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DANCING-GIRLS

furniture and crystal chandeliers. Unlike the dancinggirls of southern India, they are not attached to any particular temple, or “married to the god ”, but at special festivals or religious ceremonies they are engaged to chant the praises of Râma, or to sing Sita's love, in the classic songs of Tulsi Dâs, or the more voluptuous odes which tell of Krishna and his amours. Of secular songs for pleasure - parties they have an extensive repertoire, both old and modern. They are often very generous with the wealth they acquire, and in old age, when virtue has become a necessity, spend it freely in works of charity and religion.

Benares from very ancient times has been famed for these sirens, whose amorous glances, alluring mimic, and pretty shuffling feet have troubled many a Hindu sage. Among the many stories of Buddha's former existences is one which explains why he deserted his faithful wife, Yasodhara. It was the retribution for a crime she had committed in a former life, when she was a dancing-girl at Benares.

Long years before, the story goes, there was a young and handsome horse-dealer, named Vajrasena, who lived at Takshasila. As he was going to the fair at Varanasi (Benares), he was attacked by a gang of dacoits, who stole his horses and severely wounded him. He crawled for shelter into a deserted house in the suburbs of the city, where he was found by the watchmen and arrested as a thief. The next day he was brought before the raja, and in spite of his protestations of innocence was condemned to death. But on his way to prison he was seen by Syama, the first dancing-girl of Benares, who fell madly in love with

See Nepalese Buddhist Literature, p. 135. By Rajendra Lala Mitra.

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his manly beauty. She gave orders to her handmaids that he was to be rescued at all hazards. They offered large bribes to the executioners, who agreed to set Vajrasena free if Syama would arrange for a substitute to suffer the death penalty in his place.

Now, Syama had an admirer, a rich banker's son.

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Pretending that Vajrasena was her relative, she persuaded him, out of love for her, to take some refreshment to the condemned man. He went to the execution-ground without the lcast suspicion of any treachery, and, as he was approaching Vajrasena, the executioners, according to the prearranged plan, suddenly cut him in two. Vajrasena was hurried off to the house of Syama by her handmaids.

Syama's passion for Vajrasena grew deeper and deeper, but he could never forget her infamous conduct towards the banker's son, and sought means to escape from her seductive snares. At last the opportunity came when they both went down to the Ganges for a pleasure excursion. Vajrasena plied her with wine, and when she was quite overcome he smothered her, and held her under the water until he believed her dead. Then he dragged the lifeless body to the steps of the ghâts, and fled away to his home in Takshasila.

Syama's mother, however, happened to be near at hand, and with great exertions restored her daughter to life. The first step Syama took after her recovery was to seek a Bhiksuin (a female devotee) of Takshasila, and to send through her a message to Vajrasena assuring him of her undying love and imploring him to return.

Buddha was that Vajrascna, and Syama, Yasodhara.

CHAPTER VI

ON THE GANGES

Arise! The breath of life huth come back to usthe darkness is gone, the light approacheth! Ushas hath opened a path for Surya, the Sun, to travel; now our days will be lengthened. Singing the praises of the brightening morn, the priest, the poct, ariseth with the web of his hymn. Bountcous maiden, shine upon him who praiseth thee; spread upon us the gift of life and children, thou who givest heroic sons and wealth of kine and horses. . . . Mother of the gods! Revelation of the glory of the Infinite! Banner of sacrifice, magnificent Ushas, shine forth-arise! Shower thy blessings upon our prayers, and make us chief among the people.”Rig Veda, Hymn to the Dawn, I. 113...

The traveller who wishes to realize the magnificence of Benares on the river-side, and to catch some reflec, tion of that Vedic brightness which still shines through all that is sordid and vulgar in the modern city, must be at, Dasâsamedh Ghât before the first streak of dawn. This is what he may see as he floats slowly down the river on a December morning : .

There is a coppery glow on the eastern horizon; the Ashvins, twin heralds of the dawn, are rising. Curling wreaths of evaporation rise from the placid river, and a blanket of white mist lies over the great sandy waste, laid bare by the shrinking of the monsoon Alood. King Soma, the Moon, is sinking slowly behind the ghâts, and in the dim light of his silvery rays the massive monasteries and palaces, built by devout Hindu princes, loom mysteriously out of the mist, and seem to rise. like a gigantic fortress wall, sheer from the water's edge. A few boats are crossing the river,

seen

" Lighting up the recesses of the cave-like shrines"

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