The forest was in bloom again. Dipping into the forest pool, Parvati wondered at the marvels that each day in the forest revealed. Whilst she lived in the palace, she had never noticed the primeval attributes of nature. Nor the savagery inherent in her. She’d seen the beauty of flowers, of a sunset or a sunrise, of the blue sky, of neatly trimmed lawns, of rainbows and sparkling pools. But she’d never seen the power and beauty of a thunderstorm, of a lion stalking its prey, of a river in spate. Now, all that seemed but an integral part of the world. Her world.
The water was icy cold even though spring had arrived in the forest. She shivered slightly as it first touched her skin, but she was used to the cold now. She had bathed in this pool even in the depths of winter. It was not to mortify the flesh, but rather to remind herself that the flesh and its comforts meant nothing now. Her goal was all important.
She did not really know how long it had been since she left the palace. It might have been a few years, it might have been a few months. Time really had no meaning anymore. She was aware of the passing of seasons, but she did not notice their cycle nor even think about how many seasons might have passed. All that mattered to her was Him.
She was still lost in His thoughts. Only now, she used that thoughts to meditate on Him. She went without any sustenance for days on end, His thoughts and His name was all the sustenance she needed. Even when she ate, she ate only the fruits she could find fallen from the trees. She drank the water from the forest streams. She slept on the bare earth or on leaves. And she’d never been more content or happy.
He still had not come, but she was not concerned. She knew it would take time. And she was prepared to wait. Time did not matter. Only her goal mattered. She’d never expected attaining Him to be easy. She’d always known her patience would be tested to the limits. And she was prepared for that.
She dressed herself and dried her wet hair as best as she could. She spread the clothes she had washed on the bushes to dry and made her way back to the crude idol she had made. It was by no means perfect, but she knew that it did not matter. Appearances had no value. What mattered was the devotion and the love that went into worshipping Him.
She collected flowers for the worship and was making her way to the idol when she suddenly had a feeling of being watched. She turned around quickly. A young man stood near the tree which bordered the pool. He was obviously an ascetic by his garb, but the expression on his face was hardly ascetic.
How long had he been there? She wondered? How long had he been watching me?
His hot gaze raked her body and she was suddenly feeling uncomfortable. She pulled her robe tighter around herself and addressed him politely,
“Are you lost, O holy one? Do you require any assistance?”
“I was about to ask you the same, O lady. How come one so beautiful is clad like a hermit? How is it that one who should be living in luxury is living in such austerity? Who are you, O lady? And what are you doing in this dense forest?”
“My name is Parvati, O holy one. I am the daughter of Himavan and Mena, here to perform penance for attaining Lord Siva for my husband.”
“Lord Siva? That mendicant?” The man looked horrified. “How can any delicately nurtured maiden even think of obtaining that beggar for her husband? No, Devi! Give up this foolish dream. One such as you should never demean herself by binding yourself to Siva! He’s not worthy of you!”
He had moved forward as he spoke and now stood in front of her. His face held so much earnestness that she could not even bring herself to be angry at his words.
“Please, do not test my patience,” she told him. “Siva is my Lord and my chosen husband. I am not likely to tolerate such remarks as these about him. I suggest you leave!”
A look of contempt came to his eyes.
“Lady!” Said he. “You do not know this Siva! You are deluded by him! He calls himself an ascetic and roams in the company of ghosts and ghouls! He is a drunkard and likes to dance naked in graveyards! He wears animal skins and ornaments himself with snakes! His body is smeared with ashes and he consorts only with the lowly! One such as you should put him out of your mind! You are a princess and even in these simple robes, your beauty shines like the sun! Your limbs are shapely and your mind elevated. Do not degrade yourself by seeking to ally with him!”
Her eyes kindled in fury. Well-meaning or no, the stranger had crossed all limits of propriety.
“Do not speak another word against my Lord!” She said angrily. “I could pardon your ignorance, but that does not mean you should say whatever you wish! You do not know who Siva is! He is the source of all creation as well as the end. He is all-pervading and all-knowing. For those whose eyes are clouded with this material world, his greatness cannot be understood. Only the truly enlightened can understand Him and even they understand but a part of him! There is none in all the three worlds who is worthy of him!”
“Worthy of him!” Exclaimed the man. “He has properly deluded you , lady! My concern for you is what prompts me to say these words. Even if you do not like them, I must utter them, for it is for your benefit only.”
“Your venomous words are of no benefit to me!” Her anger was growing. “I cannot compel you to leave, but I certainly can leave your foul presence.”
She turned from him and was startled when he caught her hand. She turned to him in fury and-
“Parvati,” smiled Siva. “Please forgive me, my dear. I could not help testing you.”
She swallowed. It was Him! And she had not even realized! Instead, she’d been angry and had ordered him away.
“My Lord,” she whispered, contrite. “I did not recognize you.”
His smile deepened. “And how could you? I was in disguise, you know.”
He had drawn her into the circle of his arms as he spoke. She looked into his eyes, her eyes wide, her lips parted. She was afraid to ask why he was there. But she had to know. She cleared her throat, but before she could speak, his lips had descended on hers and all thought was lost.
“Was that another test?” She asked when his lips finally released hers.
“No,” his voice was husky. “That, my adorable wife-to-be is only a sample of things to come. I am not the most patient of beings, I must warn you. So, if you want to change your mind, now might be the last chance.”
She nearly laughed aloud at that. Change her mind? Not likely! She shook her head. “Never.” Said she emphatically. “I am never going to change my mind.”
But, thought she, she was not free to bestow her hand on whom she pleased either. That was her father’s decision. She smiled at her Lord. She would need to tell him.
He smiled and released her. “I shall arrange for you to be escorted to your father. I believe I would need to request your father to bestow your hand on me.”
She looked at Him in wonder. How had He known the thought in her head. But then, he was God. He knew what was in every mind. The realization didn’t frighten her. It only made her love him more.
She put her arms around him, wondering if she was in a dream or was hallucinating. He laughed as he lifted her face to look into her eyes.
“This is no dream, my love,” there was so much tenderness in his smile, it turned her knees to water. She was really glad about the support his arms provided. His smile held promises of all that she’d ever dreamt of and she sighed contentedly.
Dream or no, she would not exchange this for anything.