Kathasaritsagara (the Ocean of Story)

by Somadeva | 1924 | 1,023,469 words | ISBN-13: 9789350501351

This is the English translation of the Kathasaritsagara written by Somadeva around 1070. The principle story line revolves around prince Naravāhanadatta and his quest to become the emperor of the Vidhyādharas (‘celestial beings’). The work is one of the adoptations of the now lost Bṛhatkathā, a great Indian epic tale said to have been composed by ...

Appendix 2.1 - The Story of Urvaśī and Purūravas

This well-known story appears in many forms owing to its great age and the enormous popularity it has always enjoyed. As related in the Ocean of Story, it has unfortunately lost nearly all its original character and charm. Before attempting, therefore, to offer any suggestions as to the possible meaning of the legend, it will be as well to tell the story in its original form.

In the first place, however, I would like to point out why this story is so intensely interesting. It is the first Indo-European love-story known, and may even be the oldest love-story in the world. Its history throughout the whole range of Sanskrit literature is astonishing. The story itself can be regarded from several points of view—all of them interesting. Firstly, it is a tale of a great love, full of deep feeling and real pathos. Its beauty is quite sufficient to immortalise it, whatever else we may read in it. Secondly, it contains incidents which strike one as distinctly symbolical, and immediately open up that ever-fascinating pursuit of theorising. Thirdly, it has a distinct historical and anthropological value, and is without doubt the earliest example of nuptial taboo in existence. Lastly, the tale so appealed to Kālidāsa that he made it the theme of his play Vikramorvaśī, still further beautifying it with some of the choicest gems of his poetical genius.

We first hear of Urvaśī and Purūravas in a somewhat obscure hymn of the Ṛg-Veda (x, 95). It consists of a dialogue when the Apsaras is about to leave her mortal husband for ever. As the story is incomplete and disjointed, we must pass on to the fuller account as found in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (v, 1), which, however, includes several of the verses from the Ṛg-Veda,[1]

1. The nymph Urvaśī loved Purūravas, the son of Ilā. When she wedded him she said: “Thrice a day shalt thou embrace me; but do not lie with me against my will, and let me not see thee naked, for such is the way to behave to us women.”

2. She then dwelt with him a long time, and was even with child of him, so long did she dwell with him. Then the Gandharvas said to one another: “For a long time, indeed, has this Urvaśī dwelt among men: devise ye some means how she may come back to us.” Now a ewe with two lambs was tied to her couch: the Gandharvas then carried off one of the lambs.

3. “Alas,” she cried, “they are taking away my darling, as if I were where there is no hero and no man!” They carried off the second, and she spake in the selfsame manner.

4. He then thought within himself: “How can that be (a place) without a hero and without a man where I am?” And naked as he was he sprang up after them: too long he deemed it that he should put on his garment. Then the Gandharvas produced a flash of lightning and she beheld him naked even as by daylight. Then, indeed, she vanished. “Here I am back,” he said, and lo! she had vanished. Wailing with sorrow he wandered all over Kurukṣetra. Now there is a lotus-lake there called Anyataḥplakṣā. He walked along its bank, and there nymphs were swimming about in the shape of swans.

5. And she (Urvaśī), recognising him, said: “This is the man with whom I have dwelt.” They then said: “Let us appear to him!” “So be it!” she replied, and they appeared to him.

6. He then recognised her and implored her (Ṛg-Veda, x, 95, 1): “Oh, my wife, stay thou, cruel in mind: let us now exchange words! Untold, these secrets of ours will not bring us joy in days to come.”—“Stop, pray, let us speak together!”—this is what he meant to say to her.

7. She replied (Ṛg-Veda, x, 95, 2): “What concern have I with speaking to thee? I have passed away like the first of the dawns. Purūravas, go home again: I am like the wind, difficult to catch.”—“Thou didst not do what I had told thee; hard to catch I am for thee, go to thy home again!”—this is what she meant to say.

8. He then said, sorrowing (Ṛg-Veda, x, 95, 14): “Then will thy friend rush away this day, never to come back, to go to the farthest distance: then will he lie in Nirṛti’s lap, or the fierce wolves will devour him.”—“Thy friend will either hang himself or start forth; or the wolves or dogs will devour him!”—this is what he meant to say.

9. She replied (Ṛg-Veda, x, 95, 15): “Purūravas, do not die! Do not rush away! Let not the cruel wolves devour thee! Truly, there is no friendship with women, and theirs are the hearts of hyenas.”—“Do not take this to heart! There is no friendship with women: return home!” —this is what she meant to say.

10. (Ṛg-Veda, x, 95, 16): “When changed in form I walked among mortals, and passed the nights there during four autumns. I ate a little ghee, once a day, and even now feel satisfied therewith.”—This discourse in fifteen verses has been handed down by the Bahvṛcas. Then her heart took pity on him.

11. She said: “Come here the last night of the year from now: then shalt thou lie with me for one night, and then this son of thine will have been born.” He came there on the last night of the year, and lo! there stood a golden palace. They then said to him only this (word), “Enter!” and then they bade her go to him.

12. She then said: “To-morrow morning the Gandharvas will grant thee a boon, and thou must make thy choice.” He said: “Choose thou for me!” She replied: “Say, let me be one of yourselves!” In the morning the Gandharvas granted him a boon, and he said: “Let me be one of yourselves!”

13. They said: “Surely there is not among men that holy form of fire by sacrificing wherewith one would become one of ourselves.” They put fire into a pan and gave it to him, saying: “By sacrificing therewith thou shalt become one of ourselves.” He took it (the fire) and his boy and went on his way home. He then deposited the fire in the forest and went to the village with the boy alone. He came back and thought, “Here I am back,” and lo! it had disappeared: what had been the fire was an Aśvattha tree (Ficus religiosa), and what had been the pan was a Śamī tree (Mimosa suma). He then returned to the Gandharvas.

14. They said: “Cook for a whole year a mess of rice sufficient for four persons; and taking each time three logs from this Aśvattha tree, anoint them with ghee, and put them on the fire with verses containing the words ‘log’ and ‘ghee’: the fire which shall result therefrom will be that very fire (which is required).”

15. They said: “But that is recondite (esoteric), as it were. Make thyself rather an upper araṇi (fire-stick) of Aśvattha wood, and a lower araṇi of Śamī wood: the fire which shall result therefrom will be that very fire.”

16. They said: “But that also is, as it were, recondite. Make thyself rather an upper araṇi of Aśvattha wood, and a lower araṇi of Aśvattha wood: the fire which shall result therefrom will be that very fire.”

17. He then made himself an upper araṇi of Aśvattha wood, and a lower araṇi of Aśvattha wood, and the fire which resulted therefrom was that very fire: by offering therewith he became one of the Gandharvas. Let him therefore make himself an upper and a lower araṇi of Aśvattha wood, and the fire which results therefrom will be that very fire: by offering therewith he becomes one of the Gandharvas.

In the above version there are several points to be noticed:

  1. A heavenly nymph loves a mortal man.
  2. The nuptial taboo.
  3. The inability to preserve it.
  4. The swan-nymphs.
  5. The aloofness of the nymph.
  6. Sudden pity for the mortal.
  7. The necessity for the mortal to become immortal.
  8. The fire-sacrifice as a means of achieving this.

Looking at the legend as it stands, it appears to show how

impossible it is for a mere man to aspire to a heavenly bride. His nature is such that he is incapable of abiding by the accustomed conditions of such a marriage, and in consequence misery is bound to result, unless by following the prescribed rules of sacrifice and esoteric ritual he can manage to rise to her level. Then, and only then, can he expect eternal happiness.

Before examining the tale in greater detail it will be advisable to see if the other versions give us further data to work upon. It occurs in the Mahābhārata and most of the Purāṇas. The best account, however, is probably that in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa. The following portions are taken from the translation by H. H. Wilson.

We are first given more details about our hero.

It has already been related how Buddha begot Purūravas by Ilā. Purūravas was a prince renowned for liberality, devotion, magnificence, and love of truth, and for personal beauty. Urvaśī, having incurred the imprecation of Mitra and Varuṇa, determined to take up her abode in the world of mortals, and descending accordingly, beheld Purūravas.

Then follow the incidents of the taboo, the rams, lightning, and disappearance of Urvaśī. The heart-broken Purūravas wandered naked Over the world like one insane.

At length coming to Kurukṣetra, he saw Urvaśī sporting with four other nymphs of heaven in a lake beautiful with lotuses, and he ran to her and called her his wife, and wildly implored her to return. “Mighty monarch,” said the nymph,

“refrain from this extravagance. I am now pregnant: depart at present, and come hither again at the end of a year, when I will deliver to you a son, and remain with you for one night.”

Purūravas, thus comforted, returned to his capital. Urvaśī said to her companions:

“The prince is a most excellent mortal: I lived with him long and affectionately united.” “It was well done of you,”

they replied;

“he is indeed of comely appearance, and one with whom we could live happily for ever.”

When the year had expired Urvaśī and the monarch met at Kurukṣetra, and she consigned to him his first-born, Āyus; and these annual interviews were repeated until she had borne to him five sons. She then said to Purūravas:

“Through regard for me all the Gandharvas have expressed their joint purpose to bestow upon my lord their benediction; let him, therefore, demand a boon.”

The Rājā replied:

“My enemies are all destroyed, my faculties are all entire; I have friends and kindred, armies and treasures: there is nothing which I may not obtain except living in the same region with my Urvaśī. My only desire, therefore, is to pass my life with her.”

When he had thus spoken, the Gandharvas brought to Purūravas a vessel with fire and said to him:

“Take this fire and, according to the precepts of the Vedas, divide it into three fires; then fixing your mind upon the idea of living with Urvaśī, offer oblations, and you shall assuredly obtain your wishes.”

The Rājā took the brazier and departed, and came to a forest. Then he began to reflect that he had committed a great folly in bringing away the vessel of fire instead of his bride; and leaving the vessel in the wood he went disconsolate to his palace. In the middle of the night he awoke, and considered that the Gandharvas had given him the brazier to enable him to obtain the felicity of living with Urvaśī, and that it was absurd in him to have left it by the way. Resolving, therefore, to recover it, he rose and went to the place where he had deposited the vessel; but it was gone. In its stead he saw a young Aśvattha tree growing out of a Śamī plant, and he reasoned with himself, and said:

“I left in this spot a vessel of fire, and now behold a young Aśvattha tree growing out of a Śamī plant. Verily I will take these types of fire to my capital, and there, having engendered fire by their attrition, I will worship it.”

Having thus determined, he took the plants to his city, and prepared their wood for attrition, with pieces of as many inches long as there are syllables in the Gayatrī: he recited that holy verse and rubbed together sticks of as many inches as he recited syllables in the Gayatrī. Having thus elicited fire, he made it threefold, according to the injunctions of the Vedas, and offered oblations with it, proposing as the end of the ceremony reunion with Urvaśī.

In this way, celebrating many sacrifices agreeably to the form in which offerings are presented with fire, Purūravas obtained a seat in the sphere of the Gandharvas, and was no more separated from his beloved. Thus fire, that was at first but one, was made threefold in the present Manwantara by the son of Ilā.

In this version the most important difference is the more detailed account of the fire-ritual. Here we at once see an unmistakable symbolism, and perhaps a lesson to show the importance of sacrifice when carried out in strict accordance with the teachings of the Vedas. We have now become acquainted with the legend in its fullest form and need not look at the numerous other versions, all of which are based on the above.

I would, however, refer again to the original dialogue in Hymn xcv of the Rig-Veda. As we have already seen, verses 1, 2, 14, 15 and 16 recur in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. There are thirteen other verses, which describe the pleading of Purūravas on once again finding his beloved. He recalls the trick by which the Gandharvas made him break his promise, and the disadvantages he had, being only a mortal. Urvaśī is unmoved. Then he thinks of their son—what will he think when he sees no father, when he hears he has been deserted?

Urvaśī replies[2]:

“I will console him when his tears are falling: he
Shall not weep and cry for care that blesses.
That which is thine between us will I send thee.
Go home again, thou fool; thou hast not won me.”

Purūravas in his misery determines to destroy himself (as in the other versions), and finally Urvaśī speaks thus:

“Thus speak these gods to thee, O son of Ilā: as
Death has verily got thee for his subject,
Thy sons shall serve the gods with their oblation,
And thou, moreover, shalt rejoice in Svarga.”

Thus the obdurate nymph shows no signs of yielding to her broken-hearted lover. She merely consoles him by telling him that the gods have promised that, after his death, his sons shall offer them sacrifices, and Purūravas himself shall attain the abode of the blessed.

I feel that this sad ending, this unsatisfied love, would in time lose any significance it may once have had, and as the tale found its way into newer works a happier and more conventional ending would be substituted.

As is usual in nearly every legend, scholars have endeavoured to interpret the story of Purūravas and Urvaśī as a nature-myth. Max Müller tried to do this by his usual method of comparative philology. The principle he worked upon was, that in order to arrive at the original meaning of a myth all you have to do is to trace to their source the original meanings of the names of the gods or goddesses mentioned. In most cases these names will be found to denote elemental phenomena, and will have some natural significance, such as an earthquake, the sunset, a storm, the sky, and so on.

Applying this principle to the tale under discussion, he would derive Urvaśī from uru, “wide,” and a root aś, “to pervade,” thus meaning “that which occupies the wide spaces of the sky”— i.e. “the dawn.” Purūravas he identifies with the Greek πολυδευκής “endowed with much light,” deriving the Sanskrit word from the root ru, “to cry,” and applied to a loud or crying colour— i.e. red. Thus the name really means the sun. So the story simply expresses the sun chasing the dawn.

“Thus,” says Müller,[3]

“‘Urvaśī loves Purūravas’ meant ‘the sun rises’;
‘Urvaśī sees Purūravas naked’ meant ‘the dawn is gone’;
‘Urvaśī finds Purūravas again’ meant ‘the sun is setting.’”

This system of tracing the origin of myths through etymology has proved almost entirely unsuccessful. The reasons for this are numerous. Among others may be mentioned the fact that myths very similar indeed to those found among Aryan peoples have also been discovered among Australians, South Sea Islanders, Eskimos, etc. Then again, the meaning of a god’s name need have nothing whatever to do with the myth in which it occurs, for the simple reason that nothing was more usual than to attach the name of a popular god to some old myth, the real origin of which had long been forgotten. Names like Gilgamish, Buddha, Alexander, Solomon, David and a hundred others continually drew to them stories long ante-dating (or post-dating) them, which really had nothing to do with them at all. If there were no miracles connected with a popular hero or saint, some had to be found —and were found. Then again, proper names of mortals were often derived from natural phenomena, and a story told about “Sun” and “Moon,” two members of, say, some Brazilian tribe, would in later years be told of “the sun” and “the moon.”

But apart from all this, philologists differ widely as to the true etymology of words, especially names of deities. Nothing can be proved definitely, and the whole system is one that the mythologist of to-day “turns down.”[4]

The beginning of the story is simple enough. The heavenly nymph falls in love with a mortal who returns her love to the very utmost. Although warned that he must abide by certain conditions, he is willing to risk everything. He is told that the conditions are merely in accordance with the usual custom. Whether she means the custom among Apsarases or Aryan womanhood as a whole we are not told. Anyhow, we have here the earliest example of a nuptial taboo, which in after years appeared in a Greek Mar chen, known to us through the Latin of Apuleius—the famous Cupid and Psyche myth.

This is not the place to go into any details on the subject of taboo, which has been so ably discussed by Frazer (see the volume of The Golden Bough (iii) entitled “Taboo and the Perils of the Soul”). I would, however, draw attention to J. A. Macculloch’s Childhood of Fiction, pp. 324 et seq., where will be found many interesting variants to our story in the folk-lore of both civilised and semi-civilised peoples.

Although not usually mentioned, there is a story closely resembling “Cupid and Psyche” in the Pentamerone, second day, ninth diversion (Burton, vol. i, p. 211 et seq.), entitled “The Padlock.”

It seems very probable that all these taboos in legend had their origin in taboos in real life, many examples of which have been noted (Macculloch, op. cit., p. 335).

In all these taboo stories the taboo seems to be made to be broken; perhaps it is intended to teach some lesson or explain some principle. It may show the weakness of human nature, the evil results of lack of determination or the necessity for unremitting care and forethought—any or all of which ideas would perfectly well serve as an incentive to a more protracted study and careful observance of the Vedas.

Frazer’s theory as to the origin of tales like “Urvaśī and Purūravas” and “Cupid and Psyche” is interesting.[5] He considers that they represent a stage of decay in a cycle of stories which originally were totemic.

He argues thus:

“Now, wherever the totemic clans have become exogamous, that is, wherever a man is always obliged to marry a woman of a totem different from his own, it is obvious that husband and wife will always have to observe different totemic taboos, and that a want of respect shown by one of them for the sacred animal or plant of the other would tend to domestic jars, which might often lead to the permanent separation of the spouses, the offended wife or husband returning to her or his native clan of the fish-people, the bird-people or what not. That, I take it, was the origin of the sad story of the man or woman happily mated with a transformed animal and then parted for ever. Such tales, if I am right, were not wholly fictitious. Totemism may have broken many loving hearts. But when that ancient system of society had fallen into disuse, and the ideas on which it was based had ceased to be understood, the quaint stories of mixed marriages to which it had given birth would not be at once forgotten. They would continue to be told, no longer, indeed, as myths explanatory of custom, but merely as fairy tales for the amusement of the listeners. The barbarous features of the old legends, which now appeared too monstrously incredible even for story-tellers, would be gradually discarded and replaced by others which fitted in better with the changed beliefs of the time. Thus in particular the animal husband or animal wife of the story might drop the character of a beast to assume that of a fairy.”

Personally I am not in the least convinced by this theory, which, although ingenious, seems entirely devoid of any sort of proof, and is, moreover, one of those delightful theories that can have no proof. The idea of an animal husband or wife would not tax the imagination of a story-teller very far, and, moreover, nothing has yet been thought of too wild for the boundless imagination of the Hindus, whose pantheon is so full of animal incarnations.

Referring to the tale under discussion, Frazer states in conclusion that “we can still detect hints that the fairy wife was once a bird-woman,” and in the note below says that a clear trace of the bird nature of Urvaśī occurs in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. Here again I would cry “not proven.” As already mentioned (Vol. I, p. 201), Apsarases were originally water-nymphs, those who “moved about in the water.”

In verse 10 of the version in the Ṛg-Veda Purūravas says in speaking of Urvaśī:

“She who flashed brilliant as the falling lightning
Brought me delicious presents from the waters.”

This is merely describing Urvaśī’s home: “from the waters (of the firmament).” Her nature was that of a beautiful bird moving serenely through the waters, and when we find her in her celestial home in the guise of a swan I see no reason to take this to be an early example of either the “Beauty and the Beast” or the famous “swan-maiden” cycle of stories. Furthermore, the one important feature of this latter cycle is the discovery of the disguise on the part of the man and his immediate efforts to keep her in her human shape.

Then comes the aloofness of Urvaśī after her reunion with Purūravas. In the earliest version she maintains this attitude to the end. In other versions she softens, and all ends happily. This makes a prettier story, and perhaps that explains a lot. Anyhow in no version is the lesson, which is intended to be conveyed, lost sight of. A mortal love and marriage is all very nice and proper, but it is only temporary. There is a far greater goal to be obtained — that of immortality—and until the mere mortal has realised the necessity to strive after something higher and finer he cannot hope to enjoy the lasting fruits of a passionate love.

We now come to the incident about the sacrificial fire. It does not occur in Hymn xcv of the Ṛg-Veda, but in Hymn xxix[6] there is a full account of the process of fire-making by means of the fire-drill (araṇi), and the analogy between the process and the intercourse of the sexes is realised. It seems rather as if the fire-incident was connected with the story of Urvaśī at a later date, and merely introduced to show the importance of sacrificial fires as initiatory rites to the final attainment of immortality. In the version found in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa Purūravas is given holy fire by sacrificing with which he can obtain his wish—to become a Gan-dharva. He leaves the fire in the forest and on his return finds the fire and the pan turned into two trees, one an Aśvattha (i.e. Ficus religiosa —the modern pipal, aswat, jari, basri, bo, etc.), and the other a Śamī tree (i.e. Mimosa suma — the name of the leaves is Prosopis spicigera). He thereupon returns to the Gandharvas for further instructions. After mentioning various rites and methods of making fire from the two trees, they finally tell him that if both sticks for the fire-drill are made out of the Aśvattha tree the resulting fire will be “that very fire.”

In the Viṣṇu Purāṇa details are more fully described, as already seen. Purūravas realised that the fire had been given him “to enable him to retain the felicity of living with Urvaśī.” On returning to the place where he left the fire he finds a young Aśvattha tree growing out of a Śamī plant. He immediately takes wood from each tree, which he makes into the upper and lower parts of a fire-drill—taking care to cut them in accordance with a specially prescribed ritual. As he works the fire-drill he fixes his mind on reunion with his beloved, thus employing a kind of sexual sympathetic magic. Finally stress is laid on the importance of celebrating sacrifices in the form in which offerings are prescribed with fire. Purūravas carries out the necessary instructions of the Gandharvas and regains Urvaśī.

Thus (the version ends) fire that was at first but one was made threefold. The three kinds of fire referred to are: vaḍavāgni, which is submarine, causes the waves, and keeps the level of the ocean uniform by consuming so much water —the inpouring rivers making the deficit; laukikāgni, the domestic fire; and vṛka, the fire in one’s own body which can be heard on putting the fingers in one’s ears.[7]

It is possible that the fire resulting from the friction of the two sticks symbolised the child, for in a very large number of primitive tribes in all parts of the world the vertical stick is known by a name signifying “male,” while the horizontal stick is called “female,” and in some cases (as among the Thompson Indians of British Columbia) as soon as the spark falls on the tinder of dried leaves or grass they exclaim: “The woman has given birth!”

The whole subject of the fire-drill has been fully discussed by Frazer,[8] while reference should also be made to Crooke[9] and Thurston.[10]

It is curious that Frazer (p. 209) states that the sticks are not taken from the same tree, but that one must be hard and the other soft. Certainly this seems reasonable, but he must have overlooked the statements in the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa and also the numerous examples quoted by Thurston, where both sticks are made from the same tree.

In order to appreciate the extent to which the sacred fire entered into Hindu ritual as time went on we have only to glance at the daily offering to the fire made by the modern Brāhman, known as homa. It is made twice daily, once in the morning before breakfast and again at night before dinner. It consists of ghee, curds, and rice or grain.[11] Homa is also performed at the investiture of the Sacred Thread, at hair-cutting, marriages, śrāddha, etc.

After his wedding a Brāhman can either be an ordinary householder or an agnihotrīi.e. fire-priest—and observe the full forty-eight rites (instead of the ordinary sixteen). The fire used at any importaṇt ceremony such as a wedding should be kindled by friction and the fire in the domestic hearth lit by it. Full details of the agnihotrī have been given by Crooke.[12]

Thus, I think, we can regard the fire-incident of the story of Purūravas and Urvaśī as showing the great symbolical significance of fire-sacrifice as a means of attaining Svarga, the abode of the blessed, and ensuring a final state of immortality.

Before closing this appendix I would refer again to Kālidāsa’s dramatic version of the legend. It is known as Vikramorvaéī, or “Urvaśī won by Valour,” and is a play in five acts. The plot differs considerably from the original story and is briefly as follows:—

King Purūravas, in answer to the cries of some nymphs, rescues one of their companions, Urvaśī, from the clutches of a demon, pursuing him in his heavenly car. The two fall in love with one another. Urvaśī is called to the Court of Indra, but sees the king in his garden later on. Complications arise as Purūravas is already married and the queen becomes jealous.

Urvaśī has to act at Indra’s court and when asked in the play whom she loves says “Purūravas” in mistake for Puru-shottama (Viṣṇu). This enrages her teacher Bharata, who curses her, saying that as she had forgotten her part so she would be forgotten in heaven. However Indra takes pity on her and says she can be united to Purūravas until he sees the son which she will bear him. The lovers wander together on the Himālayas, when Urvaśī, seeing Purūravas’ attention attracted for a moment by a nymph, enters in her anger the groves of Kārttikeya, forbidden to females. The curse of Bharata begins to take effect and she is immediately changed into a creeper. The king in his frenzied misery at her loss becomes insane, and wanders through the forest inquiring for his beloved of every tree, stream, mountain, or animal he meets.

Everywhere he imagines he sees traces of his lost one— the flowers heavy with dew are her eyes glistening with starting tears, the rippling water is her frown, the meandering current her undulating gait. Wilson’s translation gives a very good idea of the original.

Purūravas inquires of a swan:—

“Ho! Monarch of the tribes that breast the stream,
Forbear awhile your course: forgo the provender
Of lotus stems, not needed yet, and hear
My suit—redeem me from despair—impart
Some tidings of my love—’tis worthier far
To render kindly offices to others
Than meanly labour for a selfish good—
He heeds me not, but still on Mānasa
Intent, collects his store—and now I note him
More closely, I suspect some mystery.
Why seek to veil the truth?—if my beloved
Was never seen by thee as graceful straying
Along the flowery borders of the lake,
Then whence this elegant gait—’Tis hers—and thou
Hast stolen it from her—in whose every step
Love sports—thy walk betrays thee; own thy crime,
And lead me quickly to her. (Laughs.) Nay, he fears
Our Royal power—the plunderer flies the king.”

Later he sees a lotus with a bee amid its petals and exclaims:

“Say, plunderer of the honeyed dew, hast thou
Beheld the nymph whose large and languid eye
Voluptuous rolls as if it swam with wine?
And yet methinks’tis idle to inquire,
For had he tasted her delicious breath
He now would scorn the lotus. I will hence.”

After many inquiries for Urvaśī he finds a gem, which proves to be the jewel of restoration. Suddenly he sees a vine:

“What means this strange emotion ?—as I gaze
Upon this vine—no blossoms deck its boughs;
Nipped by the falling rains, like briny tears,
The buds have perished, and the mournful shrub
All unadorned appears to pine in absence—
No bees regale her with their songs—silent
And sad, she, lonely, shows the image
Of my repentant love, who now laments
Her causeless indignation—I will press
The melancholy likeness to my heart—
Vine of the wilderness, behold
A lone, heart-broken wretch in me,
Who dreams in his embrace to fold
His love, as wild he clings to thee.
And might relenting fate restore
To these fond arms the nymph I mourn,
I’d bear her hence, and never more
To these forbidden haunts return.”

Gradually the creeper is transformed into Urvaśī and Purūravas finds he is in the arms of his beloved:

“What can this mean?—through every fibre spreads
The conscious touch of Urvaśī—yet all
I deemed her charms deceived me—let me wake
And realise the vision or dispel it.
’Tis no deceit—’tis she—my best beloved.” (Faints.)

The pair are happily united, but Urvaśī remembers the curse. Years pass and by accident Purūravas meets Āyus, his son, and in consequence Urvaśī must return to heaven. Once again Indra saves the situation and all ends happily.

Footnotes and references:


J. Eggeling’s translation, Sacred Books of the East, vol. xliv, pp. 68-74.


R. T. H. Griffith, vol. iv, Benares, 1892, p. 304 et seq.


Max Müller, Oxford Essays, 1856, p. 6l et seq. (reprinted in Chips from a German Workṣop, vol. ii, 1868, pp. 101-108, 117-121, 126-130).


For farther suggested explanations, etc., see A. Kuhn, Die Hcrabkunñ des Feuers und des Göttertranks, p. 81 et seq. (2nd edition, p. 73 et seq.); A. Weber, Ind. Streifen, vol. i, 1868-1879, p. 16 et seq.; K. F. Geldner in Pischel and Geldner’s Vedische Studien, vol. i, 1889, pp. 244 et seq.; H. Olden-berg, Religion des Veda, p. 253; ditto, Die Literatur des alien Indien, 1903, pp. 53-55; Garrett’s Classical Dictionary, p. 486; Macdonell, Vedic Mythology, p. 135.


The Golden Bough, vol. iv, “The Dying God” pp. 130, 131. I would especially draw attention to the fine collection of references given in the notes on these two pages. See also P. Saintyves, Les Contes de Perrault, p. 416 et seq.



Ṛg-Veda, iii, 29. See Griffith’s translation, vol. ii, pp. 25-27, which begins:

“Here is gear for friction, here tinder made ready for the spark. Bring thou the matron [lower stick], we will rub Agni in ancient fashion forth.”


For full details of the Agnyādhāna, or “ Establishment of the Sacred Fires,” see Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, part i, second kānḍa, p. 274- et seq.


The Golden Bough, vol. ii, ch. xv, “The Fire Drill” (pp. 206 - 226), and ch. xvi, “Father Jove and Mother Vesta” (pp. 227-252). See also the General Index under “ Friction.”


Popular Religion of Northern India, vol. ii, pp. 1.92-195.


Ethnographic Notes in Southern India, pp. 464-470; and Castes and Tribes of Southern India, vol. i, p. 99, where it is interesting to note that although the Badagas make fire by friction, reference is made in their folk-legends not to this mode of obtaining fire, but to chakkamukki (flint and steel). Commenting upon this, T. C. Hodson (Primitive Culture of India, Roy. As. Soc. Forlong Fund, vol. i, p. 36) suggests that possibly the flint and steel had superseded the use of the fire-drill, except in the solemnity of funeral rites.


For a full description of the offerings see Stevenson, Kites of the Twice-born, p. 226-227.


Tribes and Castes of the North-West Provinces and Oudh, under “Agnihotrī.” See also Frazer, op. cit., pp. 247-250.

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