Arjuna went to the pilgrimage places in the country. Many learned sages and rishis followed Arjuna as he set out. In the midst of the group still Arjuna felt uneasy. He knew that someone was watching him. Someone unconnected with the group. But try as he might Arjuna could not find the person.
Feeling such, one day, Arjuna immersed himself in the Ganga before his daily morning prayers. That was when he felt it. A powerful surge of current came towards him. It was so strong that Arjuna was almost incapable of fighting it. Arjuna tried to pull himself back up, but the current was strong. Finally, Arjuna gave in to the current and found himself dragged deep into the darker waters, until Arjuna could see no more and he collapsed letting the water drag him further.
When Arjuna opened his eyes he found himself in one of the most beautiful and lavish palaces he had seen. For a brief second Arjuna wondered whether he was indeed back in Indraprastha. But no, the palace was different.
There he saw the unlit sacrificial fire and bowing to it, lit the fire. He prayed to Agni when he heard a rustling sound behind him.
Arjuna turned to see a beautiful woman behind him and lay stunned as he watched her. She was a ravishing beauty with deep, intelligent eyes. She was looking shyly at him as Arjuna realized that the he was definitely not hallucinating. The woman was responsible for dragging him into the waters…Arjuna was more than sure.
‘Who are you? Where am I? Why have you brought me here?’ Arjuna asked rapidly one after the other. Though he was in a strange palace with a strange woman, Arjuna did not feel threatened. Not in the least.
‘I am Uloopi! I am the daughter of Kauravaya, the king of the Nagas. My father is a descendent of Airavat!’ The woman said proudly.
Arjuna listened to the melodious words of the woman and felt a little muddled. He shook his head trying to clear his mind. ‘You still have not told me, why you have brought me here?’ He said finally.
Uloopi smiled shyly. ‘I know who you are, Arjuna! I have watched you for so many days! I…I….’ Uloopi looked almost embarrassed unable to speak any further.
Arjuna waited patiently a mischievous smile playing in his lips, as Uloopi continued. ‘I love you, great warrior!’ Uloopi said finally. ‘Will you marry me?’
‘I will marry you! But I am afraid I cannot stay here for long!’ Arjuna replied. So Arjuna married Uloopi. [Arjuna and Uloopi had a son called Iravan, who fought the Mahabharatha war.]
The very next day Uloopi left Arjuna back in the banks of the river Ganga. She also granted him a boon that he could never be defeated in water by any aquatic animal.
From there Arjuna went to the city of Manipur. There Arjuna met a beautiful woman in the garden. Arjuna followed her and found her entering the royal palace. Astonished Arjuna entered the palace himself. The guards look twice but did not try to stop the fierce looking warrior.
‘My king!’ Arjuna said bowing to the majestic man on the throne.
The king studied the bow string marks in the hands of the man and the other scars on the body. He knew for sure that the man before him was a warrior par excellence. ‘Who are you, great warrior?’ The king asked curiously offering a throne to the stranger.
‘I am Arjuna, the son of Pandu and Kunti!’ Arjuna said clutching his bow.
King Chiravahana looked almost dizzy with surprise as he got up from his throne hugging the young warrior. ‘What brings you here?’ He cried as he ordered his men for a grand feast.
‘I am in a self-imposed exile, your majesty!’ Arjuna said gravely. ‘As I was travelling, I saw your daughter! I am in love with her! If your daughter also likes me and if you are willing, would you allow our marraige?’ Arjuna said looking a little worried.
King Chitravahana was delighted but then he looked at the young warrior. One look at Chitrangada told him that Chitrangada was more than willing for the union.
He took a deep breath turning to the Pandava. ‘Before I answer your question, you need to know something about us!’ Arjuna frowned as he heard the king.
‘One of our ancestors Prabhanjana, did not have any children! He performed severe penance towards Lord Shiva. Finally when Lord Shiva appeared, he granted a boon that henceforth all of Prabhanjana's descendants would have one child!’ King Chitravahana looked at his daughter with quiet pride and said. ‘Chitrangada is my only daughter! I look upon her as my son! You see as per Lord Shiva’s boon, everyone of us would have only one child! If you marry and take Chitrangada with you, my kingdom would be without an heir!’
Arjuna nodded gravely as the king continued. ‘So my only wish is that after your marriage, Chitrangada continues to stay here! Her child would rule the kingdom later! That is my only wish!’
Arjuna looked at the earnest face of the king long and hard and finally nodded his head. ‘As you wish, your majesty!’
And so Arjuna married Chitrangada. After three years, they had a son called Babruvahana. The kingdom rejoiced as Arjuna again set out of his travels.
From there as Arjuna travelled forth he saw five powerful rivers – Agastya, Sabhadra, Pauloma, Karandhama and Bharadwaja. However strangely enough, though the rivers were surrounded by many hermitages, the sages there, almost shunned the rivers. Arjuna wondered why, as he met up with the sages.
He asked the sages who were traveling great lengths to get water from other sources. ‘Why are you avoiding these rivers sir? Are these waters dangerous or poisoned?’
The sage smiled sadly. ‘These five rivers have five extremely dangerous crocodiles, young prince! These crocodiles are vicious! No person who enters the river has ever come back alive! That is the reason, we have completely stopped using them….’
Arjuna's eyes were gleaming as he studied the swirling waters. The sage who had spoken to Arjuna watched shell-shocked as Arjuna jumped inside the river, without a backward glance.
Hearing the commotion made by the sage, quiet a few sages from nearby had come around the water and watched the rivers, worried. Before them a mighty battle had started. Arjuna was wrestling with a massive crocodile single handed. The crocodile snapped and bit back but Arjuna seemed too quick for the crocodile. He dodged and tried dragging the crocodile back to the shore. The battle was almost getting out of hand, when Arjuna heaved and dragged the huge crocodile to the shore.
Oblivious to the sages clapping for him, Arjuna lay limp on the river bank panting as he tried to get his breath back. For a second he looked at the crocodile which also looked spent and then looked shocked.
Surrounding the crocodile was a powerful halo as something bright seemed to emerge from the crocodile.
Pushing himself away from it, Arjuna rapidly tried getting up when he saw a beautiful transparent woman stand before him.
‘Who are you?’ Arjuna rasped as he saw the woman.
The woman smiled with tears in her eyes as she continued. ‘I am an apsara from Kubera’s court! I am Varga! We are cursed to be crocodiles! You freed us from the curse!’
Arjuna blinked as he understood what the woman was trying to tell him. ‘We?’
Varga nodded. ‘Saurabhya, Samichi, Vudvuda, Lata and me! Five of us!’
Arjuna nodded. Five rivers, five apsaras, five crocodiles! Varga nodded almost divining his thoughts. ‘We tried to disturb a sage who was performing some very difficult penance! For this the rishi cursed us to become crocodiles till we were delivered from the curse by a brave man!’
Varga looked proud with her tear filled eyes. ‘Thanks to you, I can now go back home! Please free my sisters too!’ She asked before she disappeared from there.
Arjuna nodded his head and then set out to the other four rivers and freed the other apsaras.
The rivers were now free of crocodiles and Arjuna felt satisfied as he watched the sages use the waters.
But the Arjuna grew restless again. He set out from the place and from there Arjuna visited Chitrangada one more time.
Arjuna saw Chitrangada and their young son Babruvahana and stayed there for some time. But then Arjuna started feeling restless.Bidding goodbye to them, Arjuna once again set out on his travels.
Unlike the other times, this time Arjuna knew exactly where he wanted to go. The yearning to go to the place was too strong. He was going to meet his Krishna. It had been ages since Arjuna had met Krishna and Arjuna knew that all his pilgrimages, everything would be useless, if he did not go to the Dark Lord.
Arjuna could not explain it, not even to himself, but any place where Krishna was, always seemed home to him. Arjuna's home. A place where he would be welcome, a place where he could be himself. Being near Krishna always made Arjuna feel complete.....
Tired from the journey, just in the outskirts of Prabhasa, the place where Krishna was staying, Arjuna slept with the smile on his lips, thinking of the Dark Lord.
'Arjuna!' Gada was standing near him. Both of them had bows and arrows as they rested from their archery practice.
Arjuna turned to see Gada, Krishna's cousin who was smiling at him. 'The only person who uses the bow and arrow as well as you do is Krishna! I have never seen anyone else so brilliant with it!'
Arjuna smiled as Gada continued. 'You know Bhadra! She keeps watching Krishna with the bow and the arrow! All the time!'
Arjuna frowned. 'Bhadra?'
Gada nodded. 'Subhadra! She is Balarama and Krishna's younger sister!' Gada nodded his head appreciatively thinking of her. 'My friend! You must see Subhadra! She is a ravishing beauty! One of the most beautiful girls, I have ever seen in my life!'
As Gada continued to describe Subhadra, an image of a beautiful girl filled the young Arjuna's mind. For some strange reason, the image just wouldn't go away. The image was so perfect that Arjuna was muddled for a few seconds just imagining it...
Arjuna woke up with a start as he realized that he had been in a sleep so deep that he had been dreaming.
Now that he was awake, the dream was almost fading away. But the memory of the girl....it did not dissolve. If anything it became stronger when he woke up.
Arjuna wondered why he had had the dream now. But then he had no answers. As Arjuna brushed himself and continued with the journey, the yearning to see the kingdom of Prabhasa was almost overpowering.
But now it was not just Krishna that Arjuna wanted to see.....