Drupada’s Secret

As they settled down in their new capital, the younger Panchala royals began talking about attacking the Kuru kingdom, taking Dronacharya hostage and forcing Ashwatthama to abdicate his throne, thus reclaiming the lost half of their kingdom.

One suggested a stealth attack during the night. Another said it was futile to go after the Kuru kingdom and proposed to capture or kill Ashwatthama.

Drupada all this while sat in silence, contemplating the next course of action. The insult he had been handed out must be avenged. A single warrior, a teenager, riding a single horse chariot, equipped with only a single quiver full of arrows defeated his border guards, his palace sentries, his personal bodyguards, entered his palace in broad daylight, defeated him in a single duel. It took the youngster less than a minute to disarm him, tie him up and ride back to his kingdom. He was speechless and spellbound by this juvenile’s skill and mastery.

Just a week ago, a small group of his elite forces repulsed a silly attack by a handful of Kaurava princes. The oldest of them showed brilliant mace fighting skill but he and his 5 brothers were no match to the one hundred and eighty strong battalion. They fled before being captured. At the time the Panchala king thought it was a foolish incursion by some miscreant princes. Little did he know that his childhood friend was behind all this, and that his kingdom would be split in two.

His minister Madhupala sat beside him.

“What are you thinking? O great king? You have been very silent in contemplation. The palace is abuzz with rumors that you are too stunned to take control of this half kingdom. I know you are planning something. I can probably help”

“He just turned sixteen. Such radiance. Such finesse. Such power. And such nobility. He treated me with utmost respect. When he put his sword to my jugular, it did not even touch my skin. I didn’t feel a thing. But I knew if I moved an inch I would be dead. The way he disarmed me. Such dexterity. He didn’t grab my sword from me. There was no force. It was like he was playing a musical instrument.”

“So you think we cannot win as long as he is with Hastinapura?”

“No. Revenge is such a petty thing. Dronacharya took revenge on me because I turned him away. Because he thought I promised him half a kingdom. Because he thought I ignored him during his time of need. Because he thought I threw him out of the kingdom. He plotted all these years to defeat me and take half of my kingdom. Such negativity. Such anger. Such pettiness. No my dear Madhupala. Drupada will not seek revenge. I refuse to live in constant anger of his deeds. But I am a Kshatriya and I need to do my duty. Half of my kingdom was taken away by someone. The kingdom that my ancestors built painstakingly. The person responsible for this will pay the price. He will die. By my sword. But I will not wield it.”

Madhupala wondered what his king was talking about.

“We need to think smartly about this one. This retribution will be done on two fronts. Our first strategy must be to disarm Arjuna and the Pandavas. I don’t mean by attacking them. I need them on my side.”

Madhupala intervened, “The best way to accomplish that is to make them your relatives. Arjuna is young. They will soon be looking for a bride for him. Can we not find a pretty princess in the royal family to betroth him? Once he is a son-in-law of this land, he will not go against you”

Drupada smiled, “I have someone in mind”

“What is the other idea?”

“I need a fearless warrior. I need someone who can break the rules of engagement when the time comes. He must be built like a warrior yet speak softly like a doting father. He must be raw and uncivilized yet willing to adapt to the royal ways. He must be a mercenary. We shall have him trained in Hastinapura. He shall have a teacher like no other. And he shall kill that same teacher when time comes”

Madhupala trembled at the coldness of Drupada’s scheme. He had clearly underestimated his majesty. He still had one question in mind, “Where will we find such a person?”

Drupada smiled, “Travel south past the holy river. You will reach a thick forest. At the edge of the forest is a small town, distinct by its circular shape. Its men are built like champion fighters and its women are dazzling beauties. At the northeast corner of the town is a small house surrounded by 3 layers of fences. Beware of the third and innermost fence. It is built with the thorniest shrubs and interspersed with mesmeric flowers that emanate poisonous fumes, benumbing the unsuspecting. Living in that house are a brother and sister. Bring them to me. It’s time they took their true place in this palace”

Madhupala always wondered where Drupada would disappear some times, riding solo to the river in the darkness of the night. No one dared to follow him, for fear of incurring his wrath. He suspected that the king had an illicit relationship that he was not ready to disclose. Today he needed confirmation.

Even before he could formulate his question, Drupada answered, “Yes Madhupala, they are my children. They have royal blood flowing through their veins. And yes, the queen knows. She has even met them.”

“I will announce them to the world on this coming ekadasi. Have the sages and brahmins in the kingdom perform a yagna starting tomorrow. The yagna must be like no other the world has witnessed. Fires from the yagna must reach the sky. On ekadasi, bring my beautiful children to the palace. Their father and their kingdom awaits them”

 

The Vengeful Brahmin

… continued from The Broken Promise

“What do you expect from me, o teacher?”, asked the 9 year old prince with exceptional archery skills.

He was the teacher’s favorite. The preceptor, a man who traveled weeks by foot, feeding his family alms given by benefactors all through the arduous westbound route, had a resolve like no other. Within days of meeting Bhishma, he set up a tiny camp to train the Hastinapura princes. As Bhishma watched in amazement, in a matter of two months a state-of-the-art military training facility went up south of the capital. Bhishma had one condition for providing everything the man needed: until they graduated, only the Kuru and Pandava princes would be trained here. Nobody else. There were a hundred and seven of them anyways – the one hundred Kauravas, their sister Dushala, the Pandavas and Yuyutsu, the Kauravas’ half-brother. The man agreed but convinced Bhishma to add one other name to the roster: his own son Ashwatthama.

Drona, now known as Dronacharya, looked at the young prince and said, “The next seven years of your life. I will make you an archer of world renown. You will be a warrior like no other. You will be able to conquer the world. Enemies will fear and flee without a fight, when they hear your name. You will not just learn weaponry. You will be the embodiment of astras. I will even teach you the astras you shouldn’t be using, ever. All I need is seven years”

The young Arjuna’s eyes lit up at the mention of weapons and archery. But the kshatriya in him rose to the fore and he asked, “What is it that you seek from me in return?”.

“A king’s head”, said the middle aged teacher, testing Arjuna for mental strength.

“I am a kshatriya. I cannot kill someone as a guru dakshina. It is against my code. I can disarm and produce him in front of a court, if he so deserves. If he poses a threat to my kingdom I could defeat and make him a prisoner. But kill, I cannot”

Dronacharya knew at that moment that this child would make a great warrior, intrepid but righteous. He saw in him the weapon he needed to extract his revenge.

“I am proud you answered like a Kshatriya, young Arjuna. I would not want you to kill someone as a guru dakshina. However, I will ask you at the time to defeat someone. And you shall not say no”

Arjuna was clearly his favorite student. His concentration, application and skill were unmatched. He strung the bow with different tensions, varying them based on the arrows he used. He invented his own mechanism to tighten or loosen the string so he can use the right weapons on the right enemy. For targets such as fowl and birds he would use minimum force. For large animals he tightened the string. His bowstring techniques were stuff of legend. His arrows could pierce through the toughest shield and the softest fabric with equal panache. Stringing the bow made his right thumb sore. So he decided to turn to his left hand. Soon he became ambidextrous with the bow and sword. During regular student displays, he would alternate between his arms with such silky fluidity that the audience were left awestruck.

One night, he saw a shadowy figure head towards the pantry. Picking up his bow and a few arrows he tiptoed down and followed the figure. The gait looked familiar but he couldn’t make out who it was in the darkness. The figure entered the pantry looking for food. Once found, it sat down and gorged on the leftover meat and rice. After a few moments it was clear to Arjuna that the figure was none other than his own brother Bhima. But the thought of not being able to recognize him in the dark bothered him, as much as his amazement at the fact that his brother followed the smell of food and didn’t need a light to empty up the vessels. The next day he disclosed this to his acharya, who smiled at Bhima. He took a blindfold, tied it to Arjuna and asked him to shoot his arrows based on sounds. Arjuna then practiced and mastered nocturnal archery, in pitch black conditions, relying only on sounds and intuition.

Seven years later, Dronacharya had successfully tutored his pupils to varying degrees of expertise in weaponry, martial arts, commanding armies, discharging various missiles and chemical warfare. His ace students were the usual suspects. Arjuna was the all round champion with extraordinary skill with the bow. Bhima and Suyodhana wielded the mace like no other. It was hard to choose between them. Dronacharya often wondered who would win in a duel. Sahadeva brandished the sword like a magician’s wand.

On the day of graduation, each disciple lined up and asked the master his guru dakshina. Dronacharya pardoned everyone, except Arjuna. Of Arjuna he said, “Do you remember what I asked of you on the first day?”

“Yes acharya, whom shall I apprehend?”

Before the teacher could answer, Suyodhana intervened, “Acharya, why would you waste Arjuna’s prodigious talents on a small mission like detaining someone? I and a couple of my brothers can easily capture the offender. Be it a petty thief or a rogue king”

Dronacharya, having seen the sibling rivalry that existed between the cousins, decided he would humor the Kaurava prince.

He turned towards him and said, “As you wish, young Suyodhana. I want you to take with you as many of your brothers as you want. Go to the Panchala kingdom, defeat its king Drupada and bring him as a prisoner to me”

Although some of his brothers expressed doubts, Suyodhana expressed confidence and set out in the southeast direction to capture the mighty Drupada.

To be continued…