Saturday, 24 December 2011

Payu travels to deliver the gauntlet

As the young rider neared the settlement, he decided to dismount from his horse. His instincts warned him against entering, on horseback. Several full moons ago, it was this very settlement, at the outpost of South Panchala, that had been ravaged by the barbaric Vrcivans army’s elite soldiers. The mere sound of a horse’s hoofs had the potential to trigger panic amongst the few survivors, reasoned the rider. He had no intention for them relive their horror.

As he entered the settlement, horse by his side, he was spotted by an alert young boy. The boy began to beat a drum in order to alert the settlers. Soon enough, they gathered, in the centre of the settlement, with spears in hand, ready to take on the visitor who strangely did not appear to be armed.

“I am Payu, son of Bharadvaja, and I come in peace”, declared the rider.

The eldest amongst the settlers, examined the visitor carefully. There was no trace of any weapons, not on his person and nothing saddled to the horse either. Hair knotted on the right and white robed, his face had a shine, not seen amongst commoners. His visage and clothing were unmistakable as was the pronunciation of the few words he had spoken.

The elder dropped his spear and began to fold his hands. “Forgive us for not according you a deserving welcome. Recent events have compelled us to treat everyone who visits our settlement with distrust.”

“On my way here, I was told about the events you refer to many a time, and so the reaction on your part does not surprise me at all”, responded Payu.

The elder turned to the young boy and said, “Take the horse away. Feed it and make sure it has enough water as well”.

“You must be tired and hungry as well. Why don’t you rest in my humble dwelling and let me have the privilege of serving you food and water. I do not have the means to offer you a threefold meal, nor exalted soma. You see, I lost my wife, my entire family was killed during the attack, so there is none that can prepare a good meal anymore. I cannot serve you a meal which will satisfy your taste, but I am sure it will satiate your hunger.”

Payu handed the reins of the horse to the young boy and walked over to the elder man’s dwelling. The rest of the settlers, followed, each eager to help and serve the famed seer’s son.

“I have nothing but admiration for all of you. Inspite of the irreparable loss each of you have suffered, you have chosen to come back and re-build your lives, your homes. You could have re-settled in adjoining villages or moved to Kampilya, but why come back?” Payu was genuinely interested to know.

“After the attack, I did travel all the way to Kampilya. The rajan and prince (Srnjaya and Prastoka) were keen to meet me so I could give them first hand description of the attack and its aftermath. Later, we had a long discussion on re-settling the survivors. The rajan suggested we should all move to the capital and that we would be taken care of. But the prince had a different view“, explained the elder.

“Our deserting the settlement would have played right into the hands of the Vrcivans methods, was the view of the prince. It would embolden them to attack the next settlement. Our return to the settlement would send a strong message to the Vrcivans, that the Panchalas we will not be intimidated to give up their homes, cattle and land.”

“I was convinced with the views of the prince. And in any case, if the Vrcivans did attack us again, what more did we have to lose?”

Outside, the young boy was singing joyously as he fed and washed the horse. Washing cows was one thing, but washing this wonderful beast, was something else. Payu could not help but notice. His admiration for the resilience of his hosts grew even more. “And what is his story? How does he manage to be so happy?”

“Ah, that boy, he is the only child to survive in the settlement. On the day of the attack, he insisted on accompanying his brother who took their cattle outside the settlement for grazing. But his parents refused as he was needed to take care of other household chores, which he hated. After some time, he managed to slip away and was on his way to join his brother. That is when he saw from a distance, his brother being shot by an arrow and killed instantly. He managed to hide and then as the Vrcivans entered the settlement, he climbed up a tree and witnessed the entire destruction. No one from his family survived. We are all that he has now.”

“Incredible, incredible…”, was all that a stunned Payu could manage.

"What is his name?"

"His name is Nila."

"Hmmm, Nila", repeated Payu, as a way to ensure he would not forget the name.

“What brings you here, so far away from the ashram? And how can we help you?” The elder asked Payu.

“I am on my way to challenge the Vrcivans to a war on behalf of the Puru-Anu alliance. Vadhryasva, Srnjaya and Cayamana have come together, in an alliance forged by my father. They have decided to field a joint army to fight the Vrcivans. The war will be fought on the banks of the Hariyupiyah (Drsadvati). A war that will once and for all seal the question of supremacy amongst the Arya."

Notes & References

RV 07.033

This is a hymn dedicated to the seer Vasistha. It has a description of how seers/rishis in those days may have dressed and looked like.

1. THESE who wear hair-knots on the right, the movers of holy thought, white-robed, have won me over.
I warned the men, when from the grass I raised me, Not from afar can my Vasisthas help you.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The spider weaves its web

At first glance, Kaithal seemed an unlikely venue for a meeting to strategize a major war. Predominantly a religious centre, people visited Kaithal more to perform religious rituals and participate in occasional spiritual discourse. Lush greenery abounded. The settlement nestled between two rivers that were providers of life to humans and varied species of plants and animals. There was an unwritten code amongst the local people not to kill animals for food, clothing or any other reason, including weapon making and medicinal purposes. The cattle they owned was the  basis of their sustenance supplemented by primitive agriculture. While most settlements in the ancient world of the Arya underwent constant upheaval, Kaithal stood out as an exception. The tranquillity could easily lull one into a state of somnolence.

The three rajans must have felt the same as they took their seats in the hut dwelling and would have been wondering why Bharadvaja’s had chosen this as a venue for the talks. Perhaps, sensing this, Bharadvaja began the talks by pointing to Devavata’s fire and saying, “That is the main reason for our meeting here at Kaithal.”

“There have been more illustrious Purus to have come before and after Devavata, but none can boast of leaving behind a mark that symbolizes the glory and power of the Purus as this eternal fire.”

“If the Vrcivans want to establish their supremacy over the Purus, dare them to douse this fire.”

The provocation was very obvious. It stirred the rajan’s out of their serenity.

“But, Risihivar, based on their current might, it is only a matter of time that they will blaze their way across our lands and reach Kaithal. Who and what will stop them?” asked Srnjaya, unsure if this wager made sense.

“No one will stop them Srnjaya, infact you will provide their army a safe passage”, answered Bharadvaja and then after a deliberate pause, continued, “In return, we will demand of the Vrcivans that not a single settlement or single person be harmed.”

Author's note: In order for the Vrcivans to reach Kaithal, they would have to pass through South Panchala.

The idea seemed preposterous. Cayamana, the non-conformist, seemed to think the old man had gone mad. So, the most powerful army was to be allowed entry right into the heart of Arya land and then what?

“The spider does not go looking for its prey. It spins a web and waits for the prey to come to it. In the same manner, we will let the Vrcivans come to us, not the other way around.”

“But, Rishivar, by letting the Vrcivans come right into the heart of Puru territories, will we not make it easier for them to overpower us? How much time before they destroy our army and then demolish Devavata’s fire?” asked Cayamana.

“If you do nothing, the Vrcivans will destroy your settlements, one by one, till they overthrow Kampliya, then, continue to Ahichhatra and eventually into your lands as well Cayamana. With their current might, even your combined armies, untrained, unprepared as they are, cannot stop them. Do you really wish the annihilation and destruction and of your people, your armies and your lands?” 

“Well, I do concede, if the Vrcivans do agree to the offer of safe passage, the destruction of Panchala settlements and the killing of the people will be spared, but will it not hasten our defeat. For, our combined armies are no match for their, and therefore defeat is inevitable”, responded Cayamana.

“Not if we ensnare them in a web. Come with me.”

Bharadvaja rose and briskly strode out of the dwelling towards the western bank of the Apaya. Not far away to the east, and very much visible to the naked eye, was the bigger Drsadvati.

“The two armies will face each other on the other side of the Drsadvati. In order for the Vrcivan army to take control of Devavata’s fire, they will have to cross two rivers.”

“After offering initial resistance, your army, will deliberately withdraw, making it possible for the Vrcivans to cross the Drsadvati”, an animated Bharadvaja said to Vadhryasva.

“A few months after the rains, when the water in the Drsadvati is neither too high nor too low, it becomes very difficult to cross it. The pebbles that make up the bed of river become extremely slippery, and both horses and foot soldiers have to wade very carefully to reach the other side. With more than half their army in the river, Cayamana, your soldiers will shower the front flank of the Vrcivans with arrows from the west bank and Srnjaya, your men will attack from the rear. Trapped in the middle of the river, not able to move forward or back, it is the best and probably only chance you have of crushing the mighty Vrcivans.”

The three rajans looked at each other, their faces marked partly in awe and partly with disbelief.

“One more thing, we have to get Virshika to agree to the war after the rains. It is critical that we get him to agree, as it will also give you time to prepare for the war.”

The wily Bharadvaja had just produced a flash of genius. They were unanimous; if ever the Vrcivans could be defeated, then this was the only way.

But would the prey enter the web?

Notes & References

Extracted from Wikipedia -

The Drsadvati River (dṛṣad-vatī, meaning "she with many stones") is a river already mentioned in the Rig Veda (RV 3.23.4) together with Sarasvati and Apaya. In later texts, Vedic sacrifices are performed on this river and on the Sarasvati River (Pancavimsa Brahmana; Katyayana Sratua Sutra; Latyayana Srauta Sutra).

In the Manu Smriti, this river and the Sarasvati River define the boundary of Brahmavarta.

Manu 2.17. That land, created by the gods, which lies between the two divine rivers Sarasvati and Drsadvati, the (sages) call Brahmavarta.

The Drsadvati River has often been identified with the Chautang River.[1] Talageri (2000) identifies it with the Hariyupiya and the Yavyavati. It is also identified with the Jaxartes, while the Sarasvati has been identified with the Oxus river.
According to the major religious work Srimad Bhagavatam, the Drsadvati is one of the many transcendental rivers in India.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The allies meet at Kaithal

The early morning chanting of hymns and prayers by several priests in unison, infused Kaithal settlement with divinity. The settlement was an important religious centre of the Purus. Situated on the banks of the Apaya river, it wasn’t too far from the confluence of Apaya and Drishadvati with the mighty Saraswati. Just outside the settlement, towards the west, lay the Manusa lake, which along with the rivers was considered sacred as well.

Several centuries ago, the Puru tribe’s expansion to the east and south, was led by two descendants of the illustrious Bharata - Devasravas and Devavata. On reaching the lake, they bathed there and reported feeling a sense of immediate rejuvenation and cleansing from within.

Then moving onto the banks of the Apaya, they performed a grand yagna (ritualistic prayer) asking their Gods to help them in their cause to spread in the new lands, to give them strong offspring who would spread even further and faster and finally to ensure their people had plenty of cattle and food at all times.

Author's Note: Rig Veda 03.023.04 is explicit in what the kings prayed for. (see Notes & References below).

They also vowed that the sacrificial fire kindled during the yagna would remain lit forever. A family of Angirasa priests were asked to take that responsibility and they became the first inhabitants of what came to be known as the Kaithal settlement.

Bharadvaja had chosen Kaithal settlement as the venue for holding the alliance talk. On reaching Kaithal, Bharadvaja, Srnjaya, Vadhryasva and Cayamana, took a dip in the Manusa lake. They then headed straight to pay homage to the Devavata fire as it had come to be known. As a further mark of their respect, they arranged to feed the entire priestly families who lived right next to the Apaya and constantly tended to the Devavata fire.

After lunch, the four, ensconced themselves in a simple yet cool mud dwelling offered to them by their priest hosts. For each man in the dwelling, there was a deep-rooted purpose for being there.

Notes & References

The Rig Veda Mandala III has a very specific reference to the eternal sacrificial fire and the yagna performed by Devavata.

RUBBED into life, well stablished in the dwelling, Leader of sacrifice, the Sage, the youthful,
Here in the wasting fuel Jatavedas, eternal, hath assumed immortal being.

Both Bharatas, Devasravas, Devavata, have strongly rubbed to life effectual Agni.
O Agni, look thou forth with ample riches: be, every day, bearer of food to feed us.

Him nobly born of old the fingers ten produced, him whom his Mothers counted dear.
Praise Devavata's Agni, thou Devasravas, him who shall be the people's Lord.

He set thee in the earth's most lovely station, in Ila's place, in days of fair bright weather.
On man, on Apaya, Agni! on the rivers Drsadvati, Sarasvati, shine richly.

Agni, as holy food to thine invoker give wealth in cattle, lasting, rich in marvels.
To us be born a son and spreading offspring Agni, be this thy gracious will to us-ward

The Mahabharta actually references these locations as shown by the following verses:

Mbh. III.81.53-54: “Then from there one should go to the world-famous ManuSa… By bathing (in the lake) there, a man who is chaste and master of his senses is cleansed of all evils, and (he) glories in the world of heaven.”

Mbh. III.81.55-56: “The distance of a cry east of MAnuSa, there is a river called ApagA, visited by the Siddhas;… when one brahmin is fed there, it is as though a crore of them have been fed.”

Mbh. III.81.62-64: “Thereupon one should go to the world-famous SAraka… There is also there the Abode-of-IlA Ford (IlAspada): by bathing there and worshipping the ancestors and Gods, one suffers no misfortune…”

Mbh. III.81.73: “By bathing in the DRSadvatI and satisfying the deities, a man finds the reward of a Land-of-the-fire (AgniSToma) and an Overnight-Sacrifice (AtirAtra).”

Historian, M.L. Bhargava, in his brilliant research on the subject points out that these places are still extant: MAnuSa is still known as MAnas, still a pilgrim centre, a village 3½ miles northwest of Kaithal; the ApayA or ApagA tIrtha is still recognised at Gadli between MAnas and Kaithal; and ILAyAspada or ILaspada at SAraka is the present-day Shergadh, 2 miles to the southeast of Kaithal: “MAnuSa and IlAspada were thus situated on the right and left sides of the ApayA, about 5½ miles apart, and in the tract between the DRSadvatI and the SarasvatI.

Kaithal exists even today as one of the districts in the state of Haryana, India.

A link to website on modern day Kaithal with references to its past, including Vedic past may be found here:

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Cayamana's rebellion

Abhyavartin Cayamana stormed out of a meeting with the elders and Purohits of his clan. How he wished he could pack them together and feed them to the wild beasts. These old men and their outdated traditions. How was he to get it through their hard heads that times had changed and they had to move on.

If the Panchalas had the Bharadvajas, the Anu tribe had the Bhargavas, descendants of the ancient rishi Brighu. The Brighus had given the Arya world fire worship and soma worship but the  Bharadvaja’s and related priestly families had usurped those practices and made them their own. This had been the underlying reason for tensions between the priestly classes and the their patron tribes.

Over centuries, the Purus and their most powerful clans the Panchalas had become increasingly militant much to the concern of the Anu tribes that neighboured them to the west. While all the Arya tribe held Varuna as the supreme God, in recent times, the Purus were giving Indra as much importance. Infact the Bharadvaja’s very openly advocating proclaiming Indra as the supreme God, overthrowing Varuna and all the traditions of the original Arya tribes.

Cowherds who measured their wealth and power in terms of the number of cattle they possessed were now turning to conquer land and control their fellow clans and tribes.

The appearance of the emissary from Bharadvaja’s ashram had stoked the fires of internal conflict within the Anu tribe, with the elders and priest wanting to keep their distance from the Panchalas, and their rajan, who insisted they had no choice but to forge a politically expedient alliance if only to thwart the Vrcivans.

Abhyavartin Cayamana had had enough. He was going to back his convictions and hope his people, especially the youth would rally behind him. He summoned Bharadvaja’s emissary and conveyed his consent to the conditions the Rishi had placed. He would turn up at the meeting and seal the alliance that would take on the Vrcivans.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Virshika’s quest for revenge

History is shaped by the brilliant and the whimsical. The brilliant, chisel their ideas, meticulously and persistently, till they sculpt a world for us to live in admiration. The whimsical, fixated with an idea steeped in irrationality, powered by unbridled delusion, unleash a tornado that sweeps all, leaving behind wreckage that generations struggle to recover from.

It is told that Yayati, son of Nahusa, was forced to marry Devayani, the imperious daughter of the dreaded seer Kavya Usanas. Kayva Usanas also insisted that after her marriage, Devayani be accompanied by the beautiful princess Sarmishta, who, having once offended Devayani, is now her slave.

Now human nature has its own way. So while Yayati had two legitimate sons with Devayani – Yadu and Turuvasa, he secretly fathered three sons by Saramishta – Druhyu, Anu and Puru. When Devayani and Kavya Usanas discovered the secret, the latter cursed Yayati to old age instantly. 

Yayati begged for forgiveness and finally Usanas relented not to reduce the punishment but for Yayati to transfer it to someone who would willingly accept it. Yayati summoned each of his sons and entreated them to give him their youth, but each refused except Puru, the youngest.

A shocked and insulted father cursed his older sons. Turvasa is cursed to be king over people who will never abide by order, but live in the manner of animals. To Druhyu, he announced that he will be king only in name and that he will live with his companions in a land without roads where no horses, elephants, no animals or vehicles can pass, where one can move only by raft. Anu is cursed that his sons will die before they have attained the flower of age and that Anu himself will not be qualified to assure the services of the fire altar.

To Yadu, he cursed that his descendants will always be “arajyabhaj” – without the enjoyment of royalty. The eldest, he is further heaped scorn by denial of using the titles and claim lineage of Nahusa.

Finally, and most important of all, each is banished from the kingdom, which is reserved for the respectful Puru.

It was several hundred years later that young Virshika, born into the Vrcivan clan, of the Yadu tribe, first heard about his ancestry from his father. It incensed him then and continued to do all his adult life. As he was made head of his clan, he swore to reclaim what he felt was rightfully his. He would teach those bastards a lesson.

Granted that the Purus and Anus had great power, they had powerful Gods and equally powerful seers. But Virshika had no fear, no fear for humans or animals, not even of the Gods. He and his clan would turn savages and unleash a terror that the world had not seen, indeed he would take it to the very heavens.

A messenger had just returned with good news from the border. The Vrcivans had crushed a settlement at the outpost of the Panchalas. Virshika quaffed at the soma drink in satisfaction. The time had come to put the next phase of his plan into action.

Notes & References

Some readers will no doubt find an echo of Virshika in Duryodhana, the Kaurava prince. Indeed when Duryodhana questions his father Dhrtarashtra on why Yudhishtra and not he should be the rightful heir to the throne, Dhrtarashtra narrates Yayati’s example of passing Yadu over in favour of Puru.

In other texts, Kavya Usanas is also referred to as Sukracharya.

The Vrcivans or Vricivat are to be identified with Vraich/Varaich clan of the Jats/Yadu tribe.  Their descandants are still found in modern day Pakistan and India.

Modern day Vrcivans

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The townhall at Ahichhatra

There was a trickle of people gathering in front of Vadhryasva’s house. (Author’s note: In those times, there were no palaces, heads of clans and rajans stayed in larger houses with better fortifications.). He had returned to Ahichhatra to a great outpouring of grief. But a war had to be fought, an army resurrected and the general populace needed to be conditioned to the dangers and upheaval that lay ahead.

The trickle had now grown into a crowd. Vadhryasva stepped out along with Bhumanyu, Purumidha and Ahichhatra’s other council members.

Vadhryasva realized that everyone in the crowd had the same unanswered questions. Had their Gods suddenly turned against them? Accidents do occur and even though the laity and noble propitiate the Gods, people still die. Now, that they understood. But for Dabhiti and Menaka to perish in such unexplained circumstances, that too in the presence and hermitage of a powerful seer such as Rishi Bharadvaja? Were the Gods trying to send them an ominous message?

“Sometimes our Gods appear to act in the most inexplicable ways. In the immediate aftermath of the accident, I struggled to find a justifiable reason for it. But for the fact that I was in the hermitage, I would not have been able to contain my anger and expressed my wrath against the Gods in some form or the other. The healing began on the way back to Ahichhatra. So also did the realization of why this had happened and what it means to me, to us.”

“I have no doubt, the snatching away of our queen and revered purohit, was a supreme sacrifice that our Gods ask of us. To think of it any other way would be to question our faith in them. Our faith in our Gods is being severely tested. If we reaffirm our faith in them, we will send them a message that the greater good of our people is more important to us than two individuals, howsoever important they may have been. It will tell them, that we remain steadfast in our belief that they will continue to guard and protect us despite the loss and adversity.”

“Cast out your doubts, your suspicions. Give up your grief, but not your memories. Nurse the memories of those we have lost and may it serve as a constant reminder of your obligation to repay their  supreme sacrifice. Rise, valiant, for your land and clan needs you. Unflinching faith will show the way.“

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Kampilya council meets

The news of the Vrcivan attack had reached Kampilya, the capital of South Panchala. Srnjaya and son Prastoka had several meetings with the Kampilya council since then. As if on cue, a messenger from Bharadvaja’s ashram (hermitage) arrived within a few days of the attack. Bharadvaja had arranged to send messages to Srnjaya and Abhyavartin immediately after his meeting with Vadhryasva and Dabhiti.

The message was simple and direct. The only way the Vrcivans could be countered was if the three rajans came together as allies. Bharadvaja would play an active role in the campaign if they came together. Bharadvaja would decide on the role and contribution by each janapada. If these basic terms were agreeable, then a meeting to work out the exact details would be convened at a secret location on the following full moon day.

Srnjaya conveyed the message to his council. The decision was swift and unanimous. Kampilya would abide by the conditions set forth by Bharadvaja. The decision was conveyed to Bharadvaja’s messenger who then relayed a set of instructions to be executed immediately. The army was to be placed on alert and to prepare for war at once. Every settlement was to be fortified the able amongst the inhabitants to keep vigil instead of looking after their herd. Production of weapons and coats was to be stepped up as was the construction of chariots.

Messengers spawned all over South Panchala and preparations for war began in earnest. Purohits in every settlement were instructed to conduct yagna’s to invoke Agni and seek the well being and protection of one and all.

South Panchala was now in war mode…

Author's note: There are several hymns in Mandala VI that invoke Agni and Indra. There is one hymn that particularly seeks for the well being and protection of the invokers. I reproduce the entire hymn RV 6.002 in its exact form as translated by Griffith.

THOU, Agni, even as Mitra, hast a princely glory of thine own.
Thou, active Vasu, makest fame increase like full prosperity.

For, verily, men pray to thee with sacrifices and with songs.
To thee the Friendly Courser, seen of all, comes speeding through the air.

Of one accord men kindle thee Heaven's signal of the sacrifice,
When, craving bliss, this race of man invites thee to the solemn rite.

Let the man thrive who travails sore, in prayer, far thee the Bountiful.
He with the help of lofty Dyaus comes safe through straits of enmity.

The mortal who with fuel lights thy flame and offers unto thee,
Supports a house with many a branch, Agni, to live a hundred years.

Thy bright smoke lifts itself aloft, and far-extended shines in heaven.
For, Purifier! like the Sun thou beamest with thy radiant glow.

For in men's houses thou must be glorified as a well-loved guest,
Gay like an elder in a fort, claiming protection like a son.

Thou, Agni, like an able steed, art urged by wisdom in the wood.
Thou art like wind; food, home art thou, like a young horse that runs astray.

E'en things imperishable, thou, O Agni, like a gazing ox,
Eatest, when hosts, Eternal One! of thee the Mighty rend the woods.

Agni, thou enterest as Priest the home of men who sacrifice.
Lord of the people, prosper them. Accept the ofrering, Angiras!

O Agni, God with Mitra's might, call hither the favour of the Gods from earth and heaven.
Bring weal from heaven, that men may dwell securely. May we o'ercome the foe's malign oppressions, may we o'ercome them, through thy help o'ercome them.

Map with references to locations mentioned in the story 

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The seed is sown…and lost

The animated discussion went on for several hours. Payu was asked to join in as well. During the course of the discussion, Dabhiti and Vadhryasva realized that Payu was a veritable chip of the old block – mature, knowledgeable, clear headed and above all a master tactician in the making.

Eventually, the men seemed to reach a consensus on strategy and way forward. Bharadvaja pulled Vadhryasva away and asked the latter to accompany him for a walk.

Dabhiti turned to Payu and said, “You certainly have a very important role to play in the future, Payu, one that could forever alter the course of Arya land.”

“Yes Purohit, I do. And I will not fail you. I have been working with my father on ways to consecrate weapons, which I have no doubt will be extremely useful during what is now an inevitable war with the Vrcivans.”

Author’s note: The above is a reference to the Samgrama Sukta or the Battle Hymn - RV 06.75. More of this in the chapter on the Hariyupiya war.

Later that night, Menaka was discreetly taken to Bharadvaja’s quarters. The seed of Divodasa was sown that night. The Panchala visitors stayed on for few more days under the pretext of serving and learning under their spiritual and political mentor; however, the underlying reason was to stay there till they were sure Menaka had conceived.

On the eve of their departure, a programme of music and prayer was held. The visitors retired for the night, reassured they had found the solutions to the problems they had come with.

And then tragedy struck. It must have been sometime well in the night that Payu and Bharadvaja woke up to the screaming of the ashramites (inhabitants of the hermitage). Rushing out of their quarters, they found the visitor quarters in flames. Some of the ashramites were desperately trying to quell the fire while a few men were struggling to enter the rooms in order to rescue Vadhryasva, Menaka and Dabhiti.

Payu plunged himself in the rescue efforts. After an ordeal that lasted over an hour, the ashramites were able to rescue Vadhryasva, but not Menaka and Dabhiti, their bodies charred beyond recognition.

A much burned and totally shocked Vadhryasva kept turning to Bharadvaja and muttering “Why, why?”

Nobody was sure how the fire started, but the consequences of the loss would prove to be profound. Everything the visit had been able to achieve had been overturned in a matter of one hour. And worse. What was left was a rajan, mentally scarred forever, without his beloved and without his guide and mentor.

Bharadvaja repeatedly counseled Vadhryasva not to allow himself to be engulfed by his grief and loss. This was not the time for the janapada to lose its rajan as well. There was so much at stake, and Vadhryasva would have to figure a way to deal with the setback and loss.

It is how one deals with adversity that separate the leaders from the led.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Time for strategy - Part II

“The Vrcivans can be defeated, but it will require a grand alliance between you Panchalas and the Anus.”

“But why would uncle Srnjaya want to ally with us? Of what possible use can we be to him without an army?” asked Vadhryasva.

“War is more than just armies. And a protracted war, which this promises to be, will need constant supply of food, clothing, weapons, and healers to nurse the wounded soldiers.”

“With the grace of Pusan, we have more than adequate supply of cereals and meat. We can deploy our craftsmen to make weapons and chariots. Our healers are the best in the Arya land and we have more of them than any of the other tribes. Indeed there is a lot we can contribute in this war”, reasoned Dabhiti.

“And will the Anus agree?” queried an unsure Vadhyrasva.

“Yes, they have no option but to do so. Once the Vrcivans overcome us, the Anus will be their next target. They have much to lose if we are defeated. Besides, did you not notice the warmth with which Cayamana’s emissary greeted us? Surely, he would know why we are visiting the Rishi and he chose an appropriate time to send us the right message of friendship”, answered Dabhiti.

“Dabhiti is right, Cayamana is wise enough to know that their best chance of thwarting an eventual Vrcivan victory is through an alliance with you Panchalas”, said Bharadvaja, seconding Dabhiti.

“But is an alliance sufficient to ensure our victory?” asked Vadhryasva. “I hate to admit that the ruthless and savage reputation of the Vrcivan army pervades all of Arya land.”

“They can be defeated, if you convert their strength into a weakness.”

“Please explain.” Dabhiti and Vadhryasva ended up saying in tandem, with much hope and expectation.

“How would you describe their style of engaging in battle?”

“Well, a ferocious band is sent to raze a small settlement. Then after a few days, a contingent of no more than hundred men on foot and horses swoop on nearby settlements and take over, with little or no resistance, because their inhabitants are too terrified to fight”, replied Dabhiti.

“Exactly. This is how they managed to subdue the Turvashas. But mind you, they have never been tested by a strong or large army. You need to dictate the rules of engagement, and they have to be very different from what they are used to.”

“Second, draw them further and further into Panchala territory, conceding easy victories on the way. Then at an appropriate time, pinch the army from its base. Cut off from their supplies and drowned by over confidence, you will have the best chance to vanquish them.”

“Draw them to the Hariyuppa (river) and victory will be yours”, proclaimed Bharadvaja.

Dabhiti and Vadhryasva looked at each other, and then at the Rishi, awe and admiration written all over their faces.

Time for strategy - Part I

On the appointed day, the royal Panchala entourage set forth on their grand journey to Rishi Bharadvaja’s ashram.

Author’s note: By any standard, a journey from present day Bareilly, Uttar Pradhesh, India to Kalesar National Park, Haryana, India, traversing nearly 400 kms, in 3500 BC using the most basic carts would have been grand.

The party travelled through lush plains that was their land, watered by the many tributaries of the mighty Saraswati and Yamuna, passing through one small settlement after another. As they passed through each settlement, it became more and more apparent to Dabhiti that the Panchala populace, though large, could hardly be expected to turn up in battle.

Around the fifth day, the entourage crossed over into what was Anu territory (modern day western Haryana, India). Abhyavartin Cayamana had arranged for an emissary to greet the Panchalas and convey his well wishes. These were good tidings, noted Dabhiti and hoped would prove critical in shaping alliances in the future.

Sometime late on day ten of the journey, the party reached the ashram and were warmly welcomed by Payu, son of the rishi. Payu made sure the visitors were well settled and informed them that the Rishi would meet them early next morning.

Just after day break the following day, Payu escorted Vadhryasva and Dabhiti to a spot close to the river where Rishi Bharadvaja awaited them. As they neared the Rishi, the two guests went down on their knees as a mark of respect.

“I have deliberately chosen this spot for our discussions, away from prying eyes and earshot of everyone. If you do need anything, food or drink, let Payu know. He will wait here with us although at a distance”, began Rishi Bharadvaja.

Dabhiti briefed the Rishi of the many serious problems the Panchalas were facing. The imminent attack by the Vrcivans, the frosty relations between Srnjaya and Vadhryasva, Bribu’s warning of the threat of the Dasa king Sambara and North Panchala not having an heir.

“So tell me, what is more important, the rajan or the janapadha?” Bharadvaja asked of Vadhryasva.

Both Dabhiti and Vadhryasva were stunned by the directness of the question. “I think you already know the answer, your question betrays that you know the answer”, replied Vadhryasva.

“How so?”

“If you were sure I would choose rajan over janapadha, you would not have asked this question.”

Bharadvaja nodded in agreement and smiled, indicating he was impressed with the rajan. After all, how many kings choose kingdom over self?

“Rajan, you do realize, that you are in a position of little or no advantage.”


“Both Mudugala, your father and you, have done much for the upliftment and well being of your people, but have completely ignored the basic need to protect them. Your army exists only in name and save for a few bravehearts such as Bhumanyu, there is none that can strike fear in the mind of your enemies.”

“It will take several years of enlisting and training before your army can be formidable once again. Till such time, North Panchala is of no strategic importance to anyone.

“Our people would be more than willing to sacrifices their lives for pride and honour, Rishivar” retorted an offended Vadhryasva.

“We are gathered here to see how the Panchalas can win the war for supremacy of the Arya. And the only way you will help me find the answers is if you detach your emotions and ego.”

“Remember, the brave win battles but it is the wise that win wars.”

Notes & ReferencesA hint of how reverence was displayed in those days is provided in the very first hymn of Mandala 6.

RV 06.001.6
Dear priest among mankind, adorable Agni hath seated him, joy-giver, skilled in worship.
Let us approach thee shining in thy dwelling, kneeling upon our knees, with adoration.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Vrcivans at the outpost - Part II

Four of the horsemen, two on either side, lit the torches they were carrying. Then the ten, galloped towards the settlement, picking more speed as they neared the outer perimeter made of dried wood and rope. The four horsemen in the centre, began to break free raising their spears and stone hammers. As they burst in through the open gate of the settlement, they swooped on anything that moved or was alive – men, cattle, dogs, fowl. They were followed by two horsemen, expert marksman, their arrows picking anyone that made an attempt to reach out for implements that could be used to retaliate or defend.

The ensuing chaos cleared the path for the torch bearing horsemen to pick those houses that could easily catch fire and they plunged the torches mercilessly, without any heed to the fact that the houses had women, children or even infants. Cattle fodder and the heat, just abetted the fire and soon the houses were in flames, with its occupants rushing out but only to fall to hammers, spears or arrows.

In a matter of minutes, the settlement was razed, its inhabitants either killed or maimed badly, unable to move or defend. For good measure, animals were not spared either, not even cattle. In a land where cattle was wealth and skirmishes took place all the time over them, this utter disregard and ruthlessness was deliberate. The Vrcivans were sending a strong message – cattle was not at stake any more. The bar had been raised, supremacy over the tribes was the ultimate and only goal, rules and ethics be dammed.

The horsemen surveyed the destruction with much satisfaction. Yes, there were a few of the wretched Panchalas still alive and they would live to recount the horror. They then turned and left the settlement, knowing well they would come back this way in a few days time.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Vrcivans at the outpost - Part I

It was barely a few hours since daybreak, but the summer sun had begun to beat down on the vast grazing lands. The lone cowherd, decided to take cover under a tree. At first, he stood under the shade and watched over the herd. But with passing time, boredom and the heat broke his resolve – he yielded to temptation to lie down, resting his back against the bark of the tree, but only for a bit he assured himself. He uttered a small prayer to Pusan, his family deity, asking for protection of his herd, should he fall asleep. As he struggled to fight off sleep, his eyes became heavy and his vision a blur.

At some point in time, the blur changed shape. He started to focus, wondering what it could be. Was it his brother sitting on top of a cow? Why would he do such a thing? It turned out to be a man on a horse, a rather strange sight. He stood up in order to greet the horseman, perhaps, a traveller who had lost his way. As he began to speak, he noticed the horseman raise a bow and point an arrow at him. What was happening here? Had he fallen asleep? Was this a bad dream or was this for real? The last thing he registered was an arrow leaving the horseman’s bow hurtling in his direction.

The arrow pierced through the cowherd’s chest, the sheer force pushing him back and nailing him to the bark of the tree. The horseman watched the impaled body with satisfaction and then, turned and cantered towards the herd to join the rest of his band.

There were ten of them and they were part of an elite group within the Vrcivan army. They were feared because of the sheer savagery and brutality they inflicted on their opponents. It was part of an extremely successful strategy adopted by Virshika, head of the Vrcivan clan and now the unquestioned ruler of the Yadu tribe.

A ferocious band would be sent to plunder and rape and finally raze a small settlement. A few men would be spared, so they would spread the news amongst larger neighbouring villages. Fear alone would account for more than half of the conquest. Then after a few days, a contingent of no more than hundred men on foot and horses would sweep in and take over, with little or no resistance.

The ten horsemen regrouped and their leader started going through instructions one final time, before they would begin their assault. What lay ahead of them was a settlement with no more than three hundred inhabitants. It was not the size of the conquest that would be relevant to this band. The settlement was an outpost of the South Panchala janapadha.

The Vrcivans were now within striking distance of Panchala territory...

Friday, 12 August 2011

A yagna before the journey

It was a day before the Panchala royals were to set out on their journey to Rishi Bharadvaja’s ashram. Crowds had begun to gather at the centre of the Ahichhatra where a yagna was being arranged. The yagna would be performed by Dabhiti himself to seek and secure a safe journey of the royals by invoking Pusan, the deva who showed the way.

Bhumanyu and a few other purohits (priests) were frantically trying to organize and get the yagna underway. It had been several years that a yagna of this scale had been performed in Ahichhatra. Mudgala’s prolonged illness and then passing away had been a dampner.

Children were running helter-skelter, screaming in excitement. The elders tried to silence them and pretended not to show their enthusiasm. But from their dressing it was obvious that a grand occasion was unfolding and they very much wanted to be a part of it. The men had turned up in their fine cotton, having dispensed anything made of hide or animal skin, which they typically wore during their daily chores. The women, in addition, had decked themselves in beads of precious stone. A few amongst the very wealthy had some gold jewelry to show off as well.

Finally, Bhumanyu and the others seemed to have got things in control and concluded with the preparations. It was time for the royals and Dabhiti to make an appearance. A hushed silence descended on the crowd in anticipation. Then to the deafening sound of shanks (counch) and dhunis (small leather drum), the rajan and Dabhiti appeared in their chariots. The queen was being carried in a palanquin.

Praise in the name of Vadhryasva and Menaka rent the air and occasionally, Dabhiti was named as well. The royals greeted the people with folded hands. It felt nice to see the warmth and respect that the people had for them. The royals, finally wound their way to the venue of the yagna, and then walked to the area where the yagna kundhas (fire altars) were placed.

Dabhiti kindled the fire in the three yagna kundhas in the exact manner prescribed and began to chant the hymns to Pusan, directing Vadhryasva and Menaka to offer oblations from time to time.

Author's note: There are several hymns in Mandala VI that invoke Pusan. It is very likely that one or more of them was certainly invoked prior to a journey being undertaken. I reproduce the entire hymn RV 6.054 in its exact form as translated by Griffith – to produce it in any other form, would have been a travesty.

O PUSAN, bring us to the man who knows, who shall direct us straight,
And say unto us, It is here.

May we go forth with Pusan who shall point the houses out to us,
And say to us, These same are they.

Unharmed is Pusan's chariot wheel; the box ne'er falleth to the ground,
Nor doth the loosened felIy shake.

Pusan forgetteth not the man who serveth him with offered gift:
That man is first to gather wealth.

May Pusan follow near our kine; may Pusan keep our horses safe:
May Pusan gather gear for us.

Follow the kine of him who pours libations out and worships thee;
And ours who sing thee songs of praise.

Let none be lost, none injured, none sink in a pit and break a limb.
Return with these all safe and sound.

Pusan who listens to our prayers, the Strong whose wealth is never lost,
The Lord of riches, we implore.

Secure in thy protecting care, O Pusan, never may we fail.
We here are they who sing thy praise.

From out the distance, far and wide, may Pusan stretch his right hand forth,
And drive our lost again to us.

Notes & References

Dinner with Bribu, the Pani

That the Aryas considered the Panis a despicable lot was well known in the ancient world. The Panis on their part considered the Aryas to be an arrogant, war mongering brood. That they had different customs, religious beliefs and languages, did not help either. The undercurrents of these age old prejudices seemed to be at play when Bribu, Dabhiti and Vadhryasva met over dinner. A way had to be found to replace the subtle hostility with a semblance of friendliness, if only to ensure Bribu would be more forthcoming with information.

“You speak our language well for someone who we consider as mrdhravaks (one who falters in speech)”.

“And you treat us Panis well rajan, in contrast to the other Aryas who always look down upon us”.

“From the time of my father, bringing peace and prosperity to our people has always been most important to us. The goods you bring to our land, they contribute to the well being and prosperity of our people. If for that reason alone, I should treat you well, then so shall it be.”

“I greatly admire the concern you show for your people rajan. Your reputation in this regard has spread far and wide”.

“And so has your reputation, I hear. Is it just hearsay that you presented Rishi Bharadvaja with many a gift and sought his blessings?”

Bribu, burst into laughter, more as a way of mocking himself. “We are traders rajan and we make our living by buying goods in one land and selling them in others where they are needed. How can we trade extensively in your lands if we are seen as inimical to your people? What better way to win the confidence of the sons of Nahusa, than by being accepted by the house of Bharadvajas? I am no different than you rajan, and I too am concerned about my family and clan, and for their prosperity and well being, I am willing to do anything, even it means, pay respects to those whose beliefs I do not agree with.”

This was going well, Dabhiti said to himself, Bribu was beginning to open up. It was time to interject.

Dabhiti started to pour more soma into Bribu’s cup. “It is no wonder Bribu that you are welcomed and sought after in lands far and wide. Your actions and thoughts are more noble than most Arya I have known”.

Bribu felt a nice high, unsure if it was the praise or the drink. He picked his cup and downed its content in one big gulp.

“So Bribu, pray, tell us, what is it from other lands that we should fear?” asked Dabhiti even as he poured more soma into Bribu’s cup.

Bribu, now completely loosened, looked around as if to make sure, there was no one else within earshot.

“There is much to fear, Rishivar from both your people and mine. The Vrcivans, you have much to fear them, for they have ruthlessly annihilated the Turvasas. So merciless have they been, it is unlikely, a Turvasa will ever rule again. But then it is not the Vrcivans that you should fear the most.”

Vadhryasva and Dabhiti waited silently for Bribu to quaff some more from his cup.

“Your worst nightmare, rajan, will be Kulitara, the Dasa king, who rules from his capital in Abudara”.
Vadhryasva and Dabhiti looked at each other, unsure if this was mere bravado or fact. Afterall, Bribu and his fellow Panis, came from that land and it was natural, for him to show his allegiance in good light.

Bribu sensed the disbelief in the two men. “In the name of the soma that you offer me, I speak the truth. One day, the forces of Kulitara will descend on you like the raging Saraswati and wash everything away".

This news was more than what the two Panchalas had hoped for. And certainly not what they wanted to hear. So now, it was not just the Vrcivans that they had to worry about, but the Dasas from the south-west as well.

As the night wore on, Bribu, kept talking, leaving the hosts wondering if the dinner meeting had been worth after all - the information they had obtained, far from assuaging their fears, had only heightened them.

Notes & References

Fictionalized primarily based on the following hymns and verses from the Rg Veda:

From the following verses of Mandala 6 , it is clear that the Arya did not like the Panis a great deal. They are greedy, compared to a wolf and Pusan is asked to do very cruel things to them.

Much later in Mandala 7, they are called foolish, rudely speaking, without belief etc.
The only exception seems to be Bribu, who seemed to have presented Samyu Bharadvaja, an ancestor of the Bharadvaja of our story, with lavish gifts. Thus Bribu could not have lived at the same time, nor presented the gifts to the Bharadvaja of our story, however I found it expedient to make it that way.

RV 06.051.14
Soma, these pressing-stones have called aloud to win thee for our Friend.
Destroy the greedy Pani, for a wolf is he.

RV 06.053.3
Even him who would not give, do thou, O glowing Pusan, urge to give,
And make the niggard's (pani's) soul grow soft.

RV 06.053.6
Thrust with thine awl, O Pusan: seek that which the niggard's (pani's) heart holds dear,
And make him subject to our will.

RV 07.006.3
The foolish, faithless, rudely-speaking niggards (panis), without belief or sacrifice or worship,-
Far far sway hath Agni chased those Dasytis, and, in the cast, hath turned the godless westward

Brbu hath set himself above the Panis, o'er their highest head,
Like the wide bush on Ganga's bank.

So all our singers ever praise the pious Brbu's noble deed,
Chief, best to give his thousands, best to give a thousand liberal gifts.

A journey for help

Typical day in Ahichhatra, preparation for the journey and meeting with the Panis....

Just before daybreak, a horseman, galloped out of Ahichhatra, traveling westward, in the direction of the Saraswati. It would take him more than three days to reach Rishi Bharadvaja’s ashram. He was carrying an important message from Dabhiti, to be passed in confidence only to the Rishi and nobody else. He would also intimate the ashram dwellers of the impending visit of the royals of Panchala.

At the break of dawn, Dabhiti and his son Bhumanyu, offered their prayers followed by breakfast of cooked ragi with milk, berries and other fresh fruit. Midway through their breakfast, Bhumanyu noticed a few men gathering in their courtyard. They were familiar faces, but the ensemble was unusual, the royal carpenter, the royal cow-herds and a few hunters.

Bhumanyu looked enquiringly at his father and the latter nodded in silence as it were to say, that he would explain everything soon.

Breakfast dispensed with, Dabhiti and Bhumanyu stepped out to meet the gathering.

Dabhiti had specific instructions for them all. They were informed that a royal entourage would leave for Rishi Bharadvaja's ashram in fours days time. The royal carpenter would ensure all the carriages were in order and capable of making the journey without any breakdowns. The royal cow-herds were asked to select ten of the very best milk yeilding cows that would be offered as gifts to the Rishi. The hunters were tasked to kill a deer with the best sheen, its skin would make a befitting seating mat for the Rishi himself.

The men dispersed, feeling charged, to complete the tasks given to them. Then, Dabhiti turned around to Bhumanyu and told him about his meeting with the rajan the evening before.

"Son, it may be a few full moons that both the rajan and I would be away. In our absence, Ahichhatra will need a able and trustworthy caretaker, and I can think of no one better than you. I have trained you well and you can be trusted to return control to the rajan once he returns."

"It would be an honour father and if you and the rajan so desire, I will discharge it as a duty and gladly return control to the rajan once he is back. There is no question of my not doing so, I will not let your name and that of our family be maligned."

"Good, I will inform the rajan, he would be relieved to hear this."

The rest of Ahichhatra was waking up to a typical summer day. In most households, the men-folk started their day with washing cattle and milking the cows and goats. The woman were getting busy with filling water in earthern pots, sweeping the house and preparing gruel.

A large contingent of Panis (merchants) had arrived and had camped outside the city fortifications. They had brought with them a variety of goods and grains. More importantly, they were carrying salt and cotton.

Most Ahichhatrans waited eagerly for the Panis to be let in so they could trade with them. The Panis also carried information about neighbouring janapadas as well as far away lands which made for delightful stories and sordid gossip in the evenings over drink and meals. The chief amongst the Panis, would be a special guest of the rajan. Over a sumptuous meal and drink, and encouraged by offers of trinkets, vital intelligence would be provided.

Dabhiti and Bhumanyu, accompanied by a few guards, set out to meet the Pani contingent. They were greeted by Bribu, their chieftain, who then proceeded to display the goods that they had carried with them. Dabhiti extended an invitation for dinner to Bribu, on behalf of the rajan. The timing couldn’t have been better Dabhiti thought to himself. Bribu would have information that could be very handy during the meeting with Rishi Bharadvaja.

Meeting with the Panis done, father and son proceeded to the royal house and were quickly escorted to a large room where Vadhryasva and other members of the Panchala governing council had assembled. They all rose on seeing Dabhiti and greetings were exchanged.

“Let us begin this meeting with a prayer”, Dabhiti said solemnly. “May the lofty Dyasus (celestial gods) grant us the wisdom so we may decide what is best for our people and our land. May the Visvadevas, protect us at all times and bless us so we may prosper and multiply. Let us invoke mighty Indra, best amongst friends and tallest amongst the gods, that he may vanquish our foe. Let us not forget Pusan, who always shows the way, that he may be with our rajan during the course of travel and then forever after.”

All attention now turned toward Purumidha, the commander of the Panchala army.

“The rajan mentioned about the visit to Rishi Bharadvaja’s ashram before you arrived purohit”, began Purumidha.

“The first part of the journey would be through Panchala land, however, for the second part, we have two routes – one route is keep traveling west, through the Cayamana janapadha or to circumvent it completely and go north and then west through the mountains and then down again. The second route is extremely treacherous and best avoided. Since we do have good relations with the Anus and keeping in mind this is a visit to Rishi Bharadvaja, for whom Abhyavartin Cayamana has the highest regard, I do not anticipate any trouble.”

Heads nodded vigourously, in agreement.

“The entourage, we will split into three parties. The first party will comprise of five horsemen and they will be ahead of the second by a quarter of a day. If they come across any danger, atleast one of them should be able to travel back and warn the main party which will be in the middle. Likewise, there will be a third party making up the rear, and they would be behind the middle party by a quarter of a day. This party would be helpful to thwart any ambushes from behind. The middle party would have twenty of our best warriors, including myself, to protect the rajan, the queen and the purohit.”

Heads nodded in agreement again, but not that of Vadhryasva. “I do not think you should accompany us Purumidha. You should stay behind to guard Ahichhatra. In the eventuality that something happen to the purohit and myself, Ahichhatra will need someone like you and Bhumanyu.” Then turning to Dabhiti, Vadhryasva continued, “Purohit, it appears you have already spoken to Bhumanyu and which is why he is here. So, I take it he would administer Panchala in my absence.”

“Yes, rajan, Bhumanyu will be the caretaker in your absence and he will certainly need someone as able as Purumidha by his side”, replied Dabhiti.

“Do we all agree on this matter then?” asked Vadhryasva. Everyone nodded in unision.

“In that case, a pronouncement be made immediately and let all preparations be made in earnest so we can leave in exactly four days from now.”

As they prepared to leave, Dabhiti spoke to Vadhryasva, “I have invited Bribu, the Pani chieftain, on your behalf, for dinner tonight. They have travelled much and from far and I hope there would be a lot we can know about the Cayamana and Yadu janapadhas.”

“Purohit, this is most convenient and useful. We will certainly host Bribu in grand manner and make sure he talks!”

Notes & References

A King's torment

This is a work of fiction inspired by historical references in the Rg Veda.

Sometime around 3,500 BC…

The story of a kind but vulnerable rajan and his son, Divodasa, who was probably one of the first emperors in the history of humanity. A story forgotten in the pages of the Rg Veda, one of the most ancient and venerated religious texts in the world.

At birth he was given a different name. History knows him as Vadhryasva - "one whose horses are impotent". When this epithet stuck, we do not know. But for a descendant of the great Bharata, to be unable to father a child, nothing could be more humiliating, not even defeat in war. It was several years that Vadhryasva had been married to Menaka but the couple remained childless. Murmurs had started to spread within the North Panchala janapadha (realm) and beyond. Impotence has always been equated with emasculation, and an enfeebled rajan (king), could hardly be considered capable of protecting his janapadha.

Vardhryasva sat by the bank of the river as he often did when he struggled to find the right answers. Watching the water helped push aside conflicting thoughts and see issues clearly. He would stare at the river endlessly and many times, imaginary events would play out in front of him, with shadowy figures skimming the surface of the water.

That day too, he stared at the water and let his thoughts gather form…

The marauding Vrcivan army leapt from the waters and he watched in shock, as they ruthlessly plundered and killed his people. The vision was so intense and so close to being real, that he began to sweat profusely. As it continued to play out in his mind, he started to gasp for breath. Ultimately, so strong was his discomfort, that his hands flayed involuntarily, forcing a break in the transfix he was in.

It was several moments before Vadhryasva calmed down. He was not in the least surprised at the brutal images that sprang in his mind. He had been living with the fear of an inevitable attack on his janapada by the ruthless Vrcivan clan of the Yadu tribe. Over several months, news of their domination over the rest of the Yadu tribe and annihilation of the Turvasha tribe had been reaching Ahichhatra, the capital of North Panchala. The Vrcivans had made no secret of their ambition to ultimately conquer and dominate over all the five major Arya tribes. Never in history was there a record of the Yadus ruling, much less dominating the Puru tribe. Never before in history was there ever a record of the Bharata clan of the Puru tribe, to which Vadhryasva belonged, ever being ruled or dominated by any other tribe or clan.

It was a time of turmoil for Vadhryasva - the man and the rajan. On the one hand, there was the ignominy of not being able to sire a successor and on the other, the potential humiliation of being the first in the line of Bharata to be subjugated by the Yadus.

The inability to father a child was definitely a slur on his manhood, but the ramifications had now grown way beyond a matter of his ego. Rulers have always been trained to be extremely suspicious of  everyone, even those in the immediate family and amongst advisors. So, even if by some miracle, the Vrcivans could be staved off, Vardhryasva longed for the one person he could perhaps trust most – a son, fashioned from his own seed. But try as he might, he was unable to produce seed to impregnate Menaka, his wife. He had run out of options and time – perhaps, it was now time to consider what Dabhiti, the high priest, had suggested, on several occasions -  taking recourse to niyoga as a means to obtain a successor.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when one chooses through in-action, to be crushed under the burden one is brought to bear, or through action, change the course of destiny. As the sun set on the banks of the Drishadvati, and darkness enveloped Ahichhatra, Vadhryasva had made up his mind. He wanted to let Dabhiti know as well and sent a man-servant to summon him.

After what seemed to be an eternity, he heard hurried footsteps approaching the anterior room that he was in. As Dabhiti walked in, his presence seemed to reassure Vadhryasva and strengthen his resolve.

Now Dabhiti, was more than just a Purohit (high priest) of Ahichhatra, the capital of the janapadha. He was a student of Rishi Bharadvaja and in keeping with the traditions of the Bharadvajas, was also well trained in the martial arts. He had been high priest since the time of Mudgala, Vadhryasva’s father and over the years had become a close confidant and friend of the ruling family.

Vadhryasva respectfully greeted Dabhiti and asked him to sit down.

“My apologies for asking you to come here at this late hour”, began Vadhryasva.

Dabhiti gestured dismissively, suggesting it did not matter.

“I spent a lot of time by the river today thinking about the Vrcivans and about my succession. It is a shame that I have chosen not to do anything about both these matters knowing fully well the dangers and consequences of inaction.”

“In the past, everytime you advised me on taking recourse to niyoga as a means to obtain a successor I disagreed, because, I let my ego get in the way. But, not anymore, in the absence of a successor, this janapadha could slip into complete chaos. It is unwise to delay the decision any further. Why delay the inevitable, the unavoidable?"

"Rajan, this is indeed a welcome and wise decision", responded Dabhiti, his voice and eyes unable to conceal his excitement.

Have you also thought of whose help we seek?” asked Dabhiti.

“I will look to your advise Purohit.”

Dabhiti closed his eyes, took a deep breath and pondered for a while. "I can't think of anyone better than Rishi Bharadvaja to advice us on this. It is time we visited the ashram to pay our respects and seek his blessings and guidance.”

"I agree. And we certainly will need his advice on how to deal with the impending threat from the Vrcivans.”

"Very well then, let us plan to leave in four days time. We will have to arrange for appropriate gifts for the revered one and for the ashram dwellers as well. We will need to prepare well for the journey, as it would take us more than ten days to reach the ashram", Dabhiti had already started to think ahead.

"Very well then, in four days time", concluded Vadhryasva.

Notes & References

Niyoga: An ancient practice of “begetting an offspring by a woman by some alternate husband (according to Dharmasastra).

Fictionalized primarily based on the following hymns and verses from the Rg Veda:
To Vadhryasva when he worshipped her (Saraswati) with gifts she gave fierce Divodasa, canceller of debts.
Consumer of the churlish niggard, one and all, thine, O Sarasvati, are these effectual boons.

All strength and valour that is found, Indra, in tribes of Nahusas, and all the splendid fame that the
Five Tribes enjoy
Bring, yea, all manly powers at once.

Bright hath he beamed, the wise, the far-refulgent. Worship the two widespreading Worlds, O Agni,
Whom as the Living One rich in oblations the Five Tribes, bringing gifts, adorn with homage.

History behind the Story
The Bharadvaja family of seers were the composers of Mandala (Book) VI of the Rg Veda. They were the priests of the Bharata clan of the Puru tribe. The Bharadvaja rishi of this story is definitely not the original Bharadvaja but a remote descendant. That Bharadvaja was called Bharadvaja Bhrihaspataya. The Rg Veda is silent on the first name of this rishi and hence in this story is referred by his family name. Ironically, the name of his son is known – Payu, who will make an appearance in following parts of the story.

The legacy of the Bharadvajas lives on even today and those with the same family name can surely claim to be part of this great lineage of ancient seers.

Vadhryasva and Divodasa were descendants of the great Bharata after whom the land in which he lived was called as Bharata or later Bharatvarsha. They were also very distant relatives of the Kauravas and Pandavas, separated by several generations.