Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Story of Dhruva, A myth of the Pole star

The poetry of the world is full of the similes devised by poets to suggest the midnight sky. The great multitude of the stars shining and quivering, as it were, against the darkness, have been likened to many things -- to a swarm of golden bees, to golden apples on a tree, to a golden snow-storm in the sky, to fire- flies at evening, holes in a tent-roof, distant lamps moving in the darkness, jewels on a blue banner, and so on, and so forth. But only in India, so far as I know, have they ever been compared to white ants, building up a vast blue ant-hill!
For the fact that seems most deeply to have impressed the Hindu mind, was not the appearance of the starry dome, so much as the perfect steadiness in it, of the Polar Star. Wonderful star! the only point in all the heavens that stayed unmoved, while round it came and went the busy worlds. And this stillness moreover must have characterized it from the very beginning of things. It was never for the Pole Star to learn its quietude. It came by no degrees to it proper place. Rather has it been faithful and at rest since the very birth of time. Surely in all the world of men there could be nothing like this, unswerving, unerring from beginning to end, the witness of movement, itself immutable. Unless indeed we might imagine that some child in his heart had found the Goal, and remained thenceforth, silent, absorbed and stir less, from eternity to eternity, through all the ages of man.

In India, the mystic land of the lotus, was born the child Dhruva. His father was a king, and his mother, Suniti, the chief of all the queens. Yet even on a lot so fortunate as this, may fall the dark shadow of disaster. For long before the birth of Dhruva, the son of one of the younger queens had been promised the throne, and the coming of the new child would undo this claim, since the son of the principal queen was undoubtedly the King's true heir. It is easy, therefore, to understand the anger and fear of the lesser wife at the child's birth. She was jealous of the new baby, on behalf of her own son, and did not fail to show her feeling in many ways; till at last the King, in very anxiety for their safety, ordered his wife and little one to be exiled from the court, and sent them to live in a simple cottage, on the distant edge of a great forest.

It was a humble cottage enough, yet charming in its own way. It was built of grey mud, and thatched with brown palm-leaves. In front, there was a deep verandah covered by the wide leaves; and here even a queen could rest, and receive her village-friends, without a screen, for facing it, instead of the city, was the impenetrable forest, whence at nightfall could be heard the roaring of wild beasts. More and more, as time went on, did thc occasional visits of holy men, on their way through the forest to distant shrines, become the great events of their wood side life. For the hush of the green woods brought with it healing, and the thought of God. And a great peace entered gradually into the heart of Suniti, the Queen. Thus, under her calm influence, the child Dhruva would linger, towards sunset, near the lotus-ponds, dreaming of the beauty of the great flowers that rocked to and fro with every movement of the waters, yielding but untouched. They came by degrees to mean for him all holiness, all tenderness, all purity, these large pink and white lotuses, lying against their wide green leaves, as if the gods had passed that way across the waters, and left them blossoming in their footsteps. Or he would lie awake at night, and listen to the sobbing of the palm-leaves, rustling and swaying in the darkness, far above him, wondering, wondering, what was the story they were telling. Or he would stand quietly, watching the peasants in the rice-fields that stretched to the horizon behind them, sowing the seed, and, when the rains lay deep on the earth, transplanting the crops.

So the years passed, and the brooding silence of nature was all about them. Only in the sad heart of Suniti, all the joy of life was centred in her son. At last, when Dhruva was seven years old, he began to ask about his father. "Could I not go to see him," Mataji, honoured mother?" he said one day.

"Why, yes, my child!" said the poor Queen, full of startled pleasure at the thought, yet so accustomed to sorrow, that she trembled at any change in the even tenor of their life, lest it should end by robbing her of the one thing that was still hers "Oh yes, thou shalt go, little one, tomorrow!"

And so, the next day, Dhruva set out, in the care of a guard, to seek his father, and tell him that he was his son. Beautiful was the road by which they went. High over their heads spread the boughs of the shady trees, and on each side lay the wide fields. Every now and then they would pass a great pond, with its handsome bathing-steps on one side, crowned by an arch, and near by would see the children of the village playing. For each village had its own bathing-pond and its own temple. And in the streets, as they passed through them, it being still early in the morning they would see the jeweler working over his little stove, the potter turning his wheel, and the cowherds taking the cows to pasture in the distant meadows. Sometimes the child walked, and sometimes he was carried. At last they arrived at the royal gates, and Dhruva went in, past the sentinels, and entered the palace itself. On and on he went, till he reached the hall of audience, then he came to the steps of the throne, and there, at last, he saw the King himself. At this point, he ran to his father's arms.

The King was overcome with joy. Not one day had gone by, of all those seven years, without his longing for his wife and son, and here was suddenly the little one himself, come of his own accord, full of love and trust. He felt as if he could never caress him enough, or distinguish him enough, to make up for those long years of neglect.

At this very moment, however, Dhruva's step-mother entered the hall. If only this lady had been the Queen, her son would have had the right to be King some day, and she would not have needed to claim the succession for him. But as it was, she could never forget that her rival Suniti was the real Queen and that Dhruva, therefore, was the rightful heir. And her whole heart was full of jealousy. Now, therefore, her anger knew no bounds. She taunted her husband with the memory of his early promise, and spoke words so wicked about the child on his knee, that in haste he put him down, and turned to plead with her, as if afraid that her evil prayers might come to pass.

Bt even a child knows that a strong man or woman is the greatest thing in the whole world, and when his father put him away, Dhruva felt as if his heart had broken within him, at finding him weak Silently, all unnoticed, he touched his feet, and kissed the steps of the throne before him. Then he turned, beckoned to his guard, and went.

It seemed a long way home. But at last they reached the door-way, where the Queen had watched hour after hour, not able to rest, in her terrible fear that something might have happened to her boy. The servant disappeared, and the child lifted the long lath-curtain, and bounded into her presence. Ah, how glad she was to see him! Here, at least, he was at home.

Then they went out into the verandah together, and Dhruva began to eat the fruits and cakes that were laid in readiness. While he ate, his graceful young mother watched him anxiously. Yes, it was as she had feared it might be. There was a difference. Something sad had come into the little face, as if in that one short day it had grown much older. And Suniti sighed, for she knew that all the happy years of his childhood were behind them. He would never be her baby any more.

But when he had finished his meal -- for to speak while eating would have been grave disrespect! -- Dhruva told her exactly what had happened, and the two sat sad and silent for a while. Then he asked a strange question: "Mother! is there any one in the world who is stronger than my father?"

"Oh yes, my child!" she answered, thinking of the Lord Vishnu, and half shocked at Dhruva's ignorance, "Oh yes, my child, the Lotus-Eyed!" The solemn little face grew all eagerness. "And mother, where dwells He?" he asked. "Oh, far far away!" she answered vaguely, and then, seeing that she must give a reply, "Deep in the heart of the forest, where the tiger lives, and the bear, there dwells the Lotus-Eyed, my son!"

Dhruva said little more. A voice seemed to be sounding in his heart. It was so loud that sometimes he wondered if his mother did not hear it. From far far away in the depths of the forest it called, "Come to me! Come to me!" and he knew that it was the voice of the Lotus-Eyed, in whom was all strength. About midnight, he could bear it no longer. He rose up from his little bed, and stood over his sleeping mother for a moment. She did not wake. "O Lotus-Eyed, I leave my mother to Thee!" he said in his heart. Then he stole quietly out, and stood on the verandah, looking at thc forest. It was bright moonlight, and the trees cast long black shadows. He had never been allowed to go even a little way into the forest alone, and now he was going down to its very heart. But it must be right, for he could hear the voice calling, "Come to me!" louder than ever. "O Lotus-Eyed, I give myself to Thee!" he said, and stepped off the verandah, and over the grass into the forest.

He was barefooted, but the thorns were nothing. He had been weary, but that was all forgotten. On and on without resting, he went, seeking the Lotus-Eyed.

at last he reached the heart of the forest. Then came one with great fiery eyes, and hot breath and swinging tail. Dhruva did not know who it was. He went up to him eagerly. "Are you the Lotus-Eyed?" he asked. And the tiger slunk away ashamed. Next came something with heavy footsteps and deep dark fur. "Are you the Lotus-Eyed?" asked Dhruva. And the bear, too, slunk away ashamed. Still the child heard the voice of the Lotus-Eyed in his heart, saying, "Come! Come!" And he waited. All at once, out of the darkness of the forest there appeared before him a holy man, whose name was Narada, and he laid his hands on his head, saying "Little one, you seek the Lotus-Eyed! Let me teach you the way by which you shall find Him, and where!"

And then he showed him how to sit down on the earth, without moving, and to say over and over again, "Hail, Blessed One, Lord of the Worlds! Hail! And he said that if his whole thought could fasten without wavering, in perfect steadiness, on the words he spoke, he would find the Lotus-Eyed, without a doubt.

The boy sank down on the ground, as he was told, and began to repeat the sacred text. Like a rock he sat there, moving not a muscle. Even when the white ants came to build their ant-hill, and raised it up around him, he never stirred. For deep in his own heart Dhruva had found the Lotus-Eyed, and he had come to rest for ever.

So the Pole Star was given him for his home, and is called to this day Dhruva-Loka.

But some say that away beyond it is another, larger and just as true, and that there Dhruva's mother, Suniti, was placed, that her child might be always at her feet, and joy be hers, throughout the countess ages of those stars.

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