Vikramōrvaśīyam (Urvashi won by valour)

Vikramōrvaśīyam is a Sanskrit play by ancient Indian poet Kalidasa who flourished in the 4th Century under King Chandragupta Vikramaditya. It is based on the Vedic love story of king Pururavas and celestial nymph Urvashi.

Indra and apsaras in heaven- part of Ajanta art series by Vijay Kulkarni.

In the court of Indra, the king of Devas, Urvashi was one of the twenty-six apsaras (celestial nymphs). Each apsara specialized in a different form of dance. Urvashi’s forte was devotional love. She was the favorite of Indra himself, yet her heart was restless. Heaven was a place for enjoyment and indulgences not for a spiritual union, she impersonated in her art. 
Every night after her duties, she left for the earth. There she walked on the dew covered grass, smelled the fragrance of the flowers, sang and played with her friends.

One such night she was assaulted by a demon Kesi. He abducted her from the group of nymphs and flew to mount Hemkunt. Pururava the chandravanshi king rescued her. After saving her, he carried the petrified Urvashi in his arms for a very brief period. The little time was enough for cupid to strike his fatal arrow. His awareness of the extremely beautiful nymph caused his heart to pound loudly. Her head resting on Pururava’s chest, Urvashi heard the heartbeat of a mortal for the first time. Their physical proximity ignited the passions. She also felt attracted to her saviour.

Urvashi leaves Pururava after their first meeting.

By the time she rejoined her worried friends, an awkward silence hung among the two. They returned back, Pururava brooding that he had always thought of himself as monogamous didn’t envisage this complication. Urvashi was disheartened that love with a mortal was impossible. She left her heart on the earth before returning to the heavens. The sadness it took its toll on her dance performance.

Urvashi returns to heavens but loses interest in her arts. Oil painting by Raja Ravi Varma

One day while performing a romantic scene between Vishnu and Laxmi, she absentmindedly spoke out Pururava’s name instead of Vishnu. 
This invoked the wrath of the teacher sage Bharat. He cursed her that the man who had distracted her from her art and devotion to Lord Vishnu, would come to her life and she would bear him a child. But the moment the father would see his child; she would have to return back to the heavens.

Sage Bharat had cursed Urvashi but to the love struck apsara, it was a blessing in disguise. It gave her a chance to unite with Pururava. She sent her friend Chitralekha to find out whether Pururava reciprocated her love. Chitralekha found Pururava in the garden of ‘Gandh Madan’. He was suffering too. She overheard him telling his companion vidushak, how he was unable to forget Urvashi. He had turned unkempt and gaunt with the agony of separation.

Chitralekha conveyed to Pururava the condition of Urvashi and that she had been banished out of the heavens because of him. For the lovelorn Pururava, knowing Urvashi harboured tender feelings for him, was exhilarating. He informed Chitralekha that he was already a married man and felt sorry that Urvashi had to be banished out of heavens because of him. He would be more than delighted to accept her as his second wife.

Pururava and Urvashi marry

Urvashi and Pururava married. They lived in the garden of ‘Gandh Madan’. Urvashi was not only beautiful but was extremely learned and wise too. She often had discourses with him over administration and welfare of his kingdom. Pururava’s love for her had turned him into an ardent listener; he had evolved from a restless and reckless man to an accomplished king loved by his people.

Prior to marrying Urvashi, Pururava was married to Aushiniri. Aushiniri had remained childless for several years. She had anticipated a day would come when the king would marry again. Only she was not prepared for Urvashi, a woman she could not hate but respected, for what she had done with Pururava. She accepted that while her marriage to the king was an ordinary relation, the marriage with Urvashi was a cosmic union that was destined to yield positive results for them and the kingdom.

Pururava and Urvashi differed only on one point. While Urvashi revered the capacity of humans to suffer and make sacrifices, Pururava glorified the heavens for their endless wish granting privilege. Urvashi aspired to feel the challenges of pain, longing and separation only humans were capable of feeling. She claimed that the endless wish granting conditions of heavens, did not give the celestial beings a chance to savour the glory of sacrifice.

Soon Urvashi conceived and she realized, it could mean the end of her time with Pururava. One day Urvashi began the heaven versus earth argument and escalated it. She left home after the lovers’ tiff and secretly went to Lord Kartikeya’s mangroves where she knew no Kshtriya (warrior) was allowed to enter.

Pururava rubs the jewel on Mangroves of Kartikeya to seek Urvashi- painting by Kshitindranath Majumdar.

Pururava was devastated by Urvashi’s departure. Everyone told him that the Apsaras were treacherous and belonged to none. He had faith in Urvashi and refused to believe she would deceive him. When Urvashi left and the King lost interest in the affairs of the kingdom, Aushiniri coaxed him to seek her out. They found she had been staying at Kartikeya’s mangroves. Pururava had been desolate for months, at the behest of Aushiniri, he prayed to Lord Kartikeya. After long Lord Kartikeya relented and granted him a jewel, if Pururava would rub that jewel over a creeper near the Mangroves a secret passage would open and Urvashi would be set free. Pururava wasted no time and reunited with his beloved.

Aushiniri organized a welcome in the capital. For the first time Urvashi went on to live in the royal palace. She never parted with the jewel there on. Sixteen years passed. Once Urvashi settled in the palace after her return, Pururava often mocked her that she loved her pride more than him. She wouldn’t have left otherwise. In return Urvashi often smiled with sadness in her eyes and wound up saying, “You don’t know”.

Urvashi and Pururava By R. S. Sathi. India. 1950s Displayed at the museum of Oriental Art Moscow Paper, mixed technique. A gift from the Indian government to the USSR.

One day Urvashi was taking a bath in the palace pond and her parlour maid stood guarding her belongings. A crow dived over Urvashi’s favorite jewel and carried it to the sky in it’s beak. This was the jewel that Pururava had rescued Urvashi with. Pururava was near by and chased the crow. Just when he was about to shoot his arrow, the crow fell in the courtyard on its own. The guards fetched it and Pururava saw that an arrow had killed it.

It was a tradition that game belonged to the shooter, so each arrow would bear the name of its owner. 
Pururava was stunned to read the name etched on it, “Ayu, the son of Pururava and Urvashi”. He summoned the youth who he discovered was a replica of his young self, almost like staring in a magical time turning mirror.

Pururava requested to meet his guardians. Ayu introduced him to Sage Chyawan and his wife Satyawati. The sage couple broke the truth to him. Since Urvashi’s curse could come true only when Pururava saw his child, she had picked up the altercation on purpose. She had used the separation period to deliver the child. Sacrificed her maternal instincts to be with him and left the child in their care.

Appearance of Ayu and Urvashi’s curse comes true, she flies off to heavens again- oil painting by Raja Ravi Varma.

It was a time of gain and loss for the king. He gained an heir but lost his beloved wife again. Urvashi tearfully bid him farewell and left for the heavens. Once again Pururava became a shadow of the grandeur he personified. He devoted his time to train his son to rule the kingdom. Once his job was over, he crowned Ayu the next king and took refuge in Gandh Madan again. It was where he had spent his best years with Urvashi.

The sufferings of the lovers did not go in vain, the Asuras waged a war over the heavens and Indra asked Pururava’s help. Pururava was infused with a new vigour at the prospect of seeing Urvashi once again. He charged with all his might and was successful in beating the Demons.
 As Indra rejoiced his victory, he acknowledged how both Pururava and Urvashi had proved time and again how they loved and deserved each other. Theirs was a union that transcended the two worlds, Urvashi had proved the power of sacrifice and Pururava deserved to get a taste of the wish grating heavens. They granted his wish to live with Urvashi. She was formally allowed to join him again.

Events of Vikramōrvaśīyam- by artist Satish Chavhan

(Pis courtesy the Internet)


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Prema says:

    Very engaging !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rakhi Jain says:

      😀 thanks Prema.


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