The Narmada Boon
The Narmada Boon
Turbulence of Narmada waited for none. It splashed, rushed, pranced creating whirlpools. Its banks filled with littoral herbs, creepy insects, and pearly pebbles. Occasionally droplets sprinkled like first monsoon, sometimes creating a rainbow.
On this day, the queen of Avanti Kingdom, situated North of Narmada, was to make a yajna. Soldiers were posted to check for any perils. One of the patroller not far from the place saw a baby girl at the bank of river. Doe eyed, nose sharp, milk complexion, cheeks glittering, and divine smile but no owner. Undoubtedly she was either a heir of royal wealth or an incarnation of Narmada. She was rejoiced by the persistent blessings from Narmada, cosy with muddy earth and had a blue coloured Dushpa flower in her tiny hands! In Avanti kingdom it was an inauspicious flower. It was abolished to be grown on Avanti soil. It meant a bad omen. The solider was taken aback. He turned to river Narmada and started chanting ‘Om Namah Shivaya, Shree Narmade Namah' often turning to the baby girl to check if it was his imagination. Then he turned and ran. He went to the yajna place. The queen had arrived, tall and straight, beautiful and graceful movement. She was Queen Mrittika. Along with her were few bodyguards, her ladies and Royal pandit named Vedant. The solider moved to his senior official and reported. “A goddess lay at the edge of Narmada her face exceptionally blissful and her tiny hands in the hold of an ausura.” His sweat and stammer were unconcealed from the people around. The pandit closed his eyes. In a way he tried to study the situation. Queen was determined to go to the place but waited for panditji. After a spur of moment, panditji opened his eyes and said “Take the baby girl with you Queen Mrittika and name her Punyakshi, but never treat her as your own daughter and be ready to sacrifice her the day river Narmada wants”. Queen Mrittika did what panditji said, she took the baby girl and threw the flowers in Narmada, which with flow became invisible.
The wheel of time churns and crushes even the toughest boulders but for Punyakshi the situation tangled. For years she had lived in a palace room. She was considered a woman with black veil by the common folk. Rumours were, her beauty was only to lure the people. Anyone who gave a glance to her must go for a shudhikaran, purity of soul. She was not given any valet or staff, even when queen ordered no one went to her. Her necessities were pushed through a slit in the door. She lived the life of prisoners under the crime of Dushpa flowers.
Queen Mrittik, was not superstitious, indeed she was the only visitor to Punyakshi. But she was always occupied. Words were made laws only after her nod, spiritual works, political issues, social conflicts, she was expert in all. Even in domestic arena she was the Mistress.
So, Punyakshi sat alone beside her window of her room, where she was accustomed to sit. She looked at the people outside, some were howling, some quarrelling, some serious and a group of girls giggling on some unknown joke. She looked to the setting sun and closed her eyes. This all world with its perils and pleasure was not made for her. She knew in Avanti, people with rudraksha mala around their neck were pandits, with gold chain were kshatriyas and with silver ones were all the common people out there. This vicious caste system has given her no place. Her smooth neck remains bare. People considered this inauspicious, a bad omen. To Punyakshi it was a question on her parentage. She brought her lean legs close to her breast and rested her forehead on her knees. She left a sigh.
On the other end of palace, in her room, queen Mrittika was busy in her thoughts. Narmada has turned aggressive. It’s treacherous waves slaying the lush green harvest of farmers. Complaints reported business was soured, farmers lost their hope, soldiers were terrified, Brahmins prophesied Narmada will swallow the whole Avanti. Queen Mrittika looked at the setting sun. When humans are at wits end, spirituality is the common solution. Queen stood, determined of spiritual possibility to encourage Avanti citizens. She ordered a solider near her “Call pandit Vedant”.
“Yajna won’t help anymore it only makes maa Narmadey hostile” said panditji to cut the possible solution thought by maharani. “Only possible solution that remains is a sacrifice”. “Of whom?” asked the queen ready to sacrifice any animal, any cow or even a human if it is necessary. “The girl you promised in the name of Narmada should be sacrificed” said panditji as if it was a theatre play.
“Oh” that’s all Queen could say to express her sadness. “Please explain how it would be done”. Pandit Vedant expected this. Queen Mrittika was so predictable. After all a person whose every decision lays on a single objective never changes his conduct. For the Queen it was welfare of Avanti people.
Delays would have meant, if it was not Punyakshi. She was prepared to leave next morning. The sky was dark, only it bid her farewell. Queen walked to her and addressed “there will be no convolutions, only you have to stand in Narmada until its humongous waves take you to final adobe”. Maharani, she must have felt something, at least a pint of despondence but before that could happen she turned away.
The chariot to her death bed waited for the first time she was to travel in a chariot, though inevitably the last. They moved through the market place, the Bhoomidevi temple, Avanti gurukuls, elite houses. They meant nothing for her. No one looked at her. Even a chance glace was broken in a moment. Elderly women put their heads down and mumbled mantras. Punyakshi left a sigh and looked up at the azure sky, her final destination.
The night it’s dark, darker than ever. The purnima, full moon had no power to burn this darkness. Thought it’s beauty, soothing and calm. Narmada was still, may be the sacrifice thing is true. In this seemingly endless river not far from shore stood Punyakshi. Her waist to toe in ice cold water. It has been a long day, she could not feel her body. Her water draped saree and face left all colours. She waited for death but some people are not easily destined for it. She was tired of thinking, her unfair life, her parentage, injustices, prejudice, bad omens, inauspiciousness of her soul. But all this will end. Only if he comes. Her body was shivering. Her hands In namaste was in exorbitant pain. But he will come soon. Small pebbles were colliding with her lean legs, they never bore such hardship. He has to come now. Punyakshi closed her eyes, she could see her end clear. She was about to faint. Her colourless face had tilted acute. But it experienced a support. Her face was in a human hearth. It was someone’s chest. A man's chest. Her one hand is in man's hand. The man put his other hand round her left shoulder to give extra aid. It was cosy and undoubtedly not the grasp of cold death.
When a woman of lotus beauty floats in Narmada it is sure to attract nectar robbers. The man brought Punyakshi to a small shack near Narmada. Nothing was very attractive. It was perpetually dark. The was laid Punyakshi on a tattered mattress. His touch was masculine, his body was strongly built and his chest was broad on which Punyakshi had laid her moon-like face. Even heaven could not be better than his sensual touch. When she gained her consciousness Punyakshi looked at the man. It was pitch dark. She could not make up his features. The man brought Punyakshi’s face close to his. They could feel their breaths. The man's fingers were buried in Punyakshi's hairs and his thumb titillating her jawline. Their noses were parallel, touching each other. Then man’s lips tasted Punyakshi’s love. This was the night made for two of them.
It was still dark when Punyakshi woke up. She was still close to her unknown lover. His hands in her long hairs and their feet one over the other. Punyakshi asked politely “Who are you?”
The man said “when there is love between two then identities does not matter.”
“But still, What’s your name? What’s your caste?” asked Punyakshi determined to get some useful information this time.
“Too many questions, first try to find some answers. I can tell you who your father was.”
Punyakshi’s eye balls enlarged. All her life would have an answer. She could feel sweat on her nose. Her throat was dry. She was dumbstruck.
“Pandit Vedant, the rajpurohit, your prophecy maker, your name giver, and about to be your murderer.”
Punyakshi sat upright. She belonged to a rudraksha mala. Her life could have been that of a brahmin. She was not a rakshasi, what others believed. But how could he, the purohit, the brahmin, knower of Brahma abandon her like that. He was certainly a rakshasa. She stood looking taller. She knew who was the man behind all her injustices. She stormed through the door with heavy steps. The man placed his right hand on his forehead. He closed his eyes and smiled. This was what he expected.
The path to Avanti was treacherous. Punyakshi was burning in rage. Her breath was deep, her eyes aimed at the path ahead. The path which her death chariot took. Even lions must have feared this ferocious woman.
Sun was about to cross the horizon when Punyakshi reached on the outskirts of Avanti kingdom. Fire of rage weighted so heavy that even wounds felt meaningless. She didn’t know where pandit Vedant lived but she was sure to find him. It is known when you are so determined to unearth, things are not concealed long. But it is still weird why it is an unbreakable law in case of revenge.
Punyakshi knew where most brahmins lived. She had seen through the window of her palace room. Still she was unsure of the path and even among brahmins where did pandit Vedant lived? But, that sinner cannot be remarked a ‘pandit'.
Punyakshi reached the Brahmin place. Most pandits were engrossed in meditation. She looked at each brahmins face, calm, busy with their own soul, still blissful, no one cared an intruder. She moved searching for an evil face among brahmins. She had inspected nearly every face, she knew Vedant must be here. Somewhere very near. At the end of all brahmin cottages, quite separate from others, sat a pandit. He was meditating, his face old and wrinkled, his long hairs silvery white, it was astonishing that how a man so weak and lean could move his lips. There seemed an invisible connection between him and divine. He was the rajpurohit, Vedant. Punyakshi was tongue-tied. Her mouth was gapping. His father sat in front of her eyes. A father who was no father. She moved near Vedant still surprised. Her eyes left a tear. Before she could think of any question Vedant said “I knew you would come by now, life is sometimes so predictable.”
“But why… why did things happen this way? Why I was made to look darkness when there was light behind.” Punyakshi’s eyes floated in tears.
Panditji was ready with the truth. Answers of life long questions “Mistakes. Indeed fatal mistakes, tragedies and a long story.” Panditji paused. His face was turning grey. “ Once I went South of Narmada, the devil place as many think, to find an extremely rare herb. It was necessary or I would have never gone there.” Panditji repented “I was being selfish. Natural of foolish youth. The herb was used to make a potion that had power to extend life. I had read in some ancient books. Day to night I tried to find the herb when I went the South of Narmada. I did not find it. The relic even after hard labour. Finally one day I sat below a canopied tree and closed my eyes. Someone touched me.” Panditji closed his eyes. He was telling a life long secret. He was certain this must be revealed. This the right moment and the right person. “A beautiful sensual touch went through my shoulders. A touch that made my eyes lusty. My karma and dharma eroded and I…I know it’s sinister.” Panditji’s eyes filled with tears but he drank them. He had control on his emotions. “After a year I left the place, ran to live the life I always wanted. I committed a deadly sin. From which I could never escape. I left your mother. She was pregnant.” Punyakshi didn’t make any expression. This was her story. An unfair story, but still she was getting answers and more questions. “Few months later I found you near Narmada. You had Dushpa flowers. I knew it’s you. Your mother told me once that the herb I came for are these Dushpa flowers.” Punyakshi left a sound. Avanti people considered Dushpa flowers inauspicious. They were foolish. They were in an illusion of superstitions. “But when you are pensive of past sins, even elixir turns meaningless. She insisted me to take what I came for but I moved on, moved on leaving a child in her womb.” Punyakshi thought her mother must have wailed, cried, attempted a suicide. “Your mother was not of that kind.” Can he read mind. “ I don’t know if she felt repentance or not but I was certain she will leave you. May be kill you. Men and women of her tribe only longed for sexual pleasure.” Punyakshi’s thought moved to his man “But she didn’t kill you. She left you near Narmada so that I can take you. Again I was selfish. Selfish of my position in the court, my respect. I would have been banished by brahmin community, if I had taken hold of you. So I made sure you go to a safe place. People of Avanti hated you. You were a bad omen, inauspicious. They would have doubted me. So I took care that you do not interfere in the court, or kingdom. You remain deprived of everything.” Punyakshi was in tears. Her life was a rollercoaster ride. Things were there for her, but they never appeared. Pandit Vedant, he was pale and expressionless. Punyakshi’s eyes brightened and she asked “Sacrifice… what about the sacrifice?” Panditji smiled, a divine grin of satisfaction “Death is inevitable, my child…” Even Punyakshi could not understand what had happened in a moment. Pandit Vedant wore a smile but his soul left his body. A Mahasamadhi. Punyakshi could nothing but cry. She wanted to abuse his father for his mistakes. She wanted to ask what she should do now. She was pregnant!
Punyakshi moved through the kingdom towards the palace. She wanted some rest from all these incidents. Single day incidents. She moved with small steps, head down, tears flooding her eyes, blurring her vision. She did not care what people around her were saying. Their were whispers, murmurs “She escaped! Maa Narmada would kill us all” “She is the killer of Pandit Vedant” “She is a Satan” “Bhoomidevi protect us from her evil eyes”.
She walked to the palace in her palace room. She wanted to be alone. Even Queen Mrittika saw her but did not say anything, looking at her condition. This was not the perfect time to explode. From soldiers to servants all looked at Punyakshi with disgusting eyes. Nearly half of them left the palace in protest. But Punyakshi, she wanted solitude. A suffering solitude. She wanted to make a decision.
The sun was high above, glittering indeed burning. Either she should live for her child or she should die, sacrifice for her kingdom. Citizens were howling, protesting on palace gates. Why life is so difficult sometimes? She placed her hand on her belly. Has he started his life? Punyakshi closed her eyes.
It was evening, Queen Mrittika had turned a deaf ear to her citizens. How can she be again cruel to someone who has escaped a sacrifice. Even Narmada did not want her to die. She was certain she would not do anything wrong. But people turned rebellious. They wanted Punyakshi’s sacrifice. A group of men known for their hot temper and curved muscles forcefully entered the palace. Even soldiers did not want to fight their men when they doing were the right thing, the dharma. Men searched for Punyakshi. There were commotion and screams. A glass breaking sound. Servants and dasis were baffled. Queen Mrittika entered “Stop this… I say stop this. Soldiers arrest them.” No solider moved. One man said “Avanti is ready to protect its dharma. But Queen seems not.” What could Queen do. King with most army was out for a war. Soldiers did not follow her orders. What would an Avanti lover do? She just turned and moved to her room. She unrolled a mattress. She sat on the mattress and closed her eyes. Her mind was saturated. There was embezzlement in the castle. Shouts of people outside the kingdom. Punyakshi justice meant anti-nationalism. She could faintly hear “She is.. here” she closed her eyes tighter.
Punyakshi was in a chariot. A Royal chariot. This time with twelve men. Not men, rough wild dogs. One of them spit on her face. One slapped. One put his fingers inside Punyakshi’s blouse, touched her collar bone. She was tired of toil. If this was all her progeny would suffer, she was ready to die.
She was dragged to Narmada. Two men held her arms, dragged her. One of them clutched her hair hard. Punyakshi screamed. Will he come, his lover? Her gaze was focused on turbulent Narmada. She was ruthlessly thrown into the river. Sacrificed as they would say. Punyakshi did not try to splash or swim. She wanted to sink and flow. Her head hit a hard rock, she rotated a semicircle. She had a baby inside. She could sense her lover nearby. She moved with the flow.
When no one regrets, the clouds do. There was a heavy shower, a downpour. On this dharma day, as people thought, their houses washed away. Loud bleat of goats, wailing of dogs and jackals, cries of babies all could be clearly heard. Narmada flooded, devastating everything, depriving people their land.
This was an end. End of Avanti kingdom, their superstitions, their foolish knowledge. The panditji was correct “Death is inevitable, my child.”