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Tapati

by Sumanta Sanyal
In Indian mythology, as in all mythologies all over the world, there are stories of many lovely maidens.

This story is of Tapati, a beautiful maiden who lived in the foothills of the mighty Himalayas. Tapati was the daughter of Surya, the sun god, and his substitute wife Chhaya (shade). Tapati grew up to be a very chaste and beautiful maiden. Her father was very proud of her and would not think of bestowing her on any ordinary person. Nevertheless, when she had come of age Surya started considering marrying her off to one of his most devout worshippers, one King Samvaran. So he arranged for the king to get lost in a forest at the foothills of Mount Meru, a mythical mountain, where he knew Tapati was savoring the serene beauty of nature. Accordingly, the king, out on a hunt, lost his way in the dense forest and got separated from his attendants. As he wandered about the forest in search of his companions he came upon the golden, gorgeous Tapati picking flowers for her hairset. As soon as Samvaran saw the resplendent maiden he immediately fell in love with her and decided to approach her but when he told her of his love she disappeared.

The king, smitten with the arrows of Kama, the love god, could not contain his desire for the maiden and desperately wandered about the forest in search of her. He searched everywhere in vain till, half-crazed by love, he collapsed under a tree and fell asleep. In his sleep he had a vision in which Tapati appeared before him and revealed to him that she was the daughter of the sun god and that she was not free to accept his offer of marriage. She advised him to approach her father with the matter. Then she disappeared again.

King Samvaran, struck as he was with love, started to worship Surya without pause for twelve days. He touched neither food nor water. Surya was pleased by his devotion and appeared before him. When King Samvaran asked for his daughter's hand in marriage the god readily agreed. So a sage was sent to the sun to fetch Tapati for her marriage to King Samvaran. They were married with great pomp and splendor but, soon after their marriage, Tapati told her new husband that she could not bear to leave the beautiful foothills of Mount Meru and go with him to his kingdom in the plains. So King Samvaran decided to stay on in the forest where they had first met. For the next twelve years they spent a blissful married life in the mountain forest.

Meanwhile, while the king was away, his kingdom fell into anarchy. There was no rain and so no crops could be cultivated. Everywhere there was starvation and death. When news of this reached the king in the forest his compassionate wife could not bear it that her love of the mountain forests had kept her husband away from his people for so long and for which they were suffering so much. Tapati immediately started persuading King Samvaran to return to his kingdom and to take her with him. The king and his queen returned to their kingdom and order was restored. The rains came again and prosperity returned. The people blessed their king and the new queen.

As they ruled happily over their land Tapati gave birth to a son whom they named Kuru. From Kuru was descended the Pandavas and the Kauravas, the principal protagonists of the Mahabharata, one of the two major epics of Indian Mythology, the other being the Ramayana, the epic about Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu sent to earth to destroy the terrible asura (demon), Ravana.


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