The Mahabharata is not only the longest epic known to mankind but is also full of fantastic subplots and stories that weave a tapestry so grand that it leaves you speechless. One such story is of Uloopi, the Naga princess who marries Arjuna, the 3rd among the 5 Pandava brothers, the quintessential heroes of Mahabharata.
Uloopi’s story is fantastic for 2 reasons. One, it merges the human realm with the realm of creatures we today deem as mythical. Two, the story of Uloopi threads itself with the main storyline of Mahabharata at multiple points so seamlessly that it leaves you wondering how different the main story would have been if not for the character of Uloopi.
Uloopi is a Naga princess. The Nagas are a subterranean half-human, a half reptilian race of creatures. They reside in the Nagaloka, an underground realm, away from the interference of humans and other terrestrial creatures.
The daughter of King Kauravya, Uloopi also goes by the names of Uloopika and Uluchi. Once, while she lay on the banks of River Ganga, she happens to lay eyes on a handsome man with well-built features. Dressed in simple hermit-like garb, the man had a muscular body, an elegant pose, a sharp look loaded with intent. He also had a taut bow in his right hand.
She instantly falls in love with this stranger. She decides that she must have him as her partner for life. Using her magical powers, she created a suction force that pulled the man down into the water of the Ganges as soon as he had stepped into the river to wash his face.
Despite his struggles, the power of Uloopi pulled the man down to depths and into a magical city underwater. Surprised that he could still breathe underwater, the man was witnessing the magical city in front of him when he was confronted by Uloopi.
“Who are you handsome stranger?”, asked Uloopi.
Though perplexed, the stranger gathered his thoughts and replied, “I am Arjuna, the 3rd of the Pandavas of Hastinapur. I was washing my face on the banks of river Ganga when a powerful whirlpool sucked me in here.”
“Oh Arjuna! Who does not know about you and your daredevil exploits?”, exclaimed Uloopi while pinching herself to make sure she was not dreaming.
“Who are you, fair maiden?”, asked Arjuna.
“I am Uloopi, the daughter of the Naga King Kauravya – the Lord of the Underworld. I am the one who dragged you down the Ganga for I was smitten by you and wish to have you as my husband”, replied Uloopi bashfully.
Arjuna got the answer to the question of how he found himself standing in the Nagaloka. However, the second part of the answer given by Uloopi perplexed him.
“My pranams to you princess, daughter of King Kauravya. I am honoured to be your guest. However, I cannot marry you. One, I am married and two, I am currently observing celibacy”, explained Arjuna.
Uloopi was not one to give up and said, “I have heard of your exploits as an archer and have been your ardent admirer. I also know of how Draupadi came to be the common wife of all the Pandava brothers. However, I am curious as to why you are observing celibacy”.
Arjuna’s Vow of Celibacy as explained to Uloopi – the Naga princess
Arjuna narrated to her the following story.
Soon after our marriage to Draupadi, we had Sage Narada visit us. We sought his blessings. He blessed all of us but also mentioned the story of two asura brothers, Sunda and Upasunda, from a time long gone by.
Sunda and Upasunda, the two Asura brothers were very fond of each other and inseparable. They prayed to Lord Brahma and sought the boon of invincibility. Lord Brahma refused and asked them to choose something else. They chose to be killed only at the hands of each other, thinking that it was a thing whose occurrence was next to impossible, given their love for each other.
Soon, word reached the trinity of Gods, Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva that the two brothers were wreaking havoc on Earth (Bhumi), the Heavens (Swargaloka) and the Netherworld (Patalaloka). Something had to be done about these two brothers to restore peace and tranquillity across the world. Brahma, who had granted them their boon, revealed this to Shiva and Vishnu. He also came up with a plan to break the unity of the two brothers.
Brahma created Thilotthama, a maiden so beautiful that even the devas swooned over her beauty. Thillothama was tasked with creating a rift among the two brothers.
Using her beauty as her weapon, Thilotthama managed to evoke similar feelings of love for her among both the brothers. She succeeded in sowing the seeds of animosity for each other in the minds of the two brothers. Forgetting that they were brothers, the brothers fought with each other. They even forgot all about the boon that had been granted to them by Lord Brahma.
The brothers, both intent on marrying Thilotthama, were up against each other and eventually killed each other. So the love for a woman is so rousing that it can even cause brothers born of the same mother to plot against each other.
Sage Narada cautioned us against a similar fate as the two asura brothers, that might befall us unless we took concrete measures to safeguard ourselves against such a possibility. He offered a solution too by which we could share Draupadi amongst the five of us.
Sage Narada advised us to lay down some ground rules. Based on his advice it was decided that each of us brothers would live with Draupadi for a year starting with the eldest brother Yudhishthira.
During that time, the other brothers will have no rights over her. Also, if any other Pandava happens to walk into the room of their brother when Draupadi is alone with him, then he would have to go into exile for 12 years and also observe a vow of celibacy.
All of us including Draupadi accepted these conditions that we laid down for ourselves.
Sometime later, a cowherd came running to me shouting, “Sir! help me. My cows are being driven away by thieves”. I sprung into action only to realise that my bow of choice, the Gandiva was in my eldest brother Yudhisthira’s room.
As I proceeded to fetch my bow, I saw the door closed. The voices of Draupadi and my brother enjoying a lighter moment floated out to my ears. I thought for a moment. If I barged into the room, I would have to go into exile for 12 years. If I did not, the cowherd would end up losing all his cows.
I made my decision. I swung the door open and without a word went to the wall where my Gandiva was hung, took it and walked out of the room. My brother and Draupadi were looking at me in horror for they too realised what this breach of their privacy meant.
I cared not, for saving the cowherd’s cows, was the topmost priority on my mind and I succeeded in vanquishing the thieves and rescuing the cattle.
It was then that I faced my other brothers and Draupadi. Yudhishthira tried to convince me to give up on the idea of exile as the gravity of the situation demanded I take a quick decision. Hence the breach of privacy could be overlooked and the rule relaxed as an exception. However, I was adamant about undergoing the 12-year exile for having broken a rule to which we were all bound.
Everybody agreed with a heavy heart knowing very well my determination once I had made up my mind. Hence I started my journey and here I am.
Saying So, Arjuna concluded his story.
Uloopi, having come to know the illustrious background of the stranger who had stolen her heart was all the more determined to become Arjuna’s wife.
She convinced him that his celibacy was towards Draupadi and that in no way prevented him from marrying another lady.
So it came to be that Uloopi wedded Arjuna. Arjuna spent a year at Uloopi’s palace in Nagaloka. They were blessed with a child they named Iravan. At the end of the year, Arjuna recollected his responsibilities and decides to bid Uloopi and his child goodbye.
It is later during the Kurukshetra war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas that Iravan is reunited briefly with his dad Arjuna. That story will need to wait for another day.
Uloopi – the Naga princess brings Arjuna back to life
Later during the Mahabharata war, Arjuna is cursed by the Vasus (the brothers of Bhishma) for having killed his grandfather Bhishma. They curse that he too would be killed by a loved family member.
On coming to know of this, Uloopi prays to the Gods who give her a solution to this curse. She coaxes Arjuna to invade the kingdom of Manipur in the northeast of India as part of the Ashwamedha Yagna conducted by Emperor Yudhishthira.
He is encountered by a prince named Babruvahana who seizes the Yagna horse thereby challenging the Emperor’s hegemony. This enrages Arjuna who had been following the free-roaming horse, as its guardian. He challenges Baruvahana to a fight.
Unknowingly, Babruvahana is Arjuna’s own son from Chitrangadha, the princess of Manipur he had married when he was on the 12-year exile for trespassing the privacy of his brother Yudhisthira and Draupadi.
In the battle, the curse of the Vasus gets realised and Arjuna is slain. Babruvahana, on knowing the truth, breaks down for having killed his own father.
Uloopi on the other hand, aware of the solution the Gods had revealed to her, brings the Naga-mani, a special life-giving gemstone that the Naga people are believed to safeguard. She places this on the chest of the dead Arjuna and breathes back life into him. Thus Arjun lives again and the curse of the Vasus comes true.