Kopal-Kundala/At the Meeting of the Waters

Kopal-Kundala  (1885)  by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, translated by Henry Arthur Deuteros Phillips
At the Meeting of the Waters


Part I.

Chapter I.

At the Meeting of the Waters.

At the end of a night in the month of Mágh[1] two hundred and fifty years ago a pilgrim-boat was returning from Gangá-ságor.[2] At that time it was the custom for boats to go in numbers together owing to dread of Portuguese pirates; but this boat was alone, as towards the end of night a dense fog had spread on every side, and the sailors, not knowing in what direction to steer, had wandered far from their proper course. Now there was no certainty whatever as to where they were going or in what direction. Nearly all the passengers were asleep: an old man and a young man were the only two awake. As they were conversing together, the old man suddenly stopped the conversation, and asked the sailors how far they would be able to go that day. One of the sailors, after humming and hawing a little, replied, "I cannot say."

The old man got angry, and began to reproach the sailor. The young man said—

"Sir, what is in God's hand the wisest men do not know, so how can that yokel tell you? Don't be fidgetty."

"Don't be fidgetty," testily replied the old man; "do you know the rascals have cut twenty or twenty-five bigahs of my paddy,[3] and what are my children to eat for a whole year?"

This news he had received after coming to Ságor from other pilgrims who had subsequently arrived. The young man said—

"I told you before you ought not to have come, as there is no one besides yourself to look after your house."

"Not come," said the old man as angrily as before; "three periods of my life[4] have passed, and only one remains; if I am not to look after my soul now, then when shall I?"

The young man said—

"If I rightly understand the Shasters,[5] one can save one's soul just as well by remaining at home as by visiting places of pilgrimage." "Then why did you come?" asked the old man.

The young man replied—

"I told you before that I wished very much to see the ocean, and it is simply on that account that I have come." Then, in a lower tone, he muttered, "Ah! what have I seen! I shall never forget it even in subsequent states of existence!"[6]

The old man took no heed of the poetry, but was intently listening to the conversation of the sailors. One of them was saying to another, "O brother, so big a business has ended badly; I cannot understand what outer ocean we have fallen into, or what country we have come to."

The speaker's voice evinced considerable fear, and the old man gathered that some danger had arisen to cause anxiety.

"What's the matter, boatman?" he asked with quaking heart, but the boatman gave no reply. However, the young man didn't wait for a reply, but, coming out on deck, saw that it was almost dawn, and that a very dense fog had enveloped everything. Sky, stars, moon, or bank, nothing whatever could be seen in any direction. He saw that the boatmen had lost their way, and that now there was no certainty as to what direction they were going in. He was terrified lest they should go out to sea and be wrecked in the open.

The passengers could not see anything of all this from inside the boat, owing to an awning which was placed in front to keep out the cold; but the young pilgrim took in the whole situation, and explained it to the old man. Then there arose a great uproar in the boat; some of the women inside had been awakened by the noise, and, hearing what was the matter, raised cries of distress. The old man said, " Get to the bank, get to the bank."

The young man said with a smile, "Our case wouldn't be so bad, if we only knew where the bank was." Hearing this, the travellers redoubled their cries. The young man with difficulty succeeded in calming them, and said to the sailors, "There is no cause whatever for anxiety; it is now dawn, and the sun is sure to rise within a few dandas;[7] the boat cannot possibly be wrecked within so short a time. Stop rowing for the present, and let the boat go wherever the current takes her. Afterwards, when the sun comes out, we will consider what to do."

The boatmen agreed to this course, and acted accordingly. For a long time they remained idle, while the pilgrims' hearts were in their mouths from fear. As there was not a breath of wind, they could not feel the movement of the waves; nevertheless, they all regarded death as certain. The men began noiselessly to repeat[8] the name of Durga,[9] while the women cried and shrieked in various ways. One of the women had abandoned her child at Gangá-ságor; she had flung it into the water, and had not been able to recover it. She only did not weep.

While they were thus waiting, it got to about one pahar of the day, when suddenly the boatmen made a great noise by calling out the names of the five Pirs[10] of the ocean. The pilgrims all asked, "What is it, manjhi?[11] what has happened?" The boatmen with one voice roared out, "The sun is coming out, the sun is coming out; land, land, land!" The pilgrims eagerly came outside on deck, and began to inspect the situation. They saw that the sun had come out, and on all sides the darkness and mist had cleared away. About one pahar of the day had passed. The place they had come to was not actually the outer ocean, but merely the mouth of the river; still, the river at that point was wider than anywhere else. Though one bank of the river was quite close to the boat—not more than five hundred cubits away—no trace of the other bank could be seen. In whatever direction one looked, an endless mass of water, sparkling in the flickering rays of the sun, mingled with the sky on the utmost horizon. Close by, the water was very muddy, like the colour of river water, but in the distance it was bright blue. The passengers concluded for certain that they had been carried in to the outer ocean; still, it was fortunate the bank was close, and there was therefore no cause for anxiety. They ascertained their position from the sun, and had no difficulty in perceiving that the bank in front of them was the western bank of the ocean. In the centre of the bank, not far from the boat, a stream was slowly falling into the ocean like a streak of gold. At the point of junction on the right bank countless birds were sporting on an enormous heap of sand. This river is now known as "the Rasulpur river."

  1. The Bengali month of Mágh corresponds to one half of December and one half of January.
  2. Gangá-ságor, where the Ganges meets the sea, now known as Sangor Point and Lighthouse. A religious fair of great importance is annually held on the island of Sangor, which is a celebrated place of pilgrimage.
  3. Paddy-cutting cases are very common in the police courts of Bengal. About 75 per cent. of all the litigation in Bengal relates to or arises out of disputes concerning land. It has been remarked that any fool can try a murder case, but it requires a born judge to unravel the merits of a paddy-cutting case.
  4. It is considered that life consists of four stages, viz., Brahmachorjya, Garhasthya, Bánprosthya, and Bhoikhya. The first consists of studying and practising the precepts of the Vedas; the second of marital life and the performance of domestic duties; the third stage is abandonment of the world and leading the life of a hermit in the jungles; the fourth and last is the state of religious mendicancy.
  5. The word "Shasters" means books written by the gods or celebrated Munees (Sages), the mythology of the Hindus, comprising the Beds, Tantras, Puráns, &c.
  6. This passage refers to the doctrine of metempsychosis or transmigration of souls. A devoted wife often says to her husband, "What virtuous acts (punya) I must have done in a former birth to get a husband like you!" or, "In a future life may I have a husband like you!"
  7. According to Bengali time, the day and night are divided into eight prahars of four hours each. The prahar is subdivided into dandas.
  8. The Bengali word is "jap." It means to repeat a religious formula over and over again.
  9. Durga, the wife of Shib or Mahadeb, otherwise known as Kali, Bhoirobi, &c
  10. A Pir is a Mohammedan saint. The Mohammedans are par excellence the sailors and boatmen of Bengal. The two great classes of the population, Hindoos and Mohammedans, often show a mutual respect for one another's gods and religious festivals. I have seen Mussulmans fired by a sort of religious enthusiasm both during the Durga pooja and at the pulling of a Juggernath car (Ruth Jattra). I have also seen Hindus make a sort of obeisance on passing a Mussulman mosque, and when the Mohurrum is going on the lower castes of Hindus have taboots and tazeahs made, and carry them along with the Mussulmans.
  11. Manjhi=a boatman or rower.