The city of Ujjayini, the capital of Avanthi was in a bustle of activity. It decked up itself with all festivity on the occassion of the Swayamvara (Ceremony of choosing a suitable groom) of its celebrated princess Mitravinda.
The occasion was important not only for the royal family of Avanthi, but also for the whole of Aryavarta. Avanthi was a very influential province among the 16 great Kingdoms of Aryavarta. It had a strong support of its allies from all directions. The King or prince who won the hand of Princess Mitravinda was sure to benefit from the alliance. The citizens of Avanti thought that the Son-in-law would be a lesser in no way and the alliance would emerge one of the strongest in the Aryavarta.
The city was full of Royal guests, most of them being the suitors who came to attend the swayamvara with their retinues. The allies of Avanthi were also eager to participate in this event and cement the relationships with the Royal family. The relatives started pouring in to participate in the memorable event.
Anagha and Avanthi, shared a bond of friendship ancestrally. Dharmasena shared a special bond with Jayasena, the King of Avanthi as the two had spent their pupil years together. When the royal retinue of Anagha comprising the King Dharmasena, Princess Abhaya, Commander Veerabahu, Vikram and their Royal attendants came to Avanthi, they were given a warm welcome.
Jayasena personally came along with his twin sons Vinda and Anuvinda to welcome the King of Anagha. Dharmasena, being the younger of the two folded his hands in a customary Salutation to Jayasena while the latter gathered him in his arms. The moment ushered both of them into nostalgic memories of student days.
“Welcome Your Majesty, King Dharmasena, Welcome to Avanti.” Jayasena extended his welcome. He introduced Vinda and Anuvinda who again customarily saluted Dharmasena. “Anagheswara (Lord of Anagha), where is your daughter, the princess?”
Princess Abhaya alighted from her palanquin and was followed by Jayanthi and a couple of women attendants. She walked toward her father and bowed low to the King of Avanthi.
“Blessings Daughter, May the Lord of three worlds, Mahakaleshwara bless you and your family with never ending prosperity. May he bless you with an illustrious husband and glorious progeny.” Jayasena touched the head of Abhaya as a mark of blessing.
“Lord of Avanthi, you would remember Vikram, my Son. “ Dharmasena introduced Vikram with a sparkle of pride in his eyes. Jayasena threw an admiring glance at the tall structure of the youth who bowed low with humility while Dharmasena continued, “You must surely remember our old friend Vajrabahu. This young man is his nephew, Veerabahu, the commander of Anagha.
“Welcome all. May you live long. Our happiness does not know bounds at your arrival.” Jayasena spoke before he and his Sons led the guests inside towards their guest houses.
“Lord of Avanthi, May my daughter have the fortune of seeking blessings from Her Majesty and meeting her Highness?” Dharmasena requested.
“Why not! Your Majesty, Queen Rajadhi Devi could not personally come to welcome the princess owing to the umpteen ceremonies in the palace. She was particular that she see your daughter as soon as you all arrived. Anuvinda, escort Her Highness, the princess of Anagha to the Queen and princess, Son. “
As Anuvinda and the band of women from the palace escorted Abhaya and her attendants into the palace, Anuvinda was enthusiastic about showing the various aspects of the spacious and lavish Royal palace of Avanthi.
“The ceremonies for the Swayamvara have begun. My Mother, Her Majesty and sister would be happy to have your Highness amongst us “, he remarked looking at Abhaya.
“The good fortune is ours, Your Highness, prince of Avanti.” replied Abhaya in a humble, yet royal accent.
She was extended another affectionate welcome by Rajadhi Devi, the Queen of Avanthi and wife of Jayasena. “Blessings Daughter” She spoke as she enveloped Abhaya in a motherly embrace. “Hope to see you united with your future husband soon. “ She smiled while leading Abhaya into the inner chambers by hand.
Abhaya was led to the bride in preparation. Mitravinda was bedecked with the choicest jewels and looked radiance personified. She smiled coyly at Abhaya.
"So good to see you here, princess of Anagha. I am extremely happy about your presence in the most memorable event of my life.” Mitravinda extended her hands red with the impressions of henna leaf as it was customarily applied to the hands of a bride.
Abhaya warmed at the princess of Avanti, whose informal tone eased her of all the royal protocols. “Princess of Avanti, I pray Lord Narayana to shower you with all his grace. I pray that you have a glorious life ahead with your future husband.” She wished Mitravinda with a smile.
“Princess Abhaya, meet my cousin, Lady Subhadra from Dwaraka.” Mitravinda pointed to a slim built maiden having a dusky complexion and a pronounced smile. Abhaya liked her immediately.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Princess Abhaya! I was about to leave. Thank this moments of delay I could see you!” Subhadra spoke in a cheerful voice.
Abhaya was instantly attracted by her friendly tone. “May be it was my destiny favoring me Lady Subhadra. Pity that you are leaving now. Why aren’t you staying for the ceremonies of your cousin?” Abhaya asked.
Mitravinda intervened, “My cousin finds it more important to accompany her brothers to their visit to Gurukul than attending my wedding. They are all leaving by dawn tomorrow.” Mitravinda turned to Subhadra in disappointment and mock anger.
Subhadra embraced the bride in a pacifying attempt and whispered in her ears. “Sorry dear cousin, you know I can’t stay without my brothers. They can’t stay without an invitation.”
Ahaya who was within the earshot was surprised to hear the words. She closely observed the uncomfortable expression of Queen Rajadhi and displeasure on the face of Anuvinda at Subhadra’s presence.
Anuvinda spoke, “Mother when would the next ceremony start? And is anything required?”
Rajadhi replied, “The next ceremony is Gauri pooja (worship of Mother Goddess) by the bride. Though the swayamvara is a couple of days away, the priests opine that today is very auspicious for the worship. Arrange for the royal chariots to escort your sister for the same.”
“Myself or Vinda shall accompany my sister to the Gauri pooja.” Anuvinda retorted. He continued before his mother could protest that it was a ceremony involving women. “Who can tell what all could happen in the name of Gauri pooja these days?”
He looked at Subhadra meaningfully who returned an angry glance at him. Without making any attempt to conceal her displeasure, she stood up. “Best wishes cousin Mitravinda. Salutations Aunt Rajadhi. Princess Abhaya, hope we meet again. I need to take leave now.” With these words she left abruptly with her attendants hurrying after her.
Mitravinda turned to Abhaya who was more than surprised to notice the gentle Subhadra suddenly turn red with anger. Sister Abhaya, I would want you to accompany me for the Gauri pooja as soon as you are refreshed. Please retire to your guest house and wait for my chariot to come for you. “
Abhaya considered it best to leave the royal palace before things became more unpleasant in her presence. She exchanged glances with Jayanthi who seemed to feel the same. As she left the chambers escorted by other women, she heard the angry voice of Mitravinda.
“That was the worst unmanly behavior you could present, Anuvinda!......”
Abhaya hurried away wondering at the strange behavior of the prince of Avanthi.