Chapter 84 — King Sikhidhwaja Abandons His Kingdom for the Life of a Hermit

Vasishta related:—

King Sikhidhwaja continued in utter darkness without sight of his spiritual knowledge, groping his way in the gloom of the world in utter despair of any glimpse of hope, like a childless man passes his sorrowful days. His heart, without hope of salvation, burned inconsolably in the flame of his anxieties. His great wealth only served as fuel to feed the fire of his hopelessness. He lacked the cooling shower of spiritual knowledge. He found some consolation in lonely retreats in mountain caves and beside waterfalls where he wandered freely, like a beasts of prey running from the arrows of hunters.

Rama, he became as distracted as you had been before, discharging his daily rituals only at the humble request and repeated solicitations of his attendant servants. 5 He was as unexcitable and cold blooded as a religious recluse. He avoided the enjoyments of princely pleasures and abstained from his usual food. He gave his homage to the gods, brahmins and his relatives with large donations of lands and gifts of gold and cattle. He went on performing the austerities of religious rites and the rigorous ceremonies of chandaryana and others. He travelled through wilds and deserts and inhabited lands to his pilgrimages far and near. Yet nowhere did he find any consolation for his mind, which is what he was seeking like a miner digging in barren soil in quest of some mineral that is not to be found.

He was languishing under the intensity of his anxiety, as if suffering under the fiery heat of the sun. He sought some remedy for the worldly cares that haunted him constantly, day and night. 10 Being absorbed in his thoughts, he sought not for anything of the poisonous pleasures of his kingdom. With meekness of spirit and mind, he did not look at the grand estate that lay before him.

11 It happened one day, as he was sitting with his beloved princess reclining on his lap, that he spoke to her in his sweetly flowing speech as follows.

12 Sikhidhwaja said:—

I have long tasted the pleasures of my kingdom and enjoyed the sweet and bitter of my large property and landed possessions. Now I am grown weary of them as they are both the same and stale to me. 13 Know my delighted lady, that a silent sage is exempt from pleasure and pain. No prosperity or adversity can ever befall a lonely hermit of the forest. 14 Neither the fear of loss of lives in battle nor the dread of losing territory in defeat can ever take a lonely hermit of the forest. Therefore I think the helpless state of a hermit is happier by far than the dignity of royalty.

15 The woodland grounds are as pleasing to me as you are, with clusters of blossoms in spring, ruddy leaves resembling your rosy palms, their twisted filaments like the curls of your hair, and the flimsy white clouds like clean garments. 16 Blooming flowers resemble ornaments and their pollen is the scented powder on their bodies. Seats of reddish stones resemble buttocks. 17 Surrounding, pearly streams flowing in the woods resemble hanging strings of pearls on their necks. Their foaming waves are like clusters of pearls tied like knots on their clothing. Tender vines are their playful daughters and the frisky deer are like their playful darlings. 18 Perfumed with the natural fragrance of flowers, having swarming bees for their eyelids and eyebrows and wearing flowers as their garments, the woods offer an abundance of fruit for food. 19 The pure waters of the falling cascades are sweet to taste. They cool the body as your company gratifies my senses. Therefore I foster an equal fondness for these woodland scenes as I bear for your company.

20 The calm composure which solitude seems to give to the soul, in my estimation, is far superior to the delight that I derive from cooling moonlight or the bliss that I might enjoy in the paradise of Indra and in the heaven of Brahma himself. 21 Now my dear one, you should not put any obstacle in the way of my plans, because no faithful wife ever presents any obstruction to the desires of her lord.

22 Chudala replied:—

Work done in its proper time is commendable. It is as delightful to see flowers blossoming in spring as it is pleasant to find ripe fruit and grain in autumn. 23 Retiring in the forest is for the old and decrepit and others broken down in body by age. It is not fitting for a young man like yourself to fly from the world. Therefore I do not approve your choice.

24 Let us remain at home, O young prince, so long as we have not passed our youth. We flourish here like flowers that do not abandon their parent tree until flowering time is over. 25 Like flowery vines, let us grow white with grey hairs on our heads, then leave our home together like a pair of fond herons fly away forever from a dried lake.

26 Mind also, my noble lord, the great sin that waits on a disgraceful king of royal race who abandons the welfare of his people during the time of his rule. 27 Moreover, keep in mind the opposition you will have to face from your subjects who are authorized to check your unseasonable and unworthy act as you are empowered to check theirs.

28 Sikhidhwaja replied:—

Know my royal lady, that your appeal is in vain. I am determined to go away from here. Know me as already gone from you and your kingdom to a retreat in woods far away from here.

29 You are young and handsome. You should not accompany me to dreary deserts and forests which, in many respects, are dreadful and impassable by men. 30 Women, however hardy they may be, are never able to endure the hardships of forest life, just as it is impossible for a tender stem to withstand the stroke of an axe. 31 Remain here, O excellent lady, and rule over this kingdom in my absence. Take the burden of supporting your dependents, which is the highest and best duty of women.

32 Vasishta related:—

Saying this to the moon-faced queen, the self-governed king rose from his seat to make his daily ablution and discharge his many duties of the day. 33 Afterwards, the king took leave of his subjects, despite all their appeals to detain him. He departed like the setting sun towards his forest journey, which was unknown and impassable by everyone.

34 He set out like the setting sun deprived of his glory and disappeared like the sun from the sight of all. A veil of melancholy covered the face of the queen as she saw her lord leaving the recess of her chamber, just as the face of nature is hidden in the shadow of darkness when daylight disappears below the horizon. 35 Now the dark night advanced, veiling the world under her covering of ash-colored dusk, just as when the god Shiva forsakes the fair Ganga and takes the dark Yamuna into his embrace. 36 The sides of heaven seemed to smile all around with teeth-like clumps of evening clouds and the light of moonbeams glittering on the shoots of tamara trees. 37 As the lord of the day departed towards the setting mountain of Sumeru on the other side of the horizon in order to wander over the paradise of the gods on the north, so the brightness of the day began to fail as the shade of evening prevailed over the face of the forsaken world.

38 Now dark night accompanied by her lord, the night luminary, advanced on this side of the southern hemisphere to play like a loving couple with this cooling light and shade. 39 Clusters of stars were scattered in the ethereal sphere under the canopy of heaven, looking like handfuls of fried rice scattered by the hands of celestial maidens on some auspicious occasion. 40 The dark colored night gradually advanced to her puberty with the buds of lotuses as her budding breasts. Then she smiled with her moonlike face littered in the opening of the nightly flowers.

41 After performing his evening services, the king returned to his beloved queen who was drowned in deep sleep, as Mount Mainaka drowned in the depth of the sea. 42 It was around midnight, when all was still and quiet all about. People were all fast asleep, as if covered in stone. 43 He found her fast asleep in her soft and downy bed, resting in the lap of deep slumber like a female bee in a lotus. 44 The king started up from his sleep, parted from his cold embrace of the sleeping partner of his bed, all as the ascending point of Rahu slowly lets the eclipsed moon in the east from its mouth. 45 He got up from his half of the bed while the queen lay on the other half, as when the god Vishnu rises from his bed of the waters of the Milky Ocean, leaving the lonely Lakshmi rolling in the waves after him.

46 He walked out of the palace and ordered the guards to stand at their places. Full of confidence in himself, he told them that he was going to arrest a gang of robbers beyond the outskirts of the city. 47 “Farewell my royalty,” he thought, then passed onward out of his kingdom, passing through inhabited tracts and forest lands, as the course of a river runs to the sea.

48 With his firm fortitude in the gloom of night, he passed through thickets of forests beset by thorny bushes, full of heinous beasts and reptiles. 49 In the morning he arrived at some open land free of woods and jungles. That day he walked from sunrise to sunset when he took refuge under the shelter of a grove. 50 The sun departing from sight left him to the darkness of night, when he performed his bathing and the daily rite. Having eaten some root or fruit which he could find, he passed the night resting on barren ground. 51 Again and again morning appeared and brought to light many new cities and districts and many hills and rivers which he passed over bravely for twelve days and nights.

52 He reached the foothills of Mandara Mountain, covered by a forest so dense and immense that no human foot could penetrate. It was far from the reach of man and the boundaries of human habitation. 53 There he found a place by running streams, set with rows of trees with aqueducts under them, where there were the traces of a dilapidated dwelling, apparently the deserted house of some holy hermit. 54 It was clear of all harmful reptiles and small insects and was planted with sacred plants and vines for the sacred purposes of holy spiritual adepts. It was also full of fruit trees that supplied its occupant with plenty of food. 55 There was a level and pure spot of ground with a water course and green vegetation and trees loaded with luxuriant fruit and stretching a cooling shade all over it.

56 It was here that the king built a covered shelter of green vines and leafy branches. Their blooming blossoms glistened like the blue dome of heaven under the lightning of the rainy season. 57 He made himself a staff of bamboo and some vessels for his food and drink, and also some plates to put his offerings of fruits and flowers, and a jar to present holy water. He strung some seeds together to make his saintly rosary. 58 He gathered the hides of dead animals to cover the cold, and a deerskin for his meditation seat, placing them carefully in his holy hermit’s cell. 59 He also collected all other things that were of use in the discharge of his priestly functions. He kept them in his sacred cell just like the Lord of Creatures has stored the earth with every provision required for living beings.

60 He performed his morning devotions, then later he turned his beads muttering his mantras. In the afternoon he performed his sacred ablution, offering flowers in the service of the gods. 61 Afterwards he took some wild fruit, ground root, and soft lotus stalks for his food in the evening, then passed the night with his lonely self-possession meditating upon his Maker. 62 Thus did the King of Malwa pass his days with perfect cheer of heart in the hermitage that he had constructed at the foot of Mandara Mountain. He thought no more of his royal pleasures. They were utterly lost under the influence of his renunciation which had taken full possession of his entire soul and mind.