Maṇimēkhalai

Book V
[Sutamatī and the Kind Bhikṣu]

At sight of the fair form of Maṇimēkhalai, he stood for a moment rapt in admiration of the beauty of her form, like a painter who had just conceived the idea of a beauty for painting.

Realizing however, that it was Maṇimēkhalai herself, enchanting in her beauty like the goddess Lakṣmī dancing in front of the Asuras, his one thought was to enter the pavilion. He went round the crystal wall feeling with his hand for the door, and not finding anything to give indication of an opening, he turned round to Sutamatī and asked her to describe to him what sort of a maiden her companion was. She replied:

‘If she is not attracted by your youthful beauty and will not feast her eyes with the sight of your young [122] form, she is undoubtedly one given to austerity as a result of her previous good deeds. She is capable of invoking imprecations that will not fail. She is one on whom love has no influence.’

The Prince said in reply that when love gains possession of her heart, there is nothing that would restrain her, and that, enchantingly beautiful as she was, he would still make her his own, and turned away from both of them to return to the Palace.

As he turned round, he told Sutamatī that the whole town used to speak of her as one that was left in the midst of a Jain nunnery by a Vidyādhara, and asked her to let him know how it happened that she had given up the Jain hermitage and accompanied Maṇimēkhalai to the garden.

Sutamatī replied that she was the daughter of a Brahman and his wife both of Champa. Having lost her mother early, and while she was still under the guardianship of her father, she was carried off by a Vidyādhara called Mārutavēga, from her native place.

The father, coming in search of her towards the famous bathing ghat of Kanyākumāri ‘constructed by monkeys’, saw her in this town as he was returning after his morning bath in the Kāvēri.

Having enquired how I came to be here, he would not give me up, although I had become unworthy to live among Brahmans, and took upon himself the life of a mendicant beggar to eke out his and my livelihood. In one of his begging rounds a cow, recently in calf, ran at him and tore open his stomach. Holding his entrails in his hand, he came to the hermitage of the Jains, which not long since was my habitation, and sought asylum with them. The inmates of the hermitage rather than give asylum turned me out from there and sent me along with him.

We were wandering in this forlorn condition crying out if there were any kind-hearted people to take [123] us into their protection. A kind-hearted Buddhist Bhikṣu who was coming on his midday round, handing his begging bowl to me, carried my father to the vihāra, where he and his companions lived, and thus helped to dispel my father’s pains and sorrows of death. This hermit Saṅghadharma taught her the teaching of the Buddha:–

‘My king possessed of all good qualities by nature, the object of all good qualities without diminution, having learned by experience various kinds of life in this world, took it upon himself to use his life not for the attainment of his own salvation, but for the exercise of kindness to things living, in order that the whole mass of living beings might attain to that salvation. Thus turning the wheel of the law, he conquered desire. Excepting his beautiful feats and their celebration, I have given up using my tongue for anything else. May you prosper, oh excellent Prince. This in brief is my history!’

Having understood her history, the prince took leave of her, giving her his mind that he would still gain the heart of Maṇimēkhalai through her grandmother Chitrāpatī, and went away from the garden.

Maṇimēkhalai came out from the crystal chamber fixing her eyes upon the Prince, and told Sutamatī:–

‘My heart runs after the Prince, stranger though he is to me, and notwithstanding the fact that he described me as possessed of no virtue, as having no right knowledge for the performance of penance, not having the protection of caste, and liable to be purchased for a price. Instead of feeling angry that he should have thus described me contemptuously, how is it that my heart yearns for him? Is this the nature of what is called Love? If that is so, may it be destroyed.’

Thus saying the two stood for a while where they were. [124]

Just then there appeared in the guise of a lady of the city, the goddess Maṇimēkhalā, with a view to witnessing the celebration of the great festival just then taking place in the city. She went round the pavilion containing the seat of the Buddha, reciting the following laudation:–

‘Shall I describe you as the knowing One, the pure One of good deeds, the ancient One, the exalted One, who knew how to lead life in this world? Shall I describe you as the One who got beyond the reach of love, who was the sure guardian of all, as the One who destroyed the enemy, evil conduct? How shall I describe the feet of him who set the wheel of a thousand spokes in motion, without a thousand tongues to describe with?’

Having said this, the goddess Maṇimēkhalā came down to the earth like a gem emitting fire and stood aside. Just then the setting sun sent across a bright effulgence of light on the palace tower which was the face of the lady, the city of Puhār. All nature began slowly to transform itself from the aspect of day into that of evening, when darkness strode in into the beautiful garden just like a young woman, who, having lost her husband on the field of battle, returns, with nothing of her bright cheerfulness, to her parents.