There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Armour of Amrapali

By Dr Bina Biswas
Secunderabad, India

A foundling at the foot of dawn -
Loveless animal couplings with
mere nightly gratification of the want of flesh
had borne this lovely fruit of 
irresponsible lust.
The mother had abandoned her 
with callous ease.
Swathing her in a spotless linen
and stowing her in a wicker basket
to be left to her own devices 
under a mango tree -
She had fulfilled her motherly obligations
and got rid of her shame.
But a divine gift she was
for the guard on his homeward way
after a nightly vigil at the House of Elders.
With infinite tenderness he picked her up
and carried her home to his childless wife,
to be nurtured and cherished.
Found under a mango tree,
her foster-father lovingly named her 

The tale of Sunda-Upasunda,
warring over the peerless Tilottama
made the decision easier for the Elders.
They apprehended a blood-bath borne of lust
over the nubile beauty of Amrapali
and this they could ill afford in peaceable Vaishali.
They declared that when she came of age
she would be wedded to, not one,
but to all males of the Republic of Lichhabi,
whosoever fancied and could afford her.
They etched out a gory career of a courtesan for her.
She was to become a Janapadabadhu,
a Bride of the Republic.
A foundling could hardly expect more.

A minstrel sang in the court of Magadha.
He sang about the radiance of Amrapali,
her physical beauty, her sensuality,
her unfathomable depth of knowledge,
her bewitching music, her ethereal dancing grace,
and her prowess with the use of arms.
Bimbisara listened with rapt attention.
He was a real connoisure of beauty and art,
as he was prowling tiger in fields of battle.
A sense of want gripped his soul,
but at this moment Magadha and Lichhabi 
had their horns locked.

The merchant was handsome
and his bag of gold heavy.
Amrapali's guardian was all smiles 
to welcome him to the inner sanctum,
where Amrapali sat playing the veena.
As the tall shadow fell on her, 
Amrapali's nimble fingers missed a stroke.
The veena, not used to such lapse,
rang discordant, as if in protest.
She looked up.
He stood there in silhouette, features darkened
from the light behind him.
His stature was tall, complexion, burnt copper,
bearing regal.
The broad chest, bare in the mild clime,
with only an Angabastra draped loosely over it,
looking so inviting to lay the troubled head on,
tapered down to a narrow waist-line,
like that of a lion.
The arms hung loose, rippling with
taut, battle-weary muscles.
This was no ordinary merchant
as the physique spoke of a Kshatriya.
Amrapali stood up, a bit dizzy in the head,
and moved to one side,
so that light fell on his face.
She saw a strong, firm jaw, sensuous lips,
and the eyes - oh! she almost swooned.
The eyes were dark, deep, soft and searching.
The lashes were long and graceful.
The brow resolute -
For the first time in her life,
Amrapali, the courtesan,
who had sung and danced for nobilities,
who had adorned the bed-spread of countless
virile, young men,
who had, with a dispassionate ease, borne out of
rigorous training,
been able to segregate her profession from life,
for the first time, the poor girl,
fell madly in love.
Bimbisara, for it was he,
gazed enthralled at the beauty before him.
The minstrel had done scant justice 
to this nubile form.
Vaishali was no place for her.
She would have been at home
in the court of Indra, the king of gods.
Forgotten was his realm and the battle raging
a few yojanas out there.
He stepped forward to hold her hands.
When his lips met hers, it was as if
two souls met after a separation of aeons.
The single flame in the earthen lamp
wavered, spluttered and died.
In the blanket of darkness,
right there, amidst the veena and mridangams,
body met a thirsty body, as soul met soul.
Amrapali had seen lust,
Bimbisara had known love.
But nothing compared to the deluge
that swept over them now -
nothing existed, nothing could,
but a man and his woman,
and all world, a mockery.

Bimbisara had departed after a few days.
Amrapali could never again know happiness,
for he had gone.
But she was never happier, too, as he went,
for she had come to know who he really was.
Within a few days, her eyes brimmed over with
unshed tears,
as she heard that the Magadha forces
were retreating all along the border.
Bimbisara was true to his words, 
true to his love.
She knew that she'll never see him again.
But now she felt that a little part of him
was growing within her.
Her child shall keep her love alive.


Goutam Buddha was coming to Vaishali.
The whole city throbbed with eager expectation.
Streets had been swept clean 
and garlands adorned evey door of every dwelling
to welcome him.
Amrapali sent her son Bimala, now a fine, young man, 
to invite him to take up abode in her place.

Amrapali looked at herself in the mirror of polished metal.
The years had been kind to her.
Her hair was still black, with not a silver strand.
Her eyes had lost none of their lustre.
Her smile was still something that
men could lay down their lives for.
Bimbisara's image had faded somewhat
from her memory.

Amrapali looked up after touching the Buddha's feet
For her nothing existed anymore,
But for those almond shaped dark brown eyes.
Looking at her with soft intensity of love
for his fellow beings,
So straight was his bearing,
With long hair tied up in a knot
on his head,
That Amrapali became breathless.
Since childhood she had worshipped Lord Shiva.
It seemed as if Shiva 
Had come to her in answer to her prayers.
She wanted to be one with him
But could not utter a word.
Amrapali's yearning was apparent to him.
He placed his right hand on her head
In silent blessing.


Sleep eluded Amrapali that night
At the break of dawn she walked over 
To where the Buddha sat in silent meditation.
The Buddha looked at her
She sat at his feet now and begged him
To let her join the Sangha.
Gautam Buddha shook his head
In wordless refusal.
The morning sun appeared to lose its glory
The birds stopped to twitter.
'But why my Lord?" She flared up.
The Buddha pondered throughout the day
And gave his consent 
When the sun was dipping beyond
The western hills.

On foot they clambered over the hilly terrains,
All of them dressed in ochre garb
with shaven pates,
Carrying a satchel in one shoulder.
A begging bowl in the left hand
A long walking stick in the right.
The column wound up the hills,
with the Buddha at its head.
The figure at the end was that of woman,
She was Amrapali
Matching her steps with her monks.
A chant filled the morning air
"Buddhang Sharanam Gacchami
Dhammang Sharanam Gacchami
Shanghang Sharnam Gacchami."

(This poem was first published in the Kritya: Poetry in our time)

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