Arjuna is the most powerful warrior in the Mahabharata universe. He is the third of the Pandavas in order of seniority, born after Yudhishthir and Bhimasena.
He is the last of Kunti’s children. After his birth, Kunti decides that she will summon no more gods and bear no more sons. Nakula and Sahadeva, the fourth and fifth of the Pandavas respectively, are born to Madri, Pandu’s second wife.
In this post, we will answer the question: Why did Arjuna marry Chitrangada?
Arjuna meets Chitrangada in her city of Manipura while on his twelve-year exile from Indraprastha. He falls in love with Chitrangada and asks for her hand from her father. No reason is given for his behaviour – but one can surmise that he thinks an alliance with Manipura will strengthen Indraprastha and Yudhishthir’s reach.
Read on to discover more about why Arjuna married Chitrangada.
(For answers to all Arjuna-related questions, see Arjuna: 51 Questions about the Mahabharata Hero Answered.)
A Celibate Exile
Arjuna’s self-imposed twelve-year exile during the first year of Yudhishthir’s reign is meant to be a celibate one. Contrite at disturbing the privacy of Yudhishthir and Draupadi, Arjuna takes the vow of celibacy and sets out to journey around the country in the company of sages and pious men.
But very early on in his wanderings, he has a sexual encounter with the Naga princess Ulupi, which changes the complexion of his ‘exile’.
We must note that at this time, Yudhishthir is not yet an emperor. He is only ruling over a small city in the corner of the Kuru kingdom – called Khandavaprastha. Arjuna’s voyage, therefore, may have had diplomatic reasons too.
He ends up taking three wives and having three children during these twelve years: Iravan with Ulupi, Babruvahana with Chitrangada, and Abhimanyu with Subhadra.
Perhaps more importantly, he brings home three strategic alliances for Yudhishthir, the most important of which is the one he forges with Krishna and the Vrishnis.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 14: Exile of Arjuna.)
The Princess of Manipura
Shortly after his meeting with Ulupi, Arjuna reaches the Mahendra mountain (Mahendragiri in Orissa), then goes to Kalinga, and from there, ‘proceeding slowly along the seashore’, reaches Manipura.
This must be a kingdom located somewhere along the northeast in the neighbourhood of present-day West Bengal. The modern state of Manipur is not located along the coast, so it is probably not the same one.
Though it is described here that Arjuna ‘falls in love’ with Chitrangada, that alone cannot be the reason for his proposal. He must have seen something about the kingdom of Manipura that made him think it would make a good ally to Khandavaprastha.
In any case, here he meets the princess of Manipura named Chitrangada, and falls in love with her. When he approaches her father, the king Chitravahana, for her hand, he tells the Pandava a story regarding their dynasty.
‘There was a king in our line called Prabhankara,’ says the king, ‘who was childless. With severe penance he pleased Lord Shiva and asked him for a child.
‘The lord was so pleased with Prabhankara’s conduct that he granted that every generation of kings following Prabhankara’s will give birth to one child and one child only. However, the lord assured my ancestor that none of the children will die before they have had an opportunity to sire a child themselves.
‘So the throne of Manipura will never be left heirless, nor will it ever succumb to infighting because there is always just one successor with a claim to kingship.
‘All my ancestors after Prabhankara have been male. But to me was born Chitrangada, the princess whom you wish to marry.
‘In order for her to continue the line of her father, I made her my putrika. So she will bear only one child, and her child will remain in Manipura and rule the land in due course.’
‘What if Chitrangada also has a daughter, O King?’ asks Arjuna.
‘She will be made a putrika as well, and she will remain in the kingdom after her marriage, so that her children will be brought up in Manipura to become rulers in their time.’
Having heard Chitravahana’s condition that Chitrangada will not be allowed to leave the kingdom after marriage, and that her children will grow up to be heirs of Manipura’s throne, Arjuna essentially has two choices.
He can refuse and go on his way, thus foregoing the alliance; or he can accept and marry Chitrangada. He makes the latter choice, and stays with Chitrangada at Manipura for a period of a year – during which a boy is born to them.
They name the child Babruvahana. In time, he grows up to succeed Chitravahana as king of Manipura.
Babruvahana does not fight in the Mahabharata war, for reasons that are not clear. However, he does have a memorable part to play in the story after the war, when he fights and kills Arjuna at Ulupi’s urging.
(Suggested: Mahabharata Episode 57: Arjuna Fights Babruvahana.)
Arjuna Leaves Chitrangada
After marrying Chitrangada and staying with her for a year, Arjuna once again is faced with three possible choices:
- He can either continue to live at Manipura with his wife and child.
- He can leave them and resume his journey around the world.
- He can stay at Manipura for the remainder of his exile, and then return to Khandavaprastha at the end of twelve years.
The first choice is a non-starter with Arjuna because his real life is back in the Kuru kingdom, with his brothers and Draupadi. This exile is merely an interlude.
The third path sounds like a reasonable one, but Arjuna also has ambitions to see the world, to meet rulers of different kingdoms, take Yudhishthir’s message to them, and to build friendships.
Manipura has served its purpose in one year; it is already now a friend to the Pandavas. What more can he achieve politically by staying there for the rest of his exile?
So Arjuna decides that the best course of action is to leave his wife and child behind, and to continue on his travels.
In hindsight, this decision by Arjuna to leave Chitrangada and Babruvahana behind in Manipura immediately after the child’s birth is a sound one, because it leads him directly to Krishna in Dwaraka – and to Subhadra.
Of the three alliances that Arjuna builds during his exile, the one with Krishna and the Yadavas is the most valuable. Not only does it strengthen an already existing family bond, but the Yadavas become a strong force in their own right as time goes on, and Krishna’s support for Arjuna at Kurukshetra proves invaluable.
The foundation for that friendship between the two men is laid, of course, during Arjuna’s exile when he visits Dwaraka.
Arjuna’s marriage to Subhadra also gives him his favourite son – Abhimanyu. As a young man, Abhimanyu plays an important role in turning the Kurukshetra war on its head.
(Suggested: Who was Arjuna’s favourite son?)
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