King Soora-Varma, who once ruled Patali, was a ruthless person. He was as courageous in war as cruel to those he defeated. In his rule, even petty crimes were punished with death.
And the death sentence was carried out most brutally. The criminal was neither hanged nor beheaded; he was made to fight with wild animals caught in the jungle. Soora-Varma witnessed with joy the sight of lions and tigers tearing the poor victims to death.
Though the King was cruel, he was extremely fond of his son, Chandra-Varma. He was his only child. Unlike his abusive father, Chandra-Varma was an exceedingly gentle and kind-hearted boy. He could not make anyone unhappy in the slightest way.
Chandra-Varma had a very dear friend named Subuddhi. They were not only of the same age but also looked very much alike, as though they were twins.
The two boys were taught by the same teacher who taught them archery and sword-play. They were twenty years old when Soora-Varma marched against the kingdom of Jayanta. They were given the first opportunity to fight in this war. They had never seen fighting before.
It was not a prolonged war. King Ranajit of Jayanta suffered a heavy defeat, left his palace and hid in a secret place in the forest known to few.
The first thing that attracted Soora-varma’s attention when he entered the palace was the tearful Princess Oormila. She was of scarce beauty and charm. She was the only child of King Ranajit of Jayanta. Soora-Varma fell in love with her at the very first sight. He thought the Princess was worth more than his victory in war and the kingdom he had conquered.
Prince Chandra-Varma also fell in love with Princess Oormila when he set eyes on her. But her tears caused him much distress. He was sorry that he, too, should have had a hand in the victory over Jayanta, which was the cause of the girl’s pain. He was also afraid that his merciless father might get the Princess or her father killed by the wild beasts.
Finding an opportunity to talk to the Princess alone, Chandra-Varma said to her, “Please stop worrying about the defeat. Your tears distress me the most. I wish I were lying dead on the battlefield rather than see you weep. I shall talk to my father and see that he signs the peace so that it will not disgrace either side. I am sure my father will not deny me this.”
Initially, Oormila did not have a reasonable opinion of Chandra-Varma; he was one from the enemy camp. But she soon changed her mind and gradually began to put all her hopes in him.
Soora-Varma never thought his son, too, was in love with Princess Oormila. On the other hand, he suspected the Princess was trying to befriend the boy to gain something for her father. He thought of preventing his son from falling into her clutches. So he sent for Chandra-Varma, and said to him, “Son, King Ranajit has escaped. There is no one with whom I can sign the peace. I have ordered a search for the missing King. I am afraid this affair will take time. And I was hoping you could stay in the camp and look after it so there won’t be any disorderliness there. I shall send for you at the time of the peace treaty signing.”
Chandra-Varma had to leave for the camp, though he hated parting from the sweet Princess. “Brother,” he told Subuddhi before he left, “keep in touch with the Princess. She has now none in the world except you and me. You know how hard-hearted my father is. Please send me news every day. I also depend upon you to keep the Princess cheerful!” Then he went away to the military camp.
As soon as Chandra-Varma departed, Soora-Varma went to see the Princess and said to her kindly, “I want you to look upon me as a friend, not a foe. I do not intend to harm either your family or your country. I stipulate only one condition to signing the peace treaty with your father. That condition is that you shall marry me. I want this to be conveyed to your father.”
He also instructed his guards not to treat the Princess like a prisoner but to let her move freely inside the palace. At the same time, he set two reliable men to spy on the Princess and her movements.
Urmila conveyed Soora-Varma’s message to the Minister so that he could pass it on to her father in his hide-out. Then she sent for Subuddhi. Soora-varma’s spy saw Subbudhi enter the chamber of the Princess and informed King Soora-varma about it. Soora-Varma ordered his soldiers to arrest Subuddhi and immediately throw him into prison.
Before this order was executed, Subuddhi learned from the Princess that Soora-Varma intended to marry her while she, in turn, was in love with his son. Subuddhi promised the Princess that he would send this news to Chandra-Varma, but he was arrested and imprisoned before he could do so.
King Ranajit got the Minister’s massage. He left his hide-out and returned to the palace by a secret passage. He expressed his willingness to give his daughter, Oormila, in marriage to King Soora-Varma. The same day was fixed for the signing of the peace treaty and the union of the Princess with the King.
Meanwhile, Prince Chandra-Varma eagerly awaited his friend’s message. But there was none. He got perturbed. He heard certain rumours in the camp, which upset him even more. It was said that the defeated King was back, that a treaty would be signed soon, that the date was fixed when the soldiers were to return home and so forth.
Unable to bear the awful suspense, Chandra-Varma left the camp one night and started for the city in ordinary dress. On the way, he heard people say that his father would marry Princess Oormila the next day. He also learned that his friend, Subuddhi, was imprisoned for treason. Chandra-Varma entered the fort and straightway went to the prison. He told the guards who he was and ordered them to take him to Subuddhi.
“My lord,” the guards said to him, “the poor man will be killed by lions tomorrow. It is not good to talk to him now.”
Chandra-varma’s stomach turned at the news.
“Yes, yes!” he said. “I have to get some secret information from him right now. It will be too late tomorrow! Take me to him at once.”
One of the guards accompanied the Prince to subuddhi’s cell. Though it was past midnight, Subuddhi was not asleep. He sat against the wall in the corner of the cell with his face in his hands and elbows on his knees.
Chandra-Varma called him by his name Subuddhi did not look up. “Who are you?” he said. “I have nothing to say to you. Get out of here!”
Chandra-Varma signalled to the guard and sent him away. Then he closed the cell door, approached Subuddhi, and said, “It is I, Subuddhi, Chandra-Varma!”
Subuddhi got up with a start and embraced his friend.
“Let us change clothes,” the Prince said. “I’ll take your place in the cell, and you’ll get away in my clothes!”
“Never!” said Subuddhi emphatically. “They are throwing me to the lions tomorrow!”
“But I that brought it upon you,” the Prince said. “Why should you die? Put on my clothes at once!”
Subuddhi did not yield for a long time. Ultimately, the Prince had to order him to do his bidding. They then changed clothes. The Prince sat against the wall exactly as Subuddhi had done while Subuddhi went out. The guard returned, took one look at the prisoner in the corner, locked the door and went away without suspecting anything.
The day of Soora-varma’s wedding dawned. The guests were to be entertained with the spectacle of the prisoner’s fight with a lion before the marriage took place. An arena was built for the war right in the middle of the court. The lion was brought into this arena.
King Soora-Varma sat on a high seat with King Ranajit and Princess Oormila on either side. Besides them, several soldiers, officers and ordinary people came to witness the ghastly spectacle.
Then Chandra-Varma was brought out of his cell. They gave him a lance and a shield and pushed him into the arena. His hair was messy, and no one could identify him in the prisoner’s clothes. Even King Soora-varma mistook him for Subuddhi.
The lion, at first, looked at him once and turned his head away indifferently. Soora-Varma ordered loud trumpets to be blown near the lion to enrage him through fear. Then he shook his mane and jumped at Chandra-Varma. Chandra-Varma covered himself with the shield and jumped aside. He tried but failed to reach him with his lance. The lion was now well roused. He roared wildly and attacked the Prince with his forepaws. This time the Prince managed to wound the lion.
Unable to witness this unequal battle between man and beast, Princess Oormila covered her face with her hands. The fight gave joy to none save Soora-Varma. He observed that the prisoner was managing remarkably well to keep himself alive. But he was anxious and eager to see the beast outdo the man.
While the fate of the Prince hung in the balance, a man ran to King Soora-Varma, shouting, “O King, save the Prince! Let not the lion kill him!”
Soora-Varma saw Subuddhi and recognised him at once. He knew that the man fighting the lion was not Subuddhi but his son. He felt that he was going mad. “Save my son! Save him from the lion!” he shouted.
When Princess Oormila realised that Chandra-Varma was defending himself against the lion, she fell into a swoon. There was consternation among the people. It seemed to affect the lion too. Suddenly Chandra-Varma got the chance he had been waiting for, and he pierced the lion to its heart while it looked away in distress at the noise the people were making. The lion uttered a sharp grunt and fell dead.
Soora-Varma was a changed man. He embraced his son and wept like a woman. He had often enjoyed seeing a tiger or a lion killing a man. But it now pained him indescribably to think that he wanted to see a lion kill his son. The pain lasted all his life, and he no longer indulged in warfare and man-and-beast fights.
Princess Oormila was married to Prince Chandra-Varma.