The text below is from the fourth chapter of the ‘Harshacharita’ (Deeds of Harsha) as translated by E. B. Cowell and F. W. Thomas. Bana describes the birth of Harsha and his siblings, Rajyavardhana (his elder brother) and Rajyashri (younger sister). The celebrations of the townsfolk (following their birth) are most amusing. The poet then narrates Rajyashri’s marriage to the Maukhari prince Grahavarman. The passages about the preparations made for the marriage, especially the work of craftsmen beautifying the Pushyabhuti mansions, are worth reading. It provides readers a glimpse of the wealth and opulence enjoyed by Indian royalty. I will be taking a break in this series covering Harshacharita, and moving to other topics, before returning to complete the tale.
From this Puspabhuti there issued a line of kings, as from the ocean a treasure of jewels attended by Lakshmi. In which line were born kings free from the stain of violating Dharma, dominating the world by their splendour, thronging the regions with their armies in array, strong to support the world, rising in might to guard the oceans, bestowing the fruits of desire; embracing all beings. The line so proceeding, there was born in course of time a king of kings named Prabhakaravardhana, famed far and wide under a second name Pratapashila, a lion to the Huna deer, a burning fever to the king of the Indus land, a troubler of the sleep of Gujarat, a bilious plague to that scent-elephant the lord of Gandhara, a looter to the lawlessness of the Lats, an axe to the creeper of Malwa’s glory. A proud man, he was vexed by his proud ambitions. Steadfast he kept his royal majesty. Levelling on every side hills and hollows, clumps and forests, trees and grass, thickets and anthills, mountains and caves, the broad paths of his armies seemed to portion out the earth for the support of his dependents. In the seraglios of slain rivals his valour was, as it were, materialized in the form of the five elements, fire in the women’s hearts, water in the hollows of their eyes, wind in their sighs, earth upon their forms, ether in the vacant solitude. As in a mirror, his glory was matched in those gems among ministers who attended him. A furious onslaught he counted a present, war a favour, the approach of battle a festival, a foe the discovery of a treasure, a host of enemies the acme of prosperity, a challenge to conflict a boon, a sudden onset an ovation, the fall of sword strokes a shower of wealth. This king had a queen, Yashovati, by name. She was honey in converse, ambrosia to those who sought delight, rain to her servants, beatitude to her friends, bamboo-like to her elders.
The king was by natural proclivity a devotee of the sun. Day by day at sunrise he bathed, arrayed himself in white silk, wrapt his head in a white cloth, and kneeling eastward upon the ground in a circle smeared with saffron paste, presented for an offering a bunch of red lotuses set in a pure vessel of ruby and tinged, like his own heart, with the sun’s hue. Solemnly at dawn, at midday, and at eve he muttered a prayer for offspring, humbly with earnest heart repeating a hymn having the sun as its centre. The heavenly can be won to favour its worshippers. So it happened that on the occasion of one hot season the king slept on his palace roof white with stucco spotless as the moon-light; and the queen lay on a second couch at his side. The night was near its close, and the lord of stars was declining with faded radiance, robbed of his beauty by the approach of dawn. A cool frosty dew was falling. Suddenly with a cry ‘Help, my lord! Help’ the queen leapt up, a tremour swaying her willowy form, and her tinkling anklets seeming to call out to her attendants. Instantly, the king awoke from sleep. With a right hand that trembled with rage he drew from beside his head a sword. His left hand swept aside his robe of fine muslin. Loosened by his hand’s furious movement, his golden bracelet flashed upon the heavens. He brought his left foot furiously down with a stamp that shook the palace. His necklace, which had fallen in front of him, having come within range of his sword edge, shone like a severed portion of the moonlight. Inflamed with rage and sleep, his eyes cast a glow upon the whole circle of the heavens, while a dark trident-shaped frown seemed to bring night back again, as he leapt up hastily crying, ‘Fear not, my queen, fear not’. When however on casting his glance in every direction he saw nothing, he inquired of the queen the cause of her fright. By this the women of the night watch had run up like family goddesses, and the servants who slept near were all awake. So now that the alarm which had made her heart tremble had subsided, the queen replied, ‘I know now, my lord. I saw in a dream two shining youths issue from the sun’s disk, filling the heavens as with radiance of morning. They wore crowns, earrings, armlets, and cuirasses: swords were in their hands: they were bathed in blood cochineal red. All the world bowed before them with upturned faces and hands joined reverently at their foreheads. Accompanied by one maid like a moon incarnate, they lighted upon the earth, and while I screamed, cut open my womb with a sword and essayed to enter. My heart quaked, and I awoke with a cry to my lord.’
At that juncture the morning horn rang out at the porch, like the first utterance of the king’s glory proclaiming the vision’s fulfilment. Briskly sounded the tom-toms, as if to announce a coming exaltation. The daybreak drum boomed, as if pleased to be struck with the stick. ‘Victory! Victory!’ pealed the loud voices of those who recited well-omened calls from sleep. In the stable yard of the favourite horses the slowly rising marshal chanted a Vaktra and an Aparavaktra verse, as before the sweetly neighing steeds he scattered emerald grass a-drip with frosty water:
By misshapen trees a treasure, by flashing light a fine jewel,
By an omen the approach of luck is clearly in the world revealed!
As the dawn, his harbinger, announces the sun, as the speeding blast the rain’s approach,
Even so the appearance of a previous vision foretells good, yea and evil hap to men!’
At these words the king’s heart was filled with delight. ‘Queen,’ said he, ‘you are at the hour of joy. Your parents’ prayers are answered. Our wishes are fulfilled. Our family goddesses have accepted you. In his graciousness the holy god of the radiant crown will grant you joy, and that soon, by the gift of three noble children.’ So much said, he descended and performed the customary ceremonies. Yashovati also was cheered by her husband’s words. After the lapse of a short period of time his majesty Rajyavardhana came first of three to being in the queen’s womb. Even as he lay in the womb his glory shed a pallor over his mother. Oppressed as it were by the weight of his virtues, she could not support her frame. Languid with the slowly growing burden of her child, she yet insisted on being conveyed with the support of friendly hands to salute her parents. In her lassitude she could be seen, like a doll-figure, propped against the nearest walls and trunks of trees. She could not lift her feet. Slow, slow was her gait, as if she were conducted by domestic hamsas. Her household duties she had scarce strength to command, not to speak of performing them. She could not support even her limbs, much less her ornaments. The very idea of climbing, made her bosom tremulously heave. When she should have risen in welcome, her child, as if through pride, kept her motionless with slender hands in vain applied to the points of her knees. All day long her downcast glance was turned in joy upon her zone, her lotus face brought near her bosom as if longing to see her child had drawn it inwards. With her child in her womb, and her husband in her heart, she bore as it were a double majesty. When the tenth month arrived, she brought forth my lord Rajyavardhana, heart-shaker of all kings. His birth was a birth of joy to the people, who became as it were dancing incarnate. For one month, which seemed a day, the king held a great festival, innumerable horns noisily sounding, hundreds of beaten tom-toms merrily booming, the hearts of all mankind ravished in a madness of delight.
A second period having elapsed, in the month of plantains, when the bud is on the kadamba tree, the barley blades grow in clusters, the red-lotus stands erect, the chataka’s heart expands, and the dwellers in Manasa are dumb, in that month Harsha came to being at once in the heart and womb of Yashovati, even as Krishna in Devaki. Gradually once more her willowy form, arrayed as it were in all her child’s pure worth, assumed a pallid hue. As pregnancy came on, her cup-like bosoms grew dark in their tender nipples, as if stamped for an emperor to drain. Slow grew her gait beneath the load, as it were, of a frame weighed down by the whole array of auspicious marks. As she moved tardily about, the earth, clasping her lotus feet mirrored in the spotless mosaic, seemed to pay her a prelude of worship. In her dreams all the four sky-elephants seemed to consecrate her, bearing water in folded lotus leaves held by their trunks. Moreover a wish grew upon her to bathe even in the united waters of the four great oceans. It was her heart’s desire to roam round sand isles in creeper arbours by the sea shore. Despite the jewelled mirrors close to her hand she was bent on seeing her face in a drawn sword’s blade. Supplanting the lute, the bow’s twang, ill-suiting a woman, was pleasing in her ear. Her eye was gratified by lions in their cages. Even in saluting her parents she scarce could bend her apparently stiffened head. Her friends, never for an instant leaving her side, brightened the house, as in anticipation of the approaching birth festival, with eyes wide-open in joy, as though strewing on every side a ceaseless protective charm. Great physicians holding various herbs sat in their proper places, supporting her as the mountains support the earth. At length in the month Jyaistha, on the twelfth day of the dark fortnight, the Pleiads being in the ascendant, just after the twilight time, when the young night had begun to climb, a sudden cry of women arose in the harem. Hurriedly issuing forth, Suyatra, daughter of Yashovati’s nurse and herself dearly beloved, fell at the king’s feet, crying ‘Good news! your majesty, you are blessed with the birth of a second son,’ and carried off the customary festal spoil.
At that very instant approached the astrologer Taraka, a man very highly esteemed by the king. Hundreds and hundreds of times he had shown supernatural insight by announcing facts beyond the ken of man, a calculator, deeply read in all the treatises on astronomy, extolled and liked among all astrologers, endowed with knowledge of the three times, and a Maga. ‘Give ear, O king!’ he cried, ‘It was on a day like this, free from the taint of all evil conjunctions such as malignant aspects of the sun and moon, at a moment like the present, when all the planets were similarly at their apexes, that Mandhatri came to birth. Since then in all the intervening time no second has in the whole world been born at a conjuncture so fit for a universal emperor’s birth. The son now born to your majesty shall be Coryphaeus of the Seven Emperors, bearer of the Seven Imperial Signs and the Great Jewels, Lord of the Seven Oceans, performer of all sacrifices of Seven Forms, the peer of him of the Seven Steeds.’ Instantly unblown horns rang out spontaneously loud and sweet. Unbeaten boomed the consecration drum deep as the roar of oceans in turmoil. Unstruck the auspicious tabors pealed. Tossing their manes, the horses neighed with joy. Sportively uplifting their trunks as if dancing, the elephants trumpeted in sounds grateful to the ear. Soon a heavenly breeze, fragrant with perfumes of wine, blew like a sigh of Lakshmi letting fall the disc. In the courts of the sacrificers the unfed Vaitana fires blazed up with flames curving to the right to foretell the coming luck. From the earth uprose great treasures, enclosed in cups bedecked with chains of gold. At that moment white-clad Brahmans approached with the Veda on their lips, like the Prajapatis of the golden age, to foster the new-born life. Like Dharma incarnate came the family priest with lustral water and fruits ready in his hand. Like immemorial customs the arriving elders of the family could be seen. Away ran disorderly crowds of freed prisoners, their faces hairy with long matted beards. Like camp lines of a now departed wickedness seemed the rows of shops, given up to general pillage. In a great throng of boys danced the old nurses, encircled, like the young mother’s tutelary deities incarnate, in a troop of dwarfs and deaf people with laughing upturned faces. So proceeded the great birth festival, the order of the royal household gone, the pretence of chamberlains laid low, the mace bearers robbed of their maces, master and servants reduced to a level, young and old confounded, learned and unlearned on one footing, drunk and sober not to be distinguished, noble maidens and harlots equally merry, the whole population of the capital set a-dancing. From the morrow onwards the wives of the neighbouring kings could be observed in thousands approaching the palace from every side. After them followed servants bearing garlands in wide baskets, with bath powder sprinkled upon the flowers; dishes laden with bits of camphor, clear as crystal granules, jewelled caskets of saffron scents, ivory boxes, studded with rows of sandal-hued areca nuts and tufted with slim khadira fibres dripping mango oil, vermillion and powder boxes red and pink, with murmuring bees sipping parijata perfumes, betel trees with bundles of nuts hanging from the young slips. As they danced, the quarters of the heavens rang with jewelled anklets clashing as their feet knocked together.
Thus the festal jubilation gradually blossomed forth. Here young people, of ancient noble houses and unused to dancing, showed by frolics their love for the king. There drunken slave women allured the favourites, while the monarch himself looked on with a secret smile. In one place respectable old feudatories were, much to his amusement, clasping the necks of the intoxicated bawds of the capital in a furious dance. In another place naughty slave boys, set on by a glance from the sovereign, betrayed in songs the secret amours of the ministers of state. Elsewhere wanton water-girls raised a laugh by embracing aged ascetics. Elsewhere again in the eagerness of ardent rivalry throngs of slaves carried on a war of foul language. In another place chamberlains knowing nothing of dancing were, to the entertainment of the maids, violently forced to dance by the king’s women. The festival showed mountains of flower heaps, rum-booths like shower-baths, Nandana forests of parijata scent, a hoar-frost of camphor dust, a booming of drums like Shiva’s laugh, vortexes of dancing rings, a horripilation of rays from jewelled ornaments. Young men frolicked in thousands, prancing, like Kamboja steeds, with garlands of kesharas hanging upon their shoulders, leaping with dancing eyes like spotted antelopes, rending the earth with furious stamps. Scarce could the earth sustain the tramp of troubadours dancing to time. Smash went the pearls in the ornaments of the young princes slapping each other in their play. The heavens gleamed with clouds of perfume powder. Yellowed with scattered scent dust, the daylight glowed. Men tripped over heaps of pearls that fell from necklaces broken in collisions.
In this place and in that harlot-women danced to the accompaniment of instrumental music. Tambourines were slowly, slowly thumped; reeds sweetly piped, cymbals tinkled, string drums were belaboured, the low gourd lute sang, gently boomed the kahalas with their brazen sounding boxes, while all the time a subdued clapping proceeded. Whispering softly, like cuckoos, in low passionate tones, they sang the words of vulgar mimes, ambrosia to their lovers’ ears. Wreaths were about their brows, and chaplets round their ears, upon their foreheads sandal marks. With upraised creeper-like arms, vocal with rows of bracelets, they seemed to embrace the very sun. Like Kashmir colts, they leapt all aglow with saffron stains. Great garlands of amaranth hung down upon their round hips, as if they were ablaze with passion’s flame. Dusty were they with camphor and perfumes scattered in handfuls. While the rapid booming of the drums thrilled through their lithe frames, they cast off flower pollen. In other places, where under the terror of chamberlains’ wands the people had made room, the king’s wives essayed the dance, a brilliant throng with a forest of white parasols held above them, as if they were wood nymphs roaming beneath trees of paradise. Some, wrapt in loose shawls hanging from both shoulders, swayed as if mounted on play swings. Some, with wavy robes torn by the edge of golden armlets, were like rivers lined by crossing ruddy-geese. Others, whose bright side glances were bounded by earrings entangled in tufts of white waving chowries, were like pools with hamsas plucking at forests of blue lotuses. Echoing with clusters of tinkling ornaments, the heavens seemed nought but clanging bells. Even old ladies shouted like maniacs. Old men even lost all shame, as though bewitched. The wise forgot themselves, as if intoxicated. Even hermits’ hearts were all agog for a dance. The king gave away all his fortune. Heaps of wealth, like Kuvera’s treasuries, were plundered by the folk on every side.
This great festival ended, another period of time passed gradually by. Rajyavardhana was now nearing his sixth year, while his majesty Harsha could just manage five or six paces with the support of his nurse’s finger. His majesty wore upon his head a mustard amulet, like a spark of his valour’s fire just peeping forth. His form was stained yellow with gorocana, as if his inborn warrior’s prowess were coming to light. His neck was ornamented with a row of great tiger’s claws linked with gold, like buds of pride bursting from his heart. He could manage a child’s first indistinct cries, the prelude as it were of truth. His innocent smiles won his kinsmen’s hearts, as flowers do bees. Tiny teeth, growing like buds of happy smiles and watered with the dew of his mother’s cuplike breasts, were beginning to adorn his lotus mouth. The womenfolk in the harem safeguarded him like honour; the ministers of state preserved him like a state secret; the young nobles held fast to him as to virtue; his kindred cherished him like the family prestige; the swords of guards caged him in like a lion’s whelp. It was at this time that queen Yashovati became pregnant with Rajyashri. And when the time of her delivery was come, as the pool gives birth to the lotus bed with its long red stalks and roots, as the rains to the autumn sweetly vocal with wild geese, as the spring to woodrows with their limbs all fair with flowers, so Yashovati gave birth to a daughter, who added to the two sons formed a further ornament, like the line of a necklace above her two bosoms. About this time Yashovati’s brother presented his son Bhandi, a boy about eight years of age, to serve the young princes. Tufted with tossing side-locks of curly hair, the boy was like a reborn Kama. Darkened on one side of his body by an earring of sapphire, whitened on the other by the light of a pearl in his ear-ornament, he was like a compound Avatar of Vishnu and Shiva. A diamond bracelet bound about his stout forearm suggested a rejuvenated Parashurama. Though still a child, he bore himself stiffly, like a seed of the tree of valour. To this additional son the king’s regard was equally attached, as Shiva’s sight to his third eye. The princes also, the heart’s joy of all creatures, derived a greater splendour from the company of this naturally courtly child. Growing in due course step by step with a fourth brother, as it were, namely the people’s joy, they came to manhood. With stout thighs like pillars, forearms broad as propylaea,, long arms like bars, wide chests like panels, stately as tall ramparts, they were like the gateway of a great city strong to afford refuge to a whole world. Charming were they and not to be gazed upon, like sun and moon overpowering the world by the flame of their flashing splendour and effulgence manifested, like the immovable Himalaya and Vindhya in conjunction, like Aruna and Garuda, borne on horses and well-proportioned, like Indra and Vishnu, with the gait of elephants; like Karna and Arjuna, bedecked with ring and diadem, like the eastern and western heavens. Thus were the names Rajyavardhana and Harsha proclaimed abroad over all the earth, in so much that in a very little time they attained to fame in other Continent Isles likewise.
One day their father, having summoned them, retired in their company after dinner to his private apartments and affectionately addressed them, ‘My dear sons, it is difficult to secure good servants, the first essential of sovereignty. In general mean persons, making themselves congenial, like atoms, in combination, compose the substance of royalty. Fools, setting people to dance in the intoxication of their play, make peacocks of them. Knaves, working their way in, reproduce as in a mirror their own image. Like dreams, impostors by false phantasies beget unsound views. By songs, dances, and jests unmatched flatterers, bring on madness. Like thirsty chatakas, low-born persons cannot be held fast. Cheats, like fishermen, hook the purpose at its first rise in the mind. Like those who depict infernos, loud singers paint unrealities on the canvas of the air. Suitors, more keen than arrows, plant a barb in the heart. For these reasons I have appointed to wait upon your highnesses the brothers Kumaragupta and Madhavagupta, sons of the Malwa king, inseparable as my arms from my side; they are men found by frequent trials untouched by any taint of vice, blameless, discreet, strong, and comely. To them your highnesses also will show a consideration not enjoyed by the rest of your dependents.’ So much said, he ordered the chamberlain to summon the pair. After a brief interval the two princes, whose eyes were fixed upon the entrance, saw Kumaragupta, the elder brother, entering with the chamberlain. He was a young man neither very tall nor very short, in age about eighteen years. He planted weighty steps, as if to steady the ground. Upon his stout forearm, where it was marked by the bowstring’s scar, shone a spray of light from the jewelled bracelet of his left wrist. His face suggested a moon with Rohini set in its heart. For a crest he bore an amlataka flower, like his loyalty, upon his head. Resplendent as he was, the noble nature within made his brilliance soothing as a sun with a moon inside it. From the hardness of his frame he seemed to wear down the very mountains. Behind him came his younger brother Madhavagupta, who for height and dignity resembled a moving mountain. With profound gravity he kept his gaze fixed upon his heart. He had the eye of a gazelle, the nose of a boar, the broad shoulders of a buffalo, the forearm of a tiger, the prowess of a lion, the gait of an elephant. Entering, they bowed from afar till their four limbs and heads touched the ground, then assumed a suitable position indicated by a kindly glance from the king. After a momentary pause he gave them instructions from that day forth to wait upon the princes. ‘As your majesty commands’ they answered, and rising, saluted Rajyvardhana and Harsha by swaying their heads again and again to the earth. They on their part saluted their father. From that hour the two were, like opening and shutting, never absent from the range of the princes’ eyes.
Meanwhile Rajyashri gradually grew up in daily increasing familiarity with friends expert in song, and dance, and with all accomplishments. In a comparatively limited period she came to maturity. On her alone fell the glances of all kings, like arrows on the target, and sending envoys, monarchs sought her hand. One day the king, standing on the roof of the seraglio, heard a man in the outer court sing an Arya couplet which had suggested itself to him:
At the time of the bosoms’ swelling, growing with the passing of each rainy season,
A daughter brings low her father, like a river its bank, in a whirlpool of agitation.
Hearing this, the king dismissed the servants, and said to the queen at his side, ‘Our darling Rajyashri, my queen, is now grown a young woman. The thought of her, like her noble qualities, never for a moment leaves my heart. As soon as every girls near maturity, their fathers become fuel to the flame of pain. The swelling of her bosoms darkens my heart, as clouds the day. It is a law of right, by whomsoever framed not with my consent, that children born of our body, dandled at our breasts, never to be abandoned, are taken from us by the unexpected arrival of someone unknown to us. Truly, these indeed are the brandmarks of this transient life. Herein has sorrow’s fire more than in aught else a power to burn, that whereas both are our offspring good men grieve at a daughter’s birth. Hence is it that to their daughters noble men offer water even at birth in their tears. For this fear sages, neglecting marriage, dispensing with domestic life, take refuge in desolate forests. Who indeed can bear to part with a child? The more that suitors’ envoys flock in, the deeper does wretched anxiety retire, as if abashed, into my heart. What can we do? In spite of all, householders must follow the ways of the world. In general too, though a bridegroom may have other merits, the wise especially incline towards good family. Now at the head of all royal houses stand the Mukharas, worshipped, like Shiva’s footprint, by all the world. Of that race’s pride, Avantivarman, the eldest son, Grahavarman by name, who lacks not his father’s virtues, a prince like the lord of planets descended upon earth, seeks our daughter. Upon him, if your majesty’s thoughts are likewise favourable, I propose to bestow her.’ To these her husband’s words the queen with tearful eyes and a heart alarmed by love for her daughter replied, ‘Mothers, your majesty, are to their daughters no more indeed than nurses, useful only in rearing them. In their bestowal the father is the judge. Love for a daughter however far far exceeds love for a son, pity causing the difference. My lord only knows how all our lives long she is a care to us.’ His resolution taken in the matter of his daughter’s bestowal, the king sent for his sons and acquainted them also with his purpose. Then on a day of good omen, in the presence of the whole royal household, he poured the betrothal water upon the hand of an envoy extraordinary, who had arrived previously with instructions from Grahavarman to sue for the princess.
He having gleefully departed with his mission accomplished, the royal household, as the marriage days drew near, assumed an aspect brilliant, charming, exciting, and auspicious. All the world bedecked itself with betel, perfumes, and flowers, distributed with a lavish hand. From every country were summoned companies of skilled artists. Under the charge of royal officers came whole villages, bringing loads of serviceable gifts. Emissaries conveyed presents from many a king. The favourites busied themselves in the disposal of troops of relatives, come in answer to invitations. Leather workers, wild with intoxication, having been treated with wine, flourished in their hands drumsticks, with which they sharply struck the festal drums. Mortars, pestles, stone blocks and other utensils were bedecked with pounded perfumes. Successive trains of troubadours, appearing on every side, crowded the courts, where images of Indrani were being set up. Carpenters, presented with white flowers, unguents, and clothes, planned out the marriage altar. Workmen mounted on ladders, with brushes upheld in their hands and plaster palls on their shoulders, whitened the top of the street wall of the palace. Torrents of water from pounded saffron now being washed stained the feet. The courtyards were seas of elephants and horses, bridal gifts, undergoing inspection. Throngs of astrologers, set calculating, investigated the characteristics of different moments. Crocodile-mouthed conduits, conveying scented water, filled a variety of pleasure ponds. The outer terraces resounded with the din of gold-workers engaged in hammering gold. Plasterers were covered with showers of sand which fell over them from freshly erected walls. A group of skilled painters painted auspicious scenes. Multitudes of modelers moulded clay figures of fishes, tortoises, crocodiles, cocoanuts, plantains, and betel trees. Even kings girt up their loins, and busied themselves in carrying out decorative work set as tasks by their sovereign, being variously engaged in polishing mosaic floors of red lead, or erecting the posts for marriage platforms, which they strewed with handfuls of liquid atarpana pigment, reddened with cochineal disposed about them, and adorned at the top with mango and ashoka twigs. From the furthest orient had come the queens of all the feudatories, noble, high-bred, shapely, well-clad, unwidowed dames with lines of vermilion powder glittering on their foreheads. Thronging the household, they sang sweet well-omened songs containing allusions to the bride and bridegroom’s families; or with fingers steeped in colours dyed neck-strings; or employed their skill in leaf and plant painting to adorn polished cups and collections of unbaked clay-ware; or stained skeins of cotton thread for bamboo baskets and fabrics of wool for marriage amulets; or manufactured cosmetics, compounded of saffron paste clotted by balashana essence, and face unguents adding distinction to beauty; or made strings of cloves mingled with kakkola fruit, containing also nutmegs, and large bright lumps of crystalline camphor threaded in the intervals.
The palace was arrayed in textures flashing on every side like thousands of rainbows, textures of linen, cotton, bark silk, spider’s thread, muslin, and shot silk, resembling sloughs of snakes, soft as the unripe plantain’s fruit, swaying at a breath, imperceptible except to the touch. Some were being made by ancient city matrons, cunning in diverse ways of cutting and measuring; some, made already, were being dyed by washermen, who beamed with respect for the courtly old ladies of the harem; some, after dyeing, had been shaken by servants clinging to either end, and were drying in the shade; some, now dry, were having all the charm of sprays reproduced in their twisted shapes: in some cases the spotting with saffron paste had been begun, and in others the fragile stuffs were torn, while grasped by servitor, who lifted their arms to clutch them. Couches, whose gay coverlets cast the hamsa tribes into the shade; bodices overlaid with starlike pearls; countless thousands of canvas and cloth pieces, divided up for various uses; awnings bright with soft, freshly dyed bark silk; marquees, whose roofs were covered all over with garments, and posts swathed in strips of variegated silk: all these gave to the court an aspect brilliant, attractive, exciting, and auspicious. The queen Yashovati, though only one person, seemed in the flurry of the marriage festival multifariously divided, her heart being with her husband, her curiosity with the bridegroom, her love with her daughter, her attentions with the invited ladies, her injunctions with the servants, her body accompanying her motions, her eyes busy in looking after things done and omitted, her joy permeating the festival. The king likewise ever and anon dispatched a female camel to his gratified son-in-law, and however apt the servants, intently watching his face, might be in executing his orders, yet in the distraction of fatherly affection he did everything in person along with his two sons.
Thus the royal household became as it were the essence of freedom from widowhood; a world seemed born full of auspiciousness. Calculated as it were by the people’s fingers, watched for by the banners on the highways, welcomed by reverberations of auspicious music, invoked by astrologers, attracted by wishes, embraced by the hearts of the bride’s women friends, the marriage day arrived. Instantly at dawn all strangers were expelled by the chamberlains, and the royal family was drawn apart. Anon the groom-in-waiting, having entered, introduced a young man of fair exterior, saying, ‘A betel-bearer, your majesty, by name Parijataka, arrived from the bridegroom’s presence. With a graciousness due to esteem for his son-in-law the king inquired of the man while still at a distance, ‘Young sir, is Grahavarman well?’ Hearing the king’s voice, he advanced a few paces in a run, and stretching out his arms, courtier that he was, bent his head for some time to the earth; then rising said, ‘He is well, as your majesty observes, and sends respectful greetings to your majesty.’ Understanding him to have come with tidings of the bridegroom’s arrival, the king after offering hospitality sent him back with this charge, ‘At the first watch of the night see that no mishap arise owing to the passing of the marriage hour.’
When the day was ended, having transferred to the bride’s face as it were the beauty of all his lotus beds, while the sun glowed like the foot of the bridal day’s loveliness; when the dark, like the dust of the bridegroom’s approaching train, was besmirching the heavenly spaces, and, as if all ready to effect the favourable conjunction, the starry array was rising; while, like an auspicious marriage bowl, the moon’s disk was shooting up with ever growing halo of whiteness, then true to his time the bridegroom drew nigh. Before him with red gold-studded chowries incessantly flashing ran footmen. The horizon was filled with troops of horses, which were welcomed, as it seemed, by answering neighs from the prick-eared steeds of the capital. Throngs of mighty elephants with chowries waving at their ears, arrayed in trappings all of gold, with gay housings and twanging bells, seemed to reform the darkness. He came mounted on an elephant whose muzzle was bedecked with a zodiac of pearls. All about him was a hubbub of dancing troubadours shrilling forth the notes of diverse birds. An array of lamps, incensed with dripping perfumed oil, made yellow all the world as with a cloud of saffron powder. His head, with its flowery topknot set amid a blooming jasmine wreath, seemed to scorn the moonlit evening. He had formed for himself a mock vaikaksaka wrap with a wreath of flowers, like a flowery bow taken from Kama. He resembled a Tree of Paradise born and descended again with Shri upon the earth. His heart drawn on as in eagerness to behold his new bride’s countenance, he appeared almost to fall forward on his face. On his arrival at the gate the king and his sons, accompanied by their royal retinue, went forth on foot to meet him. Dismounting he bowed, and the king with outstretched arms gave him a hearty embrace. Next in order he embraced Rajyavardhana and Harsha, and the king, taking him by the hand, led him within doors, where he honoured him with a seat equal to his own and with other attentions. Soon Gambhira, a wise Brahman attached to the king, said to Grahavarman, ‘My son, by obtaining you Rajyashri has at length united the two brilliant lines of Puspabhuti and Mukhara, whose worth, like that of the Sun and Moon houses, is sung by all the world to the gratification of wise men’s ears. Previously you were set fast by your merits on the king’s breast, like the Kaustubha jewel on Vishnu’s. But now you are one to be supported, like the moon by Shiva, on his head.’ Even while he spoke, the astrologers, approaching the king, said, ‘Your majesty, the moment approaches; let the bride-groom proceed to the bridal house.’ The king bidding him rise and go, Grahavarman entered the women’s apartments, and, disregarding the thousands of glances that like opening blue lotuses fell upon him from women curious to see the bridegroom, passed on to the door of the bridal house, where he stayed his attendants and entered. There amid a company of relatives, friends, and servants, mostly women, he espied his bride, whose face, hidden, like the morning twilight, by its roseate veil, dulled the gleaming lamps by its radiance. Not too tightly embraced by woman-hood, which seemed alarmed by her excessive delicacy, she appeared, by the long soft sighs which her bosom, choked with fright, could scarcely utter, to bemoan her departing maidenhood. Trembling she stood motionless with bashfulness, as if fearing to fall, gazing with a quiver of terror in her mind at that lotus-red hand so soon to be grasped. Her body was white with sandal, as though born of a (white) lotus bed. A fragrance of flowers breathed about her, as if she had come forth from the heart of spring. Love followed in the train of one who seemed a reborn Rati. Compounded of all gem-like natures, brilliancy, loveliness, intoxication, fragrance and sweetness, she seemed a second Shri. She seemed to chide her shamefaced friends and heart, which, bewildered by the spectacle of a bridegroom, ever and anon essayed to raise a glance.
No sooner had that thief of hearts made his entrance than he was delivered over by his bride into the clutches of love. Most deftly he performed all that in the marriage hall the bridegroom is made to do by women with faces lit by a mocking smile. Then, his bride having been arrayed in the dress proper for the ceremony, he took her by the hand, and going forth, came to an altar whitened with new plaster and surrounded by invited kings, as when the slopes of Himalaya were girt by mountains gathered to the wedding of Shiva and Parvati. Gleaming around it were earthen dolls, whose hands bore auspicious fruits, and which had five-mouthed cups bristling with dew-besprent blades of barley. Brahman witnesses busied themselves in kindling the flame, which smoked under logs heaped up by the teachers. Close to the fire unsoiled green kusha grass was set, and hard by were bundles of pounding stones, antelope skins, ghee, garlands, and fuel, while a sparkle of parched grain was mixed with dark shami leaves placed in new baskets. This altar the bridegroom ascended, as the moon with his beauty mounts the heavens. As the god of the flowery bow came with Rati to the red ashoka, so he drew near the fire with its tremulous sprays of red flame. The fire being fed, he marched round towards the right, attended by the very flames, which as if curious to see the bride’s face took a rightward twist. And as the rice oblation was let fall, the blaze, whitened by the gleam of nails, seemed to smile in amazement at the bride and bridegroom’s unprecedented grace of form.
Anon a tempest of tear drops, clear as great pearls, showed itself in the bride’s face, which yet displayed no discomposure, and, as if to quench the fire’s image in her cheeks’ clear oval, she burst into weeping. With eyes brimming with tears the women of the family raised a lugubrious cry. All the bridal rites being fully completed, the husband bowed with his wife to their parents, and then entered their chamber. About its portals were figured the spirits of Love and Joy. Bees going before like friends raised a hubbub. At the foot of a blossoming red ashoka carved on one side stood the god of love aiming his shaft, the arrow drawn to the string, and a third of his eye sideways closed. A fair well-upholstered bed with pillows was guarded on the one side by a golden rinsing vessel, on the other by a golden figure holding an ivory box. At the bed’s head stood a night bowl of silver bedecked with lotuses. There, while the bashful young bride slept with her face averted, the bridegroom spent the night in gazing at her images in the mirrors of the jewelled walls. Abiding in his new father’s house, by his noble nature raining ambrosia as it were upon his new mother’s heart, he spent ten blissful days, ever varying with continually renewed tokens of favour; and then, leaving regret like a palace porter behind, and taking all men’s hearts with him like provisions named in the dowry, he managed to secure his dismissal from the king and set out with his bride to his native country.
PS: Though the text is taken from the English translation by E. B. Cowell and F. W. Thomas, I have made minor changes to make it easier to read and understand. This required the removal of entire paragraphs in between (mostly literary hyperbole), and the substitution of certain words (archaic or confusing).
Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is a painting showing gods singing and dancing for the deities Shiva and Parvati (c. 1780-1790 CE). Bana compared the wedding of Grahavarman and Rajyashri to that of Shiva and Parvati. It was the work of an Indian painter, Khushala, from the state of Himachal Pradesh. Indian marriages are accompanied by singing and dancing, and Bana says the same of Rajyashri’s marriage. In the painting, the gods are seen doing the same when Shiva marries Parvati.
- The Harshacharita of Bana translated by E. B. Cowell and F. W. Thomas (1897)
- Banabhatta: A Monograph by K. Krishnamoorthy (1976)