Long, long ago King Jagata, which means the world, lived happily with Queen Dharti Matá whose name means Mother Earth. Together they lived in a palace somewhere in northern India.
They were such happy people that every time they laughed the sunbeams danced. The courtiers and the servants smiled and sang to themselves as they went about their duties.
Way back then, the seasons were mild and they came and went, as they should. Everyone was happy. Everyone that is, except lonely Chandrika, the moon queen. She was fine for a few years living alone up in the dark night sky. And for a while she quite enjoyed being the Queen of the night.
But, after some time she decided she wanted something more. She wanted someone to talk to someone to laugh with. And as she watched how happy King Jagata and Queen Dharti Mata were she grew more and more jealous.
So one night Chandrika left her dark and dreamy palace in the night sky and came down to earth. She peeped through the palace window, everything was still even the mice were asleep. The gates were open. The doors were open. The windows were open. There were no watchmen for this was so long ago that thieves were not born yet.
The next day early in the morning Chandrika made herself small and hid in the middle space in the sky between the Earth and the Sun. The sun was so bright that she could hardly be seen in the sunlight. No one could see her because no one was looking for her.
Queen Dharti Mata rose early that day as she always did. She stepped out into the courtyard with her brush and comb and began to comb her long shiny black hair in the morning dew. All the while she kept smiling to herself from pure pleasure at the clean air, the bright sun and the shades and shades of green leaves in the hundreds of different kinds of trees.
When she smiled the dimples in her cheeks went in and out and out and in. After she had finished brushing and combing her hair she decided to go for a walk in the jungle to choose a flower to put in her hair.
“Aha”, thought Chandrika who had been watching her, “Now is my chance!” And down she came from her hiding place half way up in the sky. She went up to King Jagata who was sitting out in the courtyard having a hearty breakfast of parathas made in ghee with aloo sabzi and a big tumbler of milk on the side.
“Namaste, King Jagata,” she said all polite and proper and her voice tinkled like a hundred little silver bells.
King Jagata was surprised. He looked up and said, “Who are you, pretty maiden?” He didn’t recognize her at all now that she was here on earth and she looked rather pale in the bright sunlight. “Whatever your wish is, pretty maiden, on this beautiful day I shall grant it.” His voice boomed around the courtyard all jolly and hearty.
“Whatever my wish?” She asked lowering her eyes but raising her voice so she could be sure.
“Yes, indeed!” King Jagata said, not suspecting anything at all.
Then, raising her eyes boldly, Chandrika answered, “I wish you to banish Queen Dharti Mata and make me your queen instead!”
”WHAT!” exclaimed King Jagata. He was so startled that he dropped his paratha on the ground — and they never used to drop food on the ground in those days! And he accidentally hit his tumbler of milk and that too splattered all over the floor in terror. But he had made a promise and he was now tricked into keeping it.
When Dharti Mata came back from her walk King Jagata told her of the trick. They were both so upset that they cried and cried. But they knew that they would have to fulfill the pledge as in those days one always kept one’s word, especially a king. So Dharti Mata had to go far away into the jungle.
And Chandrika became the queen. She clapped her hands with glee. She laughed her silver bell laugh. She stomped her feet on the ground with joy. But nobody else was happy.
The courtiers and the servants became slow workers. They all looked sad. They even sang sad songs. The leaves on the trees began to droop. The sunbeams didn’t dance any more around the palace. Instead they hid themselves in a cushion of clouds. And the more the sunbeams hid themselves, the thicker the clouds grew thicker. Cold winds blew through the palace. The land became dry. The wheat refused to grow. People became thin and miserable. They began to quarrel with each other.
King Jagata went around with a grim look on his face. In short the palace was shrouded in gloom.
But what became of Dharti Mata? She had gone into the jungle, far, far into the jungle. As she was a happy natured person, she soon dried her tears and set to work.
She had to break Chandrika’s trick. But, she didn’t know how to do it. So she sat and thought and thought. While she was thinking she kept spinning sunbeams from the finest of gold threads that clung to her dress.
The sunbeams flew as fast as light up through the trees, into the sky and raced towards the sun where little by little they started to collect and grow stronger, but they still didn’t go anywhere near King Jagata’s Palace.
Soon Dharti Mata too felt the effects of the unusually cold weather. She wrapped herself in a blanket of snow and went to visit the palace in her disguise. When she saw the palace and the sad look on King Jagata’s face, she wept. Her teardrops formed bright crystals on the windowpanes. When King Jagata saw the crystals he smiled at their pure beauty. His breath melted the crystals with its warmth. Then he felt sad again.
“Something must be done,” thought Dharti Mata as she made her way back to the jungle. On her way back she looked around her and saw how sad and cold the wheat looked. It was drooping and pinched from the chill winds. So Dharti Mata bent down and warmed the roots of the wheat by breathing on them. Immediately they looked brighter and shot out little pale green shoots and started to stir with life again.
Next Dharti Mata went up into the Himalayas ¬¬the home of eternal snow. Here she planned to meditate. By concentrating on the problem perhaps she would come up with a way to break Chandrika’s trick. Up in the Himalayas she saw that even some of the great rivers were frozen over. So she breathed on them too. Soon they began to melt and flow.
“That’s it!” said Dharti Mata as she watched the rivers crack and thaw and flow again. “I’ll bring the earth to life with the warmth of my breath. So she rushed around the mountains breathing on all the frozen rivers and melting them. Her warm breath and the ice on the rivers combined to form cold winds that were felt on the plains and around the palace.
The people began to stir. “Something’s up”, they whispered among themselves.
“Something is happening in the Himalayas!”
“Indeed,” said the sages, “the rivers are beginning to melt.”
Some people went up into the foothills of the Himalayas and came rushing back. “The mountains are falling!” they cried. “Surely this is the end.”
Others said “No! This is a good omen.”
Some even dared to whisper that Dharti Mata was planning something. And so the rumours began. “Dharti Mata is coming back in spite of the ban.”
“Dharti Mata is waking up the world.” “She is calling on every living thing to rise and spread love and kindness.”
And so in a way, she was. By now Dharti Mata had run along the entire breadth of the land. She called to the Amaltash, the Laburnum, to spread her golden boughs and flower.
“Wake up! Wake up!” She said to the peach blossoms.
“Rise and shine!” She sang to the apple blossoms up in Shimla.
“Flowers, flower!” She laughed in her mellow voice. And one by one they did. The roses, the fragrant chamelis, the simbal, the gulmohar trees, even the Raat-ki-Rani, all began to bud and blossom.
Sitting in her dark room in the palace the false ‘Queen’ Chandrika heard of Dharti Mata’s miracle in the mountains of the Himalayas. She sat on the edge of the lotus pool in the garden and gazed into its dark waters. She thought of King Jagata’s sad expression ever since she had come to the palace, and then she wept. Her silver tears fell into the pool and shone like tiny silver dots. “Call Dharti Mata back!” She cried, rushing up to King Jagata. “Please call her back! I can’t stand this any longer.”
When King Jagata heard this he was so happy he smiled and it was like the sun’s rays when it comes shining through the clouds. He sent his messengers all through the land to tell Dharti Mata to come back to the palace as quickly as she possibly could. A messenger whose name was Basant found Dharti Mata just as she was turning the wheat flowers to gold. And she, when she heard the message, clapped her hands and laughed her golden laugh, which sent the last of the grey clouds scurrying away. Then she turned around and ran all the way back to the palace.
As she rushed through the palace gates and into King Jagata’s outstretched arms, all nature burst into colour and song. The birds twittered. The bees hummed. The butterflies flitted cheerfully. In her happiness Dharti Mata remembered the messenger who had brought her the happy news and she named her miracle of waking up the world after an unusually long winter famine, ‘Basant’ after him.
However, she had almost forgotten Chandrika who was lurking in the dark corridors, shy and ashamed of herself. Dharti Mata forgave her and kissed her on both cheeks.
“I was so lonely,” sobbed Chandrika, “in my black palace in the Night Sky and I was jealous of your happiness with King Jagata and now I’m so sorry,” she said through her silver tears and her big gasping sobs.
“Don’t cry,” said Dharti Mata, “we’ll think of something for you. Look at your pretty silver tears. I’ll make them into little star children for you and we’ll call them ‘taras and sitaras’, because they sparkle so much and they will fill the night sky with you!”
“Oh that will be lovely!” said Chandrika, “and they can call me Chandra Ma.” And so it was. Chandrika or Chandra Ma as she is now called went back to her palace up in the night sky and she took her little star children, the taras and sitaras along to live with her.
Dharti Mata and King Jagata told her to visit them every year. Although Dharti Mata knew that the earth would become very cold every time she came down. “Never mind, she said, “I’ll just go off and make my miracle of Basant. And everything will be fine again. Then you must look after King Jagata for me!”
“I shall! I shall,” called back Chandra Ma as she held onto her star children with one hand and waved very hard with the other.
“Hmmmm,” said King Jagata, usually a very quiet person, “but I’ll always miss you,” and he put his arm around Dharti Mata’s shoulders.
“I’m sure you will,” she replied quietly, “but Chandrika has learnt her lesson and she was really only lonely, so she’ll never play a trick on you again.”
Chandrika never played a trick on King Jagata again. And she and Dharti Mata and the King all lived in harmony ever after.
What’s more she does still come down to earth every year. And in remembrance of that trick so long ago, the earth still goes into a cold season and up in the mountains rivers freeze over and snow covers even the lower peaks. And that’s when Dharti Matá goes away and makes her miracle of Basant. The end
NOTE: In India, there are many stories around Vasant or Basant, but no legend that actually says why it’s called Vasant. It is believed that on this day goddess Saraswati was born. The closest one gets to a story is the following: “Legend says that Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe was disappointed with the gloominess and colourlessness in the atmosphere. He wanted to change the world and sprinkled some water from his kamandalu/ kamandal (water pot, often made from an empty gourd shell). No sooner had he done so than there was a blinding flash and Saraswathi appeared playing the musical instrument, Veena in her two hands. In the other two, she held a book and a garland. Lord Brahmana named her as Saraswathi, meaning the beholder of all rasas and kalas.” There’s Vasant Panchmi – when Holi is celebrated and of course, the many stories and legends surrounding Holi are all well known. This invented story “Chandrika’s trick” uses the legend style to tell a fun tale and provide a reason for giving the season a name.