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Chapter Eight:  In the Meantime

The groom, deeply distressed when his selfless master retreated to the forest, had tried very hard on the way back to get rid of his depression which at least now, left him dry-eyed.  That very same road before, at his lord's command and with the same horse, had taken only a single night to cover.  Now eight days later, he was there again, except this time he had his master's absence on his mind.

And the horse, still bravely going along, seemed very tired and lacking in spirit, and though Kamthaka still wore all his ornaments, he seemed to have lost all his beauty with his master gone.  He kept turning around towards the ashram in the woods and neighing mournfully, and although he must have been hungry, he paid no attention to any of the grass or water along the route, as he had before.

Slowly the two of them came back at last to Kapilavastu which, like the sky without the sun, seemed empty now that it had been deserted by the hero bent on the salvation of the world.

His garden was as deserted as the forest, for there were no cheerful citizens in it, though the waters were still lotus-covered and the trees still covered in flowers.  

Then those two, silently ignored by the sad inhabitants wandering along in the same direction with all their brightness gone and their eyes dimmed by tears, slowly entered the city that too, seemed bathed in gloom.

Hearing that they had returned looking dejected and without the Pride of the Sakyas, the citizens shed tears in public just as they had in ancient times when the chariot of Rama, the son of King Darastha, returned empty. 

Some people angrily followed Chhanda down the street, tearfully shouting, "Where is the king's son, Glory of his people and his kingdom? You have deserted him."

He said to those faithful people, "I have not left the king's son. He abandoned me weeping there in the forest, along with all his finery and his householder's obligations towards me."

Hearing that, those crowds made a very difficult choice.  They did not wipe away the tears in their eyes, but began to blame themselves for the consequences of their past actions, and then they said, 'Let us go right now to that forest where the one strong and graceful like the king of elephants is, for we have no desire to keep on living; without him living is as useless as any of the senses after the body has died.  

"This city bereft of him is a forest, and any forest which has him is the city now.  Our city without him holds no charm at all for us -- it's like what became of heaven without Indra, lord of the Maruts, when  Vritra was slain."

Next, all the women crowded at the rows of windows called to one another, "The prince is back!" but when they heard that his saddle was empty, they shut the windows again and began to wail.

The king had undertaken religious observances for the recovery of his son, his mind distressed by the vow and by his sorrow, and had been muttering mantras in the temple while performing the appropriate rituals.  But now with tear-filled eyes his attention turned to the horse --  his whole soul focused on the horse -- and he became so overwhelmed by grief that he could stand it no longer and so he went out to the maidan, the parade grounds, as if his own master had been killed by an enemy.  

Entering the royal stable and looking around with tearful eyes, Kamthaka uttered a loud sound as if expressing his woe to the people.  The birds that fed in the central courtyard and the pampered horses nearby echoed that horse's cry, apparently thinking that it might have signaled the prince's return.

Some people who were in the vicinity of the king's quarters were fooled by that and also thought that since Kamthaka was neighing it must be because the prince was coming.  So the women, who had been faint with sorrow, now were wild with joy and,  eyes rolling with anticipation, they rushed out of the palace like flickers of lightning from an autumn cloud.

With their wrinkled tunics and soiled skirts, their eyes unlined by any blacking and dulled by crying, their faces dark and blotchy without their makeup, they looked like stars in the sky at the ending of the night, all a faded pink.  With the soles of their feet unstained by red henna and bare of anklets, their faces and their ears without any ornamentation and naturally plain, their hips ungirdled and bosoms bare of strings of pearls, they looked as if they had just been robbed.

But when they saw Chanda standing helpless, his eyes full of tears, both the horse and the  noblewomen began to weep, like cows abandoned by their bull in the midst of a forest.

Then Gautami, the king's chief queen, like a doting cow that's lost her calf burst into tears and collapsed on the ground with outstretched arms, like a golden plantain tree with its rustling leaves.

Some of the other women were so downcast and spiritless they seemed actually to have lost their minds, for they were catatonic in their despondency -- they didn't wail or weep or even breathe, but just stood there frozen like some sort of painting.  Others, having lost all self-control, fainted out of sorrow for their lord and their dripping faces watered their bosoms creating rivulets in the sandalwood powder calling to mind the streams that trickle over rocks on hillsides.  That royal palace glimmering with so many shiny faces all wet with tears was like a lake during the spring rains when the already dripping lotuses are being pelted by showers from the clouds above.

Like vines rattling in the wind, their tendrils tapping on the stalks, the noblewomen incessantly beat their breasts with their lotus-like hands whose curved, plump ring-less fingers reveal not a vein.  And what a sight they made -- their bosoms bouncing in response to the hand's blow -- it was like a view of the water when pairs of ruddy geese are getting tossed about as they sit on lotus pads heaving on the waves from a wind rushing down out of the woods.  As their hands dented their breasts, their breasts pressed back on their palms, for so dulled were they to any sensation that to feel anything at all, they made their hands and breasts inflict mutual pain.

Then up spoke Yasodhara still shedding mournful tears, her bosom heaving with sighs, her eyes smeared and swollen, and her voice was choked with emotion because of her pain and sorrow. "Where is my heart's desire? Where can he have had to go, Chanda, to leave me helplessly asleep in the night? Only you and Kamthaka are back, though the three of you left together.  My mind trembles to think what might have happened.

"And why are you crying, cruel one? You've done a dishonourable, pitiless, and unkind thing to me, so stop that bawling and don't be such a hypocrite.  Your tears don't suit your deeds.  Because of you, his dear, obedient, faithful and loyal companion who always does the right thing, the son of my lord the king has left, never to return. So be happy! Shout hurray! You've obviously done what you set out to do.  And there's a saying: 'Better a wise enemy than a foolish friend who doesn't know what do when help is needed.'  Because of you, unwise so-called friend, a great calamity has befallen our family."

"These poor, pathetic women who without ornaments look as if they are wearing mourning -- with reddened eyes all puffy from continually crying, they are in the same position as any truly desolate widow despite the fact that their lord is still alive and standing as unshaken as the earth, or Mount Himavat.  And the very palace walls seem to be weeping, flinging up dovecots as if they were their arms, to the sound of the wailing moans of the pigeons who truly are also separated from him. 

"There is no doubt that even Kamthaka, the horse, intended to ruin me since he's the one who actually carried off my Treasure, just like a jewel thief -- during the night when everyone was sound asleep.   How is it, when he was able to bear the onslaught of volleys of arrows, and even more -- the lash of the whips -- how, especially for fear of punishment, how could he go off like that and take away my future, my fortune and my heart all together at once?

"That base creature now neighing so loudly that the king's palace rings with the sound --  that night he took off with my Beloved, that rotten nag made no sound at all -- it was just as if he were struck dumb!  If he had at least neighed and so woken up people, or had pawed the ground with his hooves, or had even made the loudest sound he could by champing or grinding his jaws, then my grief would not be nearly as great."

Having listened to the queen's words, every syllable choked with tears and full of lamentation, Chanda slowly uttered his reply in a voice low with tears, his face downcast and his hands clasped before it in supplication.

"Surely, your highness, you will not blame Kamthaka, nor express anger against me, for you should know that we two are entirely without blame.  That god among men, my Queen, has gone away exactly in the way that a god does.

"Yes, I knew and understood perfectly well the King's command, but I acted against my will, as though I were being dragged by force by some divine power, and so I quickly brought him this swift steed, and managed to follow him on the road without any fatigue.  

"This finest of all horses actually went along without touching the ground -- not even with the tips of his hooves -- it was as if they were being kept  above the surface somehow, and as for sound, or rather the lack of it, that was due to the same kind of thing --  his mouth was restrained as if by fate, so no sound could come from his jaws nor could he neigh.

Also, when the prince was leaving the grounds, the gate was thrown open as if by itself, and also the darkness of the night was illuminated as if pierced by the sun.  We will probably learn more about all this one day and find out it has something to do with fate.  The same goes for the fact that though all the guards were diligent and knew the King's commands, yet every single one, both at the palace and in the town, was overcome by sleep.  

And, again and again it was the same thing. He was offered a garment appropriate for the hermitage by a deity, and later when he cut off his headdress and threw it into the air, some  space-going inhabitants of heaven carried it away.  Therefore, please do not assume that his departure is due to the fault of either one of us, Majesty, for neither I nor this horse acted from choice; he was among the gods when he went on his way."

When they heard the details of the prince's departure, so incredible in many ways, those women momentarily forgot their bereavement filled as they  were with amazement, but at the thought of his becoming an ascetic, they again became distressed.

Now his step-mother Gautami's eyes filled with tears of despondency, and wretched as an osprey who has lost her young, she wailed aloud abandoning all self-control.  She fainted, and finally, with a weeping face she exclaimed, "That beautiful, soft, black hair of his that grows in great wavy locks and which certainly deserves to be bound only by a royal diadem  --  tossed on the ground?  That man who looks like a hero, his beauty bright as gold -- with long arms and the regal gait of a lion, with bull-like eyes, a broad chest and a voice as deep as a drum or a cloud -- he's going to live alone in a hermitage?

Certainly this Earth does not deserve such a heroic figure since obviously, the virtuous hero has deserted Her, and (we know) subjects get the kind of ruler they deserve.

And those two tender feet, soft as the blue lotus, that bear the mark of a wheel in their soles and with those delicate webs between their toes, and with such subtle ankles -- how can they walk the hard ground at the edges of the forest?

That body deserves to sit or lie on the roof of a palace and to be honoured with costly garments, to be perfumed with aloes and sandal-wood.  How will that body be able to live in the woods where it will continuously be exposed to the cold, the heat, and the rain?

A man so proud of his family; a person of goodness, strength, energy, full of sacred learning, beauty and youth, who was always sensitive to the needs of others and was not raised to ask anything for himself -- how will he go about begging from other people?

"He was accustomed to lying on a spotless, golden bed and to be awakened by a concert of musical instruments -- how alas! will my son the ascetic, sleep tonight lying on the bare ground with only a single piece of cloth?"

Having heard that pitiful lamentation, the women hugged each other, weeping as piteously and as copiously as shaken (honeysuckle) creepers dripping nectar from their flowers.

Then Yasodhara fell down on the ground, and like a ruddy goose parted from her mate, utterly bewildered she lamented between sobs,  "If he wishes to lead a religious life after leaving his lawful wife in widows' circumstances, where indeed is his religion? What righteous married man follows the way of  penance without his lawful wife to share it?

"He cannot ever  have heard of the monarchs of olden times, of ancestors of his such as Mahasudharsha and all the others that went with their wives into the forest. That he would wish to follow a religious life without me ... !

Doesn't he see that husband and wife are, together, consecrated in sacrifices and both together are purified by the performance of Vedic rites?  That both are destined for the same consequences? By what he has done he is begrudging me a share in his merit.

Surely this lover of religion must have felt that I bore him some inner grudge and was not entirely devoted and so, feeling resentful, he went off in a carefree fashion to find the nymphs of Indra's heaven!   

"No, what am I thinking!  Even women in ashrams can have the attributes of a charming physical body and that must be why he went off to the forest,  "to practice austerities" without me, deserting His Royal Magnificence and my fond devotion.

"But I have no such longing for the joys of heaven, and anyway, they are not that hard for even ordinary people to achieve, if they are determined enough.  My sole and only desire is that my beloved never leave me, either in this world or in the next one.

"Even if I am unworthy to look at my husband's face again, with its long eyes and bright smile, will poor baby Rahula never get the chance to be rocked on his father's lap?

"Alas! the mind of that wise hero is so terribly stern, though his beauty may let him seem gentle.  It is pitilessly cruel, for what other kind could so desert, of his own free will, an infant son still as yet unable to talk -- one who would charm even an enemy.

"My dear heart is certainly tough, too.  Yes -- like a rock or even something made of iron since it doesn't break though its lord is gone to the forest, and he is as deserted by his royal glory as any orphan -- and he so deserves to be happy."

So the Queen, fainting in her woe, wept and pondered and wailed aloud over and over again.  Normally she was a very self-possessed person, but in her distress she seemed to have forgotten that, and felt no shame at all.

Seeing Yasodhara in such a state with her wild utterances of grief and fallen there on the ground, all the women wailed, their faces streaming with tears like large lotuses being pelted by the rain.

But the king, having finished his prayers and performed the auspicious rites of sacrifice, now came out of the temple, and taken aback by the wailing of the people, he tottered like an elephant at the crash of a thunderbolt.

Once he heard all about Chanda and Kamthaka, and about his son's firm decision, that earthly ruler was struck down by sorrow, like the banner of Indra when the festival is over.

Then the king, distracted with grief for his son and supported for the moment by his bodyguards all alike, gazed at the horse his eyes filling with tears and then falling on the ground, he wailed, "After having done many commendable exploits for me in battle, you have done me one singularly great deed of cruelty, Chanda, for it is your fault that the precious son of mine who is dear for his every virtue, has been tossed away in the woods, as dear as he was, like some worthless thing.

"Therefore either immediately take me where he is to-day or go quickly and bring him back again.  Without him there is no life left for me; I am like someone who is deathly ill and for whom there is no proper remedy.

"When Suvarna.nishthivin was carried away by death, it seemed impossible that Srimagaya wouldn't die along with him, and it's the same in my case.  What is there left to fear, now  that my duty-loving son is gone? Do you think that I fear to set my soul free, like any coward?

Even the author of the Code, Manu himself, the son of Vivasvat, would be distracted from honour when parted from his own dear, virtuous son --  and he knew about 'superior' and 'inferior,' and about the mighty Lord of creatures, institutor of the ten chieftains. 

"I envy that monarch, the wise son of king Aga, a friend of Indra who, when his son went into the forest, himself went off to heaven without dragging out his miserable life in useless weeping.

"Describe to me, dear horse, the court of that hermitage where you carried the one who is like the water that will extinguish my funeral pyre [as my final funeral oblation] for my vital 'winds' are all ready to depart and are so eager for that water that they long to drink it right this very moment!

Thus was the king, in his grief at being separated from his son, losing all innate self-control.  Normally as steadfast as the earth, he was loudly wailing and behaving as distraughtly as Dasaratha falling prey to fatherly sorrow for his son, Rama.

Then the wise counselor endowed with religious learning, courtesy, and virtue, along with the old family priest, spoke to him as was proper (under the circumstances) using carefully chosen words, their faces neither overwhelmed by grief nor yet entirely unmoved.

"Stop your grieving, Most Noble of Men, and regain your composure.  Surely such an indomitable hero as yourself shed tears like a person with no self-control. There have been many kings on this earth who have gone into the forests and thrown away their regal attire like a crushed wreath.

"Besides, his current state of mind was all predetermined.  Remember those long ago words  of holy sage, Asita's: 'He will never be made to dwell contentedly even for one moment, either in heaven or in an emperor's domain.'

"But if, Best of Men, the effort must be made, just say the word and we two will leave together right away.  The battle for your son and his fate, whatever it may be, will be waged on every front."

Then the king commanded,  "Both of you go quickly for my heart will not rest in peace any more than that of the bird in the woods that longs for its chick."

Promptly following the king's orders, the counselor and the family priest went off to that forest.  With that, the king said, "Enough," and accompanied by his wives and queen went off to  perform the rest of the interrupted ritual.

NEXT: Chapter 9  Friendly Persuasion

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