In the Molasses Belt is a city called Sugarcane City.
In it lived two friends, a weaver and a carpenter. Since they were past masters in their respective crafts, they had earned enough money by their labours so that they kept no account of receipt and expenditure. They wore soft, gaily coloured, expensive garments, adorned themselves with flowers and betel-leaves, and diffused odours of camphor, aloes, and musk. They worked nine hours a day, after which they adorned their persons and met for recreation in such places as public squares or temples. They made the rounds of the spots where society gathered – theatres, conversaziones, birthday parties, banquets, and the like – then went home at twilight. And so the time passed.
One day there was a great festival, an occasion when the entire population, wearing the finest ornaments that each could afford, began sauntering through the temples of the gods and other public places.
The weaver and the carpenter, like the rest, put on their best things, and in squares and courtyards inspected the faces of people dressed to kill. And they caught a glimpse of a princess seated at the window of a stucco palace. The vicinity of her heart was made lovely by a firm bosom with the curve of early youth. Below the slender waist was the graceful swell of the hips. Her hair was black as a raincloud, soft, glossy, with a billowy curl. A golden earring danced below an ear that seemed a hammock where Love might swing. Her face had the charm of a new-blown, tender water-lily. Like a dream she took captive the eyes of all, as she sat surrounded by girl friends.
And the weaver, ravished by lavish loveliness, since the love-god with five fierce arrows pierced his heart, concealed his feelings by a supreme effort of resolution, and tottered home, seeing nothing but the princess in the whole horizon. With long-drawn, burning sighs he tumbled on the bed (though it had not been made up), and there he lay. He perceived, he thought of nothing but her, just as he had seen her.
In such lamentation, his thoughts tossing to and fro, the night dragged drearily away. On the next day at the customary hour, the carpenter, wearing an elegant costume, came as usual to the weaver’s house. There he found the weaver with arms and legs sprawled over the unmade bed, heard his long-drawn, burning sighs, and noticed his pallid cheeks and trickling tears.
Finding him in this condition, he said: “My friend, my friend, why are you in such a state today?”
But the poor weaver, though questioned repeatedly, was too embarrassed to say a word.
Then, after examining the weaver’s heart and other members with a hand skilled in detecting symptoms, he said: “Comrade, if my diagnosis is correct, your condition is not the result of fever, but of love.”
Now when his friend voluntarily introduced the subject, the weaver sat up in bed. Then he related his whole experience from the moment he laid eyes on the princess. And the carpenter, after some reflection, said: “The king belongs to the warrior caste, while you are a business man. Have you no reverence for the holy law?”
But the weaver replied: “The holy law allows a warrior three wives. The girl may be the daughter of a woman of my caste. That may explain my love for her. What says the king in the play?
Surely, she may become a warrior’s bride;
Else, why these longings in an honest mind?
The motions of a blameless heart decide
Of right and wrong, when reason leaves us blind.”
Thereupon the carpenter, perceiving his determined purpose, said: “Comrade, what is to be done next?” And the weaver answered: “I don’t know. I told you because you are my friend.” And to this he would not add a word.
At last the carpenter said: “Rise, bathe, eat. Say farewell to despondency. I will invent something such that you will enjoy with her the delights of love without loss of time.”
Then the weaver, hope reviving at his friend’s promise, rose and returned to seemly living. And the next day the carpenter came bringing a brand-new mechanical bird, like Garuda, the bird of Vishnu. It was made of wood, was gaily painted in many colours, and had an ingenious arrangement of plugs.
“Comrade,” he said to the weaver, “when you [95} mount the bird and insert a plug, it goes wherever you wish. And the contrivance alights at the spot where you pull out the plug. It is yours. This very night, when people are asleep, adorn your person, disguise yourself as Vishnu – my wit and skill are at your service – mount this Garuda bird, alight on the maidens’ balcony of the palace, and make whatever arrangements you like with the princess. I have ascertained that the princess sleeps alone on the palace balcony.”
When the carpenter had gone, the weaver spent the rest of the day in a hundred fond imaginings. He took a bath, used incense, powders, ointments, betel, scents for the breath, flowers, and so forth. He put on gay garlands and garments, rich in fragrance. He adorned himself with a diadem and other jewellery. And when the night came clear, he followed the carpenter’s instructions.
Meanwhile, the princess lay in her bed alone on the palace balcony bathed in moonbeams. She gazed at the moon, her mind idly dallying with the thought of love. All at once she spied the weaver, disguised as Vishnu and mounted on his heavenly bird. At sight of him she started from her bed, adored his feet, and humbly said: “O Lord, to what end am I honoured by this visit? Pray command me. What am I to do?” To the princess’ words the weaver, in dignified and sweetly modulated accents, made stately answer: “Yourself, dear maiden, are the occasion of this visit to earth.”
“But I am merely a mortal girl,” said she. [96} And he continued: “Nay, you have been my bride, now fallen to earth by reason of a curse. It is I who have so long protected you from contact with a man. I will now wed you by the ceremony used in heaven.” And she assented, for she thought: “It is a thing beyond my fondest aspirations.” And he married her by the ceremony used in heaven.
So day followed day in the enjoyment of love’s delights, each day witnessing a growth in passion. Before dawn the weaver would mount his mechanical Garuda, would bid her farewell with the words: “I depart for Vishnu’s heaven,” and would always reach his house undetected.
One day the guards at the women’s quarters observed indications that the princess was meeting a man, and in fear of their very lives made a report to their master. “O King,” they said, “be gracious and confirm our personal security. There is a disclosure to be made.” And when the king assented, the guards reported: “O King, we have used anxious care to forbid the entrance of men. Yet indications are observed that Princess Lovely has meetings with a man. Not unto us does it fall to take measures. The king, the king alone is prime mover.”Upon this information the king pondered with troubled spirit:
You are worried when you hear that she is born;
Picking husbands makes you anxious and forlorn;
When she marries, will her husband be a churl?
It is tough to be the father of a girl. [97}
At her birth she steals away her mother’s heart;
Loving friends, when she is older, fall apart;
Even married, she is apt to bring a stain:
Having daughters is a business full of pain.
When a poem or daughter comes out,
The author is troubled with doubt,
With a doubt that his questions betray;
Will she reach the right hands?
Will she please as she stands?
And what will the critics say?
Having thus considered the matter from every point of view, he sought the queen and said: “My dear queen, pray give careful attention to what these chamberlains have to say. Who is this offender whom the death-god seeks today?”
Now when they had related the facts, the queen hastened in great perturbation to the maiden’s apartments and found her daughter with lips sore from kissing and with telltale traces on her limbs. And she cried: “You wicked girl! You are a disgrace to the family! How could you throw your character away? Who is the man that comes to you? The death-god has looked upon him. Dreadful as things are, at least tell the truth.” Then the princess, with shamefaced, drooping glances, recounted the whole story of the weaver disguised as Vishnu.
Thereupon the queen, with laughing countenance and thrilling in every limb, hastened to the king and [98} said: “O King, you are indeed fortunate. It is blessèd Vishnu who comes each night in person to our daughter’s side. He has married her by the ceremony used in heaven. This very night you and I are to hide in the window niche and have sight of him. But with mortals he does not exchange words.”
On hearing this, the king was glad at heart, and somehow lived through the day, which seemed a hundred years. When night came, the king and queen stood hidden in the window niche and waited, their gaze fixed on the sky. Presently the king descried one descending from heaven, mounted on Garuda, grasping the conch-shell, discus, mace, marked with the familiar symbols. And feeling as if drenched by a shower of nectar, he said to the queen: “There is none other on earth so blest as you and I, whose child blessèd Vishnu seeks with love. All the desires nearest our hearts are granted. Now, through the power of our son-in-law, I shall reduce the whole world to subjection.”
At this juncture envoys arrived to collect the yearly tribute for King Valour, monarch of the south, lord of nine million, nine hundred thousand villages. But the king, proud of his new relationship with Vishnu, did not show them the customary honour, so that they grew indignant and said: “Come, King! Pay-day is past. Why have you failed to offer the taxes due? It must be that you have recently come into possession of some unanticipated* supernatural power from some [99} source or other, that you irritate King Valour, who is a flame, a whirlwind, a venomous serpent, a death-god.” Upon this the king showed them his bare bottom. And they returned to their own country, exaggerated the matter a hundred thousand fold, and stirred the wrath of their master.
Then the southern monarch, with his troops and retainers, at the head of an army with all four service branches, marched against the king. And he angrily cried:
“This king may climb the heavenly mount,
May plunge beneath the sea;
And yet – I promise – it the wretch
Shall soon be slain by me.“
So Valour reached the country by marches never interrupted, and ravaged it. And the inhabitants who survived the slaughter besieged the palace gate of the king of Sugarcane City, and taunted him. But what he heard did not cause the king the slightest anxiety.
On the following day the forces of King Valour arrived and invested Sugarcane City, whereupon hosts of counsellors and chaplains interceded with the king: “O King,” they said, “a powerful enemy has arrived and invested the city. How can the king show himself so unconcerned?'”
And the king replied: “You gentlemen may be quite comfortable. I have devised a means of killing this foe. What I am about to do to his army, you, too, will learn tomorrow morning.”
After this address, he bade them provide adequate defense for the walls and gates. Then he summoned Lovely and with respectful coaxing said: “Dear child, relying on your husband’s power, we have begun hostilities with the enemy. This very night pray speak to blessèd Vishnu when he comes, so that in the morning he may kill this enemy of ours.”
So Lovely delivered to him at night her father’s message, complete in every particular. On hearing it, the weaver laughed and said: “Dear love, how little a business is this, a mere war with men! Why, in days gone by I have with the greatest ease slain mighty demons by the thousand, and they were armed with magic; there was Hiranyakashipu, and Kansa, and Madhu, and Kaitabha, to name but a few. Go, then, and say to the king: ‘Dismiss anxiety. In the morning Vishnu will slay the host of your enemies with his discus.”
So she went to the king and proudly told him all. Whereat he was overjoyed and commanded the doorkeeper to have proclamation made with beat of drum throughout the city, in these words: “Whatever any shall lay hands on during tomorrow’s battle in the camp of Valour slain, whether coined money or grain or gold or elephant or horse or weapon or other object, that shall remain his personal possession.”
This proclamation delighted the citizens, so that they gossiped together, saying: “This king of ours is a lofty soul, unalarmed even in the presence of the hostile host. He is certain to kill his rival in the morning.”
Meanwhile the weaver, forgetting love’s allurements, took counsel with his brooding mind: “What am I to do now? Suppose I mount the machine and fly away, then I shall never meet my pearl, my wife, again. King Valour will drag her from the palace after killing my poor father-in-law. Yet if I accept battle, I shall meet death, who puts an end to every heart’s desire. But death is mine if I lose her. Why spin it out? Death, sure death, in either case. It is better, then, to die game. Besides, it is just possible that the enemy, if they see me accepting battle and mounted on Garuda, will think me the genuine Vishnu and will flee. For the proverb says:
“Let resolution guide the great,
However desperate his state,
However grim his hostile fate:
“By resolution lifted high,
With shrewd decision as ally,
He grimly sees grim trouble fly.”
When the weaver had thus resolved on battle, the genuine Garuda made respectful representations to the genuine Vishnu in heaven. “O Lord,” he said, “in a city on earth called Sugarcane is a weaver who, disguising himself as my Lord, has wedded a princess. As a result, a more powerful monarch of the south has marched to extirpate the king of Sugarcane City. Now the weaver today takes his resolution to befriend his father-in-law. This, then, is what I must refer to your decision. If he meets death in battle, then scandal will arise in the mortal world to the effect that blessèd Vishnu has been killed by the king of the south. Thereafter sacrificial offerings will fail, and other religious ceremonies. Then atheists will destroy the temples of the Lord, while pilgrims of the triple staff, devotees of blessèd Vishnu, will abstain from pious journeyings. Such being the condition of affairs, decision rests with my Lord.”
Then blessèd Vishnu, after exhaustive meditation, spoke to Garuda: “O King of the winged, your reasoning is just. This weaver has a spark of divinity in him. Therefore he must be the slayer of yonder king. And to bring this about, you and I must befriend him. My spirit shall enter his body, you are to inspire his bird, and my discus, his discus.”
“So be it,” said Garuda, assenting.
Hereupon the weaver, inspired by Vishnu, gave instructions to Lovely: “Dear love, when I set out for battle, let all things be made ready that bring a benediction.”
He then performed auspicious ceremonies, assumed ornaments seemly for battle, and permitted worshipful offerings of yellow pigment, black mustard, flowers, and the like. But when the friend of day-blooming water-lilies, the blessèd, thousand-beamed sun arose, adorning the bridal brow of the eastern sky, then to the victorious roll of the war-drums, the king issued from the city and drew near the field of battle, then both armies formed in exact array, then the infantry came to blows.
At this moment the weaver, mounted on Garuda, and scattering largess of gold and precious gems, flew from the palace roof toward heaven’s vault, while the townspeople, thrilling with wonder, gazed and adored, then beyond the city he hovered above his army, and drew from Vishnu’s conch a proud, grand burst of martial sound.
At the blare of the conch, elephants, horses, chariots, foot-soldiers, were dismayed and many garments were fouled. Some with shrill screams fled afar. Some rolled on the ground, all purposive movement paralyzed. Some stood stock still, with terrified gaze fixed unwavering on heaven.
At this point all the gods were drawn to the spot by curiosity to see the fight, and Indra said to Brahma: “Brahma, is this some imp or demon who must needs be slain? For blessèd Vishnu, mounted on Garuda, has gone forth to battle in person.”
At these words Brahma pondered:
“Lord Vishnu’s discus drinks in flood
The hostile demons’ gushing blood,
And strikes no mortal flat:
“The jungle lion who can draw
The tusker’s life with awful paw,
Disdains to crush a gnat.
“What means this marvel?”
Thus Brahma himself was astonished.
That is why I told you:
Not even Brahma sees the end
Of well-devised deceit:
The weaver, taking Vishnu’s form,
Embraced the princess sweet.
While the very gods were thus pondering with tense interest, the weaver hurled his discus at Valour. This discus, after cutting the king in twain, returned to his hand.
At the sight, all the kings without exception leaped from their vehicles, and with hands, feet, and head drooping in limp obeisance, they implored him who bore the form of Vishnu: “O Lord, An army, leaderless, is slain. Be mindful of this and spare our lives. Command us. What are we to do?”
So spoke the whole throng of kings, until he made answer who bore the form of Vishnu: “Your persons are secure henceforth. Whatever commands you receive from the local king, King Stout-Mail, you must on all occasions unhesitatingly perform.”
And all the kings humbly received his instructions, saying: “Let it be as our Lord commands.”
Thereupon the weaver bestowed on Stout-Mail all his rival’s wealth, whether men or elephants or chariots or horses or stores of merchandise or other riches, while he himself, having attained the special majesty of those victorious, enjoyed all known delights with the princess.
And that is why I say:
The gods befriend a man who climbs
So Vishnu, discus, bird sustained
The weaver in the fight.