WEAVER AS VISHNU
In the city of Pundravardhana in Bengal there lived two intimate friends, a weaver and a carpenter. They were both experts at their avocations and earned princely incomes. They lived in costly and beautiful mansions and spent money lavishly. They always adorned themselves with fragrant flowers and fine scents, and chewed betel with several kinds of rare spices. They worked only for nine hours per day, from 6 A. M. till 3 P. M. At 3 P. M, everyday, after taking all steps to make their appearance as attractive as possible, they would meet together and saunter in the crowded thoroughfares of the city. Wherever spectators congregated, or meetings were held, or great festivals were in progress, there they were sure to be present. At 6 P. M., when the sun had set and twilight had come, they would return to their houses. So time passed merrily with them.
Once, there was a big festival to which all the citizens went in their best and wandered about the temple and other centers of festivity. The weaver and carpenter also decked themselves in their best, paid even more attention to their appearance than usual, and went to all the centers of festivity enjoying everything and scanning the adornments of other visitors. At a window of a mighty mansion, resplendent in its whiteness, they saw the princess Sudarsana(The name itself means ‘The Beautiful’) sitting, surrounded by her ladies.
Her firm breasts stood up on her chest in the pride of the first onset of youth like inverted cups of gold, her hips were full and well rounded, her waist was slender, her hair was black as a black rain-bearing cloud, and soft and silken, her ears were twin cradles for Cupid with two beautiful ear drops hanging gracefully therefrom, and her face, which attracted all eyes with a hold equal to that of sleep, had the freshness and beauty of a lovely new-blown lotus.
Seeing this unrivaled beauty, the weaver was struck all over the body by the five arrows of Cupid(These are the five flowers,the lotus,the flame of the forest, the mango flower, the jasmine, and the blue lily). Making a supreme effort, he just managed to hide his feelings and return home. But, once alone in his stately mansion, he saw nothing but the image of the princess wherever he turned his eyes. He heaved hot and prolonged sighs, threw himself on his bare cot, and remained contemplating on her figure as he had seen it. He said to himself ‘Poets say that where there is beauty there is goodness. This is certainly not true since this peerless beauty seated in my heart is far from being good to me. Though she is deeply beloved by me she is only giving mental anguish in return. I wonder how many hearts a man has got. One of my hearts is pining away from longing for her, another is rejoicing in the thought that she would one day become my wife, while still another is engaged in doing the routine work of keeping me alive.
If the good qualities of all people do only good and are incapable of doing evil, how is it that this beloved with the innocent and loving eyes of a baby deer, and endowed with endless good qualities is afflicting me ? It is the tritest commonsense that a person should protect with his whole might his own abode, and yet, this foolish woman burns my body though she inhabits it. Whenever I think of either her lips red like the bimba fruit(A small cylindrical fruit which becomes deep red when fully ripe), or of her breasts standing erect in the pride of youth, or of her deep navel, or of her natural curls, or of her slender waist, I only suffer the pangs of tears. While there may be justice in my suffering thus for thinking of her lips, navel, breasts, and waist, there is none at all in my being afflicted with tears even when I think of her cheeks as there is no impropriety in thinking about them. Oh, will I ever be lucky enough to rest my love-sick chest on hers adorned with lovely breasts resembling the globes on the elephant’s forehead, and be lulled to sleep by their gentle rise and fall ? If God has decreed ray death, could he not have found some other way of accomplishing it than by means of this charming lady with bewitching eyes ? Even though she is far away from me, my mind is seeing my beloved as she was when I saw her. Oh, let at least my deeply pining eyes also get the same blessing of seeing her before them.
Oh, my beloved, when I think of being with you, I do not get any pleasure, as I should, but only immeasurable grief at the hopelessness of ever securing you. Happy persons like you should not care only for their happiness. They attain real happiness only by causing joy to others. So, darling, return my love and gladden my heart. My beloved cares not for me. She has robbed the beauty of the moon and taken the blue lotus for her eyes. Though she knows she has already robbed the gait of the unconscious elephant in its ruts and caused grief to it, why does she rob my heart also and cause grief to me? The god Narayana(A name of Vishnu- Other very common names are Kesava, Madhava, Govinda, Madhusudana, Trivikrama, Vamana, Sridhara, Hrishikesa, Padmanabha and Damodara) appears on earth or in the sky or indeed anywhere whenever a dying person thinks of him. This maiden too is like him as I in my agony think of her and see her image ‘in all directions. The great Buddha’s saying that everything in this world is momentary is false. If everything is momentary, my thinking about this princess ought to have been also momentary instead of everlasting as it really is.
Grieving thus in various ways and with raving mind, the weaver passed the night. The next day, at the usual time, the carpenter came fully adorned. He saw his friend lying on a bare cot, with hands and feet stretched lifelessly, with wan cheeks and tear-stained eyes and heaving hot and long sighs. Seeing this, he said, ‘Friend, what is the matter with you?’ Though he repeated this question several times, his friend merely blushed and did not reply for shame. The carpenter then said, ‘He is not a real friend who conceals anything from his friend for fear of incurring his disapproval or displeasure, nor is he a real friend who hesitates to help his friend. A real friend trusts his friend as he does his mother. One who does not open his heart in full to his friend is not a friend but only a mere acquaintance.’ Saying this, he, who had a little knowledge of medicine and psychology, felt the weaver’s pulse, heart, and forehead with his hand and said, ‘Friend, I consider your state to be due not to fever but only to love fever. Out with it. Who is the favored lady ?’.
The weaver astonished at this correct diagnosis and expecting much useful help from such a skillful friend, rose from the cot, sat on it, and said, ‘It is said that grief is remedied by communicating it to a good master, a good servant, a loving wife, and a willing friend. So I shall reveal my grief to you.’ He then told .his friend about his infatuation for the princess. The carpenter listened with rapt attention and then said, ‘The king Suprativarma, her father, is a Kshatriya(The second caste among the Hindus), and you are a Vaisya(The third caste among the Hindus)”. How is it that you do not shrink from the sin of aspiring for a woman of a higher caste?(According to Hindus a man cannot marry a woman of a higher caste and commits deadly sin if he does so)” The weaver replied, ‘A Kshatriya can have three wives according to the Sastras(Hindu books dealing with arts & sciences, law and ritual),’ namely from the Kshatriya, Vaisya and Sudra(The fourth caste among the Hindus) castes.
This princess is sure to be the daughter of the Vaisya wife. This is proved by cay loving her. My mind is pure and incapable of committing such a sin as you supposed.. Since it has been captivated by the princess, she must be of my caste, Conscience is the last Court of appeal in cases of doubt.’ The carpenter said, ‘Friend, what is to be done now ?’ “Get a funeral pyre ready for me’, said the weaver. ‘It is impossible for me to secure the princess. If I do not get her, I am sure to die soon, after great torture of mind and body. So, prepare the funeral pyre.’ ‘Don’t talk in that strain,’ said the carpenter. ‘There is nothing in this universe which is not attainable by wealth and the intellect of the wise.’ ‘If so, I have told you everything and you are of mighty intellect. Find out a way’ said the weaver, and began to sob and shed tears. The carpenter said, ‘Be consoled. Take your bath and meals as usual. Cast off this despondency. I shall find out a way by which you shall enjoy happiness with the princess for a long time.’
The weaver, thus encouraged by the assurance of his friend in whose resource and commonsense he had the greatest confidence, cast off his despondency and resumed his usual routine. Some days later the carpenter took to his friend a Garuda(The divine hawk on which Vishnu rides) shaped monoplane made of various colours and operated by a steering rod. Such an aerial vehicle had never been seen before. The carpenter told the weaver how to operate it. He said, ‘If you want to ascend and fly, pull out the steering rod; if you want to descend and stop, press in.’ The weaver learnt to operate it thoroughly under the direct supervision of his friend. Then the carpenter said, ‘The King Suprativarma and his whole family, especially the princess Sudarsana, are great devotees of Narayana, There is also a tradition in the family that Narayana appeared in person to a former King and conferred great boons. So, dress like the conventional pictures of Narayana, have the conch, the discus, mace, and uplifted arm(The conch is for blowing, the discus for throwing, the mace for beating, and the uplifted arm to signify the protection to the virtuous from the wicked by means of the conch, discus and mace) and ascend this monoplane Garuda. Descend on the terrace of the beautiful upstairs where I have ascertained that the princess sleeps alone, use befitting words to her, pretending to be Narayana, marry her according to Gandharva(A mere love marriage with no ceremonies. The man and maid, impelled by love, consort together) rites, and enjoy conjugal bliss with her to your heart’s content in the ways approved by Vatsyayana in his Kamasastra(The art of making love)’.The carpenter then left.
The weaver, assailed by a thousand pleasing day dreams and fancies, impatiently awaited the approach of night. When the brilliant moonlight night at last set in, he bathed, dressed in fine costly silk, adorned himself with most fragrant scents and garlands, made his lips red with the chewing of betel and several costly spices, put on a gorgeous crown, got into the monoplane with conch, discus, mace, and uplifted arm, put the machine in motion and descended on the terrace of the princess’s mansion. The princess was lying on her bed in the veranda and contemplating the brilliant moonlight.
The cool rays of the moon created in her a vague desire to get married soon so that all this beauty of nature might be fully exploited by loving embraces. Just when her mind was yearning for a mate, she was astounded to see Narayana on his Garuda descend on the terrace with conch, discus, mace and uplifted arm. The weaver was a most handsome youth, and his adornment and dress exactly corresponded with the conventional description of Narayana. The princess had no doubt that this was the great god himself coming on his aerial vehicle. Her heart was filled with love and devotion. She hastily rose from her couch and prostrating before the weaver said, ‘ Oh lord, to what do I owe the favour of this divine visit ? Command, and it shall be obeyed. What has to be done by me?’ To the eager query of the princess the weaver replied in carefully chosen words of dignity and in a majestic voice ‘I have come for you. I want you, oh Sudarsana. Come, embrace me.’
The princess said, ‘ But I am a human maiden. How can a god consort with me?’ The weaver replied, ‘Oh, darling, you are my eternal consort Lakshmi. Couldn’t you have guessed as much from seeing your lotus eyes in the mirror ? Owing to a curse, you had to be born as a human being and had to spend some years separated from me. You will be freed from the curse when I have lived with you for some time, assuming a human shape. Hence I have protected you from a human husband. You are to marry me according to the Gandharva rites.’ The princess’s joy knew no bounds. ‘My wildest dreams have been exceeded’ she thought to herself and at once married the weaver according to the Gandharva rites.
For several days the happy pair enjoyed marital bliss following the approved rules of Vatsyayana. Their mutual love increased by leaps and bounds. The weaver would come on his Garuda at midnight and leave while it was still dark, escaping notice. He used to tell the princess when departing that he was going back to Vaikunta(Vishnu’s Heaven) and would return the next night. Thus deceiving her, he would quietly go to his own house. Some days after the weaver’s visits began, some maids of the chamber of the princess saw teeth marks on the princess’s lips and nail marks on her breasts. Being well versed in Vatsyayana’s Kamasastra, they knew at once that some man was visiting the princess. Greatly alarmed and grieved, fearing lest the King should punish them for lack of vigilance, they rushed to the King with heavy hearts and falling at his feet said, ‘Sire, grant us abhayam(Abhayam is immunity from fear of all kinds, especially punishment, A Hindu King was expected to grant such immunity to a bumble suppliant. It was considered to be one of the most meritorious gifts), give us immunity from all punishment. We have something to communicate.
The King said, I grant it. Out with the news/ ‘Sire’ said the chief lady in waiting, ‘though we have looked after the princess Sudarsana most carefully some man has been stealthily visiting her.’There are indisputable signs of this on her body. How this man comes and goes we do not know. He never goes’up the stairs as our rooms are near them and we should know if he did so. Besides, the sentries on guard swear that nobody has crossed the gates at nights. We retire at 10 P. M. from the princess’s presence leaving her to take rest. We go to her again at 3 A. M. In between, we go only when Her Highness calls. Such are her orders. The man must be visiting her between 10 P. M. and 5 A. M, How he comes and goes is a mystery. This is the bare truth. We leave the rest to your Majesty’.
The King was filled with grief at this account of his faithful servants and thought thus: ‘Verily, the birth of a daughter is a heavy load of anxiety to a father. To whom to give this girl is the first great problem. After this has been solved comes the subsequent anxiety as to whether the beloved girl is happy with her husband or not. Truly, the fatherhood of a daughter is the synonym for misery. Daughters inherit their mothers’ nature. My daughter has been born of a noble mother, she has been brought up with clean and virtuous girl friends. If she has left off virtue and taken to evil ways, this calamity is one which could not have been prevented as it is due to no neglect of mine. A girl can be married to a good man and can enjoy all conjugal bliss with him with perfect innocence.
But to see a girl through to this destination is as arduous as it is for a poet to see his fine story through to its auspicious end.’ Thinking many thoughts of like nature, he went to the queen and said, ‘Darling hear briefly what these maids of the chamber say. This evil deed has been done by some wretch whose end has already been ordained by the God of Death.’ Then the maids of the chamber repeated everything to the queen. Greatly grieved, the queen rushed at once to the princess’s mansion and saw the teeth marks on the lips and the nail marks on the breasts. She said to her daughter, ‘Oh, wretch, oh, destroyer of our family repute, why have you spoiled your character like this? Which wretch, whose death has already been ordained by the god of death, has had access to you? Speak the truth in spite of everything which has transpired.’ The princess blushed with shame and, with her gaze fixed on the ground, related the whole story of the visits of Narayana on Garuda.
The queen was overjoyed on hearing the wonderful story of her daughter, and, her limbs quivering with excitement, rushed to the King and said ‘Sire, I congratulate you. The Lord Narayana, our family deity, is every night coming to our daughter who is no less than an incarnation of the divine Lakshmi. Narayana has married our daughter according to Gandharva rites. You and I will wait in the awning of the window this night and see the divine Narayana. Of course, the blessed lord will not speak to mere human beings like us.’
The King’s joy at this news knew no bounds. The rest ot the day seemed to him to drag on like a hundred years. When night arrived at last, the king and queen stealthily waited in the awning of the window with their gaze fixed on the heavens. They saw the weaver come on his Garuda in the full conventional dress of Narayana, With conch, discus, mace and uplifted hand. Delirious with joy, the king said to the queen, ‘There is nobody in this world so fortunate as you and I. We are the parents- of the incarnation of Lakshmi, and the Lord Narayana is our son-in-law. All our dreams have been realized beyond our wildest expectations. With the prowess of our son-in-law I shall conquer the whole world.’
Sometime after this, the messengers of the mighty Vikramasena, the lord of the entire south, master of lakhs of villages, came to levy the usual annual tribute from Suprativarma. The King, proud of having got Narayana as his son-in-law, did not give them the usual respect. They were enraged at this and told him, ‘Oh King, the day for payment has passed by, and yet you have not paid the customary tribute due from you. You seem to count on some supernatural help or other. By this your conduct, Vikramasena, whose anger is like that of the raging fire, the howling wind, the deadly cobra, and the irresistible god of death, will be angry.’ The King in contempt showed his back to them.
The infuriated messengers returned to their lord and related the whole incident, exaggerating the insult a thousandfold. Vikramasena was furious at this and moved with all his feudatory Kings and innumerable elephants, cavalry, chariots, and infantry, on Suprativarma’s country . He swore in rage, ‘Whether he enters the mighty ocean or seeks refuge in the lofty Meru(The divine mountain where Indra is said to reside)’ mountains protected by Indra, this sinner of a king shall certainly be killed by me.’ Making hurried marches, he reached Suprativarma’s country and began to ravage and kill without mercy. Those few who escaped slaughter went to Pundravardhana and raised angry howls at the gates of the King’s palace. The King was however not in the least perturbed by all this.
Soon Vikramasena reached Pundravardhana and besieged the town. The ministers, priests, and big men of the city approached Suprativarma and said, ‘Sire, the mighty enemy has begun the siege of the town. Why is your majesty still unperturbed?’ The King replied with a smile, ‘Remain with contented and glad hearts. I have found out an excellent way for slaughtering the enemy. Tomorrow morning you yourselves will know this will be accomplished.’ After this, the King made proper arrangements for the defense of the ramparts of the town. Then he called Sudarsana and said to her in sweet words instinct with respect ‘ Daughter, counting on your husband’s strength I have begun this fight with our enemies. So when he comes to visit you to-night tell him the facts in such a way as to make him destroy our enemies tomorrow morning.’
Sudarsana told everything in detail to the weaver when he came that night. After hearing it, the weaver said smilingly, ‘Darling, what a ridiculously easy task it is for me to kill mere human beings! I have killed such great and artful demons as Hiranyakasipu, Kamsa, Madhn, and Kaitabha(Famous, powerful and artful demons who oppressed the virtuous and were consequently killed by Vishnu) by thousands as mere child’s play. So go and tell the King, “Shake off your anxiety, in the morning your enemy’s army will be destroyed by the lord Narayana with his discus”. The princess related this to the King with becoming pride. Suprativarma was overjoyed. He ordered the sentries to proclaim in the town by beat of drums thus, ‘In tomorrow morning’s battle Vikramasena will be killed. Those who get his wealth, grains, gold, elephants, horses, drums, etc. will be allowed to keep them for themselves and will not be required to surrender them to the King as usual.’ The citizens were overjoyed at this proclamation and said to one another, ‘Our King is most powerful. He is not shaken m the least by the presence of the enemy forces outside the city walls and has evidently dragged them here only to entrap them into certain ‘ destruction. He will surely destroy them tomorrow.’
The weaver was filled with the greatest anxiety and grief as soon as he had made his promise to the princess. He thought, ‘What is to be done now? If I go away in my monoplane to some other place, I shall, no doubt, escape all this trouble but shall never again see my beloved. Vikaramasena, after killing my father-in-law, will enter his harem and take away this apparently unmarried princess home and marry her himself. If I accept battle, it will be the end of all my dreams as it will mean certain death to me, Separation from the princess will also surely mean death to me. Why waste words? Either way, death stares me in the face The wise in such a contingency prefer the path of bravery. Perhaps if I decide on fighting and appear above the fighting lines in my Garuda monoplane dressed like Narayana, the enemy forces may take me for the real lord Narayana and flee for their lives in panic flight. It is said, “Wise men never forsake courage even in the greatest adversities and calamities. Difficulties are over- come by arduous deeds. The wise always achieve their ends by assuming courage”.’
When the weaver had thus finally decided on battle, the divine Garuda said to the real lord Narayana in Vaikunta ‘Lord, in the city of Pundravardhana on the earth, a weaver has married a princess by assuming your form. Vikramsena, the able king of the entire south, has come to destroy the Pundravardhana king root and branch. The weaver has resolved to-day to help his father-in-law. What I submit is this. If this weaver is killed in this fight, the rumour will spread in the world of men that the lord Narayana was killed by Vikramasena. the lord of the south. Hearing this, sacrifices and other such ceremonies will not be performed thereafter. The atheists will destroy the temples, monasteries, and other places of resort of your devotees. Your special devotees, the Tridandi sanyasis(Sanyasis—Monks, literally a people who have renounced every desire. The Tridandis are a special order of Vaishnavite monks who carry 3 sticks Joined together meaning that they have in their control, thoughts, words, and deeds or, according to another interpretion, lust, anger and greed) will also give up their vows and revert as laymen. This is the state of affairs. The rest is for you to decide.’
The lord replied, ‘Oh, Garuda, king of birds, you have said well. This weaver, by his passionate love and courage, has something of the divine in him. He shall slay this proud King out for extorting his unjust tribute and for destroying a noble royal line ever devoted to me You and I will have to help the weaver to some extent. I shall, during to-morrow’s fight, enter his discus ‘ ‘So be it’ said Garuda. Early in the morning, the weaver, whose body had been entered into by the god Narayana, told Sudarsana, ‘Darling, get ready all the auspicious things necessary before going out for battle” They were got ready. The weaver- and the princess both bathed and prayed to god.
Then the weaver put on the auspicious scents and perfumes, dressed in the accouterments of war, and worshiped the friend of lotus ponds, the thousand-rayed one, the tilaka(The crimson mark put on their foreheads by Hindu ladies) on the face of the maiden of the eastern sky, the rising sun. Meanwhile the King had left the city with drums and cymbals playing the tunes of victory and met the enemy forces. When the infantry on both sides had locked in deadly conflict, the weaver got on his Garuda monoplane, gave gifts of gold and jewels to pious men for ensuring victory, and, rising from the terrace of the lofty palace, flew outside the city gates to the astonishment and joy of the townsmen who prostrated humbly, taking him to be the god Narayana. He stationed himself over the heads of his troops and blew his conch which emitted a noise like thunder.
The whole army of Vikramasena, elephants, chariots, cavalry and infantry, became panic-stricken at seeing the divine Narayana fighting against them from the air and at bearing the roar of that conch. Some began to pass urine and feces involuntarily from excess of fright, some took to headlong flight uttering loud screams of terror, some fell down and rolled on the ground unconscious, while some others stood motionless gazing stupidly at the sky. All the Devas(Shining ones – Immortals, Denizens of Indra’s heaven) assembled to witness this fight. They asked Brahma ‘Oh, Brahma, which demon is being killed, for the lord Narayana himself is standing ready tor fighting, mounted on his Garuda.’ Then Brahma thought thus: ‘Narayana will never use the discus drunk with the blood of thousands of demons for killing mere men. The lion will never use his paw, used for slaying elephants, to kill a mosquito. So, this incident is indeed wonderful and perplexing.’ Brahma become struck with wonder. So, I (Vishnusarman, the author of the Panchatantra) say ‘Even Brahma cannot fathom the depth of the well ‘directed hypocrisy of a clever rogue, in this case of the weaver who, assuming the shape of Vishnu, married the princess.” When the Devas were plunged in curiosity and wonder the weaver threw his discus at Vikramasena.
It cut that king clean into two pieces and returned to the weaver’s hand. Seeing this, all the kings who had followed Vikramasena got down from their respective conveyances, and, prostrating before the beautiful Narayana figure, said ‘Lord, an army bereft of its leader is as good as destroyed. Thinking of this, save our lives. Command us as to what we should do.’ The weaver replied to those suppliant Kings, ‘Rid your minds of fear, immunity from harm is promised to you on condition that you hereafter always unquestioningly obey the orders of Suprativarma.’ All the Kings said ‘As the lord orders,’ and began to unhesitatingly obey Suprativarma. The weaver secured for Suprativarma all the elephants, chariots, horses, and treasure chests of Vikramasena, Thereafter, owing to the halo got by his great victory, he enjoyed untold and uninterrupted bliss with his beloved, the princess Sudarsana.