In a blink, Arjuna found himself in a floral garden dotted with waterfalls and springs and ponds. The air was fragrant. Entrancing music, that reminded him of the many evenings he had spent with Subhadra, greeted him. The jingle of anklets and the tinkle of crystalline strings drew him deeper into the inviting garden. Someone was teasing him, but he refused to play. He turned and caught his breath.

Urvashi, one of the foremost beauties of the heavenly realms, stood before him. The apsara queen’s aura extended and caressed, and invisible hands drew him to her. She reclined on a bed of multihued flowers and her eyes fluttered in invitation. Arjuna clasped his hands and bowed to show his deep reverence.

“Do you not wish to join me?”

“I wish to fall at your feet, O Maha Devi, and worship you.”

“Come into my arms and rest your head on my bosom and I shall give you bliss.”

“It will be my good fortune to lie on your lap and hear you sing a lullaby,” said the Pandava prince. Urvashi laughed.

“Your feminine half is vital and you are a coy one. I love the tease, Pandava. But come here and take me as a man, for I have pleased all the great ones for aeons and wish to satisfy you too.”

“O Maha Devi, you have pleased men whom I behold as my forefathers, and I behold you as the mother of my mother, the chaste Kunti Devi. I can be no more to you than Shruta Karma, my son with Panchali, can be to her.”

In a blink, the goddess’s face turned demonic. She snarled. A sharp dart pierced Arjuna’s heart. In another half a blink, she reverted to her pleasant features.  

“Do not reject me, Pandava.” Her voice took a smoky form. It curled around his neck and entered his ear. He fingered his ear. She laughed. “If I am good enough for the great ones of yore, I can satisfy a ripe youth.”

Arjuna fought for breath. He wondered whether he had glimpsed the dark side of the goddess. He recalled the words of sages. We all have a dark side, Pandava. It’s a constant battle that will only cease when we reach the Ninth. It took him several moments to regain his composure.

“I place you on a pedestal, O Maha Devi, and love and respect you as a son loves and respects his mother.” He closed his eyes, but this time, instead of Subhadra, he thought of his mother. Kunti Devi appeared and held up her palm. He saw himself kneel and receive her blessings.

“You are a mere mortal. Do you not welcome the ambrosia of life?”

“I am a mere mortal and it is beyond my feeble faculties to understand your motives.” He had regained his full faculties and brimmed with confidence.

“Understand this then, Pandava. No one has ever rejected my advances. I had nourished egos of exalted beings and in return gained much merit. Do not trifle with fate. Do not reject the special nectar of love found in my embrace. Come. It will be but a blink and will leave you fulfilled forever. On lonely chilly nights on the battlefield, I will appear in your thoughts. You will relive and relish our little secret as an unforgettable and invigorating dream.”

“Let it remain a dream, O Maha Devi, and let it be my loss.”

“You fool!” Urvashi stretched her arms high and screeched. “You incorrigible fool!” The garden plunged into darkness and her figure silhouetted against a hazy fog. Her hair floated as if it had a life of its own. Urvashi’s voice turned deep and gravelly.

“Hear me, human. Henceforth, the feminine in you will gain ascendancy over your vaunted masculinity. The lost equilibrium will render you less than the supreme warrior you are. Be gone!”

A blast of hot air shot at him. He held up an arm but it was too late.

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