The Mahabharata is a collection of hundred Parvas (or ‘sections’) that tell the story of a long-standing family feud between two sets of cousins – the Kauravas and the Pandavas – for control of the Kuru throne in Hastinapur.
The climactic event of the story is an eighteen-day war that happens between the two factions on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
It is commonly understood that the Pandavas are the protagonists of this tale and the Kauravas the antagonists – though many retellings have appeared over the years that flip this structure.
In this post, we will summarize the Indraloka Gamana Parva.
(For a full summary of the Mahabharata with all hundred Parvas, see Mahabharata Summary: All 100 Parvas Explained.)
Dancing with Chitrasena
After Arjuna goes to Amaravati with his father Indra, and after he has had a look around the place and taken the celestial weapons that had been promised, he begins to learn dancing and music under Chitrasena, the Gandharva.
He does this on the exhortation of Indra, who tells him that a Kshatriya ought to pay attention to the softer modes of art as well in order to become a well-rounded person.
During this time, Chitrasena notices Arjuna staring at Urvasi, one of the apsaras at court, and interprets that gaze as one of desire. He goes to the dancer, therefore, and requests her to entertain the Pandava.
Urvasi gives her consent, and on watching Arjuna from a distance, becomes consumed by love herself, and begins fantasizing of union with him.
Arjuna Rejects Urvasi
However, when the time comes for Urvasi to offer herself to Arjuna one night, the Pandava surprises her by treating her with utmost respect, almost as if she were his superior.
‘Welcome to my humble chamber, my lady,’ he says, getting up as she enters. ‘I am but your servant. Please command me as to what to do.’
Urvasi is first puzzled by Arjuna’s behaviour, and then frustrated. ‘I have come here not to be waited upon by you, Prince,’ she tells him. ‘I wish you to take me as your lover. Chitrasena has said that you gazed at me in the lord’s court a few days back.
‘And the first time I laid my eyes on you, I lost my heart to you too. Let us not waste time in idle talk, O Pandava. Do not thwart the advances of a woman whose flesh burns for you.’
Arjuna covers his ears as if he has heard something blasphemous. ‘My lady,’ he says. ‘Chitrasena is mistaken. I did look at you at court the other day, but I was doing so out of curiosity, and I was thinking to myself:
This is the woman who has given birth to the entire Kaurava clan. (Urvasi is the wife of Pururavas, the ancestor of the Kauravas.) You are my ancestress, many generations my senior. I cannot think of you as an object of lust.’
The Curse of Urvasi
Urvasi tries in vain to convince Arjuna to view her as a timeless fulfiller of desire, not as a woman with an ageing heart and limbs. In her anger, she places a curse on him.
‘Because you stymied the advances of a worthy woman, you shall be required to spend a whole year of your life on Earth among women, unidentified as a man among them, and spurned as a eunuch.’
Arjuna is first alarmed at this turn of events, but Indra consoles him and says, ‘You will serve this year of Urvasi’s curse during the required time of incognito, hidden deep within the ladies’ chambers of a king. Do not worry. It is as it should be.’
It so happens therefore that later, when the time comes for the Pandavas to live in hiding, they seek out the court of Virata, and Arjuna transforms into a dance-teaching eunuch by name Brihannala.
Explanation to Lomasa
The sage Lomasa comes to Amaravati on a visit, and is surprised to see Arjuna seated on Indra’s side. He thinks to himself: Who is this Kshatriya who has attained the abode of Indra in his mortal form, a gift not given even to the greatest of sages?
Indra divines the sage’s predicament, and gives him an explanation of who Arjuna really is.
‘Arjuna is my son born of the princess Pritha of Kunti, O Sage,’ Indra says. ‘He has come here to attain weapons of pedigree in order to fight an upcoming battle on Earth, the likes of which we had never seen.
‘There were two ancient sages named Nara and Narayana, if you remember; Arjuna and Krishna are incarnations of those two people, and so they are already meritorious of reaching heaven in their current forms.
‘They have taken birth in the world of men to complete a few tasks. As you know, the number of dishonourable Kshatriyas has increased manifold on Earth in the last epoch.’
Lomasa Returns to Earth
Indra continues: ‘The time has come for a great cleansing. Also, you know of the Nivatakavachas, who live in the nether regions and have never been destroyed in spite of various attempts by the gods.
‘They have a boon that prevent them from being hurt by any celestial, so Nara-Narayana, in their human form, will attempt to eliminate them and lighten the burden of Bhoomi.
‘Return to Earth, O Sage, and proceed to the woods of Kamyaka, where Yudhishthir lives with his brothers and wife. Lighten his worry about the absence of Arjuna, for he is safe with me, and I shall ensure that he will return when the time is right.
‘Also impress upon the exiled king the need to visit all the sacred shrines of the world, for bathing in these lakes will restore them to their lost glory.
‘And, Sage Lomasa, protect the Pandavas from all the cannibalistic Rakshasas that live among the mountain slopes and forests.’
Thus, Lomasa leaves Amaravati and makes for Kamyaka, desiring to meet Yudhishthir and to carry out Indra’s order.
With the departure of Lomasa from Amaravati, the Indraloka Gamana Parva ends.