Dhritarashtra said to Yudhishthira, 'Listen dear Yudhishthira to what I say. Go to Khandavaprastha so that no difference may arise again between you and your cousins; rule Khandavaprashtha virtuously. May Vishnu bless you.’ The Pandavas agreed so readily to the suggestion that all the ministers of the Kuru-royal-court were surprised. They expected some bargaining at least. Was Yudhishthira really such a fool as to accept a wasteland for his share of kingdom? Could the Pandavas really be so indifferent as to perpetually give up all claims of their ancestral land, a land ruled by their illustrious father Pandu?
But the Pandavas were very calm, and, it seemed, a smile played on Krishna’s lips.
The geographical location of Khandavaprashtha had its natural advantages. Dhrisadvati River formed its Northern and North-western boundary; Yamuna River formed its North-eastern, Eastern and South-eastern boundary. The Khandava forest formed its Southern boundary. But Khandavaprashtha was also surrounded by hostile kingdoms on all sides. To the North beyond Dhrisadvati river was Trigarta kingdom. To the West was Shalva; to the South Khandavaranya; and to the North-east and East on the other side of Yamuna was Hastinapur.
The Himalayan tribe who called them ‘Pure Aryans’ and claimed they were ruled by the ‘orginal Vedic Indra’, had an alliance with the Nagas of Khandavaranya. Bhogwati (in present day Tibet), the actual kingdom of the Nagas was their neighbour. When the ancient Takshak, the great Naga king colonised Khandava, the ancient Indra helped him. However, this happened generations back.
The present Indra and his ‘Aryan’ tribe had relational ups and downs with the Kurus. But they were inimical to Krishna, as Krishna played a pioneer role in abolishing Indra-worship among the Yadavas. Indra and his loyal Rishis and Brahmins considered Krishna and Vyasa threats to Vedic civilisation and culture.
Khandavaprashtha was established two years back. Many events have happened till then like Narada’s making a rule about how the Pandavas would live with Draupadi, Arjuna’s Subhadra-harana, and the birth of children of the Pandavas.
Our present story starts one summer morning. Krishna has come to a visit to Khandava.
Arjuna says to Krishna, 'The summer days have set in, Krishna! You said this summer would be very eventful! What happened to your promise? Do you want me to rust? I feel like leaving this life of idiotic luxury and set out for another world-wide tour.’
- Hum... Say another world-wide matrimonial Digvijaya. But I have no more sisters …
- Rubbish! Would you be serious?
Krishna flashes a mischievous smile, ‘Patience Partha, patience. What a co-incidence! I was just thinking of telling you that time has come for a pleasure trip. Let me show you a magic. Name a place where you want to go, and you will see that already written in my palm.’ Krishna writes something on his palm and hides it.
- Magic? Huh? Well, let us go to the banks of the Yamuna. Now show?
Krishna makes a gesture of despair. Arjuna laughs loudly, ‘Hell with your magic. Try that on your gopis. You certainly expected I would name some far off place. Ha Ha.’
With superb dramatics Krishna gradually unfurls his palm. Arjuna’s eyes goggle to find that his very words are written on Krishna’s palm. Now it is Krishna’s turn to laugh. Arjuna nods, ‘You are incorrigible Keshab. How did you do that?’
- You see Partha, I am Vishnu incarnate. This is one of my Maya.
Arjuna tries to punch him hard on his back. Krishna jumps away to escape it. The two Krishnas start running and chasing each other calling out names like two shepherd boys. The nobles and lords look at each other. Flabbergasted!
The mighty slayer of Kamsha and father of quite a many sons and daughters playing like a truant boy! It is something unheard of for them. It is something unseen and unbelievable. They throng to see and enjoy the sight of the two mightiest of warriors of the time return to their childhood.
The more Indraprashtha sees Krishna, the more he appears mysterious!
The next day with Yudhishthira's leave Arjuna and Krishna set out, surrounded by friends. Just before the Krishnas are about to leave, Krishna says to Draupadi very innocently, ‘Won’t you be going with us Panchali? Why is it that you allow Partha to leave you behind?’ And then turning to Arjuna he winks, ‘Very bad very bad.’
Despite Arjuna’s hard pinching on Krishna’s back, Krishna continues to wear a very polite and innocent smile. As the pinching hurts, he begins to sing a song.
This year Draupadi is Arjuna’s consort. She immediately decides to go. And if Draupadi follows can Subhadra be far behind?
Before leaving, Krishna tells Yudhishthira to keep his royal forces on the southern border of Khandavaprashtha on high alert. He says he has news that Naga, Rakshasha and Pisacha plunderers of Khandavaranya might try to play mischief. Yudhishthira issues orders at once. A curious smile plays on Krishna’s lips. Arjuna is surprised that Krishna takes quite a huge force with them, which includes select soldiers of his famous Narayani Sena. Seeing Arjuna askance, he shrugs, ‘Well, the ladies need protection, don’t they?’
Finally the party sets out with much funfare. All the noble ladies and dasis, who prayed to Krishna to be a party of the trip, are allowed. The ladies fall more and more in love with Krishna. Arjuna is surprised that Krishna is taking so many women with them. He understands Krishna’s mischievous smile hides something.
The party reaches a fine spot on the banks of the Yamuna. The place is overgrown with numerous tall trees. Yudhishthira has taken care to send numerous costly and well-flavoured viands and drinks and other articles of enjoyment and floral wreaths and various perfumes.
Krishna says, ‘Now Partha, just do what I do, just speak what I speak. The ladies must sport now in water. Don’t ask any questions now, everything will be explained.’
Arjuna frowns, ‘Yes I have a faint sense you have some plan in mind. You have certainly not come this long way to see the ladies bath.’
- Ha Ha. A lady in water is the most celestial of sights. Can you deny?
The ladies are eager to bath in the Yamuna. Krishna tells them to come with him and takes them to a verdant spot with overgrown trees. Krishna and Arjuna decide to halt. Krishna tells the ladies to have their sport there. He orders the attendants to lay camp along the bank of Yamuna, and instructs no body, even the royal queens will be allowed to venture into the Khandava forest.
Arjuna is surprised to see that Krishna orders his special troop to take position all along the innerline of the forest. To Draupadi and Subhadra’s query he says, ‘There is chance of forest fire. I and Partha have planned to go for a hunt. So don’t enter the forest in our absence.’ Subhadra is convinced. Not Draupadi.
Krishna hesitates a bit. But seeing Draupadi’s frowns darkening and darkening, he says something to her secretly. Draupadi’s face becomes bright.
Arjuna has been with Subhadra at that time. When he returns he finds Krishna patting Draupadi’s shoulder.
He quips, ‘As usual. Making love with my wife at my back. I will kill you someday Krishna.’
Draupadi retorts sharply, ‘Shut up. You are not man enough to be jealous. Go to Subhadra and pamper her.’
Krishna’s instructions are perhaps unnecessary. Everybody begins to sport, according to his or her pleasure. The women of the party, all of full rotund hips and deep bosoms and handsome eyes, and gait unsteady with wine begin to sport in water and on the banks.
As the attendants get busy in setting camps, and the ladies bath and take rest, Krishna-Arjuna move ahead to a lonely charming spot not far from the place where the others are. But it is a secluded spot. They amuse themselves there with discoursing upon many past achievements of prowess and other topics. As they lie down on wavy grass on the bank of Yamuna, Arjuna remarks, ‘Would you play a nice tune for me Keshav?’
Krishna plays his flute.
It seems to Arjuna that there is nothing else in the world, only music. Time stops. And then Krishna suddenly breaks the tune and breaks out into laughter. Arjuna is irritated at this abrupt end. But Krishna says, ‘Enough Partha. I don’t want to get lost.’
Arjuna sighs, ‘Well. I know you are up to something.’ He hums the tune, and extempores lyrics to it in Mlechha language.
Krishna quips, ‘You should hone your talent Partha. What a creation you are! You could have been the greatest singer of our time. Poor Bharatavarsha, that you should be busy in war only, that your long artistic fingers should pull the strings of Gandiva only and not the strings of Rudra-Vina.’
Arjuna’s mind seems to get away from all awareness of reality. He whispers, ‘There is no better shelter than nature. Sometimes I feel relinquishing all bogus wordly duties and adopt a life of travel. I will travel and compose songs. I don’t want anything else in life.’
- Like father like son. Will Panchali allow you that?
- Allow! She cannot stop me! Could she ever restrict me?
- Wherever you go dear Partha, she will pull you in. You have no escape from her. A stone, however high you might throw it to the sky, will come down again.
- Protect me from her Krishna. May Vishnu give you good sense!
- What a way of speaking about the most beautiful and intellectual lady in the world! You are an idiot Partha. When will you realise her merit?
- Why didn’t you yourself marry her then? You could have lived happily everafter … ummm… seven rebirths at least...
- Oh! Perhaps I am not a good archer like you, Partha. How could I?
- So lucky deficit to enable you tasting the prohibited fruit!
Both laugh heartily.
- I am tired of this artificial fire, Keshava. Viands, drinks, floral wreaths, perfumes, women! I need some real seclusion to contemplate. Life is running away in pursuit of idiotic honour and achievement. Something must be done, Must be done. The candle is already half-burnt, and so much darkness to lit!
- Not yet time, Partha, unless you have brimmed your senses. Don’t make the mistake of thinking to quit the world of sense unless you have learnt to use them. You will become like those dyspeptic ascetics then. Uttering scriptures, mouthing Brahma, yet squeezed out of vitals at the fluttering apparels of a mere conglomeration of body-signs – apsaras!
- Why the hell did you agree to bring women with us Keshava? I have so much to speak to you. So many questions. Please Keshav, one last tune.
Krishna plays again. This time a very light rhythm. The leaves of the tall trees dance with the tune.
After the spell, the two Krishnas sit silently.
Arjuna whispers, ‘Keshav, don’t keep me in this garbage. Take me out.’
- You are so tired of woman? Then why did you carry away my sister?
- Hum. You tell the thief to steal and the householder to be alert!
- If you are really disgusted with playing the fire, better stop expressing your disgust for them. That makes you more attractive to them. Already you have become legendary for womanising.
- That’s for my association with you. People confound your achievements with mine. The Vrishni Krishna’s mischiefs are attributed to the innocent Kuru-Krishna.
- No, somehow you are very different from other men. You have a natural beauty-worshipper in you, so that you easily get emotionally attached and fall in love. But then, moments before taking a plunge and lose yourself you become alert and so conscious of your liberty that you escape. You won’t immerse yourself completely. You did that to Chitrangada, you did that to the fascinating Southern lady Ally. More to come, surely! That leave the ladies frustrated and angry with you, but when they see you had left them for a greater purpose, and when they see your prowess, they melt again.
- How do you analyse me like that? You are surely in ME!
A certain Brahmana comes with folded hands.
The Brahmana has a stout physique. He is robust and upright like a tall Sala tree. His complexion is like molten gold; his beard is bright yellow tinged with green. Of matted locks and dressed in rags, he resembles the morning sun in splendour. Of eyes like lotus-petals and of a tawny hue, he seems to be blazing with effulgence.
Krishna welcomes the Brahmana with his usual mischievous smile.
Arjuna glances him, ‘So, you have been waiting for this Brahmana.’
The Brahmana folds his palms to Krishna and says, ‘Everything is prepared, as you wished my lord.’
Krishna makes some more enquiries. Arjuna stands in silence trying to understand what is going on. Soon he has broad smiles and gloom in turn on his face.
Arjuna says, ‘Now tell me Keshava, what exactly you are going to do.’
Krishna smiles, ‘With pleasure Partha, with pleasure. Here are the details. The ladies must camp along the bank of Yamuna. They must not be allowed to stray. This way the spies of Hastinapura across Yamuna will only know that Krishna-Arjuna is sporting in Yamuna with women. Our infame in matters of women will come to our advantage. Boats will not be allowed to cross Yamuna at any point. All boats crossing Yamuna from Hastinapur must land at ferries of our choice. No boat will be allowed to venture south. Our South Panchala troops and my Saurasenas will take care of that. Khandavaranya will thus be quarantined, completely and absolutely.
- Guessed it. The Naga bastion must fall. But why did you keep this plan a secret?
- Don’t be angry with me. I kept it a secret because until this Brahmana came and reported I had no way to be sure whether we could really go ahead.
- I see you have some unusual sort of plan. You want to have Khandavaranya blocked on three sides so that the only escape route will be towards Salwa in the west.
- Right. You and I will be at the head of the innermost line of the North-Eastern regiment. That way the ladies will be directly under our protection, and the Nagas-Rakshas-Pisachas will be forced to flee to the West.
- What else? The Matsya and Sursena troops will attack from the South, south-west and south-east. Isn’t it? That’s your plan. One question, will the Matsya and Surasena troops be able to deal with the Nagas, Pisachas and Rakshashas in forest fight? You should have taken Bhima-bhaiya in confidence and tell him to lead from the South. No man on earth is as adept as him in forest warfare.
- Right Partha. But Bhima bhaiya must be in Khandavaprashtha in your absence. Without him Khandavaprashtha might be in danger. The North-western and western fronts are open. Help for the Nagas are likely to pour in from that front.
- Why keep that front open? Instead of positioning heavy troops in the east, we should have concentrated on that front. One of us could have taken charge of that front.
- Right you are Partha, but only in normal circumstances. It is true the Nagas, Pisachas and Rakshashas are far superior to Matsya and Surasena troops in forest warfare. That’s why our troops will not directly attack them.
- What! Not attack! You mean there will be no attack from the South? Must be joking
- I know it makes you uneasy. Let me complete first. Haven’t you noticed how hot it is this summer? Haven’t you noticed giant dried up trees and dried forest grass? Haven’t you noticed the stormy southern winds?
- What conundrum you speak Keshav!
- No Partha. Very simple. Nature will fight on our behalf from the south. The Matsya and Surasena troops will only follow the path created by nature. That way the casualty on our side will be minimal.
- Nature? What Keshava! Are you contemplating setting fire to Khandavaranya from the south? By the name of Vishnu…
- Exactly Partha. What else? The Matsya and Surasena troops will follow the fire and keep it live for days and nights. The Nagas, Pisachas and Rakshashas will be forced to move to the west. We would allow them an escape route there. We don’t want them to be killed if that can be avoided. Anybody trying to escape through East and North-East, We will meet them there. Our inner troops along the bank of Yamuna are the best in forest warfare. I have depositioned three-fourth of our troop there. They will thwart any movement towards the east. Now you see why Bhima-Bhaiya must be in the North.
- And the ladies? What will they do?
- No tension about the ladies. They will bath and sing and dance and dally, while Khandava burns. And Yudhi Bhaiya’s royal troop will take care of the entire Northern front under Bhima-bhaiya, while the most intelligent lady in the world will take care of the other ladies on the Yamuna front, even if we have to delve deep into Khandava. Along the Yamuna it will be all calm and joyous. It will be celebration of life, colour, sense and sensuality. Hastinapur will see this face only from the North-eastern banks of Yamuna. The bright jovial face will be hiding a burning inside. Much like us, isn’t it Partha?
- What a plan. The southern winds will carry the all-consuming fire and incinerate Khandavavana in no time. We will set fire from the South, and East.
- Also from North-east. The space created by the Eastern and North-eastern fire will be immediately occupied by our troops. The Northern forest getting burnt first will serve double purposes. It will keep the Khandavaprashtha troops on high alert, besides confusing the Nagas. If we don’t do this, the Nagas themselves will burn the Northern forest to thwart the fire coming from the South. When the actual news will reach Hastinapur courtesy some double-agent soldier and spy, it will be all up with the Nagas, Pisachas and Rakshashas. They have only two options. Either flush out through the West or perish.
- Your strategy relies too much on the stability of the hot weather, Keshava. Suppose it rains? Have you noticed some cloud gathering?
- Yes, Partha, that vulnerability is there. Without clouds where is the pleasure of Sunshine? My plan is to have Khandavaranya burnt out in just three days. If it rains, we have to give a bit more effort. Besides, Indra might also send help if our work prolongs. But, when present is the only present and future is non-existant, we must take chances. Opportunity does not come again and again. Like the irony of life itself, too much hot will bring the rain, I know. But, without this strategy it might take years to conquer Khandavaranya. This is the shortest possible way.
Agni has been listening silently with fascination evident on his face.
Krishna asks, ‘Well! That’s all about the battle preparation. And what about the other one?’
- The myth? Well, that has been taken care of. I am Agni, and I am sufferng from indigestion. So I need a good dose of animal meat. Khandavadahana is for that purpose. As soon as Khandavaranya burning leaks out, our Brahmin propaganda managers will spread that story.
All three have a hearty laugh.
Krishna quips, ‘You Brahmanas have a natural talent for producing incredible myths. I wonder how we would be remembered in future, if at all. It seems our future existence depends on your mercy! You have already labelled me as Vishnu’s incarnation. Another propaganda is that I and Arjuna are Narayana and Nara. God knows what else we are, and would be!’
- Who can ever understand you my lord? You joke about the matter, but great sages like Narada, Kanva, Parvata – all are unanimous about your true being.
Krishna sighs, ‘Well. I am like an ancient Vedic Mantra – free for all to be interpreted freely. Back to business, what have the spies reported? Is Takshaka still here?’
- Yes. And all the leading Nagas of both sects – Airabatas and Takshakas. This would be the appropriate time to strike.
Arjuna nods, ‘Bade bhaiya would never have approved this. This Takshaka naga dynasty is related to us. The ancient Takshaka was the great maternal grandfather of the famous Matinara.’
The Brahmana smiles, ‘And Matinara was also the grandfather of Kanva, my ancestor.’
Arjuna rubs his forehead, ‘Wait Wait! So, you are related to Takshaka and also to Puru Vamsha? You have our blood and Naga blood in your veins!’
The Brahmana smiles calmly, ‘The great Arjuna also carries the same blood.’
- Humm. So complex yet so simple! Bade Bhaiya surely knows all these dynastic knots. But Keshava, shouldn’t we inform him and take his permission first?
- The permission to create a prosperous Indraprashtha surpassing Hastinapur and the whole of Bharatavarsha has been taken,
- That is in your style! Too much taken and too little explained. He would not give permission for a war. This is not going to be an adventure expedition. This is going to be a full-fledged war. And perhaps the most difficult war in the recent history of Bharatavarsha.
- I know I know. That’s why I have not taken him and you in confidence before.
- But Keshava. Think of the imminent massive destruction…of life of property of Nature. Aren’t we destroying our own relatives? And nature? This beautiful serene forest, the wild life ….What’s this for? We are not imperialists Keshava.
- To create something you need to destroy something, no? Regarding your relations, with time everything changes. We must look forward, Partha. Besides, we have taken care to replenish what we are about to take. Haven’t we turned the Khandavaprastha desert into an oasis? Haven’t we taken care to create forests and gardens with splendid waterbodies in Khandavaprashtha? The sacrifice of Khandavranya must be made.
Arjuna remains silent. On one hand imminent war has stimulated his spirit to a point of no return; on the other he feels qualms of conscience.
Krishna pats his shoulders, ‘We will speak on this Partha, but not before we have accomplished our task. This place is no less significant for our common ancestors. Khandavaprastha was the capital of Yayati's kingdom; this place is sacred to me. So you see, you and I have enough sentimental justifications, if you think that way. The rulership of a country is bound to change hands. If we think of the Nagas now, why didn’t they think of our ancestors then? (Both the Krishnas do not know yet that many many years later, by curious decree of God, the Pandavas will establish Krishna's grandson Vajra in this very kingdom, when they retire, thus restoring to Yadu's lineage his original heritage.)
Arjuna is not convinced, ‘Still Keshava, Takshaka has given us no provocation. Besides, there are also practical considerations. Won’t we be creating a very powerful enemy? And that too unnecessarily?’
Krishna looks calmly into Arjuna’s eyes, ‘At last you speak of practical considerations. No one can predict the future Partha. I will explain to you matters. For now, suffice yourself with this. We cannot allow a powerful Naga kingdom here as your neighbour while Khandavaprashtha is just flourishing. Duryodhana might take advantage of this. Besides, Takshaka has made a sort of confederacy with non-vedic Rakshashas. He has diplomatic ties with those Himalayan idiots claiming them to be pure Aryans, and the chosen race of God. Ironic indeed! Racist Indra finds friends in the aborigine Nagas. Everything happens in politics, you see! Indra wants his brand of orthodox Aryanism dominating Bharata, and for that he has inclined to the Nagas. Do you think this a very stable alliance? Indra will cleanse this ethnic Nagas at the very first opportunity he gets after establishing his dominance in the Gangetic plains. Just see how he is utilising the ancient Vedic myth of the Heavenly Indra. It is actually he who has colonised this Khandava area. The Nagas are just instruments in his hand. Bharatvarsha will never wake up to the new religion and culture unless racial snobbery and cultural imperialism of Indra is thwarted. Since the Nagas are in no position to understand the implications and gravity of all these, they must be driven away from this place. Also think how Khandavaprashtha is getting over-populated. A huge populace has immigrated to your kingdom. Won’t you need agricultural tracts? Khandavaranya will provide that. Khandavaprashtha will become the symbol of a golden age and Renaissance. It will be the symbol of real democracy and people’s rule. Besides Partha, don’t forget our dream project. Connecting the entire Bharatvarsha by road. Dwarka to Indraprashtha roadway is the first step. Do you think the Nagas will allow this construction through their territory? Also think of Vyasadeva’s concern. His project is the greatest ever academic project undertaken by any man. His disciples are collecting all forms of Vedic Mantras from all over Bharatvarsha and storing them in Khandavaprashtha library. His disciples are not very comfortable under constant threat from these people. We must create a suitable atmosphere for Vyasa’s dream project to turn into reality. When Vyasa finally edits the Vedas, the entire history of Bharatavarsha will be re-written.’
Agni says, ‘Besides, O Bharata, Takshaka dynasty is an off-shoot of Airavata Dynasty, and you must have learnt from history that they traditionally associate themselves with the first lot of foreigners that entered Bharatabhumi via Kashmira. The Airavatas claim it is for them that the ancient Indra could establish a kingdom in this land. They are powerful supporters of the orthodox Angirasas. We would not be able to bring reform in culture and religion unless this unholy nexus is destroyed. The so-called Gods, Airavatas, Takshak and the Angirasas particularly the present generation of Bharadwaja-Gautamas of North-Panchala and Magadha-Kasi-Koshal belt use the ancient Vedic myths to perpetuate their control-system. ’
Arjuna is very surprised, ‘Now I understand it all. But you said you are Kanva that means you too are an Angirasa?’
- An Angirasa yes.
- You will fight against your own clan! Your own gotra!
- See Bharata, there is nothing called pure race or pure gotra. Our ancient Vedic seers never believed in Gotra distinction. They accepted all as their fathers. (Agni chants the Rig-Vedic hymn 10.14.6-)
Aïgiraso naþ pitaro navagvà atharvàõo bhçgavaþ somyàsaþ
Teùàü vayaü sumatau yaj¤iyànàmapi bhadre saumanasesyàma
(Our Fathers are Angirases, Navagvas, Atharvans, Bhrgus who deserve the Soma.
May these, the Holy, look on us with favour, may we enjoy their gracious loving-kindness.)
Besides, we do no more associate ourselves with the orthodox Angirasas. My forefathers broke away from the Angirasas. I belong to the Ghora Angirasa group.
Arjuna folds his palms, ‘I see. You are Keshava’s Guru-vamsha.’
Krishna smiles, ‘No more questions now Partha. Every equation will become clear. Just give some time, and be ready to do the work at hand.’
- One more question. I have given up all hope to ever understand you Keshava, I will not try that. But, what will Dau’s reactions be?’
- I knew you will ask this. Dau may be a Naga by birth, but now he is a Vrishni. The mother who brings up a child, nourishes with breast-milk, is the real mother Partha. The biological mother who abandons a child cannot be the real mother. I will take care of Dau. Indra and Takshaka cannot be allowed to have a colony kingdom here. They cannot be allowed to build up a powerful confederacy that might threaten our own. If Takshaka escapes, let him go back to his own kingdom in Tibet. Well Agni, I think we have some more time. In the meantime, give Partha a quick glimpse of the background. He is the greatest fighter on earth, yet he cannot fight without a noble cause.
Agni narrates history. The Angirasa-Angirasa split happened at the time of King Swetaki. Swetaki aspired to be a ‘royal sage’. He had brahmanical aspirations like Bishwamitra. This too did not go well with the Brahmanas.
Krishna winks at Arjuna, ‘Well Partha. Here you are. Let’s go. This battle is going to give you eternal fame.’
Arjuna says, ‘But Krishna, I have not come prepared in such a grand scale. The bows and quivers I have will hardly suit the imminent adventure. They suffice hunting only. Besides, from what we gather, it seems we need superior weapons.’
Agni says, ‘O Bharata that has been taken care of.’
Another Brahmana of dark complexion comes there with some men carrying strange packings. A huge horse-driven carriage follows them.
Krishna, Arjuna and the brahmana greet each other. The brahmana introduces him as Varuna of Vashishtha gotra.
Arjuna looks askance. Krishna nods mischievously, ‘Fine. Indra’s son Arjuna will fight his dad in collaboration with dad’s enemy Varuna!’
What comes out from a huge box made of tree trunk is a bow. Three attendants take it out with careful effort. The carriers stare at it agape.
The bow is variegated with excellent colours. It is well-adorned, and beautiful to behold. Varuna also gives two quivers, and a chariot furnished with weapons and whose banner bears a large ape.
Krishna says, ‘You are about to ask Partha, why this ‘ape’ banner. It is the symbol of aborigine pride. This will work up the Ramayana myth. We must adopt totem symbols to drive home the point that we are not against the culture and religion of the indigenous populace.’
Varuna smiles, ‘Let us call this bow Gandiva after the famous bow of the mythical Varuna.’
Agni goes to the other cart. At the wave of his hand the curtain is removed from a golden box. Agni opens it and lifts a discus with an iron pole attached to a hole in the centre. He hands it over to Krishna. Varuna, after this, gives Krishna a heavy mace. He says, ‘My lord. It is called Kaumodaki.’
Krishna laughs, ‘So this accomplishes your incarnation business. Henceforth I am the real Vishnu-avatara? I see these are of Iron. What a metal this is! Surely this is the metal of the future.’
Arjuna twangs his bow, ‘Really wonderful. Does this metal come from South Panchala?’
Varuna smiles, ‘Right my lord. At last the technology to produce this metal is in our hand. Our men have been working day and night over this metal. Jarasnadha has earned this technology long before. Magadha belt has more iron-ore mines than South Panchala. But we need not care that any more.’
Fire is set to the forest from seven sides as soon as the sun reaches midheaven from the South by Matsya and Sursena troops of Krishna. The troops surrounding the forest and separated by huge distance are perfectly synchronised. Everything is so well ordained.
The battle spree spares none, not even innocents. Despite orders of Krishna-Arjuna not to do any harm to civilians and let them go, the soldiers kill many innocent people, even women and children.
The forest burns whole day and night. Krishna-Arjuna’s army fights in shifts. When it concerns war, Arjuna is never tired. It seems he can fight whole day and night. But Krishna takes care to send him to rest, and himself takes rest in shifts. When Arjuna protests he says an intenser fight is ahead.
And so it is. After two days Torrential rain mars their plan. The rain continues for another day intermittently. Krishna’s special troop occupy the North-Eastern and Eastern Khandavaranya, and the Matsya-Sursena troop occupy about half of Khandavaranya from the South. They take position on the space created by fire waiting for the rain to end. After three more days, news reaches Krishna-Arjuna that Indra has set out from Amaravati with a massive army for the protection of Khandavaranya.
The Nagas get a breather and collect their troops during the two days rain. But they know they are trapped, and can only pray for incessant rain. Indra and his troop cross the Dhrisadvati from the North-West, but avoids Yudhishthira’s troop. The Nagas are jubilant to meet them. One regiment under Indra’s command lead straight to the North-East for a face to face battle with Krishna-Arjuna.
Krishna-Arjuna must now meet Indra headlong. Krishna’s spies break perhaps the saddest news for them. Takshaka, the chief of the Nagas, has not been there. He has been to Kurukshetra.
Krishna is surprised at the failure of his spies. Soon he finds that Aswasena, the mighty son of Takshaka, resembles his father, and that is why the spies mistook him for Takshaka.
As the weather becomes hot again and all traces of cloud vanish, the troops of Krishna set fire again from their respective position.
A face to face combat starts between Arjuna and Aswasena. Aswasena’s mother too joins the fight in man’s attire.
As Arjuna is about to kill Aswasena, Indra darts an arrow from the side. It pierces Arjuna’s ribs and he falls down. Aswasena escapes.
Regaining consciousness soon, Arjuna fights with Aswasena’s mother without knowing she is a woman. When finally he kills his opponent, he is shocked to find a woman’s face behind the head gear. He orders the last rites of the valiant woman with full state honour.
Another incident takes place. When Krishna is about to hurl his discus towards a soldier, he suddenly throws down his arms and shouts, ‘Please don’t kill me.’
As the soldier kneels before Krishna, he asks, ‘Who are you? You don’t seem to be a Naga.’
- O great Krishna, I am by profession an architect. I belong to the Maya family of the Danava clan of Ashuras. I am not a soldier. I was just fighting in self defence.
- Yes, heard about you. Rise up rise up. What were you doing here? I had almost killed you.
- I was hired by Lord Takshak to construct a grand palace and a castle.
- I see. Have you started the work?
- Not yet, my Lord. I have been waiting in his abode as his guest for final discussion with the plan. My planning and site-selection is already complete.
- O.K., we will speak to you later. Now you may retire to our camp and wait.
Krishna calls aloud two soldiers and sends Maya away with them. At that time news reach Krishna that a fierce fight is going on between Arjuna and Indra.
Arjuna returns victorious. He makes an angry curse and bursts out, ‘Abominable Keshava. That coward Indra fled and entered the forest cover.’
Krishna quips, ‘Don’t call your dad names, Partha. I see you are badly hurt.’
The war is finally over after fifteen days. The remaining forces of Indra and the Nagas surrender. There is nothing left to burn, except some islanded patches of trees. Majority of the Nagas have fled through the West and have taken shelter in Shalva kingdom. Most civilians have taken refuge on the banks of Dhrisadvati. They have already been provided food and shelter by Yudhishthira. Krishna sent him message of what is actually going on, three days into the war. Thousands, however, perished in fire, or in their effort to escape through the East, or in their patriotic zeal to fight Krishna-Arjuna’s forces.
As the Southern troops of Krishna press in to the North and meet their fellow soldiers there, yells of joy are heard. It is a total victory with some hundred casualties.
Krishna blows his Panchajanya conch and declares the end of war.
Arjuna is sad, ‘I gather what we have done for the last fifteen days would appear as an immense achievement in the eyes of the people of Bharata. I wonder what posterity would say about Khandavadahana. Would we be called self-centric? Would we be called ethnic-cleansers? Would we be called maker of a great kingdom? Would we be called destroyer of environment and nature?’
- Leave the matter to the coming generation Partha. Every achievement is viewed and reviewed by successive generations from contemporary perspective. For a generation hungry for heroic icons we would be considered the greatest heroes; for a peaceloving generation we would be regarded war-mongers; and for a generation used to see regular war all in the name of ideology, and used to see environmental destruction, and used to see ethnic cleansing, our action may not receive approval. This is the truth of life, Partha, so don’t jam your brain with a non-existing future.
A soldier comes and reports to Krishna that Indra and his council of ministers are coming to meet them. Krishna nods ‘Let them come. Take position behind the trees with drawn bows.’
Arjuna raises his right brow, ‘What will celestial Indra say now? Truce proposal?’
Kishna laughs loudly, ‘Say Dad! Your celestial Dad! May be he is coming to congratulate his son. A very very proud Dad I must say. Ahem!’
- Shut up. I will kill that coward some day. He hit me from the side.
- He will now congratulate us for our achievement and say that he is very satisfied with us. You see, all symptoms of a dark age are becoming evident. Reptilian rulers always show a great penchant for dramatic turn-overs.
- What’s the use of pretending Keshava? Why should we give him importance anymore? This Devalok is a vermin on earth.
Indra enters with his council of ministers. Krishna-Arjuna welcomes them with Namaste. After ritualistic formalities performed by Vedic Brahmans, they sit on deer skin. After exchange of more pleasant pleasantaries, Indra says in pure sanskrit, 'Ye have achieved a feat that a celestial even could not. Ask ye each a boon that is not obtainable by any man. I have been gratified with you.'
Krishna smiles, ‘I would not certainly use the word ‘boon’ my dear lord.’
- Ahem. Here’s the edited submission, Krishna. Gifts, Gifts. Who am I to boon?
- Conditional or unconditional?
- You are incredible Krishna. Unconditional of course! Your friendship with me was long before confirmed and established in Vrajadhama, when you abolished my worship … I mean worship of celestial Indra … and substituted it with folk worship of Tree. How are your folks? Gaining Brahma-gyana through trees, huh?
- My dear lord has such an excellent memory. I was very young then and could not see through your magnificent trick. You relinquished Indra-worship only to establish yourself as my elder brother. That has gone very deep in public psychology. They still remember you, and your secret worship has started again among a certain sect of people.
- You flatter me. Anyway, don’t misunderstand me, Krishna. I wanted to usurp you no doubt, but that back-fired, no? You are already worshipped as incarnation of Vishnu in many parts of Bharata. And Vishnu is nowadays considered superior to Indra.
- I must make it clear to my dear Lord that I am not the least interested in these incarnation matters. Myth and propaganda have their own way of functioning in mass psychology. I would like to concentrate more on the point at hand.
- Certainly certainly. Where were we? Yea, gifts gifts...
- I will certainly receive gifts from you, but on certain conditions.
- Unconditional gifting, but conditional receiving? Only you can conceive such, Krishna! Well, you will certainly name the terms. I and my troop have been completely trapped by yours.
- You need to see the reality, my dear Lord. This holy land will never ever revert to any racial ideology or dogmatic and orthodox religion. I will see to it. I hope my dear Lord will feel the need to re-define his own position more pragmatically. The Vedic Indra is dead my lord. The religion of external signs and ritualism is dead my Lord.
- Well, you may think that way Krishna. You are very very optimistic about your mission. I admire your tenacity. But we have our own thoughts and our own way of thinking. Hope you will appreciate that. Your damned…er democracy certainly permits having our own ideologies, isn’t it? What’s your solution?
- Very clever of you, dear Lord of Heavens. Autocracy when victorious, and democracy when down! You redefine democracy, dear Lord. Democracy – demonic hypocrisy!
- Well … Well ..
- Keep out of what is going to happen. Keep out of the ensuing Great War. That way you have your place secured, my Lord. Maharishi Vyasa will keep intact all ancient hymns in his Vedic edition. Trust me on that. You need not fear oblivion. The Maharishi is modern in action, but a traditionalist at heart. You need not worry. Indra’s name will ever shine in it in all its glory.
- My heart-felt gratitude for that Krishna. I must confess I had doubts about his intention. This Vyasa is the greatest living man on earth. Who thought that this son of Parashara will take up his father’s failed project with such vehemence? You are definitely prophetic Krishna. Vyasa’s project is going to lead to a great turmoil. The Vedic Brahmins and Rishis will not tolerate his audacious project of editing the sacred Vedas. Bharatavarsha is bound to be split into two camps. Your own brothers – Sishupala, Dantavakra, Paundraka, Vindu-Anuvindu and Ekalavya are against you under the great Jarasandha. I may be defeated, but Jarasandha will successfully defend our ideology.
- Yes, the Brahmanas are totally divided over his project. Your faithful orthodox Angiras will certainly react. And I must also admit that for the time being we are no match to Jarasandha. But as you have just said my dear Lord, the words ‘dejection’, ‘fear’, ‘imposible’ and ‘pessimism’ have no place in my dictionary.
- Orthodox? I call them real traditionalists. Well, enough! We may have different ideologies but our source is common. Besides, I think you should have given more liberal if not sympathetic audience and consideration to the religion and culture I want to pervade this land with, instead of your and Vyasa’s most unfortunate labelling it as ‘orthodox.’ We could have worked together to make this land Vedic.
- Just as you said my Lord, We have our own thoughts. And Arjuna is already known as your son. Mass psychology has gobbled this myth. And after this successful Khandavadahana people will acknowledge Indra’s son as more powerful than Indra.
- Gosh! I heard it, and I must admit, received it with blinks of glory and consternation. May I know why Partha has to undergo this offensive propaganda? Why he has to deny his own biological father, the great Pandu?
- I am afraid I cannot enlighten you on this matter, my Lord. Better we leave the matter to Vyasa. He is superior to all living beings at this time on earth.
- As you wish, O humble Vishnu incarnate! But why is the great Arjuna so silent? Is he still angry with me for the just concluded battle?
Arjuna smiles, ‘Dear father, a son should keep mum when the father speaks.’
Indra bursts out into laughter.
Indra caresses his bandaged wounds, ‘Well son, these are all your kisses of love. But you must admit that the one that pierced your ribs was a solid one.’
Arjuna smiles, ‘Who can deny your excellent skills in archery particularly when you hit your opponent unawares from the side?’
Indra nods in admiration, ‘You two Krishnas are the two razors of the same scissor. God knows your destiny and your destination. Now, would you mind accepting my humble gift of your choice? And may I be permitted to leave?’
Krishna flashes his usual mischievous smile, ‘Since My lord is so keen to gift us, Partha you ask something. I personally have nothing to do with gifts.’
Arjuna sighs, ‘Alas father, a warrior will ask nothing else but weapons weapons and more weapons, and also the technology and techniques of new weapons.’
- Expected prayer my son. And certainly granted with great happiness. I mean I would fain to be any help to you. When are you coming dear to your father’s home?
Krishna raises his hand, ‘That will be decided in time, my Lord.’
- O.K., O.K. I understand Krishna. By the way, can’t you call me Indra?
- Indra-bhaiya, you mean? In that case, Partha has to call me uncle! Would he?
- Dear son, Partha, would you oblige him on that?
The three burst out into laughter. Some birds fly away from the nearby trees.
Indra sighs after the spell, and says in pure Sanskrit, ‘Well Partha. When the illustrious Madhava becomes pleased with thee, then, O son of Pandu, I will give thee all my weapons! O prince of Kuru's race, I shall know when the time cometh. Even for thy austere asceticism I will give thee all my weapons of fire and all my Vayavya weapons, and thou also wilt accept them all of me.'
Krishna raises his brows, ‘And where will be that handover, my lord?’
- Please do come to my kingdom, Arjuna. I hope the gracious Krishna will approve that. And now Krishna, before we leave with your permission, all our best wishes for the new kingdom you have established in Khandavaprashtha. May Khandavaprashtha be prosperous …
- Thanks my lord. But it is no more Khandavaprashtha.
- You will change its name too? Well, I cannot have any say in the matter. But please remember the tradition …this land has been called so since Yayati’s time
- Certainly my Lord. For the sake of tradition, we will name it Indraprashtha.
Indra is very surprised. He can hardly believe his ears, ‘A nice joke Krishna.’
- Certainly not my Lord.
- You will call it by my name …I mean… by the name of Indra? In the name of a defeated celestial Lord!
- Why not my Lord? You deserve it. Afterall your ancestor laid foundation of this kingdom. Indra is its actual founder. You deserve to be immortalised, my Lord.
Indra cannot find any word. He murmers, ‘You are so gracious Krishna, so gracious…. I misunderstood you a lot. I can comprehend a bit why the Rishis call you incomprehensible! Though your generosity pricks some doubt about your real intention, I think a change in our policy regarding you and Bharatavarsha is imminent. I have a nagging doubt you already have a script to deal with Jarasandha.’
Indra embraces Krishna, then says, ‘And your gift Vasudeva.’
- Since my dear Lord is so persistent, Let Partha’s and mine friendship be eternal.
Indra looks at the sky in mockish despair, ‘Another of your honey-coated jokes. What can I do in this matter? You are already inseparable. Has any ploy of your foes to divide you two ever paid? You two are already celebrated as the Nara-Narayana pair. I see, you will not seek anything for yourself. Who will ever understand you Vasudeva? Frankly speaking, it eludes all my understanding how you can be so indifferent to material achievement while achieving so much!’
Agni comes to the place just as Indra is about to leave. Indra and Agni look deep into each others eyes with grave face. Krishna-Arjuna is amused. Finally Indra breaks the silence, ‘Well. Congratulations Agni, my Rigvedic brother.’
Agni greets him with a dry smile.
Indra leaves with his coterie of ministers.
After they leave, Arjuna can no more hold his astonishment, ‘What’s this Keshava? You want to name this kingdom after his name?’
- He is not the real Indra, Partha. Let him think we are naming after him, actually we are immortalising our rich Vedic tradition. Letting him to be grateful will serve us many ways in the coming days. You may not foresee them, but they are all there so clear. You have been invited to his kingdom Partha. You will learn all latest war technology there. I am looking forward to the Great War. Besides, with the name Indraprashtha, mass psychology will be at work in full potential. Indra has signed his own undoing, believe me. My sole purpose now is to make him neutral. He must remain neutral when I remove all our foes one by one, including Jarasandha. After Jarasandha is removed, you will go to Amaravati.
Agni folds his palm, ‘My Lord and you still deny who you really are! Who on earth can ever think of removing Jarasandha?’
- O that is my usual nature to set a very high target and then try to achieve it. The wind of Daiva is ever blowing. The art of life is to raise the sail of Purushkara at the right moment. If Daiva and Purushkara blend, what cannot be achieved? Jarasandha, Sishupala, Dantavakra, Paundraka, Vindu-Anuvindu and Ekalavya – all must die before the Great War starts. I only need some more time.
- You are again in that game. Great War Great War! What Great War? Now that our supremacy is well established there would be no great war for at least a hundred years.
- O.K. O.K. Then I am looking forward to a father-son happy reconciliation.
- Is Indra so simple to give me all technology out of gratitude only?
- Certainly not. He has his own interests. He is a very farsighted and practical man of honour. He has his problems with the Kalkeya Danavas and Nivatakabacha. After Jarasandha’s death, his change in policy about Bharatavarsha will be confirmed. Most probably he will give you weapons and technology in exchange of your aid to eliminate them. That would be fine. You would gain weapons, technology and techniques of the most arduous mountain warfare all at one go. And you would also have your practical classes. Another thing which you will like more is that the Gandharva singer par excellence – Chitrasena, now resides in Amaravati.
- When am I leaving Keshava? Why don’t we directly attack Jarasandha?
- Don’t hurry and give him the upperhand, my brother. Don’t show him we are eager. Relax and wait. Leave it to me. You will definitely go Partha. You have to learn all the art of their new age weaponry of fire and water. I have heard they have discovered a type of oily substance that is highly inflammable, and also some sort of explosive. Drona and Parashurama and Karna have some sort of that thing. When you go there you will earn more sophisticated ones. Imagine that! Some fiery thing that produces ear-rending sounds! What havoc will it cause in the coming Great War! There are some other peculiar weapons in possession of the Kiratas. God knows where they found it. They say, some ancient people from outer space brought and left them. I have heard that there is one weapon called Pashupat capable of annihilating radius of miles in a fraction second.
- You are dangling carrot before me, but preventing me now. Why Keshava?
Agni smiles, ‘My lord. I find the legend correct. The mighty Partha can resist the temptation of the deadliest women but not of a beautiful weapon!’
The three burst out into laughter. Then Arjuna says, ‘But Krishna, won’t the name Indraprashtha make him powerful again in mass psychology?’
- Let that be till the Great War…er…for sometime. Indraprashtha is your destination, but Hastinapur is your destiny. And regarding Indra? Maharishi Vyasa will take care of that. The ancient Vedas will be kept intact as our rich tradition, but the character of Indra will be damaged beyond repair. Despite Indra’s prominent part in the Vedas, no people in this land will ever worship Indra, or even remember him with respect.
- How can Vyasa alone do that Keshava?
- By the same weapon of myth. Indra will be dealt with by his most powerful weapon. Along with his Vedic compilation, Vyasa and his disciples are writing and re-writing Puranas. And our friend Agni is one of them. The Puranas will drive the final nail to Indra’s coffin.
- What if he sways again to Jarasandha’s aid? We have let him go on just verbal promise.
- No chance. The Rishis of Amaravati under Narada’s leadership are gradually becoming a formidable pressure group. They will keep Indra pinned to neutrality.
- So the script is already written. But I cannot forget the cries of the innocent, the burning pangs of the women and children, the heart-rending screams of the victims…
– I understand the state of your mind. You have been too much silent. Nothing can be created without destroying something else, Partha. That is the dilemma of our human existence.
– So, human are destined to follow animal-rule? They must survive by endangering others?
- That is our existential trap, Partha. The belly must be given its due. We need arable lands. Why would people live in your country if they cannot subsist themselves?
- But the killing of so many people? Haven’t we committed crime on humanity?
- Remember what you did while escaping from the Jatu-griha. You burnt five Nishadhas and their mother alive. Your survival instinct prompted you to do so.
- Yes that was so. But here? Isn’t the matter different here?
- In short term it is different, but not in long term.
Agni takes their permission and leave. Maya comes and joins them.
As the two Krishnas with Maya sit on the bank of the river Yamuna, Arjuna fixes his eyes on the ripples and seems to be in contemplation.
Krishna calmly looks into Arjuna’s eyes, ‘Call it existential dilemma or whatever you like; We human beings cannot go beyond this system. There are two options only. Either you accept the system and fit into it with sublimation, or you cease to exist.’
- We are just puppets in our own hands, aren’t we?
- Puppet and puppeteer both! Destiny makes you a puppet to be the puppeteer of some other puppet! Now, Maya, take rest and good refreshment, and then you are free to go.
Maya has been listening to the two Krishnas speaking. He says, ‘Thanks for saving my life, my lord.’
Krishna pats his shoulders, ‘It would have been a great misfortune to have killed you accidentally. You are the greatest architect of our times.’
- What is your command for me?
- Command? Certainly not! You are free. You may leave any time.
Maya is obstinate to please Krishna. But Krishna won’t desire anything for himself. Finally Krishna says, ‘If you are so eager to express your gratefulness, construct a great Sabha for Yudhishthira here. That would please me.’
Arjuna smiles sadly, ‘Maya, may be you have to start from the beginning. The fire has destroyed all your efforts. See, the evil effect of war. We are so glad to be victorious, yet we are such poor losers. Our pursuit of material gains destroyed your art.’
Maya’s eyes brighten, ‘Don’t worry, my lord. Everything is in my brain. Surely, that cannot be destroyed by fire. Give me some time, and I will construct the Sabha. I promise, the whole of human history has never seen such a Sabha. What I need are a thousand able-bodied men.’
Krishna nods, ‘Humm…take the Naga prisoners, but treat them well and respect their human dignity. We will allow the Naga civilians to stay here, if they wish so. Give them work and money and help them to rehabilitate.’
After Maya leaves, Krishna and Arjuna reach their official camp for final arrangements. The soldiers on their side who committeed rape and other unnecessary atrocities on innocent people, are tried. Those found guilty are summarily sentenced to death. All wounded soldiers and dwellers of the forest are treated with care.
Krishna smiles, ‘See how I am trapped Partha. I am compelled to live in a system I want to change, but it is a system that cannot be changed if I step out. Again, if I remain in the system, the system forces me to be hypocritic. We commit war, we destroy, and then we put up a human face after achieving victory. We take care of those whom we were about to kill.’
Arjuna does not reply. He looks calmly at Krishna. Krishna has just voiced so well the emotional turmoil going on in his heart. He says softly, ‘Won’t you play the flute?’
- All right all right.
Krishna takes out his flute and plays and plays and plays …..