Chandra Shekhar/Part 4/Chapter 2
what shaibalini did
n a dark cave, Shaibalini was lying on a prickly bed of stones. The stalwart man, who had come to her rescue, while she was being exposed to the severe storm, on the hills, left her in that den of impenetrable darkness. The storm and rain ceased, but within the cave there was darkness and nothing but darkness, which was rendered more hideous by the deadly silence that prevailed there. Yea, so dark was the cell, where Shaibalini was cast by the cruel tyranny of fate, that it made the vision of man as terribly obscure as when the eyes are closed. There was nothing to disturb the stillness of death which reigned in that fearful place except the occasional pattering sounds of water, falling in drops on the stones, through the cracks and crevices above the cave. Besides, the breath of some animal, who knows whether it was a man or a beast, could be perceived in that abode of horrible solitude and darkness.
It was now for the first time that fear seized Shaibalini. Was it fear? No, not exactly that. The range of human intellect, in a state of equilibrium, has well defined limits—poor Shaibalini had gone beyond that. She had nothing on earth to be afraid of; for her life had become an unbearable burden, and she felt that the sooner she could lay it down the better for her. All she could prize besides life, such as happiness, virtue, honour, caste and family distinction, she had already lost. What else had she to lose? How could fear be possible at such a stage of life? On that day, or perhaps before, Shaibalini had banished from her heart the fond hope which she had, from the very early years of her life, secretly fostered, with tender care—she had abandoned her most dear thing on earth for which she had willingly sacrificed all the pleasures and happiness of this world. After this, it was quite natural that her mind became deranged and lost all its strength and energy. Her body too was enfeebled; for she had no food for two days, and the fatigue and exhaustion caused in ascending the hills, through a thorny and inaccessible path, during a severe storm, had proved simply trying. Then again, the mysterious way in which Shaibalini was carried on the top of the hill and thrown into that dismal cave, with all its horrible associations—a fearful incident which at least Shaibalini thought to have been brought about by the agency of supernatural beings—produced a terrible effect on her mind. All those things combined to unnerve and break down Shaibalini—what more could human constitution endure? Shaibalini was lying in that bed of stones in an almost unconscious state. She was neither asleep nor awake—a cold morbid stupor had dulled both her mind and body. Gradually she lost all her senses. She then saw, in a vision, the endless course of a flowing river. But it seemed to her that the river had no water in it—it was a current of blood that overflowed the banks. She saw in it rotten human bodies, skulls and skeletons, floating away in a hideous manner. Dreadful animals, resembling huge crocodiles in their shape and form, devoid of flesh and skin, with only their skeleton intact and eyes flashing fire, were seen to move here and there, devouring the rotten bodies. She felt that the stalwart man, who had carried her to that hideous cave, now brought her to the bank of that fearful river. It seemed that in that horrible region, there was no sun, no moon, no star, no light, yet there was nothing like darkness. Every object there could be seen, though very faintly. The river of blood, the rotten human bodies, the floating bones, the fearful crocodiles in mere skeleton, all these could be seen, although there was no light. On the banks, instead of sands there were sharp pins, with their pointed ends upwards. The colossal figure of Shaibalini's saviour on the hills, seemed to appear before her again, and this time like a stern dispenser of justice asked her to cross the river. There was no means to go to the other side of the river—there was neither boat nor bridge. The man, however, said in a stern voice, "Swim across the river, thou wretched creature. Thou knowest to swim very well—thou hadst enough of swimming with Pratap, in the Ganges."
How could Shaibalini make up her mind to plunge into that awful river of blood? The man, finding her hesitating to obey his mandate, raised the rod in his hand to strike her. In great fear, poor Shaibalini saw that the rod was made of red-hot iron. Finding her still delaying to obey his command, the man began to strike her severely with that awful instrument of torture. Shaibalini got scorched under those fearful strikes. Unable to bear the pains of that horrible infliction, she threw herself into that river of blood. Forthwith, those strange and fearful crocodiles rushed towards her, but they did not seize her. She began to swim; the current of blood was entering into her mouth, and occasionally rotten dead bodies, emitting a most noxious smell, came floating upon her. The extraordinary man was following her closely. He, however, had not to swim—he walked over the river. In this way, Shaibalini arrived at the other side of the river. She got up on the bank, and repeatedly cried out for help, at the sight of some fearful object before her. What she saw before her had no limit, no shape, no colour and no name. There the light was very dim, but it was yet so very intense that it produced a most painful burning effect upon Shaibalini's eyes—it was like the burning sensation of some deadly venom. So foul and offensive was the smell there that although Shaibalini had covered her nose with her cloth, it made her painfully restless. A horrible mixture of confused sounds was entering into her ears—heart-rending wails, fearful laughter, terrible howls of supernatural beings, deafening noise of cracking hills, tumultuous roars of thunder, boisterous clamour of gushing streams and dreadful hissings of blazing fire, all these pierced into her ears. At times, such a violent gust of hot wind was blowing against her that she felt she was passing through flames. Then again, at intervals, a most biting cold was inflicting upon her the pains of a thousand dagger. Shaibalini in a voice of agony began to cry out, "Oh, save me—I can bear no more." While she was thus crying for help, in that horrible plight, a large loathesome worm, emitting an unbearable noxious smell, began to wind its way into her mouth. At this most painful and hideous torture, Shaibalini cried out, at the top of her voice, "Oh save me—I am thrown into Hell! Is there no means to get out of it?"
"Yes, there is," replied Shaibalini's tormentor.
Shaibalini was roused from her torpor by the shrieks she had burst into, in her horrible dream. But even then, she was under the influence of the vision she had seen and so although awake, she cried out,
"Oh, what will be my fate! Is there no means for my redemption?"
"Yes there is," replied a deep sombre voice from within the cave.
What, was Shaibalini actually in Hell? Startled and slightly frightened too, at this unexpected but awe-inspiring reply, Shaibalini asked,
"What will save me from this misery?"
That strange voice was again heard within the cave. It prescribed, as a penance for her sins, a religious vow, which she was to observe for twelve years. Was this actually a voice from Heaven?
"What is that vow and who will teach me how to observe it?" inquired poor Shaibalini, in a piteous voice.
"I shall teach you," was the reply of the unseen preceptor.
"Who are you?" Asked Shaibalini, encouraged at the hope of her salvation.
"Listen to what I say," was the only reply.
"What am I to do?" inquired Shaibalini in resignation.
"Take off your Saree, and wear what I give you instead," said the unknown voice. "Stretch out your hand to receive it."
Shaibalini held out her hand, as enjoined, and a piece of cloth was placed on her palm. She changed her Saree, and asked,
"What else am I to do?"
Answer. Where is your father-in-law's house?
Shaibalini. It is at Bedagram. Shall I have to go there?
Answer. Yes, go there and raise a hut for your habitation at the outskirt of the village.
Shaibalini. What else?
Answer. Don't use any bed—you must lie on the bare ground.
Shaibalini. Anything more?
Answer. You shall live upon fruits and herbs only. Don't take more than one meal a day.
Answer. Neglect your hair so that they may grow matted like those of an ascetic.
Shaibalini. Is this all?
Answer. No, one thing more. You shall enter into the village, only once a day, for alms, and recount your sinful story, as you beg from door to door.
Shaibalini. Oh! my story is not to be told to any one. Is there no other form of penance?
Answer. Yes, there is.
Shaibalini. What is that?
Shaibalini. Yes, this will suit me—I will die. Who are you, please?
Shaibalini got no reply. She then said in a piteous voice, "Whoever you may be, I need not know it. I take you to be the presiding deity of these hills and make obeisance to you. Be pleased to give me one more information. Where is my husband now?"
Answer. Why do you want to know of it?
Shaibalini. Will it not be my lot to see him again?
Answer. You will see him when you have undergone the penance, I first prescribed for you.
Shaibalini. After twelve long years?
Answer. Yes, after twelve years.
Shaibalini. How long shall I stand this ordeal—If I die within these twelve years?
Answer. Then you will see him at the time of your death.
Shaibalini. Is there nothing which can enable me to see him before that? You are a divine being, and you certainly know of it.
Answer. If you want to see him soon, you shall have to pass seven days and nights in this lonely cave, alone. Think of your husband all day and night, and see that nothing else may creep into your mind. During these seven days, you shall come out of the cave only once in the evening, to gather fruits and herbs for your meals. But see that you do not take much of them, and thus satisfy your hunger fully. In case you meet anybody on the hills, you should not speak to him. If you can stay in this dark cave, for seven days, and continually think of your husband with absolute devotion, you will see him here.