The Lotus-Lady

In the days when Ala-ud-din, the Moslem, ruled at Delhi, the beautiful rock-fortress Chittore was the capital of Rajputana, and brave Prince Bhimsi was regent for his nephew the Baby-King.

Now Bhimsi had a most beautiful wife, the Lotus-Lady, the fame of whose beauty had gone forth all over India. And in the old days men thought it not wrong to try and snatch away from others anything which they wished to possess—be this thing what it might, rich city or lovely lady or priceless jewel.

So Ala-ud-din waged war on Chittore in order to capture the lovely Lotus-Lady. But the Rajput warriors laughed him to scorn, and defeated him, and kept safe their beauteous Lady of the Lotus.

Then Ala-ud-din pretended to be very much ashamed that he had ever even imagined that Prince Bhimsi would let the Princess be taken captive by an enemy.

“But,” he added, “I have come a long way and have fought hard, and you have conquered. Therefore before I go, let me look, I pray, but for one minute on the beauty of which I have heard so much.

“Let me see the face of the Princess Lady, just for a breathing-space, not openly, but in a mirror—so that I may have in my soul a vision of the Perfectly Beautiful, to help me in the days that remain.”

And Bhimsi was so noble a knight that he was moved by these words to grant his enemy his desire.

Ala-ud-din pretended to be very grateful, and the courteous knight Bhimsi was sorry for the enemy whom he had defeated. Thinking him to be also a knight and bound by knightly courtesies and honour, he accompanied him alone outside the gates of the city, to set him on his way.

But when Ala-ud-din got Bhimsi alone and at his mercy, he carried him captive to his own camp. Only in exchange for the Lotus-Lady herself, he declared, would he release the Rajput Prince-Regent.

Then all the knights and warriors of Chittore took counsel with the Princess as to what should be done. And the Lotus-Lady was brave: for she loved her lord very dearly.

So in concert with her nobles, she arranged that word should be sent to Ala-ud-din that she was coming, as he commanded, to release her lord: but that she craved a few minutes’ speech of her lord, before parting with him for ever. And Ala-ud-din granted her request.

The Lotus-Lady at the prisoner's tent

The Lotus-Lady at the prisoner’s tent

So, for the camp of the enemy set forth a great procession of palanquins and mace-bearers; and Ala-ud-din was not afraid, for he knew that so great a lady might not be abroad without her waiting-women and her mistresses of the robes, and her mace-bearers and the slaves who did her bidding—one slave for each separate little duty of the care of her lovely person.

And now the Lotus-Lady was at the prisoner’s tent of her lord; and now she had bid him farewell, and the long line of palanquins had turned once more towards Chittore.

And Ala-ud-din said: “Ha! now will I have both the Prince and his bride!” and he ordered the palanquins to stop, thinking to make an easy capture of the prisoner whom he had just exchanged, among the palanquins of the women-folk.

But the warriors of Chittore had prepared a surprise for Ala-ud-din, the traitor. Forth from every palanquin streamed the bravest of Chittore’s Rajput knights—the very palanquin-bearers were warriors: and they fought and routed Ala-ud-din and his hosts, and carried their Prince and his lady safely to the palace of their fortress home.

And Ala-ud-din fled in haste to Delhi.

But Ala-ud-din never forgot this second disgrace. Nor, it is said, could he forget the face of the Lotus-Lady.

He must have been a bad man indeed, and no knight at all, in that even the vision of Perfect Beauty had not the power to kill in him that which was base and self-seeking. So yet once more, he sallied forth against Chittore long years afterwards, when the Baby-King was full grown, and with his twelve brave sons, and Bhimsi, and the other brave Rajput princes, kept faithful guard over the honour of knighthood in Rajputana.

And Ala-ud-din took with him mighty armies and great engines of war, and by sheer force of numbers and deadly weapons he bore down the brave little body of knights fighting on the walls of their beloved city.

Then again the knights sat in council. “Our weak and defenceless ones shall not,” they said, “fall into the hands of a coward enemy.”

And they took their women down into the vaults beneath the city, where the Rajput woman was wont to go through fire to meet her lord who had died in battle. And they left them enough wood and fire for the sacrifice.

And the women wore their most beautiful garments, to walk down to the vaults, a long line of beauty and courage led by the queen of beauty, the Lotus-Lady herself.

And now it was the turn of the men. And the King and his sons and his brave knights all strove as to who should be first to meet single-handed the enemy at the gates. And they cast lots: and went one by one clad in the Rajput saffron robe of conquest: and single-handed each hewed his way through the gates, strewing the moat and outworks with the bodies of the slain.

But Ayeshi, his beloved son, had the King sent secretly beforehand to a place of safety, that the race of warriors might still continue. And when night fell, the last of the Rajputs had left the city, having laid, each man, at the feet of the true knight and champion of the defenceless, a full sheaf of the unknightly ones.

And Ala-ud-din came walking carefully across this carpet of the dead, into a fortress of which the gates were wide. But no man nor woman nor child found he anywhere in Chittore. All was emptiness—palace and hut, and bathing-ghat, and council chamber, and garden and marble-latticed roof—empty, all empty.

Then at last did he realize that what was in his hands was not victory but defeat; and that the beauty and goodness of which we are not worthy, may not, in this life or the next, be taken by violence.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook