Beauty And Life
With great perseverance, Vikram returned to the tree again, took down the corpse, threw it across his shoulder, and began walking towards the cremation ground.
“O King,” said the Bethal of the corpse, “I can see that you are undergoing all this trouble to win fame. But let me tell you, happiness is much more desirable than fame. Maya, the sculptor, came to the same conclusion. Let me tell you his amazing story.”
Then he began to narrate the following tale:
Vishwakarma was the architect of the Devas, while Maya was the architect of the Demons. But Maya was by far the better craftsman, though they undoubtedly possessed great skill. But the Devas always heaped praise on their architect Viswa-karma and never acknowledged the greatness of Maya.
Maya was not only a great craftsman, but he was also a noble being. He never worried himself about the Devas, not recognising his merit. “You are so dumb!” the other Demons would taunt him. “You never challenge the Devas when they say that their Viswa-karma is the better man, though everyone knows that that fool is not worthy of standing in your shadow.”
Maya would smile good-naturedly and say, “Don’t think that the Devas do not know my worth. Have I not built the flying fortress Soubhaka for Salwa on the orders of Lord Shiva? And then there was the Magic Hall I built for the Pandavas, which was known to everyone.”
“Viswa-karma, too, has his record,” the Demons said. “It was he who constructed the Heavens. He put the Sun on a lathe, filed him smoothly, and out of the Solar chips fashioned the Discus for Lord Vishnu. And then there was the city of Indra-Prastha which he built for the Pandavas. So let us forget the past and think of the present. We will hold a contest where you must defeat Viswa- karma and make his name mud for all time!”
Maya consented to take part in the contest. Then the Demons challenged the Devas to let Viswa-karma enter into a competition with Maya. The Devas held a secret conference and sought Viswa-karma’s opinion.
“I am Brihaspati’s brother-in-law, and the Sun is my son-in-law,” Viswa-karma said. “Surely I will not fear defeat at the hands of the demon tool-maker!”
So the Devas sent for Maya and said to him, “The competition shall take place. Let us have an idea of the greatness of what you will build so that our architect will work along the same lines.”
“Each one is great in his way,” Maya replied, “and we have already exhibited our greatest powers. Now I am thinking of creating beauty, unknown yet in the Three Worlds. Let Brahma the Creator himself be the judge.”
The Devas were fully satisfied. Soon Maya fashioned a life-size statue of a beautiful woman out of gold. Those of the Devas who saw it were thunderstruck by the rare beauty of the figure. Viswa-karma was taken aback. He went to Brahma and said, “Let me tell you, grandad, this Maya is out to discredit you. He has created beauty which cannot be paralleled in all the worlds. He wants to prove that you have never created such beauty in all your days. So long as this statue lasts, Maya’s name will be greater than yours. I shudder to think what people will say of me in future.”
Other Devas confirmed Viswa- karma’s fears. “O Lord Grandad,” they said to Brahma, “we depend upon you to foil this contest somehow. We cannot afford to see it through.”
Brahma was tempted to see the beauty of the gold statue and paid a visit to Maya. He was convinced that the others did not exaggerate the fantastic beauty of Maya’s creation.
“My boy,” Brahma said to Maya, “I am proud of your artistry, considering your youth. But it makes me sad to look upon such beauty devoid of life. You see, I never created anything without life. How I wish to see, your work live! You shouldn’t waste this creation to establish your name as a superior sculptor. Let me give it life. You can have her for a wife! What do you say?”
Maya thought for a moment and said, “O Lord, give her life. I will even acknowledge Viswa- karma as a superior craftsman.”
The Devas were tremendously satisfied. Brahma put life into the statue and named her Hema (meaning gold). The Devas married Maya and Hema and departed with Brahma.
“Now, boys,” Brahma told the Devas, “you can forget about the beauty of that woman, for she is now subject to the laws of human physiology. Soon she will be a mother, grow old, and finally, death will claim her. And the artistry of Maya will join the elements.”
Indeed everything happened as Brahma foretold. Hema lived with Maya and gave birth to three children, Mandodari, Mayavi and Dundubhi. Her smooth skin began to wrinkle here and there. The Demons who praised Hema’s beauty to the skies stopped talking about her.
Finally, the Devas came to Maya and quarrelled with him. “Hema was our girl,” they said. “If she had been with us, she would have been eternally young. See what happened to her because of living with you.”
Then they took her away with them. After that, Maya appeared to lose interest in everything; he left his native city and wandered from one country to another, taking his three children with him. On these wanderings, he met the young demon King Ravana to whom he married his daughter Mandodari.
Having finished the tale, Bethal said, “O King, I have a doubt. Why did Maya, the great craftsman, refrain from defeating his rival Viswa-karma? What prompted him to let Brahma give his eternal work of art life and change? Was it because he had no love for fame, or was his love for a beautiful wife stronger than his love for a name? Your head shall split if you know the answer and still refuse to speak.”
“Don’t you see,” Vikram replied, “that Maya won the contest when Brahma agreed to give life to his work, a thing Brahma has never done before or since? I’m afraid you might be mistaken in presuming that a work of art is eternal. Where do Viswa-karma and Maya build the great cities? They were gone long ago. It is beauty that is eternal. Brahma himself made Hema’s beauty everlasting by giving life to the statue. Mandodari inherited the incredible beauty of her mother, and she has acclaimed the most astonishing beauty in all three worlds. Even today, Hema’s beauty can be seen in women all over the earth. It will live as long as the world lasts. Maya knew this when he let Brahma give life to his creation. “
The King’s silence was thus broken, and Bethal disappeared with the corpse and returned to the tree.