Saaphri Part 5
Apathy and Inertia
They were more than twenty. Vishwamitra recognized the old village headman of Kiritvan. His name was Kuntal. They all looked thrashed, bruised, and agitated. Many residents of the ashram had also joined the crowd after hearing their noise. They stopped near his hut. Kuntal waved at them to be silent. When they saw Vishwamitra, they paid their obeisance and touched his feet. In the light torches, now Vishwamitra could see them closely. They were badly beaten. Before Vishwamitra could ask, Kuntal fell onto his feet again and tightly grabbed his legs.
‘Save us, Brahmarishi. Save us. They have taken our girls, boys and cattles. When we resisted, they thrashed us all and killed five villagers.’ He started crying aloud and his grip around Vishwamitra’s feet became tighter.
‘What happened? Who did that?’ He asked.
All the villagers started speaking simultaneously about the incident. Vishwamitra gestured them to keep silent and then asked Kuntal to describe what had happened.
‘Great seer, as you know Kiritvan, our village is the last village on Ayodhya’s southern limit. Only two hundred inhabitants reside there. Two months ago, one rakshasa battalion began settling in the neighboring forest, five miles south of Kiritvan. Their activities alarmed us and we sent their information to the nearest royal post. We were apprehensive but lowered our guard when nothing adverse happened for few days. But after few weeks, our cattle started disappearing. Earlier from the forest where they grazed and then, in night from the cattle wards in villages. We stopped sending cattle to the southern forest and started sending young hands to fetch the fodder. But soon, few youths went missing. We became alarmed. After discussing the issue with the village elders, I went to the nearest army post of Ayodhya to seek help.
But instead of offering assistance and taking action against the rakshasas, head of the army platoon demanded protection money from us. I returned back to village. After a lot of debate, we reluctantly agreed to pay the bribe. The commander sent two guards to Kiritvan. One night, even in the presence of guards, two cows and five sheep disappeared. The guards did nothing to rescue them. I complained about it to the platoon commander. He called his guards back for enquiry but then never sent them back in our village.
Disappointed and helpless, we tried to organize our youth to resist the rakshasas. Twenty volunteers came forward with village-made wooden and iron rods; and we deployed them for night patrol after making a duty roster.
Kuntal stopped for a moment and looked at Vishwamitra. Compassionate eyes of the seer encouraged him to tell the details. The pain of reliving the memory of that forlorn night had tapered Kuntal’s face.
‘Seer, unaware of the coming calamity, we were sleeping in our huts when after mid night two huge figures appeared in my backyard. They casually entered into my open cattle yard and came out dragging three buffaloes with ropes.
The cries of the buffaloes attracted the nearby patrol and five young men on duty quickly rushed to the site. Either the intruders had not seen the patrol party or did not care because thieves paid them no heed. The patrol party confronted the robbers and challenged them. The trespassers ignored them and quietly tied the buffaloes with ropes to a nearby tree. As soon as the buffaloes were tied, the intruders attacked the patrol. The young men were no match to those two rakshasas and got thrashed badly.’
Kuntal stopped again and then hiding his face in his hands, he began sobbing.
‘Lord, we cowards stood as silent spectators witnessing rakshasas badly beating our men.’ He cried aloud as if releasing his frustration, pain, and anger. Vishwamitra let him cry and then consoled him.
‘Kuntal, what to speak of helpless villagers like you; even the knees of mighty armies become weak when they face the rakshasas.’
The Seer’s kind words encouraged Kuntal to go ahead with his story and he cleaned his throat gently.
‘After beating the patrolmen, both the rakshasas led the buffaloes away. When we realized what had happened, we could do nothing. Women nursed the injured patrolmen. Lord, we were so upset with ourselves that we could not face our brave patrol fellows. We had no will, no courage and strength to stand up against the brutal rakshasas; it was as if mere presence of rakshasas had sucked our grit and energy.
The torturous night was still far from getting over. Not much time had passed when a growing roar emerged in the southern part of the village. We were still lamenting on our plight sitting out under the night sky. In a flash, a band of rakshasas appeared before us. This time they were more than ten in number. Without uttering a word, they started beating us with iron rods, heavy sticks, and stone weapons. Before we could fathom what was happening, five of our men were killed and almost all of us were injured. The rakshasas did not stop at that; they searched the whole village and took away entire village’s cattle as well as abducted many women and children.’
Vishwamitra listened in horror. Faces of people surrounding him were looking like ghosts devoid of life and hope.
‘Only you can save our women and children, Lord, only you.’ Kuntal was crying aloud.
For few moments Vishwamitra felt as if he had lost his speech. He felt as if his body was passing through a hot iron tunnel. His eyes became red with anger and he wiped his sweating forehead.
‘Call Brahmdatt and assemble twenty graduates.’ He commanded head teacher, Vishalaksha.
Then turning to Kuntal, he asked him to stay back to show them the path leading to the rakshasa camp. He summoned school physician and asked him to treat the injured villagers. When all of them were gone, he tried to think of a plan to rescue the kidnapped villagers.
‘The rakshasas’ camp is two quarters of the day south of Kiritvan. I don’t think a rescue team can reach there before dawn. We don’t know the number of rakshasas in their camp.’ Brahmdatt informed Vishwamitra.
‘Kuntal had said that it was over one hundred. If it is not a military camp, I assume there should not be more than thirty male warriors.’ Vishwamitra said.
‘I am told that the rakshasas go to sleep very late at night and wake up around midday. Therefore, dawn is the best time to attack.’
‘I am not keen to engage in a direct fight, we know so less about them. We are not sure if this habitat is an independent colony or a front post of the rakshasa kingdom of Lanka.’ Vishwamitra expressed his apprehension.
I must consider my limitations while living within geographical boundaries of a kingdom. I am not an independent king. How can I begin an armed skirmish with foreign soldiers? Vishwamitra was in dilemma. But, rescuing the villagers is an emergency and any delay may harm them.
He decided to send a team to inform the nearest security post of Ayodhya and also to launch an attack to rescue the kidnapped villagers.
‘Brahmdatt, you and I will lead twenty agile and brave students to the rakshasas habitat and inspect that before deciding further course of action.’ Among the school elders, only the sage and Brahmdatt were battle worthy.
They reached the rakshasa camp at sunrise. But the rakshasa camp looked idle. Vishwamitra could see few huts here and there, but it was not a fortified settlement.
‘It looks like an irregular band’s temporary residence.’ He opined.
‘See, it is already the second quarter of the day and yet not a single soul is outside.’
Almost crawling, Brahmdatt approached the backyard. There, he saw few rakshasas sleeping along the wall of the hut. All of them were in deep slumber. The smell of alcohol coming out of hut petrified Brahmdatt’s nostrils. Rakshasas were dark in complexion, physically tall and strongly built. They had loin covers made of goat leather around their waist.
Brahmdatt peeped inside an open window. It was a large hut where many rakshasas, both male and female, were sleeping. There was no sign of the abducted villagers. Brahmdatt moved to next hut. It was bigger than the previous one and looked like a hall perhaps used for ceremonial purposes. Two armed rakshasas were sleeping near the door. A huge woman was sleeping inside. She was wearing gems, bones, and stones on her neck. Brahmdatt had never seen such a huge figure in all his life. A huge sword was lying beside her. The room was filled with the stench of alcohol although a scented aromatic paste was burning in a corner of the room. Both the males looked much younger and smaller in size than her.
Brahmdatt moved swiftly and inspected the remaining two huts but could not find abducted villagers. Surprised and worried, he moved back to Vishwamitra to report.
‘We need to find the abducted villagers.’
‘Let us form four search teams to check the surroundings for one quarter of the day. Kuntal and I will hide on trees to keep an eye at this camp.’Vishwamitra decided. All the search parties were armed and cautioned to signal if they faced any grave danger.
When the search parties left, Vishwamitra and Kuntal positioned themselves with bows and arrows in the trees.
Three search parties returned before noon without any valuable information. The rakshasa camp was now awake and active, though the huge woman was yet to come out of the hut. By later afternoon, Vishwamitra started worrying. The fourth search party had neither returned back nor communicated anything.
When sun was about to set, with roar and drum beats three big buffalos appeared in front of the camp. The huge woman and the two men came out. Her black hair was loose and her big face was dreadful. She was not wearing anything above her waist except the ornaments, and beneath the waist she had a short skirt made of goatskin. When she was seated on the back of a buffalo, a band of drummers and trumpeters along with the two men followed her towards south.
‘Let us follow the rakshasas in two groups. You lead the first and my group will follow you closely.’ Vishwamitra commanded Brahmdatt.
He also sent four students back to school to bring more people, arms, and food; and instructed them to wait little away from the camp.
The rakshasas band kept on walking for more than a quarter of the night. Looking at the moon, Brahmdatt calculated that it was midnight. The procession stopped at a settlement with many huts. Again, the place was not guarded though every rakshasa male was carrying one or more weapons. Brahmdatt saw the huge woman getting down from the buffalo and proceeding towards a big hut. He went back to inform Vishwamitra.
After midnight, all the rakshasas assembled near the fire lit in open. Cooks were roasting rabbits, deer, and pigs. A few tables were set with big utensils.
‘The preparations indicate there are more than hundred joining the feast’. Vishwamitra whispered. At that time, the fourth search team met them. They had retreated midway after seeing the rakshasas coming back to their headquarter.
The huge woman came out and sat near the fire on a high table. With her arrival food was served. There was a lot of laughter and merrymaking. Women and men started dancing around the fire. Everyone appeared drunk. Slowly, the dancing crowd swelled, as almost everyone was keen to join the dance. It was an opportunity to sneak into the huts to search for the abducted villagers. Brahmdatt climbed down from a tree and proceeded in the darkness.
After a little effort, he found all the villagers except women lodged in one hut, chained and beaten. In fact, there were more captives than those abducted from Kiritvan. There was no guard as all the rakshasas by then had joined the feast. Without losing time, Brahmdatt freed everyone and guided them to go to Vishwamitra. The rescued villagers told Brahmdatt that there were many more hostages. They also revealed that they were forced to slavery, dig wells, cut wood, and work in a kitchen. As the feast and dance outside was continuing, Brahmdatt decided to make one more round to search for the missing women and men.
In quick time Brahmdatt found the other prisoners as well. They were more than fifty and all of them were tortured and chained. But there were no women. Quickly Brahmdatt freed a few of them, who then helped unchain the others.
Near the campfire, the night was still young. The huge woman was drunk and still eating. Many women had slipped away with their partners. Still there was huge male gathering dancing and merry making. Suddenly, the huge women laughed aloud in a roar and waved towards one hut. On her command, many rakshasas rushed towards that indicated hut. Soon the screams of the captive women and the laughter of rakshasas pierced ears of the rescue teams.
Vishwamitra’s blood boiled inside his veins. With firmness, he lifted his bow and unleashed a flurry of shafts. Vishwamitra, like Kartikeya the war god, was unleashing arrows from his bow as if he had twelve hands. Taking the cue, Brahmdatt also let rain a volley of arrows. This sudden attack stunned the rakshasas. Many were killed. The huge lady jumped inside a hut and escaped without getting hurt. But not many were that lucky. Despite the cries of the rakshasas dying outside, laughter and screams were still coming from women prisoners’ hut. Vishwamitra gestured Brahmdatt to seize the hut. Brahmdatt bowed to his guru and ran towards the hut.
Brahmdatt ignited a small torch and threw it towards the hut. The dry grass on the roof of the hut began burning and a huge fire grew in no time. The screams got louder inside the hut and the first to come out running were the village women. Some rakshasas came out as well using the captive women as their shields. Brahmdatt killed the rakshasas and shouted at the women to go where other villagers were hiding. Fire consumed the hut in no time. Brahmdatt now turned his attention towards other huts. Before he could move his feet, he saw the huge rakshasa woman standing behind him with her guards.
Even Vishwamitra was taken aback when he saw the woman standing so close to Brahmdatt. Brahmdatt was in imminent danger. Vishwamitra was helpless as Brahmdatt was between the sage’s arrow and the rakshasa woman. Without hesitation, Vishwamitra shot a sharp arrow that zoomed past Brahmdatt and killed one of the rakshasa standing near the woman. Brahmdatt quickly ducked on the ground and gave Vishwamitra the opportunity to shoot more rakshasas. Vishwamitra’s arrows killed most of them but few including the big woman escaped.
Vishwamitra’s team searched entire premises with torches. Bodies of slain rakshasas were lying everywhere. The premise was well fortified with an armory and granary.
‘The ration and ammunition here is enough for more than hundred rakshasas to survive for a month.’ Vishwamitra concluded.
‘Brahmdatt, it is not safe to stay here any more with these children, women and villagers. Let us return to the school as swiftly as we can.’
Victorious, they returned with torches, shouting and making noises with beating whatsoever metallic item they had.
After arriving at Siddhashrma and feeling assured, rescued villagers narrated many incidences of slavery, cruelty, killings, torture, and rape. Such oppression and killing at the hands of rakshasas had become the destiny of the neighbourhood villagers.
Vishwamitra decided to petition before the king. Ayodhya was far away from his school. He called his headmaster Vishalaksha and instructed him to go to Ayodhya to inform the king and the royal priest Vashishtha about the situation. Vishalaksha was briefed to request them to provide protection. Vishwamitra also called a meeting of the neighboring village headmen and other sages to apprise them about his plans and also to discuss other possible solutions.
Contrary to his expectations, the response from the villagers and sages was lukewarm. They were afraid of rakshasas’ retaliation. Very few people came to attend the discussions next day. Vishwamitra and Brahmdatt decided to tour the area to awaken the conscience of the people and to prepare them to be ready for defense training.
The rakshasas retaliated quickly by attacking nearby villages. Next dawn brought the news of massacre in few villages and by noon school started receiving traumatized and helpless villagers fleeing from their villages. Soon the number of refugees swelled into hundreds yet Vishwamitra heard nothing from the local royal army commander.
The school had limited resources to protect and feed the refugees. With great risk, Vishwamitra sent Brahmdatt to rakshasa camp to capture their granary but it was too late. Rakshasas had already recaptured the camp and fortified it.
Vishwamitra decided to adopt the best possible solution.
‘Brahmdatt, I vow to awake these sleeping souls. Send groups of students to neighboring villages to train the youth in guerilla warfare and self-defense. Let us start by providing them whatever arsenal we have. It is not weapon but the mindset that wins battle. Brahmdatt, we need fearless minds ready to fight for the justice and self-respect. I shall visit all the villages and try to create an environment of valour among them.’
He sent his students to nearby villages urging villagers to raise their own village defense units and donate clothes and grain for the refugees. But the response was not encouraging.
Only six neighboring villages adopted new training regime and formed self-defense units. Once the information about such units went public, the rakshasas made it a point to attack such villages selectively. The fortified villages at first resisted attacks from the rakshasas but when attacks became severe, the defense units were swept away. Instead of helping their defense units, the terrified villagers begged the rakshasas for protection. It broke the morale of the defense units; and soon the rakshasas’ reign of terror re-established. This all happened in a short period of one week.
Vishwamitra did not loose hope.
‘Brahmdatt, the biggest challenge is to motivate the people. A meek surrender to such an enemy will be ruinous to our philosophy.’
Before Vishwamitra could do anything, the rakshasas attacked the school on a moonless night. Though Vishwamitra had anticipated such an attack and had guards posted and reserves alerted in the armory. Student trainees were on patrol when more than forty rakshasas led by the huge women attacked the school. The students quickly alerted the guards and tried to defend both the gates of the school. But the rakshasas quickly overpowered them.
Vishwamitra and Brahmdatt promptly assembled the residents. By then the guards were either killed or taken hostage. Brahmdatt decided to go for the fight instead of waiting and went out with few lieutenants that were left. Soon, Vishwamitra saw many huts burning and crying residents coming out of them. This continued for almost an hour in the night and then the rakshasas left. Ten students and eight villagers were killed.
The news of rakshasas’ attack on Vishwamitra’s school spread like a wild fire. By the afternoon, many mourners from nearby locations visited school. But not a single royal soldier visited the school. Late in the evening, they performed the last rites of the students and villagers who had sacrificed their lives while defending the school. Vishwamitra wanted to use this opportunity to stress the need to have a united front against the rakshasas. The way he looked at it – it was a conflict between the good and the bad.
After offering dead bodies to the fire -the auspicious and beholder of all the knowledge, everyone attending the last rites took a dip in the river and prayed for everlasting peace to the departed souls. Vishwamitra requested everyone gathered to stay for a while. After assembling people in a close semi-circle, he said.
‘Friends, I want you to focus on the problem at hand. Since last year, we have been facing the rakshasas’ brutal attacks. They are not limited to committing petty crimes. By terrorizing our souls, oppressing our mind, and polluting our women, they are degrading our body and soul.
They don’t believe in our way of life. They don’t differentiate between just or unjust. They believe everything can be grabbed by force and by terrorizing people. Anyone who disagrees with them is wrong and even worse he is their enemy.
We live by sat and rta, the universal law of nature. We live in harmony with nature. Our culture promotes an open society, based on gender, social and professional equality. Yoga, the yoking of all the powers of body, mind, and soul to the God is the pillar of our philosophy. We strive for a poise of the soul that enables us to look at life holistically.
Contrary to us, the rakshasas believe in culture of bhoga, that is momentary pleasure at all costs. For their own wealth, pleasure, and happiness, they can do anything. Attainment of worldly and sensual pleasure is the only aim of their life. For them nothing is sacred.
They are now united under Ravana, the mighty king of Lanka. He wants to extend his raksha culture all over the world. Their tamasik, the dark and restraining culture is afraid of only the satwik, the pure and illuminating culture of ours. Therefore, they have started killing those innocent villagers who have faith in powers of sat and rta. Now they have started targeting schools with a specific purpose.
They are fuelled by violence, anger, and frustration. This brutal energy comes from that culture of consumption that leads everyone to be angry within. This blind brutality is now standing at our doorsteps, eager to consume our way of life and finally our soul. In our culture, we never give importance to death of the body, as body is only a chariot for soul. But the death of our way of life, will destruct what everything is pious in universe.
They pose pertinent and real threat to our dharma that is thoughtfully and lovingly nurtured by our ancestors. The war against them is real yagna. Such a war is more significant than ritual worshipping of gods for rain and material wealth. This yagna is to protect, cleanse, and revitalize our culture and therefore demands a greater sacrifice from everyone. It demands your blood, sweat, and tears. If we don’t fight them united, they will ruin us, make us like them and then the powers of darkness will rule our world.
Friends, light and darkness cannot exist together. Therefore, we have to fight against this darkness.’
A deep silence followed his talk. Then, Atri said.
‘Indeed, this danger is darker than the dangers previously posed by dasyus. This danger is not to a person, a clan or a king. This danger poses a threat to our dharma, which teaches that all in this universe are born equal; that this earth belongs as much as to an ant as much it belongs to a mighty king. The problem is threefold. First, how to instill courage and confidence among the people to claim their right for a free and fair life, second, how to stop the assault of rakshasas and finally how to propagate that is virtuous?’
No one disagreed. Atri was a widely respected sage. He and his wife Anusuya had become living legends through their conduct, teachings, wisdom, and selfless service.
‘No doubt people still have some faith left in us. They look up to us for guidance. That faith is not misplaced. Most of us have been teachers for life and practiced how to preserve and foster society’s material, intellectual, and spiritual growth. In my view, empowering the people is the most important and permanent way to protect our way of living. Now the question is how to do that and here I feel helpless.’ Anusuya seconded Atri.
‘No.’ A protest erupted among the audience. The chief of a local village, Minal protested.
‘Great souls, everyone would like to empower people to protect themselves and their dharma. Let us also look at ourselves. Is our societal model so great that people would die for it rather than embracing the raksha culture? Are we really providing that? Are we treating our people equally? Are we honoring our women and giving them their due? If not, then let people choose what they want.’
Minal’s criticism stunned everyone assembled there.
‘Minal’s observation is correct. Let us also understand that our society has been a composite society from the beginning. We have never been a monochromatic and monolithic society. Even after hundreds of years, many clans like Yadu, Turvasha, Drihyu, Paktha, Bhalan, Ali, Aja, Shiv, Puru, Kuru, Shigru, Chedi and many others have retained most of their original and unique traits. Even today, greatest among Vedic seers take pride in retaining their totem names. Even I take pride in calling myself Kaushika. There are many others like me: Kashyapa, Alina, Matsya, Aja, Rishabha, Ain, Ven, Matanga and Nakula.
Minal, have you ever thought why this does not happen in other civilizations? Adityas, Dityas, and rakshasas they all are monochromatic societies. They don’t allow clans to retain their individuality. Their first condition is to leave individuality and surrender completely to their belief or faith. We don’t agree to that, as we believe in dynamic nature of time and guarantee freedom of faith. We don’t believe in immortality of an idea or a revelation. As we believe everything is relative and therefore every generation has to find its own truth.
Minal, in your grandfather’s time even Yadu and Turvash clans were considered asnata, or unfit to get education. This was primarily because their forefathers thought education would pollute their distinct culture and make their youths defiant. But now, they all send their children to gurukuls. Puru were earlier called ditya! Look at the status of adityas like Varuna and Indra today. We keep on relating to them differently in different times.
You may be pointing towards recent trends in treating some class of people inferior on the basis of birth. But, this is a new trend and I abhor any attempt that differentiates humans on the basis of birth, color of skin, or gender. Tell me; is it possible to build a civilization without technical expertise, training, and management? Work distribution is so essential for a civilization. It is also true that we don’t have a tool that mitigates complexities created by the economic aspect of work distribution. Thus, some become richer and some grow poorer.’
Vishwamitra looked at the sages, considered his opinion and then continued,
‘Minal, look at Sage Vashishtha and Agastya. Both of them are revered by the highest class of the society despite their humble origin.’
‘I agree about our moral decline. Prosperity and power have corrupted the influential section of the society. They have become unrestrained. Poets dependent on them create literature that is perverse and erotic. Few weeks ago, I got a shock after hearing hymns like: ‘after seeing that beautiful lass, I wonder who will enjoy her?’ or ‘A woman is like a field where man sows his seed.’ And one day you will wonder when they find a place in Rig Veda.
Minal, these are aberrations. We need to challenge them whenever they arise and quickly iron them out. We need to put up before the world an ideal of a free, equal, and liberal society, so necessary for the awareness, confidence, strength, clarity, and wisdom and to live a dignified life. And once they start living like that, they will accept nothing less as their cherished goal. They themselves will become a potent force against an oppressive and degrading culture. This, I believe is the permanent way of defeating the rakshasas.’
Old Upanana stood to present his views after Vishwamitra.
‘Vishwamitra, no doubt your dream is laudable. But in a diverse society like ours how can we ensure unity? By the time we unite ourselves the rakshasas would destroy us. At this moment we need heroic deeds. Defeating all the rakshasas on the battlefield is the only immediate solution. The question is—who will do it? Sage Parashuram is busy killing his own relatives. Agastya has deserted us. Now… Vishwamitra, you alone can defeat them. Go and ask the kings and chiefs for help, and defeat the rakshasas.’
‘There is no king who is willing to wage a war against rakshasas.’ Vishwamitra stated a fact. ‘Their armies have become trained dacoits. If taxes are sufficient to cover their luxuries and lavish lifestyle, then kings do not even care about their citizens. From such kings, how can you expect help? For the sake of argument, even if they agree to loan me their armies, then what will happen? We can kill the rakshasas here, but who will send their armies down south to Lanka? Killing rakshasas in a village will not be a solution. We already have done it once. These outposts are quickly reinforced. If we want to fight them to finish, then we must march to Lanka to vanquish them forever. There is no point in destructing poisonous leaves and leaving the root intact. We have to address the root cause of attacks on our civilization and we have to destruct the very center from where raksha culture is getting the power and instructions. The big question is how to achieve this mammoth task?’
The truth in Vishwamitra’s words made everybody silent and no one spoke thereafter. Assembly dispersed slowly and after some time, Vishwamitra found himself, alone.
Vishwamitra could not sleep that night. He had seen gloom in every eye. Their pessimism was heart breaking. Cowardice had left no courage in them to fight against the enemy.
The rakshasas have already won the war. He thought sadly. Even after years of preaching immortality of soul, mere thought of a minor injury makes these scholars shudder. The terror of the rakshasas is omnipresent; I can see it in the eyes of an ignorant as well as in the eyes of a sage.
At that late hour of night he called his headmaster Vishalaksha and asked him to go to Ayodhya and meet Vashishtha for help.
'The rakshasas have already won the war.' He thought sadly. 'Even after years of preaching immortality of soul, mere thought of a minor injury makes these scholars shudder. The terror of the rakshasas is omnipresent; I can see it in the eyes of an ignorant as well as in the eyes of a sage.'