Fire of Beauty
Salutation to Ganesa the Lord of Wisdom, and to Saraswati the Lady of Sweet Speech!
This story was composed by the Brahmin Vísravas, that dweller on the banks of holy Káshi; and though the events it records arc long past, yet it is absolutely and immutably true because, by the power of his yoga, he summoned up every scene before him, and beheld the persons moving and speaking as in life. Thus he had nought to do but to set down what befell.
What follows, that hath he seen.
Wide was the plain, the morning sun shining full upon it, drinking up the dew as the Divine drinks up the spirit of man. Far it stretched, resembling the ocean, and riding upon it like a stately ship was the league-long Rock of Chitor. It is certainly by the favor of the Gods that this great fortress of the Rajput Kings thus rises from the plain, leagues in length, noble in height; and very strange it is to see the flat earth fall away from it like waters from the bows of a boat, as it soars into the sky with its burden of palaces and towers.
Here dwelt the Queen Padmini and her husband Bhimsi, the Rana of the Rajputs.
The sight of the holy ascetic Vísravas pierced even the secrets of the Rani’s bower, where, in the inmost chamber of marble, carved until it appeared like lace or the foam of the sea, she was seated upon cushions of blue Bokhariot silk, like the lotus whose name she bore floating upon the blue depths of the lake. She had just risen from the shallow bath of marble at her feet.
Most beautiful was this Queen, a haughty beauty such as should be a Rajput lady; for the name ‘Rajput’ signifies Son of a King, and this lady was assuredly the daughter of Kings and of no lesser persons. And since that beauty is long since ashes (all things being transitory), it is permitted to describe the mellowed ivory of her body, the smooth curves of her hips, and the defiance of her glimmering bosom, half veiled by the long silken tresses of sandal-scented hair which a maiden on either side, bowing toward her, knotted upon her head. But even he who with his eyes has seen it can scarce tell the beauty of her face — the slender arched nose, the great eyes like lakes of darkness in the reeds of her curled lashes, the mouth of roses, the glance, deerlike but proud, that courted and repelled admiration. This cannot be told, nor could the hand of man paint it. Scarcely could that fair wife of the Pandava Prince, Draupadi the Beautiful (who bore upon her perfect form every auspicious mark) excel this lady.
(Ashes — ashes! May Maheshwara have mercy upon her rebirths!)
Throughout India had run the fame of this beauty. In the bazaars of Kashmir they told of it. It was recorded in the palaces of Travancore, and all the lands that lay between; and in an evil hour — may the Gods curse the mother that bore him! — it reached the ears of Allah-u-Din, the Moslem dog, a very great fighting-man who sat in Middle India, looting and spoiling.
(Ahi! for the beauty that is as a burning flame!)
In the gardens beneath the windows of the Queen, the peacocks, those maharajas of the birds, were spreading the bronze and emerald of their tails. The sun shone on them as on heaps of jewels, so that they dazzled the eyes. They stood about the feet of the ancient Brahmin sage, he who had tutored the Queen in her childhood and given her wisdom as the crest-jewel of her loveliness. He, the Twice-born, sat under the shade of a neem tree, hearing the gurgle of the sacred waters from the Cow’s Mouth, where the great tank shone under the custard-apple boughs; and, at peace with all the world, he read in the Scripture which affirms the transience of all things drifting across the thought of the Supreme like clouds upon the surface of the Ocean.
(Ahi! that loveliness is also illusion!)
Her women placed about the Queen — that Lotus of Women — a robe of silk of which none could say that it was green or blue, the noble colors so mingled into each other under the latticed gold work of Káshi. They set the jewels on her head, and wide thin rings of gold heavy with great pearls in her ears. Upon the swell of her bosom they clasped the necklace of table emeralds, large, deep, and full of green lights, which is the token of the Chitor queens. Upon her slender ankles they placed the chooris of pure soft gold, set also with grassgreen emeralds, and the delicate soles of her feet they reddened with lac. Nor were her arms forgotten, but loaded with bangles so free from alloy that they could be bent between the hands of a child. Then with fine paste they painted the Symbol between her dark brows, and, rising, she shone divine as a nymph of heaven who should cause the righteous to stumble in his austerities, and arrest even the glances of Gods.
(Ahi! that the Transient should be so fair!)
Now it was the hour that the Rana should visit her; for since the coming of the Lotus Lady, he had forgotten his other women, and in her was all his heart. He came from the Hall of Audience where petitions were heard, and justice done to rich and poor; and as he came, the Queen, hearing his step on the stone, dismissed her women, and smiling to know her loveliness, bowed before him, even as the Goddess Umá bows before Him who is her other half.
Now he was a tall man, with the falcon look of the Hill Rajputs, and moustaches that curled up to his eyes, lion-waisted and lean in the flanks like Arjoon himself, a very ruler of men; and as he came, his hand was on the hilt of the sword that showed beneath his gold coat of Khincob. On the high cushions he sat, and the Rani a step beneath him; and she said, raising her lotus eyes:—
‘Speak, Aryaputra, son of a gentleman — what hath befallen ? ’
And he, looking upon her beauty with fear, replied, —
‘It is thy beauty, O wife, that brings disaster.’
‘And how is this?’ she asked very earnestly.
For a moment he paused, regarding her as might a stranger, as one who considers a beauty in which he hath no part; and, drawn by this strangeness, she rose and knelt beside him, pillowing her head upon his heart.
‘Say on,’ she said in her voice of music.
He unfurled a scroll that he had crushed in his strong right hand, and read aloud: —
‘“Thus says Allah-u-Din, Shadow of God, Wonder of the Age, Viceregent of Kings. We have heard that in the Treasury of Chitor is a jewel, the like of which is not in the Four Seas — the work of the hand of the Only God, to whom be praise! This jewel is thy Queen, the Lady Padmini. Now, since the sons of the Prophet are righteous, I desire but to look upon this jewel, and ascribing glory to the Creator, to depart in peace. Granted requests are the bonds of friendship; therefore lay the head of acquiescence in the dust of opportunity and name an auspicious day.”
He crushed it again and flung it furiously from him on the marble.
‘The insult is deadly. The soor! son of a debased mother! Well he knows that to the meanest Rajput his women are sacred, and how much more the daughters and wives of the Kings! The jackals feast on the tongue that speaks this shame! But it is a threat, Beloved—a threat! Give me thy counsel that never failed me yet.'
For the Rajputs take counsel with their women who are wise.
They were silent, each weighing the force of resistance that could be made; and this the Rani knew even as he.
‘It cannot be,’she said; ‘the very ashes of the dead would shudder to hear. Shall the Queens of India be made the sport of the barbarians?’
Her husband looked upon her fair face. She could feel his heart labor beneath her ear.
‘True, wife; but the barbarians are strong. Our men are tigers, each one, but the red dogs of the Dekkan can pull down the tiger, for they are many, and he alone.'
Then that great Lady, accepting his words, and conscious of the danger, murmured this, clinging to her husband: —
‘There was a Princess of our line whose beauty made all other women seem as waning moons in the sun’s splendor. And many great Kings sought her, and there was contention and war. And, she, fearing that the Rajputs would be crushed to powder between the warring Kings, sent unto each this message: “Come on such and such a day, and thou shalt see my face and hear my choice.” And they, coming, rejoiced exceedingly, thinking each one that he was the Chosen. So they came into the great Hall, and there was a table, and somewhat upon it covered with a gold cloth; and an old veiled woman lifted the gold, and the head of the Princess lay there with the lashes like night upon her cheek, and between her lips was a little scroll, saying this: “I have chosen my Lover and my Lord, and he is mightiest, for he is Death.” — So the Kings went silently away. And there was Peace.’
The music of her voice ceased, and the Rana clasped her closer.
‘This I cannot do. Better die together. Let us take counsel with the ancient Brahmin, thy guru [teacher], for he is very wise.'
She clapped her hands, and the maidens returned, and, bowing, brought the venerable Prabhu Narayan into the Presence, and again those roses retired.
Respectful salutation was then offered by the King and the Queen to that saint, hoary with wisdom — he who had seen her grow into the loveliness of the sea-born Shri, yet had never seen that loveliness; for he had never raised his eyes above the chooris about her ankles. To him the King related his anxieties; and he sat wrapt in musing, and the two waited in dutiful silence until long minutes had fallen away; and at the last he lifted his head, weighted with wisdom, and spoke.
‘O King, Descendant of Rama! this outrage cannot be. Yet, knowing the strength and desire of this obscene one and the weakness of our power, it is plain that only with cunning can cunning be met. Hear, therefore, the history of the Fox and the Drum.
‘A certain Fox searched for food in the jungle, and so doing beheld a tree on which hung a drum; and when the boughs knocked upon the parchment, it sounded aloud. Considering, he believed that so round a form and so great a voice must portend much good feeding. Neglecting on this account a fowl that fed near by, he ascended to the drum. The drum being rent was but air and parchment, and meanwhile the fowl fled away. And from the eye of folly he shed the tear of disappointment, having bartered the substance for the shadow. So must we act with this budmash [scoundrel]. First, receiving his oath that he will depart without violence, bid him hither to a great feast, and say that he shall behold the face of the Queen in a mirror. Provide that some fair woman of the city show her face, and then let him depart in peace, showing him friendship. He shall not know he hath not seen the beauty he would befoul.’
After consultation, no better way could be found; but the heart of that great Lady was heavy with foreboding.
(Ahi! that Beauty should wander a pilgrim in the ways of sorrow!)
To Allah-u-Din therefore did the King dispatch this letter by swift riders on mares of Mewar.
After salutations — ‘Now whereas thou hast said thou wouldst look upon the beauty of the Treasure of Chitor, know it is not the custom of the Rajputs that any eye should light upon their treasure. Yet assuredly, when requests arise between friends, there cannot fail to follow distress of mind and division of soul if these are ungranted. So, under promises that follow, I bid thee to a great feast at my poor house of Chitor, and thou shalt see that beauty reflected in a mirror, and so seeing, depart in peace from the house of a friend.’
This being writ by the Twice-Born, the Brahmin, did the Rana sign with bitter rage in his heart. And the days passed.
On a certain day found fortunate by the astrologers — a day of early winter, when the dawns were pure gold and the nights radiant with a cool moon — did a mighty troop of Moslems set their camp on the plain of Chitor. It was as if a city had blossomed in an hour. Those who looked from the walls muttered prayers to the Lord of the Trident; for these men seemed like the swarms of the locust-people, warriors all, fierce fighting-men. And in the ways of Chitor, and up the steep and winding causeway from the plains, were warriors also, the chosen of the Rajputs, thick as blades of corn hedging the path.
(Ahi! that the blossom of beauty should have swords for thorns!)
Then, leaving his camp, attended by many Chiefs, — may the mothers and sires that begot them be accursed! — came Allah-u-Din, riding toward the Lower Gate, and so upward along the causeway, between the two rows of men who neither looked nor spoke, standing like the carvings of war in the Caves of Ajunta. And the moon was rising through the sunset as he came beneath the last and seventh gate. Through the towers and palaces he rode with his following, but no woman, veiled or unveiled, — no, not even an outcast of the city, — was there to see him come; only the men, armed and silent. So he turned to Munim Khan that rode at his bridle, saying, —
‘Let not the eye of watchfulness close this night on the pillow of forgetfulness!’
And thus he entered the palace.
Very great was the feast in Chitor, and the wines that those accursed should not drink (since the Outcast whom they call their Prophet forbade them) ran like water, and at the right hand of Allah-u-Din was set the great crystal Cup inlaid with gold by a craft that is now perished; and he filled and refilled it — may his own Prophet curse the swine!
But because the sons of Kings eat not with the outcast, the Rana entered after, clothed in chain armor of blue steel, and having greeted him, bid him to the sight of that Treasure. And Allah-u-Din, his eyes swimming with wine, and yet not drunken, followed, and the two went alone.
Purdahs [curtains] of great splendor were hung in the great Hall that is called the Raja’s Hall, exceeding rich with gold, and in front of the opening was a kneeling-cushion, and on a gold stool before it a polished mirror.
(Ahi! for gold and beauty, the scourges of the world!)
And the Rana was pale to the lips.
Now as the Princes stood by the purdah, a veiled woman, shrouded in white so that no shape could be seen in her, came forth from within, and kneeling upon the cushion, she unveiled her face, bending until the mirror, like a pool of water, held it, and that only. And the King motioned his guest to look, and he looked over her veiled shoulder and saw. Very great was the bowed beauty that the mirror held, but Allah-u-Din turned to the Rana.
‘By the Bread and the Salt, by the Guest-Right, by the Honor of thy House, I ask — is this the Treasure of Chitor?’
And since the Sun-Descended cannot lie, no, not though they perish, the Rana answered, flushing darkly, —
‘This is not the Treasure. Wilt thou spare?’
But he would not, and the woman slipped like a shadow behind the purdah and no word said.
Then was heard the tinkling of chooris, and the little noise fell upon the silence like a fear, and, parting the curtains, came a woman veiled like the other. She did not kneel, but took the mirror in her hand, and Allah-u-Din drew up behind her back. From her face she raised the veil of gold Dakka webs, and gazed into the mirror, holding it high, and that Accursed stumbled back, blinded with beauty, saying this only, —
‘I have seen the Treasure of Chitor.’
So the purdah fell about her.
The next day, after the Imaum of the Accursed had called them to prayer, they departed, and Allah-u-Din, paying thanks to the Rana for honors given and taken, and swearing friendship, besought him to ride to his camp, to see the marvels of gold and steel armor brought down from the passes, swearing also safe-conduct. And because the Rajputs trust the word even of a foe, he went.
(A hi! that honor should strike hands with traitors!)
The hours went by, heavy-footed like mourners.
Padmini the Rani knelt by the window in her tower that overlooks the plains. Motionless she knelt there, as the Goddess Umá lost in her penances, and she saw her Lord ride forth, and the sparkle of steel where the sun shone on them, and the Standard of the Gold Disk on its black ground. So the camp of the Moslem swallowed them up, and they returned no more. Still she knelt and none dared speak with her; and as the first shade of evening fell across the hills of Rajasthan, she saw a horseman spurring over the flat; and he rode like the wind, and, seeing, she implored the Gods.
Then entered the Twice-Born, that saint of clear eyes, and he bore a scroll; and she rose and seated herself, and he stood by her, as her ladies cowered like frighted doves before the woe in his face as he read.
‘To the Rose of Beauty,The Pearl among Women, the Chosen of the Palace. Who, having seen thy loveliness, can look on another? Who, having tasted the wine of the Houris, but thirsts forever? Behold, I have thy King as hostage. Come thou and deliver him. I have sworn that he shall return in thy place.’
And from a smaller scroll, the Brahmin read this: —
‘I am fallen in the snare. Act thou as becomes a Rajputni.’
Then that Daughter of the Sun lifted her head, for the thronging of armed feet was heard in the Council Hall below. From the floor she caught her veil and veiled herself in haste, and the Brahmin with bowed head followed, while her women mourned aloud. And, descending, between the folds of the purdah she appeared white and veiled, and the Brahmin beside her, and the eyes of all the Princes were lowered to her shrouded feet, while the voice they had not heard fell silverly upon the air, and the echoes of the high roof repeated it.
‘Chiefs of the Rajputs, what is your counsel?’
And he of Marwar stepped forward, and not raising his eyes above her feet, answered, —
‘Queen, what is thine?’
For the Rajputs have ever heard the voice of their women.
And she said, —
‘I counsel that I die and my head be sent to him, that my blood may quench his desire.’
And each talked eagerly with the other, but amid the tumult the TwiceBorn said, —
‘This is not good talk. In his rage he will slay the King. By my yoga, I have seen it. Seek another way.’
So they sought, but could determine nothing, and they feared to ride against the dog, for he held the life of the King; and the tumult was great, but all were for the King’s safety.
Then once more she spoke.
‘Seeing it is determined that the King’s life is more than my honor, I go this night. In your hand I leave my little son, the Prince Ajeysi. Prepare my litters, seven hundred of the best, for all my women go with me. Depart now, for I have a thought from the Gods.’
Then, returning to her bower, she spoke this letter to the saint, and he wrote it, and it was sent to the camp.
After salutations—‘Wisdom and strength have attained their end. Have ready for release the Rana of Chitor, for this night I come with my ladies, the prize of the conqueror.’
When the sun sank, a great procession with torches descended the steep way of Chitor — seven hundred litters, and in the first was borne the Queen, and all her women followed.
All the streets were thronged with women, weeping and beating their breasts. Very greatly they wept, and no men were seen, for their livers were black within them for shame as the Treasure of Chitor departed, nor would they look upon the sight. And across the plains went that procession; as if the stars had fallen upon the earth, so glittered the sorrowful lights of the Queen.
But in the camp was great rejoicing, for the Barbarians knew that many fair women attended on her.
Now, before the entrance to the camp they had made a great shamiana [tent] ready, hung with shawls of Kashmir and the plunder of Delhi; and there was set a silk divan for the Rani, and beside it stood the Loser and the Gainer, Allah-u-Din and the King, awaiting the Treasure.
Veiled she entered, stepping proudly, and taking no heed of the Moslem, she stood before her husband, and even through the veil he could feel the eyes he knew.
And that Accursed spoke, laughing.
T have won — I have won, O King! Bid farewell to the Chosen of the Palace — the Beloved of the Viceregent of Kings!’
Then she spoke softly, delicately, in her own tongue, that the outcast should not guess the matter of her speech.
‘Stand by me. Stir not. And when I raise my arm, cry the cry of the Rajputs. NOW!’
And she flung her arm above her head, and instantly, like a lion roaring, he shouted, drawing his sword, and from every litter sprang an armed man, glittering in steel, and the bearers, humble of mien, were Rajput knights, every one.
Allah-u-Din thrust at the breast of the Queen; but around them surged the war, and she was hedged with swords like a rose in the thickets.
Very full of wine, dull with feasting and lust and surprise, the Moslems fled across the plains, streaming in a broken rabble, cursing and shouting like lowcaste women; and the Rajputs, wiping their swords, returned from the pursuit and laughed upon each other.
But what shall be said of the joy of the King and of her who had imagined this thing, instructed of the Goddess who is the other half of her Lord ?
So the procession returned, singing, to Chitor with those Two in the midst; but among the dogs that fled was Allahu-Din, his face blackened with shame and wrath, the curses choking in his foul throat.
(Ahi! that the evil still walk the ways of the world!
So the time went by and the beauty of the Queen grew, and her King could see none but hers. Like the moon she obscured the stars, and every day he remembered her wisdom, her valor, and his soul did homage at her feet, and there was great content in Chitor.
It chanced one day that the Queen, looking from her high window that like an eagle’s nest overhung the precipice, saw, on the plain beneath, a train of men, walking like ants, and each carried a basket on his back, and behind them was a cloud of dust like a great army. Already the city was astir because of this thing, and the rumors came thick and the spies were sent out.
In the dark they returned, and the Rana entered the bower of Padmini, his eyes burning like coal with hate and wrath, and he flung his arm round his wife like a shield.
‘He is returned, and in power. Counsel me again, O wife, for great is thy wisdom!’
But she answered only this, —
‘Fight, for this time it is to the death.’
Then each day she watched how the baskets of earth, emptied upon the plain at first, made nothing, an antheap whereat fools might laugh. But each day as the trains of men came, spilling their baskets, the great earthworks grew and their height mounted. Day after day the Rajputs rode forth and slew; and as they slew it seemed that all the teeming millions of the earth came forth to take the places of the slain. And the Rajputs fell also, and under the pennons the thundering forces returned daily, thinned of their best.
(Ahi! that Evil rules the world as God!)
And still the earth grew up to the heights, and the protection of the hills was slowly withdrawn from Chitor, for on the heights they made they set their engines of war.
Then in a red dawn that great Saint Narayan came to the Queen, where she watched by her window, and spoke.
‘O great lady, I have dreamed a fearful dream. Nay, rather have I seen a vision.’
With her face set like a sword, the Queen said, —
‘In a light red like blood, I waked, and beside me stood the Mother, — Durga, — awful to see, with a girdle of heads about her middle; and the drops fell thick and slow from That which she held in her hand, and in the other was her sickle of Doom. Nor did she speak, but my soul heard her words.’
‘She commanded: “Say this to the Rana: ‘In Chitor is My altar; in Chitor is thy throne. If thou wouldst save either, send forth twelve crowned Kings of Chitor to die.'"'
As he said this, the Rana, forespent with fighting, entered and heard the Divine word.
Now there were twelve princes of the Rajput blood, and the youngest was the son of Padmini. What choice had these most miserable but to appease the dreadful anger of the Goddess? So on each fourth day a King of Chitor was crowned, and for three days sat upon the throne, and on the fourth day, set in the front, went forth and died fighting. So perished eleven Kings of Chitor, and now there was left but the little Ajeysi, the son of the Queen.
And that day was a great Council called.
Few were there. On the plains many lay dead; holding the gates many watched; but the blood was red in their hearts and flowed like Indus in the melting of the snows. And to them spoke the Rana, his hand clenched on his sword, and the other laid on the small dark head of the Prince Ajeysi, who stood between his knees. And as he spoke his voice gathered strength till it rang through the hall like the voice of Indra when he thunders in the heavens.
‘Men of the Rajputs, this child shall not die. Are we become jackals that we fall upon the weak and tear them? When have we put our women and children in the forefront of the war? I
— I only am King of Chitor. Narayan shall save this child for the time that will surely come. And for us — what shall we do? I die for Chitor!’
And like the hollow waves of a great sea they answered him, —
‘We will die for Chitor.’
There was silence and Marwar spoke.
‘Do they not know the duty of a Rajputni?’ said the King. ‘My household has demanded that the caves be prepared.’
And the men clashed stern joy with their swords, and the council dispersed.
Then that very great saint, the TwiceBorn, put off the sacred thread that is the very soul of the Brahmin. In his turban he wound it secretly, and he stained his noble Aryan body until it resembled the Pariahs, foul for the pure to see, loathsome for the pure to touch, and he put on him the rags of the lowest of the earth, and taking the Prince, he removed from the body of the child every trace of royal and Rajput birth, and he appeared like a child of the Bhils
— the vile forest wanderers that shame not to defile their lips with carrion. And in this guise they stood before the Queen; and when she looked on the saint, the tears fell from her eyes like rain, not for grief for her son, nor for death, but that for their sake the pure should be made impure and the glory of the Brahminhood be defiled. And she fell at the old man’s feet and laid her head on the ground before him.
‘Rise, daughter!’ he said, ‘and take comfort! Are not the eyes of the Gods clear that they should distinguish? — and this day we stand before the God of Gods. Have not the Great Ones said, “That which causes life causes also decay and death”? Therefore we who go and you who stay are alike a part of the Divine. Embrace now thy child and bless him, for we depart. And it is on account of the sacrifice of the Twelve that he is saved alive.’
So, controlling her tears, she rose, and clasping the child to her bosom, she bade him be of good cheer since he went with the Gods. And that great saint took his hand from hers, and for the first time in the life of the Queen he raised his aged eyes to her face, and she gazed at him; but what she read, even the ascetic Vísravas, who saw all by the power of his yoga, could not tell, for it was beyond speech. Very certainly the peace hereafter possessed her.
So those two went out by the secret ways of the rocks, and wandering far, were saved by the favor of Durga.
And the nights went by and the days, and the time came that no longer could they hold Chitor, and all hope was dead.
On a certain day the Rana and the Rani stood for the last time in her bower, and looked down into the city; and in the streets were gathered in a very wonderful procession the women of Chitor; and not one was veiled. Flowers that had bloomed in the inner chambers, great ladies jeweled for a festival, young brides, aged mothers, and girl children clinging to the robes of their mothers who held their babes, crowded the ways. Even the low-caste women walked with measured steps and proudly, decked in what they had of best, their eyes lengthened with soorma, and flowers in the darkness of their hair.
The Queen was clothed in a gold robe of rejoicing, her bodice latticed with diamonds and great gems, and upon her bosom the necklace of table emeralds, alight with green fire, which is the jewel of the Queens of Chitor. So she stood radiant as a vision of Shri, and it appeared that rays encircled her person.
And the Rana, unarmed save for his sword, had the saffron dress of a bridegroom and the jeweled cap of the Rajput Kings, and below in the hall were the Princes and Chiefs, clad even as he.
Then, raising her lotus eyes to her lord, the Princess said, —
‘Beloved, the time is come, and we have chosen rightly, for this is the way of honor, and it is but another link forged in the chain of existence; for until existence itself is ended and rebirth destroyed, still shall we meet in lives to come and still be husband and wife. What room then for despair?’
And he answered, —
‘This is true. Go first, wife, and I follow. Let not the door swing to behind thee. But oh, to see thy beauty once more that is the very speech of Gods with men! Wilt thou surely come again to me and again be fair?’
And for all answer she smiled upon him, and at his feet performed the obeisance of a Rajput wife when she departs upon a journey; and they went out together, the Queen unveiled.
As she passed through the Princes, they lowered their eyes so that none saw her; but when she stood on the steps of the palace, the women all turned eagerly toward her like stars about the moon, and lifting their arms, they began to sing the dirge of the Rajput women.
So they marched, and in great companies they marched, company behind company, young and old, past the Queen, saluting her and drawing courage from the loveliness and kindness of her unveiled face.
In the rocks beneath the palaces of Chitor arc very great caves — leaguelong and terrible, with ways of darkness no eyes have seen; and it is believed that in times past spirits have haunted them with strange wailings. In these was prepared great store of wood and oils and fragrant matters for burning. So to these caves they marched and, company by company, disappeared into the darkness; and the voice of their singing grew faint and hollow, and died away, as the men stood watching their women go.
Now, when this was done and the last had gone, the Rani descended the steps, and the Rana, taking a torch dipped in fragrant oils, followed her, and the Princes walked after, clad like bridegrooms but with no faces of bridal joy. At the entrance of the caves, having lit the torch, he gave it into her hand, and she, receiving it and smiling, turned once upon the threshold, and for the first time those Princes beheld the face of the Queen, but they hid their eyes with their hands when they had seen. So she departed within, and the Rana shut to the door and barred and bolted it, and the men with him flung down great rocks before it so that none should know the way, nor indeed is it known to this day; and with their hands on their swords they waited there, not speaking, until a great smoke rose between the crevices of the rocks, but no sound at all.
(Ashes of roses — ashes of roses! Ah!for beauty that is but touched and remitted!)
The sun was high when those men with their horses and on foot marched down the winding causeway beneath the seven gates, and so forth into the plains, and charging unarmed upon the Moslems, they perished every man. After, it was asked of one who had seen the great slaughter, —
‘Say how my King bore himself.’
And he who had seen told this: —
‘Reaper of the harvest of battle, on the bed of honor he has spread a carpet of the slain! He sleeps ringed about by his enemies. How can the world tell of his deeds? The tongue is silent.’
When that Accursed, Allah-u-Din, came up the winding height of the hills, he found only a dead city, and his heart was sick within him.
Now this is the Sack of Chitor, and by the Oath of the Sack of Chitor do the Rajputs swear when they bind their honor.
But it is only the ascetic Vísravas who by the power of his yoga has heard every word, and with his eyes beheld that Flame of Beauty, who, for a brief space illuminating the world as a Queen, returns to birth in many a shape of sorrowful loveliness until the Bluethroated God shall in his favor destroy her rebirths.
Salutation to Ganesa the ElephantHeaded One, and to Shri the Lady of Beauty!