Not just one of Arjuna’s wives
Characters from mythology, since time immemorial, have captured human imagination and form a very strong basis of our perception of social relationships and roles. That’s the major reason that characters like Arjuna, Draupadi, Sita and many more from our mythology resurface every now and then in literary discourse, newspaper articles, theatre and cinematic expressions.
The story of Arjuna and Uloopi fascinates me. Of all the Pandavas, Arjuna was the most handsome and an acclaimed archer, making him the most sought after. He won Draupadi in the archery competition set by King Drupad. But the strange utterance by Kunti made Draupadi the wife of five husbands.
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She captured him and demanded he marry her
The five Pandavas in due course of time took different wives, primarily out of political motives and also due to male desire. It is hard to remain celibate while Draupadi consorts with one of the other Pandava brothers. Arjuna once violates the arrangement of marriage and enters his brother’s chamber. As a result, he has to go on exile for one year. In this exile period, one day while he is bathing in the river, Nagkanya Uloopi, daughter of Kouravya, catches him and takes him deep down under water to her father’s kingdom. She proposes marriage. How forthright and ahead of times this was, in an age when women abided by societal norms enforced by fathers, brothers and husbands.
Uloopi is completely smitten by Arjuna and overpowered by desire for him. Arjuna, tied by moral and familial commitments, refuses. Uloopi just wants to marry Arjuna without binding him to any commitments or responsibilities. Uloopi’s arguments win Arjuna’s heart and he marries her. Their one night of intimacy leads to the birth of son Iravan, who later plays an important role in the Kurukshetra battle. Arjuna leaves Uloopi’s abode, as he has to live his destiny and chart a new course in history. Uloopi agrees to this lovingly and without any expectations single-handedly raises Iravan.
Related reading: Chitrangada: the woman who changed gender to marry Arjun
She lived apart, but with no qualms
Apart from the Mahabharata, Uloopi finds mention in the Vishnu and Bhagwat Puranas. She has a fair share in shaping the destiny of Arjuna. Despite Uloopi’s great sacrifice, Draupadi is credited with playing a pivotal role in shaping the destiny of the Pandavas. The nuptial vows with Uloopi don’t affect the precious bond of Arjuna and Draupadi. Marital harmony prevailed primarily due to the fact that Uloopi continued to live in her father’s house. Distance was instrumental in fostering this harmony.
How empowered, intelligent Uloopi was, to commit herself to the love of her life. The boundaries she set for herself ruled her life and she sailed smoothly. Never do we come across instances of her being cross with Arjuna or making demands; rather she saves Arjuna from the curse of the Vasus. When she gets to know about the curse she seeks her father’s help. Her father goes to Ganga and Ganga says that Arjuna will be killed by his son Babruvahana and will come back to life when Uloopi places a gem on his chest.
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Using her knowledge to mitigate disaster
Knowing these prophecies, Uloopi instigates Babruvahana to fight with Arjuna when he visits the Kouravya kingdom during the Ashwamedha sacrifice. Battle ensues between father and son, and Arjuna dies after being gravely injured. Uloopi rushes in with the gem and restores him back to life. Arjuna is deeply moved when he comes to know the story. He offers to take his sons and wife back to his home which was long overdue. Uloopi goes to her marital home and gets the respect she long deserved.
Doesn’t this story set us thinking? Marrying by choice, knowing that this communion isn’t going to last more than a day. Bearing the fruit of love and raising him to live a destiny to be remembered by humanity. Embracing her husband’s vows of celibacy as her own for her entire life. How complacent she was to let her husband return to his first wife. Wasn’t she ever overwhelmed by the demands of being a single mother, a married daughter residing in her father’s house, which even now continues to be a stigma? How did she fight her own desires?
There are many questions which erupt out of Arjuna and Uloopi’s liaison. Each character had a role to play in the history of humanity.