the oath of the vayuputras - Page 111

Veerbhadra placed his hand on Parshuram’s. ‘For Shiva.’

Kali placed her hand on top. ‘For Sati.’

Chapter 51

Live On, Do Your Karma

‘You want to enter Devagiri?’ screeched Krittika. ‘Are you mad?’

‘I will be back soon, Krittika,’ argued Veerbhadra. ‘There is no lawlessness in the city. You’ve seen the way the Meluhans are behaving.’

‘That may be so. But Vidyunmali’s men will surely be prowling the streets. What do you think they’re going to do? Welcome you with flowers?’

‘They will not notice me, Krittika.’

‘Nonsense! Most people in Devagiri recognise you as the Lord Neelkanth’s friend.’

‘They will recognise me only if they see me. It’s late at night. I’m going to be hidden from view. Nobody will notice me.’

‘Why can’t you send someone else?’

‘Because this is the least I can do for my friend. We need to find out who Princess Sati’s actual killers are. Vidyunmali knows. He is the one who organised and implemented this peace farce.’

‘But we are destroying the entire city. All the conspirators will be dead in any case!’

‘Krittika, many of the killers got away,’ said Veerbhadra. ‘Except for Vidyunmali, nobody knows who they are. If we don’t get to know their identities now, we will never know.’

Krittika looked away, having run out of arguments but still deeply troubled. ‘I’m as angry as you are about Princess Sati’s death. But the killing has to stop some time.’

‘I have to go, Krittika.’

Veerbhadra tried to kiss her goodbye but she turned her face away. He could understand her anger. She had lost the woman she had idolised all her life. Her hometown, Devagiri, was about to be destroyed. She did not want to risk losing her husband as well. But Veerbhadra had to do this. Sati’s killers had to be punished.

‘Panditji,’ said Kartik, his hands folded in a Namaste and his head bowed low.

Bhrigu opened his eyes. The maharishi had been meditating in the grand Indra temple next to the Public Bath.

‘Lord Kartik,’ said Bhrigu, surprised to see Kartik in Devagiri at this time of night.

‘I’m too young for you to address me as Lord, great Maharishi,’ said Kartik.

‘Noble deeds make a man a Lord, not merely his age. I have heard about your efforts to ensure the Somras is not completely destroyed. History will thank you for it. Your glory will be recounted for ages.’

‘I’m not working for my own glory, Panditji. My task is to be true to my father’s mission. My task is to do what my mother would have wanted me to do.’

Bhrigu smiled. ‘I don’t think your mother would have wanted you to come here. I don’t think she would have wanted you to save me.’

‘I disagree,’ said Kartik. ‘You are a good man. You just picked the wrong side.’

‘I didn’t just pick this side, I led it into battle. And the dictates of dharma demand that I perish with it.’

‘Why?’

‘If the side I led committed such crimes, I must pay for it. If fate has determined that those that supported the Somras have sinned, then the Somras must be evil. I was wrong. And, my punishment is death.’

‘Isn’t that taking the easy way out?’

Bhrigu stared at Kartik, angered by the implied insult.

‘So you think you have done something wrong, Panditji,’ said Kartik. ‘What is the way out? Escaping through death? Or, actually working to set things right by balancing your karma?’

‘What can I do? I’ve conceded that the Somras is evil. There’s nothing left for me to do now.’

‘You have a vast storehouse of knowledge within you Panditji,’ said Kartik. ‘The Somras is not the only subject you excel at. Should the world be deprived of Lord Bhrigu’s Samhita?’

‘I don’t think anyone is interested in my knowledge.’

‘That is for posterity to determine. You should only do your duty.’

Bhrigu fell silent.

‘Panditji, your karma is to spread your knowledge throughout the world,’ said Kartik. ‘Whether others choose to listen or not is their karma.’

Bhrigu shook his head as a wry smile softened his expression. ‘You speak well, son of the Neelkanth. But I chose to support something that turned out to be evil. For this sin, I must die. There is no karma left for me in this life. I will have to wait to be born again.’

‘One cannot allow a bad deed to arrest the wheel of karma. Don’t banish yourself from this world as a punishment for your sin. Instead, stay here and do some Good, so that you can cleanse your karma.’

Bhrigu stared at Kartik silently.

‘One cannot undo what has happened. But the inexorable march of time offers the wise opportunities for redemption. I entreat you, do not escape. Stay in this world and do your karma.’

Bhrigu smiled. ‘You are very intelligent for such a young boy.’

‘I’m the son of Shiva and Sati,’ smiled Kartik. ‘I am the younger brother of Ganesh. When the gardeners are good, the flower will bloom.’

Bhrigu turned towards the idol of Lord Indra within the sanctum sanctorum. The great God, the killer of the primal demon Vritra, stood resplendent as he held his favourite weapon, Vajra, the thunderbolt. Bhrigu folded his hands into a Namaste and bowed, praying for the God’s blessing.

The maharishi then turned back to Kartik and whispered, ‘Samhita...’

‘The Bhrigu Samhita,’ said Kartik. ‘The world will benefit from your vast knowledge, Panditji. Come with me. Don’t sit here and wait for death.’

The sun rose on the day that would be Devagiri’s last. The Pashupatiastra was ready. After barring the gates, Shiva’s soldiers had been asked to retreat beyond the safety line, out of the range of the expected radius of exposure. The relatives of those remaining within Devagiri too waited patiently, as they were herded back by Chandraketu’s Brangas. They kept up a constant prayer for the souls of their loved ones who were left behind in the city.

Maharishi Bhrigu and another three hundred people, who knew the secrets of the Somras, had been successfully spirited out of Devagiri the previous night. They were now kept imprisoned in a temporary stockade ten kilometres north of Devagiri under the watchful eye of Divodas and his soldiers. Kartik intended to wait for his father’s anger to subside before talking to him about Bhrigu and the others.

The peace conference building had been abandoned. Nandi and the other surviving bodyguards had been carefully evacuated onto Shiva’s ship, where a medical team under the supervision of Ayurvati maintained a constant vigil.

Ayurvati was worried about the blackish-red mark on Shiva’s brow. It had made its appearance many times before, especially when Shiva was angry. But very rarely had it stayed for so long. Shiva had brushed aside Ayurvati’s concerns.

Shiva, Kali, Ganesh and Kartik carried Sati’s body gently to a specially prepared cabin on the ship. Her corpse was laid with great care within another tomb of ice.

Shiva gently ran his hand across Sati’s face and whispered, ‘Devagiri will pay for its crimes, my love. You will be avenged.’

As Shiva stepped back, the soldiers placed another block of ice on top, enveloping Sati’s body completely.