Chapter 5 — Patali
Thus have I heard:
FOR several days Ruru wandered through the fields and woods, ever onwards, and seeking that enlightenment for which his Mind craved incessantly. The Sun—the golden Lotus of the sky—keeping him company during the day, while at night an ocean of stars swam in the alizarinean deeps; their music visible in beryline glister. He bedded upon the soft moss beneath the waving trees, graceful daughters of the wind, rustling in the light of the guarding Moon, and he slept peacefully until aurelian morn, flecked with butterfly tints, awoke him with a kiss, instinct with promise of delight, and in a glory of gold the Sun once more broke from the dawn. Then the dewdrops seemed to be on fire, and, as their creepers waved under the impulse of Aurora's breath, the trees seemed to dance with joy. Large black monkeys scrambled amongst the stones and bushes, with their babies clinging to their fur; and the jungles swarmed with peacocks, jays, parrots, jackals and wild deer. The golden mohur trees were cascading their gorgeous orange flowers, and jasmine looked like master-works of finely carved white ivory. Magic lotus pools in silent spots, the dwelling places of the sleeping gods, where rays of light strike hyaline floors beneath the silver sheets, and many other places of delight caused the Mantle of Inspiration to descend upon him, and he was enfolded in the pinnate embrace of fantasy. He raised the torch of song, and melody surged through the air, the woods, the clefted hills; and the fragrance of those flowery days and roseal hours did linger on, besprent with glory.
And so the days and weeks flew by on downy wings, unheard; but one evening he saw a herdsman resting by the wayside, a charcoal fire in an earthenware basin by his side to drive away the evening mists. After they had exchanged greetings and blessings, he asked the man in what part of the country they were, and the herdsman told him, adding that but a short distance away there was a town, called Kusu-mapura, or the City of the Flowers, situated on the banks of the Ganges.
After he had received full directions, Ruru passed on, and after his evening meal he found a soft spot underneath the trees to spend the night.
When he woke up the next morning, he followed the directions given him and proceeded on his way to the City of the Flowers. Walking along he met at a crossroads a skull-bearing Shaiva ascetic, with matted hair, making him appear like the God Shīva with his half-moon, and the holy man was completely white with ashes. Lost in contemplation, his mind sought to penetrate into that inner mystery which is God. When Ruru passed him he looked up and asked him what was his destination. Ruru told him, and the ascetic said:
"Do you know which of these four ways to take?" Ruru replied that he was a little doubtful, being a stranger to the district.
"Are you in a hurry?" queried the holy man.
"No," said Ruru, "my time is entirely my own; why do you ask?"
"Because," replied the man, "there will be a funeral rite here presently, and if you have never seen one at the crossroads you should wait a while, for one should always take the opportunity to learn something new."
Ruru assented, and sat down beside the ascetic upon being invited. The holy man had looked at Ruru attentively in the meanwhile, and a conversation ensued. Ruru asked the holy man how he prepared himself for proper meditation, and he also asked if meditation was not the same as dreaming, or very close akin to it?
The answer was: "The stupid person sleeps deeply and long; but how can the wise ever lose themselves in dreams?"
For a while they talked about many things, the ascetic answering in a kindly manner the many questions Ruru asked eagerly about the holy Scriptures and so on, and at last Ruru confided to him his experience with the black dwarf and the beautiful maiden; though for some reason unknown to himself he did not mention the vision of the two blue eyes.
"Please tell me, Sir," he said, "was that dwarf, and also the maiden, a dream, actual, a vision, or would you call it a meditation or a revelation?"
The ascetic replied: "To give advice to a fool entails ridicule; to entrust a stranger with a secret may have the same result. A single wise man amongst many fools is like a flower that has fallen into a river, and he is sure to be overwhelmed; and again: this applies to one who is too trusting. But as you do not seem to be a fool and I am not one to ridicule a confidence, I will answer you. There is much truth in what the dwarf told you. But he is only a phantasm of your lower mind—which is your own body, and that is very hard to overcome—for it is controlled by the five senses. The vision of the maiden was a figment of the imagination of your animal instincts. But beware: for of women there are all sorts. The woman won over by another man is like the sword in the hand of an enemy; for in her passion she will commit crimes without any scruple. When a man is bewildered by the speech and art of such a wicked woman he does not know truth from falsehood, and he may become like Ananga, the bodiless god of Love, whose original body was consumed by the fire of Shīva's Eye.
"A wicked woman is like a lotus-bed with its flowers expanded and an alligator lurking within it. The Creator first created recklessness, and then woman in imitation of it," he added bitterly; "and the frail arrow of love cleaves the strong armour of self-restraint. Beware of the woman whose eyebrows meet, for she is a vampire or a werewolf. Never forget that lust and wrath are the two bolts on the Gate of Salvation; this should keep you always safe, for he who is ensnared by the wrong woman is imprisoned in a deep dungeon. Who can constrain a furious river or a passionate woman? But a chaste one is guarded by her own virtue. A jealous woman is worse than all the rest, for jealousy is the seed of calamity; for the jealous mind loses all discernment, and such a one should be destroyed by Ambikā, which is another name for Shīva. A man who does not resist the bad instincts of a woman is like a man who shares a crime with his servant: for thus the master becomes the servant's slave."
"And have you, reverend Sir, also suffered through such women?" asked Ruru.
"Yes," replied the ascetic, growling deep within himself, "and in the end I sank into a jungle of depravity."
"How did you rescue yourself, then," asked Ruru; "did you slay her in the end?"
"Although the Three Worlds shudder when a woman betrays her lord and lover," said the holy man, "the truly brave are always merciful, and I let her go with the man she chose."
"But could you not have corrected her?" asked Ruru.
"No one can compel a stone to stay fixed in the empty air by continually throwing it up," was the reply. "And no one can compel a woman to return to the path of virtue and stay there, by preaching. It does not matter any more either; for in me the world and all that's in it is like a straw—of no account. Besides, we are but puppets, dancing at the behest of the Lords of Destiny."
"Was she very beautiful?" asked Ruru.
"What is beauty?" asked the ascetic in return. "Once there was a fierce demon, bent on destroying mankind by asking an unanswerable riddle. If the riddle was not solved, the man who failed was always annihilated. One day the demon met a simple peasant as he was tilling his field. He asked of the peasant his usual question: 'Who is the most beautiful woman in the land?'
'My wife,' the peasant replied.
'How can you prove that?' asked the demon again.
'Because I love her; and she who is beloved is always the most beautiful.'
'You are the only one who has ever solved my riddle,' said the demon, 'and henceforth I am your servant; command me.'
And now was heard a sound of wailing that came nearer every moment. And Ruru beheld a long procession of men, women and priests. The principal Brāhman carried a pot in which was a mixture of black pulse, rice, areca nut, a copper coin, and a lamp filled with clarified butter. When they arrived at the cross-roads they sprinkled the junction with water for the purpose of purification and left the pot there as an offering to pacify any evil spirit that might happen to dwell there. This ceremony was performed with great solemnity, and when the procession turned homewards again, all took great care not to look backwards.
Ruru watched everything with much interest, and, after all was quiet again, the ascetic told him that seven pebbles picked up at a place where three roads meet are used as a charm against the evil eye; and that at the funeral of a Brāhman, five balls of wheat-flour and water are offered to various spirits. The third ball is always offered to the spirit of the cross-roads of the village through which the corpse will be carried. After a while Ruru said good-bye to the ascetic and proceeded once more on his way to the City.
Strolling along he wondered if what the ascetic had told him about the various types of women was true in all cases. "But," he cried, standing still for a moment, "my dear mother was not one of these . . . and I cannot think that Blue-Eyes is one either; never mind, I shall learn in time." And as he uttered these words in a loud voice, the monkeys looked down from the fig-trees—great gnarled growths—hoary with age, and the apes stared at Ruru in utter amazement. They—at any rate—had no worries about their womenfolk, but took them as they found them, provided they found them to be satisfactory in every way! And if they were no good for anything else, they were at least good enough to scratch their husbands' backs.
In the distance were visible the mountains' shaggy sides, and along the roads Ruru met first an occasional traveller and later on he overtook small groups of maidens who were laughing and chattering as they walked towards the City, and he was charmed by the delights that enter through the gate of the ear, for it was now several months since he had heard the voice of anyone his own age, and youth ever clings to youth.
In those days the daughters of India were not confined in close zenanas and they mingled freely with others of their own age of both sexes, and the youthful maidens Ruru now beheld were like a shower of celestial flowers. It is true that the irresistible amber of feminine attraction can be overcome only by the few; and that is good, for it is necessary that a man by means of these same graces and attractions should undergo his greatest tests and trials—and fall; to rise again with greater wisdom leading sometimes to purity. And Ruru was attracted by the elegant and slender town maidens, for he had never seen their like before, having always lived in rural surroundings. He felt as if he was drowned in an ocean of thirst for Life!
Suddenly he heard a voice that seemed familiar, and looking around in astonishment he espied one of his old friends from his own district who was engaged in animated conversation with other young folk.
The meeting of friends in a strange place is like the finding of a fountain of nectar in a desert, and hastening to the group, Ruru hailed his friend by name, and both were delighted to meet so unexpectedly. Questions and answers followed each other as rapidly as a shower of leaves blown down from a tree by a strong wind, and his friend introduced Ruru to all the rest and invited him to join their party on the way to the City. Of course, Ruru was glad, for he had been alone too long with his own thoughts, and who would not rejoice when pain ends in happiness?
Lurking between the forest trees which lined the road could be seen from time to time a few Vishādas and Shabaras, the non-Aryan wild tribes, the original inhabitants of India who live in the woods, eating sweet fruits and killing small game with their snares.
When presently they arrived at the City, Ruru was invited by his new-found friends to accompany them home, but before he accepted the invitation he asked his old friend, whose name was Vīravara, to lead him to a barber, so that he might remove the dust of travel and refresh himself generally. "Yes," said Vīravara, "with pleasure; I know a very good one, and I'll stay with you until he has done all you want."
And so they said good-bye for the present to the others and sallied forth on their errand.
The Māhli they went to was only too pleased to attend to Ruru, though like all others of his kind he thought himself to be a very great personage indeed. Barbers combine with their duties those of surgeon, masseur, matrimonial agent, and so on, while their wives assist at weddings, child-births and other functions; and they supply leaf-plates and cups for weddings, provide torans, or strings of leaves which are hung over the door of the house and marriage shed.
Our present barber was full of importance, for he and his wife were going to assist at a wedding at the very house where Ruru was invited. Although he was only of the magnitude of one digit he yet desired to shine as a full Moon, and he was as full of words as any fool and proved the truth of the proverb: 'As the crow among birds so the barber among men,' for he never stopped cawing. He was the greatest gossip and scandalmonger Ruru had ever met, and both Ruru and his friend were kept in fits of laughter by his malicious tongue-wagging. He was full of wise saws too, and his dictum about gambling, for instance, was that gambling—if successful—brings good fortune in every way. Seeing that Ruru and his friend were both very young men, probably attending a wedding of any importance for the first time in their lives, he told them that weddings were the most important ceremonies in the world, especially if the two lovers were so infatuated that neither can live without the other.
"There are ten stages of love." he said:
- 'The pleasure of seeing the adored one.'
- 'The pleasure of thinking of her.'
- 'The birth of desire for union.'
- 'The loss of sleep.'
- 'Total indifference for all other beings or things.'
- 'Loss of shame and timidity.'
- 'Distraction leading to insanity.'
- 'Fainting fits.'
"These are the inevitable ten stages of love," said he, "and they always work out like this if the lovers are separated."
When he had finished Ruru's toilet he held out a greedy hand, saying: "Do not be afraid, young man, to offend by giving freely; the chakora, or partridge, is the only being who can subsist on Moonbeams!"
Laughingly Ruru satisfied the greedy one, and, after leaving with Vīravara, he remarked: "That is a very quaint person; are all barbers like that in the big Cities?"
"Oh, yes," replied his friend, "they are all well known for their peculiarities. There are many proverbs about barbers, such as 'A barber has thirty-six talents by which he eats at the expense of others.' 'The barber, the dog, and the Brāhman, these three snarl at meeting one of their kind'; for they are all jealous of one another. Brāhmans and barbers often act together in different ways, so that the saying goes that: 'As there are always reeds in a river, so there is always a barber with a Brāhman.' It is also said that: 'Nine barbers are equal to seventy-two tailors.' Their intimate connection with high-caste clients makes them considered to be of pure caste; yet, on the other hand, their duties connected with blood-letting, cutting the nails and hair of corpses, and other unpleasant things, make them impure to a certain extent. Nevertheless they are very proud, and it is said that: 'at the barber's wedding all are gentlemen and it is awkward to ask some of them to carry the torch.' And it is also stated that: 'The barber washes the feet of others but is ashamed to wash his own'."
By this time they had arrived at the house of Vīravara's friends, and he took Ruru inside, where he introduced him to the parents of the happy pair whose marriage was soon to be celebrated. The guests and the young people Ruru had met previously made much of the handsome young stranger, and especially did he receive a smiling welcome from one of the daughters of the house, a young girl whose name was Patali and whose eyes never left Ruru's face. There was much rushing to and fro among the servants who were making the final arrangements for the festivities. And soon there arrived the barber and his wife, both very pompous and full of their own importance.
When the ceremony took place at last they acted as the assistants of the matrimonial priest, and they presented to the guests water, betel-leaf and pipes as they required them. They lighted the lamps and carried the torches during the ceremony, and they both prompted the bride and bridegroom and guided them through the complicated ritual of the wedding. The barber now received his usual presents of the clothes in which the bridegroom had come to the bride's home, for the groom had received a new set from the bride's father, as is the custom.
At last all was over and the guests distributed themselves in various rooms of the house, while some went to the gardens to enjoy the fresh air, and Patali was one of those who went out, and, at her inviting glance, Ruru accompanied her.
The maiden was as beautiful as if she had been created by Vishakarman, Brāhma's divine architect, himself. She walked with undulating gait, and her breath was sweeter than all the spice and honey in the world; and as her beauty was bathed in the silver light of the Moon, which clung to her as if for ever unable to part, her eyes shone like precious jewels. To Ruru the maiden looked like the goddess of the Splendour of Spring personified.
So they wandered as if in a dream beneath Soma's lamp, never saying a word, both enchanted with the other's presence. And they seemed to be filled with the nectar of the favour of the Gods, and even Kuvera, the god of wealth, could not have given them anything that would have increased their felicity.
"Ha," thought Ruru, "surely, it is a true saying that the heart can be conquered like a flash of lightning"; and he was like a bird, fascinated by the glittering eye of a snake.
Then they heard voices from the house, calling them in; for there was to be a performance by a number of famous dancers. They took their places amongst the other guests and members of the family, and anon the performers commenced their pantomime on a low stage at the end of a large room. The dancing girls moved their arms as if they were creepers, and their hands and fingers were alive with hidden mystic meanings.
This was followed by an oration, made by a Brāhman priest, and Ruru, who tried to follow the discourse with perplexed attention, became more and more bewildered as the orator went on. By means of antithetical relatives he created a state of confusion in the minds of his listeners, without these being aware of it. He prated of evil actions leading to holiness; of hatred's fury to awaken love; of wickedness creating divine elevation of spirit; of weakness to gain strength; and other Satan's wiles to lead astray the seeker by means of words with twisted sense.
In utter astonishment Ruru looked at Patali who listened with rapt attention to the perverter of truth, and he was amazed to see her nod approval when the speaker uttered some particularly atrocious falsehoods.
"Am I mad, or destitute of all understanding?" he thought confusedly. "How different this speech is from the words of the holy stranger, from that of the wandering monk, or even the ascetic, bedaubt with his white ashes and his exaggerated hatred of all women."
And now the meeting broke up, and the guests, after partaking of some final refreshments, sought their chambers to find new strength in sleep. Ruru and Patali said good-night to each other, but the girl's bright eyes seemed to hover all night over Ruru's dreams.
Next morning, after their early meal, she asked him to go for a stroll in the gardens with her, so that she might show him its beauties. He consented eagerly and followed her, his heart enamoured with the morning-hues of her fascination.
The garden was very large, and girt with a sea of foliage in many greens and flowers abundantly; the seemuls leant over quiet pools dreaming of a paradise of trees by pellucid waters all their own. The two sat down and conversed for a while, and Ruru spoke about the orator of the previous night and the astounding contradictions of his words. Patali frowned for a moment; but as the wit of a maiden in love is always quick to avoid a clash with the object of her passion, she said: "That one has studied so much that his mind has become unbalanced. He knows all the secrets of magic and how to recall the happenings of his previous lives, so that the memory of his past experiences is his ruin; it is not without good reason that the Lords of Life draw a dark veil across the actions of bygone incarnations." Thus she sought to soothe Ruru's evident resentment. But in spite of her words the tree of enmity grew within his heart, and he cried: "Away with such false teachings! Such a one should not be permitted to poison the minds of his listeners with lies."
To distract his mind, Patali suggested that they should visit a nearby Temple, and she quickly passed into the house to fetch some nourishment which they could enjoy after their walk.
When she was ready, they walked together to the Temple, about half-an-hour's distance away, and when they arrived there Ruru was delighted, for the place was a Kshetra—a holy field, or sacred spot—and the Temple was one erected in honour of Vishnu and the priests and worshippers were singing ravishing songs before a statue of the Adorable One.
As Ruru's good humour was restored when he had listened to the end of the Service, Patali suggested that they should stroll for a while in the park-like woodland surrounding the Temple and have something to eat. And after they had eaten they took betel and then drank wine, conversing pleasantly the while. Ruru looked at Patali with deepened interest, for she was most comely and her robe was made of Adatis cloth and woven of excellent threads, clinging to her adorable figure and enhancing its bewitching curves.
They were resting underneath a mahwa tree, with its large pale leaf and yellow flowers, which later would grow into berries from which the peasants brew an intoxicating drink.
Patali could not keep her eyes away from Ruru, and the flush of wine rose to her cheeks of damask and glowed there in the glory of her sudden passion for him. She looked like the incarnation of the magic Art by which the God of Love bewilders the world.
Suddenly Ruru started like one who sees the vision of a great calamity, for there, half hidden by a tree, he saw the hateful figure of the black dwarf, his lustful eyes fixed maliciously upon the pair. Ruru moved away from Patali as if she were a poisonous reptile, and she, in the astonishment of a sudden hurt, looked up at him in perplexity.
"What is the matter, Ruru?" she asked in surprise. But Ruru could not say a word, and he stared with a stupefied expression from Patali to the dwarf and back again. Patali followed the direction of his glances but could see nothing but the tree which seemed to confuse Ruru so. She turned again to him with a languishing expression in her eyes, which were like two velvet lotuses, and scolded him sweetly for his inexplicable distraction; and as she looked down upon him, her neck was marked with three lines, indicating exalted fortune and honours. On the one hand was the lovely maiden, and on the other the sneering dwarf, urging him on, and Ruru wavered like a flower shaken by opposing breezes, and he was at a complete loss what to do to escape from either or both. But against his will the petals of his heart opened to Patali's glamour, and suddenly he blushed with the encarmined hue of passion; all else forgotten. And then, with a sudden twist of her glorious body, she lay like a perfumed red rose upon his heart; and with a diabolical leap the black dwarf disappeared in the air.
Then . . . Ruru saw again the vision of the two amazing eyes of blue, and he was recalled to sane reason and integrity, "Oh, maiden without shame," he gasped, "wouldst thou destroy our Peace with thy female wiles?"
His words pierced her like a poisoned arrow, and with a sharp cry she jumped up and ran away.
With a deep sigh, tears streaming from his eyes and trembling with uncontrollable agitation, Ruru rose up, and, picking up his Sarungi, walked slowly away; head bowed down in shame for the cruel words he had spoken, and full of pity for the beautiful maiden whom he was never to meet again.
Next: Chapter 6 — The Wizard
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