(Saaphri Part 3)
By Yugal Joshi
Copyright 2017 Yugal Joshi
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Saaphri Part 3
‘The kingdom of Kosala has been well served by the benevolent, valiant, and heroic kings of the Sun Dynasty.’ Vishwamitra began his story. ‘Later on this dynasty branched out into many smaller dynasties and spread in a much larger area. Ikshwakus of Ayodhya is one such branch. Almost all the kings of the Sun Dynasty patronized Brahmins and gave generous donations to gurukuls, or the schools run by sages. The gurukul, as you know, is much more than a school. It is also a spiritual center keeping, protecting, and preserving the tradition.
At the zenith of King Sagar’s rule, the population of the town of Kosala was about sixty thousand.’
‘What a coincidence! Charudatt told the king had sixty thousand sons and you say the population of the town was sixty thousand.’ Bhadrak interrupted.
‘Bhadrak, do you believe anyone having sixty thousand sons? Son, subjects are like sons to a king. So, get it right. What Vashishtha referred as sixty thousand sons of Sagar, were in fact his sixty thousand residents of Kosala. He had only one son, Asmanjas.’
The sage quickly broke the little silence that followed his logic.
‘King Sagar was obsessed with wars. When the king was in his twentieth year of rule, a severe drought befell on Kosala. There was no water. But, his insatiable greed was fuelled by new concepts of Aswamedha and Rajasuya Yagna introduced by his priests. These yagna’s fulfilled the innate desire of expansionist monarchs as these could be performed only after conquering independent states. For the priests, these were occasions to receive huge donations of wealth, land, animals, and women from the victorious king.
At that tragic time of famine, King Sagar began Aswamedha Yagna to establish his supremacy over other kings. His ambition to become the overlord of the entire land that would come under his horse’s hooves hurled the citizens of Kosala into an unnecessary expedition.
Meanwhile, the drought propagated harsher and people started famishing and dying. The king cared the least. Some of the neighborhood chieftains resisted his horse and fought with his army. Such battles resulted in causalities from both sides and more Kosala soldiers were required to continue the expedition.
Sagar forced his sixty thousand residents to join his army to protect the horse. This brought more misery to the public. Meanwhile, the famine turned fatal. Several processions of the dead became a daily routine in Kosala. People dug deeper and deeper to find water. The king nominated his son Asmanjas, literally meaning – in quandary, as the royal-in–charge to deal with the drought, but Asmanjas failed. Famine and wars wiped out almost entire population of Kosala. The Aswamedha Yagna could not be completed.
A distraught and failed king finally understood the pain of his people and summoned his grandson Anshuman. Anshuman, literally the brightest, was a young prince with character and courage. He was wise enough to appreciate the curse of sixty thousand dead on his family. Death and rapid migration of people had made Kosala a ghost town. Without subjects there was no kingdom and without water there was no habitat. On repeated beggings from his grandfather, he agreed to bring a continuous source of water closer to the kingdom, not only for the solace of the souls of the sixty thousand martyrs but more importantly to bring the people back in Kosala.
Many years passed, but Anshuman could not fulfill his promise. Meanwhile, Sagar died and Anshuman ascended to the throne. He and his son Dilip tried their best to bring water source for salvation of their people. But they could not succeed and died grieving over this failure.
After the death of Dilip, Bhagiratha became the king of Kosala. Though, the deadly drought of past was now a sad story from past, no one in Kosala had forgotten it. He knew that the only way to bring people back to Kosala and make kingdom prosperous was to bring a river to the town. But how, was the question that had remained unsolved for three generations. Bhagiratha decided that he could no longer ignore the issue and if he wanted sons, the people in Kosala, a river was essential for kingdom’s survival.
He left the palace to explore the Himalayas for a possible source of flowing water that could be brought down to the town. For years, his ministers ran the kingdom, as Bhagiratha was busy surveying the far away lands. After many years of search, Bhagiratha zeroed down on a river near village Surkhet in the Himalayas, which if given some direction could flow to the southern plains where Kosala was situated. This river, if it could be brought south across the Shivalik hills, could flow through his land. However, later he concluded that even after diversion water might not reach the borders of Kosala.’
Vishwamitra took a pause in the middle of his long story.
Bhadrak was not a pupil to miss an opportunity to ask questions.
‘Gurudev, Bhagiratha would have produced water by digging wells. Why could he not think of that?’
‘Son, Bhagiratha was not a shortsighted man. Bhadrak, wells have a limited role, just to quench the thirst of humans. What about other living beings? What about agriculture and navigation? What about trade and transport? Son, rivers are sacred. You will know their value only when either you don’t have them or human greed pollutes them beyond repair.’
Vishwamitra continued, ‘Bhagiratha went ahead with his surveys. What if another river from the western Himalayas could meet the first stream and then both the rivers could flow together southwards through my kingdom? With this thought, he began amore arduous task of searching for another river in the Himalayas. It took him many months before he could find such a river. He finally landed at Kalapaani at a very high altitude. His scheme was to give it such a passage that it could meet Surkhet River flowing south. The contrasting colors of the two rivers surprised him. One was dark in colour and the other had a light greenish tint. Kali and Gori, black and white!’
‘But for a lone man like Bhagiratha, the task of creating a passage for the two rivers to flow to his country was impossible. In this alien land, he badly needed thousands of men who could move mountains for the rivers to flow. He went to the Himalayan people and worshipped their patron Siva.’
‘Shiva, the god?’ One of the pupils interrupted the sage.
‘No. Siva was a title sported by powerful mountain kings. Initially he wasapprehensive of the outcome but after evaluating Bhagiratha’s plan and watching for few months his unrelenting determination, Siva agreed to help him. Once convinced, Siva not only provided men but also tools and technology to Bhagiratha to complete his project.
The task was easy to plan but almost impossible to implement. Mountain rivers were uncontrollable. Plan after plan, either got shelved or failed miserably. Slowly, pessimism overpowered Bhagiratha. Diverting and controlling the downward flow of rivers was almost impossible. Flow was so fast that containing and directing the streams had become impossible. Diverting river course in a suitable direction looked impossible. Many months passed with no solution in sight. Bhagiratha felt lost. For many nights he could not sleep. Long discussions with the local experts resulted in nothing. Instead, he became famous as pagal rajah, the mad king.
Depression had sapped all his energy. Slowly, it became impossible for him to lie down at night leave alone to get little sleep. One night, severely depressed and unable to sleep, he came out of his hut. It was a shivering mountain night making staying outside next to impossible. In utter frustration, he wanted to punish himself; therefore he reclined on the ground. He gazed at the millions of stars twinkling over him.
What a fool I was! Dreaming to bring a river down from the mountains to my kingdom! I should have tried to do something else instead of chasing this impossible dream. I have deserted the people of Kosala and misled these mountain tribes. I am just a fool trying to play with nature! Never before has one man been proved so wrong. It is good that I am alone amidst these unknown tribes. God, let this be my last night. When no one is with me, no family, no friend, not even God!
Someone coughed in a hut close by.
What these people may be thinking about me? They must be saying, I am a crazy man, a mad king who wants to bring water to the plains by diverting course of their rivers! A king stupid enough to undergo the severest of rigors for the salvation of his subjects!
He bit his lower lip with force. The moment he released his lip, it was as if flood rained out from his eyes. He tried to suppress the tears but they ran uncontrollably. Helpless in that chilly winter night, he let his tears flow down. Everything was silent around him. The tears had blinded him.
When his tears stopped, he again tried to look up but his moist eyes made everything look hazy. The stars were not visible; he could just sense their illumination. In that moment when his thoughts became silent and mind still, his eyes caught a spiral white mass in the sky. Was it moving or his tears made it look like that! It was like a huge white river flowing in the sky. Through outward moving spirals from the center to periphery, a river was flowing! Mesmerized, Bhagiratha simply stared at the phenomenon in the night sky.
Suddenly, he was filled with gloom.
Even the sky has a river, but we don’t.
As he looked upward again, the spiral galaxy began to move slowly. He was feeling dizzy. And then it struck him! They needed a river to move in many spirals or in many locks to control its movements so that they could build a dam and a passage to give direction to the river!
Excitement did not allow him to wait for the morning. He ran towards Siva’s abode. It was very far but he kept running.
Siva looked at him with a strange smile; unable to understand why Bhagiratha was at his doorstep at this odd hour.
“What you propose is not possible.” Siva replied after listening to the explorer.
Bhagiratha felt as if God was cheating on him. He lost his voice and sat in a stunned silence. Understanding his condition, Siva then offered a solution.
“I have an information. I know a place nearby, which can be used as a huge reservoir. If we could move the direction of flow towards that, your team may gain some time to create a passage. But the reservoir cannot hold the water for very long.”
Bhagiratha felt as if life was returning back to him. He bowed before the patron in adulation and rushed back to the project site.
By building many reservoirs and toiling for few more years Bhagiratha succeeded in redirecting both the rivers. The confluence of both the rivers was not very far from the boundary of his kingdom; and Bhagiratha named the place Brahmaghat. He also named the river flowing downward as the River Sarayu. Charudatt, this is the Sarayu that now flows touching Ayodhya. In this way, the great man truly provided salvation to his subjects.’ Vishwamitra paused and looked at his pupils. He was trying to gauge whether these teen-aged boys understood the essence of the difference between the two versions of the same story. Some of the faces looked puzzled and some were blank. Their participation was not as enthusiastic and eager, as it was when Charudatt was narrating his story.
It was easy for both –the kings and the Brahmins - to involve gods intimately in their affairs in order to enhance their worldly status and confer gold plating on their deeds. Vishwamitra always believed that such involvement of gods belittled the indomitable human spirit, gumption, and morale. In next part read how Darkness impends.