"Bhishma said, 'Thus commanded, the lady said,--Be it so. She then brought oil (for rubbing the Rishi's body therewith) and a piece of cloth for his wear during the ablutions. Permitted by the ascetic, she rubbed every part of his body with the fragrant oil she had brought for him. Gently was the Rishi rubbed, and when the process of rubbing was over, he proceeded to the room set apart for the performance of ablutions. There he sat upon a new and excellent seat of great splendour. 2 After the Rishi had taken his seat upon it, the old lady began to wash his person with her own soft hands whose touch was exceedingly agreeable. One after another in due order, the lady rendered the most agreeable services to the Rishi in the matter of his ablutions. Between the lukewarm water with
which he was washed, and the soft hands that were employed in washing him, the Rishi of rigid vows failed to understand that the whole night had passed away in the process. Rising from the bath the Rishi became highly surprised. He saw the Sun risen above the horizon on the East. He was amazed at this and asked himself,--Was it really so or was it an error of the understanding?--The Rishi then duly worshipped the god of a thousand rays. This done, he asked the lady as to what he should do. The old lady prepared some food for the Rishi that was as delicious to the taste as Amrita itself. In consequence of the delicious character of that food the Rishi could not take much. In taking that little, however, the day passed away and evening came. The old lady then asked the Rishi to go to bed and sleep. An excellent bed was assigned to the Rishi and another was occupied by herself. The Rishi and the old lady occupied different beds at first but when it was midnight, the lady left her own bed for coming to that of the Rishi.'
"Ashtavakra said, 'O blessed lady, my mind turns away from sexual congress with one who is the spouse of another. Leave my bed, O good lady. Blessed be thou, do thou desist from this of thy own accord.' 1
"Bhishma continued, 'Thus dissuaded by that Brahmana with the aid of his self-restraint, the lady answered him, saying,--I am my own mistress. In accepting me thou wilt incur no sin.'
"Ashtavakra said, 'Women can never be their own mistresses. This is the opinion of the Creator himself, viz., that a woman never deserves to be independent.'
"The lady said, 'O learned Brahmana, I am tortured by desire. Mark my devotion to thee. Thou incurrest sin by refusing to accost me lovingly.'
"Ashtavakra said, 'Diverse faults, drag away the man that acts as he likes. As regards myself, I am able to control my inclinations by self-restraint. O good lady, do thou return to thy own bed.'
"The lady said, 'I bow to thee, bending my head. It behoves thee to show me thy grace. O sinless one, I prostrate myself before thee, do thou become my refuge. If indeed, thou seest such sin in congress with one that is not thy spouse, I yield myself unto thee. Do thou, O regenerate one, accept my hand in marriage. Thou wilt incur no sin. I tell thee truly. Know that I am my own mistress. If there by any sin in this, let it be mine alone. My heart is devoted to thee. I am my own mistress. Do thou accept me.'
"Ashtavakra said, 'How is it, O good lady, that thou art thy own mistress. Tell me the reason of this. There is not a single woman in the three worlds that deserves to be regarded as the mistress of her own self. The father protects her while she is a maiden. The husband protects her while she is in youth. Sons protect her when she is aged. Women can never be independent as long as they live!'
"The lady said, 'I have since my maidenhood, adopted the vow of Brahmacharyya. Do not doubt it. I am still a maid. Do thou make me thy wife. O Brahmana, do not kill this devotion of mine to thee.'
"Ashtavakra said, 'As thou art inclined to me, so I am inclined to thee. There is this question, however, that should be settled. Is it true that by yielding to my inclinations I shall not be regarded as acting in opposition to what the Rishi (Vadanya) wishes. This is very wonderful. Will this lead to what is beneficial? Here is a maiden adorned with excellent ornaments and robes. She is exceedingly beautiful. Why did decrepitude cover her beauty so long? At present she looks like a beautiful maiden. There is no knowing what form she may take hereafter. 1 I shall never swerve from that restraint which I have over desire and the other passions or from contentment with what I have already got. Such swerving does not seem to be good. I shall keep myself united with truth!' 2