Friday, 12 August 2011

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This is a work of fiction inspired by historical references in the Rg Veda.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

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