It was of a tree. It hung upside down in space. Its roots pointed to the sky. Its branches dipped toward the ground.
Ravana was an asura. He ruled over Lanka. By severe tapasya, he pleased Lord Shiva. So pleased was the Lord, that he granted the asura all that he wanted… long life; weapons to enslave the whole world; magical powers.
The asura bowed and touched the feet of Lord Shiva. Then he spoke, in a low tone, “Hey Parameswara! Can I take your consort, Goddess Parvati, to Sri Lanka? I want to worship her, every day.”
“What a stupid thing to ask for?” the Lord scolded Ravana.
“Hey Parameswara, you said you will grant every wish of mine. Grant this wish. Otherwise, you will be breaking a promise. That, you know, is a sin,” Ravana was clever.
“Goddess Parvati won’t agree,” Lord Shiva argued.
“She won’t disobey your command, my Lord,” Ravana had the answer.
“Tathastu,” said the Lord, though he did not seem happy to grant that wish. “Wait here. I shall fetch Parvati,” said Lord Shiva and went back. Ravana waited.
Goddess Parvati was standing by the side of a rose bush. She had her eyes on the lovely white roses. Suddenly a strong hand reached out to her and pulled her. She turned, angrily, and then burst into laughter, “You! You are always up to some mischief or the other. Why didn’t you call out to me? Why did you steal on me, give me a shock?”
“Because I have a shock for you,” Lord Shiva sounded grim.
“I get no shock so long as you are around,” she pouted her lips.
“I am sending you off, so I won’t be around to save you from shocks,” the Lord informed her.
“You are sending me off? No way. I stick to you. And I go where you go,” she spoke firmly.
“I have given my word, Devi.”
“To whom?” Goddess Parvati raised her eyes.
“To Ravana. He wants you at Lanka, so he can worship you thrice a day,” the Lord replied miserably.
“What right have you to grant that wish? You don’t own me,” she was furious.
“Be reasonable, dear. I have to keep my word,” Lord Shiva looked helpless.
“Who will make this asura see reason? Who will make him understand that my place is by your side?” she asked.
“Take my advice. Seek the help of Lord Vishnu. He is the protector. He will find a way out,” Lord Shiva suggested.
Goddess Parvati prayed to Lord Vishnu. He appeared before her, instantly.
“Devi! Jai Vijayee Bhava,” Lord Vishnu greeted her smiling.
She was sobbing. Lord Vishnu held her gently, made her look into his eyes. “No tears, Devi. Not when I am here to wipe your tears by destroying anything or anyone who makes you cry,” he consoled her.
She explained her plight. Lord Vishnu scolded Lord Shiva for granting the wish of Ravana.
“Please don’t waste time. How are you going to save me? There is not much time left. Ravana is waiting outside, to take me along,” Goddess Parvati implored Lord Vishnu.
“Something has to be done,” he said deep in thought.
“Be specific, Hey Prabho!” Goddess Parvati said, with a tremor in her voice.
Ravana bowed on seeing Lord Shiva with Goddess ParvatiLord Vishnu took some time to reply. Then he told the Goddess, “Go with Ravana. I shall rescue you from him, on the way to Lanka. I have a plan.” Then he told Lord Shiva, “Tell Ravana that he should not abandon Goddess Parvati, even for a second, till he reaches Lanka. If he fails to do so, Goddess Parvati would be back with you.”
Lord Shiva walked off. Goddess Parvati followed him, unwilingly. Ravana bowed on seeing them both. Lod Shiva laid down the condition. Ravana laughed, “Do you think I will let the prize get away. I am not that big a fool!”
Lord Shiva joked, “How big a fool are you? I hope to find out soon.”
Ravana ignored the comment. He bowed to Goddess Parvati. Goddess Parvati gave him an angry look. He knew that she was angry. Angry at him for taking her away. He hoped she would cool down, later.
He stood to one side, invited her to board the vimana. She gave Lord Shiva a fiery look, before taking the back seat in the vimana
If looks could burn! Alas! she did not have that power.
Only Lord Shiva had that power. He had a third eye. That gave him yet another name, Trinetra, one with three eyes. He had only to open his third eye to turn to ashes the one who earned his wrath.
Goddes Parvati wished her Lord would open his third eye and focus it on Ravana. But the Lord did not do that. He had given his word to Ravana. He stuck to it, though it pained him to part with Goddess Parvati.
The asura bowed and sought his blessing. The Lord placed his palm on the asura’s head and wished him well. Then Ravana got on to the front seat of the vimana and set out on the journey to Lanka.
Lord Vishnu had divine powers. Among them was the power to be where he wanted to be, in the twinkle of an eye. He moved faster than light; faster than even thought; and reached the lovely sandy bank of a big river. This spot lay on the route to Lanka.
Lord Vishnu used his divine powers and changed into a sage.
His disguise was perfect. He had beard as white as snow. His hair too was a matching white. His eyes were piercing.
He sat down on a huge stone, kept close to the waters. He held out his hand and produced an illusion. It was of a tree. It hung upside down in space. Its roots pointed to the sky. Its branches dipped toward the ground.
Ravana neared the spot. The vimana moved at a steady speed. Ravana was in a hurry to get back home. He did not want to leave Goddess Parvati out of his sight, even for a second. He remembered Lord Shiva’s warning.
Then he saw the illusion. He could not believe himself. In all his life, he had never seen such a sight. “An upside down tree!” he exclaimed.
He became curious. “I must find out,” he told himself.
He landed in a wide open spot, got out and looked at the tree. It was a truly a rare sight. Truly out of this world.
“See that tree. It’s hanging upside down. Is that not a really funny sight!” he exclaimed to Goddess Parvati.
She ignored his words.
He looked at the tree, once again. Who would tell him about this magic tree? He saw the sage and decided to find out if he could explain the secret of the upside down tree.
“I shall be back in a second. The sage may explain this illusion,” Ravana said loudly, so that Goddess Parvati could hear, and walked to the sage.
“Pranam, Oh Sage!,” he bent and touched the feet of the sage.
The sage opened his eyes. He saw Ravana standing before him with folded arms.
“Jai Vijayi Bhava.” the sage mumbled.
“Oh Sage! Can you explain this strange sight? The secret of the tree that is hanging in space, upside down.”
The sage looked at the sight. Then he laughed. “That is Maya, illusion. I am sure Maya is around here,” the sage spoke in riddles.
“Yes. Goddess is reality. Maya is illusion. No tree can hang upside down. Yet, here is a tree hanging upside down. I am sure Maya has produced that strange tree. Where is Maya!” the sage started searching all around.
Then his eyes fell on Goddess Parvati. He chuckled to himself, and told Ravana, “Is that Maya, in the vimana.”
“Maya! Are you mad, Oh Sage? She is Goddess Parvati, Lord Shiva’s consort,” said he.
“Are you sure she is Goddess Parvati? Could be she is Maya.”
Ravana laughed. Then he narrated the story. He had prayed to Lord Shiva. Pleased, the Lord had let him take Goddess Parvati to Lanka so that he could worship her, every day.
The sage rocked with laughter.
“You think Lord Mahadeva would have let you do that? Perhaps he handed Maya to you. You mistook Maya for Goddess Parvati,” the sage explained smiling.
“You are certain?” Ravana asked.
“Who can be certain of anything? Are we not living in a world of Maya?” the sage did not give a straight reply.
“Who can tell me whether the devi in the vimana is Goddess Parvati or Maya?” Ravana asked.
“Why don’t you go and ask her?” the sage advised.
Ravana did that. But Goddess Parvati did not say a word. He repeated the question a dozen times. But Goddess Parvati just kept mum.
Angrily, he stomped the ground. He gnashed his teeth, ran back to the sage and told him that she refused to give him the answer.
“I think you should ask Lord Shiva,” the sage suggested.
“For that I will have to go back to Mount Kailash,” Ravana was not pleased with the advice.
“Then go there.” the sage whispered.
“I think I have to do that. But . . . ”
Any problem?” the Sage asked.
“Where can I leave the devi? Will you keep her at your ashram till I return?” Ravana asked.
“It is for her to decide. She is welcome to stay at my ashram. I shall make her stay comfortable. Don’t worry,” said the sage.
He went with Ravana to where the vimana stood. He smiled at Goddess Parvati. For a second, the sage turned into his real form, that of Lord Vishnu. Then he assumed the disguise, again. He bowed to the Goddess and said, “Ravana wants to check whether you are Goddess Parvati or just Maya. Only Lord Shiva can give him the right answer. So he wants to fly back to Mount Kailash. Till he returns, you can stay at my ashram. I shall make your stay comfortable.”
The Goddess smiled. She got off the vimana and went with the Sage.
Ravana boarded the vimana and flew off.
“Hey Padmanabha! Hey Jagatprabho! You saved me,” said Goddess Parvati thankfullly.
“You are my sister. If I don’t help you in your hour of need, who else would?” Lord Vishnu took on his real form.
Goddess Parvati bowed to him and took leave. Then she sped at the speed of thought to the presence of Lord Shiva.
“So the fool gave you a chance to get back?” Lord Shiva was thrilled to have her back with him.
“Yes. He is on his way here. He wants to check if I am what I am, or just Maya,” Goddess Parvati burst into laughter.
“Who sowed that doubt in his mind?” the Lord enquired.
“Who else but Lord Vishnu,” Goddess Parvati laughed.
Then came a loud call, from outside. Lord Shiva told Goddess Parvati, “Ravana has arrived. Let me find out what he wants.”
“The idiot!” she hissed, while the Lord walked off.
“Hey Parameswara. Whom did you send with me, Goddess Parvati or Maya?” Ravana bowed, touched the feet of Lord Shiva while asking the question.
The Lord raised his eyebrows. “Did you say something?’ he asked.
Ravana repeated the question. Lord Shiva scowled, “How dare you ask me that question? Don’t you trust me?”
“I do. But… ” he gave details of the upside down tree and of his meeting with the sage.
I know,” said Lord Shiva.
“Goddess Parvati is back with me. I warned you not to leave her alone. You did that…” the Lord gave Ravana a stern stare.
“I was fooled by the upside down tree,” Ravana said miserably. He knew he had acted foolishly. He was angry at himself. But there was nothing that he could do. He had missed his chance. He had let an illusion fool him.
This teen story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
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