Chandra Shekhar/Part 4/Chapter 3
the wind of virtue blew
haibalini acted up to the advice of her unknown preceptor—she passed seven long days and nights in that dismal cave. She used to come out of it, only once in the day, to gather fruits and herbs for her meals. During those days, she spoke to no human being, as enjoined on her. In that hideous darkness, almost without any food, Shaibalini began to think of her husband, with absolute devotion. In her contemplation, she completely lost her perception of the things of the external world. The functions of her mind and organs of senses were suspended for the time, and she saw nothing but her husband, on all sides. He alone became the sole object of her thought. During those seven days and nights, she saw nothing but the face of her husband. In that dreadful silence, she could only hear the wise and affectionate utterances of her lord—her sense of smell could perceive nothing else but the sweet fragrance of the flowers with which he worshipped the deities, and her power of touch could only feel the pleasure of his fond and loving caresses. All her hopes were now concentrated in one particular thing, which was nothing but an earnest desire to behold her husband once again. Like the bee, which even under the smart pricks of thorns, takes delight to wing its favourite course round flowers of rare fragrance and beauty, sweetly smiling from within their thorny environments, Shaibalini's mind, inspired by the memory of her lord, began to wander about his face, which wore a manly beauty, with its well-matched pair of moustaches and broad forehead.
The man, who prescribed this form of penance, had undoubtedly deep insight into all the complex workings of the human mind.
In a dark and lonely place, where no human face can be seen, and at a time when the thoughts of this world and its gross affairs are conspicuous by their absence, the mind becomes deeply absorbed in any matter upon which it is fixed. In the midst of those dismal associations, Shaibalini, with a weak mind and a weak body, got beside herself in the deep and uninterrupted meditation of her husband.
Was this mental aberration or the awakening of the inner conscience with its supernatural vision?
Shaibalini now saw the image of her husband before her eyes, in the vividness of reality. The moment she saw it, she was charmed by its fascinating beauty and heavenly grace. She thought within herself, "Ay, this fine and stately figure is a faultless creation of beauty! Its broad forehead, with its wrinkles, is verily the sacred seat of wisdom and manliness! What is Pratap in comparison with this majestic embodiment of beauty and virtue? Fie on my judgment, I could not so long see the difference between a river and an ocean! Can Pratap's eyes be favourably compared with those that adorn the ethereal mould, before me? How bright and beautiful are these large wandering eyes—how tenderly affectionate, how inquisitively enquiring and how calm yet sportive are their charming glances! Ah me, why did I not see all these before—Why did I run mad after a fond delusion, and bring about my own ruin! Oh, what a striking combination of delicate beauty with stern manliness is there in the majestic appearance of my beloved lord! Ah, who can say what it is most like! Tall and beautiful as the stately oak with its green mantles, grand and lovely like the towering pine in the sweet embraces of winding creepers, lofty and imposing like the mountain with its fascinating garlands of wild flowers, bright as the glaring light of the glorious sun and refreshing, at the same time, like the silvery radiance of the gentle moon—it stands unparalleled in its grace and loveliness. I now see, with a clear vision, that the gods have lent my noble husband all their heavenly grace and virtue, and the goddesses all their beauty and sweetness. How poor does Pratap look before him, whom I have foolishly neglected so long! Alas, why did I not see all these before—why did I allow my heart to be swayed by my passions, and thus fall from grace! How sweet and elegant, chaste and enlivening are his gentle and witty words—how soft yet clear and ringing is his magic voice! Alas, why my ears were deaf to its music so long—why did I run away from home, and lose my honour! Ay, his captivating smiles are as beautiful as the sweet jessamine, as bright as the silvery flash of lightning in the blue sky, and as sweet as pleasant dreams in peaceful nights! And his love? Oh, it is as deep as the ocean itself—reposing in the calmness of its majesty, but overflowing at the slightest stir! Ah me, why my eyes were blind to all these so long—why did I not plunge into that ocean of love, and sleep in its placid bosom, quite forgetful of my own existence! Shame, what a trifle I am to him! I am a mere girl, inexperienced and illiterate, wicked and miserably unfit to appreciate his greatness; how can I be worthy of him? What the small shell is to the ocean, what the insignificant worm is to the flower, in the bloom of beauty and fragrance, and what the dark spot is to the glorious moon, my wretched self is to the guardian angel of my life. Yea, I am to him what the dismal gloom of bad dreams is to the life, and blank forgetfulness to the mind. I am the cursed obstacle to his happiness, and a cruel disappointment to his best hopes. Ah me, my alliance with him is like the combination of mud with pure transparent water, or the association of prickly thorns with the soft stalk of lotus, or of the noxious particles of dust with the life-giving breath of Heaven! Alas, why my life did not come to an end when I lost myself in the enchantment of a fond delusion!"
The man who had advised Shaibalini to remain absorbed in the meditation of her lord, for seven days and nights, was certainly an unerring pilot in the sea of life—he had by all means a clear vision of all the affairs of this world. He knew that the lesson which he had taught to Shaibalini, could turn the current of life from its ever familiar course, and make it flow through a new channel. He knew too that its potency could break the stony indifference to the duties of life, dry up the monstrous sea of sin and immorality, and stop the wild whirlwind of passions.
So Shaibalini forgot Pratap, and learnt to love Chandra Shekhar. Cut the wings of human passions, annihilate the senses altogether, bring the mind completely under your control, rob it of its innate strength, let it run its course through an only -open- channel and you will find that it will follow no other than the prescribed path, and be gradually contented with its changed course and new environment.
On the fifth day of her prescribed penance, Shaibalini did not partake of the fruits and herbs she had brought for her meals. On the sixth day, she did not stir out of the cave at all, and on the following morning, she resolved that whether she could see her husband or not, she would surely put an end to her life before the next dawn. In the night, it seemed to Shaibalini that a lily of unspeakable beauty bloomed within her heart, and Chandra Shekhar was seated on it, in the contemplation of God; she herself was transformed into a bee, and was humming round his lotus feet.
The seventh night of her penance was as horribly dark and silent as the previous ones. In that dismal cave, Shaibalini lost her consciousness in the uninterrupted meditation of her lord. She saw visions of various descriptions. Once, it seemed to her, that she was thrown into the fearful abyss of hell, where innumerable snakes of inordinate lengths, with their hoods extended, began to coil round her body—they were, at times, rushing towards her, with their jaws wide open, to swallow her up, and their breaths, all coming together, resembled in their noise a strong gale. It seemed to Shaibalini that Chandra Shekhar appeared on the scene, and took his stand upon the expanded hood of a large snake; forthwith the serpents vanished away like the receding waters of an ebbing tide. Sometimes, she saw a wide and deep chasm, containing a mountain-high pile of blazing fire—its flames touched the blue vault of the sky overhead; Shaibalini was about to be burnt alive in it, when, all on a sudden Chandra Shekhar appeared there, and quenched that hellish fire by throwing on it a handful of water. Instantly a balmy breeze blew in that region, and a transparent sheet of water began to flow, in a luxurient and murmuring stream, through that once infernal chasm; flowers of all hues and sweet fragrance were seen to adorn the banks of that magic rivulet, and in its water bloomed lotuses of exuberant growth and beauty; Chandra Shekhar was seem to float away in that placid current, on one of those beautiful lilies. Then again, it seemed to Shaibalini that a huge tiger was carrying her in its mouth, on the top of the hills, when Chandra Shekhar came to her rescue and severed the head of the ferocious brute by the single stroke of a flower, which he had brought from his holy place of worship; the face of the tiger resembled that of wicked Foster.
At the close of the seventh night, it appeared to Shaibalini that her life was out, but consciousness had not left her. She saw that some hideous infernal beings were rising with her corpse towards the sky above, in that dismal darkness. After some time, she felt that she was being dragged by her hair across innumerable seas of black clouds and through fires of countless flashes of lightning. She saw that fair celestial beings, inhabiting those airy regions, raised their heads above the waves of clouds, and were smiling at Shaibalini, in contempt. Elsewhere, she found goddesses of resplendent beauty, bedecked with beautiful garlands of stars and streaks of lightning, sailing through the air, on clouds of golden hue—the halo round their body lost its heavenly lustre as it came in contact with the air, which was polluted by the touch of Shaibalini's sinful body. In another part of the sky, she saw, with fear, dreadful monster-like aerial beings, inclining their dark shadow-like huge bodies against black clouds of stupendous magnitude, whirling about with the violent wind that was blowing there. The very moment they got the smell of Shaibalini's corpse, their mouths watered, and they rushed towards it to swallow it up, with their fearful jaws wide open. In another direction, she saw images of innumerable chariots of celestial beings cast upon the clouds—their dazzling brilliancy surprised Shaibalini beyond measure. The heavenly spirits in them, it seemed, were moving away their chariots in all haste, lest their sacred shadows would come in contact with that of Shaibalini's sinful corpse and thereby sanctify her wicked soul. Her eyes next fell upon the sparkling little faces of the beautiful stars, smiling in the blue sky, like so many unveiled beauties of matchless charms; they were, it seemed, pointing out to one another the corpse of Shaibalini, with their little glittering fingers. Some of those shining luminaries closed their twinkling eyes at the very sight of an earthly sinner—many hid their bright faces behind the clouds, and others vanished away in dark obscurity, shocked at the horror of the scene.
The dreadful infernal carriers of Shaibalini's corpse, it seemed, were still rising higher and higher to hurl down their charge into the horrible abyss of hell. At last they arrived at a place where there was no light, no darkness, no cloud and no air. There was no sound too, but all on a sudden a tumultuous rumbling noise came to that region from far below—it seemed, as if, a thousand oceans roared simultaneously. The goblins of hell, in charge of Shaibalini's body, at once cried out, "Hark! there comes the noise of hell—let us hurl down the corpse from here." They then let fall the corpse with a kick on its head. Shaibalini's dead body, it seemed to her poor fear-stricken soul, was now rolling down and down, through an endless blank of nothingness—the whirling speed with which it was falling increased by rapid strides, with every moment, till at last the corpse began to revolve like the potter's wheel, working in full motion. Blood came out of its mouth and nostrils profusely. The rattling tumult and commotion of hell was heard nearer, and the noxious smell from its hideous dens became more and more unbearable. Then all on a sudden, the dead but nevertheless conscious Shaibalini saw before her eyes the fearful infernal regions, where the wicked are punished after death. Immediately after this she lost her sight, and her ears became deaf. Now she turned all her thoughts to her husband, and invoked his presence to save her from the horrible tortures of hell. She said, "Where art thou, my lord Chandra Shekhar, the guardian angel of my life, the god of my idolatry and the dispenser of my weal and happiness—where art thou at this hour of misfortune! I fall prostrate before thy lotus feet—oh save me! I am being thrown into that hell before me, for my sinful conduct towards you, and no god can avert my doom unless you come to my rescue—oh save me! If you will only come and place your feet on my head, I shall be saved from eternal damnation. Oh, take pity on me, and come to my rescue!"
Shaibalini then felt that some one took her up on his lap very gently—the fragrance of his body filled the air all around with a pleasant odour. The horrible tumult of hell was suddenly hushed into silence, and the breeze which was hitherto carrying the foul smell of that hideous region of doom and damnation, now brought forth sweet and delightful scent of fragrant flowers. All on a sudden, Shaibalini's lost sight was restored to her, and her ears resumed their natural functions. She felt all at once that she was not dead but alive, and that what she saw was not altogether an illusive vision. Shaibalini regained her consciousness. She opened her eyes, and found that a faint light had crept into that dismal cave; outside, was heard the morning melody of birds. But then, what was this—on whose lap was her head resting—whose face was it that hung over her like the silvery disc of the glorious moon, shedding light in that fast-disappearing darkness of the early dawn? Shaibalini recognised who it was—he was no other than Chandra Shekhar himself, in the garb of a hermit!