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The story of Biddya and Soondra.
practical, in the character of Biddya. The poet ought to have been aware that drapery is more alluring than exposure, and that the imagination is more powerfully moved by delicate hints than by gross descriptions.' He has made Biddya to sit for the picture of a modern lady of Bengal, and has taken no pains to sustain her character by high sentiments becoming an accomplished princess. His tale has all the inebriating lusciousness of the grape, and is therefore eagerly drunk in by the multitude. But the poison swallowed is in no long time rejected with a nausea.
By the learned native public of Bengal the story of Biddya and Soondra is thought to be without an iota of truth in it. The tale was undertaken at the request of the Rajahs of Kishnagur, to level a squib at the rival house of Burdwan, with all the spice of romantic interest. But the Veronese no more insist on the fact of Juliet's story, than do the Burdwanese cling to the memory of Biddya, and embalm it in their household traditions. They show in Verona Juliet's tomb in a wild and desolate garden, attached to a convent.* In Burdwan they show you the site of Biddya's house, her favourite pond, and the Kali of her father's household.
* 'I have been over Verona. The amphitheatre is wonderfulbeats even Greece. Of the truth of Juliet's story, they seem tenacious to a degree, insisting on the fact, giving a date (1303), and showing a tomb. It is a plain, open, and partly decayed sarcophagus, with withered leaves in it, in a wild and desolate conventual garden, once a cemetery, now ruined to the very graves. The situation struck me as very appropriate to the legend, being blighted as their love. I have brought away a few pieces of granite, to give to my daughter and my nieces.'— Byron's Letters, Nov. 9, 1816.
Biddyapotta, or “the local habitation of Biddya, is first of all pointed out to give the lie to the opinion of her being a myth. There is now nothing more of this precious abode, than a trace of some rubbish, fully doubtful, but looking sufficiently antique. Near it, on a spot, are shown the faded marks of some ancient excavation, said to indicate the subterranean passage through which Soondra used to make his way incognito into the chambers of the princess. Further on a little gap in the earth is pretended to be one of the mouths of that famous passage. The place has silted up, and paddy is grown, where the princess' lived, and moved, and had her being. The whereabouts of the other mouth is quite unknown; and to the regret of all Indian Cavaliers, the site of Heera's cottage is beyond all possibility of identification.
Certainly, the vulnerable point in Bharutchunder's tale is that about the subterranean passage. In this sceptical age it is at once reckoned among the extraordinaries, and exclaimed at by the reader, Well, mole, coulds't thou work i’ the earth so fast.' Tradition may point out its local site, and allude to its local existence three hundred years ago, when Rajah Maun Sing, in his vice-regal tour through Bengal, stopped at Burdwan, and visited the remarkable tunnel. The practicableness of its execution may receive a countenance from the mining operations at Raneegunge, and the caves of Ellora and Elephanta may remove every doubt as to the engineering skill of the ancient Hindoos. But a tunnel, however common now, was an extraordinary undertakThe story of Biddya and Soondra.
ing in that age. Unless we chose to regard that lovers’ feats are miracles to men of sober-mindedness, there should be no hesitation as to the subterranean passage through which Soondra carried on his stealthy interviews with the princess, having existed more in the imagination of the poet than in reality.
The Maun-surrobur is next shown. It is said to have been used by the princess for her ablutions. Once, it seems to have been a splendid tank, but is now a shallow piece of water, divided by the Grand Trunk road into two sections. The surface forms a charming bed of the Indian lily. In one division, the flowers are white, in the other violet—making a pleasing contrast by their variety. The bee hovers and hums his ditty over the flowers. Both the lily and the bee are in harmony with the soft reminiscences of the spot. But from Biddyapotta to the Maun-surrobur the distance is more than a mile. Unless Beersing's palace had covered all this space, the identity of that tank is very much to be doubted. The name of the tank is also significant of its origin from Raja Maun, who may have left it to denote the beneficence of his administration.
The third proof is furnished by the Mushan, whither Soondra had been led for execution. The site of that spot was identified by the self-same Kali, at whose altar that Prince was to have been innmolated. She now bears the name of Doorlubba Thacreen, from the place of her abode. Situated in the open and lonely fieldswhere it is little frequented by men, and haunted as it were by ghosts and apparitions, the spot bears out the
truth of the poet's description. The image is of a small size, carved out on a slab of stone. Underneath the figure is an obsolete inscription, which sufficiently exculpates it from being a sculptural fraud and forgery of a recent date. It also serves to lend a colour of truth to her pretensions of being as old as Beersingha—and the bona fide goddess, who has eaten the poojah of that Rajah, received the votive offerings of Biddya, and heard the prayers of Soondra. If really such, she ought herself to act as the umpire between those beings and the sceptics of the nineteenth century.
No decisive conclusion can be arrived at as to the truth or fictitiousness of Bharutchunder's tale much may be said on both sides of the question.' But to save trouble, grant that Biddya was a character of historic authenticity. Her epoch, then, may be fixed somewhere between the eighth and eleventh centuries—a period tallying with that, during which the Chola Princes held a powerful sovereignty in Southern India, and had their capital at Kanchipoor or modern Conjeveram, whence Soondra came.
There was in that age a considerable intercourse between the Coromandel Coast and the Gangetic valley. It is mentioned in the Periplus that 'large vessels crossed the Bay of Bengal to the mouth of the Ganges.' In the days of Asoca, voyages were made across the Bay from Ceylon in seven days—such as the modern mail steamers perform now.
have come up in a clipper vessel of his time—there is at least some truth in the speed of his journey. Beersingh may have belonged to a collateral branch of the ancient Old Burdwan,-Shere Afkun.
Gunga-vansa Rajahs. The neighbouring Rajah of Bishenpoor traces back his ancestry for a thousand years.
Old Burdwan is now called the Nabobhaut. Here flourished the ancient Hindoo Rajahs. Here ruled the Mussulman Chiefs. Here encamped the Rajahs Maun Sing and Toder Mull. Here was Mocoondoram's house. Here Azeem Ooshaun built a mosque-and here was paid down to him by the English the purchase-money of ‘Sutanatty, Govindpore, and Calicottah. Hardly a relic exists of these times.
Shere Afkun, the mightiest name in the annals of sportsmanship, whose pugilistic victory over an enormous tiger is a recorded fact in Mogul history, a fact throwing Gordon Cumming into the shade,—lies buried here far
away from the place of his birth in Turkomania. Never was the poet's decree—that ‘none but the brave deserves the fair'--more remarkably exemplified than in the instance of Shere Afkun, whose most extraordinary bravery had been rewarded with the hand of the most extraordinary beauty of the age—the future Noor Jehan.
The Sivalaya in old Burdwan consists of 108 temples, in two large amphitheatrical circles, one within the other. The old Rajbaree is at this place. There is an impression that large hoards of money are buried in this house. The exact spot, however, is unknown. A predecessor of the present Rajah had attempted to dig up the hoards. But only wasps, hornets, and serpents issued from the earth. This is giving but another ver