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.