Kopal-Kundala/In the Hermitage

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Chapter VIII.

In the Hermitage.

In that pitch dark amabosia[1] night the two fugitives hastily entered the forest. Nobokumar did not know the jungle paths, and all he could do was to follow the load of his fair companion of sixteen. But, owing to the forest and the darkness, he lost sight of her now and again, as the young girl ran in one direction and he in another. The girl told him to catch hold of her skirt, which Nobokumar did. They gradually came along with soft footsteps. Nothing was visible in the darkness, except that now and again the white summit of some sand-hill was dimly seen in the light of stars; and here and there the limbs of some tree covered with fire-flies.

Kopal-Kundala came with our traveller to a secret forest. It was then midnight. In front could be seen in the darkness the dome of a very lofty temple, and near it a house encompassed with a brick wall. Kopal-Kundala approached a door in the wall and knocked at it. After she had knocked several times, a voice from within said, "Who is it? Kopal-Kundala, I suppose?"

Kopal-Kundala said, "Open the door."

The speaker opened the door. He was the Sebok[2] or Adhikari of the goddess to whom the temple was consecrated. His age was over fifty. Kopal-Kundala took his head of scanty locks in her hands, drew his ear near her mouth, and in a few words explained the situation of her companion. The Adhikari buried his head in his hand and began to ponder. At last he said, "This is a very difficult matter. The great man can accomplish whatever he wishes. However that may be, by the favour of the mother[3] no harm will befall you. Where is the man?"

Kopal-Kundala beckoned Nobokumar to approach. Nobokumar, who had been standing in a corner outside, entered the house. The Adhikari said to him, "Conceal yourself here for to-day; to-morrow morning I will show you the road to Midnapur."

In the course of conversation the Adhikari came to know that Nobokumar had not yet eaten anything. He commenced to make preparations for his food, but Nobokumar was very loth to eat, and only asked for a resting-place. The Adhikari prepared a bed for Nobokumar in his own cook-house, and when the latter had gone to lie down, Kopal-Kundala got herself ready to return to the sea-shore. The Adhikari looked at her affectionately, and said, "Don't go; wait a moment. I have a favour to ask you."

Kopal-Kundala. What is it?

Adhikari. I have called you mother[4] ever since I have known you. I can touch the feet of the goddess and swear that I love you more than a mother. You must not refuse my request.

Kopa. I won't.

Adhi. My request is this, that you should not return there.

Kopa. Why?

Adhi. If you do, you will certainly be killed.

Kopa. I know that.

Adhi. Then why do you ask me?

Kopa. If I don't go there, where am I to go to?

Adhi. Go with this traveller to another country.

Kopal-Kundala remained silent. The Adhikari said, "Mother, what are you thinking about?"

Kopa. When your disciple came here, then you said that it was not right for a young woman to go with a young man. Why, then, do you tell me to do so now?

Adhi. Then I had no fears for your life, nor had I any good plan for your escape. Now a good opportunity offers. Come, let us take the permission of the mother.

So saying, the Adhikari, light in hand, went to the entrance of the temple and opened the door; Kopal-Kundala, too, went with him. In the temple was a life-size statue of the destroyer Kali, to which both of them reverently bowed down. The Adhikari washed his body, and plucked an entire bael-leaf from a vessel of flowers, and having sanctified it with mantras, he placed it at the feet of the image, and looked at it. Then, after a moment, he said to Kopal-Kundala, "Look, mother; the goddess has accepted the offering. The bael-leaf has not fallen; the purpose for which I gave the offering will of a surety turn out well. You may go without fear with this traveller. But I am well aware of the character and customs of people of the world. If you go in close companionship with this man, he will be put to shame in society for taking an unknown young woman with him. You, too, will be looked down upon. You have told me that he is a Brahman youth, and I have seen the sacrificial thread on his neck. If he marries you, and takes you, then all will be proper; otherwise, I too could not advise you to go with him."

"Marries me!" Kopal-Kundala uttered this word very softly, and said, "I have heard the word marriage from your mouth, but I don't exactly know what it is. What shall I have to do?"

The Adhikari said with a smile, "For women marriage is the only stepping-stone to religion. For this reason a wife is called Shaha-dharmini.[5] Even the mother of the world is the wife of Siva."

The Adhikari thought he had explained everything, and Kopal-Kundala thought she understood everything. She said, "Let it be so, but I do not feel inclined to abandon him who has supported me for so long."

Adhi. Don't you know why he has supported you? Don't you know that the Tantrik's mission is only accomplished by destroying the chastity of a woman? I too have studied the Tantras. Mother Juggadumba is the mother of the earth. She is the quintessence of chastity—the queen of chaste women—she never accepts worship that consists of destroying chastity. It is for this reason that I am thwarting the desire of the great man. If you flee, he will never be ungrateful! It is only because the proper moment has not yet arrives that you have hitherto escaped destruction. Considering what you have done to-day, there is fear for your life. Therefore I tell you to flee. This, too, is Bhobani's order. So go; if I had the means of keeping you back, I would do so, but you know I cannot.

Kopa. Let it be marriage then.

After this conversation they both came out of the temple. The Adhikari seated Kopal-Kundala in one room, and then, going to Nobokumar's bed, he sate down by his pillow and said, "Are you asleep, sir?"

Nonkumar was not in the mood for sleep. He was thinking of his lot, and replied, "No, sir."

The Adhikari said, "I have come to ask you who you are. Are you a Brahman?"

Nob. "Yes." "What class?" "Rarhi."

Adhi. We also are Rarhi Brahmans; do not suppose I am an Orissa Brahman. Our family are astrologers, though I am now a servant of the mother. What is your name?

Nob. "Nobokumar Sarma." "Your country? "Septogram." "What village?" "Bonyagháti." "How many wives have you?" "One only."

Nobokumar did not reveal everything, for, as a matter of fact, he had not even one wife. He had married Podmaboti, the daughter of Ramgobind Ghosal. After the marriage Podmaboti remained for some time in her father's house, and now and then used to visit her father-in-law's house. When she was thirteen years of age, her father had taken his whole family to Purustom[6] on pilgrimage. At that time the Pathans, driven out of Bengal by Akber Shah, were living with their followers in Orissa. Akber set on foot a regular attempt to subjugate them; and at the time Ramgobind Ghosal was returning from Orissa, the war between the Moguls and Pathans had commenced. As he was on his return journey, he fell into the hands of the Pathans, who at that time were quite uncivilised. For the sake of money, they maltreated the innocent traveller. Ramgobind was somewhat hot-tempered, and spoke harshly to the Pathans, the result of which was that he was put in prison with his family. In the end he obtained his release by abandoning his own religion, and, along with his family, becoming a Mussulman.

Ramgobind Ghosal and his family got home with their lives, it is true, but, being Mussulmans, they were utterly outcasted by their own society. At this time Nobokumar's father was alive, and he accordingly had to abandon the outcast daughter-in-law along with her outcast father. So it was that Nobokumar never knew his wife.

Abandoned by his kinsmen, an outcast from society, Ramgobind Ghosal could not remain long in his own society. Partly for this reason, and partly from a desire for promotion through the king's favour, he went with his family to the capital Rajmahal, and began to reside there. He and his family had adopted Mohammedan names along with their change of religion. What became of his father-in-law or his wife, after they had gone to Rajmahal, Nobokumar had no means of knowing, and up to this time did not know anything. From disappointment, Nobokumar did not marry again, and this is why I have said that Nobokumar had not even one wife.

The Adhikari was not aware of all this. He thought, "What harm is there in a Kulin having two wives?" He said openly to Nobokumar, "I came to ask you something. This girl who has saved your life has ruined herself for another's benefit. The great man under whose care she lives is of a terrible disposition; and if she returns to him, she will fare as you were about to. Can you suggest any remedy for this?"

Nobokumar sat up, and said, "I too was anxious on that account. You know everything, do you devise some remedy. If I can benefit her by giving up my life, I am willing even to do that. I am determined to return and give myself up to that murderer; by doing so I shall save her life. The Adhikari laughed and said, "You are a fool. What will be the good of that? You too will be killed, while the great man's resentment towards her will not in any way be diminished. There is but one remedy for this."

Nob. What is that?

Adhi. For her to flee with you. But that is very difficult. If you remain with me, you will be captured in a day or two. The great man constantly visits this temple: so that I see misfortune in store for Kopal-Kundala.

Nobokumar eagerly asked, "What is the difficulty in her fleeing with me?"

Adhi. You do not know whose daughter she is, or from what family sprung, whose wife, or what her character. Will you make her your companion, and, if you take her with you, will you give her a shelter in your own home? And if you don't do so, where is the orphan to go to?

Nobokumar pondered for a moment, and said, "Nothing is impossible to me for the sake of my life's preserver. She shall remain with me as my wife."

Adhi. Good; but when your kinsmen and relatives ask you whose wife she is, what will you say? Nobokumar again thought, and said, "Do you tell me all about her, and I will tell them that."

Adhi. Good; but, on the other hand, how can a young man and a young woman go alone together? What will people say? How will you explain the matter to your kinsfolk and relatives? And I, who call this girl mother, how am I to send her alone to a distant country with a young man of whose character I know nothing?"

The king of ghataks[7] was not a bad hand in his profession.

Nobokumar said, "Come with us."

Adhi. I go with you! Then who will perform the worship of Bhobani?

Nobokumar was vexed, and said, "Well then, can't you hit upon some plan?"

Adhi. There is only one plan, and that depends on your noble-mindedness.

Nob. What is that? I will consent to anything. Tell me your plan.

Adhi. Listen. This girl is a Brahman's daughter. I know all about her history. She was kidnapped in her infancy by cruel Christian pirates, and, being shipwrecked, they abandoned her on this seashore. She will tell you all about that hereafter. The Kapálik got hold of her, and was bringing her up for the accomplishment of his vows; and in no long time he would have succeeded in his purpose. The girl is yet a virgin, and her character is thoroughly pure. Do you marry her, and take her to your home. No one will be able to say anything, for I will marry you according to the Shastres.

Nobokumar started up from his bed, and hastily began to walk to and fro. As he made no reply, the Adhikari waited a moment, and said, "Go to sleep now; to-morrow morning I will arouse you. If you like, you can go alone; I will put you on the road to Midnapur. So saying the Adhikari took leave: as he went he muttered to himself, "Can it be that I have forgotten the ghatkali of my native land?"

  1. The month is divided into two halves, the light half and the dark half of the moon. The amabosia is the last day of the dark half, that is, the darkest night of the month.
  2. Sebok, he who does seba or worship, a priest. The word seba also means any service. A wife is said to serve her husband well. A sweeper speaks of his occupation as "gaǹer seba" (service for the village)
  3. The mother, i.e. Kali or Durga. Goddesses are frequently spoken of and addressed as mother; as, for instance, the Ganges, "Gangá má."
  4. Parents frequently address their children affectionately as mother and father. In Orissa old women sometimes address young girls with whom they are on familiar terms as "mousi" (aunt); and Brahman children call their mothers "Bo" or "Bohu," which means daughter-in-law, or the young girl of the family.
  5. Shaha-dharmini. Literally, she who worships along with her husband. Now-a-days the wife may almost be called the husband's substitute in matters of worship. On religious holidays the men of the educated class do not do pooja, but leave their womenkind to do it, just as in England the wife often goes to church for herself and husband also. Women of the upper and middle classes make pilgrimages to Gya and Kási (Benares) and offer up the pindas (sacrificial cakes) for their own as well as for their husband's ancestors, and such pooja is supposed to be as, or nearly as, efficacious as if performed by their husbands.
  6. Purustom or Puri, where is the Temple of Jagannáth. Hither resort from all parts of India except the extreme south the worshippers of Vishnu. The temple and worship were originally Buddhist, as is evident from several peculiarities that still exist. For instance, the sweetmeal or "maháprasád" sold at the temple may be carried away by a man of low caste, and then eaten even by a Brahman. I believe the fact of its passing through the hands of a Mussulman would not prevent the holiest of Hindoos from eating it.
  7. A ghatak is a sort of marriage-monger or broker, who arranges marriages, and gets a fee from both sides. He is supposed to know the history and genealogy of different families.