“You are resolved on this,” it was a statement, not a question. King Himavan knew there would be no turning his daughter back from this course. She’d always had a will of her own. And he’d always known that she’d chosen Lord Siva as her husband.
“It is the only way for me, father,” she replied.
Himavan knew pride as he had never felt before. She was determined to do this. And all he could do was to give his blessing and pray to the God of gods that his child attain her wish. For he knew his Parvati’s happiness, nay, her very life depended on gaining the Lord for her husband.
But he also knew a moment’s apprehension. How could his gently bred daughter face a life of austerity, even to attain her goal? How could he allow this beautiful flower to wither in the wilderness in meditation and penance? Wasn’t it his duty as her father to protect her from hardships? Shouldn’t he be using his authority to stop her?
But one look at her face told him he had to control himself. She knew well what she was doing. And she was not a child. His duty as a parent lay, not in stopping her, but in standing by her decision. His duty was to respect her determination, not to question it.
“I bless you,” he said, putting an arm around her shoulder. “May you be successful in your endeavour.” He paused. “Bid good bye to your mother. I shall arrange for you to be escorted to the destination of your choice.”
“There’ll be no need for that, father.” Her protest was half-hearted. She knew he would not have peace unless he ensured her safety during the journey at the least. And she still had enough fears in her own heart that she was glad of the escort.
“For my sake, child.” He said now.
She nodded. “I would need to bid good bye to mother.”
It was not something she relished. Her mother would understand, she had no doubt about that. But that was not going to prevent her from shedding tears. Mena was too much a queen, too loving a mother, to hold her back. Even her tears would not fall till Parvati was away, but Parvati knew her mother well. Mena’s eyes would not stay dry once she left. And the tears would not stop till she returned.
One more reason to ensure she would succeed, thought she. Her chosen husband, Lord Siva had to accept her. Not only hers, but her parents’ happiness was also riding on it now. Now that she’d finally made up her mind to do what she’d set out to do at seven.
It was her mother who had stopped her then, she remembered.
“Uma!” She’d said. ” Don’t!”
And she’d heeded her mother’s words then. Uma. The name had stuck, a pet name or a nick name, she was called Uma as much as she was called Parvati.
But her mother would not stop her now. She knew that. And much as it would comfort all of them, she could not allow her father’s soldiers to escort her either.
She looked at him now. “I will go alone, father,” her voice was steady though she quaked with fear inside. Himavan looked as though he wanted to protest. Any other man would have insisted, would have called her fickle, would have pointed out the danger in a gently-bred maiden going into the forest alone. But Himavan was silent. As if he knew that his daughter had to do this by herself. This was her destiny. And he had to let her find it.
Thus it was, the Princess Parvati cast aside her silks and jewels and garbed herself in simple hermetic robes. Her long hair, that used to be washed, dried, perfumed, combed and braided lovingly by her maids were gathered into a coil, and covered with her Uttariya. A long necklace of Rudraksha beads adorned her neck and her arms were bare of all adornments. The necklace was all the ornaments she wore.
Barefooted, she walked out of her father’s palace, the simple garments she wore preventing the populace from recognizing their princess. Blending into the crowd on the road, Parvati directed her feet to the forests that fringed their mountain Kingdom,