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(The Mahabharata is an ancient Indian epic conceived by Sage Vyasa. While it boasts of imparting values of duty, morality and salvation, it has more often than not subjugated its female characters to a position of inferiority. Be it Draupadi, the daughter of the holy fire or Amba, the Princess of Kashi. Here, I write of yet another woman, ‘Uttara’, who had been repressed by the clutches of patriarchy throughout her life.)

Born in the lap of towering dunes,

Where the glittering sand outshines the sun.

She is the sweet rain,

That brings life to the desert.

She is the Princess of Viratanagar(1).

She cushions herself upon her father’s knee.

Her mother notices that her tresses haven’t been combed.

She calls out to her, but our heroine escapes,

Her hair, messy, tangled, unabashed.

She is the daughter of King Virata(2) and Queen Sudeshna(3).

The ground beneath feels the spring in her stride,

The sand carves a path for its Princess,

While the air carries her spirit, in every sand particle

That finds its way into the threads of her carefully woven cerulean skirt.

Escaping from the world’s vanity,

She lands in her lair,

Where her toys are hidden-

Hidden, might you ask?

Well, stitched dolls with crystal blue eyes

Never could cast their spell on her.

For she only ever looked upon her wooden soldiers,

With little fishes(4) engraved on their vermilion headgears.

She wished to swing swords, fight battles and wrestle with wild boars.

She’d run to her brother every time he’d return from war,

And instead of nursing each scar, she’d ask the story behind every wound.

After all, she was the sister of a warrior.

She was the sister of Prince Uttar.

1- Modern day Bairat, a town in northern Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

2-King Virata was the king of the Matsya Kingdom, in whose court the Pandavas spent a year in concealment during their exile.

3-Queen Sudeshna was the wife of King Virata.

4-A ‘matsya’ or a fish was the symbol of the Matsya Kingdom.

When she wasn’t busy debating with Gurus in court,

Over matters in which ‘girls shouldn’t meddle with anyway’,

She’d exhibit her emotions through dance.

The form of expression that empowered her,

Her inhibitions concealed,

Her voice heard (or maybe not)

But she assumed that in an audience of a hundred,

At least one would discern the fire in her eyes.

The people exclaimed that their Princess was born to dance,

As her body swayed like the waves against the seashore.

A courtier declared,

“Her movements will put the apsaras(5) to shame,

Not that I’m surprised,

She is Brihannala’s(6) disciple.”

Dark clouds hover over the golden desert,

Trumpets sound, the fragrance of mogras and roses fill the air,

The city dances with fervour,

As their princess is getting married!

“To Arjuna!”, a handmaid exclaims.

Chaos waves away the jubilance

As questions are asked,

While answers seem to be none.

“How can that be? Arjuna is Brihannala(7) in disguise!

The Gods forbid marriage between a Guru(8) and a shishya(9).”

The depths of the lines on the King’s forehead can be measured,

His frown now runs deeper between his brows,

The alliance has been announced

And Arjuna has refused- for how can he wed his own student.

Tensions rise, a Princess’s reputation is on the bet.

Virata prays, he kneels, he begs,

When finally Arjuna offers his son’s hand in marriage to the Princess.

Abhimanyu(10)! Oh the glorious, the brave Prince Abhimanyu,

Our family couldn’t be happier!”

Truth be told,

At that moment,

The King would’ve married his daughter

5-Celestial dancers

6-Arjuna, a Pandava was disguised as Brihannala during his stay in Viratnagar during the final year of the Pandavas’ exile, where he was a dance and music teacher for Uttara.

7-A Pandav Prince, the third son of Pandu and Kunti


9- Student

10-Arjun and Subhadra’s son and Lord Krishna’s nephew

To any of Pandu’s(11) kin,

To preserve his daughter’s honour,

The fact that it was Abhimanyu,

Was just a boon.

As rumours fly

And relations are established,

Our princess doesn’t let a tear stream.

But her brain won’t stop pounding,

Brihannala, a woman till the day before,

Was indeed Arjuna, a Prince in hiding.

His disciple till the day before,

She would now wash his feet,

As his daughter-in-law.

From Arjuna to Abhimanyu,

From father to son,

Like a commodity,

From one buyer to another.

Just as how she traded her toys,

She was now one of them.

A toy.

Her hair braided-

Her wild locks have now been tamed.

From a light mint, a deep, passionate crimson adorns her.

She transforms from a chirpy maiden to a mature woman

Almost overnight.

A little girl who chased kites,

Is now a bride.

She is the wife of Abhimanyu.

A month into their marriage,

Instead of laying out silken robes

On a flower strewn bed,

She presents a shield and a mace to her husband.

The devastating war of Mahabharat rages.

She wishes for him to stay.

And caresses his bushy hair as she stares into his tender eyes.

For the millionth time she pleads to let her accompany him,

He cups her face in his scarred hands and says,

“The battlefield isn’t for you my dearest,

Wear your brightest colours and await

11- Pandu was the King of Hastinapur and the father of the Pandavas.

As your husband returns victorious.”

And yet again,

She feels like a doll,

When she wished to be a warrior.

The thirteenth day of war,

The sky is a flaming orange.

She bids her warrior off to war

As she ties an armlet of five precious stones,

To protect him from his own kith and kin.

She looks at him one last time,

A strange feeling grips her.

His horse gallops away,

Leaving only dust behind,

And a void within her heart.

It feels like a long day,

Almost unending.

Although the hollowness of her heart hasn’t recovered,

She feels something blossom,

As if she’s nurturing a bud within her-

Creating a life.

And it is confirmed

When the nursemaid declares

That the shoes of a father

Now belong to Abhimanyu.

Barely fifteen,

Her mind encompasses millions of feelings,

And she finally chooses delight,

As she will give birth to one of the Pandu clan’s heirs.

The war camp metamorphosizes into a hall of celebration,

But it seems incomplete,

Her eyes search for her husband.

Little does she know,

That the little foetus

Is the last she has left of him.

The thirteenth day of war,

She is a pregnant widow.

Wails and cries echo in the camp,

The Pandavas’ dearest son

Has begun his journey to the beyond.

As piles of the dead are burnt,

And dark grey whiffs of smoke build castles in the air,

She weeps,

With no one else to blame but fate.

As she sees her husband’s body surrender to the pyre,

She feels a hand on her shoulder, hoping for some solace.

But hope was something she should’ve long forsaken

For the Queen mother says,

“Cry my dearest, but in your chamber,

If you cry amidst the other widows

They’ll lose courage too.

Choose bravery, my child.”

She can neither shed a tear,

Nor drown herself in grief,

As people look up to her,

She is the daughter-in-law of the Pandavas.

The war finally sees an end,

Kurukshetra(12) is now painted red,

Bodies of warriors who once boasted of their strength,

Lie with abandoned spirits.

Victory belongs to the Pandavas, they say.

Their faces not reflecting that very fact.

Their sons deceitfully killed

By the cruel Brahmin whose forehead wears a silver stone.

She rests in her room,

Stroking the cavity that envelops her unborn child.

Her only reason to live.

The night falls

Rain pounds on the thatched roofs

The wind howls, wolves cry

And the sky trembles in fear

As lightning strikes.

She wakes up, shivering

Pearls of sweat sit on her forehead

As the same inkling fills her heart,

When she saw Abhimanyu ride away.

Chaos races on in her mind-

She’d lost everything that was dear to her-

Her land, her childhood, her brother, her husband, her joy.

The only one she had left

Hadn't even seen the face of this world.

Lost in distress,

12- Pandu was the King of Hastinapur and the father of the Pandavas.

She is woken

By Ashwathama(13), as he roars into the universe,

To kill the last of Pandu’s clan

And she shrieks, she yells, she screams-

Her unborn child.

The ones who survived the war land in her room,

Subhadra(14)(15) and Draupadi(16)(17)calm her down.

Forests flame,

Animals bellow,

The sun and the moon disappear

And the sky tears apart,

As the Bhramastra(18) pierces her womb.

She knows it is the end.

And then,

There is silence.

Her eyes shut,

But she hears Kunti(19) speak.

She’s told to wake up

For she carries the heir of the Pandavas,

The last of their lineage.

But not once, not once

Does anyone in the room

Ask for her.

If her unborn child was secure,

She knew her now disfigured, blood washed body

Would be left to the mercy of vultures.

And for the first time,

Anger rages within her,

Who was she?

The Princess of Viratanagar wouldn’t have mastered the Vedas(20),

King Virat’s daughter wouldn’t dare leave her hair untied,

Prince Uttar’s sister would never touch her brother’s wooden armies,

Abhimanyu’s wife would never need a sword in her husband’s presence,

13-The son of Dronacharya; the one who killed the Pandavas’ sons deceitfully to avenge the death of his friend Duryodhana.

14-Lord Krishna’s sister and Arjuna’s second wife

15-Arjuna’s wife and Lord Krishna’s sister

16-The one who emerged from the Holy fire, Drupad’s daughter and the Queen wife of the Pandavas.

17-The one who rose from the holy fire, King Drupad’s daughter and the wife of the five Pandavas.

18-A weapon created by Lord Brahma and is considered to be one of the most destructive weapons mentioned in Hinduism.

19-The mother of the Pandavas

20-A large body of religious scriptures.

The Pandavas’ daughter-in-law wouldn’t express an emotion

So, who was she?

Images flash in her mind-

Sweet music, graceful gestures and flowing hair,

Holy books and the Vedas,

Silver swords and a free mind,

Wild kites and wooden soldiers,

And a kind, beautiful heart.

She was Uttara.

A daughter, a wife, a Princess,

But first a woman.

First, Uttara.

She finally awakens from her deep slumber.

It feels like an eternity has passed.

Her lifeless son lies beside her.

She weeps bitterly

And questions Krishna(21) the purpose of her life.

Her answer is heard as He directs the Sudarshan(22)

At the perished child

And a cry is heard.

The cry of a newborn baby.

“Your purpose was to carry this child,

You, my dear, are the reason that the Pandu legacy will live on,

Your son will righteously rule Hastinapur(23) in the years to come.

Parikshit- the one who has stood the test of death.

You are the mother of Parikshit(24)”-


Oh Lord!

If you utter these words,

Then what hope do I have from these mortals?

Lord you are witness-

All my life, I have been treated as everything but human

When I faced Arjuna’s rejection,

When I was passed down to Abhimanyu,

When I was only married

21-Worshipped as the eighth incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu and is also known as the supreme God.

22-The Sudarshana Chakra is a spinning, disk-like weapon having 108 serrated edges used by the Hindu god Vishnu or Krishna.

23-Capital city of the Kuru Kingdom; modern city in Uttar Pradesh

24-The son of Uttara and Abhimanyu and Yudhistir’s heir to the Kuru throne

To give Yudhistir(25) his heir,

When I was only protected

So that this child could live.

Oh Lord, Parikshit is the son of Uttara,

Parikshit, whose mother was born only to give him birth,

Whose mother didn’t see a childhood for him,

Whose mother got married into a clan, just to give them their Prince.

The Brahmastra that destroys the universe,

She endured its wrath for him.

Parikshit’s life is built upon Uttara’s sacrifice, Uttara’s pain.

And Uttara’s life?

I dare call it a life-

Virata’s daughter, Uttar’s sister

Arjun’s daughter-in-law, Abhimanyu’s wife,

Parikshit’s mother,

But never, never Uttara.

For this Lord, I will never forgive you.

Who am I?

Answer me Lord!

Your silence is not the answer I seek!”

And for the first time,

Krishna is speechless.

25-Eldest brother of the Pandavas

- Shambhavi.


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