Three young men came to the forest hermitage of the sage Sthulakesha. “We are tired and thirsty,” one of them called out. “Will someone please give us water?”
Pramadvara, the sage’s daughter, was inside. She was inspecting the healed wing of a bird she had rescued. “You are well now. Go back to your home,” she said. The bird happily flew out and over one of the young men, who ducked his head in surprise.
“Did my little patient startle you?” Pramadvara came out with a pot of water. But the young man, whose name was Ruru, only stared at her, tongue-tied. “What’s the matter? Didn’t you ask for water?” she said.
“I… I… yes, I did. I’ll have some.” Pramadvara poured the water into their palms and the young men drank their fill. “That was wonderfully sweet,” Ruru said. One of his friends whispered to the other, “The water or the giver?”
“It was sweet because you were so thirsty,” Pramadvara replied.
As the young men left the hermitage, Ruru kept looking backwards. His friends smiled and nudged each other.
The three travellers returned to their hometown. Ruru was the son of a brahmana named Pramati. All of that day, he was lost as if in a dream. “I’ll have to tell them how I feel. They will then speak to Father about it,” he thought. And that evening, he went to meet his friends. “That face keeps haunting me,” he confessed to them. “You… you remember that girl… at the ashram?”
“Face? Which face? Which ashram? What girl?” they asked him, in pretended puzzlement. “Don’t tease me. You know who…” “Of course, we know. We know very, very well.” “Speak to Father. Tell him, if he wants me to marry, I will marry only her.” “We’ll be your love-messengers,” his friends assured him.
They went at once to Pramati, who was glad to hear the news that his son had made his own choice. “We’ll go to Sthulakesha’s ashram tomorrow itself,” he said.
The next day, the party went to the forest hermitage. Pramadvara saw them coming. Her eyes met Ruru’s and she knew. She ran to her father and pressed her head againt his arm. “What is the cause of this joy on your face?” he asked. “Oh… someone’s coming…”
The two fathers met, talked it over. And that evening, with great happiness, they performed the engagement ceremony of their children.
Ruru and Pramadvara went for long walks in the forest. The wind in the trees seemed to sigh in pleasure at the love which shone in their eyes. The young couple waited impatiently for their special day when they would be one.
A day before the marriage, Pramadvara was playing a game with her friends. They had tied a cloth over her eyes and were calling to her. “I am Ruru. Come and catch me.” Pramadvara turned towards the voice. “No, Ruru is here. Come this way,” said another friend, and Pramadvara turned at once towards her. Her friends burst out laughing.
As Pramadvara walked forward, blindfolded, she stumbled on something. It was a cobra. It raised its hood angrily and struck. Pramadvara let out a cry of pain and fell like a tree cut down. “What is it? What happened?” Her friends ran to her. Then they saw the snake crawling into the bushes and knew. Horrified, they carried her into the ashram to her father. Sthulakesha tried to revive her. The neighbours, the forest hermits, even the animals whom Pramadvara had cared for so lovingly, came to her bedside. Every treatment was tried, but the bite had been too severe. Pramadvara lay there, lifeless.
When Ruru heard what had happened, he rushed to the hermitage. What he saw there broke his heart. He turned away and went into the forest. “How is it that my eyes did not go blind when they fell on my love lying dead? Is she who healed the forest creatures herself beyond healing? I have done all my duties, kept my word, respected my elders. Fate, I beg you — give me back my love.”
Then he heard a voice. “Ruru, your lamenting will not bring back Pramadvara.” It was a heavenly being who had come there, moved by Ruru’s grief. “Are you willing to make a sacrifice? Will you give up half your life span to her? Then she will live.”
Ruru could not believe what he had heard. “Is that all? Only half my life span? I would give up the whole of it, if she could live. Divine Being, yes, may half the years of my life go to Pramadvara.”
Even as he said this, at the hermitage, Pramadvara began to stir. She took a soft breath and opened her eyes. “Where is he?” she asked. Everyone watched in wonder.
Ruru came running into the hermitage. He took her hands. “Nothing can come between us now.”
Ruru had made a sacrifice for love. He had won back his bride.