Part 4 The Marriage of Siddhartha
They pleased Suddhodana at first, these words of Asita’s, and he pondered them. “So my son will live, and live gloriously,” he thought, but then he became anxious. For it had been said that the prince would renounce royalty, that he would lead the life of a hermit, and did that not mean that at his death Suddhodana’s family would cease? But his anxiety was short-lived, for since the birth of Siddhartha the king could undertake nothing that did not prosper. Like a great river whose waters are swollen by many tributaries, each day new riches poured into his treasury; the stables were too small to hold the horses and elephants that were presented to him, and he was constantly surrounded by a host of loyal friends. The kingdom was rich in fertile lands, and sleek, fatted cattle grazed in the meadows. Women bore their children without suffering; men lived at peace with their neighbors, and happiness and tranquility reigned in the land of Kapilavastu.
But the joy that had come to Maya proved too sweet. It soon became unbearable. The earth knew her as a mother but seven days; then she died and ascended to the sky, to be received among the Gods. Maya had a sister, Mahaprajapati, who in beauty and virtue was almost her equal. The prince was given into Mahaprajapati’s care, and she looked after his wants as tenderly as if he were her own child. And like fire fanned by an auspicious wind, like the moon, queen of the stars in the luminous skies, like the morning sun rising over the mountains in the East, Siddhartha grew in strength and stature. Everyone now delighted in bringing him precious gifts. They gave him toys that would amuse a child of his age: tiny animals, deer and elephants, horses, cows, birds and fish, and little chariots; and they were toys made not of wood or of clay but of gold and of precious stones. And they brought him costly materials and rare gems, pearl necklaces and jewelled bracelets.
The time came to take Siddhartha to the temple of the Gods. While Mahaprajapati was dressing him in his richest apparel, the child asked: “Mother, where are you taking me?” “To the temple of the Gods, my son,” she replied. The child smiled and quietly went with her to meet his father. The king took Siddhartha by the hand and led him to the hall where stood the statues of the Gods. As the child stepped across the threshold the statues came to life, and all the Gods, Siva, Skanda, Vishnu, Kuvera, Indra, Brahma, descended from their pedestals and fell at his feet. And they sang: “Meru, king of the mountains, does not bow before a grain of wheat; the Ocean does not bow before a pool of rainwater; the Sun does not bow before a glowworm; he who will have the true knowledge does not bow before the Gods. Like the grain of wheat, like the pool of rainwater, like the glowworm is the man or the God with stubborn pride; like Meru mountain, like the Ocean, like the Sun is he who will have supreme knowledge. Let the world pay him homage, and the world will be set free!”
Suddhodana kept thinking of what Asita had told him. He did not want his family to die out, and he said to himself: “I will arouse in my son a desire for pleasure; then, perhaps, I shall have grandchildren, and they shall prosper.” So he sent for the prince, and he spoke to him in these words: “My child, you are at an age when it would be well to think of marriage. If there is some maid that pleases you, tell me.” Siddhartha replied: “Give me seven days to consider, father. In seven days you shall have my answer.” Then, on the seventh day, he returned to his father. “Father,” said he, “she whom I shall marry must be a woman of rare merit. If you find one endowed with the natural gifts I shall enumerate, you may give her to me in marriage.” The king summoned the household priest. He enumerated the qualities the prince sought in the woman he would marry, then: “Go,” said he, “go, Brahman. Visit all the homes of Kapilavastu; observe the young girls and question them. And if you find one to possess the necessary qualities, bring her to the prince, even though she be of the lowest caste. For it is not rank nor riches my son seeks, but virtue.”
The priest scoured the city of Kapilavastu. He entered the houses, he saw the young girls, he cleverly questioned them; but not one could he find worthy of Prince Siddhartha. Finally, he came to the home of Dandapani. Dandapani had a daughter named Gopa. At the very sight of her, the priest’s heart rejoiced, for she was beautiful and full of grace. The priest returned to King Suddhodana. “My lord,” he exclaimed, “I have found a maid worthy of your son.” “Where did you find her?” asked the king. “She is the daughter of the Sakya, Dandapani,” the brahman replied. He summoned Gopa’s father to the palace. “Friend,” said he, “the time has come for my son Siddhartha to marry. Will you marry her to my son?” Dandapani did not answer at once. He hesitated, and again the king asked him: “Will you marry your daughter to my son?” Then Dandapani said: “My lord, your son has been brought up in luxury; he has never been outside the palace-gates; his physical and intellectual abilities have never been proven. You know that the Sakyas only marry their daughters to men who are skillful and strong, brave and wise.”
These words disturbed King Suddhodana. He asked to see the prince. Siddhartha came immediately.The king decided to relate the interview he had with Dandapani. When he had finished, the prince began to laugh. “My lord,” said he, “you are needlessly disturbed. Do you believe there is anyone in Kapilavastu who is my superior in strength or in intellect? Summon all who are famous for their attainments in any field whatsoever; command them to measure their skill with mine, and I shall show you what I can do.” The king recovered his serenity. He had it proclaimed throughout the city: “That on the seventh day from this day, Prince Siddhartha will compete with all who excel in any field whatsoever.” On the day designated, all those who claimed to be skillful in the arts or in the sciences appeared at the palace. Dandapani was present, and he promised his daughter to the one, whether of noble or of humble birth, who would be victorious in the contests which were to take place.
They asked him questions that were considered difficult, but he gave the answers even before they had finished stating the problem. They then decided to challenge his athletic skill, but at jumping and at running he won with little effort, and at wrestling he had only to lay a finger upon his adversary. Then they brought out the bows, and skillful archers placed their arrows in targets that were barely visible. But when it came the prince’s turn to shoot, so great was his natural strength that he broke each bow as he drew it. Finally, the king sent guards to fetch a very ancient, very precious bow. No one within the memory of man had ever been able to draw it. Siddhartha took the bow in his left hand, and with one finger of his right hand, drew it. Then he took as target a tree so distant that he alone could see it. The arrow pierced the tree, and, burying itself in the ground, disappeared. They all acclaimed his glory, and the air rang with their cheers. Suddhodana was happy, and Dandapani, weeping with joy, exclaimed: “Gopa, my daughter Gopa, be proud to be the wife of such a man.”
Gopa: There is a considerable degree of confusion surrounding Siddhartha’s wife. The excerpt above, taken from Andre Ferdinand Herold’s ‘The Life of the Buddha’ (in French) is based on the account given in the Lalitavistara Sutra (a Mahayana text). Here, she goes by the name of Gopa, daughter of the Shakya Dandapani. Other names include Bhaddakaccana (in the Buddhavamsa), Yasodhara (in the Buddhacharita and Mahavastu), Bimba (in the Jinacharita) and Rahulamata (in the Jataka commentaries). Some texts speak of Siddhartha having more than one wife.
Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is the reproduction of a mid-19th century Burmese painting, ‘The Procession of Princess Yasodhara’, preserved in the Asian Collection of the Wellcome Library, London, UK. It shows Yasodhara seated in a palanquin, surrounded by soldiers, ministers, musicians and courtesans, arriving for her marriage to Siddhartha.