Chapter 24 – Ganga Mai-Continuing Story of Ganga Civilization (Part 3)

THEME 24 – Ganga Mai-Continuing Story of Ganga Civilization (Part 3)
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)
5400 BCE
Ever since his return from the triumph over the First Tribe, Gangapati II was sure of one thing – that of all the foolish enterprises of man, the enterprise of war was the most foolish. And the only way he knew to avoid war was to build up strength so that no one was tempted to attack his people. He realized that only a brain-dead imbecile would have faith in the word of neighbouring tribes – and to be weak was to tempt an attack and invite disaster, particularly when so many of their tribesmen, with uncertain loyalties, were living in their midst.

– (Resolve of Gangapati II to keep his region strong so that none is tempted to attack- See page 578, Return of the Aryans by Bhagwan S. Gidwani) .-

Gangapati II accepted Mother Gargi’s view about what ‘overlordship’ meant – not to seek imperial power or lustful ambition but to be just in all ways, ardent in piety and eager for justice, and to lead people to be courageous in adversity, prudent in decision, fearless, temperate and honourable, and to remember ‘that while no man may lord over you, God does, and His law must be obeyed.’

– (Gangapati II’s policy towards the neighbouring Chiefs and others who accepted his overlordship. – See page 565, Return of the Aryans by Bhagwan S. Gidwani)

‘God! Give us no heroes; simply bless us with those who will do their job well’

– (Prayer of Commander of Gangapati II’s army at Hari Hara Dwara on the eve of the battle – See page 570, Return of the Aryans by Bhagwan S. Gidwani)

The old Chief of First Tribe was dead. He was the one who had promised that during his lifetime there would be no attacks on Hari Hara Dwara. With his death ended the promise not to attack.

A formidable army came to attack. Everyone was needed to fight this threat. The old restriction of keeping Gangapati II’s son away from the battle no longer applied.

The son distinguished himself in battle, combining the lessons of caution he had learnt from watching his father, with an aggressive thrust to reach the enemy flank and mow them down. The enemy retreated in disorder. But for him, the battle was not over. He led the assault on the retreating forces and the cries of the wounded and dying rent the air as their bodies were crushed into the mud. The son was cheered at the end of the battle. In a flush of pride, he later even complained over his father’s refusal to allow him into battle. But Gargi brought him down to earth with a shout. ‘Your father wants you to learn the arts of peace, the art of healing, not the art of slaughter!’ But arts of peace had to wait. Three more bloody battles for Hari Hara Dwara had to be fought. The new Chief of the First Tribe was slow in learning his lesson or perhaps he did not care for the anguish of his people. In each of these battles, Gangapati II’s son distinguished himself, never waiting for the enemy to reach defensive lines, but charging like a whirlwind to strike and kill. But at times, the enemy did reach the defensive lines, if only because he charged at them from the flank and then they had nowhere to run.

Contingents came from Prayaga and Kashi to help Hari Hara Dwara. They arrived after four massive battles were already won. Everywhere, the name of Gangapati II’s son rang as the victor. Brahmadatta himself would magnify his son’s valour and victories, and slur over his own.

In the contingent from Varnash was also Dasaswamedha, the son of the tribal artist adopted by Sadhu. He and Brahmadatta’s son became friends. Dasaswamedha had come not so much to fight as to seek Gangapati II’s permission to convert the fort at Varnash into a temple. But he realized that it was not opportune to discuss this subject just then, as the mood in the aftermath of battles for Hari Hara Dwara was to strengthen the forts all over, not to dismantle them.

Brahmadatta’s health was failing. He insisted on escorting Gargi to River Ganga’s source. She declined, ‘Wait till you get better.’ But he argued, ‘What if I get worse?’ And she replied, ‘Then Gangapati II’s son shall take me there.’ No longer did she ever refer to his son by name, not even when she spoke to Brahmadatta. She always called him ‘Gangapati II’s Son’.

A mission was unfolding itself in Gargi’s mind – that the son must take over the father’s role of protecting the land and people of Ganga. To her Gangapati II was not simply a title of respect and affection, but a title of authority and duty, to pass from father to son.

Gargi feigned deafness whenever anyone referred to the son by his name. ‘Who?’ she would ask, as though the name made no sense, and finally, ‘Oh! you mean Gangapati II’s son! Then why don’t you say so?’ To the son, she spoke of his mother’s dream and his father’s struggle to realize that dream, to render the land safe from depredation and violence.

Brahmadatta died. The news spread like wildfire. Tribal lands east of Varnash were in turmoil. From north, south and east, the tribes marched, certain that the tribal Chief whom Gangapati II had installed no longer had anyone to protect him. The Chief himself felt compelled to join the invaders threatening Varnash.

And Gargi’s cry was heard – ‘Gangapati II lives!’ – for the title was accorded to Brahmadatta’s son, not by Gargi alone, but by all.

Brahmadatta’s son – now know as Gangapati II – marched to the relief of Varnash. At Prayaga itself, the tribals created disorder on hearing of Brahmadatta’s death, but many veterans of Gangapati II’s Guard were settled there and the rebellion died as soon as it started. Gangapati II and Gargi reached Varnash by forced marches, but the picture was not so grim. Dasaswamedha and many others were sheltered in the fort and tribal attacks were only just gaining in strength.

Young Gangapati II repulsed all the attacks. Peace was restored in Varnash. Gargi shuddered at the carnage. Gangapati II was neither as cautious nor as merciful as his father. But she consoled herself – where was the time to plan the defence? Where was the scope for mercy against ruthless raiders? And he was so young! Again, she spoke to him of his mother’s dream of unity and the oneness for which his father struggled. She protected many from his wrath – even the tribal Chief who was caught. ‘Your father protected him once. Let him be under your protection,’ she said. The Chief was allowed to go back unharmed to resume ruling over his tribe. But he tarried, until he received permission to enter the fort and touch the feet of the idol whom he and all the tribals regarded as the idol of their god. There, at the feet of the idol, he took an oath never to threaten Varnash again, whatever be the compulsions against him; also, to the surprise of all, he declared Gangapati II the overlord of his land.

Overlord! Gangapati II laughed. But not Gargi. Nor would she allow anyone else to laugh. ‘You are the overlord,’ she emphatically told him, ‘not only of the land to the east of Kashi, but of all lands around Hari Hara Dwara, Prayaga, Kashi and elsewhere.’ She then spoke to him about what ‘overlordship’ meant – not to seek imperial power or lustful ambition but to be just in all ways, ardent in piety and eager for justice, and to lead people to be courageous in adversity, prudent in decision, fearless, temperate and honourable, and to remember ‘that while no man may lord over you, God does, and His law must be obeyed.’

‘But my father was never called an overlord!’ he protested.

‘Everyone knew in their hearts that he was the overlord!’

Thoughtfully, he changed the subject. ‘I am glad the Chief swore never to suffer from the ambition to control Varnash.’

‘His ambitions are far greater,’ Gargi said, with a knowing smile.

‘What! Treachery! Again?’ Gangapati II asked.

Gargi smiled again, ‘No, he wants you to marry his daughter.’

He shook his head as if to say no. She nodded as if to say yes.

‘Surely, Gargi ma,’ he said, ‘the final decision to marry is mine.’

‘To speak, yes. To determine no,’ Gargi replied.

‘Funny kind of overlord I am, that I cannot even choose my own wife! My father chose his own!’

‘Your father was alone, an orphan. Are you an orphan?’

No, he always said, Gargi was to him both father and mother. She hugged him to her bosom and told him not to worry; she had not yet seen the girl, nor discovered all that needed to be discovered. Later, the Chief visited Varnash with his daughter. Gargi was charmed by her but more so, Gangapati II. ‘Patience!’ Gargi urged. And a decision to exchange marriage vows later in the year was reached.

Gargi’s one wish remained – to witness Ganga’s source before she died. Gangapati II joked, ‘No, if you have to die, I won’t take you there. Who else will guide the overlord!’ She smiled, ‘I promise you, I shall not die at Ganga’s source.’

The trip had however to wait, until they were both satisfied with the arrangements for the defence of Hari Hara Dwara, Kashi and Prayaga, if any contingency arose. At last, he escorted her to the source of the Ganga. Hundreds joined them in their pilgrimage.

Gargi kept her promise. She did not die at Ganga’s source as it leapt from the face of the glacier high in the Himalayas. ‘This is a moment to live eternally,’ she said.

But she died, after their return journey, about 2,250 feet below the source of the Ganga.

Many names were given to the spot where Gargi breathed her last. Some called it Gargitri, others called it Gangoisthri (the lady of Ganga – as Gargi came to be known) or Gargi Gangoisthri (Gargi, the lady of Ganga), but later it came to be known simply as Gangotri.

Gargi’s last words to Gangapati II were – ‘Be you a rememberer of Kashi and protector of Ganga from mouth to mouth!’ What she simply meant was to ‘protect the land of Ganga from its source to destination’. The source of Ganga is in the glacial ice cave known as Gaimukh or Gomukh and the destination, of course, would be the other mouth, where Ganga finally rests, on her journey through Varnash and beyond, even though Gargi herself did not know where that other mouth (or destination) would be, or if it would ever be found.

From the spot where Gargi was cremated, Gangapati II went – some say, alone – back to Gaimukh to sprinkle Gargi’s ashes there. But not all; the rest he intended to sprinkle at the other mouth, if ever he found it in his lifetime. Those ashes he left in the safekeeping of Dasaswamedha and his instructions were clear –

‘Sprinkle them, when my day is done;
Hers and mine, at Kashi, as one. . . .’

On his journey back, his mind was on Gargi. Truly, she had been both father and mother to him, as he had been fond of saying. His own mother, Kashi, he recalled lovingly but remotely, though her words of love were always repeated to him. His father! How little was the time they spent together! For his father had always been surrounded by people or in the throes of a siege or rushing from place to place. Rarely were they together and he had always kept him away from battle. When he was finally caught in the furious battles of Hari Hara Dwara, he overheard with a shudder his father’s question to Gargi – ‘Does my son love to shed blood?’ And he also overheard Gargi’s defence – ‘No, he does what must be done – and he has the courage to do it. He is his mother’s son and yours – to keep your dream alive.’

And he remembered how in an overflow of affection, he had once asked, ‘Gargi ma, how is it that you never married my father when my mother was no more?’ She was about to strike him but her hand rested on her heart, as a wistful, faraway look came into her eyes. Softly, she said ‘Time! Who knows what steps it keeps!’ He did not understand her and she added, ‘But we were always joined in spirit – perhaps as you and I are!’ He had seen the hurt in her eyes and heard the sigh in her words.

He also remembered Gargi’s explanation of an overlord – it was not to lord over people but to be their first social servant – to protect them, to serve them, to fulfill their needs, to bring them together and to ensure that Chiefs and Council Elders governed righteously. He even recalled her growing dissatisfaction with the word ‘overlord’, thought initially she had adopted it eagerly, on the basis of the declaration of the Chief of the eastern tribe. Instead of overlord, she had coined an entirely new title for him – Mahasammatta Raja – ‘the great Chosen One Who pleases God and Man.’

Gangapati II laughed whenever Gargi said that he be named Mahasammatta Raja. But the last laugh belonged to Gargi – only she was not around.

Gargi’s plans had been well-laid. As soon as she and Gangapati II left for their pilgrimage to the Ganga’s source, the Council Elders of Kashi promptly called a meeting of all the townspeople. The decision was clear and unanimous. Gangapati II was to be their Mahasammatta Raja (the great chosen raja or king). Kashi sabha had invited leading citizens from Prayaga and Hari Hara Dwara and they too, on their return, organized their own meetings. The decision there was the same.

But this was not all. At Hari Hara Dwara, they not only elected Gangapati II as raja but also set up for the first time, sabha.

A messenger was sent to the Chief of the eastern tribe, informing him of the honour that had been conferred on the Gangapati II who was to marry his daughter. The Chief’s response was that ‘every man, woman and child here too accepts and honours Gangapati II as raja of all our lands and beyond.’

Gangapati II returned from Gaimukh. He was about to reject their submission to him but their last words silenced him – ‘It was as Gargi wished it . . . her last wish . . . . .’

But even his reluctant ‘acceptance’ speech would lead to a later question. A poet quotes him to say –

‘Your battles, you yourself must fight:
For my own hands shall remain tied tight.’

What did he mean? Some said he expected greater valour from the people when fighting their battles, and not just when he reached the battle-field. Others held that he wanted no bloodshed, but would follow his father’s tactic of patient siege of winning his opponents with love. Maybe, only one poetess – Vidyapatni – singing some 2,000 years later (3560 BC) was close to the mark when she said, ‘Conjecture it may be – for who am I to speak with certainty or what lies in another’s heart – but I do believe that Gangapati II, the first to be called a raja, was always haunted by his father’s fearful observation – “Does my son like to see the colour of another’s blood?” – and Raja recalled how violent were the battles he has fought, and how freely the blood flowed in those and he asked himself, “Am I then seduced by violence? And does violence excite me to greater violence?” – and he realized that violence was not his mother’s legacy, nor his father’s, nor of Mother Gargi.’

Poetess Vidyapatni of Kashi also sheds light on another aspect to say, ‘But then across these twenty centuries other rulers heard of Gangapati II’s observation that people must fight their battles, themselves. And the rulers saw the wisdom of those words. No longer then would the rulers charge to the forefront but would direct battles from behind, afraid not so much of the violence they may do unto others, but fearful of the violence that might be done to their person, if forward they personally advanced. And thus it was that the brave words of Gangapati II made cowards of them all, for unfortunately they heard simply the shell of the words, and saw not the spirit that inspired that utterance.’

Poetess Vidyapatni goes on to give more information about other rulers who followed the practice of remaining behind their troops and adds, ‘And yet to continue the myth that their spirits were always in the forefront, the ruler’s personal horse would move, riderless, far ahead of its troops, and the horse was free to roam or rest as he chose, and the troops expected merely to follow; for how else could they sustain the myth of the horse holding the spirit of the ruler! Should the horse, then, enter the land of another and its people not block its path, they were assumed to have surrendered to the ruler himself, to accept his overlordship. But if they moved to detain or capture the horse, it would be regarded as a challenge to fight. Naturally, the rulers were wise and would take no chance with the wayward whims of an unthinking horse who might stray into a land far more powerful. It fell therefore to the lot of many to render one route barren and bleak with boulders blocking the way, while the other route would have food and water troughs and miraculously, even a mare ahead to entice the stallion. If the stallion refused to be enticed away and moved into the land of a powerful ruler, the priests accompanying the heroic fighters would confer and decide that the horse had surrendered the spirit of the ruler to another stallion; and after due ritual and ceremony, it would be the task of another stallion to continue, though it had to be ensured that in appearance, size and colour, the two horses be indistinguishable from each other.’

Gangapati II married the daughter of the Chief of the eastern tribe. The Chief invited, for the festivities, every chief from all over. He was simply being cautious, aware as he was of the time-honoured custom that none who is invited will attack during the half-year of festivities of the wedding of the first daughter’s first wedding. Many chiefs came. Even the Chief of the First Tribe sent his younger brother – the one who had been captured and released by Brahmadatta at Hari Hara Dwara. ‘When can we have lasting peace?’ Gangapati II asked him, and he spoke of his own roots, and of his mother Kashi who had belonged to the people of the First Chief. ‘Please convince your brother that I am one of your people, of your own blood. All we seek is a word from him that there shall be no more attacks against us.’

The Chief’s brother was silent. Gangapati II added, ‘Your father assured us peace in his lifetime. He kept his word.’ The Chief’s brother replied, ‘My father was a man of honour.’ Their eyes met and he said no more. The message to Gangapati II was clear. He had no influence over his brother and the attacks on Hari Hara Dwara would probably not cease. *
‘Let none be idle; hear ye the call!
Marital bliss for Raja, martial arts for all!’

That was how someone snickered at Gangapati II’s order. On returning from his wedding, Gangapati II decided that Hari Hara Dwara should be turned into an armed camp – strong, invulnerable, inviolable. He was convinced that the First Tribe had aggressive designs. Promptly then he went to Prayaga where he had left his bride. His orders were that the people of Hari Hara Dwara must fight the battles to come while he would watch from a distance.

The burden to fortify did not fall just on the people of Hari Hara Dwara. Gangapati II had brought contingents from his father-in-law’s land, from Kashi and Prayaga, to assist them. There was even a complaints from the veterans of Hari Hara Dwara – ‘We protected our city often before; why do we need outsiders?’ ‘No,’ said Gangapati II, ‘there are no outsiders here. The land of Ganga is one, indivisible.’

But he himself left for Prayaga! Why? Some said it was customary for newly-weds to seek privacy. But many held that he simply wanted his people to be self-reliant; others argued : why have a Raja if you have to be self-reliant? Some hoped that the Raja would appear if a crises developed, but many asked – ‘Is he a god or a Garuda bird that he will fly the distance from Prayaga?’

But whatever the reason for Gangapati II’s absence, the fact remains that defensive preparations went far beyond the plan he had left with the commander.

When Gangapati II visited and pronounced the arrangements ‘perfect’, the commander said, ‘Yes, until they can be improved.’ Gangapati II embraced him.

The First Tribe attacked. Gangapati II arrived three days later. But the attack was long over. It had lasted no more than a day and the raiders had been routed. How many of our people died – was Gangapati II’s first question; and the commander, who had lost only twenty-four men, said, ‘We lost twenty-four more than we should have.’ For, after all, in the words of the commander, ‘a heroic battle is that in which the heroes do not die.’

It was the commander himself who died in the next battle. Gangapati II, watching from a distance, raced to take over command, at the fall of the commander. But the raiders were already fleeing. Somehow, the Ganga forces had come to adopt the commander’s slogan ‘In us, we trust.’
*

The commander was given a hero’s funeral, though his own cry had been, ‘God! Give us no heroes; simply bless us with those who will do their job well, or even half-well’

At the commander’s cremation, Gangapati II reached several conclusions – that it is not wise to protect only defensively; that one must enter and even remain in the land of those that feel tempted to attack; that it is not enough to rely only on volunteers to defend or attack; that fortifications must be kept constantly in repair and readiness.

Months later, he was ready to move against the First Tribe. He marched, though on that day his wife gave birth to a son. ‘Better to start a journey on this auspicious day, when the stars are in the right configuration,’ he said. It was a carefree remark made in a happy mood over the great event of the birth of his son. Later, he even clarified that whenever something good and great happened, the stars found themselves in an excellent configuration – and not the other way round. Finally, he said that the stars were never improperly placed and a person must do whatever he must do, whenever he must do it. However, the fact is that many mistakenly continue to hold Gangapati II responsible for the widespread belief in the configuration of stars before starting a journey or a campaign.

Gangapati II intended no more than a short probe into the land of the First Tribe – not to strike or to wound decisively, but merely to serve notice that he was ready to attack with serious intent unless their Chief stopped his mischief. But nobody obstructed his advance. Villages, as he passed through, did not come out to welcome him but there was no show of hostility, no anger, once they were assured that they would not be molested.

As Gangapati II’s forces moved forward, they carried four prisoners. But all the four were his own men, who had, without provocation, tried to harass the villagers of the First Tribe. A priest accompanying his forces protested over their continued imprisonment. Gangapati II agreed to release them and allow them to return to Hari Hara Dwara. ‘How will they go back, on their own, through this alien land?’ asked the priest. But Gangapati II replied, ‘You can accompany them if you wish.’ The priest no longer interested himself in the subject. And none dared ignore Gangapati II’s message, ‘These tribals here are our people. Harm them and you will be harmed more.’

Gangapati II had come as far as he wanted in search of an elusive enemy outpost in the territory of the First Tribe. He wished to go no further – for he had to have Hari Hara Dwara within easy reach in case he was forced to retreat. He had planned on a campaign of four months, though only two months had passed.

Should he go back? What would he show for all this effort of bringing a huge force with cartloads of provisions and arms! He had no intention of burning tribal villages, nor looting them – even if they had something worth looting, which they did not.

But then the decision was made for him. At first, it was just a feeling that covertly from a distance, hidden in the underbrush, enemy eyes were watching. Later, quite openly, a few horsemen emerged from behind the hills, only to ride furiously away, as soon as his army came into view. He was certain that he was within striking distance of an enemy outpost. Confidently, he rode beyond the hills. But there he saw a sight that startled him. Spread out in the valley below was a vast, unending mass of tribal troops. ‘My God,’ he said to himself, ‘it is like an ocean.’ He rode back to his camp and sent out scouts. They saw tribal lookouts on the return route. This, then, he realized was not the time to go forward or retreat. He decided to dig into a defensive position and wait for a better opportunity.

Nearly a fortnight was to pass before the tribal attack materialized. Meanwhile, the tribesman were gathering openly and Gangapati II’s men were sweating day and night to dig trenches, erect earthworks and put up barriers.

Two palanquins arrived among the tribals amidst much pomp and ceremony. On that very day, the tribal attacks began in waves, one after another. They were repulsed. Gangapati II’s causalities were few, for his men were well and securely dug in. The tribal losses were many and their disfigured corpses lay along the route of attack. But it could not be a matter of grave concern for the tribals when their army was swelling day by day with new arrivals!

From the tribal prisoners who had been captured he learnt that the two palanquins had brought the Chief of the First Tribe, his son, their wives, even his granddaughter.

‘But why bring women and children to the battle site?’ he asked. The chilling answer the prisoners gave was that the Chief regarded this not as a battle but a sporting event – ‘he is simply teasing you, tickling you, playing with you, by sending out a few sorties, before his entire army moves in for the final kill.’

Gangapati II had only himself to blame. He had miscalculated enormously. He had come merely to strike an armed outpost of tribals – to serve as a warning to them for the future. He had had no ideas of the massive numbers he would have to face; nor had he expected that the Chief of the First Tribe himself would gather his entire army to halt him. All the stories he had heard of the First Chief spoke of his never leaving his own palace, much less his own town; but then he realized that those were stories about the last Chief.

Gangapati II’s second miscalculation was even more serious. He should have retreated before the two palanquins arrived. No one would have halted him, then. Obviously, the First Chief had wanted to be present at the kill.

To Gangapati II, it was clear that even if every arrow that his men released achieved a fatal aim, and if every sword and spear killed a hundred tribals, the enemy would still have enough to trample over them. True, tribal sorties, so far, had been disorganized, wavering, faltering and uncertain, as if their hearts were not in the attack; but how much organization does such a massive unending force need!

The tribal attacks suddenly ceased. The long lull brought no comfort to Gangapati II; he realized that until then the tribals sorties had been sent out only to probe and play; but now they were getting ready for the final blow.

Rain was pouring down in sheets. Tents sprang up in the enemy camp for the Chief’s party and even large canopies were erected to protect the fires on which were being roasted goats and other animals for the Chief’s food. ‘Meanwhile, we live like rats,’ Gangapati II thought. But he had no intention of dying like a rat.

At night, with two hundred men and many spare horses, he left the camp, leaving the rest behind, with a brief farewell, ‘Live to fight for us,’ he said.

‘We will live to die for you,’ they said. And the poet tells us that ‘none of them knew who would die first – they that remained or those that left, but each prayed for the other.’

Cautiously, stealthily, holding their horses by the bridle, Gangapati II and his men struck a pathless route to the far left through tall grass. This was not the route for retreat not for going forward and no tribal lookouts were on the watch. Even so, the only noise that Gangapati II’s men made was to slash though the tall, thorny growth which blocked their way. But the noise of the rain was far louder.

Keeping to the west of their camp, they went as far as they could. The next morning was cloudless. Now they had to creep, for even the grass was tall only in patches and offered little cover for the men and much less for the horses. Suddenly, their hearts were in their mouth and their spears were at the ready for they heard a rustle in the grass and a shout. But it was only a tribal youth with his girl, seeking a private moment of love. They had to take them along as prisoners, lest they gave out their movement to the others. All Gangapati II promised them was, ‘If we live, you will live; and we will try to leave you in safety with a horse and much more, well before we face danger.’

The initial fright of the boy and girl was soon over and instead they were simply curious. They had escaped from their village in search of a better place. They did not know that they were so near the zone of battle where their own Chief was camped. Even more strangely, they did not seem to care whether their Chief won or lost. ‘One Chief or another! What difference!’ was their attitude.

The two youngsters advised Gangapati II about the villages that lay en route. Their own village lay ahead. To avoid that, he decided to go north but not too far, lest he was discovered by enemy eyes. He went a little distance, then turned east, to avoid a direct line to the villages, and finally he turned north; there too he made several detours, to avoid other villages, on the advice of the youngsters.

At last, Gangapati II and his men reached a spot from which the Chief’s camp was visible.

All the while, Gangapati II prayed for rain so that their movements would remain hidden, but the clouds remained tantalizingly dry. He knew that on horseback they could cover the distance to the tribal camp in a few hours. But discovery, then, was certain, and death, inevitable.

They plodded on at night on foot, resting and fretting during the day. After what seemed an eternity, they reached within striking distance of the hour’s ride.

Nobody was looking out for them. But clearly they were too late.

It was an hour before dawn and they saw tribal horsemen in massive waves, followed by unending lines of foot soldiers, tearing down towards their camp in the south. The entire tribal army was on the move.

The gamble had failed. All that Gangapati II had hoped for was to attack the tribal camp suddenly, create a diversion, ride, run, slash, hack, strike and sell their lives dearly, so that his men left behind in the camp below, could retreat quickly and quietly, while tribal attention was totally focused on this sudden, senseless diversion. ‘Let them sit back to celebrate their victory with our deaths,’ Gangapati II had said, ‘and let them believe that they have annihilated the entire Ganga army, so that our retreating men go without being pursued and unharmed.’

Long before he had left his camp, many had felt that it would be a foolish gamble and he had said, ‘All gambles are foolish but, who knows, a fool may be lucky sometimes!’

Where was the alternative! Either they all sat back and died together in the camp as they must, or they took this insane gamble so that some of them might survive. It would be a slender chance – a wind-blown straw in the midst of a raging river – but that is all they could cling to.

There were claps of thunder and the rain pelted down as Gangapati II saw masses of tribal horse and foot soldiers almost half-way to his camp which he had left, days ago, to create a diversion. But the diversion had no hope now. I must rush to the camp, he thought – let us all die together in the camp. No longer was he afraid of being seen,. No longer did he want to take a devious route back to the camp. Straight – in a direct line – he wanted to rush, with the fury or madness, to die along with his comrades at the camp. At least he would have the chance of riding at the flank of attacking tribals. He barked his command. He men mounted. He halted only a moment to give a horse to the girl and boy they had brought along, with all the things he had in the saddle, ‘if ever you are in the land of Ganga, tell them that I died with love for them all.’

Furiously, he and his men began their ride towards the camp. The fog was getting thicker. He hoped to reach the tribal flank, unseen. But suddenly he reined in his horse. The horse pulled up with a jolt; many horsemen behind lost their balance. The fog from his mind lifted and he now realized what he must do. His camp, he realized, was beyond help. To die with them would be of no avail.

Gangapati II shouted his order. His men could hardly see through the enveloping fog. In a blinding, tearing hurry, they changed direction, to rush not to their own camp, but towards the tents and canopies of the First Chief, even though they could not see them. But they were no longer two hundred, as twelve of them, unaware of his new order, were already speeding in a mad rush to the tribal flank on its way to their camp.

The 188 men with Gangapati II now saw the bare outline of the Chief’s tent. They did nothing to hide themselves and as Gangapati II would later say, ‘God was at work,’ though actually it was the fog at work and the rain, that drowned the noise of their horse-hooves. They saw no one – neither the Chief nor his courtiers – and their javelins and spears flew and their swords were at the ready.

The Chief of the First Tribe was dead. His son was wounded. The women and children with them were unhurt. The Chief’s fifteen courtiers died instantly.

Later, everyone would credit Gangapati II with the foreknowledge that tribal troops always had to maintain their distance, to remain away from their Chief and his entourage, and never even lift their eyes to see the Chief’s women. They would even credit Gangapati II with a vision that pierced through the thickest fog to enable him to unerringly reach the Chief’s tent, avoiding the heavy tribal guard that stood three hundred feet ahead and behind the Chief.

Much of what happened in that swift, sudden assault on the Chief’s tent would remain a blur. Gangapati II denied being the first to throw his spear. No one heard his order to head for the tent. Instead, in excitement or panic, many simply started throwing their spears at the tent, long before they saw the outline of any person in that fog. Gangapati II denied that it was his spear that had killed the Chief. Actually, his spear – distinctive from the rest – had hit the goat that was about to be slaughtered by the cook for the Chief’s mid-morning meal.

Nobody knew how eight men of the Gangapati II contingent had died in that one-sided melee, when not a single tribal had lifted arms. Obviously, it was the tragedy of mistaken identity and they were killed, unwittingly, by their own men; “Friendly Fire” – as it now would describe the event.

Did the fog left then, so that the tribal guard saw their dead Chief and heard the command of the Chief’s wounded son to surrender! Or did Gangapati II take the son, with a sword-point at this throat, to the tribal guard to call on them to throw away their arms! The versions vary. The facts are however clear. The tribal guard surrendered on the orders of the Chief’s son, who himself was, henceforth, the Chief. The commander of the tribal guard was dispatched, along with a whole lot of others, to halt the attack on Gangapati II’s camp below. They reached too late. Everyone of Gangapati II’s contingent, in the camp was dead, their bodies hacked to pieces.

Later, many said that each man of Ganga in the camp killed a hundred tribals but the tribals were a thousand to one. The twelve men of Ganga who failed to hear Gangapati II’s order and had raced headlong towards the camp, were also killed on the way.

One incontrovertible fact, however, was that Gangapati II and his one hundred and eighty men were the sole survivors of the huge army that had marched from Ganga. Their victory was total. The entire army of the First Tribe had surrendered.

But a poet exaggerates when he speaks of the surge of supreme self-confidence that Gangapati II felt at this moment of victory. In actual fact, he was wondering how long he would be able to survive with his one hundred and eighty men in this hostile land! Would he have to carry the Chief’s son at dagger-point to Hari Hara Dwara! The son was bound to die on the way. Already, he was showing signs of weakness from his wound, though three tribal Vaids were in attendance on him. But how can one recover from a serious wound, when confusion, shame, terror, and rage alternate at being commanded by an outsider!

His father’s death was not too difficult for the son to cope with. That made him the Chief. But what kind of Chief! To be the mouthpiece of an alien barbarian!

Gangapati II was certain that this new Chief’s promise of safe-conduct to him was a sham. He was sure of a murderous assault, the moment he left the Chief. Yet he wanted the Chief to live, for he alone could order the tribals. Who would otherwise listen to Gangapati II, except his own one hundred and eighty men! Gangapati II demanded the presence of the dead Chief’s brother whom he had met at his marriage festivities.

‘He was in disgrace with my father,’ the new Chief replied.

‘Then remove the disgrace! You are the Chief,’ Gangapati II ordered.

‘It will take time. He is far away.’

‘I have time,’ Gangapati II said ominously. ‘But do you?’

The chief commanded his guard. The dead Chief’s brother arrived the next day. He came as a prisoner, with his hands tied. Gangapati II had failed to explain his intent clearly. He apologized.

‘A conqueror has rights,’ the Chief’s brother said. But later, he relented when Gangapati II explained the circumstances.

‘I want you to be the Chief of the First Tribe,’ Gangapati II told him.

‘That right is not mine,’ the brother replied.

‘I shall see to it that the new Chief abdicated in your favour.’

‘That right is not his,’ said the brother.

‘Why?’ Gangapati II asked.

‘He has not right to abdicate . . . . .’

‘But if he dies?’

‘Even if he dies, or if you kill him, the right is not mine. It belongs to his son.’

‘But he has no son! Only a daughter!’ Gangapati II countered.

‘Hopefully he will have a son,’ the brother said. Gangapati II understood, at last, that the new Chief’s wife was expecting a child.

He asked, ‘Assume it is a son. Can an infant be Chief?’

‘Yes. All his father has to do is appoint a regent to administer for him until he reaches the age of fifteen.’ The brother added, ‘Even if it is a daughter, the eldest daughter becomes the Chief-in-waiting, to be married at the age of thirteen, and her first son becomes the Chief, while the Regent administers on behalf of the daughter, and later for her son, until the age of fifteen.’

Gangapati II’s head was reeling. Still he said, ‘So be it. You be the Regent, then, if the Chief dies.’

‘It is for the Chief to appoint a Regent. Why will he appoint me?’

‘He will,’ Gangapati II said grimly.

Their eyes met; the brother said, ‘If you get me appointed as Regent by threatening the Chief, or by spilling his blood, I cannot accept.’

‘I have no intention of spilling his blood. He is near death’s door, as it is. But I must insist that he appoints you as Regent.’

‘That I do not accept’.

‘I am in command here,’ Gangapati II barked. ‘I can have you killed.’ ‘Your mother and father could have had me killed years ago, when I was captured at Hari Hara Dwara. Perhaps, it is only fair and fitting that I die by your hands.’

‘You do not understand me,’ said Gangapati II. ‘Sadly, my choice is limited. I may have to threaten the Chief – but only with words – to appoint you as Regent, in case of his death, which I fear is imminent. If you do not accept the appointment, what is my alternative? To kill the Chief before he dies on his own, to kill his living daughter, to kill his wife who is bearing his child, and maybe even his mother and everyone else who is in the line of succession to the Chief! You alone shall live, to carry the guilt of their death, to your dying day!’

It was now the brother who pleaded, ‘Do not carry the blood of innocents on your head! What will it avail you, if you leave our tribe in chaos, trauma and travail, leaderless, unguided, so they turn on each other in a bath of blood. How can you contemplate such savagery!’

‘Because,’ said Gangapati II, pitilessly, ‘you leave me no choice.’

The brother reached a decision. He agreed to be Regent, if the Chief so decided, provided the Chief died on his own, while receiving every care and attention to get well. Nothing more was said to prevent Gangapati II from making a simple threat to the Chief.

The Chief declared solemnly, in the presence of his wife, the Chief Priest, courtiers, commanders and others that in the case of his death, his uncle, the late Chief’s brother, would be Regent. The brother took an oath, on his life and honour, to perform the duties of the Regent, and knelt before the Chief in a token of submission. They all knelt, each wishing the Chief a long life.

A long life, however, the Chief did not have. He lasted nine more days despite every care for his health and comfort.

Gangapati II left for Hari Hara Dwara with a hundred and eighty men. Was it a triumphant return? They had lost more men in this campaign than in all the battles that he and his father had fought. But then, everyone said that only great risks and losses can lead to great victories and achievements. Had he not secured permanent peace with the First Tribe? Was he not now the overlord and raja of the dreaded First Tribe! But those that said this were not accurate. Peace he had secured though not as their overlord nor as their raja. The unborn Chief’s uncle, who was now the Regent, had said to him plainly, ‘Our tribe has never been reduced to subjection. Nor has it ever violated its pledged word. All I can promise you is friendship, respect and peace form my tribe, in return for yours.’ Gangapati II sought no more.

Later the bond between the First Tribe and the people of Ganga grew. There was peace in the valley of Ganga – and prosperity.

The late Chief’s wife gave birth to a son.

Fourteen years later, the peaceful reign of the Regent was over and the son took over, in law and fact, as Chief of the First Tribe, amidst pomp and ceremony. Peace continued.

The new Chief of the First Tribe made one, single, imperative demand from the people of Ganga – that Gangapati II’s daughter marry him. But then this was also the demand of Gangapati II’s daughter and many said that the boy and the girl had even exchanged marriage vows on their own, in their quiet meetings during Gangapati II’s visits to the First Tribe and the Regent’s visits to Ganga, when the children had accompanied them. So who could object! But Gangapati II’s wife did and clearly said, ‘Their own marriage vows do not make a marriage!’ She relented only after her demand was met and the Chief took an oath to outlaw multiple marriage not only for himself but also for his successors.

Ever since his return from the triumph over the First Tribe, Gangapati II was sure of one thing – that of all the foolish enterprises of man, the enterprise of war was the most foolish. And the only way he knew to avoid war was to build up strength so that no one was tempted to attack his people. He realized that only a brain-dead imbecile would have faith in the word of neighbouring tribes – and to be weak was to tempt an attack and invite disaster, particularly when so many of their tribesmen, with uncertain loyalties, were living in their midst.

He demanded forts and defensive works to be built all over. He insisted on improvements in weapons and to pile them number upon number, weight upon weight. He organized drills and displays of speed and strength – in archery, horse-riding, chariot-races, spear-throw, yoga – and to these spectacles, he invited chiefs from far and near. To entertain? Yes, but the might was there for all to see and the warning was there – unspoken.

Spared from attacks, the land of Ganga became green, lush, fertile. Some said that but for the futile expense on forts and battle-exercises, it would have been far more prosperous.

Gangapati II’s first son, who was born on the day he left to invade the First Tribe, was already being called Gangapati III. His daughter, who later married the Chief of the First Tribe, was born a year later. Always, Gangapati II said, ‘I want peace for my children.’ But no one misunderstood; he wanted peace for his people – and all people everywhere.

There were some who said that Dasaswamedha ‘stole’ defensive walls and forts built at Kashi under Gangapati II’s order. However all that Dasa did was to set up temples within and behind those walls. ‘Give people not only empty walls but something more to protect,’ said Dasa to the local commander who protested about this misuse. But these temples were no temples either. Everyone who entered there was certainly free to pray – and many did, though initially they were confused by the different idols and varying forms of worship and rituals. This bewildering variety arose as Dasa encouraged into these temples, not only locals but many from the First Tribe, his own tribe and the tribes beyond – not so much to pray as to paint, sculpt, chisel, and carve. While the artists worked, the temple-dancers danced and the worshippers sang. And many came in then to entertain and be entertained – and often everyone participated in sheer joy and there was no entertainer but only entertainment.

Again, the local commander protested – is it a fort, a temple, an art-gallery, a theatre – what? But Gangapati II approved so long as the fort-structure remained unharmed. Also, Gangapati II enticed the best singers and dancers from these fort-temples for his spectacles, organized annually to entertain chiefs from far and near.

These spectacles then, took on the character of festivals at which songs, dances and costumes drew their inspiration not from Kashi alone but from a treasure-house of the myths and legends of countless tribes. And, the poet tells us, with joy, that ever since then, the art of Ganga was ‘never the same’, and he calls it ‘a mosaic – rich and colourful – in which the creative genius of people of the Ganga assimilated and refined a multitude of the artistic impulses and rhythms of a hundred tribal lands.’

Thus a common tradition of song, art and dance evolved in Ganga and all the tribal lands around; and a poet described it as a ‘brilliant blend in which much was absorbed but little set aside – and yet never uniform for departures were many and innovations many more.’

A poet clarifies that it was Gangapati II’s hope that one day he would be able to go along the course of the Ganga river, to discover where the Ganga rested.

Many said that the treaties of friendship and peace that Gangapati II entered into with various tribal chiefs were intended to make his passage safe along the course of the Ganga. Others said – nonsense, he wanted peace simply for the sake of peace.

His friendship with the tribal chiefs did help to make Gangapati II’s passage safe and smooth, at least initially. He was known as the overlord of the First Tribe though that was not strictly true. He was simply a friend and ally and also the father-in-law of the Chief of the First Tribe. Besides, the Chief of the eastern tribe was his own father-in-law; and many tribes beyond were tied to him with treaties of friendship.

It was journey that was to have three hundred people embarking on it – a hundred each from three regions – Hari Hara Dwara, Prayaga and Varnash. But it began with more than two thousand. They could not be held back. Meanwhile, large contingents arrived from the First Tribe to join them. Many joined them not only from the eastern tribe, but beyond.

Some left, when the rigours of the journey proved too harsh, but others joined in their place. The result is that nobody knows exactly how many there were. All that is known is that over 1,800 reached the mouth of the Ganga with Gangapati II.

Poets do describe the journey but only sketchily. They speak of the enthusiasm with which the pilgrims went. Pilgrims? It was like an army on the march. The entire surrounding plain appeared to be in motion with men, horses, baggage carts, pack-animals, and even bullocks and elephants with vast quantities of provisions and foodstuff for this journey into the unknown. Tribals added even herds of cattle, ‘but only for milk – for Gangapati II’s command was clear that none should eat flesh of animal or fowl while on this auspicious pilgrimage . . . . ‘

If there were soldiers in this huge group, the poets do not say so, for they speak of it as a pilgrimage. Yet at times, they do refer to the ‘four hundred guardians.’ Maybe, these were the four hundred battle-hardened veterans that Gangapati II took; for the poets speak not only of the friendship but also the ‘awe’ that these ‘guardians’ inspired. In any case, the vast number of pilgrims was protection enough.

Poets speak of vast deserts, swamps, mountains and forests on the way. They speak of many rivers that came to meet Ganga in ‘loving and reverent confluence’ (particularly those that came to be known as Gandak, Bari Gandak, Kosi, Son and Mahananda).

Later poets speak of their bewilderment at the Ganga branching off in two directions, ‘but Gangapati II led us on.’ Nobody clarifies how Gangapati II was able to lead them in two different, diverse directions. Could it be that he led in one direction and doubled back to lead in the other? Or is it that he headed in one direction leaving someone else to lead in the other, though the poet is clear that ‘Gangapati II was with us all, each angula of he way.’

The poets also speak of mighty Brahmaputra’s homage (as tributary) to the Ganga. But of this they speak fleetingly, and all their awe and wonder is reserved for the innumerable channels and streams into which the Ganga flows – but many clarify that too, to say that those streams were not innumerable they were ‘exactly one hundred and eight – the one hundred and eight mouths of Ganga,’ that led to Gangasagarsangam (confluence of Ganga with the sea).

Little is said by the poets, thereafter, about the journey itself, as though nothing else mattered, or would ever matter; and all the efforts and energies of the poets were concentrated on the myriad mouths of the Ganga and the magical meeting of the river and the sea.

However, they do mention that Gangapati II and all those who accompanied him bowed to Tiratha Da, the Sadhu who in Brahmadatta’s time (Gangapati I) left Hari Hara Dwara to wander the land. Tiratha Da had built a temple on the tiny island near Gangasagarsangam. There were four locals who were devotees at the temple. But Tiratha Da and these devotees quickly left to ‘visit one hundred places during the one hundred years we have’ – and it is not clear if sixty-six-year-old Tiratha Da expected to live for another one hundred years or if he was counting the total number of years that all four of them, put together, had.

Nobody knows why Gangapati II took six years to return.

The poets even speak of the ‘sweet forest (Sunderbans?) where the wildest of animals looked at us with tenderness, as though to bless us while we went our way, on to our luminous path.’ While it is not easy to separate fact from fancy, it may well be that they met with no tragic loss of life on the way. Initially, their journey was through the land of friendly tribes whose chiefs were known to Gangapati II; later, they passed through many; regions – some without, and others with people; but even in these areas where there were large congregations of people, ‘there were no chiefs but only individuals with whom we shared our food, while they sought to gift theirs to us,’ which seems to indicate that the locals were not miserable or destitute in the remoter regions which were without chiefs.

Gangapati II returned to Varnash from his journey after 2,200 days. Some of his men stayed back near Gangasagarsangam. Even so, he entered Kashi with nearly 3,800 men (numbers are confusing, but apparently many joined him on the way, on his return).

Since his return, many, if not all, began to call Gangapati II the overlord and raja of all the land from Gangasagarsangam. He silenced them, ‘I went as a pilgrim and as a pilgrim I returned.’ –

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