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.