Thus was the Prince born. Amidst the wind-blown flow of nature. Amidst the songs of birds. Amidst the scent of flowers. Amidst the scene of beauty, flushed with greenery. A prince of royal blood, born not in the ornate and artificial confines of stately palaces but by the wayside, beneath the leafy shade of a sal tree, born in nature, alike of nature's beings on earth.
This is how Manu Gunasena describes the birth of a prince – Prince Siddartha whose story is well known. 'The Prince' is not a mere narration of the prince's life story. The author follows the accepted version, yet only up to a point. He takes the liberty to adapt and adjust. Nowhere is Princess Yasodara mentioned. Possibly he felt the prince being married did not add anything to what he tries to describe – "one man's amazing search for the ultimate treasure: The Stoic Stone'. Nor is the charioteer, Channa in the picture. The author concentrates on discussing in great detail "the mystery of life" that the prince found. He describes the inquisitive mind of a young man when he is exposed to real life situations. He also devotes a few chapters to talk about the long struggle to reach his ultimate goal.
The author sums up what the prince saw thus: "First he had realised the inevitability of life, old age and decay. Then he had realised the fickleness of fortune and how sudden sickness could change the 'best laid plans of mice and men'. And finally he had become aware of the one certainty of all life: Death, which vanquished empires and lays to naught all achievements of man and strikes without warning to steal the splendours of any success".
To further stress on his point, the author changes to verse:
For there was death, the reaper's scythe
which sans remorse does fall,
To mow the old and young alike
enact life's curtain call.
Birth, decay, suffering and death
Stalk the living each hour by stealth
the common loot of all.
The shroud that wrapped the dead now showed
The reaper mowed whatever one sowed.
In the last of the six verses, he says:
As he dwelled what he had beheld
the trilogy revealed,
A surge of love for man compelled
him seek the truth concealed
But was life's riddle wrapped in lore
Did answer lie beyond faith's shore
to fathom through ordeal
And as he faced the gathering gloom
The rose of hope did suddenly bloom.
"For then he saw the vision. A flash of his unfinished dream. A sudden movement alerted him and his eyes pictured a man dressed in saffron robes, with his head shaved and carrying a begging bowl, disappear into the woodlands."
The author then goes on to describe the lavish entertainment that had been lined up for the same evening he experienced the reality of life. "The Prince now sat alone; and the music resumed, first softly, as if soothing a child to sleep, and then a pitch higher, a tempo faster until it soon reached a sonorous crescendo at which precise moment the two doors of the two entrances to the riyal hall flung open and from each door there whirled seven veiled damsels, bedecked richly in vivid attire. The flow of their movements was like that of the gentle wind, breezing in effortlessly; and, without the slightest show of any artificiality in their movements, they soon arrayed in a row poised on one leg with the other drawn behind them, with their hands reaching upward clasped together paying first their homage and salutation to Saraswathi, the goddess of music and dance….
"…And then, as the music soared again to a new high, there appeared in the middle of them all, the diva, descending from the ceiling as if from heaven itself, seated on an elegantly made red lotus flower. Having reached the ground she descended from her flowery vessel and came to the fore, bedecked more richly than the others.
" And what of her beauty? What of her alabaster complexion revered by the poets of old? And the peach-like texture of her smooth skin. What of the almond shaped eyes, what of the red rose petalled lips that peered out of her full moon face? It was almost as if the Gods had taken the curves of the creeper, the rotundity of the moon, the clingings of the tendrils, the tremblings of grass, the slenderness of the reeds, the bloom of the flowers, the lightness of the leaves, the tapering of the elephant's trunk, the glances of the deer, the clustering of rows of bees, the joyous gaiety of the sunbeams, the weeping of the cloud, the fickleness of the winds, the timidity of the hare, the vanity of the peacock, the softness of the parrot's bosom, the cruelty of the tiger, the cunning of the fox, the evil poison of the serpent, the sweetness of honey, the warm glow of fire, the coldness of snow, the hypocrisy of the crane, the care freeness of the dove, the flittering of the butterfly and the grace of the swan and mixed them all together into one compound and created her."
What a vivid description not leaving anything for the reader's imagination! He offers more with a set of verses.
At the end of it all, what did the Prince see? "All around him he could see the damsels, so admired earlier, strewn on the ground like the corpses he had seen that day at the burial site. The only music that now played was the cacophonous roar of their combined snoring. They lay in various postures, some on their backs with their legs vulgarly stretched apart, some sleeping on their stomachs with their clothes in disarray, some curled up like fetuses, some using the feet of another as a pillow. One sorry coterie of human garbage who, having moulted and shed their exotic plumage, were now starkly revealed in naked ugliness."
He leaves the palace that night and the author devotes several chapters to discuss the Prince's long search for "life's everlasting treasure".
And finally: "He sat down, adopting the lotus pose, beneath the cooling shade of the tree, facing east, facing the stream that flowed before him. He told himself: It may be that my destiny, my faith, my experiences, my knowledge, my karmic influences have brought me here to the banks of the river Neranjara to sit beneath the shade of this tree. But nothing matters now.
The fact is I have arrived here. And from here will I find the Stoic Stone. I resolve that I will not rise from the hallowed shade of this tree until I find that which I came in search of: Life's everlasting treasure. A treasure which benefits not only the discoverer but the whole of mankind. I will only rise with that knowledge or else at the foot of this tree".
He did not perish. He found what he was looking for.