Durgesa Nandini/Book 1/Chapter 1

 

DURGEŚA-NANDINÍ,

OR

THE CHIEFTAIN'S DAUGHTER.

BOOK I.

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CHAPTER I.

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THE TEMPLE.

One day, near the end of summer, in the year 998 of the Bengali era, a solitary horseman was journeying along the road which leads from Vishnupur to Jehanabad. Seeing that the sun was about to set, he began to gallop; for before him lay a long, lonesome, unshaded road, and if the evening should bring with it one of those thunder-storms so frequent at that season of the year, it would go hard with him in that shelterless place. By degrees the twilight sky was overspread with masses of dark clouds. As early as nightfall, such dense darkness enveloped the landscape that the guiding of the horse became extremely difficult; and the traveller could only with difficulty follow the path shown by the lightning flash. In a short time, the winds began to roar, accompanied by heavy rain. The horseman was now absolutely incapable of distinguishing his course. The reins were now slackened, and the animal went his own way. After going some distance in this manner, the charger stumbled at some hard substance. As the lightning played just then, the traveller caught a glimpse of some gigantic white object before him. Taking it to be a building, he jumped to the ground, and came to know that some stone stairs had occasioned the accident. Hence concluding shelter to be at hand, he let his horse loose, and in darkness cautiously began to ascend the flight of steps. By the help of the lightning he soon ascertained that the pile before him was a temple. He adroitly reached its little door, but found it shut. He felt it about with his hand and perceived that it was not fastened outside. "In this temple, situated as it is in an uninhabited, solitary tract, who can have fastened the door within?"—the traveller asked himself with some surprise and curiosity. But the rain was beating pitilessly against his head, so that be the occupant whoever he might, the traveller fell to rapping at the door violently with his hand, again and again. But in vain. Irresistibly prompted to break it open by kicking, he refrained from going so far, lest thereby he should commit an act of graceless sacrilege. But notwithstanding this forbearance of his, the violence of his blows was such that the frail wooden thing was not able to bear it long—shortly it was deprived of its fastening pin. On the door being flung open, as the young man entered the temple, a faint shriek, issuing from it, entered his ear; and immediately a gust, rushing in, blew out the lamp which had been burning there. Who was in the temple and what the image of the god?—the newcomer could not at all determine. Finding himself thus placed, the dauntless young man only smiled, and first reverentially bowed down his head before the invisible image. He then arose and in darkness spoke, "Who's there in the temple?" No answer; but the tinkling of ornaments was heard. Thinking it useless to waste words, the traveller then closed the door in order to keep out the wind and rain, and in place of the broken pin leaned against it. "Whoever you may be, here," again said he, "listen. Here I sit at the door armed. Do not break my rest, or do it at your own peril, if you should happen to belong to the stronger sex. But if you be women, never fear; so long as sword and buckler are in the hands of a Rajput, not a hair of your head shall come to grief."

"Who are you, sir?" was the question in a female voice.

The traveller answered in surprise, "From the voice I gather this is asked by some fair one. What's the use, madam, of your knowing me?"

"O sir, we were so frightened!" answered the voice.

"Whoever I may be," replied the young man, "it is not our custom to make ourselves known by our own mouth. But rest content that so long as I am here, no danger shall befall the weaker sex."

"I take heart at your words, sir," said the woman. "Till now we were almost dying of fright. My companion has yet not completely recovered from her swoon. In the evening we came to worship this Siva, called Saileswara. Afterwards when the storm broke out, our bearers and attendants left us and have gone, we know not where."

"Be of good cheer, madam, I pray you," said our young man. "Rest here for the present. To-morrow morning I will conduct you home."

"The blessings of Saileswara upon you, sir!", returned the woman.

At midnight when the storm ceased, the young man said, "Madam, please stay here alone for a while, summoning up courage. I'll just go and procure a lamp from the nearest village."

At this the female interlocutor returned, "Sir, you needn't go so far. The keeper of this temple, a menial, lives close by. The moonlight has now appeared, so that you will be able to see his hovel on going out. This man lives alone in this lonely region and has always by him articles for lighting a fire."

Accordingly the young man went out and in the moonlight discovered the dwelling of the keeper. Coming to the door of his habitation, our traveller awakened him. The man, not opening the door at once from fear, began at first to peep out to ascertain who it was that had come. On close examination, no signs of a robber were recognisable in the traveller; moreover, it was not so easy for the former to overcome the temptation of gold held out by the latter. After some balancing, the keeper opened the door and lighted a lamp.

Having brought in the light, the traveller saw that an image of Siva, made of white marble was established in the temple. Behind it were two women only. The more youthful of them, on seeing the light, sat down veiling herself, and looking down. But from the diamond-studded Marwari[1] bangles that shone on her wrists and from her embroidered dress of exquisite workmanship, over which were displayed tastefully her jewelled ornaments, the traveller could clearly infer that she came of no mean family. From the comparatively inferior value of the second woman's dress, be concluded her to be the hand-maid of the young lady, yet more well-to-do than the ordinary run of maid-servants. Her age might be thirty-five. Naturally it appeared to the young man that he was speaking to the matron. He also remarked with surprise that the dress of neither was like that of Bengali women, both being attired after the fashion of the North-Western or Hindustani females.

After placing the lamp in its place, the young man stood facing the women. Then, as the rays of light fell full on his head, the ladies perceived that his age might be slightly over five and twenty. His body was of such a height as would not have looked beautiful in another, but owing to the young man's broad chest and the symmetrical largeness and fulness of every member, his tallness contributed singularly to his beauty. Over a complexion, like the hue of the tender grass brought forth by the rainy season, or rather like the more captivating color of the fresh, spring leaves, shone amulets and other ornaments worn by the Rajputs. Over his loins hung his sheathed sword fastened to the girdle; in his long arm was a long spear; a turban, crested with a diamond, was on his head; from his ears hung pearl ear-rings; a jewelled neck-lace completed his dress. On viewing each other, both parties were eager for acquaintance, but neither could bring itself to stoop to the indecorum of making advances to the other.

 

 

  1. Marwar, a province in Rajputana, is famous for its jewelled bangles.