Nāgānanda – Third Day of the Lenaia 2022

In the classical work Nāgānanda supposedly written by emperor Harṣavardhana, the conventional story of a love encounter between a king and a princess brings us to the Malaya Mountains where princess Malayavatī is musically worshipping her goddess Gaurī. We learn that the goddess visited her in her dreams to tell her she would marry the king of the Vidyādharas, namely Jīmūtavāhana. The king himself is visiting the mountain with his friend Vidūśaka and both of them are hiding while listening to Malayavatī’s sound. After hearing about the joyful omen, they are introduced to the princess. She, however, doesn’t know yet who is the king.

The encounter has a physical effect, even without knowing the name of the king, as if the connection was already prepared but had to go through its own incarnation unintentional and fortuitous in appearance. Moreover, a hermit interrupts the encounter and brings in a difficult alternative for Malayavatī: follow the ascetic or stay with the handsome man. This has to be another extremely classical choice: reason or passion. Oddly enough, and because of her not knowing the name behind this face, choosing reason might end up like being dragged back to passion anyway. The whole world is plotting against – or better said ‘in favour of’ – her.


TEXT by Harṣavardhana

GIRL (affectionately)
O princess, do I not say, “Where is the use of playing before this cruel one?”
(She throws down the lute.)

MALAYAVATĪ (angrily)
Girl! offend not the revered Gaurī. Has not a favour been done to me by her this very day?

GIRL (with joy)
O princess, what can it be?

Girl, I know it well. Today in a dream, as I was playing this very lute, I was thus addressed by the revered Gaurí — ‘Child Malayavatī, I am well pleased with your perfect knowledge of the lute, and with your excessive devotion towards me, which is hard for a young girl; therefore before long a sovereign of the Vidyādharas shall be your husband.’

GIRL (with delight)
If it is so, why do you call it a dream? Has not the goddess given you the very desire of your heart?

VIDŪŚAKA (having heard)
Friend, surely this is a good opportunity to show ourselves to the princess. Come, then, we will go up.

I will not yet enter.

(going up and forcibly dragging the hero, who resists)
Welcome to your highness! Caturikā speaks the truth. Here is the husband promised by the goddess.

(standing up bashfully, pointing to the hero)
Girl, who is this?

GIRL (after looking at the hero, aside)
From this form of his, which surpasses all others, I conjecture that he is the man given through the favour of the goddess.
(The heroine looks at the hero wistfully, and with modesty.)

This form of thine, oh tremulous-eyed one, whose full breasts are agitated by thy breathing, is sufficiently fatigued by devotions. Why then, oh timid one, is it further distressed at my presence?

Through excessive alarm I cannot stand facing him.
(Looking at the hero sideways, and with a blush, she stands somewhat turned away.⁠)

Princess, what does all this mean?

I cannot remain in his neighbourhood, so come away. We will go elsewhere.
(She wishes to rise)

Alas! She is scared. Shall I keep her just for a moment, as I do any learning that I may have read?

Where would be the harm of it?

O lady! why this behaviour of yours in such a grove as this, that a guest just arrived is not favoured by you with a single word?

GIRL (after looking at the heroine, to herself)
Her eyes seem pleased. I will speak to her. (Aloud) O princess, the brahman speaks fittingly. Good behaviour towards guests is becoming in you. Why, then, do you stand as if distraught in your behaviour towards such a distinguished one; or rather, remain so if you will, — I will do what is seemingly. (Addressing the hero) Welcome to your highness! by occupying this seat, let your highness add beauty to the spot.

Friend, she says well. Let us sit down here and rest for a moment.

You are right.
(Both sit down)

MALAYAVATĪ (addressing the servant girl)
O laughter-loving one, act not thus. Perhaps some hermit is looking, and he will set me down as a giddy one.

(Then enters a hermit.)

I am thus bidden by Kauśika, the head of the family: ‘My child, Śāndilya, the young king of the Siddhas, Mitrāvasu, is gone today, at his father’s request, to seek Prince Jīmūtavāhana, the future monarch of the Vidyādharas, who is somewhere here on the Malaya Mount, as a husband for his sister Malayavatī, and perhaps the limit of the time for the midday oblation will pass by while Malayavatī awaits his return. Go, therefore, and fetch her with you.’ I am going, therefore, to the temple of Gaurī in the sacred grove.
(Walking about, looking down on the ground, with surprise.)
Ah! Whose footsteps have we here on the dusty ground, having the sign of the chakra manifest? (Looking forward and seeing Jīmūtavāhana.) Assuredly it will be the footstep of this mighty man. For there is the turban-like mass of hair visible on the scalp; there shines a woolly tuft between the eyebrows; his eyes resemble a lotus; his chest vies with Hari; and since his feet are marked with the chakra, I conjecture that he who rests here is assuredly one who has attained the dignity of an emperor of the Vidyādharas. However, away with doubt. It must surely be Jīmūtavāhana himself. (Seeing Malayavatī.) Ah! Here is the princess too. (Looking at them both.) Destiny would at length be acting in a straightforward manner did she unite this pair, mutually suited to one another. (Going up and addressing the hero.) Welcome to your highness!

Jīmūtavāhana salutes your honour.
(Wishes to rise.)

Do not rise; your highness should be respected by us, for ‘a guest is every one’s master.’ Remain, then, at your ease.

Sir, I bow to you.

HERMIT (turning to her)
My child, mayst thou marry a suitable husband! O princess, Kauśika, the head of the family, sends word to thee, ‘the time of the midday oblation passes by, come therefore quickly.’

As the guru orders. (To herself.) On the one side the orders of the guru, on the other the pleasure of the sight of the dear one. Thus my heart swings me to and fro, perched on a see-saw of going and not going.
(Rising with a sigh, and looking at the hero with modesty and affection, she goes out with the hermit.)

Black Garuḍa. Tibetan painting. 18th century.

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