This story is a sequel to my earlier post in poetry
Story of a Ruin
I thought of reposting this story during Navratri. My best wishes to all of my dear readers. May the goddess of learning bless us all…
A young scholarly man well versed in the scriptures who had set out on a journey to many great lands in the peninsula happened to come across a temple in a place near the Vindhya mountain range that stretched from the east to the west across the country. It was sometime afternoon maybe when the Sun was thinking of winding up for the day in a couple of hours and the hot sand was in the process of cooling much to the delight of Charna, the horse of Vedavalkya who was galloping at a cruising speed while his master observed the beauty of the place they had come to, but not before crossing a mighty river at a shallow point some miles away, though it seemed only a few moments ago.
Amidst the groves some distance away, he could see an ancient temple and reined Charna towards it as the destination. Vedavalkya thought there would be some habitation near it where he and the horse could rest for the night before proceeding to Magadha which was still a few days away. At a distance of a few miles, he could see a few hills jutting out of a thick forest. Having brought the horse to a halt, he alighted and looked around the precincts of the shrine but could find none to his surprise. He bound the horse to a rock with a short rope, which Charna could break loose easily if some calamity approached. Maybe there would be habitations at the backyard,thought Veda as he walked across.
No sooner had he put a few steps, when from nowhere a group of bandits on horses came up and were bent on injuring him. One of them rushed upon him on a dark horse and swished a dagger at Veda who while sidetracking him and the horse fell on the soft sand. The leader of them and the few others laughed at his plight. Before they could proceed to rob him of whatever valuables on his self and injure him, they all were startled to hear a laughter that came from a lady who had appeared on the steps of the temple. Veda was surprised to see a beautiful girl nay a lady, dressed in an attire which only the well to do could afford, and who though looked at him with soft eyes, was at the same time laughing at the band of thugs, who took to their heels and vanished into the distant forest from where they had appeared to come.
Getting up, disheveled from the sand, his long hair matted with the dust, he got up and approached the young lady and with folded hands asked, ” Oh Devi, from where have you thus appeared to save me in time?” to which she replied with a assuring smile, “Why, isn’t this place mine, where I have resided for a long time? I was watching you for long and was wondering if you would miss this place on your journey in your quest for furthering your knowledge“.
“I am deeply indebted to you for saving me, but am also confused as to how your pleasing laughter to the ears caused the bandits to flee in fright?” asked Veda. “That is another story, which I would narrate along some day, but now you look very tired, why don’t you get fresh with the water near that well and I am sure you would find some fodder for your horse near the barn and the hut you see yonder“.
Veda approached the well, cleaned himself of the mud, drank some cool water and took a wide vessel that appeared to be a drinking pot for the cow standing there and munching and observing the stranger that was him. He then went up to the barn and took two sheaves of hay for Charna and walked beside the hut and observed the open door it had. There was nobody it seemed at first glance, but then there was a glow coming from someplace inside it. Though curious, it seemed inappropriate to trespass as per his morals, and he walked up to the steed and handed it to him along with the vessel of water for him to drink.
“Call me Mitra” the voice came from so near that he almost jumped. She was standing at a distance smiling at his bewilderment but the voice seemed so close as if she was whispering in his ear. There seemed to some aura about her but he couldn’t pin point it down as to what it was. “Why don’t you take a bath in the river and come for the evening prayers?, the offerings are ready for the Goddess in the shrine” to which he consented and hurriedly walked across to the river flowing at its own sweet pace. It was quite some time he had taken a bath in a river in the last two days and the warm water did him good to clear up the fatigue in his body.
With fresh clothing from his haversack, he groomed himself to let the water drain from his long flowing hair before he climbed the steps of this seeming divine temple. Built in solid rock columns it somehow gave the impression that this temple was hewn out of a solid rock that existed ages ago at this place. He came near the sanctum and was surprised to see the worship items that had been arranged in front of the deity along with a few well lit lamps. It was his turn to get dazzled as the form of the goddess which appeared dark so far dazzled in a slow ever growing glow and became so bright that he could not look at her for more time. He prostrated before the divine and by the time, he got up after his prayers, the form had subsided to the initial warm glow resembling the presence of a smoldering fire within.
Veda got up and sat in meditation for quite some time into the night before he got up and was aware of his surroundings. The form of the goddess had assumed the original dark hue. The items of worship had disappeared and there was only the sound of the owl and the crickets in the silence. Charna was sleeping in his standing position as all horses did especially when it was not familiar territory and the sounds from the nearby forest not helping much as assurance to the poor creature.
There was no sign of Mitra, whom he thought would have retired to the hut or a row of huts behind the barn. This was no time to enquire and he took a sheet and laid it on the steps and was sound asleep in a few moments.
When it was dawn as heralded by the chirping of the birds and the neigh of Charna, Veda woke up just in time or so he thought, before Mitra could chide him for sleeping so late. Although an early riser, the travel had left him a bit tired. He rushed to the river had a quick bath and returned in time to take Charna for a quick gallop around the place before he could think of having some food. The horse was happy to go places and he set up a pace which would take them to the perimeter of the forest but Veda checked him not to dwell in too deep for he knew that wild beasts and men existed who would not stoop to venture out to see a welcome meal presented before them in the early morning. He patted on its hind leg and swerved him back to turn towards the temple for he had to meet Mitra, have some grub if she had something to offer and be on his way to the next destination.
The horse trotted its last steps before it stopped for him to descend and survey the barn and the hut and any trace of Mitra. This time, he would have to go near the hut and call her to come out if, as per his thoughts, she stayed in it. “Looking for me“, the voice boomed near along with the chime of anklets as she walked up to him. She had a plate of fruits and a sweet dish ready for him to savor. He gratefully thanked her for it and sat on a stone seat nearby after she had seated herself at a nearby one. “Oh but I should be feeding Charna first“. “I have already done that” she told him as if she read his thoughts. Charna was busy feeding at some grass and sprouts of ground nuts, that she had spread in front of him.
After having the morning ritual prasad/offering presented to the Goddess, he was thinking of leaving when Mitra said, “What is the big hurry, stay here for a few days, be in the company of the Goddess and get her blessings before you set out“. Veda was in two minds, one part of his was now asking him to stay, for he definitely thought there was much more to learn from this place than all the places he had visited so far, but one part was also worried to leave, considering this place looked strange as did Mitra who was smiling at him as if she understood what he must have been thinking.
“Don’t you worry about your stay. You could be lodged in one of the huts behind the barn and your horse can share the barn with the cow until you stay put here”. “But then who stays in the hut next to the well, is that you or someone else?”
“Oh no, that hut is the hermitage of the Sage Dhuwija who happens to stay here for most of the time doing penance. After a week on the full moon day, he will leave this place to the south of the Vindhyas, but before that I will set up a meeting with him. Beware, he is no ordinary sage, he will put you to the test and if you come out of it with success and life, I will reward you“.
“and what reward are you thinking of giving to me after the meeting”, in half jest asked a smiling Veda. “That will be known to you when the time comes. Come, now I will show your lodging so that you can see if it suits you well or do I need to set something else there“. “I am a wandering pundit in search of knowledge, don’t bestow any more luxuries than I need at this moment”, said Veda.
“What is it that you seek Vedavalkya?, asked Mitra, “is it just knowledge or something more“. How did she know my name, or did I tell her already, he seemed confused but answered “I seek knowledge to refurbish my soul and in the material context, i need knowledge to govern for I am the prince of Videha and the kingdom has seen better days than the present state it is in now. I have been sent out by my ageing father to seek that knowledge to administer them and the power to be invincible to seek protection from my neighbors when ever the need arises. For a King to rule wise and well and protect his subjects, he himself should get a shield of protection from the Lord without which he would be subjected to many attempts of disconcert and a ruler who falls to a mortal wound takes his state along with him”. Hmm pondered Mitra looking so deep into his eyes, he wondered if he could stare back without blinking at those beautiful yet striking eyes. The case of the bandits fleeing at her laughter was still in the back of his mind, but he had not ventured to ask her, what it was that made them flee! Just plain laughter it could not be, there was something more, but some times the glance and her ever knowing face curbed him to voice his thoughts. By now, he was sure she was a mind reader and kept quiet.
She showed him the hut and asked him to meditate for a week, “Just take plain water and the fruits that I bring to you in the morning, that should be enough for the rest of the day. Come to the temple in the evening and offer your salutations to Her and seek her blessings. Get up in the morning, be at the river as the first rays of the Sun fall upon you. Never ride your horse during these seven days till I ask you to. Remember these, I will meet you every evening when you come up the temple steps and do not wish to seek me, any other time”. So be it, with folded hands said Veda to the ever smiling Mitra but when she had said all these, he had seen streaks of some sternness in her eyes or did he feel that way, he was not sure. She appeared to be the same age as him, but sometimes when she talked especially when she put forward the commandments, she appeared to be ageless.
Veda surveyed the interior of the small hut, there was a wooden bed and a box to keep his belongings, a couple of windows to the east and one to the west all made up with matted reed and leaves and some wooden finish here and there. There was a lamp lit inside in one corner. there was a rack of a fresh set of clothes for him kept for use. Was there some divine help here or who else could furnish these things at such short notice, or were they kept for some guest who was expected here, he knew not. A leafy tray of fresh chosen fruits was kept for him. They looked inviting and delicious and he had his fill before he ventured out for a walk. He carefully avoided the hut near the well, thinking he might spot Mitra and thus break the vow he had promised and came back in a span of an hour spying Charna happily grazing in the barn next to the cow who looked at him as he came near. Putting his hands on her head to which she did not express anything, he then ruffled the mane on Charna before going back to his hut and set himself up for meditation. He closed his eyes and the form of the Goddess came to him. He focused himself on her and sat in a deep trance for many a hour he knew not. The slanting rays of the sun through the window caught his eyes and disturbed them and when he opened his eyes, he knew evening was fast approaching.
As per Mitra, he prepared himself for the evening salutations, by going to the river, taking a bath, donning a fresh set of clothes, he hurried back through the sand to be in time for the evening ritual. As he climbed the first step, Mitra met him on her way out, telling him to light the lamps and pray to the Goddess for divine help to achieve his goals. Just as the previous day, Mitra had kept all the worship paraphernalia ready. He lit the lamps and looked up with folded hands towards the Goddess.
The glow as the previous day appeared, as he prayed to her and when he opened his eyes, he could see the Goddess divine in all her splendour exuding rays filling the places with the atoms of light striking him and rebounding back. He felt as if washed by her glory and a strength that seemed to grow in his mind and body as he stood there. Finally he prostrated again at her feet for many long moments and as he got up, the glow had subsided and strangely the offerings had disappeared. He stood again hoping Mitra would appear but there was no sign of her coming and he bowed down again before coming down the steps back to the hut by the barn.
After seven days of such ritual followed strictly by Vedavalkya, on the seventh evening as he got down the steps, Mitra was smiling at him standing next to him, from where she appeared all of a sudden, he was at a loss to explain. So you have passed the first test well, Veda and now tomorrow I will usher your self to the holy Dhuwija who would test your knowledge. You should answer him to the best of your knowledge though there will be some harsh tests you would be subjected to at the same time”. “What harsh tests? gasped he “that you will find out in due course, but do not lose hope and maintain your calm however rigorous it may seem for the rewards are great”.
They walked together to his hut but she did not enter and bade him good sleep. He stood at the door as she walked across to the next hut at quite some distance and disappeared into it. He wondered when he would ask her the question, who she was, but then there was still time to ask it, but first he thought of how he would fare with the Sage. Mentally he said his prayers and went to sleep. In his dream he saw that Mitra was riding his horse and had ventured into the forest to seek out the bandits and their hideout. She rode daringly with Charna getting accustomed to her style as if he knew her for ages. Presently as the bandits came out, all swords in hand, she raised her hand and to his wonder, he could see her hand now wielding a spear. She threw it on one of the men and nailed him. Others rushed on to her giving huge cries, but then she came down from the horse and in a maze of dexterity what he could see in a matter of moments was, everyone had hit the dust and it was at that time Veda saw Charna hit on his side by a small wound from one of the swords of a bandit. She looked back at Veda, he who was hiding behind the trees. That look was really fearful and he got up from his dream sweating. After having a mug of water, he got up surveyed the surroundings, everything seemed peaceful. Everything looked fine and then he went back to sleep and got up only in the early morning.
The next day morning Vedavalkya got up, had his morning ablutions done and prepared himself mentally by meditating on the Goddess and was he charmed to see Mitra’s eyes upon him as he opened his door. “It is time for me to introduce you to the rishi. Be calm and answer his questions. Once he acknowledges you, then maybe you can be free to ask yours. But I again warn you, during this time you have to be fearless and not of weak mind as you will be tested as required by the Sage”.
They walked beside the barn, and he looked to Charna and immediately saw the fester caused by the wound, so the dream was true, he thought. He didn’t look at Mitra much less ask her about last night’s foray into the forest made by her. Not dwelling even a moment to pause by his dear horse, he moved on, accompanied by the young lady. She got in and foretold about Veda’s visit to the Sage and came out. She looked once at him and walked away to the temple. With slight hesitation, Veda stood at the doorstep, when again he was startled by her ‘now go inside‘ voice that came so close even though she was a good 20 steps away from him now.
He stepped in, the hut had a glow of the sun, the glow of enlightenment, wisdom, knowledge all put together. The sage welcomed him and asked him to take a seat opposite to him on a seat of grass which it seemed was hot with embers and dark ashes. Obediently he sat with a clear mind, the seat was fine, maybe it was a glow, it was not hot at all.
“Son, what do you seek? Do you seek wealth, knowledge or wish to live long?”
“Sire, I seek knowledge and your blessings so that I might live long to accomplish my mission of imparting peace and justice to my people of Videha“.
“It is good that you seek the welfare of others along with the self and not at the expense of others“, said the Sage.
“I see that you have read the scriptures well, that shows on your face but I want to test your determination and courage while testing how far you will suffer to get these“.
“I will ask you 5 questions, son be prepared. Answer them best as you could, formulate and answer them in your mind if not through your tongue“.
“Yes Sire, I am all ears..” to which the sage smiled and said, “only the ears to hear the question would be sufficient“.
“My first question dear, what are the six means of knowledge to know the self?”
Veda replied they are “Pratyaksha—–Under this comes our five senses—-Visual, Auditory,Touch,Taste, and Smell. Also our thoughts &emotions in our mind. They are also directly known or seen.
Anumana—–We do not directly see the object in reference, yet we associate two things cause of experience. Like if we see smoke,we instantly conclude that there must be fire somewhere.
Upamana In comparision. Like we see a new animal and come to know about it with reference to a similar thing seen earlier.
Arthapatti—-is presumption. Like if someone is fat and he says I do not eat the whole day, we persume he may be eating at night.
Anupalabdhi—–Means non-availability or non-existence. We know very clearly the absence of a particular thing or person by it’s non-availability at this time & place.
Sabdha—–Means the words of a knowledgeable person.It is a revelation about something by a wise person.
Just as he had answered the first question satisfactorily, to his horror, the seat on which he sat became hot and hotter, so that he could think of nothing else but the fat melting and the smell of burnt skin, but he stay put where he was, remembering Mitra of the experiences he would have to face while facing the venerable sage.
Somehow he lost the sense of smell and the pain dulled as the Sage went on to ask his next question. “Who is the person whom we consider wise?”
Veda’s tongue seemed to weigh a ton now as he could not lift it to answer, try as he might. Then he thought of Mitra and the Goddess and saluted her in his agony and mentally answered to the Sage,” It is the wise man who beholds all beings in the self and the self in all beings and it is for that very reason he does not hate anyone“. Veda looked down and to his horror, he now knew why he couldn’t spell the answer, as his very tongue was lying beside him. This could only be a dream he thought, but the seat again started getting hot and Veda waited for the Sage’s next question with abated breath.
“What is one thing that causes bondage and at the same time liberation?”
Veda replied mentally, “It is indeed the mind that is the cause of man’s bondage and liberation. the mind that is attached to sense-objects leads to bondage, while when dissociated from such sense-objects it tends to lead to liberation“.
Just as he had finished answering, his eyes dropped off from its sockets and he went blind but still luckily he could hear as that was good enough for this session.
“How is the atma known?” was the next question put forth.
“The Atma is really worth seeing. One should ‘see’ the Atma by Sravana,Manana,& ‘Niddidhyasana’ which means that one should first hear these scriptures from a ‘right teacher’, then reflect on what is being revealed by ‘Him’, and finally meditate on it ,till the knowledge is assimilated throughly” was his mental answer to the sage.
After this answer he lost his hands and limbs as they were cut off suddenly and scream he couldn’t, the pain he was experiencing already was too much so that the loss of his limbs did not much add to it. He was surprised why he had not fainted by now, and then attributed it to the blessings of the Goddess. Mitra had prepared him for it well in the last seven days.
Now what remained was his trunk and head which lay prostrate in front of the sage. Was the next blow the death blow, he wondered, even ready to take it as it came, if it did come.
“My last question, Son, if you answer well, this trauma and agony should end, but your answer should contain the misery you are experiencing now. Here it is, listen to it carefully. How does the knowledge of the scriptures, the Vedas help you?”
Vedavalkya, a poor semblance of himself answered mentally, “The Vedas cannot show you Brahman, you are That already; they can only help to take away the veil that hides the truth from our eyes. The first veil to vanish is ignorance; and when that is gone, unskillful behavior goes; next desire ceases, selfishness ends, and then all misery disappears”.
The answer was to the point, just as the Sage expected him to. Mighty pleased, the Sage got up and placed his hands on Vedavalkya and blessed him saying, “Your parents had rightly named you as Vedavalkya and you have truly lived up to the name given by them, but answers that were given by you in great agony just as I was sacrificing your body parts as offering to the mighty Goddess who wanted to test you all this while through me, Son, have bestowed on you the new name Yajnavalkya. Go back to your kingdom as I deem you fully fit in the knowledge that you wished to acquire through her blessings. There is no need to go to farther lands, for you are knowledge incarnate with my blessings. Go in peace and take Mitra with you, she is an expanse of the Goddess herself and where ever she is with you, victory will be yours”.
The blessings of the sage made Yajnavalkya whole again as he recovered all what he had lost a while ago and shown with a lustre never before and as the sage took his hand, Mitra stepped in and the sage placed her hand in his.
Both stepped out of the hermitage, the test was over, he had come out successful, just as he had hoped. Mitra was all smiles looking at him as she took him one more time to the temple as though it seemed only a few moments of test, the sun was setting and it was time for the evening ritual. There were a lot of questions he wished to ask Mitra, but again he kept silent till the ritual was over. This time too, she asked him to wait at the steps as she ascended to make the preparations for worship of the Goddess and then came down as he climbed the steps to pray to the Goddess who seemed to be in all her glory. A beam of light from her struck him and with that he knew he was granted immunity from the many perils he would have to face when he would rule over Videha some day in the near future.
After taking her blessings, he came down and saw Mitra waiting for him next to the barn. Charna was being readied by her for the journey back home where she would accompany him, a wise woman to add to his knowledge and hold discourses with him as two equals that would be the pride of Videha as they lived as much as they wanted in the city.
“Are we riding back to Videha this very night?, asked Yajnavalkya. “Sure, why can’t we in this bright moon light”. “and what about the sage and the Goddess? asked he. “You forgot, I told you the Sage would move from here to the south of the Vindhyas on the full moon night and it is fast approaching. As far as the goddess is concerned, her larger expanse remains here for the next person who would come here after a thousand full moons, and a part of her has detached from her to serve her and worship her, the role which I played so far. See, there she is, Vaishnavi, she is all set to take over from me”. Yajnavalkya looked across to the temple and could see a female form waving at her. Assuming courage Yajna asked, “Could you now please tell me, what caused those bandits on the first day of our meeting to flee?”. “My face, Yajna” with a smile Mitra said, “just as it is pleasing to you and for every right minded, it harbors a fearful form that even the evil could never withstand and add it to the laughter emanating will be like the sound of heavy drums sounding next to their ears. So never ask me to show that face to you”. “No No, I am happy to see your smiling face” replied Yajnavalkya as they rode into the moonlight.
In due course of time, Mitra and Yajnavalkya on Charna’s back, rode night and days to reach Videha to the great satisfaction of his father who then relinquished the throne in his favor for a golden period for many years which the people would cherish….
I hope the Goddess who inspired me to write this story blesses every reader who reads this