Harshacharita Part 7

The text below is from the seventh chapter of the ‘Harshacharita’ (Deeds of Harsha) as translated by E. B. Cowell and F. W. Thomas. Harsha decided to conduct a punitive campaign against the Gaudas to avenge his  elder brother, Rajyavardhana. The journey of the Pushyabhuti army, the members of the expeditionary force, the routine of camp life, the animals used by warriors and transporters, the weaponry and equipment, the multitude of people accompanying the host, the inhabitants of various settlements along the route, the reaction of ordinary citizens to the passage of the King and his men, all of this, has been described in minute detail by Bana. Harsha received Hamsavega, the envoy of the heir apparent of Assam, who presented him a family heirloom (a most beautiful umbrella by the name of Abhoga), and other rare and expensive presents as a token of friendship. Having accepted the tribute, he sent him back with answering gifts. Thereafter, Bhandi arrived, carrying news of Rajyashri’s escape to the Vindhya forests, as well as booty obtained in the course of battle with the Malwa army. The King immediately set off towards the Vindhyas, a remote and charming country inhabited by hardy peasants and hunters, in search of his sister.

Some days having passed, on a day with care calculated and approved by a troop of astronomers numbering hundreds, was fixed an hour of marching suitable for the subjugation of all the four quarters. The king bathed in golden and silvern vessels; with deep devotion offered worship to the adorable Nilalohita; fed the up-flaming fire, whose masses of blaze formed a rightward whorl; bestowed upon Brahmans sesamum vessels of precious stones, silver, and gold in thousands, myriads also of cows having hoofs and horn tips adorned with creepers of gold-work; sat upon a throne with a coverlet of tiger skin; duly anointed first his bow and then his body down to the feet with sandal bright as his own fame; put on two seemly robes of bark silk marked with pairs of flamingos; formed about his head a chaplet of white flowers, a sign of the supreme; drew to the region of his ear a fresh gorochana-spotted Durva spray; and wound upon his forearm together with the seal-bracelet an amulet to prosper his going. After being sprinkled on the head with a spray of lustral water scattered by the hand of the highly honoured and delighted Purohit, he sent away valuable equipages, and divided among the kings ornaments anointing the heavens with a copious light of jewels, loosed the prisoners, and bestowed suitable gifts of favour upon distressed pilgrims and nobles; and installed his right arm in the office of subduing the eighteen continents. Finally with all good omens pressing forward officiously, he issued forth from his house, to set on foot an age of gold.

The starting place was fixed at a large temple built of reeds not far from the city and close to the Sarasvati. It displayed a lofty pillared gateway, an altar supporting a golden cup adorned with sprays, affixed chaplets of wild flowers, wreaths of white banners, strolling white-robed people, and muttering Brahmans. During the king’s stay there the village notary appeared with his whole retinue of clerks, and saying, ‘Let his majesty, whose edicts are never void, even now bestow upon us his commands for the day,’ so presented a new-made golden seal with a bull for its emblem. The king took it. As soon however as a ball of earth was produced, the seal slipped from the king’s hand and fell face downwards upon the ground, and the lines of the letters were distinctly marked upon the nearly dry mud and soft earth of the Sarasvati’s bank. Apprehensive of an evil omen, the courtiers were depressed, but the king thought in his heart: ‘The minds of the dull are indeed blind to reality. The omen signifies that the earth shall be stamped with the single seal of my sole command but the rustics interpret otherwise.’ Having thus mentally welcomed the omen, he bestowed upon the Brahmans a hundred villages delimited by a thousand ploughs. That day he spent in the same place, and when night arrived, complimented all the kings and retired to rest.

At the close of the third watch, when all creatures slept and all was still, the marching drum was beaten with a boom deep as the gaping roar of the sky elephants. Then, after first a moment’s pause, eight sharp strokes were distinctly given anew upon the drum, making up the number of the leagues in the day’s march. Straightway the drums rattled, the nandis rang out joyously, the trumpets brayed, the kahalas hummed, the horns blared; the noise of the camp gradually increased. Officers occupied themselves in arousing the courtiers. The heavens were confounded by a noise of drumsticks added to a rapid tapping of mallets. Commanders mustered crowds of barrack superintendents. Thousands of torches lighted by the people made inroads upon the darkness of night with their glare. Loving pairs were roused from sleep by the tramp of the women of the watch. Shrill words of command from the marshals dispelled the slumbers of blinking riders. Awakened elephant herds vacated their sleeping stalls. There was a shaking of manes from troops of horses risen from sleep. The noisy camp resounded with mattocks uprooting ground fastenings. Elephant hobbles rattled as their pins were extracted. Rearing horses curved their hoofs at the clear low noise of chain-keys brought towards them. A clanking sound of halter fetters filled the ten regions to overflowing, as the foragers loosed the rutting elephants. Leather bags, bursting with fullness, were extended upon the dusty hacks of elephants, which had been rubbed down by strokes from wisps of hay. Servants of house-builders rolled up awnings and cloth screens belonging to tents and marquees. Leather sacks were filled to roundness with bundles of pegs. Store-room stewards collected stores of platters. Many elephant attendants were pressed to convey the stores. The houses of the neighbourhood were blocked with clusters of cups and vessels, which were lifted upon numerous elephants, while the riders kept the animals steady. Wicked elephants were loaded with a cargo of utensils hurriedly tossed upon them by travel-practised domestics. Amid the laughter of the crowd helpless corpulent bawds lagged as they were with difficulty dragged along with hands and legs sprawling sideways. Many huge and savage elephants trumpeted as the free play of their limbs was checked by the tightening of the girth-bands of their gaudy housings. A jangling of bells taking place in the elephant troop inflamed all ears with fever.

Camels, as sacks were set on their backs, bellowed at the outrage. The carriages of the high-born nobles’ wives were thronged with roguish emissaries sent by princes of rank. Elephant riders, deceived as to the time of starting, searched for new servants. Highly honoured footmen led the fine horses of the king’s favourites. An array of gay gallants employed thick unguents to draw circular lines of camphor on their persons. To the saddles of marshals were fastened martingales with wooden figures of deer, bells, and reeds attached. Apes were placed among troops of horses whose grooms were entangled in a network of coiled reins. Stablemen dragged along half-eaten shoots to be eaten at the morning manoeuvres. Loud grew the uproar of foragers shouting to one another. Much crashing of stables resounded as the young rearing horses swerved in the confusion of starting. Women, hastening at the call of riders whose elephants were in readiness, presented unguents for the animals’ heads. The low people of the neighbourhood, running up as the elephants and horses started, looted heaps of abandoned grain. Donkeys ridden by throngs of boys accompanied the march. Crowds of carts with creaking wheels occupied the trampled roads. Oxen were laden with utensils momentarily put upon them. Stout steers, driven on in advance, lagged out of greed for fodder lying near them. In front were carried the kitchen appliances of the great feudatories. First ran banner-bearers. Hundreds of friends were spectators of the men’s exits from the interior of their somewhat contracted huts. Elephant keepers, assaulted with clods by people starting from hovels which had been crushed by the animals’ feet, called the bystanders to witness the assaults. Wretched families fled from grass cabins ruined by collisions. Despairing merchants saw the oxen bearing their wealth flee before the onset of the tumult. A troop of seraglio elephants advanced where the press of people gave way before the glare of their runners’ torches. Horsemen shouted to dogs tied behind them. Old people sang the praises of tall Tangana horses which by the steady motion of their quick footfalls provided a comfortable seat. Deccan riders disconsolately contended with fallen mules. The whole world was swallowed up in dust.

At the hour of marching the front of the king’s residence became full of chieftains arriving from every side, mounted on female elephants, with riders holding up bows striped with gold leaf, swords grasped by confidential servants occupying the inner seats, chowries waved by betel bearers, sheafs of javelins in cases under the charge of those who sat at the back, and saddles curving with scimitars and bristling with golden arrows. Girths, confining on either side the ends of the saddle, kept their cloth cushions motionless and gave a firm seat. The clash of their swaying foot-rests augmented the sound from the precious stones in their anklets. Their shanks were covered with their proper covering of delicate tinted silk. Their copper-coloured legs were chequered with mud-stained wraps, and a heightened white was produced by contrast with trousers soft and dark as bees. They wore tunics darkened by black diamonds glistening on bright forms; Chinese cuirasses thrown over them, coats and doublets showing clusters of bright pearls, bodices speckled with a mixture of various colours, and shawls of the shade of parrots’ tails. Fine waistbands were wound about flanks made thin by exercise. Servants ran up to loose dangling earrings which had become entangled with pearl necklaces, tossed by their movements. Their ear-ornaments clashed as they struck against earrings budding with gold filagree work. The stalks of their ear-lotuses were fixed in their turbans. Their heads were wrapt in shawls of a soft saffron hue. They had linen turbans inlaid with bits of crest gems. Clouds of bees formed as it were peacocks’ feathers in their topknots. Their elephants’ housings were bedabbled from long travel. The recesses of the world were filled with proud restless warriors who bounded along, gay with round Kardaranga shields of various colours and chowries tossing in front of them. The abysses of the heavens resounded with the noise of the tinkling golden ornaments upon hundreds of prancing Kamboja horses. The sharp tapping of hundreds of fiercely beaten lamba drums deafened the cavities of men’s ears. Their names were proclaimed aloud. And craning footmen awaited their commands.

When the adorable sun arose, the signal conch rang out repeatedly, announcing the moment of the king’s arraying of the army. After a brief interval he came forth, riding upon a female elephant. An auspicious umbrella, distinguished by a turquoise rod and, by reason of the bits of ruby inlaid at its top, glowing as in anger at the sight of the sunrise, this, and a tunic of new silk, which clung about him, softer than the plantain fruit, recalled the day of the ambrosia churning when clouds of the Milk Ocean’s foam whitened the skies. His splendour seemed to drink up the very rising sun, whose golden image appeared in his fronting crest-gem. With his brows capriciously raised a third part in reviewing the royal company, he seemed to enjoin tribute upon even the three worlds. Tightly embraced by Glory, having with her all the sweetness of the milky ocean, he was drunk in by thousands of eyes upraised in curiosity by the people of the camp. Like the Lord of the Immortals, he appeared busy in wiping away the stain of his elder brother’s slaughter; like Prithu, sweeping away all the gathered kings with intent to cleanse the earth. Then as the company of kings bowed, with bodies dutifully bent down, hearts thrilling with fear, heads all agleam with the light of golden diadems and crests. Thus welcomed with bows, the hero of heroes, purchasing as it were the kings’ souls in the shape of adoration, distributed among them tokens of his favour, such as quarter glances, side-glances, full glances, raised eyebrows, half-smiles, jests, plays upon words, inquiries after their health, return greetings, careless movements of the brow, and instructions, according to their several deserts.

The king having started, the echo of musical instruments spread loudly hither and thither about the four quarters of heaven, like the snorting of sky elephants affrighted at the tumult. The sun’s radiance being crimsoned with masses of vermilion powder, the birds feared that the sunset was come. A host of waving chowries swallowed up the whole totality of things moving and motionless. The sky became an unbroken white with clots of foam, pure as Sindhuvara chaplets, tossed by the breath of the cavalcade. Forests of umbrellas, with upright golden stocks and white as massed bunches of tagaras, drank up the day. The heavens were deafened by the din which the horses made with their clanging golden and silver rows of chariot ornaments. The king himself was surprised at his forces, and casting his eyes in every direction beheld an army starting out of its encampment. Meanwhile a multitudinous babble was going on as follows, ‘March on, my son!’ ‘Good sir, why do you lag? Here is a galloping horse.’ ‘Friend, you hobble like a lame man, while the vanguard here is coming furiously upon us.’ ‘Why are you hurrying the camel? Don’t you see, you pitiless brute, the child lying there?’ ‘Ramila, darling, take care not to get lost in the dust!’ ‘Don’t you see the barley-meal sack leaks? What’s the hurry?’ ‘Ox, you are leaving the track and running among the horses.’ ‘Are you coming, fishwife?’ ‘You female elephant, you want to go among the males.’ ‘Hullo, the peasack is awry and dribbling; you don’t heed my bawling.’ ‘You’re going astray down a precipice; quietly, you self-willed brute.’ ‘Porridge man, your jar is broken.’ ‘Laggard, you can suck the sugar cane on the way.’ ‘Quiet your bull.’ ‘How long, slave, are you to gather jujube fruit?’ ‘We have a long way to go; why do you linger, Dronaka, now? This long expedition is at a standstill for one rascal.’ ‘The road in front is all ups and downs; old fellow, see you don’t break the sugar kettle.’ ‘The load of grain is too heavy, Gandaka; the bullock can’t carry it.’ ‘Quick, slave, with a knife cut a mouthful of fodder from this bean field; who can tell the fate of his crop when we are gone?’ ‘Keep away your oxen, fellow! This field is guarded by watchmen.’ ‘The wagon is stuck fast: harness a strong pulling steer to the yoke.’ ‘Madman, you are crushing women; are your eyes burst?’ ‘You confounded elephant driver, you are playing with my elephant’s trunk.’ ‘Trample him, you savage brute.’ ‘Brother, you are tripping in the mire.’ ‘O friend of the distressed, raise this ox from the mud.’ ‘This way, boy! in the thick of the dense elephant squad there is no getting out.’

Here groups of elephant men, bachelors, knaves, donkey boys, camp followers, thieves, serving men, rogues, and grooms, sated with an easily acquired meal of plentiful readily pounded remnants of grain, expressed their approval of the camp in bold boisterous jubilation. There poor unattended nobles, over-whelmed with the toil and worry of conveying their provisions upon fainting oxen provided by wretched village householders and obtained with difficulty, themselves grasped their domestic appurtenances, grumbling as follows, ‘Only let this one expedition be gone and done with.’ ‘Let it go to the bottom of hell.’ ‘An end to this world of thirst.’ ‘Good luck to this servitude of ours.’ ‘Goodbye to this camp, the pinnacle of all unpleasantness.’ Here swiftly running in a line, as if tied together as it were on board a ship gliding down a very rapid current, were the king’s hired porters, carrying black bard clubs as heavy as trunks of trees, beating golden footstools, water pots, cups, spittoons, and baths, pushing every one aside in irrepressible pride at being in charge of their sovereign’s property with himself at hand; also bearers of kitchen appurtenances with goats attached to thongs of pig-skin, a tangle of hanging sparrows and forequarters of venison, a collection of young rabbits, potherbs, and bamboo shoots, buttermilk pots protected by wet seals on one part of their mouths which were covered with white cloths, baskets containing a chaos of fire-trays, ovens, simmering pans, spits, copper saucepans, and frying-pans. Here, with cries of, ‘The labour is ours, but when paytime comes some other rascals will appear,’ village servants, set to scare on the feeble oxen tripping at every step, were indiscriminately badgering the whole body of nobles. There the whole country side had come in eager haste from both directions out of curiosity to see the king, and fools of grant-holders, issuing from the villages on the route and headed by aged elders with uplifted waterpots, pressed furiously near in crowds with presents of curds, molasses, candied sugar, and flowers in baskets, demanding the protection of the crops; flying before their terror of irate and savage chamberlains, they yet in spite of distance, tripping, and falling, kept their eyes fixed upon the king, bringing to light imaginary wrongs of former governors, lauding hundreds of past officials, reporting ancient misdeeds of knaves. Others, contented with the appointed overseers, were bawling their eulogies,’The king is Dharma incarnate’; others, despondent at the plunder of their ripe grain, had come forth, wives and all, to bemoan their estates, and to the imminent risk of their lives, grief dismissing fear, had begun to censure their sovereign, crying ‘Where’s the king?’ ‘What right has he to be king?’ ‘What a king!’ Hares ran about hither and thither, pursued by furiously running crowds armed with clubs, and struck at every pace like polo balls: others were caught by throngs coming upon them all at once and torn in pieces, while others by skill in plunging between the legs of diverse animals and eluding many riders’ dogs by dodging, managed in spite of showers of clods, clubs, sticks, axes, stakes, spades, hoes, knives, and poles to effect their escape, screaming the while with all the energy left them. Elsewhere a cloud of dust was raised by bands of running foragers with loins a mass of fodder bundles and grey with chaff, sickles swinging from one part of their ancient saddles, loose dirty blankets made of bits of old wool, and, dangling in tatters, torn jerkins presented by their masters. In one place riders were intently occupied in rehearsing the approaching Gauda war. Here all the people, busy with orders to fill up muddy places, were cutting bundles of grass. There shrieking quarrelsome Brahmans, mounted on the tops of trees, were being expelled by the rods of chamberlains standing on the ground. There village dogs, entrapped by bits of food, were being tied in leashes. Elsewhere again horses, driven by princes emulous for victory, enlivened the scene by their collisions. Thus the camp, exciting interest by manifold incidents, was like the doomsday ocean gone abroad to swallow the world at a gulp.

With such a spectacle before his eyes Harsha arrived at the encampment. Reaching his quarters, he heard the stout-armed princes around expressing their zeal in such talk as this, ‘It was the famous Mandhatri who opened the way to world conquest. With the irresistible onset of his chariot Raghu in a brief time set the world at peace. Seconded by his bow, Pandu imposed tribute on the array of kings haughty in the pride of inherited prowess, nobility, and wealth. The Pandava Arjuna, in order to complete the Rajasuya sacrifice, subdued Mount Hemakuta. Though shielded by Himalaya with all its snows, the impotent Druma, fearing a trial of strength, bore like a servant the exactions of the Kuru king. The land of the Turushkas is to the brave but a cubit. Persia is only a span. The Shaka realm but a rabbit’s track. In the Pariyatra country, incapable of returning a blow, a gentle march alone is needed. The Deccan is easily won at the price of valour.’ At the door of his lodgings Harsha graciously dismissed the chiefs on either side by motions of his brows; then entering, he dismounted and retired to a seat in the outer audience tent, where, after dismissing the assembly, he remained for a short time. Anon the chamberlain, resting both his hands on the earth, announced that Hamsavega, a confidential messenger sent by the heir apparent of Assam, waited at the gate. ‘Admit him at once,’ the king graciously commanded. Inspired by courtesy and respect for the king, the chamberlain went forth in person; and soon Hamsavega, entered the palace in courtly style, followed by a long train of men carrying munificent presents. While still at some distance he embraced the courtyard in homage. At the king’s gracious summons to draw near he approached at a run and buried his forehead in the footstool; the king having laid a hand on his back, he approached again and once more bowed. Finally he assumed a position not far away, indicated by a kindly glance from the king, who, turning his body a little aside, sent away the chowrie-bearer standing between, and face to face inquired familiarly, ‘Hamsavega, is the noble prince well?’ ‘At this moment,’ was the reply, ‘he is well, since your majesty so respectfully inquires with a voice bathed in affection and moist with a flow of friendship.’ After a momentary pause he went on in courtly terms, ‘Excepting only a heart replete with respect, a present worthy of your majesty, who is a vessel for the grandeur of governing the four oceans, is with difficulty attainable in the world. Nevertheless my master, in his endeavour to add substance to his message, has fulfilled the destiny of this umbrella derived from Varuna, a family heirloom, Abhoga its name, by consigning it to a worthy charge. It manifests many wonder-moving miracles. Every day, to give coolness to its shade, the moon’s rays, from their stored up thousands, penetrate it one by one. This having entered, pure sweet showers of moon-bright water, drip at will and as long as desired from its jewelled ribs. Whoso, like Varuna, is or is to be sovereign of the four oceans, him and no other does it honour with its shade. Fire does not burn it, nor wind bear it away, nor water wet it, nor dust defile it, nor age corrode it. Let your majesty honour it with a glance. My commission you shall hear in confidence.’ So speaking, he turned round and commanded one of his own men to rise and display it. The words were scarcely spoken when the man rose, raised it aloft, and drew it from its wrapper of white bark-silk. Even as it was drawn forth in its exceedingly white splendour, it seemed as if the Milk Ocean had stood fixed in circular shape in the sky. Distressed by apprehension of a moonrise, pairs of ruddy-geese in the neighbouring lotus pools slowly and softly parted. Closing their voiceless lips in fear of a gathering of autumn clouds, groups of domestic peacocks turned away in despondency. In a mad joy at the moon, opening their petals with a broad gleaming smile, the white lotus beds awoke. With wonderment in their minds the king and chiefs, as their glance mounted up in the line of the handle, gazed with awe upon that great world-marvel of an umbrella. Tied around its rim was a circle of small chowries, made of lotus fibre from Manasa and resembling the flames of light from Varuna’s diadem. To its point was attached for an emblem a hamsa with pinions poised as if waiting anxiously to hear the tinkle of imperial glory’s anklets. Its charming stock was a smooth miraculously stiffened lotus root from Mandakini. Its whiteness seemed to cleanse the Zodiac, its outgoing flood of radiance to veil the day, its height to depress the heavens. It was like an ascent of all fair omens, a white bower for Glory, a cluster of flowers on the tree-trunk of Brahma, the moonlight’s round navel, the white smile of Fame, the gathered foam of the water of all swords’ edges, the nucleus of heroism’s splendour.

This having been first inspected by the king, the servants in due order displayed the remaining presents. Among them were famous ornaments inherited from Bhagadatta and other renowned kings, ornaments which crimsoned the heavenly spaces with the light of the finest gems; the prime of sheeny crest jewels, pearl necklaces which seemed the source of the Milk Ocean’s whiteness, silken towels, pure as the autumn moon’s light, rolled up in baskets of variously coloured reeds: quantities of pearl, shell, sapphire, and other drinking vessels, embossed by skilful artists, loads of kardaranga leather bucklers with charming borders, bright gold-leaf work winding about them, and cases to preserve their colour, soft loin-cloths smooth as birch bark, pillows of samuruka leather, and other kinds of smooth figured textures, cane stools with the bark yellow as the ear of millet, volumes of fine writing with leaves made from aloe bark and of the hue of the ripe pink cucumber, luscious milky betel nut fruit, hanging from its sprays and green as young harita doves, thick bamboo tubes containing mango sap and black aloes oil, and fenced round with sheaths of kapotika leaves, tawny as an angry ape’s cheeks, bundles contained in sacks of woven silk and consisting of black aloe dark as pounded collyrium, goshirsa sandal stealing the fiercest inflammation away, camphor cool, pure, and white as bits of ice, scent bags of musk oxen, kakkola sprays, clove flower bunches, and nutmeg clusters, all bristling with masses of ripe fruit, cups of ullaka, diffusing a fragrance of sweetest wine, heaps of black and white chowries, carved boxes of panels for painting, with brushes and gourds attached, curious pairs of kinnaras, ourang-outangs, jivanjivaka birds, and mermen, with necks bound in golden fetters, musk deer scenting the space all round them with their perfume, female chamara deer, used to running about the house, parrots, sharikas, and other birds enclosed in gold-painted bamboo cages and chattering copious wit, partridges in cages of coral, arid rings of hippopotamus ivory, encrusted with rows of huge pearls from the brows of elephants. Delighted at the sight of the umbrella, the king mentally welcomed it as a fair omen on his first march, and addressed himself in friendly terms to Hamsavega, saying, ‘I marvel not, fair sir, to obtain from the prince, rich in every precious gift, as the moon was got from the ocean, this great umbrella, fit to be held above the head of the Supreme. The first lessons of the great are in conferring favours.’ The collection of presents having next been removed, after a moment’s pause, ‘You require rest, Hamsavega,’ he said, and dismissed him to the chamberlain’s house. Rising himself, he bathed, and then, seeking fair auspices, entered eastward the shade of Abhoga. The very moment he entered, such a coolness arose from the shade that the moon seemed to have become his crest jewel, dew-dropping moon-stones seemed to kiss his forehead, camphor dust to melt upon his eyes, a frost from drops of dissolving snow to form pearl necklaces. Astonished he thought, ‘What but an undying alliance could be a fit return for this present?’ At the hour of dining he sent to Hamsavega the remains of his toilet sandal enclosed in a polished cocoanut wrapped in a white cloth, a pair of robes touched by his person, a waistband called Parivesha whereof one part showed clusters of clear pearls like autumn stars, an ear-ornament called Tarangaka, reddening the day with the light of a precious ruby, and a plentiful repast. In this and other proceedings the day was spent.

Anon the light-wreathed sun, his form dimmed by the great masses of dust from the encamped array, dipped in the western ocean, as if to cleanse his polluted frame. As though to announce to the god the presentation of the umbrella Abhoga, he departed to Varuna’s quarter. By the closing of all the day-lotus beds the earth with all her isles seemed prematurely to clasp hands in obeisance before her lord. The eastern heaven grew dark, as if alarmed at the Gauda’s sin. Beneath the gathering gloom the earth became a black expanse, as though the fire of all other kings’ splendour had been quenched. The heavens strewed thick their constellations bright as opening tagara-blossoms. Over the ten quarters the moon’s rays sped, thrilling the hearts of proud ladies. From the night-lotus beds, as from the eyes of hostile neighbouring chiefs, sleep waned away. At that hour the sovereign, who was lying beneath an extended awning, dismissed his servants with the words ‘Begone now,’ and then to Hamsavega said ‘Explain your errand.’ With a low bow the other began his narrative, ‘In former times, your majesty, the holy earth, having through union with the Boar become pregnant, gave birth in hell to a son called Naraka. Before this hero’s feet, while he was still in his boyhood, the crest-jewels of the lords of nations were apt to bow. Without the command of this stout-armed ruler of the world the sun himself went not to his setting, and Aruna reversed his chariot wheels in fear. It was he who won this umbrella, this external heart of Varuna. In posterity, when many great kings, such as Bhagadatta, Pushpadatta, and Vajradatta, had passed away, there was born a Maharajadhiraja named Sushthiravarman, a splendid hero famous in the world as Mriganka, great-grandson of Maharaja Bhutivarman, grandson of Chandramukhavarman, and son of Sthitivarman, who wore the unshaken majesty of Kailasa. This king was born with a pride which seemed unborn. Even as a boy he dealt out presents to all Brahmans through affection, and reverses to all enemies through hate. To this auspiciously named king was born by his queen Shyamadevi a son and heir Bhaskaradyuti, otherwise named Bhaskaravarman. Now from childhood upwards it was this prince’s firm resolution never to do homage to any being except the lotus feet of Shiva. Such an ambition, so difficult of attainment in the three worlds, may be reached by one of three means, by a conquest of the whole earth, by death, or by a friend like your majesty, peerless hero of the world, burning the heavens with a blaze of impetuous valour. The friendship of monarchs again commonly has regard to utility. And what possible contribution of utility could incline your majesty to friendship? Wealth is but a remote consideration to your majesty, whose aim is to amass fame. One who relies upon his arm alone has no occasion for desiring the assistance of his other members, much less of a stranger. Seeing, therefore, that ours is an object attainable only by impossible expedients, let your majesty, graciously regarding a mere petition, hear. The sovereign of Assam desires with your majesty an imperishable alliance. If your majesty’s heart too is inclined to friendship and can comprehend that friends enter upon a slavery disguised under a synonym, then enough! Commission me to say that the sovereign of Assam may enjoy your majesty’s hearty embrace. If your majesty accepts not his love, command me what to report to my master.’ When he ceased speaking, the king, who from previous reports of the prince’s great qualities had conceived a very high respect for him and whose affection had been raised to a climax by the affair of the umbrella Abhoga, replied almost bashfully with profound respect, ‘How could the mind of one like me possibly even in a dream show aversion, Hamsavega, when such a great and noble spirit, such a treasure of virtue and captain of the worthy, bestows his love as an absent friend upon me? The prince’s design is excellent. Stout-armed himself, with me, a devotee of the bow, for his friend, to whom Shiva need he pay homage? This resolve of his increases my affection. The heart respects the lion, though a brute, for his pride: how much more a friend! Therefore use your endeavours that my yearning to see the prince may not torment me long.’

Hamsavega responded, ‘What else remains? Even your majesty’s generous words give a pain to my noble master. The good are timid of dependence, and herein especially our haughty Vaishnava line. But not to mention my master’s family, let your majesty consider. When towards servitude inclined by overwhelming calamity, a man makes up his mind to enter a palace, he has the distress of being shut out by lackeys. Entering at the door, he is beaten by others like a deer, dashed away time after time. No petitioner, he is turned away and shot forth by the mean; no thorn, he is plucked away, as he clings to the feet, and hastily hurled aside. Like Trishanku, he stands day and night with downbent head, excluded from both worlds; like a ghoul frequenting graveyard trees, he hovers about royal favourites made rough by their accursed success; like a Buddhist, he has attained to life-weariness through learning the vanity of things, and longs for the yellow robe; degraded below the worm, he worships even with his words the feet of those uncontented with his head alone. Abandoned by shame, he heaps up troubles, increasing his contemptibleness under the idea of magnifying his means. Though learned, his speech is as blundering as a fool’s; though capable, he folds his hands helplessly, like a leper. For him what atonement is there? What means of reformation? Whither shall he go to find peace? What is his life like? What manly pride is his? What possible pleasures? What dream of enjoyment? This dreadful name of servant, like a torrent of mud, lays everything low. A mannikin of no account, a walking footstool all grey atop with the dust of feet, in coaxing notes a human cuckoo, in gratifying cries a peacock, in bosom-rubbing a land tortoise, in mean fawnings a dog. Better is a moment of manliness; at the price of bowing the wise deem not even the joy of a world-sovereignty worth a bow. Therefore let your majesty, approving of our love, bethink himself that the king of Assam died only a few days ago.’ So much said, he became silent, and shortly after bowed and took his leave. The king spent that night with a heart held captive by yearning for a sight of the prince. On the morrow he sent Hamsavega away with a load of answering gifts in charge of eminent envoys. For himself he thenceforth advanced by ceaseless marches against the foe. One day he heard from a letter-carrier that Bhandi had arrived with the Malwa king’s whole force, conquered by the might of Rajyavardhana’s arm, and was encamped quite near. At this news the fire of brotherly grief awoke again; his courage gave way, and he retreated into the darkness as it were of a swoon; laying aside all his occupations, remaining in his own quarters with his attendants noiseless and still through the chamberlains’ prohibitions, he waited awhile with his royal retinue for Bhandi’s arrival. Soon with a single horse and a retinue of a few nobles, he came in sight. His soiled garb, his breast filled with the points of enemies arrows, his beard resting in his bosom, all betokened his grief. On his arm, flabby from neglected exercise, dangled for an ornament a remnant of his charm bracelet. His parched lip, faint in colour from careless application of betel, protruded under the force of long sighs, and with a stream of tears for a shawl he hid his face, as though abashed by the crime of preserving his life after his master’s removal. With limbs enfeebled he appeared to shrink through shame into himself. Like a man plundered and deluded, a young elephant despondent at the fall of the monarch of the herd, the ocean deprived of its jewels. In this guise he drew near the king’s portals, and, dismounting from his horse, entered the residence with downcast looks. While still some distance away, he uttered a cry and fell at the king’s feet. But he, on seeing him, rose, and advancing with tottering steps, uplifted him, and clasping his neck in a close embrace, wept long and piteously. The fury of his grief relaxing, he turned back again and sat as before upon his seat finally, when Bhandi had wiped his face, he wiped his own. A little time having elapsed, he enquired the facts of his brother’s death, and Bhandi related the whole story in full. Next the king asked what was Rajyashri’s plight. ‘Your majesty,’ was the response, ‘I learnt from common talk that after his majesty Rajyavardhana was taken to paradise and Kanyakubja was seized by the man named Gupta, Queen Rajyshri burst from her confinement, and with her train entered the Vindhya forest. But not to this day have the numerous searchers sent after her returned.’ ‘What care I,’ the king answered, ‘for other seekers? Where she has gone, I myself, abandoning all other calls, will go. Your honour also must take the army and advance against the Gauda.’ So saying, he rose and went to the bath chamber; and when Bhandi had caused his mourning beard to be shaved, had bathed in the chamberlain’s apartments, and had received signs of favour in the shape of clothes, flowers, unguents, and ornaments for the body, the king ate and spent the day alone in his company. On the next day Bhandi, approaching the king, said, Let your majesty inspect the Malwa king’s army and royal equipage, won by the power of his majesty Rajyavardhana’s arm.’ The king consenting to this being done, he displayed the booty, such as elephants in thousands, great as moving boulders, with muddy cheeks whose temples were hairy with swarms of bees clamouring about the intoxicating scent of incessantly dripping ichor, emitting the fragrance of full-blown saptacchada groves: horses swift as antelopes and gay with lines of gold-bedight chowries; ornaments of diverse kinds, wondrous pearl necklaces, yak-tail chowries, a white umbrella with a golden stock, regal paraphernalia such as lion thrones, couches, and settees; all the Malwa king’s adherents with their feet restrained by iron fetters; the whole of his treasure chests, heavy with wreaths of ornaments and provided with written records of their contents.

The inspection over, the king appointed overseers to take charge of the booty according to their several functions. The next day he set out with the horse in search of his sister, and in a comparatively few days’ march reached the Vindhya forest. Entering, he saw while still at some distance a forest settlement, distinguished by woodland districts turned grey by the smoke horn granaries of wild grain in which heaps of burning sashtika chaff sent up a blaze. Wherein were huge banyans, encircled with cowpens formed of a quantity of dry branches; tiger-traps, constructed in fury at the slaughter of young calves; zealous foresters violently seizing the axes of trespassing wood-cutters; and Durga arbours built of tree clumps in the thickets. The outskirts being for the most part forest, many parcels of rice-land, threshing ground, and tilth were being apportioned by small farmers, and that with no little vigour of language, since it was mainly spade culture and they were anxious for the support of their families. No great amount of coming and going tramped the earth owing to the difficulty of ploughiug the sparsely scattered fields covered with kasha grass, with their few clear spaces, their black soil stiff as black iron, the branches bursting from the tree trunks set up here and there, their growths of impenetrable Shyamaka, their wealth of Alambusa, and their Kokilaksha bushes not yet cleared away. Near the tillage scaffolds constructed above ground suggested incursions of wild beasts. In every direction at the entrance to the forests were drinking arbours made of wayside trees, which by their coolness seemed to dispel the summer heat, arbours, where the shade was dappled by fresh shoots made grey by the dust of travellers’ stamping feet, where were nagasphuta bushes planted in the vicinity of freshly dug tanks bedecked with bunches of sal flowers easily obtained from the woods, tiny huts formed of close-woven wattles, heaps of crocks dotted with meal and encircled by twisted braids of flies, stones of rose apples which travelling folk had eaten scattered over the ground about them, masses of dhulikadamba flowers with the pollen formed, wooden stands surmounted by an array of bustling water jars to steal away thirst, cool porous vessels with dripping bases for allaying weariness, pitchers black with moist aquatic plants for the purpose of keeping the water cold, bits of pink gravel taken from ewers to cool the air, cups having pink flowers tied by straw whisps about their necks, tree trunks bristling with bunches of juicy young mango fruit forbidden to wither by bundles of dew-besprent twigs, and successive troops of resting pilgrims drinking the water. In other places again, blacksmiths were almost intensifying the heat by burning heaps of wood for charcoal. On every side the prospect was filled with the inhabitants of the district, who dwelt in the surrounding country, entering the woods to collect timber and enveloped in the provisions guarded for them by old men stationed in the hamlet houses of the vicinity. Their bodies they had anointed to prepare themselves for their hard sylvan toils. On their shoulders were set strong axes, and about their necks hung their breakfast bundles. They wore ragged clothes for fear of thieves. Their water they bore in jars having mouths covered with corks of leaves and attached to their necks which were encircled by triple collars of black cane. Strong oxen marched before them in couples.

Ranging on the outskirts were hunters, who grasped snares with intricate loops formed of animals’ sinews, and bore coiled traps and netted nooses fastened to a quantity of screens used in shooting wild beasts. Fowlers roamed hither and thither, loaded with cages for falcons, partridges, kapinjalas, and the like, while their boys loitered about with aviaries hanging from their shoulders. Troops of childish trappers wandered in eager pursuit of female sparrows caught with twigs whereon a little castaway pulse broth was smeared. Young hunters coaxed on a tribe of dogs frightened at partridges hidden in clumps of grass. There were people moving along with bundles of shidhu bark, hued like an old ruddy-goose’s neck, countless sacks of recently uprooted dhataki flowers of the colour of red ore and of cotton plants, plentiful loads of flax and hemp bundles, quantities of honey, peacocks’ tail-feathers, wreaths of corn-pressed wax, barkless khadira logs frilled with hanging lamajjaka grass, large bundles of kushtha, and rodhra yellow as a fullgrown lion’s mane. Village wives hastened en route for neighbouring villages, all intent on thoughts of sale and bearing on their heads baskets filled with various gathered forest fruits. Here and there the preparation of unsightly fields of barren soil was being effected by numerous lines of wagons, bearing heaps of manure from old dust heaps and yoked to strong young steers, while to the creaking of their loose and noisy wheels were added the angry cries of the dust-grey ploughboys who sitting on the poles urged them on. The surrounding country was black with numerous sugar cane enclosures, showing wide carefully tended branches, buffalo skeletons fixed on stakes to scare with their sharp points the rabbits which devastated the rising buds, and high bamboo fences which the antelopes lightly leapt when startled by ox-drivers’ sticks which the watchers hurled at them. At very wide intervals were the dwellings of the forest householders, girt with orchards of emerald-bright snuha, entangled with thickets of bamboo suitable for bows, and difficult of access owing to rows of thorny karanja. They had garden enclosures with clumps of garmut, gavedhuka, granthiparna, shigru, surana, surasa, vangaka, vaca, and the castor plant, and a network of kasthaluka creepers, reared upon tall planted uprights, provided a shade. Young calves were tied to khadira stakes fixed in the ground in circular jujube arbours, and crowing cocks more or less indicated the positions of the houses. At the foot of agasti trees in the yards tanks and drinking vessels for birds had been constructed, and pink masses of jujube were scattered around. The walls were formed of partitions made of slips of bamboo, leaves, stalks, and reeds, while for ornament gorochana pigment and kimshuka flowers were used. There were piles of charcoal tied with valvaja grass, numerous heaps of cotton from the seemul tree fruit, stores of nala rice, waterlily roots, candied sugar, white lotus seed, bamboos, and threshed rice ready at hand; also collections of tamala seeds, mats worn from being used to pound ashes and disposed upon heaps of kashmarya a wealth of withered rajadana and madana fruit, abundance of madhuka fruit decoctions, pots of safflower in excellent cupboards, no lack of rajamasa, cucumber, karkatika, and gourd seeds, and collections of living pets, such as wild-cats, maludhana snakes, ichneumons, shalijatakas, and the like.

PS: Though the text is taken from the English translation by E. B. Cowell and F. W. Thomas, I have made minor changes to make it easier to read and understand. This required the removal of entire paragraphs in between (mostly literary hyperbole), and the substitution of certain words (archaic or confusing).

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is a painting showing an antelope hunt by tribesmen of Rajasthan (c. 1775 CE). It was produced in the town of Kotah, Rajasthan. The people depicted might be Bhils, native to the wild and mountainous tracts of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. A woman holds a giant torch, ablaze at its mouth, while a man armed with bow and arrow, prepares to strike down the blackbuck standing in front, transfixed by the flames. The Bhils were one of the many people who populated the remote settlements of Central India, including the Vindhyas, where Harsha’s widowed sister Rajyashri took shelter, and which the King was forced to explore.


  • The Harshacharita of Bana translated by E. B. Cowell and F. W. Thomas (1897)
  • Banabhatta: A Monograph by K. Krishnamoorthy (1976)


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