Death of a Reader

Banaphul (Balaichand Mukhopadhyay) was the King of Bengali short stories – according to me. I tried to translate one of his stories.

Almost ten years back.
I was waiting for train at Asansol station. Another person was sitting beside me. He had a book in his hand. It was a thick novel. After we began chatting, I came to know that he had to wait the whole day for his train.
My train was supposed to arrive in three hours.
Both of us were Bengali.
Hence, within five minutes I asked him, “May I see the book once?”
“Oh yes, why not?” – I received the answer as I expected.
I possessed the book immediately as he handed it over.
It was an afternoon of the intoleranly scorching summer.
We were sitting under the tin roof of Asansol station.
Nothing could bother any longer.
It was a wonderful novel.
The owner of the book looked at me once with the corner of his eyes. A line appeared between his eyebrows for a moment. He took out a time table then and concentrated in that.
I continued reading breathlessly.
Excellent book!
In fact, I did not read such an appealing novel before.
The lines were almost whipping me.

***

Two hours passed.
The owner of the book browsed through the time table several times in the meantime. Finally he looked at me and told, “I think it is almost time for your train – so…” he cleared his throat once.
I was immersed in the book.
Once I took a quick look at my watch. It was still one hour left for my train. The book was left over a half. I did not want to waste time by talking. Again I concentrated in the book. I was devouring it.
Wonderful book!
That one hour almost flew away.
The bell for my train rang.
The large part of the book was still left unread.
I turned aggressive.
I said, “I will go by next train – not going to leave before finishing this book.”
The owner of the book coughed once and went silent after this.
The train left – I continued reading.
But I could not finish it – a few pages at the end of the book were torn.
I said to the owner of the book, “Oh – so many pages of the book are torn! What a shame! You could tell me before!”

The man only gazed at me in response. I noticed the veins on his forehead bulging.
***
I found the book once again after ten years.
It was the in-law’s place of my niece. I accompanied her to her home and was supposed to come back that day only. But my attraction for the book made me stay back.
I picked up the book from shelf; began reading once again. I decided to start anew instead of reading arbitrarily from the end.
I felt bizarre after a few pages.
I turned the cover – was it the same book? – It was the same!
Again I started – But another few pages of reading brought me the same feeling –something seemed wrong!
Yet I continued.
After some time I realized my inability to carry on reading anymore.
Was it the same book which I was reading breathlessly in the scorching summer afternoon in Asansol station?
How could an author write such a rubbish!
It was not at all possible to finish it!
I could not even realise when the curious reader of ten years back had died.
I could not finish the book this time as well.

Madhumala 2

The monk was never found. The king called astrologer Brahmins to calculate auspicious moments for his union with the queen. Aromatic smoke of incense cones filled the quarter of the Queen of the queens. All corners of her chamber dazzled by freshly-lit Ghee lamps. She prepared welcome-tray for the king with fragrant Champa-flowers and the seven-wicked ghee-lamp. Taking auspicious bath, she gave alms to the poor. Then in the moonlit night, through the corridor decorated with flower bouquet, flower pots and floral canopies, the king entered the queen’s quarter.

Days passed,also the nights. After six months the king ordered to build an underground palace of stones as was directed by the monk.

His men rushed to all kingdoms in all directions. All his miners, soldiers, guards, stone masons,wood cutters, wrestlers brought all kinds of red, white, black and blue stones from every corner of the world. As those colourful stones were piled in one place – a large mountain of stones was formed beside the palace. Then the best stone masons of the kingdom – Sonalal, Rupalal, Hiramanik and Joybijay came with their assistants to cut the stones – to build a beautiful stone palace under the ground.

 What awonderful palace they built! Setting the stones one after another, they made its foundation with thousand stones; another thousand were used to construct the wall. They created a brilliantly designed roof with one thousand stones and encircled the palace with stone boundary wall. They didn’t make any door or window except a small door towards north. The door was tightly close so that no light, even moonlight could enter through that. Also the wind was barred –darkness reigned there day and night.

Guarding that doorway of darkness stood expert saw-blade army. Even a honey-bee was to be chopped into thousand pieces by their saw blades if one tried to pass through the door. The saw blades in skilled hands cut from both sides. Hence the underground palace became impassable – none could enter or come out of that.

The king ordered everything three people might need in next twelve years to be placed inside. As ten months and ten days of her pregnancy completed, the queen entered the palace with only one loyal nurse. Drumbeats announced the upcoming celebration.     

The moon from heaven took birth first time on earth – the offspring;

As thousand lamps lit in the dark palace underneath – lucky is the king.

As if thousand suns and moons play – in the palace underground.

Thousands of flowers spread sweet aromas – leaving all astound.

The queen and the nurse fell unconscious in the midst of the fragrance of thousands and ten thousands flowers. The stone wall could not contain the glow of the baby as glittering as thousands of lamps together, the scent of his skin as fragrant as thousands of flowers. Also the doorkeeper outside the closed door of the stone-palace fainted. The King was informed.

Taking all his ministers, councilors, courtiers, singers, Brahmins, astrologers, priests,musicians and singers, the king came to see his son with leading a spectacular procession. Tears of joy filled everyone’s seeing the newborn prince. All the jewelry and gemstones he brought as gift failed to match the radiance of the newborn.

The prince was named as the monk suggested – Madankumar.

The king told the queen not to open the door for next twelve years, Madankumar should see neither sunlight, nor moonlight till twelve.

The King returned his palace above the ground with great pomp and ceremony. The queen shut the underground door to the world above in the name of twelve long years.

Travel Diary of a Man without a Mission- 4

250px-Yamuna_at_Yamunotri
photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Morning came. But my soul did not want to open the door. So cold it was! I had to face another trouble in addition. Yesterday I was blaming the water for being too cold, probably that dismayed her so much that she decide not to come to my bathroom tap. I had to open the door – to find an early morning commotion in Kali-Kamli. There was no water in the rest-house when everyone needed it! I didn’t need that much – my food intake is too low to produce lot of waste. I found rest of my group unpacking water-bottles to survive the war-situation. Finally came the time of our auspicious start after the sun came out clear. I was placed on a mare, as planned. This mare was not supposed to gallop. It took small steps across boulders, ditches and muddy pits before stopping every now and then. Its owner started beating it from behind; and beating encouraged her to try to shake off the heavy object from its back. Understanding her mood, I grabbed its back tighter thinking – if I have to fell in the deep roadside pit, I would fell with you, my dear! Readers don’t need to worry much. There is another option to hire palanquins carried by four people avoiding these grumpy horses. Apart from overweight people eager to collect the rewards for own piety, many like me having health issues opt for these easy options avoiding walking. But the number of travellers walking miles on this rough rocky road to reach destination is remarkable. Colourful groups of old and young – men and women walking together through the steep Himalayan route catch attention here. Sight of amazingly green bushes besides the ice-formations here and there makes the journey pleasant. Dense forests in the neighbouring mountains, some stone-built and lesser number of brick-built small-houses beside the two-meter wide road catches attention. The traveller has to be prepared to cross numerous snow drifts trying to throw an unaware person into the Yamuna flowing far below dragging him off the trail. A route to heaven is always a difficult route.

I took the help of the four-legged one; hence reached earlier than my troupe mates who were depending on own two legs. I continued waiting for them standing in front of the stable. The young horse owner seemed hungry – I kept on telling him to wait – they reached after half an hour. I felt relieved.

The narrow path is crowded with innumerable people. We pushed them to reach an eatery. We found another companion to guide us in this stony route – a boy named Vijay Singh who would work as our porter. He told he is 23 but looks even younger. My group would trek some more kilometres. I am not supposed to cross my limit.

I walked till the temple, but did not enter. I am atheist by heart. Gods in form of icons irritate me. I saw some people sitting inside the hot spring, Suryakund they call it. Believers believe that this sacred spring washed their sins off along with their disease. I have doubt whether this unclean pond actually helps – does this hot water really heal?

I came back cutting my way through the crowd once again. Again that mare was waiting for me. But coming back riding became nightmare. Descending downward slope is always difficult, there is reason these poor animals don’t want humans on their back while coming down. I got down to save my life after four kilometres; started walking with the horse owner, heard the story of two people’s falling from horse last week. Both were thrown in the deep ditch inside which river Yamuna flows at her own pace. The dark Goddess Yamuna affectionately welcomed both in her womb. Storytelling skill of the boy made my last 1.5 kilometre walk to Jankichatti an amazing journey. I cannot remember stories even though I found them interesting yesterday – remembered my daughter who has immense thirst for these stories describing sacredness of the places, gods and goddesses whom none has seen. I cannot understand how adult people find relevance in these – for me these were good pastime while walking down the dangerously steep mountain path.

Continue reading “Travel Diary of a Man without a Mission- 4”

Travel Diary of a Man without a Mission- 3

It was raining incessant since yesterday. In this rainy morning, we had to walk approximately 1 kilometre to reach the bus-stand with our load of luggage. Saying goodbye to Uttarkashi did not seem overwhelming despite the fact that we loved the place a lot. Mr. Dutta is elected to be our guide – hence everyone has to follow his order though everyone is not always happy with his decisions. We had to come down from the third floor rooms taking those steep stairs with loads on our shoulder and cross the muddy roads while being drenched in rain. The stretch where there was a landslide last year is obviously worst. However we crossed that with extreme caution. Time doesn’t wait for anyone. We too walk competing with time. Sending the luggage on the roof of the bus, we entered the cavity inside. The rain stooped. Our bus started.

It took the old familiar road in the beginning. We reached Urrarkashi crossing Tehri dam through this route. The Ganga flows deep down in our left. The local bus was moving in an elephant-like motion – slow and swaying. But it didn’t jerk. Road is also good here. We took a small brake reaching Dharasu. The name “Dharasu” enchanted me – so many travelogues I’ve read introduced me with the name! This is a junction of many roads towards different directions. So many human imaginations fail to take off; so many plans go void; like flowers in the forest, so many die unknown. At the same time, many dreams come true. My meeting Dharasu is one of those successful dreams – also having a cup of tea in a roadside stall here. Chewing local gathia made me feel inexplicably happy here.

Instead of leading towards Tehri this time we took a different route towards Barkot. Ganga looked at us like a helpless mother watching her children going away leaving her shelter. No other stream escorted us in this route. Only a deep ditch at one side of the road remained constant. The bus was almost crawling upwards. In fact it crawled up and down of the mountains one after another. Did that journey of crossing so many upward and downward slopes became tiring to the bus? It seemed that the driver was forcing it to move by frequently changing gears and rotating the steering. It was protesting at every curve of the road. Once in a while a vehicle coming from opposite side brought it to a sudden halt as if it was to fall headlong. But no collision happened. If it did, I would not be writing this Song of my little road now! “Song of the little road” is the translated version of Bibhutibabu’s Pather Panchali. I tried to imagine how he would have penned down his experiences if he could become as daring as Saratchandra and travelled beyond the boundaries of own known Bengal-Bihar region? Perhaps he could give Bengali readers some more precious gifts. Perhaps he could leave more priceless treasure for our kind of starving Bengali travelogue-readers. We insanely hungry travellers are running around from one place to another in search of the some revelations. How many of us find that – even if we find, how much can we express what we see?

The dense forest on this route attracted me. None in our secured cities had ever given me such an assurance, “कोई खतरा नहींजाइए  जितनी दूर जाना है .” (There is nothing to be afraid of – go as far as you want). I don’t know what I saw in the mysterious and alluring chiaroscuro on the road near Taluka that scared me so much that day. It did not harm me. There was no aggression in its gesture. Possible that it came to invite me – walking alone on the road. Perhaps it wanted to tell me the same line, “कोई खतरा नहीं – come without fear. The soothing Death is waiting for you with open arms. Come in good spirit! My existence in this earth seems too small, too insignificant when I stand here facing all these giant trees. How long shall I exist with this aged ailing body? How is the value of the bubble-like lifetime of us humans before this large fraternity of age-old vegetations standing here from times immemorial?  This is what happens when you face the anonymity of the big world far from the comfort of your home – you know. The tall trees on the strong mountain walls teach you to open your eyes, see yourself in the midst of the wonders created by the mother earth, realise the limitations of human knowledge and effort.

By afternoon we reached Barkot – a beautiful hill-station with a population not more than ten or twelve thousand. But in the serenity of the Himalayas, that few numbers of people made the area crowded. The bus needed an afternoon nap. We entered a good eatery. They served sumptuous lunch for 35 rupees only! My team looked happy. Nothing matters to me – my choice of food is restricted.

The driver woke up the tired bus. It was still drowsy – started growling again while the he went on playing with its gear, not paying attention to its loud protest. The bus had no other option but to move.

If the distance was measured in straight line, we haven’t crossed a great distance in this mountain region. The hairpin routes on the mountains make the roads longer. Once in a while I look downwards to see how long we have already crossed. The curvy road far below in these areas brings another thought in my mind – we have to cross the same distance while going back home. Of course rolling down could have made our downwards journey much shorter!

Unbelievable number of vehicles had almost blocked the mouth of Hanuman Chatti. Same happened in Gangotri. Is this bus ride in these areas environment friendly? I have doubt. Also true that I could not come this far without a vehicle. Our bus dropped us long before the destination – near the road to Jankichatti. We could not spend the night in Hanumanchatti as planned. This was good in a way. We reached Jankichatti directly hiring a cab. Paying a little amount we reserved our space in Kalikamli – a pilgrim-accommodation chain providing cheap accommodation to common pilgrims of India. The rooms are not bad. I realised the trouble only when I tried to clean myself. Hot water is not available. And using the ice-cold water is unthinkable – in fact not an idea suitable for our kind of tourists from cities. Visiting the hot spring here could be good option but my group was not ready after that long bud ride. One needs to carry own food or go to some eatery little far for meals – Kalikamli provides only lodging.

I didn’t miss the chance of roaming around a little before the evening’s spreading darkness over the hills. The snow clad mountain little far between the two mountains standing nearby mesmerised me. That is where Yamunotri lies. We would have to cross another five or six kilometres to reach there. I would need a vehicle – but no diesel-run one any longer. I would ride a horse.

Barkot
Photo credit : Wikimedia commons

Continue reading “Travel Diary of a Man without a Mission- 3”

Travel Diary of a Man without a Mission- cont.

Uttarkashi_morning
Photo credit : Wikimedia commons

Today was our rest day in Uttarkashi. We fell in love with this district-town. My group left to roam around the city – leaving me behind. But I am not a person to refrain from my goal so easily. After they left hotel, I too set off at around ten in the morning. I love solitary walk since childhood. I am loner.

Vishnu does not let me walk alone. I tried to slip after dinner last night, with the pretext of applying eye drops. I saw Vishnu behind me as soon as I sneaked through the gate. We walked together for some time. Why is he so careful about me?

I started walking. Crossing the bus stand, I proceeded towards Ganga taking narrow lanes of the town those tear the thickly crowded town into slices – choice of pedestrians.  Soon I found a hanging bridge that crosses the river. I crossed the river. The town seemed busier this side. I took the wide road under the scorching sun. An umbrella could be really helpful in the April climate here. However, I took right and found the wide bridge for vehicles across the river. Don’t know how long I stood on his – watching giggling water flowing below. Then took the same route through which I came; still failed to identify it.  How I reached the backside of the Busstand, which is a large vegetable market, seems mysterious! I didn’t notice fish or meat stalls here, but non-vegetarianism is not banned in Uttarkashi, that I am sure. I have seen some tourists having mutton in eateries.

My friends came back after long I had reached. Nehru Mountaineering Institute is one of the must-visit places we wanted to go tomorrow. The institute is little far from here – on the other side of the river. First we decided to stay here another day to complete visiting all worthy locations. But the troupe’s decision changed instantly as heavy rain started in the afternoon. We can’t trust rainfall’s mood in these areas – should leave in the morning tomorrow to save ourselves from getting stuck here for long. There are more places in Himalayas where we still have to set our footprints.

The rain stopped sometime back though it left the roads muddy all around. We won’t have an affair with roads here any longer. We have to prepare for a long Bus-trip towards Yamunotri tomorrow.

Uttarkashi_Town_WTK20150914-DSC_0004
Photo Credit  Wikimedia commons

Continue reading “Travel Diary of a Man without a Mission- cont.”

Charyā -Pada — thousand year old songs from Eastern India — Part 3

Let’s go through some more verses to find out what makes Charyā-lyrics unique.

Charya 8:

Raga Daivakri

Composed by Kamali pa –scholars place him between 800-850 AD. Kameli might have derived from the word ‘Kambal’ – blanket. Did he wear rough saffron cloth instead of fine saffron cloth? We don’t know – we have no way to know. He is anticipated to be a disciple of Kanhapa and an inhabitant of Kalinga (Odisha).

The boat of Kamali is loaded with gold,

With no room for silver as the boat poled.

Let’s sail towards the void called sky;

What went past shouldn’t come by.

Uproot the anchor and untie the rope

Sail guided by mentor with abiding hope

Look around carefully when you sail –

Rowing without oar cannot propel.

Look around left and right as you sail

On the voyage of life bliss will unveil.

 (Remember the famous Tagore poem “Sonar Tari” (the golden boat)?

Clouds rumbling in the sky; teeming rain.
I sit on the river bank, sad and alone.
The sheaves lie gathered, harvest has ended,
The river is swollen and fierce in its flow.
As we cut the paddy it started to rain.

One small paddy-field, no one but me –
Flood-waters twisting and swirling everywhere.
Trees on the far bank; smear shadows like ink
On a village painted on deep morning grey.
On this side a paddy-field, no one but me.

Who is this, steering close to the shore
Singing? I feel that she is someone I know.
The sails are filled wide, she gazes ahead,
Waves break helplessly against the boat each side.
I watch and feel I have seen her face before.

Oh to what foreign land do you sail?
Come to the bank and moor your boat for a while.
Go where you want to, give where you care to,
But come to the bank a moment, show your smile –
Take away my golden paddy when you sail.

Take it, take as much as you can load.
Is there more? No, none, I have put it aboard.
My intense labour here by the river –
I have parted with it all, layer upon layer;
Now take me as well, be kind, take me aboard.

No room, no room, the boat is too small.
Loaded with my gold paddy, the boat is full.
Across the rain-sky clouds heave to and fro,
On the bare river-bank, I remain alone –
What had has gone: the golden boat took all.

Do those compositions look same? No – apparently no. First one is talking about fulfilling a purpose; gaining eternal bliss by following the guidance of the wise mentor while sailing cautiously through the fluid life. Tagore’s poem can be (and are) interpreted as manifestation of loneliness and helplessness by western scholars. Western scholars found the influence of Wordsworth’s and Keats’s melancholic loneliness on Tagore in this poem. To an Indian reader, Tagore’s poem seems a follower of legacy of voidism planted in India’s own soil – manifested in Charya-songs thousand years back. Kamali pa seeks the eternal bliss in the void during his voyage guided by his guru while Tagore’s human waits eternally in the void seeking a place in the almighty’s boat to start a voyage towards the unknown. Ancient Indian philosophy recognizes Void as part of life – the monastic scholar integrates void with life while the 20th century poet stays with his inner self in the void observing life flowing before him.

Charya 10:

Kanhapa –

Rag Deshakh:

O outcaste woman, your hut is outside town

Do you touch all those monks and Brahman?

Kanha free from disgust will make love to you

Standing naked before you, the yogi is your beau

You dance on the lotus with petals sixty four

On whose boat do you travel door to door?

You sell loom to others but spread mat for me

You are the reason for whom I’ve set myself free

For your sake I turned a wizard wearing garland of bones

You ate the lotus roots churning the oceanic zones

Once rituals over, I’ll kill you to take out your life

The soul of the outcaste will make Nirvana thrive.

But Charya 10 seems to be little disturbing. If we decipher this as per tantric tradition, it unequivocally tells us about the determination of a spiritual seeker’s obsession of reaching Nirvana removing all impure obstructions of life. But why does the composer need to use the simile of impurity with an outcaste woman? Is caste concepts only determined and maintained by Brahman class or also by the Tantrics, who perhaps adopted people from so-called lower strata to help their ritual practices but continued to consider them as polluted only? Is this a monk’s way of expressing his helplessness before the almighty’s power or a poet’s regret for leaving home (probably social status too) falling in love with an outcaste woman?

Women’s role in these lyrics looks interesting. Monastic system emphasises on the negative influence of women on the path of salvation again and again. Women are not allowed in the monasteries. Therefore in contrast to Vedic hymns, we don’t find any trace of a women lyricist here. All composers of the lyrics are men. But they refer to women. They are aware of the existence of women outside the monastic domain but they consider women to be hurdle on the way to Nirvana. The Tantric scholar speaks of using women’s body as a part of ritual, but then compares her with impurity that needs to be removed. Avoidance of women – is this misogynist approach? Or shall we call this a monastic effort to escape from the world? We don’t know whether the poets imagined to be remembered after one thousand years when people would try to decode the meaning of their lyrics applying the logic of contemporary understanding. What I find remarkable is the development of a people’s religion at certain period of Indian history which denied accepting women as part of their community.

Another attention-grabbing point is Manifestation of Voidism which is distinct from the Upanishadic nothingness. Upanishadas belief in Paramatma. The soul, which cannot be touched by hunger, aging or death, mingles with that Paramatma, the formless almighty, at the end of its journey in the earth. Paramatma or Brahma is the truth here. On the other hand, Nagarjuna’s Madhyamiksutra defines truth as natural void. There is neither beginning, nor end. Nothing is born. Hence nothing dies. There is no act and therefore there is no driving force behind an activity. There is no heaven and Nirban is attaining the void. Why did the lyricists use worldly metaphors on the way to reach that “Void”? The Siddha reaches his freedom by freeing himself from all kinds of carnal temptations. The process of removing all worldly attractions is frequently described as killing own family members. Why are the symbols used by the Siddha are all taken from day to day life? The songs prove they were knowledgeable about boat-making and rowing, game of chess, country-liquor making, village life and even art of love-making — why are those references taken to describe the void? Scholars tell this signifies the end of Buddhist influence in the region. The influence of Buddhism, like any other doctrine-based religion, depended on preaching and gaining more number of believers. With passing time, the monastic ideology was being detached from householder’s life; it was also losing popularity among common people. Perhaps declining acceptance motivated Bajrayan followers to use metaphors from daily life to attract householder towards their belief at the end. I guess presence of another reason behind using these kinds of similes. A religious doctrine is made for people. People convert to that religion and start following new regulations. But in course of time, as more and more people become part of the religion, they bring in their own belief and cultural awareness, all of which intermingle under the umbrella of that religion. We don’t know the background of Siddhacharyas. But probably all of them, though staying in monasteries and following the same philosophy, continued revealing own distinct cultural understanding while composing poems which gave the monastic ideology a diverse make over.

We don’t know what actually led the monastic lyricists compose these songs using unusual figures of speech so that these remain incomprehensible to common people, even though the language they use is commoner’s colloquy, not the literary Sanskrit or Pali. Only thing sure is these will continue haunting us for their unique ways of expression, stylistics and contents developed in Eastern part of India over thousand years back.

Charyā -Pada — thousand year old songs from Eastern India — Part 2

Let’s read some more translation of those age-old Charyās. I did not translate with original meaning in mind, neither depending on Munidatta’s interpretation made in 12–13th century. To me, they carry poetic value which can be interpreted in different ways — thousand years after they were originally composed. I interpreted them my way, without pondering occult symbolism.

The composer of the following pada is Birua pa. He existed during the regime of Devapala. Scholars say, he created these Charyās around 830 AD. He was a person from Triur, probably current Tripura. Even today the locals in Tripura makes country wine following own method. Birua pa name is famous as an author of many books. Some of them are Dohakosh, Amritasiddhi, Biruabajragitika etc.

Raga – Gabara

She pours wine from the narrow-spouted pitcher

Drinking in serenity makes one eternally mightier

How a drinker enters the room on his own –

When the sign for tenth door is aptly shown?

Wine is served in each of sixty four cups;

Drinker can’t leave though life is in a flux.

Wine poured through narrow spout of pitcher,

Birua tells that’s route to be followed for better.

The one compiled by Gundrari pa illustrates Tanric idea of intermingling with the immortal formless being symbolized by mortal lovemaking:

 

Raga – Aru

O Yogini, in your arms my life finds meaning

Let me make love with you entire evening

I cannot live without your company;

Kissing your face feels sucking honey.

How does one devote to love if not insane?

Happiness comes through love mundane.

Shut mother-in-law indoor to be able to flee

Sun and moon will turn your lock and key

Gundari says – I’m champion of passionate love

Amidst man and woman flies the flag above.

Unfortunately, we do not get much information about Gundari pa. Probably he was not as wise as other Siddhas. We don’t even know whether he had authored any book. We will remember him as a poet – probably as a bold 9th century poet. He was a person either from western part of Bengal or Bihar.

Next one is by Chatila pa – another Siddha about him we don’t know much. Probably he lived around 850 AD in southern part of Bengal but that is not beyond doubt. Following one is the only verse of him that we could access.

Raga Gurjari

The deep river of mortality flows fast;

Both sides of it sunk in polluting mud.

Upholding dharma, Chatil makes bridge;

Traveler crosses fearless through the ridge.

Mat is made splitting tree of obsession;

Rope of Nirvana binds non-duality strong.

Once in bridge, one cannot deflect;

Wisdom attained as you reflect.

Those who search route to wisdom –

Follow Chatila who leads therefrom.

Bhusukupa, on the other hand is a familiar name among Siddhas. He used to live by 770-850 AD. Researchers from northern India associates him with Bihar and some are of the opinion that was a teacher of Nalanda. Many others place him in different parts of Bengal.

Raga –Patamanjari

Who are you staying with, who have you left?

All corners try to catch you lonely and bereft.

The stag’s own flesh turns its enemy;

Bhusuku the hunter doesn’t leave any.

Stag neither eats grass, nor does it drink;

Doesn’t even know where the doe lives,

The doe tells the stag to leave the forest

Freedom shows the way to bliss earnest

The stag’s hooves remain hidden under the wave

Bhusuku tells- unwise can’t find the meaning grave.

Kanhapa or Kanupa or Krishnapada is the most familiar name among all Charya composers. Among the fifty, 13 are written by him. He is believed to be a wise man who had written many books. He was probably from Karnataka region; came to Magadha for higher studies and did not go back.

Raga –Patamanjari

Truth and untruth block path of wisdom

Where shall Kanhupa find his sanctum?

One who is wise, is unwise at the same time

Separate are heaven, earth and hell for certain

Kanhu tells that all should be sanctified –

Those who once came had to leave albeit.

Comings and goings make Kanhu depressed

Kanhu knows the garden of bliss comes ahead

How one reaches the garden unhurt?

Kanhu cannot enter own true heart.

Charyās, being the first literary example of several east-Indian languages, became reason of regional academic conflict since long. The history of that conflict is no less interesting; hence trying to draw a simple sketch of the age old arguments.

After the discovery of Charyās by the Bengali academician MM Haraprasad Sastri, Bengali scholars had the first chance of deciphering those. After MM Sastri, Sunitikumar Chattopadhyay proved in his publication ODibil (1926) that those were composed in Proto-Bengali but other eastern languages were originated from that language. Md. Shahidullah did his research on Charyā in French which brought him d-lit in 1928, but it created a new interpretation of the songs as well. Later Prabodhchandra Bagchi and Santi Bhikshu Sastri presented another interpretation based on a Tibetan translation. Again in 1966, Sukumar Sen published his research based on a Japanese version, which obviously presents a completely different interpretation.

In Assam, many scholars claimed Siddha as Assamese Buddhist monks. In fact Tantrik Buddhism was widely practiced in Assam in comparison to other eastern regions. Dr. Parikshit Hazra published his research work claiming Charyās to be based on Kamrup region. Even in 1981, Dr. Satyendranath Sharma claimed Charyās to be the origin of Assamese literature.

Scholars of Odisha were no less confident. The research paper by Dr. Khageswar Mahapatra in 1965 mentioned the influence of those Charyās language on Odia. In his work Pratnaodia in 1979 on Odia grammar he proved those to be composition in Proto-Odia. Dr. Karunakar Kar’s research also tsays the same. In general Charyās are considered to be the earliest example of Odia language and literature.

Maithili was associated to Charyās since long. Nepali scribes used to make palm-leaf manuscripts knowing those to be written in Maithili, but no research was done claiming it to be Maithili till 1949. Dr. Jaikanta Mishra was the first scholar who established the Maithili origin of those songs in his work on ancient Maithili literature denying the Bengali declarations.

Hindi-speaking scholars initiated largest discourse on Charyā-songs. Rahul Samkrityan’s many papers on this deserve special mention. He defined the language of these verses and Eastern Hindi. Bihar or Magadh was the abode of many of the Charya composers. Nalanda as a university became the center of Buddhist studies where many Buddhist scholars from many parts of the country assembled together. Dharamvir Bharati’s work published in 1945 also claimed that Charyas are composed in proto-Hindi.

Charyāgiti are very much based on Buddhist occult philosophy, the language of which reveals remarkable dependence on symbolism. Gaining control over body and mind was considered to be the way to eternal bliss and life of the Buddhist tantrics were supposed to be spent in search of this that bliss. Naturally they developed own symbolic rituals as well as connotation of words to signify particular practices. The word “Aalikali” is used to the process of Inhaling and Exhaling, “sabara” and “Sabari” for Wisdom and Nothingness, “Ganga-Yamuna” – knowledge to be received and Recipient.

Still they could not completely avoid mentioning worldly affairs – sometimes symbolically, to explain their philosophy. Life on the banks of a river obviously associated with boats and its different parts, boatmen, boat making as profession. Similarly, weaving, hunting, woodcutting, wine-making are frequently referred which had obvious association with village life. Robbers and women sex-workers are often mentioned which makes us assume their existence as well. When the monastic Charyāgiti-composer mentions different jewellery, loud wedding procession, musical instruments, bull cow and elephants as domestic animals, cultivation, people’s drinking habit, love-making and expresses concern about women’s losing chastity, we have reason to believe that they stayed in close association with so-called worldly affairs as well.

We don’t have idea whether people outside India found the spiritual approach most interesting or worldly content. But these gained immense popularity as carrier of particular branch of Buddhist philosophical thought, developed after inclusion of occult in the monastic religion in neighbouring geographies as well. Charyās were translated in Tibetan, Japanese and Mongolian. Buddhist scholars started visiting East-Asian countries long  back.  As Buddhism started being admired in all those countries, the later developments in the religious philosophy were also accepted with same admiration. The first Tibetan Buddhist monk visited Mongolia being invited by a Mongolian emperor in 9th century AD and preached the religion there. And then Mongolian Buddhist scholars traced Tibetan manuscripts containing Charyā-songs. These were being widely translated in Mongolia, Vietnam and Korea in 18th century too.

Charyā- songs influenced Islamic Sufism as well. Sufism is believed to be originally developed in Iran. Many Islamic scholars call Sufism the ‘Tantric’ (occult) branch of Islam. They are of the opinion that Buddhist “Shunyabad” (theory of Nothingness) was main influencing factor behind the birth of Sufism. But how did it go that far? The Iranian scholar Abu Raihan Al-Biruni came to India in 11th century AD and carried knowledge of Indic philosophies and religions back. His book Tarikh Al-Hind mentions not only Brahmanic philosophical schools but also Buddhist theories along. Buddhist monasticism with their occult branches was still influential by the time he came to India. He had no reason to ignore them. Secondly Eastern part of Iran, i.e. Afganistan was very much influenced by Mahayan Buddhism. The giant sized Buddha idol curved in their mountain caves carry the evidence of that. Theory of Nothingness along with the monastic religion didn’t have many hurdles to cross to reach to West Asia.

Continue reading “Charyā -Pada — thousand year old songs from Eastern India — Part 2”

Charyā -Pada — thousand year old songs from Eastern India — Part 1

Remarkable is, the composers did not call these Sloka or Pada, words commonly used to mean verse; they named those Charyā – chants or song of their secret sadhana. “Pada” was added by MM Haraprasad Shastri, the researcher and publisher of the collection of Charyās. The composers of Charyāpada are Buddhist tantric Siddhas. We see, Siddha as a title were commonly used by Buddhist Tantrik sect and Saiva Nath Yogi sect. Was there any connection?

The manuscripts containing Charyāpada text was found in Nepal. We know stories about how MM Haraprasad Shastri found the Charyāgitikosh, which is a selection of only fifty verses with explanation by Munidatta (12th century AD), and how those were extracted. But isn’t it interesting that one selection of Buddist texts composed in Eastern India – comprising today’s Assam, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and Bangladesh are not traced where it was composed but found preserved in some other neighbouring country? Anyway, there were other verses of this class of Buddhist literature found in Eastern India. H M Shastri’s publication of 1916 included Dohākosh by Sarahapada (Sarahapa), Dohākosh by Kanhapada (Kanipa?), and Dakarnaba along with Charyāgitikosh.

How shall we translate the word “Charyā” in English – verse or lyrics? They were sung with fixed raga, taal, and tune as a part of secret devotional prayers of the venerated Buddhist preachers. The language of those lyrics was suitable to maintain that secrecy as well. This was some form of proto-Bengali and proto-Odia, proto-Assamese or Maithili, probably a version of Eastern Prākrit or colloquial language of old Eastern India, to which all later languages of this region are connected. Sandhyā bhāsā is the term used by Munidatta to name this language – but what does Sandhyā mean? Does Sandhyā signify the interim language between Prākrit and later languages or does it signify ambiguity of the language? Does the language determine the ‘nationality’ of its composers? Probably no – Kānhapāda was probably an advocate of Buddhist Tantrik philosophy from current Karnataka. Buddhism became the dominant religion of the subcontinent once, especially the region between Nalanda to Assam as well as Odisha, and Karnataka. Pundits migrated from one region to another and learned regional language.

How do we identify the names of the composers of these songs? Among the fifty songs of Charyāgitikosh, the name of Siddhacharya Kanhapada is associated with 13 verses, Bhusukupa  with 8, Sarahapa with 4, Kukkuri pa with 3, Sabarpa and Lui pa with 2 each. Each of Dham pa, Jaynandi pa, Kankana pa, Birua pa, Gundari pa, Chatila pa, Kambalambara pa, Dombi pa, Mahidhara pa, Beena pa, Dendana pa, Ajadeva pa, Dhendhana pa, Darika pa, Bhade pa, Taraka pa, Shanti pa composed one song of this collection. But the explanation of Munidutta names some other poets like Nagarjuna pa, Hebajra pa, Charja pa, Dauri pa etc. where are there compositions? Probably those were included in the collection of the hundred poems which is not yet discovered.

In last hundred years, many old texts of Charyā-song are discovered from different parts of Asia. Some texts are re-translated in different languages. Buddhist literature and their thought process influenced not only later Hindu spiritual thought but also Islamic Sufi belief, destroying Bamiyan Buddha idol could not remove that influence of idol-worshippers on medieval Islam. But let’s not enter into those details – at least at this stage of our deciphering a class of thousand year old songs.

What makes those old songs interesting? Let’s check the content, e.g. the one composed by the Siddha Lui pa (Luipada?)

The body is like a tree with five branches;

Which is destroyed by a mind restless.

Bliss is found by attaining strength

Guru will take you to the route in depth.

Learn many ways of meditation –

Surpassing pain and satisfaction,

Evading sensory desires fruitless,

Mingle with eternal emptiness.

Lui has seen it clearly sitting on –

His two seats called moon and sun.

(one interpretation of Kayatarubara panchbi daala…)

Tantrik interpretations of the verses are different. We will not go through those in detail as we are not discussing Tantrik philosophy and practices here. Our purpose is to find how religious Tantric practices, which were supposed to be observed in secrecy, gave birth to distinct literary tradition in a large tract of Eastern India. We don’t know whether Tantric disciples achieved their target of attaining eternal bliss by withdrawing or closing sensory organs, but their poems remained interesting from the viewpoint of literary and social history.

Who is this Lui pa? The name is mentioned in many other texts of Tantric and Yoga texts, but how to be sure that all of them and this Charyā-composer Lui pa is the same person? Tantra texts assign him another name “Meenanath” or “Matsyendranath”. Meenanath is worshiped by Buddhists in Nepal and believed to be an Avatar of Avalokiteswar. But if Lui pa considered the guru of all Siddhas as mentioned in Tantras, then he existed during the Bengal-Magadha King Dharmapala’s regime in 8th century. Then there is no way of his being identical with Meenanath who is considered to be spiritual guru of Gorakshnath in Bengal (12th-14th century). Anyway even a serious effort to define date and time as well as identity of the composers leads only to fierce debate.  Let’s read some interesting Charyā composed by another Siddha Kukkuri pa instead:

Vessel cannot be filled milking the tortoise

Crocodile can’t eat all tamarind from the trees

Courtyard becomes home – wife turns a saint

Thief steals the earring in the middle of the night

Father-in-law sleeps but wife remains awake

Where to find the earring for heaven’s sake!

Wife is scared of even a crow in daylight,

Moves out to make love when its night

When Kukkuri pa sings such a difficult song

Who can comprehend without instruction?

Kukkuripa existed in 8th or 9th century probably by end of Dharmapal’s or beginning of Devapala’s regime. People from Northern India believe he was from Nepal. Another belief associates his birthplace with Uttarakhand. The two books believed to be composed by him, are Yogabahvanopradesha and Srabapariccheda.

 

Continue reading “Charyā -Pada — thousand year old songs from Eastern India — Part 1”

Hadisiddha – spiritual leader or illicit lover?

(Continuation of ‘The Story of the mighty mother Maynamati’)

We know who Maynamati was. We also assume where her kingdom was located. The small North-Bengal town Maynagudi still carries her memories — at least in the name. We also have enough information about Gorakshnath. Apart from Viyapati’s Gorakshavijay, several other versions of panegyrics on Gorakshnath were found from different parts of Northern India. But who Hadipa was? Harisiddha’s role in Maynamati stories, his overwhelming presence in Maynamati’s dialogues justifies our curiosity — it is sometimes difficult to determine who is the major male role in the ballad — Govindachadra or Harisiddha?

Hadi is considered to be a community engaged in cleaning and sweeping in Bengal. Ancient India defined communities according to their profession — at a time when people usually picked up family profession to earn livelihood. Probably being in same profession created belongingness in a family or community. By the time Maynamati’s songs were composed (10th century), community professions were being associated to the concepts of purity or impurity. Hadi or sweeper became an impure caste; apparent reason both Manikchandra and Govindachadra denied becoming his disciple. But was it possible he was not a sweeper, but a Vaishnav (worshipper of Vishnu or Hari) whom the Shakti worshipper Kings considered abominable? Rangpur is the place where we find most number of texts of Maynamati’s songs. Rangpur was also part of Kamrup state which was famous as follower of Shakti cult and Yogini tantra. Obvious that power-goddess worshipper wouldn’t find a Vaishnav teacher eligible to teach them. Siddha is word signifying the person who has found the path of eternal wisdom; of course owner of immense supernatural power. Till date siddha songs are popular among Baul singer, which is considered to be branch of Vaishnava community.

Buchanan finds him a disciple of Kanipa, who was disciple of Gorakshnath and defines as a person of Yogi Community. Who were these Yogis? Some historian would say, they were formerly Buddhist wisdom seeker or cult followers who later converted to Hinduism. But the myth found in Nepal is interesting. According to their belief, during Yudhisthira’s journey to the heaven all of the brothers perished felling down on the chilly hill tracks of Himalayas. Only one survived was the club-bearing Bhima who was not only saved by the Buddhist saint Gorakshnath, but also made the king of Nepal. Was Gorakshnath (and obviously his disciples including Hadi Siddha) Buddhist cult follower who was not acceptable to Shakta Kings of Kamrupa and considered low-born?

But Shaivaits wouldn’t accept this theory. Gorakshnath is considered a Saiva saint who founded the Yogi sect. Also possible that he had a connection to the Shaiva Pashupata sects in Kamrupa which was converted to Yogis under his influence. Another myth describes Yogis as former disciples of the great Shaiva saint Shankaracharya who were expelled because of their habit of consuming liquor.

Thus determining the identity, i.e. caste, sect, community of Hadi Siddha becomes a next to impossible task. But what’s more interesting is the story of his involvement with his disciple Maynamati. According to legends Gorakshnath was teacher of both Maynamati and Hadi Siddha. Later Hadi Siddha took the role of spiritual guru of Maynamati. And the relationship of faith became so strong that Maynamati started forcing her husband Manikchandra, the king to adopt Hadi Siddha as his guru too. After her husband denied, the relationship between husband and wife became so sour that they started staying separately while Maynamati continued her cult practices under the supervision of Hadi Siddha. And the story of the illicit relationship grows stronger as Maynamati gives birth to her son Govindachandra eighteen months after Manikchandra’s death. Of course the ballad talks about spiritual intervention by Gorakshnath to solve problems of Mayna after her husband’s death which brought the childbirth to a halt for many months. The guru also forecasts her son’s death if he doesn’t worship Hadi’s feet. The way Mayna tries to convince her adamant son to submits himself to the Hadi is also notable. SO great is the supernatural power of the Hadi that he lights up his lamps with water instead of oil. He has more number of lamps in his hut than the king has in his palace. Even the ocean’s movement is dependent on his will. Why does such a powerful person need horses, elephants, royal staffs and umbrella as remuneration from his disciple? He is even able to create a forest for Govindachandra and then roads through the forest making Yama and Hanuman work for him. The Hadi takes his disciple through lots of hardships, demands price for assistance; finally pawns him as Govinda is not able to pay him the price. The powerful Hadi needs money to buy Ganja (cannabis) and he does not hesitate to sell Govinda to a prostitute making proper paperwork. Nevertheless the Hadi makes the disciple a Napumsaka (neither man nor women) to save his honour. But the Hadi, being a spiritual Guru vanishes the moment Hira, the prostitute takes charge her slave. Govinda’s queerness saves his manhood from being exploited by the lady, but how come the almighty guru never bothers to extend his support to the disciple for twelve years while the young boy was subject to tremendous physical and mental torture? Well, at the end of twelve years, he comes back to save him and punishes the prostitute by taking her life. After killing her, he makes her a bat and sends to heaven. The Hadi also makes the prince beg in the market before teaching him his magic spells. He brings him back to the palace, receives remuneration and goes back to heaven establishing the disciple on the throne.

Mayanamati’s song doesn’t tell us anything else about him. But Gorakshavijay, another famous ballad composed by Nath Yogi Community gives another interesting account about him. Hadi siddha was a saint in his previous birth in the Himalayas who fell in love with goddess Parvati. He tells Parvati that he would accept even the terrible life of a Hadi if a beautiful lady like Parvati reciprocates his love. Parvati told him to go to Meherkula, where the queen Maynamati, who was as beautiful as Parvati, would fall in love with him. Obviously the man would have to work as a sweeper there. In another line, the guru Gorakshnath tells his disciple Kanpha that Hadi Siddha is thrown into prison for having an illicit love affair with Maynamati. In another text collected by Durlabh Mullik, this Hadi Siddha is the all-powerful one who plans everything from his heavenly abode. He is propagator of non-violence who plays more influential role than Gorakshnath here.

From different versions of different texts found in different locations, it is difficult to draw a conclusion about the character of Hadi siddha and the nature of his relationship with the queen Maynamati. Only thing we can tell is that his spiritual power earned lot of reputation at a point of time in Bengal’s history when spirituality used to be mingled with supernatural. In fact, possessing supernatural power did set the height of Hadi siddha’s spiritual existence.

© Kathakali Mukherjee, 2018

The Story of the Mighty Mother Maynamati

Mother’s day special – for my blog readers 🙂

pic mayanamati

 

We are fascinated by women’s roles in stories — loving, caring, compassionate, strong, determined, chaste, loyal — sometimes fierce too. How do we perceive a female character having layers? I remember one lady illustrated in Ancient Bengali literature — in Maynamatir gaan (The songs of Maynamati), composed between 11th century-17th century AD. These were preserved in oral traditions and also in many written texts— naturally having several versions. All of them present Maynamati with equal importance.

Sisumati was the princess of Meher-Kul (current Tripura), the lovely daughter of king Tilakchandra. She was merely a kid when the Yogi Gorakshanath came to her father’s palace. Out of sheer affection to her, the Yogi made the kid his disciple. He taught her the ‘Mahajnyan’ — the sanctified lessons that could resurrect a dead person. He also gave her a new name, ‘Maynamati’.

She was married to Manikchandra, the prince of a neighbourhood kingdom Vikrampur. Maynamati was only daughter of her father. So Manikchandra shifted to Meher-Kul, so that he could take care of both the kingdoms. The loving queen Maynamati wanted to teach him the Mahajnyan. Manikchandra denied. She tried to convince her telling, “Listen my love! This Mahajnyan will make you immortal by removing all your mortal disease and pains.” Manikchandra replied, “For a man, there is no greater humiliation than accepting own wife as preceptor. I can’t accept you as my teacher.”

As time was passing like this, Maynamati was growing old. As per tradition of the royals, Manikchandra married another four princesses and espoused hundred eighty ordinary wives. They were all young and beautiful. Soon the old queen and the proud youngs engaged themselves in a spiteful fight against each other. Manikchandra drove the old Maynamati out of the palace. She left the capital and started living in a small town named Ferusa.

The king became adamant. Insisted by a long-bearded minister from Bangla, he started torturing his subjects. The subjects resorted to worshiping the deity ‘Dharmathakur’, pleased him and pleaded for the destruction of the cruel king. Dharmathakur listened to them. The king fell fatally ill. Maynamati was called back to the palace to help him. She brought water from the sacred river Ganga in the golden bejeweled vessel to bring her husband back to life. She chased the messengers of Yama, the god of death to the river, the messenger jumped into the river; the queen took the form of a buffalo and the messenger hid in the waves becoming a fish. The queen attacked the fish becoming a crane. The messenger turned into a lobster to get rid of her but she turned herself into a goose. Leaving water, the messenger turned itself into a pigeon but the queen continued chasing him, this time taking the form of an eagle. Finally she severely beat up the messengers of Yama, the god of death who tied her husband’s life with a strong rope but nothing worked. Manikchandra died, leaving a seed in Maynamati’s womb. Their son Govindachandra was born after his death. The large kingdom was being ruled by Maynamati.

Govindachandra was married to Aduna, the elder daughter of a Dhaka king Harischandra and received the younger princess Paduna as dowry. Bhattasali’s lore tells that he also married a daughter of the powerful southern king Rajendra Choladev. But the eighteen year old prince was sent to exile by his mother, Maynamati. The old queen was convinced that if her son does not spend the life of an ascetic in exile in a forest for twelve years, he would die at the age of nineteen. The young queens were obviously against the old lady’s decision. As all their efforts to stay with the husband failed, they tried to poison the mother-in-law. Maynamati’s Mahajnyan helped her defeating them. Govindachandra resisted becoming a disciple of a guru of cleaner community telling: “How shall I, the illustrious ruler of a state become a disciple of a person of low birth who cleans the roads and marketplaces in my kingdom? Yours is such a mean option to humiliate me!” The old queen was angry –“The person you call scavenger is so powerful that even Indra, the god of heavens worship him. Wearing a pair of golden sandals, he is able to walk on the river. His food is prepared in his residence in the moon while the river crocodiles make his dining table. How dare you ignore his kind of a man of wisdom?” Govinda hit back, “I don’t believe any of your words. I hate being the son of your kind of a mother! You have accepted the offerings of love from the low-born one only to acquire the knowledge of Mahajnyan. You poisoned my father to death following your paramour’s advice. Now both of you conspired against me — while you want to enjoy the amorous pleasures of your illicit love sending me to exile! Why didn’t you sacrifice yourself in my father’s funeral pyre? I could consider myself a pious prince at least!” The queen started cursing him: “The low born one is my brother while both of us are disciples of the venerable Gorakshanath. How could I give birth of your kind of a son — the one who could scandalize own mother?”

The queens cried helplessly. The lustrous Aduna spared no effort to dissuade her husband from leaving her alone. But Govindrachadra was powerless against the strong will of his mother. He had to go to the forest alone and accept all kinds of miseries of the life in jungle. A beautiful wealthy prostitute sought to win his love. Failing, she forced him into slavery. He had to bring water for her from a river far away. One sudden morning, as he was walking through the jungle to fetch water, he realized that his twelve years of exile was over. He cut his thigh, so that he could use own blood to write a letter to his home. His guru saved him from there and helped him fly to his palace.

Twelve years were too long for Aduna to recognize him. She ordered the royal elephant to kill the trespasser in the palace and called the royal dog. But the elephant bowed his head before this bearded ascetic; also the dog started wagging its tail at his sight. Aduna understood her mistake, “Even the speechless animals could recognize you, My Lord! How stupid is your poor queen that she could not!”

Govindachandra ascended the throne and ruled the kingdom to peace and prosperity for years.

The story is simple — and Maynamati is the lady who stands in the core of the story. Was this Maynamati an immoral character who had an illicit affair with her fellow-disciple of the spiritual guru Gorakshanath? Was she a murderer who killed her husband not being able to make him follow the spiritual path she was following? We do not know, but even if she did not commit any crime, her aggressive way of expanding own dominance over the kingdom as well as the family, and her cruel treatment to her own young son doesn’t seem ideal from our point of view. The songs of Maynamati were composed by same Nath community, the disciples of Gorakshanath. And some of the texts mentions her being imprisoned by Govindachandra for having corrupt intensions. How come this kind of a lady becomes a role-model in the lore of a society where women’s morality is given lot of importance?

We have to go back to history to find out answers. Existence of Goraksnath, a legendary Nath-Yogi and the king Gobindachandra somewhere between11th-13th century in Bengal is established from literary records found in Eastern part of Bengal, Odisha and Maharashtra. Probably Maynamati’s stories were compiled to illustrate the greatness of her mighty spiritual guru Goraksnath, while only the magnitude of his spiritual prowess could make the immoral Maynamati a powerful one. Probably eleventh century Bengal, which was suffering from political anarchy, also bit puzzled in the realm of conflicting religious beliefs, sought the help of some supernatural power of an incredibly self-restrained Yogi — whose support could help even an allegedly wicked woman to gain power over the society and its people. Hence, Maynamati’s story becomes the story of making the impossible ‘Possible’ — establishing a strong-willed woman’s supremacy subduing all who denied accepting her.

Continue reading “The Story of the Mighty Mother Maynamati”

Where is Bengal — exactly?

Again an old post: sharing for blog readers 🙂

bengal6th-9th century
Probable location of Bengal during 6th-9th century

Bengal, West Bengal, East Bengal, Bangāl, Banga — too many names to describe a region in eastern part of India — right? Or is it different parts of the land probably defined by the same name in different periods? The question is critical, answer of which has to be simple. We want simplicity.

Thing is, ancient Indian historical texts refers to many places like Dravida, Karnat, Maharashtra, Panchal or Magadha, but the name of Banga or Bangāl is rarely mentioned. Ancient texts found in eastern part of India talk about Anga, Magadh, Gandhār and Kalinga but no Banga. Check the list of names of 16 Mahajanapadas (3rd — 6th century BCE); there is the name of Anga, but no Banga! (neither Kalinga). The map that accompanies this article has been prepared during British rule. There of plenty of references of Banga in our mythological texts; but its difficult to determine their time. When historians say that the history of Anga, Magadh or Kalinga is the history of Banga, that leads to the question — was there any region called Banga in ancient India at all?

First consider the name ‘Banga’. Shaktisangamtantra, a Tantric text, compiled around 7th century tells that the land spread between the sea and the river Brahmaputra is called Banga (Ratnākaram samārabhya Brahmaputrāntagah Shive\ Bangadesho mayā proktah sarbasiddhipradarshakah)

But does that territory lie on the eastern shore of the river or west? The Tantra text doesn’t clarify that. The description given in the copper plates of Lakshman Sena (12th century) supports a conclusion that the eastern part of Brahmaputra including the area called Vikrampur is ‘Banga’ and this was probably stretched till the Bay of Bengal. But the 6th century text Kurmabibhāg by Barahamihir mentions difference between Samatata (near sea-shore) and Banga!

Second name we may discuss is Vangāla \Bangāl (Bôngal). The earliest reference to this is found in the Nesari plates of 805 AD) of Rashtrakuta Govinda III. This plate names Dharmapala as the king of Vangala. Pala era (8th-12th century) was before Sena’s. Was Vangāla the earlier name of Banga? Again, Thirumalai inscription of Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty, who invaded Bengal in the 11th century, mentions Govindachandra as the ruler of Vangālaadesa. Also the Goharva inscription of Chedi king mentions “Bangāl”. Interesting to find the same name in records of southern rulers and Turkish sultans who invaded this part of land much later. Abu’l Fazl (16th century) in his Ain-i-Akbari tells that the original name of Bengal was Bung, and the suffix “al” came to be added to it from the fact that the ancient rajahs of this land raised mounds of earth 10 feet high and 20 in breadth in lowlands at the foot of the hills which were called “al”. From this suffix added to the Bung, the name Bengal arose and gained currency.

Also interesting is, the inscription of Vijjal, the Kalchuri descendant, differentiates between Banga and Bangāl. Abhidhan Chintamani by Jain Harichandra has a line, “Bangastu Harikeliya”. This Harikel must not be Bangāl — that is proved from other texts like Dakarnava. Therefore we may imagine Banga and Bangāl could be separate regions in this part of land. During Shah Sujah’s regime, the tract between Rangpur and Brahmaputra was known as Bangālbhum. True that Bangāl doesn’t find mention in the record of Iban Batuta or De Barros, but Gastaldi’s map of 1560s shows the presence of Bengālā. Shall we conclude that there was a city name Bangālā near the sea, from which the name of the region was derived later.

Well, Rampal-text of Shrichandra supports separate existence of Banga and Bangāla. This text and Chinese monk Yijing’s account proves separate existence of areas called Harikela, Banga and Chandradwipa. In addition, if we consider Lakshmansena’s plate and some other texts of that period, we may conclude that the tract between Vikrampur and eastern side of Brahmaputra was known as Banga or Harikela between 7th-13th century. Mahabharat and Brihatsamhita determines ‘Samatata’ — the sea shore’s exclusion from this region. Bangāl was located in the sea shore — also Samatata. Probably both were outside the boundary of Banga?

bengal5th-6th century
5th-6th century AD

Vijjala’s inscription tells us that the borders of Banga and Bangāla didn’t merge till 12th century. Even Rāda and Varendra were separate. Islamic texts written in 13th-14th centuries also support this view. First reference of Subah Bangāla stretched from Srihatta located in current Bangladesh to Purnia and Kankjol in current Bihar\Jharkhand is found during Mughal emperor Akbar’s (1556–1605) regime. In 1593, Capture of Orissa and Medinipur by Raja Man Singh, Akbar’s lieutenant brought Medinipur under Mughal rule. But Medinipur and Hilji was not included in Bangāla subah. Cooch Behar was independent state and Chattagram was under state of Arakan. Well, by the time Shahjahan and his son Aurangzeb established their rule in eastern part of India, the borders of Bangāla were expanded much beyond their previous limits — finally creating a large powerful state called Banga or Bangāl.

The name of Bengal is permanently associated to the geography extended over current Bangladesh and West Bengal by British ruler, but its boundaries were continuously redefined till very recent time, even after independence.

This ‘sudden’ inclusion of discussion on ancient geography in the history of literature series may surprise readers. But history of Bengali literature cannot be understood unless we have knowledge of its changing geographical boundaries. Even if we deny mythical references, historical records show constant changes in boundaries among the eastern states like Magadh, Pragjyotishpur\ Kamrup, Samatat, Banga, Suhma, Kalinga, Utkal — as a result of expanding of kingdoms by all powerful rulers through the ages. So at some point of time, part of today’s northern Bengal (probably till the border of Dhaka in current Bangladesh) was under the state of Pragjyotishpur (which falls mostly in current Assam), while in the middle ages Koch Hajo’s (bifurcated eastern part of Koch kingdom) independent state expanded till Guwahati. Similarly parts of southern Bengal was ruled by the kings of Kalinga and Ganjam at different points of time, but in 7th century AD a Gour (current Malda, Murshidabad in West Bengal) king named Sasānka, who was a descendant of a Kamrup dynasty, established a large eastern empire expanding his rule till Utkala and Magadh regions. Before the rise of Hindu Sasānka, the region named Gour was under Buddhist Magadh kings. These changes not only lead to bloodshed and war (even GI patent debates in recent times), but also striking cultural intermingling and shared linguistic and literary heritage among the states of current Assam, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal. Reason ownership of the Buddhist Charyāpada texts or the poets Vidyāpati and Jayadev remains an issue of critical debate.

map bengal1853-2
Bengal as in 1853

Love in the Battleground: Zealous persuasion

Zealous family – who knows who is your own

Like the shade of a tree,

Like a reflection in water, everything is an illusion –

World is in a fantasising spree.

Janardandev dreamt of fulfilling his duty of a father towards his foster daughter. Getting her married to Raghupati brought him the most desired satisfaction in life. Raghupati became Saryu’s dream of life since she met him five years back. She is happy that her long wait has been fruitful. She found bliss in life in company of her man. She lost herself in the tide of love.

For Raghupati, dreams became reality. Recovering his lost reputation and establishing himself as an aristocrat was not an easy task. The goddess of fortune helped him. Moreover he has won the loyalty and trust of his desired women. Life could be blissful for him too if he did not meet Balwantrao someday in distant past. Was her sister destined to marry the man who didn’t have any love for her? Since he came back from the riverside, his mind went restless. Raghupati was not being able to justify the fate he and his sister met. He started mourning – still not able to tell the delicate Saryu anything about it. An uneasy thought overwhelmed him that sharing own stories might shatter her innocent faith in him. Saryu worships her as a hero – how would she accept the fallen hero in her life? –  Worries became his companion day and night.

Couple of days passed. Saryu guessed her husband is in trouble – none expects a newly married young man lost in own world. Till two days back, she was enjoying every aspect of her married life – new home, the much awaited attention of a loving husband, role of the mistress of a home. Sudden change in Raghupati’s temper now made her feel uncomfortable. There is no elderly woman at home who could support her. She stated her anxiety to her maids – they suggested her to be more polite and nice to her husband. They suspected some fault in her behaviour might have angered her man. She tried to behave as submissive as possible. Her husband didn’t pay an attention. Yesterday her maids suggested her to present herself to her husband in more attractive attire assuming that a wife’s not looking voluptuous could be another reason for a young man’s ignoring her. But that trick too failed. Raghupati remains absent minded even today. Her large compassionate eyes gaze at him trying to understand what could have been the reason her husband loses himself time to time. Saryu knows her man is a trusted person of the leader – there is less chance of his facing exhausting trouble in the royal court. While serving dinner she asks, “Did I do commit some mistake that makes you angry?”

Raghupati’s string of thought tears; he replies, “But who told you I am angry? What makes you worried?”

Saryu was grown up as a single child of her father; doesn’t know how to express the anxious emotions deep rooted in her heart. She says, “You look different these days – your face always serious – as if you are always lost somewhere else. You are not even telling me if you liked food today.”

Raghupati feels irritated – why do women try to intrude so much in personal matters of their men? He realises he is being constantly watched. He doesn’t like that. But he doesn’t express his irritation; smiles instead, “I like every item prepared in your kitchen. Do you remember the day you first served me food at your father’s place in the fort of Toran? I fell in love with your culinary skill since then. But you don’t need to take too much trouble here – take help of maids.” He stops as he couldn’t find any more word to comfort her. Saryu looks at his face helplessly; knowing neither her words, nor her helplessness is able to create a ripple in the stone-hard heart of this man. Was it the same man she was attracted to? Unnoticed she slips in her bed-chamber – pillows in a bed is softer than a man’s heart. They listen to her pains – she drenches them with tears rolling down aimlessly.

After long. Seeing her still awake he says, “I should have visited Jyoti after the accidental demise of her husband. I will go to her place tomorrow.”

Saryu didn’t know anything about Balwantrao’s death. Even rumours didn’t penetrate the protective walls of her husband’s home. The dread of the news shocked her – now she realises what might have made her husband absent minded since last few days; says, “He – passed away? But how? I too want to meet her. Can’t we go today?”

She doesn’t receive a reply. She knows the futility of repeating. Her husband must be in deep pain. A soothing wave of sympathy appeases her anxiety. She does not want to annoy her dutiful husband – feels little embarrassed remembering her own suspicion about her husband’s behaviour – falls asleep after some time.

Raghupati knows kind Shivaji Maharaj would not let him down; none would know who killed Balwantrao in the serene riverside camp. Everyone knows by now that the hot-tempered Jumladar Balwantrao had committed suicide. Shivaji didn’t attach his property; directed Raghupati to manage the property as well as take care of his sister. He looks at his wife’s face again and again, ponders whether he should tell her every single story of his past, but cannot gather the courage to wake her up and tell.

He spends another sleepless night, wondering whether he should disclose everything to Jyotibai. His sister is not revengeful, but how would he explain the reason behind the fatal altercation? Burden of his past becomes heavier every passing minute – he doesn’t know how to get rid of that.

**********************************************************

Next morning, Raghupati enters the premises of late Balwantrao to meet his sister. He came here before; knows almost all servants and guards of the home. The guards at the house open the door seeing him. Their silent welcome reveals the graveness of the atmosphere of the home. He enters the courtyard, gets down from his horse. One servant takes the horse to one side of the large courtyard. The deserted look of the home hurts him. He imagines how Jyoti could have rolled beside the lifeless body of her husband dishevelled. Did she faint seeing his badly injured body? Did she wail inconsolably? Raghupati knows how a Hindu woman’s life sinks into unfathomable darkness with the demise of her husband.  The light of his eyes extinguished – he steps inside like a puppet pulled by a string.

Daylight doesn’t reach inside the mansion. The interior is unusually silent as if none has ever stayed there. At the end of the long corridor that goes to the ladies apartments, he sees couple of maids standing. He tells them to inform his sister about his arrival. They look at him afraid, tell, “She is not there, Sir.”

Raghupati, “Where is she then?”

Maids, “Mistress told everyone to leave the ladies apartments and let her leave alone.  We came back afternoons – she is not inside.”

Simultaneous pain, sorrow and frustration made him scream terribly: “Where is she? You stupid! – She cannot evaporate!” Madly he rushes into the ladies zone without waiting for their reply or where he was heading to. But no – all rooms in this part were empty like a deserted island. He reached the end of the quarter. One narrow path from here goes straight to a well. A row of large trees a little away from there blocks the vision from reaching far. He stands there for few seconds perplexed – If Jyotibai found her way to piece through this plush green of nature, does he have any right to stop her?

He comes back – sends people to look for Jyotibai in every possible location, they tried to trace if she has performed self-immolation following the tradition of  young Rajput widows; but no, none found a trace of her.

*************************************************************

Raghupati will work under Shivaji keeping integrity and reputation intact thirteen years after this. Shivaji’s death in 1680 will break his heart inconsolably. In their old age, he and Saryu will go back to Rajasthan and spend the rest of life there.

Love in the Battleground: Weaving aspirations

Courage and vigour placed me high above

My love is not the one I’m supposed to love–

Fuelled by desire I become a mourning dove!

This is our first meeting with Balwantrao Jumladar. He is unquestionably brilliant, valiant and strong-willed. He is few years older than Raghupati, tall and handsome, strong and stout bodied. Women of his village compared him to the Sakya king Buddha, who even though favoured by women a lot, never liked their company. His wide forehead is marked with few deep wrinkles of thought. His small eyes are very bright. He is self made man.  Born as a small farmer’s son, he took the occupation of a warrior at an early age of fifteen.  His deep envision, sheer grit and determination as effective as his vigour and courage helped him become one of Shivaji’s trusted commanders. These two critical faculties are very much apparent in his face. His soldiers, who are aware of his unconstrained vigour, cunning wrath, sheer intelligence and strong determination, do not engage themselves in argument with this Jumladar of few words. Apart from all, Balwantrao  has another virtue or vice – of which few are aware. He is driven by outrageous ambition. He discovers his own path to fulfil own aspirations, follows that with absolute determination and clears that with the sharpness of his sword.

Balwantrao does not want to talk about his past. None knows about his origin. His mentor was Ganga Singh, a trusted commander of Jai Singh. The commander once camped near the village what he stayed. The strong young boy serving the soldiers caught the commander’s attention. He called him in his tent and within a few days, pleased with his loyalty and diligence, offered him a foot-soldier’s role. The new joiner performed well in the next few battles which obviously secured him permanent role as a Havildar in Ganga Singh’s battalion.

He saved Ganga Singh’s life once. After the battle was over, the master called him to express own gratitude for his support. He was promoted to a commander.

One year after this incident, a fierce battle between Jai Singh and some rebels took place near Ujjain. Ganga Singh was killed. Balwantrao gained trust of his late superior. As per his master’s last wish he took charge of his home after his death. He left only two children along with his property. The orphaned children of Ganga Singh – twelve year old Raghupati and nine year old Jyoti found new shelter. He married the girl but Raghupati caught his attention. The boy had the spirit of a warrior even at that tender age. Taking them along he came to his Shivaji’s domain. He built own small troupe of armed men. As the strong and influential Balwantrao applied for a role in Shivaji’s army, he was immediately given the position of a Jumladar.

During the battle of Pratapgarh, Balwantrao fought like a demon, before whom many of the Afjal Khan’s soldiers couldn’t stand. He earned trust.

*******************************************************************************

sinhagad_view
Photo: Wikimedia commons

The young Raghupati becomes his companion throughout his journey. He teaches him how arms are taken up, how a sword is held, how a simple stick fatally hits an enemy, how a small knife pierces the heart of a strong man, how one arrow can strike both a rider and his horse, how empty hands can defeat five enemies altogether. Balwant know his young companion needs to learn how to climb steep hillocks without support of a rope, how to ride horse without stirrup. He takes him to battlefields, whenever the platoon has a chance to camp – where the boy would find scope to watch and learn. The boy becomes his only company in his ten. The spirited boy fascinates him. He still has a tender body, his skin as soft as flower petals, his face as innocent as a child; yet he is showing the sign of his developing as a man of bravery and strong determination. His hands are growing tough yet gentle, his feet muscular yet adorable, thin lips rigid yet loving – thin line of his moustache announcing his approaching manliness. Balwantrao cannot stop looking at him at times, admire his divine physique, showering kisses on that divine body, caressing its tenderness in the lonely starry nights. Raghupati is the one he lives for. He doesn’t want to go back to the fort, enjoy the life of luxury any longer, look at anyone else – only if he could stay with Raghupati in this remote tent in any of these bushy fields!

Young Raghupati is not only loyal; he understands his master’s love for him. He loves being centre of his superior’s caring attention.

*************************************************************

He is growing fast – respects his superior for his bravery, his magnificent control on the horses, excellence in handling weapons. He knows he won’t be able to return his favour. Raghupati venerates him, but at the same time, he does not want to stay with his superior any longer. He wants to immerse himself in his own dreams, dream of becoming a war-hero, dream of owning own palace, dream of owning own woman. Perhaps a beautiful girl would adore him much more than Balwantrao does? He sees himself in the position of a leader, not a follower. Superior’s continuous surveillance irritates him – he knows he cannot protest.

In one of the silent winter nights, he frees himself from sleeping Balwantrao’s warm embrace, runs away from his tent, leaving love-struck Balwantrao alone.

*******************************************************************************

The orphan boy seemed to be floating on everlasting circumstances. He crossed mile walking – he wanted to be far away from Balwantrao and his troupe. He travelled across the region – sometimes took up begging, at times worked as servant at wealthy people’s homes. The strong and stout young man earned respect wherever he stayed. He was working as a guard of a trader’s home when he heard about Shivaji’s camping with his troup somewhere nearby. His heart danced with cheer, He didn’t want to spoil the opportunity. He met the leader he worshiped since ages.

Did he find himself unfortunate when after coming back from Toran he came to know that he actually replaced a deceased havildar under Balwantrao jumladar, who passed away just before he met Shivaji? Both the former superior and junior recognised each other – as the once-companions met in Shivaji’s court. Balwantrao looked at his new havildar – he felt sad, as if he had lost the most precious stone from his ornament. The havildar looked at him, straight and strong, powerful and confident. Jumladar understood he would have to build his relationship anew with his new soldier. The new soldier lost the tenderness he adored once. Energetic youth made Raghupati even more attractive – suppressing his desire for the young man was difficult for him, yet his common sense became a bridle to his temptation. He knew Raghupati would not reciprocate. Honest Raghupati would not turn a revenge-seeker, but he would have to remain his sister’s husband forever. Balwant welcomed the new havildar in his troupe formally. Raghupati did not carry grudge against him either. He happily engaged in a long conversation with him. Continue reading “Love in the Battleground: Weaving aspirations”

Love in the Battleground: Virtue lies in love

Vain is the hope in my heart I bear!

About love I do not want to hear

My friend! Who says love is a virtue?

My love made me cry all through.

 O charming lady! The miserable one with eyes teary,

Chandidas says the path of love made her life dreary.

 

The Rajput girl named Saryubai came back empty-hearted after bidding adieu to Sadanand Swami. The departure of the warrior from homeland, whose first sight made her feel blissful once, whom eye adored as the hero of her life since long, with whom her father Janardan wanted to get her married, left her lonely. Meeting Sadanand Swami eased her worries a little, but didn’t erase the loneliness. She found Sadanand a lookalike of her man; sometimes had a doubt whether Raghupati himself came to meet her in disguise of a saint that day. It was shadowy evening when she met the saint with long beard and matted hair. She started rebuking herself for not looking at Sadanand Sami properly, not talking to him for longer – she could perhaps collect more information about Raghupati!

The day passes, then the week, then the month; but the treasure of her heart does not return. The young lady sits beside the window alone under the shade of the night – immersed in her memories of the man she met. Hope from the bottom of her hearts pushes her to the window – she throws a glance at the road pretty often – the man does not come back.

At times she roams alone in the garden; recalls everything that was related to that man – the fort of Toran, the neck-chain, journey to Raigad, the departure of the man. She cannot control her tears sometimes. On some of the lonely nights, she opens her heart to the emptiness around her. Like a river in the rainy season, she lets tears flow down her cheeks. Even in the morning, when the sun colours the sky red with its first rays, the dejected  girl sits motionless on the floor. Saryu is thinning. Her face looks pale; her eyes circled by darkness. The simpleton Janardan cannot read Saryu’s heart, but her condition became the cause of his concern.

Women try to read each other’s hearts passionately. Some of Saryu’s friends are able to read her mind. Some of them tell Janardan lightly that he needs to find a husband for grown up Saryubai. As those words reach Saryu, she tells her friends, “Tell my father that I do not want to marry. I want to look after him.”

Janardan is not ready to listen to her. He starts looking for a groom. It is not difficult to find one for a sober Kshatriya girl raised by a religious Brahmin. Finally he selects one commander of King Jai Singh as his daughter’s suitor. The news makes Saryu shiver. She knows her talking directly to her father may enrage him. She sends another friend to remind him of the promise he had made to another warrior. Saryu’s hand is already given to someone. She had accepted that warrior as her husband. Marrying anyone else would be nothing but transgression from her part.

The massage angers Jansrdandev anyway. He scolds Saryu. He feels sorry for own misbehaviour to the foster daughter, yet finally decides to continue preparing for the wedding ceremony and sends a message to King Jai Singh about the planned wedding celebration in the fort. Saryu too receives the news. She directly comes to her father this time and starts arguing, “Forgive me father! Please stop this. You will lose your daughter forever if you don’t.” Her words brought tears to Janardan’s eyes too.

But who pays attention to a bride’s words? Especially in a society, one has to follow rules set by others. Janardan tries to convince her daughter a lot, both engage themselves in many teary altercations. Finally few days before the scheduled wedding day he calls Saryu to tell, “You unruly woman! Are you trying to taint my honour before others at this old age? Are you trying to defame the graceful family of mine?”

She replies, “Father! Pardon me if I have caused any dishonour to you. But by the grace of God, you will never have to face any disgrace because of me.”

Janardandev is unable to understand the meaning of her words. He will understands it only the next day – when her daughter will not be found anywhere around.

Continue reading “Love in the Battleground: Virtue lies in love”

Love in the Battleground: Unscheduled meeting

Unknown voice tells, “Listen to me, King!

Righteousness will make you win,

Honesty brings victory – that’s God’s doctrine.

Celebration started in Maharashtra as Shivaji came back defeating Mughals using his clever strategy and without losing anything. People in the towns and villages, on the roads and fields went on discussing the possibility of his waging war against Aurangzeb. They wanted him to drive the blasphemous away from his Hindu empire.

He had taken many attempts, still could not acquire Bijapur. The Emperor turned down his repeated requests for help. He received only 3 million rupees from Emperor Aurangzeb as the expenses of this campaign, but no armed force. He had spent 10 million rupees from the collections of his ancestral kingdom. Deccan anyway remained impenetrable.  Finally he could understand the emperor’s objective to tarnish him along with his army. He turned towards Aurangabad leaving Bijapur. He knew he was perishing – still remained loyal to the emperor – did not neglect his duty under any circumstances. He realised that he had to leave Maharashtra, at the same time he could not collect information about Shivaji. Didn’t his son Ram Singh communicate that he was supporting Shivaji? Probably no – every person follows own principle. Ram Singh might have listened to own heart while his father valued oath. He considered maintaining the emperor’s hold on Maharashtra in own absence a duty of him; hence deployed emperor’s force in the forts of Lauhagarh, Sinhagarh, Purandar, and destroyed some other forts which was not possible to acquire for the Emperor, so that the enemy would not be able to capture and use them against the Emperor in future.

Nevertheless the news of his failed attempts pleased the apprehensive Emperor Aurangzeb. He had every reason to suspect that Jai Singh had secret pact to assist Shivaji and Sambhaji to escape. In order to humiliate him further, he summoned him to Delhi removing him from the position of the resident ruler of Southern India. Jaswant Singh replaced him. Unlike other generals who had failed in the Deccan, Jai Singh was awarded severe punishment. The old warrior unable to tolerate this humiliation fell seriously ill on his way to Delhi. He did not know the Emperor had held him responsible for his son’s actions. He wrote a letter to one of his officials, “ …in four ways losses have fallen upon me—first my honour is gone, second the districts of my kingdom have been taken away thirdly what I spent on this war is gone, and fourthly—and what is worst of all—my son’s affairs have been ruined.”

One day, while he was lying in bed; one emissary came with a message, “My Lord, a Maratha soldier wants to meet you. He received your teachings once in past, once again he is here to ask for your blessings.”

The King ordered to escort the visitor. Shortly a Maharashtrian in disguise entered into his room. The King did not need to look at him to welcome him, “Shivaji! My friend! I am glad to meet you again before dying. Pardon me that I could not welcome you standing – I lost the ability to stand.”

Shivaji was teary-eyed, “I did not imagine of seeing you lying in bed!”

Jai Singh: “It is no wonder. Our body is mortal. You have seen the glory of Mughal Empire by the time we met first.  You have travelled across the country in the meantime. Tell me, how you see it now.”

Shivaji: “You were the main pillar of the Mughal Empire in India. Now if your health is broken, the empire also does not have much hope.”

Jai Singh: “I do not think so! The land of Rajasthan is land of heroes. Instead of one Jai Singh, there will be other great warriors. The empire is not going to lose anything by the death of my kind of a soldier.”

Shivaji: “What misfortune other than your death can happen to the empire?

Jai Singh: “One warrior can replace another, but damage caused by treachery cannot be recovered. I have told you before, wrongdoing and treachery leads to death and destruction.”

 

Shivaji: “You are wise as the world knows you to be, My King!”

Jai Singh: “I am working under the Emperors of Delhi since the time of Aurangzeb’s father. I have supported them the best way I could during their bad times, during wars. I didn’t consider race to be a diving factor between them and us. I never considered them foreigner. I was prepared to sacrifice my life in their service. At this old age of mine, the Emperor first misbehaved with me, then humiliated. Still I did not change my previous stance of alliance with them. None of my soldiers, those I deployed in those major forts of Maharashtra, will let you capture those without a battle. Aurangzeb’s own misbehaviour will drag him into trouble. The Kings of Amber, the ever-loyal friends of Mughal Emperors, will change to their foremost enemies.

Shivaji: “You are right. Aurangzeb created two prominent enemies – Amber and Maharashtra.”

Jai Singh: “These are only two examples. You will see the same in entire India. Aurangzeb humiliated all his supporters throughout India, made foes out of friends. Not only in Baranasi, he destroyed temples in Mathura too. Also Hindus is Rajasthan developed grievance!”

After a long pause, Jai Singh’s grave voice declared as if he was watching the future, “I am seeing that treachery will light a fire in every corner of the country – Rajasthan, Maharashtra, in the east. Aurangzeb will not be able extinguish that even after fighting long twenty years. His sharp intellect, his excellent strategy, his extraordinary bravery will fail. He is going to die remorseful in the old age. The fire will blaze higher – it will devour entire Mughal Empire. Then the star will rise in the fortune-sky of Maharastrians. Don’t stop marching till then.”

Jai Singh died in his Burhanpur camp in 1667 under mysterious circumstances. Did the emperor poison him in secret? None can verify. But it was not impossible for an instinctive Mughal like Aurangzeb to give such an order. Later he erected a memorial structure at the bank of the river Tapti in Burhanpur in memory of Mirza Raja Jai Singh. He was a clever politician above all.

***********************************************************************

Returning from the Rajput camp, Shivaji called all his prominent commanders and ministers for a long discussion. At the end of the session, he arrived before the entire army that was assembled before his palace. He needed to deliver his message to all of them, “We signed a treaty with Aurangzeb one year back. He had breached the treaty. We will respond to treachery in a proper way – we will fight against Mohammedans once again. Goddess Bhavani’s word prohibited us from fighting against Jai Singh, the chief Commander of Aurangzeb and that was reason we surrendered to him without resisting. Aurangzeb removed the Hindu warrior, humiliated him, pushed him to death. We will fight for the honour of our friend as well. My stay in Delhi was fruitful – I saw the sign of decay of Mughal Empire. Let us fight. Let us ensure the end of the Mughal oppression. Let us free ourselves.”

Continue reading “Love in the Battleground: Unscheduled meeting”

Love in the Battleground: Sickness and recovery

 

Silence prevailed while separation long

He stated again touching his feet.

“Lotus eyed hero! Forgive me –

The ignorant humiliated thee”.

Entire Delhi came to know that Shivaji was suffering from prolonged illness. His doors and windows were closed. The physicians were taking care of him day and night. None of them could assure if he had any chance of recovery. Some could not even guarantee his survival till the next day. Some were convinced that Shivaji was already dead. People crossing the road used to take a glance at his closed window while some of them enquired after his health from the sentries those were posted their to guard the mansion. All city dwellers were busy discussing rumours about Shivaji – how he was, whether he would be free again, whether he would be alive till next day – made the core of  conversations one could hear in Delhi streets those days. Aurangzeb was also worried and kept on asking for his information through his agents, but never relaxed the tight security he placed around Shivaji’s mansion.

In one of such evenings, an old aristocrat Hakim arrived to meet Shivaji. As the guard asked him the reason of his meeting Shivaji, he informed them that he came to treat him with an order from the Emperor. He showed authorisation letter too. With due honour, the guards showed him the way inside.

Shivaji was lying in his bed. One servant brought the news of one Hakim’s arrival with an order of the Emperor. The very sharp King thought that the Emperor sent someone to poison him. He told, “Tell him with due respect that I am being treated by a Hindu physician. Being a Hindu, I do not want to be treated by any other medicinal practice. I would thank the Emperor a thousand times for his benevolence.”

Even before the servant left the room, the Hakim entered without an invitation. His entry annoyed Shivaji, but keeping his annoyance with himself, he welcomed him in a very low voice. The Hakim sat beside Shivaji on his bed as he told him so.

The Hakim’s appearance was beyond suspicion. He was very old. His long gray beard covered till the chest. He was wearing a big turban. He was talking in a solemn voice. He told, “My King! I have heard what you were telling your servant. You do not want to be treated by me. Still, saving human life is our duty. I will be truthful to my duty.”

Shivaji knew the voice, Mughal turban, gaudy cloths and long beard worked well to camouflage but not so well that the sharp king couldn’t identify his childhood friend.  He sat on his bed and looked straight at the guest. Tanaji smiled at him; said, “What makes you wonder? I’ve worked with you so long – obvious that I have adopted some of your qualities. I always admired you for entering enemies’ place in disguise to get minute information about them. Today it didn’t seem that difficult!”

Shivaji was laughing, “My friend! One may get injured at times while playing with a tiger. Anyway, I cannot express how delighted I am seeing you here. I was expecting you here since several days. Now tell me the news!”

Tanaji: “Everything is arranged properly to ensure your safe escape. Let me state one by one – with the permission we received from the Emperor, all your companions could safely leave Delhi. All are staying in Mathura and Vrindaban dressed as hermits. Many of the priests in the temples of Mathura are also waiting for you. I have taken charge of the route from Delhi to Mathura; also collected people in the places on route you wanted to.”

Shivaji: “I have no doubt my friend – we will safely reach homeland having an efficient supporter like you.”

Tanaji: “I also arranged a swift horse outside the wall of the city as you ordered. Everything will be in place whichever day you decide.”

Shivaji: “Well done!”

Tanaji: “I met Ram Singh, the son of King Jai Singh. I made him remember the word his father had given to you. He is truthful and broad minded as his father. I have heard that he appealed to the Emperor for you. Emperor said he would do whatever his duty is. ”

Shivaji: “Betrayer! See how deceitful a person can be! Shivaji will take revenge some day!”

 

Tanaji said before leaving: “When my kind of a wise Hakim took charge of your treatment, then you have to get well soon.”

As he was about to cross the gate, the guard at the gate asked him how the condition of his patient was. The Hakim answered, “His illness is severe, but my medicine worked well. I anticipate, he will get well soon.”

 

****************************************************************

Few days after the incident, the news of Shivaji’s recovery was declared. The capital came to a festive mode. Hindus found this good news. Open-minded Mohammedans did not have different opinion. Even Aurangzeb had to express his happiness.

Shivaji started sending honorarium in form of loads of gold and silver coins, donations to temples, goodies to all the physicians who were looking after him. Sending baskets of sweets to all influential’s homes in Delhi took shape of a ritual. Baskets were being sent to mosques for the service of fakirs as well. Aurangzeb’s intension was crooked, but common people were praising Shivaji a lot. In a word, everyone in Delhi applauded his friendly gesture.

Sending sweets directly from sweetmaker’s shop did not please Shivaji. Sweets were first brought to his mansion. Those were assorted in large baskets at his place and then sent to destination. In case those baskets were prepared for large mosques or temples, those used to be several feet high. Carrying them to the destination was arduous task even for of eight or ten people.

One evening, as two of those kinds of large baskets were being taken out of his Delhi home, the guards asked the carriers a routine question, “Whom are you sending the sweets today?” The carriers replied, “To the King Jai Singh.” Guards asked, “How long your master will send sweets like this?” The carriers replied, “Probably today is the last day.”

The carriers left the mansion along with their baskets. But instead of Jai Singh’s palace, they arrived a shadowy place in a lonely corner of Delhi. They looked around. No other human being was visible; silence reigned in the area, evening breeze was flowing silently keeping harmony with that complete stillness. They kept the baskets down on the ground. The carriers knocked on the baskets; The Warrior-king Shivaji came out from one of the baskets; from another, Sambhaji. Both thanked the almighty God for the safe escape.

Both men in disguise proceeded towards the boundary wall of Delhi without wasting time. The roads were almost empty in the late evening. The sight of one or two pedestrians on their way frightened Sambhaji. Shivaji and Sambhaji walked faster to cross the locality as soon as possible. In a short while, they found a horse standing under a tree. They came closer with caution and found it resembled the description Tanaji had given. He asked its keeper, “What is your name?” The horse-keeper replied, “Janakinath.”

Shivaji: “Where are you heading to?”

Horse-keeper: “Mathura.”

He jumped on the horse. Sambhaji sat behind him. The horse keeper was walking behind as they started galloping towards Mathura.

That way, Shivaji was running away from Delhi silently crossing the villages and fields in that darkness. The stars in the sky were blinking at them. The voluptuous river Yamuna in the rainy season was flowing keeping pace with the rider’s movement through the road.

Suddenly, they saw three soldiers coming hastily towards Delhi. All of them had swords tied on their waist. They hurried their horses towards Shivaji’s as they spotted them on the way. Their movement scared him. Blocking the road in front, one of them asked, “Who is that?”

Shivaji: “Hermits.”

Soldier: “Where are you coming from?”

Shivaji: “Delhi.”

Soldier: “Destination?”

Shivaji: “Mathura.”

But all three soldiers, seeing his confusion were convinced that they have found a fugitive or dacoit on horse. They pounced on him. Shivaji alone could kill them all if he had a weapon in hand. Even empty-handed, his quick punch was strong enough to throw one from his horse, but the other two attacked him with swords. Shivaji fell down. He lost hope of his life. Little Sambhaji’s innocent face made him emotional. At that very moment, he heard an unexpected sound – he saw all three soldiers lying on the ground with arrows stuck to their bodies. All three were dead.

Shivaji got up thanking God. He realised that his horse-keeper, who was walking behind him, was the archer! He called him closer to thank him and only then he saw that the person who introduced himself as Janakinath was Sadanand Swami in disguise!

He didn’t know how to express his gratitude, “Sadanand Swami! It seems there is no other sincere friend of Shivaji like you at the time of distress. I ignored you considering you a simple horse-keeper. Forgive me! What can I do for you in return of this?”

Sadanand kneeled down before Shivaji folding his hands with humility, “Forgive me, My King! I am neither a horse-keeper, nor Sadanand. I am your old servant Raghupati Havildar. I have dreamed to serve since I was a child. You gave me the opportunity to serve you for sometime. I do not want any other honorarium. If I am guilty of committing any wrong to the Master, I would beg pardon of master.  You, my Master are the shelter for the orphan!”

Amazed Shivaji gazed at the young man. He could not hide his emotion. He embraced the soldier and erupted, “Raghupati, I doubted and humiliated you – that memory is killing me from inside. I will never forget your graciousness till the end of my life.”

Both the master and servant were embraced each other in high spirits. The reunion ended Raghupati’s self-abasement and freed Shivaji from remorse.

Continue reading “Love in the Battleground: Sickness and recovery”

Love in the Battleground: Response to deception

“Though conversant in all scriptures, you remain a stupid

Your inability to understand words leaves me perturbed.”

 

220px-Darbarscene
Aurangzeb in Darbar: Wikimedia commons

We know how the Emperor Aurangzeb treated Shivaji. But was that a stray incident? Probably no, this Mughal Emperor ascended the throne defeating his brother and imprisoning his father applying incomparable smartness, intelligent movements and excellent warfare. He was alone – never trusted anyone in his court enough revealing own mind. His forehead was marked by deep lines of thought.

Now we see him contemplating – at times his bright eyes shows signs of anger, ego or determination; at times pleasure of success brought a smile in the corner of his lips.  The Emperor uses everyone as his puppet – making them move following his sharp intension, never ready to listen to anyone. He is driven by the passion to rule the entire territory by himself.

He is sitting there for long – wakes up when a sentry comes and bows before him, “Long Live the Emperor! Ram Singh, son of King Jai Singh is waiting at the gate.” The Emperor orders him to bring the visitor. The lines of thoughts from his forehead disappear. He wears a pleasant smile on his face.

After a formal salutation to the Emperor, Ram Singh says, “Meeting the Emperor at this time of the day is not right for my kind of a servant, but my father sent an important message to inform His Majesty as soon as possible.”

“I received a letter carrying the message from your father. I know everything!” – reacts the Emperor.

Ram Singh: “Then His Majesty also knows that my father attacked the capital city of Bijapur defeating all enemies; but could not capture the city with very less number of soldiers. Moreover, The Sultan of Golkunda sent a large force under a commander named Neknaam Khan to support Bijapur Sultan.”

Aurangzeb: “I know it all.”

Ram Singh: “Abiding by the Emperor’s order, my father is still fighting even though surrounded by enemies. But ensuring victory in this battle is difficult. He requests the Emperor to send another battalion for help.”

Aurangzeb: “Your father is a leading hero of the land – and he cannot win a battle against Bijapur with own force?”

Any other Emperor would have granted this prayer in such circumstances while it would bring him a chance to conquer southern part of India as well. Aurangzeb’s way of proving himself to be wise and astute was disapproving others. He decides not to help, “Ram Singh! You friend is my best friend. I am sorry to know the trouble he is facing. Send him a message that the Emperor is praying for his victory which he will make certain on his own. But the very less number of armed force in Delhi is forcing me decide not to send them to the far South.”

The young man does not know that his prayer would not distract Aurangzeb from following his shrewd policy. What his policy is destined for? Jai Singh as a King has power; as a warrior he is vigorous. He leads a large army. He is serving the Mughal Empire since ages but such an influential status of a subsidiary is a threat to Aurangzeb.  If Jai Singh is proved unsuccessful in that war against Bijapur, his influence would reduce significantly. On the other hand, his death at the hand of Bijapur force could remove a thorn from Aurangzeb’s life. Any influential person in the empire is a thorn to the Emperor.

If Jai Singh had bet his own like on the success of mighty Mughals, he should die for that. His timid son might cry before the Emperor begging for his father’s life, but that could not be a reason for the Emperor of the universe to change his decision.

At this very moment, he realises that the death of Jai Singh is necessary for the success of his crooked practice. He does not need to consider whether the old commander was friendly or unfriendly, loyal or disloyal – he only needs to make his destruction certain.

Within a few months, a message will reach Delhi that the humiliation of failure in battlefield forced Jai Singh commit suicide. The news will satisfy the Emperor irrespective of another faint rumour’s hovering around that Jai Singh was assassinated by poisoning by the order of the Emperor.

***************************************************************************

That day, Shivaji got up at one in the afternoon. As soon as he got up, he heard a noise before the mansion he was staying in. He looked downwards through the window – the sight left him astounded.

He found armed sentries at both sides of the gate and even in front of the gate. They were not allowing people to cross the gate without identifying them. He remembered Sadanand’s words. He could flee the day before, but he turned into a prisoner.

As he started collecting information, he came to know that his appeal for going back to homeland created some doubt in Aurangzeb’s mind. Hence he ordered the keeper of the city to arrange sentries to keep an eye on Shivaji day and night. The guards would accompany Shivaji even if wanted to move out of the mansion. The King of Maharashtra realised, how well informed Sadanand Swami Swami was.

Like some snakes, which benumbs an animal by embracing it with own long serpentine body before swallowing, Aurangzeb also intended to slowly benumb Shivaji before destroying him completely. Shivaji already understood his purpose. He sent for Raghunathpanth Nyasastri. The old man arrived and silently sat before him. Shivaji told, “Pundit! You are watching the game of Aurangzeb. Last night I received the news of a plan to imprison me today. But I do not want to run away before safeguarding my loyal soldiers. What do you suggest about this?”

Nyaysastri thought for a while before replying, “Please appeal to the Emperor to permit your soldiers to go back to the homeland. He will be happy if the number of soldiers under an imprisoned enemy reduces. I think you will get permission as soon as you ask for.”

Shivaji too was convinced that the trick would work. They prepared a letter of appeal. Their anticipation was correct. The appeal for releasing all of Shivaji’s companions from Delhi pleased the Emperor so much that he immediately granted a letter of permission for them. Shivaji received it soon. He thought, “You idiot! You think you will be able to keep Shivaji imprisoned once his companions are away? What can you do if I leave Delhi in disguise of my soldier now? Anyway, I will let them leave safely; later I will find some option for me.”

Continue reading “Love in the Battleground: Response to deception”

Love in the Battleground: Quest for freedom

Queries grasp me as you enter my room –

Don’t know who you are – letting my hope bloom.

 

SIVAJI_OPENLY_DEFIES_THE_GREAT_MOGHUL
Shivaji in Mughal court : Illustrations by A.D. Macromick (Romance of Empire India) – from Wikimedia commons

Aurangzeb’s purpose behind summoning him to Delhi appeared clear to Shivaji within a few days. The Emperor’s intension was to imprison him forever so that Maharashtra can never liberate themselves. This fact annoyed him but he started finding a way to sneak out of Delhi.

The trustworthy Raghunathpanth Nyayshastri was the person with whom Shivaji used to consult in such cases. After a long discussion, they decided to appeal for the Emperor’s permission to go back to Maharashtra; other option could be found out in case of dismissal.

The wise and eloquent Nyaysastri was ready to work as emissary for Shivaji to royal court. To carry to the court, he composed a letter describing reasons behind their coming to Delhi in detail. Whatever the leader had done to support Mughal army, and the promise Aurangzeb made before inviting him was explained. Shivaji’s readiness to support the Emperor in bringing Bijapur and Golkonda under control was also specially mentioned. In case the Emperor did not want his support, the minister prayed to grant him permission to go back to own land. Neither he, nor his companions and armed guards were feeling comfortable in North Indian climate.

As Nyaysastri carried the message to the royal court, the Emperor sent a reply though him. But the verbose letter did not include anything about the permission they were seeking. Shivaji fully aware about Emperor’s objective started planning to slip away.

After a few days, the caged leader was sitting at the window in the evening. Darkness didn’t hinder the view though sun went down the horizon. Crowd was still flowing incessant on the roads. He was observing the flow – so many people with so many different attires from so many different places came to the city with so many different purposes! One or two fair-skinned Mughals were passing once in a while. Hundred of brown natives were always visible. Among them he noticed a few dark Africans too. The traders and travellers were mainly from Persia, Arab, Caucasus or Turkey. The Hindu and Mohammedan generals, kings and mansabdars were moving seated on palanquins followed by many attendants, horses and elephants. Soldiers were making fun among themselves while some traders were carrying goods in large baskets on their heads.

Crowd decreased in a while. The shopkeepers started shutting down their shops. The hubbub of the city also died down. Only some lamps inside the houses little away were visible through their open windows. The mansions at a distance stood like dark ghosts while stars started showing up in the sky. Shivaji looked at the east once – the quiet and wide river Yamuna was flowing towards the unending ocean in the calmness of the evening.

The tune of Ajaan sung in Jumma Masjid in that silence was spreading a deep mystic aura around as if it was rising towards the heaven leaving many human hearts spellbound. He went on listening to that tune – looked at the darkness again, only to find the silhouette of the white domes of the mosque far at the backdrop of the sky and the high wall of the red fort looking like a row of mountains.

The night went darker but the string of his thought did not split. He was thinking of his childhood days, old friends, Dadoji Konddeo, his father Shahaji and mother Jijabai – who lit up the hope, devotion and zeal those days. Then opened up the memories of his youth studded with more optimism and passion – how capturing forts, acquiring lands, overcoming dangers, winning battles one after another kept him active throughout his youth. He felt clueless whether his life marked with gallantry and achievements were over, whether his hopes were all gone. Was there still possibility of the end of Mohammedan rule? Was it still possible to establish a Hindu empire spreading over the whole peninsula?

The bell in the fort announced time – it was midnight. The sound of the big bell echoed in the entire city piercing the silence of the night. Before it completely disappeared – he saw a tall silhouette of a man at the window.

Shivaji stood surprised taking a steady gaze at that keeping one hand on his sword which he always tied to waist since he had arrived Delhi.

The visitor probably ignored his aggressive posture. He slowly entered into the room through the window, wiped his sweating forehead once before standing straight before the king such a way that his face remained invisible. Shivaji could see in the darkness that the visitor had matted hair, his body whitened with ash used by hermits, and he did not have knife of any other weapon in hand. This ensured him that his guest was not a spy sent by the Emperor to kill him. Who was that then?

The visitor said in low-pitch, “Long live the King!”

The voice helped Shivaji to immediately recognise him. Even a powerful person cannot find a true friend in this world easily. Such a friend’s visiting us during troubled phase of our life brings new ray of hope in life. He welcomed Sadanand Swami with a warm embrace but didn’t lit a light as the saint forbade him. He was eager to know about his kingdom. “Tell me about Raigad. How and when did you come here? What made you come so far? Why did you enter through the window to meet me in the middle of the night?” – He had never-ending series of queries.

Sadanand: “Raigad should be fine. You have entrusted the administration in the hands of efficient people. Anyway I cannot give you the detail because I left Raigad soon after you left. I have told you that I had to travel to complete my spiritual journey. I came to Delhi on my way to Mathura and other pilgrimage destinations in North. I consider myself fortunate whenever I find chance to meet my master – how does it matter whether it is day or night, which route I took?”

Shivaji: “Still you would not enter my room at midnight through the window unless you had a specific reason!”

Sadanand: “I am telling. But first I wanted to know whether my master is doing fine here.”

Shivaji: “Physically yes. But my mind cannot rest in peace as long as I am surrounded by enemies.”

Sadanand: “Master did sign a treaty with the Emperor, where is the enemy then?”

Shivaji: “How long a treaty between a snake and the frog exists? I am sure you are aware of everything; please do not shame me. If I listened to you in Raigad, I could be still an independent King of my Konkan Mountains and valleys. I did not need to become a prisoner having faith on the words of that tricky Emperor.”

Sadanand: “Please do not indulge into self-criticism. The world is full of illusions. Everyone is prone to do mistakes. You came here trusting his words, depending on your trustworthiness. The person who deceived and misbehaved, will be punished by God. Trickery cannot win. Aurangzeb’s dishonesty, that helped him to detain you, will in turn destroy him forever. I remember what you told me in Raigad. The treachery of Aurangzeb would light a fire in Maharastra, blazing high enough to engulf the Mughal Empire.”

Shivaji felt encouraged like never before. He responded, “Sadanand, that hope of mine did not die as yet. Aurangzeb will have to realise that Maharashtra is still alive. But shall I remain imprisoned in this city of Delhi at the time when my brave soldiers will be engaged in fierce fights against Mughals?”

Sadanand: “Aurangzeb will be able to imprison you inside Delhi’s fort walls, only after he is able to capture the flowing breeze in a net, not before that.”

Shivaji smiled and reacted, “Then I am sure you came here to suggest me a way to flee. And that is why you came to me in secret at this hour of the night.

Sadanand: “Master has sharp intellect. I am not able to hide anything from him. Moving out of home in disguise is easy in a dark night. Delhi is surrounded by high walls. But there is an iron pole placed near the wall in the east; it is not difficult for the Maharashtrian hero to cross the wall using that. On the other side of the wall, eight boatmen are ready with a boat; you will reach Mathura in a short while. My Lord will find many friends there. as there are many pious priests in the Hindu temples.”

Shivaji: “I am happy with your arrangement. I found another proof of your being a good friend. But if anyone notices me while crossing the wall, that will lead to death only.

Sadanand: “Ten efficient archers are hiding among your armed guards near the wall where you are supposed to cross. If anyone notices my King or tries to obstruct, he will face death for sure. The eight boatmen are your eight soldiers in disguise. They are wearing armour and carrying containers with arrows. The chance of the boat’s being caught is rare. Moreover, the Brother-in-law of your peshwa is in Mathura. You know how loyal he is. I met him on my way to Delhi. He made all arrangements for you. Please read the letter written by him.”

He took out a letter that was hidden under his cloths. Shivaji smiled giving it back to him, “You read it out.”

Sadanand felt embarrassed. He remembered that the master did not acquire skill of reading and writing; started reading the letter aloud. Shivaji continued, “My saint! I cannot imagine you have spent your entire life is worshipping Gods. Even my prime minister could not plan like you. But I still have something to say. What will happen to my son, my loyal minister Raghunathpanth and Tannaji Malashri after I run away? How will my soldiers save themselves from the rage of Aurangzeb?”

Sadanand: “Your son, minister and friend may leave with you today. Your soldiers will not be harmed even if they stay in Delhi. Aurangzeb has nothing to do with them; he will release them!”

Shivaji: “You do not know Aurangzeb well then. He acquired the throne killing his siblings.”

Sadanand: “If you order your soldiers, there is none in your Maharashtrian force who would not be happy to sacrifice his life.”

Shivaji took some time to judge every option before telling, “I will be obliged to you for your heartfelt effort, but I do not want to save myself at the cost of my loyal soldiers. Please give me some other option; or forget it!”

Sadanand: “Right now there is no other option left, sir!”

Shivaji: “Then give me some time. This is not the first threat I am facing. I will try to find options.”

Sadanand: “There is not much time left. Either you have to run away today; you cannot flee tomorrow.”

Shivaji: “I have no idea whether your power of penance made you predict such a way. But if you are foreseeing the future, then Shivaji is helpless. A Kshatriya cannot save himself leaving his loyalists in danger.”

Sadanand: “Punishing the traitor is the duty of a Kshatriya. Please punish Aurangzeb, for which you have to return homeland. Lead the wave of war from there.  Let the daydreamer Aurangzeb sink along with his unrighteous empire under that wave. You don’t have much time to consider. There will be no option left for you tomorrow. You are going to be imprisoned tomorrow!”

Shivaji: “So be it! I cannot leave people loyal to me at any cost. Pardon me. I will always remember your careful plan, your efforts, and your kindness. I will always recall your righteous suggestions in Raigad and your attempts to rescue me in Delhi. If you stay with me here, together we will be able to set all of us free.”

Sadanand: “I am honoured. God knows that I have no other purpose in life but to be with you. But I cannot flout the path of penance I have taken. I must travel through different places to follow the rules.”

Shivaji: “I do not know what vow you have taken!”

Sadanand answered as if he was mourning his ill-fate, “I worshipped a god since childhood. He is angry with me. One person in the temple of Bhabani told me to take this path of pilgrimage to win his confidence again. I will tell you everything one day of I succeed. I will choose death over living a life of shame. What do I do with my life if the one I am devoted to is dissatisfied with me?”

Shivaji: “You are right. No other pain is so powerful that being hated by the person for whom we are ready to sacrifice our life. Even I cannot forgive myself for throwing someone who was ready to sacrifice his life for me. He was not sharp like you, in addition had courage and unbeatable strength. I do not know what made me make such a mistake of calling him a rebel only out of suspicion. I have heard he committed suicide due to that humiliation. He saved my life in a battle. I killed him!” The king’s voice chocked. After sometime he called. “Saint!” There was no answer. Surprised, he lit up a lamp. He did not find Sadanand in the room.

Continue reading “Love in the Battleground: Quest for freedom”

Love in the Battleground: Prowess of the Emperor

Power attracts attention – scares the submissive, angers the free mind

In the spring of 1666, Shivaji arrived near Delhi with five hundred cavalry and one thousand foot-soldiers. His camp was set approximately six kilometres south from the city of Delhi. Apart from the small armed force, the old reliable minister Raghunathpanth Nyayshastri also came with him.

Shivaji and his son Sambhaji were waiting in the camp for the permission to enter the Capital when a sentry entered with a message – Ram Singh, the son of the King Jai Singh, accompanied by a soldier arrived to welcome him on behalf of the Emperor from Delhi.

Shivaji ordered the messenger to welcome them. The young Sambhaji sounded annoyed, “Father! Aurangzeb sent only two emissaries to welcome you!”

Even Shivaji was disappointed with that humiliation, yet did not express himself. Ram Singh entered after a short while. His simple face assured the experienced Shivaji of his honesty and spirit; still the warlord wanted to know if Aurangzeb had any sinister motive which could pose threat to his entering Delhi. The prince had heard of Shivaji’s bravery from his father – the presence of the Maharashtrian hero before him made him spellbound. He turned to be an admirer as he stated, “I did not meet the king of Maharashtra before but I have heard a lot about his gallantry from my father. I find myself fortunate today having the opportunity to meet him in person.

Shivaji: “On the other hand I find meeting the son of the virtuous hero an auspicious sign for me!”

Ram Singh: “The Emperor sent me to meet the king as soon as he received the information of his arrival. When does the king want to enter the capital?”

Shivaji: “What is your suggestion about entering the capital?”

Ram Singh: “I think this is the best time to enter. The wind will be hot after sometime – summer is u here.”

Shivaji told laughing, “I did not ask you that. You are living in Delhi – you have all information about the capital. You should also know how secure it is for me to enter Delhi.”

Knowing his intention, the earnest Ram Singh replied, “Pardon me. I would have lived in the mountain for ever depending on my sword if I was in your place. I find none else so faithful a friend like my sword. But I am unaware of these affairs. As my father suggested the king to come, then I think his decision to come down is commendable. He is wise.”

Shivaji understood that there was no plan to detain him in Delhi, even if there was one, Ram Singh did not have any information about it. He felt little relaxed. He smiled, “Then I will take your suggestion. The heat will be unbearable if I am late – let us move to Delhi now.”

The entire route to Delhi went through ruins of mansions owned by Mohammedans. The first group of Mohammedans built their capital near the old fort of the King Prithwiraj Chauhan after conquering Delhi. Hence the mosques, palaces and tombs of the old Mohammedan rulers were situated in that Meherauli area.  Mughals started building new mansions and palaces in the north expanding the capital far towards north. Countless palaces, mosques, pillars and tombs left in rubble at the entrance of capital. Ram Singh described places as he was guiding him though. Both came to know each other. Both found good friends in each other. Shivaji realised he would find a sincere support in Delhi if needed.

They marched past the enormous tomb of Humayun, crossed Choushat Khamba, a large mansion on sixty four pillars. There were wide graveyards after that. Shivaji saw the history of entire Bharat illustrated in the canvas between the forts of Prithwiraj to that of the Mughals. As they proceeded to the wall of Delhi’s fort, Jai Singh showed him another building, “That is the astronomical observatory my father built. Experts from different countries come here to study the sky here.”

The_bastion_of_Lal_Kot_fort,_Mehrauli,_Delhi
Remnant of the bastion of Prithwiraj Chouhan in Mehrauli: Wikimedia common

Shivaji: “Your father is learned person. I have heard he had built an observatory in the holy Kashi too!”

He felt a little nervous as they crossed the wall. He stopped his horse for a moment – looked behind. There was still a chance to run away – he was still independent; could be arrested any moment after submitting himself in the royal court. Next moment he remembered the words he had given to Jai Singh, looked at the sincere face of Jai Singh’s son, looked at own sword “Bhavani” tied in his waist. The free Maharashtrian warrior was locked in the cage of the Capital before knowing it!.

Aurangzeb was not fond of much luxury, but aware of the importance of a gaudy Capital in running successful administration. Aurangzeb thought, exhibiting the power, grandeur and wealth of Mughals to the leader of the poverty-ridden land of Maharashtra would help in convincing him about his own inadequacy and the greatness of Mughals. In turn, Shivaji would realise the futility of fighting against the Mughal. The city was extravagantly decorated upon his order.

All of them galloped together. Numerous carriages, palanquins, elephants, horses and pedestrians crowded the roads. The shops and markets showcased expensive goods for sale. Shivaji noticed classy cloths, gold and silver jewellery, food and other materials on his way. He saw flags on some of the mansions beside road, indicating the aristocracy of their owners. Warriors and traders and noblemen were seen everywhere. The cavaliers were shaking the ground galloping fast. The elephants, dressed in heavy cloths and jewels were walking slowly moving their trunks. The noisy humming by palanquin-bearers announced the nobility of the riders inside. Shivaji had never seen such a city before!

As they arrived in front of the Jama Masjid, the royal palace and large fort wall made of red stone became visible. The river Yamuna was flowing behind the fort. Hundreds of flags on the top of the fort were flying in the strong wind, revealing the power and glory of the Mughal Emperor. A trusted Mansabdar’s camp was located at the entrance, so that he could protect the gate. The armed force was standing in rows there; the barrels of their guns were dazzling in sunlight; the red flag tied up with each barrel was flying in pride. Observing all these with surprised admiration, Shivaji entered through the gate.

The view inside the fort was more amazing. Large number of artisans from different parts of the world displayed different luxurious items in the artisan’s shops scattered everywhere in this part of the fort. But the guest was not supposed to roam around. He arrived in front of Dewan-i-aam, the mansion made of red stone, The Emperor usually met people here, but that day he decided to call his court in Dewan-i khass, the wonderfully designed marble-built mansion decorated with precious stones – probably to allure Shivaji. As the Maharashtrian leader entered, he saw the Emperor sitting in his stone-studded stunning Mayur-throne, unique in the world. The throne was separated from the other attendees in the court by silver-railings. Many reputed kings, mansabdars, amirs and army-generals were standing silently outside the railing. Ram Singh introduced Shivaji before all of them. The grandeur of the capital clarified the Emperor’s mind to the leader; the view of the court confirmed his understanding. The leader who protected freedom for twenty long years, who became best supportive strength of the Emperor since he surrendered to the Emperor, arrived Delhi from the distant land of Maharashtra only to meet the Emperor once, did not expect the way he was welcomed. He could not accept himself standing in the court like a common employee. His blood started boiling – but there was no option for him to react. He saluted the Emperor like a common subordinate and presented the royalty he brought. Aurangzeb’s shrewd purpose was fulfilled – the whole world, as well as the King Shivaji came to know that they do not belong to same status. A servant is obliged to obey his master; weaker person’s fighting against the stronger is foolishness.

Aurangzeb accepted royalty from Shivaji, but arranged a seat for him among commanders of five thousand soldiers without giving him much importance. Shivaji eyes started burning in anger. He murmured biting his lips – “Me among five thousand! If the Emperor came to Maharashtra, he himself could see how many commanders of five thousand works under Shivaji. They do not hold swords in weak hands!”

The court was adjourned for the day. Leaving the court, the Emperor proceeded towards another marbled building built for personal use. The crowd that was assembled in the court flowed like a river through the gate. The river met in the large human ocean on the Delhi roads.

A house inside the fort was arranged as Shivaji’s accommodation there. Annoyed Shivaji arrived there in the evening; cogitating sitting alone in one corner of the house was only option left for him.

Soon he received a message from the Emperor’s palace. The Emperor has heard Shivaji’s angry words. He did not want to take any punitive action, but Shivaji would not get permission to meet him again. He would not be allowed in royal court.

Shivaji realised that his future would be at stake. Like a hunter traps a lion, the shrewd Aurangzeb planned a trap to slowly detain him. He tried to presume whether he would be able to find freedom again cutting the net of the plot he was entangled in. He found himself hapless – as he remembered Sadanand Swami, the saint who advised him to continue his war against Delhi Emperor. He murmured, “Beware Aurangzeb, I have been truthful to you till date. Do not play a trick with me! I am not inexperienced in deceiving. By the grace of Goddess Bhavani, I will ignite such a battle-fire that it will burn your entire empire including your beautiful capital of Delhi.”

Continue reading “Love in the Battleground: Prowess of the Emperor”