—Parshuram (Rajshekhar Basu)

Translation: Miah Rashiduzzaman

King of the gods Indra inquired, ‘What is your inclination Urvasi? I see you’re in great happiness in this Heavenly abode enjoying splendid dwelling, nice pleasure-garden, very costly costumes and ornaments, large amount of wages and all else. Why do you desire to descend to earth? Now His Majesty Pururava is not living there that he might adore you above all. You remain ever youthful, untainted, worshiped by the lord of gods in Heaven, but on earth you will grow old in two days; then nobody will give you a second look whatever amount of make-ups you may cement on your face.’

Urvasi answered with downcast face, ‘Lord of gods, I feel bored here. I have conquered all male persons. I no more find pleasure in their monotonous flattery. If I descend to earth, I’ll have numberless admirers around me, and no less amount of money. If I find ageing prospect in me, then I may come back here.’

—You possess much arrogance, I see. What lack of cordiality do you find here?

—Lot more adoration awaits me among humans. A poet on earth has written,

Saints break with meditation

Offer the achievement at the foot,

The universe wears a look of youthful gaiety

At a single glance of you.[*]

Which poet of the Amaravati can write like this?

—Poets write bags of lies. If you can prove that you have won all male persons here, then I can leave you. Can you conquer the devarshies (godly saints) and maharshies (great saints)?

—They have been subdued long, long ago.

—All right, I will take a test of your capability. Do you know the divya-manabs? Those who roam freely from earth to heaven, such as Sanat Kumar, Sanatan, Sanak and Sadananda. They are the brainchildren of Brahma. I do not want to bother them; they are so headstrong saints. Well, three more have lately been here on a visit. They are Kutuk, Parvat and Kardam. These saints are a good bit peaceful and utterly indifferent. Can you conquer these three?

—If they are masculine then why not?

—They are not only masculine, they are great ones.

—Then I’ll pour on them great debacle.

—Very well. They are friends of devarshi Narad. I shall tell Narad to invite them to my court to enjoy your dance.

The three saints were very pleased at the news of the invitation from Narad. They said, ‘We have seen peacocks, the wagtails, even apes and bears to dance, but we have never enjoyed the dance of a woman. We have great curiosity for that. But we heard that Urvasi is a nymph, is she really a woman?’

Narad replied, ‘Such a woman for whom:

All on a sudden, the heart in man’s chest

Goes unstable, blood dances throu’ the veins.[†]

You will be enchanted if you see her performance. Now get ready to visit the court of Indra.’

The beard of saint Parvat is cast down to his throat, Kardam’s is to his chest and Kutuk’s to knees. They got ready for the visit by dressing themselves as civil as they could. Parvat wore a balkal (the rind of a large tree cut into the shape of cloth), Kardama got a koupeen (short piece of loin-cloth worn as some sort of suspensor). The great ascetic Kutuk was utterly devoid of any possession or desire; he did not have either balkals or koupeens and so he remained naked. Narad insisted, ‘O Kutuk, wear at least a mekhla (waist-lace) of grass-bunch.’ Kutuk replied, ‘I have no need for that. The knee-long beard itself is my garment.’

After conventionally welcoming the newly arrived saints with water to wash foot, presentations, seat etc., Indra said, ‘O very austere, accomplished, self-restrained, great ascetics, our principal nymph Urvasi will perform, a very wonderful composition of dancing to entertain you—nirmok dance, which the heathens of the western part of earth call striptease. Agni, Bayu, Barun &c. of gods, Narad and other godly saints, Agastya and the great saints—all have gathered here; Menoka and other nymphs are also present. We are grateful that you have come. Now please allow Urvasi to start dancing.

—The spokesman of the three guest ascetics, great saint Kutuk said, ‘Yes, yes, what is the necessity to delay? We are eagerly waiting for the show.’

Urvasi entered the court with a veil on her dress pretty suitable for lusty dancing. Nodding to everyone present, she said with her palms closed together, ‘O magnanimous gods, and flame-like saints, in the nirmok dance I am going to perform, my body will be gradually uncovered. Don’t you really have  any objection to it?’

Swaying his head and enormous beard Kutuk said, ‘Why should we object to? Your body too, like all animals, is an admixture of the five primary elements. We want to see where rests the womanhood in that.’

Urvasi again very politely uttered, ‘If you find anything obscene or ugly in my dance, you will please tell me; I shall stop dancing that very moment.’

Casting away the veil she brought out her illusory dress, brightened with the glare of the stones, pearls and gold pieces that decorated it. Then, after dancing for some time, she released her scarf from her body.

Raising his hand saint Parvat said, ‘Stop Urvasi. There is very little presence of civility in your dance, I see. We don’t want to enjoy this sort of heart-pricking dancing.’

Great saint Kutuk scolded him by saying, ‘Your heart pricks, then what can we do? You keep your eyes shut, let the dance carry on.’

Urvasi  told Indra on the sly, ‘Lord, Parvat has been brought to bay.’

The Dance went on. Parvat covered his face with his palms but could not subdue his curiosity and began to watch the dance through the finger holes.

Gradually Urvasi exposed the upper part of her body. Then Kardam shaded his eyes and said, ‘Urvasi, if we watch such alluring dance of you, our meditation will be spoilt. So stop.’

Kutuk condemned him saying, ‘Why should she? If you cannot bear it, you may go away.’

With a smiling lash of eye Urvasi informed Indra that Kardam had been subjugated.

After that Urvasi stripped herself of all cloths and ornaments and throwing those onto the ground stood still like a stone-cut effigy with a lily-white naked appearance.

The gods, devarshis and maharshis chanted, ‘Encore, encore!’

Kutuk now said, ‘Why did you stop, Urvasi? Discard more nirmoks.’

Narad inturrupted, ‘Where did you find more nirmoks? Urvasi has put off all her coverings.’

Kutuk said, ‘Right there is a purplish white covering like lily blossom over her whole body.’

—You see that is her skin.

—Tell her to discard that.

—Have you gone mad, Kutuk? Skin is an inseparable part of the body. It is not garment.

—It may not be garment but it is a sort of covering. Let her put off this wrapper also. I want to see what is inside it.

Narad said, ‘I tell you what is under it. Beneath the skin there is fat, and farther inside there is the skeleton.’

—What is there far more inside?

—Absolutely nothing.

—Then where rests that womanhood of Urvasi that impels: ‘All on a sudden, the heart in man’s bust is unstable, blood dances through the veins’?

—Womanhood lies in her dress, ornaments, parts of body, postures and gestures, and in the hearts of admirers. You are a senseless sot. You have burnt your heart into ashes. How could you see?

The great saint Kutuk went red in anger and retorted, “You invited me here to play fool with me? This Urvasi is a worthless animal. Does she have any difference with a goat? O Parvat, O Kardam, let us leave this place for there is nothing worth-seeing here.”

The other nymphs like Menoka, Ghritachi, Mishrakeshi in a body clapped in joy at the sight of Urvasi’s indignation.

After Kutuk, Parvat and Kardam had left, Urvasi began to sob with her head down. Indra tried to sooth her, “Urvasi, be calm. None has the fortune to be a perennial winner; I too was defeated by Britrasur.”

Urvasi answered, “Do you call it a defeat, O king of the gods? That saint Kutuk is a non-man, worthless, senseless brute. What was your profit in dishonouring me by him in this open court? I’ll not stay in the Amaravati, nor will I go down to the earth. I shall practice yoga.”

Then Urvasi shaved her head clean, wore a garland of tulsi, painted tilak marks on her body, and going to Golok, the eternal home took resort at the foot of Hari.

* from Tagore’s poem “Urvasi”, translated by the translator

[†]  from Tagore’s poem “Urvasi”, translated by the translator