Canto 6: bhāryā-vilāpaḥ
A Wife’s Lament

Introduction

Bhāryā, as in the title of Canto 4, means wife, but can be read literally as carrying the hidden meanings of either “one to be borne [as a burden]” or “one to be cherished [as an object of love].” Vilāpa, wailing or lamenting, is from the root vi-√lap, to utter moaning sounds, wail, lament.

Thus, though EH Johnston translated bhāryā-vilāpaḥ as Sundarī’s Despair, the word vilāpa suggests not only despair as a mental phenomenon but also the physical expression of grief, or the psycho-physical act of giving voice to suffering. In those terms, the Buddha’s turning of the Dharma-wheel was a thunderous example of vilāpa.

The present Canto, then, can be read as a study in suffering, carried out by Aśvaghoṣa with loving attention to detail, in which Sundarī is one to be cherished. Sundarī, moreover, is not the only one to be cherished. She has one friend, in particular, who at the end of the Canto passes the pragmatic test of truth, by telling Sundarī what it does Sundarī good to hear – regardless of whether or not the information relayed is strictly accurate.

 

download

tato hṛte bhartari gauraveṇa prītau hṛtāyām aratau kṛtāyām /
tatraiva harmyopari vartamānā na sundarī saiva tadā babhāse // 6.1 //

And so, with her husband riven away through his respect for the Guru, bereft of her happiness, left joyless, / Though she remained at the same spot, high up in the palace, Sundarī no longer seemed to be herself. // 6.1 //

sā bhartur abhyāgamana-pratīkṣā gavākṣam ākramya payodharābhyām /
dvāronmukhī harmya-talāl lalambe mukhena tiryaṅ-nata-kuṇḍalena // 6.2 //

Anticipating her husband’s approach, she leant forward, her breasts invading the bulls-eye window. / Expectantly she looked out from the palace roof towards the gateway, her earrings dangling down across her face. // 6.2 //

vilamba-hārā cala-yoktrakā sā tasmād vimānād vinatā cakāśe /
tapaḥ kṣayād apsarasāṁ vareva cyutaṁ vimānāt priyam īkṣamāṇā // 6.3 //

With her pearl necklaces hanging down, and straps dishevelled, as she bent down from the palace, / She looked like the most gorgeous of the heavenly nymphs (the apsarases) gazing from her celestial abode at her lover, as he falls down, having used up his ascetic credit. // 6.3 //

sā kheda-saṁsvinna-lalāṭakena niśvāsa-niṣpīta-viśeṣakeṇa /
cintā-calākṣeṇa mukhena tasthau bhartāram anyatra viśaṅkamānā // 6.4 //

With a cold sweat on her beautiful brow, her face-paint drying in her sighs, / And her eyes restless with anxious thoughts, there she stood, suspecting her husband, somewhere else. // 6.4 //

tataś cira-sthāna-pariśrameṇa sthitaiva paryaṅka-tale papāta /
tiryak ca śiśye pravikīrṇa-hārā sapādukaikārdha-vilamba-pādā // 6.5 //

Tired out by a long time standing in that state, she dropped, just where she stood, onto a couch, / And lay across it with her necklaces scattered and a slipper half hanging off her foot. // 6.5 //

athātra kā-cit pramadā sabāṣpāṁ tāṁ duḥkhitāṁ draṣṭum anīpsamānā /
prāsāda-sopāna-tala-praṇādaṁ cakāra padbhyāṁ sahasā rudantī // 6.6 //

One of her women, not wishing to see Sundarī in such tearful distress, / Was making her way down from the palace penthouse, when she burst into tears, and made a commotion with her feet on the stairs. // 6.6 //

tasyāś ca sopāna-tala-praṇādaṁ śrutvaiva tūrṇaṁ punar utpapāta /
prītyāṁ prasaktaiva ca saṁjaharṣa priyopayānaṁ pariśaṅkamānā // 6.7 //

Hearing the sound on the stairs of that woman’s feet [Sundarī] quickly jumped up again; / Transfixed with joy, she bristled with excitement, believing it to be the approach of her beloved. // 6.7 //

sā trāsayantī valabhī-puṭa-sthān pārāvatān nūpura-nisvanena /
sopāna-kukṣiṁ prasasāra harṣād bhraṣṭaṁ dukūlāntam acintayantī // 6.8 //

Scaring the pigeons in their rooftop roosts with the jangling of her ankle bracelets, / She dashed to the stairwell, without worrying, in her excitement, about what extremity of her diaphonous raiments might be falling off. // 6.8 //

tām aṅganāṁ prekṣya ca vipralabdhā niśvasya bhūyaḥ śayanaṁ prapede /
vivarṇa-vaktrā na rarāja cāśu vivarṇa-candreva himāgame dyauḥ // 6.9 //

On seeing the woman she was crestfallen; she sighed, threw herself again onto the couch, / And no longer shone: with her face suddenly EHJ notes that āśu is often used in epic and Buddhist Sanskrit merely to strengthen the force of the verb, like ‘right’ and ‘straight’ in English, rather than with its proper sense of ‘quickly.’ 01 pallid she was as grey as a pale-mooned sky in early winter. // 6.9 //

sā duḥkhitā bhartur adarśanena kāmena kopena ca dahyamānā /
kṛtvā kare vaktram upopaviṣṭā cintā-nadīṁ śoka-jalāṁ tatāra // 6.10 //

Distressed at not seeing her husband, burning with desire and fury, / She sat down with face in hand and steeped herself in the river of worries, whose water is sorrow. // 6.10 //

tasyāḥ mukhaṁ padma-sapatna-bhūtaṁ pāṇau sthitaṁ pallava-rāga-tāmre /
chāyāmayasyāmbhasi paṅkajasya babhau nataṁ padmam ivopariṣṭāt // 6.11 //

Her lotus-rivalling face, resting on the hennaed stem of her hand, / Was like a lotus above the reflection in the water of its mud-born self, drooping down. // 6.11 //

sā strī-svabhāvena vicintya tat-tad dṛṣṭānurāge ’bhimukhe ’pi patyau /
dharmāśrite tattvam avindamānā saṁkalpya tat-tad vilalāpa tat-tat // 6.12 //

She considered various possibilities, in accordance with a woman’s nature; then, failing to see the truth that her husband had taken refuge in the dharma, while obviously still impassioned and in love with her, she constructed various scenarios and uttered various laments: // 6.12 //

eṣyāmy anāśyāna-viśeṣakāyāṁ tvayīti kṛtvā mayi taṁ pratijñām /
kasmān nu hetor dayita-pratijñaḥ so ’dya priyo me vitatha-pratijñaḥ // 6.13 //

“He promised me: ‘I’ll be back before your make-up is dry’; / From what cause would such a cherisher of promises as my beloved is, be now a breaker of promises? // 6.13 //

āryasya sādhoḥ karuṇātmakasya man-nitya-bhīror atidakṣiṇasya /
kuto vikāro ’yam abhūta-pūrvaḥ svenāparāgeṇa mamāpacārāt // 6.14 //

In him who was noble, good, compassionate, always in awe of me, and all too honest, / How has such an unprecedented transformation come about? Through a loss of passion on his part? From a mistake of mine? // 6.14 //

rati-priyasya priya-vartino me priyasya nūnaṁ hṛdayaṁ viraktam /
tathāpi rāgo yadi tasya hi syān mac-citta-rakṣī na sa nāgataḥ syāt // 6.15 //

The heart of my lover – lover of sexual pleasure and of me – has obviously waned in its passion, / For if he did still love me, having regard for my heart, he would not have failed to return. // 6.15 //

rūpeṇa bhāvena ca mad-viśiṣṭā priyeṇa dṛṣṭā niyataṁ tato ’nyā /
tathā hi kṛtvā mayi mogha-sāntvaṁ lagnāṁ satīṁ mām agamad vihāya // 6.16 //

Another woman, then, in beauty and in nature better than me, my beloved has surely beheld; / For, having soothed me as he did with empty words, the guy has gone and left me, attached to him as I am. // 6.16 //

bhaktiṁ sa buddhaṁ prati yām avocat tasya prayātuṁ mayi so ’padeśaḥ /
munau prasādo yadi tasya hi syān mṛtyor ivogrād anṛtād bibhīyāt // 6.17 //

As for that devotion to Buddha of which he spoke, it was just a line to me for leaving; / For if he were clearly settled on the Sage he would fear untruth no less than a grisly death. // 6.17 //

sevārtham ādarśanam anya-citto vibhūṣayantyā mama dhārayitvā /
bibharti so ’nyasya janasya taṁ cen namo ’stu tasmai cala-sauhṛdāya // 6.18 //

While I put my make-up on, he held the mirror as a service to me, and thought of another! / If he holds it now for that other so much for his fickle affection! // 6.18 //

necchanti yāḥ śokam avāptum evaṁ śraddhātum arhanti na tā narāṇām /
kva cānuvṛttir mayi sāsya pūrvaṁ tyāgaḥ kva cāyaṁ janavat kṣaṇena // 6.19 //

Any woman who does not wish to suffer grief like this should never trust a man. / How could he treat me before with such regard and then in a twinkling leave me like this, like anybody?” // 6.19 //

ity evam-ādi priya-viprayuktā priye ’nyad āśaṅkya ca sā jagāda /
saṁbhrāntam āruhya ca tad-vimānaṁ tāṁ strī sabāṣpā giram ity uvāca // 6.20 //

This she said and more, love-lorn, and suspecting her love of loving another. / Then the giddy weeping woman, having dizzily climbed the palace stairs, tearfully told her these words: // 6.20 //

yuvāpi tāvat priya-darśano ’pi saubhāgya-bhāgyābhijanānvito ’pi /
yas tvāṁ priyo nābhyacarat kadā-cit tam anyathā pāsyasi kātarāsi // 6.21 //

“Though he may be young, good-looking, full of noble ancestry, and filled with charm and fortune, / Never did your husband cheat on you. You are being silly, and judging him amiss. // 6.21 //

mā svāminaṁ svāmini doṣato gāḥ priyaṁ priyārhaṁ priya-kāriṇaṁ tam /
na sa tvad anyāṁ pramadām avaiti svacakravākyā iva cakravākaḥ // 6.22 //

Ma’am! Do not accuse your loving husband, a doer of loving deeds who merits your love; / He never even looks at any woman other than you, like greylag gander with kindred greylag goose. // 6.22 //

sa tu tvad-arthaṁ gṛha-vāsam īpsan jijīviṣus tvat-paritoṣa-hetoḥ /
bhrātrā kil’ āryeṇa tathāgatena pravrājito netra-jalārdra-vaktraḥ // 6.23 //

For you, he wished to stay at home; for your delight, he wished to live; / But his noble brother, the Tathāgata, so they say, has banished him, his face made wet by tears, into the wandering life. // 6.23 //

śrutvā tato bhartari tāṁ pravṛttiṁ sa-vepathuḥ sā sahasotpapāta /
pragṛhya bāhū virurāva coccair hṛdīva digdhābhihatā kareṇuḥ // 6.24 //

Then, on hearing what had happened to her husband, all of a sudden, up she leapt, shaking; / She clasped her arms and screamed out loud like a she-elephant shot in the heart by a poisoned arrow. // 6.24 //

sā rodanāroṣita-rakta-dṛṣṭiḥ saṁtāpa-saṁkṣobhita-gātra-yaṣṭiḥ /
papāta śīrṇākula-hāra-yaṣṭiḥ phalātibhārād iva cūta-yaṣṭiḥ // 6.25 //

Her eyes puffed-up and reddened by tears, the slender trunk of her body trembling with anguish, / She broke and scattered strings of pearls, as down she fell, like a mango branch weighed down by too much fruit. A triple play on the word yaṣṭiḥ seems designed to emphasize the tenuousness of life in saṁsāra. Yaṣṭiḥ means a twig or branch, and by extension anything thin or slender, including in this verse Sundari’s slender frame, and a string for pearls.02 // 6.25 //

sā padma-rāgaṁ vasanaṁ vasānā padmānanā padma-dalāyatākṣī /
padmā vipadmā patiteva lakṣmīḥ śuśoṣa padma-srag ivātapena // 6.26 //

Wearing clothes suffused with lotus colours, with lotus face, and eyes as long as lotus petals, / She was like a Lotus-Hued Lakṣmī, who had fallen from her lotus [pedestal]. Vipadmā patitā lit. means “fallen, being deprived of her lotus.” The goddess of beauty, Lakṣmī, is portrayed in statues set on top of a lotus pedestal. 03 And she withered like a lotus-garland left in the sun. // 6.26 //

saṁcintya saṁcintya guṇāṁś ca bhartur dīrghaṁ niśaśvāsa tatāma caiva /
vibhūṣaṇa-śrī-nihite prakoṣṭhe tāmre karāgre ca vinirdudhāva // 6.27 //

She thought and thought about her husband’s good points, sighing long and hard and gasping / As out she flung the arms that bore her gleaming jewels and [hennaed] hands, with reddened fingertips. EHJ translated tamre kārāgre as reddened fingers, LC as hennaed fingertips. Aśvaghoṣa may have had both meanings in mind, but it is noteworthy that gasping, abduction of the arms, and going red, are all symptoms of an infantile fear reflex called (after Ernst Moro, the Austrian paediatrician who identified it) “the Moro reflex.” 04 // 6.27 //

na bhūṣaṇārtho mama saṁpratīti sā dikṣu cikṣepa vibhūṣaṇāni /
nirbhūṣaṇā sā patitā cakāśe viśīrṇa-puṣpa-stabakā lateva // 6.28 //

“Now I don’t have any need for ornaments!” she cried, as she hurled her jewels in all directions. / Unadorned and drooping, she resembled a creeper shorn of blossoms. // 6.28 //

dhṛtaḥ priyeṇāyam abhūn mameti rukma-tsaruṁ darpaṇam āliliṅge /
yatnāc ca vinyasta-tamāla-patrau ruṣṭeva dhṛṣṭaṁ pramamāja gaṇḍau // 6.29 //

She clasped the golden-handled mirror, and reflected, “My husband held this up for me.” / And the tamāla paint she had applied so carefully, she rubbed aggressively off her cheeks, as if the paint had angered her. // 6.29 //

sā cakravākīva bhṛśaṁ cukūja śyenāgra-pakṣa-kṣata-cakravākā /
vispardhamāneva vimāna-saṁsthaiḥ pārāvataiḥ kūjana-lola-kaṇṭhaiḥ // 6.30 //

Like a greylag goose, when a hawk has wounding talons on the gander’s wing, she hooted mightily, / As if in competition with the cooing pigeons on the palace roof, whose throats were all atremble. // 6.30 //

vicitra-mṛdvāstaraṇe ’pi suptā vaiḍūrya-vajra-pratimaṇḍite ’pi /
rukmāṅga-pāde śayane mahārhe na śarma lebhe pariceṣṭamānā // 6.31 //

She lay down to sleep in soft and gorgeous bedclothes, on a bed bedecked with cats-eye gems and diamonds, / But in her costly crib with golden legs, she tossed and turned, and no respite did she obtain. // 6.31 //

saṁdṛśya bhartuś ca vibhūṣaṇāni vāsāṁsi vīṇā-prabhṛtīṁś ca līlāḥ /
tamo viveśābhinanāda coccaiḥ paṅkāvatīrṇeva ca saṁsasāda // 6.32 //

She eyed her husband’s ornaments; his clothes, guitar and other items of amusement; / Thus she entered deeply into darkness: she raised a shriek, and then, as if descending into a mire, sank down. // 6.32 //

sā sundarī śvāsa-calodarī hi vajrāgni-saṁbhinna-darī-guheva /
śokāgnināntar-hṛdi dahyamānā vibhrānta-citteva tadā babhūva // 6.33 //

Her belly trembled out of breathlessness, like a cave being rent inside by fiery thunderbolts. / As, in her innermost heart, she burned with the fire of grief, Sundarī seemed at that moment to be going out of her mind. // 6.33 //

ruroda mamlau virurāva jaglau babhrāma tasthau vilalāpa dadhyau /
cakāra roṣaṁ vicakāra mālyaṁ cakarta vaktraṁ vicakarṣa vastram // 6.34 //

She howled, then wilted, screamed, then swooned; she reeled, stood rooted, wailed then brooded. / She vented anger and rended garlands; she scratched her face and slashed her clothes. // 6.34 //

tāṁ cāru-dantīṁ prasabhaṁ rudantīṁ saṁśrutya nāryaḥ paramābhitaptāḥ /
antar-gṛhād āruruhur vimānaṁ trāsena kiṁnarya ivādri-pṛṣṭham // 6.35 //

Hearing the howling of the lovely-toothed one – for O, how l The original contains a play on rudantīm. “Howling” is rudantīm. “Lovely teethed-one” is cārudantīm. 05ovely were her teeth! – the ladies-in-waiting suffered utmost torment; / They climbed from inside the palace up to the roof, like nervous kiṁnarīs ascending a mountain peak. // 6.35 //

bāṣpeṇa tāḥ klinna-viṣaṇṇa-vaktrā varṣeṇa padminya ivārdra-padmāḥ /
sthānānurūpeṇa yathābhimānaṁ nililyire tām anu-dahyamānāḥ // 6.36 //

Their despondent faces wet with tears, like lotus ponds with rain-soaked lotus buds, / They settled down along with her, according to rank and as they wished, and along with her they burned in grief. // 6.36 //

tābhir vṛtā harmya-tale ’ṅganābhiś cintā-tanuḥ sā sutanur babhāse /
śata-hradābhiḥ pariveṣṭiteva śaśāṅka-lekhā śarad-abhra-madhye // 6.37 //

On the palace roof, enfolded by her women, the slender Sundarī, gaunt with worry, / Seemed like a streak of crescent moon enshrouded among the autumn clouds by a hundred rays of lightning. // 6.37 //

yā tatra tāsāṁ vacasopapannā mānyā ca tasyā vayasādhikā ca /
sā pṛṣṭhatas tāṁ tu samāliliṅge pramṛjya cāśrūṇi vacāṁsy uvāca // 6.38 //

There was one among them there, however, who was senior in years, and good with words, a well-respected woman: / Holding Sundarī from behind in a firm embrace and wiping tears away, she spoke as follows: // 6.38 //

rājarṣi-vadhvās tava nānurūpo dharmāśrite bhartari jātu śokaḥ /
ikṣvāku-vaṁśe hy abhikāṅkṣitāni dāyādya-bhūtāni tapo-vanāni // 6.39 //

“Grief does ill become you, the wife of a royal seer, when your husband has taken refuge in dharma; / For in the lineage of Ikṣvāku, an ascetic forest is a desired inheritance. // 6.39 //

prāyeṇa mokṣāya viniḥsṛtānāṁ śākya-rṣabhāṇāṁ viditāḥ striyas te /
tapo-vanānīva gṛhāṇi yāsāṁ sādhvī-vrataṁ kāmavad āśritānām // 6.40 //

Well you know of wives of Śākya bulls gone forth in search of freedom: / As a rule, they turn their houses almost into ascetic groves and they observe the vow of chastity, as if it were a pleasure. // 6.40 //

yady anyayā rūpa-guṇādhikatvād bhartā hṛtas te kuru bāṣpa-mokṣam /
manasvinī rūpavatī guṇāḍhyā hṛdi kṣate kātra hi nāśru muñcet // 6.41 //

If your husband had been stolen by another, due to her superior looks and qualities, then tears you should let flow; / For how could any beautiful and virtuous wife, who abounds in excellence, refrain from shedding teardrops when her heart was broken? // 6.41 //

athāpi kiṁ-cid vyasanaṁ prapanno mā caiva tad bhūt sadṛśo ’tra bāṣpaḥ /
ato viśiṣṭaṁ na hi duḥkham asti kulodgatāyāḥ pati-devatāyāḥ // 6.42 //

Or had he met with some disaster – and may no such thing ever be! – then yes, tears; / Because there is no greater sorrow for a woman of noble birth who dignifies her husband as if he were a god. // 6.42 //

atha tv idānīṁ laḍitaḥ sukhena sva-sthaḥ phala-stho vyasanāny adṛṣṭvā /
vīta-spṛho dharmam anuprapannaḥ kiṁ viklave rodiṣi harṣa-kāle // 6.43 //

But on the contrary, he now is roving happily, meeting no disasters, but enjoying a healthy and fruitful life. / Free from eager longing, he is following dharma: at a time for celebration, why are you in such a state of weeping consternation?” // 6.43 //

ity evam uktāpi bahu-prakāraṁ snehāt tayā naiva dhṛtiṁ cakāra /
athāparā tāṁ manaso ’nukūlaṁ kālopapannaṁ praṇayād uvāca // 6.44 //

Though this woman, with her [unctious] kindness, Snehāt originally means “out of oiliness” and hence both “unctuously” and “tenderly.” 06 thus put forward many sorts of argument, [Sundarī] could not be satisfied at all. / Then another woman, with a sense of intimacy, said what helped her mind and fit the occasion. The words of this more intimate friend, therefore, are a precursor to the words of the Buddha and Ānanda in Cantos 10 & 11, whereas the eloquent but ineffectual words of the more formal woman may be seen as a precursor to the words of the striver in Cantos 8 & 9. 07 // 6.44 //

bravīmi satyaṁ su-viniścitaṁ me prāptaṁ priyaṁ drakṣyasi śīghram eva /
tvayā vinā sthāsyati tatra nāsau sattvāśrayaś cetanayeva hīnaḥ // 6.45 //

“Truly and categorically, I am telling you that soon enough you’ll see your husband back again. / Dispossessed of you, the fellow will survive out there no longer than living things survive when dispossessed of consciousness. // 6.45 //

aṅke ’pi lakṣmyā na sa nirvṛtaḥ syāt tvaṁ tasya pārśve yadi tatra na syāḥ /
āpatsu kṛcchrāsv api cāgatāsu tvāṁ paśyatas tasya bhaven na duḥkham // 6.46 //

Even in the lap of luxury he could not be happy, lacking you there by his side; / And even in the direst pickle, not a thing could trouble him, as long as you were in his sight. // 6.46 //

tvaṁ nirvṛtiṁ gaccha niyaccha bāṣpaṁ taptāśru-mokṣāt parirakṣa cakṣuḥ /
yas tasya bhāvas tvayi yaś ca rāgo na raṁsyate tvad-virahāt sa dharme // 6.47 //

Be happy. Don’t keep crying. Spare your eyes from shedding molten tears. / The way he feels for you, and his passion, are such that he, bereft of you, will find no pleasure in the dharma. // 6.47 //

syād atra nāsau kula-sattva-yogāt kāṣāyam ādāya vihāsyatīti /
anātmanādāya gṛhonmukhasya punar vimoktuṁ ka ivāsti doṣaḥ // 6.48 //

Some might say that having worn the ochre robe, he won’t relinquish it, by dint of noble birth combined with strength of character. / But, he put it on unwillingly, while looking forward to going home: what fault is there in taking it back off?” // 6.48 //

iti yuvati-janena sāntvyamānā hṛta-hṛdayā ramaṇena sundarī sā /
dramiḍam abhimukhī pureva rambhā kṣitim agamat parivāritāpsarobhiḥ // 6.49 //

Thus consoled by her little women when her husband had purloined her heart, / Sundarī came to earth, just as Rambhā, Rambhā was reputedly the most gorgeous of all the apsarases, or celestial nymphs; she is also mentioned in SN7.36. 08 with her heart turned towards Dramiḍa, came once upon a time, enfolded in the midst of sister apsarases. // 6.49 //

saundaranande mahā-kāvye bhāryā-vilāpo nāma ṣaṣṭhaḥ sargaḥ //6//
The 6th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled “A Wife’s Lament.”