The Harsha-charita of Banabhatt- english



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The Harsha-charita of Banabhatt- English
Chapter I

THUS runs the tale:-- In former days the Holy One, the Most High, enthroned in his own sphere was reclining on his full-blown lotus couch surrounded by Indra and the other gods; and on a certain occasion he was holding a session, framing questions on the lore of Brahma and enjoying other blameless discussions. As he so sate, adored of the three worlds, the Prajapatis headed by Manu, Daksa, and Caksusa, and all the great sages with the seven Risis worshipped him. Some in chorus chanted the Rik hymns apt for psalmody; some recited the Yajus sentences of worship; some sang aloud the Saman strains of praise. Others rehearsed the Mantras that reveal the ritual of the sacrifice. And there, arising from the differences of their studies, quarrels one with another we heard among them.

        Now there was a certain sage, a great ascetic, by nature excessively choleric, a son of Atri and brother of the moon, by name Durvasas, and he, while brawling with a second sage named Mandapala, being blinded by passion made a discord in singing a Saman. At this silence fell on all the other sages through fear of a curse, while Brahma in the sport of another conversation heeded not. But the divine Sarasvati, a maiden of tender years, now doffing her girlhood and arrayed in youthful beauty, was fanning the great Father with a fly-flap held by her arm's waving tendril. Those sprays, her feet, glowed with a natural red as though flushed by furious stripes, and her steps were musical with a pair of anklets keeping time with them like two disciples intoning the Veda word by word. Her legs produced the illusion of being the pillars of the portal to the city of Love. Her left hand, like a bud, was laid in sport on the chain of her girdle, which tinkled like the murmur of love-sick kala-hamsas. Her body was made pure by a Brahmanical thread, which, hanging from the shoulder, seemed like a coil of virtues that had clung to her through dwelling in the Manasa of the wise: while her necklace, studded with many a pearl and having a brilliant central gem, suggested the path of renunciation, leading midway the sun and lined by many liberated souls. Her quivering lips glowed red as with lac from the feet of all the sciences, which had entered her mouth. In her cheek was reflected an image of Brahma's black deer-skin, as if the moon's deer were come down to hearken to her honeyed song. One eyebrow like a creeper was raised in a disdainful curve, and a stream of tears flowing from the outer corner of her eye seemed to be washing one ear soiled by the discord; while the other ear, revelling in a white full-blown Sindhuvara flower, betokened as with a gleaming smile the intoxication of knowledge. In the flowers of her ear-ornament tribes of devoted bees attended upon her like repeated Oms accompanying the Sruti. Her form was clad in a silken robe fine and spotless as the fabric of thought. In this guise, shedding on all sides the moonlight of her teeth, pure as if of the substance of speech, the goddess Sarasvati, hearing the discord, smiled.

        Seeing her so smiling, ‘Wretch !’ cried the sage, ‘vain in the conceit of a grain of ill-got knowledge, dost jeer at me?’ With these words, shaking his head so that his matted locks, streaming from the broken fillet, seemed by their outpouring yellowness to flood the heavens with an issuing fire of passion; gathering a frown that darkened the chess-board of his forehead, like the presence of the god of death, and recalled the crocodile embellishments upon the faces of Yama's wives; with a red eye offering, as it were, an oblation of his blood to the goddess of pitilessness; imprisoning the gleam of his teeth, as if it were his voice flying in terror at the merciless biting of his lip; altering the tie of the black antelope skin-a scroll of cursing as it were-which was slipping from his shoulder; clasped in every limb by gods, asuras, and sages, who, reflected in his drops of sweat, seemed to have come for refuge in their alarm at the curse; with a hand whose fingers shook with an angry tremor spurning his rosary as though it were a string of syllables clinging with supplications to him; thus, having first rinsed his mouth from his earthen pitcher, he took the water of cursing.

        Meanwhile the great goddess Savitri was seated in corporeal shape near to the Self-existent, wearing a robe of the silken bark of the tree of paradise and white as a mass of ambrosia foam. A shawl of lotus filament was tied in a svastika knot between her swelling bosoms. Three sectarial lines of ashes, banners of triumph, as it were, over the three worlds vanquished by ascetic force, brightened the courtyard of her forehead. Her Vaikaksyaka scarf consisted of a hermit's wrap which hung from her shoulder, white as ambrosia foam, like a Ganges stream bent to a circle by ascetic power. Her left hand held a crystal water-vessel like the lotus calyx whence Brahma arose; and her right, encircled -with a rotary and studded with rugs of shells, was raised aloft, the finger of scorn being scornfully waved as she cried :- ‘Fie on thee, sinner, prey to anger, evil of heart, reft of reason, ignorant of self, false Brahman and pretended sage, outcast, excommunicate, how comes it that, bewildered by thine own offence, thou wouldst curse the divine Sarasvati, mother of the three worlds, fit adoration for throngs of gods, asuras, sages, and mortal men?'

        So she spoke, and abandoning her ascetic's pillow arose, and with her the four incarnate Vedas left their cane seats in wrath, clad in bark garments and holding delicate chowries of Kuca fibres, bearing their hermit's staves, and grasping their round water-vessels like weapons. Under the guise of sweat soma juice, as it were, oozed from them: their foreheads gleamed with the pure ashes of the Agnihotra oblation: their voices echoed the sacred syllable : the quarters of the heavens were oppressed by the weight of their angrily agitated matted-locks: the daylight was darkened by the bulging of their black antelope skins flung round as they girt up their loins: and the world of Brahma vibrated with the coming and going of their passionate panting.

        Whereat in vain besought to mercy by the gods, ‘O reverend sir, be merciful, she is no victim for a curse’; in vain implored by suppliant disciples, ‘Master, forgive one fault’: in vain restrained by Atri, ‘Balk not, my son, the fruit of throe asceticism’; the sage, beside himself with passion, let fall the water of that curse, crying:-‘Ill-mannered girl, I take away from thee this state of pride by knowledge won. Begone downward to the world of mortal men.’ But when Savitri would have answered , curse with curse, 'twas Sarasvati that hindered her, saying:-‘Dear friend, restrain thy wrath: even to Brahmans by birth merely, uninitiated in heart, respect is due.’

        Thereupon, seeing Sarasvati thus cursed, the Lord Brahma uplifted his form, which wore the white sacrificial thread, as though his birth from the lotus had left a fibre clinging about him. With his right hand, which, as its signet ring sent up a spray of emerald rays, seemed to grasp a cluster of Kuca grass for staying a world-dissolution, he allayed the tumult of the curse; while his teeth shot out pure penetrating rays like plummet lines for the building of a coming aeon of bliss, and his voice echoed through the spheres like a drum heralding with honour the departure of Sarasvati, as in deep tones he spake:- ‘Brahman, the path thou hast followed is one not frequented by the good. Its final goal is death. The dust upraised by the steeds of passion in their unbridled onrush is wont to cloud the vision of such as be not masters of the senses. How limited indeed the scope of the eye! for ‘tis by the purified intellect that the perfected behold all things good and evil. Nature rejects this union of piety and wrath as of water and fire. How dost thou, leaving the light, sink in darkness! for the root of all asceticism is patience. Skilled in discerning the faults of others, thy angry mind, like an eye inflamed, perceives not the frailty of its own passion. How can censoriousness consort with commerce of great penances? Blind verily is that seeing man who is over-wrathful. Clouded with passion, the mind distinguishes not what should and what should not be done. First of all the wisdom of the angry man is darkened; then his frowning brow. The flush of passion assaults first the senses, last the eyes. In the beginning the store of merit dissolves away; then the oozing sweat. The flash of dishonour flickers; then comes the trembling of the lip. How ruinous to the world was the growth of thy matted locks and bark dress, shoots and bark as it were of the poison tree! Like a pearl necklace, this graceless impulse of thy mind is out of harmony, surely, with thy sage's dress. With a heart void of resignation idly like an actor dost thou wear the counterfeited semblance of an ascetic. Nought free from taint can I detect in thee. Even to this hour thy levity floats but on the surface of the sea of knowledge. None of these great sages are deaf and dumb, impotent and dull of wit. Why halt thou checked the sinless Sarasvati, when thine own heart, the haunt of angry sin, should rather have been checked? These are the follies born of their own heedless slips whereby the undiscerning fall into reproach.’

        Then to Sarasvati he spake again:-‘Dear child, be not dejected. Savitri here shall accompany thee and solace the pain of severance from us. And the curse shall end when thou shah behold the lotus face of thy child.’

        So much decreed, Brahma, having dismissed his court of gods, asuras, sages and mortal men, laid his hand upon the shoulder of Narada, who hastily approached, and arose for the performance of his daily rites. Sarasvati, too, a little discomfited at the curse, letting fall upon her bosom a mingled glance of light and dark like a streak in a black antelope skin, led on by thronging bees caught, like the incarnate letters of the curse, in the incense of her fragrant sighs, her hands nerveless with sorrow at the curse, went with Savitri to her mansion, her path to the world of men being pointed out as it were by the down-bent rays of her nails. And swarms of kalahamsa of the palace, convoked by the prattle of her anklets, followed after her like the hearts of the dwellers in Brahma's world.

        Meanwhile, as though to bear the tidings of Sarasvati's descent, the light-coroneted sun went down to the middle world. Gradually waned the day, his pools all saddened by the calamity of the closing of all their lotus beds. Quickly, as though stung by the angrily bent side-glances of wine- flushed beauties, the world's sole eye, ruddy as a young monkey's mouth, lighted upon the peaks of the earth-propping hills. White were the environs of the heavenly hermitages with milky streams flowing from herds of cows with dripping udders; as though washed by the surge of the milky sea in uproar at the near rising of the moon. Let out for his evening ramble, the chowrie-crowned Airavata was dashing his tusks at will against the banks of the heavenly stream, while the sound went up of their crashing against its sides of gold. The sky displayed a rosy tint, as though smeared with lac from the feet of thousands of mistresses of the Vidyadharas gone forth to their trysts. Like the sweat of Sandhya in her delight at Siva's worship, the evening glow streamed forth of saffron hue, flushing the heavenly spaces and filled with the sunset offerings of the saints on their journey along the sky. Resplendent was the world of Brahma, where crowds of noble worshipping sages clasped a forest of hands in evening adoration; as though all the lotus beds were come to show honour to that lotus whence Brahma sprang. And loudly from the Brahmans uprose the chorus of the third libation hymn. In the temples of the seven sages the courts were all tressed with the flames of the lighted Vaitana fires; as though a camp lustration had commenced in an army devoted to Dharma. Light were the hermits from the removal of the poison taint of sin which the Aghamarsana hymn had stolen away. The sand isles of Mandakini's stream were purified by rows of ascetics seated at evening prayer, and the line of its waves was broken by the gleam of Brahma's floating hamsas. Fragrant with the scent of their own honey, the night-lotus beds, to the joy of the bees, commenced to open, like umbrellas of the water nymphs, seraglio mansions for the wives of the feathered tribes. Satisfied with their symposiums on the sweet honey of day-lotuses now languid at day's close, the flamingo swarms sank to sleep, arching their necks to be scratched by the soft fibres, and fanning the blue lotus beds with rows of flapping wings. The evening breeze, soft as the sigh of night, came making grey the river with the pollen of flowers on the bank and bearing perfume from the jasmine in the curls of the matrons of the City of Saints. Throngs of bees reclined in huts formed by the cavities of lotuses barred by the tips of filaments erect and stiff as they closed.

        Like clustering Kutaja buds in the forest of Siva's hair when it tosses in the dance, the star-swarms filled the sky with their clusters. About the earth the new-born darkness closed, coppery-hued from the after-effects of the twilight, coloured like the skin of a ripe date, and thick as the cloud of doomsday. Sharply piercing the mass of soft dusk, the scattered lamps peeped forth like clusters of Campak buds about the ear of the goddess of night. Paling with the lovely effulgence of the crescent moon's rays, the eastern quarter began to narrow the dusk, like a young sandbank by Yamuna's banks when the dark water retreats as it dries. Perturbed, like the spirit of a proud beauty, by the moon's fingers clutching its tresses, the darkness, in hue like a jay's wing, a very cluster of curls belonging to the Gipsy of night, dissolved and abandoned the sky, and cast its gloom upon the pools of blossoming blue lotuses. The form of the Lord of White Splendour, now uprisen, assumed the glow of the Udaya mountain, resembling the lip of the nymph of night : and his redness was as though he were covered with blood oozing from his own deer, now slain by a stroke froze the rending paws of the lion that dwells in the caves of the valleys of Udaya's peaks. The. gloom had waned, as if washed by the flow of the moonstone's ooze from the Eastern hill. Like a great ivory crocodile-mouthed conduit bearing a stream of milk trickling from the world of cows, the moon's circle had commenced to fill the ocean.

        At that clear evening time Savitri thus addressed Sarasvati, who, vacant in heart as it were, was lost in tearful thought:- ‘Friend, my tongue is ashamed to prate to thee, whose wisdom may instruct the three worlds. Thou knowest already what are the ill-mannered ways of fate, unstable, heedless, like a lowborn person, even of the worthy, inconstant, not to be evaded, in no wise pleasurable. A mere grain of undeserved humiliation, corning from an inferior, makes turbid the spirit even of the wise. Even an atom of misfortune, when watered with ceaseless tears, like a leafless tree, puts forth a thousand shoots. An over-delicate soul, like a Malaii blossom, is withered by the particles of fiery pain. Like the elephant's goad, even a slight prick of trouble, assailing the great, suffices to torment. Moreover our native home, linked to us like a kinsman by the knotted tees of natural affection, is hard to abandon. Separation from approved friends, dreadful as the stroke of the wood cleaving saw, leaves a fissure in the heart. But thee it befits not to be thus afflicted. Thou surely art not the soil in which should spring up the shoots of the poison plant of pain. Also, seeing that before and behind us life a ruler stand our past deeds, potent whether good or evil in producing their fruit, what occasion have the wise for sorrowing? Why, pray, do these inauspicious tears defile a face which is the single lotus of auspiciousness for the three worlds? Enough now of this: say what part of the world thou wouldst adorn. On what blest spot is thy heart fain to alight ? What holy bathing-places lost thou desire to grace? In what fortunate forest seclusions wouldst thou live the ascetic's life? Here am I ready to descend to earth, a loving friend, well-skilled to serve thee, tried in friendly offices when we played together in the dust. Cast thyself henceforth in heart, voice and deed, seeking no other refuge, upon the author of all knowledge, the bestower of paradise, the dust of whose feet makes pure both gods and asuras, whose earring is formed of the moon's digits, even on Siva, god of gods, preceptor of the three worlds. In but a little time he will give thee release from the woe of the curse.’

        To these words Sarasvati, letting fall a pearly white teardrop, replied:- ‘ Dear friend, if I go with thee, neither severance from Brahma’s world nor grief at the curse will cause me any distress : 'tis only that the happiness of serving the lotus-throned fills my heart with soft regret. Furthermore 'tis thou who knowest the abodes where. Dharma can be followed upon earth, the means of mystic meditation, and how to practise the postures of ascetic rapture.’ So much said she ceased to speak: and that night she spent with unclosed eyes; sleepless through agitation.

        Next day as heralded by the dawn rosy as an old cock's comb, the adorable sun, the world's diadem, Mount Udaya's crest jewel, arose with a form red as with blood scattered from the mouths of his own steeds cut by the tossing clanking bit, the keeper of the goose tribes that draw Brahma's chariot sang aloud in Aparavaktra metre as he strolled along not far away:-

           'Wherefore trembles thine anxious glance,


                'O nursling of pellucid Manasa as thy home?
            'Descend, O kalahamsa,to the pond;
                'Again shalt thou return to the abode of lotuses.'

Hearing this Sarasvati thought: ‘'Tis I, methinks, to whom he appeals. So be it! I must respect the sage's sentence.’ So she arose resolved to descend to the earth, and having left her attendants prostrate at the separation, parted from her kindred, and then, like one cut off from the herd, passed thrice round the four-faced god. At last, courteously turning back crowds of pursuing devotees, she set, forth accompanied by Savitri from Brahma's world.

        Straight she came to the steady-flowing loud-roaring river Mandakini with milky udders downward streaming like the cow of Dharma, a very Malati wreath for the head of Siva. Thick covered were its banks with close-clinking Balakhilyas. The bark of its trees had been washed by Arundhati. The clear stars were tremulous as they crossed its high-leaping waves. Its sand-isles were bristling beds of floating sesamum seeds and water offered by ascetics. All white, where its banks with offerings to the manes let fall by Brahma when purified by bathing. Kuca-grass beds of tile seven Risis, who had slept hard by, gave token of the birth-fast for the sun's delivery from eclipse. Dappled was it with abundant flowers from the service, let fall by Saci's lord when purified by rinsing his mouth. It had garlands of Mandara, blossoms, dropped as the remains of the sacrifice from Siva's city. Scornfully had it cleft the rocks of Mandara's caves. Rippled was its surface with the cup-like bosoms of unnumbered beauties of Indra’s court. Its waters were resonant with its tumbling over myriad stones and crocodiles. Masses of the moon's ambrosial dew bestarred its banks, flowing down from the sun's Susumna ray. Grey were its sands with smoke from the fire of Dhisana. Vidyadharas, were flying in terror at its leaping over the sand lingus erected by the saints. Such was the river, the cast slough, as it were, of the sky serpent, the sportive forehead ornament of the jester of Indra's world, the bazaar street of the wares of Dharma, the shot bolt of the gate of Hell's city, the silken turban wrap of Sumeru's king, the cloth banner of Kailasa's elephant, the track of liberation, the wheel-rim of the aeon of goodness, the bride of the lord of the seven oceans.

        Passing along its banks Sarasvati descended to the world of mortals: and just as she stood on the edge of the sky she spied a great river brimming with water pure, cool and sweet, a daughter of Brahma by name the Stream of Gold, but by men called Cona, the pearl necklace, as it were, of Varuna, the ambrosia cataract of the moon mountain, the ooze of the Vindhya's moon-gem, a flood of camphor sap from the Dandaka forest, the streaming loveliness of the world, the crystal couch of the sky's beauty. At the sight her heart was taken captive by its beauty, and there upon its bank she resolved to dwell; so she said to Savitri :-‘Pleasant to me, friend, is the neighbourhood of this great, river, which makes dull the lustre of Mandakini. Here are honeyed voices of peacocks, trees having stocks besanded with heaps of pollen, the entrancing hum of lute-like clusters of scent-intoxicated bees. My heart prompts me to abide even here.’ So as Savitri welcomed her words, saying, ‘Thus let it be.’ She alighted with her friend upon the western bank: and for a dwelling she fixed her mind upon a certain fair creeper arbour by the shore containing a slab of stone. Then after resting she soon arose, and having with Savitri gathered flowers for worship, bathed: next, having in Siva's honour erected sand lingas on the sand-isles, she with deep devotion performed in full the ritual of clasping of fingers together with the Dhruva hymn and preceded by the Pancabrahma prayer; lastly after long meditation on the eight incarnate forms, earth, wind, water, sky, fire, sun moon, sacrificer, she presented the eightfold offering of flowers, and refreshed her body with easily gathered roots and fruits and Cona water, cool and of a sweetness surpassing even ambrosia. That day passed, she made a conch of flowers and slept on the stone floor of the creeper arbour. On the morrow she spent night and day in the same routine.



        Now as the days in this wise sped on and time passed, one morning, when the sun was risen only one watch, she heard in the northern quarter the deep clear sound of horses' neighs filling the thickets of the woods with echoes. Her curiosity aroused she came forth, and looking abroad from the bower beheld no great distance and speeding towards her a cloud of dust grey as the leaf which contains the blossoming Ketaki flower. In due course, as proximity gave birth to distinctness, she saw a troop of horse floating in that huge mass of dust grey as Caphara's belly, like a school of crocodiles in water. Before it ran an army of foot about a thousand strong, mostly young men, with clusters of crisp hanging hair upon their foreheads, and cheeks laughing with the bright gleam of their ear-ornaments; girt with scented jerkins spotted with a powder of black aloe wood paste; their upper garments formed into turbans: sparkling golden bracelets on their left forearms daggers fastened in strong knots in their sashes of doubled cloth, tirelessly with bodies thin and hard from incessant exercise leaping like the deer of the winds and spurning smooth and rough ground, holes, and clumps of bushes; clubs at their sides, swords in their hands; laden with various wild flowers, fruits, roots, and leaves for worship: and making a ceaseless hubbub with cries of ‘On, on, make speed, make speed, away, away, make way in front.’ In the midst she discerned a youth in age about eighteen years, shaded by a sky-reaching umbrella, which with its half-moon, its girdling heaps of pearls, its inlay of pieces of various precious stones, and its whiteness as of shells, milk and foam, resembled the milky ocean voluntarily come to present Lakshmi. All about him was the sparkling light of his ornaments, as if the horizon of the heavens were keeping close out of passion for the sight of him. Down to his loins from his topknot hung a wreath of Malati flowers, like a pennon of beauty won by a world conquest. The red rays uprising from the ruby in his crest seemed delicate sprays carried by an invisible goddess to cleanse his travel-soiled form. His hair, wreathed in clusters of crisp curls and charmingly adorned with a coiled coronet of white Vakula buds, appeared to be swallowing up the day's contracted blaze. His forehead, all yellow as with arsenic paste, cast the glow of its beauty upon the heavens, and being clasped by its natural loveliness, seemed composed of a second portion of the moon which forms the coronet of Siva's matted locks. His wide eyes, whose glances bold in the confidence of fresh youth's commencement made nought of the whole world, appeared to create an autumn, clothing the heavens in myriad pools of opening white, blue and red lotuses. His long nose was like a river of beauty's water, flowing from beneath the moonstone of his forehead, and bridged across the stream of his long eyes. His mouth, breathing a fragrance of mangos, camphor, Kakkola-fruits, cloves, and coral trees, and resounding with a hubbub of intoxicated bee-swarms, seemed to emit a very spring together with a Nandana forest. His innocent smiles, bathing the heavens with the light of his teeth as he uplifted his face to catch the jests of his friends around him, created incessantly a kind of moonlight roaming about the sky. A dangling three-pointed ear-ornament--an emerald set between a pair of pearls big as Kadamba buds--emitted a sheen which suggested a pendant of green jasmine leaves with their flowers. His arms, decorated with painted lines of scented civet powder, resembled a pair of Kama's pennon poles with rampant crocodiles girdling their tops. His body was divided by a white Brahmanical thread, like Mandara encircled by the stream of Ganges indignant at the churning of the ocean. His breast, a broad sandbank with two shapely swelling bosoms for ruddy-geese, and with a coating of camphor powder in handfuls for dust, seemed a horizon spread out before him and kept within bounds by the length of his stout arms. His slim waist was marked off by a tight drawn lower garment of Harita green, of which one corner was gracefully set in front a little below the navel and the hem hung over the girdle behind, and which on both sides was so girt up as to display a third of his thigh. His stout thighs, glistening with a thick smearing of bright sandal, seemed to scoff at the length of Airavata's trunk, being very stone pillars for supporting the granite platform of his great chest; while his knees issued from huge 'crocodile mouths' with hard flesh accumulated by incessant exercise. His shanks were somewhat slim, as if from the fatigue of supporting the weight of his vast thighs. His feet, which hung on either side, were red as two young shoots of the tree of paradise, and the waving light of their nails formed as it were a row of chowrie ornaments for his horse. 

        He was mounted on a great steed, swift as thought, in colour like a dark Sindhuvara flower, and with a coat as black as a golangula ape's cheeks. As it advanced its high prancing hoofs seemed to rest awhile in the air when it coiled its legs, and falling to tear lip the earth. Every moment the hard bit clanked when released by the teeth. Upon its forehead dangled rings of fine gold and the end of the bit rested against its long nose. It was adorned with tinkling trappings of gold. Close on either side with their hands grasping the saddle cloth, two attendants shook white chowries. In front chanted a bard, whose eloquence caused the hairs on the young man's cheeks to bristle with delight, as though tiny stamen filaments from his ear-wreath had become attached to them. He seemed to reveal a descent of a Kama's aeon, to produce a cosmos of moonlight, to beget an animate creation of the substance of smiles, to pave his path with devotion, to frame a day all of love, to inaugurate a kingdom of affection. He was to the eye, as it were, a collyrium of allurement, to the heart an attracting spell, to the senses a powder able to affect the healthiest; for desire a never-cloying delight, for bliss a never-failing charm; the resurrection day of Love, the elixir of youth, the unshared rule of loveliness, the triumphal pillar of shapeliness, the capital sum of grace, the fructuation of the world's good deeds, the first bud of beauty's creeper, the fruit of Prajapati's studies in creation, the glory of graciousness, the high-tide of sparkling wit.




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