• Parabaas
    Parabaas : পরবাস : বাংলা ভাষা, সাহিত্য ও সংস্কৃতি
  • পরবাস | Buddhadeva Bose | Drama
  • The Hermit and the Courtesan : Buddhadeva Bose

    When the kingdom of Anga was hit with drought and famine, the wise men said that the remedy lay in Rishyashringa, a young, forest-dwelling hermit, absolutely pure and chaste, ignorant even of the existence of women. The evil time would end if this hermit could be enticed into the kingdom: that was the prophecy.

    Assured of a handsome reward, an old courtesan accepted this difficult undertaking. She sent her daughter, who was young, beautiful, and perfectly trained, to visit the hermit at a time when his austere and vigilant father was away. The young girl succeeded in the enterprise; Rishyashringa was seduced and carried off to the capital, and at once it began to rain. The king gave Rishyshringa his daughter as bride. When, after a year, the princess was delivered of a son, Rishyashringa returned to his forest-grove.

    It is in this form that this legend is given in the Mahabharata (Vanaparva); other versions exist, including one in Dashakumara-charita (Ch.7). It has its origin in the Rig-vedic myth of Indra’s “freeing of the waters”, and is believed to be one of the oldest legends of the Indo-European peoples. According to Jessie L. Weston , author of From Ritual to Romance, it is related with the older, non-Christian part of the Holy Grail legend.

    On this legend is based the four-act play, Tapasvi O Tarangini (published, 1966), from which the second act is here presented in translation.

    [It is early morning at Rishyashringa’s forest-grove. Rishyashringa is seen standing at the door of the cottage.]

    RISHYASHRINGA. Sun, I salute you. Greetings, O wind, my friend. Trees, birds, creepers, I love you all. Shared with you, sheltered by you is my existence, and thus I am blessed. My life, my breath, my eyes, ears, and skin--you, too, are dear to me. I rejoice in you, protectors and companions of my soul. Beautiful are you, O ascending Day, beautiful is your ending. And night, you stars, you growing and dwindling moon, you also are peerless. How happy the rows of ants on earth, how happy in darkness are the clustered fireflies! You who move all day, and you nocturnal creatures--I call you all my kin. In you, and in me, the same Soul is sovereign. He is the bridge, the connecting link, the All-in-all. The Absolute, the Brahman, the Unspendable One. Sight in my eye, hearing in my ear, the sense of touch in my skin: all is He. Water is He, and food: fire, and the firmament; luster in light, and darkness in the dark. Him I salute. Animals who breathe, trees who cleave the earth, and woods, stones, and running streams--you who move or are motionless, are insensate or sensible--to you I make my obeisance.

    [Offstage, faint music of flutes, coming from afar. Rishyashringa does not hear.]

    Fluent are my days as they pass. Up in the third watch of the night; the bath at dawn, the yogic posture, the breathing exercises, meditation, the chanting of hymns. The cow to be milked, firewood to be gathered, the sacred fire to be kept up, the worship to be prepared, the sacred pots to be cleaned: these are the tasks of my forenoons. Afternoons I have sessions with my father: the subject of our study is the Vedas with all their limbs, and the end–of–the Vedas as well. An extremely abstruse science, so Father tells me. But I feel it is all very simple, clear and convincing as daylight. I am not intellectually gifted as father is: I cannot grasp any debatable points. When, at dusk, we rest our bodies on deerskins after eating some fruit, I submit one or two questions to Father. He says the Brahman-science is not accessible to all; for that, loneliness is enjoined, and utter concentration. Over there, on the other bank of the river, is a crowded city where people are false in speech, willful in conduct, and impure in their pursuits: so I have heard Father say. But I ask myself: which is the creature but wants to rejoice? And one whose goal is joy, can he but long for Brahman? What else is there desirable? I have heard Father say that these forests have ghouls and ogres roaming in them, that I must be on my guard when he is away. But I feel no fear. Ghouls, ogres, flesh-eating beasts--why should they injure me? And how should I know which ogre is a god in disguise, and which beast a sage under a curse?

    [Offstage, music of stringed instruments, nearer now. Rishyashringa does not hear.]

    But in this world of mortals nothing is uninterrupted; I have my bad days, too. Then it seems my daylong devotions are but a habit, all unfelt in my inmost being. Then fire sheds no brightness, the wind is stilled, and my heart closed to Vedic rhythms. But again, there are days when my vision grows lucid, I see all things as meaningful, a godly light sets my thoughts aglow. One such day is this.

    [Offstage, music of instruments grows clearer. Rishyashringa catches the sound, strains his ears to listen.]

    Sweet, how sweet are these notes! Like my deepest longings embodied in sound. Wherefrom? Nearby is no other hermitage. Have some acolytes just arrived, singing hymns to the gods?

    [Offstage, chorus of women sing]

    Awake, the breath that stirred
    When Vishnu’s lotus bloomed,
    And Emptiness was split
    Into multitudinous forms;

    And on the frozen mountain-peak
    Warmth of woman fell,
    And, wearied of loneliness, the One
    Assumed a dual role.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Profound—exalted--superbly sweet! A hymn I had never heard before--who was the sage who sang it first? And what marvellous voices--like the notes of the koel, the gurgling of rivulets--no, sweeter still. Who could these acolytes be? I think they have progressed far in their austerities, but I am still a beginner. Many are the sacred songs I haven’t yet heard, and the sciences I don’t yet know. My heart goes out to them--those virtuous ones-- like a swan drawn toward the Crystal Mountain.

    [ Tarangini enters. Her steps are slow, her garments colourful and diaphanous, her every limb is adorned with ornament. She carries various offerings in her hand.]

    TARANGINI. (putting down the offerings). Jewel of devotion, does all go well with you? No lack of fruits in this forest, I presume? And your father--surely his splendour has not diminished? And you breathe happily, I hope? It’s my hankering to see you has brought me here.

    RISHYASHRINGA. (remains silent for a while, gazing intently at his guest). Hermit, who are you? Which holy place is the seat of your piety? How hard were the mortifications that gave you this body of gold? (Observing Tarangini from head to foot) A god under a curse, are you? Or have you descended from Heaven to reward me for some good work I had performed unwittingly? How bright the rays of your virtue, how compassionate is your glance, how rich in loveliness your speech! I feel a rare gratification, just at the sight of you. Do accept my homage.

    TARANGINI. Best of sages, I am not worthy of your salutation; it is I who should offer you homage. I approach you with a prayer; grant me your help in the performance of my vows.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Talented one, what can I offer you as a gift? You shine like a brilliant thought, an image of godly genius. Are you, then, one of the wise ones who had seen the Lighted Shore across the seas of darkness? Beauty sits on your face, O hermit, your body is like sacred flames untainted by smoke, your arms and neck and hips move to the rhythms of the Rik metre. Joy flows from your eyes, joy gives motion to your feet; your lips are lit with universal compassion. Wait a moment, good sir, while I bring you food-offering and water to wash your feet.

    [Exit Rishyashringa . Tarangini watches him go.]

    TARANGINI. I never thought it would be so easy, but the outcome is still uncertain. What I need is self-confidence, and self-control. A single mistake--a moment’s unmindfulness--and I may have to return in shame…. “Joy flows from your eyes, joy gives motion to your feet!” Has he really taken me for a sage, or a fallen god? (Laughing gently) Boy, a mere boy! Has never seen a woman, nor a young man, either. But are there no pools in this forest? Hasn’t he ever seen himself--in some limpid sheet of water--on a windless, unclouded afternoon? “Beauty sits on your face, like sacred flames your body!”--Who is saying this, and to whom! (Pause.) I know I am not ill-favoured, I am known as a beauty in town—but--why haven’t I heard this said before, in tones like these? (Pause.) How he had fixed his gaze on me! Was it I he was looking at? (Glancing at her arms, thighs, and feet) Tell me, Mother, am I really so beautiful? My lovers in the city of Champa tell me--really? (After a pause, with a ripple of laughter) What a joke would it be--a priceless joke--when on going back I relate this story to my set, gathered together at my house. They’ll all be there--my pretty beaux--Chandraketu, Adhikarna, Rivu, Devala, Puranjaya--and my dear companions the girls--Ratimanjari, Bamakshi, Anjana, Jabala, and the rest--we’ll sit in a circle with our cups well filled--and then I’ll reel the story in full detail--how I had turned this hermit into a neophyte of the Kama god. How they’ll roar with laughter, on hearing of this Brahmin boy, devoid of common sense! (In a tone of mockery) “Joy flows from your eyes, joy gives . . .”(Is about to laugh out, but stops abruptly.) But better not be jubilant in advance. Be cautious, girl. Remember: ten thousands pieces of gold, and chariots and couches, apparel, jewellery--all worthy of a princess. And if I should fail--what a shame! When I go out into the streets of Champa, they’ll point their fingers at me and say, “Here’s that conceited courtesan, whose pride was crushed by Rishyashringa!” Gay young men, deeming me unworthy, will look around for other girls. I with my mother shall fall from wealth to misery, from fame to black neglect. What a shame! What a foul blot on my character! But no—no--I will not let that happen … Look, here he comes. Is there a man in Champa who equals him in beauty? And will there be a woman luckier than I, if--if I can win this luck for myself? The hour of my trial approaches. May all the Virtues protect me!

    [Enter Rishyashringa, carrying a mat, a jar of water, and some fruits on a leaf-tray.]

    RISHYASHRINGA. I have been long: you are not displeased? I have gathered fruit from the forest and drawn fresh water from the river. And here is a grass-mat, cushioned with deerskin, soft and pleasant to touch. (Putting down the things on the ground) Sit down, sir, perform your ablutions. Here are myrobalan fruits, and some nuts and berries. They have ripened well, it would please my heart if you partake of them at your will. And then, if you hold me dear at all, or affection for me has dawned in you, then rest here for some time; do not leave. My thirst for you grows. You to behold, your words to listen to: that’s what I desire more and more. If indeed you are not a god, why do I feel it’s you I have been waiting for all this time?

    TARANGINI. Gem of holiness, I am no god. I was born in the race of men; to minister to others’ needs is my Way. I have come here to serve you, not to be felicitated. It is against my vows to accept gifts.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Tell me more about your vows.

    TARANGINI. I am sworn to the worship of the Bodiless god.

    RISHYASHRINGA. The Bodiless god? I am not sure I have heard of him. Tell me, how is this worship performed? What are its rules of conduct, its methods, ceremonies? I am quite ignorant; teach me.

    TARANGINI. To give myself away: that is my rule of conduct.

    RISHYASHRINGA. The sages sing the praise of self-sacrifice.

    TARANGINI. Holy sir, I know nothing of the sacred texts. It’s inspiration I go by. To give myself is my enjoyment, and the fulfillment of my being. To give myself to one and all, even as the tree which yields its fruit to bird and beast and insect.

    RISHYASHRINGA. I, too, know little of the divine science. But sometimes I feel I am one with one and all. With beasts, birds, and trees. With the whole universe.

    TARANGINI. Godly one, I am a dualist. Always I search my partner, the other one who will accept me. This is my method. Abandonment of shame and hate is the ceremony I perform.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Tell me, what are the hymns you chant? And have you any rituals?

    TARANGINI. Hymns I sing to Desire, Affection is my ritual, Union-in-joy is the object of my meditation. Singleness is forbidden in my path of virtue. Two acolytes must together perform these vows. And this is why I am here today, to throw myself on your mercy.

    RISHYASHRINGA. It all grows clear now. Why the rising Sun touched my heart with a gentle ray, when with folded hands I saluted him at dawn. Why the singing I heard a little later was so entrancing. They were all announcing this event, this fortune that has befallen me. The spaces of the Sky, the light of the Sun, and Wind, the promoter of motion--gods who blest me this morning--of you they were all messengers.

    TARANGINI. (moving closer to Rishyashringa). I, too, have traveled a long way to come to you, O sage. You are my prayed-for boon. To give myself to you is the good work I want to accomplish.

    RISHYASHRINGA. I am inexperienced in your mode of worship, but command me if I can help.

    TARANGINI.(moving still closer). Not by knowledge is my worship performed, but by loving-devotion. I say to you again: it is you I have chosen and must propitiate. If you should refuse my wish, my vows will not be fulfilled.

    RISHYASHRINGA. (with a magnetized look in his eyes, in a deep voice). I rejoice, O godly being. I await your pleasure.

    [A long pause. The following speech of Tarangini will begin very softly, and become gradually louder. She will move or dance around Rishyashringa in circles, while
    chanting these words.]

    TARANGINI. Comes the time. Let the ritual begin. (faint music, offstage.) Awake, O sleepers. Sleep, O wakeful ones. Let the stone melt, the torrent be freed, and motion prevail. Let the wheel turn, let life be triumphant, let death be triumphant. Seeds in the field, in the field the ploughman; seeds in the womb, water in woman. Seeds, trees, flowers, fruits, seeds, trees. By death the fruit is plucked: so death conquers. Death is rent by the seed; so life conquers. Welcome, sleep, welcome, the fall into the night: welcome, waking, welcome, the night: welcome, waking, welcome, the ascent into light. (Music stops.)--Excellent sir, stay here and do not move, while I praise you and honour you according to the prescribed rules.

    [Tarangini comes forward and stands very close to Rishyashringa, face to face with him.]

    This garland is for you. Accept. (Putting a garland around his neck) This is the first stage of my worship.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Fragrant flowers. Fragrant body. Fragrant breath.

    TARANGINI. But I do not touch the feet of him I worship. I embrace him.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Embrace? As creepers embrace trees?

    TARANGINI. Just so. (Makes a gesture of embrace.) This is the second stage of my worship. I am now duty-bound to kiss your mouth.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Kiss? As the bee kisses the honey-bud?

    TARANGINI. Just so. (Makes the gesture of a kiss.) This is the third stage of my worship. O Jewel of ascetics, I will now offer you the gifts I have brought you, as enjoined by my vows. This fruit is meant for your taking. This food is meant for your taking. This water is meant for your taking. Accept and enjoy them, lord.

    [Rishyashringaa ccepts food and drink from Tarangini’s hands.]

    RISHYASHRINGA. Delicious fruit. Delicious food. Delicious water.

    TARANGINI. Now, sir, please give me what is left over. I eat nothing except the remnants of the man at whose service I put myself. May this fruit be consecrated by you. (Touches a fruit to Rishyashringa’s lips, and eats it.) May this food be consecrated by you. (Touches food to Rishyashringa’s lips, and eats.) May this water be consecrated by you. (Touches a bowl to Rishyashringa’s lips, drinks.) Lord, are you happy?

    RISHYASHRINGA. Honey is water, honey is food, honey is speech, honey is beauty.

    TARANGINI. Honey in glances, honey in odours, honey in touch, and honey in remembrance.

    [Soft music, offstage. During the following speech, Tarangini will move or dance in widening circles, with graceful gestures; offstage, drums will beat to rhythm, marking each of her sentences. Toward to end, she will move further from the center of the stage, scatter flowers on the ground, glance back many a time, and then go out.]

    TARANGINI. (her voice is soft at the start, but grows gradually louder as the tempo quickens. Wakens the beast. Sleep is fled. Lulled are the wakeful ones. Desire stirs, waterfalls foam. Gatherings of cloud, flashes of lightning, the thunder loosed. Descends the rain. Sounding, resounding. From breath to breath, from body to body, from longing to longing--echoes. Athirst is earth, the skies bring solace. Athirst the skies, the seas bring solace. Moisture from oceans, in clouds it congeals, in rain it dissolves. From limb to limb runs lightning, the blood’s on fire, demolished is thought by the thunderbolt. Flames of fire, soar! Pour, torrential waters! For you I thirst, in you my solace. For me you thirst, in me your solace. Raised is the hood of the Serpent, the seas are churned--seething, writhing, seething. Violence of winds, commotion in clouds, filled are the holes of the earth. Raining, straining, streaming.

    [Exit Tarangini. Slowly the stage darkens, and then grows brighter than before. It is nearly noon. Rishyashringa is sitting in front of the cottage, lost in thought. Enter Vibhandaka. He is hairy, uncouth, harsh-looking.]

    VIBHANDAKA. (on entering, with a startled look). How is this? This foul, acrid, impure smell? The hermitage is in disorder. The courtyard is unclean. Here are half-eaten fruits, crushed flowers, water spilled from jars. Who defiled this sacred spot? Looks like marks of evil, signs of some sinful deed. Rishyashringa, my son!

    [Rishyashringa, who was not aware of his father’s presence, now notices him, and stands up.]

    VIBHANDAKA. Son, were you molested by some wild boar this morning? Or did a jealous demon overpower you? How did you spend your forenoon? I see all your tasks remain unaccomplished. Why didn’t you gather the firewood? Or offer oblation to the fire-vessel? Why is the worship not prepared? And did you milk the cow that yields the sacrificial butter?

    RISHYASHRINGA. Father, I observed another vow this morning.

    VIBHANDAKA. Another vow? But you have no other one. You, my son and student, don’t you know that we are ascetics, dwellers-in-Brahman? Rigid is our devotion, our discipline unshakeable. In our observance of rules we do not tolerate the least laxity. Son, you were a mere child when I had initiated you into the holy life. Not a day has passed since then when you violated any of the commandments. But why do you look so different today? Sorrowful, absent-minded, poor in spirit? Why is your gaze fixed at the distance, why that pallor on your face, those sighs and trembling lips? And why, of all things, that garland dangling from your neck? You surely know that the wearing of flowers is forbidden for ascetics?

    RISHYASHRINGA. I was visited by a guest this morning. This garland is a token of his compassion.

    VIBHANDAKA. Who could that person be? Tell me, son, who caused in you this estrangement from yourself? Give me details.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Father, he was a marvellous hermit. Not tall, not short either, resplendent as a god. Golden his complexion, gleaming and blue-black his locks, and arranged in loops and braids. His figure was well shaped and rich in beckoning curves. Like a conch-shell was his neck; his ears like burnished ritual-pots. Large and moist were his eyes, his cheeks had the hue of the infant sun, his face was radiant like Dawn. His arms, breast, and feet were quite hairless; on his breast shone two globes of flesh, exceedingly fair to behold, rounded like the rice-offerings dear to our gods. His garb was pellucid and colorful; his beadstrings sparkled like the rays of the moon; the sacred thread he wore was not like ours at all. Father, the devotional marks on his body were strange and luminous; shaped like wheels or the new moon, and shimmering like drops of water. Melody issues from these objects, whenever he moves his arms or feet-- sweet as our hymns to the gods, or the joyous notes of swans in a lake. It is the sight of this godlike hermit that has overwhelmed me, Father.

    VIBHANDAKA. Did you bid welcome to this person?

    RISHYASHRINGA. I did try to honour him, as laid down in the law. But he declined my offerings out of modesty. “To minister to others is my way; accept my gifts, good sir.” This was what he told me. He sought my help in the observance of his vows, which were dualistic. - - But, Father, why that redness of wrath in your eyes?

    VIBHANDAKA. Did you not drive out that evil apparition?

    RISHYASHRINGA. Evil, did you say? (Radiantly) Father, he looked like a dweller-in-Brahman who could grant the boon Safety-from-Fear.

    VIBHANDAKA. Fool! Ignorant fool!

    RISHYASHRINGA. I do deserve this rebuke, for the progress I have made in my studies is scanty. But my thirst for knowledge increased when I saw him, Father. I realised that many mysteries of worship have not yet been revealed to me.

    VIBHANDAKA. Wrecked! All my precautions wrecked!

    RISHYASHRINGA. Why these apprehensions, Father? I tell you, I observed this visitor very closely, but nowhere in him could I detect a blemish, even as small as a sesame seed. Surely his path of virtue is very exalted; why, else, did I rejoice at the very sight of him, and why this strange new flutter in my heart? Dear father, when he spoke to me all my soul was enraptured, for his voice was like the lyre of some heavenly sage, and his diction sonorous as sacred songs.

    VIBHANDAKA. Folly, alas! Delusion, alas!

    RISHYASHRINGA. Your agitation is ungrounded, Father. When you have heard me to the end, you, too, will be convinced of his transcendent virtue. Plucked from the trees of Heaven they seemed, the fruits he gave me to eat; our berries and nuts are not to be compared with them, in taste or rind or substance. Wonderful water he gave me, too; on drinking it I felt I was transposed to the realm of the king of gods; my body seemed freed from gross matter, as though I could move without touching the earth. Father, aren’t you glad of this luck that has come to me?

    VIBHANDAKA. Stop, Rishyashringa, say no more! My head is splitting.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Permit me; Father, to tell you about his devotions. His voice, when he chants his prayers, is not deep or upraised, but so sweet and tuneful that it touches the inmost soul. After finishing his songs of praise, he, this ascetic of surpassing beauty, stretched his arms and embraced me, as creepers embrace the tree. Then he touched my face with his, and with lips joined to mine he kissed me--as bees kiss the flower. Never before had I known such rapture as spread through my veins at that moment, as if my whole being had tasted of ambrosia. But he did not stop here with me; he moved around me in circles, in motions as graceful as waves; he scattered on the ground garlands of rare fragrance, perfumed the air with his touch, and then returned to his own hermitage. I now miss him, Father; it is because he is out of sight that dejection has mastered me. Father, grant me this wish; let me go away in his search, or bring him back to our grove. His vows I want to observe: jointly with him I want to worship the gods. This my utmost desire I submit to you.

    VIBHANDAKA. Son, you have been deceived!

    RISHYASHRINGA. Deceived!

    VIBHANDAKA. Deceived—tempted--stained with sin!


    VIBHANDAKA. The creature whom you saw and touched was no hermit, nor a virtuous man, nor a man either, but a woman.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Woman? Father, what sort of a being is a woman?

    VIBHANDAKA. Even from the awareness of sin I protected you; there I was wrong. The possibilities of sin are endless, and it moves everywhere. One must know what it is in order to be safe from contamination. Listen, my son. The Begetter-god created two kinds of creatures: male and female. The females are those who receive the seed in their wombs and nourish the offspring with their breast-milk. Son, here in our hermitage you have seen some does, and also our cow with calves. As they among beasts, so are women in the human kind.

    RISHYASHRINGA. If my visitor of this morning was a woman, then, Father, woman is but another name for the perfection of loveliness.

    VIBHANDAKA. Call it utility, son. An instrument of motherhood--well constructed--that’s what a woman amounts to. And that mechanical fitness seems appealing to the menfolk--such is the law of the Begetter-god. How else should mankind be rescued from the jaws of Time, the Devourer? And who will remain to offer those fire-oblations whose fumes are pleasing to the gods? Hence this contrivance of the Fixer of the Law. As fire can be lit only by rubbing two sticks of wood, even so is this. As butter is produced by the combined action of the vessel and the churning rod, even so is this. Like fishes trapped in the nets of fishermen, like moths burnt in a flame to ashes, even so do ignorant men and women perish in each others arms. Eternal is this device-- inviolable.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Then was I, too, born of woman?

    VIBHANDAKA. Yes, my son, you also. Do you want to hear the story of your birth?

    RISHYASHRINGA. Sir, if your patience does not wear out, my attention will not slacken.

    [ Slowly the stage darkens. Then in half-light is seen Vibhandaka as a young man, sitting in a yogic posture, engaged in meditation. Soft music of instruments, offstage. A dancer in diaphanous clothes appears, as in a dream. Vibhandaka opens his eyes; the dream-figure begins to dance. She seems to float in air in rhythmic movements as she glides away and vanishes. Mute acting of Vibhandaka, signifying the awakening of lust. He gets up on his feet, his face grows distorted, he wanders up and down confusedly. Then his glance falls on a young woman of the hunting tribe. He moves toward her, mechanically, as if in a trance. Mute acting of the woman, signifying entreaty and resistance. Beseeching and passionate gestures of Vibhandaka. Piteous gestures of the woman; Vibhandaka grows bold and aggressive. Then the woman is also roused; she gives a voluptuous smile as Vibhandaka stretches his arms toward her. For a moment or two the hermit is seen joined in an embrace with the woman of the wilds. ]

    [ During this scene Vibhandaka and Rishyashringa will not be seen on the stage, but their dialogue will continue. They will speak slowly, with pauses: their speeches and the mute acting will be synchronous. ]

    VIBHANDAKA. Listen, my son. Once, when I was young, I was sitting in meditation on a slope of the Vindhya hill. It was spring: the woodlands were gay with fragrance and the twittering of birds. But I had fixed my mind on the still point of the Brahman. It was then that I suddenly caught sight of Uravashi, in the bright sphere of Aether.

    RISHYASHRINGA.Urvashi? Who is she, Father?

    VIBHANDAKA. The heavenly nymph, Urvashi. A companion of frolic of the gods. A means to hinder the strivers after holiness and make havoc of their vows.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Father, is woman, then, desired by the gods also?

    VIBHANDAKA. Son, the soma-drinkers are nothing but magnified mortals; they, too, perish in the Last Dissolution. They, too, are bidden, not the mover; not endless and without beginning, but merely active agents, subject to the law of Karma, of necessity. He who is immanent, transcendent, eternal, is no other than Brahman. This Brahman we meditate upon. -- But at that moment my thoughts went astray

    RISHYASHRINGA. Father, is she whom you call Urvashi, visible by mortals, too?

    VIBHANDAKA. Maybe it was not Urvashi, really, but an illusion composed of clouds and sunlight. Or perhaps a reflection of my hidden longings. Or a mirage, it may be-- a product of my fasts and loneliness. Nevertheless, my affliction grew intolerable, and I arose from my meditations. Roaming in the woods, my son, I spied a daughter of the wilds, and her I embraced. When in due course the woman was delivered of a son, I picked up the child and came away to another forest--to this hermitage by the river. --Rishyashringa, do not worry about me: I atoned for my sin with severe mortifications.

    [ The stage light up. Young Vibhandaka and the woman of hunting tribe have disappeared. We return to the present time.]

    RISHYASHRINGA. Father, where is my mother now-- that woman of the wilds?

    VIBHANDAKA. I do not know. I immediately lost all interest in her; and on no other woman have I since cast a glance. Since then, I have had only two objects to cherish and contemplate--you, my son, and He who is dearer than sons, the Brahman. Here in this forest you were nursed by the does who gave you their breast; for company you had animals and trees--and had me, your father. Ever since you were little, you have heard me recite the Vedas, the holy smell of oblations has nourished your awakening senses. -- Rishyashringa, have you ever regretted you had no mother to love you?

    RISHYASHRINGA. How can one regret the loss of a thing of which one can form no idea at all?

    VIBHANDAKA. Listen, Rishyashringa, I will now tell you an eternal truth. Woman is the mother, hence a necessity. But for ascetics she is as fatal as for animals the sting of venomous serpents. Most carefully had I kept our grove isolated, bereft of all human association, lest by some mischance our pieties be vanquished through contact with woman. And yet the evil thing has happened--our sacred grove has been polluted by that hell-pit, and you, my son, have been bewitched. It was doom that stood before you this morning, you have seen its cavernous mouth, you have been licked by its lolling tongue. Wake up, Rishyashringa, watch out.

    RISHYASHRINGA. (rather half-heartedly). Command me, sir.

    VIBHANDAKA. Woman is the charmer, desired even by the gods, but ascetics can tear through their web of illusion. Only they. This is why there is none higher than them. Greater than gods are the heavenly sages, adored by Indra the Thunder-bearer, and Varuna the Ocean-lord, and the seven presiding Suns. Heaven trembles at a glance cast from the corner of their eyes. Think of this: only the dwellers-in-Brahman, the absolutely stainless ascetics, can overcome a power which sways all creatures--insects, birds, and beasts, fishes in the water, men, and demons, and demi-gods, and the gods as well. Human they, too, are, these pious ones, creatures as much as the others, but they transcend the law of the created world. What an incredible triumph! What immeasurable courage! You, Rishyashringa, are set on that path of glory. Pure-hearted you are, able to think and discriminate. Do not now slip into error and ruin the fruits of your piety, do not let yourself be caught in the conspiracy of nature. Heed my words: I am your father, an aged man, and yet I know that I am no seer but only an officiating priest, not one of the great-souled ones but only a practitioner of rituals. But you-- in you I have discerned the marks of the true seer. To become a creator of the holy word, not a reciter, merely; to receive a revelation of Brahman, and not merely learn the scriptures: this is your destiny. To you the three worlds will render homage--you, Rishyashringa, son of humble Vibhandaka! My child, do not frustrate me in this hope.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Father, I erred through ignorance today; forgive me. Your teachings have opened my eye of discernment. Now I am rid of fear. Let me go and gather the firewood.

    VIBHANDAKA. Better that I go and bring it, and you stop here at the hermitage. First of all, I must seek out that sinful female and punish her. Perhaps she is hiding somewhere nearby. She will not go unscathed if I catch sight of her. -- Son, remove from your thoughts that unclean apparition. Give no quarter to her, either in your dreams or imaginings. If she returns during my absence, remain firm and unshaken. Sit in a yogic posture and shut your doors of perception. Then no harm will befall you.

    [Exit Vibhandaka.]

    RISHYASHRINGA. (pacing up and down). Woman. … Woman, woman. A new name, a new form, a new word. Another world…. Charmer, weaver of lovely illusions, Uravashi. A new hymn to chant…. A woman of the wilds was my mother. My father had embraced her in the forest …. You, then, are a woman? No hermit, no man either, but a woman? Woman and man, you and I…. Rapture like this, did my father know it? And was my mother entrancing, as you are? … I will refrain from bathing, to retain your vibrant touch. I will forbear from eating, that your kiss may remain in full bloom. I will desist from sleeping, and sink into an infinite contemplation of you. I will renounce all things else…. Where are you? Here -- here -- and here -- just a moment ago, Why not now? Separation from you is my pang, absence from your sight is my anguish. Return ….

    [ Music offstage, soft but quick in tempo. Rishyashringa Strains his ears. ]

    [ Offstage, chorus of women sing.]

    Waken, O beast, waken, O beast, waken, O beast,
    Heart, awake, dreams, awake, pain, awake.
    Sleep no more, sleep no more, sleep no more,
    Comes lightning, comes thunder, comes rain.

    [Enter Tarangini. In the following scene, there will be faint and intermittent music of instruments, offstage.]


    TARANGINI. I have come to say farewell. Why do I see you cheerless?

    RISHYASHRINGA. I suffer.

    TARANGINI. Best of hermits, are you also subject to suffering?

    RISHYASHRINGA. I am burning. And the cause of this--is you.

    TARANGINI. Virtuous one, if I have offended you unawares, do forgive me. Be restored to tranquility and give me leave to go.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Do not go. Do not leave me.

    TARANGINI. But if it is I who have caused your sickness, then the remedy lies in my removal.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Your vows remain unfulfilled.

    TARANGINI. My vows are interminable.

    RISHYASHRINGA. (with open arms). Come, fulfill your vows to the end. Approach.

    TARANGINI. Jewel of devotion, I am afraid. Where is that glance of yours, bright and brimming with mercy? Where is your face -- with that exalted, joyous expression?

    RISHYASHRINGA. I have learnt who you are. A woman.

    TARANGINI. Noble youth, I am your serving-maid.

    RISHYASHRINGA. I have learnt who I am. A man.

    TARANGINI. My beloved you are. My friend. My victim. And my god.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Hunger in me is you. Food I need is you. My consuming desire is you.

    TARANGINI. Treasure of my heart are you.

    RISHYASHRINGA. And you--the fire in my blood.

    TARANGINI. Beauty for me to adore-- is you.

    RISHYASHRINGA. Booty for me to plunder-- is you.

    TARANGINI. Say, you will be mine for ever!

    RISHYASHRINGA. I need you -- you are a necessity.

    TARANGINI. Come, then, come away with me. Come where I can hide you for ever in my heart.

    RISHYASHRINGA. No matter where I go. No matter where I stop. I want you. I want you. I want you. (Moves toward Tarangini with outstretched arms.)

    TARANGINI. Lover, come! Come, my palpable god! Come, salvation!

    RISHYASHRINGA. Charmer, come! Come, palpable body! Come, satisfaction!

    [Slowly the stage darkens. In a dim light are seen Rishyashringa and Tarangini, locked in embrace. This lasts for a moment or two. When the lights go up again, the scene has changed. It is a main street in Champa. The sky is overcast with clouds. Claps of thunder. Flashes of lightning. Offstage, the crowd clamouring. Surrounded by Tarangini and her girl companions, Rishyashringa enters and crosses the stage. At once it begins to rain with a sharp, pattering noise.]

    VOICES OF WOMEN (offstage). Rain! Rain! Rain!

    VOICES OF MEN (offstage). Saviour, we salute you.

    VOICES OF WOMEN (offstage). Provider, we salute you.

    VOICES. OF MEN (offstage). Reviver, we salute you.

    VOICES OF WOMEN (offstage). Blessed is the sage, Rishyashringa!

    VOICES OF MEN (offstage). Blessed is the sage, Rishyashringa!

    VOICES OF MEN AND WOMEN (in chorus, offstage). Blessed is the sage, Rishyashringa!

    ( The curtain comes down on the noise of rain and the crowd’s jubilation.)

    Translated by the author from Bengali.
    Illustrated by Nilanjana Basu. Nilanjana, currently based in California, has been regularly illustrating for Parabaas.

    Published in Parabaas September 29, 2006
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