Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan/Sindhu
Deep in the forest shades there dwelt
A Muni and his wife,
Blind, grayhaired, weak, they hourly felt
Their slender hold on life.
No friends had they, no help or stay.
Except an only boy,
A bright-eyed child, his laughter gay,
Their leaf-hut filled with joy.
Attentive, duteous, loving, kind.
Thoughtful, sedate, and calm.
He waited on his parents blind
Whose days were like a psalm.
He roamed the woods for luscious fruits.
He brought them water pure,
He cooked their simple mess of roots,
Content to live obscure.
To fretful questions, answers mild
He meekly ever gave,
If they reproved, he only smiled,
He loved to be their slave.
Not that to him they were austere,
But age is peevish still,
Dear to their hearts he was,—so dear,
That none his place might fill.
They called him Sindhu, and his name
Was ever on their tongue,
And he, nor cared for wealth nor fame,
Who dwelt his own among.
A belt of Bela trees hemmed round
The cottage small and rude,
If peace on earth was ever found
'Twas in that solitude.
Great Dasarath, the King of Oude,
Whom all men love and fear,
With elephants and horses proud
Went forth to hunt the deer.
Oh gallant was the long array!
Pennons and plumes were seen,
And swords that mirrored back the day,
And spears and axes keen.
Rang trump, and conch, and piercing fife,
Woke Echo from her bed!
The solemn woods with sounds were rife
As on the pageant sped.
Hundreds, nay thousands, on they went!
The wild beasts fled away!
Deer ran in herds, and wild boars spent
Became an easy prey.
Whirring the peacocks from the brake
With Argus wings arose,
Wild swans abandoned pool and lake
For climes beyond the snows.
From tree to tree the monkeys sprung,
Unharmed and unpursued,
As louder still the trumpets rung
And startled all the wood.
The porcupines and such small game
Unnoted fled at will,
The weasel only caught to tame
From fissures in the hill.
Slunk light the tiger from the bank,
But sudden turned to bay!
When he beheld the serried rank
That barred his tangled way.
Uprooting fig-trees on their path,
And trampling shrubs and flowers,
Wild elephants, in fear and wrath,
Burst through, like moving towers.
Lowering their horns in crescents grim
Whene'er they turned about,
Retreated into coverts dim
The bisons' fiercer rout.
And in this mimic game of war
In bands dispersed and past
The royal train,—some near, some far,
As day closed in at last.
Where was the king? He left his friends
At midday, it was known,
And now that evening fast descends
Where was he? All alone.
Curving, the river formed a lake,
Upon whose bank he stood,
No noise the silence there to break,
Or mar the solitude.
Upon the glassy surface fell
The last beams of the day,
Like fiery darts, that lengthening swell,
As breezes wake and play.
Osiers and willows on the edge
And purple buds and red,
Leant down,—and 'mid the pale green sedge
The lotus raised its head.
And softly, softly, hour by hour
Light faded, and a veil
Fell over tree, and wave, and flower,
On came the twilight pale.
Deeper and deeper grew the shades,
Stars glimmered in the sky,
The nightingale along the glades
Raised her preluding cry.
What is that momentary flash?
A gleam of silver scales
Reveals the Mahseer;—then a splash,
And calm again prevails.
As darkness settled like a pall
The eye would pierce in vain,
The fireflies gemmed the bushes all,
Like fiery drops of rain.
Pleased with the scene,—and knowing not
Which way, alas! to go,
The monarch lingered on the spot,—
The lake spread bright below.
He lingered, when—oh hark! oh hark
What sound salutes his ear!
A roebuck drinking in the dark,
Not hunted, nor in fear.
Straight to the stretch his bow he drew,
That bow ne'er missed its aim,—
Whizzing the deadly arrow flew,
Ear-guided, on the game!
Ah me! What means this?—Hark a cry,
A feeble human wail,
"Oh God!" it said—"I die,—I die,
Who'll carry home the pail?"
Startled, the monarch forward ran,
And then there met his view
A sight to freeze in any man
The warm blood coursing true.
A child lay dying on the grass,
A pitcher by his side,
Poor Sindhu was the child, alas!
His parents' stay and pride.
His bow and quiver down to fling,
And lift the wounded boy,
A moment's work was with the king.
Not dead,—that was a joy!
He placed the child's head on his lap,
And ranged the blinding hair,
The blood welled fearful from the gap
On neck and bosom fair.
He dashed cold water on the face,
He chafed the hands, with sighs,
Till sense revived, and he could trace
Expression in the eyes.
Then mingled with his pity, fear—
In all this universe
What is so dreadful as to hear
A Bramin's dying curse!
So thought the king, and on his brow
The beads of anguish spread,
And Sindhu, fully conscious now,
The anguish plainly read.
"What dost thou fear, O mighty king?
For sure a king thou art!
Why should thy bosom anguish wring?
No crime was in thine heart!
Unwittingly the deed was done;
It is my destiny,
O fear not thou, but pity one
Whose fate is thus to die.
No curses, no!—I bear no grudge,
Not thou my blood hast spilt,
Lo! here before the unseen Judge,
Thee I absolve from guilt.
The iron, red-hot as it burns,
Burns those that touch it too,
Not such my nature,—for it spurns,
Thank God, the like to do.
Because I suffer, should I give
Thee, king, a needless pain?
Ah, no! I die, but mayst thou live,
And cleansed from every stain!"
Struck with these words, and doubly grieved
At what his hands had done,
The monarch wept, as weeps bereaved
A man his only son.
"Nay, weep not so," resumed the child,
"But rather let me say
My own sad story, sin-defiled,
And why I die to day!
Picking a living in our sheaves,
And happy in their loves,
Near, 'mid a peepul's quivering leaves,
There lived a pair of doves.
Never were they two separate,
And lo, in idle mood,
I took a sling and ball, elate
In wicked sport and rude,—
And killed one bird,—it was the male,
Oh cruel deed and base!
The female gave a plaintive wail
And looked me in the face!
The wail and sad reproachful look
In plain words seemed to say,
A widowed life I cannot brook,
The forfeit thou must pay.
What was my darling's crime that thou
Him wantonly shouldst kill?
The curse of blood is on thee now,
Blood calls for red blood still.
And so I die—a bloody death—
But not for this I mourn,
To feel the world pass with my breath
I gladly could have borne,
But for my parents, who are blind,
And have no other stay,—
This, this, weighs sore upon my mind,
And fills me with dismay.
Upon the eleventh day of the moon
They keep a rigorous fast,
All yesterday they fasted; soon
For water and repast
They shall upon me feebly call!
Ah, must they call in vain?
Bear thou the pitcher, friend—'tis all
I ask—down that steep lane."
He pointed,—ceased,—then sudden died!
The king took up the corpse,
And with the pitcher slowly hied,
Attended by Remorse,
Down the steep lane—unto the hut
Girt round with Bela trees;
Gleamed far a light—the door not shut
Was open to the breeze.
"Oh why does not our child return?
Too long he surely stays."—
Thus to the Muni, blind and stern,
His partner gently says.
"For fruits and water when he goes
He never stays so long,
Oh can it be, beset by foes,
He suffers cruel wrong?
Some distance he has gone, I fear,
A more circuitous round,—
Yet why should he? The fruits are near,
The river near our bound.
I die of thirst,—it matters not
If Sindhu be but safe,
What if he leave us, and this spot,
Poor birds in cages chafe.
Peevish and fretful oft we are,—
Ah, no—that cannot be:
Of our blind eyes he is the star,
Without him, what were we?
Too much he loves us to forsake,
But something ominous,
Here in my heart, a dreadful ache,
Says, he is gone from us.
Why do my bowels for him yearn,
What ill has crossed his path?
Blind, helpless, whither shall we turn,
Or how avert the wrath?
Lord of my soul—what means my pain?
This horrid terror,—like
Some cloud that hides a hurricane;
Hang not, O lightning,—strike!"
Thus while she spake, the king drew near
With haggard look and wild,
Weighed down with grief, and pale with fear,
Bearing the lifeless child.
Rustled the dry leaves neath his foot,
And made an eerie sound,
A neighbouring owl began to hoot,
All else was still around.
At the first rustle of the leaves
The Muni answered clear,
"Lo, here he is—oh wherefore grieves
Thy soul, my partner dear?"
The words distinct, the monarch heard,
He could no further go,
His nature to its depths was stirred,
He stopped in speechless woe.
No steps advanced,—the sudden pause
Attention quickly drew,
Rolled sightless orbs to learn the cause,
But, hark!—the steps renew.
"Where art thou, darling—why so long
Hast thou delayed to-night?
We die of thirst,—we are not strong,
This fasting kills outright.
Speak to us, dear one—only speak,
And Calm our idle fears,
Where hast thou been, and what to seek?
Have pity on these tears."
With head bent low the monarch heard,
Then came a cruel throb
That tore his heart,—still not a word,
Only a stifled sob!
"It is not Sindhu—who art thou?
And where is Sindhu gone?
There's blood upon thy hands—avow!"
"There is."—"Speak on, speak on."
The dead child in their arms he placed,
And briefly told his tale,
The parents their dead child embraced,
And kissed his forehead pale.
"Our hearts are broken. Come, dear wife,
On earth no more we dwell;
Now welcome Death, and farewell Life,
And thou, O king, farewell!
We do not curse thee, God forbid!
But to my inner eye
The future is no longer hid,
Thou too shalt like us die.
Die—for a son's untimely loss!
Die—with a broken heart!
Now help us to our bed of moss,
And let us both depart."
Upon the moss he laid them down,
And watched beside the bed;
Death gently came and placed a crown
Upon each reverend head.
Where the Sarayu's waves dash free
Against a rocky bank,
The monarch had the corpses three
Conveyed by men of rank;
There honoured he with royal pomp
Their funeral obsequies,—
Incense and sandal, drum and tromp,
And solemn sacrifice.
What is the sequel of the tale?
How died the king?—Oh man,
A prophet's words can never fail—
Go, read the Ramayan.