Chapter 181 — Kundadanta and the Ascetic Travel, Find a Hermit at What Was Gauri’s Ashram by the Kadamba Tree

The guest Kundadanta resumed his narration and said:—

We journeyed homeward towards the holy city of Mathura, which was as fair and splendid as the solar and lunar mansions and Indra’s celestial city of Amaravati. We reached the rural town of Raudha and stayed by a rock in the mango forest. Then we turned towards the city of Salisa where we remained two days cheerful in spirits. We passed our time with that cheerfulness of heart that always comes with travelling through unknown places and scenes. We rested under the cooling shade of woodland trees, and refreshed ourselves in the cooling brooks and breezes.

Faded flowers falling in profusion from flowery vines growing on river banks of rivers, the splashing of the waves, the humming of the bees, and the singing of birds are delightful to the souls of passing travelers. We enjoyed thickening and cooling shades of trees on the shores of rivers, herds of deer and flights of chirping birds, and frozen ice and dew drops hanging quivering like pearls on tree leaves and blades of green grass. We passed many days through woods and forests, over hills and valleys, through caves and narrow passages, over marshes and dry lands, and in cities and villages. We also crossed over a great many rivers and channels and running waters. We passed our nights under trees of thick plantain forests. Being weary with walking over snow and dew, we rested on beds made of plantain leaves. On the third day we came to a jungle full of gigantic trees which, for lack of human homes, seemed to have divided the empire of heaven among themselves.

Here that devotee left the right path and entered into another forest, uttering these useless words to me. 10 The ascetic said, “Let us go to the sanctuary of Gauri here, where many munis and sages from all quarters stay. It is the ashram where my seven brothers went to attain their objects. 11 We are eight brothers in all. All of us fostered great ambitions in various respects. We are all equally resolved to devote ourselves to rigorous austerities to succeed in our determined purposes. 12 This is why I seek their shelter in this holy ashram where they practiced various acts of self mortification with fixed determination, whereby they have been cleansed from their sins.”

13 “Before this I accompanied my brothers and remained here with them for six months. Now I find this same sanctuary of Gauri in the same state as I had seen it before. 14 I see this ground overhung by the shady flowers of trees. I see the young animal cubs resting in this their peaceful retreat. I also see leafy branches with birds listening to sages underneath reciting the scriptures.”

15 “Therefore, let us go to the ashram of the sages which resembles the throne of Brahma crowded by the brahmins on all sides. Here our bodies shall be purified of their sins and our hearts will be sanctified by the holiness of the place. 16 By seeing these holy men of superior understanding, the minds of learned and saint-like persons and even those who know truth are purified.”

17 Upon his saying so, we went to that ashram of sages and hermits, but to our great disappointment, we saw nothing, only total desolation. 18 There was not a tree or a plant or even a shrub or vine to be seen. There was no man, muni or child, nor any altar or priest anywhere. 19 It was only a vast desert, all void and devoid of bounds, an unlimited space of burning heat. It looked like a blank expanse of sky had fallen down of the ground below.

20 “Ah woe to us! What has all this come to be!” we said to each other. We continued to wander about for a long while until we chanced to see a tree at some distance. 21 It presented a thick shade and cooling aspect, like that of a dark and drizzling cloud in the sky. There we saw an aged hermit sitting in meditation beneath it. 22 We two sat upon a grassy area out in front of the hermit. We sat there for a long time, yet we could find no rest in the hermit’s withdrawn meditation. 23 I felt uneasy being there for such a long while, so I broke my silence in impatience and cried out in a loud voice, saying, “O sage, suspend the long meditation of your mind.”

24 My loud cry awakened the muni from the trance of his reverie, like the roaring of a rain cloud wakens the sleeping lion, rising straight with his yawning mouth. 25 The hermit asked us, “Who are you pious people here in this desert? Say, where has that sanctuary of Gauri gone? Who has brought me here? Tell me, what does this change mean? What time is this?

26 I replied, “You, O sage, know all this and not we. Tell us, being a sage and a seer how do you not know yourself?”

27 Hearing this, the holy man meditated again and saw all the events that had occurred to him and to us also. 28 He remained a moment in deep thought, then coming to himself from his meditation, he said to us, “Learn about this marvelous event, and by your good common sense, know it to be only a delusion.”

The hermit speaking:—

29 This young kadamba tree that you see here giving me shelter in this desert is now flowering in kindness to me. 30 It was for some reason or other that the chaste goddess Gauri lived upon it for a full ten years in the form of the goddess of speech. She suffered all the harshness of the seasons sitting in this tree. 31 An extensive forest of trees grew by her at this place which became known by her name. The forest was decorated by plants of all seasons. 32 It was a romantic spot for all grades of gods and men who sang and played here with the melodies of tuneful and playful birds.

The air was filled with clouds of flowers, bright like multitudes of moons in the sky. The pollen of full blown lotuses perfumed the air everywhere in the forest. 33 The pollen of mandara and other flowers perfumed the air around and the opening bud and blooming blossoms brightened like moons. Flowering vines sent forth their fragrance all abou and the whole courtyard of the forest seemed to be scattered with perfume. 34 Its branches were the seats of the god of the spring season and plants. An orchestra of black bees sat and sang in concert with their mates on the top of flowers. Flower beds were spread out like sheet of moonlight and like swings for the swinging play of spiritual masters and celestial apsara nymphs.

35 Here brooks were frequented by cranes, herons and other aquatic birds of various kinds. Spacious lawns were graced by cocks, peacocks and other land birds of various colors. 36 Gandharvas and yakshas, siddhas and the hosts of celestials bowed down to this kadamba tree. Their crowns rubbed against the branch sanctified by the touch of the feet of the goddess Saraswati who is also known as Gauri. The flowers of the tree looked like the stars of heaven and exhaled their fragrance all around. 37 Gentle breezes played among the tender vines diffusing a coolness throughout secret branches, even in the light and heat of the blazing sunshine. The flying pollen of kadamba and other flowers spread a yellow carpet over the ground.

38 The lotus and other aquatic flowers were blooming in the brooks frequented by storks and cranes and herons and other watery birds that played upon them while the goddess entertained herself amidst the flowery groves, which displayed her wonderful powers in the variety of their flowers.

39 It was in such a forest as this that the goddess Gauri, the wife of the god Shiva, resided for a long time for some cause known to her godly mind. Then by changing her name and form to that of Kadamba-Saraswati, she waved as gracefully as a kadamba flower on the crown of the head of her spouse and partner, Lord Shiva.