Shuddhodana had been married to Prajapati for two months now, and had taken to spending alternate weeks in either of his wives’ chambers. Only a few nights ago Mahamaya awoke with a start in the middle of the night with a feeling that something good might come from this yagya. Shuddhodana was very sceptical, but if it meant the happiness of his queens, he would indulge them with utmost devotion on his part. What was there to lose?

“The yagya is now almost complete,” announced Vachaspati. He dabbed his forehead with the end of his kasãva and breathed a huge sigh of relief. Everything had gone well...

“Your Highness, would you please cut this apple into exact halves and give the pieces to your wives?” Shuddhodana did as he was instructed, carefully cutting the apple from the yagya clean in two. Prajapati and Mahamaya closed their eyes in prayer as they ate the offering, their consternation not betraying their optimism.

It seemed like not even a moment had passed, but the Buddha was sure that it was more. The warmth of the summer air immediately gave way to a hint of autumn chill. The golden rays of the morning sun were knocking at the door of Kapilavastu, ready to bathe it in their glow.

Why was he here?

Mahamaya lay in her bed, staring at the high ceiling, breathing heavily. She was usually up at the crack of dawn. At this time, she would be with Prajapati as they made their way to the temple. The first rays of the sun in the temple’s lawns would be greeted by Sage Vachaspati’s sweet voice echoing out shlokas from its sanctum.

Not today. It was hardly warm, but Mahamaya was sweating profusely. She clutched her stomach as she writhed in pain. Even the soft silk-lined bed linen felt agonisingly uncomfortable against her skin. From outside the closed door, a familiar voice was heard.


Prajapati stood outside with a look of concern on her face. Mahamaya was seldom even a minute late and missing the morning prayers altogether meant that something was surely amiss.

There was no response from the chambers within. Prajapati called out a few times more, but still there was no reply.

“I’m sorry...” she whispered before she barged inside.


She rushed forward, shocked to see her sister in such discomfort. The bed sheets were wet with sweat, and Mahamaya lay on her side with her jaws clenched. Prajapati poured her sister a glass of water from the jug kept an arm’s length away from the bed.

“Are you all right?” Prajapati almost whispered. Mahamaya refused the water and pushed it out of her sight.

“I’m all right, Praja. I’m just not feeling well this morning.”

“Let me send for the vaid. Bhagini, you haven’t slept a wink, have you?”

“I don’t think so, Praja. It’s been a few days, but particularly bad since dawn today. I can’t even think about eating or drinking anything, the thought of it makes me feel even more nauseous than I already am...”

Prajapati could scarcely believe her ears. Both sisters had hoped and prayed so often for signs just like these. Instinctively, she reached out and held her startled sister’s hand tightly. Mahamaya instantly knew what she was thinking.

“No, Praja, don’t say it. I know what you’re thinking, but at least not yet. Please. So many times I have hoped, and it hasn’t been true,” she said.

“How can you say that? It has to be! This is what the yagya has gifted us!”

Mahamaya turned away from her, too scared to allow herself to feel excited like her sister. She had almost given up all hope of a child. Somewhere in her mind, Shuddhodana’s marriage to her sister had made it clear that there was no hope of her delivering good news. And yet, here she was. Something in her said that this time, the news was good indeed.

“Bhagini, His Highness needs to know...”


Mahamaya sat up with a jolt that almost scared Prajapati.

“No, Praja, please... I don’t even know if it’s the good news we’ve been praying for all this time.”

Mahamaya was scared. She held Prajapati’s hand tightly, half in the hope that it actually was good news, and half to hold her back from running off to announce it to the King.

“Please...” Mahamaya pleaded. Prajapati had always done right by her elder sister, never once going against her wishes. But that was about to change.

“No, bhagini... You cannot welcome goodness in your life without opening your mind and heart to the possibility that it exists. Besides, I am here now, with you... and the King should know, and I promise you, the joy will take your pain away.”

And with that, she was out of the room in an instant, before Mahamaya could get a word in.

Of course, she was happy. They were so close as sisters that she knew that if their situations were reversed, she would have behaved just as Prajapati had done today. And yet there was a feeling of guilt. Had she stolen something from Prajapati? The very reason that she had been married to Shuddhodana in the first place...

The Buddha could almost feel her touch as she lay her hand on her stomach. And in the blink of an eye, he was in the same hallway as he was not more than a few moments ago. In the distance, he could hear the scrambling of feet and the familiar trot of his father’s wooden padukas on the floor as he ran across the hallway and towards the temple precincts.

And then it dawned on the Buddha, that he was there to witness his own birth. His mind started to take him through his whole life, beyond what he could consciously remember and recall, and he was at the very beginning...

Excerpted with permission from Siddhartha: The Boy Who Became the Buddha, Advait Kottary, Hachette India.