–Dr. Anitha Chakravarthy
— Reading Time – 20 min Approx
As she walked steadfast, her anklets jingled. She removed them, tied them to the branch and walked faster. She sobbed as she walked. The moon lit night, the wringing of the insects, the darkness of the deep woods and the howling of the wolves’ stirred fear in her heart. The clear waters of the well seemed to welcome her. As she looked down, she wept harder dropping down on her knees. She wiped her tears, breathed heavily, turned back and glared into the dark woods.
The village was serene and beautiful. The lush green hills, smell of fresh earth and the pre-monsoon showers, added more scenic treat. As she sat leaning on the front porch of the house, lost in thoughts, the wind wafted fragrant jasmine flowers on her feet. In an artist’s words, she was an epitome of beauty, a handiwork of angels. She was called the doe-eyed beauty in the village.
The walls of the house, which were once a beauty, filled with paintings of beautiful dancers, had now lost its sheen, they wore out due to rains giving a damp smell. One wall appeared well preserved, on it lay a life size portrait of Neelamegha, the knower of all depths. He adorned a long gold necklace on his chest. The reed less wooden instrument he held, seemed to play when the wind blew northwest.
She would stare for long hours at Neelamegha and be lost. It seemed as if she could speak to him dearly. Her mother was a court dancer in the kingdom. Being born into the Basivi community, her mother had dedicated her life to dancing in the temple. She never married nor bore a child of her own. The newborn was found in the premises of the temple draped in a violet satin gown. She took it as her own and raised her.
She said to the infant, “Sthree” you represent power, justice, beauty, strength, wisdom and courage. She was fondly called Sthree after that. Since the Basivi community did not allow for marriage and children, she had to move to an abandoned house on the outskirts of the village. They rented their jewels and garments to local drama companies, thus earning a livelihood. She brought up Sthree just like her own daughter. She too stayed very loyal to her mother. The society she lived in was conservative and narrow minded, ever since the Kings had perished and the rule went into the hands of the British, they saw a decline in their existence. Men tried taking advantage of her, but she remained chaste and pure just like the budding jasmine flowers on the tree. The doe eyed beauty had only one void, she didn’t know her origin.
The monsoon didn’t recede, it led to deluge and flood. People lost lives; cattle died. Houses and farms drowned in water. Everything was washed out. People were stranded everywhere. There was no place to go. Neelamegha temple offered the entire village shelter. Sthree and her mother remained safe as they lived on the other side of the hill.
Chokkanatha was a great sculptor. He belonged to the southern province of the country. Being a sculptor in many provinces, the style of beautifying the structures with small sculptures, and carving these structures which involved immense manual labour didn’t come in the way of his art.
Many years ago, when he visited the village, he was welcomed with great pride by the then rulers of the kingdom. He was a great devotee of Kali and was directed by the mother goddess to the village to carve a huge sculpture of her. She had anticipated a great deluge in the future which would wipe out the entire village. He came with the good intention of doing the same. On hearing his intentions, the King was pleased and made immediate arrangements for his stay and work.
He went missing one night and even after thorough search he could never be found. In the meantime, the temple was robbed of gold and money. The blame went on Chokkanatha and the villagers were distressed about the decision of letting a stranger into the village. The sculpture was never carved completely and lay on the outskirts of the village on the other side of the hill where Sthree lived.
The deluge had led to famine and disease. Now was the time to get help from renowned astrologers. With the help of a clairvoyant medium, the villagers learnt a shocking revelation that Chokkanatha had died trying to save the temple property chasing down the thieves. He was brutally murdered and buried on the outskirts of the village. His wish of completing the sculpture was never fulfilled and that resulted in the huge deluge.
The entire village was shocked. A deep grief struck situation was created in the entire village. The clairvoyant provided a solution, that the completion of the sculpture and thereafter regular worship would sort the disease and famine. The intuition was to travel down south to the Kingdom of Bruha. Chokkanatha’s family lived on the banks of river Sri in the Kingdom of Bruha.
The elders of the village set out to travel to the Kingdom of Bruha. It looked like the abode of god, surrounded by marble stairs, pearl gates and throne of gold. A real physical world that could be seen only in one’s heart. One of them described it as a place above humans, built by god. The other said it was a place that could only be reached by right decisions and acts of kindness. Another retorted, a place that was not seen but only felt in a way incomparable to any feeling.
Shrunga was carving to perfection. He had learnt the art of Sammohini. He sculpted for days without food and sleep. His art of perfection was beyond doubt a masterpiece. As he finished his masterpiece, he looked at the elders. He invited them home for a meal and asked them about their visit. He decided to complete his great grandfather’s sculpture.
The winds were low, the skies were clear, the sun slowly started showing. The water from the flood had receded. As Sthree was busy picking flowers in the backyard, Shrunga walked towards her. There was a moment of silence. They were made for each other. He had palpitations to talk, she held her breath not wanting to let it out say “you’re the one I was waiting for”. The deep silence lasted for more than a minute, when her mother interrupted. He impatiently asked, “What is the way to Neelamegha temple?” In the moment’s silence, even before she could say anything, he told her his identity and that he had come to complete the sculpture.
Sthree’s mother was delighted and welcomed him, her joy knew no bounds that finally, all the misery would end. She offered fruits to the guest. And the entire time he couldn’t take his eyes off her. When the time of leaving came, he felt he left something behind. As he crossed the hill to reach the village, he was full of thoughts of his doe-eyed beauty. He had decided to take her with him once his task was completed. For Sthree, she had found her Neelamegha for real.
The entire village waited at the entrance to get a glimpse of the young sculptor. They offered him a lavish meal and gave him the palatial bungalow to reside. When questioned about the sculpture, he got to know it was disposed into a land on the outskirts of the village. He decided to stay there so he could complete his work without getting disturbed. A thatched hut was built at the outskirts for his stay.
The sculpture of the Goddess needed a lot of change and refinement. For Shrunga it wasn’t a masterpiece, he had to work a lot. However, the hut was convenient for him to meet his beauty. The silence became more intense as the days passed.
The sculpture began taking the form of Kali, the embodiment of Shakthi. She held together feminine energy, motherly love, violence and doomsday. It took the form of a fearful fighting figure with necklace of heads around the chest, skirt of arms, lolling tongue and knife with dripping blood. The villagers were excited about the progress, the sculpture was the art of perfection. For Shrunga, it wasn’t a masterpiece, he felt that he had a long way to go.
The silence grew into small greetings, slow conversations and finally into many talks. They were destined to be together. There was opposition and repeated warnings from the village, however, Shrunga stood grounded with his decision. The villagers waited for the sculpture to be completed to teach him a lesson.
Shrunga and Sthree were married thus opposing the villagers. He promised to take her away once the sculpture was erected. They started living the life of man and wife. The sculpture approached completion. Shrunga promised to come back and take his beloved.
Sthree was very excited, her heart was pounding in excitement. She was going to be a mother soon. She couldn’t wait to tell her husband of the news. He had gone to complete the sculpture. The day marked the arrival of full moon and the sculpture was ready for worship. He performed his obeisance to the deity and as he knelt before it he saw his body separated from his head, there was blood shed everywhere. Blood ran like stream of water. With the stream were lost all his dreams of love, marriage, future and happiness. He choked to death on his breath, silence and darkness.
The village headman wiped his sweat, washed the blood on the axe and ordered his aids to bury the sculptor. Sthree was an illegitimate child. She was found at the temple premises. She was adopted by the dancer, which was why she was kept at village outskirts. She was considered an outcast in the society. She wasn’t allowed to enter the temple due to her status and now she had married a sculptor and had acquired every right to be a part of the society that the villagers lived in. This led to strong opposition in the village leading to the heinous act.
The night was eerie. The darkness wasn’t convincing, she felt anxious about something. She started walking restlessly in the yard waiting for him. She controlled her thoughts, for she wanted to tell him how happy she was about motherhood. Gathering all the courage she waited for him but in vain, least did she know he would never return.
She crossed the hill and reached the village. Her heart was pounding in fear, the guards stopped her at the entrance and warned her from entering. She screamed in anxiety to know her lover’s whereabouts. She was shooed. She wept and started walking towards the hill. The old widow took pity and told her he would never return.
She ran in anger and grief cursing the entire village for they took her husband and left her alone. And now she was glaring into the clear waters thinking about her dead husband. She decided to leave the world and join her companion. As she sat spending her last few moments of life, there appeared a bright light, taking the form of her Neelamegha. She saw the sharp peacock feather adorning the crown, the reed less bamboo flute in hand, at once she stood up with folded arms. The phenomenon lasted for a minute. It was gone. She wiped her teary eye and decided to live not for herself but for the symbol of their love. She took a deep breath, raised her eyebrow, took a quick glance at the village one last time and walked into the woods.