‘Ramsaran, who is that girl?’
‘She must be the priest’s daughter. He lives nearby.’ ‘Bhargavacharya’s?’
‘Yes, my Lord.’
‘Surprising! A rose on a blade of darbha grass.’
‘I have heard that the maiden’s mother was extremely beautiful.’ ‘Is she no more?’
‘No. All that the priest has in the world is this daughter.’ ‘How ethereally beautiful!’
‘She is said to resemble her mother greatly.’
The Maharaja could not take his eyes away from the direction in which she disappeared.
The sylvan nymph-
‘Did you not feel, Ramsaran, when the fairy stepped out through the veil of mist, that spring was approaching?’
Ramsaran covered his mouth with his hand and tittered. ‘Ramsaran, you are a spoilsport.’
The Maharaja turned his horse. He did not speak till he reached the palace.
Ramsaran knew his master too well to speak. They had meant to alleviate boredom by going for a ride.
The Maharaja lost himself in a day dream. It was because he was bored with the stifling monotony of his harem that he had set off, hoping to divert himself with physical exertion.
After the trials and tribulations of the battlefield, he had revelled in the luxurious life of his palace.
Oh, how soon it palled on him! There was no variety at all.
This day was so like the one that went before it. And the next day threatened to be just like this one. There would be no difference at all.
Yet, when he had mounted Dhavan in the morning and set out with Ramsaran, did he really expect an experience like this?
That a nymph would appear through the trees in the mango grove like a rainbow…
The next day too, precisely on the hour, the King, in the company of Ramsaran came to the mango grove.
Hours went by. He was tired of waiting. And he never got to see what he longed to see.
The fairy did not present herself, with a pitcher poised on her waist and the pallu of her sari drawn over her damp hair.
When the sun rose high, he went back. As on the previous day pleasurable thoughts did not fill his mind.
The next day and the day after that too found the king walking through the grove to the edge of the pond. He could not ride through the low-hanging canopy of trees. He dismounted and started to walk. Many were taking a bath in the pond. The only person whom his eyes sought was not there.
He timed his arrival a bit early. All in vain.
Every day as he returned without setting eyes on her, she became all the more alluring.
A child denied a bauble before he could lay his hands on it.
The more he was denied her sight, the dearer she became to behold. Ramsaran wearied of the waiting.
He made discreet inquiries. The priest’s daughter did not make daily trips to the pond for water. She was the apple of his eyes. Normally, she was never allowed that far alone. That day she had ventured thus far for some special reason.
There was a pond in their yard. She usually bathed in it.
It was futile to wait for her at the mango grove and the lake side.
The early morning rides stopped. The king bore up valiantly for a week. It was becoming an obsession with him.
‘Ramsaran!’ ‘Yes, my Lord.’
‘I must have her!’ ‘The priest-‘
‘That was what I was about to say. Go talk to the priest!’ ‘A Brahmin maid-‘
‘I am the lord of the Kingdom of Amber.’ ‘Lord, threatening the priest-‘
‘You might try the three methods.’
‘He is not the kind of person who yields easily.’ ‘Is there anyone of that kind?’
‘The Brahmin – if you can, please rid your mind of this thought, my Lord.’
‘Is there no way other than the use of force?’ The queen consort of Amber Raja-‘
‘Queen consort, my Lord? What of Sunanda Devi-‘
The priest’s modest residence stood a little way from the bounds of the city, at the edge of the mango grove where the trees spread brushing against one another, their intertwining branches forming a forest canopy.
It was with a certain amount of hesitation that Ramsaran went and stood in the front yard of the grass-thatched hut.
When he cleared his throat rather noisily, the priest came out of the house.
The long beard reached his chest. The bones stood out on his gaunt face. His eyes looked piercing in the hollows beneath his grey eye brows.
The exchange of civilities was over. Now Ramsaran had to broach the topic.
Where did one begin? If he didn’t introduce it before the brahmin’s patience ran out-
‘When your wife passed away, Acharya, you did not-‘ ‘No, I did not remarry.’
‘So your daughter has no one for company-‘ ‘I am here.’
‘No women – the girl is of age, isn’t she?’
The priest’s eyebrows rose and met in a frown.
‘I am here to seek the maiden’s hand for another person.’
‘Hmm.’ That was the only response. ‘The maiden’s age-‘
‘Who is the man?’
There was no point in prevaricating.
‘Guru! Your daughter is Goddess Lakshmi herself.’ ‘Who is the one that seeks her hand?’
‘The fame of her beauty has-‘ ‘Tell me who he is.’
‘Your maiden is a gem. The proper setting for all gems-‘ The priest did not speak.
Ramsaran felt a curious unease which he normally did not feel. The sight of a whole army up against him had never discomfited him. In any gruesome battle he never left his master’s side. Now before this Brahmin’s stare-
‘I have been sent by the king of kings. Your daughter as the queen consort-‘
‘What!’ The priest sprang to his feet. Ramsaran, too, rose to his
‘The king’s consort – the queen of Amber-‘ ‘What did you say?’
‘Think of this: Your grandson on the throne-‘ ‘Stop it!’
It was a roar. Ramsaran was stupefied. ‘How dare he? A Brahmin maid-‘
‘The Maharaja – a maid born into the Bhargava clan-‘ ‘He’s a kshatriya.’
‘There is nothing to prevent a kshatriya from marrying a Brahmin
maid. Our ancient scriptures do not forbid it.’ ‘Which is the ancient book that allows it?’ ‘Did not the daughter of Suka wed Yayati?’
‘The daughter of Suka – No, don’t say anything: You do not let dogs lick sacrificial offerings.’
‘Dogs! Oh priest! You speak without caution.’
‘Out! Get out! Don’t utter a word. I’ll not give my daughter in marriage to him.’
As he rode against the wind to the palace Ramsaran’s head cooled.
His anger subsided. The king was waiting impatiently for him. ‘What did he say?’
‘The priest did not agree. He refused to give his daughter in marriage to a kshatriya.’
‘Was that his final word? Did you not inform him that she will be made the queen consort?’
‘Yes, I did. I told him everything, my Lord. He refused to heed my words.’
‘I even offered to make her the queen consort in preference to Sunanda Devi-‘
‘For the Brahmin-‘
‘The Brahmin! I will not rest till I avenge myself on him.’ ‘Bhargavacharya is the priest to many of the families in this
kingdom. If he were to be harassed or tortured in someway, the people-‘
‘Who spoke of harassment?’
‘My Lord! He is a fearsome sorcerer. It will amount to playing with fire. An old man’s folly—pardon him, my Lord. As for the maiden, there are many who are more beautiful than her. The Brahmin is sinister.’
‘Don’t you be afraid. I will teach him a lesson. He’ll come falling at my feet.’
Ramsaran was entrusted with the task of studying the damsel’s routine. He went about it half heartedly. There was nothing he could do against the royal command.
The maid would take a bath every morning. In their own pool.
And she would be alone.
Apart from the priest and his daughter there was only an old nurse-maid in the house; and there were no other houses in the vicinity.
One morning on her way to the pool the maiden came across a weary soldier who had taken a nasty spill from his horse.
He wanted some water to drink. And she also helped him reach his horse, which stood a little way off. Back home after her bath for some reason she did not tell her foster mother – in whom she confided everything
– about this incident.
At dusk, when she sat down to her prayers, it was not the child Krishna, peacock feathers, anklets, girdles and all, that she saw before her.
A long-limbed warrior who looked imploringly up at her from where he lay tired and worn out on the ground. Thus the old drama came to be played out again in that yard, away from the shade of that grass – thatched hut.
The sage’s daughter and the warrior. There was neither Anasuya and Priyamvada to gently tease her nor the fawns to look on indulgently. The wind that came in through the mango grove went whistling
The snowy white grains of sand laughed in derision.
Only the white mantara plant which the poor motherless girl
tended lovingly, closed its eyes in sorrow. And she scarcely noticed its white flowers close their eyes. When the ecstasy of life assumed a human shape and beckoned to her, the stolen moments on the pool side alone meant life. All else was a reliving of those moments.
Months passed. Time which heeded neither the creepers blooming nor the leaves falling, rushed on unconcerned.
The poetry was over. Only the stark reality was before her now. At last, one day the priest too came to know.
‘Who was it that deceived you? Tell me!’ She was silent.
‘Tell me! Tell me!’ The old man roared. ‘Tell me who it was.’
The priest dragged his daughter by the hair. She did not make so much as a whimper.
‘Tell me! Speak!’ The old man was becoming deranged.
The sword employed for animal sacrifice lay before the idol of Kali. The priest scarcely knew how it came to be in his hand.
‘Tell me! Speak!’
The old man’s hand moved up and down.
That was the end of the poor maiden’s travails…
In the yard fire blazed in the sacrificial pyre before the idol of Kali. The old man stood before his deity with the lifeless body of his daughter in his hands.
‘Devi! If I have ever served you well, please punish the man who is responsible for this. Before one year is out, he too shall die a slow, agonizing death as I do.’
He jumped into the pyre with the body of his daughter in his hands.
The lone witness to the deed was a goatherd who happened to be passing by. And he did not have the courage to stop the priest.
The ghastly story of the priest’s human sacrifice spread through the kingdom. It reached the Maharajas’ ears too. Ramsaran did try to keep it from him. In six months’ time the Maharaja was bed-ridden. No one could diagnose the illness. Doctors and sorcerers tried hard, but it was of no use.
Come one blood-red evening exactly a year to the day, the Maharaja breathed his last.
(Hull in his Annals of Amber puts it thus:
Legend has it that the sturdy and well-built Maharaja Ajit Singh died of a Brahmin’s curse.)