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XII. The Other Body

But in the meanwhile Shrí u, when she abandoned the body in Indirálayá, flew in the twinkling of an eye to the Land of the Lotus of the Sun. And there she entered that other body, lying in a couch in the Palace hall. Then instantly she opened her eyes, and rose up, as if awaking from a dream. And she was filled with astonishment, terror, and dismay, when she found herself alone in the empty hall. And she exclaimed: Alas! what is this mystery, and how came I into this deserted hall, and in which quarter of the world am I, and what has become of my husband? Now do I see the terrible consequences of sins committed in a former birth. Alas! how am I to regain him, and where is he to be found? Surely we are like two tiny fishes in the infinite ocean of time. Yet even so, despair is unavailing. Did not Sitá recover Ráma, and Shakuntalá, Dushyanta, and Damayanti cross the ocean of separation, and repose on the shore in the shape of the embraces of Nala? Truly omnipotent is the power of love, and what love was ever greater than mine? For it passes on from

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body to body, and draws fresh fire from each new birth.

Then she dressed herself in the white pall x, and went hastily out of that empty palace, shrinking like a fawn at the echo of her own footsteps, and passed out of the gates, and ran through the deserted streets, down to the very edge of the sea. And there she stood with her bare feet lapped by the waves, looking out eagerly over the sea, with eyes that laughed at and shamed it of its blue. And it rose in agitation at her beauty, as if stirred by the moon, while the wind kissed her unaware, and played with her hair and clothes. Then she said: O Ocean, art thou too parted from someone, that thou heavest long drawn sighs? Art thou also wrenched with grief, that thou sprinklest me with the salt tears of thy spray?

And as she gazed, there appeared tossing on the

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waves a ship, like the realization of her desire to cross the ocean in visible form. Now that ship belonged to a great merchant captain, who was returning home from a trading voyage. And when he saw a female figure standing alone on the shore, he came quickly in a boat to take her captive. But when he got to the shore, and saw the wonderful beauty of her dark blue eyes and snow white raiment, he was struck with wonder, and became afraid. And he said to her in awe: Surely thou art some divinity, and no mere mortal maiden. Tell me thy name, that I may know whom to adore. Then said Shrí: Sir, I am no divinity, but a king's daughter; and I am seeking for my husband. Carry me, of your kindness, over the sea, for I must find my way to Indirálayá. But hearing this, that merchant was overjoyed; for he thought: Indirálayá is in another quarter of the world, and I will be her husband. For he was drowned in the ocean of her eyes. So he said to her: O thou true daughter of a King, my ship is thine and all that it contains. Come now, and I will carry thee whithersoever thou wilt. So Shrí consented. And the merchant in his delight counted the whole world as a straw, thinking he had got her for a wife.

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So when he got to the ship, he said to her: Truly this husband of thine is a sorry rascal. Out upon him, who could leave such an incomparable beauty as thine to roam about the world without him! Forget him now, for I will be thy husband. Then said Shrí: This is impiety, nor is my husband to blame in this matter. Know, too, that to a good wife her husband is a deity. Then said the merchant: Thou shalt marry me whether thou wilt or not: and I care nothing for piety or impiety, but only for thy wonderful eyes. And now I have thee, I will keep thee. So he carried her in his ship, very carefully, closely guarded, to his own city, and shut her in an upper chamber of his house, hoping to prevail on her in course of time, neglecting his affairs.

Then Shrí said to herself: Alas for my beauty, which is a curse and no blessing to me, in that it has placed me in the power of this headstrong merchant! Nevertheless, even so, I have got over the sea. And now, I must lose no time in escaping from this infatuated sinner, or worse things may come about. And she went to the window and looked out. Now by the ordinance of fate it so happened, that at that moment the King of that city was passing by on his elephant. So when she

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saw it, Shrí said to herself: There is my deliverance in the form of an elephant. And now I must sin a little, to save myself from greater guilt. Then she called to the mahout: Come nearer, O driver of the elephant: for I am anxious to taste the delight of riding on an elephant. And hearing this, the mahout looked at the King. And the King looked at the face of Shrí. And Shrí shot at the King a blue glance from her eye. And instantly the King lost his senses, and said to the mahout: Do as she bids thee. So the mahout brought the elephant under the window, and Shrí let herself fall from the window on to his back. And she caught hold of the King to save herself from falling, and the King almost fainted from excess of joy, and the nectar of her touch. And without losing a moment, he carried her off to his palace, as delighted as if he had conquered the whole earth. But the merchant, when he found that she had gone, abandoned the body in his despair.

Then as soon as they reached the palace, the King said to Shrí: What is thy name and family? Shrí said: I am a King's daughter from a far country, and my name is Shrí. Then said the King: Thou didst well to forsake that miserable trader for me. Should the lioness, forsooth! mate

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with the jackal? And now will I place thee, like a choice jewel, in the centre of my diadem, and thou shalt be the very apex of the summit of my fortune y. Then said Shrí: King, do not speak thus. For I am the wife of another. And I fled to thee for refuge, and not for frivolity: for yonder merchant would have made me his wife by force. So do me justice, and let me go: for I may not be a wife to thee.

Then said the King: Thy dark blue eyes have utterly destroyed my sense of right and wrong, which are now mere words without meaning, impotent to hold me as is a lotus stalk to fetter that elephant which brought thee hither; and in vain dost thou talk to me of letting thee go: thou askest me for my life: for till I saw those unfathomable blue lakes which thou hast stolen to make thee eyes, I never lived. Only consent, and I will efface by my devotion the memory of thy husband, as the sun dries up a shallow pool. But Shrí said: Say not pool, but ocean, on which the sun shines for ever, yet never makes it any less: for such is my love to my husband.

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[paragraph continues] But the King paid no heed to her words, which entered at his ear, but never reached his mind. For all his soul was in his eyes, feasting on the face of Shrí, which made him drunk like the juice of Soma z.

Then seeing the state of the case, Shrí said to herself: Alas! I have escaped the lesser danger only to incur the greater, and become the prey of this unrighteous King. Now there is no help for me, save in stratagem, and the natural craft of woman. And she lifted up her lashes, and cast on the King a crooked glance, that almost deprived him of his reason. And she said, moving her bow-arched eyebrows, with a smile: Out upon the heart of woman, for it is soft as a flower, and averse to constancy! Leave me awhile, for I must consider this matter. And yet, stay not away too long, for thou art good to look upon, and well-fitted to be my husband, were I not already the wife of another man. But hearing this, the King was utterly bewildered, and doubted the testimony of his ears. And he thought: Now she will consent, after a little coaxing. And he looked at her as she stood smiling at him, bowing like

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a flower from the weight of her bosom and the slenderness of her waist, and laughed in his intoxication, befooled by the roundness of her limbs and the blueness of her eyes, and forgetting that the Creator made woman to be an instrument of delusion, with an exterior of honey and an interior of poison. And he left her to perform his kingly duties, intending to return without delay, and thinking the fruit of his birth attained.

But as soon as he was gone, Shrí summoned a chamberlain, and said to him: Take me to the Head Queen, and lose not a moment, or it will be the worse for thee. And that chamberlain trembled and obeyed her, for he feared her power, saying to himself: The King would throw his kingdom into the sea for a glance from her eye, and now my life is on her forefinger. So when Shrí came before the Queen, she said to her: Lady, thou art my sole refuge. Know, that the King thy husband found me to-day in the city, and stole me away, seeking to make me his wife. Now contrive my escape, for I am the wife of another, and I may not be his wife. And do it very quickly, for this is an opportunity which will never occur again. Then the Queen looked at her, and said to herself: She says well, and I must indeed send her away without

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losing a moment. For if she remains here, and becomes his wife, the King will abandon everything for her sake, and the state will go to ruin. Moreover, he will never again have anything to do with me or any other of his queens: for her beauty is like a very feminine incarnation of the five arrows of the god of love.

So she summoned her confidential women; and they disguised Shrí as a dancing girl, and conveyed her secretly out of the palace without delay. But when the King returned, and found that she was gone, he became mad. And he put to death, of his retainers, everything that was male.


83:u See note, p. 21.

84:x As this might sound bizarre to the English reader, accustomed to the elaborate toilettes of western ladies, he should know, that nothing can be more simple than the dress of a Hindoo woman. A single long piece of stuff, wound like a petticoat round the waist, secured, and thrown over the head to form a veil, forms a garment that the Greeks might have envied. Nothing can surpass the taste, beauty, and grace of the way in which it follows and reveals without betraying the figure of its wearer.

88:y He plays on her name. The old Hindoo rajas had the same veneration for their royal fortune (Shrí) as the Romans for their Fors Fortuna.

89:z A play on her name, as a digit of the moon: Sonia is the moon, and the famous intoxicant of the early Hindoos.

Next: XIII. A Light in Darkness