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.

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