In the Himalaya mountains, the nymphs of heaven, on returning from an assembly of the gods, are mourning over the loss of Urvasi, a fellow-nymph, who has been carried off by a demon. King Pururavas enters on his chariot, and on hearing the cause of their grief, hastens to the rescue of the nymph. He soon returns, after having vanquished the robber, and restores Urvasi to her heavenly companions. While carrying the nymph back to her friends in his chariot, he is enraptured by her beauty, falls in love with her and she with her deliverer. Urvasi being summoned before the throne of Indra, the lovers are soon obliged to part. When they part, Urvasi wishes to turn round once more to see the king.
She pretends that a straggling vine has caught her garland, and while feigning to disengage herself, she calls one of her friends to help her.
The friend replies:--
"I fear, this is no easy task. You seem entangled too fast to be set free: but, come what may, defend upon my friendship." The eyes of the king then meet those of Urvasi. They now part.
The king is now at Prayag, the modern Allahabad, his residence. He walks in the garden of his palace, accompanied by a Brahman who is his confidential companion, and knows his love for Urvasi. The companion is so afraid of betraying what must remain a secret to everybody at court, and in particular to the queen, that he hides himself in a retired temple. There a female servant of the queen discovers him, and 'as a secret can no more rest in his breast than morning dew upon the grass,' she soon finds out from him why the king is so changed, since his return from the battle with the demon, and carries the tale to the queen. In the meantime, the king is in despair, and pours out his grief. Urvasi also is sighing for him. She suddenly descends with her friend through the air to meet him.
Both are at first invisible to him, and listen to his confession of love.
Then Urvasi writes a verse on a birch-leaf, and lets it fall near the bower where her beloved reclines.
Next, her friend becomes visible, and at last, Urvasi herself is introduced to the king. After a few moments, however, both Urvasi and her friend are called back by a messenger of the gods, and the king is left alone with his jester. He looks for the leaf on which Urvasi had first disclosed her love, but it is lost, carried away by the wind. But worse than this the leaf is picked up by the queen, who comes to look for the king in the garden. The queen severely upbraids her husband, and, after a while, goes off in a hurry, like a river in the rainy season.
When Urvasi was recalled to Indra's heaven, she had to act before Indra the part of the goddess of beauty, who selects Vishnu for her husband. One of the names of Vishnu is Purushottama.
Poor Urvasi, when called upon to confess on whom her heart was set, forgetting the part she had to act, says "I love Pururavas," instead of "I love Purushottama."
Her teacher Bharata, the author of the play, is so much exasperated by this mistake, that he pronounces a curse upon Urvasi. "You must lose your divine knowledge." After the close of the performance, Indra, observing her as she stood apart, ashamed and disconsolate, calls her and says:--
"The mortal, who engrosses your thoughts, has been my friend in the days of adversity; he has helped me in the conflict with the enemies of the gods, and is entitled to my acknowledgements. You must, accordingly, repair to him and remain with him till he beholds the offspring you shall bear him." The god thus permits her to marry the mortal hero.
After transacting public business, the king retires to the garden of the palace as the evening approaches. A messenger arrives from the queen, apprising his Majesty that she desires to see him on the terrace of the pavilion. The king obeys and ascends the crystal steps while the moon is just about to rise, and the east is tinged with red.
As he is waiting for the queen, his desire for Urvasi is awakened again. On a sudden, Urvasi enters on a heavenly car, accompanied by his friend. They are invisible to the king as on the previous occasion. The moment that Urvasi is about to withdraw her veil, the queen appears. She is dressed in white, without any ornaments, and comes to propitiate her husband, by taking a vow.
Then she, calling upon the god of the moon, performs her solemn vow and retires.
Urvasi, who is present, though in an invisible state, during this scene of matrimonial reconciliation, now advances behind the king and covers his eyes with her hands. The king says:--
"It must be Urvasi; no other hand could shed such ecstasy through my emaciated frame. The solar rays do not wake the night's fair blossom; that alone expands when conscious of the moon's dear presence."
She takes the resignation of the queen in good earnest and claims the king as granted her by right. Her friend takes leave and she now remains with the king as his beloved wife in the groves of a forest.
Subsequently the lovers are wandering near Kailasa, the divine mountain, when Urvasi, in a fit of jealousy, enters the grove of Kumara, the god of war, which is forbidden to all females. In consequence of Bharat's curse she is instantly metamorphosed into a creeper. The king beside himself with grief at her loss, seeks her everywhere. The nymphs in a chorus deplore her fate. Mournful strains are heard in the air.
The king enters a wild forest, his features express insanity, his dress is disordered. Clouds gather overhead. He rushes frantically after a cloud which he mistakes for a demon that carried away his bride.
He addresses various birds and asks them whether they have seen his love,--the peacock, 'the bird of the dark-blue throat and eyes of jet,'--the cuckoo, 'whom lovers deem Love's messenger,'--the swans, 'who are sailing northward, and whose elegant gait betrays that they have seen her,'--the chakravaka, 'a bird who, during the night, is himself separated from his mate,'--but none responds. He apostrophises various insects, beasts and even a mountain peak to tell him where she is.
Neither the bees which murmur amidst the petals of the lotus, nor the royal elephant, that reclines with his mate under the Kadamba tree, has seen the lost one.
At last he thinks he sees her in the mountain stream:--
"The rippling wave is like her frown; the row of tossing birds her girdle; streaks of foam, her fluttering garment as she speeds along; the current, her devious and stumbling gait. It is she turned in her wrath into a stream."
At last the king finds a gem of ruddy radiance. He holds it in his hands, and embraces the vine which is now transformed into Urvasi. Thus is she restored to her proper form, through the mighty spell of the magical gem. The efficacious gem is placed on her forehead. The king recovers his reason. They are thus happily re-united and return to Allahabad.
Several years elapse. An unlucky incident now comes to pass. A hawk bears away the ruby of re-union. Orders are sent to shoot the bird, and, after a short while, a forester brings the jewel and the arrow by which the hawk was killed. An inscription on the shaft shows that its owner is Ayus. A female ascetic enters, leading a boy with a bow in hand.
The boy is Ayus, the son of Urvasi, whom his mother confided to the female ascetic who generously brought him up in the forest and now; sends him back to his mother. The king who was not aware that Urvasi had ever borne him a son, now recognises Ayus as his son. Urvasi also comes to embrace her boy. She now suddenly bursts into tears and tells the king:--
"Indra decreed that I am to be recalled to heaven when you see our son. This induced me to conceal from you so long the birth of the child. Now that you have accidentally seen the child, I shall have to return to heaven, in compliance with the decree of Indra."
She now prepares to leave her husband after she has seen her boy installed as associate king. So preparations are made for the inauguration ceremony when Narada the messenger of Indra, comes to announce that the god has compassionately revoked the decree. The nymph is thus permitted to remain on earth for good as the hero's second wife.
Nymphs descend from heaven with a golden vase containing the water of the heavenly Ganges, a throne, and other paraphernalia, which they arrange. The prince is inaugurated as Yuvaraj. All now go together to pay their homage to the queen, who had so generously resigned her rights in favour of Urvasi.