Old Deccan Days/Rama and Luxman; or, the Learned Owl

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Old Deccan Days
by Mary Frere
Rama and Luxman; or, the Learned Owl
672041Old Deccan Days — Rama and Luxman; or, the Learned OwlMary Frere



ONCE upon a time there was a Rajah whose name was Chandra Rajah,[1] and he had a learned Wuzeer or Minister, named Butti. Their mutual love was so great that they were more like brothers than master and servant. Neither the Rajah nor the Wuzeer had any children, and both were equally anxious to have a son. At last, in one day and one hour, the wife of the Rajah and the wife of the Wuzeer had each a little baby boy. They named the Rajah's son Rama, and the son of the Wuzeer was called Luxman, and there were great rejoicings at the birth of both. The boys grew up and loved each other tenderly; they were never happy unless together; together they went to daily school, together bathed and played, and they would not eat except from off one plate. One day, when Rama Rajah was fifteen years old, his mother, the Ranee, said to Chandra Rajah, 'Husband, our son associates too much with low people; for instance, he is always at play with the Wuzeer's son, Luxman, which is not befitting his rank. I wish you would endeavour to put an end to their friendship, and find him better playmates.'

Chandra Rajah replied, 'I cannot do it; Luxman's father is my very good friend and Wuzeer, as his father's father was to my father; let the sons be the same.' This answer annoyed the Ranee, but she said no more to her husband; she sent, however, for all the wise people and seers and conjurors in the land, and inquired of them whether there existed no means of dissolving the children's affection for each other; they answered they knew of none. At last one old Nautch woman came to the Ranee and said, 'I can do this thing that you wish, but for it you must give me a great reward.' Then the Ranee gave the old woman an enormous bag full of gold mohurs, and said, 'This I give you now, and if you succeed in the undertaking I will give you as much again.' So this wicked old woman disguised herself in a very rich dress, and went to a garden-house which Chandra Rajah had built for his son, and where Rama Rajah and Luxman, the young Wuzeer, used to spend the greater part of their playtime. Outside the house was a large well and a fine garden. When the old woman arrived, the two boys were playing cards together in the garden close to the well. She drew near, and began drawing water from it. Rama Rajah, looking up, saw her, and said to Luxman, 'Go, see who that richly dressed woman is, and bring me word.' The Wuzeer's son did as he was bidden, and asked the woman what she wanted. She answered, 'Nothing, oh nothing,' and nodding her head went away; then, returning to the Ranee, she said, 'I have done as you wished, give me the promised reward,' and the Ranee gave her the second bag of gold. On Luxman's return, the young Rajah said to him, 'What did the woman want?' Luxman answered, 'She told me she wanted nothing.' 'It is not true,' replied the other angrily; 'I feel certain she must have told you something. Why should she come here for no purpose? It is some secret which you are concealing from me; I insist on knowing it.' Luxman vainly protesting the contrary, they quarrelled and then fought, and the young Rajah ran home very angry to his father. 'What is the matter, my son?' said he. 'Father,' he answered, 'I am angry with the Wuzeer's son. I hate that boy; kill him, and let his eyes be brought to me in proof of his death, or I will not eat my dinner.' Chandra Rajah was very much grieved at this, but the young Rajah would eat no dinner, and at last his father said to the Wuzeer, 'Take your son away, and hide him, for the boys have had a quarrel.' Then he went out and shot a deer, and showing its eyes to Rama, said to him, 'See, my son, the good Wuzeer's son has by your order been deprived of life;' and Rama Rajah was merry, and ate his dinner. But a while after he began to miss his kind playmate; there was nobody he cared for to tell him stories and amuse him. Then for four nights running he dreamed of a beautiful Glass Palace, in which dwelt a Princess white as marble, and he sent for all the wise people in the kingdom to interpret his dream, but none could do it; and, thinking upon this fair Princess and his lost friend, he got more and more sad, and said to himself, 'There is nobody to help me in this matter. Ah! if my Wuzeer's son were here now, how quickly would he interpret the dream! O my friend, my friend, my dear lost friend!' and when Chandra Rajah, his father, came in, he said to him, 'Show me the grave of Luxman, son of the Wuzeer, that I also may die there.' His father replied, 'What a foolish boy you are! You first begged that the Wuzeer's son might be killed, and now you want to die on his grave. What is all this about?' Rama Rajah replied, 'Oh! why did you give the order for him to be put to death? In him I have lost my friend and all my joy in life; show me now his grave, for thereon, I swear, will I kill myself.' When the Rajah saw that his son really grieved for the loss of Luxman, he said to him, 'You have to thank me for disregarding your foolish wishes; your old playmate is living, therefore be friends again, for what you thought were his eyes were but the eyes of a deer.' So the friendship of Rama and Luxman was resumed on its former footing. Then Rama said to Luxman, 'Four nights ago I dreamed a strange dream. I thought that for miles and miles I wandered through a dense jungle, after which I came upon a grove of Cocoanut trees, passing through which I reached one composed entirely of Guava trees, then one of Supari[2] trees, and lastly one of Copal trees. Beyond this lay a garden of flowers, of which the Malee's wife gave me a bunch; round the garden ran a large river, and on the other side of this I saw a fair palace composed of transparent glass, and in the centre of it sat the most lovely Princess I ever saw, white as marble, and covered with rich jewels; at the sight of her beauty I fainted—and so awoke. This has happened now four times, and as yet I have found no one capable of throwing any light on the vision.' Luxman answered, 'I can tell you. There exists a Princess exactly like her you saw in your dreams, and, if you like, you can go and marry her.' 'How can I?' said Rama; 'and what is your interpretation of the dream?' The Wuzeer's son replied, 'Listen to me, and I will tell you. In a country very far away from this, in the centre of a great Rajah's kingdom, there dwells his daughter, a most fair Princess; she lives in a glass palace. Round this palace runs a large river, and round the river is a garden of flowers. Round the garden are four thick groves of trees, one of Copal trees, one of Supari trees, one of Guava trees, and one of Cocoa-nut trees. The Princess is twenty-four years old, but she is not married, for she has determined only to marry whoever can jump this river, and greet her in her crystal palace, and though many thousand kings have essayed to do so, they have all perished miserably in the attempt, having either been drowned in the river, or broken their necks by falling; thus all that you dreamed of is perfectly true.' 'Can we go to this country?' asked the young Rajah. 'Oh yes,' his friend replied; 'this is what you must do. Go tell your father you wish to see the world. Ask him for neither elephants nor attendants, but beg him to lend you for the journey his old war-horse.'

Upon this Rama went to his father, and said, 'Father, I pray you give me leave to go and travel with the Wuzeer's son; I desire to see the world.' 'What would you have for the journey, my son?' said Chandra Rajah; 'will you have elephants, and how many?—attendants, how many?' 'Neither, father,' he answered; 'give me rather, I pray you, your old war-horse, that I may ride him during the journey.' 'So be it, my son,' he answered; and with that Rama Rajah and Luxman set forth on their travels. After going many, many thousands of miles, to their joy one day they came upon a dense grove of Cocoa-nut trees, and beyond that to a grove of Guava trees, then to one of Supari trees, and lastly to one of Copal trees; after which they entered a beautiful garden, where the Malee's wife presented them with a large bunch of flowers. Then they knew that they had nearly reached the place where the fair Princess dwelt. Now it happened that, because many kings and great people had been drowned in trying to jump over the river that ran round the Glass Palace where the Princess lived, the Rajah, her father, had made a law that, in future, no aspirants to her hand were to attempt the jump, except at stated times, and with his knowledge and permission, and that any Rajahs or Princes found wandering there, contrary to this law, were to be imprisoned. Of this the young Rajah and the Wuzeer's son knew nothing, and having reached the centre of the garden they found themselves on the banks of a large river, exactly opposite the wondrous Glass Palace, and were just debating what further steps to take when they were seized by the Rajah's guard, and hurried off to prison.

'This is a hard fate,' said Luxman. 'Yes,' sighed Rama Rajah, 'a dismal end, in truth, to all our fine schemes. Would it be possible, think you, to escape?' 'I think so,' answered Luxman, 'at all events I will try.' With that he turned to the sentry who was guarding them, and said, 'We are shut in here and can't get out; here is money for you if you will only have the goodness to call out that the Malee's cow has strayed away.' The sentry thought this a very easy way of making a fortune, so he did as he was bidden, and took the money. The result answered Luxman's anticipations. The Malee's wife hearing the sentry calling out, thought to herself, 'What, sentries round the guard-room again! then there must be prisoners: doubtless they are those two young Rajah's I met in the garden this morning; I will at least endeavour to release them.' So she asked two old beggars to accompany her, and, taking with her offerings of flowers and sweetmeats, started as if to go to a little temple which was built within the quadrangle where the prisoners were kept. The sentries, thinking she was only going with two old friends to visit the temple, allowed her to pass without opposition. As soon as she got within the quadrangle she unfastened the prison-door, and told the two young men (Rama Rajah and Luxman) to change clothes with the two old beggars, which they instantly did. Then leaving the beggars in the cell, she conducted Rama and Luxman safely to her house. When they had reached it she said to them, 'Young Princes, you must know that you did very wrong in going down to the river before having made a salaam to our Rajah, and gained his consent; and so strict is the law on this subject that had I not assisted your escape, you might have remained a long time in prison; though, as I felt certain you only erred through ignorance, I was the more willing to help you; but to-morrow morning early you must go and pay your respects at Court.'

Next day the guards brought their two prisoners to the Rajah, saying, 'See, O King, here are two young Rajahs whom we caught last night wandering near the river contrary to your law and commandment.' But when they came to look at the prisoners, lo and behold! they were only two old beggars whom everybody knew and had often seen at the palace gate.

Then the Rajah laughed and said, 'You stupid fellows, you have been over vigilant for once; see here your fine young Rajahs. Don't you yet know the looks of these old beggars?' Whereupon the guards went away much ashamed of themselves.

Having learnt discretion from the advice of the Malee's wife, Rama and Luxman went betimes that morning to call at the Rajah's palace. The Rajah received them very graciously, but when he heard the object of their journey he shook his head, and said, 'My pretty fellows, far be it from me to thwart your intentions, if you are really determined to win my daughter the Princess Bargaruttee,[3]—but as a friend I would counsel you to desist from the attempt,—you can find a hundred Princesses elsewhere willing to marry you; why, therefore, come here, where already a thousand Princes as fair as you have lost their lives? Cease to think of my daughter, she is a headstrong girl.' But Rama Rajah still declared himself anxious to try and jump the dangerous river, whereupon the Rajah unwillingly consented to his attempting to do so, and caused it to be solemnly proclaimed round the town that another Prince was going to risk his life, begging all good men and true to pray for his success. Then Rama having dressed gorgeously, and mounted his father's stout war-horse, put spurs to it and galloped to the river. Up, up in the air, like a bird, jumped the good war-horse, right across the river and into the very centre courtyard of the Glass Palace of the Princess Bargaruttee: and as if ashamed of so poor an exploit, this feat he accomplished three times. At this the heart of the Rajah was glad, and he ran and patted the brave horse, and kissed Rama Rajah, and said, 'Welcome, my son-in-law!' The wedding took place amid great rejoicings, with feasts, illuminations, and much giving of presents, and there Rama Rajah and his wife, the Ranee Bargaruttee, lived happily for some time. At last, one day, Rama Rajah said to his father-in-law, 'Sire, I have been very happy here, but I have a great desire to see my father, and my mother, and my own land again.' To which the Rajah replied, 'My son, you are free to go; but I have no son but you, nor daughter but your wife: therefore as it grieves me to lose sight of you, come back now and then to see me and rejoice my heart. My doors are ever open to you; you will be always welcome.'

Rama Rajah promised to return occasionally; and then, being given many rich gifts by the old Rajah, and supplied with all things needful for the journey, he, with his beautiful wife Bargaruttee, his friend the young Wuzeer, and a great retinue, set out to return home.

Before going Rama Rajah and Luxman richly rewarded the kind Malee's wife, who had helped them so ably.

On the first evening of their march the travellers reached the borders of the Cocoa-nut grove, on the outskirts of the jungle; here they determined to halt and rest for the night. Rama Rajah and the Ranee Bargaruttee went to their tent; but Luxman (whose tender love for them was so great, that he usually watched all night through at their door) was sitting under a large tree close by, when two little owls flew over his head, and perching on one of the highest branches, began chatting to each other.[4] The Wuzeer's son, who was in many ways wiser than most men, could understand their language. To his surprise he heard the little lady owl say to her husband, 'I wish you would tell me a story, my dear, it is such a long time since I have heard one.' To which her husband, the other little owl, answered, 'A story! what story can I tell you? Do you see these people encamped under our tree? Would you like to hear their story?' She assented; and he began, 'See first this poor Wuzeer, he is a good and faithful man, and has done much for this young Rajah, but neither has that been to his advantage heretofore, nor will it be hereafter.' At this Luxman listened more attentively, and taking out his writing tablets, determined to note down all he heard. The little owl commenced with the story of the birth of Rama and Luxman, of their friendship, their quarrel, the young Rajah's dream, and their reconciliation, and then told of their subsequent adventures in search of the Princess Bargaruttee, down to that very day on which they were journeying home. 'And what more has Fate in store for this poor Wuzeer?' asked the lady owl. 'From this place,' replied her husband, 'he will journey on with the young Rajah and Ranee, until they get very near Chandra Rajah's dominions; there, as the whole cavalcade is about to pass under a large banyan tree, this Wuzeer Luxman will notice some of the topmost branches swaying about in a dangerous manner; he will hurry the Rajah and Ranee away from it, and the tree (which would otherwise have inevitably killed them) will fall to the ground with a tremendous crash; but even his having thus saved the Rajah's life shall not avert his fate.' (All this the Wuzeer noted down.) 'And what next?' said the wife, 'what next?' 'Next,' continued the wise little story-teller, 'next, just as the Rajah Rama and the Ranee Bargaruttee and all their suite are passing under the palace doorway, the Wuzeer will notice that the arch is insecure, and by dragging them quickly through prevent their being crushed in its fall.' 'And what will he do after


that, dear husband?' she asked. 'After that,' he went on, 'when the Rajah and Ranee are asleep, and the Wuzeer Luxman keeping guard over them, he will perceive a large cobra slowly crawling down the wall and drawing nearer and nearer to the Ranee. He will kill it with his sword, but a drop of the cobra's blood shall fall on the Ranee's white forehead. The Wuzeer will not dare to wipe the blood off her forehead with his hand, and shall instead cover his face with a cloth that he may lick it off with his tongue, but for this the Rajah will be angry with him, and his reproaches will turn this poor Wuzeer into stone.'

'Will he always remain stone?' asked the lady owl. 'Not for ever,' answered her husband, 'but for eight long years he will remain so.' 'And what then?' demanded she. 'Then,' answered the other, 'when the young Rajah and Ranee have a baby, it shall come to pass that one day the child shall be playing on the floor, and to help itself along shall clasp hold of the stony figure, and at that baby's touch the Wuzeer will come to life again. But I have told you enough for one night; come, let's catch mice,—tuwhit, tuwhoo, tuwhoo,' and away flew the owls. Luxman had written down all he heard, and it made him heavy-hearted, but he thought, 'Perhaps, after all, this may not be true.' So he said nothing about it to any living soul. Next day they continued their journey, and as the owl had prophesied, so events fell out. For whilst the whole party were passing under a large banyan tree, the Wuzeer noticed that it looked unsafe. 'The owl spake truly,' he thought to himself, and seizing the Rajah and Ranee he hurried them from under it, just as a huge limb of the tree fell prone with a fearful crash.

A little while after, having reached Chandra Rajah's dominions, they were going under the great arch of the palace court-yard when the Wuzeer noticed some of the stones tottering. 'The owl was a true prophet,' thought he again, and catching hold of the hands of Rama Rajah and Bargaruttee Ranee, he pulled them rapidly through, just in time to save their lives. 'Pardon me,' he said to the Rajah, 'that unbidden I dared thus to touch your hand and that of the Ranee, but I saw the danger imminent.' So they reached home, where they were joyfully welcomed by Chandra Rajah, the Ranee, the Wuzeer (Luxman's father), and all the Court.

A few nights afterwards, when the Rajah and Ranee were asleep, and the young Wuzeer keeping guard over them as he was wont, he saw a large black cobra stealthily creeping down the wall just above the Ranee's head. 'Alas!' he thought, 'then such is my fate, and so it must be; nevertheless, I will do my duty;' and, taking from the folds of his dress the history of his and the young Rajah's life, from their boyhood down to that very time (as he had written it from the owl's narrative), he laid it beside the sleeping Rama, and, drawing his sword, killed the cobra. A few drops of the serpent's blood fell on the Ranee's forehead—the Wuzeer did not dare to touch it with his hand, but, that her sacred brow might not be defiled with the vile cobra's blood, he reverently covered his face and mouth with a cloth to lick the drops of blood away. At this moment the Rajah started up, and seeing him, said, 'O Wuzeer, Wuzeer, is this well done of you? O Luxman, who have been to me as a brother, who have saved me from so many difficulties, why do you treat me thus? to kiss her holy forehead. If indeed you loved her (as who could help it?), could you not have told me when we first saw her in that Glass Palace, and I would have exiled myself that she might be your wife. O my brother, my brother, why did you mock me thus?' The Rajah had buried his face in his hands; he looked up, he turned to the Wuzeer, but from him came neither answer nor reply. He had become a senseless stone. Then Rama for the first time perceived the roll of paper which Luxman had laid beside him, and when he read in it of what Luxman had been to him from boyhood, and of the end, his bitter grief broke through all bounds, and falling at the feet of the statue, he clasped its stony knees and wept aloud. When daylight dawned Chandra Rajah and the Ranee found Rama still weeping and hugging the stone, asking its forgiveness with penitent cries and tears. Then they said to him, 'What is this you have done?' When he told them, the Rajah his father was very angry, and said, 'Was it not enough that you should have once before unjustly desired the death of this good man, but that now by your rash reproaches you should have turned him into stone? Go to, you do but continually what is evil.'

Now eight long years rolled by without the Wuzeer returning to his original form, although every day Rama Rajah and Bargaruttee Ranee would watch beside him, kissing his cold hands, and adjuring him by all endearing names to forgive them and return to them again. When eight years had expired, Rama and Bargaruttee had a child; and from the time it was nine months old and first began to try and crawl about, the father and mother would sit and watch beside it, placing it near the Wuzeer's statue, in hopes that the baby would some day touch it as the owl had foretold.

But for three months they watched in vain. At last, one day when the child was a year old, and was trying to walk, it chanced to be close to the statue, and tottering on its unsteady feet, stretched out its tiny hands and caught hold of the foot of the stone. The Wuzeer instantly came back to life, and stooping down seized in his arms the little baby who had rescued him, and kissed it. It is impossible to describe the delight of Rama Rajah and his wife at regaining their long-lost friend. The old Rajah and Ranee rejoiced also, with the Wuzeer (Luxman Wuzeer's father), and his mother.

Then Chandra Rajah said to the Wuzeer, 'Here is my boy happy with his wife and child, while your son has neither; go fetch him a wife, and we will have a right merry wedding.' So the Wuzeer fetched for his son a kind and beautiful wife, and Chandra Rajah and Rama Rajah caused the wedding of Luxman to be grander than that of any great Rajah before or since, even as if he had been a son of the royal house, and they all lived very happy ever after, as all good fathers, and mothers, and husbands, and wives, and children do.

  1. Moon-King.
  2. Areca Catechu, the Betel-Nut Palm.
  3. A name of the Ganges.
  4. See Notes at the end.