The Pandavas had to spend the 13th year of their exile in disguise.
Yudhisthira despatched all their charioteers, maids and cooks to his father-in-law Drupada, along with their priest Dhaumya and he sent their empty chariots to Sri Krishna in Dwaraka, along with Indrasena. (Their vanavasam was clearly far more comfortable than the vanavasam of Sri Rama.)
“Let our priest, accompanied by charioteers and cooks, repair to the abode of Drupada, and there maintain our Agnihotra fires. And let Indrasena and the others, taking with then the empty cars, speedily proceeded to Dwaravati. Even this is my wish. And let all these maid-servants of Draupadi go to the Panchalas, with our charioteers and cooks. And let all of them say, –We do not know where the Pandavas have gone leaving us at the lake of Dwaitavana.“.. Mahabharata, Virata Parva, translation by Kisari Mohan Gangulu (Source).
Dhaumya gave them detailed advice on how to behave the presence of a king, since now they would be going incognito, in the service of the king. Yudhishthira was very concerned about how Arjuna among all people could be disguised.
He said, “And what office will be performed by that mighty descendant of the Kurus, Dhananjaya, the son of Kunti, that foremost of men possessed of long arms, invincible in fight, and before whom, while he was staying with Krishna, the divine Agni himself desirous of consuming the forest of Khandava had formerly appeared in the guise of a Brahmana? What office will be performed by that best of warriors, Arjuna, who proceeded to that forest and gratified Agni, vanquishing on a single car and slaying huge Nagas and Rakshasas, and who married the sister of Vasuki himself, the king of the Nagas? Even as the sun is the foremost of all heat-giving bodies, as the Brahmana is the best of all bipeds, as the cobra is the foremost of all serpents, as Fire is the first of all things possessed of energy, as the thunderbolt is the foremost of all weapons, as the humped bull is the foremost of all animals of the bovine breed, as the ocean is the foremost of all watery expanses, as clouds charged with rain are the foremost of all clouds, as Ananta is the first of all Nagas, as Airavata is the foremost of all elephants, as the son is the foremost of all beloved objects, and lastly, as the wife is the best of all friends, so, O Vrikodara, is the youthful Gudakesa, the foremost of all bowmen. And O Bharata, what office will be performed by Vibhatsu, the wielder of Gandiva, whose car is drawn by white horses, and who is not inferior to Indra or Vasudeva Himself? What office will be performed by Arjuna who, dwelling for five years in the abode of the thousand-eyed Deity (Indra) shining in celestial lustre, acquired by his own energy the science of superhuman arms with all celestial weapons, and whom I regard as the tenth Rudra, the thirteenth Aditya, the ninth Vasu, and the tenth Graha, whose arms, symmetrical and long, have the skin hardened by constant strokes of the bowstring and cicatrices which resemble those on the humps of bulls,–that foremost of warriors who is as Himavat among mountains, the ocean among expanses of water, Sakra among the celestial, Havya-vaha (fire) among the Vasus, the tiger among beasts, and Garuda among feathery tribes!”
Arjuna replied, “O lord of the Earth, I will declare myself as one of the neuter sex. O monarch, it is, indeed difficult to hide the marks of the bowstring on my arms. I will, however, cover both my cicatrized (scarred) arms with bangles. Wearing brilliant rings on my ears and conch-bangles on my wrists and causing a braid to hang down from my head, I shall, O king, appear as one of the third sex, Brihannala by name. And living as a female I shall (always) entertain the king and the inmates of the inner apartments by reciting stories. And, O king, I shall also instruct the women of Virata’s palace in singing and delightful modes of dancing and in musical instruments of diverse kinds. And I shall also recite the various excellent acts of men and thus conceal myself, O son of Kunti, by feigning disguise. And, O Bharata should the king enquire, I will say that, I lived as a waiting maid of Draupadi in Yudhishthira’s palace. And, O foremost of kings, concealing myself by this means, as fire is concealed by ashes, I shall pass my days agreeably in the palace of Virata.”
Arjuna, as Brihannala, teaching princess Uttara, the daughter of Virata Raja, how to dance. (The part of Arjuna was played by the icon of the Telugu people, actor, Sri N.T. Rama Rao).
And for purposes of non-discovery Yudhisthira kept these (five) names for himself and his brothers respectively, viz., Jaya, Jayanta, Vijaya, Jayatsena, and Jayatvala.
All the brothers and Draupadi entered, the kingdom of Virata in their various disguises. This is Brihannala’s entry.
“Vaisampayana said, ‘Next appeared at the gate of the ramparts another person of enormous size and exquisite beauty decked in the ornaments of women, and wearing large ear-rings and beautiful conch-bracelets overlaid with gold. And that mighty-armed individual with long and abundant hair floating about his neck, resembled an elephant in gait. And shaking the very earth with his tread, he approached Virata and stood in his court. And beholding the son of the great Indra, shining with exquisite lustre and having the gait of a mighty elephant,–that grinder of foes having his true form concealed in disguise, entering the council-hall and advancing towards the monarch, the king addressed all his courtiers, saying, ‘Whence doth this person come? I have never heard of him before.’ And when the men present spoke of the newcomer as one unknown to them, the king wonderingly said, ‘Possessed of great strength, thou art like unto a celestial, and young and of darkish hue, thou resemblest the leader of a herd of elephants. Wearing conch-bracelets overlaid with gold, a braid, and ear-rings, thou shinest yet like one amongst those that riding on chariots wander about equipped with mail and bow and arrows and decked with garlands and fine hair. I am old and desirous of relinquishing my burden. Be thou like my son, or rule thou like myself all the Matsyas. It seemeth to me that such a person as thou can never be of the neuter sex.’
“Arjuna said, ‘I sing, dance, and play on instruments. I am proficient in dance and skilled in song. O lord of men, assign me unto (the princess) Uttara. I shall be dancing-master to the royal maiden. As to how I have come by this form, what will it avail thee to hear the account which will only augment my pain? Know me, O king of men, to be Vrihannala, a son or daughter without father or mother.’ ”Virata said, ‘O Vrihannala, I give thee what thou desirest. Instruct my daughter, and those like her, in dancing. To me, however, this office seemeth unworthy of thee. Thou deserves! (the dominion of) the entire earth girt round by the ocean.’ “Vaisampayana continued, ‘The king of the Matsyas then tested Vrihannala in dancing, music, and other fine arts, and consulting with his various ministers forthwith caused him to be examined by women. And learning that this impotency was of a permanent nature, he sent him to the maiden’s apartments. And there the mighty Arjuna began giving lessons in singing and instrumental music to the daughter of Virata, her friends, and her waiting-maids, and soon won their good graces. And in this manner the self-possessed Arjuna lived there in disguise, partaking of pleasures in their company, and unknown to the people within or without the palace.‘” Source
There is an incident in the Indralokagamana Parva of the Vana Parva, which explains why Arjuna had to live for 1 year as a eunuch among women.
During the 12 year Vanavasam (life in the forest – exile), Arjuna spent a lot of time acquiring divine weapons. As a part of this process, he spent 5 years in Devaloka with Indra, where he was always referred to as Phaluguna. (One lunar masa (month) and two lunar constellations (nakshatras) are named Phaluguna. Uttara Phalguna is Denebola.) The divinely beautiful Apsara Urvasi approached Arjuna for a union and he turned her down as she was the wife of the Pururavas from whom he was descended (even though not genetically).
… And the upper half of her body clad in an attire of fine texture and cloudy hues, she looked resplendent like a digit of the moon in the firmament shrouded by fleecy clouds. And endued with the speed of the winds or the mind, she of luminous smiles soon reached the mansion of Phalguna, the son of Pandu…
..”Arjuna replied, ‘O beautiful lady of features perfectly faultless, listen. I truly tell thee. Let the four directions and the transverse directions, let also the gods listen. O sinless one, as Kunti, or Madri, or Sachi, is to me, so art thou, the parent of my race, an object of reverence to me. Return, O thou of the fairest complexion: I bend my head unto thee, and prostrate myself at thy feet. Thou deservest my worship as my own mother; and it behoveth thee to protect me as a son.’”
…”Thus addressed by Partha, Urvasi was deprived of her senses by wrath. Trembling with rage, and contracting her brows, she cursed Arjuna, saying, ‘Since thou disregardest a woman come to thy mansion at the command of thy father and of her own motion–a woman, besides, who is pierced by the shafts of Kama, therefore, O Partha, thou shalt have to pass thy time among females unregarded, and as a dancer, and destitute of manhood and scorned as a eunuch.’”
…Harivahana, (Indra) calling his son unto himself in private, and consoling him in sweet words, smilingly said, ‘O thou best of beings, having obtained thee, O child, Pritha hath to-day become a truly blessed mother. O mighty-armed one, thou hast now vanquished even Rishis by the patience and self-control. But, O giver of proper respect, the curse that Urvasi hath denounced on thee will be to thy benefit, O child, and stand thee in good stead. O sinless one, ye will have on earth to pass the thirteenth year (of your exile), unknown to all. It is then that thou shalt suffer the curse of Urvasi. And having passed one year as a dancer without manhood, thou shalt regain thy power on the expiration of the term.’
- As per traditional calculations, 5 years of our time is but 5 days in the Devaloka. So in the time that Urvasi’s descendants flourished on the earth, she had not aged at all.
- Indra was Arjuna’s father, his brother Chandra (Moon) was the grandfather of Pururavas.
- Harivahana (the vehicle of Hari) is usually an epithet for Garuda, used to refer to Indra here.
- The arani sticks which are rubbed together to get fire are called Pururavas and Urvasi.
- Phaluguna Masa is the last month of the Sisira Rtu as well as the last month of the year. (Next month is Chaitra).
- Phalguna keeps talking to Chitrasena in this narrative.
- Indra is also the Vishu Bindu. See : In the Rk Veda, the Vishu Bindu referred to Indra. Click here for details.
I think there is far more to this story than meets the eye.
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