The year was 491 B.C. one winter night in Pataliputra, the capital of Magadha. Princess Rukmini had a sleepless night. She was turning on her bed again and again. The next day was her swayamvar. She had to choose a man among the princes and the kings assembled in the court. Kings and princes of many different kingdoms had assembled in Pataliputra the capital of the kingdom of Magadha with the hope of marrying Rukmini. She was charming, slender and fair. She had a smile which could launch a thousand ships. King Ajatashatru had announced the swayamvar of his only daughter, the people of Magadha was anxious to see to whom the princess will choose as her husband.
Rukmini was not happy. She had the right to choose her husband. She could choose any one she liked to marry in the swayamvar yet she was not happy. She wanted to marry her prince charming, the person she would love more than her life. Among the assembled kings and princes there was none whom she had any affection or feelings. They were strangers to her. Though she had a right to choose her husband yet she would have to choose an unknown person to live the rest of her life with.
She wished Charudutta was a prince or a king. Only kings and princes could participate in the swayamvar. It was natural that a princess could only be married in royal families. Rukmini wished that she was not a princess; in that case she could have been married to Charudutta. She had met Charudutta a few days back in the palace. He had come to ask for a job in the court. He was handsome, far with broad shoulders and had brown eyeballs. He had said that he was from the kingdom of Vidarbha and had gone for a pilgrimage to Varanasi. Since he was penniless he was looking for a job.
“What qualities do you have young man? “ The king had asked once Charudutta had introduced himself.
“I know the shastras and the vedas and can help in the duties of revenue collection. Charudutta had replied.
“Okay you can work in the revenue and tax collection of Magadha” The king had replied as he had liked the young man instantly.
“But my king, he is a stranger and not even from Magadha” The minister of revenues had interrupted.
“It is my final decision. Let him learn and work with you.” The king had replied.
Rukmini thought to run away to her maternal uncle’s place in Ujjain. The distance from Pataliputra to Ujjain would take more than two days on horseback or on a chariot. Rukmini got up from her bed and wore mens’ clothes, took her sword and stealthily slipped out of her room. She went to the stable and rode on Chetak her favourite horse. Slowly she rode out of the palace; the palace guards thought her to be a regular soldier and did not ask her any questions. She rode to the house of Charudutta where he had rented the place.
King Ajatashatru was contemplating in his private chambers. He had wanted to respect the wishes of her daughter and wanted her to choose her own groom. But still he was thinking what if she did not choose any of the assembled suitors if Rukmini did not choose any of the gathering. What political situation it could bring. A matrimonial alliance is also a marriage between two kingdoms and not only of two persons. Rukmini was the child of the courtesan Amrapali and Ajatashatru. He had fallen in love with Amrapali in his youth and Rukmini was his love child.
The king had wanted to kill Buddha but had failed in his attempt. He was a sworn enemy of Buddha and had stopped and banned the worship and following of Buddha in entire Magadha. So he had called all the princes and kings from the states which did not revere Buddha.
Charudutta was resting in his chamber. He was thinking of the swayamvar that would take place the next day. He was the prince of Vidarbha, in disguise in Magadha. He had heard that king Ajatashatru disliked Buddha and had even ordered his death. In the swayamvar he had not invited anyone from the kingdom of Vidarbha as king Suketu of Vidarbha was a staunch follower of Buddha. He had heard about the beauty of princess Rukmini and fallen in love with her by hearing about her beauty from the travellers. He had a chance to meet her in Pataliputa palace. The travellers had actually not exaggerated a word. She was an epitome of beauty. She had inherited her sharp features and complexion from her mother Amrapali.
Suddenly there was a stranger in this door. Charudutta stood up, a soldier was standing in the door. May be the king had sent any order.
“What message you have for me?” He asked the soldier.
Suddenly the soldier took off the turban and out came a wave of black hair that reached till the waist. The soldier was a girl. She was princess Rukmini. Charudutta was speechless. The princess whom he loved had come to his chambers at the wee hours of the night in disguise and on the eve of her swayamvar the most important day of her life.
“Princess, at this hour of the night what brings you to my humble hut?”
“Charudutta can you appear tomorrow at the swayamvar?” Rukmini asked.
“ I am not a prince or king princess.” Charudutta replied.
“ It doesnot matter to me, does it matters to you.” She asked.
Charudutta remained silent.
“Do you not desire me? “ Rukmini asked.
“Is there any man in the world who will not desire a woman like you? But I am not rich and your father may not accept me. We all know about his temper.”
“Love knows no fears and has no fears.” Rukmini replied.
“Then surely you will see me at swayamvar tomorrow.” Charudutta replied firmly.
Rukmini put on her turban and went out as stealthily as she had come.
The next day in the swayamvar as all the kings had assembled in the court of Pataliputra. The foremost of them were the kings of Kosala and Kuntala. When all had assembled in the court the king asked for the princess to come. Everybody waited with their bated breath. All eyes were looking at the end of the hall from where the princess will appear. The wait seemed endless. Suddenly Rukmini appeared with a garland in her hands. She was dressed appropriately for the occasion in a yellow saree draped around her slender body.
She passed one by one all the suitors and did not put the garland on any of the suitors present. Her eyes were looking for someone. Suddenly Charudutta appeared in the court. He was dressed in combat attire like a king with his sword dangling by his side. Everyone was surprised in seeing Charudutta. Even Rukmini did not accept him to appear dressed as a prince.
“ I am Charudutta, crown prince of Vidarbha.” He stated.
It took the king some time to come out of the surprise. He had not invited anyone from the kingdom of Vidarbha.
“So you had cheated me firstly by staying in my court by claiming to be some one else and secondly by coming to my daughter’s swayamvar without being invited. I will punish you with death for this indolence.”
“Father, I have chosen Charudutta as my husband. If you wish to give him death sentence you will have to give the same sentence to me. I will live with Charudutta and die with Charudutta” Rukmini said.
Seething with anger the king said “Then you have chosen your destiny, so be it.”
“Just like you had killed your father the great king Bimbisara you will kill me also. I am a princess and I am not afraid of death my king.” Rukmini replied.
Ajatashatru was stunned hearing her daughter. He kept silent for some time then lowered his head and went out of his court. He had killed his own father to get the throne of Magadha. Indeed he is the only king in history so far and may be afterwards who has killed his own father. Suddenly a grief filled Ajatashatru’s mind. He was full of guilty. For seven days the king did not come out of his room. On the eighth day he called for his daughter Rukmini and Charudutta in his room.
Buddha was meditating in Sarnath under a banyan tree. He was surrounded by a handful of his followers. Ananda the foremost of them was sitting in the front row directly opposite to Buddha. One of his followers came forward and whispered a message in Buddha’s ears.
“Bring him to me.” Buddha opened his eyes slowly and and said.
Everybody present in the meditation was surprised. King Ajatashatru came forward and bent down in front of Buddha. He was weeping.
“O lord, I have sinned. I have killed my father, can there be any repentance of my sins. “ He asked.
“Acceptance is the cure for all maladies o king. Accept the fact that you had killed your father and that you should not have done so. Only then you will have peace. I shall pray to God for his forgiveness. Repeat after me Buddhang Saranang Gachhami” Buddha said to the king.
The king went down on his knees with tears rolling out of his cheeks. He repeated the words “Buddhang Saranang Gachhami”
“May peace be with you. Go and spread the word of Buddhism in the world.” Buddha said then closed his eyes for meditating.
“I will O Lord” the King said and returned back.
Charudutta and Rukmini were waiting for the king near his chariot. They smiled at the king and returned to Pataliputra.