A Story for a Verse – Bilhana

निरर्थकं जन्मगतं नलिन्या
यया न दृष्टं तुहिनांशुबिम्बम् ।
उत्पत्तिरिन्दोरपि निष्फलैव
कृता विनिद्रा नलिनी न येन ॥

Once, in the Pravarapura district of Kashmir, there lived a couple: Jyeshthakalasha and Nagaradevi. They had a son named Bilhana, who grew up to be a poet par excellence.

Wanting to showcase his talents, Bilhana toured the entire country. With his prodigious scholarship, he defeated scholars in Mathura, Brindavan, Kashi, Somanath and Tamilnadu. While travelling thus, he came to a province where he was treated as a royal guest. The king, impressed with his scholarship, asked him to teach Sanskrit to his daughter. Bilhana dutifully agreed.

The King foresaw a problem here. Not only was Bilhana exceptionally gifted, he was also handsome. He feared that his daughter might fall in love with Bilhana. Not wanting to give room for any such mischiefs, he devised a plan: he told Bilhana that the princess had a terrible ailment, leprosy; and he told his daughter that Bilhana was blind. Since they had taken a vow that required them to not see ailing people, they would not see each other. A curtain was hung between them and Sanskrit lessons started.

Days progressed. Once, the princess heard Bilhana composing exquisite poems. It was night and the sky was clear; and Bilhana, enjoying the beautiful sight of the moon, was lost in composing poems. This got the princess suspicious. How can a blind guy describe moonlight so well? Not caring for the vow, she opened the curtain and looked at him. She saw him reciting two lines of this poem:

 A lotus’s life is purposeless,
Bereft of the moon’s soothing rays.

The princess composed two more lines to complete the verse:

So is the moon’s life futile,
If it does not awaken a sleeping lotus.

What happened here? Bilhana saw the moon’s beauty in the princess, and she fell for the lotus-eyed poet. What happened next is no mystery. The king’s precautions proved ineffective.

Translated from Kannada by Shashi Kiran B. N.
(The original article is from the anthology Kavitegondu Kathe.)

Author(s)

About:

Dr. Ganesh is a 'shatavadhani' and one of India’s foremost Sanskrit poets and scholars. He writes and lectures extensively on various subjects pertaining to India and Indian cultural heritage. He is a master of the ancient art of avadhana and is credited with reviving the art in Kannada. He is a recipient of the Badarayana-Vyasa Puraskar from the President of India for his contribution to the Sanskrit language.

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