Sunday, February 25

“Siddhartha”: Advait Kottary’s novel takes readers on a fictional journey through Buddha’s formative years

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The book “Siddhartha” by Advait Kottary takes the reader on a spiritual journey that explores the complex and often tumultuous early life of Siddhartha.
Kottary’s skillful prose with richly imagined characters also emphasize the role played by Buddha’s family in his path to enlightenment.
Exciting and insightful in equal measure, this is at once a riveting story and a profound meditation on our shared quest for truth.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
It was a spectacular sight, as the cavalcade of horses and carriages set off. The Buddha was taken aback at the efforts being taken to ensure that Mahamaya was absolutely comfortable. She lay in a palanquin held up at four ends by the shoulders of four strong men, each on horseback. No bump in the road, no stone under the wheels of the carriage would be allowed to reach her to cause the slightest discomfort.

In front of the four horsemen were four more guards with long scythes, hacking away and carving out a clear path through the weeds in places it could get in the way of the horsemen behind them. It would have been easier of course to take the trade route that passed through Koliya all the way to Magadha, but King Shuddhodana had ordered they avoid it to keep their journey a secret.

Behind the palanquin rode a carriage where the midwives travelled with them, ready to assist in the birth of the child at a moment’s notice.

Inside the palanquin, Prajapati left no stone unturned when it came to pampering her bhagini. It was cooler in the forest, and she insisted that Mahamaya drape herself in a shawl at all times. They were halfway through to Koliya and had just entered the beautiful gardens of Lumbini. In the moonlight, Prajapati looked worried. Mahamaya looked pale and was feeling weaker than usual. She clutched Prajapati’s hand.

‘Praja… It’s time…’

Prajapati was tired, it had been a sleepless night thus far, but all thoughts of rest vanished from her mind as she spurred into action. Immediately, she called out loudly to the horsemen, as they slowed down to a stop with utmost care.

From the carriage at the back, the midwives jumped out and quickly found a spot at the edge of a large clearing where the queen could rest. They cordoned off a small area using large pieces of cloth, which they hung on the branches of the surrounding trees. It was the night of Vaisakh Purnima, and the forest was awash with moonlight, lending it an almost ethereal feel. Nearby was a pond, with its lotus flowers in full bloom.

Within no time, Mahamaya lay on the sheets laid out for her in a clearing on the grass, with her head rested on cushions propped up against the roots of a sal tree nearby. Just as she had been through the journey and the weeks before, Prajapatiwas with her, one hand holding hers and the other on Mahamaya’s forehead, lending her reassurance.

But Mahamaya was in pain. She began to grit her teeth as the convulsions began to grow in frequency. The midwives began to sing to lend some calm and peace, as Prajapati joined them…

‘Slowly, slowly through the night,

The little one yet unborn,

Will come forth and see his first sight,

The magic of his first morn…’

The Buddha almost found himself singing along.

The women sang together, but it did not bring Mahamaya any relief. The waves of pain came harder and quicker now, and when she felt she could bear it no longer, she sat upright witha start. The midwives and Prajapati were shocked, Mahamaya stood up and steadied herself by holding a low hanging branch of the tree. She had strength left in her for one last push. Nearly unconscious from the pain, she held on and pushed for her life and for the one she was bringing into the world.

Finally, Mahamaya lay back exhausted. She felt faint, like she had lost every ounce of energy in her, but instantly, the sound of her child’s cry filled the air, and it made her heart swell with happiness.

‘Bhagini! It’s a boy!’

Mahamaya was ecstatic. The midwives wrapped the newborn in a fresh cloth as he continued to cry, as if to announce and reassure Mahamaya that it was all going to be all right. She held him close to her and cried with him. Through her tears of joy, she saw the first rays of the sun reflected through the scores of lotus flowers in the pond.

*

The icy winds took the Buddha by surprise, sending shivers inside his being. Far away from the lotus lake whose shore he stood not a moment before, this was a place far more hostile. There was nothing but ice as far as the eye could see. A storm was blowing snow all over and around the jagged peaks of the mountainous terrain he found himself on. It seemed a place no physical human form would be able to survive.

But that was not so.

A figure sat in dhyana not far from where the Buddha stood. The man was gaunt and lean. His pearlescent beard hung down from his face, merging with his hair. The wind had blown so many icicles into it that it looked almost frozen onto his face. He wore nothing more than the traditional kasãva that did little more than cover his skin.

The Buddha had heard of a place so hostile only the most ascetic of souls would wander there, and even less so would survive. This was Meru (Mount Kailasa).

Even so, this man seemed entirely at ease, and not at all bothered by the cold and the snow, as though he were basking in the sunlight on a summer’s day.

Asita Muni opened his eyes. Suddenly, there was a feeling of restlessness; it was a kind of feeling that he had not known for several years. There was no concept of time here, the harsh cold knew no time of day.

He could hear the cry of the child from Lumbini, calling him closer. The time was now. He had waited eons for this moment.The tears froze on his face before they could even fall.

‘Yes, little one… To Kapilavastu I will come…’ he said, as he folded his hands in prayer to the heavens not far above.

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