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