The Light of Asia by Edwin Arnold


Book the Second.

Now, when our Lord was come to eighteen years,
The King commanded that there should be built
Three stately houses, one of hewn square beams
With cedar lining, warm for winter days;
One of veined marbles, cool for summer heat;
And one of burned bricks, with blue tiles bedecked,
Pleasant at seed-time, when the champaks bud --
Subha, Suramma, Ramma, were their names.
Delicious gardens round about them bloomed,
Streams wandered wild and musky thickets stretched,
With many a bright pavilion and fair lawn
In midst of which Siddârtha strayed at will,
Some new delight provided every hour;
And happy hours he knew, for life was rich,
With youthful blood at quickest; yet still came
The shadows of his meditation back,
As the lake's silver dulls with driving clouds.

Which the King marking, called his Ministers:
Bethink ye, sirs! how the old Rishi spake,"
He said, "and what my dream-readers foretold.
This boy, more dear to me than mine heart's blood,
Shall be of universal dominance,
Trampling the neck of all his enemies,
A King of kings -- and this is in my heart; --
Or he shall tread the sad and lowly path
Of self-denial and of pious pains,
Gaining who knows what good, when all is lost
Worth keeping; and to this his wistful eyes
Do still incline amid my palaces.
But ye are sage, and ye will counsel me;
How may his feet be turned to that proud road
Where they should walk, and all fair signs come true
Which gave him Earth to rule, if he would rule?"

The eldest answered, "Maharaja! love
Will cure these thin distempers; weave the spell
Of woman's wiles about his idle heart.
What knows this noble boy of beauty yet,
Eyes that make heaven forgot, and lips of balm?
Find him soft wives and pretty playfellows;
The thoughts ye cannot stay with brazen chains
A girl's hair lightly binds."

And all thought good,
But the King answered, "If we seek him wives,
Love chooseth ofttimes with another eye;
And if we bid range Beauty's garden round,
To pluck what blossom pleases, he will smile
And sweetly shun the joy he knows not of."
Then said another, "Roams the barasingh
Until the fated arrow flies; for him,
As for less lordly spirits, some one charms,
Some face will seem a Paradise, some form
Fairer than pale Dawn when she wakes the world,
This do, my King! Command a festival
Where the realm's maids shall be competitors
In youth and grace, and sports that Sâkyas use.
Let the Prince give the prizes to the fair,
And, when the lovely victors pass his seat,
There shall be those who mark if one or two
Change the fixed sadness of his tender cheek;
So we may choose for Love with Love's own eyes,
And cheat his Highness into happiness."
This thing seemed good; wherefore upon a day
The criers bade the young and beautiful
Pass to the palace, for 'twas in command
To hold a court of pleasure, and the Prince
Would give the prizes, something rich for all,
The richest for the fairest judged. So flocked
Kapilavastu's maidens to the gate,
Each with her dark hair newly smoothed and bound,
Eyelashes lustred with the soorma-stick,
Fresh-bathed and scented; all in shawls and cloths
Of gayest; slender hands and feet new-stained
With crimson, and the tilka-spots stamped bright.
Fair show it was of all those Indian girls
Slow-pacing past the throne with large black eyes
Fixed on the ground, for when they saw the Prince
More than the awe of Majesty made beat
Their fluttering hearts, he sate so passionless,
Gentle, but so beyond them. Each maid took
With down-dropped lids her gift, afraid to gaze;
And if the people hailed some lovelier one
Beyond her rivals worthy royal smiles,
She stood like a scared antelope to touch
The gracious hand, then fled to join her mates
Trembling at favor, so divine he seemed,
So high and saint-like and above her world.
Thus filed they, one bright maid after another,
The city's flowers, and all this beauteous march
Was ending and the prizes spent, when last
Came young Yasôdhara, and they that stood
Nearest Siddârtha saw the princely boy
Start, as the radiant girl approached. A form
Of heavenly mould; a gait like Parvati's;
Eyes like a hind's in love-time, face so fair
Words cannot paint its spell; and she alone
Gazed full -- folding her palms across her breasts --
On the boy's gaze, her stately neck unbent.
"Is there a gift for me?" she asked, and smiled.
"The gifts are gone," the Prince replied, "yet take
This for amends, dear sister, of whose grace
Our happy city boasts;" therewith he loosed
The emerald necklet from his throat, and clasped
Its green beads round her dark and silk-soft waist;
And their eyes mixed, and from the look sprang love.

Long after -- when enlightenment was full --
Lord Buddha -- being prayed why thus his heart
Took fire at first glance of the Sâkya girl,
Answered, "We were not strangers, as to us
And all it seemed; in ages long gone by
A hunter's son, playing with forest girls
By Yamun's springs, where Nandadevi stands,
Sate umpire while they raced beneath the firs
Like hares at eve that run their playful rings;
One with flower-stars crowned he, one with long plume
Plucked from eyed pheasant and the jungle-cock,
One with fir-apples; but who ran the last
Came first for him, and unto her the boy
Gave a tame fawn and his heart's love beside.
And in the wood they lived many glad years,
And in the wood they undivided died.
Lo! as hid seed shoots after rainless years,
So good and evil, pains and pleasures, hates
And loves, and all dead deeds, come forth again
Bearing bright leaves or dark, sweet fruit or sour.
Thus I was he and she Yasôdhara;
And while the wheel of birth and death turns round,
That which hath been must be between us two."

But they who watched the Prince at prize-giving
Saw and heard all, and told the careful King
How sate Siddârtha
heedless, till there passed
Great Suprabuddha's child, Yasôdhara;
And how -- at sudden sight of her -- he changed,
And how she gazed on him and he on her,
And of the jewel-gift, and what beside
Passed in their speaking glance.

The fond King smiled:
Look! we have found a lure; take counsel now
To fetch therewith our falcon from the clouds.
Let messengers be sent to ask the maid
In marriage for my son." But it was law
With Sâkyas, when any asked a maid
Of noble house, fair and desirable,
He must make good his skill in martial arts
Against all suitors who should challenge it;
Nor might this custom break itself for kings.
Therefore her father spake: "Say to the King,
The child is sought by princes far and near;
If thy most gentle son can bend the bow,
Sway sword, and back a horse better than they,
Best would he be in all and best to us:
But how shall this be, with his cloistered ways?"
Then the King's heart was sore, for now the Prince
Begged sweet Yasôdhara for wife -- in vain,
With Devadatta foremost at the bow,
Ardjuna master of all fiery steeds,
And Nanda chief in sword-play; but the Prince
Laughed low and said, "These things, too, I have learned;
Make proclamation that thy son will meet
All comers at their chosen games. I think
I shall not lose my love for such as these."
So 'twas given forth that on the seventh day
The Prince Siddârtha summoned whoso would
To match with him in feats of manliness,
The victor's crown to be Yasôdhara.

Therefore, upon the seventh day, there went:
The Sâkya lords and town and country round
Unto the maidân; and the maid went too
Amid her kinsfolk, carried as a bride,
With music, and with litters gayly dight,
And gold-horned oxen, flower-caparisoned.
Whom Devadatta claimed, of royal line,
And Nanda and Ardjuna, noble both,
The flower of all youths there, till the Prince came
Riding his white horse Kantaka, which neighed,
Astonished at this great strange world without:
Also Siddârtha gazed with wondering eyes
On all those people born beneath the throne,
Otherwise housed than kings, otherwise fed,
And yet so like -- perchance -- in joys and griefs.
But when the Prince saw sweet Yasôdhara,
Brightly he smiled, and drew his silken rein,
Leaped to the earth from Kantaka's broad back,
And cried, "He is not worthy of this pearl
Who is not worthiest; let my rivals prove
If I have dared too much in seeking her."
Then Nanda challenged for the arrow-test
And set a brazen drum six gows away,
Ardjuna six and Devadatta eight;
But Prince Siddârtha bade them set his drum
Ten gows from off the line, until it seemed
A cowry-shell for target. Then they loosed,
And Nanda pierced his drum, Ardjuna his,
And Devadatta drove a well-aimed shaft
Through both sides of his mark, so that the crowd
Marvelled and cried; and sweet Yasôdhara
Dropped the gold sari o'er her fearful eyes,
Lest she should see her Prince's arrow fail.
But he, taking their bow of lacquered cane,
With sinews bound, and strung with silver wire,
Which none but stalwart arms could draw a span,
Thrummed it -- low laughing -- drew the twisted string
Till the horns kissed, and the thick belly snapped:
"That is for play, not love," he said; "hath none
A bow more fit for Sâkya lords to use?"
And one said, "There is Sinhahânu's bow,
Kept in the temple since we know not when,
Which none can string, nor draw if it be strung."
"Fetch me," he cried, "that weapon of a man!"
They brought the ancient bow, wrought of black steel
Laid with gold tendrils on its branching curves
Like bison-horns; and twice Siddârtha tried
Its strength across his knee, then spake -- "Shoot now
With this, my cousins!" but they could not bring
The stubborn arms a hand's-breadth nigher use;
Then the Prince, lightly leaning, bent the bow,
Slipped home the eye upon the notch, and twanged
Sharply the cord, which, like an eagle's wing
Thrilling the air, sang forth so clear and loud
That feeble folk at home that day inquired
"What is this sound?" and people answered them,
"It is the sound of Sinhahânu's bow,
Which the King's son has strung and goes to shoot;"
Then fitting fair a shaft, he drew and loosed,
And the keen arrow clove the sky, and drave
Right through that farthest drum, nor stayed its flight,
But skimmed the plain beyond, past reach of eye.

Then Devadatta challenged with the sword,
And clove a Talas-tree six fingers thick;
Ardjuna seven; and Nanda cut through nine;
But two such stems together grew, and both
Siddârtha's blade shred at one flashing stroke,
Keen, but so smooth that the straight trunks upstood,
And Nanda cried, "His edge turned!" and the maid
Trembled anew seeing the trees erect,
Until the Devas of the air, who watched,
Blew light breaths from the south, and both green crowns
Crashed in the sand, clean-felled.

Then brought they steeds,
High-mettled, nobly-bred, and three times scoured
Around the maidân, but white Kantaka
Left even the fleetest far behind -- so swift,
That ere the foam fell from his mouth to earth
Twenty spear-lengths he flew; but Nanda said,
"We too might win with such as Kantaka
Bring an unbroken horse, and let men see
Who best can back him!" So the syces brought
A stallion dark as night, led by three chains,
Fierce-eyed, with nostrils wide and tossing mane,
Unshod, unsaddled, for no rider yet
Had crossed him. Three times each young Sâkya
Sprang to his mighty back, but the hot steed
Furiously reared, and flung them to the plain
In dust and shame; only Ardjuna held
His seat awhile, and, bidding loose the chains,
Lashed the black flank, and shook the bit, and held
The proud jaws fast with grasp of master-hand,
So that in storms of wrath and rage and fear
The savage stallion circled once the plain
Half-tamed; but sudden turned with naked teeth,
Gripped by the foot Ardjuna, tore him down,
And would have slain him, but the grooms ran in
Fettering the maddened beast. Then all men cried,
"Let not Siddârtha meddle with this Bhût,
Whose liver is a tempest, and his blood
Red flame;" but the Prince said, "Let go the chains,
Give me his forelock only," which he held
With quiet grasp, and, speaking some low word,
Laid his right palm across the stallion's eyes,
And drew it gently down the angry face,
And all along the neck and panting flanks,
Till men astonished saw the night-black horse
Sink his fierce crest and stand subdued and meek,
As though he knew our Lord and worshipped him.
Nor stirred he while Siddârtha mounted, then
Went soberly to touch of knee and rein
Before all eyes, so that the people said,
"Strive no more, for Siddârtha is the best."

And all the suitors answered "He is best!"
And Suprabuddha, father of the maid,
Said, "It was in our hearts to find thee best,
Being dearest, yet what magic taught thee more
Of manhood 'mid thy rose-bowers and thy dreams
Than war and chase and world's work bring to these.
But wear, fair Prince, the treasure thou hast won."
Then at a word the lovely Indian girl
Rose from her place above the throng, and took
A crown of môgra-flowers and lightly drew
The veil of black and gold across her brow,
Proud pacing past the youths, until she came
To where Siddârtha stood in grace divine,
New lighted from the night-dark steed, which bent
Its strong neck meekly underneath his arm.
Before the Prince lowly she bowed, and bared
Her face celestial beaming with glad love;
Then on his neck she hung the fragrant wreath,
And on his breast she laid her perfect head,
And stooped to touch his feet with proud glad eyes,
Saying, "Dear Prince, behold me, who am thine!"
And all the throng rejoiced, seeing them pass
Hand fast in hand, and heart beating with heart,
The veil of black and gold drawn close again.

Long after -- when enlightenment was come --
They prayed Lord Buddha touching all, and why
She wore this black and gold, and stepped so proud,
And the World-honored answered, "Unto me
This was unknown, albeit it seemed half known;
For while the wheel of birth and death turns round,
Past things and thoughts, and buried lives come back.
I now remember, myriad rains ago,
What time I roamed Himâla's hanging woods,
A tiger, with my striped and hungry kind;
I, who am Buddh, couched in the kusa grass
Gazing with green blinked eyes upon the herds
Which pastured near and nearer to their death
Round my day-lair; or underneath the stars
I roamed for prey, savage, insatiable,
Sniffing the paths for track of man and deer.
Amid the beasts that were my fellows then,
Met in deep jungle or by reedy jheel,
A tigress, comeliest of the forest, set
The males at war; her hide was lit with gold,
Black-broidered like the veil Yasôdhara
Wore for me; hot the strife waxed in that wood
With tooth and claw, while underneath a neem
The fair beast watched us bleed, thus fiercely wooed.
And I remember, at the end she came
Snarling past this and that torn forest-lord.
Which I had conquered, and with fawning jaws
Licked my quick-heaving flank, and with me went
Into the wild with proud steps, amorously.
The wheel of birth and death turns low and high."

Therefore the maid was given unto the Prince
A willing spoil; and when the stars were good --
Mesha, the Red Ram, being Lord of heaven --
The marriage feast was kept, as Sâkyas use,
The golden gadi set, the carpet spread,
The wedding garlands hung, the arm-threads tied,
The sweet cake broke, the rice and attar thrown,
The two straws floated on the reddened milk,
Which, coming close, betokened "love till death;"
The seven steps taken thrice around the fire,
The gifts bestowed on holy men, the alms
And temple offerings made, the mantras sung,
The garments of the bride and bridegroom tied.
Then the grey father spake : "Worshipful Prince,
She that was ours henceforth is only thine;
Be good to her, who hath her life in thee."
Wherewith they brought home sweet Yasôdhara,
With songs and trumpets, to the Prince's arms,
And love was all in all.

Yet not to love
Alone trusted the King; love's prison-house
Stately and beautiful he bade them build,
So that in all the earth no marvel was
Like Vishramvan, the Prince's pleasure-place.
Midway in those wide palace-grounds there rose
A verdant hill whose base Rohini bathed,
Murmuring adown from Himalay's broad feet,
To bear its tribute into Gunga's waves.
Southward a growth of tamarind trees and sâl,
Thick set with pale sky-colored ganthi flowers,
Shut out the world, save if the city's hum
Came on the wind no harsher than when bees
Hum out of sight in thickets. Northwards soared
The stainless ramps of huge Himâla's wall,
Ranged in white ranks against the blue -- untrod,
Infinite, wonderful -- whose uplands vast,
And lifted universe of crest and crag,
Shoulder and shelf, green slope and icy horn,
Riven ravine, and splintered precipice,
Led climbing thought higher and higher, until
It seemed to stand in heaven and speak with gods.
Beneath the snows dark forests spread, sharp laced
With leaping cataracts and veiled with clouds:
Lower grew rose-oaks and the great fir groves
Where echoed pheasant's call and panther's cry,
Clatter of wild sheep on the stones, and scream
Of circling eagles: under these the plain
Gleamed like a praying-carpet at the foot
Of those divinest altars. Fronting this
The builders set the bright pavilion up,
Fair-planted on the terraced hill, with towers
On either flank and pillared cloisters round.
Its beams were carved with stories of old time --
Radha and Krishna and the sylvan girls --
Sita and Hanuman and Draupadi;
And on the middle porch God Ganesha,
With disc and hook -- to bring wisdom and wealth --
Propitious sate, wreathing his sidelong trunk.
By winding ways of garden and of court
The inner gate was reached, of marble wrought,
White with pink veins; the lintel lazuli,
The threshold alabaster, and the doors
Sandal-wood, cut in pictured panelling;
Whereby to lofty halls and shadowy bowers
Passed the delighted foot, on stately stairs,
Through latticed galleries, 'neath painted roofs
And clustering columns, where cool fountains -- fringed
With lotus and nelumbo -- danced, and fish
Gleamed through their crystal, scarlet, gold, and blue.
Great-eyed gazelles in sunny alcoves browsed
The blown red roses; birds of rainbow wing
Fluttered among the palms; doves, green and grey,
Built their safe nests on gilded cornices;
Over the shining pavements peacocks drew
The splendors of their trains, sedately watched
By milk-white herons and the small house-owls.
The plum-necked parrots swung from fruit to fruit;
The yellow sunbirds whirred from bloom to bloom,
The timid lizards on the lattice basked
Fearless, the squirrels ran to feed from hand,
For all was peace: the shy black snake, that gives
Fortune to households, sunned his sleepy coils
Under the moon-flowers, where the musk-deer played,
And brown-eyed monkeys chattered to the crows.
And all this house of love was peopled fair
With sweet attendance, so that in each part
With lovely sights were gentle faces found,
Soft speech and willing service, each one glad
To gladden, pleased at pleasure, proud to obey;
Till life glided beguiled, like a smooth stream
Banked by perpetual flow'rs, Yasôdhara
Queen of the enchanting Court.

But innermost,
Beyond the richness of those hundred halls,
A secret chamber lurked, where skill had spent
All lovely fantasies to lull the mind.
The entrance of it was a cloistered square --
Roofed by the sky, and in the midst a tank
Of milky marble built, and laid with slabs
Of milk-white marble; bordered round the tank
And on the steps, and all along the frieze
With tender inlaid work of agate-stones.
Cool as to tread in summer-time on snows
It was to loiter there; the sunbeams dropped
Their gold, and, passing into porch and niche,
Softened to shadows, silvery, pale, and dim,
As if the very Day paused and grew Eve
In love and silence at that bower's gate
For there beyond the gate the chamber was,
Beautiful, sweet; a wonder of the world!
Soft light from perfumed lamps through windows fell
Of nakre and stained stars of lucent film
On golden cloths outspread, and silken beds,
And heavy splendor of the purdah's fringe,
Lifted to take only the loveliest in.
Here, whether it was night or day none knew,
For always streamed that softened light, more bright
Than sunrise, but as tender as the eve's;
And always breathed sweet airs, more joy-giving
Than morning's, but as cool as midnight's breath;
And night and day lutes sighed, and night and day
Delicious foods were spread, and dewy fruits,
Sherbets new chilled with snows of Himalay,
And sweetmeats made of subtle daintiness,
With sweet tree-milk in its own ivory cup.
And night and day served there a chosen band
Of nautch girls, cup-bearers, and cymballers,
Delicate, dark-browed ministers of love,
Who fanned the sleeping eyes of the happy Prince,
And when he waked, led back his thoughts to bliss
With music whispering through the blooms, and charm
Of amorous songs and dreamy dances, linked
By chime of ankle-bells and wave of arms
Of musk and champak and the blue haze spread
From burning spices soothed his soul again
To drowse by sweet Yasôdhara; and thus
Siddârtha lived forgetting.

The King commanded that within those walls
No mention should be made of death or age,
Sorrow, or pain, or sickness. If one drooped
In the lovely Court -- her dark glance dim, her
Faint in the dance -- the guiltless criminal
Passed forth an exile from that Paradise,
Lest he should see and suffer at her woe.
Bright-eyed intendants watched to execute
Sentence on such as spake of the harsh world
Without, where aches and plagues were, tears and fears,
And wail of mourners, and grim fume of pyres.
'Twas treason if a thread of silver strayed
In tress of singing-girl or nautch-dancer;
And every dawn the dying rose was plucked,
The dead leaves hid, all evil sights removed:
For said the King, "If he shall pass his youth
Far from such things as move to wistfulness,
And brooding on the empty eggs of thought,
The shadow of this fate, too vast for man,
May fade, belike, and I shall see him grow
To that great stature of fair sovereignty
When he shall rule all lands -- if he will rule --
The King of kings and glory of his time."

Wherefore, around that pleasant prison-house --
Where love was gaoler and delights its bars,
But far removed from sight -- the King bade build
A massive wall, and in the wall a gate
With brazen folding-doors, which but to roll
Back on their hinges asked a hundred arms;
Also the noise of that prodigious gate
Opening, was heard full half a yôjana.
And inside this another gate he made,
And yet within another -- through the three
Must one pass if he quit that Pleasure-house.
Three mighty gates there were, bolted and barred,
And over each was set a faithful watch;
And the King's order said, "Suffer no man
To pass the gates, though he should be the Prince:
This on your lives -- even though it be my son."

Book 3