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The argument urged by Government was as reasonable as its conduct was compatible with its known policy. But it must be mentioned to the credit of an enlightened Government that its generous exertions have effectually healed one of the most shocking wounds inflicted by inhuman superstition upon our unhappy country

XXII.

THE ADMIRED STORY OF THE SABITRI BRATA,

OR
THE WONDERFUL TRIUMPH OF EXALTED

CHASTITY.

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N the halcyon days of the Hindoo Raj, when religion was

regarded as the mortar of society, and righteousness

the cement of domestic happiness, when Judhistra the Just inculcated, by precept and example, the inflexible rules of moral rectitude, there reigned in the country of Madra a very pious, truthful, wise and benevolent king named Aswapati. For a long time he had no child, which made him extremely unhappy. Seeing that the evening of his life was drawing nearer every day and there was no sign of the approach of the wished-for consummation, he undertook to perform a grand religious ceremony with the object of obtaining a son and heir, and daily made ten thousand offerings to please the goddess, Sabitri, from whom the boon was expected.

Thus passed away several long and painful years, at the end of which it came to pass that the goddess, Sabitri, one day suddenly appeared before him in the shape of a beautiful woman, and told him that she was ready to grant him any boon he might ask for, because she was well pleased with him for his austere asceticism, for the purity and sincerity of his heart, for the strict observance of his vow, and for his firm, unshaken faith in her. As was to be expected, he prayed for a good number of sons, affirming that without offspring the life of man upon earth is but a wilderness, obscuring the transitory sunshine of bliss into a chaotic mass of settled gloom.

The goddess said that foreknowing this to be his cherished desire, she had gone to the Creator (Brahma) to consult him as to the best means for its realization, and through his mercy

he would soon be blessed with a female child, in every way worthy of such a pious and virtuous father.

Her beauty would shed a lustre around her name and the fame of her rare gifts of nature spread far and wide. She would be the cynosure of all princely eyes, and her charms radiate in all directions. So saying, the goddess disappeared and the king returned to his own capital.

In short time, the eldest queen became pregnant and in due course of time, gave birth to a daughter of matchless beauty. The king and his Brahmin friends called her Sabitri, after the name of the goddess who granted the boon. Day by day, the princess grew fairer and fairer, and soon passed from the incipient stage of smiling childhood to that of blooming youth. Every one that saw her chiselled features and prepossessing appearance believed that some angelic beauty,—the embodiment of loveliness itself—had descended upon earth in the shape of a lovely damsel. Indeed she was so surpassingly beautiful that no prince, how great or eminent he might be, dared seek her hand in marriage lest his suit should be spurned.

The king, Aswapati, thought of marrying his only daughter, then in the fullness and freshness of youth, to some one worthy of the honor. For some time no royal suitors ventured to solicit her hand for the reasons stated above. At length, Sabitri sought and obtained her father's permission to secure for herself a suitable match. In complying with her request, the father moreover allowed her to take in her travels some of the wisest ministers of the state, whose experience and counsel would be available to her in so momentous an affair. Mounted on a golden chariot and accompanied by a number of gray headed ministers, she left the capital with the

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benedictions of the hereditary priests, and journeyed far and wide through many a strange country, visiting on her way some of the most delightful hermitages of the venerable old Rishis, who were absorbed in meditation.

Sometime after, while the king was attending to the duties of the State and conversing with that renowned sage, Nárada, Sabitri with the ministers returned home from her peregrination. The princess, seeing her father talking with the great Rishi, Nárada, bowed her head down in token of due homage to the venerable Rishi and her respected father. The bustle consequent on the first interview after a long absence being over, Nárada asked the king : “O monarch, where did your daughter go? Whence is she now coming ? It is high time that you should give her in marriage to some noble prince worthy of her hand.” The king replied, “O revered Rishi, I sent her abroad with some of my wisest ministers in quest of some noble prince, who, to a beautiful person should add all the rarest gifts of wisdom, courage, piety and virtue ; now hear from her own mouth, how far she has succeeded in her sacred mission.” So saying, the king desired Sabitri to tell them whom she had chosen for her husband. Sabitri, in obedience to her esteemed father's behest, thus spoke in a tone becoming her age and sex. “ Father, a pious king named Dyumutsen once ruled the kingdom of Sala. A few days after his accession he lost both his eyes and became totally blind. At that time, his only child was in his infancy, quite incapable of conducting the affairs of the kingdom. His treacherous enemies, taking advantage of his blindness and the infancy of his child, invaded his kingdom and wrested it from his hands. The dethroned king and his beloved queen with their infant child betook themselves to a quiet life of contemplation in an adjacent wood, renouncing all the pleasures of a wicked, ungrateful world. For some years they passed their days in the sequestered wood amidst the abodes of many revered sages, who took a special delight in imbuing the nascent mind of the boy with the germs of moral and religious instruction, promising a full development in maturer years. He was in every way my equal, and him have I chosen as my worthy husband. His name is Satyavana.”

Hearing this, the hoary headed Rishi, Narada, thus addressed the monarch. "O monarch, I am grieved to say that your daughter has been unfortunate in her choice, in having thoughtlessly selected the virtuous Satyavana as her husband." The king feelingly enquired: "O great Rishi, are the noble qualities of valour, prudence, forgiveness, piety, devotion, generosity, filial love and affection to be found in Satyavana ?" Narada answered, “Satyavana is Súrya's (sun's) equal in matchless glory, is wise as Vrihashpati himself, brave and warlike as Indra, mild and forgiving as Earth.” The king asked: “Is the prince a sincere worshipper of God, walking in the path of righteousness? Is he beautiful, amiable and high-minded ?" Narada replied, “O king, like Ratideva, the son of Sankriti, the beautiful Satyavana, is generous; like Sibi, the son of Usinara, he is a lover of God and Truth ; and is as high-minded as Yayati ; all the pious old Rishis and other good men believe that Satyavana is brave, mild, meek, truthful, faithful to his friends, magnanimous, pious, and sincere in devotion and earnestness." The king again asked: "O venerable sage, you have named all the good qualities that can ennoble humanity; be kind enough to inform me in what he is wanting." "He has one great disqualification," said Narada, “which is enough to outweigh all his virtues, his life upon earth is very short, he is fated to live exactly one year from this day.”

Hearing the fearful prophecy of Narada, the king tried his best to dissuade his daughter from the fatal alliance, but all his efforts proved unavailing. Sabitri, firm and constant

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