Sunday, January 18, 2009

PDE Mahabharata: Arjuna and Chitra

Reading Guide. In the selection below you will see a very brief summary of the story of Arjuna and Chitra, the daughter of the King of Manipur. In the traditional version of the story, the king is reluctant for Arjuna to marry his daughter because he needs her to have a son to carry on the royal succession. So, Arjuna and Chitra marry and have a son, but the son stays in Manipur and goes on to become king. There will be a dramatic encounter between Arjuna and his son when, many years later, Arjuna returns to Manipur.

The second part of the reading is from the opening scene of Rabindranath Tagore's play Chitra in which Tagore imagines his own version of the story: the king has decided to raise his daughter as a son, and Chitra becomes a powerful warrior. She falls in love with Arjuna, though, and this leads to a very complicated drama. In this scene, Chitra speaks about her dilemma with Madana, also known as Kama, the god of love. If you are intrigued by this story of a woman raised to be a man who then falls in love with the hero Arjuna, you might want to read Tagore's play later this semester! You can also read a plot summary at Wikipedia.

Source. The summary comes from Indian Myth and Legend by Donald A. Mackenzie (1913). The dialogue between Madana and Chitra is from Chitra by Rabindranath Tagore (1913). [700 words]

Apsaras | 32. Arjuna and Chitra | Subhadra

So Arjuna wandered from holy place to holy place until he reached Manipur. Now the rajah of that place had a beautiful daughter whose name was Chitra. Arjuna loved her, and sought her for his bride. The rajah said, "I have no other child, and if I give her unto thee, her son must remain here to become my heir, for the god Shiva hath decreed that the rajahs of this realm can have each but one child." Arjuna married the maiden, and he dwelt for three years at Manipur. A son was born. Thereafter Arjuna set out on his wanderings once more.

From Tagore's Chitra:

CHITRA. Art thou the god with the five darts, the Lord of Love?

MADANA. I am he who was the first born in the heart of the Creator.  I bind in bonds of pain and bliss the lives of men and women!

CHITRA. I know, I know what that pain is and those bonds. I am Chitra, the daughter of the kingly house of Manipur. With godlike grace Lord Shiva promised to my royal grandsire an unbroken line of male descent. Nevertheless, the divine word proved powerless to change the spark of life in my mother's womb — so invincible was my nature, woman though I be.

MADANA. I know, that is why thy father brings thee up as his son. He has taught thee the use of the bow and all the duties of a king.

CHITRA. Yes, that is why I am dressed in man's attire and have left the seclusion of a woman's chamber. I know no feminine wiles for winning hearts. My hands are strong to bend the bow, but I have never learnt Cupid's archery, the play of eyes.

MADANA. That requires no schooling, fair one. The eye does its work untaught, and he knows how well, who is struck in the heart.

CHITRA. One day in search of game I roved alone to the forest on the bank of the Purna river. Tying my horse to a tree trunk I entered a dense thicket on the track of a deer. I found a narrow, sinuous path meandering through the dusk of the entangled boughs, the foliage vibrated with the chirping of crickets, when of a sudden I came upon a man lying on a bed of dried leaves across my path. I asked him haughtily to move aside, but he heeded not. Then with the sharp end of my bow I pricked him in contempt. Instantly he leapt up with straight, tall limbs, like a sudden tongue of fire from a heap of ashes. An amused smile flickered round the corners of his mouth, perhaps at the sight of my boyish countenance. Then for the first time in my life I felt myself a woman, and knew that a man was before me.

MADANA. At the auspicious hour I teach the man and the woman this supreme lesson to know themselves. What happened after that?

CHITRA. With fear and wonder I asked him "Who are you?" "I am Arjuna," he said, "of the great Kuru clan." I stood petrified like a statue, and forgot to do him obeisance. Was this indeed Arjuna, the one great idol of my dreams! Yes, I had long ago heard how he had vowed a twelve-years' celibacy. Many a day my young ambition had spurred me on to break my lance with him, to challenge him in disguise to single combat, and prove my skill in arms against him. Ah, foolish heart, whither fled thy presumption? Could I but exchange my youth with all its aspirations for the clod of earth under his feet, I should deem it a most precious grace. I know not in what whirlpool of thought I was lost, when suddenly I saw him vanish through the trees. O foolish woman, neither didst thou greet him, nor speak a word, nor beg forgiveness, but stoodest like a barbarian boor while he contemptuously walked away! . . . Next morning I laid aside my man's clothing. I donned bracelets, anklets, waist-chain, and a gown of purple red silk. The unaccustomed dress clung about my shrinking shame, but I hastened on my quest, and found Arjuna in the forest temple of Shiva.

[You can read Tagore's play later in the semester to find out how the drama continues!]

Apsaras | Arjuna and Chitrangada Krishna

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