The Four Poetesses
One day four young maidens paid a visit to the court of King Bhoja, the great patron of poets and pandits. These girls had completed their studies at Banaras and were returning to their homes to get married, as they were now marriageable.
Everyone was surprised at their uncommon beauty when they stopped in court every day. They have all dressed alike, and their community could not be identified from their appearance or bearing. “What community do you belong to?” King Bhoja asked them.
“O King, though we talk and dress alike, we belong to different communities. But with renowned pandits at your command, it should be easy for you to find out what communities we belong to,” the girls said.
This was a challenge to King Bhoja and his pandits. But when the King looked around, it was evident that the task would not be easy for the intellectuals of his court. King Bhoja turned to his fair guests and said. “All of you are going to enjoy our hospitality for three days. In the meantime, no doubt, our pandits will be able to discover the various communities to which you belong.”
The girls smiled and bowed to the King to acknowledge the honour and accept the challenge. They spent their time at court, freely partaking in the discussions. Neither their talk nor their intelligence betrayed their origins. The pandits of the court failed miserably to unravel the mystery of their birth. Two days have elapsed.
Kalidas, the best of Bhoja’s collection of gems, is determined to meet the challenge of these girls by a ruse. The second night he covered himself in a rug and lay down on the pial outside the girls’ lodge; he hoped to discover the truth by overhearing their private talk. However, he was sorely disappointed. The night was almost spent. The streaks of light heralding the dawn adorned the sky in the east, and Kalidas was about to return home when he saw the four girls go up to the window facing the east.
One of the girls began to recite,
“The East has taken on the colour of gold-in-mercury.”
Immediately another girl said.
“The Moon pales like a learned man in an assembly of fools.“
The third girl said,
“Like kings who lost their enterprise, the stars disappear.“
The fourth one said,
“The lamps lose their lustre like the homes of the poor.”
Kalidas was immensely pleased upon hearing the four girls describe the dawn as they did.
He went home and later attended the court as usual. King Bhoja told his court, “These learned damsels have been amidst us for three days. They had challenged all of you to find out their origins. If anyone has succeeded, let him come forward. If, however, none could discover their origins, let us accept defeat.”
While other pandits bowed their heads, Kalidas rose and recited the whole verse:
“O King,” said Kalidas, “These four girls recited the four lines of this verse. I find that the girl who recited the first line comes from the community of goldsmiths, while the others belong to the Brahman, Kshatriya and Faisgn communities. Let our guests correct me if I am Wrong.”
The girls rose on hearing this, paid their homage to Kalidas, and confessed that he was correct in his guess.
King Bhoja was delighted with the girls and their merit. He lavished immense gifts upon them before they departed.
Chandamama August 1955 | P Rama Sarma