She is one of Arjuna’s wives. During his exile, Arjuna travelled the whole of India extensively. It was in one such trip that Arjuna went to the ancient town of Manipura, a mystic city known for its natural beauty. He meets Chitrangada, the princess of Manipura. She was such a pretty maiden. Monogamy was not on the score-charts. Anyway, Vyasa Bhagavan had to tell the story of a curse and we will come to that shortly. So Arjuna dressed himself as an ascetic and approached her for hand in marriage. Let us remind ourselves that this is a pre-Gita tale. You know, at this point, Arjuna is yet to receive spiritual lessons from Sri Krishna! Now, Chitrangada was also taken up by Arjuna,you know, macho and all, but her father was to call the shots. He approached the king and expressed his intentions. The King stipulates that children born of Chitrangada cannot be taken away from Manipur. Arjuna agrees that he would also not take Chitrangada away.
Chitrangada was fanciful and sentimental. Vide the promise made to the father, Arjuna’s further travels were solo. She was left behind. Being the only heir to the throne, she dressed like a man. She was a renowned warrior. She loved Arjuna immensely and often missed his absence. To Arjuna and Chitrangada was born a son, Babruvahana. He was to succeed the grandfather to become King of Manipura.
ULUPI: During another of his travels, Arjuna met Ulupi at Hardwar. She belonged to the Nagaloka caste. Indeed she was a widow Naga princess. Arjuna was attracted to her also. But it is also said that Ulupi induced Arjuna to take her in marriage. Becoming infatuated with him, Arjuna was caught unaware and intoxicated with a potent concoction. Neigh the pleasures of the flesh! Thus Ulupi masterminded the abduction and had him conveyed to her realm in the netherworld. An unwilling Arjuna gives in to Ulupi erstwhile. What could he have done confined under-water? The best of the worlds took precedence and to them was born Aravan.
CHILDREN: So now some statistics. Together with three other wives, Draupadi, Subhadra, Ulupi, Arjuna had four sons namely Srutakriti born of Draupadi, Abhimanyu born of Subhadra; Babhruvahana born of Chitrangada; and Iravan born of Ulupi. The sons were to be as good as Arjuna; irrestible as fire and unsurpassable as the ocean.
THE CURSE: Arjuna was spending his time with Ulupi. Chitrangada missed him as his wife and mother of his child. Learning of this, Ulupi restored Arjuna to the lamenting Chitrangada. Ulupi also went further to play a major part in contributing to Babruvahana’s welfare. She taught him the art of war. Her role in the Krukshetra war are related to Arjuna’s welfare. When pithamagaha Bhishmar was killed, his brother, the Vasus cursed Arjuna. It is also said that Ganga Devi also cursed Arjuna that he will be killed by his own son for treacherously killing Bhismar. It was Ulupi that redeemed him from the curse. In her own way, Ulupi was a loving wife and nothing has been said to the contrary.
During the battle, Babruvahan’s arrow hit Arjuna and he fell unconscious. Ulupi rushed to the scene to restore him to life. This knowledge was only available to the nagas. She firmly set on her own coils that her lower serpent part afforded. Holding a conch in folded hands, Ulupi commemorated the Mrat-sanjivi mantra, the life giving mystic hymn to restore Arjuna to life. It is commonly said as a cliché that Ulupi had him ‘killed and then brought him back to life’. Once for enabling him to keep his words that he had given Yudhisthrara, his eldest brother, and also marry her, and second time, when during Ashvamedha yajna he was killed by Babhruvahana, his own son. When the Pandavas started their final journey, Ulupi is said to have returned to the water kingdom in the Ganga River.
RABNINDRANATH TAGORE: Took the story of Chitrangada and turned it into a dance drama. Tagore’s, Chitrangada is a lyrical expression of love, illusion, and conquest, and ironically, one of strongest gender statements ever made in Indian literature of its time. He expanded Chitrangada’s character and gave her new life.
The story line is this: It is the time of the Mahabharata, the greatest of Indian epics. The place is Manipur, a beautiful kingdom hidden in the Northeast of India, fiercely guarded by Chitrangada – a princess, brought up as a "prince" fit to rule the land. A woman unparalled in archery, warfare, and governance all dressed up as a male.
The player is Arjuna, the greatest warrior of his time. While on a hard grueling penance for 12 long years, Arjuna reaches Manipur.
Arjuna is impressed by her fighting abilities but all along believes her to be a man. Chitrangada beholds him, falls in love at first sight, and appeals to him for marriage. But alas, Arjuna refuses. Spurned and rejected, Chitrangada is deep in sorrow. But then she rises again...she is not to be slighted… she cannot be defeated. Chitrangada fights back. Chitrangada believes Arjuna could never love her the way she is. In ways unfathomable to any human being. Will she win her battle? Will she conquer her love?
She receives a boon from Kamadeva, God of Love and transforms herself into a beautiful feminine woman. When she meets Arjuna again, he cannot help but fall in love with her. Though she believes that she has everything she wants in life, deep within Arjuna could not love Chitrangada for her true self. The mystery would unveil when the maurauders come into her kingdom. The subjects are worried and inform Arjuna of their princess, the greatest warrior around. They wondered why she was not around to protect them now.
Now, Arjuna is so impressed by the villager’s story. He wanted to meet the woman who could equal him in warfare. Chitrangada had no alternative but to appear and reveal herself. The ensuing plot is the obvious one. Arjuna is no longer in love with Chitrangada just for her beauty. She has proven to be wholesome. They consummate and soon enough the son Babruvahana appears in the scene. Unlike the original Mahabaratha story of the curse, in Tagore’s rendering, they live happily ever after.
(Art of the ascetic Arjuna meeting Chitrangada by Sri Ravi Varma acknowledged with thanks)
By Yogi Ananda Saraswathi..