Suddhodana was in great haste. It looked as if he wanted to free himself from the heavy load of an important task. He had high expectations regarding Siddhartha’s marriage, but he was frightened by Siddhartha’s disposition and temperament.
His experiences with his son, from the beginning, were dualistic in nature. When he was engaged in grand celebrations at the birth of his son, he had to face the tragic reality of the death of his wife. Seven days after the birth of Siddhartha, Mahamaya passed away as if she had come down to the earth only to give him a son. He tried to overcome his grief by showering his love and affection on his son, and truly he was able to overcome it.
In order to foster the child, he married Gotami, the sister of Mahamaya Devi. From the day Gotami took the child into her lap, she became not his stepmother but his natural mother. When he looked at the two, mother and child tied up together by the bond of love and affection, he lost his anxiety and became cheerful again.
But what the astrologers said disheartened him again. He now wondered why he had sent for them at all! They predicted that Siddhartha would become either an emperor or a saint.
He might give himself over to a life of pleasure and luxury, or he might give up all pleasures and involve himself in work for the well-being of humankind. From that day, he watched his son with utmost attention.
As years passed by, he lost the hope that Siddhartha would become a king. At no stage in Siddhartha’s growth could he find in him the pride and arrogance associated with the Kshatriya caste. His eyes reflected feelings such as love, kindness, pity and peace. He was well versed in all arts, including the art of fighting, and always excelled in competitions.Yet he learnt them for the sake of learning, and he never had even the slightest inclination to exhibit his expertise.
Suddhodana noticed that Siddhartha liked agricultural work more than any other work. He took Siddhartha to the agricultural fields. But, even there, Siddhartha would get absorbed by the beauty of the fields and the liveliness of the people working there. As he grew older, his engagement with the Sramanas increased, which in turn increased Suddhodana’s anxiety.
Siddhartha’s aversion to feuds and combats with surrounding villages over the distribution of the river water made Suddhodana lose heart.
Gotami tried her best to console him, saying that their son was not so stone-hearted as to cause distress to his parents, and that he would surly look after them in their old age.
Neither of the two dared to mention the topic of his marriage in his presence. They knew for certain that, if Siddhartha once refused their proposal, they could never hope to convince him again. It made them suppress their agitation and remain silent.
Now Siddhartha himself was thinking about a girl and talked about her with his mother. Suddhodana knew that it was not something to be dismissed, but a matter of utmost importance and urgency. And so he acted in full haste. He made preparations to go to Koliya and visit Bimbanana. He sent a messenger to convey the news of his arrival to Bimbanana, and he sent word to his near and dear ones to accompany him on his errand.
The visiting party was much pleased by the warm reception extended by Bimbanana at his residence. But, Bimbanana’s silence over the proposal of Siddhartha’s marriage with Yashodhara irritated them. After a prolonged, thoughtful silence, Bimbanana revealed to them what was on his mind.
“I have often heard that Siddhartha Gautama doesn’t take pride in performing the duties of a Kshatriya. A Kshatriya should defend the members of his family, the people of his village and his followers even at the cost of his life; and for doing it, he should be skilled in sword fighting.”
Suddhodana sighed in relief as his anxiety disappeared at what Bimbanana said. “My son,” he said with a smile of pride on his lips, “is well-trained in all kinds of fighting. It is not just learning each of them; he is adept in every one of them.”
Bimbanana was not convinced. “Every father feels proud of his son’s gallantry,” he said, with a sneer on his face. “My daughter has learnt archery. It doesn’t mean she can defend her people.”
“I don’t wish to boast about my son. If you are not prepared to believe us, and if you want your eyes to be your witness, my son will stand any test to prove his valour,” Suddhodana said, trying to defend his sense of honour. He was not prepared to let go of Yashodhara at any cost.
“Now you have spoken like a Kshatriya,” said Bimbanana. “I shall make the necessary arrangements for a contest to be held at the outskirts of our villages. When I extend my invitation, you can come with your son and your people. If he wins, Yashodhara, my daughter, will be sent as your daughter-in-law. Otherwise – “
“Stop!” shouted Suddhodana in haste. “You will not get the chance to complete your sentence.” He stood up and took leave of Bimbanana.
Excerpted with permission from Yashodhara: A Novel, Volga, translated from the Telugu by PSV Prasad, HarperCollins India.