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Shivani Sarat



Shivani Sarat


The Warrior Princess

The Warrior Princess

14 mins

She stood by the palace window, tall and still, gazing absently at the blurred distance. She had two choices: both unattractive, out of which, she would have to make a decision.

This is a story my grandma always told me. About one of the bravest warriors she knew. Each night’s sleep was a child’s play while I knew she was out there, somewhere, watching over us. This is her story.

“Chandraprabha!” Rani ma called out into the courtyard. The tinkling sounds of anklet of a young yet valor 7-year old were heard far of. This is the land of Sundaraksham. Traveling about 500 miles from the East Travancore, this kingdom was set out amidst the forests and the hills. Though most tribes lived in peace and adhered to the kingdom norms, a few tribes especially Kulavar were in constant war with Sundaraksham. That fine day too, young Chandraprabha wandered off to the Kulavar ancient caves situated in the foothills of the Nandi Mountains. With caves as large as a wild mammal and coloured murals like she had seen in the inner chambers of the palace. Awestruck, her tender naked feet carried the anklets into the caves that were rumored to have never spared anyone alive. She looked onto the entrance as the rain clouds sheathed over the sunlight and she shut her eyes tight. The ringing in her ears lasted for almost an eon before it died out. She felt the Earth being pulled out from under her feet before she drifted into a deep sleep.

A group of the Kulavar tribal men held prisoners, were brought in front of the King. Yet the diwan seemed to be awaiting a high power, Her highness the Mother Queen. Sundaraksham was one of the few dynasties known for a ‘Queen Regnant’. The monarchy hereditary was passed on only in the lineage for the next woman in line. Men here, lived their lives as Kings and Princes only voicing their opinions when asked for. As Rani Ma enters, songs of praise sing out,

“All hail, Rani Ma”, “May Rani Ma live long!”. The King stood up in reverence as the Queen made her way to the throne, treading on the exquisite carpet slowly.

“May the court proceedings, commence!” The Queen commanded with a wave of her hand.

“Rani, this is regarding Chandra-” The courtier was rudely cut off by the Queen.

“Princess. She is Rajkumari Chandraprabha for you all. You may continue.”

“Apologies Rani Ma, so like I said these tribal men were caught entering the Palace premises in the dark of the dawn. They say-”

“Yes. Your daughter...” One of the tribal men trailed.

“Forget not in whose court you stand. She is your Queen, the future ruler of this land. Chandra.” The Queen’s eyes burned in rage.

“Rani, we know the reason Rajkumari is sick. She needs a long night’s sleep. We suspect that the Bhasmasur has got hold of her…”

The entire court gasped. The Queen seemed visibly tensed.

“She can’t sleep. She is scared. She speaks of a demon visiting her, I’m afraid.”

“Rani, we think that-”

“Hmm. Let’s move this to my chambers. Follow me tribal men” That was the last time this was mentioned in the court and the rest was history.

“RANI MA!” Chandraprabha woke up from a distressed sleep. She woke up bathed in sweat. This scene seemed to work on the loop and haunted her for the last 25 years. Chandraprabha had blossomed into a beautiful woman. With a father that enjoyed the luxuries of the palace and relatives plotting to kill her, for her throne, she deeply missed her mother. Her mother, Rani Ma’s body was found mutilated with arrows. The Kulavar tribal men seemed to have taken advantage of the proximity with the Queen. Using this time wisely to send a message to Sundaraksham and avenging of their age-long vengeance seemed to give them peace. Ever since Sundaraksham Dynasty and the Kulavar tribe always seemed to be war at each other, Peace was not an option.

Chandraprabha was to be crowned the Queen in a grand coronation ceremony happening in a few days. A search of suitors far and wide had begun. Princes had to agree to move in and become a part of the Sundaraksham Dynasty. It was difficult to find Kingdoms who allowed princes to do that without disowning them. Moreover, in Chandraprabha’s words. “I don’t need a man to enjoy the luxurious life of the palace like my father. I need a man who my children can look up to, who I can look up to. I will be the ruler, but he’ll be my backbone. Find me a man so capable and the parting of my forehead will always bear his name.” saying this she winks at Shivnarayan who seemed unaffected. His demeanor was merely that of a bodyguard. A gentleman who focussed merely on protecting Chandraprabha knowing well how dear he was to the princess. But his duties ended outside the princess’s chambers.

“Shiv, I’m going to sleep, I’ll be entertaining no visitors. But you’re welcome-”

“Sleep well Rajkumari. I’ll be a guard.” Thus, interjecting Chandrprabha gracefully.

Chandraprabha, on the other hand, had started drifting off to sleep. She was waiting to see- no, not the prince of her dreams. Bhasmasur's messenger would come soon. And then they would chat and she would sleep with a peace of mind. He always came only in her dreams, but made interesting deals and spoke gibberish. Nevertheless, she trusted him. He was the only one who called her Chandra, after her mother’s time. She was deeply attached to him. He had been coming into her dreams and solving her issues one by one. But the condition remained. If Chandra mentioned to a single living soul about Bhrasmasur, his messenger would never visit her again.

“Hey. I’ll be the Queen soon, what do you want?” Chandraprabha enquired

“No, you not allowed to meet master Bhasmasur.” The messenger conveyed.

“No No, I don’t want to meet. I just wanted to know if he would still continue advising me…”

“Yes, master likes you. You good. Bye. Hakaani meyomi shoo.” And the messenger faded away into her dreams. She soon woke up refreshed and resourceful. It was time for her archery classes followed by Sandhya Deepam, the evening lamp.

The coronation was a valiant and grand ceremony remembered for the years to come. Men and women from far and wide gathered around the premises of the courtyard with a fistful of flowers and grass to grace the chariot as the new Queen took the ride of her Kingdom. Chandraprabha, on the other hand, seemed to spend entire days in the court resolving issues and comprising with the general public. They seemed to walk in and out of palace doors excited to see the ruler of Sundaraksham under the ruse of “gaining justice”. Chandrprabha was a just ruler. And in no time, she became the sweetheart of the public. Gold coins and gifts for singers and courtesans, meals for the poor, and peace agreements with neighboring tribes enabling trade between them. But legend says that Sundaraksham Dynasty kept away from the Kulavar Tribe. On the other hand, as other Tribes abandoned Kulavar, they blamed Sundaraksham for the same. But no matter what, the city gates were closed for Kulavar tribal men.

While most countrymen and subjects respected and revered the new throne heir, jealousy crept in among some men. And soon Sundaraksham was a victim of rumors about “the Queen being possessed by a Demon” or “the Queen associating herself with black magic” and so on. Most issues would be resolved by Chandra herself who was a learned scholar and Veda chanter. The other issues would be addressed to the Messenger of Bhramasur, who would then further aid her take a just decision, as well as bestow upon her immense energy and knowledge in exchange for a few minutes or sometimes hours of sleep.

The courtiers now spoke of marriage proposals from far and wide. Though suitors arrived neither did have the brain or brawn when compared to Shivnarayan. He was now promoted as the Senapathi. The army and troops were now the bodyguards to the entire city of Sundaraksham. Chandraprabha insisted that Shivnarayan continue his post of her personal bodyguard, and this became the talk of the town. These talks now became the afternoon gossip in the Friday flea market.

“Devi, is Shiv going to stay at the palace or will her highness stay at your hut!” Shiv’s mother hid her face with the stole and made her way to their hut fast.

She waited for Shiv with bated eyes. The atmosphere of the house was tense. Shiv entered agitated hearing the mockery and rumors.

“Shiv, the palace, the princess, it's your duty to serve-”

“I know amma.” Shiv interrupted his mother. “I know the stories of how appa and periappa all were slaves to the Royal Palace. Chandr-. Ahem, I mean the Queen is insisting I work as her personal bodyguard. Now I have to take your leave.”

When he resumed his place back in front of her chambers, he peeked inside. There laid the princess, now queen, sleeping like an angel. But seemed disturbed and continued sleep talking.

“Hmm, no, I can’t forget Shiv. I will give up the kingdom not him…hmm…”

Shiv felt the buried feelings and emotions spring upon him. His childhood friend, the boats they made by the river, the garlands, and even the promise that she will always be his bride. A lump of pain seemed to be stuck in his throat and he was lost in his thoughts when a hand tapped his shoulder.

“Sir. We need to talk there has been an attack, we suspect it is by the Kulavar Tribe. We need to bring our forces on line. The city gate has been shut, and waterways have been blocked. We can manage for the night, but tomorrow-” The guard was flustered beyond his wits. He rushed with Shivnarayan and they fought the night until the last of the Kulavar tribe was either a corpse or a coward to have fled. The words “BUT WE WILL AVENGE THE LIVES OF KULAVAR’S KINS” reverberated through the Nandi forest and hills.

This news was then served to Chandraprabha and the rest of the Sundaraksham along with their morning meal.

After the morning news, Sundaraksham had fallen silent. Along with bodies of the Kulavar Tribe, many of the bodies were a loss to Sundaraksham. Some had a head missing while others had their ornaments and the body parts that adorned them It indeed was not a good morning. After the Cremation rites had been formed, an unstable and shook Chandraprabha laid down for her afternoon nap. Visited by the messenger, Chandra broke down in her sleep and they conversed for long. Soon after she shouted,

“NO”, and woke up disheveled. The choice was an impossible one. As she ran through the details of her mother’s murder and an irresponsible father along with morons for relatives, she no not whom to approach. She called for an urgent assembly of the court along with well-known astrologers and scholars.

She stood by the palace window, tall and still, gazing absently at the blurred distance. She had two choices: both unattractive, out of which, she would have to make a decision.

“The future for Sundaraksham looks bleak. It shows the death…” murmurs broke out in the court hall. The men occupied a position in the valedictory room while the woman sat below near her highness. As the whispers died out, the Queen merely said with a straight face.

“Court dismissed. You are all granted one meal from the royal kitchen, Shubharatri.”

But it was a black night for Sundaraksham, people were afraid to shut their eyes for a wink; the black night seemed endless. The shrieks of her maids from the maid chamber woke up the Queen, without a second thought, her anklets were soon replaced by the armor of a kshatriya. She was a warrior. The blade of her sword sliced through the throats and intestines of the enemies. Tribal blood tarnished the palace floor. Her uncles and father fled from the exit at the royal kitchen in the rear. It was upon her, the safety of her subjects and her country. While Shivnarayan fought at the gates and his army in the forests, Chandraprabha’s kshatriya blood kept her going all night long, until she finally, fell down unconscious due to the stress. Her eyes seemed to carry bags burdened with guilt and revenge.

She fluttered open her eyes only to hear the cries and whimpers of her subjects at her chamber door. Still, Shivnarayan gallantly protected her. The army and troops in the forests never returned, they had been captured. Left with nothing but a stole to cover her face and a sword in another she set her foot down. Bouts of vulnerability seemed to take over her sensory nerves, her feet refused to move and she collapsed once again as the sword clanked to the floor.

Shiv rushed into the room, securely bolting behind him the doors trying to be broken down by the angry mob. Maids were afraid beyond their wit and huddled close to each other by the window drapes. As Chandraprabha fell into his arms, she resisted.

“Shiv...let me go. I need to go, I... I have to fight. Please.”

“No Prabha. You are going nowhere. The strongest of the foot soldiers and chief generals have been captured. I cannot lose you. I can’t…” He held her close to his chest. Their heartbeats synced.

“Shiv, you have to trust me, I swear I can do this. I just need a short nap and I can do this, singlehandedly. Forget not, I’m the ruler of the Sundaraksham Dynasty.”

"How do you do things so perfectly?" Shiv jokes.

“Because I have not only the Gods and nature but also the demons by my side. Demons that want Sundaraksham’s victory. Not the ill ones like Kulavar’s.” She says proudly.

“If you are so adamant, I think we have a ceremony left.” He dipped his thumb into the red Alta placed by her table, which she used for her danced and filled the parting in her head.

“If my Prabha is to fight and die, she will as my Suhaagan, my bride. And I, if alive, her widower. Our souls have been one since years. And that’s all I ask of you. I will forever protect you.” He then gently carried her and laid her down on the bed with a slight peck to her forehead.

Chandraprabha’s eyes filled with tears as she mouthed “Me too.” Before closing her eyes, this would be her last nap. She discerned for a few minutes.

If Rani Ma was there to see Chandra fight, she would have brimmed with pride. Her strength was multifold and she had the power of a thousand horses. The Alta in her forehead smudged with sweat, she carried her army through the baffling war. Her every strategy a win. Her sword and shield seemed to work its magic and every slash seemed to weaken the enemy. Shiv fought beside her like a true husband and warrior, while a few soldiers stayed guard for the subjects locked in the Palace dungeons for protection. With tremendous help from the other tribes as well, the last tribal men died at the nook of her blade. Sundaraksham vanquished the enemy to the ground and triumphed.

She soon fell off her horse and her stole gave away her identity. As Shiv and other soldiers reached to her side, the beautiful Queen, with her long black hair and round face with rose lips, began to turn senile. Her hair a dirty off white and wrinkles on her face. She grew thin and frail. She was suddenly an old woman!

“Ever since I went into the cave, Kulavar’s deity Bhasmasur protected me. I…I had struck a deal with him, a fraction of his power and thinking, in return for, my soul. I have only a few minutes left.

“CHANDRA HOW COULD YOU?” Shiv’s voice echoed in the empty battlefield.

“Send me away, as your bride, Shiv. Not with tears, I’ve protected Sundaraksham and as per the deal, Bhasmasur should be on his way now. Peace always comes at the expense of something precious”

She spends her last moments reminiscing. She was going to her mother. Her shaking fingers wiped Shiv’s tears. As her soul departed into the fist of the demon Bhasmasur, he bowed before taking his leave. Chandra was cremated and her remains became one with nature. Shiv spent his life as a widower and the Kulavar tribe was wiped out. Sundaraksham would never be the same without their Queen’s smiles and her voice.

As grandma says this, I feel she looks a lot like Chandraprabha. I wonder about those subjects, that forest, that cave, and about Bhasmasur.

“And then what happened, granny?”

“What was left co-existed in peace without much contact. And Sundaraksham was never heard about. The Dynasty died with no ruler to take over. Legend says, Shivnarayan still waits for his bride as a madman. But the stories of Chandraprabha the warrior princess still lingers around. She was an embodiment of sacrifice, courage, and valor like every woman.”

Like every woman. That struck me.

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