Chapter 12 — The Hunt
Thus have I heard:
WHILE the Moon played hide and seek between the branches of the trees which slowly waved in answer to the suspirations of the cool nomadic winds of night, the three friends slept, and Ruru dreamt that by means of concentrating on the magic belt he had sent out his Mind to the sacred Regions where dwell the Gods. And it was very likely that he actually visited those domains, for is it not true that the Higher Self roams about in all parts of the Three Worlds as soon as sleep releases us from our earthly bond-service during which every man must slave like the meanest tenant in villenage of olden times?
In his 'dream' he beheld the Heavenly Nymphs, and their slender bodies looked as if they were formed of the essence of amaranthine enchantment. They had lovely eyes, like deep, mysterious pools in which the blue of mid-day skies reflects itself and beholds its cerulean splendour with astonishment and admiration. Their lips were the colour of soft-red, lustrous plumage, such as one may see sometimes on the breast of a ruby-throat, their teeth like double rows of purest nacre, and their shining hair enshrouded them from head to foot like velvet mantles of different hues. Their voices bewitched the heart and mind as they sang the Vedic Hymns; and their laughter rang forth from their smiling mouths like the surging of a happy sea over low-lying rocks, while above it all the heavens resounded with the drums of the joyful Gods. The celestial atmosphere shone with the lustre of gold, and sweet aromas drifted everywhere like clouds of subtle odorant fragrance.
And in his dream he looked upon a vast emerald mirror in which he saw reflected the previous lives of anyone he wished to behold; and the age-long history of all his bygone incarnations became clear to him in its manifold entanglements when during those early days of long ago the crafty music of the lower gods sang silken tunes within his inner mind.
When he awoke next morning there lingered in his memory faint traces of delectable enchantments; but the substance of it all was lost.
After refreshing themselves at a nearby little rill, or brook, the three went on again, and the gnani told them many amusing stories as for several weeks they travelled through the lovely climature.
At last they came to a great forest, and the old philosopher said: "After we have crossed this wood we shall arrive at the famous city where I live; it will take about a week, and now I shall be happy to guide you. When we get home you will stay with me for a while perhaps if I can persuade you, and I shall be glad to introduce you to some of my friends."
The ascetic and Ruru thanked him for his kindness, and the latter was now delighted at the thought of seeing a great city for the first time in his life, and he looked forward to it with happy anticipation.
When they had only one more day to go to reach the city, they heard a sudden, blatant, clamorous blare of trumpets, disrupting the sylvan peace and glittering in the atmosphere like the brazen sea of Jedidiah's Temple when struck by an abrupt ray of the sun, piercing the sacred Veil of the Holy of Holies and flaming intrepidly until shut out again by the hand of the Guardian of Jehovah's Sanctuary. The voices of men chorused in the distance, and, following the sounds, they presently beheld such a spectacle as Ruru could never have imagined. There was a vast concourse of noble-looking men on elephants and horses, and they carried pennons and plumes, gleaming swords, spears and axes, and in their midst, seated upon an ink-black elephant with golden tusks and fiery eyes, there rode a mighty-looking man; such a being as Ruru had never seen before. He was the embodiment of the three Royal Powers; a lordly mien, a wise countenance, and a body full of vigour.
"Who is that marvellous Lord?" whispered Ruru to the gnani.
"That is my Master and my King," replied the latter proudly; "his name is Chirātyus, or, 'the long-lived,' as his name indicates."
Ruru gazed at the king and his entourage with the deepest respect, and then he saw lying about the priceless pearls that had dropped out of the cleft foreheads of slain elephants, torn away by the claws of lions and tigers, and both the latter and several elephants lay dead within the huge clearing which was like unto an arena in the forest. And the gleaming teeth of the tigers had been cut off by the crescent-headed arrows and were strewn about like white buds; and the blood of deer lay like a crimson carpet on the ground, and they and several boars, which were adorned with arrows like so many heron's feathers, looked like clusters of the fallen bodies of Sharabhas, the fabulous eight-footed monsters of mythology, destroyed by multitudes of feathered bolts, falling out of the sky with the deep hum of the black bee.
And it was plain to see that all the animals had fled before that great pageant, and in his imagination Ruru saw the peacocks whirring from the brake, wild swans abandoning their lakes and ponds, monkeys springing chattering from tree to tree, unharmed and unpursued as the trumpets pealed forth; and porcupines and other small things fleeing unseen, while only the weasel was chased and caught out of all the little animals. And he saw with his inner eve, the tiger slinking lightly from his bank and turning suddenly to bay when he beheld that glittering array of fearsome hunters; and he saw the bison retreating into their dim coverts.
Now the king's great elephant knelt down, and the monarch sprang lightly from its bulk and strolled around to inspect the fruits of the chase. Then he gave some rapid orders, and his servant brought him his horse, whose name—said the gnani—was Sharavega, and, like its name, he was like an arrow in speed. With one jump the king was on its back and rode away as rapidly as the shadow of a cloud, driven by the Western wind.
Ruru heaved a deep sigh and said: "That king is the most amazing looking man; is he as great in mind as he is in body?"
"Yes," replied the gnani; "and as my duties are connected with the Court, I will introduce you to him at the first opportunity."
Ruru looked upon the philosopher with new respect, for he, in his modesty, had never once spoken about himself and his position in life.
"I should like to write a poem, describing my first impressions of him when we came upon his group of hunters so unexpectedly," said Ruru.
"Do so," advised the gnani, "he is a patron of all the arts, and if he likes your verses he may grant you his protection."
Ruru looked very doubtful at this, for he had never written much beyond his ordinary work when studying with his teachers. But now he felt within his breast an unaccountable stirring of something which he could not explain; and he became aware of an enthusiasm about that mighty lord such as he had never known before; making him feel equal to almost anything.
Perhaps, he thought, the king might find some use for him on account of his prowess with the bow and arrow; but he could not see any of his verses approved of by such a great and wise ruler and had only wanted to write them for his own amusement. He told the gnani so, but that one, who had been observing Ruru keenly for several weeks and had formed his own conclusions about the possible talents of that young man, would not hear of a refusal and urged him on to start work on his poem as soon as Ruru was installed in his home.
"You can show it to me first," he said, "and then I will give you my opinion."
That was a respite, in any case, thought Ruru, and he fell much happier, for he was sure that the gnani would turn down his efforts.
The hunters had not observed the three friends who had remained concealed behind some bushes, and now the latter made a detour round the clearing and proceeded on their way. The next day they arrived at the city, and here Ruru had another surprise.
Outside the city were the ancient Royal Tombs among the trees upon the borders of a lake. The city itself was very old and its walls had many gateways. Entering through one of them, Ruru saw in front of him a wide straight road, which was called the Street of the Caravans. It was bordered by numerous dwellings, some of marble and others of whitewashed bricks; the latter built on low brick platforms, which, extending in front beyond the facades, showed wide stagings on which the inhabitants of these houses might squat in the shade of the eaves. The city was very large and contained many Temples and Palaces. There were also many white buildings that looked most imposing with their white cupolas rearing above their high surrounding walls. These were the new Royal Tombs of the later kings and the great administrators. The Temples, ribbed and groined, were carved with countless figures of all sizes, and they were extraordinarily lovely in their separate forms, and the details were all in harmony with the general plan of each Temple and Tomb as well as with those adjoining.
The city was built on the sides of a great hill, upon the wide summit of which stood the king's Palace, surrounded by gardens and by the palatial homes of the nobles. As the palace and the buildings surrounding it were lavishly bedecked with gold, the effect was as if the Sun, weary of its endless wanderings through the heavens, had come to rest at last on the top of this hill. The place was truly a city of jewels, as its name betokened, for every maiden within it was like a precious gem of great beauty. It was now in festal attire, and the sky was almost hidden by the red silken banners that floated and swayed in the wind. The drums were being struck and sent forth glad, exciting sounds, and the windows of every house were filled with smiling faces, as if each window were a bed full of bright flowers, while enormous crowds completely occupied the streets.
Gradually and with difficulty, the three friends worked their way through the multitude, always climbing up to the summit where the Palace stood. Now and then the gnani met an acquaintance and stepped aside for a few moments to speak to him. Ruru noted that all the people were adorned with red kunkam powder, which signifies joy. Presently he asked the gnani what was the reason of the festive display, and the reply was that news of a great victory over a neighbouring State had come that morning, and that the conquered country had now been added to the already large possessions of the king and his people. His Majesty had been expecting this news, and that was the cause of his hurried departure after the hunt the day before.
"But," said Ruru, "if the king has already such great possessions, why does he want more?"
The gnani replied: "Is it not the special duty of kings to hunger and thirst after earthly goods and territories? The main principle of sound statecraft is to avert misfortune, and the more powerful a state is the less chance there is of the misfortune of being overcome by enemies."
Now they had reached the Palace at last, and, after being respectfully saluted by the sentries on duty, the gnani led his two friends inside and conducted them upstairs to a magnificent apartment, from which he stepped out upon a large balcony which was so situated that it gave them an excellent view of the proceedings.
Below them, a short distance to the left, there was a wide veranda, and on it was placed a jewelled throne on which the king was seated. He was accompanied by his ministers of state, as the Sun is always encompassed by the planets. Above his head was raised a lofty white umbrella, fifteen feet tall and six wide. Chowries waved on each side and fanned him with fresh air. From the city there rang the sound of music and shouts of joy reverberated, while the booming of the mirthful drums seemed louder here than below. The king held in his hand the danda, the rod of punishment, as a sign that his enemies were in the dust, and woe to him who'd dare to raise his hand against the mighty monarch.
As he sat there on his throne he was like a splendid new luminary in the heavens, excelling the very Sun, Moon and stars in beauty. A heavy crown, glittering with barbaric jewels and gold was on his brow.
Now he raised his hand, and there was an immediate and deep silence from which rose up the voices of the chanters who were intoning the sacred Sāma Veda Hymns in praise of Victory; and as the silent multitudes of people looked up to their Lord with admiration, it seemed to Ruru that he was gazing down upon a shoal of golden lotuses, blooming upon the surface of the heavenly Ganges.
Now, one of the ministers made a speech in which he praised the gallant Royal Legions and informed the population that the king would set up a pillar of Victory and would at once bestow presents. The people broke out in vociferous exclamations and a rain of flowers descended from all the houses, while the felicitations that were heard on all sides almost drowned the sounds of martial music in the Palace grounds. And now the king gave orders for the bestowal of beautiful vases and other vessels, filled with rice or coins, and his Majesty was sung by minstrels, praised by bards, and worshipped by all.
The festival was enlivened by the sinuous movements of the dancing girls who performed the dramatic chalita measure like nymphs from heaven, intent on displaying their skill. And amidst the singing of excellent songsters, gorgeous garments and ornaments were distributed among the guests.
And so the festivities and rejoicings went on, until at last the gnani asked his guests to come within to rest awhile and take some refreshments.
"The king and his ministers must be very tired by now," observed Ruru; "they have been entertaining the guests and the people for hours."
"Life," said the gnani, "is full of duties to be performed and sorrows to be overcome, my son. The higher the position of a person the heavier the duties; the more important to the welfare and happiness of the State a person is, the more imperative it becomes that he always shows a serene countenance, even when his heart is broken and his soul in torment. A wise man has once said that the people are fashioned according to the example of their king; and edicts are of less power than the model which his life exhibits. That king shall best govern his Realm that reigneth over his people as a father doth over his children. And yet . . . the Path that you, my son, are seeking, is beset with thorns worse than those that are hid beneath the golden crown of any king. Why not stay with me for good and follow your inclination of becoming a poet? I think you have it in you to become a very great one. Leave the search for that pure Heaven which you are seeking to those who have finished with youth and manhood; or, postpone your quest until you have tasted life."
Before Ruru could answer there was heard a sudden loud twang, followed by what sounded like a groan of anguish, and, jumping up in startled surprise, Ruru ran towards the case in which reposed the Sarungi. Opening it with trembling hands he found that one of its strings had snapped, and, taking the instrument in his hands, he turned to the gnani, while the ascetic looked on with his mouth wide open in astonishment as Ruru, his eyes running with tears, exclaimed: "Here is the Sarungi's Message at last, and the ANSWER to your advice, O wise philosopher, and my final decision is taken, for how can I ever swerve from the Path of Destiny laid down for me by the Heavenly Lords themselves?" And despairingly he added: "But what shall I do now about the Sarungi? My beautiful Messenger is spoiled for ever!"
"Do not grieve so, my son," said the gnani kindly; "it is only a broken string, easily replaced by a new one. I can ask one of our Court musicians to do it for you. Let me give the instrument to one of them at once, and he can repair the damage and also show you how to do this yourself in future, and how to tune it properly."
"Give the Sarungi out of my hands?" cried Ruru indignantly; "NEVER!"
"Well," replied the gnani soothingly, "I will call one of the musicians here now, and he will do it in your presence." Saying this he left the room and returned after a short interval with one of the Royal Musicians, who had in his hand a wallet full of strings.
When the musician saw the Sarungi he exclaimed excitedly: 'Oh, what a master-work! It is incredibly old, but how neglected. This wants seeing to at once." And forthwith he began to polish it with the greatest care with a soft silken cloth, after which he replaced the string and tuned the instrument properly.
"I think you'd better have a few more of the strings replaced," he said, "for some of them might break at any moment."
Ruru thanked him and agreed gratefully; and after a little time of stretching the new strings and putting the whole combination in tune he said to Ruru: "I hear that you do not know how to keep the instrument in tune; would you like me to teach you how to do it?"
"Oh, yes," cried Ruru, "please show me," for he had now recovered from his fright and had been watching everything with the greatest interest.
And so the musician explained the whole process to Ruru, and in the end he gave him a little silver tube with various markings upon it and a sliding rod inside it.
"Now," he said, "if you want to tune the first string, which is this one"—pointing it out—"you push up the rod until it reaches this mark, which also indicates the name of the first string. Blow upon the tube through this opening, and you will hear the correct note to which the string should be tuned. Turn up or down the screw or peg upon which the end of the string is wound until you have the exact note, testing the string by plucking it with your finger; the tone should correspond to the note of the tube with the mark in this particular position." Then he explained all the rest in turn, and, putting the whole instrument out of tune again, he watched Ruru's endeavours to get it right; and in half-an-hour Ruru had mastered the technique.
Then the musician took the instrument once more and played upon it, humming softly a quaint old tune; and it seemed to Ruru that he was afloat upon an ocean of melody, or drifting on a cloud of the incense of the nectar of celestial music, such as he had heard in his dream when the Heavenly Nymphs were chanting, but had forgotten until now.
After thanking the musician over and over again he presented him with a wine-red ruby out of the velvet bag in which the gems always nestled, and the musician's eyes shone with joy when he saw the jewel. "This is a truly royal gift, for the ruby is the one precious stone that is verily regal, filled as it is with the radiant blood of the sacrificial offerings of kings to the Gods!" he exclaimed. "I shall always treasure it in memory of you and your glorious instrument." And walking backwards, bowing low all the while, he left the room, his face beaming with pleasure. The old philosopher went up to Ruru who stood looking very thoughtful, with the Sarungi in his hands.
"I see now that the Path of your Destiny has no turnings, my dear son," he said. "I have committed an error, and I ask you to forgive me."
"Forgive you, beloved and honoured friend!" cried Ruru, overcome by shame and emotion: "not only is it not for such a one as I am to have the power to forgive such a one as you—being infinitely beneath you in goodness and wisdom—but I can only thank you from my innermost heart for all your kindness and advice, which has led up to the splendid confirmation of where my duty lies, by means of the sacred voice of the Master within the heart of the Sarungi."
"That is the best thing I have heard you say," replied the gnani, his eyes glistening as if with hidden tears. "It is now decided definitely," he continued, "that you both shall stay with me as my guests for as long as you wish, and I will do everything in my power to help you by explaining to you all the sacred books you have not studied yet; and I will help you to become a poet and writer in the meanwhile. If you agree to this, my dear son, you will have helped me to attain the fruit of my birth; and when the Voice calls you again to go forward it will be with all my blessings. Henceforth you are my true son, and I your loving father . . . if you will have it so."
Ruru was speechless, and taking the hand of the wise old gnani in his own, regarded him with the tears of gratitude falling from his eyes, while the ascetic knelt in a corner of the room and prayed in praise of the kindly Gods who guide the Fates of Man.
Next: Chapter 13 — Sulochana
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