Sunday, September 21, 2008

The twelve children of a woman of low birth – 3

Vararuchi had won back the confidence of the king in him. Yet, he could not breathe easily. There was one disconcerting thought that haunted the mind of the gentle Brahmin day and night.

True, the conversation among the deities in the forest had given him the clue to the riddle. Yet, they were the very words that made his mind restless. They had said that the girl born on the eventful night to the woman of low caste was to be married by him.The rules of the land did not allow the marriage of a Brahmin with a woman of low birth. If that happened, he would definitely be thrown out of his caste. The king, in that case, would have to abandon him, not for 41 days, but for ever. Such disturbing thoughts continued to torment the otherwise pure mind of Vararuchi.

The impending danger

The change in mood of his friend did not escape the notice of the king. He once asked. “I have a feeling that there is something that is bothering you. Do not hesitate to tell me about it. I am sure that I can find a solution, some way or the other.”

Vararuchi replied. “Your Highness! I do not know how to put this to you. I am aware of a great disaster that is going to fall on this country. That has been tormenting my mind all these days.”

It was the turn of Vikramaditya to feel concerned this time. “Tell me all about it and, if there is a way I can prevent that.”

Vararuchi mentioned the birth of the Paraya girl giving the date and the approximate place. He simply said that the girl was the cause for the disaster looming over the kingdom. “Your majesty, if it pleases you, please do not spare any efforts to find the girl at the earliest and arrange to destroy her without delay.”

The way out

Vikramaditya was in two minds. He had no reason to suspect the truth in the words of his friend. But, killing an innocent child was a sin of the greatest order. He called his ministers and men of learning for consultation into his court. After discussing the issue at length they reached a consensus and a plan. The child was to be placed on a raft and left on the river that flowed through the country into the neighbouring lands. As was the custom, an oil lamp was to be stuck on the head to indicate the status of the child, that it was a caste away. The child, in that way, was placed in the hands of the god. With god’s will, the child would survive. Else, it would perish. Either way, the king could live with a clear conscience. The soldiers had no difficulty in finding the child and executing the king’s orders without delay.

The fate in store

Vararuchi was a happy man. The impending danger in his life was over. He lived happily in the palace reciting poems to the king and engaging in discussions on matters of the world and mind.

Several years passed in that manner. Once, Vararuchi was on a visit to a far away land. It was noon and he was lucky to find the house of a Brahmin just in time for lunch. As was the custom, the Brahmin received Vararuchi with due curtsies. He informed the guest that he could finish his bath (as was the custom, as a way of purification) by which time lunch would be ready.

Vararuchi suddenly got into a mischievous mood. He said. “I have a few conditions to place so that I can accept your hospitality.” “What can they be? If they are within me, I shall try to meet them.”

Then, Vararuchi spelt out what sounded like near impossibilities. “I want a garment made of special silk for change after bath. Then, I want myself to feed one hundred people. I also want 108 dishes for my meal.” They were all very difficult, but, the Brahmin could stretch himself and try to meet them. It was then Vararuchi came out with what sounded like a bombshell. “After meal, I want to eat three people as is my custom. Then four men should hold me up while I take a short nap”.

The host was shocked by the ridiculous conditions. Was he out of his mind? When the Brahmin was trying to recover from his shock there was a voice from inside the house. “Father, tell him that all shall be arranged as per his wish”. (Women and adolescent girls do not appear in front of men who are not related by blood.)Vararuchi also heard the words coming from his host’s daughter. He proceeded to have his bath wondering who could be the girl, so wise as to understand his needs, spoken in riddles.

The stiff conditions

The host was perplexed. He had high regards for the wisdom of his daughter. But, what she undertook to accomplish was beyond his imagination. He accosted her. :”Are you out of your minds to agree to those senseless conditions?” The girl replied. “Father, what our guest wanted is not difficult. It is only that he put them differently. He wants the customary piece (kaupeenam) of cloth (undergarment) to change after bath. It is simply given the name of the special silk. Then, he wants to appease the gods with the usual offerings (vaishvadevam) as Brahmins do before food. It is considered to be equal in merit to feeding one hundred people. He would be satisfied with a dish of curd mixed with ginger to go with rice. Is that not called the ‘108 curry’, as it is thought to be equally good? He, then, wants to chew betel leaves with lime and areca nut. You know, yourself, that it is jokingly called, eating three. Finally after meals, he wants to rest a while on a bed. A bed is, as though held high by four men. Is that not so? In short, what he asked for is nothing out of the ordinary.” The Brahmin was impressed by the wisdom of his daughter.

So was Vararuchi. He was thinking all along while bathing. Was the Brahmin’s daughter so exceptionally intelligent as implied by her reply, in understanding his cleverly put conditions? But, when he finished bath, he got the piece of cloth to change into. He found all the arrangements for making the usual offering to gods. He could get the special dish of curd with rice and was satisfied with his lunch. He found a plate with betel leaves, lime and areca nuts to chew near the bed made ready for him. He was truly satisfied.

Vararuchi was so impressed that he wanted to ask for the hands of the girl. He had remained a bachelor all those years. When the matter was brought up the Brahmin asked for the background of his guest. It was then that he realized that his guest was none other than the famous Vararuchi, the close associate of emperor Vikramaditya. Age was not of much concern in marriage alliances those days. Thus, the proposal was accepted. Vararuchi married the wise daughter of the Brahmin on an auspicious day in a simple ceremony.

(To be continued)

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I am enjoying this story, but especially noted the term caste away versus cast away, (which may have been a Freudian slip), but is nevertheless an excellent pun. (Although I am aware that some would consider "excellent pun" to be an oxymoron)