he story of Raja Chandra may sound bizarre and gruesome among folklore but it is steeped in deep moral and ethical overtones. That is why Bhattas love the lore of Raja Chandra and sing it in ballads or as free verse on various social occasions.
Long, long ago, in the land of pure and pristine Satisar (Kashmir) there lived a pious and virtuous king, Raja Chandra, who had a robust physique. His consort queen was a cute, petite, sweet lady, chaste and God fearing. They had a small child who was chubby and charming and a source of joy for the royal couple. The royal couple lived a pleasant, contented life. The king was religious, truthful and kind. It was believed that he had not nor would he ever speak a lie. He ruled his subjects with sympathy and compassion. People too loved and respected him fully, in return. He became famous for his virtues of truthfulness and justness. His news spread far and wide, like wild fire, to all the Seven Worlds which our mythology speaks about. Some of the Devas in heaven were disturbed a great deal as they became jealous of Raja Chandra. They wanted to break the reputation of the king for truthfulness and justice. So the Devas conspired to test the noble king.
A Bhairava was selected to morph into a haggard, stooping Sadhu with bulging eyes and crooked nose, hidden under matted tresses of ugly hair, to visit the king at his calm, beautiful palace. The Bhairava was ordained to remove the veneer of the king’s truthfulness and benevolence. He wore a dirty shredded mini skirt of loin skin on his tummy and carried a trident in one hand and a begging bowl chiseled out of the shell of a creamy yellow pumpkin in his other hand. He approached the palace gate of the kind king. The Sadhu demanded alms in a raised and angry voice that was full of contempt, hate and spite.
The king was busy in the affairs of the state, while in the inner chamber of the palace and his queen too was engrossed with palace chores. So the demand of the Sadhu for alms was not responded to immediately. This delay was sufficient to infuriate the enraged Sadhu who was likely to turn back from the palace gate and curse the king and his progeny for their default and disrespect of the Sadhu. The graceful queen came running to placate the Sadhu as it was the first ever time that anybody had returned from the palace gate without alms. She was upset and distraught and appealed to the phlegmatic Sadhu to forgive the lapse of delay and take whatever he wanted to take. But the Sadhu would not relent on his anger and threatened to curse the king and his dynasty for not being cautious and courteous to him. Hearing heavy commotion at the palace gate, the king rushed out from his inner chamber with folded hands and beseeched the angry Sadhu to calm down and take whatever he wanted to take from the palace as alms. The Bhairava who had transformed into a deformed, ugly old Sadhu smelling his chance to bring down the beseeching king from his pedestal of benevolence and truthfulness addressed him thus,
“Great king known far and wide
For your justice and kindness.
Do thee mind to part with your kingdom?
To satiate an old ailing Sadhu of my age?”
The king at once agreed to hand over his kingdom to the Sadhu in order to cool his temper and win his pleasure. He thus beseeched of the erratic Sadhu:-
“Here this kingdom of ours is only yours henceforth.
We surrender all our rights and royalities on it to be yours in future
Henceforth me and my consort and our progeny
Will have no links with this state
Which will vest in you for all times to come”
The Sadhu winked and gloated in glee and saw his chance to pester the king further, and said,
“O, yee benevolent king, on offering thy kingdom to me,
Thou shall have to give me Dakhshina to complete the offer.”
The king thus ordered the in-charge of the royal treasury to obtain a plate full of jewels and souvenirs for the purpose. But the Sadhu howled back with disdain for the miserable king,
“Erstwhile king, nothing in the kingdom belongs to you,
Now that you have donated it to me.
Thou shall have to arrange for my Dakhshina out of your personal fortune.”
On this the helpless king disrobed from his royal attire and took off his crown. His consort also took out the diamonds and jewels that she wore. But the Sadhu roared back in anger,
“O silly king; All these things,
Belong to me by your own commandment.
And thus, you have no right to donate the property that belongs to me
Give me something that is thine and only thine.”
The king felt desperate and helpless because by the logic of the menacing Sadhu, the king had left nothing with himself to fall back upon. He became sad and disjointed. The Sadhu on the other hand had the last laugh and started to ridicule the king that being known for his truthful and just nature he was unable to keep his promise to handover his kingdom to the Sadhoo for want of a petty Dakhshina to complete his donation. The king thought hard but could not come out of his dilemma. He felt jitters in his spine that at last he was not able to keep up his word and promise and was likely to fall from his exalted status, that of being truthful and righteous. At this plight of the king, his consort who was fully faithful to him pleaded with him not to give up his composure and counseled to barter herself and their son as Dakhshina to the Sadhu. But the Sadhu was adamant not to accept the proposal of the queen. The temperamental Sadhu shot back that the king had no right on the person of his consort and his prince because he was not their God. The king beseeched the Sadhu to grant him some time to arrange some money.
He went out of the palace in torn robes and disheveled hair. The first man that he met was an ugly, dark caretaker of a cremation ground, in tattered and soiled clothes. The king appealed to him to buy him (the king) as a bonded laborer in return for a petty sum for the Sadhu.The caretaker agreed on the condition that he would hire the king to burn the dead bodies as his assistant against a consideration in money from the customers. He offered the king a sum and then it would be a package in which the king would get a commission from the caretaker that would be the first dead body’s fees each day. The king gave the money thus received from the caretaker to the Sadhu who felt even more jealous of the king. The king thus started to live and work as a caretaker of the cremation ground but did not relent from his truthfulness and righteousness, doing his unpleasant duties with grace.
The queen also left the palace with her tender son and sought employment in the house of a nobleman in the neighborhood as a maid to sustain herself and her dear prince. She did not bend or yield before the onslaught of misery and misfortune conspired by the Devas to test the virtues of truthfulness and perseverance of the noble king and his loyal queen. She worked very hard as a maid without any grudges while the king too toiled day and night to burn dead bodies that were brought to the cremation ground every day.
The immortal Devas were frustrated to see that neither the mortal king nor his queen ever resented and grudged the misfortunes that had been heaped on them for no fault of theirs. So they hatched another conspiracy to pester and frustrate the royal couple more and to bend their faith.. They converted one of themselves into a venomous snake who crept into the nobleman’s garden in which the prince, now a maid’s son was playing with other children of the locality. The snake sneaked into the play field and bit the prince on his ankle. Within no time the prince fell flat on the ground frothing and foaming into lifelessness. This rustled his mother who lost her only son along with the comforts of her kingdom and affection of her consort. She wailed and moaned but to no avail. Now it was required of the queen to get the dead body cremated, which needed money of which the queen had none. So she carried her dead dear son in her lap and proceeded towards the cremation ground.
There she was stunned to see her consort as a cremation assistant. But she still felt hope that she would now be able to perform the last rites of her darling son. But she was in for yet another shock when her husband demanded fees for the cremation of her dead son. She could not believe herself when her husband expressed his helplessness to cremate the dead body of her only son without receiving his cremation fees as per his agreement with the owner of the cremation ground. When she said to the king that she had no money to offer, the king replied back that he had no authority to burn dead bodies without cremation fees. This was a traumatic situation created for both of them by the Devas. Both started sobbing at their destiny which had betrayed them at so many steps. But an arrangement for the cremation of the dead body was to be made before the setting of the sun; otherwise the dead body would be transformed into a ghost. No parent could agree to such a disgrace for their only son after his death. Dusk was fast approaching and so their misery was growing. This was the greatest moral test and situational dilemma for the grieving couple. The king could not burn the body of his dead son without cremation fees which his queen did not possess. The body of their darling son could not be allowed to be transformed into a ghost It was a totally helpless situation in which the royal couple was simmering with pain. But the Devas were gloating over the breaking point of the royal couple, who they thought would now succumb to such incredible pressure.
The Queen being loyal and faithful to the king decided to make options easy for the king as she could not bear to see her dear son morphed into a ghost for want of ritualistic cremation. So she suggested to the king to behead her so that she along with her son could be cremated together next morning even if both of them would be turned into ghosts after the dusk. This could provide some relief to relieve the tragic pain of the queen and the king reluctantly agreed to the suggestion of the queen. There were huge logs of kail and deodar timber scattered in the ground. And Raja Chandra had a sharp heavy axe to lop and shred these logs to suitable bits to make pyres to burn dead bodies on. He asked his queen to place her neck on one of the logs while he blindfolded his eyes with a dirty shredded piece of cloth because he could not be witness to sacrifice his beloved wife with his own hands. But it had to be done to escape from ill fame that could have been caused if he fell from the grace which he had retained during his just and ethical rule.
The stage was finally set to perform the most macabre act of all times, which would remain etched in human memory for all times to come .The queen placed her neck on a well shaped log of wood without demur and the grieving king took up the axe to snap her head. At this point a commotion shook the universe. All the Devas of the world were dazed, horrified and brought to shame before the cherished principles of truth and justness demonstrated by the mortal couple. The Devas could not bear this shame any more and they emerged on the scene with folded hands to intervene and stop this tragedy from unfolding. They stopped the king from applying the fatal cut. Other denizens from the heavens too appeared on the scene to shower rose, lotus and marigold petals on the royal couple. The prince was revived back to life with the intervention of the Gods. The kingdom with all its grandeur and glamour too was restored to the king Raja Chandra who had declined to deviate from his principled stand in life.
This golden lore stands etched in the psyche of the Bhattas (Pandits) of Kashmir which they repeat on social occasions, reminding themselves of the virtues of truthfulness, benevolence and honesty.
*P.N.Ganjoo was born in a modest Kashmiri family about 7 decades ago, lost his father early and was raised by his honest, hardworking mother. With her efforts he received his education in Srinagar and went on to serve in various Government Departments before retiring as a senior grade KAS officer. |
Presently he is working on his varied interests besides being a consulting Director of a software services company.
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Well written. I think this is the tale of Raja-Harishchandra, known as Satyavadi Harishchandra.Bhairava character is the substitute character of the Vishwamitra. All other plot of the story remains the same.
Added By Chaman Lal Raina