Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Story of the Royal Huntress - Thottakadu Ramakrisha Pillai

It was a land of plenty and of wealth;
There God's indulgent hand made for a race
Supremely blest a paradise on earth.
A land of virtue, truth, and charity,
Where nature's choicest treasures man enjoyed
With little toil, where youth respected age,
Where each his neighbour's wife his sister deemed,
Where side by side the tiger and the lamb
The water drank, and sported oft in mirth.
A land where each man deemed him highly blest
When he relieved the miseries of the poor,
When to his roof the wearied traveller came
To share his proffered bounty with good cheer.
Such was the far-famed land of Panchala.

Here reigned a king who walked in virtue's path,
Who ruled his country only for his God.
His people's good he deemed his only care,
Their sorrows were his sorrows, and their joys
He counted as his own; such was the king
Whose daily prayers went up to Him on high
For wisdom and for strength to rule his men
Aright, and guard the land from foreign foes.
Such was the far-famed king of Panchala.

An only son he had - a noble prince,
The terror of his foes, the poor man's friend.
He mastered all the arts of peace and war,
And was a worthy father's worthy son.
What gifts and graces men as beauties deem
These Nature freely lavished on the youth,
And people loved in wonder to behold
The face that kindled pleasure in their minds.
The courage of a warrior in the field,
A woman's tender pity to the weak -
All these were centred in the royal youth.
His arrows killed full many a beast that wrought
Dread havoc on the cattle of the poor.
Such was the famous prince of Panchala.

The people, they were all true men and good,
Their ruler they adored, for by their God
He was ordained to rule their native land.
They freely to their king made known their wants,
And he as freely satisfied their needs,
And e'en the meanest of the land deemed it
The basest act to sin against his king.
Such were the people of the ancient land
Of Panchala, who stood one day with tears
Before their king to pour their plaintive tales
Of ruin wrought upon their cattle by
The tiger of the forest, that all day
Was safe in his impenetrable lair,
But every night his dreaded figure showed
And feasted on the flesh of toiling beasts.

The king gave ear to their sad tales of woe,
And straightway called his only son, and said -
"Dear son! my people's good I value more
Than thine own life. Go therefore to the woods
With all thine arrows and thy trusty bow,
And drag the dreaded tiger from his den,
And to their homes their wonted peace restore.
His spotted skin and murderous claws must soon
Be added to the trophies of the past,
Now hanging on our ancient palace walls."
The prince obeyed, and to the forest went:
Three days and nights he wandered in the woods,
But still found not the object of his search.
He missed his faithful men and lost his way,
Till worn and weary underneath a tree,
Whose shady boughs extended far and wide,
The lonely straggler stretched his limbs and slept,
And for a time forgot his dire distress.

He woke, and thus addressed himself with tears:
"Here I am left deserted and alone,
Perchance my faithful people at this hour
Are vainly searching for their hapless prince,
While I die here of hunger and of thirst.
And gladly would I welcome now the brute
That has attracted me to this strange spot,
To plunge his claws into my body, tear
My flesh, and break my bones, and feast on me
By gnawing them between his horrid jaws,
And so spare me from this slow lingering death."

So thought the royal youth of his sad doom,
When lo! a spotless figure, with a bow,
A pouch with arrows dangling on her back,
A hatchet in her hand for cutting wood,
And with a pitcher on her head, appeared.
Here every day she came to gather wood,
And, dressed in male attire, her heavy load
Took to the nearest town, sold it, then reached,
At close of day to cook the ev'ning meal,
Her cottage on the outskirts of the wood,
Where, with her sire, bent down with years, she lived,
And dragged her daily miserable life.
Such was the maid that was upon that day,
As if by instinct, drawn to the fair youth,
And such the huntress Radha he beheld.
A fairer woman never breathed the air -
No, not in all the land of Panchala.

The maid in pity saw his wretched plight,
Then from the pitcher took her midday meal,
And soon relieved his hunger and his thirst.
The grateful prince, delighted, told his tale,
And she, well pleased, thus spake: "Fair youth! grieve not,
Behold the brook that yonder steals along,
To this the tiger comes at noon to quench
His thirst. Then, safely perched upon a tree,
We can for ever check his deadly course,"
Both went, and saw at the expected hour
The monarch of the forest near the brook.
In quick succession, lightning-like from them
The arrows flew, and in a moment fell
His massive body lifeless on the ground.
Then vowing oft to meet his valiant friend,
The prince returned, and with the happy news
Appeared before the king, who blest his son
And said: "My son! well hast thou done the deed;
Thy life thou hast endangered for my men;
Ask anything and I will give it thee."
"I want not wealth nor power," the prince replied,
"But, noble father I one request I make.
I chanced to meet a huntress in the wood,
And Radha is her name; she saved my life.
I but for her had died a lingering death,
Her valour and her beauty I admire,
And therefore grant me leave to marry her."

The king spake not, but forthwith gave command
To banish from his home the reckless youth,
Who brought disgrace upon his royal house,
And who, he wished, should wed one worthy of
The noble race of ancient Panchala.
Poor youth! he left his country and his home,
He that was dreaded by his foes was gone.

Vain lust of power impelled the neighbouring king,
The traitor who usurped his sovereign's throne,
To march on Panchala with all his men.
He went, and to the helpless king proclaimed -
"Thou knowest well my armies are the best
On earth, and folly it will be in thee
To stand 'gainst them and shed thy people's blood.
Send forth thy greatest archer, and with him
My prowess I will try: this will decide
If you or I should sit upon the throne,
And whether Panchala is thine or mine."
The king, bewildered, knew not what to do,
But soon two maidens, strangers to the land,
Met him, and, of the two, the younger said -
"O righteous king! we left our distant homes
To visit shrines and bathe in holy streams.
We have been wandering in many climes,
And yesternight this place we reached, and heard
Your loyal people speak of your sad plight.
In early youth I learned to use the bow -
I pray thee, therefore, send me forth against
The wretch that dares to wrest this land from thee."

And ere the treacherous wretch could string his bow,
A pointed arrow carrying death with it,
Like lightning flew from forth the maiden's hands,
Pierced deep into his head, that plans devised
To kill his royal master and once more
Thought ill of Panchala and her good king.
His body lifeless lay upon the field.

Then spake the maiden to the grateful king: -
"Thou, noble ruler of this ancient land!
Before thy sacred presence and before
All these assembled in thy royal court,
I will reveal my story, sad but true.
I am the only child of him that ruled
The neighbouring state, whose kings for centuries
In peace and friendship lived with Panchala.
Alas! the villain, whom my arrow gave
To crows and to the eagles of the air,
Usurped my father's throne, and sad to tell,
He instant orders gave to murder us.
The menials sent to do the cruel deed
Felt pity for the fallen king and me,
His only daughter, in the woods left us
And went away, reporting they had done
The deed; and there, in that deserted place,
Unknown we lived a wretched life for years.
And glad I am that death ignoble, which
The wretch deserved, has now befallen him.

"This person standing here - I now remove
The veil, and, by the mole upon his breast,
Behold in him thine own begotten son -
Was by thy orders banished from the land.
Grant that I now may plead for him, because
A woman's words can sooner soothe the heart.
I crave your Majesty to pardon him
For loving me, and take him back unto
His father's home; grant also, gracious king,
That I, a princess, may be worthy deemed
Of being wedded to thine only son."

Thottakadu Ramakrisha Pillai (known as T. Ramakrishna) (1854 - ??) India

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