Chapter 13 — Sulochanā

Thus have I heard:

THUS it came to pass that the son of the poor charcoal-burner was now installed in the great Palace of a mighty King. Truly: the tangled threads of Destiny may be disentangled only by the hands of the Gods! Ruru was very happy with his new teacher and enchanted with the beauty and splendour of his new surroundings. He worked hard at his fresh studies and every free moment was devoted to the composition of his first poem. It grew and developed gradually under the wise and kindly guidance of his mentor, until at last the day arrived when even the old philosopher could find no flaw and told Ruru that he would mention him and his poem to the king. Ruru awaited the result of the gnani's interview on his behalf with great anxiety, but after several days the gnani entered the room where Ruru was installed and cried delightedly: "The audience is fixed for to-morrow; are you sure you have it all by heart?"

Ruru said that he had, for his memory was phenomenal and had never been wanting at any time. So the great day arrived at last, and, all a-tremble with nervousness, he was led to the great audience-room and into the Royal Presence.

The king was seated on a peacock throne, encircled by his courtiers, and he looked more majestic and awe-inspiring than ever, though when he saw Ruru and noticed his evident fright a swift smile of amusement flitted across his features, while a kindly and indulgent twinkle shone in his eyes for a moment. But when the gnani introduced Ruru he became very serious, and, after accepting the parchment on which the poet had written his poem in golden letters, he gave him a curt sign to proceed.

Opaque clouds seemed to drift before Ruru's eyes, but with a supreme effort of will he conquered himself and commenced the poem in praise of the king; describing in vivid detail all that he had seen of the end of the hunt, using his imagination for what had gone before, and reciting his impressions of the swift departure of the king in order to receive the news of Victory. Then followed an account of the celebrations, and the whole ended up with a glowing panegyric of the king's achievements, victories, goodness and wisdom.

His Majesty was very pleased and bestowed a turban of honour upon Ruru, congratulating the gnani on his pupil and instructing him to appoint Ruru to the post of Court-Poet and historian, with special apartments at the Palace and an excellent stipend to commence with. He also gave Ruru the freedom of the Palace-grounds to roam at will wherever he wished, so that he could keep in touch with all that happened to use it for further writings.

The gnani was as delighted as Ruru himself, and when the ascetic heard the news he became so excited that for days on end he forgot all about his devotions.

And so Ruru was made famous in a day and he became the target for the amorous glances of all the lovely maidens in the Palace and in the city when he was abroad. He composed one poem after another, and his style—which was fresh, very personal and typical of himself and his ideals—developed in power and beauty as he went from one success to another. With the gracious permission of the king he was invited to the houses of the nobility and the Ministers of State where he read out his latest literary inventions to the unstinted applause and delight of these luminaries. And he had good reasons for being inspired by his environment, for the Palace was as wonderful as the Court of Indra, and the gardens were like an earthly Nandana, Indra's pleasure-ground. And there he often saw the women attendants of the Princess Sulochanā, the king's only daughter, when they came to the ornamental lake with golden pitchers to fetch water for her bath, and he wondered if the royal Lady were as beautiful as his imagination pictured her.

At the foot of the hill, and partly running around it, there ran a holy river in which gleamed the reflections of the long line of palaces in that great city, appearing as if they were the princely residences of a capital of the lower regions which had risen up from the depths to gaze in utter astonishment at the splendour of their own radiant stateliness. Ruru never ceased to admire the sumptuous temples, closely crowded together, which rose to heaven as if they were horns of pride, elevating themselves thus because they had no rivals elsewhere on earth. And the Palace of the king was full of treasures of gold and jewels, heaped as high as the peaks of Meru and Kailāsa, and it seemed as if this region was the rendez-vous of prosperity.

Thus the days and weeks and months flew by, and ever did Ruru grow in the magnificence of his imagination and inspiration, until his fame became such that it overshadowed that of all others. But, strange to say, there were no jealousies, for he kept his true humility and was ever kind, helpful and modest towards all he met. He had grown in manly beauty too, and many glances of invitation were sent in his direction; but living in thought in the realms of poesy, he was oblivious to female blandishments on earth. Is it not true that when the spirit roams about in superior climes the lower mind's perceptions are obliterated for a while?

One day a new honour awaited him, for one of the girl attendants of the Princess Sulochanā, a girl well known throughout the Palace, whose name was Jihvā on account of the rapid use she could make of her tongue which was never still for three seconds during the whole of the day, came to him to say that her mistress, the Royal Princess, sent word that Ruru was to appear that evening at her own private apartments and that she wished to hear him recite his latest and best poems. This was indeed a new development, for Ruru had never seen the Princess as yet, though he had heard many accounts of her fame and beauty. He told the girl that he would attend as commanded, and ran straight to the gnani to tell him the news. The old philosopher looked very thoughtful for a few moments and said to Ruru: "Do not misdeem my words, my son, or think wrongly about what I am going to say to you, but I must give you a word of warning. I know that you are as steady and true as the unwinking eye of a god, but on the other hand I have known the beautiful Princess Sulochanā, who outshines in loveliness all the rest of the lovely maidens of this happy city as the Moon overpowers the light of the brightest star, and who is as perfect as the Moon-light in the eyes of her father. I have known her, I repeat, from birth, and in contrast to you, she is as capricious as the wind, which can be neither controlled nor directed. To be the cause of amusement to the great is not without good fruit, for the royal mind ever loves diversion. But it is difficult to remain friends with the children of kings, for they fly into a passion on account of another's slightest fault; and if that happened with her she might make it very unpleasant for you here, in spite of your eminence as a great poet beloved by the king and all the others."

Ruru thanked him for the warning and promised to be as careful as possible. So that evening he set out at the appointed time and was duly led into the presence of the Princess Sulochanā. She was seated upon a jewelled couch, and her beauty eclipsed the Moonbeam indeed. Her body was as tender as a shirīsha flower, and the noble maiden was altogether so lovely that the only rival could be her reflection in the mirror. Ruru stood before her in respectful silence, waiting until she would deign to address him.

Mutely she looked at him and thought: "Ha! how glorious he looks and pure, as if he were descended from the Sun."

From under his eyelids Ruru admired her graceful and undulating form, which was adorned with jewels, and with saffron, indigo, betel and antimony, flowers and minium; and the sweet nectar of her breath drowned the aroma of the perfumed blossoms which were around her on every side, and she was fairer than the pomegranate in his eyes.

"Oh!" thought Ruru, "she surpasses the glory of a Heavenly Apsaras, I think; this is not a woman, but a nymph escaped from Paradise to bewilder the senses of Man!"

Now the Princess looked straight at Ruru and honoured him with the blue-lotus garlands of her glances, and she asked in a sweet, melodious voice: "Are you my Royal Father's Poet?"

"I have that inexpressible felicity, honoured Lady," he replied.

"And what is your name?" she asked, as if she were ignorant of it.

"My name is Ruru," he replied.

"A truly royal name," the maiden observed; "are you the Son of a King in disguise?"

"Nay, noble Lady," answered Ruru, feeling exceedingly flattered in his lack of understanding; "although I am of pure Brāhman descent my parents were but simple charcoal-burners, living on the borders of a forest near a small town in the land of Kashmir."

"This is very strange," said the princess; "how has it happened then that you have risen to the eminence of the position of my Father's Court Poet; a position for which many great writers have striven in vain for many years?"

"I can but thank my Teachers, royal Lady," said Ruru; "those good men who have instructed me from my early youth onwards, ending up with our Lord the King's own Court Philosopher."

"But," said the Princess in turn, "there must be another reason as well; a thousand great teachers cannot make an artist out of a clod! Tell me more about yourself."

So Ruru told her many things, commencing with the visit of the holy man, and she listened to his voice with a sensual pleasure which Ruru could never have divined in his innocence and want of experience of the ways of voluptuous maidens of the highest rank. Modestly looking down, he saw that the floor of her room was composed of translucent, flashing gems, which, with their lustrous rays, lit up the apartment and were reflected in the golden furniture. Ruru told her fascinating tales of great magical rites performed by the wizards and wise men he had encountered in his wanderings, drawing also on the stories he had heard from the Brāhman priest and the wise gnani, embellishing them with the pearls of his own vivid imagination; and he told her of the spells and incantations they used.

And as he spoke of the wonders of the celestial realms, carried up to those regions like one inspired by the beauty of his environment and the delicate nectar of the maiden's own fragrance, the marvellous visions he thus beheld caused the Sarungi within its case to sing melodious songs, as if it wanted to accompany the supernatural influence of the speaker's fantasy, raising the spirits of him and the royal lady to the heavens which shone dreamily but with silver eyes wide open above the Palace on the hill.

Thus Ruru and the maiden were carried away on the wings of poesy, so that they never even heard the sweet voice of the Sarungi, which thus spoke out by itself for the first time since Ruru had received it.

And they were both utterly lost in an incarnation of the blissfulness of empyrean realms, forgetting time and space and themselves. At last Ruru finished his tale and both heaved a deep sigh of happiness; for what greater blessing can there be than to forget for a while the earthly rounds of common life and dwell in imagination in the supernal abodes of the gods of inspiration?

The maiden rose up from her couch, looking as splendid as the Goddess Umā, beloved of Shīva, and she said: "I thank you, noble poet, for the most wonderful evening I have ever spent. I desire that you shall come again tomorrow night, and then read me some of your poems, for this you have not done tonight, being carried away; taking me, too, on a flight of poetic exaltation to the aureate portals of the World where reign the divine Lords of Life, permitting us to behold there the bliss of the Apsarases and Genii by means of the supreme power of your genius."

"It was but your own inspiring influence, royal Lady," said Ruru, "and it is I who should thank you for making this come to pass."

"Spoken like a courtier," she answered provokingly, "but do you mean it?"

"From my heart!" cried Ruru impetuously, bowing before her in deepest adoration. She gave him her lovely hand to kiss and called her female attendant, Jihvā, to conduct Ruru to the exterior of her part of the Palace.

When they were well away from the room of the Princess, the maid broke out in her eternal chatter, and said: "Oh! you have been a long time with my mistress, what do you think of her, is she not beautiful beyond all ordinary beauty, is she not a gracious Lady, will you come again soon, and what did she think of your poems, was she very pleased? But she must have been or else she would not have kept you so long." And her mischievous eyes looked Ruru up and down, taking in every detail of his features, personality and bearing with avidity. Ruru answered absent-mindedly, as if he were half submerged in the warm, delicious waters of a rainbow-coloured sea of delight, and the girl chattered on and on until they reached the outer gates. Then she said good-night and watched Ruru with many sighs as he disappeared into the night, which was lit up by the smiling stars; for he was a very handsome youth, and what greater attraction is there beyond youth and beauty when added to purity? During the following day the wise gnani watched Ruru with some anxiety, which increased when he heard of the appointment for that evening. But he was too sage to say anything or give further warnings to his pupil, who seemed to be rising fast into the sky of fame and fortune, just like a glittering meteor. Would he fall at the foot of the altar of feminine chicanery and be extinguished? he wondered; to be offered up as a common victim in the end, with his heart broken and his mind and divine inspiration shattered? He could only trust in Ruru's Destiny and in the protection of the Gods who guided him along his Path. But he knew the mind and character of the Princess and was very worried just the same.

With the ascetic it was different. He plagued Ruru all day long to tell what had happened, and when he in turn was told that there was to be another audience that evening he felt as proud as if he himself was the recipient of Ruru's honours; and he strutted about the Palace and the gardens as if he were a mighty warrior who had just overcome a great swarm of adversaries single-handed.

To Ruru the day seemed never-ending, and all the time there rang in his ears the wonderful voice of the Princess, and with the perception of his mind he beheld her seductive eyes, so glorious, while his inner senses were assailed by the attar of sweetness that streamed out of her lissom and graceful body. At last the time arrived, and with heated brow and throbbing pulses he knocked at the door of the dwelling-place of the Lady who had set aflame his heart and senses.

This time he was led into a different room, more gorgeous even than the first, and he beheld her with awe as she rested on a golden bed and was fanned with chowries by lovely girls, who looked like a ring of flowers around a single great and royal rose.

The Princess clapped her hands, and like a swarm of butterflies the maidens fluttered round the room and disappeared . . . and the two were alone.

"What has our poet brought with him this time?" she asked graciously.

Ruru, who had been fiercely wounded by the god of the bee-strung bow, was too overcome by her presence to make reply, and he mutely handed her some parchment rolls on which were written his latest poems. Idly she glanced at the different titles, and as she did so Ruru drank in her grace and refinement, and he thought to himself: "Even if anyone should see her without knowing the eminence of her rank, it would be evident that she is a Lady of high degree. Her elegant shape, the softness of her limbs, the manner in which she sits or lies down, the lovely scent of her, fragrant as the odour of the lotus, proclaim her for a true and divine Princess, a nymph, a Goddess even."

Without knowing it, he had spoken the last words half aloud, and the Princess heard, and listened to his murmur with secret delight.

"When she closes her eyes," continued Ruru, "it is as if two blue lotuses have gone to sleep when night falls and covers the earth with love and slumber."

This time the Princess spoke and said: "Thank you, my poet; that was a highly flattering speech which pleases me greatly. But tell me," she continued, "do you always say these nice things to pretty girls?"

Ruru was covered with confusion, fell on his knees and exclaimed: "Never have I even thought such things, Oh, Royal Lady! I beg you to forgive me for my presumption; I was not aware that I spoke aloud, being lost in admiration of your matchless beauty!"

The Princess smiled, and giving him her hand she said: "For one who has had so little practice you are doing very well indeed; rise up, my poet, and sit beside me on my bed, so that we may talk at ease."

Tremblingly Ruru obeyed and was too embarrassed to think of protesting that he was not worthy of the honour.

"Now," said Sulochanā, "let us leave your poems for another time and let us talk a little of your own ideas of love. I do not know whether to believe you or not when you say that you have never spoken of it to another woman. Is it not truly said that a man's search for love is like the quest of the butterfly for the perfect blossom? He goes from bloom to bloom, taking some of its sweetness from each, until he finds the Rose of his Heart; and then the search is over for good, for he is drowned in the perfumed nectar of that perfect flower. Is this not true in your own experiences?"

"It may be true for others, Oh, sweetest Lady," cried Ruru fervently, "but I swear to you that I have never sought out any maidens; rather have I fled from them, for I considered my Destiny as more important than any woman I have ever seen before."

"And now?" queried the artful maiden.

"Now I am lost, and I do not know what to think!" cried Ruru in desperation.

"Tell me," said the Princess, "what is your true opinion of women?"

"It is well said," replied Ruru, "that a virtuous woman is more sublime than the Gods themselves."

The Princess frowned slightly at this reply and asked: "And what else?"

"I also think," Ruru went on, getting deeper and deeper into a morass of misapprehension, "that the essence of a pure woman's soul is divine emotion, and that of a man steadfastness and loyalty when once he finds his true Mate."

"And who taught you all this wisdom?" asked Sulochanā again.

"Oh, fragile one," said Ruru ardently, "it is possible to know all things if the heart and mind are pure. If it were not for beauty and true love, which is the Light of the Three Worlds, all humanity would be submerged in utter darkness and death."

"You cannot have discovered all those things by yourself alone," stated the Princess Sulochanā. "There must have been some silly old teachers who have filled your poor mind with these high-sounding but impracticable doctrines."

"Yes," said Ruru warmly, "but my revered Teachers were not silly old men, but wise and ancient Sages who have beheld the world of men and women from all angles . . . weighed them in the Balance of their Holy Illuminations on Truth and Purity as well as Love . . . and found most of them wanting!"

Sulochanā replied indignantly: "Do not listen to those miserable pundits who do not know the real meaning of love. When both the lovers are mutual victims and victorious as well, bound with the same garlands of flowers woven by the creators themselves, and giving forth the ambrosia of delight till both are drowned in the irresistible torrent of passion's ecstasy: that is the form of love which transcends all the wailings of those stupid old idiots about 'pure' love in 'heaven,' which none of them can prove to have existence."

Ruru listened to the royal maiden with the utmost astonishment, and he felt cold shivers of fear run up and down his back; and suddenly it seemed as if a dark shadow flitted through the room behind the couch of the Lady Sulochanā.

"The black dwarf!" he thought. "Again he is trying to lead me into a snare which can only lead to destruction of body and soul."

He looked at the glowing eyes of the Princess, and he saw behind that mask of loveliness the face of a tigress, intending to spring upon her prey. He felt cold as ice, and all the fascination of that royal damsel melted like a snow-flake in the fire of his inner being.

"Love is not love unless it comes like a flash of lightning," he remarked, "and then there is no thought of passion, but only worship of the purity and wisdom of the Soul of the beloved one. If passion is the only aim there is no love at all; do you not know this, Royal Lady?"

Sulochanā replied: "It is useless to tell any intelligent young woman how she should conduct herself in her experiences of love. She requires no instructions; for even before one begins to teach her what is right conduct and what not, she will know by an inner knowledge—which acts even quicker than your 'flash of lightning'—how to act. You might just as well teach a fish to swim or a bird how to build its nest and hatch its eggs. Moreover, it is the unalterable privilege of the daughters born of nobility, of wealth, spirit and Royalty to choose their lovers; and my choice will be my father's," she added in accents full of meaning.

Ruru was silent; listening intently for the dreaded voice of the black dwarf, which he expected to ring out in derision at any moment.

Sulochanā continued: "I want thy soul and body in exchange for ME!"

"Nay," said Ruru, "if thou wilt give thyself to me as my wedded wife I will be thy Lord and Protector in all our lives to be in every Realm of Earth and Spirit," and, stooping down, he touched her feet and placed his hand on his head.

"That cannot be," replied the Princess; "I am already betrothed to the Son of a King of a neighbouring State."

"Oh! shame on thee!" cried Ruru wrathfully, rising up at the same time and towering above Sulochanā like an Angel of Vengeance, while she cowered under his fierce and sudden outburst.

"The illusion of outer beauty," he continued, "dazzles and bewilders, and it is the lure of passion of which you boast that makes the world what it is; but when the befuddled dreamers awake from their dream their cup is full of bitterness. Only the inner Sympathy of two Souls leads to everlasting Bliss if they but taste only one drop of the delectable wine of the divine communion of Spirit with Spirit; and that is pure and Heavenly as well as earthly Love."

Ruru's voice was so ardent and impassioned and his mien so grand that the Princess was overcome for the moment and hung her head in shame. She looked so despondent that she differed from a dead person only in being still among the living! There was deep silence in the room for a short while, and then she sighed: "Yes, your words ring true; yet do they pierce my heart with cobras' fangs."

Ruru bowed low before her and left the room and the apartments without waiting for anyone to see him out.

"Oh," he breathed to himself when he was outside again beneath the silent stars, "the lustre and grace of her; her waywardness, which is like the trembling wing of a blue dragon-fly; but she is as treacherous as the quicksands in which the victim is sucked down to his perdition, or like a frivolous wave which drags the swimmer far away from land to drown within the foaming, hungry deeps. Oh, Beauty of beauties, and traitress worse than the cunning serpent! I must leave here; and that quickly, or my head will be the forfeit when she recovers from her present shame. The love of a woman is nectar; but her hatred pure venom."

He hurried to the room of the gnani, late as it was, and after awakening him, which was not difficult, for the aged need little sleep, he told him all.

The old philosopher approved of Ruru's decision to fly at once, and said: "Never despair; as long as there is life there is always a chance for a turning point to be reached on the Path, which will lead to happiness. It is true that all is Illusion in the Three Worlds, but, my son, some illusions are more enduring than others and may last for what seems an eternity. Illusion is often as real as actuality, and it is not until the dreamer is really awake in the highest Region it is possible to reach, and yet retain individuality, that he discovers and knows the snares of Illusion. Who can tell what are Time and Space and which is only a dream?"

"I think that you will find real happiness in the end; but do not forget, my dear son, that all human experiences of Bliss are but fleeting moments in Eternity. This also applies to sorrow, though that seems always longer; and when once your real Test commences, try then to remember these, my words, if you can; for they may be a consolation in your grief, if it should thus come about."

"Apart from having to leave your presence, which is so very dear to me, oh, thou who hast been a true father to me," said Ruru with a sob in his voice, "the only thing that worries me is the fate of my friend, the ascetic. He has had such a good time lately that it would probably kill him to return to our wanderings, or to recommence the practice of austerities.

"Have you not noticed that he is actually getting stout?" he added with a whimsical smile.

"Do not worry about him," replied the gnani, "leave him here and fly now, and as quickly as you can, for the vengeance of a spurned woman is swift and terrible, and even now she may be laying accusations against you. Who knows? One day you may return to us, or we may find you again somewhere; and if we meet no more on earth, then we shall surely meet in Paradise, where all true friends and lovers meet in the end."

Next: Section Four — The Dual and Triple Aspects of the Three Worlds
Chapter 14 — The Great Poem

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