(A Story)



(Rendered by the Author from Kannada)


The news that Savi had lost her life in battle in Bagiyur was brought to the king in his camp at Bankapur by Madhav, Savi’s brother.


It was nothing new to the king to hear news of death. War and battle had filled a great part of his life, and death was an old acquaintance. Yet the news of this niece’s death grieved him deeply.


Savi, born niece, had grown as daughter to Marasimha. Marasimha lost his wife while still young and had developed indifference to personal happiness. But being a king he had to perform his duty; he had, therefore, remained as protector of his realm. In order that the line might not end with him, he decided to take a child of his sister Jabavve in adoption. Jabavve was then in child and bore this girl some time later. The king adopted the girl as his child and brought her up.


In the hands of this ascetic and heroic uncle, Savi had received a boy’s training. As a young girl, she lived with the foster-father in his camps and grew up breathing the air of fights and skirmishes. As a girl of twelve, she went out with young men of the royal clan and proved the equal and superior of boys of her age, in riding horses, in shooting an arrow, in slaying a wild beast. Marasimha would fill with pride to think, once that this niece of his was a later incarnation of Chitrangada of Manipur, again that she was Durga, slayer of the demon Mahisha, accepting birth in the lineage of the Gangas.


When Savi was sixteen years old, the king desired to see her married. There were several suitable young men in the king’s own clan. Asked if she would marry one of them, Savi told her foster-father that she would fight them in single combat and marry the one whom she liked best.


The king got these young men to the palace yard one day, and told them that a young knight had come from a neighbouring province and wished to joust with them, and asked them to be prepared for the fight. They agreed.


Attired in man’s clothes and with a mask that concealed her identity, Savi came from the guests house of the palace and stood in the yard. Four of the young men fought her one after another and withdrew beaten. Loka, son of a cousin of the king, alone of them, stood his ground before the stranger knight and came off successful.


The very moment the masked stranger removed the mask and walk towards the victorious Loka.


The elders who had assembled to see the fight were astonished beyond measure. Marasimha alone showed no surprise. He walked up to Loka and, pointing towards Savi, asked, ‘What do you say to marrying this girl?”


Loka had before this seen Savi and felt in love with her. But how could he desire the foster-daughter of his king? So he had remained silent. Now his desire was reaching fulfillment of its own motion. To the king’s question he stated in reply: “What else can I say? You are gracious and it is my good fortune.”


Lok Vidyadhar and Sravaki Devi were married. The father celebrated the marriage with right royal splendour.


This was four years ago.


Just one month ago, news came to the king that two enemy clans from the north had joined to prosecute their feud with him and had started to move against his territory. Immediately on receipt of the news, the king sent messages of warning to the camps guarding the boundary and appointed commanders to lead the defence units. Loka had come forward to lead the unit which moved to Bagiyur.


Marasimha was the hero of a hundred battles. Fighting was to him like the breath of his nostril. As one who knew no fear himself, he knew not what it was to fear for others. A fight brought its chances and, whatever the issue, the good fighter won. So he had sent many a youth to battle and never hesitated. He had before this sent even Loka to a fight or two. But this time, unknown to himself, his heart sank from sending him to Bagiyur. Marasimha knew at once the reason for this reluctance. Loka was Savi’s beloved. But it would not be consistent with kingly duty to keep a soldier back from the front because he was the king’s son-in-law. It certainly was not the way of the Gangas; and even more definitely not the way of Marasimha, famed for unshakable courage as the adamantine king. What then was to be done? Loka having offered to go to the fight, the king could only agree. By the time that Marasimha came to this conclusion, Savi came up to her father and begged for permission to accompany her husband when he started for Bagiyur.


Like Loka’s going to a fight, Savi’s going with an army was also no new affair. Yet the king hesitated before acceding to her request. She would now be going with her husband, and that too when he had to lead the fight. Might it not affect his conduct? If occasion arose to risk death in the fight, might not the thought of the beloved wife in the camp weaken the commander’s resolution? Supposing it did, what should happen to his troop?


Almost as if she could follow her father’s thought even as he was thinking it, Savi said, “I do not accompany your son-in-law just to stay in the camp. I propose to go with him to the fight. You brought me up as a son; send me out to the fight as you would a son. If we win, we both win. If we do not, even that to us is, victory. Please send us both, and send us cheerfully.”


The king could feel no cheer. True enough he had brought up the girl to live as a boy. But had he brought her up to die as a boy? The God of Fights took king’s sons as sacrifice. When did he ever take daughters?


If the daughter had been some one else, the king’s decision might have been different. But when that daughter was Savi? To be like other women, why should a daughter be so high-souled? God knew his own plans. He had got her brought up so. How would He end her? Let Him do as seemed proper to Him. If it was open to save her in the fight, and send her back, well and happy, He would even do so.


Marasimha thought for a while and decided in this sense. He sent Loka and Savi with one troop to Bagiyur and himself started for the boundary in the direction of Bankapur. This was one month ago, and today this news had come.


Within a day or two of his arriving at Bankapur, the king had bad omens. Not knowing why, he somehow connected them with the life of his foster-daughter. Something within him made him expect bad news of her one of these days.


The enemy did not approach the boundary on the side of Bankapur. He kept at some distance. The king stationed Rachamalla, a captain, at the boundary and, till such time as his personal presence might be required there, stayed in camp at Bankapur and listened to the teachings of Ajit Sen Bhattarak, the royal preceptor.


For one month he had listened to the truth about pain and death, life and mind, path and goal, in the teacher’s exposition. He had put questions and receive explanations and reached conclusions. Today those conclusions were found to be of use.


The king asked Madhava to describe to him the manner of Savi’s’ death. The brother told the story weeping, reluctantly dwelling on the details.


Four days ago an enemy troop approached Bagiyur. The Ganga troop moved from its camp and advanced towards it and attacked it. At its head were Loka and Savi. Madhava himself was stationed on a side of the moving column.


The battle waged for long, and it looked as if the Ganga army should win. But, suddenly from the opposite side an elephant rushed on Loka’s troop and Loka’s horse took fright. Loka had to restrain his horse, and for a short interval could not guard himself; in that interval a man in the enemy troop aimed two arrows at him and seriously wounded him.


Loka dropped down. A shout arose in the troop and news ran to Madhava that Loka had fallen.


Though one captain fell down, the troop kept up the advance and keeping the fallen leader and Savi in the centre, checked the onset of the enemy.


Madhav reached the spot where Loka had fallen and suggested to Savi that they might convey the wounded man to the rear of the troops. Savi said, “If he were conscious, he would not agree to such a proposal. Merely because he is unconscious, we cannot stain him with such impropriety. Let the troop keep up the advance. You stay with your brother. I shall go forward and push the enemy back and return.”


Madhav stayed beside Loka, and Savi moved on to the front.


Again there was a shout of dismay. The very same or some other elephant had made another rush on the Ganga troops. Savi’s horse had taken fright this time and jumped back. Savi tried to stop it and encourage it, but before she could do anything, it had come to where her husband was lying.


Savi was then able to sooth her horse and turn it back and go forward.


Again on a sudden that elephant appeared in front. The trooper seated upon it let fly an arrow at Savi.


Madhav involuntarily cried out, “Stay, you coward! Should you not be ashamed to shoot at a woman!”


The shout should have reached the trooper’s ear. For, he did not shoot another arrow. But the one he had shot earlier had entered Savi’s side and was firmly fixed there. Savi fell from her horse, and moving towards her husband’s foot, touched it with her hands.


Loka was not dead. But it did not look as if he could live. Savi asked Madhav to come near and to give her a little casket, which she had in the fold of her cloth near her waist. Madhav did not know what the casket contained. He thought it must be some medicine which she wished to give to Loka. When, however, she put the contents into her own mouth, it struck him that it must be some poison.


In the meanwhile the Ganga, troop had rallied and attacked the elephant and turned it back. The battle front had moved back a hundred yards again.


Swallowing the contents of the casket, Savi turned her eyes for just a moment towards where her husband lay and closed them; touched her brother’s chin and put her hand to her lips; and made a last gesture to him as if she would say, “Take care of Loka.”


The poison should have been very virulent; for, within a few minutes Savi’s body had grown cold.


At the end of those minutes, Loka became conscious. Opening his eyes, he asked, “Where is Savi?”


Madhav made no answer. He looked at Savi’s corpse and wept in helplessness.


“Is she dead” asked Loka. Madhav signaled assent.


Loka pointed to the arrows in his body and said to his brother-in-law, “Pull these out.”


Madhav said, “Let the Vaid come. He can stanch the wound. Then we shall pull the arrows out.”


Loka said, “She thought I had gone, and died that I might not be alone. If I do not go, she will miss me and grieve. Come, brother, pull these out and do not delay. Pull them out and go with the troop. Return when the enemy has been beaten back. Come, come, be quick.”


Madhav did not know how to disobey Loka’s behest. He pulled out the arrows and his brother-in-law’s life.


The enemy was beaten and retreated. The Ganga army won the battle. Only, Loka and Savi had died in the battle.


To this story which his nephew detailed with such reluctance, the king gave ear in the deepest pain. He felt as if, in Savi’s death, he himself had ceased to live. The child whom he had reared with his own hand, the breath which he had tended, the life which he thought would one day watch him close is eyes, alas! that it should thus have closed and made him watch! For him to live longer would not be life.


The teaching that the king had listened to for a whole month, of the truth about life and death, about joy and sorrow, about how to live above life and death, and above joy and pain, bore its fruit today. Savi, the child whom he had brought up, had shown the king, by the manner of her death, the course that was proper to him in this hour of unbearable sorrow.


The Bhattarak had said, “In sorrow that knows no relief, it is permissible to end one’s life.” Such sorrow had come to the king. Marasimha decided on Sallekhana. He went to the Guru and told him of his decision and received his approval. He began his fast to death very day, and three days later placed his life on the lap of nature.


To Savi in heaven, with her husband’s love, the love of her father also became available. On earth a monumental stone recorded her heroic end for the admiration of mankind:


“In Shravakadharma she was like Revati who knew no peer; in goodness she was Sita’s self; for beauty Devaki, and in dignity Arundhati; in devotion to Jinendra, Savi Abbe was the equal of the tutelary deity of the Jain agama.”