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A Royal Procession Author: Subhadra Sen Gupta Illustrator: Tapas Guha
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It was early in the morning when Parvati and her brother Laxman entered the monastery through the tall gates. Their father was a potter and they had come to deliver earthen pots, plates, bowls and glasses. Putting down her basket, Parvati looked around the courtyard, which was surrounded by a row of small rooms, and asked, “Is this where the Buddhist monks stay?” “Yes,” said Laxman. “They live in those rooms and pray to Lord Buddha in that temple. This place is called a vihara.” They carried the baskets to the kitchen where two monks in saffron robes were busy cooking.
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“Ah! You must be the children of the potter,” one of them smiled. “Is this the first time you have come to the vihara?” “Yes,” said Laxman, “it’s a beautiful place… you have gardens, ponds…” “And a mango orchard!” added Parvati. “You must see our temple,” the monk said as he paid them for the pottery with a handful of copper pana coins. Then he gave a mysterious smile and said, “You may meet someone very interesting there.” As they entered the hall of the temple, their eyes widened in wonder. It was such a beautiful place!
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The wooden pillars were carved with delicate designs, the walls painted with splendid pictures, and the floor covered in soft woven mats. In front of them was a shrine with the feet of the Buddha carved on a round stone. It was decorated with flowers and bowls of smoking incense were placed before it. A man sat praying before the shrine, his fingers moving over a string of beads. He wore a cotton antariya tied like a dhoti, and had a muslin uttariya wrapped like a shawl over his upper body. Gold jewellery gleamed at his neck, ears and arms. Hearing the children approach, the man opened his eyes. “Oh! I’m so sorry sir, did we disturb your prayers?” Parvati asked quickly.
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The man smiled, “No, you did not. What are the two of you doing here?” “We brought pots and bowls for the monastery kitchen,” Laxman explained. “Our father is a potter.” “Ah!” the man said, leaning forward. “Can you work on a potter’s wheel?” “Well, we try,” Parvati shook her head, “but…” “Our pots come out all crooked!” Laxman grinned. “What I really like to do,” Parvati added, “is to paint the pots. I use a white colour made from lime powder and the black from the soot of oil lamps.” “And what do you paint?” the man asked curiously.
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“Flowers and clouds, leaves and birds…” Parvati said dreamily. “Ah, I wish I could paint like you!” the man sighed. “But all I know is how to fight with a sword.” “Then you are not a monk?” The man shook his head. “I was a soldier, but I have stopped fighting now because I believe in the teachings of Lord Buddha.” “The monk in the kitchen said someone interesting was in the vihara. Are you an important person, sir?” The man laughed, “I don’t think so! I’m just a retired soldier who works in the palace.”
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“In the palace of His Majesty King Ashoka!” Laxman’s eyes brightened. “You are so lucky!” “Why?” the man looked puzzled. “Because you can see the king every day! Do you know we’ve lived in Pataliputra all our lives but have never seen him?” The man threw back his head and laughed, “Well, I don’t think the king is really worth looking at! He is not handsome at all!” “Of course he is!” said Parvati firmly. “After all, His Majesty is the most powerful king in the whole wide world.”
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“If you say so,” the man said, getting up to go. He touched their heads in blessing, “I’m sure you’ll meet the king… Who knows, he may surprise you one day!” he said, as he walked away smiling. A few days later, the children were helping their father in his work. Laxman was kneading the clay, their father was at the potter’s wheel making earthen lamps and Parvati was putting them out to dry in the sun. Suddenly, their friend Kesava came rushing in shouting, “Come quick! A royal procession is coming this way!” In a flash they were running to the road leading to the monastery.
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Kesava said King Ashoka and Queen Mahadevi were coming to pray at the monastery. They stood by the side of the road, watching wide-eyed as the royal procession slowly came towards them. First came the marching soldiers carrying tall, shining spears, followed by chariots pulled by prancing horses. Then, much to their surprise, a band of women soldiers came marching. They wore boots, trousers and tunics, and pointed caps, and carried big swords. “Women soldiers?” Parvati looked surprised. “Didn’t you know?” Kesava grinned. “The king is always guarded by women. They are all fierce fighters and come from the mountain regions.”
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Then came a row of drummers playing a marching beat. A huge elephant followed, swaying from side to side. Its trunk and ears were painted in colourful patterns. On the elephant’s back was a howdah. King Ashoka and his queen sat in it and a man sat behind them holding an umbrella over their heads. What an amazing sight it was! As the elephant drew closer, Laxman looked up to see the king’s face... and his mouth fell open in surprise! There, wearing rich clothes, lots of jewellery, and a golden turban, was the very man they had met at the vihara! “Parvati, look!” he yelled, “It’s our friend from the vihara!”
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They began jumping and shouting in excitement. King Ashoka turned to look at where the noise was coming from. As he recognized the children, his lips curved in a smile and he waved at them. The children were delighted! Kesava looked at them wide-eyed, “Oh! Did the king wave at you just now? You’ve met him?” “Yes! At the vihara... he even blessed us! Isn’t that fantastic?” Parvati and Laxman twirled in happiness. “Lucky you!” said Kesava, enviously.
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FUN FACTS OF HISTORY 1. Parvati and Laxman lived 2300 years ago during the reign of King Ashoka Vardhana of the Mauryan dynasty. They lived in Pataliputra. Today we call the same city Patna. Patna is the capital of Bihar. 2. When Ashoka was king, he won a war against Kalinga. But so many people died during the war that Ashoka was very sad. He decided to stop fighting wars and became a Buddhist. The Ashoka Pillar, a national symbol of India, was carved when he was king.
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FUN FACTS OF HISTORY 3. Ashoka Vardhana’s full name, as it is inscribed on the pillar, is Ashoka Devanam Piyadassi. It means 'Ashoka who is the beloved of the gods and is handsome in looks'. 4. A stupa is a dome-shaped building sacred to the Buddhists. Ashoka built the world’s first stupa. It still stands at Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh.
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FUN FACTS OF HISTORY 5. What did people eat during Mauryan times? They ate many things that we eat today, like the sweet rice and milk pudding we call kheer or payasam, rotis, puris, ghee, curd, and even mango pickle! 6. People wore three sets of clothing - the antariya, which was tied like a dhoti or lungi, the kayabandh, which was a sash securing the antariya at the waist, and the uttariya, which was a long strip of cloth, like a shawl, that was wrapped over the upper body.
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