Meghmallar

Staff Correspondent | Published: 20:09 pm, 06 Jan 2017, Fri

Meghmallar

(Continued from the last issue) Prodyumna gaped at the elderly man in surprise. What secret might he want to share with someone he had known only for a day? So he replied, “How can I promise without knowing….” Suradasa said, “Don't worry; I wouldn't propose anything harmful.” Prodyumna was really curious to learn the secret; hence he promised not to talk to anyone about it. Suradasa lowered his voice and said, “You have seen the huge mound where the river bends? The one with a big meadow at the front? In ancient days there used to be a temple of the Devi Swaraswati; heard that after completing their lessons all the renowned musicians of the land paid homage to the goddess. Only after that they would begin their careers in art. It was a long, long time ago. Then the temple went in ruins, and now, as you can see, there's nothing there. But still, if anyone plays the Meghmallar in its finest tune sitting on that mound on the nights of full moon during the rainy seasons, the Devi would appear. Nobody knows about it here. She can be summoned only during the months of Ashara, Sravan, and Bhadra, and her blessings would make the performer the finest in his profession. The other requirement is that the player must be unmarried. What I was saying, why don't you and I make an attempt to do it? What do you say?” Prodyumna was so surprised that he did not know what to say. The Acharya Basubrata, their art master, had said on many occasions that the form that the Hindus portray of Swaraswati, the goddess of art and music, is a merely a feat of imagination. It has no connection to reality. To be actually able to see her? Was it really possible? Suradasa asked somewhat anxiously, “Don't you agree with me?” Prodyumna said, “It's not that. I was wondering how, or if it's possible.” Suradasa said, “Don't you worry about it. You'll see it with your own eyes. If you have no objection, we'll do it on the night of the next full moon. I will take all the necessary preparations.” Prodyumna had been feeling strange after hearing all this, and just he nodded and said, “Please do; I will be here.” Suradasa was relieved, “That's good, I am really pleased with you. But even before that, do come to visit me, I'll have to get you prepared as well. You've to do certain things—I'll guide you.” Prodyumna nodded again and went on his way to the bihar. He was thoughtful—the Devi Swaraswati? Really?He had heard that her complexion was like the white lotus, and how beautiful she must be! Even though the Acharya Basubrata said…. *** That year it rained heavily on the shaal-piyal-tomal forests by the river Bhadrabati. The sky looked as if some love-lorn woman waited with all her long hair streaming from her chignon, the darkness of the night reflecting the pain she felt for her missing beloved, her sighs were in the blustery winds from the distant wilderness, her very tears fell in the form of heavy rain, and the streaks of lightning in the clouds were flashes of her hope. On the night of the full moon in Ashara, Prodyumna went to the river bank with Suradasa. The sky was clouded when they reached the place, the liquid darkness had engulfed everything around them. Prodyumna took a bath in the river and changed his clothes. He understood from the activities of his companion that he was a tantrika. There was a monk at the bihar, who used to be a disciple of the yogi Padmashambhar. Prodyumna had heard about some of the rituals that tantrikas practiced. Suradasa had brought with him a load of garlands of red hibiscus. He wore some of them and made Prodyumna wear some too. He lighted a lamp in a small human skull. Prodhyumna became exhausted in helping with the arrangements of his pooja. But he was so curious as to see to the end of the matter, that he did not even think about the dangers of participating in a strange ritual with an almost unknown tantrika at night. It was late at night when the ritual ended. Suradasa said, “All right, Prodyumna, you can start your work. I am done. Be careful though, it all depends on you now.” There was a sharp, hungry look in his eyes which Prodyumna did not like. But still he sat with his flute and started playing the Meghmallar. It was absolutely silent. The open space at the front was so dark that nothing was visible. The wind played in the nearby forests and made a faint noise. Beyond the shal forest, near the horizon, it was all pitch dark night. Only the river Bhadravati seemed restless in her quest to mingle with some eternal power. Then abruptly, all the darkness before Prodyumna disappeared and the meadow was flooded with a liquid bright light. An amazed Prodyumna could make out the figure of a divinely beautiful woman standing in the middle of the meadow lightened up by a thousand moons. She had long dark hair cascading down her shoulders; her large eyes were fringed with long lashes, as if outlined by some artist; her snow white arms were decorated with bright flowers; she was attired in blue and her slim waist was adorned by a half-hidden jeweled girdle; her feet like lotus flowers. Yes, this was the Devi—the goddess of lute. It was because of her their land was so rich with all kinds of arts; she brought blessings for the country; she was the epitome of eternal beauty and spirit. Then the Devi slowly disappeared before his very eyes. The moonlight waned and the breeze also went down. Prodyumna felt dazed, and he came to his senses only when Suradasa spoke. “I was telling the truth, you see? Now, you can leave if you wish. I still have some work to do.” Suradasa's words seemed broken and strange. Prodyumna looked at him and saw that his eyesgleamed in the dark. When Prodyumna took his leave, the full moon was partially covered by dark clouds. Whatever little light was there, it was yellowish in color—as if it was the eclipse. It took quite a while to cross the meadow, and then he entered the shal forest. It was a densely wooded place, and dark too. Prodyumna walked quickly as he was afraid that it would be dawn soon. All on a sudden he thought he saw some kind of light. At first he thought it was moonshine, but as he looked carefully, he realized it was different from moonlight. Out of curiosity he went to investigate, and what he saw made him speechless. It was the same woman! He had just seen her in the meadow. It was the same gloriously beautiful woman with a glowing halo like a glow worm. Prodyumna went closer and saw that her large eyes were half-closed, and she walked around as if in a trance. She was trying to find her way and her face had a perplexed expression. Suddenly, Prodyumna was terrified. He realized that the entire episode beginning with seeing the Devi at the meadow and everything was unnatural. What the hell was going on! He turned and almost ran off. By the time he reached the bihar, the moon was about to set behind the hills of Kumarsrenee. He barely slept and dreamt that in the dark waters of Bhadryavati a goddess had lost her way. However much she tried to find her way up, she was detained by the strong current, and the halo surrounding her body was fading away. The darkness descended, and the fish in the river were pecking at her soft feet. Her feet were bleeding, and a large fish with an evil grin looked on at the misery of the goddess; the fish looked like Suradasa. Early next morning, Prodyumna went to the Acharya Purnabardhana and told him everything, from his meeting with Suradasa to all that happened the previous night. Purnabardhana was a scholar of Buddhist philosophy, and he was the oldest and the wisest among the monks. He was also the most respected. He was amazed by what he heard, and also worried. He asked, “Why didn't you tell me all this earlier?” “Because I promised…” “Why are you telling me now?” “Because I feel I have caused some great harm to someone.” Purnabardha was thoughtful, and then said, “I was afraid that something of this sort might happen. Padmashambhar and a group of senseless tantrikas have been trying to destroy all systems in the country. They can do anything to fulfill their selfish whims. And Prodyumna, I can see that your subversive and fun loving nature will destroy you some day. What you did last night was very wrong; you helped in imprisoning the Devi Swaraswati.” Prodyumna was so alarmed that he could not utter one word. Purnabardhana said, “It's to keep our students safe from this kind of people that I don't like to permit them to go outside. But what should I say, you are a mere child; how would you know! But tell me, how does this Suradasa look like?” Prodyumna described Suradasa. Purnabardhana said, “I knew it. The person you called Suradasa is not actually Suradasa. He is not even from Avanti. He is the infamous kapalika Gunadhya. He lied to you to meet his own evil ends.” Prodyumna said hastily, “But you said…” “I am coming to that. Listen. The ruins of the Swaraswati temple by the river is an ancient and famous pilgrimage site for the Hindus. Almost two hundred years ago a young singer used to reside there. The temple was not in good shape then, but the myth runs that the singer was such an expert in Meghmallar that the Devi Swaraswati would appear before him on the nights of the full moon during rainy seasons. The temple grew to be a site for the pilgrims again. It was said that even after the flutist's death she would appear if any professional played the Meghmallar.  That Gunadhya was present with Suradasa once at that spot. Suradasa was proficient in Meghmallar. The Devi had appeared before him and asked him to request for a boon. Suradasa prayed to take his place among the greatest of the musicians in the land. And Swaraswati blessed him. Then she asked Gunadhya what he wanted. He was so taken in by the beauty of the goddess that he asked for her very own self. But the Devi said it was not for him to have her. His name might be Gunaddhya, full of virtue, but he had no virtue at all. To possess her, one would have to work diligently and spiritually toward it for eons. He had done nothing. After the Devi's departure the fool Gunadhya became all the more enamored of the Devi. At the same time he also got very angry with her and he started looking for a powerful tantrika to imprison her. I know that he took lessons from an old hermit regarding this. But soon realizing what he was after, the hermit sent him away. The older sages of this country know about all these. I did not hear anything of Gunadhya in quite a while. Thought perhaps he had left the land. But after hearing what you said, I am afraid he has succeeded in his mission. He had been working toward this heinous act somewhere. Anyway, now go to the temple and see if you can find him, and if he is still there, inform me.” Prodyumna did not wait a second, but ran out into the garden where the other students were saying their morning prayers. While walking he saw the artist monk Basubrata sitting under a mango tree on his deer skin seat working on something. But a disgruntled frown was etched on his brows. Prodyumna did not find Gunadhya at the temple. Even the hermit who had taken refuge there, had disappeared. All he could see were a few earthen pots and some dried fire sticks. Late that night, Prodyumna left the bihar without informing anybody anything. A year had passed since then. After leaving the bihar he went to meet Shunanda to tell her that he was going on a tour and that he would return in a while. Within this one year he had been to Kanchi, North Koshol and Magadha, but had failed to trace Gunadhya. But while roaming he did hear some interesting rumors. The famed architect Mihirgupta of Magadha was directed by the King to sculpt a figure of BhagwanTathagata. He took an entire year in finishing his piece, but the face of his Buddha turned out so crude and expressionless that the people of the land could not be sure if it was Buddha's, or Damanak's, the fierce raider of Magadha. (To be concluded in the next issue)