Chapter 43 — The City Burning

The goddess added, “Know further, O king, that you are destined to fall in this great battle and that will have your former realm presented to you in the same manner as before. Your minister and his maiden daughter will accompany you to your former city and you shall enter your lifeless corpse lying in state in the palace. We shall fly there like the wind before you, and you will follow us accompanied by the minister and his virgin daughter like one returning to his native country. Your way there will be as slow or swift as those of horses, elephants, asses, or camels, but our course is quite different from any of these.”

Vasishta speaking:—

As the king and the goddess were going on with this sweet conversation, a man on horseback arrived before them in great hurry and confusion. He said, “Lord! I come to tell that the enemy is showering darts and discs, swords and clubs upon us like rain, and they have been pressing upon us like a flood on all sides. They have been raining their heavy weapons upon us at pleasure, like the impetuous gusts of a hurricane hurls down fragments of rocks from the heads of high hills. There they have set fire to our fortress-like city and fires are burning on all sides like a wildfire. It is burning and engulfing houses with a hideous noise. The smoke, rising like heaving hills, have covered the skies like a flood of clouds, and the flames of the fire leaping high resemble a garuda bird flying in the sky.”

10 Vasishta said:—

As the royal marshal was delivering this unpleasant intelligence with trepidation, there arose a loud cry from outside that filled the sky with its uproar: 11 the twanging of bow strings drawn to the ears, the rustling of flying arrows flung with full force; the loud roaring of furious elephants, and the shrieks of frightened ones; 12 gorgeous elephants bursting into the city with a clattering sound; and the high loud shouts of citizens, whose houses have burnt to the ground; 13 the falling and flying of burnt embers with a crackling noise; and the burning of raging fire with a hoarse sound. 14 All these were heard and seen by the goddesses and the king and his minister from an opening of the tent. The city was ablaze in the darkness of the night.

15 It was as like the conflagration or fiery ocean of the last day. The city was covered by clouds of the enemy army, with their flashing weapons waving on all sides. 16 The flames rose as high as the sky, and the all dissolving fire of destruction melted buildings as big as hills. 17 Bodies of thick clouds roared on high and threatened the people, like the clamor of stout robber gangs gathered for plunder and booty. 18 The heavens were hidden under clouds of smoke rolling like the shades of Pushkara and Avarta coulds at the end of the world, and the flames of fire flashed like the golden peaks of Meru. 19 Burning cinders and sparks of fire glittered in the sky like meteors and stars, and the blazing houses and towers glared like burning mountains.

20 Groups of soldiers were attacked by the spreading flames that trapped half-burnt citizens (with their bitter cries) between clouds of fire and their fear of the enemy outside. 21 Sleets of arrow-like sparks flew in the air on all sides, and showers of burning missiles fell everywhere, burning and piercing people in large numbers.

22 The greatest and most expert champions fought but were crushed under the feet of elephants. Streets were heaped with treasures wrested from looters in their retreat. 23 Men and women wailed at the falling of fire-brands upon them, and the splitting of splinters and the slitting of timbers emitted a crack-crack noise all around. 24 Big blocks of burning wood were blown up, blazing in the air like burning suns, and heaps of embers filled the face of the earth with living fire. 25 The air echoed with the cracking of combustible wood and the bursting of burning bamboo, the cries of parched animals and the howling of soldiers.

26 The flaming fire was quenched after consuming the royal city to ashes, and the devouring flames ceased after they had reduced everything to cinders. 27 The sudden outbreak of fire was like burglars breaking in to a house and upon its sleeping inhabitants. It made prey of everything that fell in its way.

28 At this moment King Viduratha heard a voice from his soldiers who saw wives fleeing from the scorching flames. 29 “O, the high winds that have blown flames to the tops of our houses with their rustling sound and that have hindered our taking shelter under cooling protection. 30 Sorrow for the burning of our wives, who (by pacifying the smart of every pain) were as cold as frost to our bodies before, and whose ashes now rest in our breasts like the lime from burnt shells. 31 O! the mighty power of fire that has burned the hair of our fair maidens like blades of grass or straw. 32 Curling smoke is ascending on high, like a whirling and long meandering river in the air, and black and white fumes of fire resemble the dark stream of Yamuna in one place, and the milky path of the ethereal Ganga in another. 33 Streams of smoke bearing the sparks on high dazzle the sight of heavenly charioteers with their bubbling sparks. 34 Our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, relations and suckling babes are all burnt alive in the black and blue flames. Here are we burning with grief for them in these houses that have been spared by the devouring fire. 35 See, there the howling fire is fast advancing to those houses, and here the cinders are falling as thick as the frost of Mount Meru. 36 Behold the dire darts and missiles dropping down like driving rain, breaking windows like bodies of gnats in the shade of evening.”

37 “Flashing spears and fire flaring above the watery ocean of the sky resemble an undersea fire ascending to heaven. 38 Smoke is rising in clouds, and flames are tapering in the form of towers, and all that was humid and green is sucked and dried up like the hearts of the dispassionate. 39 Trees are broken down by the raging fire, like posts by enraged elephants. They are falling with a cracking noise as if they were screaming at their own fall. 40 Trees in the orchards, now flourishing in their luxury of fruits and flowers, are left bare by the burning fire, like householders bereft of their properties. 41 Children abandoned by their parents in the darkness of the night, fleeing through the streets, are either being pierced by flying arrows or crushed under falling houses. 42 Elephants posted at the front of the army were frightened by the flying embers driven by the winds, and fled with loud screaming at the fall of the burning houses upon them. 43 O, the pain of being put to the sword is no more terrible than being burned by fire, or smashed under the stones of a thundering engine. 44 Streets are filled with domestic animals and cattle of all kinds, let loose from their folds and stalls to raise their commingled cries in the blocked streets like the confused noise of battle.”

45 “Weeping women passed like lotus flowers on land, with their lotus-like faces, feet and palms. Drops of tears fell upon the ground like fluttering bees from their lotus-shaped eyes and wet apparel. 46 The red taints and spots of the hair-clusters upon their foreheads and cheeks burned like Asoka flowers. 47 Alas, for pity that the furious flame of fire, like a ruthless victor who delights in acts of inhumanity, should singe the black lined, bee-like eyelids of our deer-eyed fairies. 48 O, the bond of marriage love that the faithful wife never fails to follow her burning lord, and cremates herself in the same flame with him.”

49 “The elephant, burned on his trunk from breaking the burning post to which he was tied by the leg, ran violently to a lake of lotuses, in which he fell dead. 50 The flames of fire, flashing like flitting lightning amidst clouds of smoke, darted burning coals like bolts of thunder in showers. 51 Lord! The sparks of fire against the dusky clouds appeared like glittering gems in the bosom of the airy ocean, and seem by their twirling to gird the crown of heaven with the girdle of the Pleiades. 52 The sky was reddened by the light of flaming fires and appeared like the courtyard of Death dyed with purple colors in joy for reception of the souls of the dead.”

53 “Alas the day and want of manners that royal dames are forcibly carried away by these armed ruffians. 54 See them dragged from their stately building and in the streets, strewing their paths with wreaths of flowers torn from their necks while their half burnt locks are hanging loosely upon their bare breasts; 55 their loose clothing uncovering their backs and loins, and jewelry dropped from their wrists are strewn on the ground. 56 Their necklaces are torn and their pearls scattered about. Their bodies are bared of their bodices, and their golden colored breasts appear to view. 57 Their shrill cries and groans, rising above the war cry, choke their breath and split their sides. They fall unconscious, eyes dimmed by ceaseless floods of tears. 58 They fell in a body with their arms twisted about each other’s necks, the ends of their cloths tied to each other’s. In this way they are forcibly dragged ruffians, their bodies mangled in blood. 59 ‘Ah! who will save them from this state?’ cried the royal soldiers with piteous looks on the sad plight of the women and shedding big drops of tears like lotuses.”

60 The bright face of the sky turned black at the horrible sight, and it looked with its blue lotus-like eyes of clouds on the fair lotus-like maidens thus scattered on the ground. 61 Thus, like these ladies, the goddess of royal prosperity, decorated as she was with her waving and pendant locks, her flowing garments, flowery garlands and ornamental jewelry, was brought to her end after her enjoyment of the pleasures of royalty and gratification of all her desires.