Saturday, February 28, 2009

SHANTALA

the whole kingdom was in a jubilant mood. all the subjects were rejoicing the birth of prince Narasimha. but deep inside a strain of sadness ran through all their hearts. though their lips sung praise for King Vishnuvardana and Pattamaharani Lakshmi for giving the kingdom a prince, deep inside, their heart cried for their beloved Queen Shantala.

is it possible for a name to evoke such strong emotions? such a mixed bag of feelings? when the whole nation was plunged into despair due to the death of their valiant king BallalaI,when a great cloud of doubt cast its ugly shadow on the question of succession after Vishnuvardana stubbornly refused to marry, this beautiful 16yr old came as the ray of light- offering hope to all the subjects of the Hoysala kingdom.

Vishnuvardana, who became the king after the death of his brother, was a haunted man. every time his mother brought up the issue of marriage,he was immediately assaulted by the image of his three widowed sisters-in-law. "what will happen to my wife when i die? i am a warrior. every night, when i go to bed, i ask myself whether i will live through the next day to see these stars again. when my life is always at the mercy of my enemies sword, how can i think of marriage?" this was the reply that the king used to give his mother.

* * * * * * *

the Queen Mother felt the aches of old age in her body. it has been a long day and the celebrations has already tired her out. slowly she started ridding herself of the heavy ornaments that adorned her shrunken body. the last to come away was a string of pearls..which along with it brought a stream of hot tears to her eyes.

she vividly remembered the day when she met that exqusite beauty...carrying water from the river. moving with such grace and poise, the young maiden's radiant face dazzled her eyes. immediately all her thoughts focused on her son, mentally pairing him up with this beauty.
anxiously, that day, her gaze roamed to the girl's neck, checking out whether she was already married or engaged. finding only a strand of pearls there, mother heaved a sigh of relief.

she called that girl to her, who confidently strode to mothers palanquin. "what is your name dear?" asked the mother. "Shantala." came the reply.
"who are your parents sweet girl?"
"my mother is Machikabbe and my father is general Marasingammaya."
"Oh! you are Machi's daughter? how beautiful you have become? come to my palace tomorrow with your parents. i wish to speak with them."

the scene still played in her mind as if happened yesterday. Shantala became her daughter-in-law, just as she hoped for. and Shantala had always been more of a daughter to her.

* * * * * *

every day Machi felt as if she had aged by 10 yrs. every corner of her house reminded her of Shantala. the veena that would spring to life when her daughter's elegant fingers stroked it, the breeze which would often carry her sweet voice singing a song, the 'salangais' which would jump and tingle with joy when tied around her daughter's feet when she danced...

life was a living hell for her. her exquisitely beautiful daughter who managed to capture the heart of King Vishnuvardana... her daughter who was the kingdom's adored and benevolent Queen...her daughter, who was an able and intelligent administrator..."Oh god! why did you take her away from me?" anguished Machikabbe.

"if only i never went to see the Queen Mother on that fateful day, then we would have never been invited to Kumara Vishnu's 'upanayana'. the king and my daughter would have never met each other. she and that sweet Lakshmi would have never gone to the palace again to give that dance performance. she wouldn't have captivated the king's heart and they wouldn't have married. if all these never had happened, my daughter will still be alive today. God, why did i ever go to the palace on that day? "

* * * * * *

on her birth bed, Pattamaharani Lakshmi was weary. her emotions were so jumbled that she couldn't figure out whether the tears streaming down her smooth cheeks were due to joy or sorrow.

thinking about her best friend, her heart was filled with gratitude, anger, helplessness and a host of other feelings. gratitude because her son is now a prince only because of Shantala...the successor to Vishnuvardana. anger because she had made that final journey without her, leaving her behind to deal with the sorrow of the kingdom.

have you ever heard of two best friend marrying the same man so that their friendship will continue forever? this was exactly what Shantala and Lakshmi did. they both married King Vishnuvardana on an extravagant marriage ceremony. the King, who initially despised marriage, took seven wives on that day. he made Shantala the Pattamaharani.

Lakshmi, after the death of Shantala has become a different women. though she did her duties as a Queen and wife impeccably, she was just not the same anymore. this accomplished musician and dancer now couldn't bring herself to hear the strains of music. this intelligent scholar couldn't even think of reading her beloved sanskrit texts. how could she? afterall, hadn't they learnt all these together? with Shantala, a part of Lakshmi too died on the cliffs of Shivagange.

* * * * * * *

Blessed is the man who finds a true love in his lifetime. cursed is he who loses that love. Vishnuvardana was both a blessed and cursed man.

he never expected that he would marry. never dared to hope that he would fall in ove. but all these became true when Shantala entered his life. she was his soulmate. the King found what peace is when he rested on her lap. what love is when he looked into her eyes. what passion is when he held her in her arms. what joy is when she smiled. and now, he is discovering what hell is when she is no longer by his side.

the last conversation that he and Shantala had between them continued to torment him everyday.
"oh lord! please make Lakshmi the Pattamaharani. she is with a child now. this is the only way that your child can become a legal successor. it has become beyond doubt that i am barren. please my sweet--"
"Stop Shantala! no more talks of making Lakshmi pattamaharani. the dear lord will bestow us with a son. my dearest, cant you understand? I can never ever let anyone become Pattamaharani when you are here. You are the only one and i love you so very much."

"had only i granted her wish, she would still be alive...at my side. what a fool i have been? Shanta, why did you ever leave me? why couldnt you have waited for some more time? why did you leave me alone my sweet?" cried Vishnuvardana into the night so dark.

* * * * * *

P.S : this is the true story of the famous Hoysala Queen Shantala. she was a famous musician and dancer. the 'madanikas' in the Belur temple are modelled after her. she jumped off the cliff of Shivagange when she failed to produce a child. "Oh lord, fogive me for what i am going to do. i am barren and the king will never make Lakshmi the Pattamaharani when i am alive. i see no other way but to kill myself so that this kingdom can have a hier." these were her last words as she jumped off the cliffs of Shivagange. thinking now, i guess she would hardly be in her early twenties when she died, though i couldnt find the exact year of her death.

2 comments:

mathi said...

a neatly woven story with the intelligent use of cuts . sort of maintains the suspense too ... Shantala seems to be a very good friend, loyal citizen and a dear wife .
but the weight of her decision will be felt not by her , but by her husband and friend. her suicide - sacrifice if you prefer to call it - achieves none but one purpose of establishing a heir .
she jumped into a decision .. literally ! all praises and tears showered on her apart , the end of the day , it leaves a dejected wry anger to last forever ... which is not something one would die for .
my view .. a neat story of a mythological woman who abandoned reason for sentiments - the kannagi type !
crisp narration yaar

Subramaniam said...

This soo reminds me of Vaandhi from Ponniyin Selvan... One shouldnt want to go into the reason behind the decision but rather enjoy the play of emotions. It most certainly has influences from Kalki, mixed with a very unique style of narration.