Friday, November 10, 2006

Love and peace in Chitrakoota

The Chitrakoota mountain rises above the mists of the Mandakini river. It is summer and the forest is full with its fruits. The harmony of the woods and its beasts, the flowers and their fruits, all in this multitude of rocks. Ancient herbs surrounds us and purifies this air, flocks of birds moving from one hill onto another is perhaps the only sound around. The crystal waters of the river reflects back the greenery of the forest. There is calm all around in Chitrakoota, a heaven on earth.

Life has never been so good. Laxmana had built a mud house for the three of us in the mountain. The view from the mountain is breath-taking, its serene. Mountains remind me of the unshakable things in life, of the higher purposes of living. Our little house is cosy and I'm surprised where Laxmana learnt all this from. He knows every fruit that is edible, every animal that can be hunted and every twig that will burn. It was a surprise when Vaidehi walked all this distance through the forest and slid so well into the daily difficulties of this forest life. Laxmana's inventiveness surprises me more than that. If it was not for this difficult times, possibly the best within us would never have come out.

Forest life has its difficulties. There are no paths in the forest and often we clear ways through the jungle which end up in deep ravines or waterfalls. Food is abundant, but cooking the meat is difficult at times, with Janaki so inexperienced with the different animals we hunt everyday. Certain fruits are not edible and often leave a bad taste for days. The animals have been very kind to us though they make weird sounds during the night and Janaki wakes up bewildered and shocked. I dont think Laxmana sleeps any time, I have never seen him sleep and many a times I think of him as a tiger among men which prowls all night. Despite all this we are on our own, without a care, with no fear and no responsibilities. If I had ascended the throne, I would have been pacifying the caucuses and people and losing sleep around that. Compared with that, what a good life we have.

There is something funny with my sleep these days. I see dreams in the wee hours of morning and the next day,the same things happen around me. Yesterday I saw this leopard chasing a black antelope in my dreams and it really happened today in front of my eyes in the western bank of the river. Today I saw black vultures over Ayodhya, whatever that means. It is as if the whole world around me is what I see in dreams. It is fun, but a bit scary at times.

Life is good as Janaki, Laxmana and me sit on this huge moonlit rock overlooking the dark forest below. The sky above is clear and starlit, the air is cool with wafts of sandalwood and jasmine. There is no human being in any conceivable distance. Its just the three of us tonight, and for us, just the kindness of this forest.

Love and peace in Chitrakoota, Ayodhya braces itself as fears of anarchy sets in. Bharata rushes to Chitrakoota with the news of Dasharatha's death.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

And from here to....

This is Ganga flowing at the end of the Kosala countryside, on the farther bank is the forest of Dandakaranya. Ganga, the all encompassing flow, the refiner of minds, the melting place of punarapis. She carries within her the destiny of nations, the germs of future empires. She gives birth, she carries ashes. Has anybody asked her why she flows, what she is searching for.

Sumantra, my charioteer till this point, asked me where this whole thing is headed. He will return back to Ayodhya in the morning, leaving us here in the forest all by ourselves. He is the most trusted friend of the family and I want him to take good care of father. I told him I had no idea. I told him I had to keep my father's word and protect his honour. I told him when I returned back, if at all, maybe father wouldn't be alive, mother may die of grief, maybe he himself wouldn't be living. I might lose Sita or Laxmana on this dangerous journey. I told him this will be a journey of truth, courage and love. This journey will probably be its destination.

Tonight I have seen how much father loved me, I saw him crying like a child when I parted. I have seen the overwhelming emotion in Ayodhya, with people lined on the streets asking me not to go. Laxmana's mother told him to treat and respect me like a father, like a king, to treat the forest like Ayodhya and to treat Sita like herself ; and then she blessed him well. She is a woman of very few words, but I havent heard anything more beautiful, so selfless, ever. Sita insisted on coming, she could have stayed back like a princess with all comforts, but Janaki chose this uncertain path of hardships. I fear she will lament later, on this big waste of her vernal years but she says it is her duty. She says she will go wherever I go.

O Sumantra, look at that young man,my brother, pretending to be busy so late into the night. He is staying guard for me, protecting me like the thousand headed snake that protects the God of light. He is Adi Shesha himself, my constant companion, my friend. I'm not sure where I will be tomorrow but tonight I go to sleep in the warmth of all this love. I dont know whether I deserve it, tonight I'm just thankful to existence. I'm crying now.

the two princes and Sita cross Ganga the next morning and continue their journey through Dandakaranya forest towards Chitrakoota. In Lanka, the poet-warrior smiles.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

the Apocalyptic vision

The Sarayu flows in the darkness, bereft of its constant companion in the sky. Laxmana and me, sat by the ghat listening to the river, deep in thought. Laxmana wants me to go south with the armies, he is angry at father for suggesting Bharatha's name. I am perturbed at this turn of events, we need a new king by dawn and a new warrior.

The Caucuses had a bigger announcement to make earlier in the night. There was an apocalyptic vision by a venerated seer in Himalayas. The seer predicted the doom of all kingdoms from Vindhyas upto the Gandharas, which meant the end of powerful dynasties like Kosalas, Mlechas, Kekayas and the Aryavarthis.The end would be after fourteen years when the Pulastyas of Lanka - the strongest empire on earth, led by their Emperor, the poet-warrior Ravana marches into these holy lands. It wouldn't just be the end of dynasties, Ravana would replace everything - our way of life, our Gods and the way we see it.

The Caucuses were virtually shaken and had taken some hasty decisions. Their decision was to unite all of north under the joint command of the Caucus seniors through Rajasooya, to face the threat from the south, which meant Kosala would be merged with the other kingdoms and there would not be a fifty seventh king in the Sun dynasty. Father brokedown and lost his senses on hearing this. He was terrified at the spectre of the Sun dynasty ending while he was in charge, he couldnt fight against the mighty Caucuses - so he pleaded. The Caucuses made it clear that unless one of the princes takes up the impossible task of killing Ravana, Ayodhya would be annexed. Father agreed to it. I thought he would suggest my name but he chose Bharatha instead. He loved me so much.

Killing Ravana was impossible , but thinking about it was not. His was the richest empire in the world with mightier weapons and gigantic soldiers. He lived in his island kingdom with golden walls, somewhere in the south and that was all I knew. Killing him will be difficult, very difficult. But as the eternal rebel, sage Vishwamitra had told me, every empire will fall one day. If I get hold of Ravana that very day, I'll kill him.

Yesterday night my intention was to invade the south with the four limbs of the army, but for this new mission an army will be of no use. Ravana would crush any army movement across the blue mountains of the south. Laxmana and me influenced the Caucuses through Bharatha's uncle, the Kekaya king, who himself was happy that Bharatha wouldnt have to go. The Caucus announced its final decision on fathers proposal, they wanted me,the eldest son and heir to the throne, to go to the forests in the south and kill Ravana within fourteen years or the Kosala kingdom will be annexed.

I am leaving Ayodhya again. This time with Laxmana and Sita, who insisted on coming. Father said he would die if he parted with me. I felt sad on leaving the old man alone. I am his strength in this old age, but I'm undertaking this task like Bhageeratha to preserve his Dharma. It is the duty of a son to walk the distance his father could not cover. It is a son's duty to complete the journey.

Dressed in plain clothes, the men and Sita leave Ayodhya. Dasharatha dies in pain uttering his son's name.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

the next in line

This is Ayodhya,the unassailable city,the nerve centre of the Kosala empire.These days I wonder why anyone would care to assail this land; why would anyone want a dead horse. I see decay everywhere, stagnation, yes that would be the word - stagnation. I see fifty five dead kings of the Solar line with all their glory and I see my dying city bereft of all its vitality. I see Ayodhya as my father's city, a civilization that he loves more than himself, everything in Ayodhya reminds me of him.

But Dasharatha is old and he is worn out after his constant struggles to meet dharma and ardha meet, to make philosophy and life meet. The administration is in the hands of caucuses and priests who quote the ancient texts and set rules for every single move. Vast tracts of the plain remain barren as the priests have threatened against channeling the abundant river water,they warn about the wrath of the river Gods. Most of the produce from the countryside is set in flames for pleasing the Gods by these same priests. The result is abject poverty and disease, and the priests breed on that - poverty is their stranglehold on this empire.

Not a leaf in the administration moves without consulting the soothsayers, in Ayodhya every sunrise has its horoscope. Father will not utter a word against all this, he is weak and relies entirely on the seers and soothsayers for the sustenance of the Solar line. The nerve centre of this great kingdom has ceased to perceive. At times I feel like cutting down this forest of old Banyan trees leading upto the Sarayu river with my mighty weapons, just to bring in a little more light into this dark palace, but then I remember my father's face and I subside. I love my father more than anything in this world, more than Ayodhya, even more than Sita.

The caucuses descend upon Ayodha every new-moon day. It includes the warrior sages, farming nobility, the weapon makers and kings of adjacent territories. Ayodhya has become important to them after the seers from Himalayas gave their final solution to halt the decay of the Ganga plains. They concluded that a push to the south was inevitable and a prince of Ayodhya will deliver the rich and fertile lands of the south. Dasaratha, my father, took that up as his Dharma and waged wars against the southern kingdoms which the seers and priests had labelled evil. Father is no more the same person who lynched the Sambaras of the south, he has become weak. But when the caucuses decried that the 'old fool has lost it' I saw my father crying. He has been my strength all through my life and my heart broke. No son can watch his father cry.

Being the eldest son, I will inherit the throne of Raghuvamshis after my father. I will inherit all his beautiful land and his beautiful people. I will also inherit the caucuses, the army of priests and those vicious soothsayers - I dont want that. I dont want to ascend the throne with all my limbs tied down by this patriarchal inheritance, I want to win the throne, I want to cut down those old Banyan trees with no one stopping me, I want a new start for my beloved people, my father's beloved people and for that I will have to win the south.

The south is rich and strong because the Kshatriyas there, the warrior class, do their duty and do not contest in vain with each other like my father and Janaka on who is more Brahmin. A Kshatriya's duty is to be a warrior, despite its cruel hand. When a kshatriya tries to be something he is not, like being a brahmin, depravity and decay sets in. I will conquer the south as a Kshatriya, not for the caucuses but for myself, my father and my beloved people. Then I will be the King of kings, the Emperor. Father wants me to be the King of Kosala. He wants me to take charge tomorrow, he wants to let go. He will meet the caucuses to announce his decision.

It is a new moon day in Ayodhya, the caucuses have descended upon the city. It is the day of reckoning.

Monday, November 06, 2006

the chariots enter Ayodhya

This is Janakapuri in the kingdom of Mithila. Janaka,the lionized king of our times presides upon his empire from here. The cool,dry,fertile city was bustling with Brahmins and soothsayers and chariots from other countries. The wedding of the king's daughters were being planned and the lobbyists and priests from other kingdoms had pounced upon Janakapuri to win the girls' hand. There were demonstrations of chivalry everywhere with hundreds of kings praising themselves on the streets,in the palaces and in front of the two princesses. The elder princess had hidden herself in an earthen jar as the uncertainity of the whole exercise was too much for her. I met her on Vishwamitra's advice. I talked to her from outside the earthen jar and she talked from inside. She had a uneasy yet uncaring tone. Finally she came out of the earthen jar with a curious smile on her face. Sita was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen,not that I had seen many,but she was different. Her careless yet intimate tone, her what may come sense of wit. Sita wasn't fair or foolish like the other princesses, Vishwamitra explained that saying Sita was the adopted daughter of Janaka. I had heard Vishwamitra's aides joking that she was originally from the Pulastya dynasty of down south and they would one day claim her. I had overheard soothsayers saying, she had bad luck in her horoscope and Janaka was rushing her into a marriage to get the bad luck off him. But these stories of lesser, cowardly, gold-seekers did not matter to me anymore. My soul was filled with her careless voice and I wished she cared for no one but me.

Janaka and my father, who had rushed from Ayodhya were all too happy with the turn of events. We the four Raghava princes married the four princesses of Janakapuri. Janaka embraced me and told that he understood who I really was and my purpose in life. I didnt understand a word of what he said but was too busy winking at the girls to think more about that. Sadly Vishwamitra bid farewell at Janakapuri. I had learnt so much from him,he was my Guru and I liked him a lot despite his angry hand. Before continuing his journey into the Himalayas,he whispered to me that he understood the lakshya -the aim - of my being born and he was happy to have played a part in that. He told me, as his part in my life was done, we would never see each other again. I was sad about that, but Vishwamitra always talks in circles and I did not think much about it after that.

Our trip back to Ayodhya with the girls was easy with the chariots and aides except for this strange angry person we met on the way. He had the same name as mine but the similarity ended there. Everything about him was angry, he seethed anger from every pore of his body. The birds clamoured and storms hit whenever he spoke, I felt the earth itself shaking a few times. This huge man walked in circles around the chariots shouting at Vasistha the sage and my father, threatening to repeat some fearful thing he had done before. The bow he had in his hand was untied, I lifted it and tied it properly. The man calmed down and came towards me. Father thought he was about to kill me and started crying like he did before Vishwamitra. The man looked at me in the eye and said he was waiting for this moment for a long time and now his purpose in life was over, he added that he understood who I really was and was giving all his blessings and powers to me. He said he was going to the Mahendra hills and thanked me for taking up the burden of preserving Dharma off his shoulders. As I think more about it, the last few days had been very confusing indeed. But with Sita around, nothing else really matters.

The chariots entered Ayodhya to celebrations and fanfare. Twelve years of peace and love descended on Ayodhya,the unassailable city.