|| by:

The Raja, his Buhkshi and the Goatherd

goatherd

I think it will be scarcely too much to assert, that the Hindoos (Indians) are more addicted to the marvellous than any other known nation upon earth. Their love of the miraculous, combined with their superstitious credulity, lays them open to every species of imposi­tion, both in action and in relation; no fable is too absurd, no farce too monstrous for their belief. The whole language of the Hindoos has become a heap of allegories; and hence, truth and fiction are so continually blended, that it is impossible, on any occasion, to say where the one ends and the other commences. Hence, they become an easy and unsus­picious prey to the craft of innumerable adventurers, who make a trade in the marvellous, and ramble over the whole country, enriching themselves by the practice alike of the simplest or the grossest imposi­tions. That great and excellent monarch, Krishna­raia, whose whole heart was bent upon the happiness of his people, laboured with great diligence to discover the well of truth; and although a vast accumulation of prejudice, ignorance, and bigotry, covered the entrance, he succeeded, by the aid of his buhkshi, the wise and illustrious Apa-ji, in removing much of the obstruction; and ultimately drew many copious draughts from that pure spring.

Upon one occasion, Krishnaraia, having no matter of greater importance before him, put a problem to Apa-ji for solution, in the presence of the court; pro­pounding it thus:

­” O! Apa-ji! The words of the wise have declared that the deep waters of the pool of reason are, in most persons, stagnant; even though the surface may be rippled by a passing breeze, or slightly agitated by the fall of a shower that men in their customs, whether civil or religious, are too apt to follow on in one beaten track, without inquiring the condition of the land to which they are travelling; thus the form of religious usages, or of any conventional customs, being once established, will continue to be heedlessly imitated by the undiscerning multitude, however ridiculous or fatal it may be. I desire that you will prove to me the truth or fallacy of this opinion, and discover to me the justice or absurdity of that trite adage – Jana Marula, Jatra Marula; which I understand as implying a question of dif­ficulty, as to whether it is the people or their customs, that are ridiculous?”

Apa-ji, with his usual diffi­dence, begged of his majesty time for the solution of so nice a proposition, promising to return a faithful answer in a few days.

After Krishnaraia had imposed the foregoing command upon Apa-ji, he dismissed his durbar, and the sage immediately retired to the solitudes of a neighbouring forest, intently occupied in the casting of some project which should afford a signal demonstration of the question referred to him. While thus engaged, by chance he cast his eyes upon a venerable-looking old man, who proved to be his own goatherd, one of low degree and of weak intellect, but of a rough and hardy nature, such as are most of his calling. In a moment, a happy design was suggested to the ready mind of Apa-ji and calling the goatherd to his presence, he thus addressed him:-

“Listen to my words, 0 Bukri-Walla! for I have need of your faithful service; and, if fully yielded, it shall not go without an ample reward: such, indeed, as shall raise you and all your house to comfort and pros­perity: but, if you fail me, rest assured that it would have been far better for you never to have seen the light of day.’

“O illustrious Apa-ji! protector of the friendless, friend of the poor, staff of the universe, most potent buhkshi’ replied the goatherd, “I am an insignifi­cant creature, unworthy of your notice, but your devoted slave. Be pleased to do with me whatsoever you will; my life is in your hands, my heart at your service. Though my years be many, though my hairs be grey, yet am I capable of much labour; if my body be spare, my limbs are powerful, and my courage undiminished. Be pleased to command your slave.”

“Hear me, then, 0 Bukri-Walla! You must immediately cast aside this goatherd’s costume, and assume the disguise of a yogi, or penitent devotee; which character I have cause that you should sustain for a time. Your person is in every way suited for the part. Cast off those rags, bedaub your body over with oil and ashes, rub your lips and jaws with saffron, and colour your hair with turmeric, and upon your forehead paint the sacred symbol Nama. In your right hand take a bamboo rod of seven knots, in your left a pitcher of water; and carry with you the skin of an antelope, whereon to sit. So, in every respect, shall you be mistaken for a yogi. Go then to the great cavern in the side of yonder hill, and seat yourself upon the skin, in the manner of a penitent, whose soul is absorbed in contempla­tion. Your eyes must be fixed upon the ground, your whole person immoveable, having one hand resting upon the crown of your head, while the other keeps your nostrils closed. It may be that the Raja himself, with all his retinue of state and a vast concourse of people, will come to visit you. Should the Raja speak to you, or entreat of you, hold your peace. Should he touch or strike you, remain immoveable; and think of a bag of ten thousand rupees, which I now pledge myself to bestow on you, if your part be well performed.”

“Beloved of the stars! most incomprehensible Apa-ji, though the king should pluck every hair from my body, yet shall not even my skin be moved; my contemplation shall be at the bottom of the bag of ten thousand rupees; my insensibility shall be like that of death – hearing nothing, feeling nothing, seeing nothing, saying nothing. I am clay, you are the potter.”

Doubtless, the poor goatherd, having spent his whole life in tending his goats, had no ambition to change his occupation for that of a yogi; he had been more willing to have slain a wolf, or to have encountered a tiger, but the buhkshi’s will was an absolute law, and the bag of ten thousand rupees a fine stimulus. Forthwith he betook himself to the execution of his task. Apa-ji in the meantime returned to the royal palace, and failed not to attend at the second audience. When all the chiefs were assembled, performing the salaam with marked respect, he thus addressed the Raja:­

 “O most powerful and merciful of monarchs! I am the bearer of great news; (be my reward suit­able!) and claim pardon for interrupting your wise council. Behold the day has arrived, whereon the gods, delighted with your excellence and innumerable virtues, have chosen to reward you with their extraordinary protection and favour. While I am now speaking, a wonderful prodigy exists within your kingdom, and at no great distance from your royal palace. Within the great cave upon the hill side, a penitent, of inconceivable sanctity, has taken up his abode; having, without doubt, descended from the dwelling-place of the divine Vishnu. Steeped in profound meditation upon the perfections of the great Para-Brahma, he is wholly insensible to all terrestrial objects; taking no other nourishment than the air he breathes. I have had evidence, that none of those objects which affect the senses of ordinary persons, make the slightest impression upon him; in fact, it is apparent that the mortal body alone of this sanctified being exists upon this earth; while his soul, his thoughts, all his affections, are absorbed in divinity. We cannot doubt, but that the gods, in sending him to visit your kingdom, design for you an unequivocal proof, in the eyes of all the world, of their peculiar favour and love, both to you and to your subjects. Be pleased to signify your pleasure.”

The Raja and his whole court had listened to Apa-ji throughout with earnest attention, and now remained suspended in deep amazement, and inward joy; but the Raja soon made known his determina­tion to visit the illustrious stranger, with all possible pomp, and to implore his blessing. Ere the sun was in the zenith, the royal procession, with the whole court, attended by the entire army, set forth to the cavern; the royal trumpets sounding in all directions, to make known the object of this ado, and inviting all persons whatsoever to be present. As they drew near the cavern, the numbers swelled on all sides to a vast concourse; such, indeed, as had never before been seen in that country; but the joy of every heart was seen reflected in every face, at the distinguished honour thus put upon their prince by the gods themselves, and at the prospect of wealth and abundance which opened to the view of every one. The Raja, with his glorious suite, had ascended the hill, and now approached the cavern, where the wonderful yogi sojourned. Already penetrated with religious awe, but upheld by his zeal, the Raja entered the retreat of the holy man, with every demonstration of reverence and submission. There he beheld the object of his veneration, in a remote corner. He paused awhile, and gazed at him in silence. A form like that of a statue, rigid and motionless, was seated. upon the sacred skin of the antelope, with a pitcher of holy water on one side, and a bamboo rod of seven knots on the other. Its face was deject, and its eyes fixed vacantly upon the ground. One hand rested upon the crown of its head, the other kept the nostrils closed. The whole figure was apparently as inanimate as the rock beneath it. The Raja breathed quickly with reverential dread. He drew near to the heaven-chosen yogi, and thrice performed a humble prostration. With a trembling voice he thus addressed it:

­

“All-wise and powerful yogi, now upon the threshold of divinity. Blessed, indeed, be my destiny, which has prolonged my existence to this auspicious day, when I am permitted to enjoy the ineffable felicity of beholding your holy feet. The glory which I acquire, by looking upon your beneficent countenance, infinitely exceeds the public renown which emblazons the great virtues of other men. How have I deserved so distinguished a mark of divine approbation? Surely I can attribute it only to the merits of my ancestors, or to some acceptable work which I may have been enabled to perform in a preceding gene­ration, the memory whereof no longer remains to me. But, however obtained, this glorious hour, in which I first behold the lustre of your hallowed feet, is by far the happiest of my existence. Henceforth, I can have nothing to covet in this world. It is sufficient for any mortal to have seen that inspired form; for so beatific a vision will assuredly blot out the sins of all beholders, committed either in this or in any preceding generation. Now do I esteem myself as pure as the sacred stream of the Ganges, and have nothing more to desire upon earth.”

The profound yogi received this flattering speech from the royal tongue, without manifesting the slightest emotion; every muscle remained inflexible. All the spectators were amazed, and could only admire, in silent eloquence, the wonderful sanctity and holy abstraction of that being, who could receive the submissive addresses of their renowned Raja, without even deigning to cast a glance of approbation towards him. Well might it be said, thought they, that the empty frame of the venerable yogi dwelt upon the earth, while his soul, his thoughts, all his affections, had been re-united to Para-Brahma! Krishnaraia continued to gaze in admiration, and frequently essayed, by renewed adulation and com­pliment, to gain but a single look, or breath of approval, from the saintly yogi; but that wonderful being remained absorbed in contemplation of visions extra-mundane. At length, when importunity and perseverance appeared alike ineffectual, the Raja was about to take his leave; but the buhkshi Apa-ji interposed:­

 “Most gracious monarch, the first sight of this holy personage, who will henceforward become the object of extraordinary veneration to the whole world, is, surely an event never to be forgotten, and should require no memento; still, as you have not yet succeeded in obtaining his special notice and blessing, it will, perchance be well to seize the present opportunity of securing some relic of his inestimably precious person; if it were no more than one of the hairs which you see growing so profusely around him.”

Krishnaraja being greatly delighted at this thoughtful suggestion, commended his buhkshi, and immediately advancing with suitable awe, plucked a hair from the shaggy breast of the yogi. He pressed it to his lips, and kissed it fervently, saying—

“I will enshrine it in an amulet of pure gold, set with the most costly gems; and I will always wear it suspended from my neck, as the most precious of my ornaments. It shall be an heirloom in our house, a talisman against all evil, the source of perpetual prosperity.”

Now the ministers and courtiers who attended the Raja could not refrain from possessing themselves of a similar treasure and each plucked a hair from the breast of the meditative yogi, to be preserved as a sacred relic for future generations. Likewise the vast multitude who now filled the plain, hearing, by degrees, what had been passing in the cave, thronged around the entrance, burning with anxiety to secure a similar advantage; and when the Raja had departed, each plucked his treasure, until scarce a hair was left upon the tortured goatherd—the sanctified penitent. But he endured all with utter indifference; nor winced, nor sighed, nor faltered in his steadfast gaze.

Upon his return to the royal palace, the good Raja related to his eager wives the whole history of his adventures, and showed them the wonderful relic which he had stolen from the person of the godlike yogi. They listened and beheld, with inconceivable curiosity and delight; and implored, with womanly importunity, that, on so extraordi­nary an occasion, their beloved prince and master would be pleased to release them from the restric­tions of custom, and permit them to make a visit to the famous recluse; or, at least, that he might be brought into their presence, so that they might each pluck a hair (if any remained) from his body with their own hands. Krishnaraia of course raised many difficulties in the way of these unconventional desires; but, being hotly driven from objection to objection, he at last consented to gratify them; and for the purpose of doing due honour to the yogi, he again ordered out his entire retinue, with all his force of horse and foot, to serve as an escort. On their arrival at the cavern, which was still surrounded by a large concourse of persons, who had not yet been able to procure a hair, the chiefs dismounted, and prostrating themselves before the yogi, unfolded their mission. Then, receiving no token, they took up the motionless penitent in their arms, with great reverence, and placed him in a superb new palanquin of state, in the same posture as that in which they had found him. The yogi was thus conducted through the principal streets of the city, attended by an in­numerable host of people, who made the heavens resound with the impassioned fervour of their joyful acclamations. Poor goatherd! he sat immoveable, still sustaining his assumed character with admir­able fortitude, although he was, in truth, faint with hunger, and the entire surface of his body had become suffused with blood, by the perpetual pluck­ing of the hairs. Alas! He had little enjoyment in his triumphant honours, and the bag of ten thousand rupees in perspective would have been insufficient to have restrained him from betraying himself and his master, had it not been for the fear of a cruel punishment. In his own mind, he could not but continually repeat,-

“Why should I be thus com­pelled to carry on this villainous trick, in the midst of pain and misery? Would that I were once more in company with my poor deserted goats, who may, ere this, have become a prey to the wild beasts. I would rather encounter a tiger, than be persecuted by this noisy multitude. Had I been with my flock, I should have been blessed with three hearty meals; whereas, now, I have fasted well-nigh to death, and know not when I may be relieved.”

While these comfortless thoughts were passing through the mind of the counterfeit yogi, the pro­cession arrived at the royal palace; and being put down in a magnificent apartment, he immediately received a visit from the princesses. These beauti­ful young women prostrated themselves, one by one, at his feet; and, after a pause of silent admiration, each of them would pluck a hair, to be set like the Raja’s in a jewel, and ever worn as a charm. But it was no easy matter to find one; the very pate was absolutely bald: and it was only by carefully exploring the folds and wrinkles, which a venerable beard had lately covered, that each lady could be accommodated with a relic. At last they con­cluded their devout visit and retired, leaving the yogi still in his attitude of profound meditation, from which, however, the Raja at last relieved him, by ordering all the doors to be closed, that he might remain undisturbed during the night.

When all the inhabitants. of the palace had retired, Apa-ji introduced himself to the poor goatherd by a secret passage, and taking him to his own apartment, he rewarded him with a sumptuous banquet, and an earnest of his ten thousand rupees; bidding him return home, and, with the dawn of day, to resume his accustomed calling, and to main­tain a profound secrecy concerning the fraud, until he should receive permission to speak. Poor Bukri-­Walla! He did not wait a second bidding, but got him quickly to his humble home, resolved never again to act the yogi. Early on the next morning, Krishnaraia went to renew his solicitations to the venerable penitent; but, alas! he found him not; he had vanished, or had mysteriously conveyed himself through the closed doors. The advent and departure were equally wonderful; and the venera­tion of all men was augmented. How truly felicitous were all those who had secured a relic! The whole affair continued, for many days, to be the only topic of the court, the city, and the country; but it gradually grew stale, and at last was only occasionally remembered, like any other antiquated miracle. However, in the interim, the buhkshi’s goatherd had found great treasure, and he, and all his family, dwelt in comparative wealth.

Some months after these events, Krishnaraia was reminded of the old proverb,- “Jana Marula, Jatra Marula” and turning immediately to the buhkshi, he inquired if he had yet made up his mind touching that familiar saying. Apa-ji, who, in truth, had only waited for such an opportunity, first obtained the Raja’s permission to speak without reserve, deprecating anger, and then, to the astonished court, thus declared himself:-

“Incomparable sovereign! Your own actions a few months since furnished a full and striking demonstration of this problem, when you condescended to visit the cavern in yonder hill, and paid your reverence, you and all your people, to the impostor who sojourned there. You have graciously given me permission to speak my whole mind with impunity; and now, know all men, that the sanctified yogi was no other than the humble goatherd of your majesty’s more humble slave, Apa-ji; a being so useless and uncultivated, as to approach to utter stupidity. Such is the person­age whom you and your court, upon the strength of my naked assertion, have loaded with honours almost divine, and have elevated to the rank of a saint. The credulous multitude, without thought or question, blindly followed your example; and, without any knowledge of the object of its adoration, ran with you into the excess of fanatical zeal, in favour of an abject goatherd, uneducated, well-nigh a fool. From this convincing instance all the world must be satisfied that conventional insti­tutions are matters of example and habit, varnished over with prejudice; and that it is not so much the absurd usages of any country which should incur our ridicule, as the persons who blindly practise them.”

Krishnaraia, like a wise sovereign, took in good part the pointed and ingenious conceit which Apa-ji had so boldly adopted, to enlighten his mind upon a matter so important and abstruse; and he beheld his excellent buhkshi with renewed favour, after he had recovered from his surprise. Moreover, he con­tinued ever after to regard him as his most faithful subject and friend. Yet, without doubt, should another goatherd have been presented to him in the disguise of a yogi, the farce would have been repeated.

(Sourced from The Oriental Annual (1840) Thomas Beacon, W & F. Finden, Meadows Taylor)

 

 

Comments are closed