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She was lying on the floor and was constantly looking at the ceiling. It seemed that she was lost in some great thought. A series of events flashed before her eyes, her childhood, her marriage, and the night that changed everything.
That night was very vivid in her memory. Her husband had abandoned his family, his kingdom. She was vulnerable and crushed by her personal and political duties. Should she leave this palace with her child and search for her husband, or should she look after the kingdom which was as helpless as her? She had ruminated for some time and then decided she would rather look after the kingdom.
“Rajmata!” A voice broke her trance. It was her son Rahul.
“Yes! Come in Rahul,” said Yashodhara as she sat upright.
Rahul entered her room and sat in front of her.
“Do you think I am ready for this responsibility?” asked Rahul.
“Child! Life’s not always sorted out; we have to explore and find answers ourselves. Twenty years ago, I wasn’t ready for all this when your father left that night. Yet I survived all of it.”
“Go, son! Tomorrow is a big day for our kingdom,” said Yashodhara. Rahul stood up, touched her feet, and left.
The next morning the people of Kapilavastu had gathered in the Royal Garden as Yashodhara was about to make an announcement. On her left side sat Rahul, and on her right sat his wife, Lajwanti.
Yashodhara stood up, cleared her throat, and said,” On the day of Mahashivratri, prince Rahul’s coronation shall take place. He will be your new king.”
“Long live the king! Long live, Rajmata! Long live Kapilavastu!” The crowd started in unison.
Things moved at its own pace in Kapilavastu. Rahul had just returned from the neighboring kingdom. He was sitting with his wife and having his food.
”How’s Rajmata?” enquired Rahul.
“Not good! She can’t sleep at night. The raj vaidya came and treated her,” replied Lajwanti.
“You don’t look tired, Maharaj, despite such a long journey.”
“Yes, Lajwanti! I met a sage on my way back to Kapilavastu,” said Rahul.
“So!” replied Lajwanti.
“This sage was different. His persona was like a magnet. He had strange powers.”
“We were in the middle of our journey when my horse refused to move. Perhaps, it was sick. We then saw this sage coming out of the forest. He came up to us and put his hand on the head of the horse, and it was back on its feet. My guards were on the move as they found it fishy. But I was sure he was divine. I then went to touch his feet, but he didn’t allow me to do that. He just patted me on the back, and my weariness vanished. I asked him to come with me to Kapilavastu, but he denied my request and left. I’ve come to know that he’ll be staying in Gaya for this month. I think we should visit him.” said Rahul.
“But what about Rajmata?” asked Lajwanti.
“I’ll convince her,” said Rahul.
The next morning Rahul visited Yashodhara. She was making garlands for Gods.
“Come in, Maharaj,” said Yashodhara with a grin.
Rahul entered Yashodhara’s chamber and sat next to her.
“I heard you’re not keeping well,” said Rahul clearing his throat.
“Sleep is a problem, everything else is good,” responded Yashodhara
“Mother! I met a sage last night.”
“Lajwanti told me about that. You know that I have lost my faith in saints, sages, and hermits the day your father left us to become one,” said Yashodhara as she walked towards the balcony.
“I know that. But I’m asking you as a son, please accept my request,” said Rahul.
Yashodhara was on the balcony looking at the peaks of the mountain that were visible. Finally, she turned towards Rahul and said, “Okay!”
Seven days later, they started their journey. It took them four days to reach Gaya, where they were scheduled to rest in the royal guesthouse.
“He will give his sermon tomorrow in a nearby ashram,” began Rahul as they were having dinner.
“We should leave early.”
“Yes, Rajmata! Before sunrise,” said Rahul agreeing to his mother’s suggestion.
It was dark when they left for the ashram and were accompanied by their bodyguards. They reached the ashram where Rahul met the followers of the sage. Around seventy people were sitting around a big peepal tree.
“He has gone to the woods. He will come after sunrise,” said Rahul.
“Hm. The sun is about to come out, I need to say my prayers,” said Yashodhara looking at the sky.
“There’s a river nearby. Rajmata can offer her prayers there,” said one of the guards.
Yashodhara then took the path prescribed by the guard. It was dark, hyenas were crying, but Yashodhara didn’t stop. The river was in front of her. She entered the river; the water was cold; she collected some water in her hollowed palms and began with her prayers. After finishing her prayers, she looked at the sun, closed her eyes, and joined her hands. The forest was flooded with silence, and then she heard a voice. “Tayata Om Bekanze Bekanze Maha Bekanze Radza Samudgate Soha.”
The voice unsettled her, and the voice repeated the mantra. She was shaken by the voice. Yashodhara did not know the meaning of the words, but she surely knew the source. She ran as fast as she could in the direction of the voice. She finally reached a cave, and her premonition was correct, she knew the source. It was Siddharth, her old husband sitting at the mouth of the cave, meditating. She felt like a dove hit with an arrow. Siddharth is alive, Siddharth is here. She realized how celestial Siddharth was, how his body had transformed over the years. He had a smile that could take away anyone’s weariness. She caught the reins of her emotions and sat on the ground. Her heart was pounding inside her chest, and moments later, he opened his eyes.
“Pour out your heart today, Yashodhara. I don’t have much time. The people are waiting,” said Siddharth.
The word ‘ Yashodhara ‘ had shaken her up. For twenty years, no one had called her by her real name. For twenty years, she was Rajmata. She again caught the reins of her feelings and began, “So you are the great sage that Rahul met. Did I take such a long journey just to see you?”
“Yes! It’s destiny that has brought you here,” replied Siddharth.
“Do you know he’s your son?” asked Yashodhara.
“I know everything.”
“Why didn’t you tell him that night.”
“If I had told him who I was, you wouldn’t have agreed to Rahul’s request,” said Siddharth.
“You planned all this?” asked Yashodhara.
“Destiny plans everything, we’re just players, and we play our parts,”
“Didn’t you miss all of us, your family during your severe penance?” asked Yashodhara.
“I did! I was a young man then, disturbed by my truth-seeking, by the ties of the personal world, but the world became my family and accepted me,” replied Siddharth.
“You never felt that you denied your duties,” said Yashodhara as she plucked grass from the ground.
“We are born to do ‘karma’ in this mortal world Yashodhara. We cannot escape it; we cannot escape our destiny. We have to perform our actions, not necessarily in the walk of life, we have always wanted to. Your destiny was to serve the people of Kapilavastu. Mine was to serve the people who lived beyond its borders,” replied Siddharth.
“They call you by some other name. Don’t they?” inquired Yashodhara.
“Yes! They call me Buddha,”
“What does that mean?”
“One who is wise.”
“Why did I suffer so much, Buddha?” her voice began to crack.
“Human life on earth cannot exist without suffering. It’s a sign of existence.
While giving birth to a child, a mother suffers, and when the child grows up, he too suffers. So every being suffers; just the sufferings differ from person to person, like our behaviours. It’s an indicator that tells us that we have to keep working no matter how weird the circumstances are.”
“Do you think you’ll change the world with what you do?” asked Yashodhara.
“I can only perform my actions. The outcomes are beyond my control.”
“I think I should go,” said Rajmata in a quivering voice. She moved towards Siddharth, wanting to embrace him. But Siddharth was past; Buddha was the present. She bowed down to touch his feet, and then Buddha spoke, “You can’t harbour this rock of bitterness and walk distances, Yashodhara. I pray you’ll forgive me. Kshama det Mukti ( forgiveness set us free)”
At that moment, her self control gave way, and she began to cry. As if someone had applied balm to her wounded soul, and she forgave her Siddharth.
“Bless me, Buddha,” said Yashodhara as she touched Buddha’s feet.
“Nirbhay Bhav ( may you live without fears),” he replied.
“Rajmata, Rajmata!!,” a sound was echoing in the forest.
”It’s Rahul, ” said Yashodhara as she looked towards Siddharth.
“Tell him the truth, Yashodhara. He has the right to it.”
Rahul had reached the place.
“The soldiers are looking for you in the other parts of the forest, mother,” said Rahul, not realising that Siddharth was sitting at the mouth of the cave.
“Listen, son! Your father is here,” said Yashodhara.
Rahul was on his knees after hearing this. He held his mother’s hand tightly and asked, “Where?”
Yashodhara pointed her finger towards Siddharth, who was sitting at the mouth of the cave.
(Historical Fiction, the work is the author’s own imagination)
Featured Image Credits: Shanmukha Sai Uppala