The Royal Ascetic And The Hind

MAITREYA. Of old thou gav'st a promise to relate

The deeds of Bharat, that great hermit-king:

Beloved Master, now the occasion suits,

And I am all attention.

PARASARA. Brahman, hear.

With a mind fixed intently on his gods

Long reigned in Saligram of ancient fame,

The mighty monarch of the wide, wide world.

Chief of the virtuous, never in his life

Harmed he, or strove to harm, his fellow-man,

Or any creature sentient. But he left

His kingdom in the forest-shades to dwell,

And changed his sceptre for a hermit's staff,

And with ascetic rites, privations rude,

And constant prayers, endeavoured to attain

Perfect dominion on his soul. At morn,

Fuel, and flowers, and fruit, and holy grass,

He gathered for oblations; and he passed

In stern devotions all his other hours;

Of the world heedless, and its myriad cares,

And heedless too of wealth, and love, and fame.

Once on a time, while living thus, he went

To bathe where through the wood the river flows:

And his ablutions done, he sat him down

Upon the shelving bank to muse and pray.

Thither impelled by thirst a graceful hind,

Big with its young, came fearlessly to drink.

Sudden, while yet she drank, the lion's roar,

Feared by all creatures, like a thunder-clap

Burst in that solitude from a thicket nigh.

Startled, the hind leapt up, and from her womb

Her offspring tumbled in the rushing stream.

Whelmed by the hissing waves and carried far

By the strong current swoln by recent rain,

The tiny thing still struggled for its life,

While its poor mother, in her fright and pain,

Fell down upon the bank, and breathed her last.

Up rose the hermit-monarch at the sight

Full of keen anguish; with his pilgrim staff

He drew the new-born creature from the wave;

'Twas panting fast, but life was in it still.

Now, as he saw its luckless mother dead,

He would not leave it in the woods alone,

But with the tenderest pity brought it home.

There, in his leafy hut, he gave it food,

And daily nourished it with patient care,

Until it grew in stature and in strength,

And to the forest skirts could venture forth

In search of sustenance. At early morn

Thenceforth it used to leave the hermitage

And with the shades of evening come again,

And in the little courtyard of the hut

Lie down in peace, unless the tigers fierce,

Prowling about, compelled it to return

Earlier at noon. But whether near or far,

Wandering abroad, or resting in its home,

The monarch-hermit's heart was with it still,

Bound by affection's ties; nor could he think

Of anything besides this little hind,

His nursling. Though a kingdom he had left,

And children, and a host of loving friends,

Almost without a tear, the fount of love

Sprang out anew within his blighted heart,

To greet this dumb, weak, helpless foster-child,

And so, whene'er it lingered in the wilds,

Or at the 'customed hour could not return,

His thoughts went with it; "And alas!" he cried,

"Who knows, perhaps some lion or some wolf,

Or ravenous tiger with relentless jaws

Already hath devoured it,--timid thing!

Lo, how the earth is dinted with its hoofs,

And variegated. Surely for my joy

It was created. When will it come back,

And rub its budding antlers on my arms

In token of its love and deep delight

To see my face? The shaven stalks of grass,

Kusha and kasha, by its new teeth clipped,

Remind me of it, as they stand in lines

Like pious boys who chant the Samga Veds

Shorn by their vows of all their wealth of hair."

Thus passed the monarch-hermit's time; in joy,

With smiles upon his lips, whenever near

His little favourite; in bitter grief

And fear, and trouble, when it wandered far.

And he who had abandoned ease and wealth,

And friends and dearest ties, and kingly power,

Found his devotions broken by the love

He had bestowed upon a little hind

Thrown in his way by chance. Years glided on....

And Death, who spareth none, approached at last

The hermit-king to summon him away;

The hind was at his side, with tearful eyes

Watching his last sad moments, like a child

Beside a father. He too, watched and watched

His favourite through a blinding film of tears,

And could not think of the Beyond at hand,

So keen he felt the parting, such deep grief

O'erwhelmed him for the creature he had reared.

To it devoted was his last, last thought,

Reckless of present and of future both!

Thus far the pious chronicle, writ of old

By Brahman sage; but we, who happier, live

Under the holiest dispensation, know

That God is Love, and not to be adored

By a devotion born of stoic pride,

Or with ascetic rites, or penance hard,

But with a love, in character akin

To His unselfish, all-including love.

And therefore little can we sympathize

With what the Brahman sage would fain imply

As the concluding moral of his tale,

That for the hermit-king it was a sin

To love his nursling. What! a sin to love!

A sin to pity! Rather should we deem

Whatever Brahmans wise, or monks may hold,

That he had sinned in casting off all love

By his retirement to the forest-shades;

For that was to abandon duties high,

And, like a recreant soldier, leave the post

Where God had placed him as a sentinel.

This little hind brought strangely on his path,

This love engendered in his withered heart,

This hindrance to his rituals,--might these not

Have been ordained to teach him? Call him back

To ways marked out for him by Love divine?

And with a mind less self-willed to adore?

Not in seclusion, not apart from all,

Not in a place elected for its peace,

But in the heat and bustle of the world,

'Mid sorrow, sickness, suffering and sin,

Must he still labour with a loving soul

Who strives to enter through the narrow gate.

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