Durgesa Nandini/Book 1/Chapter 12




Of what pattern of beauty was Diggaja's charmer, Ashmani, the reader is no doubt curious to know; and I will satisfy his curiosity. But it would be highly impudent for so contemptible a person as I am to depart from the beaten path followed by authors when engaged in describing female loveliness. I will therefore begin with the beginning i. e. the invocation.

O word-presiding Goddess![2] O thou of the lotus seat! O thou with a countenance fine as the autumnal moon! Thou whose feet excel a group of chaste lotuses, and whose bosom overflows with the 'milk of kindness' for thy devotee, vouchsafe unto me the protection of those lily-like feet of thine, for I am going to describe the beauty of Ashmani. O thou who humblest the pride of beauteous damsels! O thou creator of cart-loads of confounded, big, elegant, compound words, do but once grant me shelter in a corner of thy feet; for I am about to describe a beauty. O thou giver of the milk and honey coveted by scholars, thou who scarcely favorest the illiterate! O thou saviour of the base! O thou mother of that perilous phenomenon—cacoethes scribendi! O thou who replenishest the lamp of learning at Bartala,[3] do thou once vouchsafe to ullumine

"—‍—What in me is dark."

Mother, I know that thou hast two several forms. Do not, I beseech thee, make my poor shoulders ache by riding them in that form in which thou didst bless Kalidasa—that form which breathed inspiration into the author of Raghuvansa and Kumarsamvaba, Meghaduta and Sakuntala—under whose inspiration Valmiki composed his RamayanaBhababhuti his Malatimadhava and Bharabi his Kiratarjuniam. But descend thou on my head in that form which inspired Sri Harsha in producing his Naisadha—which has enabled Bharata Chandra to fascinate all Bengal by his incomparable Vidya,[4]—which smiled on the birth of Dasarathi Ray,[5] and which still illumines the depositories of Bartala; for I am going to describe the beauty of Ashmani.

Ashmani's flowing braid was like the snake. Owing to this, the pride of that animal was wounded. "What is the use of again showing my cursed face to the world," it said "when I am vanquished by the braid of Ashmani? I will hide my shame under the ground." Saying this, it entered its hole. Bramha[6] perceived the danger, for now that the snake had disappeared, who was to bite people any more. Reflecting thus, he pulled it out by the tail. Seeing itself thus compelled to show its face again, it began to beat its head against the ground for grief, and the consequence was that its head got flattened. Ever since snakes have their present hood.[7] The very Moon[8] 'hid his diminished head' before Ashmani's face. Unable to rise for shame, that divinity went to Bramha for redress,—who said, "Never fear. Go, rise. Henceforth let woman's face be hid." Thus came the veil into being. The two dear eyes were like the Khanjana[9] bird—lest the bird should spread out its wings and fly away, the Creator wisely provided against that too possible contingency by creating the two lids, like the door of a cage. Her nose vied with that of Garura[10] himself—that monarch of birds. Seeing it, the feathered monarch took fright and straightway flew to a tree. From that time, birds have lived in trees only. From another cause, the pomegranate left Bengal and fled to Patna; it was followed by the elephant, who fled to Burma with its proboscis. There only remained the Dhawalagiri. "What may be my height?" it thought. "Five miles at most, but these are at least six miles high." Intensely brooding over this subject, its head grew heated; it ?thereupon fell to heaping ice on it. Ever since it has held ice on its head. Etcetera, etcetera.

Through the malice of Fortune, Ashmani was a widow.

On coming to Diggaja's cottage, she found the door shut; a lamp was burning within.

"What ho! holy man," called she.

No one answered.

"What ho! Gosain,[11] ho!"

Still no answer.

"Hang him! What is the hypocritical fellow about? Lord[12] Rasik Das,[13] ho!'

No reply still.

Ashmani peeped through a chink in the door, and saw that the Brahmin was engaged in taking his meal; and it was for this reason that he did not speak; for Brahmins do not eat if they happen to speak while eating their meal.

"He pretend to sanctity!" said Ashmani to herself. "I shall see whether he eats after speaking."

"I say, slave of a gallant!"

No reply.

"Ho! prince of gallants!"

Answer.   "Hum!"

"The Brahmin has answered with rice in his mouth. That's no speaking", thought Ashmani.

"Holla, mirror of gallantry!"

Answer.   "Hum!"

Ashmani.   "Speak first, man, and then eat."

Answer.   "Hu-u-um!"

Ashmani.   "Is it come to this? You a Brahmin, and do this sort of thing! I will straight tell it to the holy Swami. Whom have you got in the room?"

The Brahmin eyed round with apprehension, but seeing nothing, began to eat again.

"What's this?" said Ashmani. "Why do you eat again? Do you eat after speaking?"

Diggaja.   "Why? When have I spoken?"

Ashmani burst out into a laugh.

"Now you have!"

Diggaja.   "Right, right, right. No, then I shan't eat again."

Ashmani.   "Certainly not. Why, get up then and open the door."

Ashmani saw through the opening that the Brahmin was actually about to rise from his meal.

"No, no," said she. "You must finish the quantity of rice still left."

Diggaja.   "No, that can't be. I have spoken."

Ashmani.   "How's that? On my life, you must eat."

Diggaja.   "Horrible! How can I, after speaking?"

Ashmani.   "I am going then—I had many confidential words for you, which you shan't hear. I am going."

Diggaja.   "No, no, Ashman! don't you be so angry. I'll eat."

The Brahmin began to eat again;—as soon as he had taken two or three mouthfuls, Ashmani said,

"Well, you have done,—rise and open the door."

Diggaja.   "Let me but finish this handful."

Ashmani.   "Your stomach will never cry 'hold'. Get up, or else I will divulge that you have eaten after speaking."

Diggaja.   "Confound it! Here you are—I am getting up."

The Brahmin sipped the gandusha,[14] rose up and opened the door.



  1. In this Chapter, the illustrious author holds up to eternal ridicule those Sanskrit and Bengali writers—and their name is legion—who, departing from truth and sobriety, deal in astounding hyperboles and far-fetched conceits.
  2. This is a typical invocation of Saraswati, the goddess of learning.
  3. The Grub Street of Calcutta.
  4. Bharat Chandra, a Bengali author, has written a work entitled Vidya Sundara or the loves of Vidya and Sundara.
  5. A Bengali song-writer of inconsiderable merit.
  6. The Creator.
  7. In allusion to the Cobra di Capello.
  8. In Hindu mythology, the moon is a male person.
  9. A species of wagtail—Montacilla Alba.
  10. The king of birds in Hindu classical mythology.
  11. A Gosain is a spiritual guide of the Vaishnavas—the followers of Chaitanya, a Bengali religious reformer contemporary with Luther.
  12. The Brahmins are looked upon as gods by the inferior castes. The epithet प्रभु—lord (in the religious sense) is often applied to them.
  13. The word Rasik means a person witty with women on the subject of love. Here and elsewhere the author has combined this word with others, to express ludicrousness. These combinations defy translation.
  14. Before commencing and after finishing their meal, Brahmins sip a little water from the palm of the right hand, mentally reciting at the same time certain Sanskrit words.