Could you comfort me my friend! I couldn’t see her well,

Like thunderbolt passing through cloud, wrapped in veil.

Half her body covered by loose end of her clothing;

Half her face was smiling; her eyes half-sparkling.

Her presence made cupid love struck

The fair lady moves like a golden vibe of luck.

O God, her beauty trapped me obsessed –

Her pearl-teeth those sensuous lips braced.

Vidyapati laments over his pain in despair,

While eyes cannot satisfy his heart’s desire.

Utka_Nayika._A_lady_awaits_her_lover_in_the_forest._1775-1780._Kangra,_British_Museum,_London

Raghupati decides to visit the temple of Goddess Bhavani built by Shivaji after conquering the fort. A devout Brahmin from Amber was invited to carry out the services of the priest. Asking for the Goddess’s blessing before taking all vital decisions regarding military operations is a ritual for the leader. He walks towards the temple in youthful ecstasy.

The sun is about to set. The white marble temple in the backdrop of a small garden looks elegant in the faint radiance of the twilight. Raghupati decides to wait for the priest sitting on a flat stone in the flower garden outside.

Within minutes he finds something surprising – a young girl plucking flowers at a distance! The cloths of the girl reveal her native to be Rajputana – not Maharashtra. His heart elates seeing a girl from own land that he had left long ago. His characteristic introversion stops him from talking to her, but cannot disallow his eyes gazing at the girl sitting on the same stone. More he watches, more he gets intrigued by her youthful charm.

Her thick black silky hair falls on her back. A pair of large eyes made her vivid face even more vibrant. The perfect pair of her eye-brows looks as if drawn by a painter’s brush, beautifying her forehead. Her lips are thin and red; roundish arms adorned with golden bangles. The purple sky above enhances the golden glow of her skin. A long chain adorns her young neck and chaste. And the young warrior cannot stop observing the beautiful Rajput girl in this gorgeous twilight.

As she finishes plucking flowers, she looks up – only to discover a tall young Rajput sitting little far giving her a steadfast gaze. She blushes – she bows her head in obeisance. She looks at him again, sees the warrior holding a spear in hand and a sword hanging from the waist still waiting – his wide forehead and bright eyes partially covered by few tufts of hair. The bashful girl – surprised seeing a handsome person looking at her, hurries towards home with her flower-basket in hand, as if trying to run away from the desirable man.

Raghupati wakes up all on a sudden. Mystified, he enters the temple before meeting the priest.

The priest Janardandev is a descendant of a reputed priestly clan from Rajasthan. He came to the fort long back with his wife. The childless couple had adopted an orphaned girl child of a Kshatriya (warrior community) friend. On Shivaji’s invitation, the family shifted to the fort of Toran, the first fort the king had captured. After his wife passed away, the priest was left with no other object of affection but his adopted daughter. As Saryu grew into an exquisitely beautiful girl, other Brahmin residents of the fort started affectionately calling the father-daughter the incarnation of the hermit Kanva and Sakuntala*.

The middle-aged priest returns after some time. His tall built with wide chest and long well-formed pair of arms still looks strong. His shoulder is adorned with Upvit (sacred thread wore by Hindu Brahmin as mark of identity) and face with a pair of amicable eyes which is probably a mirror-image of his sacred heart and simple mind.

The priest enquires about Shivaji’s well-being. The soldier informs him about the forthcoming war. Handing the priest few gold coins he says, “The Master requested you to offer a Puja to Goddess Bhavani. He is determined to wage a war against Mughals. You know, no human can win without Goddess’ blessings.”

Janardan replies maintaining his usual calm: “The duty of our class of people is to protect our ancient belief – I will pray to the Goddess so that she favours Shivaji.”

Raghupati: “The Master has another request. He understands the outcome of the battle could be foretold. Only an astrologer with a good foresight like you can help him.”

Janardandev closes his eyes – opens after few moments and assures, “I will let the Goddess know this desire of Shivaji’s at night – you will get the answer in the morning.”

As the soldier prepares to leave thanking him, the priest asks: “I haven’t seen you in this fort before. Are you coming here for the first time today?”

Raghupati: “This is my first visit.”

Janardan: “Do you know anyone in this fort? Where are you going to stay?”

Raghupati: “I know no one; will spend the night somewhere inside the fort and go back in the morning.”

Janardan: “Why do you need to go through such a hardship?”

Raghupati: “With the grace of the Lord, that is not hardship for us – we often need to spend nights like this.”

Janardan: “Hardship is indeed inevitable during war, but today you need not undergo any. Take rest in this temple tonight; my adopted daughter will take care of your food. Carry the Goddesses’ message to Shivaji tomorrow morning.”

Raghupati’s heart suddenly starts beating faster. Is it a suffering, or a pain of pleasure? Who is the adopted daughter of Janardan? Is that the same beautiful Rajput girl he met in the garden?

 

*Mahabharata story

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