The text below is from the eighth chapter of the ‘Harshacharita’ (Deeds of Harsha) as translated by E. B. Cowell and F. W. Thomas. Harsha met Vyaghraketu, the son of a tributary chief in the Vindhyas, who in turn introduced him to a young man of the Shabara tribe, by the name Nirghata. When the King enquired about Rajyashri, the Shabara told him that there lived in the forest, at the foot of a mountain, a Buddhist monk Divakaramitra, who could be of great help to them. Together, they made their way to the holy man’s abode, traversing woods full of diverse flora and fauna, with the royal entourage in their wake. Bana provides a fascinating, and at times, comic description of the hermitage’s inhabitants. Divakaramitra greeted Harsha, who told him about the tragedy that had befallen his family, and of Rajyashri’s desperate flight. The monk told him that he had not heard of any noble woman wandering in the neighborhood. But a young mendicant arrived at that very moment, and spoke of a lady of royal birth, about to end her life by mounting a pyre, out of grief. He had come across her, and her retinue, in the course of his morning rounds. Harsha and Divakaramitra set off immediately, in the direction of the the royal posse. They arrived just in time to prevent Rajyashri from immolating herself. After a tearful reunion, brother and sister decided to return. They also persuaded Divakaramitra to accompany them, impressed as they were by his bearing and conduct. Both expressed their desire to embrace the Buddhist faith, and assume the red robes of renunciation at the opportune time.
Next morning the king rose up and going out of that village went into a forest of the Vindhya; and there he roamed hither and thither for many days. But one day as he was wandering, the son of Sharabhaketu, a tributary chief in the forest, named Vyaghraketu, taking with him a young mountaineer came up to the king. Now the young mountaineer had his hair tied into a crest above his forehead with a band of the shyamalata creeper dark like lampblack, and his dark forehead was like a night that always accompanied him in his wild exploits, with an involuntary frown which branched in three lines; his ear had an ear-ring of glass-like crystal fastened in it, and it assumed a green hue from a parrot’s wing which ornamented it, while his somewhat bleared eye, with its scanty lashes, seemed by its native colouring to distil hyena’s blood which had been applied as a medicine, his nose was flat, his lower lip thick, his chin low, his jaws full, his forehead and cheek-bones projecting, his neck a little bent down while one half of his shoulders stood up, he seemed to mock the broad rocks of the Vindhya’s side with his brawny chest, which was broadened by exercise and hardened by incessantly bending his bow, while his arms, which were more solid than a boa-constrictor, made light of the tallest shala trees of the Himalayas; he wore a tin armlet, decorated with white godanta beads, which was placed on his forearm, the back of which was covered with a bundle of the rootlets of nagadamana fastened together by the bristles of boars; he had a thin belly but a prominent navel; his huge broad loins were rendered formidable by a sword, the end of which was anointed with quicksilver and its handle was made of polished horn, it was wrapped in a short black antelope skin as in a woven covering, and its sheath was adorned with the spotted skin of a chitraka snake, placed between two strips of the skin of an ahirani snake. His brawny thighs were covered with the flesh that had as it were fallen down from his waist which had grown thin and spare in his early youth; his dark body seemed as it were to blossom with a leather quiver on his back, made of a bear’s skin, wrapped round with a spotted leopard’s skin, its woolly hair black with the bees that clustered on it, and filled with arrows bearing mostly crescent-shaped heads; he carried a hunter’s extemporised box of colours with him in a partridge whose red palate was displayed through its open beak, while its neck was strung on the end of the sharp notched extremity of the bow, and a hare whose soft white hair on its breast was clearly seen by reason of its body being stretched out (as it hung suspended), while its nostrils were stained with a line of blood red like a bandhuka flower and an extempore svastika sign was produced by one of its legs which was caught in a hole cut by an arrow in the other one, it hung head-downwards on his stout bamboo-like arm which bore a bow resting on his left shoulder and which was adorned with a profuse pigment of peacock’s gall, and was full of fierce vigour and with its sinews fashioned of khadira roots, while the top of the arm was gay with a blue jay’s tail fastened on the upper part. His right hand seemed busily engaged with a vikarna arrow, having its point dipped in a potent poison, and looking like a black snake which had been stupefied by certain roots. He was like a moving dark tamala tree on the side of a mountain, a moving mass of black collyrium, a melting block of iron from the Vindhya, a very fever to the elephants, the noose of death to the deer, a comet of ill omen to the lions, the last day of the Durga Puja to the buffaloes, the personified essence of destruction, the embodied fruit of sin, the cause of the Kali age, the lover of doom’s night.
Having made him stand at a distance, the chief addressed the king, ‘My lord, there is a general of the Shabaras named Bhukampa, the lord of this Vindhya range, the leader of all the village chiefs, this is his sister’s son Nirghata, who knows every leaf in this Vindhya forest, and still more its localities; let your majesty ask him, he is able to carry out every command.’ Nirghata laid his head on the ground and made his obeisance and offered the partridge and hare as his present. The king respectfully asked him, ‘Sir, you are acquainted with all this region, you love wandering at this season; has a noble lady come within the general’s sight or that of any of his attendants?’ Nirghata, feeling himself honoured by being thus addressed by the king, bowed and thus respectfully spoke, ‘Sire, scarcely the deer can wander here unnoticed by the general, much less then women, or such a distinguished lady. Still according to your command every day a search is carried on by diligent messengers. And in a great thicket of trees, reverenced by munis, which grows at the foot of some mountains a league from this place, there dwells near a mountain stream a wandering mendicant who lives on alms, named Divakaramitra, with a train of disciples, haply he might learn some tidings.’ The king reflected, ‘I have heard that a follower of the Maitrayani shakha, the boy friend of the deceased Grahavarman of auspicious name, having abandoned the three Vedas, when he was a leading Brahman teacher, though still young in years, turned his studies to the Buddhist doctrine and assumed the red dress. Now even the sight of a friend generally gives much comfort to one’s heart, and the good qualities of every one are worthy of a visit, and who would not shew respect to a muni? And, again, religious asceticism, fit mate to virtue, causes honour to be paid even to a fool, still more to a really wise man who wins the hearts of all men. Since my heart has been continually desirous of seeing him, this is a lucky chance that has come in my way, we will visit him as we have so earnestly sought for such an interview.’ Aloud he said, ‘Shew me, Sir, the place where the mendicant dwells.’ So saying, he proceeded in the direction indicated.
As he went on, there rose in his view all sorts of trees, some full of fruit, karnikaras in blossom, champakas in abundance, large phalegrahis, namerus bowed down with fruit, palms and naladas with dark green leaves, sarala pines and the yellow nagakesaras, lines of kuruvakas, bristling with their opening buds; every direction was painted with the beauty of the shoots of the red ashoka, while a beautiful grey hue was thrown over them by the pollen of the blossoming kesaras; the tilakas had their surface covered with their own pollen as with sand, while assafoetida spread everywhere. Betel nuts abounded on all sides, the priyangus were brown with quantities of flowers, everywhere was heard the pleasant murmur of the bees gathered on the sprays which were red with pollen, while the undisturbed rubbing of the elephants’ cheeks was revealed by the tell-tale trunks of the muchukunda trees, which were stained by the dark ichor. The grassy glades were all bright with the young antelopes skipping about without fear, while the tamala trees darker than midnight obscured the sunshine; the deodars were spangled with their clusters of flowers, while the lines of rose apples and jambhiras were studded with patches of flickering betel-vines; the air was kissed by clumps of dhulikadamba trees white with the powder of their flowers, while the ground was moist with the dropping honey; the nostrils were refreshed with perfume; the hollow trunks of the kutujas were tenanted by the hens with their new broods, while the young sparrows uttered their cries as they were tended by the mother birds, and the beaks of the chakora birds were busy in feeding their mates, and the bhurundas were fearlessly eating the ripe brown-red fruit of the pilu trees, and the merciless parrots were piercing the never-failing fruit of the katphalas, while they dropped the unripe berries; the young hares basked on the smooth rocks; lizards rolled about securely in the roots of the shephalika water-plants; the antelopes were free from fear, the ichneumons played in peace, the soft-voiced kokilas devoured the opening buds, the deer lay ruminating in the mango groves, troops of nilandajas rested at their ease, and the female gayals as they gave milk to their young were watched by the motionless wolves, the drum-like flapping of the elephants’ ears grew languid in the pleasant sleep induced by the lulling sound of the cataracts falling from the mountain slopes near by; the ruru deer listened well-pleased to the songs of the neighbouring kinnaris, the hyenas were delighted, the snouts of the young boars were stained with the juice of the padru trees which was yellow when freshly pierced, polecats were making a low noise in the gunja shrubs, and tribes of shalijatakas lay asleep in the nutmeg trees, while the young monkeys, angry at being bitten, tore in pieces the nests of the red worms, and the baboons, eager for the bread fruit, leaped on the lavali shrubs; the water-basins at the foot of the trees had been made with sand, the mountain-streams were checked in their rush by the zigzag lines of waterpots, while pitchers hung on the thick boughs and branches, and the bowers were full of empty begging-bowls suspended by looped strings; models of chaityas stamped on pink clay were set up in the neighbouring hermits’ huts; the ground was stained with the water which was coloured by the dye of the brown rags; the peacocks raised their storm of cries; the branches of innumerable trees met in confusion, they seemed to lift great dark lakes of verdure into the air like so many Yamunas, like flowering mountains of collyrium, children of the Vindhya born in the forest.
The king reflected, ‘The venerable mendicant cannot be far off.’ Having alighted, and washed his mouth in a mountain stream and having made his troop of cavalry halt in that place while the forest glades were deafened by the neighing of the horses as they welcomed the sudden rest, and in his heart having assumed a deportment suitable for a visit to such a holy man, and leaning with his right hand on Madhavagupta’s shoulder, he proceeded on foot attended by a few tributary kings. Then in the middle of the trees, while he was yet at a distance, the holy man’s presence was suddenly announced by the king’s seeing various Buddhists from various provinces seated in different situations, perched on pillars, or seated on the rocks or dwelling in bowers of creepers or lying in thickets or in the shadow of the branches or squatting on the roots of trees, devotees dead to all passion, Jainas in white robes, white mendicants, followers of Krishna, religious students, ascetics who pulled out their hair, followers of Kapila, Jainas, Lokayatikas, followers of Kanada, followers of the Upanishads, believers in God as a Creator, assayers of metals, students of the legal institutes, students of the Puranas, adepts in sacrifices requiring seven ministering priests, adepts in grammar, followers of the Pancharatra and others besides, all diligently following their own tenets, pondering, urging objections, raising doubts, resolving them, giving etymologies, disputing, studying, and explaining, and all gathered here as his disciples. His feet were licked by some deer who seemed to drink in ascetic calmness; he propitiated universal charity by means of a young dove which sat on his left hand and ate wild rice, while he poured water on a peacock, which stood near with its neck uplifted. He was clad in a very soft red cloth, as if he were the eastern quarter of the sky, bathed in the morning sunshine, teaching the other quarters to assume the red Buddhist attire, while they were flushed with the pure red glow of his body like a ruby freshly cut; he was the Supreme Buddhist Avalokiteshvara, absorbed without faultering in penances, revealing the real nature of all things to the student, like the light, the very source of muttered prayer, the circumference of the wheel of religious observance, the essence of asceticism, the body of purity, the treasury of virtue, the home of trust, the standard of good conduct, the entire capital of omniscience, the acme of kindness, the extreme limit of compassion. His reverence was excited by his calm and reverent appearance, and devoutly saluted him while still at a distance, with head, mind, and voice.
Divakaramitra, being by nature full of kindness, was charmed with his visitor’s dignified bearing, which, being such as he had never seen before, surpassed all men and seemed worthy of a supernatural world and shone forth in the fulness of his magnanimity, and also with his courtesy which at once revealed noble birth; and without hesitation he welcomed him with his eye and his heart. Heroic in mind though he was, he sprang up hurriedly from his seat and gathered together his robe which was somewhat disordered by his sudden movement as it hung from his left shoulder, and, being skilled in courteous compliments, he raised his right hand which was graced with all the lines and signs of a great man, and greeted the king in a gentle voice and with hearty welcome and every good wish; and, shewing all honour to him as to a guru, he invited him to share his own seat. Then he said to a disciple by his side, ‘Bring water for his feet in a ewer.’ But the king reflected, ‘The kindness of the noble is a fast bond, though it is not made of iron; with good reason my old friend Grahavarman, devoted to all merit, often described his virtues to me.’ He then said aloud, ‘This favour which you shew me seems superfluous after the blessing which the very sight of you confers; after you have proved your kindness by welcoming me as your own with your testing eye, the labour of offering me a seat seems only to make me a stranger. The very ground in your presence is too high a station; and when my whole body has been sprinkled with ambrosia by the gracious address of a saint like yourself, water for the feet, which deals only with a part, is needless, let your highness sit down, I am seated well enough,’ so saying he sat down on the ground.
The seer said to himself, ‘The courtesy of the great is the true adornment, gems and the like are mere stones,’ so, when the king, however much pressed, would not consent, he resumed his old seat. Having paused awhile with his heart bound fast in the fetters of his eyes, which were fixed on the monarch’s lotus face, he thus addressed him, ‘From to-day this world of ours, displaying its essential goodness, is not merely not to be blamed, it is positively to be praised. What marvel is not seen by mankind, when this form of thine appears unexpectedly to our view? Our penances have given us their fruit even in this life, when they let us look on a favourite of the gods whose sight is so hard to be attained. Happy was the day of thy birth! Fortunate was thy mother who bore thee who givest life to all living creatures. Blessed indeed are those merits, of which thou art the fulfilment. But ponder as I may, I cannot imagine what earthly being could have instructed thee in courtesy, when thou art still such a boy. Happy is the king in whose family thou hast arisen like a precious pearl. My mind is bewildered when I think how we can gratify such a worthy visitor come so unexpectedly. What are we indeed, who share a diet of roots and fruits and a drink of the mountain-stream with every forester? But this wretched body of ours is only for another’s service. If it does not hinder some moment of action, and if the secret can be openly uttered, be pleased to make it known; my heart is all eager to hear. Under what burden of anxiety have you come into this inhospitable place, and how long will you go on wearying yourself with wandering about this empty wood?’ The king respectfully replied, ‘Reverend Sir, you have performed everything by your zealous words to gladden my heart, I am indeed fortunate that a venerable saint should thus consider an insignificant person like me worthy of respect. Be pleased to learn what is the cause of my being fatigued with wandering in the forest. For I have only one young sister left, who is the sole link that keeps up my life, now that I have lost all my loved kindred. Now she, while wandering fearful of outrage from her enemies in consequence of the loss of her husband, entered the thickets of this Vindhya forest, swarming with hordes of vile foresters and unnumbered troops of elephants, and terrible beyond measure with its lions and sharabhas, and having its paths infested by huge buffaloes, and impassable with sharp spear-grass, and full of pits everywhere. Night after night we have been ceaselessly exploring the wood in search of her, but we have not found her. Be pleased to tell me if any tidings of her have reached your ears from some forester.’
The holy man made answer with some agitation, ‘No tidings of this nature have come to me; we are not worthy to bring to your highness such welcome narrations.’ But while he was thus speaking, a mendicant of tranquil age suddenly came up in bewilderment, and folding his hands before the ascetic spoke in a compassionate tone with his eyes full of tears, ‘O my lord, it is indeed a sad occurrence. A young woman overpowered by heavy misfortune, though apparently highly prosperous in former days, in helpless despair is even now mounting the funeral pile. Consider that she is not yet dead, come to her aid with suitable topics of consolation; even a poor worm in pain which found no rest has often ere now experienced the sage’s compassion.’ Fearful for his sister, melting within with grief from his fraternal affection, and having his heart greatly agitated, speaking with difficulty in broken accents, with his voice choked and his eyes full of tears, the king made inquiry, ‘O Mendicant, how far off is the woman whom you describe and can she be still alive? If you asked who she was or to whom she belonged or from whence she came or why she entered this wood or why she mounted into the fire, I want to know in full what she answered to each question, and how she came into your sight and what manner of person she was.’ The Mendicant replied, “Listen, noble Sir. I had offered my worship in the early morning to the sun and I was wandering on and on by the soft sand of this river-bank. In a bower of creepers near the mountain-stream I heard a monotonous mournful bewildering sound of women’s weeping. With a sudden feeling of pity I turned to the spot; and there I saw a woman surrounded by a troop of other women, whose eyes were closed with the sharp pain of the spear-points of the shara grass which had pierced their heels, and whose feet were swollen beyond the power of moving by the fatigue of a long journey, while their toes were bleeding with the wounds from the jagged stones; who had birch-bark tied on their ankles which were aching with the wounds from stakes, while their legs were fevered and lame with blisters, and their calves were white with dust, and their knees were torn by the matted fibres of the date-palms, and their thighs were wounded by the shatavari shrubs; their silk skirts were torn by the vidari plants, their jackets rent by the sharp ends of the bambu branches; their soft hands were pierced by the thorny badari-creepers as they pulled them down in their wish to gather the fruit, their arms were wearied by the quantities of bulbs, roots and fruits which they had dug up with the horns of the deer; they chewed the soft myrobalans to relieve the dryness of their mouths without their favourite betel, while they used red arsenic as an ointment for their eyes which were swollen and bleeding with the blows of the flowers of the kusha grass, and their curls were torn by the thorny creepers; some used boughs as umbrellas against the sun, others held plaintain leaves as fans, others carried water in the hollow of a lotus-leaf, others took the fibrous lotus roots as their provisions, others carried pine oil in cocoa-nuts balanced on loops made of strips of China silk hanging from a yoke; while the rest of the crowd were bewildered eunuchs, humpbacks, dwarfs, deaf, barbarians, (and all the other mis-shapen guards of the gynaeceum). The centre figure which lay prostrate in the wood, though in deep misery, was still clothed in the grace and dignity of high birth, her feet red, as with the customary lac, through the blood pouring from the wounds made by the hard spikes of darbha grass, her face pale though shaded by a lotus leaf which one of the women held up by its stalk. She lay on the ground like Ganges after her descent; her feet were grey with the pollen of the wood-flowers, her long bright eyes dimmed with the outflow of tears, pale and thin like the flame of a lamp at morning, deceived by its exhausted wick, fallen into calamity and on her nurse’s bosom, parted from her husband and happiness, exhausted by wandering and emptied of her youth, bewildered in her dishevelled locks and in pondering how to end her life, held fast by her companions as well as by grief. As I saw her, I reflected, ‘Strange! Do calamities assail even such a form as this?’ But even in that destitute condition she bowed her head respectfully as I came up. I thought to myself, as, in my great compassion I wished to speak to her, ‘How shall I venture to address such a noble lady? If I call her ‘my child’ it will be too affectionate, ‘mother’ will be too flattering, ‘sister’ will be giving myself too much honour, ‘your majesty’ would be the address of her attendant, ‘princess’ will be too general, ‘lay sister’ will be only my hope, ‘lady’ would be suitable for other women, ‘long-lived one’ would be cruelty in the circumstances, ‘fortunate one’ would be mockery in her present plight, ‘moon-faced’ would be an improper idea for a muni, ‘girl’ would be disrespectful, ‘venerable’ would too much imply old age, ‘holy’ would not be borne out by the fortune which has befallen her. Moreover, ‘who art thou?’ would be rude, ‘why dost thou weep?’ would remind her of the cause of her grief, ‘weep not’ is not to be said unless one can remove the cause of her tears, ‘be consoled’ has no foundation to rest on, ‘welcome’ is flat and stale; ‘are you well?’ is false.’
‘While I was thus reflecting, a woman of venerable aspect but overwhelmed with sorrow, came out from that crowd of women, and laying her partially grey head on the ground, scalded my feet with her tears which expressed the vehement emotion of her bosom, and my heart with her mournful words. ‘Holy father, the nature of a religious mendicant is always compassionate for all beings; and the Buddhists are skilled in the self-devotion of relieving every sorrow, and the doctrine of Shakyamuni is the family-home of pity, and the Jaina saintship is ever ready to help everybody, and the religion of the Munis is a means to attain the next world, and no higher kind of merit is known in this world than saving life. Young women are naturally the objects of compassion, still more so when they are overwhelmed in misfortune; and the good are the ‘happy land’ of the mourners. This our mistress, being helpless through the death of her father, the loss of her husband, the absence of her brother, and the disappearance of all her other relatives, in her excessive tenderness of heart and childless desolation, naturally wise but overwhelmed by the cruel insults of her base foes, her delicate nature tortured by her weary wandering in the forest and her heart bewildered by these continually fresh calamities inflicted by accursed fortune, unable to bear her dreadful misery any longer, rejecting her older friends as they tried to hinder her, whom she had never gone contrary to before even in her dreams, and despising the friends of her youth who tried to reason with her and whose love had never known a break even in play, and spurning away her attendants who, helplessly weeping, tried to dissuade her and whose words she had never before scorned even in thought, she is now entering into the fire. O save her! Even a saint like thyself may employ in her case those words of thine skilled in such counsels as can remove even unendurable sorrow.’ As she spoke these mournful utterances, I raised her up and still more distressed myself gently addressed her, ‘Madam, it is as you say. This noble lady’s grief is however beyond the reach of my words; but your request will not be in vain, if we can save her but for a moment. My own teacher is near at hand, who is like another holy Buddha. When I tell him this occurrence, he will certainly come, boundlessly compassionate as he is. He will guide our pious sister into the path of wisdom by the good words of Sugata which pierce the mists of sorrow, and by his own wise counsels, illustrated with apt examples and weighty with various sacred texts.’ When she heard this, she fell again at my feet, urging me to make haste. So I have come in haste, announcing to my teacher this startling and mournful occurrence, which threatens death to so many helpless young women.’
The king at once understood the mendicant’s agitated words, which were interrupted by his tears, even though his sister’s name had not been mentioned; and with his mind oppressed by grief, and with all uncertainty dissipated by the reflection that her condition so exactly agreed with every circumstance told about her, and with his ears burning at the tidings, said to the chief mendicant, ‘Holy Sir, this is indeed my poor sister, base, hard-hearted, cruel and unfortunate as I am, I have left her to fall into this condition through pitiless undeserved misfortunes, my torn heart only too surely tells me so.’ Then he turned to the inferior mendicant and said, “Rise up, holy sir, shew me where she is; make haste, we will go at once to win the merit of saving these many lives, if by any means we can imagine her to be still alive,’ and as he uttered the words he himself sprang up. Followed by the holy man who was attended by all his disciples, and followed by all his tributary kings who had alighted from their horses, which they led after them, the king made the Buddhist disciple go in front to shew the road, and went on foot after him, seeming to devour the way with his rapid strides. As he drew near, he heard from between the trees various utterances such as suited the emergency from that crowd of women all anxious to die, ‘O Holy Yama, come quickly, where art thou, O Goddess of our family, O Divine Earth, dost thou not support thy wretched daughter? Whither is Lakshmi gone, the matron of Pushpabhuti’s house? O Lord of the Mukhara family, why dost thou not restore to consciousness this thy widowed wife, distracted with her various griefs? O Holy Sugata, thou art asleep to thy distracted worshippers. I raise my hands in fruitless supplication to thee also, O Vindhya, thou friend in calamity! O Mother Forest, dost thou not hear the cries of this distressed daughter? O Sun, save this devoted wife, helpless in her misery. O Queen Yashovati, devoted to thy daughter, thou hast been carried off by the robber fate! O King Pratapashila, dost thou not fly to rescue thy daughter from the flames? Thy paternal love is indeed weak. O King Rajyavardhana, dost thou not hasten? Thy love for thy sister is indeed cold, the world of the dead is indeed deaf to pity! Away O Fire, art thou cruel enough to kill a woman? O Brother Wind, I am thy suppliant, hasten to tell Harsha that the princess is burning, he is the consoler of all who are in trouble. In this lonely wood, whom shall I call? To whom shall I speak? To whom fly for refuge? O Gandhari, this bundle of creepers is mine. O savage Mochanika, cease that quarrelling over the gathering of boughs. O Kalahamsi, why do you still smite your head? O Mangalika, why do you still weep so passionately? O Sundari, your companions are all far away. O Shabarika, how will you stay in this horrible camp of corpses? O Sutanu, will you too go into the fire? O Malavati, you are fainting. O Mother Matangika, have you too accepted death? O Vatsika, how will you dwell in the hated city of the dead? O Nagarika, you have gained glory by this loyalty to your mistress! O Virajika, you are made famous by your resolution to die in your mistress’ calamity! O Ketaki, how will you ever find again such a mistress even in dream? O Menaka, may the God Fire, when he burns your body, give ye a service under the princess in every successive birth! O Vijaya, fan the fire! O Sanumati, Indivarika bows her farewell, longing to go to heaven! O Kamadasi, give me room to circumambulate the pile! O Vicarika, make the fire! O Kiratika, strew a heap of flowers! O Kurarika, cover the pile with kuruvaka buds! O Narmada, you must forgive my excessive bursts of laughter provoked by our jests! O Subhadra, may your journey to another world be fortunate! O Grameyika, who lovest the virtues of the noble, may you rise to a happy birth! O Vasantika, make room! O queen, thy umbrella-bearer bids thee farewell,–give me a last look! Your beloved Vijayasena abandons life! Muktika, the manager of your dramas, wails aloud near you! Patralata, your loved betel-bearer, O princess, falls at your feet! O Kalingasena, this is our last embrace! O Vasantasena, my life is departing! O Manjulika, how often do you wipe these eyes dimmed with a thousand tears of intolerable sorrow, and how long do you weep while you embrace me? Created existence is always like this, O Yashodhana! O Madhavika, why do you still hold me fast? The time is past, O Kalindi, for reverential salutations to your companions! O distracted Mattapalika, it is a useless waste of time to fall humbly at the feet of your beloved ones! O Chakoravati, loosen thy hold of my feet, passionate one! O Kamalini, why these repeated reproaches against fate? Farewell, O revered chamberlain Tarangasena! O dear Saudamini, I have at least seen you! O Kumudika, bring the flowers with which to worship the fire! O Rohini, give me your hand to support me as I climb the pyre! O Mother Nurse, be firm; I give my last salutation to your honoured feet! O Mother, this is my last bow of farewell as I depart to the next world! O Lavalika, at the time of death why is there this joyful shouting in my heart! O Vamanika, my left eye throbs! O Harni, I hear to the north the neighing of horses! O Prabhavati, whose is this lofty umbrella which I see between the trees? O Kurangika, who is it that has uttered my Lord’s auspicious name? O Queen, thou art indeed happy in the joy of the coming of King Harsha!’
As he heard these various voices, the king hurried up and saw Rajyashri fainting as she prepared to enter the funeral pile, and full of agitation, he pressed her forehead with his hand as she lay with her eyes closed in her swoon. At that reviving touch of her dear brother’s hand which seemed to diffuse a life-restoring power as if healing plants were fastened to his arm, and to calm her fevered heart and to bring back her wandering life, Rajyashri instantly opened her eyes. Clasping the neck of her brother thus unexpectedly restored to her as if seen in a dream, and pouring forth a flood of tears from her eyes which were like the channels of two rivers, with the stored reservoir of grief overpowering all her soul and bursting out violently at his sudden appearance, she cried out, ‘O Father, O Mother, O Friends.’ Meanwhile her brother, as he tried to comfort her, covered her mouth with his hands, and kept calling out in a loud voice through the agitation caused by his fraternal affection, ‘O my child, be firm,’ and the holy teacher exhorted her to obey the words of her elder brother, and the courtiers implored her, ‘Dost thou not see, O queen, the condition of the king? Cease now to weep!’ Her attendants said to her, ‘O Mistress, have pity on thy brother,’ and her aged relations restrained her, ‘O daughter, cease for the present and weep again at some future time,’ and her young friends counselled her, ‘Dear friend, how long will you weep? Be silent, you greatly pain the king.’ Though surrounded by all these various comforters, the princess wept violently for a long time with a loud outburst of grief, her throat choked by the tears which broke forth to shew the pressure of the griefs which she had so long pondered over, and her soul filled with the weight of her distress; but when the first vehemence of her emotion was spent she allowed her brother to lead her away from the fire and sat down at the foot of a tree near by. The holy teacher, having slowly recognised that it was Harsha himself, felt a still deeper feeling of reverence, and, after a short pause, made a secret sign to his disciple, and, the latter having brought some water, he himself presented it to the king in some lotus leaves that he might wash his face. The king also, having respectfully accepted it, first washed his sister’s eyes which were flushed from her continued weeping, and then washed his own. When the king had washed his face, he turned and spoke gently to his sister, ‘My child, salute this holy man. He was your husband’s second heart and is our guru.’ At his words the princess made her obeisance, while tears again filled her eyes at the sudden shock of the news that he had known her husband; and the holy man, who felt that his stoical calmness was threatened by the tears which gathered in his own eyes and could only be kept back by an effort, turned away his eyes for a while and heaved a long sigh. After standing still for a time, he tenderly spoke in a gentle voice, ‘O virtuous monarch, you have wept long enough, and your royal attendants have not even yet ceased their weeping, let the due rites of ablution be performed, when all have bathed, it will be well for us to return home.’ Then the king, in compliance with right custom and the teacher’s words, rose and bathed in the mountain stream, and proceeded to that place with his sister. There he devotedly waited upon her in her sorrow and made her and her attendants partake of the food prepared for the funeral offerings in honour of her husband; and then afterwards ate of them himself. Then he heard from the attendants the full story of his sister’s misfortunes from her imprisonment onward, how she was sent away from Kanyakubja, from her confinement there during the Gauda trouble, through the action of a noble named Gupta, how she heard the news of Rajyavardhana’s death, and refused to take food, and then how, faint for want of food, she wandered miserably in the Vindhya forests and at last in her despair resolved to mount the funeral pile. Then the teacher came to the king, as he was sitting quietly at the foot of a tree with his sister in a lonely place away from all their attendants, at first he sat down and waited; and then little by little he thus addressed him, ‘My lord, listen, I have something to say to you. Yonder ear-ring of night, the inconstant Moon, in his pride of youth despised all his many wives, however radiant in their youthful bloom, and carried off Tara the wife of Brihaspati the priest of Indra, wishing to make her his own wife, and fled from heaven, and wandered about in many pleasant places with her whose eyes were as beautiful as those of the timid partridge and who was lovely in every limb, and responded to his love. But at last through respect for the words of all the gods he restored her to her husband, the lord of speech, still in his heart he was continually burned, though without fuel, by the fire of absence from her.’
‘One day, as he was rising from the eastern mountain, he beheld his own reflection in the pure water of the ocean, and as he gazed he fondly remembered Tara’s smiling face, and, stirred with passion, even though in heaven, he dropped big tears from his eyes, which were as bright as if they had drunk up the radiance of all the lotuses. The pearl-oysters swallowed all these tears as they fell into the sea. When they had become pearls in the bellies of the oysters, the King of the snakes, Vasuki, dwelling in hell, somehow became possessed of them; and he made of them a single wreath which shone even in hell like a cluster of stars; and he called it Mandakini. By the power of the holy Soma, the lord of all plants, it became an antidote against all poisons, and in consequence of its having been produced from the moon which is the ever-cool fountain of ambrosia, its touch relieved the pain of all creatures. Vasuki therefore always carried it about with him to soothe the burning heat of poison. As time passed on, one day a mendicant named Nagarjuna was brought to hell by the nagas; he begged it from the snake-king as a gift and received it. When he went out of hell, he gave it to a king, his friend, Satavahana, the lord of the three oceans; and in course of time it came into our hands by the regular succession of pupil-hood. Although to offer a present to one so exalted as yourself is almost an insult, still I pray you to deign to accept it in consideration of its potency against poison, since you know the virtues of medicines, and, as you are ever engaged in helping all living beings, your life well deserves to be guarded.’ So saying he uncovered the pearl-wreath Mandakini, which was wrapped up in the skirt of the mendicant who was standing near by. When the pure bright mass of rays suddenly gleamed forth as the jewel was unveiled, illumining the different quarters of space, it was as if orchards of ketaki trees blossomed, white with pollen as the clusters burst open through their weight, and bright with the needle-like anthers, made visible by the opening of the calyx. The king, after repeatedly opening and closing his eyes which were dazzled by the mass of rays in front of him, at last with a great effort beheld the wreath filling all the quarters of the heavens as if it were a banner of silk ceaselessly fluttering, announcing the coming of embodied Imperial power, or the tablet inscribed with the catalogue of Kuvera’s treasures, ornamented with his own seal. As he gazed, he was filled for a long time with astonishment. Then the teacher, taking it up, bound it on the king’s noble shoulder, and the king, shewing his pleasure, thus addressed him, ‘Reverend Sir, men are unworthy of such gifts. This is all the result of your ascetic observances or the special favour of the gods. Who are we, even to have control over our own selves, still less to presume to accept or reject your gifts? Ever since I beheld you I have been devoted to you, with my heart captivated by your preeminent virtues. This body of mine is placed unreservedly at your disposal till death. You are now absolutely free to do with it what you please.’
After a while, when the courtiers had discussed the beauty of the wreath, Rajyasri, having gained courage, called her betel-bearer Patralata and whispered something in her ear; and the latter turned respectfully to the King and said, ‘Sire, the Queen bids me say that she never remembers to have uttered before a loud remark in your highness’ presence, far less a command; but this outrageous tyranny of sorrows makes her speak, and this sad plight brought about by evil fate makes her forget her due respect. A husband or a son is a woman’s true support; but to those who are deprived of both, it is immodesty even to continue to live, as mere fuel for the fire of misery. Your highness’ coming stopped my resolution to die, even on the point of accomplishment; let me therefore in my misfortunes be allowed to assume the red robe.’ The king heard her and remained silent for a time. Then the teacher spoke gravely, ‘O lady, verily sorrow is the heyday of darkness, a peculiar kind of poison, a flame which has no nirvana, a consumption which never ends, a mendicant who has nothing to do with holiness, a flame with nothing auspicious in it, a fury of passion out of a tender heart. This wound of the heart ever running with tears, this thief of life, stealing in under the long dark night, this cause of chaos, overpowering all beings, this evil constellation, foreboding destruction to all the world, even all the hearts of the wise cannot stand against it, though illumined by all the lightning-flashes of perfect knowledge and profound in grasping all the secret meanings hidden in deep books, ripe with the lore of many poems, laden with the weight of many shastras, far less the hearts of women tender like the flowers of the new jasmine.’
‘Say therefore, O faithful to thy vow, what is it that thou art doing, who is reproached, to whom art thou wailing thus loudly, and telling thy heart-consuming sorrow? We mortals must bear everything, closing our eyes, without bewilderment. O holy lady, these ancient ordinances, who can alter them? The long ropes of the water-wheel, birth, old age, and death, go round and round, night and day, to the five races of men. In every home the hours of time, never waiting even for a moment, flow on and on, cunning to reckon the years of life. The stern command of Yama goes forth at once through the world, offering the sacrifice of the lives of all beings. The messengers of fate roam in companies in every quarter and in every city, with eyes red like hot iron, bodies black like the kalakuta poison, carrying black nooses in their hands. In every direction run the broad highways of the travellers to the other world, with young jackals which haunt the cemeteries howling for joy, with the biers of the dead, discoloured with the hair scattered by widows, and the banners of the King of the dead, as they flutter grey with the smoke of the funeral piles. The stream of the transitory rushes on ever speeding. The meetings of the company of the five elements last only for a moment. The sticks that compose the body’s machine, which encages the soul, are apt to fly asunder in the night. The atoms which build up this corporeal flame, are ready to crumble, helpless against the onsets of good or evil fortune. The threads of the cords that bind the living principle break at a touch. Nothing is self-depending, all is ending. Considering all this, O wise woman, thou surely wilt not allow darkness utterly to overwhelm thy tender mind. A single moment of reflection steadies the soul. And though sorrow has made a wide inroad, is not thy elder brother to be regarded by thee, who is as a guru as a father? Were it not for him, who would not honour thy noble resolve to assume the red dress? A holy mendicant life is the surest consolation for every sorrow; this is the best home for the wise. But he now stops thy desire, for thou must only do what he commands. Whether thou regardest him as a brother, as an elder, as one beloved, or as a virtuous man, or as a King, thou must in any case obey his decree.’
When he ceased, the King replied, ‘Who could speak thus except your reverence? You and your fellows are the pillars, created by destiny, of its own will and unasked, to support the world under its grievous calamities. You are the lamp of religion, softly bright with kindness and powerful to dispel the darkness of delusion. But excessive affection like mine, when emboldened by kindness thus lavishly shewn to it, learns to covet what is properly beyond its reach; and to receive great favours, emboldens even a cautious man to venture, urged on by his levity of heart, and self-love teaches even a retiring man to thrust himself forward, forgetful of all considerations of what is proper or improper. But the noble will always on their part recognise the constraining influence of a request, as the ocean-tide recognises its shore; and your highness made over to me this your body, unsolicited, primarily to shew me hospitality. Therefore I would prefer a petition to my honoured lord. My sister, so young and so tried by adversity, must be cherished by me for a while, even if it involves the neglect of all my royal duties; but I bound myself to obey my right arm which was uplifted to destroy the insolent enemies who had slain my brother; and unable to endure the insult offered, I surrendered my whole soul to righteous vengeance. Will your highness therefore deign to employ himself for a while in this business of mine? Grant this body of yours to me your guest. From this day forth, while I discharge my vow, and console my subjects in their sorrow for my father’s death, I desire that she should remain at my side and be comforted with your righteous discourses, and your passionless instruction which produces salutary knowledge, and your advice which calms the disposition, and your Buddhist doctrines which drive away worldly passions. At the end, when I have accomplished my design, she and I will assume the red garments together. What will not the magnanimous grant to a suppliant? Dadhicha, that ocean of constancy, made lord of heaven win success by the gift of his bones. How often did not Buddha, the chief of Sages, when his compassion was appealed to, disregard his own life, and offer himself as a victim to carnivorous animals?’ Having uttered these words, the King was silent. The Buddhist sage replies, ‘The fortunate do not need to utter their wishes twice; at once by means of the thought alone you make your virtues receive the homage of the offering of your servants’ bodies. The service of one so incapable of true service is tied to your command whether in a great or a small matter.’ Pleased at the way in which the other so warmly accepted his friendship, the King, after staying there that night, the next morning dismissed Nirghata, well satisfied with gifts of garments and ornaments, took his sister with the holy man and went back, in a few marches, to his camp stationed along the bank of the Ganges.
As he was relating there to his friends the story of the recovery of Rajyashri, the sun completed his journey through the heavens; and the day, dear to the chakravaka pair, folded up its light like the lotus-bed tawny-coloured with thick honey. The Sun absorbed again in his body the web of his sanctifying rays, which had been spread far and wide to the ends of the world, red like freshly spilt blood, just as the preceptor shakalya swallowed back the Yajur-veda vomited by his disobedient disciple Yajnavalkya. Then in gradual succession, the Sun, bright with its gathering mass of deepening colours, seemed to be like the congenital crest-jewel which Bhima carried off from Ashvatthaman’s turban, horribly red with the fresh blood. Then the evening appeared, leaning on the clouds which shone with the sun’s many forms as reflected in the ocean, while the ocean had its waves dyed in the evening glow. At the close of the evening-tide, the moon was brought to the King as a respectful offering by the Night, as if it were the Goddess of the Future conducting a messenger from the White Dvipa to animate him to the conquest of all the seven Dvipas.
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, shows a wooden statue of Mujaku from Japan (1212 CE). Mujaku was the Japanese name for the great Buddhist monk Asanga. Born in Purushapura (modern Peshawar), the capital of Gandhara (a kingdom straddling northwestern Pakistan and northeastern Afghanistan), he played a key role in the establishment of the Yogachara school of Buddhism. This 74-cm tall wooden statue was painted over and had inlaid eyes. It was the work of a famous Japanese sculptor, Unkei (c. 1150-1223 CE). Buddhist monks such as Asanga, or Divakaramitra (whom Harsha met in the Vindhya forests, and accepted as his preceptor) were revered and venerated. It was not uncommon for them to be depicted in paintings and captured in sculptures. In fact, there developed in Japan an entire class of sculptors known as ‘Busshi’, specializing in the production of Buddhist statues.
- The Harshacharita of Bana translated by E. B. Cowell and F. W. Thomas (1897)
- Banabhatta: A Monograph by K. Krishnamoorthy (1976)