Day of Star-Crossed Lovers

The 7th day of the 7th month is marked in Japan as Tanabata, the only day of the year when star-crossed lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi,  who are separated by the Milky Way, can meet. Legend has it that Orihime was a weaver of wondrous cloth. Her father Tentei was very proud of this skill of his daughter’s.  Orihime met and married Hikoboshi, a cowherd. Once married, the much-in-love couple were so lost in each other that she would no longer weave cloth and he allowed his cows to stray all over Heaven. In anger, Tentei separated the two lovers and only after a lot of pleading did he allow them to meet on this one day—the 7th of July. (The lovers are represented by the stars Vega and Altair).

So Tanabata is in a way the Day of Star-crossed lovers.

Speaking of such lovers, my favourite pair has to be Ambikapati-Amaravathi. Lesser known that Laila-Manju or Sohni-Mahiwal (no surprise there, the story is from South India!), I think it is beautiful and tragic and poetical in equal measure.

The story goes back to the early 12th century and to the court of King Kulothunga Chola I. The king had a beautiful, intelligent, talented daughter by the name of Amaravathi.  Kambar, the revered Tamil poet graced the court of this Chola king. The King asked Kambar to teach his daughter poetry, which he used to do.

Once, when Kambar had to travel, he deputed his young, handsome and very talented poet-son to teach the Princess in his stead.

And of course the inevitable happened, and they fell in love.

Which of course was not approved by the King.

And which of course became fodder for a number of court conspiracies and intrigues to discredit Kambar by discrediting his son. One way used to discredit Ambikapathy was to cast a slur on his abilities as a poet, saying he could only write odes to the beauty of women (aka Amaravathi), and not to the glory of God.

To cut a long and complex story short, the King wanted to punish the young poet. But the daughter refused to let him punish Ambikapathy alone for a misdeed in which she insisted she had an equal part to play.

So the King set Ambikapathy a challenge. He declared that if Ambikapathy could compose 100 verses to God and sing them in court, he would allow the couple to marry.

Ambikapathy and Amaravathi were very confident that this was an easy task. However, Ambikapathy told Amaravathi not to appear before him before he had completed singing the 100 verses, as her beauty would distract him, and he would start singing about her instead. Amaravathi agreed.

95779731-CD38-4586-A91A-2CBB675F7A0BOn the day of the challenge, Amaravathi positioned herself behind a curtain, out of sight of her lover. She had at her side two baskets. One was empty and the other had a hundred beautiful blossoms (I visualize them to be jasmine). The idea was that as Ambikapathy finished a verse, she would transfer one flower from the filled basket to the empty one. When the basket was empty, she would know that he had finished his 100 verses and she could appear before him.

And so it happened. Amaravathi opened the curtain when all the 100 flowers from one basket were transferred to the other. And he sang to her beauty.

Alas, Amaravathi had made a mistake. She had counted the traditional invocation to Goddess Sarawathi, the Goddess of Learning and Knowledge and Poetry, sung at the start any such event, as the first of Ambikapathy’s verses. So when she appeared before him, he had completed only 99, not 100 verses.

The unrelenting King had Ambikapathi killed. And Amaravathi died soon after of grief.

Alas, there is no 7th of July for Ambikapathy and Amaravathi!

Totally my favourite star-crossed lovers story!



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