Padma Prasad Devkota

(Kathmandu, Nepal)

A Pang Called Love


Contents

To the Reader
I. The Lord of Love
II. The Birth of Urvashi
III. The Divine Danseuse
IV. The Wandering Nymph
V. The Hero and the Nymph
VI. The Confluence of Love
VII. Gandhamadan
VIII. The Ruse of the Gods
IX. Love Regained
X. The Gem of Union
XI. Reversals of Fate
XII. Thieves at Night




To the Reader

Long poems, no more a public demand,
yet serve a pleasant purpose for those who
seek the freshness of a consoling past
against all such ugly realities
of wars and murders and extortions wild,
of kidnap and rape and corruptions great,
of loot and crime, of communal revenge,
of racial prejudice, intolerance
of all kinds and hatred that gutters down
the so-called educated expressions
we swallow with the morning cup of tea.
Having seen the mire of academics
where scholars wallow in their smattering
complying with pompous hypocrisy,
having heard the ranting of leadership
that sells enchanting political dreams
to innocent masses quite shamelessly,
having felt the strong blows of vile commerce
that cannot return the service for the cash,
having seen some national misery
outlive governments that boasted a change
for the better health and happiness of all,
having sniffed the air of decadence
pervade the atmosphere of New Nepal,
my soul so rises with nausea that
like some lonely Brihaspati I speak
a message of love and sweet harmony,
which to the ears of this decadent Age
may sound a folly and a great mistake.

But, if such be your feelings too, then come
and open quick the pages of the past
and drop the curtains of your staring eyes
to sink into your peaceful soul at last
and find a blissful heaven of your mind
reward skillful imagination with
the joy of meditation and delight
in what the past has left in store for you.
This drop of essence of a common dream
called soul with other drops commingling
forms the vast ocean of both life and love
churned by the forces of good and evil
that are together born and cannot be
when the other half ceases to be.

A ripple of this common dream today
forms the central stage of our narration:
of how a mortal’s devotion aspired
on wings of love to grasp a spirit's form,
of how a spirit drawn by mortal clay
through love gave life sweet immortality.
Where matter and spirit together come
in harmonious union, there life
swells and blooms. Slender stems with flower heads
dance to the intoxication of life
whose fragrance is love wafted over time
to all ages, therefore immortal too.
Where’er life’s essence drips in deathless love,
in God-glorifying love, it deserves
genuine worship of our inmost heart.

Yet we who are conditioned by our times
project our faith in the bullet's bite
and believe that all oppositions should be
perforce destroyed for 'truth' to continue.
We rave and rant our ideologies
and willfully destroy all systems that
reward the goals of social happiness.
We blame the other and complain that they
have destroyed our world, we hate them too for that.
And in all such acts of hate and murder,
we have forgotten a glorious past
where ancestral wisdom of sanatan
sought to create such a community
where men were men, equal in work and love.
To serve was discipline of devoted love
for humanity; to hope for the fruits
of work was forbidden by sages wise.
“Ma gridha kasya sweed dhanam, ” they said,
“Do not covet anyone’s hard-earned wealth.”
But then we slowly sunk into our greed,
quickly learnt to loot both labour and wealth
of others and then, blind to sanatan,
we found a Karl Marx greater than the Lord.

‘Tis not enough to have a noble past,
it must be studied and refined in acts
of everyday life, rethought and retold,
for stories heal the modern diseases
of the soul and sustain humanity.
I dare not claim great goals now at my age,
but I do desire that love be felt
by everyone as that sweet elixir
of healthy life that flows towards godhood.

Possessive love based on the tactile sense
distills into a formless essence fine
of noble feelings which pervade the heart
and, possessing all, becomes quite divine.
A Pururava and a Urvashi
drawn to each other by a touch, a shape,
become each other’s source of happiness
and thrive on love each day, a love that grows
to immense dimensions of heart’s worship
to the Mighty Preserver of all life.
We are born to love; we have taught ourselves
to hate, to smite, to murder and to prove
that power to dominate is above
all the humble professions of love.

So, from this loveless, ugly world whence all
civility and shame have flown away,
choosing a flight into the Golden Age,
I would like you, reader, to come along
to improve this painting of an ancient world
with your imagination and re-live
in cogitative silence for a while
and, despite the defects of my limping style,
feel the power of love’s alchemy
upon your heart that surges like a sea.



I. The Lord of Love

The old pine for the past with less fire
than the young for the mates they desire
and when such lonely lovers’ agony
rises to poignant pitch of pain so strong
no ravishing spells of unctuous lyre
can relieve it with softest mellifluence.
These restless souls burn in undying flames;
but another fire that consummates
all acts of reflection upon all those
that burn in flames of love—the Muse's own
joyous blessings upon the soul that would
receive a thousandfold more godly light
and etch into this sunlit world a truth,
which when forgotten men turn into swine
or worse, and claw and scratch with darkest hate
each other until the whole race shall die—
this flame I desire, O Wise Mother!
For I would sing of golden love today
though it be more ancient than earth itself,
for love does not corrupt or age or die
like thinking flesh that prides itself upon
such illusions of everlasting pomp,
glory, power and immortality
as must go up in flames of darkest smoke
in nocturnal mockeries of the stars.
Dear Primal Mother! Rouse this deep sleeper
awake with trembling inspiration-flames,
really the best among fires that burn,
and remind him that creation begun
with powerful mind obeyed at each turn
by grosser forms and colours, not through flesh
infinitely replicating itself.
Bestow your love upon my noble task,
enlighten yet another day all bright
with light of common sense that all may shine
with solar flames that shower down the sky
to illumine therein lofty heights and depths
that glow with human love, with human life.

For I desire with your help to prove
that we are born to love, if love approve!
For as long as dear little Eros feels
the smart of slight no Apollo shall find
his Daphne rooted to the soil, nor hold
her coarse bark in his blind embrace. But then
does our dear confused Eros clearly see
that by distancing Apollo from Daphne
he can only blow such sustaining breath
into the flame of love which rages high
and higher seeks to rise with each sad sigh
of broken-hearted lover. O, how sad
that love like knowledge is a dogged quest
for what eludes our heart and brings distress
until a revelation of some sort
or insight into the essence of things
dawns upon us with a winning splendour
that numbs our very essence in its grip!
A grip of beauty or a grip of charm
must wean our hearts away from earthly dross
to make it feel a mysterious call
of truth that sinks with beauty in our soul.

Love is not a weakness of simple men,
this fragrance of God, His sweetest essence!
Sweet fragrant music of the divine heart,
it ripples in concentric rings to found
the universe upon a solid base
that will not quake to evil shows of strength,
yield to possessive lusts of puny men,
or corrupt like rich nature's ornaments.
Love is the splashing waves against the shores
of created universe, its swash and splash
along the never-ending coastal line
that returns with gifts from the heart's ocean
stirred by noble feelings for each new born.
Love is the source and raison-d'être of life
beyond which all actions which aspire
to nobler heights are lost to confusion
of the senses that sight the golden deer
and rampage through the fog-white woods of life.
Love is the prime-mover, the maintainer,
the fine beautician who must renew
with unwanning vision all sweet freshness
and subtle splendour of this universe.
Love is what holds, what blends, what draws the waves
back to the source with centripetal force
so that union is the bliss of life.

Meditating upon such love, its source,
its final goal, its power and effects,
two ancient sages united with ties
of love sat apart on separate spots
of shaded green beside the rippling shore
of water that like their soul sought the source,
finding which the vapours that rise to form
the clouds descend in sacrificial rain
that sprouts new life, collects and runs again;
but souls often return without a cue
to what is best for human happiness
or joy or peace so that they sit again
in hard penance everlastingly.
Their souls like swans that take an upward flight
from the sucking marsh soared above the mire
into which boar-like modern science digs
with tusks that hunger for revelation
of multiple truths, which never add up
to the Absolute that faith alone upholds.
Nara and Narayana, the two friends
immutable, united in their quest,
sat long in penance by the river bank
until one day they soared in hopeful flight
way high above the solar reaches low
to try to find the divine phallus tip—
a veritable pillar of bright light.
Their unrewarded attempt yet supplied
such strength and power that, among
lesser beings who feared their prowess, they
filled their hearts with fear and foul suspicion
to the extent that, as was heaven's practice,
Indra dispatched seductive nymphs to charm
them back to the world of sensuous delights,
for he did not know who these sages were
and, dreading power greater than his own,
he merely sought such power to subdue
less with force than with seduction sweet,
which is a second nature of the nymphs.

These nymphs—sweet danseuses of divine Sworga,
well-versed in practising their arts against
firmest of human wills that melted down
with the heat of controlled sound and motion
that approached or distanced itself in turn
from the central steady star, the holy sage,
whose smell so tingled by fresh decanted
attar, whose skin so awakened by hems
that swirled and fanned sweet breeze that touched and left
even as the slightest brush of fabric
awoke the cells it thrilled—having stepped down
the portals of heaven were wafted light
like fragrance, lifted towards cheerful heaven
where they belonged, lowered down to the earth
so gently in keeping with Indra's will.
Lest they exhaust themselves too soon by this
descent to grosser elements, the clouds
fresh washed and hung upon the darkling peaks
couched them for their comfort upon the way
and blushed red with the magic of their touch.
From there they surveyed the vast green expanse
of hilly wilderness with gurgling gorge
and deep ravine flanked by widening ridge
where Alakananda gushed towards the mist
rising like incense from the lower hills
and by its bank upon a dark green mound
flanked by higher ridges on all three sides
(except one that descended to the plains)
guarded by white mountains that wore a crown
of black granite, beneath the jujube
espied ascetic forms in vesper peace.

Their destination now sighted, the nymphs,
unlike winged birds that push hard against
the branch to lift themselves, like vapour rose
to fall like mist upon the lovely rose.
Descending to harsher elements, these
lovely apsaras chose to waft over
loud tumbling waters rather than to step
upon sharp cutting edge of grit and stone,
for these ethereal beings could ride
the elements with a natural ease
so unnatural to us as to fill
our hearts with wonder as when we thrill
to magic or miracle joyfully.
Thus these translucent beings bright as light
drifting down the stream, poised upon its foam,
swirling with its motion or leaping down
the ever sonorous white cataract
rode the roaring, gurgling downward flow
intoning harmony with nature's song
until they found themselves beneath the plot
of penance. Disembarking the current
they now pooled beneath a huge rock where they
tuned their throat for sharpest effect of song
and rose gently with the lifting breeze
to find themselves upon the emerald stage
where they must perform for an audience
indifferent as the boulder to fine arts.

The difficult task ahead heaved their breasts
with fear of failure. The timid nymphs
seeing Nara and Narayana sit
in straight posture, firm and immovable,
prayed to Indra with humbly folded hands
for what further support the Lord might opt
to bestow for their success. Indra heard
their whispered prayers and sent ornaments
of spring to decorate the stage, to tingle
with fragrance all the nerves of sense,
to cool with freshness the heat of penance,
to seduce with beauty ascetic gaze,
to woo with plaintive notes all loving hearts,
and, should these fail for reasons quite unknown,
the Lord of Love himself with flowery bow
would quicken the numbed senses nice and slow.

And so the show began as God and Man
soared high in keen meditative silence
that sought the good of all humanity.
The nymphs began to tap their feet upon
the tender blades of grass that greener turned
and rose with eagerness to be once more
trampled upon by such tender toes.
Choric birds like responsive audience
chirped their “ayes” and “wows” and beat their plumes
in rhythm to the lightly moving feet.
The vesper breeze confused by the swift spin
and whirl of angelic bodies, losing
direction, blew senseless against a sage
who felt a stirring of the hair upon
his resting left arm and sought to forget
this encroaching worldliness. Tiny bells
tinkled sonorously silver sounds
from ankle ornaments and cinctures round
waspy waists more supple than vernal shoots
bent by passionate gusts of driving winds.
Seeds awoke from their wintry sleep and raised
their fresh and glossy heads above the earth
to find the delightful source of tremors
that woke them up and, thrilled by superb art,
nature quickly burst in vernal brilliance
that brought the spring fever into the world.
Beneath a brilliant sky lay soft, bright earth
swept by the vesper breeze, coloured with rays
that slanted athwart the tall snowy peaks
and tenderly touched darling buds, whose hearts
echoed the resonance of fairy songs.

Bright Dancers

We come, we come, the dancers bright
Adown the rays of golden sun
With hearts of love and wings of light
With giggling mirth and rich delight.

We come, we come with fairy fun
To wake from spiritual sleep
The flesh and let it feel the sun
And feel in nerves how passions run.

We come, we come with love as deep
As heaven which is far away
And we are here for you to keep
Our heart and soul to forsake sleep.

We come, we come, O Sages! Say,
Will you not play with us today?
The day is bright
And spring is sweet,
The birds are filled with strange delights,
The breeze is burdened with the breath
Of dancers from
Sweet paradise.
We come, we come, O Sages! Say,
Do rise and play with us today!

Undisturbed, Nara and Narayana
sat boulder-firm, untouched by splendid art,
having risen to spiritual realms
of self-contentment through meditation
upon more delightful objects of thought,
and they neither heard nor saw nor prized
such cheap entertainers of the gross skies!
O, how dull can hearts become when the mind
fixed upon a goal becomes obsessed
with understanding alone and forgets
the joyous side of life that adds the spice
of sentient pleasures to rich existence,
sacrificing which ascetic souls may find
little that really delights humankind.
Yet the wise ones who have valued the good
over the pleasing are the true builders
of this sanatan civilization
that celebrates the victory of the good—
such were the twain that laughed at Indra's fear.
And when Ananga sought to animate
their boulder-hearts with flower shaft that pierced
right through Narayana's breast, it emerged
from his straight back and pierced the bark and trunk
of the jujube tree that lent support
and gave company to her Lord: for 'twas
Lakshmi who, loath to part with her sweet Lord,
had turned herself into a jujube
and spread her arms to shade him from the heat.
Thus reunited by the flowery shaft
their love and regard for each other grew
double, defeating the disturbing goal
of the divine archer who perplexed stood
to admire the consequence of failure.
For little once Narayana awoke
to a spring of love for his dearest spouse,
for little once an understanding dawned
like the ghost of a smile upon his lips,
for little once a playful tremor rose
to bring a twitch to his pensive repose,
for little once the Lord of Love quite saw
a glint of love's empire where its king
feeling the petals of the flowery shaft
gently admired this toyish thing.



II. The Birth of Urvashi

Cowering before Narayana's gaze
Ananga stood like a child who repeats
errors and is slow to learn from mistakes
made earlier, as when his body turned
to ash by Shiva his lost dignity
was restored by the weeping of his wife
and he was formless immortality.
But now no fiery wrath would dart to singe
a single blade of grass upon which he
with drooping bow and quivering arrows
awaited his merited punishment.
Dark, consoling eyes promised the archer
no harm, but with a paternal kindness
smiled at his naughtiness, surveyed the toy
of flower-shaft and spoke with affection:
“Child! Your innocence is my joy. May you
for ever and for ever implant love
in hearts so that no weeds of hatred grow
to emit dark vapours of crime and war,
which surely will defeat creation's goal.
I thank you for reuniting me thus
with my other half with your flowery shaft.
This is pure kindness that deserves good praise.”

Perplexed by this kindness, Ananga said,
“When wrong intentions are rewarded, Lord,
encouraged evil raises high its head.
I stand ashamed in that, having obeyed
the king of heaven, I have gone against
my own reverence for your firm penance
and seek your forgiveness, Lord, for my peace.”
With palms joined together in deep respect
and head bowed down with admission of guilt
a luminescent form among flowers
and freshest verdure stood a devotee
to one who lorded o'er the Lord of Love.
Once more, the holy sage betook the task
of dowsing remorse that consumed the heart
of the heart-striker and spoke thus: “Archer,
Without forgiveness, love cannot exist.
You are the agent of another Will
superior to your own. What you do,
different from what you want to do, is yet
well done in that it is divine dictate.
For, at the very moment your arrow
left your bow-string, a history has been born
that will delight humankind forever.
Your unfailing shaft has given birth
to beauty that must walk the fields of earth
with love and be beloved. For in my heart
such beauty stirs with life. Love and beauty
united shall eternally remain
the source of joy and antidote to pain.”

So saying, Narayana next addressed
the troubled nymphs who with shame fell red
upon the meadow like the heatless rays
of the setting sun. “Rise, O Nymphs! ” he said,
“Return to heaven for your work is done.
I admire beauty wherever ‘tis born
in form, colour, motion, shape or song;
but when the good of all of humankind
remains the focus of my questing mind
let beauty, song and dance progress in halls
of heaven's lord where quickened senses thrill.
Dear nymphs, sweet ephemera of beauty!
To perform one's duty becomes the law
of all who must obey; but who commands
must bear the onus of sad consequence.
O, that I had not been thus awakened!
Yet out of love will I augment his joy
and thrill his senses in the hall of fame.”

And to Spring he spoke: “A higher law commands!
Awake to full power! Tone and contrast
all shades and colours! Rise, O, soft and slow!
Breathe gently so the young shoots do not start
with winter fear of termination dreams,
breathe life into the very stones that sleep
blanketed by green, wet moss in slumber deep!
Shine with a celestial lustre bright
to freshen up the enveloping air,
let it resound with sylvan orchestra
chirruping, chirping, twittering delights!
Let gurgles, murmurs, tumbling cataracts
drown the whisper of ripples over rocks
lovingly caressed by sparkling water,
let banks be quenched and earth so water-drunk
exhale her high spirit in aroma sweet!
Wear your verdure enhanced by coloured blooms,
allow a myriad shapes and textures fine
to express the soul of superb beauty,
distil your essence into a daisy—
and, here, give it to me! ” So saying, he
culled a white daisy soft and fresh as snow
with double stellate petals from a glow
of golden cushion, like the morning sun
cuddled by doting Himalayan peaks.

And this he laid upon his loving lap
whence like the flower's breath a translucent
mist of beauty unfurled to shape and form—
such shape as seduces with sensuous joy,
such form as fills the heart with devout bliss,
a shape to possess and a form to hold
in highest reverence of holy dread,
a shape to touch, a form to meditate,
an eyeful being and a soulful nymph!

She gasped and inhaled Narayana's breath,
and opened slow the calyx of her eye,
and, as with life's initial breath her breasts
heaved like the swelling sea beneath the moon,
a lunar peace descended on her joy
of discovery of this genuine love
whom she held with filial reverence.
“Rise! ” he said. She rose. She took two steps back.
She stood with folded palms and reverence.
She bowed and thrice around him humbly walked
and awaited his command, which he spoke:
“Blessed daughter! Commander of all hearts!
You, the progeny of my joyful heart,
shall now with grace and charm allure the world
with art and nature mingled into one
divine seductress of Indra's heaven.
Let the king of heaven forget the sage
in lonely penance and not dare disturb
serene contemplation of higher truths
as he, magnetized by your dance and song,
delights in sensual pleasures and the vine
that yields the soma for his tingling nerves.
Dance, Urvashi, in heaven's court. Go, dance!
For with this spring is born a new romance! ”

So saying Narayan closed his eyes
and was soon lost to deep meditation,
whereupon his speechless tempters wiser
now gazed upon a beauty more than theirs
with widest eyes and admiration pure
as she now turned to them to greet them where
they stood. Leading them a distance away
from the twain sages lest they be disturbed,
she addressed Spring and said: “Gem of my heart!
O source and goal of life! Much I delight
in your eternal presence for you have
woven the fine fabric of my being
with exquisite strands of divine beauty.
And you, dear Lord of Love, ” she turned to him
and said, “You have stitched beauty's strands with love
so that empty beauty need not bring shame
to creation through mere glitter and gloss.
Yet love that does not serve is empty too!
And formless beings that usurp our hearts
with the power of love yet fail to grasp
the thrill that runs through fibres of our form.”
And this she voiced only in her mind, “Pray,
leave me not alone in the world, bless me
with a companion as sweet as love
that in a form I find the formless true.”

All Young Girls

All young girls who are yet single
And course along their lonely way
Dream each day to so commingle
With another to flow away
Into the wonders of the unknown
Lest eyes be wrung and hearts be torn.

All young girls who dream of being
Sworn to stately lovers bold
Have a special way of seeing
How lovers’ hearts are made of gold:
Though hearts are human, hearts are weak,
They may expose a golden streak.

All young girls who find a lover
May not find a golden heart,
Glamour only forms a cover
And deceit lies beneath an art.
But when rich clay and sunlight mingle,
Can either one be ever single?

All young girls are jealous of their
Prized and guarded single man
And when he thinks another fair
They all weep and begin to wan.
Yet the waters of their being
Lie merged and mingled though unseeing.

All young girls who are yet single
And nurture in their lonely heart
Dreams of meeting one to mingle
With and never ever to part
Look into the distance unknown
With eyes through which their hearts have flown.

Were Ananga still Kamadev of yore,
beneath his pencil line of dark moustache
one might have perceived the faintest twilight
of a dawning smile of understanding,
but here only the vernal shoots quivered
with joy as the dying light of the sun
visibly brightened like a fair child's smile,
seeing which, the nymphs grew restless and said,
“'Tis time to go! ” And Urvashi to them
replied, “Sisters-in-love! Friends! Lead me home!
Born on earth, in far heaven shall I serve
its king as I have been commanded to
and, in moments of leisure, sadly dream
of things I yet have not seen on earth.”
And to herself she questioned in her heart,
“But who loves heaven more than motherland? ”
And with a strong resolve that she would come
to roam the heights and depths of verdant earth
whene’er she had a chance to, she signalled
her fairy friends to lead their homeward flight.
Then like a spray of twinkling stars, the nymphs
rose to celestial heights and then were gone
as Alakananda sent her sprays afar
after the fays but nowhere near a star.



III. The Divine Danseuse

Sworga glittered upon the snow-capped peaks
like morning gold with Paras touch that burns
all impurities except the essence
of things and beings preserved in holiness.
Far from the chaos of the nether world,
high on the eminent altitude of peace,
deep within the embrace of solitude,
thin as a dream but real like the charm
of superb art and culture, a bright realm
of butter-skinned nymphs and soma-drunk gods
lulling to the rhythm of dance and songs,
where was Indra king and in his rich court
adorned by divinity and sages
all artists found generous patronage,
tender encouragement and rich rewards.
Here Urvashi along with other nymphs
danced in the court to the rhythm of drums
quickened by Gandarva musicians
and teased the audience with nimble limbs,
with swivelling hips, with bobbing breasts, and with
a volatile face that expressed heaven's joys
through eyes that dimmed or brightened with the mood.
Ever since she stepped into this rich court,
Indra and his jealous company sat
oblivious to Nara-Narayana
still lost in rich meditation below.
Untroubled by such earthly aspirations,
instead their jealousy now so transferred
upon a co-audience, they withdrew
into themselves and found a lover there—
a lover of the divine danseuse bright
whose frozen posture swiftly come alive
beat with gentle toes the floor of heaven
to regulate the throbbing of their heart.

Seduction thus boomeranged on Indra
as he sat each day to relish the dance
of this new treasure of his finest court,
the youngest, the freshest, simply the best
in art and beauty—lovely Urvashi!
He simply sat and watched her motions swift
or slow. He simply gazed upon her face
and sought to catch the sparkle of her eyes.
He simply doted upon her garment
that swirled and furled and fell and flew
with every turn and motion of her limbs.
He simply sat and watched her long and hard:
long enough to forget his lovely spouse
whose frequent askance glances read his heart,
hard enough to raise her suspicious brows
along with female feelings buried deep
within the folded fibres of her heart,
until one fine day with queenly deceit
she spoke to Bharat, master artist there,
preceptor of all arts, and bid him next
present a play, for dances had their day.
“Variety is yet the soul of art, ”
she said. “Urvashi has displayed her skill
upon her nimble toes. Let her enact
the love-lorn Laxmi and show how feelings can
distort the face, quiver the voice and spill
volumes of tear wrenched from a lonely heart
until the auspicious moment when she
finds eternal union with her Lord.”
Since not all nymphs were good in all the arts,
by changing the genre Indrani now hoped
to change the nymph, the mood, the dejection
she felt when only yesterday her Lord
responding to her call absently replied,
“Yes, dear Urvashi! What is it you want? ”

Hard task-master Bharat, set upon
an exquisite court performance of art,
chose a set of artists for a fine play
born of divine Saraswati herself,
Mother Goddess of all arts, and called
Laxmi's Swyambara, the finest feast
of poetry cloyed with all emotions
fit to rhetoric and to tune at once.
And this they rehearsed before the final show.

Between rehearsals, Urvashi took strolls
in the palace gardens and at times
strayed a bit farther away with her friends
gravitated by the moon-blanched hill slopes
whence she could survey the depths and peaks
charmed by astral blinks and lunar gaze
and like the vesper mist would linger on
adding to the landscape a charm of her own
as she dreamt of some earthly paradise.
Or, at times, conversing with Chitralekha,
she would linger behind the group of nymphs
out on the hilly highway as the sun
burst into flames like a Phoenix and glowed
gold and red and mellow and soft and bright
and touched the clouds red and touched the stream pink
and touched the air crimson and the grass gold.
And, before all this touching can be told,
it touched her heart to a pompon of gold
that cheered the Creator of Beauty.

Transformations

On wings of copper touched by gold
Like a bird of ancient times
Evening perches on the peak
As holy bells of temples chime.
There she folds her rose-red eye
And summons up a glow within
That tells the world that she was there
Though she has left and is unseen.

The glow of what is gone persists
A little while and slowly dims,
But it is gathered on a disc
And shines yet brighter, so it seems.
The haloed disc of light is bright
It falls upon an upturned face
That shows the rose-red hue on cheeks
And radiance that is no less.

No less the radiance of one
On whom the drops of moonlight splash,
No less the brightness of the moon
Borrowed from some immortal ash
a world alit by Eve,
The rose-red fairy born to die!
That Beauty changes into Beauty
In God’s world is not a lie.

During one such beauty-adoring walks
along the looping ribbon of the road,
suddenly from behind a rocky bend
a rock-dark figure with a heart of rock
broke her joy with snaky limbs that wound
around her waist and, lifting her with ease,
placed her on his chariot where she swooned
out of mere fright from the demon's touch
like a heat-struck lily snapped from its stem.
The hairy demon, Keshin called for such
abundance of thick and flowing hair
tied into a knot upon his nape, took off
with his lovely loot. And Chitralekha cried,
“Help! Help! Thief! O, help! ” The other nymphs heard
and came and joined the hue and cry in vain
as the kidnapper's chariot thundered
far away towards the west and left them
to their woe…but not for long. A bright youth
of princely stature, handsome beyond thought
and imposingly strong and powerful
drove up to them in his gilded chariot
like in some happy fairy tale of yore
and sought to know the sad cause of their grief,
which they having recounted, he assured
the nymphs that he would give the hardest chase
to rescue their friend if only they would
point to the direction the demon went.
All fingers pointed west as branches do
to show the direction of winds that steal
the fragrance of their flowers, and they prayed:
“O, help us please! Return our friend to us! ”

The youth now gave the chase. His chariot wheels
rumbled like thunder through the clouds so quick
that he was soon lost to sight, whereupon
the wretched maids of heaven sighed and prayed
to Vishnu to bestow speed and valour
to this majestic youth so that he may
punish the evil-doer and return
with Urvashi, their dearest companion.
Sighing, praying, straining their eyes to see
they stood quite dejected but not hopeless
at the edge of the gravelled highway rimmed
with grass. The half-sunk sun raised his rays up
in the sky and bled, the breeze hushed, the birds
flew west to see for themselves what betook
within the folds of high mountains as dusk
gathered gloomily between thick branches
and thickets of the darkling woods. The rill
in sad expectation of a fall froze
or seemed to freeze like a troubled heart
that, sensing doom, yet clings on to good hope.

Then for once, the sun brightened up a bit,
birds circled the air with joy, the breeze awoke
and light returned to darkening clouds above
as rumbling wheels were heard and horses white
came trotting up the slope to where the nymphs
awaited the rescuer's happy return
with their friend. It came to a halt. The youth,
holding Urvashi in his hands walked down
the chariot. The horses sadly neighed
as if they understood the king's strange mood
and questioned with many a shake and nod
why he did not drive away with the loot.
And he for once was loath to part with such
a sweet burden as this, which he would have
loved to carry in his hands for ever
and for ever without the least dismay.
Yet he gently placed her on the ground
where she stood tottering and holding on
to the arm of her mighty rescuer.
And when her misty eyes opened gently,
she seemed to see a sun smile through the mist,
she felt its warm rays suffuse her being
and blushed with its rosy tint to the depth
of each dimple that sucked the sun's warm rays.
But Chivalry spoke with kingly courtesy
above the bog of feelings where the heart
lay submerged with a millstone tied around
thumping, struggling beats from deep within:
“Your friend is safe and sound, the demon dead.
Proceed to your homes before the darkness veils
the rock and grit upon your path, and nymphs
beware of evil lurking in the shade.”
The nymphs now gathered around Urvashi
thanked her rescuer with touching words
and hugged their bosom friend and shed sweet tears
of joy. And Chitralekha asked the youth
to reveal his identity to her
so that she may from Indra favours seek
for the saviour of her friend, but he
humbly replied, “Of Ila and Budha
born, I guard the peace of Salivahana
against all demonic atrocities.
Convey Puru's regards for King Indra
and tell him that I am at his service
should he need protection against his foes.”
So saying he took leave of them and went
somewhat slowly on his way, turning back
from time to time to catch a glimpse again
of that fair form regained from the demon's clutch.
Deep within his heart a vague yearning
for that which was not his began to rise,
some tactile memory stuck like thorns
in his fingers and like fire it burned
along his side where she had leaned on him,
the beauty of a face became his pain,
the grateful language of the misty eyes
seemed to rue this doleful separation,
but he glancing back at her brightness went
into the darkness of the dale below.

And Urvashi too felt an exotic touch
upon her heightened sense, a mortal touch!
But more than that it was a feeling strange
that seemed to hum its way along her nerves.
Pretending she was weak with adventure,
leaning against Chitralekha, she remained
behind the rest and often turned back
to glance once more at that handsome young man
now receding into the dusky gloom.
She knew she had lost something on the way,
but what it was she could not clearly say.
She knew she had been kidnapped by a thief,
but another thief had stolen more today.
She knew she had been restored to her friends,
but tragedy began with sorrow’s end.
She dreamt a whisper of his breath had said,
“I am all yours or else I am but dead! ”
All this she tried to hide from her dear friend
and watched the king disappear around a bend.
And then the darkness gathered in her soul
like in the folds of the mountains. It weighed
like heavy lead, it burned like molten ore,
and lumped in the throat like never before.



IV The Wandering Nymph

Saraswati, first creator of all
written words, Supreme Mother, Great Power!
You who told how Laxmi was united
With Purushottam, do help me narrate
how your poetic play composed so well
was mispronounced by one who felt the pangs
of separation from the one she loved
and let nature rule art for which she was
punished unfairly by her preceptor
and forced to abdicate her divine rights.
For, ever since her abduction, quite lost
to feelings only hypothesized before,
she wandered like a friendless cloud that finds
no cuddling place nor tears to shed nor sighs
other than those that sail her through the skies.
For such is the fever of love that swells
the heart with an uneasy burden of loss,
of something not had that one ought to have,
and wrings tear drops that gather at the eyes.
For such is its heat that boils the brain
and makes the love-sick unaware of all
except a daydream or a fancy fine
that pleases by robbing one's sense of time
so that like Shakuntala in the grove
the lost soul basks in the garden sunlight
unconscious of being admired by those
whose friendship yet surveys the wreck with love.

The Lover’s Heart

“Like a fallen petal
Of the apricot bloom,
Lack-lustre eyed and pale,
Aware of falling gloom,
Love-lorn and lost in dreams
That cloud the bright sunshine
Are you aware, O Girl?
Your lover boy is fine! ”

“The cloud is cooler than
The sun that burns the eyes;
My lover boy is fine,
His absence heavy lies
Upon my tender heart
And sucks my soul away,
I cannot breathe nor speak!
Alas! This rueful day! ”

“Would you that he were here? ”
“O yes! O yes! I would! ”
“Why don’t you call him then? ”
“I’d love to if I could! ”
“Why do you just recline
Thus fingering the grass? ”
“I wonder if his heart
Is made of gold or brass.”

Such love did Chitralekha bear for her
that, seeing her all alone in distress,
approaching her she said, “Dear Urvashi,
dear bosom friend, do tell me how you feel.
Speak to me so that I may try to ease
the aching pangs of love that has harshly
transformed a portion of your normal self.
I know you are in love. In love with one
who is of coarser fabric than yourself,
but one who draws your being like the sun
draws the misty vapour towards the sky.
He is irresistible, yes, and you
feel the singe on aspiring wings that fail
to lift you once again upon his arms
where to swoon were more life than to breath
the fragrant air of this heaven's garden.
Come, unfold your heart to me and bid me act
in favour of your joyous reunion.”
Waking up from her reverie, the nymph
stirred slow in response to this breath of love
that whispered such uninvited concern
for her and she now bashfully replied,
“I’m fine! I’m fine! I only hear the rose
whisper through her petals a fragrant name,
I only thought for a while that the dove
cooed in his voice a message of true love,
I only felt a touch so strong and warm
in the breath of the leaves upon this tree,
I only saw a bright vision that stood
and beckoned my soul to rise and follow
its steps beyond the boundaries of heaven.
I’m fine, Chitralekha! What magic spells
work in this garden I have yet to find
but I wish there was a way to relive
the past in the present. What can I do? ”

“Love needs counselling to see the visible, ”
Chitralekha muttered to herself and then
she gently addressed her friend: “Urvashi,
let us descend to Prathisthan to see
what fate has dispensed to the king thereof.”
“No, no! He will see me! ” the nymph replied,
“And then I won’t know what to do or say!
Friend, can you not think of another way
of finding out whether he really loves
this wretched maid? Whether his love be true? ”
“He is not an actor, dear, and his name
is not Purushottam! ”—at this the nymph
blushed and shot an angry dart of her eyes
at her teasing friend—“King Pururava,
a mighty hero of the lunar race,
is sane and sound and rules his kingdom well.”
Thus she teased her friend who, as she performed
Laxmi’s Swyambara, felt the passion
rise from her breast and give vent through her words
when she, instead of “Purushottam, ” sighed soft
“Pururavas” and called upon his love,
hearing which her stern preceptor Bharat
chided her and pronounced a punishment
upon her that she should spend her sad days
on earth within the rules of nature’s laws
for the rest of her mortal days. “Go hence, ”
he ordered pointing at the door, “Depart!
This is no place for a fallen artist!
Live with your lover, beget him young ones,
until nature consumes you in her flame.”
The miserable maid with fallen crest
and sightless eyes felt the burst of shame
upon the red rose petals of her cheeks
not just because nature had out-done art
but because now all the curious world
had read the open pages of her heart.
She stood upon her legs only because
her friends buttressed her frail limbs all around
or else she would have crumbled to the ground.
But then her spell-bound fan Lord Indra came
to her rescue—for he had deeply felt
her charisma and she had won his heart,
and he was still allured by her motions,
by her looks, by the cascade of her hair,
by the twinkle of her eyes, by the deep
dimples of her cheeks, by her slender nose,
by all that goes to make a female form
stand out above the rest—and so he came
to her rescue, alleviating thus
Bharat’s curse with an added redemption:
“Bharat, ” he said, “It is true she has erred.
And you, the finest instructor of art
here in my court are not to blame for this.
Urvashi has performed the dancing art
many a times so nimbly on her feet
and won eyes and hearts of heavenly fans.
A mortal touch has so affected her
with feelings of human intensity
that we who know to err is so human
should overlook a condition in her
and, respecting artists for what they've done,
forgive a little error here and there
so that they spring to higher shows of art
from little weaknesses—not all their own!
So let it be! You've spoken. May she go
to the elemental earth and there pine
for what her erring heart yearns for. But nymphs
of divine fabric should return to dance
in divine halls after their worldly romance.”

Thus, when the truth was publicized in halls
of fame, she an outcast now quite confused
was lost in the garden, lost to herself,
lost to the glittering world, when her friend,
famous for the graphic art of sketching
portraits of gods and goddesses on walls
of Sworga's palace, teased her out of thought
and then upon a serrate golden leaf
of the birch—a heart-shaped leaf, green and gold—
she drew from memory a stately face
that almost spoke sweet words of love and this
she gave to Urvashi who caressed it
with her slender fingers, gazed at it long
with soft, dark gazelle eyes before she spoke:
“O Chitralekha! He looks so real!
Were he but here, O, how I would delight
in holding captive such a prisoner
of my arms and relish the intense joy
of intimately eternal union! ”
And with both her hands she pressed the leaf hard
against her breast and tucked it in her blouse.
Seeing this, her friend then gently replied,
“Let us then descend to earth and survey
the city of union of love's flow,
Prathisthan called, and relish the beauty
of the city reflected on the smooth,
crystal waters of the confluence
of Ganga and Jamuna beside whose
murmuring banks the dense woods astir
with life of all kinds must also console
your lover's heart burning for a bright nymph
without whose love his life is arid clay.”

Urvashi needed more assurance than
her friend's words of solace. Her only chance
to find out if her Puru loved her well
was to meet him and to share his thoughts.
So up she got and holding her friend's hand
she followed her down the airy path
like a tinge of red that lengthens along
the evening sky just above the sun.
Birds of the upper region of the air
felt just a whiff upon their steady wings
and tingling with delight they went their way
singing the freshest dreams of their wee hearts.
O'er the mountain ridge, idling clouds turned pink
as the nymphs came wafting down the rays
that struck their outward thinner frill and warmed
vapours of water with a touch of love.
Sinking further into earth's atmosphere,
unseen to creatures of the lower zone,
sinking through the green canopy, they now
stood upon a cheerful plot of green
amidst twitters and sighs of living boughs
that echoed feelings of a lover's heart.
The grazing deer unaware of these two
ethereal beings amidst their herd
fearlessly cropped the leaves and chewed the cud,
for both the nymphs with magic spells concealed
their form to mortal vision as they roamed
through the woods to the neighbouring garden
where the hero of the nymph lost to the world
bemoaned his un-remedied loneliness.


V The Hero and the Nymph

“The court awaits your pleasure, ” a bowed head
addressed the king. “Grave matters of the state
need to be addressed, my Lord! Will you come? ”
the solemn Minister voiced his concern,
which His Majesty did not seem to hear,
but lost in painful reveries of love
he sighed his soul out like a rooted tree.

“O Urvashi! ” he cried, “How can I live
alone in this palace without my love?
It's like an empty hole dug in the ground,
cold and dark and stifling that suffocates
the life breath out of me. Designed to kill,
infested with unctuous fools who like ants
swarm around their great honey-trickling lord
and smile their disgust with an envious heart,
rich in pompous vanity, envious
of power and wealth, stratified in rank,
it knows not serene peace nor harmony
of genuine soul to soul relation, which
embracing all embraces greatest bliss.
No, it is not such flattering company
but genuine friendship, which thrives on love,
most strongly nourishes our life with joy.
And I, quite close to such a joyous life
in the company of my honest queen,
having found greater joy in Urvashi,
am torn like a river by a boulder
that will not yield an easy path to joy,
so that divided into two currents
it must gush beyond this dark obstacle
to seek wholeness of a divided self.
Yet, the unequal currents of water
on either side of the obstructing rock
gush with different force towards the bend
in their life's journey, intoning a truth
spelled out clearly in the book of nature.
Thus am I torn, but why should I dispel
a greater joy with one of lesser kind?
Why should I so unlike the river be
and force a greater volume to one side
than it can lend an easy passage to
and let the other thirsty bed go dry?
This would be madness! And if mad I am,
I owe no obligation to the world
and seek no favour from it. Instead, I
enchanted by unearthly beauty will
here meditate upon a form that holds
the single key to my sad existence
in the frosty winter of her absence
that colours all I do. O Urvashi!
Commander of my heart! When will you come
to spouse me by the singing riverside? ”

“And the people, ” complained the Minister,
“shall I tell them that King Pururava
once true and just and loving and beloved
has drawn the curtains of the Golden Age
over his self, which now is blind to all
but what possesses him demonically
with its power of fatal seduction?
Shall I tell them that you love them no more
because another claim upon your heart
is so potent that you, forgetting all,
permit yourself from duty thus to fall? ”

“Go, Minister, ascertain that the state
does not miss me. Perform your duty well.
See that the systems of the state run smooth,
lubricate the rust, replace broken cogs,
and, should you need more vision, come to me.
I have a personal need of solitude,
which you should learn to respect. Go hence
and let me dream a while of heaven’s gate
that swings a thousand times to release
its greatest beauty for a dreamer’s ease.”
So spoke the king and with his dreamy eyes
he sought the vision of his fevered heart
within the farthest reaches of the sky.

The Minister his concern expressed again:
“Your noble Majesty! Half-witted love!
You seek to own the moon whose lunar charm
has cast a spell upon the woodcock, you!
O, wake up to the smell of earth and trees
that surrounds you. Urvashi is a dream.
She is a fantasy beyond your grasp.
The queen at your disposal should outweigh
a million dreams of fairies on their wings
and since all kings are husband to the state
they should firmly grasp more relevant things.”

To which the king replied as if from far:
“Urvashi is the poem of my heart.
She is the lunar gleam with argent touch
that embalms the world in joyful repose,
she is the vision that creates the throb
of a devoted heart, she is the joy
of the woodcock, she is the cynosure
of heaven and earth, the only being
that can dispel the gloom both here and there
the light of heaven and earth is Urvashi!
Is there a beauty resides in oceans' depths?
In its snaky dazzles of broad daylight?
In snow-capped peaks of primordial dawn?
Or moon-blanched heights that open mysteries
of poppy-drugged fields to vague yearning hearts?
She is a decanted drop of beauty,
of fulfilling love, of true harmony.
Go Minister, see to the state's affairs,
rimeless hearts should not roam the gardens here.
So, leave me in peace to warm my hoarfrost
with sweetest reveries of happy days.”

Thus he dismissed the Minister and went
another way with downcast eyes that fell
upon a single birch leaf on the grass
where birch trees there were none. And then the breeze
sweetly conspired to turn it upside down
so that a divine artist now exposed
to mortal eyes quite took his breath away.
For on that leaf more golden for more dry
with the warmth of love in the softest cleft
of maiden bosom he read his own face
so majestic, so firm, so compassionate,
that, bending with disbelief, he picked it up.
Long he gazed at this sign of divine love
and tingled with the touch of billet-doux,
long he dreamt of slender artist hands,
long he searched the forest edges far,
long he stared at the first appearing star
and wished that Urvashi were there with him.

She was! And he knew it not, for she had
concealed herself to mortal gaze to spy
upon her lover and to hear his words
of love pronounced in sincere solitude.
Such words she knew could hold no deceit
and swooning with intense joy she gave ear
to what her ruling star faintly intoned,
genuinely unaware that she had
lost one image to find another there.
But when she saw how he bent down to pick
the fallen leaf, she nervous grew and spoke
in a whisper to Chitralekha thus:
“Friend! How could I have been so unwary
as to let drop your art from my bosom? ”
“Quiet! ” said her friend. “Let his heart gush out
and drown you in its flood of eloquent speech
so that you finally accept his love.”
Thus did she quickly hush her friend and he,
affluent king with treasury of gold
and diamonds and rubies and rich sapphire,
felt richer far on picking up a leaf,
felt rewarded with greater wealth than thought
can think, and felt it was her blessing too!

“Is it you, my dear? It is you, my dear!
For who else can write my visage so fine?
Are you here, my dear? You are here, my dear!
For who else could have dropped this golden leaf
at my feet from the skies? Dear Urvashi!
Even the bright sun and the nightly moon
hold their rendezvous in the evening sky,
and the earth and the sky in the twilight
merge and mingle like a single soul
of the universe. Why do you tarry
in the empty sky? Does it mean so much
more to you than you do to me? O Nymph!
A dream come true is heaven where to dwell
is just to desire the dream again
and again so that dreaming does not end
because the dream is you, renewed, more fresh,
more real than all the ephemera
that seems to substantiate this life, which
it finally mocks with murky smoke.
Mock me not by proving ephemeral
your loving self, for love is genuine.
There is no truth beyond the act of love,
no beauty dares to outshine its radiance,
no flesh can rip it off like a slough and say,
'This is worn out today! I must renew
this empty bark to cover ugliness.'
Stand before me in substance radiant,
dipped in most delightful cheer, bid me kiss
the fabric that wraps the greatest beauty
of heaven and earth, charm me like a snake
with motions fine that its heart imitates
and commands its frame to follow, rob me
of my sanity, cloy me with your love,
but forsake me not like a painted fool
to gaze at the vast expanse of emptiness
that saps the essence of this sesame seed
to dump it in death, which is your absence.
I burn in the fire of your absence!
My tears evaporate before they dowse
a single spark. Helpless, friendless, joyless,
burning, burning, I flicker towards you
Urvashi! Winged creature of delight!
Yet, for this once, you have been kind to me.
O happy leaf! O happy, golden leaf
that has received the touch of her fingers
before being dropped to the earth like me!
Dumped by divine fingers, but united
in the common clay, how alike we are!
Joyless friend, I'll place you close to my heart.”

So saying, the king tucked the golden leaf
within his breast with tearful eyes and sunk
upon the grass in dejection dark and deep.
Then Chitralekha, standing there unseen
to mortal eyes, nudged her fairy friend awake
and asked her what more proof she needed here
to convince herself of Puru's love for her.
“Now's the time! Now, now, show yourself to him!
Go, speak to him and sooth his fainting heart,
or else he'll droop down like a frost-bit stalk
and wither away! ” At this the sweet nymph
tightened her red lips and closing her eyes
prayed to deities for support and strength.

Fairy Love
What would I do if a fairy came
And kissed my ruby lips?
What would I do if a fairy danced
And swayed her lovely hips?
What would I do if a fairy sang
A mermaid tune to charm?
What would I do if a fairy said,
“I love you! There’s no harm! ”

If a fairy kissed my ruby lips,
I’d kiss her all day long!
If a fairy swayed her lovely hips,
I’d hum a dancing song!
If a fairy sang a mermaid tune,
I’d gaze at her and know
That to love a fairy who loves you
Is to go the way all go!

Then, opening her eyes, she exposed herself
to his mortal vision in the garden
where Spring unlocked its sweets: the verdant grass
grew greener with the touch of golden sun,
leaves acquired a gloss unseen before,
souls of flowers pushed against the soft walls
of their imprisoning calyx like songs
in titillated bird-hearts that gushed forth
as they flew swift towards the softening sun,
the drunken breeze in slow recursive turns
wafting melody and fragrance upon
its gentle billows stole the honey bees
away from blooms where coloured butterflies
wing-to-petal stirred in sweet awakening,
the white hare questioning this sudden change
stood upon its hind legs and sniffed the air,
and, seeing something wonderfully bright,
didn't know whether to run or stand upright.





VI. The Confluence of Love

Spring! O confluence of love and beauty!
The eternal flow of love repeated
rhythmically in time and spiced with beauty—
beauty that must renew itself each time
with the consummating fire of love.
Spring that sprouts in vegetation and blooms,
spring that stirs a deep feeling in the blood,
spring that inspires new songs in old throats,
spring that exhales the past in freshest now,
spring that feels the intoxication deep
of some rebirth of flesh or memories,
spring that siphons new life from some deep source
that cannot go dry and will always add
a novelty to each cotyledon,
spring that awakens beauty with true love
so touched the cheerless heart of Pururava
with the bloom of blooms that bore the essence
of his life that he startled at the sight
of the daughter of Primordial Spring.
Was she a vision or his throbbing half?
Did he create her? Was he dreaming now?
Was this a wakeful state? He was awake!
And the beauty queen of his reveries
stood in all her charm and elegance
like a gardener pouring from a spout
drops of regenerating liquid love
upon a withered sapling, he, that now
tasting the elixir of life quickly
began to raise his head with cheer. She came
with soft and molten eyes and spoke to him
like drops of water speak to swollen lakes:
“Rise, my dear, do not wilt upon the grass!
'Tis I who should have fallen like a leaf,
torn from the supporting stem, dead and dry,
stifled by the emptiness of the sky.
The rules of Sworga are harsh and fine arts
jingle like knick-knacks in the halls of fame.
Where honest expression is censured, there
can genuine soul scintillate in beauty?
A suppressed soul is a corpse, a being dead!
And so have I sought freedom ever since
you taught me freedom from the demon's grasp.
O! To be freed with a bond! And yet I
fear dire injustice to a woman's pride
and dare not walk into your sweet embrace! ”

Seeking the free and open sky above,
closer to the warming rays of the sun,
the mist that senses a cloud come between
herself and her bright sun was Urvashi.
The cloud that with its insensitive bulk
stands boulder-like to the free flow of light
steals from both the ardent sun and the mist
double delight to the dismay of both.
The sterile cloud deplete of gentle drops
is but a showpiece hung upon the hills
that eyes may survey and lips may express
words of gentle admiration, knowing
that a loss of function is a form of death.
The childless queen who loved her husband yet
had no desire to impinge upon
the fervent worship of a crazy heart
that might as yet give rise to progeny
and save the clan from gloomy childlessness.
So, when the dismissed Minister went back
to seek the queen's advice, she with her maid
Nipunika stole to the king's presence
and, having studied his condition, there
witnessed the love Urvashi bore for him.
Whereupon the queen approaching the two
in the garden begged for a brief hearing,
which granted she spoke, “My Lord, I have vowed
to mark a special homage to the bond
between the moon, Chandra, and Rohini,
his favourite spouse with request for love
like theirs. Nipunika has often warned
that I be vigilant and keep watch o'er
your errant wanderings in the deep woods
and gardens for you are not what you were.
And I have heard the billows of your heart
sigh in deep sleep for some celestial glow
that has cast a spell over you which I
cannot undo. The sickness of your soul
has no remedy except what caused it
and to cure you I must so sacrifice
my peace of mind that out of love I will
bestow this favour upon you and go
to the temple for a good stretch of time
to praise the bond of union between
Chandra and Rohani. And for my sake
I request you to travel with your love
to some far away sylvan paradise
so that absence may balm the wounded mind
which foreign presence aggravates the more.”

To Her Rival

I once wedded my heart to a man
Who said he loved me true,
I simply believed in what he said
Because I loved him too—
Wouldn’t you?

I gave him all the love of my youth
I thought he loved me too.
Such happy couple wedded for life
I thought were few, so few—
Wouldn’t you?

But then one day when my wedded love
Met a girl from the blue,
So madly he fell in love with her
That I just cried, “Hoo-hoo! ”
Wouldn’t you?

And now that I’ve lost my wedded man
And know that love’s not true,
Though my holding on to life is strange,
I can’t let go! It’s true!
Can you?

Life must go on without such love
As vanishes like dew,
Imperfect love is all we have
On earth, except for few—
Like you!

Thus she spoke and was about to leave
when the king addressed her sweetly with these words:
“My dearest queen, Agni witnessed my love
for you when I took the grave wedding vow
to guard you against harm throughout my life.
This I will certainly fulfil, fear not!
And my love for you cannot diminish
because I share it with another too,
like the vast ocean love cannot go dry
even if a thousand barrels were removed.
A greater spell has gripped my heart and I
find my rich kingdom all but desolate
without the charming presence of this nymph
who loves all those who love me with their heart.”
And as he spoke envious Urvashi
nudged Chitralekha and raised her dark eyebrows
to which her friend explained that mortal ways
are quite strange in that even as they woo
the yearning of their heart, they court their spouse.

“Say nothing more! ” replied the grieving queen
and went her way leaving the lovers there
to fondle each other, then like a cloud
was gone beyond their ken and Urvashi
confounded with the situation stood
quietly wondering what next to do.
'Twas then her best friend Chitralekha spoke,
“All's well, ” she said. “Fear not the queenly wrath
for her vow of reconciliation
with her own fate blesses your union.
Go and possess him. I now leave you two
to your great joys and pleasures to renew.”
So saying, like a morning dream the nymph
vanished from the amorous sylvan air
leaving the two to pursue their affair.

In the cloudless blue the radiant sun
shone like a diamond pendant from a chain
that embraces the nape of loveliness
in female form and nature softer grew
transpiring coolness in her zephyr breath
fragrant with resinous exudations
and the breath of living flowers. Gently,
Urvashi approached and gently
with welcoming arms like a chain to tie
around her nape the pendant of his head
Pururava offered himself to her.
“O dream come true! O sylvan melody!
O light of life! O charming Urvashi!
Come, my love! Come teach me how to live
in the eternal bliss of your presence
and be the guardian of my soul, my love!
O happy me! Rewarded at last!
with your coolness besides my thirsty self! ”

With ardent zeal he proposed that she
live with him as spouse never to part again,
with ardent zeal she proposed that he
live with her as spouse never to part again.
And she had more to say, which she said thus:
“Free me with your bond, dear Pururava,
from heaven's suffocating tyranny
so that here I may live among mortals
without a shade of heaven's memory
for you are sweeter than any heaven
and I long for your loving company.
When spirits touch, their understanding glows,
when humans touch, the skin to skin feels warm
and provides a base for love to expand.
I find the mortal touch so exotic
it drives me mad; it singes and I thrill.
‘Tis such warmth that heaven shall never know
unless a human teach the gods to feel.
Yet I am not of mortal fabric made,
not of the clay, but of the Lord's own breath
do I derive, a being of the air.
So, to keep me with you, dearest lord,
you need to accept a few rules of mine,
observing which I am yours forever.”

To this, Pururava quickly replied,
“Speak Nymph! Bid me act the fancy of your mind!
Shall I create a heaven here on earth
rich with nature’s resources and human art?
Not the synthetic furnishings of show
in calculated corners to bewitch
the passing souls as in Indra’s heaven,
but what simply takes the breath away
at every step and turn? Shall I supply
flowers and fruits of all seasons at once?
Shall I create a magic castle here
with roaring cascades pooling into lakes
for you to bathe in and to recreate
yourself in water sports? Say, shall I bring
venison and drink more intoxicating
than the soma and by your side recline
in the warbling woods and say, ‘I am thine! ’?
Speak Urvashi and know you are obeyed! ”

She spoke with accent grave and calm: “I own
two little lambs with fleece like fresh washed clouds
hung out to dry over the sunny peaks.
These, my pampered pets, shall always remain
tied to our bedpost and be guarded well.”
“It’s done! ” replied the king. “An easy thing!
Is there something more I can do for you? ”
“Yes, ” she replied. “I feed on clarified butter alone
and will consume no other food but that.
This you will have to supply twice a day.”
“I will, ” the king replied. “Anything more? ”
“Yes, ” she answered. “Promise me that you will
not force me to bed more than thrice a day
without consent or else the pact is broke! ”
“Done! ” cried the king. “An easy thing to do!
Is there a mighty deed a king might do
to win the favour of his dearest nymph? ”
“One more, ” said she with a serious face.
“Never, ever, allow me to see you
without a loincloth or else I depart
and our wedded union come to end.”
Surprised, the king wondered why Urvashi
was asking for such silly things as these,
but since they were quite easy to fulfil
he spoke with assurance, “My dearest queen!
I shall abide by all these rules and more,
I vow to make you the happiest nymph
on earth, O girl divine! Come, speak less now
and listen to the love-dove of my heart
and let me place my ears over your heart
to relish the beauty of its ceaseless song.”

Thus they were united. The news spread far
on wings of bumble bees and whiffs of air,
in vesper warbles through pastures and peaks
to the upper layers of the atmosphere
and higher still to where the sun and moon
united stood to wonder at their love.
The stars began to peep and crowd the skies
and shed their magic glow upon the pair,
but only moonshine showed them where they were
within the blowzy arch of love’s bower
dimmed by a silver veil which heaven saw
and Chitralekha rushed to pull away
from under the full moon so that her friend
might drink the gorgeous face of her dear king.
This she did, and intoxicated lay
with him throughout the night—so poets say.




VII Gandhamadan

How the night passed is not for me to say,
but some baby bird chirruped in its nest
before daybreak as if its dream came true
and woke the mother bird who spread her wings
and shook from them the early morning dew.
Then making sure her chicks were all asleep
she lay herself to rest again in peace
until the east should glow and show the worm,
a vital breakfast for the family.
Thus nature teaches both knack and concern
to tiny birds that grow to motherhood,
but nymphs do not grow out of maidenhood
and prove better lovers than mothers fine.
Such was Urvashi, the lover divine,
in whose soft arms the king woke up and thought
it was all a dream and rubbed his eyes
to wipe the dream away. It would not go!
And then he to his senses came, he knew
all in a flash of memory that he
was wedded to a nymph in garden grove.
Delighted, he brightened up and the east
awoke to bright colours against dark night
that had swallowed the material world
like Vritta had done before. When the birds
like Indra and the sages chanted loud
their matin mantras in the early dawn,
from the red gash on the breast of dark night
flooded out the swallowed treasures of the world.
All lovely things emerged and on this flux
supremely rode his charming fairy queen,
an apsara of heaven, brightened now
by the colourful tinge of burning sun,
a blotch of dazzling white here touched by red,
there gold, there white to flawless purity,
and, as he beheld her ride the flux,
he thought he saw it all: the field, the woods,
the pond, the garden, and the pasture green
around his palace covered by the mist.

And mist it was that sweetly embraced him
so that for the length of a second dream
of the morning he found himself perplexed,
not knowing whether he was yet asleep
or half or full awake. He felt buoyant
and felt a motion though he did not move.
The sun that brightens up the world itself
lay hid behind some vaguely whitish glow,
until the motion stopped and the white mist
curled like smoke, thinned out and dissipated
in the atmosphere to expose the wild
altitude of Gandhamadan Gardens,
loveliest of lovers' earthly paradise.

The rising sun climbed up the sky to touch
the gentle wooded slopes where musk-deer roamed,
it gleamed upon the stream, a silver path
adown the verdant slopes bedecked with blooms.
The soma vines that bound each branch to branch
with small purple blooms drugged the air around.
The noisy canopy of foliage
released some songs into the bluest sky
but sprinkled their essence upon the ground,
sensing which fresh envious shoots raised up
their tiny heads and strained to utter sound,
not succeeding at which their soul burst out
in blooms of sweetest fragrance, which was song.
A cocktail blend of sound and smell the twain
drank deep and drunk with such potion they lay
themselves down in a dappled plot of green.
There the king wondered where his palace was
and Urvashi explained that they were far
from Prathisthan for she had carried him
to this paradise in a wrap of mist
for here she desired to spend good time
with her love away from envious eyes
and he was not averse to reasoning
of love but quite agreed this was well done.

Lovers’ Delight

Only you and I ‘neath the open sky
In this highland Eden
Together shall lie holding eye to eye
Blissful communion.

Merging soul with soul, becoming one whole,
Roaming the green forest,
Touching lip with lip, each other we keep
For this is really best.

Away from Heaven proud, away from mundane crowd,
Just we lovers two!
Not a soul shall know where we lovers go
Nor what we are up to.

Picking flowers bright, watching birds delight,
Like the doves we coo.
What’s the world to us? Here there is no rush
For simple things we do.

And in this fragrant Aryan Eden they
whiled away the sun and moon and stars,
and learned the shapes of flowers and their smells,
the depths of streams and tastes of wondrous fruits.
Here mountain goats and cheetahs from the same
spring or pool together drank fearlessly,
for love was in the air, this all-in-all,
and beauty was the blanket atmosphere,
and truth was faith in faith of other heart.

So here King Pururava ordered that
a stately palace be built for their sojourn,
whence he wisely ruled both love and kingdom—
more love than kingdom! —for his heart ruled him
with promises of joy and much more joy
besides his sweet, enchanting apsara.
She danced for him with lively steps and smiled
with mischief in her umber-darkened eyes,
she made the anklet bells jingle, she swayed
the cincture of her waist like splashing waves,
she knelt and froze like weeping woman lost
with forehead upon her arms then, as if
she heard a lover approach like the spring,
she looked all around with expectant eyes
and lithely moved around this way and that
with hands stretched out to welcome darling love.
And Pururava often from his throne
descended to join the dynamic dance.

Indeed, in dance and song both merrily
spent their time within the palace, and when
cloyed with the sumptuous life they needed change,
they roamed the region, an easy thing to do.
For Urvashi would wrap the brilliant king
in her thin veil of magic mist and go
to where her whim or his desire took
the lovers on a particular day.
They toured the world of Varuna far and wide,
they ambled around Manasarobara
upon the Himalayan peaks and they
visited the most ancient Aryan world
ruled by mothers of brave and holy men,
the Aryaputras, to whom we today
owe our civilization. Along the banks
of Bhadrasoma they strolled happily.
They bathed in sunny Bankshu, crossed to Aila,
returned to Ilavritta and felt rich
with the experience of having met
strange men and manners in various tours.

One day, seated upon a big boulder
on the bank of a stream the loving pair
conversed at ease. “My dearest Urvashi, ”
the king addressed his love, “what were this life
without you? You are my eyes through which I
perceive the beauty of all forms, of which
you are the epitome! The gurgling stream
that bears the serpent flashes on its scales
is an exquisite songster only because
you delight in its white foam and listen
with rapt attention to its melody.
My heart were dumb without your sensitive
and ecstatic throbbing to beauteous forms.
Alone, all this would not have been divine! ”
“You’re right, my love, ” said she, “I know this well
because it is you who have taught me joy—
excessive, exotic joy! Living with
a mortal among mortals is a bliss
for divine nymphs woven with fabric fine
and I am the chosen blest, your delight!
I’ve seen the highest peaks of earth in flame,
and ruddy fires ride the water’s back,
I’ve seen the blowzy shame of scented rose
that dreams of sweetest love but will not speak
a word about the dream that lingers yet
like morning dew within its petals fine,
the flames-of-the-forest to me have told
stories of consummating Phoenix flames,
and scintillating sparks of beauty’s flames
in well-cut facets of jewels I’ve seen,
flames of holy sacrificial fire
which lap the spiritual regions too
have risen from this earth, but nowhere I
have seen such beauty as the human heart
nourishes in its divine flame of love!
It is this dancing flame of love that holds
the mortal human race at the centre
of the created universe and all
deities converge to protect this flame.”

“It is a living flame, ” the king replied,
“A fire that is sparked by beauty’s self!
It tilts forever towards you, my dear,
and burns eternally, nourished by your breath.
For as long as you dance around this flame
streaming the living air within its soul,
it cannot extinguish but grows more bright
fuelled by the love of your living breath.
Ah yes, my dear! Such is my love for you
that life without your love will die too soon.”

And thus the two in endless confessions
of heartfelt feelings roamed the wooded world.
What more can youth desire than to love
and be loved! And to while away the time
in each other's embrace! And to remain
stuck to each other's lips like painted pair
frozen in time and place to their delight,
tasting of unageing eternity!
Such was their blessed destiny and such
the blessings of Ananga's faintest smile
when he stood perplexed at the course of Fate.




VIII The Ruse of the Gods

From early spring to spring the season moves
as thirsty seeds now bloom to robust youth,
and clouds still sprinkle their love-drops on earth
and the sun shines upon them both with joy.
Beneficiary earth now swells and blooms
and rounder grows with fullness ceaselessly;
lest it burst, primordial talons grip
unseen the swelling bulk and belt it firm
in all directions. Thus did Garuda's claws
appear predatory when in fact
they only held all things in proper place.
What seems in contrast to what is has oft
misled perceptions to sufferings great
producing out of errors human fate.

When too much love has drugged the soul to sleep
so that the senseless lovers unaware
seeking change of mood brew a little tiff
the world does not end for them. Yet, it seems
to end for both so that in dark despair
they weep and wail and nightly pillows wet.

It seemed as if the king and Urvashi
would never part from each other, for they
like the clutching vine upon the tree were one:
one like the moon and her attendant star,
one in the identity of the soul,
one like the water of a confluence,
one in the mutual concern for each.
And in this union of love they bore
for each other, such a happy couple
was never seen upon this earth as these
who, ever in each other’s company,
found greatest contentment. And as they roamed
along a river bank conversing sweet,
Pururava surveyed the immense blue
rim the blue ridge that melted into green
and bubble with life—amrit it is called,
the ambrosial drink of gods upon the heights—
which changed its forms and colours at each turn
and flowed in argent stream that sliced the green
with zigzag motions, meandering through
dark rocky clefts and softest paddy fields.
This source of life entered his consciousness
and showed him the sparse settlements around,
it spoke directly to his heart in soft
enchanting whispers of motherly love
and signalled him to come. Lush greenery
along the banks resounded with the songs
of hidden birds. The chirps and twittering
of fluttering feathers thrilled to their heart
was sweet contagion. Bright, warm wings
laved in pools of sandy shores spraying high
the moisture from their feathers as they dipped
their beaks for a quenching sip, then they flew
towards the opposite bank where the king
espied another bather in the stream.

Love and Beauty

How can I with open eyes not see a beauty who
Stands before me? Not admire her lovely form? Can you?
For beauty is what beauty does to mortal heart and eyes,
She charms the gazer before she offers herself as a prize.
And can you blame me for the joy I get from perceiving
A lovely form that makes my heart pound harder for seeing
What was really unsought for but comes as a surprise
With gifts of meaning for the heart and pleasant joys for eyes.

Worship in Love’s temple, dear, is being true to you,
But Beauty is another thing worshipped by a few.
It falls so soft upon the heart to kindle sweet delight
That having won devotion it shines a moral light
Upon the heart, which, instead of getting lost in the dark,
Floats home to sweet Love’s own delight like a guided bark.

He looked and saw a girl in spring of life
draped in the decency of meagre cloth
dip in the pristine pool upon the bank
and lift up her chin to wipe the water
about to cascade down her bright forehead
with both the palms and sweep it all the way
behind her to the cascade of dark hair
that dripped in each strand. And then he saw her
lift her small knees to rub the dirt away
from her slender calf, and he wondered how
beauty resides in prince and plebeian,
for nature does not create social ranks.
But even as he thought of noble things,
his jealous companion seeing him
behold the sweet, young thing across the stream
felt a pang such as only Urvashi
feels should a boulder smash her wretched heart!

“False pretender! ” she cried with flooded eyes
hitting him hard with flower-knuckles soft,
“You hypocrite! Do you profess true love
to me? And at the first occasion you,
do you thus dare to stare with open eyes
at every young and slender female form?
O why did I believe in mortal love
and think such flame were constant in the world?
My joy is like the waning moon that drowns
into the dark depths of black misery.
I cannot thus befriend you anymore.
Good-bye, false friend! Do not come after me! ”
And in a whirl of anger’s flakes released
from a stricken heart, like a storm she blew
away from Pururava, far away
from the stream, into the nearby forest,
which, she did not know was as enchanting
as enchanted by god Kartikeya
who, vowed to celibacy, lived alone.
Thus, females were strictly prohibited
by this god of war to encroach its precincts
where he often strolled around or sojourned
in meditative alcove all alone.
And, since the female form the strongest will
dissolves with beauty, to avoid such contact
he thought it best; but a violator
he sighted in the woods running like mad,
without a goal, without a path, without
the least bit of sense to maintain poise.
He saw with inner eye the strong romance,
he understood the meaning of her race
through thickets and bushes into the woods;
with grave comprehension from his calm niche
he stood and chided her, and when she stood
panting besides a tree that overspread
its branches far and wide, he pronounced
his punishment that she forever be
changed into a creeper clinging to the tree.

And so it was that Urvashi now changed
into a green and robust creeper stood
rooted to the soil like Daphne as he,
who rejected unceremoniously
by his fairy bride, now ran after her
seeking to explain himself and his act.
But she was gone! Gone like an angry wind!
Gone like a tornado whose finger wrote
devastation all over his poor life
and left the signs of havoc in his heart.
“Urvashi! ” he cried, “Urvashi, come back!
Come back my heart! Come back my love to me!
What have I done that deserves this treatment
form you, my sweetest nymph? I love you so
my words cannot express this wretched heart.
Wait for me! Come and chide me as you will
for your angry presence like the nimbus,
though raining hailstone, will soon clear away.
It is not just to punish the accused
without allowing him some self-defence.
It is not kind to desert a true friend
because of one suspected treachery.
Come back, Urvashi! Urvashi, come back!
Come back my love! Or else I fall and die! ”

Thus all in vain King Pururava grieved
his sorry desertion by Urvashi,
and went in search of her towards the place
where she disappeared into the forest
but did not find her anywhere at all.
He looked for footprints and for other signs
but such there were none. The vast forest had
swallowed her like the air and she was gone!
He heard a swallow chirp as if it spoke
to him a secret of the darksome woods
and asked the bird if it had seen of late
one like itself that felt the treachery
of a lusty male and the bird replied,
“I wouldn't tell you even if I knew! ”
He came across some tiny florets bright
nodding their heads to nature's rhythmic beats
created by ripples of mountain spring
and asked if they had seen a danseuse bright
like them run on nimble feet. They replied,
“We wouldn't tell you even if we knew! ”
He stood below a giant spreading tree
and reverently said with folded hands
that he would be much obliged if it could
from its vantage point survey all around
and tell him where his lovely Urvashi
lay weeping now or lost in dejection.
The tree gestured with all its limbs to him
and waved him good-bye, for it seemed to say,
“I wouldn't tell you even if I knew! ”
He saw a herd of grazing antelopes
and asked if they had seen someone fleet by
on feet as swift as theirs and they replied,
“We wouldn't tell you even if we knew! ”
Gazing at a pond, he beheld a cloud
float alone near the horizon and said,
“Bright image! You surely know Urvashi!
For she is like a clear pond, which I once
told her during a promenade and she
smilingly replied, ‘If I am this pond,
you are the sun that resides in my depth! ’
Bright image that dwellest in her heart’s depth
reveal its strongest feelings now to me
and tell me if she has forgiven yet
my errant eyes and how I may again
reclaim her with an assurance of love.”
But the image of the cloud, which floating
trembled as with fear, only seemed to say,
“I wouldn’t tell you even if I could! ”
Thus he roamed the hills and dales until,
wearied by long wandering and concern,
he lay himself to rest upon the grass
in sad dejection of a lonely soul
when a crow cawed loud from a nearby branch
and awakened further hope in his heart:
“Dear messenger of good news! Do you come
to bring me news of where my Urvashi
might be? ” But the crow quite harshly replied
(and Pururava seemed to hear it say) :
“Kings and fools who always strain their eyes
at external beauty do not realize
how love that bends heaven down to mortal feet
is greater love than all that beauty is.
Confusing the genuine with the fake,
these march along the rut of great mistake;
like million others, Puru, sad and slow,
march along your destined path. Do not ask!
I wouldn't tell you even if I knew! ”

Weary the king that day beneath the stars
reposed upon the blades of piercing grass
and started many times in his sleep because
he lost her many times in broken dreams.






IX Love Regained

When daylight broke upon an empty sky,
it showed an empty earth where empty mist
weighed low upon the ground. Like a dull glow
that wrestles with horizon-hiding clouds,
the king raised himself slow and looked around
at the desolate landscape, swallowing
a choking lump of painful emptiness.
Flowers pleased no more. The murmuring stream
spoke gibberish to his heart. As he looked,
through a slit in the cloud a wounded sun
bled profusely and drenched the flying birds.
Soon it was gone! The king began his search.

Four long years of heaven had he enjoyed!
Four long years of sweetest life now all spilled
upon the grit and dirt of existence,
stolen of all its fragrance, robbed of joy!
Four long years of years of good friendship come to this!
He could not believe it! And for what fault?
Eyes cannot but see unless they are blind!
Heart cannot but relish beauty perceived!
So long as the mind is under control
how can a glimpse of beauty be a sin?
And yet his sweetheart, like a summer’s mist,
pained his memory of spring’s happy days.
Four long years of closest intimacy
shattered like brittle glass with a single doubt!
One single cloud of suspicion had hid
all joys of the bright and the cheerful sun?
How fragile is relationship indeed!
How quick is love to senseless jealousy!

Thinking such thoughts to himself the sad king
set out upon his noble quest: his nymph,
the goal of his life. Feeling emptiness
encroach his being, fast he paced along,
but where he did not know; she could be here,
there or anywhere. How could he be sure?
Mad in pursuit of a vaporised dream
he roamed the hills and forests, vales and dales
like a swallow chasing the fleeting dew.
Long he walked the weary streets, long he searched
sparse settlements for miserable months.
He stopped at temples there the gods to please
with prayers and worships, pleading with them
to have mercy upon him and to help
find his lovely Urvashi, for they knew
without doubt where she lay hiding from him.
“You gods upon the lofty heights, ” he cried,
“Listen to what I say! O, hear me out!
I am in love with one who has subdued
not just your hearts with personal beauty
but your devotion with exquisite art.
She, you know, is Urvashi, maid divine,
whom you have turned into a sad outcast
because of her genuine love for me,
one no less in courage in battle fields
than the best of your kind. Oft when you have
suffered at the hands of death-dark demons
have you requested needed assistance
from me and I have with love and friendship
fought the dark forces shoulder to shoulder
with you all, laid down my life for your sake,
helped protect Sworga and its denizens,
and held you all in higher reverence.
Were this not enough, I humbly stand here
a pauper of pure love, both yours and hers,
begging a little assistance to find
the thief of all my wealth: my love, my life!
If not out of compassion for a wreck,
at least for the sake of good old times when
in camaraderie of martial array
I stood beside the god of war and fought
against the enemies of heaven, O,
assist me gods that fly the upper air!
Or life shall wither in this green desert
unsustained by mere water and mere food.”

A Prayer

O gods in heaven! Prayer’s end!
To me, I pray, my lover send—
Who is she?
Urvashi!
To your will I bow and bend,
Today on you I must depend.

O gods in heaven! Love’s not fake!
Seeing Beauty is no mistake—
Where is she?
Urvashi!
Peace I would between us make:
I’d like to tell her for our sake.

O gods in heaven! Kill me if
You cannot give me some relief—
Do you see
Urvashi?
The heart’s devotion (my belief)
Shall o’ercome all row and tiff.

O gods in heaven! Dismantle
All the structures of this world!
Bring to me
Urvashi!
Or else like a fated lover
O’er heaven I shall hover

Like a demented ghost of yore,
Like a dark cloud on heaven’s shore,
Unless she,
Urvashi,
Stand before me as then she stood
And all my feelings understood.

Thus did Pururava grieve, thus he prayed,
and shed his lonely tears in solitude,
until at last he came upon his way
to a wooded copse, which invited him
with its cool shade and fragrant flowers fine.
Entering it, he saw to his surprise
an ancient hermit holy as the ash
besmeared upon his skin from head to toe
sit as if in meditation. To him
the king paid obeisance, and quietly
backing away was about to depart
when, opening his eyes, the hermit said,
“Stay, young man! What brings you here? Sorrow-clad,
your haggard features feather-weight, you seek
it seems what is lost but was dear to you.
Learn to perceive the just ways of nature
which is a flux where ebbs and flows reverse
with billowing motions: nothing stays put.
All things change. We think we possess, but then
we are in turn possessed by higher laws.
Nothing is ours but a moment’s loan
with which to shine a fleeting happiness.
Why grieve you thus? What is it you have lost? ”

“You have laid your finger on the thorn
that pricks my heart. Yes, I have lost someone
so dear to me that life is but empty
in this vacant world. Can you pull it out?
Can you remove this pain by telling me
where I may find my sweetest Urvashi? ”
He bowed before the sage with reverence
and thought at last here was someone who could
like the pointer-star illumine the dark
and guide him to his love. The sage replied,
“So, you are the mighty Pururava,
the hero in the terrible battle
against dark demons who rose in legions
against Sworga’s peace? How unlike that brave
warrior you stoop in supple despair!
How like one crazed with passion and forlorn
you seek support from all who offer it!
No, 'tis not you! And if it is, I will
out of mere pity and for old times' sake
relent and pardon the trespassing maid.”
So saying he stood up tall, imposing,
in full armour, armed to the teeth, and bright!
For this was Kartikeya, fair war-god,
who, pitying the condition of one
crazed by love for the last nine months, resolved
to reunite heaven with mortal man.

Blind with love, the king had not recognized
Kartikeya at first; but, when he did,
he bowed with greater reverence and stood
like a child before his tutor, waiting
for the punishment to be lifted up,
assured in his joyful heart that all pain
would cease and happy days return once more.
And glad he was to have chanced upon
an old friend of heaven he had long missed,
for only war against the demons brought
them together to the common front.
“I’ve missed you long, but relished dreams of war
at your side, O Mighty Kartikeya!
It is a joy to meet you in your grove,
a double joy to find you so relent
and forgive the trespassing Urvashi
whose absence is a killer weapon sharp
stuck to my heart. O, remove it, dear god! ”
Thus did king Pururava speak to him
and he smilingly replied, “Take this gem,
rub it on the creeper that closely climbs
the thousand-leaved tree beside the pristine pond,
and rejoice in miracles, for the gods
who thought it best to snatch her from your sight
have thought it best to grant her to you now.
Time dictates necessities of actions
performed for the general good of all.
Go now! Do not tarry! Act while you may! ”
Saying this, the god of war departed
from this holy spot and was seen no more.

Turning from this spot with a heart as light
as his swift feet the king soon gained access
to the thousand-leaved tree, which a creeper
girdled round and round, exploring its tips,
as if in search of something not yet found.
Small whitish flowers like watery drops
about to fall upon the grass below
hung like pendants with a soft, silken sheen
and small, dark leaves waved constantly in the air.
Taking the ruby-red gem in his hand,
the king beheld its blood-red dignity
scintillate before him. Kissing it once
he said with gleeful cheer, “O sparkling gem!
You like a drop of my heart’s richest blood
have a magic in which I have good faith.
Do not disappoint me or else I die!
Work your miracle here, obey a god,
and you shall for ever protected be
from loss or harm. O bring me Urvashi! ”
Saying this, the king rubbed the ruby drop
upon the creeper’s dark green stem and lo!
The sweetest, fairest female form on earth
stood before him with arms spread out to cling
for good support upon a sturdy youth.

The woods resounded with the chirping birds,
the sun shone brighter in the bluest sky,
the air felt warm, the shade felt cool, the grass
like a soft carpet offered them a rest
upon its luxury, sweet flowers dropped
their petals upon this victory of love
and leaves came wafting down the moving air,
the dancing peacock seeing Urvashi
stopped in its misdirected show of art,
the spontaneous bees hummed a honeyed tune,
and the monal flapped her colours in the air.
Refreshed by winged fans, the nymph awoke
to the presence of her lover, a smile
suffused her face, and cloyed with too much joy
she would have fallen upon the soft grass
had he not held her like a sturdy oak.
“O Urvashi, ” he cried, “leave me not again!
Forgive my crimes, whatever I have done.
Leash me like a third lamb to your bedpost.
O! How happy they are! Those bleating lambs
blessed by the shower of your constant love!
And I, a king of a prosperous land,
have lived the most, most miserable days
in your absence and had not guts to die! ”

Shedding tears of joy, the celestial nymph
consoled her lover with these words: “Were I
in my own grip I would not thus have run
hysterically away from you to fall
a victim to the god of war. Incensed
by your momentary gaze upon the girl
across the stream and growing quite jealous,
I failed to see the bathing apsara
behind her mortal garb of fairest flesh
sent by heaven to distract your devout love
for me and to drive a wedge of lust
in the rich wholeness of our union.
'Twas not your fault, the gods had wished it so!
For often the gods deceive to conquer
what they in other ways cannot subvert,
divide or rule. The fairest divine girls,
weapons against grim-willed aspirations
of sages, are quite skilled seductresses
who obey no other lord but Indra.
But it was too late when I understood
this ruse of the gods. Rooted to the soil
I wrote my fragrance in the air, but they
looted it to heaven, robbing you of it.
No, I'll not be befooled a second time.
Come, we must repair to the palace now
and ease the minds of others that love us.”

“Yes, let us return to Gandhamadan, ”
the king replied and mused seriously.
“The gods give with one hand, with the other
they take away whate’er they thus give.
‘Tis this I do not comprehend. Why then
would they desire to steal you from me?
A nymph outcast from heaven’s sumptuous hall! ”
To this the nymph replied that Gandharvas,
growing weary of her absence from them,
begged Lord Indra to hasten her return;
but, once she understood the divine plot,
refusing to curtail her joys on earth,
she denied them the pleasures of her dance.
The nymph was brief. The king was happy that
she was with him again and meant to guard
his love like precious treasure. Together
they left the enchanted forest to enjoy
an eternal spring of love's rich delights
guarding themselves well against trickeries.








X The Gem of Union

When Urvashi returned with spring, the king
overjoyed by his regained paradise
yet feared the pangs of separation new
like a child that dreads the singe of fire
and clung with mad devotion to his nymph—
a sustained madness that sustained both lives.
Was there a luckier man who enjoyed
the blessings of spring after spring of love?
Of wedded love and harmony with one
whom his heart had singled out? Yet within
the depths of his heart lurked an immense fear,
a fear of losing his dear Urvashi,
for loss is ever feared by all who live
and love the petty possessions of life.
For even long-lived, mortal gods feared death
and sought the amrit's immortality,
and, asking what can defeat dreadful death,
they cloaked themselves in metric poetry;
but the king knew that love alone could slay
the slayer and became his ardent priest
worshipping him in the temple of the heart
where spirit met the magic of the clay.
And so the world seemed to contain just two
happy beings who roamed its fruitful plains,
it seemed the palace contained just but two
beings who were served by aerial things.
In mutual love relishing constant bliss
they missed no heaven, enjoyed the greatest peace
and roamed a world where nothing went amiss.

One day, in the fragrant rose garden they
studying the whorls and colours of blooms
perceived a red, red rose that smelled of love.
“How cute! ” the nymph inhaled a whiff and said,
“It thrills my heart with feelings freshest born.”
“Like you! ” the smiling king replied. “The bloom
transferred to your cheeks is a source of joy
for any onlooker! How red you turn!
Your cheeks are like the sky where blushing Dawn
seeks the dark constellation of your eyes
to hide from many eyes that follow her.”
“And you are that brightness that burns the dark
to reveal my form to ravishing gaze.
Why can’t you stop following me around? ”
She teased and threw an askance at the king.
From out the pocket of his royal vest
the king withdrew a sparkling ruby gem,
which he upon his palm exhibited
for her speaking slow, “Here’s the charm of love!
Here’s magic of the wooded wilderness!
Regard this gem and tell me if this rose
is not its twin in colour. How they match!
The gem, the rose, the red, and Urvashi
are magic, beauty, love, and happy life.
Take one and all are gone! ” The king surveyed
his fairy love through the transparent gem
and she laughed like the gurgling mountain brook.

‘Twas then that a feathered fellow dark
with raucous caws and tilted sidelong gaze,
mistaking the red gem for a ripe fruit,
swooped down with hungry beak with which it stole
right out of the king’s palm the magic gem
and took off to a farther, taller tree.
“Hey! Hey! ” The angry king shouted aloud
and strung an arrow to his lifted bow
to shoot the winged thief and bring it down,
but before he had e'en mounted the shaft
the bird took off to other branches far
deeper into the verdant forest dense.
Mounting quick his white stallion, the king
bolted his zigzag path where path was none,
for he knew that with the ruby gem of luck
his life’s happiness too would all be gone.
Like a streak of lightning, the stallion
shot across thickets, down difficult slopes
and across the rivulets in wild chase
after the dark thief that knew no pity
but soared in free flight over all hurdles.
But the veteran of the skiey wars
would accept no defeat. He gave hard chase
until, at last, some luck was on his side,
if one could call it luck, some lucky Fate!
The pursuing king had not far to go
before he saw upon the ground the bird
pierced through the heart with arrow not his own,
looted of its life and of the magic stone.

Disappointed that another should
first have slain the thief and robbed the bright gem
he ordered that a search be made throughout
the kingdom for the looter of the gem
with which to part were to invite misery.
Down-hearted by the loss and quite concerned,
the troubled king had not long to wait,
for soon a palace guard arrived with two
complete strangers, a handsome princely lad
and a woman of older, graver looks,
seeing whom Urvashi greeted the youth:
“Ayu! Dear boy! What brings you here? ” she said.
He smiled and bowed to her and bowed again
to the king before he spoke, “O Mother!
I've waited long in patient obedience
and thirsted for parental love and care
although my foster parents have both been
my greatest pleasure of sweet childhood days.”

Perplexed Pururava stood wondering
who this young son of Urvashi might be
and demanded further explanations
from her, his wife for the last twenty years!
“This is our son Ayu! ” Urvashi
without a qualm of conscience spoke aloud
(though there was in her looks the faintest shroud
of sorrow that seemed to darken her face) .
“Has he not grown into a handsome lad
with high forehead and bright eyes like you have?
O, how he resembles you! Come, my boy,
receive the blessings of your dear father.”
The boy stepped up to his father who yet
perplexed with mysteries unfolded yet
nevertheless blessed his child and then spoke,
“Will someone tell me what is going on?
Why I did not known I had a child?
Why was he hidden from my eyes so long?
Why I who always longed for such a child
that Aushiniri could not give to me
have been bereft of this paternal joy
of holding on my laps a small baby
who turns behind to look at his father
and grabs his attention and his chin at once
babbling sweetest words of infant love? ”

Satyavati volunteered to explain
what she knew. And she knew that Urvashi
had come to Chyavan’s ashram with a babe
and requested them to keep it safe for her
until she was ready to take it back
with proper recompense for their concern.
The boy had received greatest love and care,
had had his education rounded off
in all the civil and military affairs
like princes should; but, recently he had
disobeyed a rule of Chyavan's hermitage
and shot down a bird from whose beak there fell
a large red gem, which belonged to the king.
“Now then, ” said Satyavati, “we cannot
keep the boy in the hermitage, but must
return him to Urvashi and her care.
Thus Chyavan has ordered. Thus it will be.”
She next advised Ayu to give the gem
to his father, which he did happily.

The king retrieved the gem of union
and asked Urvashi why she had not said
a word about his child, to which the nymph
replied, “Lord Indra gave me leave to come
to you with special instruction that I
return to heaven the day you beheld
the face of your child. So I hid him well
in a proper ashram to be raised up
with love and care. And, king, now that you have
seen the face of your son, I have to leave! ”

To His Lover

A twig that pleads with the yellow leaf
Learns that there is no relief,
It withers black and dries,
A bird that sees its mate fly away
From the branch where they sang all day
Starts with fear and flies.

The bush from which we pluck a rose
To bring it closer to our nose
Silently cries with pain;
Another stem may bear a bud,
But once a bloom is gone, O God!
It does not come again!

I’m like a stem about to lose
Its rose and feels its life diffuse
Into the void around.
Do not forsake me, O my dear!
I fear I’ll die without you here
And lie buried in the ground.

Fierce lightning struck from darkest clouds, a storm
brewed in the heart of King Pururava
tearing leaves of sweet, happy days ahead
and strewing them upon the rotting floor.
He stood astounded by this new knowledge
of strangest fate that with a single stroke
had stolen his lover and bestowed a child.
He reeled with anxiety and concern,
turned pale with feeling of a vice-like grip
inside his chest which he held with both hands
and uttered a single denial, “No! ”
As if a royal order were not enough,
but needs be repeated as a request,
“No! ” he said. “This cannot be! Do not go! ”
And, regaining strength, he called upon love
to weigh the propriety of action
taken in conformity with a command:
“Can you profess me love and leave me thus
because a king commands? Love is our king!
This Supreme King of Love commands that we
always remain in each other’s embrace.
O, how can you, Urvashi, ever forget
this higher command and leave me alone?
Day is not day without the sun and moon,
chariots don’t run on a single wheel,
no streams of tear would deck the face of earth
should vapours not be lifted up by air,
no moth will flutter around a dead flame,
nor flame flicker where moth there is but none,
the two in copulative energy
sustain the living beauty of this world.
Go not, Urvashi! Leave me not alone! ”

“I’m not of this world, my love, I obey
a different set of laws in heaven made.
I cannot disobey Indra, although
I wish I could not disobey you too.
Thus bound by superior laws, I fly
to heaven on heavy wings and submit
myself to what must be. You do the same.
You have a whole kingdom to regulate,
busy yourself in the people’s affairs
so that you have no time to think of us.”
With these words the nymph, ready to depart,
paused a while because the king grasped her hand
like a drowning man grasps a floating straw
and said, “These are cruel words, Urvashi!
Not a language of love! Must you remain
an apsara despite this human touch
and walk out of a lover’s life as if
this were what you were always wont to do?
Do I no longer mean anything to you?
Do not my tears suffocate your conscience?
Does not my begging melt your female heart
that loved me once with fervent, fiery zeal?
Is this the way of all lovers’ world
where hearts are severed with a butcher’s knife
so that the weaker half must stop to beat?
This half will die anon if you leave me
to my lonely fate.” The king looked around
and ordered his minister to prepare
for the coronation of the new king,
his just found son, for he would forsake all
and wander in the wilderness abroad
like a madman seeking to catch a dream.

Pearly beads rolled down the quivering cheeks
and summoned pearly beads in angel eyes
that felt a strange mortal link: soul to soul
and flesh to flesh. Parting like the tearing
of wedded souls oozed painful tears and sobs
on both sides of the mortal wound. The nymph,
still attempting to clutch the finger tips
of the king, still rose higher in the air.
The king, still attempting to draw her down
with finger tips yet in contact with her,
felt himself sinking in the underworld.
She met his pleading upward gaze with eyes
that wished themselves blind for seeing a man
so miserable that his gloom perhaps
would now render heaven forever dark.
Thud did they tarry a for a brief moment
and were like a painted canvas, which each
of them desired would ne’er fade.



XI Reversals of Fate

Before the touching finger tips could part,
a cosmic voice that ever sang the praise
of the creator resounded in the air:
“Narayan! Narayan! Where’er I go,
the Lord offers me strangest sights to see!
What see I here? Narayan! Narayan!
A female beauty like the argent moon
worshipped by a royal woodcock heart! ”

The frozen canvas of love suddenly
came to life in the presence of a sage
renowned in the three worlds. Pururava
welcomed him with all due respect; the nymph
alighted out of respect for the sage
and paid her obeisance. Ayu received
his blessings and so did Satyavati.
When the flurry of welcoming the sage
had calmed down, the king gently asked what brought
Narada to his palace, to which then
the sage replied, “Indra wished me convey
his regards for a brave warrior friend,
for you are as mighty a warrior
as you are true and sincere a lover.
Recalling your assistance in the past,
heaven requests your alliance again
to drive dark Dashyus away from its gate.
And, in recompense, he will then retract
his former dictate that Urvashi needs
return to heaven the day you see your son.”

This was blessing indeed from kind heaven!
Both the lovers now cheered up warm and bright.
They thanked the sage and Pururava spoke:
“Great Sage! You have offered your kind blessings
to us before we asked. What need we more?
What honour shall I seek more than to have
another occasion to stand beside
Kartikeya and Indra to drive off
the forces of the dark? What recompense
other than Urvashi can I desire?
And all my wishes are fulfilled before
I have begun to make the request, Sage!
Fortune smiles upon me this happy day! ”

“May Narayana bless you with victory
over the dark enemies of the gods!
May Love rule your heart as you rule the world!
Go then to Sworga. I now take my leave.”
With these few words the messenger of gods
dissolved into the thin air and was gone.

The king then ordered that his chariot
be prepared for the journey to heaven.
He ordered his minister to prepare
a grand welcome for the home-come prince
who was now of age and able-bodied
and worthy too of ruling wise and well,
and that this should take place just as soon
as he returned from the glorious war
to celebrate his latest victory
with Urvashi beside him shining bright
and Ayu radiating like the sun.
He ordered Urvashi to so befriend
their son that he would never sense a cloud
upon the farthest rim of life’s daylight.
He ordered her to await his return
from victorious heaven... and his heart
not to excite itself when cloyed with joy!
And thanking Chyevan and his spouse for their
good care of his offspring, rewarding them
with cattle and with food, he hugged his son
before he departed for battle fierce.
“Dear Urvashi, I will return quite soon
with news of victory for I fight this war
both to serve heaven and to lay my claim
upon a lovely, loving wife like you.”
And to his son he said, 'Ayu, see that
(under the guidance of my Minister)
the people suffer neither injustice
nor want of food nor want of mental peace.'
Saying this he left the palace and flew
in his gilded chariot heavenward,
where Lord Indra welcomed his brave ally.

Need we here talk of war between the two
fierce armies of heaven and its foes?
A war is war where blood is spilled and heads
tumble down and roll to rest and bodies
bend with agony of mortal wound
and mad confusion raises cries of pain,
cries of effort before the strike, or cries
of joy at having slain the foe. The clang
and clash of armours, swords and shields, and chains,
the swish of arrows hornetting along,
the rocks and stones and fire weapons hurled
hitting or missing their targets, the reek
of hot blood intoxicating flies,
and corpses scattered all over the field.
And when the foe retreating fled away
and heaven felt a big relief from fear,
overjoyed with victory its palaces
resounded with celebrations rich and long,
with dance, song and finest festivity.

‘Twas then that Pururava took his leave
to return to his lovely apsara
and Indra blessed him with long union
with Urvashi, with health and happiness.
The king now mounted on his chariot
and told his charioteer to begin
his speedy downward flight to Prathisthan
where ridden with nightmares his other half
may probably have lost much needed sleep.
Had she been gazing heavenwards just then
she might have dreamt a large red balloon
pierced by tall trees and low peaks ‘bout to burst
yet glowing intensely red even as
it gradually sunk beyond the ridge.
It might have looked like a forest fire
upon the western hills beyond the trees;
or, like embers diminishing in strength,
smearing with ash the forehead of the earth
now lost to meditative silence deep
after a renunciation of her wealth
of forms and colours. In the sky above
a cloud-cliff might have displayed in mid-air
a bright rim around its ragged edge. Thence,
she might have though, arose the radiance
of heaven’s capital where her beloved
must have returned after a glorious war.
Or had he not? God! In the name of love
he must now be safe and sound. Or else? O!
I cannot think the thoughts that must have sailed
across the troubled mind of one distraught.
Such and other vague conjectures, feelings,
thoughts raced through the king’s mind like his chariot.

The lurching chariot gathered greater speed
in its descent to earth. So fast it raced,
the king began to wonder how this man
was able to control both horse and wheel.
Soon he felt quite dizzy with the motion
and in his confusion he thought he saw
a rift in the chariot made by speed
which opened up wider and thought perhaps
the chariot would render itself apart
and told his charioteer to reign up
to a stop, which he did. Then climbing down
the halted chariot the king surveyed
its boards but did not find the rift. He breathed
the fresh air of the altitude and climbed
the chariot saying, “Move on ahead! ”

Once more the chariot lurched, it once again
gathered speed and the king reeled
and saw the earth open wide through the slit
in the quivering planks, which widened more
until the king thought they would hold no more.
This time he asked his charioteer to stop
and to survey the floor boards for himself,
for he feared an accident. Climbing down
the chariot, the king looked at the man
climb down the driver’s seat and walk around,
when, lo, what he saw perplexed him all the more!
This was not his charioteer! Urvashi
stood in full beauty of his loving spouse
and spoke gently to him, “How could I, dear,
send you to dangerous battle alone
and stay a fickle, weeping woman home?
So I chose to drive your chariot there
in the fields of war and to keep you safe
from harm’s way. My love, a nick of the blade
upon your skin would mean a thousand wounds
in the softest chambers of my loving heart.”

Angry in that she should have jeopardized
her life by being where she should not be,
amazed by the abundance of her love
for him and rejoicing greatly in that,
the king now stirred by varied emotions
addressed her: “Sweetest love! O how could you
dare to expose your tender self to war
where ravenous weapons feed on flesh alone!
And without my knowledge too! How dare you!
The Lord be thanked that all is well today!
What magic spell overshadowed my eyes
that failed to see you in the charioteer?
And can you explain the dim illusion
each time I mount the chariot and look
through the widening rift of the floor boards? ”
“I made it appear for you, ” she said.
“For I wanted to be alone with you
in the wild altitudes for a little while
to share my love, to feel your warmth, to live.”

Togetherness

O spring of all my dearest joys!
To be alone with you!
Beneath the ever-changing skies,
Close to where the kestrel flies
Against a rosy hue

Do tell me why I tingle so
And throb against my breast?
These follies of the flesh, you know,
Draw me down to earth below—
To be with you is best!

He laughed. She laughed. The heavens smiled. The sky
blushed and slowly dimmed, but playful night
winked its million stars and spread silver balm
upon the altitude serene and calm
where the two decided to pass the night.
This done, they rested well. The following day
was bright and clear. The mist below
slowly thinned with the warm rays of the sun.
A herd of musk-deer must have passed nearby,
for the breeze now wafted such perfume here
as to drug the senses to wakeful sleep.
Only the kestrels on their gliding wings
kept wakeful watch for preys they thought their own,
only the kingdom below awaited
the triumphant return of their brave king.
The rest was asleep in the peace of love
upon the altitudes where love alone
upon both man and nymph so brightly shone.

XII Thieves at Night

Unnumbered blissful days the lovers spent
in sweet embrace and sweeter dalliance
among the flowers, fountains, brooks and dales,
in shady groves and sunlit spots of green
in sylvan solitudes, of men unseen.
Each day their love grew stronger and the king
spent so much time with Urvashi that he,
once a beloved leader of the nation,
now had forgotten his people, his state,
and to silly female sports devoted
proved himself more a lover than a king.
And in heaven too restless Gandharvas
quite dismayed by Urvashi’s long absence
began to long for her return to them.
They solemnly conferred in secret halls
what line of action might create a breach
of contract between the lovers and bring
Urvashi to them at the earliest.
After a long and serious debate,
they entrusted a good plan finally
to Vishwavasu to enact it well
and appointed several helpers too
who would all that night descend down to earth.

So it happened on such a fateful day
when, after a long lover’s night, the king
retired to his bed and fell asleep.
‘Twas a moonless night, dark and desolate,
pitch dark and so desolate not a soul
stirred abroad. No curious star peeped through
the blanket of clouds, birds no feather stirred,
the air did not stir and all were asleep.
On such a night, awakened by the bleat
of a lamb Urvashi awoke and cried:
“My lamb! My lamb! A thief has stol’n my lamb!
Help! Help! Thief! ” she cried, the bleating faded
into the depths of the dark night. The king
who had heard her call for succour tarried
in bed as he there naked lay and he
had promised the nymph not to show himself
without his loin cloth except at play.
Enraged that he had not showed up to chide
the thief of her favourite lamb, she cried,
“What coward lies in bed when I need help
to catch a thief! Here my lamb is stolen
and there the king refuses to protect
my beloved pet as he had promised to! ”
And, as she spoke, another Gandharva
lifted the second lamb and made away,
enraging Urvashi to the extreme.
Hearing its bleating, in dismay she cried,
“You yellow livered king! Have you no guts
to accost a thief? Is your great glory
nothing but a prefabricated myth
stuck to your royalty like cow-dung cakes? ”

Now the king had no choice but to defend
his own dignity through defence of lambs.
Assuring himself that in this darkness
Urvashi would not see his naked self,
he took his sword and rushed out challenging
the thieves to return stolen property.
And when the Dashyu-killer roared aloud
Vishwavasu, who lay waiting in the clouds,
struck the lighting, which in a flash appeared
in its snaky path and illumined the world.
In this brief flash of lightning Urvashi
witnessed the naked glory of the king,
and, like a brief lightning flash in his life,
having lit up a few years, disappeared,
and darkness swallowed up the sorry king
in its vast maw of desolate emptiness.

Thus in a flash the thieves had stolen all!
Her lambs, his love, their wedded joy, his life!
For Urvashi had vanished like the mist,
and she was there but not for mortal eyes
to see her, nor for mortal hands to touch.
And in this dark confusion of alarms,
of thefts, of loss, of painful, painful loss,
the king addressed his love and shed sad tears:
“Come back Urvashi! I meant you no harm!
Go not away! O leave me not alone!
Shall I, a corpse interred into dark night,
hope for a spark of light eternally?
And, not finding one, remain a ghoul
that knows no joy but what must as recalled
agonise the soul by fuelling pain?
Can it be this that you want for me?
Come back Urvashi! O, come back to me!
'Tis they who are to blame for this, not I!
Thieves! Robbers! Looters of my happiness!
Why could you not have asked for treasures rich?
I would have offered you the whole kingdom
had you but asked! But you have stolen more!
What do you gain by stealing another’s joy?
Have pity upon this poor weeping thing
and return my beloved Urvashi to me! ”

Hope

O wipe me off the face of night!
I stain its darkness pure!
My existence remains a blight
In time and space, I’m sure!

I choke and pant and rave and rant,
I clutch my dark, black hair,
I tear the flowers, kick the plant,
My clothes and body tear.

I challenge heaven that to be
Unfair as it has been
Is a self-contradiction, see!
A loss of shine and sheen!

Is there a zombie that walks here
Bereft of heart and head?
If they’ve stolen my heart, O dear!
I cannot but be dead!

If I, a ghoul, am yet alive,
I know not north from south;
On hopes of finding her I thrive,
Voiceless, with open mouth!

I stare and stare but little see
What makes a sense at all,
I grope around, my fingers smell
The taste of my own pall!

Hallucinating oft I haste
Towards an empty field,
And, not finding her, I rest
To move on strength I build.

Sometimes I look for a vine
As might my lover yield,
Or at sunset a bird divine
To alight in the field

And hope that transformations fine
May yet my wish fulfil,
Convinced that Urvashi divine
Will come to me.... She will!

Slapped by the knowledge of his fear come true,
yielding to insanity by slow degrees,
into the darkness the king howled like mad:
'My Love! My Love! Thieves have stolen my Love!
Help! Help! Thieves! They trample all over me! '
And when the silent music of darkest night
stirred the despondence of his heavy heart,
he questioned the unfeeling Void, 'Did I
not answer your dire summons for help?
And are you now so deaf to my request?
Cruel Night! Cruel Nymph! Cruel Heaven!
How you conspire together to wipe out
this stain on pure darkness, this living man,
that by the dim light of hope challenges
the chaos of existence with his love!
Falsest pretender of love! Urvashi!
The love I understand cannot desert
a quick and responsive heart come what may.
It showers eternally like Ganga
from matted locks to warm, espousing laps,
but yours is intermittent like a flow
obstructed by designs of cruel fate.
You come and go according to your wish
and care not how each fragment of my heart
multiplies the pangs of separation,
as if each fragment were a heart itself.
O Urvashi! If all this is untrue,
flutter down to me for I still love you! '

Like dark condensations of silent night,
her absence spread over his happiness
increasing the opacity of thought
and tingling with pain wherever it touched.
Unconscious of his nakedness, the king
bewailed his sorry plight and, sword in hand,
he wandered around the forest at night
and walked the road by day to the dismay
of everyone who saw him in this state.
To him the spirit of the universe
was Urvashi and when she flew away
the world was dead and he was just a ghost
wandering in search of salvation, which
was hard to find, for life was left behind
and time frozen in the eternal dark.
Instead of quest, this was a mournful gait
of a forsaken soul weighed down with pain,
a painful walk where the deserted soul,
feeling the bite of a pang called love,
hoped against hope to meet his lover again.

Thus the distraught king paced the empty world
heavy as lead and lost as in a fog,
with a single image in his crazed mind:
that of celestial Urvashi. For long
did he wander around, for long he wept,
for long he laughed aloud like one insane,
for long he gazed at the bright moon, for long
closed his eyes as if in meditation
and worshipped the image of Urvashi
in his crazed heart. This time there seemed no hope
of ever encountering her again,
but hopelessly did he hope to regain
his paradise, his life, his love. And though
none could dissuade him from futile search,
none ever wished the search would be futile;
since miracles had happened in the past,
all hoped with him for miracles again
to soothe his sorrow and to ease his pain.

Thus for many years he wandered around
like a fakir, but not in quest of truth,
for heavenly beauty like good old wine
had burst the mortal chambers of his heart
and spilled all out into the empty air!
He sought to gather the spilled wine of life,
but all in vain! So, when in misery,
for him the jewelled crown, the palace rich,
and strength and power to command at will
were things alike to roadside stones and bush
which had nor worth in them, nor in his life.
For indeed it is the perfume of love
that enlivens the world, adds worth to it,
strengthens relationships, and brings us joy.
Without love, there is no kindness, pity,
mercy or forgiveness. No visions rise
to create a home for the weak young ones
whose future is a construction of love.
So, love it was he sought to find and share,
to give, to receive, to transpire, to feel,
to bask in, to bathe in, to breathe as well,
to feel at home where home was Urvashi.
For through such sustained love, which like a flame
illumined the path to eternal bliss,
he sought the goal of life. The rest was fake!
Fake as the ornaments of cow-dung cakes!

Wandering for endless days on sore feet,
he arrived one day at Kurukshetra
where, besides a pristine, holy river,
he saw a group of pilgrims bathe and pray.
And in this group, amidst a scattered crowd,
some pretty maids prepared to take a dip.
He wondered at the beauty of their form
even from behind, saw their slender hips
outlined in the wet clothes that stuck to them.
He saw the flowers stuck to hairdos large
and wondered if such flowers bloomed on earth.
He saw the lucid shoulder skin and thought
he knew its lustre from a divine nymph.
Approaching closer yet with decent care,
he recognized the worship of his heart
and leaped forth into the river like one
that would either grab the celestial maid
or drown and die rather than live alone.
Was it his tear or water, I don’t know,
that rippled down the bed of wooded banks,
drowning earth, aspiring to rise in air,
the sweet realm of Indra and Gandharvas?
Was it his tear or water, I don’t know,
in which the maidens bathed? And which they poured
from their cupped palms like white lily cups
as offerings to gods with prayers sweet!
So much he wept that tears restored his sense,
softened fairy hearts and had such immense
influence upon Urvashi that she
tarried to cheer him up and kindly said,
“You fickle heart! Where has your courage gone?
You are a king! And kings don’t weep but they
with a thousand daughters of pleasure play
in their courts. Can you not forget one nymph
and live a happy life amidst your pomp?
O, had you not broken the dear contract,
you would not wander weeping far and wide;
know, dear king, I have a soft spot for you
in my heart and, because of this, I shall
plead your case with Chitraratha, the chief
of the Gandharvas, for ‘twas they connived
to make you break the contract ‘gainst your will.”

“Stay with me or else do take me with you
to plead our case together, ” said the king.
“That, I cannot do! ” replied Urvashi.
“Then watch me jump into the current here!
For life is empty when the future’s bleak,
the promise of happiness is denied
and there is nothing to look forward to.”
She knew he spoke the truth and understood
the mortal heart in agony and said,
“Despair does not become your majesty,
nor does this foolish talk of suicide;
and kings are kings because they are not slaves
to any single woman that they love.
The lovely female is an enchantress
who gathers all desires into one
single flame of love and blinds the lover
to all other possibilities of life.
Do come to your senses and forget me! ”
And when the king replied that normal sense
was source of abnormal suffering, she
continued, “In that case, I promise to
meet you once a year at this very bank
if you promise me not to harm yourself.”
So, with this pact, the nymph and all her mates
went to Sworga. The king who now had cause
to live went back happy to his palace,
but returned every year to meet his love
who every year appeared at that same spot
and bore him many sons each blessed year.

Once, she came with several Gandharvas
who spoke to him of possibility
of ever being seated at their side
in the presence of Urvashi. They said,
“Love is a joy, but duty is a must.
This fulfils our intimate desire,
but that, by lifting us well above
mere longings of the heart, makes us a part
of our community, which then to serve
is to divide the dancing flame of love
into multiple tips that touch all hearts.
So, take this fire and with proper rites
divide it into three flames and you will
receive our boon: with Urvashi you shall
be reunited forever, never
to part again! ” To this the king agreed
and, holding the fire-pot, home he went.
But on his way through the jungle he thought
he had been sorely deceived: instead of
Urvashi, he had returned with a pot!
Regretting his act, he left the fire
in the jungle and went home. But again
when he rethought the deal, he thought he had
forsaken a golden opportunity
to be reunited with Urvashi.
So, early next morning rising before
the sun, he set out in quest of the pot
he had abandoned in the forest deep
but found it not. Instead a sami tree
stood in its place, slender and tall as he.
Gathering its wood and branches, he took
these home to build a blazing flame, which he
divided into fires of the wood,
the intellect and intuition too.
Thus did he offer the world new fires
for daily sacrifices and fulfilled
the purpose of his existence on earth
and with the fire of love which he kept
well-kindled in his heart, he succeeded
in regaining Urvashi whom he loved
more than the common populace. And thus
when he gained access to the airy realm
of the Gandharvas, besides his beloved
he sat in a golden throne as they sang
the exploits of his love in bright-lit heaven
and poets of the earth retold the same
augmenting at each telling Love’s great fame.

Submitted: Wednesday, April 09, 2014
Edited: Thursday, April 10, 2014

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

Tells the story of love between King Pururava (a hero) and Urvashi (a fairy dancer of heaven) .

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