Updated: Nov 26, 2021
Ep.1: Ratnamala's Wish
The golden rays of the sun seeped through the huge panelled windows, brightening up the room with a warm glow. Ratnamala got up from her bed and took a look at the bright morning outside. The clouds parted to reveal the sun god, who had ascended his chariot with his horses marching ahead, shimmering golden dust on everything they passed by. The clouds and meadows, mountains and valleys had a crimson glow around them. The golden disc seemed to be rising higher and higher as she let herself get engrossed by the melodious notes of the birds all around. Suddenly she got distracted by the noise outside her room. She detached herself from the window, leading herself towards the doorway and stretched her neck out to see what all the commotion was about. There were people everywhere, busy lifting, carrying, supervising and decorating the place. She heard her mother’s voice, instructing and directing people. She followed the voice to find herself standing at the entrance of the kitchen, which was swarming with men and women cooking a variety of dishes. As the flavourful aroma filled up the air, she ran out to the balcony to look out at the long line of people waiting to pay respect to her father and accept his offerings. Then she remembered. Today was the day her father was performing the Asvamedha Sacrifice to proclaim his victory over the three worlds and give away gifts to everyone who approached him.
Ratnamala was the daughter of Mahabali, who was the son of Veerochana and the grandson of Prahlad, born in the clan of Asuras. He was a very generous and benevolent king and his subjects were prosperous under his rule. He had due respect for the Gods and his fame spread throughout the seven worlds. His popularity was a matter of concern for the Devas.
Ratnamala returned to her room. She was already late. She decked herself up with vibrant colours and precious ornaments with the help of her maids to suit the occasion. She inspected herself in her the mirror and was happy with the smiling face looking back at her. Ready for the occasion, she walked out of her room to join her mother and help supervise the workers. As she approached, the queen took her hand and they both walked towards the courtyard where her father was handing out presents to the people gathered. The brahmins were showering blessings upon him as they happily collected their gifts. Men and women were singing and dancing with joy. Ratnamala was overwhelmed seeing the proceedings. As she looked on, her gaze fell on a small brahmin boy at a distance. The entire place was effulgent with the glow radiating from his body. Her heart was filled with an unexplainable joy, and it felt like she couldn’t take her eyes off of him. She wanted to take a closer look at the new brahmin boy at their door. He was dark and his skin was as smooth as conch. His lotus face gleamed with shimmering shark shaped earrings dangling off of his ears. He had a heavenly look, with armlets and bangles on his hands, ankle bells on his feet, a decorated headgear, a belt around his waist and the sacred thread around his chest. She turned to her friend with an inquiring look. A smile flashed across her friend’s lips. She came closer and whispered in her ears, “O my dear Ratnamala! The cute little brahmin boy you are enquiring about is Vamanadev, the than the son of Aditi and Kashyapa. There was so much jubilation when he was born. All the sages gathered to perform his sacred thread ceremony. The Sun God chanted the gayatri mantra, Vrihaspati offered him the sacred thread, Sage Kashyap gave him the straw belt, Mother Earth gave the deer skin and the Moon gave him the brahma danda, the rod he holds. His mother Aditi gave him the loin cloth and the Lord of heavens gave him the umbrella. Lord Brahma offered him the waterpot that he is carrying, Mother Saraswati gifted him the string of beads and the seven sages offered him Kusa grass. The bowl he holds was given by Kuvera for begging alms and Maa Bhagavati, the consort of Lord Shiva gave him his first alms.”
As the boy advanced toward her father, she also took a step forward to get a better look at him. The boy wore a yellow garment and was pressing the earth with each step he took. It seemed as if the earth was bowing down at his feet. She wasn’t able to tear her eyes off of him and stood there motionless. Everything paled in his brilliance as he entered the sacrificial arena. She saw her father’s gaze fixed on him and she immediately knew he would surely give away anything Vamanadev would ask. Her mother carried a golden pitcher of water to wash his feet. Ratnamala wanted to be in his presence forever. If only she could have him as her son, she would never have to part with him. She could look at his sweet face and hold him close for as long as she wanted.
Her father bowed down before him and asked, “O brahmin! We are grateful to you for coming. This sacrifice is complete because of your presence. Please ask me anything you desire. I will fulfil your wish.” Vamanadev hesitated. Her father asked again, “I will give you everything you wish for. Money, jewels, villages, cows, elephants, horses, anything. Vamanadev replied, “All I wish for is a strip of land covering three paces of my feet.” Her father was clearly disappointed at this humble request. His eyes ran through the small built physique of the brahmin boy and he said, “I could grant you an island and all you ask for is three paces of land?” The boy replied, “O noble soul! A brahmin asks for charity only according to his needs. A person who doesn’t have control over his desires cannot be happy even with the three worlds. Three paces of land is all I need.” Her father laughed and said, “Then you will have your wish fulfilled.” As this conversation was going on she could sense that their Guru Sukracharya was uncomfortable with the whole ordeal. He took a few quick strides towards her father and stopped him from granting Vamanadev’s wish. He had a feeling something was very wrong. For all he knew, this boy might even be Vishnu, coming here to rob them off their empire. However, her father was amused, and assured that he would never go back on his words. “Once promised, Bali, the grandson of Prahlad, will give the brahmin whatever he has asked for.” It all happened in an instant. Ratnamala hadn’t envisaged that the situation could turn around so quickly. Sukracharya, furious with rage, cursed her father. Everyone around immediately became tensed. Her father, determined to fulfil the brahmin’s wish, now turned towards Vamanadev. Ratnamala was pleased to see a smile on the little boy’s face.
But to everyone’s surprise, the small brahmin boy began to grow. He grew bigger and bigger and bigger. He grew so big that he covered the vast expanse of space. Ratnamala stood shocked, with her wide eyes looking at his giant form. Her father was in awe, realizing that the entire creation rested in the gigantic body of the brahmin boy. His Guru Sukracharya was right. The boy was none other than the supreme absolute Lord Vishnu. It took a while for Ratnamala to get a grasp on everything that was going on around her. Her big eyes were now teeming with anger. She couldn’t fathom how such a treacherous plan could be envisaged by such a charming person. She couldn’t understand why Vishnu would want to trick her father, who was such a great devotee. She watched helplessly as Vamanadev took his first step. His foot covered the entire world, sky and all the directions. Then, with his second step, he covered all the upper planetary system. By now, Ratnamala was fuming with rage. There was no place left and Vamanadev asked, “You promised me three steps of land. I have covered all that was yours in two steps. Where should I place my third step?” Her father hesitated for a moment. Ratnamala’s eyes blackened as her face contorted with rage. But her father didn’t swerve. He knelt down with a smile, placed his head near Vamanadev’s feet and said, “I’m not afraid of losing my kingdom or of any suffering. Any punishment given by you, O Lord, is a reward in itself. I request you to kindly put your third foot on my head and make me yours.” Her father’s act was the ultimate act of surrender. Vamanadev was pleased and blessed him, saying, “You never gave up your dharma and did not deviate from the truth. So in the next cycle, you will be the Indra and remain under my protection. Till that time, you shall remain in Sutala.” Saying this, he pressed the head of her father down with his feet. Ratnamala had never felt so helpless before. She was deceived. She let out a bellowing cry and threw herself on the floor. Furious with overwhelming rage, she thought to herself, “If I had a son as pretentious and sinister as this boy, I would poison and kill him at the very first instant.”
“Jaha mun karai, jaha mun kahai, jaha mun chintai mane
Jagatara karta parama ishwara januchhanti pratikshyane”
All that I do, all that I say, all the thoughts pass in this mind of mine
The controller of the Universe, the absolute supreme, is aware of them everytime.
- Bhaktakabi Madhusudan Rao, Odia poet
Image Credit: Eila Sahu To be Contd...