4 THE MARRIAGE CONTEST
As the Prince grew older, his kindness made him well-loved by everyonewho knew him. But his father was worried. Siddhartha is too gentle andsensitive," he thought. "I want him to grow up to be a great king and kingsmust, be strong and powerful. But the Prince is more interested in sittingby himself in the garden than he is in learning how to be the ruler ofa kingdom. I am afraid that my son will soon want to leave the palace andfollow the lonely life of holy men like Asita. If he does this he willnever become a great king."
These thoughts bothere the King very much. He sent for his most trustedministers and asked them what he could do. Finally one of them suggested,"O King, your son sits and dreams of other worlds only because he is notyet attached to anything in this world. Find him a wife, let him get marriedand have children, and soon he will stop dreaming and become interestedin learning how to rule the kingdom."
The King thought this was an excellent idea. So he arranged for a largebanquetat the palace. All the young women from noble families were invited. Atthe end of the evening the Prince was asked to give presents to each ofthe guests, while several ministers watched him closely to see which ofthe young women the Prince seemed to like.
Thewomen, who were scarcely more than young girls, were all very embarrassedto appear before the Prince. He looked so handsome but so distant as hestood in front of the table bearing all the expensive gifts. One by onethey shyly went up to him, timidly looking downwards as they approached.They silently accepted the jewel or bracelet or other gift, and quicklyreturned to their places.
Finally, only one young women was left. She was Yasodhara (7), the daughterof a neighbouring king. Unlike the others, she approached the Prince withoutany shyness. For the first time that evening, the young Prince looked directlyat the woman before him. She was very beautiful and
thePrince was immediately attracted to her.
They stood in silence for a while, looking into each other's eyes. ThenYasodhara spoke, "O Prince, where is the gift for me?" The Prince was startled,as if awakening from a dream. He looked down at the table and saw it wasempty. All the gifts had already been given out to the other guests. "Here,take this," said the Prince, taking his own ring from his finger. "Thisis for you." Yasodhara graciously accepted the ring and
walkedslowly back to her place.
The ministers saw all that happened and excitedly ran to the King. "Sire!"they reported happily, "we have found the perfect bride for the Prince.She is Princess Yasodhara, daughter of your neighbour, King Suprabuddha(8). Let us immediately go to this King and arrange for the marriage ofhis daughter and your son."
King Suddhodana agreed and soon afterwards visited Yasodhara's father.The other king greeted him warmly and said, "I am sure that your son isa fine young man, but I cannot give my daughter away to just anyone. Manyother princes want to marry her, and they are all excellent young men.They are skilled in riding, archery and other royal sports. Therefore,if your son wants to marry my daughter, he will have to compete in a contestwith the other suitors, as is our custom."
And so it was arranged for a great contest to be held, with beautiful Yasodharaas the prize. King Shuddhodana was worried. He thought, "My son has nevershowed the slightest interest in warrior games. How can he ever win thiscontest?" But the Prince understood his father's fears and said to him,"Do not be worried. I am prepared to do whatever is necessary to win Yasodharafor my bride."
The first event was archery. The other men placed their targets a longdistance away, yet each was able to hit the bull's-eye. And when it wasDevadatta's turn-for Siddhartha's cousin was also one of the suitors-henot only hit the bull's-eye, but sent his arrow right through th targetuntil it stuck out the other side. The crowd cheered, but Yasodhara coveredher eyes in fright. "How can my beloved Siddhartha ever beat that shot?"she thought. "How dreadful if I had to marry evadatta!"
But the Prince was confident. When it was his turn he had his target placedso far away that most of the people could hardly even see it. Then he tookan arrow from his quiver and pulled back on his bow. The Prince was sostrong, however, that the bow burst in half; he had drawn it back so far!
"Please fetch me another bow," the Prince asked, "but a much stronger onethis time that will not break like the other one." Then a minister calledout, "O Prince, there is a very old bow in the palace. It belonged to oneof the greatest warriors of the past. But since he died many years agono one has been strong enough to string it, much less shoot it."
"I shall use that one," said the Prince, and everyone was amazed. Whenhe was handed the bow he carefully bent it and strung it easily. Then henotched an arrow on the string, drew it back so far that the ends of thebow almost touched, aimed, and let the arrow fly. Twang! The bow made sucha loud sound that people in far away villages heard it. The arrow shot
awayso fast that when it hit the distant target-right in the center of thebull's-eye-it did not even slow down, but continued to fly until it wasout of sight.
The crowd roared in delight! "The Prince has won! The Prince has won!"But archery was only the first event of the day; the next contest was inswordsmanship.
Each young man selected a tree and showed his strength by slashing throughit with his sword.
Onesuitor cut through a tree six inches thick, another nine inches, and athird cut through a tree a foot thick with a single stroke of his sword!
Then it was the Prince's turn. He selected a tree that had two trunks growingside by side. He swung his sword so quickly that it cut through the treefaster than anyone could see. His sword was so sharp and his cut so eventhat the tree did not even fall over. Instead it remained standing, perfectlybalanced. When they saw the tree still standing upright, the crowd andespecially Yasodhara moaned, "He has failed. The Prince's sword did noteven cut into the first trunk.
But just then a breeze stirred up and blew over the neatly severed treetrunks. The crowd's moans turned into cheers, and again they shouted, "ThePrince has won!"
The final contest was in horsemanship. A wild horse, which had never beenridden before was held down by several strong men while each young suitortried to mount it. But the horse bucked and kicked so furiously that noneof them could stay on its back for more that a few seconds. Finally oneyoung man managed to hold on and the attendants let go of the horse. Butit jumped and lunged about with such fury and anger that the rider wasthrown to the ground. And he would have been trampled if the men had notrushed out and pulled him to safety.
The crowd began screaming loudly, "Stop the contest! Don't let the Princenear that horse! It is too dangerous; the horse will kill him!" But Siddharthahad no fear.
"Gentlenesscan be more powerful than brute strength," he thought, and slowly reachedout and took hold of a small tuft of hair that grew from the horse's forehead.Speaking in a low and pleasant voice, and gently stroking the wild horse'shead and sides, he calmed its anger, rage and fear.