I see him. Sprawled on the battlefield. Struck in the chest. The greatest archer in the world. Killed by the son I brought up. His son.
I see the Empress - my son’s mother. Beating her chest. Lamenting. Crying for her husband who was dead. Sobbing for her son who was the cause of it.
I see the king - my son. In a stupor. Unable to understand how this had come about. Unable to fathom that he had just killed his father. His father whom he was seeing for the very first time.
I see them both look at me. With questions in their eyes. With blame etched on their faces. No words uttered.
I should be there with them. On the battlefield. Lamenting my husband’s death. Consoling my son. Holding my dead husband’s head on my lap. Hugging his inert body close to my chest. Sobbing for being a widow once over again.
Yet, I smiled.
I remembered the day I had seen him for the first time. By the riverside. Offering his ablutions. Praying earnestly. His sinewed arms. The calmness that pervaded him. The battle scars that glistened as he went about his daily routine. The strong baritone that uttered the mantras to invoke and appease the mighty ones.
I knew who he was and what he was doing in the forest. Why he was there and what had brought him there.
The great Pandava Prince. Krishna’s comrade. The one who had won Draupadi’s hand at her swayamvara. The prodigious son of Kunti - Arjuna.
Ever since I had heard of his prowess at Panchal, I had been waiting for a sight of him, for a vision of the great warrior who had vanquished countless kingpins and their armies. Even without setting my eyes on him, I had surrendered my heart to him. I – Uloopi, the Naga princess, had lost her heart to a mortal. However, this was no mere mortal. This was Indra himself, glorified in his amsa as Gandivdhanava. The day I saw him, I knew that my dreams had not been in vain. I remembered staring at him unabashedly. Wanting to make him mine forever. Wanting to be with him forever.
Overcome by the god of desire, passion coursing through every pore of my body, I overpowered the warrior prince during his daily ablutions one morning and dragged him down to my world, hoping for a chance to convince him to accept me and behold me. Unwilling as he was, bound by the oath of celibacy he was forced to undertake as part of the pact between the brothers, I debated with him, forced him to consider what I was proposing, and gave him my word that I wouldn’t hold him back a minute longer if he chose to leave. I reasoned with him that his oath only bound him to be celibate with respect to Draupadi, and not to other women. Intoxicated by desire, convinced by my arguments, the son of Pandu gave into my demands.
Those were blissful days. Everything was perfect with the world, and nothing could go wrong. There were no threats to ward off and no enemies to vanquish. It was a peaceful and serene world that we were in. Our union brought forth a perfect offspring whom I named Iravan. He was the epitome of his father, flawless in every aspect, distinguished by the thirty-six marks that made him a perfect man, as like his father.
Soon, the day I was dreading did come to pass and I had to let go of Arjuna. Back to his kith and kin, even though we were also part of the same; back to his life, to his dharma. I knew that the minute he left the waters of Ganges, he would have no memory of us. Not of me. Not of his son. Not of the times, we spent together in the netherworlds. However, his dharma beckoned and mine was to let him go in order to fulfill it. I had after all given him my word that it would be so, if he willed it. Therefore, for the very last time, I embraced him, bestowed upon him the gift that he would be invincible against all water-borne threats and prepared to send him upon his way.
Years later, when Iravan, now a strapping young man, heard of the Great War at Kurukshetra, he expressed his desire to go meet his father and offer his services. Much as I dissuaded him from going to a place, where no one would recognize him or care for him as one of their own, he was determined to head on to meet his father and help him out on the battlefield. What I dreaded ensued. Iravan, being one of the three perfect warriors on the side of Dharma, was requested to sacrifice his life to Kali to ensure victory in the war. My son willingly gave up his life for his father’s victory, a father who did not even remember him, a father who acknowledged him as his son only to have more warriors that are able on their side of the war. And what could I do, except accept it as my son’s destiny and move on with life.
I had heard of Arjuna’s other marriages during his 12 year self-exile, one of them being to Chitrangada, warrior princess of Manipura. I went ahead to meet her, introducing myself as I did so. She accepted me as her sister and entrusted me with the care of her son – Babruvahana, a boy like none other. I took care of him as I did my own son, Iravan and trained him in the art of war and mastery of weapons. The winds that flew from the battlefield, had whispered into my ears, a curse that had been laid upon Arjuna for the offence of felling the grand-sire of the dynasty, Bhishma. Cursed by the other Vasus, that Arjuna would meet his death at the hands of his son this was made known to me by the river-goddess Ganga, whose waters I inhabited from time to time. I looked up to her for advice on how to alleviate the curse from my husband and she was the one who guided me to use the fabled Mritasanjivini gem of my clan. This gem, with its miraculous properties could bring back the dead to life. Therefore, I had landed at my foster-son’s kingdom to witness the scene that had just unfolded in front of my eyes.
Following the sacred horse from the Ashwamedha Yagna that his elder brother Yudhishthira was conducting, Arjuna had landed at the city of Manipura and challenged Babruvahana to a duel. When my foster son looked upon me for counsel, I had asked him to go ahead and engage his father in battle. After a fierce duel, a well-placed arrow had found its mark and had struck the mightiest archer in the world dead. While mother and son glared at me with blame etched on their faces, seeking answers to what had just transpired; I had smiled and moved over to do my part.
I brought back my husband to life with the powers bestowed upon me through my ancestors.
When he awoke, Arjuna embraced his son and rejoiced in his prowess. He was delighted to see his wife, Chitrangada and exulted in the fact that their son was a fine warrior indeed. However, he had no recollection of me. I was not part of his memories. He only had a vague remembrance of a Naga princess that he had met once on his voyages. To him, I was inconsequential. Just as his son, Iravan, who had sacrificed his life for his father’s success had been.
I, on the other hand, have no grievances whatsoever. I am content with my reminiscences of him. Of the times that we spent in my world.
To the world, I may be one of Arjuna’s many wives. To Arjuna, I may have just been another conquest on his journey of life.
My son sacrificed his life to ensure his father’s triumph.
The very least I could do was to ensure his efforts do not end up in vain.
In the cycle of Karmic dues, I have fulfilled my Dharma.
To me, that is the utmost gratification of the life that I have striven to live.
I am Uloopi – Queen of Nagas. Descendent of the mighty Airavata. Daughter of King Kauravya. Wife to Arjuna.
And, most importantly, Mother of Iravan.