When mutual courtesies had past,
Visálá's ruler spoke at last:
"These princely youths, O Sage, who vie
In might with children of the sky,
Heroic, born for happy fate,
With elephants' or lions' gait,
Bold as the tiger or the bull,
With lotus eyes so large and full,
Armed with the quiver, sword, and bow,
Whose figures like the Asvins(216) show,
Like children of the deathless Powers,
Come freely to these shades of ours,(217)--
How have they reached on foot this place?
What do they seek, and what their race?
As sun and moon adorn the sky,
This spot the heroes glorify.
Alike in stature, port, and mien,
The same fair form in each is seen,"
He spoke; and at the monarch's call
The best of hermits told him all,
How in the grove with him they dwelt,
And slaughter to the demons dealt.
Then wonder filled the monarch's breast,
Who tended well each royal guest.
Thus entertained, the princely pair
Remained that night and rested there,
And with the morn's returning ray
To Mithilá pursued their way.
When Janak's lovely city first
Upon their sight, yet distant, burst,
The hermits all with joyful cries
Hailed the fair town that met their eyes.
Then Ráma saw a holy wood,
Close, in the city's neighbourhood,
O'ergrown, deserted, marked by age,
And thus addressed the mighty sage:
"O reverend lord. I long to know
What hermit dwelt here long ago."
Then to the prince his holy guide,
Most eloquent of men, replied:
"O Ráma, listen while I tell
Whose was this grove, and what befell
When in the fury of his rage
The high saint cursed the hermitage.
This was the grove--most lovely then--
Of Gautam, O thou best of men,
Like heaven itself, most honoured by
The Gods who dwell above the sky.
Here with Ahalyá at his side
His fervid task the ascetic plied.
Years fled in thousands. On a day
It chanced the saint had gone away,
When Town-destroying Indra came,
And saw the beauty of the dame.
The sage's form the God endued,
And thus the fair Ahalyá wooed:
"Love, sweet! should brook no dull delay
But snatch the moments when he may."
She knew him in the saint's disguise,
Lord Indra of the Thousand Eyes,
But touched by love's unholy fire,
She yielded to the God's desire.
"Now, Lord of Gods!" she whispered, "flee,
From Gautam save thyself and me."
Trembling with doubt and wild with dread
Lord Indra from the cottage fled;
But fleeing in the grove he met
The home-returning anchoret,
Whose wrath the Gods and fiends would shun,
Such power his fervent rites had won.
Fresh from the lustral flood he came,
In splendour like the burning flame,
With fuel for his sacred rites,
And grass, the best of eremites.
The Lord of Gods was sad of cheer
To see the mighty saint so near,
And when the holy hermit spied
In hermit's garb the Thousand-eyed,
He knew the whole, his fury broke
Forth on the sinner as he spoke:
"Because my form thou hast assumed,
And wrought this folly, thou art doomed,
For this my curse to thee shall cling,
Henceforth a sad and sexless thing."
No empty threat that sentence came,
It chilled his soul and marred his frame,
His might and godlike vigour fled,
And every nerve was cold and dead.
Then on his wife his fury burst,
And thus the guilty dame he cursed:
"For countless years, disloyal spouse,
Devoted to severest vows,
Thy bed the ashes, air thy food,
Here shalt thou live in solitude.
This lonely grove thy home shall be,
And not an eye thy form shall see.
When Ráma, Dasaratha's child,
Shall seek these shades then drear and wild,
His coming shall remove thy stain,
And make the sinner pure again.
Due honour paid to him, thy guest,
Shall cleanse thy fond and erring breast,
Thee to my side in bliss restore,
And give thy proper shape once more."(218)
Thus to his guilty wife he said,
Then far the holy Gautam fled,
And on Himálaya's lovely heights
Spent the long years in sternest rites."