “O slayer of foes, I am pleased with you. Know me to be Śakra, king of the gods. Ask me for a boon.”

Arjuna was overjoyed. Here was Indra! With folded hands he said, “O exalted one, the boon I desire is that you bestow all your weapons upon me.”

Indra smiled. “O Dhanañjaya, I can grant you life in the celestial regions of bliss. Ask for this. Why do you desire only my weapons?”

“How could I incur the world’s condemnation by not avenging myself on the enemy and by abandoning my brothers in the forest?” Arjuna’s anger rose as he remembered Duryodhana’s treachery.

Indra spoke gently. “O child, when you meet Śiva, I will give you all my weapons. Try to propitiate him, for he is the greatest of the gods. By seeing the three-eyed wielder of the trident, all your desires will be fulfilled.”

After saying this Indra disappeared, and Arjuna was left alone. He decided to remain where he was and begin his austerities and worship of Śiva. He took off his armor and set his weapons down by the same tree where Indra had sat. The tree was situated next to a flowing river, and Arjuna bathed in its clear waters, then sat down to meditate. As he did so, conchshells were heard in the sky and showers of flowers fell from the heavens. Arjuna was pleased by the auspicious sign, and he sat with half-closed eyes, controlled his breathing, and began to intone prayers to Śiva.

During the first month of his meditations, Arjuna ate only fruit on every third day. During the second month, he ate fruit only on every sixth day, and during the third month he ate fruit once a fortnight. During the fourth month he lived only on air, standing on the tips of his toes with his arms upraised. He bathed three times a day and kept his mind and senses under perfect control. As a result of his austerities, Arjuna began to glow like the sun.

In the heavens the celestial ṛṣis grew anxious. They approached Śiva and said, “Arjuna has become greatly effulgent due to his austerities on the breast of the Himālayas. The earth is becoming heated by his asceticism and is sending forth smoke. O chief of the gods, you should stop him before he upsets the universal order by the power of his penance.”

Śiva replied, “You need not feel anxiety on account of Phālgunī. He does not wish to attain heaven or prosperity. I know his purpose and will satisfy him today.”

The ṛṣis bowed before Śiva and returned to their own abodes. Śiva then assumed the form of a tall, powerful, golden-hued hunter, and descended to the place where Arjuna was meditating. Umā, his consort, accompanied him in a similar costume, and many of his goblin followers, who assumed various forms and wore bright garments, followed them. Many of the female goblins assumed the forms of beautiful women and also descended. As Śiva appeared on the mountainside with his followers, the mountain seemed ablaze with beauty. Strangely, however, all nature became silent. Even the springs and waterfalls ceased their sounds.

As Śiva arrived, he saw a Dānava assume the form of a boar and charge at Arjuna. The demon intended to kill Arjuna, and he roared loudly in challenge. Arjuna heard the boar’s roar and quickly lifted and strung his bow. Placing a virulent arrow on his bowstring, Arjuna called out, “I have done you no harm. As you seek to kill me, I shall certainly send you to Yamarāja’s abode.”

At the same moment Śiva also trained his arrow on the boar and shouted to Arjuna, “Stop! This dark-colored boar is mine. I saw him first and have already aimed my arrow at him.”

Arjuna ignored Śiva’s claim and released his arrow, which sped toward the massive boar. Śiva simultaneously released his arrow and the two shafts both struck the Dānava at the same time. There was a sound like thunder as the arrows hit the demonic boar’s rock-like body. Assuming his natural form, the demon gave up his life with a terrible cry.

Arjuna looked around at the hunter. His body shone like a golden mountain. He was surrounded by hundreds of women. Arjuna glared at him. “Who are you, dressed like a hunter and wandering in this solitary forest surrounded by your followers? Are you not afraid? Why have you pierced this boar which I targeted first? Do you not know that this is against all accepted practices in hunting. Indeed you have insulted me and so I will punish you by taking your life.”

The hunter replied with a smile, “O hero, you need not be concerned about me. I always dwell in the forest. But what brings you here? You are obviously royalty, used to living in luxury. How is it that you have adopted an ascetic life?”

Arjuna held his bow tightly. “Depending on the strength of my arms, I live in this forest. See how I killed this fearful Rākṣasa who was intent on killing me.”

The hunter laughed derisively. “It was I who killed this one, not you. I saw him first, and it was by my arrow that he was sent to Death’s abode. You are overly proud of your strength. Do not accuse others when you yourself are at fault. O wicked-minded wretch, you have wronged me and will therefore not escape with your life. Stand and receive my arrows. Try to defend yourself, if you can.”

Infuriated, Arjuna immediately struck the hunter with a cluster of swift arrows, but he simply smiled and received Arjuna’s shafts without flinching. He called out, “O wretch! Send your fiercest arrows, those that are capable of piercing to the heart.”

Arjuna released another volley of shafts. Becoming angry, Śiva sent back hundreds of his own arrows. A great battle then ensued. Showers of snake-like arrows sped back and forth. As Arjuna countered the hunter’s arrows, he was surprised to see that, although struck by countless shafts, his adversary was not affected. The Pāṇḍava increased the force of his attack, but the hunter stood unmoved. Seeing that he could not shake his foe, Arjuna called out in admiration, “Excellent! Well done!”

Arjuna looked with wonder at the hunter. Clearly this was not an ordinary man. No one could withstand the force of thousands of arrows shot from the Gāṇḍīva without being moved. Perhaps he was a celestial. Arjuna decided to use his mystical weapons. No matter who this was--even if he was a Gandharva or a Yakṣa--unless he was actually Śiva himself, Arjuna intended to kill him.

Arjuna then invoked weapons which fired thousands of arrows blazing like the sun. Śiva cheerfully received all his shafts as a mountain receives a downpour of rain. Then to Arjuna’s amazement he found that his celestial quivers were suddenly exhausted. How was that possible? Who was this who swallowed up all his arrows? With what could he fight now? Arjuna raised his great bow like a club and rushed at the hunter. He struck him a number of heavy blows, but Śiva snatched away his bow and drew it into his body. It simply vanished. Arjuna then drew his sword and brought it down upon the hunter’s head with all his strength, but it shattered to pieces.

Arjuna was afraid, but he continued to fight. This time he lifted rocks and boulders and threw them at the hunter. He tore up trees and slung them at the hunter. Still he made no impression. Arjuna’s mouth smoked with wrath. He rushed at his foe and pummeled him with his fists. Śiva struck him back and a hand-to-hand fight ensued. They struck one another and grappled furiously, each seizing the other and shoving him with full force. Sparks and smoke flew from their bodies.

Finally, the hunter released Arjuna and he fell back, dazed, almost unconscious. Arjuna looked at the hunter in astonishment. He had failed to make the least impression on him. Surely this must be the exalted god Śiva. No one else could have fought with such power.

Arjuna retreated to a distance and quickly fashioned an image of Śiva from the earth. He worshipped it with flowers and as he did so, he saw flowers falling onto the hunter’s head. Now he had no doubt. This was the deity he was seeking. Arjuna fell headlong at the god’s feet, and as he did so he felt all his fatigue dispelled.

Śiva was pleased with Arjuna and he spoke to him in a voice as powerful as roaring clouds. “O Phālgunī, today you have satisfied me. There is no warrior equal to you in courage or patience. O best of the Bharata race, your strength is practically equal to mine. You were formerly a ṛṣi and have now taken birth to serve the Supreme Lord’s purposes. Soon you will acquire the weapons with which to defeat your enemies, even if they be celestials. I shall bestow upon you my own irresistible weapon. Now I will give you the eyes to see me in my original form. Behold!”

Arjuna looked up and saw Śiva with his three eyes, holding a trident, a divine serpent draped around his bluish neck. Arjuna bowed down and prayed, “O great god, O highly exalted one, you are the refuge of all the celestials. The very universe has sprung from you. You are Viṣṇu in a different form and are unconquerable by gods, demons or men. O Śaṅkara, pray forgive me. It was only to receive your audience that I came to this mountain. Please pardon me for my rashness in fighting with you. I seek your protection.”

Śiva lifted Arjuna to his feet and embraced the Pāṇḍava. “I have pardoned you. You are Nara, the friend of Nārāyaṇa. Previously you two chastised the demon hordes at Indra’s coronation. Kṛṣṇa is that Supreme Nārāyaṇa, and with Him you will again punish the wicked. O Pārtha, take back your Gāṇḍīva bow. Your quivers will again become inexhaustible. There is no man on earth equal to you. Ask from me whatever you desire.”

Śiva handed the Gāṇḍīva bow to Arjuna and Arjuna said, “O lord, if you are pleased with me, then I humbly ask that you bestow upon me your irresistible personal weapon known as the Pāśupāta. You destroy the universe with this weapon at the end of creation, and with it I may be victorious over Rākṣasas, Dānavas, Gandharvas, Nāgas, ghosts and spirits. It will enable me to emerge successfully from the battle I shall fight against Bhīṣma, Droṇa, Kṛpa, and the son of the suta, Karṇa.”

Śiva replied, “O son of Kuntī, I will give you this weapon. You are capable of holding, throwing, and withdrawing it. Not even Indra, Yama, Kuvera, or Varuṇa knows the mantras to this weapon--what to speak of any man. However, you must use it only against celestial fighters. The Pāśupāta should never be released at lesser enemies or else it may destroy the creation. This weapon is discharged by the mind, eyes, words, or a bow. No one in the three worlds of moving or nonmoving creatures can withstand its force.”

Arjuna then bathed for purification and stood before Śiva to receive the mantras. The god gave his weapon to Arjuna and it then waited upon him just as it waited upon Śiva himself. When the celestials saw the fearful weapon standing in its embodied form by Arjuna’s side, the earth trembled and terrible winds blew in all directions. Thousands of conches and trumpets were heard resounding in the sky. Śiva said, “Now go to heaven and receive Indra’ weapons.” He then departed with Umā and his many followers.

When Śiva was gone, Arjuna stood for a few moments gazing at the sky, awed by what had just transpired. He had seen the god of gods. The unknowable deity had touched him with his own hand. Arjuna now considered his enemies already vanquished and his ends accomplished. He possessed Śiva’s irresistible weapon. Although he could not discharge the Pāśupāta at human foes, its very possession made him feel invincible.

While Arjuna stood absorbed in thought, Varuṇa appeared before him accompanied by the rivers personified and many Nāgas, Siddhas and other lesser gods. Kuvera was also in attendance, his body resembling pure gold and seated upon a splendid chariot. Kuvera was accompanied by countless Yakṣas. They stood before Arjuna, illuminating everything with their bodily effulgence. Arjuna also saw in the sky the god of justice, Yamarāja, approaching on his chariot with mace in hand and flanked by the personified forms of Death and Time.

On a nearby mountain summit, Arjuna saw Indra and his queen Śacī seated on the back of the celestial elephant Airāvata and appearing like the rising sun. A white umbrella was being held over his head and he was surrounded by Gandharvas and ṛṣis, who were eulogizing him with Vedic hymns.

Arjuna chanted numerous prayers in praise of the gods and offered them fruits and water. As he stood gazing in amazement, Yamarāja spoke, his voice as deep as autumnal rain clouds. “Behold, O Arjuna, that all the world’s protectors, the Lokapālas, have come here. We shall bestow upon you divine eyes. O sinless one, you were formerly the Ṛṣi Nara. At Brahmā’s behest, you have taken your birth as a mortal. You shall vanquish in battle the powerful Bhīṣma and the many other fierce warriors headed by Droṇa. The enemies of the gods, Daityas and Dānavas, have taken their birth in the world of men. These shall all be slain in a great battle in which you will play the main role. Your fame on earth shall be eternal.”

Yamarāja offered his personal weapon, a celestial mace, to Arjuna. The Pāṇḍava received the weapon along with the mantras for hurling and withdrawing it. After that, Varuṇa gave Arjuna his inescapable Nāgapasha nooses. Arjuna also received Kuvera’s weapon, the antardhāna, which could baffle and render unconscious even mighty Asuras. Then Indra spoke: “O subduer of enemies, you shall perform a great work for the gods. Now you must ascend to heaven. There I will give you my own weapon and other irresistible astras belonging to the celestials. My chariot, driven by my servant Mātali, will soon carry you there.”

The Lokapālas then vanished, leaving Arjuna alone. As he looked up, he saw what appeared to be a second sun gradually increasing in brilliance in the sky. The whole region vibrated as the radiance increased. Arjuna realized that this was Indra’s chariot descending to earth. The chariot was huge, and it was drawn by ten thousand celestial horses of greenish and golden hue. Mātali, in golden armor, was holding the reins. As the chariot approached, Arjuna could see upon it innumerable swords and maces, as well as all kinds of missiles. Axes, darts, lances, and spears of every kind were placed all around the chariot. Celestial thunderbolts and brilliant lightning bolts glowed from its sides. Huge-bodied, fierce Nāgas with fiery mouths were seated on the chariot, along with great silver canons furnished with wheels and capable of sending celestial missiles a vast distance.

Arjuna saw Indra’s dark blue flagstaff, the Vaijayanta, standing in the middle of the chariot as straight as a bamboo and as tall as a great palm tree. Then the chariot halted and Mātali stood before Arjuna. Bowing low, he said, “O fortunate one, I have been instructed to take you to Śakra. Your father, encircled by the celestials, ṛṣis, Gandharvas and Apsarās, wishes to see you in heaven. Śiva has also ordered me. Ascend this chariot and come to the heavenly regions.”

Arjuna again bathed for purification, then offered prayers to Mount Mandara: “O king of mountains, you are the refuge of pious sages seeking heaven. You have sheltered me and I have lived here happily. I offer you my thanks and bid you farewell.” With that, Mātali led Arjuna to a flight of crystal steps leading up to the chariot.

Mātali urged the steeds which drew the chariot with the speed of the mind high into the sky. As they entered the celestial regions, Arjuna saw thousands of wondrous chariots carrying shining beings of great beauty. He saw kings and warriors who had been slain in battle and had attained effulgent celestial forms. As they moved along the paths of the gods, Arjuna saw Siddhas, Cāraṇas, ṛṣis, Guhyakas and Apsarās. The region glowed with a brilliance born of the ascetic merits of such beings. Amazed, Arjuna inquired into their identities. The charioteer replied, “These are pious persons, O son of Kuntī, stationed in their respective spheres. You have seen their shining abodes from the earth as stars in the firmament.”

The chariot passed through the gate of Indra’s planet, where Arjuna saw Airāvata, the great white elephant with four tusks. The elephant resembled Mount Kailāsa with its four summits. Passing through divine regions meant for pious men who had performed great sacrifices and asceticism, they arrived at last in Amarāvatī, Indra’s capital city.

Arjuna gazed with wide open eyes at the astonishing city. Flowers from all the seasons bloomed simultaneously, and there were groves of sacred trees. Fragrant breezes moved among their golden leaves, creating cascades of brilliant light. Countless mansions and palaces stretched into the distance. Arjuna saw the famous Nandana gardens, in which the gods sported with Apsarās.

“Those who turn their backs in battle can never see this place,” Mātali said, seeing Arjuna’s amazement. “Neither can those who are wicked-minded, who have not performed sacrifice, who have not abstained from liquor and meat, who have not bathed in holy rivers nor given charity to Brahmins ever reach this abode.”

As they proceeded through the city, Arjuna beheld celestial cars traveling by the occupants’ wills. Gandharvas and Apsarās eulogized Arjuna as he passed. He heard the sound of celestial music and of thousands of conchshells and drums. Arjuna entered Indra’s magnificent assembly hall and met with the Sādhyas, Maruts, Viśvadevas, and twin Aśvinīs. He saw the Adityas, Vasus, Rudras, and the many royal saints headed by King Dilīpa. Nārada Ṛṣi was also present along with the Gandharva leader, Tumbaru.

After offering his respects to the assembled personalities, Arjuna approached his father, the king of the gods. Indra was seated beneath his white umbrella and was being fanned by golden-handled and perfumed cāmaras. Many pure Brahmins praised him with hymns from the Ṛg and Yajur Vedas, and the Gandharvas and Cāraṇas played celestial instruments of all descriptions for his pleasure.

Arjuna prostrated himself before Indra, who got down from his throne and embraced him. The thousand-eyed god took Arjuna by the hand and led him back up the flight of golden steps to his bejeweled throne. Indra then had his son sit next to him on the throne, where he shone like a second Indra. With his perfumed hand, Indra affectionately stroked Arjuna’s head. Out of love, Indra gently patted and rubbed his arms, which were like gold columns. The deity gazed without satiation at his son’s face. Seated together on the throne, Arjuna and Indra appeared like the sun and the moon together in a clear sky.

Indra gave Arjuna the celestial sight to perceive Amarāvatī’s divine beauty. The city was unimaginably opulent. The Pāṇḍava looked around at the numerous effulgent ṛṣis who sat reciting sacred texts from the Vedas. Groups of Gandharvas headed by Tumbaru sang hymns in voices which entirely captivated the mind. As they sang, Apsarās performed exquisite dances full of gestures and sidelong glances. They shook their breasts and moved their broad hips.

The celestials offered Arjuna the sacred arghya and washed his feet. At Indra’s command, Arjuna was then escorted to Indra’s palace. Arjuna took up residence there and Indra instructed him in how to use the celestial weapons, and especially the irresistible thunderbolt weapon, Vajra, and Indra’s powerful lightning flashes.

Although living amid splendor and opulence, Arjuna could not forget his brothers in the forest, and he longed to return to them. Whenever he thought of his brothers, he also remembered the circumstances that had brought them to the forest, and he remembered Śakuni, Dushashana, Duryodhana and Karṇa. Arjuna had no peace. As he was equipped with one powerful weapon after another, he thought only of the inevitable battle that would take place in the future. No one would be able to stand against him now. Those wicked-minded men would be punished. Draupadī would be avenged and Yudhiṣṭhira’s kingdom would be recovered.

When Arjuna had become adept at using all the weapons, Indra told him, “You should go to your friend Citrasena and learn singing and dancing from him. He can teach you such music that does not exist in the world of men and is known only to the celestials. This knowledge will prove useful to you in the future.”

Arjuna thus learned the Gandharva skills. The Pāṇḍava did not know why Indra had requested him to study such subjects, but he was sure the god could see by divine intelligence that such knowledge would surely be helpful in the future.

Arjuna lived in Amarāvatī for five years, thinking always of his brothers. As the time for him to leave approached, Indra summoned Citrasena and spoke with him in private. “O chief of the Gandharvas, I have seen Arjuna casting glances at Urvaśī. Go to her and have her wait upon the Pāṇḍava with all her feminine graces and skills. As you have taught him all the arts of music, so now you should teach him the art of associating with women.”

Citrasena said, “So be it,” and went at once to Urvaśī and described Arjuna’s many virtues.

“O lady of fair hips, know that I have come here on Indra’s command to ask from you a favor. There is one now living in heaven who is renowned among men for his grace, behavior, beauty, vows and self-control. He is famous for his might and his prowess, and he is respected by the pious. He is also endowed with presence of mind, is a genius, and possesses great energy. That mighty hero is forgiving and without malice. He knows all the Vedas with their many branches, is devoted to his elders, is never boastful, sees even small things as if they were important, and is always the shelter of his dependents. His name is Arjuna, and his father Indra brought him to heaven. O blessed lady, Arjuna seems inclined toward you. Please go to him and allow him to obtain you.”

Urvaśī cheerfully replied, “Having heard of Arjuna’s virtues, how could I fail to be attracted? Indeed, thinking of that hero I am already stricken by the god of love. O Citrasena, go now wherever you like and I shall go to him.”

Having succeeded in his mission, the Gandharva left. Urvaśī then prepared to meet Arjuna. She bathed and smeared her body with perfumed unguents. Dressing with layers of diaphanous silks, she adorned herself with jewels and gold ornaments, as well as fragrant garlands of brightly colored flowers. She was absorbed in thoughts of Arjuna and her heart was pierced with Cupid’s arrows. Inflamed by desire, she imagined herself lying with Arjuna on a soft, wide bed laid over with silk sheets.

Setting out at a time when the moon began to rise, the thin-waisted Urvaśī went toward Arjuna’s abode. As she walked, her long black braids, which she had decorated with bunches of flowers, swung around her beautiful white face. Her two finely tapering breasts, adorned with a string of diamonds and pearls and smeared with fragrant sandalwood paste, trembled as she walked gracefully through the gardens. Her high, round hips, covered with thin cloth and decked with golden chains, moved from side to side. The rows of golden bells around her ankles tinkled gently. She defied the splendor of the full moon and was quite capable of breaking the vows of great ascetics. Exhilarated by the little liquor she had drunk and full of desire, she cast glances from side to side and seemed even more alluring. Seeing her pass, the Siddhas and Cāraṇas considered her the finest sight in heaven. She soon arrived at Arjuna’s door and sent word to him through the doorkeeper.

Arjuna immediately invited her into his house. He was anxious that the goddess had come to see him at night. Seeing her incomparable beauty he closed his eyes out of modesty. Arjuna worshipped her as if she were his superior and said, “O foremost of Apsarās, I bow down to you. What is your command? I am your servant.”

Hearing his words, Urvaśī was overjoyed. Her voice rang out like tinkling bells. “O best of men, I will tell you what brings me here. When you first came to heaven, a large assembly was convened during which we celebrated your arrival. All the gods and celestials were present, and you were seated by Śakra’s side. You saw me then, dancing in the midst of the chief Apsarās. Your gaze rested upon me for some moments and Indra noticed your attentions. Thus he has sent me here through Citrasena. I have come to wait upon you, O hero. My heart is stolen by your virtues and I am under the control of Kāmadeva. This is my wish: let me possess you tonight.”

Arjuna at once covered his ears in shame. “O blessed lady, O most charming one, it is not proper for me to hear you speak such words. You are the wife of my superior. As the illustrious Kuntī or the beautiful Śacī, Indra’s consort, is to me, so too are you, O goddess. Do not doubt what I say. O lady of sweet smiles, I did indeed gaze upon you, but not out of desire. There was quite another reason.”

Arjuna had heard of Urvaśī while at home on the earth. Thousands of years previously she had become Pūrurava’s wife, who was one of Arjuna’s ancestors. It was her son who had been the forefather of Arjuna’s dynasty. Arjuna told Urvaśī that he thus felt quite unable to make her his lover. “O blessed one, when I gazed at you I was simply amazed to see the mother of my dynasty. You should not entertain any other feeling for me than that of your son.”

Urvaśī smiled. “O son of Indra, we of the heavenly realms are not fettered by human morality. You need not see me as a superior. I have sported with other sons and grandsons of the Pūru dynasty without incurring sin. Be favorable toward me. I am burning with desire and feel devoted to you. Do not reject me, for that is not the practice of virtuous men.”

But Arjuna could not change his attitude. “O beautiful lady, hear what I tell you and let the four directions and all the celestials also hear. You are no different to me than Kuntī, Mādrī or Śacī. I bow my head to you as my mother. Please protect me as your son.”

After Arjuna had spoken in this way, it was clear to Urvaśī that he was firm in his determination. Rejected and insulted, she became angry. With knitted brows and quivering lips, she exclaimed, “As you insult a woman who has come to you at your father’s command and out of her own desire--a woman pierced by Cupid’s arrow--you shall lose your manhood and live as a dancer in the company of women. O Arjuna, you shall become a eunuch and lose all respect.”

With that, Urvaśī turned and left Arjuna.

Arjuna thought carefully. Surely Indra must have known that this would happen. Why then had he asked Citrasena to send Urvaśī to him? Arjuna went at once to Citrasena and told him what had transpired, repeatedly mentioning the curse. Citrasena then went to Indra and informed him of the situation. Indra called for Arjuna and spoke to him in private.

“O best of men, because you are her son, Kuntī is the most glorious mother. You have defeated even the ṛṣis by your self-control and patience. Do not worry. Urvaśī’s curse will be for your good and will prove useful. You will need to pass your final year of exile incognito. At that time, Urvaśī’s curse will take effect and, living as a eunuch, no one shall discover you. Having passed one year without your manhood, you shall regain it at the end of that period.”

Arjuna was relieved. The Pāṇḍava then stopped worrying about the curse and continued to live happily in the heavens with his father and Citrasena.