The Bride of a God
Two HUNDRED years ago in India, many happy people dwelt in the little town of Krishnapur — happy because their belief was fixed and immutable and it brought them gladness; for in all innocence and devotion they worshiped Krishna the Beloved, the Herdsman of Brindaban, Lord of Love, whose name their little town carried like a jewel of price.
And certainly the God had gifted it with beauty. The terraced houses climbed the ways of a hill deeply wooded with tamarind and pippala trees, and down a deep ravine ran the little Bhadra River, falling from great heights to feed the blue lake below. The place lay in the sunshine, clear and bright as a painting on crystal brought by the Chinese merchants, and by the favor of the God a delicate coolness spread upward from the lake among the clustered houses. In its midst was a very small island, with a little temple lifting its shining gilded roof and spires among the palms. In this he was worshiped as the Flute-Player, an image of black basalt, very beautiful — a youth with the Flute forever at his lips; and there were devout men and women who declared that, in the midnight silence, sounds of music comparable only to the music of Indra’s heaven had been heard among the palm trees and mingled with the eternal song of the river. This report and the beauty and quiet of the fair little town brought a few pilgrims to bathe in the lake, crowding the broad low ghauts that led down to its pure waters with their flower-hued garments and the strong chanting of their prayers.
Many legends haunted the town of Krishnapur.
Now the Pandit Anand Das was a man learned in the Vedas and all the sacred books, and his heart glowed with a great devotion. Since his son, who should have inherited his learning, was dead, and it could not flow in that beloved channel, he resolved that, slight and frail as a woman’s intellect must needs be, he would instruct his daughter Radha in the mysteries of the Holy Ones, as far as possible. He had named her Radha from his devotion to Sri Krishna; for Radha is the heart’s love of the God, and in bestowing this name he had made offering and prayed that he might live to see her as beautiful, as true in devotion as the Crowned Lady. The prayer was answered.
Beautiful indeed was Radha, an image of golden ivory, with lips like a pomegranate bud before its sweetness is tasted, and great eyes dark as the midnight and lit by her stars. Beautiful the soft moulding of her rounded chin, and the shaping of the flower-face poised on its stem like a champak blossom that all the bees of love must seek, and the silk-soft brows and the heavy sweep of shadowy lashes. Flawless from head to rosy heel as the work of a mighty craftsman who wills not that his name shall perish, so was Radha; and when the people saw her as she passed along the little street, they gave thanks to the Beautiful for her beauty. Fairer than fair, wiser than wise in all the matters of the Gods, she lived her quiet days among the palms and temples, and each day laid its gift at her feet.
Now the Brahman, her father, having, as it were, devoted her to the God, rejoiced to see that in her, bhakti — which is faith, love, and worship in a perfect unity — was a steadfast flame in her heart; nor was there any word to utter her burning devotion. As a child she would leave all play to sit before his feet and hear as he read of the divine Krishna, —
Beginneth with a Pastoral, —
and her child’s heart lived among the meadows of Brindaban with the marvelous Child whose very name is ‘He who draws or attracts.’
And thus her learned father taught her.
‘This Krishna is the true incarnation cf the Preserver who upholds the universe. “For in him,” says the Mahabharata Santeparva, “the worlds flutter like birds in water”; and of him did not Maheshwara the Destroyer say: “The divine and radiant Krishna must be beheld by him who desires to behold Me.” Thus in Sri Krishna is all Deity sheathed in flesh, that the soul of man may dimly apprehend his glory. A Child — yet thus in the Holy Song docs the Prince Arjun cry to him: —
And all the varied hosts of living things,
The undivided Thou, the highest point
Of human thought.”
‘Can such a Being be approached by mere humanity? No, he is too far away — the car of man may not hear, and the eye of man may not see. How if he were born among us, if we might touch his feet, and show him in simple human ways our devotion? How if he would turn the common earth to beauty by breathing the air we breathe?
‘And because it is so desired, it is done, and Krishna is born, the Herdsman of Brindaban, the Beloved of India.’
So reading day by day, he instructed her in the lovely story of the Childhood, and, with the ancient Pastoral, took her to the forests and rich cattle pastures where Jumna River flows wide and still to the sea. The people are kind and simple, the sacred cows are driven out at dawn to feed, and brought back in the brief glow of evening by the fair women who tend the gentle beasts; and this is Brindaban, the home on earth of the Lord of All, the utterly Adored.
So much a child! But when floods of rain threatened to sweep away the herds and their keepers, he raised the hill Govardhan on the palm of his small soft hand, and sheltered them from the torrents and the fighting winds. And, as she sat at his feet, the Pandit showed his child Radha pictures of that other Child, darkly beautiful, who could poise the world on his shoulder.
As she grew older, the story widened and deepened with her years. But as she came to girlhood, her anxious mother, Sita Bai, ventured with trembling to doubt if it were well to draw her heart yet closer to the radiant manhood of the young God; for now the story is to be mystically interpreted and read by the light of the wisdom of the old and learned.
‘Was there not Mira Bai, who went mad for the love of him and could not leave his image or his temple, and dreamed of his sweetness night and day until she wasted to a shadow and died? And, my lord, is not his great temple as Jagannath, Lord of the World, but ten miles from us at the great town of Chaki; and is it not filled with bands of devidasis—the dancing girls? Would you have your daughter as one of them — sacred but — vile? ‘
She caught the word back on her lips and looked about her in terror. Then added passionately: —
‘O my lord, is it well to kindle such a passion in her heart, and she little more than a child?’
‘ Better be possessed by that love than by the follies and wickednesses that haunt the hearts of women to their ruin and ours. Woman, I know what I do. Be silent!’ was all his answer.
So she was silent, and daily the story went onward and filled the soul of the girl. For now, as Krishna grew to manhood, beauty came upon him, irresistible, heart-compelling, the world’s Desire, and on the banks of Jumna was sung the Song of Songs — the Lover, dark and glorious, to whom the souls of all the women of Brindaban, whether wife or maid, cling passionately, forgetful of self and of all but him. And the deepest symbol of the adoration of Krishna is the passion of man for woman and woman for man.
‘Walk warily here, my child, if you would understand,’ said the Pandit; ‘for we move among pitfalls made by the mind of man fettered to his senses
— the mind of man, that coin bearing the double superscription of spirit and flesh. Yet the story is plain for him who has ears to hear!’
And Radha, speechless, with dark eyes filled with adoring love, listened — listened, with no heart for aught else.
‘Tell me more, more!’ she said.
And he, seeing the divine Passion, the trembling of her lips, the fluttering of her heart, told on, imparting the desire of the God.
And when, as at this time, a marriage was spoken of for her with the son of the rich Brahman Narayan, she shrank from it with such shuddering horror that for very pity her father put it by for a while. But her mother watched in great fear.
And every evening, when the light was calm and golden and her father laid his books aside, she would sit before him, putting all else aside that she might drink in the sweet nectar of his words.
And now he told of the Herd-maidens bathing in the clear ripple of the river where the trees hang in green shadow over the deep pools.
Their garments lie on the bank, forgotten in the joy of youth and life, as they sing the praises of the Beloved, until at length one remembers and looks, and lo! some thief has stolen the vesture, and they stand ashamed in the crystal lymph, their long locks gathered about them.
Who has so bereft them? For no man or woman should bathe uncovered; and they have sinned — they know it!
And then a voice calls from the world of leaves above their heads, and there sits the Desired, shining like a star caught in the topmost boughs, and before him are rolled the stolen garments, and when, all shamefaced, they entreat for their restoration, the Voice exhorts them: —
‘And if it is for My sake you have bathed and purified yourselves, then come forth fearless, and receive your vesture from my hands.’
And he laid in her hand the picture of the Gopis fearing and adoring as they leave the lustral water, some shrinking in humility, to receive their vesture from the Beautiful, who sits smiling far above them.
‘And this, my daughter, is a very great mystery!’ he said gravely. ‘And its meaning is this: “Thy Thou is still with thee; if thou wilt attain unto me, quit thyself, and come.” '
And she said, —
‘Father, surely the Self is withered into nothing when this dear worthy One calls. What were life, death — anything in the Three Worlds, compared with beholding his blissful countenance?’
And he replied,—
‘Even so it is’; and laid aside his book and fell into a deep musing on the Perfections of the Lord; and Radha sat beside him.
So that night her mother said timidly, —
‘Lord of my life, the girl is possessed by the God. I fear for her life. In her sleep she speaks aloud of him and stretches empty arms to the air, moaning. The color fades in her lips, her eyes are fixed on dreams. She has no peace. Should we not seek an earthly lover for her own, that she may forget this Divine that is all the world’s?’
And he replied sternly, —
‘Woman, lift up a grateful heart to the God that this girl is not as the rest, but consumed by the love of the Highest. I have a thought unknown to you. All will be better than well.’
And she desisted in great fear and obedience; but the very next evening the story told of Radha — heart of the God’s heart, the Beautiful whose name she herself bore! And she listened in an ecstasy.
It was a very still evening, the stars shining large and near the earth, the moon a mere crescent, such as when Maheshwara wears it in his hair and dreams on the mountain-peaks of Himalaya. They sat in the wide verandah, supported on wooden pillars bowered in the blossoms of the purple bougainvillæa and the white and scented constellations of jasmine. The wide transparent blinds of split cane were raised to admit the faintly perfumed breath of the garden; and by the Pandit’s elbow, as he sat on his raised seat, burned a little oil lamp, that he might read the sacred pages.
Radha sat on her low cushion beside him, the sari of Dakka muslin threaded with gold fallen back from her head as she looked up.
‘“In the passion of their worship, the women of Brindaban are drawn out into the forest, each grieving if he do but turn his calm immortal eyes upon any other than herself. Therefore, only in the secret places of the forest is there now any joy. It has left the little houses and gone out to dwell by the river. They must follow, for they bear the world’s wound in their heart, and he is its Balm.
‘“For a time his eyes rest on Radha the Beautiful, and she, transported with the pride of love, entreats that he will carry her in his arms. He stretches them to her with his mystic smile, and even as they touch her, he vanishes, and she is alone in a great darkness.”
‘Here again, my daughter, is the parable clear,’ the Pandit interrupted the reading to say. ‘Here is no room for spiritual pride and exclusive desire. Learn your place, proud soul! It is at his feet until he, unasked, shall raise you to the level of his heart.
‘“So at the last she falters and falls, stunned with grief, the herdmaids weeping beside her, and — Suddenly the Light shines. He has returned. He speaks: —
'“’Now I have tried you. You have remembered and thought upon me.
'“’You have increased your affection like beggars made newly rich.
'“’You have chosen my service, abandoning the world and the Scriptures.
'“’How can I do you honor? I cannot. reward you enough.
'“’Though I should live for a hundred of Brahma’s years, yet I could not be free of my debt.’"'
She sat in silence; and breaking upon it, they heard the soft tread of a man stop by their gate, and voices, and the servant who guarded the gate came in haste.
‘Great Sir, here is the holy Brahman who is chief at the altar of great Jagannath in Chaki, and he would speak with you.’
‘Bring him instantly hither. Stay! I go myself!’ cried the Pandit, rising. He had forgotten his daughter.
‘Father, have I your leave to go?’ She drew the sari about her face.
‘Daughter, no. This is a wise man and great. Be reverent and humble, and stay.’
She stood, trembling with fear to see one so holy. Surely it was a portent that the servant of the God should come on their reading. Yet she quieted her heart, and when her father, attending the great guest, placed him on his own seat, with the image of the wise Elephant-Headed One wreathing his trunk behind him, she bowed before him and touched his feet, for to her he was as Brahman and priest, an earthly God.
He was a man in middle life, tall and dignified in spite of a corpulence which gained upon him, and his features clear-cut in the proud lines that denoted his unstained ancestry. He knew himself the superior of kings. He would have spurned with his foot a jewel touched by the Moghul Emperor of India. Yet more. Had the Rajput Rana, a king of his own faith, sundescended, royal, cast his shadow on his food in passing, he had cast it, polluted, away. So great is the pride of the Brahmans.
‘Namaskar, Maharaj! What is your honored pleasure?’ asked the Pandit.
‘I am on my way to Dilapur on the divine business,’ he answered, with a voice like the lowest throbbing notes of the bronze temple gong. ‘But I would have a word with you, Brother, as I go.’
‘Has my daughter your leave to depart, Maharaj ? ‘
‘Certainly, friend, though it is of her I come to speak. May I behold the face of the maiden? A Brahmani has no need to veil it. They are not secluded like the Toorki women.’
‘Unveil before the Presence, my daughter Radha.’
The guest started at the name so familiar to him in his devotions.
‘It is singular, in view of my errand, that you should have given her this holy name, Pandit-ji.’
‘She deserves it for the devoted love that she bears to Sri Krishna,’ returned her father. ‘Of her face I say nothing, but her heart is flawless.’
‘It is well!’ said the priest, Nilkant Rai, and turned gravely to Radha.
Many were the devidasis, the nautch girls of the God, in the Temple of Jagannath. His eyes, deep and glowing, were no strangers to beauty, for the fairest were gathered like flowers to adorn the altars of the God, to dance and sing before his divine dreams, in all things to abide his will.
Six thousand priests serve Sri Krishna as Jagannath, Lord of the Universe, at Chaki, for great is his splendor. The Raja of Dulai, royal though he be, is the sweeper of his house. More than twenty thousand men and women do his pleasure, and of the glories of his temple who can speak?
But never had Nilkant Rai beheld such beauty as trembled before him then — darkly lovely, whitely fair, the very arrows of desire shooting from the bow of her sweet lips, half-child, halfwoman, wholly desirable.
His eyes roved from the wonder of her face to the delicate rounding of her young breasts and the limbs exquisitely expressed, yet hidden, by the sari.
He looked in silence, then turned to the Pandit.
‘Surely she is an incarnation of Radha in face as in name. Brother, she has my leave to go.’
Yet, when she had fled like a shadow, Nilkant Rai did not hasten. The other waited respectfully. Pan — the betel for chewing — was offered in a silver casket. A garland of flowers perfumed with attar of roses was placed about the guest’s neck. Refreshments were served and refused.
At length he spoke, looking on the ground.
‘Brother, it is known to you that the God makes choice when he will of a bride, favored above all earthly women. Beautiful must she be, pure as a dewdrop to reflect his glory and return it in broken radiance, young, devout — Surely, even in this land of devotion, it is not easy to find such a one!’
‘It is not easy, holy one!’ returned the Pandit, trembling as he foreknew the end.
The other continued calmly.
‘Now it so chanced that the priest Balaram passed lately through this town, and going by the tank to the temple, he beheld your daughter, and returning, he came to me and said: “The God has shown the way. I have seen the Desire of his eyes.”’
‘Great is the unlooked-for honor,’ said the Pandit, trembling violently; ‘so great that her father and mother bend and break beneath it. But consider, Holy One — she is an only child. Have pity and spare us! The desolate house—the empty days!’ His voice trailed broken into silence.
‘If this hides reluctance!’ Nilkant Rai began sternly, ‘If you have given a foul belief to any tale of the Temple—'
‘I, holy Sir! I have heard nothing. What should I hear?’ The old man’s voice was feeble with fear. ‘Do I disparage the honor? Sri Krishna forbid! No, it is but the dread of losing her — the empty, empty house!’
‘And is she not at the age when marriage becomes a duty, and would she not leave you then? Unreasonable old man!’
‘Holy Sir — Maharaj, I tremble before the honor. But if the girl married, she would bring her babe and make her boast and gladden our hearts. But thus she is lost to us. Have pity! There are other Brahmans rich in daughters. Take not the one from my poverty.’
Nilkant Rai rose to his feet with majesty.
‘I go. Never shall the God be rejected and ask twice. But when your daughter, old and haggard, looks up at you, answer that it was her unworthy father who kept her as a drudge on earth, when he might have raised her to a throne in heaven.’
As the old man stood with clasped hands, Radha broke from the shadows and threw herself before him.
‘My father, would you hold me back? What joy, what glory in all the world can befall your child like this? The bride of the God! O Father!’
The tears were running down her face like rain. They glittered in the lamplight. He could not meet her eyes. Nilkant Rai stood by, silent.
‘She is beautiful as a nymph of Indra’s heaven!’ he thought. ‘Not Urvasi and Menaka, the temptresses of sages, were more lovely!’
‘The maiden is right. She is worthy of the God’s embrace. Is there more to say?’
‘Maharaj, I worship you!’ said the old man submissively (and still he had not looked at his child). ‘It is well. What orders?’
‘Let her be perfumed and anointed daily. Let her food and drink be purer than the pure. Let her worship daily at the temple of Sri Krishna. The bridal shall be held in a month from this, that time being auspicious. The Car of her Lord shall come for her as the Queen she is, and all envy the Chosen.’
He turned to Radha, still at her father’s feet.
‘Farewell, happiest Lady. Joys earthly and celestial await you. Rest in the knowledge of the favor of Sri Krishna. Hear of him, dream of him, until the glad truth slays all dream.’
He moved slowly toward the steps. Her father pursued him.
‘Maharaj. Forgive, forgive! I neglect my manners. Thanks a thousandfold for the honor you have condescended to bring us this happy day. Your commands are ever before me.’
The words poured forth. He could not say enough.
‘It is well, Pandit-ji. It is well. Say no more!’ said the great guest, striding onward to the gate where two other Brahmans and his palki awaited him.
She stood in the shadows as the Pandit returned.
‘Father, beloved, did I do wrong? Have you not taught me all my life that there is none like him — none?’
‘My pearl, what is done is done. He cannot be resisted. It is well your heart goes with your feet. Now sleep.’
She passed in silently, and sat by the small cotton mattress laid on the floor all night. How could she sleep?
Nor was there sleep for the Pandit. Sita Bai needed little telling, for she had listened behind the curtains; and now, with a livid pallor upon her, she confronted him.
‘Lord of my life, what is there to say? You know — you know!’
‘I know,’ he answered heavily.
Sita Bai was too dutiful a wife to reproach her husband with anything done; but his own thoughts returned to the long evenings spent in contemplating the Perfections of the God. He replied to his own thought.
‘Yet had she never heard his name, it had been the same. Nothing could have saved her from the temple of Jagannath.’
‘Saved.’ He caught the word back from his own lips in deadly fear, and added in haste: ‘Whom the God honors cannot set his Grace aside, and there is none who would. None in heaven or earth.’
‘None,’ echoed the woman faintly. Then, in a whisper scarcely to be heard, ‘Whom Nilkant Rai chooses’ — and steadily averted her eyes.
They dared say no more of this even in whispers to each other; for if this were reported, grief, ruin, death were the sure end.
One word more did Anand Pandit breathe: —
‘She must keep her joy. It is the God’s. If he love her, he yet may save her. Let no word be said.’
She touched his feet in token of submission. All night they sat in a bitter silence.
Next day, all through the little holy town, bathing in its glad sunshine beneath the swaying palms, had run the news of this honor. Sita Bai, with a mask of gladness fixed on her face, visited the wife of the goldsmith, and begged her sympathy with the divine event. The gold bangles rang as she joined her hands; for she had come clad in splendor, and her sari was of purple silk of Paitan woven with strands of gold.
When Radha went with her mother to the temple, crowds of the simple people had gathered by the lake beneath the neems and tamarinds to behold the beauty beloved of the God. True, they had seen it before, but today it was strange and new. Her throat rose like the stem of the lotus above the snowy folds of her sari, and like the purity of the lotus was her face with its downward eyes hidden in heavy lashes. She moved already like a bride, a little apart from her mother, to whom she had clung hitherto.
A voice shouted, ‘ Jai Krishna!’ (Victory to Krishna), and many voices took up the cry. A woman, quivering with eagerness, flung a garland of wet marigolds about her neck. Flowers were strewn before her happy feet. Never before had a Bride been chosen from Krishnapur. It might well seem the benediction of the God.
A beautiful woman, in a sari of jade green and silver, pressed up close to her and whispered, —
‘Pray for me, O Beautiful, when you lie in the arms of the God, for me Ramu, wife of Narayan the Sahoukhar, that I may bear a son. Surely he will grant it for a wedding gift!’ She stooped to the feet of Radha to worship her.
‘I will pray,’ the bride answered, pacing gently onward.
Petitions poured in upon her as she moved through the dappled light and shadow of the trees, beside the melted jewels of the lake. A great gladness possessed her. It was as if the air upbore her light feet; and the people followed in crowding joy until she made the ashtanga — the great prostration before the Flute-Player, the Alone, the Beautiful, who moves through the world scattering joy and love with the far music of his Flute — He to whom all and none may draw near.
When the people were gone and the sun had set, and quiet breathed from the gray garments of evening, she entreated her father to read to her from the Song of Songs, written by the sweetvoiced singer Jayadeva, who has sounded all the secrets of love.
At first he hesitated, then with a strange look upward, he read.
‘ “This is the story of the anguish of Radha.
'"For Radha, jasmin-bosomed, beautiful, waited in vain for her immortal Lover, by the banks of Jumna. This is the Dark Night of the Soul, for the face of the Beloved is averted in eclipse. In her sight, joyous and joy-giving, he lingers on the banks of Jumna with the happy herd-maids, while the koels flute their soft koo-hoo-oo in the deep green shade. And the poet makes the invocation: —
‘“‘Krishna, Lord of Love, stoop from thy throne to aid us. Deign to lift up our hearts for the sake of this song that is the cry of all who shed the tears of desertion as Radha shed them.’
‘“And Radha cries aloud in her despair: —
A little, O a little, breathe once more
The fragrance of his mouth. Blow from thy store
One last word, as he fades into a dream.’
'“But he, far away in his Heaven, is lost in the Infinite Bliss; while she, deceived, beholds him playing by the river. Yet, because the soul, fevered with illusion, cannot soar to him, he forsakes his throne, sending his messenger before him, thus to plead with her: —
He has heard.
The wind of spring, obeying thee has brought him
At thy word.
What joy in all the Three Worlds was so precious
To thy mind?
Ma kuru manini manamayè,1
O be kind!’
‘“He pleads, as it were, for forgiveness, the Divine reasoning with the soul and justifying his ways. And all is well, and joy leaps over the horizon like the sun that drives the dark with arrows of victory. For he comes.
‘“So then, Jayadeva writes of the high close, the mystic nuptials of the soul and her Bridegroom.”’
The old Pandit paused, his voice trembling, with the dark eyes of his Radha fixed upon him. Then read on: —
Enter the marriage bower, most Beautiful,
And take and give the joy that Krishna grants.”’
Again he paused, the words choking in his throat, and she laid a soft hand on his.
Shame, which had lingered in her downcast eyes,
Departed shamed. And like the mighty deep
Which sees the moon and rises, all his life
Uprose to drink her beams.”'
He laid the book aside and extinguished the little lamp, so that only the moonlight was about them.
After a while, he said, —
‘My daughter, the God leads you in strange ways. Yet, whatever the hearts of men, he is true. Offer him your heart in all purity, and in the end it shall be well with you. We will speak of this no more.’
‘But, Father beloved, do you not share my joy?’ she said tremulously.
He was silent.
The days went by very swiftly to the time of the divine marriage. Messengers came and went between the mighty temple of Jagannath and little Krishnapur, bearing gifts and jewels. Casting half-contemptuous glances, they passed by the little shrine where the Bride worshiped daily; but all contempt died when they were admitted to see her face.
‘The God has chosen well!’ they said, and looked at one another with meaning.
So the great day dawned in a passion of sunlight, and with flutes and drums and shouting the great Car of Jagannath waited for the Bride; and as she came forth, the pomegranate-blossom flush of joy rising in her golden cheek, her parents bowed before her and touched her feet in worship— no longer their daughter, but a goddess.
Ankleted and zoned with gold, clothed in woven gold so supple that it yielded to every breath, the sun-rays dazzled back from her upon the adoring crowd until they put up their hands to veil the splendor. And so she sat, a Radiance, for all the world to see, high on the Car wreathed and hung with flowers, the image of the Bridegroom beside her.
Oh, wonderful, terrible greatness for a woman! And so, with songs and triumph they bore her to her bridal.
Mighty is the Temple of Jagannath, where by the eternal sea the people crowd all day to worship the Lord of the Universe. In little Krishnapur, he is the Beloved, the Herdsman, the Beautiful. Here, he is far removed — too great for love or fear. Human thought quails before his Vastness.
The temple is in itself a city, and no feet but those of worshipers may pass even the strong outward walls. Very glorious are the carvings that adorn it. Terrible figures of Gods, many-headed, many-armed, bending giant bows, trampling giant enemies, brandishing awful weapons, dandling on their knees great Goddesses with slender loins and full breasts that overweight their swaying grace. Very awful are these figures, with clustering hair and crowns above their long eyes, and suns and moons rising and setting on their brows, and the symbols of their might scattered about them.
But it was night, and it was among the wildly tossing lights that the Bride approached the home of her Lord; and the temple was dreadful, for it was dark and all the intricate ways lit with flickering points of light like the eyes of beasts; and, lost among strangers, her heart turned to water; for it resembled a great cave of blackness, and she could see but the naked bodies of worshipers and giant images of the holy Gods hovering through thick air laden with incense fumes and burning ghi and the dung of the sacred animals and the pungent smell of rotting marigolds. And there were cauldrons with flames fed by wild worshipers from the hills, and these crowded about the palki wherein they brought her through the temple, and touched it with hands that made her tremble, imploring her prayers as she lay in the breast of the God. Bats hung from the roof or swooped in the gloom. Their sourness tainted the air, and men, dim as ghosts, slunk about the fearful ways.
Thus dwell the Gods.
And suddenly terror submerged her like an ocean wave, and she sank back and the world left her.
When sense and memory returned, she lay in her palki in the great Hall of Dancing — a mighty hall supported on many pillars; and around her stood in motionless bands the devidasis, the dancers of the God, chosen to delight his senses for their grace and beauty.
And, seeing her stretch her hands for help, the wild and flying dance began. They lifted her from the palki and she stood among them, shimmering in gold, and about her they wheeled, advancing and retiring, linking and unlinking like dancers in a dream. And they sang the marriage song she had heard in the quiet of her home; but now it was terrible as it burst from hundreds of throats, gonged and cymbaled, with clashing and a thunder-beat of drums.
And let the gates of Hari shut thee in.
Tremble not. Lay thy lovely shame aside
And love him with the love that knows not fear.
Give him the drink of amrit from thy lips.’
She stood like one clinging to a surfbeaten rock as they tossed about her with wild hands and eyes, the whole world mad with noise and dance and color; then, dropping on her knees, she covered her eyes in terror.
And thus the servants of the God welcomed her to his arms.
Night, and a great quiet. A chamber of gold set with jewels glittering in the moonlight that came down some secret way, borne on a cool breath from the sea.
She lay alone in the golden place, and the jewels watched her like eyes. Was it terror, was it love that possessed her? A thousand images blurred her closed eyes — He, the Beautiful, with peacock crown, with eyes that draw the soul, with lips of indescribable sweetness. It could not be that she should lie close to the heart of the God. How dare flesh and blood aspire to that mystic marriage? Must they not perish in the awful contact? And, if it could be, how return to earth after that ecstasy?
‘May I know and die!’ she prayed. ‘Oh, let me not pass unknowing ! Let me know and die!’
And as the minutes dropped by, this prayer was all her thought, and it possessed her being.
Then, dividing the darkness, she heard the voice of a Flute very far off. Like a silver mist, it spread vaporous, a small fine music, but growing, drawing nearer, and, as it strengthened, clear drops of music fell through this mist like honey from the black bees’ comb. It crept about her brain and steeped her eyes as if in poppy juice, so sweet, so gliding, most infinitely wooing as it grew and filled the air with peace.
And in this high marvel was a blissful safety beyond all words, more sweet and delectable than any man may tell. The grace of his Childhood, of the dearworthy passage of his blessed Feet among men, returned to her with a joy that melted her heart with love. And so she rose and stood upon her feet, as one called, trembling with blissful longing.
Far down the long ways, passing through pools of moonlight and dark, came One whom the music followed. His face could not at first be seen; about him was a leopard skin. Naked but for this, beautiful and slender, his silent feet moved onward. Like one utterly alone in a great forest, he came, — slowly, — lost in some unutterable thought, made audible in sweet sound.
The Bride, the Lover, and between them, the music and the moonlight only. She would have knelt, but her feet were fixed; and he drew near with unseeing eyes — O Beautiful, O wholly desirable, to draw the hearts of men! And still the face divine was hidden.
But as he drew near and would have passed, she cried aloud with a passionate glad cry, ‘My Lord indeed!’ rejoicing suddenly.
And he turned and looked upon his Bride with heavens in his eyes. And as she saw what no words can utter, she fell upon his feet and lay, slain sweetly with a bliss more keen than any pain.
But the Brahman, Nilkant Rai, waiting behind the pillar to seize his prey, had heard, had seen nothing of the Glory.
As she fell, he sprang like a tiger on a fawn, and lifted the fair dead body, and stumbled in the trailing hair, and knew his vileness conquered. And in that moment the Eye of Destruction opened upon him the beam that withers worlds and hurls them like shriveled leaves into the Abyss.
And he dropped her and stumbled screaming into the dark, a leper white as snow.
But when they came in the dawn to implore the will of the God from the happy lips that his had blessed, the Bride lay at rest on the dim straight golden bed, and between her breasts was a Flute set with strange jewels that no man could name. Nor shall they ever; for when they laid her body on the pyre they left this Flute in her bosom.
And when Anand Das hoard what had befallen, he said this: —
‘When did the Herdsman sleep on his guard or the Beloved fail the heart that loved Him? It is well, and better than well.’
And he who tells this story ends it thus:—
Seated by the sacred river,
The mystic stream that o’er His feet
Glides slow with murmurs low and sweet,” —
‘and breast to breast with God, the soul that adores Him,’
- My proud one, do not indulge in scorn.↩