There was once a story of a Khosrow, some call him Farhad who went on a journey across the lands. "Where are you going? Who are you looking for?", asked the curious citizens, and Khosrow, would with ease and confidence respond with "Shirin." He rode on his horse and sought, and finally his efforts brought their fruit - Shirin was before his eyes at the river bank, fully bare, washing her body and her hair with the emerald water. Nizami sang of the moment he saw her: "She came upon an emerald field in which there gleamed a gentle pool. Weary and covered with dust from head to foot, she stopped. When she had satisfied herself that she was quite alone, she tethered Shabdiz and prepared to bathe. Beautiful was the whiteness of her skin against the blueness of the water. She loosed her braids and washed her long black hair, and the moon-like reflection of her face was caught in the shallows of the pool. And then she sat in the cool, refreshing water, dreaming of Khusrow. [...] He came upon the pool in the emerald field and saw Shirin sitting in the water like lily. At the sight of her, his heart caught fire and burned; he trembled with desire in every limb." Khusrow's image is not dissimilar from the story of a Japanese monk who walked into the mysterious dream-landscape & found in it a beautiful healer woman: "My blood was boiling, and the woman's own warm passion as she scrubbed my body with her bare hands made the water feel warm and soothing. The sensation I experienced was so pleasant that although I did not exactly fall asleep, I did forget all about my earlier embarrassment and seemed to fall into a sort of reverie in which I forgot all my aches and pains. The warm, pliant body of this woman pressed to my back made me feel as though I was in the embrace of some lovely and exotic flower. The woman hardly seemed the sort you would expect to find in these remote mountains. Indeed, a woman of her beauty and refinement would be rare even in the capital city. She was like a gentle and delicate flower. Although she made every effort not to breathe on me while washing my back, and even though I was trying my best to ignore her presence, I must confess I felt carried away by a transport of ecstasy as she bathed me. There was also the exquisite fragrance; I was uncertain whether it was the mountain air or the woman's own fragrance, but I felt it like a zephyr of her breath on my back. At any rate, that is how it was; the whole experience seemed like a dream. As I say, I had the unreal feeling that I was being enfolded by a gentle, fragrant flower. It seemed to twine around my legs, then my waist, my hands, shoulders, neck, and finally even my head. Suddenly I fell flat on my buttocks on the boulders and my legs thrust out into the flowing stream. For a moment I thought I would surely slide off the rock into the river, but the woman flung her arms around me from behind, hugging me to her breast and thus saving me from the swift current."
Now that I could see the woman, I realized that she was quite different than she had appeared when wearing clothes. She was voluptuous and her skin was silken.
"A little bit ago I was in the stable taking care of the horse,' she explained, 'I have that horsey smell all over me and feel quite uncomfortable. This will be a good chance for me to bathe as well.'
The woman spoke quite casually as though I were a member of the family rather than a stranger.
"Holding back her hair with one hand, she raised her arm and scrubbed the side of her body with the wash cloth. Then she stood bathed in the moonlight, the figure of some pale goddess, wringing out the wash cloth. It seemed to me, perhaps I only imagined it, that the woman's sweat as she washed it away was a pale pink, almost red in color. Afterwards she combed out her long, wet locks of hair.”
In the Western canon too there are many watchers of the bathers - Venus at her toilette, Renoir's voluptuous bathers who merge into a singular existence with the dreamlike landscapes, Diana Bathing, Diana with her Nymphs, Naiad in Her Pool and a multitude of others. Among these many watchers, the most famous ones in the collective Western psyche came to be the tragic Actaeon & the King David. The image of a beautiful woman seen while not being aware that she is seen, or of the one who doesn't care if she is watched & is immodest, bold & shameless with her nudity has seized the creative imagination from East to West. Perhaps the men of the past, and of the present, dreamed a dream of catching his own personal goddess at her most intimate - in that short moment his goddess is seen & observed inside her very own enclosed feminine space, the space in which no male eye is allowed, even if she, when she goes out, performs & dances for men. Perhaps it compliments him - what unique man he must be, what rare favours of Fates or Fortune has he gained to be allowed inside her hidden & intimate space & to privy into its content. Maybe it is that the beauty of the naked female body is accentuated when water rests on it, just like the Moon's white inside a body of water reflects & accentuates the enchanting beauty of the Moon in the sky.
Love Strips Bare
"The lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved."
― "The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories", Carson McCullers The Sufi poets love to play with what is a supposed conflict between Beauty & Love. Beauty, usually seen as the Feminine aspect in the dynamic is the one who seeks to veil & hide herself. She wishes to remain unmanifest to anyone except Herself. She says, proudly: "Only I know of my Beauty. Only I get to enjoy it & to indulge in it. My intoxication is with my own Self." But Love, usually seen as the Masculine aspect in the dynamic seeks to rent all veils asunder. Love is the one who seeks to penetrate the Beauty's Mystery & have Her Manifest not only to Herself but to the World. And while externally in conflict, internally, the Beauty & Love share the desire - for Beauty, as much as She loves to hide, also longs to be unveiled & known. Jami sings: "In solitude, where Being signless dwelt, And all the universe still dormant lay Concealed in selflessness, One Being was Exempt from "I" or "Thou"-ness, and apart From all duality; Beauty Supreme, Unmanifest, except unto Itself By Its own light, yet fraught with power to charm The souls of all; concealed in the Unseen, An Essence pure, unstained by aught of ill. No mirror to reflect Its loveliness, Nor comb to touch Its locks; the morning breeze Ne'er stirred Its tresses; no collyrium Lent luster to Its eyes; no rosy cheeks O'ershadowed by dark curls like hyacinth Nor peach-like down were there; no dusky mole Adorned Its face; no eye had yet beheld Its image. To Itself it sang of Love In wordless measures. By Itself it cast The die of Love. But Beauty can not brook Concealment and the veil, nor patient rest Unseen and unadmired; 'twill burst all bonds, And from Its prison-casement to the world Reveal Itself." Beauty is the only of the three transcendentals who seeks to be manifest in the World, but since Beauty also loves to hide, when she wishes for the unveiling, she casts her wish into ether through inviting into a love play. It is in this loveplay that she gets to see who is he who hears her call & comes to meet her. Who other than Love could have the eye to see what Beauty means in the words she says? And who other than Love has the audacity to look at Her & the capability to have Her manifest in Her full splendour? To her love invitation, He who is Love responds: "Love does not accept limitation & does not like a negotiation. Take me full or I will depart in full too. Love is the Dark One who sneaks into the Forest & as he strips the Beauty of her modesty, He says: Beloved before the Lover must always be Bare."
The Saint and the Beast
"In the mean time it happened that David arose from his bed after noon, and walked upon the roof of the king's house: and he saw from the roof of his house a woman washing herself, over against him: and the woman was very beautiful." - 2 Samuel 11
Traditional houses around the world would often have, if not the tall walls then the enclosed & hidden inner yards. The woman in this space is fully internal & esoteric & she cannot be seen by a random passerby. Yet the rules and the boundaries do not apply to the one who rises above them & gazes right into the Beauty. The King David could cast a gaze into Bathsheba's balcony only from a tower that was even higher than hers. The only man who gets to see the Beauty in Her Intimacy is the one who himself is the Qutb, Axis or Pole. He is the one who has perfected himself into a King & the gaze at, and eventually, inside the Beauty, will not transform him into a Beast but rather elevate & magnify his own Perfection. The Japanese saint of Mount Kōya was the only man that the beautiful healer woman of the mountains didn't transform into a Beast. The story tells how she was a miraculous healer, believed by the villagers to be an incarnation of a Medicine Buddha. She spent many years healing others just by her touch, until one day she was fated to remain with her severely disabled husband. The husband could never fully heal, and she took care of him like a mother would. However, her body & heart longed for touch & love. To compensate, the beautiful woman would appear to men who came by the healing stream & transform them into beasts once she was done with them. However, she didn't do so to the Saint. She healed him & took him into her home instead. The Saint was beginning to be consumed with a desire for her. Although the Saint in the story keeps his celibacy vows, the story echoes a similar message - only the Purest & the Most Holy of men can look at such a hypnotising Beauty, feel the healing power of Her touch & not be overcome by his beastly nature, succumbing to which causes him to lose his human form. The Beauty that was lethal to many, was his saviour. Many are stories in which, consumed by instinct & impulse, a man's gaze at Beauty comes to a fatal end. Beauty loves transgression of her Lover and She loves the One who hears Her invitation & joins Her for the loveplay, but She will only ever allow the transgression to the One who looks at Her with Love & pure, willed desire, ustained by the animal nature. The story of the Beauty at Her Bath, at its very Heart seems to tell: "The waters that glisten against my body will either be the amniotic fluid of his new life, its purifying & initiatory baptism or the boundless Ocean in which he is to drown."