Story of Sadhu Gandhara, Explorer, Lover, Reformer, Warrior & Chief of Afghanistan
Frontiers of Bharat Varsha (5,000 BCE) With account of how Afghanistan (Avagana) became a part of Bharat Varsha
Selected extracts from Return of the Aryans by Bhagwan S. Gidwani, published by Penguin Books, India, ISBN 0-14- 024053 – 5
(Main Reference Pages: 223 to 255; 257 to 258 from Return of the Aryans)
The entire town lined up to greet the visitors, whose greatest thrill was that they could at last see live, smiling women, showering them with flower-petals and blowing kisses at Kush.
This was the region that the locals called Gandhara, in honour of the sadhu. Locals pronounced it also as they pronounced his name – with a sound that moved between G and K, like Kandhara or Qandhara. (NOTE: Even now it is associated with Sadhu’s name and is called Quandhara or Kandhar – Map Reference: 31.35n; 65.45e)
Dhrupatta’s party stopped before a hut in the centre of a beautiful garden. The fragrance of roses, jasmine and lilies filled the air. Dhrupatta and Kush dismounted.
Sadhu Gandhara’s wife stood in the doorway as her two sons entered the garden. Dhrupatta had not expected her to be so young. She looked at them affectionately and stretched out her hand. Silently, Kush brought out a cloth-purse which held his father’s ashes scooped up form the river. His mother placed it against her heart. She embraced Kush and extended her hand to Dhrupatta. ‘Your father spoke to me about you so often that I feel this meeting is not the first between us. Yet he spoke of you as a young boy, like my Kush.’
She spoke faultlessly in his language, though with an accent. Apparently, the sadhu had taught her well. ‘My father,’ Dhrupatta replied, ‘had the image of a youngster in mind when he thought of me. He left us when I was no more than a boy.’
Perhaps she detected sorrow in his voice and said, ‘Fate brought him to me, and to this land, to do a great deal of good, just as fate brings you, his son, to continue his good work.’
He responded with courtesy, ‘In the presence of my father, I acknowledged you as my mother. Feel free to command me in any way.’
She kissed him lightly on the forehead and said, ‘In the presence of your father, and within the hearing of God, I too acknowledged you as my son. But a mother makes no demands on her son. I shall only speak to you of your father’s wishes . . . . . and mine, for this land.’
She added, ‘But come, first, we shall bury your father’s ashes.’
They went to the back garden. The fragrance of flowers mingled with the breeze as they walked in the garden carpeted with roses, tulips and jasmine. A pit had been freshly dug. Men from Dhrupatta’s party and large numbers of locals were there. Gandhara’s wife sprinkled a little of the ashes in the pit and gave some to Dhrupatta and Kush so that they could follow suit. Thereafter, she scooped the earth to cover the ashes. The two sons helped. Dhrupatta was thinking of the custom in his own land – where people were cremated and their ashes sprinkled in the river, as indeed was done for his father.
Maybe she understood what he was thinking and said, ‘All life comes form the depths of the earth. There the spirit of your father shall hear the whispering of flowers and the singing of trees.’
Dhrupatta did not speak of his conviction that his father’s spirit was one with the Eternal Self, hearing the exhilarating music of the universe. He simply nodded though he wondered why only a bit of the ashes was sprinkled, and the cloth-purse was still almost full.
Dhrupatta introduced her to the members of his party. She touched the Vaid’s feet as he had looked after her husband in his last days to ease his pain. She spoke to him so sweetly that even he asked if there was anything he could do for her. Quickly, at her summons, ten youngsters came forward, and she told the Vaid, ‘They are yours. Teach them your art to look after our people.’ They touched the Vaid’s feet and called him ‘Guru’. The Vaid was one of those who was to return with Dhrupatta but there and then he decided to stay back.
Dhrupatta marveled at her captivating ways. Of his party, forty were to remain behind to teach arts and crafts, and the rest were to return. Now she was sweetly encouraging many more to stay back. He was glad that he had selected bachelors and widowers to form his team.
The sadhu’s wife had made impeccable arrangements for their stay, acting upon the information supplied by the thong-wearing wandering locals, of Dhrupatta’s imminent arrival. Huts were erected. Trainees to learn new crafts were chosen. Areas for farming, tree-planting and mining were selected.
Only once did she deviate from Dhrupatta’s views. When Dhrupatta advised his men on what should be given away free, she cautioned him saying that the locals were a proud people and would dislike charity, ‘Help them to help themselves’ – was her advice – and he agreed.
The first objective, she said, was to get slaves in exchange to set them free. Slaves were of no use to their masters, here; the main occupation was hunting and game was not easy to come by with the result that the masters had to hunt for themselves and for their slaves.
‘Why do people have slaves here, then?’ Dhrupatta asked.
‘Why do people have more than one wife? Some foolish ideas of ego, prestige, vanity. Maybe like me, even. Why do I have a hut with four rooms, when Kush and I need only one!’
She continued, ‘But henceforth, it will be different. These people, as my husband said, can no longer survive on hunting alone. Now that they will learn farming with your help, slaves will be extremely useful to their masters. And that is why we must buy slaves, before their masters learn how useful they can be in farming land.’
‘Yes, we can buy them cheap now,’ Dhrupatta said.
‘Only to set them free, forthwith,’ she said, leaving no doubt.
‘Of course. There shall be no slaves in this land if I can help it. My men and I promise you that.’
It seemed she was waiting to hear only that. She went out and spoke to the people outside. There was applause. Dhrurpatta understood nothing but she explained when she returned. ‘It means that you are the successor of Sadhu Gandhara – and sadhu of this land and its people.’
Dhrupatta was puzzled. But she continued, ‘It means that land between here and Kubha, around and beyond, is to be administered by you. You are the sadhu now.’
Dhrupatta understood. Clearly, his father was more than a sadhu, and held a commanding position. She repeated, ‘Yes, you are the sadhu.’
‘No, I am not!’ Dhrupatta said. ‘I have no right of claims on this land. Even if I had any, I renounced them in favour of Kush.’
‘Kush is too young. How can he administer this vast region?’
‘Then you administer for him, until he is of age.’
‘I wish that were possible. In Gandhara, yes, they have learnt to tolerate a woman in charge, thanks to your father’s teaching. But below this region, and beyond Kubha, and around, a woman is considered chattel, with less liberty than a slave.’
‘But I have to go back to my land.’
‘I know. But you can appoint someone here to act as your headman.’
‘How can I do that! I do not have the right.’
‘Right! No one is conferring a right on you. What is being imposed on you is a duty.’
Their eyes met and she continued, ‘Yes, you did renounce your right in favour of Kush. But you did not speak of renouncing a duty. Perhaps I misunderstood, because ever since I heard of your coming, my heart was filled with hope.’
She dropped her eyes and said, ‘But the decision must be yours, and whatever it be, you must know that you are a part of me, for you are my husband’s son ‘
Dhrupatta wiped out all objections from his mind and simply said, ‘It shall be as you wish.’
‘No, as you wish.’
Dhrupatta smiled inwardly: yes, the decision is mine. Is there anything stronger than the chain of love? But quietly, he said, ‘Yes, that is what I wish. Who do you think should be headman here?’
‘Someone who is not a woman like me, nor a child like Kush.’
‘When can Kush take over?’
‘Not before there is hair on his upper lip and on his chin. But why not appoint our respected Vaid?’
The Vaid was startled, ‘But I don’t even know the language here!’
‘My husband did not know the language initially. Perhaps you will permit me to interpret your words to my people.’
‘It will be an honour, Madam, an honour,’ the Vaid replied instantly. But Dhrupatta wanted to be clear beyond a shadow of doubt. He did not want her to be a mere interpreter of the Vaid’s words. For the first time in his life he spoke sternly to the Vaid.
‘Let me understand, Vaidji. You agree to be the headman . . . .’
The Vaid interrupted, but with unusual politeness, ‘If that is your wish Karkarta, and if that is the desire of the lady of Sadhu Gandhara.’
‘But,’ said Dhrupatta, ‘let me understand this fully. Is it clear that in all matters you will act exactly according to the wishes of this lady, whom I acknowledge as my mother? Further, is it clear that she holds my authority to dismiss you and appoint anyone in your place?’
Everyone expected the Vaid to flare up. He was not known to be a man with a cool temper. But he replied formally, ‘Karkarta, be assured that it is exactly on those conditions that I accept the appointment. You have my oath. My only stipulation is that should I ever consider her wishes as opposed to the laws of God or Nature, I shall resign.’ To her, he said humbly, ‘Dear lady, I know that will not happen, but we speak of the future, and as I bind myself with an oath to serve you for life, I must provide for unknown dangers that may lie far beyond the horizon of today.’
For no reason, her eyes were moist. She said, ‘My husband also said what you have in mind. He said that that some who begin by serving people sometimes turn vicious when they take up the rod of authority and then are unable to understand the superior and eternal law of Sanatan Dharma. But Vaidji, I shall not disappoint you.’
‘And I, dear lady, shall not fail you,’ the Vaid gallantly replied.
Later, Dhrupatta learnt why she had retained most of the ashes. They were to go for immersion to distant lands, she explained.
‘What are those lands where the ashes are to be immersed?’ he asked.
She did not reply immediately. Her mind lingered on the precious memories of days gone by. Those lands! She tried to recall and count them one by one. ‘First, the mountains of Hindu Kush and Kubha; second, Hari River; third, the village of Hari rath; fourth, the village of Sindhan; fifth, Kama River (river of love); sixth, Kara Kumari desert (desert of the blue-black girl); seventh, Indra ka River (River of god Indra).
Dhrupatta heard her astonished. They sounded like Hindu names – so familiar, yet strange. ‘Where?’ he asked. ‘Are they Hindu lands?’
‘No,’ she smiled, ‘but these names were given by a Hindu – your father.’ She pointed to a line on a route-chart etched on the wall and continued : ‘Your father first came to this place – the one we all call Gandhara and set up his ashram. Soon he moved to the north, to a place called Kubha (present day Kabul), to honour the memory of his disciple buried there. That disciple died while protecting your father who was at prayer. Then, your father’s wanderlust led him 20 yojnas (100 miles) to the north where he came face to face with the mountains.’
‘You also went with my father?’ Dhrupatta asked.
‘Oh no; I had not met him then. Well he went along the mountain range and, at last, with terrible difficulty, crossed over. Every day he met adventure and, every night, danger. Yet, he went on, always in the hope of finding the edge of the earth. Somewhere, he felt, the earth would end. Later he felt that the earth was endless. Even so, he went on and on, crossing rivers, mountains, swamps, villages and finally, reached a river which he named Indra ka river. There we met.’
She described the terrain. They both pored over the route-chart. Dhrupatta was amazed. How did his father cover thousands of yojnas on this breathtaking, dangerous journey, alone, unaided!
She continued : ‘My own father was dying from wounds. He had been mauled by a bear. Your father came into our cave to shelter from a blinding storm but stayed back to look after my father. We did not understand his language; but it was his care that eased my father’s pain. He had herbs and medicines and often went out to find more.
‘Your father tried to catch fish to feed us. When the river was frozen, he would break the topmost layers of ice to get at fish through the hole in the ice. He tried and tried but caught no fish. However, one day, he went into trance to pray to god Indra, and thereafter the fish came in large numbers as though wishing to be caught. He therefore named it the Indra Ka River.’ (NOTE: Indra Ka River is now known as Indigirka River which drains in the Arctic ocean. Location: former Soviet Union; Map Reference: 70.48n; 148.54e).
She continued, ‘The time came for my father to die. Your father treated me like a child. I was so much younger. He promised my father that he would look after me as his own daughter. Your father understood the word ‘daughter’ well, as that is how I was introduced to him.
‘But my father had bigger ambitions. He wanted your father to marry me. Maybe he understood the look in my eyes and heard the voice in my heart. Or maybe, he felt that marriage would protect me. I could never go back to our village. We were banished, as my brother had hit the Chief’s son for trying to molest my mother. My mother and my brother were beheaded – she, for causing temptation to the Chief’s son, and he, for hurting him; and my father and I were banished, subject to death, if we reappeared. My village was then our whole world.
‘I think my father died a thousand deaths before your father agreed to marry me. My father joined our hands in marriage.
‘There were a few unfortunates like us living in caves nearby. Your father always helped them with fishing. They all came for the wedding party and one of them even brought and empty cask which had once held wine. We filled it with water and pretended that it was wine and we danced all night. My father said, “Never, never have I been so happy. I die happy. Promise, all of you, to drink to me when I die.”
‘I kissed my father. Your father kissed him. All the guests kissed him. My father was smiling. But he was dead. We remembered his words to drink to him. We drank water again from the wine cask.’
She paused, her eyes moist, suddenly realizing that she had strayed into a story about her father. ‘I am sorry,’ she said. ‘I digressed . . . .’
‘No’, Dhrupatta said, ‘Tell me all about my father – and you.’
‘All ! It will take months to tell you all about his fantastic journey of endless years. But let me try. Your father wanted to return to Kubha (Kabul), but not by the route he had come. He knew I would be unable to cross the mountains. So we went on, in the west, hoping to proceed on to the south to avoid mountains and finally, to reach Kubha.
‘Throughout, your father was kind and considerate to me. But I was his wife only in my imagination. He treated my like a daughter. The journey was rough and full of perils. The wind was cruel and pitiless. Often, we were in each other’s arms, protecting ourselves form the biting cold. But to him, I was still his daughter. We rested near a river.’
It was at this river that I decided that he must know that I was more than a daughter to him. I did what a wife should do, to bring her husband to herself.’ She smiled and said more. It was Dhrupatta who felt shy, though he smiled back. He wondered at how uncomplicatedly she, Kush and people of this region expressed their emotions.
She continued : ‘By the side of that river we became united as husband and wife, not merely in name but truly and that is how he called it Kama river or the river of love(Even now, it is called Kama river, located west of the Ural mountains; former U.S.S.R. Map Reference: 55.45n; 52.00e) , and they all began to believe that a swim in the river would bless their love life.’
She continued : ‘News of Kama river’s love-power spread; and even couples from far away came to seek its blessings. They all regarded your father as the Priest of Love. And you know what happens when people have faith in their hearts! Somehow their hopes are realized and their dreams, fulfilled. Gratefully, many gave animal skins and furs to your father. With these, he improved his mobile home.’
‘Mobile home?’ Dhrupatta asked.
‘Oh yes, your father traveled with a kind of home, everywhere. It was mainly skins, dried grass and river vegetation, mounted on poles. It could be set up anywhere to protect us from bad weather, any time. It was small when your father came to Indra Ka river, but when he left with me, it was larger and accommodated both of us, in a tight fit.
‘Now, with many gifts, our mobile home was grand, with layers of furs and skins, and even slits to see through and flaps to close them. But your father was greedy. He suggested to everyone that Kama’s blessing would increase with more gifts. All he received, he gave to the many unfortunates who lived nearby. That spread his name and the river’s fame, as he gave those skins as gifts form Kama river and not from himself.
‘He could not speak much of their language but he was a great actor. He spoke with signs and gestures more clearly than you and I speak with words. He was also lucky. No, I should say God favoured him. And why not? God had no better servant. He was greater; yes greater than all the 108 gods that serve God.’
Pride for her husband shone in her face as she continued, ‘Yes, Kama river gained fame. Even the chief of the region came with his wife, on hearing of it as the river of fertility. He was young and in love with his wife but four years of marriage had brought no offspring.
‘Blessed by my husband, the Chief bathed in Kama river with his wife and gave only a small skin to your father, and that too because the Chief’s wife insisted. This did not surprise your father as he always said that the rich are never generous.
‘But it is not always so; the Chief returned. At last, his wife was pregnant. He wanted renewed blessings. The Chief had loads of skins. And as your father chanted his prayers, one by one, the Chief handed over the skins. It was clear that y our father would have to keep chanting till sunset to relieve the chief of all his skins. Your father met the challenge and in the end the Chief parted with them all.
‘However, it troubled your father that the Chief could not go near his wife during the pregnancy and two years of breast-feeding; the custom was that the Chief must have another wife to serve him during the period. “Why?” asked your father. But once a custom is established, who can oppose it? Your father did. He went into a fit of trembling, as though lightning would strike and the sky would fall if the Chief parted form his wife. I moved away lest I laugh at his acting.
‘The Chief left perturbed, but returned with his mother, five step-mothers, his wife’s father and mother, his wife’s three step-mothers. Your father frightened them, first by; silence, then with rapid chants, and finally with every gesture that spelt the ruin of the entire family if the Chief took a second wife. Bystanders were frightened for your father’s life, for with the Chief was the dreaded Chief of an adjacent region who, it was said, tolerated no opposition and even killed without reason. But they need not have feared. That dreaded Chief had four wives and was planning to marry the fifth, but he was happy if other Chiefs married no more. A chief with many wives acquires large family backing and influence – and it pleased him if the other Chiefs remained content with one wife. He had the ambition, one day, of removing all the minor Chiefs to become the sole Chief of Chiefs.
‘By then, your father’s dramatic performance convinced them of the tragedy waiting to overtake them all if the local chief remarried.’
She smiled. ‘Yes, they must have asked themselves : What is the gain to the this man if the Chief does or does not marry; surely he speaks not from self-interest; he is not greedy – did he not refuse the gifts they brought and gave them to the poor bystanders! They knew also, he was a visitor who would leave soon – so he was not building a base there as a priest. So why not believe him?’
Again she smiled, ‘And your father, in one surprising gesture, took hold of the dreaded Chief’s whip. With his dagger, he cut pieces from it, and went to the Chief whose second marriage was being considered, and put it round his neck, chanting “One man, one wife.” Soon, they understood; that the thong was a pledge to have only one wife. The Chief touched the thong and gave the pledge after the dreaded Chief encouraged him to do so.’
‘Did he keep the pledge?’ Dhrupatta asked.
‘I am sure he did, as soon after, we received from the Chief’s father-in-law, a gift of two horses and six mules and donkeys. He had six wives but he obviously wanted his son-in-law married to a single wife – his own daughter – and was delighted with your father’s effort.’
‘Meanwhile, many came to your father to take the pledge “One man, one wife.” He had no thongs for their necks but some wore leather strips or anything round their necks to mark their pledge.’
Dhrupatta asked, ‘What made him crusade for “One man, one wife”?’
‘He blamed me,’ she smiled. ‘When the Chief and his wife visited us at first, the wife was sad as the Chief gave him a poor skin. Quietly, she gave me a pearl without her husband seeing it. Your father said her kindness to me was reason enough to save her from another wife for her husband. But then, that is not so. There was always something deep in your father’s heart that moved him. He did not care about the pearl; I gave it to him for safekeeping. The next day, a couple came to the Kama river to get married. They were poor and for days they had waited to catch a rabbit, as a gift for your father. Your father gave them the pearl as a wedding gift. Later, he told me, “You wanted the pearl to be kept safe. These two will really keep it safe.” I am sure he was right. Poor though the couple was, they loved each other too much to part with a wedding gift.”
Her smile deepened, ‘But your father was fair to me. Instead of the pearl, he gave me the rabbit and the condition he imposed was that I should release the rabbit, in wild vegetation, away from human habitation, which I was happy to do.’
Dhrupatta shared her smile and she continued, ‘Yes, both Indra Ka and Kama are a part of our life and your father’s ashes must go there too.’
Sadhu Gandhara’s wife continued her story : ‘We left Kama river in style. Many saw us off. We had horses, mules and donkeys for traveling.’
Dhrupatta was puzzled, ‘Then how did your travel before? On foot?’
‘No,’ she said, ‘we had animals.’ She paused, reluctant to say more, but then spoke slowly, ‘Before leaving Indira Ka river for Kama, we had gone to the Chief’s village. The old Chief was dead. The son, whose head my brother had struck with a stone, was the new Chief.
‘It was a dark night. The Chief’s animals were unguarded. . . . .’ Again she paused, reluctant to offend her husband’s memory by admitting that he stole the animals.
‘So my father took them!’ Dhrupatta prompted. She nodded, sadly. Dhrupatta laughed to put her at ease. ‘My father was human. But every god in the firmament must have applauded his action in stealing the animals of the Chief who caused you so much suffering.’
‘My husband was human, yes. He did what he thought was right – always. He did not care for applause – neither form humans, nor from gods and his heart never led him astray. My reluctance to speak of this was so that I may not serve as an example to those who will know of it in isolation, without the surrounding circumstances.’
‘Yes,’ she continued. ‘From Kama, it began as a beautiful journey. But later, it was terrible. Both our horses and three donkeys died. There were blinding storms and we often lost our way. To make matters worse, I became pregnant in the middle of nowhere.’
‘Kush?’ Dhrupatta asked.
‘No, Kush came later.’ She continued, ‘It was at the fringe of a desert that I could proceed no further. Some cave-dwellers there gave us what little help they could. I gave birth to a baby girl. Your father called her Kara Kumari (black girl) as she was almost blue-black in colour from her premature birth. She lived for six days.
‘Your father wanted to cremate her but it would have offended the cave-dwellers. The fire-God is not summoned to consume the dead. Your father buried our daughter, who was to be your sister, in the desert.’
Dhrupatta’s mind went to his unseen little sister buried somewhere in an unknown, nameless desert. But she clarified that the desert had a name. ‘Cave-dwellers had no name for the desert. Your father gave it a name He called it Kara Kumari desert (desert of the blue-black girl).'(NOTE: Kara Kumari desert is now known as Kara Kum desert; Location: Turkmen Soviet Socialist republic; Map reference:39.00n; 60.00e).
‘Yes,’ Dhrupatta said impulsively, ‘you are right; the ashes must go to Kara Kumari.’
She nodded and resumed : ‘By an effort of will, my health improved. The weather was changing and he too was keen to ensure that I reached the safety of his ashram in Kubha (Kabul).
‘I was such a burden on him! Yet he never complained. On and on we went, with nothing but the desert ahead and almost certain that we were lost. A moment came when I nearly collapsed with thirst. He laid me on the ground, sheltered me with his body and I could hear him praying “Harihara, Harihara” (Hari : god Vishnu; and Hara : god Shiva).
‘Suddenly in the midst of his cry to Harihara, when he uttered “Hari. . . .”, he stopped as if he had seen a miracle. In the distance he saw what appeared to be a stream. “Hari, Hari, Hari river,” he shouted, and raced towards it, dismissing the fear that it was a mirage. Indeed, it was a river!
‘Only after I had quenched my thirst did he drink water. The river gave us fish and strength. After a rest, we followed its course. We met people trying to eke out a living from the river. They became friendly when your father showed them better methods to catch fish, build fires and cook food. Like us, they too began to call it Hari river. (NOTE: the river is still known as Hari river (Haridud). It originates in the western slopes of kuh-e-Baba range and forms a border between Afghanistan, Iran and erstwhile U.S.S.R. before crossing into Soviet Central Asia , to disappear finally in the Kara-kum or Kara Kumari desert. Map Reference of Hari River: 35.35n;61.12e).
She continued : ‘Many joined us along the Hari river, accepting your father’s view that the river would be more productive as we moved. It was indeed so. Our last donkey had died. Your father made a basket of driftwood, grass, bark and river weed. I would sit in the basked and he would pull it with a rope. In rough terrain, It would come apart, and he would carry me in his arms until he repaired it.
‘Your father called this basket a rath (chariot). Once my ride in it was so smooth that I went to sleep; when I woke up, it was to see water foaming among the boulders and a rainbow woven across the river. It was lush countryside. I asked what the place was and your father, never at a loss, said it was a place where the rath from Hari river had brought us, so obviously its name should be Hari rath (chariot of Hari river).’ (NOTE: The place continued to be called Hari Rath or the chariot of God Vishnu. However, different pronunciations came into play. Presently, Hari Rath is known as Heart. Location: Afghanistan; Map Reference: 34.20n; 62.12e)
Her story continued : ‘At Hari rath (Heart), we rested. The local cave-dwellers were frightened of us at first. Strangely, most of them were old men or children. Soon they realized that we meant no harm and they began to point to the south, to warn us of the terrible danger from there. It was clear that a raiding party often came to take away their women and young men. Resistance meant instant death and indeed there were empty caves with nothing but skeletons of the dead.
‘They believed that one day the gods would sent strong bodies from heaven to embody those skeletons and they could then take revenge from the southern raiders but until then, it was their lot to suffer.
‘What did the raiders do to the young men and women captured by them? The women were sold to men who wanted wives. The men were sold as slaves, though some were trained to join raiding parties. Their own young men, snatched from these very caves, would often come with raiding parties to attack them.
‘Why did the cave-dwellers not resist? How could they! The raiders came on horses, with spears, whips; they were strong and cruel; they came yelling, shrieking, killing everyone close at hand; then they trussed up young women and men and speared whoever was nearby, just to strike more terror; “Oh they are ungodly, ungodly!” cried the cave dwellers.
‘But then you know your father. He was a true Hindu and he believed that it was more ungodly not to resist evil aggression.
‘To begin with, only the children listened to your father. Even those who came with us wanted to return, unwilling to risk death and abduction. All they needed was rest, to heal their sores and bruises. Besides, they were catching fish and your father had taught them how to salt and preserve it for the future. They wanted to go back quickly, with abundant food, and were even making raths (travel baskets) with your father’s help.
‘Your father too was not keen on staying long; his heart was on proceeding to Kubha as soon as I recovered. But he cautioned everyone. What if the raiders came charging in while we were still there?
‘It was decided that every night, two men would watch from a south hill. It would be easy to spot the raiders as they invariably came at night with burning torches. Jagged stones were collected and kept ready in huge mounds. Children practiced stone-throw and adults were taught to make spears from trees with sharp, pointed tips. Your father taught them to extract oil from fish and plants. The oil was stored in a cave overlooking the route. A fire was always kept burning in that cave, so that at a signal from the hill, wooden sticks dipped in oil and fire could serve as burning torches to be thrown at the raiders.
‘Apart from the children, most of them treated these exercises as futile. The locals thought there was no protection from the raiders; others expected no attack in the short period they were to be there.’
‘But the unexpected happened. The attack came. The lookouts on the hill were possibly dozing. By the time they saw the burning torches of the raiders, the enemy had even crossed beyond the hill. The fire had almost died out and the lookouts took time to light their signal-torches. At last they signaled. Luckily, a boy and a girl, hiding behind a stone-mound to have a private moment to themselves, saw fire-signals from the hill and began yelling, the boy threw stones at our cave. Fortunately also, we were not asleep.’
She smiled, as though re-living that night, ‘We rushed to the cave where torches dipped in oil were kept. The old watchman there was asleep. But luckily the small fire was burning. By the time we were ready to throw our burning torches, almost half the raiders had passed below the cave. The three of us – the old man was up by now – threw burning torches. It was the old man’s torch which caught a raider first. But then our torches also began to hit them, as the raiders rode very close to each other. The tail-end of the raiders stopped, while their front-line had already begun their furious ride, unaware of what was happening at the back. The old watchman, in a frenzy at his success, rushed out of the cave, holding two burning torches. As the raiders stopped to spear him to death, they became easy targets for us to fling our own fire-torches at them. Their horses bolted; the raiders scattered to move away from the range of our throw. For them, this resistance was totally unexpected. Two of them dashed to our cave. One was easily caught by a burning torch aimed by your father, but the second raider came close, to hurl his own fire-torch at us. It missed us but landed in the cave. Your father speared him, but we had to rush out as a huge fire developed in the cave. The stored oil had caught fire from the burning torch thrown by the raider. The raiders gave not the slightest attention to us. They were all watching the huge blaze in the cave.
‘By now, everyone was aware of the attack. The vanguard of raiders went with frightened yells to the caves to empty them of their occupants.
‘Some children, however, reached the stone-mounds and started hurling stones. In the caves, too, there was some resistance, as the Hari river residents, at least, had kept their spears ready. Your father reached the stone-mounds to direct the stone missiles.
‘I am ashamed to say, I was terrified. The courage with which I had hurled burning torches earlier, left me. I found refuge in the cave of skeletons. Your father remained to lead the children in stone-throwing.
‘The raiders were distracted. Some fought in the caves against the feeble resistance offered with wooden spears. But many raiders hurt by stones rushed to the stone-mounds. Your father now directed the youngsters to move in a large semicircle to the skeleton-cave where I was hiding. Many came, carrying stones to hurl at raiders. Some youngsters were hurt but your father himself cut down three raiders with his own long sword, which was sharper than anything that the raiders had. He himself stood guard at the skeleton-cave, from which the children now threw stones. The children had a fresh target as the raiders who had remained behind, dazzled by the burning cave, also reached the scene of this confusion.
‘The raiders, certainly, were confused as at all their previous raids the victims had never attempted to fight back. Some of the raiders even threw away their torches, to avoid being easy targets for our stones.
‘Stones were now in short supply. We were in the dark. And then I made my most terrible mistake.’ She paused to smile.
‘In that pitch dark, I picked up what I thought were stones, and hurled them. They were skulls of the dead stored there. Suddenly, the raiders saw those skulls with their torches. Previously, they were confused. Now they were frightened. The superstition, that skeletons of the dead would one day come to embody brave warriors, was already in their minds. How else could they account for this strange resistance from people who had never resisted before! The raiders had seen their men stoned, unhorsed, burned, killed, and in flight! What else could this be except that their skeletons were coming to life! They were shouting at each other. Apparently, they were leaderless. Some mounted their horses. Others were unable to find their horses, scattered by stones.
‘Your father was in his element. He again led the youngsters to the stone-mounds. Stoning began in right earnest. Even adults joined in after hurling their spears. The raiders lost their nerve and began to flee. The lookouts on the south hill atoned for their earlier folly by hurling boulders from the hilltop on the retreating, frightened raiders.
‘The price was heavy. Twenty-three of our people including five children were killed. Only nine raiders died. Yet we rounded up twelve horses. Apparently, some raiders doubled up on their horses while fleeing.
‘Yes, the price was heavy, with twenty-three dead. But earlier attacks had been deadlier – and at least no one was abducted! The raiders fled leaving their dead behind!
‘We mourned our dead. Everyone was grateful to your father. Initially, they were puzzled. Why did I throw skulls, so reverently stored? But I was saved the embarrassment of explaining that in the pitch dark I had mistaken the skulls for stones.’ She smiled, ‘Sometimes, language-barriers help; they concluded what I never had in mind and looked at me with new respect, as they realized that it was my throwing of skulls which had led to the dreadful fright that caused raiders to flee forthwith. Everyone was now convinced that your father was a great fighter and organizer, which of course he was, but that I too was a great strategist for having thought of creating for the raiders the frightening illusion of dead skulls having come to life.
‘For the next few days at Hari rath, your father gave lessons in horse-riding, as we were the proud possessors of twelve horses left behind by the raiders. Opinion was divided on what should be done if the raiders returned to seek revenge. Some from Hari river favoured returning forthwith. Your father hoped that the demoralized raiders would not return but he insisted on defensive steps.
‘He organized defense with boulders, pits and ditches, as obstacles in the enemy path, with continuous vigil from the hills, a signaling system by day and night, and even an inspection team to keep every lookout awake and alert. He promised to return to set up an ashram there.’
She continued, ‘We left Hari rath with four horses. We wanted two but the villagers insisted that we take four. We took the eastern route to reach the mountain range below which Kubha lay. We had many breathtaking adventures and narrow escapes but it was always me who caused the greatest trouble to your father.
Link to Chapter 10 – Part 4 of 4