Chapter 23 – Ganga Mai –The Story of Ganga Civilization (Part 2)

THEME 23 – The Continuing Story of the Ganga Civilization (Part 2)
Selected extracts from Return of the Aryans by Bhagwan S. Gidwani, published by Penguin Books, India, ISBN 0-14- 024053 – 5
(Main Reference: Main Reference: page 515 to 583 from Return of the Aryans)
‘A woman charged with unfaithfulness to her husband must prove her innocence. She must walk ten steps through fire. If she comes out unscathed, she is blameless But that must wait. For a charge so serious, the accuser himself must first go through fire for thirty steps, and if he comes out unharmed, the woman must then go through her test of fire’. (Verdict by Hermit-Sage Parkshahari – See page 539, Return of the Aryans by Bhagwan S. Gidwani) .-

Suddenly, they stopped and looked about in wonder There was not just one river. There were three! Here was the milky white Ganga river they had been following! Here was another river, blue, glistening with flakes of silver in the brilliant light of the sun! And here was yet another, shimmering like gold! Where did they come from? Did they rise up, unseen, from the earth! They walked slowly, as though in a trance.. It was the ‘sangam’ (confluence) of the three rivers – Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. And they saw the Yamuna, a river of blue water, becoming one with the Ganga, as they both flowed together, united and strong; while Saraswati, the river with ripples of gold, rushed through to chart a separate course, as though it came simply to embrace the two rivers and also say farewell at the same moment. They watched fascinated the picturesque dance of colours as the three rivers met to rise in a foam of pure white. They gazed at the Sangam in silence. There was no need for words. It was as though the waters spoke in language of the sky. (Spectacle of the ‘Sangam’witnesswd by the contingent led by Brahmadatta– See page 544, Return of the Aryans by Bhagwan S. Gidwani) .-

‘God has need of us. Why else did He create us! We have to have a purpose.’ (Exhortation by Kashi wife of Brahmadatta to people of Varnash to fight to protect the city- See page 549, Return of the Aryans by Bhagwan S. Gidwani) .-

‘How easy it is to raise the beast in man! But how does the beast within him die?’ (Sadhu Mithra’s question‘- See page 551, Return of the Aryans by Bhagwan S. Gidwani) .-

‘He who bows to his God surely bows to your God!’ Sadhu Mithra’s pronouncement to emphasize the point that whatever god you choose, he is that one God‘- See page 552, Return of the Aryans by Bhagwan S. Gidwani) .-

Brahmadatta kept traveling inland to collect men and materials so as to be ready for Hari Hara Dwara’s defence in case the ‘First Tribe’ attacked. Kashi would often be by Nashtha’s side. This led Kauru to recall the innocent words of the comic-poet who had said that Nashtha may be fond of Kashi. Kauru distorted the words and spread the malicious canard that Kashi was unfaithful to her husband. No one perhaps believed him but gossip travels, creates laughter and reaches the husband only after others hear it. The comic-poet dismissed it by simply saying, ‘Kaurav’s pious father, who was a dhobi, washed dirt out of people’s clothes, but Kaurav likes to put dirt on people.’

Brahmadatta heard of it accidentally when the comic-poet’s wife was hurling abuse at Kauru, who ran off. Brahmadatta went after Kauru, lifted him by the scruff of his neck to throw him headlong into the river. Many collected and the comic-poet, fearing that Kauru would die, cried out, ‘No! No! Do not pollute the river!’ But what stopped Brahmadatta was that the oldest and most revered hermit, Parikshahari, woke up suddenly at this commotion and demanded silence. In his rush, Brahmadatta had reached the very spot at which Parikshahari meditated.

‘What do you want?’ Parikshahari asked, angry at being disturbed.

‘I want to kill him.’ Brahmadatta said, still clutching Kauru. ‘But that is no reason to disturb my meditation,’ the hermit said.

Brahmadatta apologized, mumbling, ‘He accused my wife . . . . . . ‘

‘Did you hear the accusation?’

‘No . . . . I . . . . ‘

‘Then go wash your tongue and clean your ears,’ the hermit ordered.

But many came forward to accuse Kauru, their anger all the greater over Kauru’s charge against a hermit – Nashtha.

Parikshahari stared at them as if to discover what lay behind their eyes. Meanwhile, the crowd grew larger. Finally, he said, ‘No sin is attached to hermit Nashtha. There is no stain there for God to wash.’ Sadly, he then looked at Kashi’s tearful face and spoke, ‘But a woman charged with unfaithfulness to her husband must prove her innocence. She must walk ten steps through fire. If she comes out unscathed, she is blameless.’

Brahmadatta now had the urge to pick up the frail Parikshahari and snuff the life out of him. But the hermit raised his hand to silence the crowd and said, ‘But that must wait. For a charge so serious, the accuser himself must first go through fire for thirty steps, and if he comes out unharmed, the woman must then go through her test of fire.’ He turned to Kauru, ‘Please feel free to repeat your accusation, while they build the fire.’ But Kauru mumbled his retraction, apology, plea for forgiveness – everything.

The chill went out of the atmosphere and the crowd smiled, but not so the hermit. Sternly, he told Kauru, ‘Your retraction achieves nothing. All it proves is your fear of fire. And punished you shall be, unless you are forgiven by the chaste lady you slandered.’

Then Kashi simply said, ‘Let him go.’ The crowd was disappointed. The hermit alone was cheerful and said, ‘That is how God punishes – through forgiveness – and that is how a mother punishes. Henceforth, Kauru always address her as “Mother Kashi”.’

*

Kauru was once more to play a role in Kashi’s life. Lookouts had been placed by Brahmadatta in selected spots to watch for large-scale tribal movements towards them. Kauru was one of those lookouts.

Kauru espied a lone boy approaching a distant tree and hiding himself in its thick foliage. What aroused his suspicion was that the boy seemed to be coming from the opposite direction, stealthily, on all fours. Kauru ran to the tree. The frightened boy, meanwhile, clambered to the top of the tree on hearing Kauru’s shouts. The boy would not come down and mumbled his response as Kauru shouted all the more. From his response, it was obvious that he was a tribal. Kauru picked up stones and hurled them at the boy who fell from the tall tree bleeding and unconscious. Kauru picked up the boy and carried him like a trophy, slung on his shoulder, shouting, happy and proud, that he had caught a spy. Many followed him, some pleading that he put the boy down. He reached Brahmadatta’s hut. There he flung him at Brahmadatta’s feet.

The boy was no more than nine years old. Kashi cried out. She washed and bandaged his bleeding head. Brahmadatta rushed to the Vaid but he had gone inland to tend to a sick cow. With Kashi following slowly, he ran to a hermit, for help.

‘He is already with God,’ hermit Nashtha pronounced.

‘But why did he come here?’ Brahmadatta asked.

‘I don’t know,’ Nashtha said. ‘Maybe to run away from his people; maybe to meet someone, or take something or bring something. Who knows!’

Something flashed in Kashi’s mind. She wanted to run; her limp held her back. She pleaded, ‘Take me where the boy was found.’

Brahmadatta carried her. Under the tree were the broken pieces of a jar, along with an oily substance on the ground. As they pieced together the broken bits, they saw a hand painting of the zalzari tree and sunhera plant which the prisoner-chief had described. And there was more – a woman’s face and figure, which looked like Kashi’s, with her hand on her outstretched leg.

Many questions remained! Why did the prisoner-chief not come with the gift himself? Maybe he was afraid, as his people would have noticed his absence. But why send a child and put him in such danger? What danger! The prisoner-chief’s single experience of Ganga was that its people were kind. If they sent back their attackers with gifts, would they harm a child! Tribals never hurt a child. Why would the people of Ganga!

Kashi wept. She scooped up the earth below the tree into which the oil from the broken jar had seeped and said, ‘A little boy died in his effort to bring this gift to me and I must accept it.’ She rubbed the earth on her leg. Soon, a tingling sensation began in her leg; later the sensation became intense, as if wasps were stinging her leg from within. All night she was awake with the pain. Even so, every day, she rubbed her leg with that earth, until it lost its oiliness and was dry as dust. The limp remained. She could not run, but she walked easier, better.

It was a coincidence, but on the day he noticed an improvement in his wife’s leg, Brahmadatta went with Gargi to the inland farmers. They demanded that in future, the tribal prisoners be surrendered to them. This was to be the price for increasing their aid. Earlier, Brahmadatta’s response had not been too negative. But now he flatly refused. ‘No prisoners, no slaves,‘ he said gruffly.

It was left to Gargi to explain Brahmadatta’s gruffness to the farmers. ‘If we hold them as slaves, their onslaughts will then move inland, against you.’ And finally, she threatened, ‘But before the tribals attack you, Brahmadatta’s forces will march against you to take what we need.’

‘Surely our people will not attack their own people!’ they said.

‘When our people refuse to help us, are they our people?’

‘Brahmadatta is an outsider. Why is he in charge?’ they asked.

‘He was the one ready to shed his blood for you. His child is born in our midst; and you call him an outsider!’ Gargi grew angrier. ‘Tell me who among you would help and who would not, so we may distinguish a friend from a foe.’

‘We speak with one voice,’ the leader of the farmers said.

‘Then, each of you must wait to be dispossessed by Brahmadatta’s army.’

Army! The comic-poet swears that he became sick trying to restrain his laughter. But the farmers were too stricken with fright and one of them said, ‘Go not angry, sister Gargi! Let us reason with patience.’ The leader felt deserted as the others also began to offer help.

The impulse to defend Hari Hara Dwara spread deeper in the land to people far away, who were in no immediate danger. Gargi went everywhere. She was stung by the reference to Brahmadatta as an ‘outsider’, and she now spoke of him as a man who came from the mountains to defend them, to create a mighty force to face the enemy, unmindful of danger to himself, his wife and infant son. She intended no more, but the legend of Brahmadatta grew. Did he come from the mountains? Yes from high mountains where the gods resided! Yes, he was the one before whose unsheathed sword the invaders fled! Yes he it was who with an uncaring shrug released prisoners with the fearless message to their Chief, ‘Come again, do your worst and die.’

Volunteers poured in. Feverish preparations went on. The wall was made into a fort. The canal-trench from the Ganga to flood the ravine, was rebuilt, so as never to fail. Innumerable pits were dug and traps installed. But that was the second line of defence. At the first line, even beyond the huge tree in which the little tribal boy died, hundreds of new dome-pits were built for sharp-shooters with iron-tipped arrows. And far ahead of them were relays of runners, sentries and lookouts on high vantage points, to give advance notice by lowering banners during the day and by fire-torches at night. Huts were built where there were none before and tents rose like weeds, as everyone had to live near his duty-station. Deeper inland, swarms of workers toiled, none harder than those engaged in the task of smelting iron into weapons. It was far more difficult than smelting bronze or fashioning wood but the trouble was well worth it. Everyone had a task suited to his abilities.

A year passed, the usual enemy column did not materialize. Some heaved a sigh of relief. Others remembered the prisoner-chief’s words – ‘Mighty armies of our Chief move like the roaring of the wind, at the moment of his divine inspiration . . ‘ and they feared a terrible attack without warning. Brahmadatta and Gargi redoubled their efforts. Volunteers poured in, inspired by the legend of Brahmadatta’s heroism, but equally so by the extensive defensive arrangements they saw.

The attack came. Indeed, it was like a ‘mighty roaring of the wind.’ But it blew away like a whimper. The raiders could not even get beyond the first line of defence. Nothing is known of the casualties.

Three more attacks came in the next fourteen months. The last one was more deadly than the rest. It was watched by a youth whom the raiders brought in a palanquin. The tribals lost 114 and many more were wounded. The rest tried to run away except the forty-two guards around the palanquin and the eight who carried it. They were apparently ready to lay down their lives. In fact eight of the sixteen casualties of the Ganga forces arose as they tried to storm the defenders of the palanquin. Brahmadatta called back his men to form a distant circle around the palanquin, far from arrow-range and spear-throw. Alone, Brahmadatta went forward, visibly unarmed, warning his men, ‘I shall wring your necks if you move or make a noise.’ The tribals around the youth aimed their arrows at Brahmadatta, who simply raised both his hands as though to leave his chest unguarded. The youth spoke to his men. The lowered their bows. Brahmadatta bowed courteously as he reached the palanquin. The youth stepped out. Respectfully, Brahmadatta escorted him. The tribals followed.

Kashi asked her usual first question, ‘What are we to do with you?’

‘You will of course have me killed,’ the youth answered. Kashi shook her head and anxiety now marred the youth’s face as he asked, ‘You will put me to slavery?’

‘No,’ Kashi replied firmly, ‘we shall never do that.’

‘Then be it for your Chief to decide the ransom for my release.’

‘We seek no ransom. You are free to leave whenever you wish.’

‘What do you seek in return?’

‘Nothing – only a promise, never to attack us again.’

‘That promise is not mine to give! I am merely the Chief’s younger son. He alone decides.’

‘Then our only request is that you so advise your Chief.’

‘That I cannot presume. I can only convey your request to him.’

‘Then we are satisfied,’ Kashi said. ‘And we leave it to your goodness to keep us informed of the Chief’s decision.’

‘I shall keep you informed but only if the Chief permits. I give no promise.’

‘We demand none’, Kashi said. The youth left after a day’s rest.

Two months later a priest from the First Tribe came to Hari Hara Dwara. To Brahmadatta he said, ‘My message is from the Chief’s younger son. There shall be no attack in his father’s lifetime.’

Lifetime! Why not for all time?

But the priest said, ‘How can his father promise for the future beyond his time, when his first son shall be greater and wiser than him?’

How old is the Chief? – was the question; they must know how long they could be certain of peace. The priest was unwilling to answer but finally confided, ‘The chief is just past 343,599 days.’

Impossible! That was over 940 years (based on 365 ¼ days per year)! But the priest patiently explained that it was not permitted to count a Chief’s individual life-term. Counting began from the first day of the first Chief. When a Chief died, there were prayers for the dead but no ceremony or celebration to mark the emergence of the new Chief. It was as though a man died but the Chief lived on eternally.

But this merely gave a clue to when the first Chief began to reign. Kauru brought wine which made the priest more informative. Clearly, the present Chief was not too old but strong ‘in mind and muscle’ and his wife was expecting a child.

Indeed, an era of peace was ahead. They fortified Hari Hara Dwara, but no longer in panic – simply to safeguard the distant future.

Brahmadatta led an expedition down the Ganga from Hari Hara Dwara. It was not an uneventful journey as they crossed exciting rapids and waterfalls in the lovely though lonely country. Sudden attacks came from tribesmen hidden behind dense groves of reed and grass. Fortunately, the attacks were ill-organized and Brahmadatta’s contingent suffered no mishaps other than minor injuries. The attackers belonged to new tribes, which had moved in to displace earlier inhabitants and seemed unconnected with the original inhabitants of Hari Hara Dwara or the First Tribe. Many attackers were caught and even Kashi did not understand their language. They were sullen, under-nourished, wretchedly emaciated, but initially refused gifts from Brahmadatta.

Cautiously, Brahmadatta’s contingent moved, day after day, fighting through sixteen skirmishes on the way – none of them serious except for those who attacked them.

Suddenly, they stopped and looked about in wonder, as if seeing the earth for the first time. There was not just one river. There were three! Here was the milky white Ganga river they had been following! Here was another river, blue, glistening with flakes of silver in the brilliant light of the sun! And here was yet another, shimmering like gold! Where did they come from? Did they rise up, unseen, from the earth!

They walked slowly, as though in a trance. But the spell was broken when they heard a roar. Another attack? They readied themselves to meet the enemy. But there was no threat. It was the ‘sangam’ (confluence) of the three rivers – Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. And they saw the Yamuna, a river of blue water, becoming one with the Ganga, as they both flowed together, united and strong; while Saraswati, the river with ripples of gold, rushed through to chart a separate course, as though it came simply to embrace the two rivers and also say farewell at the same moment.

They watched fascinated the picturesque dance of colours as the three rivers met to rise in a foam of pure white.

They gazed at the Sangam in silence. There was no need for words. It was as though the waters spoke in language of the sky.

But then suddenly, viciously, came an attack from the riverbank, Brahmadatta’s shout rose to call his men to arms. Lifting Kashi he rushed to the bank, followed by his people, while arrows flew around. But the attackers did not remain to fight. They ran.

Casualties? Gargi’s arm was bruised from an arrow; eighteen men of Hari Hara Dwara were injured, but only slightly. Kauru alone, with three arrows in his chest, died in the waters of the Sangam itself. He smiled. He pleaded that they not move him away from the Sangam, but only help him to remain afloat. They held him and saw around him a colour that was not in the Sangam earlier – the red colour of his blood. He was looking at the immeasurable, impassive sky. Above him, a dark cloud moved. He smiled. Then there was a stillness and peace. He was dead.

And many wondered over Kashi’s words about Kauru – ‘He died sinless – always sinless.’ Imagine calling a man like Kauru ‘sinless’! But, the poets said Kashi was right – and they began to convince themselves that he who dies at this auspicious Sangam, ‘sinless he is and sinless he always was,’ because ‘Sangam is the source of redemption,’ ‘be it a million of his births and billion of his sins, Sangam washes them all,’ ‘there is pardon for all faults, and attainment of mukta if one breathes his last at Sangam,’ ‘if sinless you are at the moment of death, does it no stand to reason that sinless you always were!’

Thus Kashi’s characterization of Kauru as ‘always sinless’, when he died at the Sangam, encouraged many, in later generations, to believe that all their sins would be washed away if they died at Sangam. But perhaps all she meant was that he was in God’s realm and it is not for us on earth to count his sins, for judgement belongs to Another. Or it may be, she thought, that he died with the clan and for the clan; that if he had not been there, the arrows aimed for him would have found another, worthier target and therefore all his past was forgiven to him for this final sacrifice.

Sangam or Sangayam – where Saraswati, Ganga and Yamuna meet – came also to be known as Prayaga or the place of sacrifice – as Kauru lost his life there and nineteen people were wounded; pra signifies extensiveness or excellence; yaga means sacrifice. A later poet ridicules the idea that so small a sacrifice should be considered ‘extensive’ or ‘excellent’. But then, life was not so cheap in Brahmadatta’s times and battles did not involve so many injuries and deaths. Incidentally, later, with the emergence of foreign tribes, Prayaga was often polluted with the sacrifices of animals, including magnificent horses. But people of Brahmadatta’s time, totally unfamiliar with such ‘blood sacrifices’, would have regarded them as inauspicious, inhuman and ungodly. Presently Prayaga is known as Allahabad (place of Allah or God) in Uttar Pradesh, India – map reference : 25.27 n; 81.50e)

Brahmadatta, moved by Kauru’s death and the injuries of the others, swore that he would make the route from Hari Hara Dwara to the Sangam so safe that even ‘our dogs shall walk unmolested from tribal arrows and assaults. Enough have we sacrificed already!’

Brahmadatta’s return journey to Hari Hara Dwara was less perilous with only seven skirmishes and no casualties.

Everyone in Hari Hara Dwara had heard of the enchanted, magical Sangam, and everyone sought to rush towards it. But they held back, as they also heard stories of the perils and bloodshed en route, magnified a thousandfold by those who had returned. How then did it cost only a single life and minor injuries? Many wondered, but a legend was already growing around Brahmadatta and people told stories of him as they tell stories of legendary heroes – how he deflects enemy arrows to render them harmless – how unerringly he took his people to Sangam – how his followers could come to no harm! But there were questions. How could he not protect Kauru? Kauru! Do you not recall Kauru’s insult to his wife Kashi! But Kashi had forgiven the insult. So what – why would her husband forgive? Yet did he not show consideration to Kauru by making him sinless? No, Kashi did that. Nonsense! Does Kashi speak with a voice different from her husband’s?

But the questions ceased and so the answers were unnecessary, as they all heard Brahmadatta’ grim resolve to clear the route to Prayaga (Sangam).

Truly, they realized, he was inspired. Many volunteered to assist Brahmadatta. None, he ordered, should leave for Prayaga until the route was cleared. This was for their protection but maybe what he wanted was their single-minded attention in clearing the route, not only of hostile tribes but also of rocks and boulder; to level the terrain, make tracks from men, mules and horses to pass; to build rope-bridges and even to plant trees.

Only one man defied his order and moved to Sangam on his own. It was Tirathada. He glared at Brahmadatta who let him pass with the traditional blessing – ‘Go with God’. Later, Tirathada was not found at Sangam. For two decades no one knew where he was. Many were convinced that he died for his defiance of Brahmadatta’s order. But then, he was seen at last near Ganga Sagar, in the Bay of Bengal where the Ganga divides herself into several streams – some said 108 though now there are fewer – to complete her incredible 1,560 mile journey. But then it was also said that Tirathada left not in defiance of Brahmadatta but with his blessing to chart the path that the people of Ganga were to follow.

Thousands worked for Brahmadatta to clear the path to the auspicious spot where the waters of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati mingled, ‘with more colours than seen in the rainbow, as though diamonds and sapphires, rubies and emeralds and threads of gold and silver dance to meet the sunlight as it breaks into myriad hues and tints, passing through each drop of water.’

The route from Hari Hara Dwara to the Sangam was safe, secure and free from hostile attacks. Poets do not speak of the cruelty of Brahmadatta’s men, as such, though they speak of how Kashi moved ‘with compassion that knew no bounds, to wipe a tear from every eye, for she said that these tribals too were the Children of Ganga; and the hostile were hostile no more, bubbling with friendship and fellow feeling, except when Brahmadatta was around; and to him they bowed, in remembrance of their fear of him, and they called him, Gangapati (Protector of Ganga).’

Gangapati! It was a title by which even the fearful and hostile referred to Brahmadatta. In Hari Hara Dwara, Gargi used this title to impress farmers and to demand aid in his name. She saw the magical effect of the title and insisted that everyone refer to him as Gangapati.

Gangapati Brahmadatta led a larger contingent to Varnash – the town which was supposed to have been viciously destroyed some 900 years earlier, when intruders came to uproot the Sanathanis.

The journey was arduous, slow and painful. Throughout, they saw wretched hamlets, with people sheltered in rock-caves – some ready to fight with sticks, stones and primitive arrows, while others demanded a tribute to let them cross. Brahmadatta had come ready with gifts. Even so, attacks came from tribal pockets. He lost three men.

At last, from a distance, they saw a large town. Perhaps, it is not Varnash, they thought. How could it be Varnash! – the destroyed city! This place seemed to be teeming with people, horses, animals and structures that looked like temples, larger than any seen in Hari Hara Dwara.

The name Varnash was given to the city by the first Chief when his people were uprooted from the land of Ganga to go into the wilderness. And the first Chief described this once-thriving city to say, ‘Not a blade of grass grows there any more; no more, a bird flies over it; nor are men, women and children there; and the river has the colour or red as the usurper bled our people; and all temples are below river-level, as usurpers lit fires with their unclean hands; and even the usurpers fled after laying waste our land, everywhere.’ Thus spoke the first Chief as he called on his people to leave the land of Ganga, to rally under his banner and flee from Varnash and Hari Hara Dwara, to the lands beyond.

These words remained in the minds of the people and had been exaggerated by myth and distorted by time. Few knew the ithihasa of Varnash. The image, though, in everyone’s mind was simply of a desolate, destroyed city with past glory and grace; but the legend left behind by the first Chief spoke also of dire peril to those that approached it.

Brahmadatta halted. The legend held not terror for him. But he realized that the tribe that had occupied the city would be invincible. If they erected such tall structures, if they had so many people, so many horses, what could his small contingent achieve! And such tribes, he feared, would not permit him to enter. He overruled Kashi who pleaded that she should go alone to scout the area. ‘Who will harm a lone lame woman! – and maybe I speak their language too,’ she urged, with her heart set on entering the land of her ancestors. Brahmadatta silenced her. He was actually thinking of going back at the urging of many around him. But then, to them, Gargi spoke stridently in the voice of hero-worship, ‘Gangapati never goes back – always forward!’

Gangapati wavered, ‘Let us rest before our next move,’ he said. ‘Look also for a spot from which we can observe unseen.’

Gargi deployed men to go round. Kashi followed her. Later, from the top of the mound, Gargi saw a village group, far away, moving leisurely in the direction of the mound. She ran back to warn Brahmadatta. They all regrouped far behind, in a bamboo grove.

‘But where is Kashi?’ Brahmadatta asked, after they had settled in the grove. Whispers turned into shouts but Kashi was nowhere to be seen. Brahmadatta and Gargi ran to the mound where she had last been seen. They saw Kashi, far away, almost abreast of the men from the village. Brahmadatta stood on the top of the mound, his sword unsheathed, ready to rush to his wife’s rescue. But he saw that the group passed Kashi by, without noticing her. Oh! But she approached them! The group halted. They were speaking to her. They pointed to the back while she pointed to where her men were hiding! Kashi walked with this group of strangers; they halted near another mound on the way! No, it was not a mound, but a large statue. And they were lighting little, flickering fires around it. Were they candles? And the entire group knelt – Kashi too.

The group waited there as Kashi returned to Brahmadatta’s mound with two others – a man and a woman. And her call could plainly be heard, ‘I am with my brother and sister. There is naught to fear.’

‘Welcome strangers who art strangers no more!’ cried out the man accompanying Kashi. Brahmadatta returned the greeting and called out to his people. Cautiously, some peered from the cover of the grove to ask, ‘Have we surrendered to them?’ And a poet says that Kashi replied, ‘Yes, we have surrendered to their love.’

Poets tell us further that ‘Kashi was right in her faith but wrong in her language.’ Maybe, because the people of Varnash spoke not the language of the first Chief but of Hari Hara Dwara.

Brahmadatta’s question surprised the townspeople when he asked, ‘Is this Varnash, the destroyed city?’ ‘Certainly not,’ they said. ‘How could God’s city be destroyed!’ But he pressed on, ‘What is its name?’ He was told – ‘It is the city of God, with as many names as God has.’ ‘A thousand?’ he asked. ‘No,’ he was told, ‘more than a thousand, for the names of the Nameless are limitless.’ Brahmadatta persisted, ‘But every city everywhere, is of God.’ Thoughtfully, they said, ‘Of course,’ as if that were answer enough.

Actually, they had no specific name for their Varnash. To them, it was the city of God. They never traveled out, so where was the need to name it! This is where they were born; and this where they would live and die!

But the desire to travel now arose in their hearts, as Brahmadatta spoke to them of the magical Sangam where three rivers meet. ‘I shall take you there,’ Brahmadatta promised.

The people of Varnash heard, enchanted, the tales of these visitors from far away. To everyone, Gargi referred to Brahmadatta as Gangapati (Ganga’s protector). She was simply seeking respect for her leader and truly it had a profound effect on her listeners.

A town-elder met Brahmadatta and said, ‘I was wrong perhaps to agree that every village everywhere is of god, for there are villages with godless people.’ He explained how their city suffered from tribes to the east. ‘We bought peace by paying annual tributes to those tribes. But their demands rise each year and often they take whatever they wish, even after getting the tribute. They say we entice their animals here, but that happens because the tribals cut their own trees, never replant them and have scant vegetation. Each year, the danger from them rises and whenever they get time from their own warfare, they rush here to demand more. Last year, they destroyed the city’s outskirts and we fear more damage next time.’

‘No one,’ said Gargi, while Brahmadatta was plunged in thought, ‘no one shall attack this city. Gangapati shall not permit that.’

Gangapati’s silence was treated as total commitment to protect the city. Surely a man of great resolve has to be a man of few words! And if there was anguish in Brahmadatta’s heart, no one noticed it.

Actually when he thought about it, his misgivings were no more. If he could protect Hari Hara Dwara where the inland farmers were lukewarm in their support, but here in Varnash, with people ready and willing – he could work miracles!

He asked for volunteers. Everyone was ready to volunteer. He and Gargi selected many for different tasks. But then came the hurdle. The volunteers would not learn to aim arrows or wield a sword or hurl a spear. They would not learn to kill. It was not for man to take a life that God sanctifies – they said. Brahmadatta tried to reassure them, ‘Our arrows do no kill. They draw a little blood to frighten the enemy. Even our swords – they wound but rarely kill.’

And Gargi thundered, ‘Fools! They come to destroy God’s city, God’s temples and you hesitate!’

They also heard Kashi’s softer voice and that seemed to prevail, for she said, ‘God has need of us. Why else did He create us! We have to have a purpose.’

‘But to kill for it! Is that the purpose?’ they asked.

‘No’, Kashi said, ‘killing can never be a purpose. Protection of God’s earth is. Protecting our temples and our children is. But only if you have the courage to do it without hating your enemy, without hurting him after he is caught. And only if you win him back to the ways of God with love.’

‘But you are asking us to shed blood, to do violence . . . .!’

Kashi interrupted, ‘Do you love these tribals or do you hate them?’

‘Of course we hate them. They attack and destroy . . . . .’

‘Then it is foolish to ask you to show courage, for truly you are men of violence without the courage to fight or love.’

Some said that this woman Kashi who was lame in her foot was also lame in her head. Others were not so certain that the faith of another was to be so ridiculed. But a few were quiet. They too believed that God had a purpose in creating humanity, but was she right in saying that man must fight to protect God’s realm? Surely the all-powerful, all-seeing God could protect His realm. Why did He need man? But the fact was – and this brought a doubt to their minds – that God did not protect His realm and men of evil could play havoc with it unless stopped by other men.

Brahmadatta and Gargi reached a decision – they would get their violent, battle-hardened veterans from Hari Hara Dwara to protect his city of God. The decision delighted the people of Varnash.

But again came Kashi’s softly voiced question : ‘You will allow others to do violence on your behalf, to shed blood that you fear to shed! Violence was in your hearts, I knew, when I heard that you hated the tribals. But I knew not that the spirit of your violence was so limitless.’

Perhaps Kashi would not have spoken thus if she had known the hurt she would cause. She was challenging there cherished belief in ahimsa (non-violence) and even ridiculing it. Surely, they did not need this diminutive woman to preach the principles of ahimsa to them. Many would have liked to have insulted her outright but who can speak roughly to the wife of Ganga’s protector!

Yet arguments there were over what Kashi had said.

At the town sabha the city-elders wanted to silence such arguments. They wanted friendship with Gangapati and an elder said, ‘Forget about her; you know what wives are! They speak from their hearts.’

Sadhu Mithra, the eldest said, ‘The heart is the source of all goodness.’

‘Also of evil,’ another elder joked.

‘Maybe evil is in my heart and yours; but not in the heart of her whom you seek to ridicule,’ said the eldest.

No one really wanted an argument with the eldest. He was constantly in the temple-courtyard, often at prayers, though he was also a singer of songs and teller of tales. In his younger days, he was a builder of temples and a sculptor of idols. He never really participated in meetings for the city-elders though he was the chairman for years. He never voted even when there was a tie-vote, never called anyone to order, except by glaring at them. He never went to the town-hall for meetings, and they all had to come and sit uncomfortably under trees in the temple courtyard to hold the sabha meetings. His views were listened to with respect only because he spoke so rarely. Sometimes, he was outrageously unreasonable too – demanding that another temple be built, another school, another park, another idol, when the city was reeling from the tributes that had to be paid to the tribals. The townspeople loved Sadhu Mithra. If he wanted it, they would have voted all the city-elders out of office, to bring in new blood. But he never interfered with the elections. He himself was not elected by the people as the city-elders had to elect their own chairman. But they would have been booted out of office by the townspeople if they had failed to elect him – and they knew that. No one knew the secret of his power. He did not, himself. All he knew was that he loved the city and its people and they loved him in turn.

The elders were silent, keenly aware of the need to avoid an argument with their temperamental chairman at this important meeting.

Gangapati was to appear before the sabha to discuss plans for defence. The elders were assured that the warriors would come from Hari Hara Dwara, while earth-works, defensive forts, pits and the like, would be local responsibility, under Gangapati’s guidance.

An elder escorted Gangapati and Gargi in. On behalf of the Sadhu chairman, the elder spoke welcoming Gangapati warmly and thanking him for his promise to bring his warriors to defend the city. He went on to speak of the city’s gratitude and commitment to pay for everything . . . . . .

Sadhu Mithra cut him short, to ask Gangapati, ‘Where is your wife?’

‘This wholly inappropriate question surprised Gangapati. Was the Sadhu trying to stop the elder from his commitment to pay all the expenses! But he mumbled, ‘She is at the camp . . . . or a temple.’

‘If you permit it, I would like to meet her,’ Sadhu Mithra said.

‘That will be an honour. I shall bring her to you.’

‘No, I shall go to her.’ Sadhu said.

Brahmadatta had heard much from the city-elders about this eccentric Sadhu who tolerated no nonsense, except his own. Why must he go to Kashi! Brahmadatta himself was amused at Kashi’s elaboration of ahimsa to the townspeople. His own understanding of ahimsa was different – you cannot love your enemy and seek to kill him at the same time – the killer instinct dies in you, if thoughts of love intervene – nor can you switch over from hate to love, once the enemy is defeated – how can human emotions move from hot to cold in a single instant! He had seen the hurt of the townspeople at Kashi’s words. Now it seemed to him that his Sadhu was intending to chide his wife for her views. That, Brahmadatta was determined never to permit.

He looked straight at Sadhu and said firmly, ‘My wife speaks her mind as she sees fit. That is her right. But it has nothing to do with our resolve to protect the life of this city.’

‘Yes – you will save the city’s life. But she will save the city’s soul.’

Sadhu and Kashi met. Poets agree that each had questions for the other, but not many answers. It did not worry Sadhu. The important thing, he felt, was to ask questions and the answers would follow. Both were however certain that man’s journey was not purposeless and God too needed man.

Sadhu and Kashi even discussed whose side God was on. Those that attacked or those like who sought nothing except to defend themselves? But why did they attack? To seek shelter, warmth and food, of which someone, sometime deprived them? And did the land belong to those that occupied it? Did not these very people of Varnash dispossess those who had occupied it some 900 years earlier when the first Chief was driven out with his people! And the first Chief himself – did he not go out to dispossess others! This circle of greed needed to be broken with dana (charity)and daya (compassion).

Brahmadatta sometimes half-listened to these discussions between Kashi and Sadhu Mithra. He waved them away. He was a man of action. For him, the reality was to hate the attacking enemy, meet their threat and root them out. But he wondered too – ahimsa itself calls for action and courage, far more demanding!

Some say Sadhu Mithra asked Brahmadatta to teach him to wield a sword. Ridiculous! – say others. Would an old man of seventy do that!

But what did happen was that hundreds from Varnash volunteered for armed training under the Sadhu’s encouragement. And as he heard the whoops of joy and blood-curdling cries of the trainees, Sadhu Mithra remarked to Brahmadatta, ‘How easy it is to raise the beast in man! But how does the beast within him die?’

*

But Kashi and Sadhu spoke on other matters too – on the ithihasa of Varnash. Sadhu said, ‘I have no doubt that he who called himself the first Chief fled with many from here, for our songs speak of an exodus 900 years earlier when other tribes came here with their new language and new laws but then settled to follow our laws. There is however no song that speaks of the destruction of our temples which have been here for thousands of years. Even in the songs of the exodus, they sing of the glory of gardens and temples and the sacred waters that they were leaving behind.’ And the Sadhu told here further, ‘The exodus was not to the west alone, but the east and south too. Your ancient language is still remembered in many parts of the tribal lands that are threatening us till today.’

Now, she was certain that this city of God was never destroyed. It was a canard by the first Chief to swell the numbers of his followers.

Later, Sadhu took Kashi to his own temple which was flourishing long before the exodus began and was celebrated in the songs of the exodus. She listened to those songs too and knew it was not just the first Chief who had led his tribe away, but many others, to the east and the west, north and south.

The battle-training went on under Gargi’s strict supervision. A more arduous task was also undertaken. On the outskirts of the city, which had been razed to the ground by tribals only the previous year, the citizens of Varnash began building a fort. A fort? Actually, seven idols were placed at the site. Who would regard it as a fort under construction! To tribals who saw it from a distance – and some came to inspect it at close quarters – it clearly looked as if it were a temple. Meanwhile, the entire city worked and those who were not making arrows, sling-shots, swords and other arms, were busy hauling rocks to the site. But why a stone-structure? Even brick-work with clay would suffice against the ineffectual arms of the tribals. No, a temple had always to be built with stone from the Ganga; bricks were for houses and sheds. Only a stone structure would give the impression that it was to be a temple, and hopefully, tribals would not see it as a challenge and begin their attack, while it was still being built.

A tribal child once came near the idols and left a clay figure. Sadhu said it was an idol of the tribal god. Brahmadatta demanded a large boulder, cut, chiseled and polished to have the same height as the seven idols. On that stone, he placed the small tribal idol. From a distance, it appeared that there was nothing on the stone-base, so tiny was the idol. But the tribesmen came to peer closer. They bowed and left.

Some form Varnash were delighted that the tribals bowed to the idols of their gods. No, said others – they bowed only to their own god. But then Sadhu Mithra said : ‘He who bows to his God surely bows to your God!’

Sadhu went often to peer closely at the small statuette, his head resting on the head of the stone-base. From a distance, tribals watched; some came closer. They saw him prostrating himself before the idol of their god. And from their distance, the tribals bowed too. But the old man was not kneeling in prayer. With the instinct of the sculptor he had once been, he was peering at every fine detail of the tiny statue. It was the statue of an archer-god with ten faces and heads; and all around its body were figures – sun, moon, stars, lions, horses, goats, snakes, trees, mountains, water. Sadhu called many to feel and describe for him the intricate details on the figure, for there was a limit to what his weak eyes could discern. And now the distant tribals saw many bowed heads before their god.

With loving care, Sadhu went on to sculpt a large statue of the idol and some said that it was probably a hair shorter than the seven statues of their gods, while others said it was actually even taller.

Gargi removed the statue from the temple when Sadhu was not there and placed it along with the other idols on the site. ‘Only for two or three days,’ she said. Sadhu was philosophic about it, and a poet said, ‘Perhaps even the artist from the sky controls not what He creates!’

Some were happy that the false idol was removed from the temple. But Sadhu held that idols were neither false nor true but all of them – be they with familiar or strange countenances – be they loving or frightening – were simply there to focus attention on the One Divine Reality.

The effect of the new statue on the distant tribals was remarkable. A few of their youngsters who had previously come to hurl stones, held back – and some came, slowly, not to throw stones but flowers. And Gargi asked Sadhu with a straight face, ‘Should I send the statue back to the temple?’ Sadhu shook his head, ‘No. They will think their god has been dethroned!’

Meanwhile Kashi plunged herself into the service of the city. Her cottage became an ashram to assist the needy. Many flocked to her. And her questions were many. If it is God’s city, why do we not keep it as pure and clean as God would wish it? Should anyone go hungry, naked, maltreated or humiliated? Her voice was soft, her eyes gentle as she asked, unlike the others who went out on her behalf to ask difficult, strident questions : too much wood is burnt at temples for sacred fires – how could fires be sacred if they were caused by tearing the limbs of trees? Why did they think the trees shed leaves and branches, if not for the sacred fire? They throw so much food in the river after it was served to the idols? Should the fish not eat? Fish knew where to find their food, they said, but some children didn’t – and their food destroyed natural river-food for the fish. And why pollute the holy river with the dead, unburnt bodies of children? Why was it that some children didn’t go to school? Not enough schools? Then why not open more? Many gave much to temples. But Kashi was the one to demand offerings from temples to help the needy. The needy? She had food-kitchens opened near the tribal quarters too with Sadhu Mithra’s help.

Yet poets speak less of this aspect of Kashi’s work than of her effort to revive old songs about the exodus. Actually, she had merely to express a wish and singers and poets – always hungry for appreciation – came to her to recite and re-recited the half-remembered songs that their ancestors had once sung. Was she the only listener? No. Gratefully the singers found that the entire city listened; for the past always holds us spellbound; and the tales of our roots stir not only an emotion but also a memory, deep in our subconscious, from a different time centuries ago, as though we were there ourselves to participate in that event.

The city re-heard from those songs, the cry of the exodus and the lament of those that fled nine centuries earlier. But the songs were not only of the First Chief who led his people to the west but of many – like Bhangal Baba, Burman, Bharhut, Madhyarani, Nagakani, Horiya, Bahari, Dukhadan, Vindhyara, Hawoorash, Mandala, Meghkanya, Mynakhel and Nipavali – each of whom led their groups, not to the west alone, but in all directions – north, south and east. Only the first Chief’s songs spoke of the devastation left behind but the songs of the others who fled at the same time sang of the beauty and grandeur of the temples, flora and fauna that they left and of their hope eternal, that someday, somehow, they would return to their land of Sanathani. Maybe the first Chief spoke of the devastation in his heart or maybe he just wanted his people to follow him and not think of running back to the land of past glory which the invaders had occupied!

And then Kashi knew that she belonged not only to Varnash but to the land and people all around.

*

Meanwhile, the tribal chief of the eastern tribe fumed. He viewed the ‘temple-site’ with growing anger. Brick by brick he had razed the outskirts of their city. Now they were building a temple there! He wanted nothing but a barren, no-man’s land in his west. Already he was under pressure from the attacks of tribes in the east, where he had made the mistake of extending himself right up to their borders. To him, what now made sense was a large belt of bleak desert area all round his land to which no animal was tempted to flee and from which no one hostile may approach unseen. Temple or no temple, he would rush and crush them. But he waited – let them clear the area, even more; yes, let them also pile up huge boulders. Maybe those would later serve as defensive spots for his archers and then he would go on to raze their land around. So what if they had never attacked a temple before! Every new necessity created a new rule of law – and with the growing attacks on him from the east, surely a new set of rules must evolve to replace the old order. He was no longer bothered by the idols staring at him from the fort-site. Even when the statue of his god was put up, he said, ‘So what!’ All that his warriors had to do was to be careful that all the idols remain unharmed, to retain the love of their own god and to restrain the wrath of the gods of others. Later though it did lead to a new idea, prompted by many of his trusted advisers. Why not wait and let them complete the temple! Why not, then, take over the temple. There was some discussion over this, however. Some suggested that the seven false idols be done away with; while others were of the opinion that they should be given a minor place in the pantheon.

Perhaps the tribal Chief would not have listened to this new wave of thought but for a peculiar chain of events. The first link in that chain was that a celebrated tribal artist was at work, sculpting an idol which would be taller than the combined height of all the seven idols that stood on the temple-site of Varnash. (A poet asserts that this sculptor was the father of the little boy who had earlier left the little statue at the temple-site.) The tribal sculptor was not working alone, as many artists, all over the tribal land, had collected to help him; and the work went on within ‘shouting distance’ of the temple-site. The sculptor’s ambition was that his statue should face the temple of Varnash, be even taller than the temple itself and dominate the entire area around.

The second link in this strange chain, as a poet tells us, was that, ‘someone then showed the tribal Chief the sketches of the ten faces of the idol that were to be sculpted by the tribal artist; and one of those faces was his – and then the desire for immortality entered his soul, as he thought of the idol with his own face amidst the clouds, while his piercing eyes surveyed his entire land for all generations to come, long after he was no more.’

Let the attack wait, he decided. ‘Let the temple be built. I shall have the idol, with my face, moved on the top of that high temple and the clouds shall dip low to pay their respects.’

Across the distance, Sadhu Mithra saw the feverish activity of the tribal artists as they built a framework for their idol. Maybe, Sadhu thought he saw a mistake in their rough structure; or maybe an artist cannot see another artist at work, without feeling the urge to be with him. The fact is that Sadhu felt impelled to walk across towards the tribal land. Some said he should have known better; it was always dangerous to cross into tribal lands. As it is, the tribals glared at him, at first, and yet as he began gesturing towards their structure, they smiled.

Sadhu did not return that night and the only harm that came to him was that he had to fast as the food they generously offered him was meat and even the soup was laced with meat gravy. But then he was used to fasting.

From then on, every day, Sadhu would walk across to work on the statue, ‘climbing up and down their ladders and stools, like an eighteen-year-old.’ Once, he even had a cartload of tools brought in for the tribal artists. Later, when the tribal chief visited and saw him there, he asked, ‘Who permitted him to come here?’ It was the chief artist who came forward boldly to claim responsibility. ‘I did,’ he said and the other artists joined in to say, ‘We did.; But Sadhu simply pointed to the idol in the making and said, ‘He called me and I came..’

The Chief could do no more than glare; and here, the poet jubilantly burst out to cry, ‘But then does not an artist, a sculptor, a poet a singer, have a licence far above that which maybe granted to a hunter or a peasant!’ This poet’s assumption of greater dignity for his own class apart, obviously, the tribal chief restrained himself from ordering Sadhu out, as he too wanted the idol to be completed as soon as possible.

Thus the work on the idol continued peacefully with ‘loving care’; and on the fort-structure with ‘rushed frenzy.’

*

Poets speak of the seven battles for the city of Varnash. Others speak of seventeen battles and yet others of twenty-seven. But how many battles can one fight in a space of 228 days! Maybe there were only seven battles or even less.

The fort stood, high, majestic, commanding the landscape. And the innumerable boulders at the site were not for the ‘temple’ interior but for the defensive walls.

The realization that the ‘temple’ was not for prayers but to block his path finally dawned on the tribal chief. Boldly he strode forward to strike. He was certain that those who never fought before would vacate the fort and flee on his approach. But they did not.

The Chief was the first to aim his arrow. His people then shot theirs. There was no retaliation. Fearlessly he charged. And then havoc spread within his ranks, as arrows rained on them from a hundred points in the fort.

The Chief retreated, hurt not in his body but in his very soul. He and his father and grandfather before him had embraced the policy of leaving Varnash intact, except for occasional attacks and a levy of tribute. The city was like a treasure-house, to which they could turn to replenish their wealth from time to time, while his people squandered it for pleasure, for hunting and to battle with other tribes. It was in the east and south that he wished to expand, to occupy land and capture slaves. But it was never his plan to destroy Varnash or to occupy it. ‘Yes’ his great grandfather had said, ‘untold wealth shall be ours at one stroke, if we enter their city, occupy its land and subject them to slavery. But think of the genius of our people to exhaust the inexhaustible! How long will it take us to squander the wealth! And who do we then turn to, when all that is finished? No, let them be in comparative peace, to pray and to labour hard – for whether they know it or not, they pray and labour more for us than for themselves.’

This then was the ancestral policy by which the Chief had guided himself earlier. Even now, his ambition was limited – not to have the entire city within his grip but merely to grab its outskirts and raise the tribute.

Now, the ghosts of the past rose to haunt the Chief. The ‘temple’ was a temple no more! Not prayers but sling-shots, stones and spears spewed forth from it! Behind its outer wall were not plants and shrubs but hidden, unseen marksmen with deadly arrows! And his own people said, ‘The dogs hiding there have developed the fangs of a wolf.’

But the Chief was afraid of neither dogs nor wolves, nor lions, nor tigers. He hunted them all. There were stories of his killing a lion single-handedly. He regrouped, attacked again but returned, defeated.

The Chief was like a tiger at bay. Tribes to his east and south heard of his discomfiture against a city celebrated for peace. They laughed. Then they marched. Desperately, the Chief charged against the fort, breaking through its outer walls, but again he retreated, leaving many of his men wounded, dying and dead.

Fierce battles which were raging on the Chief’s eastern and southern borders came closer home and were now being fought near the centre of his land. He made one last desperate attempt. Skirting the fort in an arc, from a distance he broke through, unmindful of how many of his men feel, to enter the city of Varnash. He was certain that the city would lie defenceless, at his mercy, and he would create such havoc there that defenders from the fort would run out to seek his mercy.

But it was of no avail. He simply ran into the second line of defence, strong and alert, which Gargi was herself commanding. For the Chief, there was no going back. Perhaps there was no way forward either. Still he rushed. He found himself beyond that line of defence, but now he had only thirty-six men around him. All his other companions had fallen. Through the city of Varnash he went, his thoughts now centered not on victory, but escape. No one barred his way. The city itself lay in panic. Had the tribals broken through! Was it their vanguard tearing its way though!

The Chief rode on, his naked sword held in his teeth, as he aimed his arrows at whoever he saw in the distance, while his horse tore across the land. And suddenly the Chief found himself alone. Were his companions felled by the men of Varnash! He rode on, beyond Varnash, to the mound from which Brahmadatta had once viewed the distant city. He glanced backward only once, and saw little, for his eyes were moist with tears; the only thankful thought in his mind was that he had already anointed his son as his successor; and his only prayer was that the elders of his tribe would not disown his son.

Where the tribal Chief went, no one knows. Some say that he ultimately reached the land of the First Tribe, where he was honoured, but left that too, to become a hermit. Others speak of his death at the Sangam of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. But there was evidence only of his horse having died there, while he went on.

What happened to the Chief’s thirty-six companions? The Chief had out ridden them. They saw not the fear they roused in the city but the stark terror in their own hearts. This was no way to go – rushing deeper into enemy land! But where could they go. They halted, perhaps without words, overcome by the one common desire to seek shelter before the city-people gathered to hack them to pieces. They went into the courtyard of the temple. Sadhu Mithra was there, alone. They brandished their swords as if to cut him down. Calmly, the Sadhu said, ‘Let us pray together.’ They sat down to pray.

*

Kashi was dead. An arrow struck her in the chest, as the few tribals tore briefly through the city. Brahmadatta himself had rushed from the fort when he heard the report of the tribal Chief breaking through Gargi’s barriers. He did not know that the Chief was simply on the run, with a pitifully small number of people with him.

Kashi rested in Brahmadatta’s arms. Silently, he gazed into her shining liquid eyes, as she spoke to him of her son, of the land and people. The perpetual sparkle of her eyes was, then, no more.

There was no victory celebration. Everyone thought of Brahmadatta’s unshed tears. Some said that the thirty-six captives in Sadhu’s temple should be killed to pay for this terrible deed. But Sadhu said, ‘Then Kashi will have lived and died in vain.’

Silently, Brahmadatta agreed. And Gargi too nodded through her tears, as she recalled Kashi’s words of mercy and love.

Gargi readied the people of Hari Hara Dwara to leave instantly. Kashi, she said, must be cremated at the Sangam and her body must be prepared by those well-versed in the art, to remain fresh for the journey. ‘No’, Brahmadatta said, when at last he spoke, ‘Kashi must be cremated here, in Varnash – in the land where her ancestors lived and died before they fled with the first Chief. That was her last wish.’

Kashi was cremated in Varnash. Her ashes were immersed in the Ganga.

The city of Varnash was renamed Varuna Kashi (to mean : ‘God of favourable wind that brought Kashi to us’) It came to be called Kashi. Later, it assumed the name of Benaras and Varanasi – abbreviations of Varuna Kashi. Some however say that the name Varanasi was given because the city, built on the left bank of Ganga, was situated between two of its tributary rivers named Varuna and Asi or Ashi. But the fact is that these two names – Varuna and Asi or Ashi for the two rivers – came long after the city was named Varuna Kashi.

Whatever be the change of names that the city of Varnash went through, one name remained constant, unchanging – Kashi – in memory of the little woman who died there. As Sadhu Mithra said when her ashes were immersed :

‘. . . . .This is the place of Kashi, and eternally it shall be known by her name; briefly she came to live amongst us, where her ancestors once lived. They however left in hate. She lived in love and blessed the city with love, and her dying words to her husband were not to lift his arms against those at whose hands she had died, but to heal their wounds with love. And here, as we sprinkle her ashes, is she amongst us? Yes, in our hearts as she is lifted to heaven. . . .’

To every devout Hindu, since then, the place is known as Kashi (map reference : 25.20n; 83.00e).

Sometimes, people will hear only words – and perhaps only those that they want to hear. They heard Sadhu Mithra’s eulogy, as the flames from Kashi’s cremation rose. And he said, ‘From here, this auspicious soul goes heavenwards to be one with God.’ And this led to the belief, across the centuries, that the journey to heaven must begin from the city of Varnash (or Kashi, as it was now called), and there were those, then and now, who in the last days of their life would make the final effort to reach Kashi and realize the dream of their existence – to die at Kashi and be lifted to God’s realm.

It is not as if the Sangam at Prayaga had lost its fascination. It would always be revered as a luminous centre charged with shakti (cosmic energy). The mingling of waters at the Sangam of Ganga and Yamuna, rising fifty feet above the sand banks to flow triumphantly together and Saraswati’s gushing embrace with colours of gold and silver, diamonds and sapphires, presented a dazzling and unforgettable spectacle.

Varnash had no such comparable spectacle to offer – only the simplicity of reverence. But then, it was said, that at the Sangam one dies sinless but at Kashi one is transported to God’s realm. Is there a difference?

*

A scream of anguish rose in the tribal lands, as the tribes from the east and south marched. There was a cry of despair, a heartbroken lament for mercy.

Tribal elders were pitted against each other – some behind the Chief’s son, others with their own claims; many sought alliances with the enemy tribes in an effort to grab power. Fighting erupted all over. Famine stalked the countryside.

Just beyond the fort lay the idol on which the tribal artist had been working. The idol had fallen and the artist was dead.

No one knows who killed the artist or how the idol fell. Later, Sadhu Mithra would repair the idol. He had meanwhile found the artist’s little son who had left the statuette at the ‘temple site’ near the seven idols. A tribal had seen the boy wandering around in a daze. He had taken charge of the boy and kept him as a dasa – slave or servant. Sadhu Mithra ‘purchased’ the boy from the tribal.

Sadhu adopted the boy – Dasa – as his son. Many years later, long after Sadhu Mithra was dead, the boy would grow up to be acknowledged as a celebrated artist of Kashi. He also became the chairman of the sabha. He was younger than many sabha elders but instead of the title of the Eldest, he chose for himself the title of Dasa – servant of the sabha. He, it was, who constructed a pier at the spot at which Brahmadatta’s wife Kashi was cremated and her ashes immersed. It was also the spot at which the first Chief was reputed to have been cremated (nine hundred years earlier). The site came to be known as Dasawamedha ghat. Later, he also converted the fort into a temple and installed there the tribal idol on which his father had worked and which Sadhu Mithra had repaired.

*

Months went by. Tribes from the east and south moved on, to pillage and burn. The Chief’s son rushed to Varnash to seek refuge.

Brahmadatta stirred himself. With the Chief’s son, he moved into tribal land. Some said he did not want aggressive new tribes to be at the doorstep of Varnash, sanctified as it now was with his wife’s name – Kashi. Others said he went with the inspiration of Kashi’s last words – ‘heal their wounds!’ Hundreds from Varnash followed him – apart from the ‘veterans’ who fought alongside him. Why did so many follow him?

Some said it was the ‘guilt’ of camouflaging a fort as a temple that made the entire city go out to assist the tribals. As it is, many had, earlier, spoken of the immorality of such a deception, though Gargi’s shout silenced them – ‘War is not a game and there are no rules to follow – except to win.’

But it seems that it was Kashi’s inspiration that moved many to follow Gangapati in order to assist the tribals. The others that followed him were certain that Gangapati was always on the path of honour and victory.

Thus, many who followed Gangapati to assist tribals were not fighters. They came on a mission of mercy with food, clothing, tents and medicines. They had heard harrowing tales of what was happening in their neighbouring tribal land – of men whose eyes had been put out, others whose limbs were cut off, and yet others whose tongues had been torn off, while starvation faced the rest.

Even Brahmadatta cried as he saw the devastation in the tribal lands and asked, ‘Is there no God to forbid such revolting cruelties?’

And Sadhu Mithra’s reply was heard and re-heard, ‘There is a God, surely. For He it is who sent you to us and to them – to set it right!’

Who, then, would not follow Gangapati! He who was sent by God!

Only one poet speaks of the fear in Gangapati’s heart. All the battles he had fought in Hari Hara Dwara, Sangam and Varnash, were defensive. For he had never marched out to meet the enemy.

Gangapati installed the Chief’s son as the Chief. Why? Perhaps because he was the legitimate successor. Perhaps someone was needed, around whom others may rally to restore a semblance of order to a battle-torn land. Perhaps others vying for that position were corrupt, cruel, selfish, greedy and inefficient. Perhaps a grateful Chief who was indebted to Varnash would be less of a threat. Perhaps the Chief and his ancestors were benign, compared to all the others. Maybe it was a combination of all these factors.

Thereafter, Gangapati himself had to do very little fighting. The new Chief felt invulnerable. Fearlessly he faced tribes to the east and south, as Gangapati blessed him and the troops with the water of the Ganga that he said would make them bhiti-hrt (fearless) and if they died in the attempt they would be avyaya (imperishable).

Who could stop the onslaught of the valiant Chief! And who would not surrender before a Chief who offered mercy and compassion to the defeated – for Brahmadatta had schooled him well. Attacking tribes fled to their lands though some found refuge in Kashi. The Chief returned flushed with victory. The last part of his journey he performed on foot, as was only fitting, when he came to bow to Gangapati.

The new Chief reigned in peace. There was peace in Varnash too, for the Chief remembered the blessing of Gargi, for strength and valour against his enemies, which ended with the warning, ‘But he who seeks to harm Kashi, let his arms wither, let his eyes lose their sight, and let him and all those that follow him, now and hereafter, themselves and their descendants, be cursed!’

Gangapati had simply nodded, wordlessly.

There was an eerie silence in Brahmadatta’s heart. He quietly went about his self-assumed task of rendering the route from Varnash to Sangam and Hari Hara Dwara safe and even comfortable for travelers and pilgrims. Tribals often blocked the path. Fearlessly, he would rush ahead of his men to face the tribals, unmindful of the arrows that flew around him. Death, it seemed, held no terror for him.

Gargi understood the well of loneliness in his heart. She increased the force composed of veterans and volunteers around him – and soon these men would be known as Gangapati’s Guard. She brought his son from Hari Hara Dwara. Always, thereafter, the son would accompany the father on his perilous journeys, first in a litter and then on horseback.

No longer was Gangapati’s spirit overwhelmed with sorrow. His love for his son overflowed; along with it, his fear for his safety. His mind dwelt on the future of his son – and of those of his son’s generation and beyond. When he looked into his son’s eyes – they were like Kashi’s, with the same glint of a smile and he thought of the vision of oneness and unity that Kashi had inspired. He recalled the songs that Kashi had unearthed – of the cultural continuity of the Sanathanis that once were together but broke apart in new diversities of sect and language.

And Brahmadatta realized that it was not enough to win a few skirmishes or battles or keep the tribals at bay. He had to win their hearts. They were together once. Why should they now be apart! He became conscious of the conception of a common link of Sanathanis, with its culture of deep humanity and spiritual strength.

He had no idea of the geographical frontiers of that common culture – where it began and ended. But certainly, it was there in the settlement from which his wife emerged, in the mountains from which he himself had come, in the lands around Hari Hara Dwara, Prayaga, Varnash, and in the lands of the First Tribe, and in the lands to the east, north and south of the tribes whose Chief he had recently installed beyond Kashi. Where else? Somehow, a feeling came upon him that it was there, all along the course of the Ganga – wherever the river flowed.

Thereafter, the blood and fury almost disappeared from his battles and the end of each round of hostilities was followed by his gentleness. Whenever the tribals blocked his path, he would try to avoid battle and, instead, enter upon a long, patient siege.

It took time, effort and even some unavoidable bloody skirmishes, but at last the tribal attacks ceased. Instead, small settlements grew alongside the tribal villages. The initial, uneasy truce gave way to tolerance, and later, even to harmony, friendship and assimilation.

The impassable tracks on the route between Hari Hara Dwara and Varnash gave way to pathways lined with plants and trees. Rope-bridges stood where rivers, ravines and deep ditches made the crossing difficult. Each tribal village on the route felt honour-bound to protect and assist the traveler and the pilgrim. Now the bulk of Gangapati’s Guard was formed by tribals. Many Sanathanis from Hari Hara Dwara and Varnash wondered initially at the enrolment of so many tribals for Gangapati’s Guard, but Gargi’s taunt silenced them ‘These tribals pray only before a battle and after they die when God can hear them; while you . . . . .’ But then Gargi was often unfair and the fact is that the tribals were not the only ones who were ready to lay down their lives. There were deeds of valour and heroism by Sanathanis as well, and certainly they had a greater understanding of the need to show mercy and charity to the defeated after a battle was won.

Brahmadatta’s son grew up speaking many tribal languages and watching his father’s battles from a distance. Gargi’s instructions to him were clear – ‘Just watch the battle from afar; keep your distance and do not go anywhere near the place where arrows are flying and swords flashing.’ There were hand-picked men from among Gangapati’s Guard whose task was to watch over the son.

The only thing the son was allowed to do was clear the route. He did the job admirably. At the age of fourteen, he was not only amongst the most competent workers, but an excellent supervisor as well. He grumbled at his father’s refusal to allow him into battle; and he also criticized the caution with which his father approached a battle. His father would patiently explain that the intention was not to die, nor to kill, not to wound, but to heal and rebuild a long-forgotten sense of unity and oneness. But his son would complain of the delay and disruption a long siege caused and, ‘why take months, when a single thrust would wipe them out in a day!’

At last, the work on the route would be complete. The moment would come when Brahmadatta and his son could look forward to an era of tranquility and rest. A little away from Sangam at Prayaga, Brahmadatta built a cottage for himself. It was mostly his son who worked on it and on the ornamental gardens around it. Well-wishers came from all over to assist and admire. Gargi was back at Hari Hara Dwara. Gangapati’s Guard however remained with him – no longer to fight battles, but only as friends, to be nearby. And the son assisted them too, to build their cottages. Prayaga became a town teeming with activity. Visitors and pilgrims came to witness the magical Sangam and pay their respects to Gangapati, around whom legends kept growing.

Brahmadatta was happy to tend his corner of the herbal garden. His passion was to discover more of the medicinal properties of herbs. He had gathered hints of such new uses from healers at Varnash and many more from the tribals. Gardening absorbed him. Yet he remembered his old promise to Gargi to take her to Ganga’s source. He and his son reached Hari Hara Dwara just as a bloody battle erupted.

NOTE: The story of Ganga Civilization will continue in further chapters and Themes