Chapter Two - Part I
1120 AD, Avanti, State of Kalinga
Pratap Kishor is racing through the uneventful early morning. There was a drizzle in the last prahar (between 2 am and 5 am) of the night. The beauty of the dawn has not stopped droning peacefully like a loving partner’s whispers. The blazing blue sky is pouring down torrents of thin orange light and trying to play hide and seek with the rising Sun. Gangashiuli plants have shed all their flowers, leaving behind a redolent yet lazy March morning. The sparrows have not stopped chirping, perhaps confused due to the sparsely clouded weather.
Pratap is walking fast to get into the Raj Prasad as early as possible. The captain of unbridled ferocity is disturbed by the emergency meeting summoned by the King. He has even forgotten to dress properly. Nevertheless, he is carrying all his weapons required for war. His wife always complains of him picking up the sword in his hands even in the middle of the night every time he wakes up. Once his wife was almost on the verge of losing her life when she tried to surprise him by making a loud yet playful noise. Pratap’s sword was on the verge of cutting her throat before he recognised her. There were many incidents of weak soldiers soiling in front of him.
The cow dung collectors are busy cleaning the roads and collecting the dungs. Once the dung has dried, these are given to the poor people as a substitute for firewood. Shacks with thatched roofs along the coast are busy selling fish, vegetables, small ornaments and artefacts made of shell. Some local fishermen are getting ready for the early morning fishing from the nearby sea.
As usual, the old men have assembled near the Babuna, the banyan tree which is easily identified by its aerial prop roots, overly grown into thick woody trunks. The Kalinga king has made sitting arrangements around the periphery of the Babuna to help the older generation spew some of the frustration they face in their families due to the potential generation gap. For someone wanting to collect besmirch of rumours, this is the right place in the entire Avanti, the capital of King Indradyumna.
Nagi Nana has a special respect for the Babuna tree. According to him, Babuna is not just a banyan tree, but a mute witness to countless indescribable facts – some resonate pleasant memories worth giving a new life when recollected, yet many others brutal and unpleasant excrescence.
The sweeper has come to collect the dried leaves on time and prefers to start from Babuna. After collecting the dried leaves from many places, he burns them before lunchtime as per the royal orders. Small children are busy playing with sand, dust and logged rainwater. Some of them are wearing their winter clothes today due to the cold weather post the unusual rains. A pair of parrots on the branches of the tree is trying to tease the playing kids.
‘Pintu or Chintu. Who wins today?’, the male parrot asks with an intention to increase the tension between Pintu and Chintu, who are playing as friendly as possible today, unlike other days.
‘These parrots seem to have learnt human vices since they enjoy the plight of others,’ Utsav Nana waves his hand and starts throwing small pebbles at them.
‘Even they can’t see small children play peacefully. Look at the disciplined pigeons – learn from them. Just one handful of rice grain has made the entire flock settle down,’ he picks up a small pebble and throws it towards the pair.
Utsav Nana and the parrots have a long history of hatred and enmity. People compare their hatred with that between the snake and the mongoose.
‘Aye Utu. Shout!’ the parrots start teasing Utsav Nana. That was the end of Nana’s patience. He hates anyone who calls him ‘Utu’, a most derogatory comment requiring immediate denial.
He gets up from his seat and runs towards the birds with a broken stick.
‘Hey! Wait!’, Nagi Nana fixes his experienced ears towards the south. ‘I can hear the sound of approaching horses.’ All are surprised and a panic rushes through them.
‘I saw Senapati Pratap Kishor Singh rushing towards the Raj Prasad few minutes ago along with few horsemen,’ Ranjan adds.
Within a few minutes, the hooves of horses trample on the dried leaves, leaving behind murmurs of amazement and incredulity. King’s men are entering the Raj Prasad one after another. King Indradyumna has called for an emergency meeting at the start of the second prahar of the morning. Each time the king had such meetings in the past, a war followed. All the king’s men are anxious and scared of thinking about the possible outcome of the meeting.
Earlier that year, Kalinga had won a battle against the Rashtrakutas. After the victory, the king had announced five years of hibernation from the battlefield and wanted his men to focus on the growth of culture, spread the wings of the rich Kalinga heritage, rejuvenate the brotherhood, and kindle the spark of creativity. He wanted his men to win the hearts of people who were their enemies in the battlefield.
The king is renowned for keeping his promise. Therefore, the people are alarmed speculating a deviation from the norm. The early emergency meeting has generated enough doubt in their minds.
Kings’ men start entering the Raj Prasad one after another. The main entrance of the Raj Prasad is thirty feet high and the gate is made of specially produced cast iron coated with copper and gold. It is very heavy and strong and it almost takes ten minutes to open the gate with the support of eight stout men.
The presence of the Sudarshan Chakra at the top of the closed gate adds to the value of the royal gate depicting the vision of the Kalinga King. The Sudarshan Chakra symbolizes the Hindu god Vishnu who is called The Preserver of humanity. It has twelve spokes representing twelve months of the calendar and 108 edges symbolizing the submission of twelve months to each of the nine planets through prayers to get salvation.
Flanked by seven royal flags of different colours, one for each day of the week, the main gate upholds the glorious legacy of the kings and their kingdom.
‘Please be vigilant. His Highness, the holder of the powerful sword Sri Pratap Kishor Singh, is entering the Raj Prasad.’, the head gatekeeper heralds while two of his subordinates buzz their tuba. Today is a busy day for the trio, announcing everyone to the Raj Sabha.
The stairs of the main hall of the Raj Prasad are decorated with eleven types of yellow and white flowers every day because of his Excellency’s penchant for prime numbers. His choice of numbers always had some scientific and mythological significance.
The whole of Raj Prasad is carved with sculptures from the the Kalinga region. It has depictions of Odissi, Chhau and Gotipua dance forms on the marble floors starting right from the main door. There are pictures of mrudang, harmonium, manjira along with beautiful dancing ladies on the floor, highlighting the King’s love for art. King Indradyumna and his forefathers were passionate art lovers and helped Kalinga achieve the pinnacle of the cultural establishment during the reign of the Ganga dynasty.
The main hall is very big. The king’s crown is in the north of the hall, so it faces south. It is made from tarakasi (filigree) work and several dozen tarakasi experts took more than six months to make the peacock crown. It has three sets of peacock wing-like structures. Those three sets symbolize the power of Brahma (The Creator), Vishnu (The Preserver) and Shiva (The Destroyer). The king believes that being a King is a huge responsibility, and he should give equal importance to the three aspects of life — creation, preservation, and demolition.
A big diamond is engraved in the crown. The diamond is so placed in the crown that it doesn’t blaze the Raj Sabha when the elite club takes their seats on the two front lines parallel to the main door. The diamond has an exemplary illumination capability when the room is dark.
When the King takes his position at the crown, he faces south. King Indradyumna believes that the north is the direction of wisdom and so the back of his head must face north whenever he wants to talk to his subjects. That way he carries the impression of receiving wisdom from the unseen powers of the north and transmitting the same to his men. The walls of the Raj Sabha exhibit the achievements of the Ganga dynasty. Some are good memories, and some are bad. Nevertheless, every image has a message to convey and a story to tell.
‘Please be vigilant. His Highness, the holder of the all-powerful mind Sri Vidyapati Paikarai, is entering the Raj Prasad.’, the head gatekeeper announces while two of his subordinates continue buzzing their tuba.