Sunday, 27 November 2011

Virshika’s quest for revenge

History is shaped by the brilliant and the whimsical. The brilliant, chisel their ideas, meticulously and persistently, till they sculpt a world for us to live in admiration. The whimsical, fixated with an idea steeped in irrationality, powered by unbridled delusion, unleash a tornado that sweeps all, leaving behind wreckage that generations struggle to recover from.

It is told that Yayati, son of Nahusa, was forced to marry Devayani, the imperious daughter of the dreaded seer Kavya Usanas. Kayva Usanas also insisted that after her marriage, Devayani be accompanied by the beautiful princess Sarmishta, who, having once offended Devayani, is now her slave.

Now human nature has its own way. So while Yayati had two legitimate sons with Devayani – Yadu and Turuvasa, he secretly fathered three sons by Saramishta – Druhyu, Anu and Puru. When Devayani and Kavya Usanas discovered the secret, the latter cursed Yayati to old age instantly. 

Yayati begged for forgiveness and finally Usanas relented not to reduce the punishment but for Yayati to transfer it to someone who would willingly accept it. Yayati summoned each of his sons and entreated them to give him their youth, but each refused except Puru, the youngest.

A shocked and insulted father cursed his older sons. Turvasa is cursed to be king over people who will never abide by order, but live in the manner of animals. To Druhyu, he announced that he will be king only in name and that he will live with his companions in a land without roads where no horses, elephants, no animals or vehicles can pass, where one can move only by raft. Anu is cursed that his sons will die before they have attained the flower of age and that Anu himself will not be qualified to assure the services of the fire altar.

To Yadu, he cursed that his descendants will always be “arajyabhaj” – without the enjoyment of royalty. The eldest, he is further heaped scorn by denial of using the titles and claim lineage of Nahusa.

Finally, and most important of all, each is banished from the kingdom, which is reserved for the respectful Puru.

It was several hundred years later that young Virshika, born into the Vrcivan clan, of the Yadu tribe, first heard about his ancestry from his father. It incensed him then and continued to do all his adult life. As he was made head of his clan, he swore to reclaim what he felt was rightfully his. He would teach those bastards a lesson.

Granted that the Purus and Anus had great power, they had powerful Gods and equally powerful seers. But Virshika had no fear, no fear for humans or animals, not even of the Gods. He and his clan would turn savages and unleash a terror that the world had not seen, indeed he would take it to the very heavens.

A messenger had just returned with good news from the border. The Vrcivans had crushed a settlement at the outpost of the Panchalas. Virshika quaffed at the soma drink in satisfaction. The time had come to put the next phase of his plan into action.

Notes & References

Some readers will no doubt find an echo of Virshika in Duryodhana, the Kaurava prince. Indeed when Duryodhana questions his father Dhrtarashtra on why Yudhishtra and not he should be the rightful heir to the throne, Dhrtarashtra narrates Yayati’s example of passing Yadu over in favour of Puru.

In other texts, Kavya Usanas is also referred to as Sukracharya.

The Vrcivans or Vricivat are to be identified with Vraich/Varaich clan of the Jats/Yadu tribe.  Their descandants are still found in modern day Pakistan and India.

Modern day Vrcivans

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The townhall at Ahichhatra

There was a trickle of people gathering in front of Vadhryasva’s house. (Author’s note: In those times, there were no palaces, heads of clans and rajans stayed in larger houses with better fortifications.). He had returned to Ahichhatra to a great outpouring of grief. But a war had to be fought, an army resurrected and the general populace needed to be conditioned to the dangers and upheaval that lay ahead.

The trickle had now grown into a crowd. Vadhryasva stepped out along with Bhumanyu, Purumidha and Ahichhatra’s other council members.

Vadhryasva realized that everyone in the crowd had the same unanswered questions. Had their Gods suddenly turned against them? Accidents do occur and even though the laity and noble propitiate the Gods, people still die. Now, that they understood. But for Dabhiti and Menaka to perish in such unexplained circumstances, that too in the presence and hermitage of a powerful seer such as Rishi Bharadvaja? Were the Gods trying to send them an ominous message?

“Sometimes our Gods appear to act in the most inexplicable ways. In the immediate aftermath of the accident, I struggled to find a justifiable reason for it. But for the fact that I was in the hermitage, I would not have been able to contain my anger and expressed my wrath against the Gods in some form or the other. The healing began on the way back to Ahichhatra. So also did the realization of why this had happened and what it means to me, to us.”

“I have no doubt, the snatching away of our queen and revered purohit, was a supreme sacrifice that our Gods ask of us. To think of it any other way would be to question our faith in them. Our faith in our Gods is being severely tested. If we reaffirm our faith in them, we will send them a message that the greater good of our people is more important to us than two individuals, howsoever important they may have been. It will tell them, that we remain steadfast in our belief that they will continue to guard and protect us despite the loss and adversity.”

“Cast out your doubts, your suspicions. Give up your grief, but not your memories. Nurse the memories of those we have lost and may it serve as a constant reminder of your obligation to repay their  supreme sacrifice. Rise, valiant, for your land and clan needs you. Unflinching faith will show the way.“

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Kampilya council meets

The news of the Vrcivan attack had reached Kampilya, the capital of South Panchala. Srnjaya and son Prastoka had several meetings with the Kampilya council since then. As if on cue, a messenger from Bharadvaja’s ashram (hermitage) arrived within a few days of the attack. Bharadvaja had arranged to send messages to Srnjaya and Abhyavartin immediately after his meeting with Vadhryasva and Dabhiti.

The message was simple and direct. The only way the Vrcivans could be countered was if the three rajans came together as allies. Bharadvaja would play an active role in the campaign if they came together. Bharadvaja would decide on the role and contribution by each janapada. If these basic terms were agreeable, then a meeting to work out the exact details would be convened at a secret location on the following full moon day.

Srnjaya conveyed the message to his council. The decision was swift and unanimous. Kampilya would abide by the conditions set forth by Bharadvaja. The decision was conveyed to Bharadvaja’s messenger who then relayed a set of instructions to be executed immediately. The army was to be placed on alert and to prepare for war at once. Every settlement was to be fortified the able amongst the inhabitants to keep vigil instead of looking after their herd. Production of weapons and coats was to be stepped up as was the construction of chariots.

Messengers spawned all over South Panchala and preparations for war began in earnest. Purohits in every settlement were instructed to conduct yagna’s to invoke Agni and seek the well being and protection of one and all.

South Panchala was now in war mode…

Author's note: There are several hymns in Mandala VI that invoke Agni and Indra. There is one hymn that particularly seeks for the well being and protection of the invokers. I reproduce the entire hymn RV 6.002 in its exact form as translated by Griffith.

THOU, Agni, even as Mitra, hast a princely glory of thine own.
Thou, active Vasu, makest fame increase like full prosperity.

For, verily, men pray to thee with sacrifices and with songs.
To thee the Friendly Courser, seen of all, comes speeding through the air.

Of one accord men kindle thee Heaven's signal of the sacrifice,
When, craving bliss, this race of man invites thee to the solemn rite.

Let the man thrive who travails sore, in prayer, far thee the Bountiful.
He with the help of lofty Dyaus comes safe through straits of enmity.

The mortal who with fuel lights thy flame and offers unto thee,
Supports a house with many a branch, Agni, to live a hundred years.

Thy bright smoke lifts itself aloft, and far-extended shines in heaven.
For, Purifier! like the Sun thou beamest with thy radiant glow.

For in men's houses thou must be glorified as a well-loved guest,
Gay like an elder in a fort, claiming protection like a son.

Thou, Agni, like an able steed, art urged by wisdom in the wood.
Thou art like wind; food, home art thou, like a young horse that runs astray.

E'en things imperishable, thou, O Agni, like a gazing ox,
Eatest, when hosts, Eternal One! of thee the Mighty rend the woods.

Agni, thou enterest as Priest the home of men who sacrifice.
Lord of the people, prosper them. Accept the ofrering, Angiras!

O Agni, God with Mitra's might, call hither the favour of the Gods from earth and heaven.
Bring weal from heaven, that men may dwell securely. May we o'ercome the foe's malign oppressions, may we o'ercome them, through thy help o'ercome them.

Map with references to locations mentioned in the story 

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The seed is sown…and lost

The animated discussion went on for several hours. Payu was asked to join in as well. During the course of the discussion, Dabhiti and Vadhryasva realized that Payu was a veritable chip of the old block – mature, knowledgeable, clear headed and above all a master tactician in the making.

Eventually, the men seemed to reach a consensus on strategy and way forward. Bharadvaja pulled Vadhryasva away and asked the latter to accompany him for a walk.

Dabhiti turned to Payu and said, “You certainly have a very important role to play in the future, Payu, one that could forever alter the course of Arya land.”

“Yes Purohit, I do. And I will not fail you. I have been working with my father on ways to consecrate weapons, which I have no doubt will be extremely useful during what is now an inevitable war with the Vrcivans.”

Author’s note: The above is a reference to the Samgrama Sukta or the Battle Hymn - RV 06.75. More of this in the chapter on the Hariyupiya war.

Later that night, Menaka was discreetly taken to Bharadvaja’s quarters. The seed of Divodasa was sown that night. The Panchala visitors stayed on for few more days under the pretext of serving and learning under their spiritual and political mentor; however, the underlying reason was to stay there till they were sure Menaka had conceived.

On the eve of their departure, a programme of music and prayer was held. The visitors retired for the night, reassured they had found the solutions to the problems they had come with.

And then tragedy struck. It must have been sometime well in the night that Payu and Bharadvaja woke up to the screaming of the ashramites (inhabitants of the hermitage). Rushing out of their quarters, they found the visitor quarters in flames. Some of the ashramites were desperately trying to quell the fire while a few men were struggling to enter the rooms in order to rescue Vadhryasva, Menaka and Dabhiti.

Payu plunged himself in the rescue efforts. After an ordeal that lasted over an hour, the ashramites were able to rescue Vadhryasva, but not Menaka and Dabhiti, their bodies charred beyond recognition.

A much burned and totally shocked Vadhryasva kept turning to Bharadvaja and muttering “Why, why?”

Nobody was sure how the fire started, but the consequences of the loss would prove to be profound. Everything the visit had been able to achieve had been overturned in a matter of one hour. And worse. What was left was a rajan, mentally scarred forever, without his beloved and without his guide and mentor.

Bharadvaja repeatedly counseled Vadhryasva not to allow himself to be engulfed by his grief and loss. This was not the time for the janapada to lose its rajan as well. There was so much at stake, and Vadhryasva would have to figure a way to deal with the setback and loss.

It is how one deals with adversity that separate the leaders from the led.