Shakuntala : The Mahabharata Story

The monarch was young, handsome and brave. The hunting expedition had lasted for days now. He was tired, thirsty and hungry. All but a couple of his associates were long left behind. Though without fear, he stood with a sense of reverence before the sacred grounds of Rishi Kanva’s hermitage. It was inviolable. He dismissed even the reduced retinue at the entrance, before stepping in.

The quiet was conspicuous but soothing. The abode yonder seemed unoccupied. He moved closer and called aloud to announce his presence : What ho ! Anybody here ? But only the echo came back to strike his tentative heart. As he felt the desolate eeriness even more intensely, a beautiful maiden came out of the abode, simply attired but glowing with innocence and charm. She bade him welcome and received him with due respect, offering him a seat and water to wash. She introduced herself as Shakuntala, Rishi Kanva’s daughter, enquired about his health and peace, and engaged in such pleasantries as to enable him to settle his breath and find his comfort in strange surroundings.

The king was awe-struck with her unaffected elegance, when the maiden queried politely : How could the Hermitage serve you, O King ! I await your command.

Dushyanta : I have come to pay my respects to the venerated Rishi Kanwa. Tell me, O amiable and beautiful one, where has the illustrious Rishi gone ?

Sakuntala : My illustrious father has gone to fetch fruit for the hermitage alongwith the inmates. Wait but a moment and you wilt meet him when he arrives.

The king was glad for the opportunity to be with Shakuntala, in the Rishi’s absence. He beheld the maiden’s exceptional beauty, her sweet demeanour and cultured articulation, and the perfect symmetry of her form. Her flawlees features stood enhanced by freedom and humility in her speech. She looked the ascetic but he saw the bloom of her youth.

Dushyanta : Who are you, truly, O beautiful one ? Why are you in these woods ? You are gifted with such beauty and virtues. Whence have you come ? O charming one, you affect my heart deeply. I desire to learn all about you; therefore, tell me all.

Shakuntala smiled and addressed him with these words : O Dushyanta, I am the daughter of virtuous, wise and illustrious ascetic, Rishi Kanwa.

Dushmanta : The blessed Rishi is universally revered. It well known that decades of celibate austerity to rigorous vow and extended periods of withdrawal from senses during meditation has caused his seed to sublimate up from its base in the reproductive organ. Dharma himself may stray from his course but an ascetic of rigid vows, such as Rishi Kanva is, can never descend to sensory matters. Therefore, O thou of fairest complexion, how have you been born as his daughter ? It is a sincere doubt of mine that urgently needs to be dispelled.

Shakuntala : Hear, O king, what I have learnt regarding all that befell me of old and how I became the daughter of the Muni. It was narrated by the Rishi Kanva himself to another who had posed the same question.

Vishwamitra, of old, was engaged in austere-most of penances that alarmed Indra, the chief of the celestials. Indra thought that the mighty ascetic of blazing energy would, by his penance, hurl him down from his high seat in heaven. He summoned Menaka and told her, ‘Thou, O Menaka, art the first of celestial Apsaras. Therefore, amiable one, do me this service. Hear carefully : This great ascetic, Vishwamitra, like Sun in splendour, is engaged in the most severe of penances. I am afraid, if he succeeds at acquiring the merit in his quest, he might challenge my position as the head of all gods, and verily unseat me. Hence, O slender-waist, this is the task for you to accomplish. Go, tempt Vishwamitra away from his rapture, disrupt his one-pointed contemplation and penance, and frustrate his certain quest. Win him off his penance, beautiful one, by luring him with your beauty, youth, agreeableness, arts, smiles and speech.

Hearing all this, Menaka was alarmed and very unsure of herself. She respectfully gave voice to her doubt : O foremost among the gods, the illustrious Vishwamitra is a mighty ascetic and is already endued with great power. He is very short-tempered too. His energy, merit acquired of penance, and the wrath of a high-soul such as he leave me diffident and anxious of my own well-being. He made even the great Rishi Vasishtha suffer the unbearable pain of witnessing the premature death of his children. He it was who, though born a warrior, became a man of knowledge by virtue of his ascetic rigour. He created a deep river of his own power, for purposes of his ablutions. It was Viswamitra who, in anger, created a second world and numerous stars, and granted protection to royal sage, Matanga, later known as Trishanku, against your own wrath. I am frightened, O Indra, to approach him.

Menaka further asked : Tell me, O Indra, the means that should be adopted so that I may not be burnt by his wrath. He can burn the three worlds by his splendour and can, by a mere stamp of his foot, cause the earth to quake. He can sever the great Meru from the earth and hurl it to any distance. He can go round the ten points of the earth in a moment. How can a woman like me even touch such a one, who is full of ascetic virtues, like unto a blazing fire, and who has his passions in complete control ? His mouth is like a flaming inferno; the pupils of his eyes are like the Sun and the Moon; his tongue is like that of Death himself. How shall I, O chief of the celestials, a woman like me even touch him ? At the thought of his prowess Yama, Soma, the great Rishis, the Saddhyas, the Viswas, Valakhilyas, are terrified ! How can a woman like me gaze at him without alarm ?

But the first amongst celestial Apsaras submitted : Commanded by you, however, O king of the celestials, I shall somehow approach that Rishi. But, O chief of the gods, devise thou a plan whereby protected by you, I may safely move about the great ascetic. I think that when I begin to play before the Rishi, Marut (the god of wind) had better go there and rob me of my dress, and Manmatha (the god of love) must also, at your command, help me at the task. Let Marut, when it occasions, bear thither fragrance from the woods to tempt the Rishi. And Manmatha cause a pine in his vitality and a flutter in his heart on account of my presence.

Saying this and having obtained Indra’s assurance, Menaka went to the retreat of great sage Vishwamitra. She offered her respectful salutations to the Rishi and began her ever so subtle sensual sport, while engaging him on a walk in the woods around his abode. She was draped in a cloth white as the moon, which Marut soon caused to fly with a gush of wind. Abashed, she ran after her garment, to catch hold of it, and expressed her distress and annoyance at Marut when the garment continued to remain out of her reach.

Eyeing the sensual sport of the fullsome woman barely half clad, her dazzling beauty being played about by the breeze, exerting her fair limbs in distress, unmidful of the rise and fall of her soft breasts, Viswamitra was roused with sensual affection, causing his lust to gather like a ball of fire. Beholding her thus exposed, the sage saw her ageless and exceedingly handsome form, her perfectly endowed features, and was drawn enough to move up and put his arm about her waist in companionship. He kissed her on the neck, inviting intimacy, to which Menaka responded. They spent a long time in physical intimacy, sporting with each other, just as they pleased, as if time had stopped.

Menaka conceived through their conjugal bliss and delivered a daughter. She moved to the banks of the river Malini coursing along a valley of the charming mountains of Himavat, as her pregnancy advanced. She left the new-born on the bank of the river and went away, never to look back. Lying in that desolation abounding with carnivores and other ferocios animals, the infant was protected by scores of vultures, who stood guard around her.

Kanva narrated : Those vultures protected the daughter of Menaka. I went there to perform my ablutions and beheld the infant lying in solitude of the wilderness, surrounded by vultures. Bringing her hither as I would my own daughter, I raised her as such. Indeed, the maker of the body, the protector of life and the giver of food are fathers — all three, in their order, as the scriptures suggest. And because she was surrounded by Shakunts (birds), I named her Sakuntala. O Brahman, know that it is thus Sakuntala has become my daughter. And so does the faultless Shakuntala also regards me, as her father.

Shakuntala concluded her story to Dushyanta : This is what my father had narrated to the visiting Rishi, O king of men. It is thus how I am the daughter of Rishi Kanwa.

Hearing the fascinating tale, King Dushyanta said : You spoke well, O princess, this that thou hast said ! Be my wife, O beautiful one ! What shall I do for thee ? Golden garlands, robes, ear-rings, white pearls, coins of great value, finest carpets, … from various countries. All these I shall present to you this very day. Let the whole of my kingdom be thine today, O charming one ! Come to me, shed the timidity, and join me through the wedding, O elegant maiden, in accord with Gandharva norm. O thou, of tapering thighs, of all forms of marriage rites, the Gandharva is considered the foremost.

Shakuntala heard the King and indicated consent, but with relative calm : O king, my father is presently away. Wait but a moment; he will bestow me on thee.

Dushyanta however was overcome with impatience and entreated : O beautiful and faultless one, I desire that you should be my life’s companion. Know thou that I exist for thee, and my heart is in thee. One is certainly one’s own friend, and one certainly may depend upon one’s own self. Therefore, according to the ordinance, you can certainly bestow thyself to me in a marriage duly ordained.

There are, in all, eight kinds of marriages. These are Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa, and Paisacha, the eighth. Manu, the son of the self-created, has spoken of the appropriateness of all these forms according to their order. Know, O faultless one, that the first four of these are fit for Brahmanas, and the first six for Kshatriyas. As regards kings, even the Rakshasa form is permissible. These are institutes of religion, and one should act according to them. The Gandharva and the Rakshasa form are consistent with the practices recommended for warriors and kings. You need not entertain the least fear.

O thou of fairest complexion, full of desire I am; so are you. Come, become my wife with vows appropriate to the Gandharva norm.

Sakuntala, having listened to the King’s ernest proposal, answered : If this be the sanctioned course, if indeed I am my own disposer, then hear, O foremost of the Purus, my terms to bethrothal … Promise truly to give me what I ask of you. The son that we shall be beget shall be thy heir-apparent. This, O king, is my fixed resolve. O Dushyanta, if you grant this, then let our union take place.

The monarch, without taking time to consider, at once said : It will be thus, O fair maiden. O you, of agreeable smiles, you will be with me in our capital city. I say this truly, O beautiful one, you deserve all this.

The first of the kings thus wedded Shakuntala, of graceful gait. They knew each other as husband and wife. And assuring her duly, he went away, saying, “I shall send for you, O thou of sweet smiles, to escort you to our palace !”

The king retraced his way homewards, thinking of Rishi Kanva : What will the illustrious sage say ? And he was still anxious when he entered his kingdom’s capital.

When Rishi Kanwa arrived at his abode, Shakuntala, from a sense of shame, did not go out to receive her father. That great ascetic, however, possessed of means to all knowledge, knew of events that had taken place in his absence. Indeed, beholding everything with his spiritual eye, the illustrious one was pleased and addressed her with these kind words, ‘Amiable one, what has been done by you today in secret, without waiting for my presence and consent – viz., intercourse with a man – has not stripped you of your virtue in the least. Indeed, union according to Gandharva norm, of a seeking woman with a man of sensual desire, without mantras of any kind, is the best for Kshatriyas. That best of men, Dushyanta, is a high soul and a virtuous man. You have, O Shakuntala, accepted him for your husband. The son that shall be born of you shall be mighty and illustrious in this world. And he shall have sway over the sea. And the forces of that illustrious king of kings, while he goes out against his foes, shall be irresistible.’

Shakuntala then approached her fatigued father and washed his feet. And taking down the load he had with him and placing the fruits in proper order, she told him, ‘It behoves thee to give thy grace to that Dushyanta, whom I have accepted for my husband, as well as to his ministers !’

Kanwa replied, ‘O you of fairest complexion, for your sake I am inclined to bless him. But receive from me, O blessed one, the boon that you now desire.’

Sakuntala, thereupon, moved by desire for Dushyant’s well-being, asked her father that the Paurava monarchs might ever be virtuous and never be deprived of their thrones.

There was no word from Dushyanta in the following weeks and months, and years. The sage Rishi Kanva remained calm and Shakuntala got occupied with her womb that gradually swelled in time. In due course, she brought forth a boy of wondrous vitality, much to her father’s joy. And when the child was three years old, he became in splendour like the rising sun, remarkably handsome and magnanimous, and strong. And that first of virtuous men, Kanwa, caused all the rites of custom to be performed in respect of that intelligent child, thriving with days. The boy was gifted with pearly teeth and shining locks, and was capable of battling the fiercest of animals. He had auspicious signs on his palm, a broad forehead, and his beauty and strength was a source of much happiness to Shakuntala.

Like unto a celestial child in splendour, Bharata grow up rapidly. When only six years of age, he was endued with such great strength that he used to seize lions and tigers, bears and buffaloes, and elephants, and chain them to the trees around the hermitage. He rode some of them and pursued others in sport. Seeing his prowess, the inmates at Kanwa’s asylum called him Sarvadamana, the subduer of all. And the Rishi, marking his extraordinary acts, told Sakuntala that the time had come for his installation as the heir-apparent.

Beholding the strength of the boy, Kanwa commanded his disciples : Bear ye without delay this Sakuntala with her son from this abode to that of her husband, blessed with every auspicious sign. Women should not live long in the houses of their parents or maternal relations. Such residence is destructive of their reputation, their good conduct, their virtue. Therefore, delay not in bearing her hence.

The Rishi’s disciples proceeded towards the city, Hastinapura, with Sakuntala and her son at the head of their retinue. And she, taking with her that boy of celestial beauty, endued with eyes like lotus petals, left the woods where she had lived all her life and had first met her husband, Dushyanta. Having approached the king, in his own palace, her sage escorts introduced her and the boy to him, as his own duly wedded wife and their begotten son. Thereupon, the Rishi’s disciples took leave and returned to the hermitage.

And Sakuntala, paying her respects to the King, announced : This is thy son, O king ! Let him be installed as thy heir-apparent. O king, this child, like unto a celestial, has been begotten by thee upon me. Therefore, O best of men, fulfil now the promise you made to me. Call to mind, O thou of great good fortune, the agreement thou had made on the occasion of our union in the hermitage of my father, Rishi Kanwa.

Hearing her words and remembering everything, the king said : I do not remember anything. Who art thou, O wicked woman in ascetic guise ? I do not remember having any connection with you in spiritual, sensual or financial respect. Go or stay, or do as you please.

Thus addressed by Dushyanta, the fair-coloured innocent one became abashed. Grief deprived her of consciousness and she stood for a time like an wooden post. Soon, however, her eyes became red like copper and her lips began to quiver. And the glances she now and then cast upon the king seemed to burn the latter. Her rising wrath however, and the fire of her asceticism, she extinguished within herself by an extraordinary effort.

Collecting her thoughts in a moment, her heart possessed with sorrow and rage, she thus addressed her lord in anger, looking at him : Knowing everything, O Monarch, how do you issue words as inferiors do ? How do you say that you do not know me and our bethrothal, and your promise ? Your heart is witness to the truth or falsehood of this matter. Therefore, O King, speak truly without degrading thyself. He, who being one but representing himself as another, is a coward and like a thief, a robber of his own self. Of what sin is he not capable ? You think that you alone has knowledge of your deed. But know you not that the Ancient, Omniscient Narayana lives in your heart ? He knows all your sin, and you sin in His presence. He that sins thinks that none observes him. But he is observed by the gods and by Him, who resides in every heart.

The Sun, the Moon, the Air, the Fire, the Earth, the Sky, Water, the heart, Yama, the day, the night, both twilights, and Dharma, all witness the acts of man. Yama, the son of Surya, takes no account of the sins of him with whom Narayana, the witness of all acts, is gratified. But he, with whom Narayana is displeased, is tortured for his sins by Yama. Him who degrades himself by representing his self falsely, the gods never bless. Even his own soul blesses him not. I am a wife devoted to my husband. I have come of my own accord, it is true. But do not, on that account, treat me with disrespect. I am your wife and, therefore, deserve to be treated respectfully. Will you not treat me so, because I have come hither of my own accord ? In the presence of so many, why do you treat me like an common woman ?

I am certainly not crying in the wilderness. Do you hear me ? But if you refuse to do what I supplicate you for, O Dushyanta, this very moment your head shall burst into a hundred pieces ! The husband entering the womb of the wife comes out himself in the form of the son. Therefore is the wife called by those versed in the Vedas as Jaya – she of whom one is born. And the son that is so born unto persons cognisant of Vedic Mantras rescues the spirits of our deceased ancestors. And because the son rescues the ancestors from the hell called Put, therefore, has he been called by the Self-create himself as Puttra – the rescuer from Put. By a son one conquers the three worlds. By a son’s son, one enjoys eternity. And by a grandson’s son, great-grand-fathers enjoy everlasting happiness.

She is a true wife who is skilful in household affairs. She is a true wife who has borne a son. She is a true wife whose heart is devoted to her lord. She is a true wife who knows none but her lord. The wife is a man’s half. The wife is the first of friends. The wife is the root of religion, profit, and desire. The wife is the root of salvation. They that have wives can live by Dharma, in their togetherness. They that have wives can lead households, which collectively constitute our community in truth. They that have wives have the means to be cheerful. They that have wives can achieve good fortune. Wives of sweet speech are friends on occasions of joy. They are as fathers on occasions of religious acts. They are mothers in sickness and woe. Even in the deep woods, to a traveller, a wife is his refreshment and solace. He that has a wife is trusted by all.

A wife, therefore, is one’s most valuable possession. Even when the husband, leaving this world, goeth into the region of Yama, it is the devoted wife that accompanies him thither. If she goes before, she waits for the husband. But if the husband goes before, the chaste wife follows him close. For these reasons, O king, does marriage exist. The husband enjoys the companionship of the wife, both in this and in the other worlds. It has been said by the learned that one is himself born as one’s son. Therefore, a man whose wife has borne a son should look upon her as his mother. Beholding the face of the son one has begotten upon his wife, like his own face in a mirror, one feels as happy as a virtuous man, while departing from this world.

Men scorched by mental grief, or suffering under bodily pain, feel as much refreshed in the companionship of their wives as a perspiring person in a cool bath. No man, even in anger, should ever do anything that is disagreeable to his wife, seeing that happiness, joy, and virtue – everything depends on the wife. A wife is the sacred field in which the husband is born himself. Even Rishis cannot create creatures without women. What happiness is greater than what the father feels when the son runs towards him and, even though his body be covered with dust, clasps the man’s limbs with his little hands ? Why then do you treat with indifference such a son, who has approached you himself and who casts wistful glances towards you for climbing up your knees ? Even ants support their own eggs without destroying them; then why should not you, a virtuous man that you are, support your own child ? The touch of soft sandal paste, of women, of (cool) water is not so agreeable as the touch of one’s own infant son locked in one’s embrace.

As a Brahmana is the foremost of all bipeds, a cow, the foremost of all quadrupeds, a protector, the foremost of all superiors, so is the son the foremost of all objects, agreeable to the touch. Let, therefore, this handsome child touch you in embrace. There is nothing in the world more agreeable to touch than the embrace of one’s son. O chastiser of foes, I have brought forth this child capable of dispelling all your sorrows, after bearing him in my womb for full three years. O monarch, of Puru’s race, ‘He shall perform a hundred horse-sacrifices’ – these were the words uttered from the sky when I was in the lying-in room. Indeed, men in places remote from their homes take up others’ children on their laps and, reminded of their own, feel great happiness.

You know that Brahmanas repeat these Vedic mantras on the occasion of the consecrating rites of infancy : Thou art born, O son, of my body ! Thou art sprung from my heart. Thou art myself in the form of a son. Live thou to a hundred years ! My life dependeth on thee, and the continuation of my race too, on thee. Therefore, O son, live thou in great happiness to a hundred years.

He, this son of yours, has sprung from your body, a second being of yourself ! Behold thyself in your son, as thou beholdest your image in a clear lake. As the sacrificial fire is kindled from the domestic one, so has this one sprung from thee. Though one, you have divided yourself.

In course of hunting, while engaged in pursuit of a deer, I was approached by you, O king. I who was then a virgin in the asylum of my father. Urvasi, Purvachitti, Sahajanya, Menaka, Viswachi and Ghritachi, these are the six foremost of Apsaras. Amongst them again, Menaka, born of Brahman, is the first. Descending from heaven on Earth, after intercourse with Viswamitra, she gave birth to me. That celebrated Apsara, Menaka, brought me forth in a valley of Himavat. Bereft of all affection, she went away, cast me there as if I were the child of somebody else. What sinful act did I do, of old, in some other life that I was in infancy cast away by my parents and at present am cast away by you ! Put away by you, I am ready to return to the refuge of my father. But it behoves you not to cast off this child who is your own.

Dushmanta : O Sakuntala, I do not know having begot upon you this son. Women generally speak untruths. Who shall believe your word ? Destitute of all affection, the lewd Menaka is your mother, and she cast you off on the surface of the Himavat, as one throws away flowers offered to gods, after the worship is over. Thy father too, of the Kshatriya race, the lustful Viswamitra, who was tempted to become a Brahmana, is destitute of all affection. However, Menaka is the first of Apsaras, and thy father also is the first of Rishis. Being their daughter, why do you speak like a lewd woman ? Thy words deserve no credit. Are you not ashamed to utter such lies, especially before me ?

Go hence, O wicked woman in ascetic guise. Where is that foremost of great Rishis ? Where is that Apsara Menaka ? And why are you, low as you are, in the guise of an ascetic ? Your child too is grown up. You say he is a boy, but he is very strong. How has he soon grown like a Sal sprout ? You are of low birth and you speak like a lewd woman. Lustfully have you been begotten by Menaka. O woman of ascetic guise, all that you say is quite unknown to me. I don’t know you. Go withersoever you choose.

Sakuntala : You see, O king, the fault of others, even though they be as small as a mustard seed. But you notice not thy own faults even though they be as large as the Bilwa fruit. Menaka is one of the celestials. Indeed, Menaka is reckoned as the first of celestials. My birth, therefore, O Dushyanta, is far higher than yours. You walk upon the earth, O king, but I roam the skies ! Behold, the difference between ourselves is as that between the mountain Meru and a mustard seed !

Behold my power, O king ! I can repair to the abodes of Indra, Kuvera, Yama, and Varuna ! The saying is true which I shall refer to before you, O sinless one ! I refer to it as an example and not from evil motives. Therefore, it behoves you to pardon me after you have heard it.

An ugly person considers himself more handsome than others until he sees his own face in the mirror. He that is really handsome never taunts anybody. And he that always talks evil becometh a reviler. And as the swine always look for dirt and filth even in the midst of a garden of flowers, so the wicked always choose evil out of even the good that others speak. However those that are wise, on hearing the speech of others that has a mix of both good and evil, accept only what is good, like swan that always extracts milk, though it be mixed with water. As the honest are always pained at speaking ill of others, so do the wicked always rejoice in doing the same. As the honest always feel pleasure in showing regard for the old, so do the wicked always take delight in aspersing the good. The honest are happy in not seeking faults. The wicked are happy in seeking them in others. The wicked ever speak ill of the honest. But the latter never injure the former, even if injured by them.

What can be more ridiculous in the world than that those that are themselves wicked should represent the really honest as wicked ? When even atheists are annoyed with those that have fallen from truth and virtue and who are really like angry snakes of virulent poison, what shall I say of myself who am nurtured in faith? He that having begotten a son who is his own image, regards him not, never attains to the worlds he covets, and verily the gods destroy his good fortune and possessions. The Pitris have said that the son continues the race and extends the lineage and is, therefore, the best of all religious acts. Therefore, none should abandon a son.

Manu has said that there are five kinds of sons : those begotten by one’s self upon his own wife, those obtained (as gift) from others, those purchased for a consideration, those reared with affection and those begotten upon other women than wedded wives. Sons support the religion and achievements of men, enhance their joys, and rescue deceased ancestors from hell. It behoves you not, therefore, O tiger among kings, to abandon a son who is such. Therefore, O lord of earth, cherish your own self, truth, and virtue by cherishing thy son. O lion among monarchs, it behoves you not to support this deceitfulness.

The dedication of a tank is more meritorious than that of a hundred wells. A sacrifice again is more meritorious than the dedication of a tank. A son is more meritorious than a sacrifice. Truth is more meritorious than a hundred sons. A hundred horse-sacrifices had once been weighed against Truth, and Truth was found to be heavier. Truth, I ween, may be equal to the study of the entire Vedas and ablutions in all holy places. There is no virtue equal to Truth; there is nothing superior to Truth. O King, Truth is God himself; Truth is the highest vow.

Therefore, violate not thy pledge, O monarch ! Let Truth and you remain united. If you place no credit in my words, I shall of my own accord go hence. Indeed, thy companionship should be avoided. But hear, O Dushyanta, when you are gone, this son of mine shall rule the whole earth, surrounded by the four seas and adorned with the king of the mountains.

Having spoken to the monarch in this wise, Sakuntala left his presence. Whereupon, a voice from the skies, emanating from no visible shape, spoke unto Dushyanta as he sat surrounded by his occasional and household priests, his preceptors and ministers : The mother is but the sheath of flesh; the son sprung from the father is the father himself. Therefore, O Dushyanta, cherish thy son, and insult not Sakuntala. O best of men, the son, who is but a form of one’s own seed, rescues the ancestors from the region of Yama. Thou art the progenitor of this boy. Sakuntala has spoken the truth. The husband, dividing his body in twain, is born of his wife in the form of son. Therefore, O Dushyanta, cherish thy son born of Sakuntala. To live by forsaking one’s living son is a great misfortune. Therefore, O thou of Puru’s race, cherish thy high-souled son born of Sakuntala. And because this child is to be cherished by you even at our word, therefore shall thy son be known by the name of Bharata – the cherished.

Hearing these words uttered by dwellers in heaven, the monarch of Puru’s race became overjoyed and spoke as follows unto his priests and ministers, ‘Hear ye these words uttered by the celestial messenger ? I myself know this one to be my son. If I had taken him as my son on the strength of Sakuntala’s words alone, my people would have been suspicious and my son also would not have been regarded as pure.’

The monarch then, seeing the purity of his son established by the celestial messenger, became exceedingly glad. And he took unto him that son with joy. The king with a joyous heart performed all those rites upon his son that a father should perform. He smelt his child’s head and hugged him with affection. The Brahmanas began to utter blessings upon him and bards began to applaud him.The monarch then experienced the great delight that one feels at the touch of one’s son.

And Dushyanta also received that wife of his with affection. He told her these words, pacifying her affectionately, ‘O goddess, my union with you took place privately. Therefore, I was thinking of how best to establish thy purity. My people might think that we were only lustfully united and not as husband and wife, and therefore this son who I would have installed as my heir apparent would only have been regarded as one of impure birth. And dearest, every hard word thou hast uttered in thy anger have I forgiven thee. Thou art my dearest !’

And the royal sage Dushyanta, having spoken thus unto his dear wife, received her with offerings of perfume, food, and drink. And king Dushyanta, then, bestowed the name of Bharata upon his child, and formally installed him as the heir apparent. And the famous and bright wheels of Bharata’s car, invincible and like unto the wheels of the cars owned by the gods, traversed every region, filling the entire earth with their rattle. That monarch of great prowess was known as Chakravarti and Sarvabhauma.

Rishi Kanwa was himself the chief priest at the sacrifices he performed.

A Poet In Afghanistan

A Young Poet Exiled From Her Village

By: Fahim Khairy, KHAAMA PRESS

Source : http://www.khaama.com/a-young-poet-exiled-from-her-village-9887

 

Persian poetry has a long history of fighting injustice and discrimination, dating back centuries. From Jalaluddin Rumi Balkhi and Rabia Balkhi to modern poets such as Foroogh Farokhzad, many have raised their voices through poetry to attack injustice. These poets often touched on taboos that no one dared speak of, fearing punishment from kings and other rulers.

Karima Shabrang is a new sword in the battle for justice and equal rights for women in Afghanistan. Shabrang soon came up against people who do not believe women should be equals. Shabrang was born in Baharak in the Badakhshan province. She studied Farsi/Dari literature and poetry at Kabul University. After graduating, she moved back to her village and started to work as a school teacher.

Shabrang was not yet known as an Afghan poet. She never showed her creative work to anyone until her first book hit the market and shocked everyone who read just a few pages. In Baharak village, Shabrang had enjoyed a peaceful life. She had the chance to publish her first poetry book titled Beyond Infamy.

Her work breaks taboos and carries a depth and darkness. As leading Afghan poet and professor Partaw Nadery said, Shabrang writes in pain and blood. In much of her work, Shabrang shows what it is like to be a victim of sexism. She was working as a teacher when her book was first published. She did not realize how people would react to her poetry.

My hair was saved for you

But destiny left it in the hands of a stranger

Who uses it to fuel his own desire’

* * *

Leave the buttons of your shirt open

Allow me to look at your eyes

And a little lower, let me feel the heat

and understand the warmth of the sun in your chest

In Afghan society, women cannot speak of their love desire, not even in poetry. It’s considered criminal, shameful, and dishonorable to do so, but Shabrang courageously broke this taboo. When asked about the message of these lines, she said that “being in the arms of the opposite gender is a need for everyone, including women. This was an empty spot in our society, and I wanted to fill it in and show the feelings and sensations of a woman.”

Soon rumors reached her entire village, and Shabrang became famous. Finally the religious Mullahs got their hands on her book. Day by day, the peaceful and green village that had inspired Shabrang became like a prison for her. She was harassed on the way to school every day and her entire family felt the effects. The Mullahs called her an ”infidel” who wanted to put Afghan women on the wrong path, teaching them to be immoral and shameless.

The harassment escalated until the Mullahs were sending Shabrang death threats. She had no choice but to leave her village and come back to Kabul which she says is a little more modern and safe compared to the remote provinces.

Karima Shabrang is now homesick and homeless. She stays at nights in her brother’s house. During the day, she wanders around Kabul, searching for her future.

Sometimes, I miss myself

My house and the birds that sing in my village

And the stories I used to hear

Now suffering, misery, and I are friends

Mom, oh my dearest mother

Who told you to give birth to such a sad traveler?’

Karima Shabrang is a poetic star that is falling from the sky.  Breaking such taboos is not an easy thing to do in Afghanistan. Shabrang risked her life by publishing her poetry, and now she is on the run trying to escape the wrath of the Mullahs.

Those who are interested in getting in touch with Karima Shabrang can reach me at fahim.khairy(at)yahoo.com

English: Rabia Balkhi High School (Afghanistan)

Light, Beauty And Truth.

ALTAI-HIMALAYA

A Travel Diary

By Nicholas Roerich

[ Published by Claude Bragdon ]

Part IX : INDIA (1924)

Cover of "Altai-Himalaya A Travel Diary"

In the twilight under the flowing stars, in the purple sheen of the mist, sounds the soft voice of the lama, telling his calm tale of the “King of the World,” of His power, of His action and wisdom, of His legions, in which each warrior shall be possessed of some extraordinary gift. And he tells of the dates of the new age of general well-being.

The tale is taken from an ancient Tibetan book, wherein, under symbolic names, are given the future movements of the Dalai-Lama and Tashi-Lama, which have already been fulfilled. There are described the special physical marks of rulers under whom the country shall fall during the reign of the monkeys. But afterwards the rule shall be regained and then will come Someone of greatness. His coming is calculated in twelve years —which will be in 1936.

When the time came for the Blessed Buddha to depart from this earth He was asked by four lords of Dharmapala to bequeath to mankind His image. The Blessed One consented and desig­nated the most worthy artist, but the artist could not take the exact measurements because his hand trembled when he ap­proached the Blessed One. Then said Buddha, “I shall stand near the water. Thou shalt take the measurements from my reflection.” And the artist was thus enabled to do so, and exe­cuted four images, modeled from a sacred alloy of seven metals. Two of these images are now in Lhasa and the remaining two are still hidden until the appointed time.

One Tibetan ruler married Chinese and Nepal princesses in order that through them he might attract to Tibet the two sacred images of Buddha.

Twelve hundred years after Buddha, the teacher Padma Sambhava brought closer to men the teachings of the Blessed One. At the birth of Padma Sambhava all the skies were aglow and the shepherds saw miraculous tokens. The eight-year-old Teacher was manifested to the world in the Lotus flower. Padma Sambhava did not die but departed to teach new countries. Had he not done so the world would be threatened with disaster.

In the cave Kandro Sampo, not far from Tashi-ding, near a certain hot spring, dwelt Padma Sambhava himself. A certain giant, thinking to penetrate across to Tibet, attempted to build a passage into the Sacred Land. The Blessed Teacher rose up and growing great in height struck the bold venturer. Thus was the giant destroyed. And now in the cave is the image of Padma Sambhava and behind it is a stone door. It is known that behind this door the Teacher hid sacred mysteries for the future. But the dates for their revelation have not yet come.

Wherefore do the giant trumpets in the Buddhist temples have so resonant a tone ? The ruler of Tibet decided to summon from India a learned lama, from the place where dwelt the Blessed One, in order to purify the fundamentals of the teaching. How to meet the guest ? The High Lama of Tibet, having had a vision, gave the design of a new trumpet so that the guest should be received with unprecedented sound; and the meeting was a wonderful one—not by the wealth of gold but by the grandeur of sound !

Why do the gongs in the temple ring out with such great volume ? And, as silver, resound the gongs and bells at dawn and evening, when the atmosphere is tense. Their sound re­minds one of the legend of the great Lama and the Chinese emperor. In order to test the knowledge and clairvoyance of the Lama, the emperor made for him a seat from sacred books and covering them with fabrics, invited the guest to sit down. The Lama made certain prayers and then sat down. The emperor demanded of him, “If your knowledge is so universal, how could you sit down on the sacred books ?” “There are no sacred volumes,” answered the Lama. And the astonished em­peror, instead of his sacred volumes, found only blank papers. The emperor thereupon gave to the Lama many gifts and bells of liquid chime. But the Lama ordered them to be thrown into the river, saying, “I will not be able to carry these. If they are necessary to me, the river will bring these gifts to my monastery.” And indeed the waters carried to him the bells, with their crystal chimes, clear as the waters of the river.

Talismans… A mother many times asked her son to bring to her a sacred relic of Buddha. But the youth forgot her request. She said to him, ‘I shall die here before your eyes if you will not bring it to me now.’ The son went to Lhasa and again forgot the mother’s request. A half day’s journey from his home, he recalled the promise. But where can one find sacred objects in the desert ? There is nought. But the traveler espies the skull of a dog. He decides to take out a tooth and folding it in yellow silk he brings it to the house. The old woman asks of him, ‘Have you forgotten again my last request, my son ?’ He then gives her the dog’s tooth wrapped in silk, saying, ‘This is the tooth of Buddha.’ And the mother puts the tooth into her shrine, and performs before it the most sacred rites, directing all her worship to her holy of holies. And the miracle is accomplished. The tooth begins to glow with pure rays and many miracles and sacred manifestations result from it.”

A man searched for twelve years for Maitreya-Buddha. No­where did he find him, and becoming angry, he rejected his faith. As he walked along his way he beheld one who with a horsehair was sawing an iron rod, repeating to himself, “If the whole of life is not enough yet will I saw this through.” Con­fusion fell upon him— “What mean my twelve years,” he said, “in the face of such persistence ? I will return to my search.” Thereupon Maitreya-Buddha himself appeared before the man and said, “Long already have I been with you but you did not see me, and you repulsed me and spat upon me. I will make a test. Go to the bazaar. I will be upon your shoulder.” The man went, aware that he carried Maitreya. But the men around him shrank from him, closing their noses and eyes. “Wherefore do you shrink from me, people ?” he asked. “What a fright you have on your shoulder—an ill-smelling dog full of boils!” they replied. Again the people did not see Maitreya-Buddha, for each beheld only what he was worthy of seeing.

The lama says, “There are three kinds of teaching—one for the stranger, one for our own, and the third for the initiated who can retain. Now through ignorance they slaughter animals, they drink wine, they have property and eat meat and live squalidly. Does religion permit all this ? Where is beauty, there is teaching; where is teaching, there is beauty.

The people here are sensitive. Your emotions and desires are transmitted so easily. Therefore know clearly what you desire. Otherwise instead of Buddha you shall behold the dog.

That which is hidden in the past is not of importance—that which in age-old books, copied and unfinished, lies covered with dust. For the new construction, that which now resolves itself into life is important. Not through library shelves but through the living word is measured the possibility of future structures.

Under Kinchenjunga are secreted the caves in which are rest­ing the treasures. In stone coffins the cave dwellers are praying, torturing themselves in the name of the future. But the sun has already defined the future; not in secret caves, but in full sunlight one perceives the worship and expectation of Maitreya-Buddha. It is now three years since the Tashi Lama solemnly and openly dedicated the great New Image in his Tashi-lhunpo. The intense, invisible work progresses.

The Tashi Lama is now on his way to Mongolia by way of China. Unprecedented through the ages is this event. Mystery ! Incidentally, it may be that through Sikhim passed only the ab­ducting detachment and the Lama himself moved on to Mon­golia.

On a sacred morning upon the mountain started to glow rows of fire—another mystery !

Just now the wave of attention is turned toward Tibet—behind the mountain rampart events are stirring, but Tibetan secrecy is great. Information is contradictory. Whither disappeared the Tashi Lama ? What military manoeuvers proceed on the Chinese border ? What transpires on the Mongolian line ? A year of events !

Sikhim is called the land of lightning. Of course, here also occurs lightning but is it not simpler to call it “the land of future steps” ? For it would be difficult to imagine a better threshold to the mysteries of the future than this unexplored, rarely pene­trated country of rocks and flowers.

As behind a tiny silver apple on a saucer, do the hills and steps of the Himalayas reveal themselves. Hundreds, perhaps more, are the monasteries in Sikhim, each crowning the top of a summit. A small temple in Chakong; a big suburgan and monastery in Rinchenpong. Upon the next mountain appears gleaming white Pemayangtse, still higher, Sanga Chöling. Tashi-ding is almost unseen. On the other side of the valley is Daling and opposite Robling and still nearer Namtse. For a distance of forty miles one may behold the monasteries, for we must not forget that here one sees extremely far.

And again before us is the wall to Tibet. And not the back­bone of the lizard but the snow-white girdle is outlined upon the peaks of this wall—the girdle of the earth. Let us point the arrow northward—there must be the base of Mount Meru.

English: I took this photo of the 110 ft (35 m...
110 ft (35 metre) Maitreya Buddha facing down the Shyok River, Nubra Valley near Diskit Monastery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When All Seems Lost …

My friend Paresh Borkar wrote on Facebook :

THE PREGNANT DEER … SCENARIO
In a forest, a pregnant deer is about to give birth to a baby.

It finds a remote grass field nearby a river and slowly goes there thinking it would be safe, even as  labor pains start.

At the same moment, dark clouds gather above and lightning starts a forest fire.

Turning left, she sees a hunter at a distance, aiming an arrow at her.

She turns to the right and spots a hungry lion moving towards her.


STOCHASTIC PROBABILITY THEORY

What can the pregnant deer do, already under labor pains ?
What will happen ? Will the deer survive?
Will it give birth to a fawn ? Will the fawn survive ?

OR

Will everything be burnt by the forest fire ?
There’s the hunter to the left, the hungry lion on her right.
Up ahead, the forest is on fire. 
Nor can she rush back the way she came : a raging river is in the way.

 

WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED …

The deer did nothing. She just sat down, focused on giving birth to a new Life.

In just that fraction of a second, events converged …

Lightning struck and BLINDED THE HUNTER, even as he released the arrow.

The ARROW MISSED THE DEER, zipped past her

and STRUCK THE LION, injuring it badly.

And it rained torrentially, to PUT OUT THE FIRE !


THE DEER GAVE BIRTH TO A HEALTHY FAWN ! !

In our life too, there are MOMENTS of CHOICE

whence we all have to deal with negative thoughts from all sides.

Some thoughts are so powerful that they overpower us, and leave us clueless.

Anything can happen in a MOMENT in life.

We may call it divine intervention, faith, luck, serendipity, coincidence, karma,

or a simple ‘I just don’t know’.

The priority of the deer, in that given moment, was simply to give birth to life.

She chose Life and Life chose her.

Let us keep positive insights in focus.

Let us be oblivious of all imaginary, negative probabilities.

Journal : A Hot Anecdote

When Andy made ‘ Raavi’ sweat

In a room with stark naked women

Pandit Ravi Shankar : The Warhol story

Narrated by – VICTOR BANERJEE

Source : Page 11, The Telegraph India @ http://fe.gd/41q

. . .

That brings me to an amoral anecdote about Ravi Shankar. A good friend of mine, once a popular portrait painter in the United States, and a great friend of Andy Warhol, had this story to relate. It was in the days just after he had allowed Andy the use of his camera to film Sleep. Ravi Shankar, who always wanted to meet Andy Warhol, was invited to his studio in New York, on a crisp morning at 10 ‘clock sharp.

Andy Warhol

When he rang the doorbell at what must have once been a warehouse, its giant wooden door creaked open to reveal an enormous Lurch-like figure from the Adam’s Family. “Mr Shankaar?” it echoed. The dumbstruck Pandit Ravi Shankar nodded. He was ushered into an empty floor that was half the size of a football field. There was one chair and he was motioned to sit on it. He did. Lurch left him alone.

The minutes ticked by in silence. The wail of sirens as police cars raced down New York’s streets kept the adrenaline flowing in disproportion to Ravi Shankar’s normal disposition. About 10 minutes after absolutely nothing had happened, a voluptuous and gorgeous woman, stark naked, walked into the room with a stool under her arm. She set it down about 10 feet away from Ravi Shankar and sat down. The minutes ticked by again. Not a word spoken. Not a sound.

After about five uneasy minutes, Ravi Shankar, with beads of perspiration glistening on his noble forehead and regal nose, smiled more to himself than his naked roommate and began easing out of his chair to beat a quiet but hasty retreat. A door swung open behind him and in walked a naked man with an easel. He set it down near the woman on the chair and walked out. In seconds, two more naked women walked in. One carrying brushes and paints and the other struck a rather embarrassing and provocative pose that ensnared the first girl.

Once again, the minutes passed. And no one said a word, or moved. By now Ravi Shankar was drenched in sweat, was beginning to get terrified of the unpredictable madness of a New York he had only heard about, and then, with all the courage he could muster, he stood up and walked briskly to the door he had come in through. “Hey RAAVI. Hey…Hi !!” boomed voices behind him.

In trooped Andy Warhol and a bunch of pranksters who had staged the whole thing to embarrass and frighten the poor, defenceless and artistic soul from the peaceful land of ragas and spiritual India.

My friend had a happy ending to the narrative, but I shall leave that alone and let it join with such mysteries as what might have happened in the Marabar caves, in A Passage to India.

Pandit Ravi Shankar

Journal : An Inspiring Story

Chapter IV — The Story of Satyakama

1. Once upon a time, Satyakama the son of Jabala addressed his mother and said: “Revered Mother, I wish to become a brahmacharin. Of what ancestry am I?”

2. She said to him: “I do not know, my child, of what ancestry you are. In my youth I was preoccupied with many household duties and with attending on guests when I conceived you. I do not know of what ancestry you are. I am Jabala by name and you are Satyakama. So you may speak of yourself as Satyakama Jabala (the son of Jabala).

3. He came to Gautama the son of Haridrumata and said: “Revered Sir, I wish to live with you as a brahmacharin. May I approach you, as a pupil?”

4. Gautama said to him: “Of what ancestry are you, dear friend?”

Satyakama said: “I do not know, Sir, of what ancestry I am. I asked my mother about it and she replied: ‘In my youth I was preoccupied with many household duties and with attending on guests when I conceived you. I do not know of what ancestry you are. I am Jabala by name and you are Satyakama.’ I am therefore, Sir, Satyakama Jabala.”

5. Gautama said: “None but a true brahmin would thus speak out. Fetch the fuel, dear friend; I shall initiate you. You have not departed from truth.” He initiated Satyakama.

Having separated out four hundred lean and weak cows from his herd, he said: “Dear friend, go with these.”

Driving them away toward the forest, Satyakama said: “I shall not return until they become a thousand.”

He lived a number of years in the forest [until the cows had become a thousand].

Serialised Story : LIFETIME IN 36 HOURS

The story untill now …

https://vamadevananda.wordpress.com/category/serialised-story/

” Perfect. Let’s introduce ourselves.”

I was nodding at her ‘free-bird’ boldness and smiling of pleasure at having as frank an interlocutor as she was … of amazing mettle. I was again abrim with gratitude and gladness. 

The suggestion seemed to have finally broken the ice, in a manner. We spoke with some familiarity, then animatedly, as friends would. She was Pam : for Pamela, a professor of humanities. I very truthfully bared the mystique : I was Vam, for Vamadevananda, a nomad. That, I had retired early and did nothing for livelihood. I did things that served my peace, truth and happiness.

Kalka was not my destination and I did not know what was. I would be taking the connection to Shimla but would head for the bus stand, for proceeding to Kalpa. The district administrator, a younger man who knew me, had arranged for my lodging in a village nearby. But right then, sitting in the coach a thousand miles away, it was all tentative. It was somehow tiring to speak of myself.

She wowed, looking wistful. I looked at the fields passing by, at the transient objects afar as they gradually came in and receded from the view. The being, of which they arose, brimmed in my heart.

” I’ve decided to spend the summer interlude with my sister, in Shimla. I expect to finish these essays during my stay and hope they would yield their truth to my contemplation. Do you think they will ?”

” I wish they do. Sincerely. They might too.”

I knew, that transforming featureless fullness seldom happened with reading and thinking. It does not impact us enough to self-inspect the station we are at, along our inner journey : the purity and extent of love in our heart; and the knowledge at source in our eye. But everything helped … if the drive to restore our self, to the self in its solitude, was intense enough.

” You’ve done well till now, Pam, through over half a century, if I’m not wrong. Why are Vedanta truths so important for you at this late stage ?” I saved the thought to myself, ” Especially since you seem well off, and without any apparent crisis that might occasion the necessity.”

Truth, our truths, do not have a formal form. It is too tied up with ourselves. The subject could not be discussed from our surface. It needed informal communication of what we were perceiving in our mind just then, without also causing it. I was hoping to know her, in order to understand her words more fully, more accurately.

The introspection process does take its time. It demands that we wait. Time was essential to effective and efficient communication.

” Vam, I never married. When I looked about, after finishing my doctoral studies, I couldn’t be listed in the 20’s column of matrimonial pages. Too, I discovered, I wasn’t keen to hitch on. Life was engaging in the university, in the classroom and in my chamber, where I wrote scholarly papers that got noticed and always lead to more work, research and papers, more conferences and seminars.”

Concise, deliberate, critical and frank. Filled with truth.

” The campus was quiet, simple enough for my pleasure, liberal and liberating. I wouldn’t have given that up for anything just then, much less for playing the second fiddle to someone who had priorities for himself, his career or business. The fullness I was living meant everything to me. I was happy.”

“As was I, to have met her,” I told myself.

” There was money enough, which meant little to me except when it enabled me to travel. Have never been a shopper and had felt no need of more property than I’d already inherited. Investments, other than some tax-savers like insurance policy and fixed deposits, were completely off my radar…

“There were men who saw a future with me but no one I felt over time whom I could admit into my life for all time, into my house and in my decision making.”

” Does that make you sad, today ?”

” No … but I am seized by the need to make amends for not having a companion I could call my own, who would speak to me, be with me during my solitary departure from the world. Someone who would hold my hand and miss me while I breathed out my last. Having lived in the present all my life, I cannot ignore preparing well enough for what I am walking into, at the eve of my journey’s end.”

It showed in her eyes. A developed intellect that had sincerely fashioned a values system for all matters, moral and ethical. The moment was pure and fascinating.

Reflexively, I picked up the water bottle and drank to a thirst that seemed unquenchable. It was still in my clasp, while I assessed the need for more, when she reached for the bottle unasked, without a word. Our relatedness could now be categorised as informal.

” I sense that you need the skill to complete yourself in solitude, by and to yourself, and the capacity to choose emptiness than abhor it, even more than ‘ something intimate and substantial.’ It will likely free you from the need of having someone by the death-bed.”

There was nothing I could add right then to what she was already doing to fill on her want.

” Telescoping our sight on our being does bring much of our life into focus. They reveal our ego-emotion-being for us to know all that we, in truth, are not. It is what we want in it that which roots ourself in it, and lets it defines us. The want is the error when we need to be free of it…

“What is ours is the curiosity, the quest to know. Spot it and resume with the being in quest. Move on to knowing, and persist with moving on. There really is nothing here to hold on to. We could give to it, but give up we must because there’s nothing that would accompany us through our great departure, except what we are to ourself.”

The distance must have shown on the visage, as she gravely pored over my face for the longest moment with a firmness of resolve.

This was an unknown, unpredictable domain. I picked up the book but soon snoozed over it. The oblations had been poured in the crackling fire within her. The result would arise.

End of Chapter I. To be continued …

Serialised Story : LIFETIME IN 36 HOURS

The story untill now …

https://vamadevananda.wordpress.com/?s=serialised+story&submit=Search

I turned to another live page of my book of rules. 

” Be mindful of all you perceive, within and without. Be aware of everything in your experience. Be giving, not wanting. Never use a word without holding its truth within. And, always … always believe that there is someone looking after you, that you are not alone. ” 

” Wait … I wish to write that down in my diary.” 

She pulled out a small notebook with orange plastic cover, a little thick for its size but looking somewhat delicate. She wrote from memory on its first page that had been left blank, and was stuck at a couple of places. I had no memory of what I had reeled out but she was accurate at prompting the keywords. 

” What you said seemed to describe the ways I would love to have and be. They touch me, as if they are my own long-lost nature, some of which I still have and follow but imperfectly. Thank you, for sketching so fully what I need to restore to myself.” 

” I believe every word of yours. Mindfulness and conscientiousness are supreme virtues on the path you seek to travel. There will be exceptions, some spiritually agreeable, some for pragmatic reasons, and others in error. Mistakes do not matter, however big, if they are clear in our awareness.” 

” I’m both elated and daunted.” 

” As it should be. Now leave both these imaginations behind.” 

I indicated a pause in our conversation and looked away. Speech was not the way beyond a point. Silence, contemplation and meditation was. Awareness of the involved fundamental drive, or cause, in the internal process was essential to know and free ourselves. Outside, it was mid-day for trees, cattle and herdsmen. 

I know there is no gain involving oneself with anyone other than whom the universe ordains. But we invariably transgress the law because of our wilfulness riding on aroused emotions and flared want. We all make moves of our own and arrive where we do. Then, consequences take over our spiritual lives : that evolutionary electable, which happens in moments, then takes years, decades and lifetimes. 

Ambition was an oxymoron in the spiritual context. 

* * *

I had been deep asleep : the body was at complete rest and so was I, absolutely. There was no other. Waking up, I found we were at a major station; hawkers were calling out for wares on their trollies. I found her gazing on me with a softness that tugged deep, triggering my alarm. I bought two rich chocolate bars and gave one to her with palpable joy. She took it with a laugh. 

It was just past noon and, I thought, dinner was an hour away. The train gave a heave and began to pull. The passing platform seemed crowded and colourful. A moment’s snapshot. It would take a compilation of all moments it offered, to present the content of what it was. How it relates to each person out there would be defined by how it serves, over time, and what that meant to each one. But a summary conclusion had to have its origin in the intent behind its creation. And that was true of each being, person and thing. Hard to find but … harder to accept. I smiled to myself. 

” I want to hear more from you.” 

This was bold and I met it with respect. ” About what ?” would have been pedantic, if not naive. 

” This is a call of love. Not necessarily for the person you believe I am but for what you experience with the words you hear. It is already yours. All of it. You do not need me or my words for that. If at first you can’t regain it, think of me and it will all come back to you.” 

” But why not directly from you ?” 

” Because I am just another imperfect person, who will be with you for a short while. What you need is someone who will be with you anytime you need and recede when you do not. It will be all you and yours, at your entire convenience. With perhaps better results and zero complications.” 

” Maybe I’ll do just that after we’ve parted. But for now … I am not at all apprehensive about imperfections and complications.” 

” Perfect. Let’s introduce ourselves.”

To be continued …   A spiritual thriller in the making.

Serialised Story : LIFETIME IN 36 HOURS

What transpires between a man and a woman when they spend time together in an small coupe all to themselves, on a train that will take them to Kalka and, from there, to Shimla through a journey of about 36 hours … ?

There’s absolutely no chance of it being a love story … but I do see a spiritual thriller in the situation.

“ What remains with two people who come together on promise of love but do not empathise in their unity, and diverge away from-each other ?”

“ What remains with two people who come together on promise of love, deepen their empathy, and unite to mean everything to each other ?”

[ These questions would occur to me when younger and I’d actually posed them to a couple of my friends who were in a relationship then.]

Chapter – I    … contd.

Breakfast was timely and a silent affair. I ate without the dramatics but quite as animals do… single-mindedly. She smiled her satisfaction, looked out, read, but was mostly hesitant to launch an engaging conversation. I picked up the book barely read a paragraph or two, and snoozed. 

You know, this term for truth, “Satya,” keeps coming in but remains empty of content. It’s so familiar, almost intimate as it rings in the ear, but sort of undefined and unspecified.” 

I woke up. Anybody interested in truth was more intimate than a mere contemporary. 

What is the truth ? What would you look for and how would you recognise it ?” 

I really wouldn’t know… maybe facts…” 

To start with, look for what has stayed with you for the longest in effect.” 

My education… my parents home I inherited ?” 

No, in effect… it would mostly be food and sex, thirst and breath, the need and freedom to speak out, to choose, to love and be loved, to know…These are intimate in their effect on us all.” 

There was a deep hush for long. She did not turn her gaze away from me. Nor I. She took a deep breath, looked down and slumped against the backrest. 

I added, with a kindest tone I was capable of : “ Truth begins with parents, the body we have, the vitality, emotions – the vital mind, doubts and thoughts – the thinking mind, knowledge – the intellect, and the conscience – the soul being – that inexorably persists. These are our truths.” 

Where does sex come in ?” 

Through the vitality, the vital mind. That is how we all are created. It is through dealing with it that our thinking mind develops. All that is vital within us, that we refuse to acknowledge and deal with upfront, remains subconscious. Our emotions or interpretation of all that we sense, feel and experience, is then determined subconsciously. And we must be consciously on guard not to reveal to others what we do not wish to acknowledge to ourself.” 

I see. Indeed …” 

There was something stunning about this silence upon her. I was concerned but could only pray. 

Come, you are not alone.” She hesitated, then put her palm over my extended right. I sealed the gesture by placing my left over hers. 

After we withdrew, she was more at ease, uplifted, but thoughtful. As it was, she was forming her question. 

Is the truth one for all ? Or, is it many, one or one set respective to each of us ? 

From where we all start, it is the latter – one set for each. Where the journey evolves to and the seeking ends at, it is singular – one supreme truth.”

Of course … So, what do you feel, how should I proceed ?” 

I turned away from the window to look into her eyes. There was a self-deprecating smallness she did not deserve. 

Books are a great way to start. Apart from what you have in your hand, you could choose one on Raja Yoga. The formal introduction is very helpful but truth, its knowledge, is an informal matter. It is known first and fully in our own context.” 

Formal … objective, one among others, intellectual idea… hmmm.” 

I could sense the difficulty in actually fathoming the difference between formal and informal phenomena. Living on the outside, among other matters and things, people and beings, and thinking … of all our concerns in terms of ‘others’ to oneself. We seldom look inward and observe this universe that is us, oneself, to oneself… in the manner of a research project for mapping the processes occuring within – body, vitality, vital mind and associated subconscious phenomena. The start was difficult; progress close to impossible for most. I prayed to this absolute prime mover within me. 

I can see now, why the word would seem so empty of content despite its familiarity. I’d heard of Satya all my life but always associated it with facts, the few I knew and the rest I still had to.” 

” We all did.”

She was very serious, thoughtful, as if she were speaking to herself. I nodded, smiled with complete empathy before looking away. This needed a longer interregnum for the shock to subside.

… to be continued.

Serialised Story : LIFETIME IN 36 HOURS

I am encouraged. The decision to publish the story here had posed an embarassing possibility if, prompted by how it unravels in later chapters, I were to alter its content in its finished form. And, more importantly, how would I handle suggestions or serious criticisms at this stage of the work when, frankly speaking, I would be giving my whole attention at taking the narration forward than on looking back in review ?

The answers that set my doubts somewhat to rest came after I reached out to a few of my online friends : they all said I should serialise the finished part on the blog. Which wasn’t an answer to any of my reservations … but it enhanced my own desire to upload it re-read it myself along with the readers.

The answers I share here are what I provided to myself in order to go ahead with the doing : one, change howsoever I may in future, the laydown is still enough of a story, as it is now; two, suggestions and criticisms that might trickle in would be welcome anyway, now as info to what or how I will  express the parts yet unwritten and later while reviewing the parts already published on the blog.

So, here it is.

What transpires between a man and a woman when they spend time together in an small coupe all to themselves, on a train that will take them to Kalka and, from there, to Shimla through a journey of about 36 hours … ?

There’s absolutely no chance of it being a love story, fit for celluloid, but I do see a spiritual thriller in the situation.

“ What remains with two people who come together on promise of love but do not empathise in their unity, and diverge away from-each other ?”

What remains with two people who come together on promise of love, deepen their empathy, and unite to mean everything to each other ?”

[ These questions would occur to me when younger and I’d actually posed them

to a couple of my friends who were in a relationship …]

Chapter – I

I too am going to Kalka.” 

I put down the book. She must have seen my travel itinerary on the reservation chart posted at coach entrance. It was quarter to ten in the night now. The woman who joined in at Durgapur station looked middle-age but was all eyes, weightless and sprightly. It’ll be one more night before we will disembark at Kalka. 

But what was there to say. I was glad. The nod in acknowledgment was reflexive but the smile on my countenance had stayed on. The juncture was loaded with a tentativeness, I felt. It would unravel, I told myself, as it always does.

She did her bed on the upper berth. It was a two-berth coupe. I had the lower one. Despite it being late, she chose to sit at the other end of mine. She looked out of the window and I followed suit. It was dark and rushing past. The wind on my face left me indescribably connected. Looking back after a while, I found her watching me. 

Not sleepy, eh.” 

Yeah. There’s still much too excitement remaining to subside. Perhaps you would …” 

No, I hate missing out on so much of experience to sleep. Perhaps, by the early hours of the morning I’d allow her to take over… Are you a little taken up by the situation of spending the night in the company of a stranger, a male… ?” 

Could be, subconsciously. Anything could happen but I perceive no cause that it would. It’s your perspective to sleep that I am curious about. Most would find it not so normal. Especially at your age …” 

How do you see it ? And what’s my age, I wonder ?” 

You look late middle age. What exactly do you experience, looking into the blank depths outside the window ?” 

It’s chronic … this presumption of what it is from what it looks to be. At what age should one stop appreciating the night … It’s healing, wondrous, quietly alive and so very gathered in peace.” 

Are you a monk ?” 

No, just a recluse.” 

We slept. It felt good to be traveling with someone. I embraced the track and wheel sounds for long, the wind on my face, the indistinct hills and trees in a darkness punctuated by the amazing presence of light framed in black. 

It felt good to be travelling with someone,” she said zipping close her utility pouch in the morning. I smiled. It was the thought I had slept with… There was no point to it but the wonder turned in my gut. An extra dose of vitality shooting into the nerves, if you know. 

A pleasure.” 

I may have said that to myself. She looked moist and fresh and strangely familiar. The book she’d opened was Narendra’s essays on Vedanta. I stared through the window. This existence out there never failed to empty the mind and rest the gut. 

Breakfast was timely and a silent affair. I ate without the dramatics but quite as animals do… single-mindedly. She smiled her satisfaction, looked out, read, but was mostly hesitant to launch an engaging conversation. I picked up the book barely read a paragraph or two, and snoozed. 

You know, this term for truth, “Satya,” keeps coming in but remains empty of content. It’s so familiar, almost intimate as it rings in the ear, but sort of undefined and unspecified.”

To Be Continued …