Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Canto 1: A Portrayal of Kapilavastu
A sage named Kapila Gautama,
Eminent among upholders of dharma,
Was as consumed in ascetic practice
As was Kakshivat Gautama.
He beat down ceaselessly,
Like Kashyapa the sun, on blazing asceticism;
And in the promotion thereof he pushed himself on,
Like Kashyapa the sage, to extreme achievement.
For self-serving offerings
He milked a cow, like Vasistha;
While among the disciples he schooled in asceticism
He milked a cow, like Vasistha.
He was like a second Dirgha-tapas;
And he was like a third in the mould
Of Kavya and Angiras, in religious thought.
He who was steeped in asceticism,
Had, on a bright slope of the Himalayas,
For the practice of austerities,
His site and his very seat, his ashram:
Wooded with charming shrubs and trees
And abounding with lush, soft grass,
It was so thick with sacrificial smoke
That it constantly resembled a raincloud.
With soft, sandy, and smooth soil,
Made yellowish white by a covering of kesara blossoms,
And divided into areas, with no commingling,
The ashram was as if body-painted
with cosmetic pigments.
Pure, esteemed for their sacred presence,
Edifying, and promoting happiness --
Like friends, were the lakes it stood among,
Fluent, and bearing lotuses.
With abundant fruits and flowers
Beautifying the forests all around it,
It shone and it flourished,
Like a man fully furnished with a means.
Ascetics satisfied with wild rice and fruit,
Self-abiding, inhibited, retiring,
Filled the ashram, and yet,
It was as if utterly empty.
The sound of the fires receiving offerings,
Of the peacocks with their crested heads
uttering their repetitive cry,
And of the sacred bathing places,
Was all one heard there.
The stags there, their manes beautifully braided,
On undefiled elevations fit to be sacrificial altars,
Seemed as if,
complete with puffy rice and madhavi flowers,
They had been prepared as religious offerings.
Even creatures down the forest food chain
Moved there in the same subdued manner as the stags,
As if from their ascetic protectors
They had learned the rules of discipline.
Even in the face of precarious immunity to rebirth,
And notwithstanding inconsistencies
in their time-honoured texts,
There and then, as if seeing with their own eyes,
The great ascetics practised asceticism.
There some prayed to Brahma;
None suffered the frustration of losing his way;
The soma, at the right moment, was measured out;
And nobody, at a random moment, came to naught.
There, not caring about their own bodies,
But each with his own belief in dharma,
Seemingly bristling with zeal,
The ascetics set about ascetic practice of asceticism.
There the toiling sages,
Hearts straining heavenward,
Seemed by their passion for asceticism
Almost to do dharma a mischief.
Now, to that ashram, that seat of intensity,
That domain of austerity,
There came certain sons of Ikshvaku,
Royal princes, wishing to stay.
Tall they were like golden columns,
Worthy of their great name
And insignia and upbringing.
For they were deserving where undeserving was he:
They were magnanimous where fickle was he:
They were bright where brainless was he:
Their younger half-brother.
The royal authority that had come to him,
as his mother's bride-price,
They could not endure;
And yet they kept their father's promise,
In accordance with which
they had retreated to the forest.
The sage Kapila Gautama
Became their preceptor;
And so from the guru's surname
Those Kautsas became Gautamas --
Just as, though they were brothers born of one father,
Because they had different gurus
Rama became a Gargya
And Vasubhadra a Gautama.
And since they made a dwelling
Concealed among shaka trees,
Therefore those descendants of Ikshvaku
Were known on earth as Shakyas.
Gautama performed services for them
As for his own sons,
As the Bhargava sage later did
For the child-prince Sagara;
As Kanva did for Shakuntala's son,
The intrepid Bharata;
And as the inspired Valmiki did
For the inspired twin sons of Maithili.
The forest, through the sage,
And through those warrior heroes,
Radiated tranquillity and security --
The majesty of the brahmin and the kshatriya,
in one yoke.
One day, while holding a jug of water,
In his desire to nurture the princes' growth
The sage went up, into the air.
Then he said to them:
"There will fall to earth from this flowing jug,
Whose flowing is unbreakable,
A line of drops: Do not overstep this mark,
As in step you follow me."
"Yes!" they said to this,
And respectfully bowed, letting their heads fall forward.
Then all went up,
Onto chariots that were swiftly drawn, and well prepared.
So they followed him in the flow
While, walking on air,
The ends of the earth of that ashram
He sprinkled with water.
He set out a plan like a chessboard,
Like an eightfold plan, revealed by signs;
Then the sage, standing still, spoke thus
To those offspring of the guardians of the earth:
"Within this sprinkled line of drops,
Wherein your wheels have left a mark,
You are to build a city,
When I am gone to heaven."
Thereafter those lads,
When in time the sage passed away,
Roamed about in their unbridled youth
Like elephants unchecked by a driver's hook --
With leather bindings protecting their fingers
And bows in their hands.
Their great quivers were bursting with arrows,
Their feathers preened and set.
Wishing to test their mettle
Among the elephants and big cats,
They emulated the god-like deeds
Of the forest-dwelling son of Dushyanta.
Seeing their natural character emerge
As those lads grew, like tiger cubs,
The ascetics abandoned that forest
And retreated to the Himalayas.
Then seeing the ashram without ascetics, desolate,
The princes were desolate in their hearts.
In their indignation, red with anger,
They hissed like snakes.
In time, through good conduct,
They arrived at a prosperous maturity
In which they obtained the great treasures
That are disclosed through acts of knowing them.
Sufficient for full enjoyment
Of dharma, wealth, and pleasure;
Abundant; and of many kinds:
These were treasures beyond an enemy's reach.
On the grounds of what they thus acquired,
And of the fading influence of their past karma,
They who knew building, at that site,
Founded a splendid city.
It had a moat as broad as a river,
A main street that straightened and curved,
And great ramparts rising like mountains,
As if it were another Giri-vraja.
With its fine frontage of white watchtowers,
And a well-apportioned central market
Overlooked by crescents of large houses,
It was like a Himalayan valley.
Brahmins versed in the Vedas and Vedangas,
And engaged in the six occupations,
They caused to pray there,
For peace and for prosperity.
The professional soldiers they employed there
To repel assailants from their territory
They caused, with their sovereign power,
To be victorious in battle.
Householders of character and means,
Worthy, stout and able,
They caused to settle there.
Individuals possessed of particular strong points
Such as thinking, talking, and taking steps,
They installed in corresponding offices
As counsellors and ministers.
Thronged by men who were wealthy but not wanton,
Cultured but not conceited,
The city seemed like Mt. Mandara,
Thronged by ensembles of kinnaras.
There with glad hearts,
Desiring to bring joy to the citizens,
They commissioned what we call 'gardens' --
Glorious abodes of beauty.
And lovely lotus pools
Of finest quality water,
Not at anybody's behest,
but because of being uplifted,
They had dug in all directions.
Rest-houses of the first rank,
welcoming and splendid,
On the roads and in the woods,
Complete even with wells,
They caused to go up on all sides.
Crowded with elephants, horses, and chariots,
The city was not congested and not disordered;
Material wealth was not hidden from the needy,
But learning and spirit ran secret and deep.
Like a place where goals converge,
Where energies are focused,
Where learning activities are housed,
And where achievements come together,
It was a homing tree for high flyers,
A refuge for those seeking a place of rest,
An arena for those skilled in scientific endeavour,
And a tethering post for the mighty.
By means of meetings, festivals, and acts of giving,
And by means of traditional observances,
The heroes brought to a glorious readiness
That city, the light of the world.
Since they never levied any tax
That was not just,
Therefore in a short time
They caused the city to be full.
And since, on the site of the ashram
Of the seer Kapila,
They had built that city,
Therefore it was called Kapilavastu.
Just as cities sited on the ashrams
Of Kakanda, Makanda and Kushamba
Were called after them,
So that city was called after Kapila.
Those equals of Indra took charge of that city
With noble ardour but without arrogance;
And they thus took on the fragrance of honour, forever,
Like the celebrated sons of Yayati.
But under the sons of kings,
active though they were as protectors,
That kingless kingdom lacked kingly lustre --
Like the sky, though stars are shining in their thousands,
Before the moon has risen.
So the senior among those brothers, in age and in merits,
Like the bull which is chief among bulls in bodily power,
They anointed there, attaching to the important,
Like the Adityas in heaven
anointing thousand-eyed Indra.
Possessed of good conduct,
discipline, prudence and industry,
Bearing the big umbrella for duty's sake,
not to pander to the power of the senses,
He guarded that realm,
surrounded by his brothers,
Like roaring Indra guarding heaven
with his retinue of storm-gods.
The 1st Canto, titled "A Portrayal of Kapilavastu,"
in the Epic Poem Handsome Nanda