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Love can blossom anywhere, anytime. Those who fall in love may do so in the strangest of circumstances and in the most bizarre manner possible. When they look back to see what had attracted them to each other, often the answers are not defined or comprehensible. So was the case between Gaumukhi, a girl from the uppermost caste of the Hindus, the Brahmins, and Kaushal, a boy from the lower rungs of the caste ladder, a Sudra, almost an untouchable as per the standards of the Hindu caste system. They lived during the reign of Ashoka the Great, the third ruler of the Mauryan Empire of India.
The year was 284 BCE, the month, May (“Ashoka the Great”). Gaumukhi, a pretty girl of about eighteen, was on her way to her home after filling water in the mud pot on her head. Since she had good looks on her side, there were many-a-strapping lads who followed and eyed her. Kaushal, a strapping Sudra, well aware that she belonged to a different caste than his and any union between them would be impossible, could not control the surge of his hormones each time he saw her. He tried to talk himself into not even thinking about Gaumukhi in any romantic kind of way but could not succeed. His heart always won over this battle of sorts and talked him into following her wherever she went for her daily routine chores.
One fine day, as Gaumukhi entered the village premises with some grocery items in her hands, another village boy, Suraj, approached her. He made some lewd comment about the skirt she was wearing. Gaumukhi, as such belonging to the upper Brahmin caste, always had her nose up in the air. She never bothered about the number of boys following her movements since she was supremely aware of her charismatic charm. A confident person by nature, she knew what she had to do to stop Suraj in his tracks.
She put down her groceries on the stone-paved road, and gave him a hard, stinging slap on his right cheek. Suraj, totally taken aback, least expected this kind of a reaction from her. He quickly recovered his senses, and decided to pay her back in the same coin. A village lecher, he did not want to get embarrassed in front of the entire gentry present there and have himself mocked. Thus, he picked up Gaumukhi’s groceries and ran off with them to teach her a lesson. Kaushal, a bystander till then, decided to spring into action to save his lady love. He ran after Suraj, engaged in a fight with him, and brought back the stuff Gaumukhi was carrying.
Gaumukhi, on her part, was aware of this Sudra boy following her every now and then. She had not paid any kind of attention to him up until then since she was used to unwanted eyes following her about. However, this was different. She thanked Kaushal profusely for his help and told him about Suraj troubling her every now and then. Kaushal told her to be careful since Suraj was a known hoodlum and comforted her by saying that he would “sort him out”. Gaumukhi, on her part, implored with Kaushal to “not do anything unnecessary or endanger himself in any which way” for her. The next morning, Kaushal, all charged up about doing something to make Gaumukhi proud of him, waited for Suraj to come to their Gurukul or school.
Just as Suraj was about to enter the educational institute’s premises, Kaushal came forth and slapped him twice. The two, as was obvious, got engaged in a nasty fight. Kaushal told Suraj to stay away from Gaumukhi from then on. Suraj, a known miscreant, was in no mood to listen to him. The two had a big brawl in which both got injured on their hands, arms, and legs. The villagers observing this spat came into the picture and somehow stopped the fight from becoming more serious than it already was. However, the good that came out of this was that Suraj actually did become a bit scared of Kaushal and kept away from Gaumukhi from then on.
These circumstances lead to the blossoming of an innocent kind of friendship between Gaumukhi and Kaushal. The two were aware that the Indian caste system would not allow any kind of link between them. There were rigid rules to be followed. The Brahmins and Sudras never, ever, associated with each other, and more so for any kind of romantic involvement.
However, love does not understand any language other than its own. In addition, what has to happen does happen. The two young people began giving friendly overtones to one another. The times also were such that there was not much in the way of tension happening in the village. It was a peaceful, serene, era under the rule of the kind and benevolent king, Ashoka the Great. The village was prospering and there was enough grain in the local granary to feed the whole populace. The villagers were a happy lot and celebrated all festivals at this time since there was no fear of war or of any kind of turbulence.
Amidst this setting, came the festival of Buddha Purnima. This day was celebrated in a big way since Ashoka the Great was a follower of Buddhism. The entire kingdom was lit up with fireworks, candles, et al. The people made sweetmeats at home and distributed them to their friends and relatives. They wore new clothes and partook in dancing and singing activities.
In the same vein, Gaumukhi and Kaushal too were decked up to the hilt as each headed towards the village square. Naturally, they could not sing or dance together since they were from different castes. However, Kaushal managed to come and stand behind Gaumukhi while she was dancing away into the night. She soon became aware of Kaushal’s presence and turned back. The look in his eyes was one of pure admiration and ripe love. At that instant, the two knew for sure that they had found their soul-mate.
From that day onwards, they kept meeting each other on the sly. Their parents were not aware of what was happening in the lives of their children. However, love bloomed, and bloomed good and proper. The two could not stay away from one another at all. Be it the village square or the temple on the outskirts, or even the small café in the street, Gaumukhi and Kaushal kept track of each other’s movements and met up here and there.
However, both the young lovers were only too aware of the difference in their social hierarchy status. They knew that their parents or anyone else from the village, for that matter, would never agree to their union. Hence, they decided to elope and get married, far away from the prying eyes of their seniors and mentors. Fate, nonetheless, had other plans for them.
The year now was 261BC. Ashoka the Great declared a war with the king of Kalinga, a feudal republic near the Mauryans (“Kalinga War”). Kaushal, perforce, had to enroll himself in the army to protect the interests of his nation. The day of parting between the couple soon arrived. Thankfully, no one knew of this association till then and they were safe from the eyes of the world.
Kaushal took Gaumukhi’s fair hands into his own, and promised to come back safe and sound from the battle. He told her that they would run away as soon as he came back home and set up their home and hearth in a place far away from their native village. They would live together, happily ever after, just as it was given in the books.
Gaumukhi was sad and upset at this sudden turn of events. However, she knew that Kaushal could not disobey the call of duty and not go for the war. She was extremely apprehensive too since she knew that nothing was certain while one was on war duty.
Many did not come back alive. Some were crippled for life. Thus, she could not help the tears from rolling down her cheeks during her parting with Kaushal that day. He tried his level best to reason with her and to reassure her. They both were very unhappy when they parted since they knew this to be the acid test of their relationship. The next day, another bombshell event took place. Gaumukhi’s parents had been looking out for a suitable match for her. Her father came home from work in the evening and told the family of a proposal which had come from the headman of the neighboring village for Gaumukhi. She was totally startled and just did not know what to do. Here, when Kaushal was away and that too for a battle, she was being readied up for a marriage with someone else. Her heart ached and she was far too angry about what was happening in her life. Nonetheless, there was very little that she could do. She could not come clean in front of her parents about her love for Kaushal. Thus, she had no way of telling them to not go ahead with their plans for her impending marriage.
Soon, matters took a turn for the worst. Each day, reports came in of the ugliest of all wars taking place between the Mauryans and the Kalingans. Scores of soldier were dying in the battlefield. Gaumukhi could do nothing except pray day and night for the welfare of Kaushal and that he would not succumb during the war vagaries. She had no way of knowing what his fate was. At times, she would become too tense and imagine that he had died while fighting for his motherland. On other occasions, she had nightmares of getting married to the rich headman’s son and living in hell for the rest of her life with a man she did not like, let alone love. Overall, Gaumukhi’s life was at its lowest ebb.
Luck favored with Kaushal, though. He was involved in the war and fought as hard as he could. Each day, they lost soldiers galore from both the side. However, the Mauryans overtook their enemy. It was soon time for Kaushal to come back home. Gaumukhi, on the flip side, had given up hopes of seeing him alive. There was talk in the village of Kaushal having died on the battlefield. Though her insides screamed out, she somehow believed such reports. Her parents managed to force her to get married to Pratik. Soon, it was the day of the wedding. With a heavy heart, she accepted what fate had set up for her. She could not stop herself from grieving for Kaushal but knew that destiny had other plans for her.
Kaushal, on his part, came back to the village. His entry was taken with full of happy smiles since everyone thought he was dead. The news of Gaumukhi’s marriage that day soon reached his ears since the villagers were prepping up for it. He could not believe his ill-luck. That he had survived the trials and tribulations of a full-blown war only to be told that he could not spend the rest of his life with the girl of his dreams! He knew he had to do something to save the situation. He ran across to Gaumukhi’s house. He knew where her room was and thankfully it was next to the gate of the house. Somehow, he scraped across to her window and immediately saw her sitting on the bed crying her heart out. It was still a few hours for the wedding and she would soon be getting ready for it.
He whispered her name from the open window. She looked up. Their eyes met. Gaumukhi almost screamed out since she thought she had seen a ghost. Kaushal was dead, or so they had told her. However, here he was alive, standing right beside her window! She scrambled across the room. Kaushal whispered into her ears so that no one else in the house was disturbed. He told her that he would wait at the village temple for her in an hour’s time. She was to pick up as many belongings as she could and come to meet him. Gaumukhi, literally over the moon by then to see Kaushal alive and well, nodded in agreement. She quietly packed a few clothes, trinkets, and some money into an old cloth. Her mother came into the room just then. “Where are you going Gaumukhi?” she asked quizzically. Gaumukhi told her that she was going to the temple to pray just before her nuptials to get the blessings from God. Her mother, a bit skeptical about such musings, decided to let her go. Gaumukhi slipped away from the house with her bundle of clothes tucked away in her hands. There, at the temple, Kaushal was waiting for her. The two managed to run away from the village.
“Ashoka the Great”. Accessed June 12, 2019, from www.ancient.eu/Ashoka_the_Great/.
“Kalinga War”. Accessed June 12, 2019, from www.mapsofindia.com/history/battles/kalinga-war.html.