There lived, in the town of Kundinapura in Berar, Devarata, a very calm and sagacious minister to the king of Vidarbha. He had a son named Madhava. Madhava was very beautiful and of uncommon intelligence. He became proficient in all branches of learning, in his early age. He now arrived at a marriageable age. The beautiful town of Padmavati in Malwa is situated at the confluence of the two rivers Indus and Madhumati. There lived in Padmavati, Bhurivasu, who was minister to the king of Padmavati. He had a very beautiful unmarried daughter named Malati. The king indicated an intention to propose a match between Malati and his own favourite Nandan, who was both old and ugly, and whom she detested. Bhurivasu feared to give offence to the king by refusing the match. Devarata and Bhurivasu were fellow students. In their academical days they pledged themselves that they should enter into matrimonial alliance, if they happen to have children. Malati and Madhava did not know anything about their fathers' promises. There lived in Padmavati, Kamandaki, an old Buddhist priestess who was nurse of Malati. The priestess knew everything about the matrimonial promise. She was a very intelligent lady and was respected by all. The two friends concert a plan with the priestess to throw the young people in each other's way and to connive at a secret marriage. In pursuance of this scheme, Madhava is sent to finish his studies at the city of Padmavati with the ostensible object of studying Logic under the care of the priestess, who takes great care of her pupil and endeavours her utmost to fulfil the promise of her two friends. By her contrivance and with the aid of Malati's foster-sister Lavangika, the young people meet and become mutually enamoured.
Kamandaki addresses her favourite disciple Avalokita thus:--
"Dear Avalokita! Oh how I wish for the marital union of Madhava, the son of Devarata, and Malati, the daughter of Bhurivasu! Auspicious signs forerun a happy fate. Even now my throbbing eyeball tells that propitious destiny shall crown my schemes."
"Oh, here is a serious cause of anxiety. How strange! You are already burdened with the austerities of devotional exercises, Bhurivasu has commissioned you to perform this arduous task. Though retired from the world, you could not avoid this business."
Kamandaki says, "Never say so. The commission is an office of love and trust. If my friend's object is gained even at the expense of my life and penances, I shall feel myself gratified."
The pupil asks "why is a stolen marriage intended?"
The priestess answers, "Nandana, a favourite of the king of Padmavati, sues him for Malati. The king demands the maiden of her father. To evade the anger of the king, this ingenious device has been adopted. Let the world deem their union was the work of mutual passion only. So the king and Nandan will be foiled. A wise man veils his projects from the world." The pupil says, "I take Madhava to walk in the street in front of the house of the minister Bhurivasu."
The priestess says,
"I have heard from Lavangika, the foster-sister of Malati, that Malati has seen Madhava from the windows of her house.
Her waning form faithfully betrays the lurking care she now first learns to suffer."
The pupil says, "I have heard that, to soothe that care, Malati has drawn a picture of Madhava and has sent it through Lavangika to Mandarika, her attendant."
The priestess perceives that Malati has done so with the object that the picture would reach Madhava as Mandarika is in love with Kalahansa, the servant of Madhava. Avalokita again says,
"To-day is the great festival of Madan; Malati will surely come to join the festival, I have interested Madhava to go to the garden of Love's god with a view that the youthful pair may meet there."
The priestess replies, "I tender my best thanks for your kindly zeal to aid the object of my wishes. Can you give me any tidings of Soudamini, my former pupil?"
Avalokita answers, "she now resides upon mount Sriparvata. She has now arrived at supernatural power by religious austerities. I have learnt the news about her from Kapala Kundala, the female pupil of a tremendous magician Aghorghanta, a seer and a wandering mendicant, but now residing amidst the neighbouring forest, who frequents the temple of the dreadful goddess Chamunda near the city cemetry." Avalokita remarks, "Madhava would be highly pleased if his early friend Makaranda is united in wedlock with Madayantika, the sister of Nandana."
The priestess observes, "I have already engaged my disciple Buddharakshita for the purpose. Let us go forth and having learnt how Madhava has fared, repair to Malati. May our devices prosper!"
Madhava thus describes to his friend Makaranda his first interview with Malati, and acknowledges himself deeply smitten:--
"One day, advised by Avalokita, I went to the temple of the god of love. I saw there a beauteous maid. I have become a victim to her glances. Her gait was stately. Her train bespoke a princely rank. Her garb was graced with youth's appropriate ornaments. Her form was beauty's shrine, or of that shrine she moved as the guardian deity. Whatever Nature offers fairest and best had surely been assembled to mould her charms. Love omnipotent was her creator. Then I too plainly noted that the lovely maid, revealed the signs of passion long entertained for some happy youth.
Her shape was as slender as the lotus stalk. Her pallid cheeks, like unstained ivory, rivalled the beauty of the spotless moon. I scarcely had gazed upon her, but my eyes felt new delight, as bathed with nectar. She drew my heart at once towards her as powerfully as the magnet does the unresisting iron. That heart, though its sudden passion may be causeless, is fixed on her for ever, chance what may, and though my portion be henceforth despair. The goddess Destiny decrees at pleasure the good or ill of all created beings."
Makranda observes, "Believe me, this cannot be without some cause. Behold! all nature's sympathies spring not from outward form but from inward virtue. The lotus does not bud till the sun has risen. The moon-gem does not melt till it feels the moon." Madhava goes on with his description thus:--
"When her fair train beheld me, they exchanged expressive looks and smiles and murmured to one another as if they knew me. What firmness could resist the honest warmth of nature's mute expressiveness? Those looks of love, beaming with mild timidity and moist with sweet abandonment, tore off my heart,--nay plucked it from my bosom by the roots, all pierced with wounds. Being incredulous of my happiness, I sought to mark her passion, without displaying my own. A stately elephant received the princess and bore her towards the city. Whilst she moved, she shot from her delicate lids retiring glances, tipped with venom and ambrosia, My breast received the shafts. Words cannot paint my agony. Vain were the lunar rays or gelid streams to cool my body's fever, whilst my mind whirls in perpetual round and does not know rest. Requested by Lavangika, I gave her the flowery wreath. She took it with respect, as if it were a precious gift and all the while the eyes of Malati were fixed on her. Bowing with reverence, she than retired."
"Your story most plainly shows that Malati's affection is your own. The soft cheek, whose pallid tint denoted love pre-conceived, is pale alone for you; She must have seen you. Maidens of her rank do not allow their eyes to rest on one to whom they have not already given their hearts. And then, those looks that passed among her maidens plainly showed the passion you had awakened in their mistress.
Then comes her foster-sister's clear enigma and tells intelligibly whose her heart is."
Kalahansa, advancing, shows a picture and says, "This picture is the work of hers who has stolen Madhava's heart. Mandarika gave it to me. She had it from Lavangika, Malati painted it to amuse and relieve distress." Makaranda says, "This lovely maid, the soft light of your eyes, assuredly regards you bound to her in love's alliance. What should prevent your union? Fate and love combined seem labouring to effect it. Come, let me behold the wondrous form that works such change in you. You have the skill. Portray her."
Madhava, in return, delineates the likeness of Malati on the same tablet and Makaranda writes under it the following impassioned love-stanza,
"Whatever nature loveliness displays,
May seem to others beautiful and bright;
But since these charms have broken upon my gaze,
They form my life's sole exquisite delight."
Being asked by Makaranda as to how and where Malati first saw Madhava, Mandarika says, "Malati was called to the lattice by Lavangika to look at him as he passed the palace."
The picture is restored to Mandarika and brought back to Malati.
The mutual passion of the lovers, encouraged by their respective confidants, is naturally increased.
Madhava thus addresses Makaranda,
"It is strange, most strange! wherever I turn, the same loved charms appear on every side. Her beauteous face gleams as brightly as the golden bud of the young lotus. Alas! my friend, this fascination spreads over all my senses. A feverish flame consumes my strength. My heart is all on fire. My mind is tossed with doubt. Every faculty is absorbed in one fond thought.
I cease to be myself or conscious of the thing I am."
Malati thus addresses Lavangika:--
"Love spreads through every vein like subtlest poison and, like fire that brightens in the breeze, consumes this feeble frame. Resistless fever preys on each fibre. Its fury is fatal. No one can help me. Neither father nor mother nor Lavangika can save me. Life is distasteful to me.
Repeatedly recurring to the anguish of my heart, I lose all fortitude and in my grief become capricious and unjust. Forgive me. Let the full moon blaze in the mighty sky. Let love rage on. Death screens me from his fury."
In the meantime, the king makes the long-expected demand and the minister Bhurivasu returns the following ambiguous answer:--
"Your Majesty may dispose of your daughter as your Majesty pleases."
[This answer is used in a double sense:--
"Your minister's daughter is your own daughter and you can dispose of her as you please," and "You can dispose of your own daughter as you please, but not my daughter."
The father's connivance at his daughter's stolen marriage would appear inconsistent if the reply is not understood in its double sense.]
The intelligence reaches the lovers. They are thrown into despair.
Requested by Lavangika, Kamandaki thus describes Madhava in the presence of Malati:--
"The sovereign of Vidarbha boasts for minister the wise and long-experienced Devarata, who bears the burden of state and spreads throughout the world his piety and fame. Your father knows him well. For, in their youth, they were joined in study and trained to learning by the same preceptor.
In this world we rarely behold such characters as theirs. Their lofty rank is the abode of wisdom and of piety, of valour and of virtue. Their fame spreads white and spotless through the universe. A son has sprung from Devarata whose opening virtues early give occasion of rejoicing to the world. Now, in his bloom, this youth has been sent to our city to collect ripe stores of knowledge. His name is Madhava."
Kamandaki soliloquises thus:--
"Malati is tutored to our wishes and inspired with hatred of the bridegroom Nandan. He is reminded of the examples of Sakuntala and Vasavadatta that vindicate the free choice of a husband. Her admiration of her youthful lover is now approved by his illustrious birth and my encomium of his high descent. All this must strengthen and confirm her passion. Now their union may be left to fate."
By the contrivance of Kamandaki, a second interview between the lovers takes place in the public garden of the temple of Sankara. Malati is persuaded that the god Sankara is to be propitiated with offerings of flowers gathered by one's self. Whilst she is collecting her oblation she and Madhava meet as if by accident.
At this moment, a great tumult and terrific screams announce that a tremendous tiger has escaped from an iron cage in the temple of Siva, spreading destruction everywhere. Instantly, Nandana's youthful sister, Madayantika happens to be passing, and is attacked by the tiger and is reported to be in imminent danger.
Madhava and Makaranda both rush to the rescue. The latter kills the animal, and thus saves her who is then brought in a half-fainting state into the garden. He is himself wounded. Mandayantika is thus saved by the valour of Makaranda. The gallant youth is brought in insensible. By the care of the women, he revives.
On recovering, Madayantika naturally falls in love with her deliverer.
The two couples are thus brought together. Malati affiances herself there and then to Madhava.
Soon afterwards, the king prepares to enforce the marriage of Malati with Nandan. A messenger arrives to summon Madayantika to be present at the marriage. Another messenger summons Malati herself to the king's place.
Madhava is mad with grief and in despair makes the extraordinary resolution of purchasing the aid of ghosts and malignant spirits by going to the cemetery and offering them living flesh, cut off from his own body, as food. He accordingly bathes in the river Sindhu and goes at night to the cemetery. The cemetery happens to be near the temple of the awful goddess Chamunda, a form of Durga. The temple is presided over by a sorceress named Kapalkundla and her preceptor, a terrible necromancer Aghorghanta. They have determined on offering some beautiful maiden as a human victim to the goddess. With this object they carry off Malati, before her departure, while asleep on a terrace and bringing her to the temple, are about to kill her at the shrine when her cries of distress attract the attention of Madhava, who is, at the moment, in the cemetery offering his flesh to the ghosts.
He thinks he recognizes the voice of Malati. He rushes forward to her rescue. She is discovered dressed as a victim and the magician and the sorceress are preparing for the sacrifice.
He encounters Aghorghanta and, after a terrific hand-to-hand fight, kills him and rescues Malati.
She flies to his arms. Voices are heard as of persons in search of Malati. Madhava places her in safety.
The sorceress vows vengeance against Madhava for slaying her preceptor Aghorghanta.
Malati is now restored to her friends. The preparations for Malati's wedding with Nandana goes on. The old priestess Kamandaki, who favours the union of Malati with her lover Madhava, contrives that, by the king's command, the bridal dress shall be put on at the very temple where her own ministrations are conducted.
There she persuades Makaranda to substitute himself for the bride. He puts on the bridal dress, is carried in procession to the house of Nandan and goes through the form of being married to him. Nandana, being disgusted with the masculine appearance of the pretended bride, and offended by the rude reception given to him, vows to have no further communication with her and consigns her to his sister's care in the inner apartments. This enabled Makaranda to effect an interview with Nandana's sister Madayantika, the object of his own affections.
Makaranda then discovers himself to his mistress and persuades her to run away with him to the place where Malati and Madhava have concealed themselves.
Their flight is discovered. The king's guards are sent in pursuit. A great fight follows; but Makaranda, assisted by Madhava, defeats his opponents. The bravery and handsome appearance of the two youths avert the king's anger and they are allowed to join their friends unpunished.
The friends accordingly assemble at the gate of the temple.
But the sorceress, who has been watching an opportunity when Malati is unprotected, takes advantage of the confusion and carries her off in a flying car, in revenge for the death of her preceptor. The distress of her lover and friends knows no bounds. They are reduced to despair at this second obstacle to the marriage. They give up all hopes of recovering her when they are happily relieved by the opportune arrival of Soudamini, an old pupil of the priestess Kamandaki, who has acquired extraordinary magical powers by her penances.
She rescues Malati from the hands of the sorceress and restores her to her despairing lover.
The two couples are now united in happy wedlock.