The addition of the massive Yamuna, along with the already worthy presence of the enormous Brahmaputra, had enhanced the mighty Ganga into the biggest river system in India. It also came to be believed that the Yamuna carried the soul of the Saraswati into the Ganga, thus transforming it into the holiest river in India. In a sense, the devotion associated with the hallowed river Saraswati had been transferred onto the Ganga. Furthermore, the burst of fresh clean water from the Yamuna had cleansed the poisonous waters in Branga, freeing the great rivers in that land of the Somras poison. The Brangas living at Gangasagar, the place where the resurgent Ganga met the sea, began to believe in a legend over time: that the Ganga had purified their land. It was a myth that was not far from the truth.
Meluha, without the centralising presence of Devagiri, had devolved into its different provinces which became independent kingdoms. Without the incompetent rule of Daksha and with the fresh breath of freedom, there had been a burst of creativity and an efflorescence of varied but equally beautiful cultures.
Shiva heard a loud laugh, which he knew could belong only to Bhagirath. He turned and looked at him, standing near a bonfire, talking animatedly to Gopal and Kali. Dilipa had been deposed by his army before the destruction of Devagiri. He was succeeded by Bhagirath, who had ruled Ayodhya wisely, heralding a new era of peace and prosperity. Judging by the expression on Dilipa’s face as he stood close to Bhagirath, the former emperor seemed to have made peace with his fate.
Shiva turned his attention to the tall, lanky figure speaking with Bhagirath and Kali. The great Vasudev perhaps sensed that somebody was looking at him. He turned to look at Shiva, smiled, folded his hands into a Namaste and bowed low. Shiva returned Gopal’s greeting with a formal Namaste. Gopal had made his peace with Shiva.
The outcome at Devagiri was certainly not what the Vasudev chief had desired. But what had given him peace was the realisation that Evil had been removed and the knowledge of the Somras saved. India had rejuvenated itself as the malevolent effects of Evil were removed. The Neelkanth had succeeded in his mission, and in that lay the success of the Vasudevs. Gopal had also established formal relations with Veerbhadra and the citizens of Lhasa, the new tribe of the Mahadev. The Vasudevs and the Lhasans would maintain their watch over India in tandem, ensuring that this divine land continued to prosper and grow with balance.
Seeing his friend Gopal also reminded Shiva of the Vayuputras. They had never forgiven Shiva for having used the Pashupatiastra. It had been a source of particular embarrassment for the Mithra since he had personally backed the announcement of Shiva as the Neelkanth, against some virulent opposition. The punishment for the unauthorised use of a daivi astra was a fourteen-year exile. As a form of atonement for breaking his word to them, and for having been the cause of the death of his mother-in-law Veerini and his friends Parvateshwar and Anandmayi, Shiva had punished himself with exile from India; not just for fourteen years, but for the entire duration of his remaining life.
Shiva hadn’t noticed Ganesh, Kartik and Kali sneak up on him.
‘Baba, it’s the feast of the Night of the Mahadev,’ said Ganesh. ‘And the Mahadev needs to be a part of the celebration instead of brooding next to the lake.’
Shiva nodded slowly. His neck had begun to hurt a bit; the perils of old age.
‘Help me up,’ said Shiva, as he made an effort to rise.
Kartik and Ganesh immediately leaned forward, helping their father to his feet.
‘Ganesh, you get fatter every time I see you.’
Ganesh laughed heartily. He had suffered intensely and taken a long time to recover from his mother’s death, but had ultimately reconciled himself with that loss, choosing to learn from her life instead. He had taken it upon himself to spread the word of Shiva and Sati throughout India. That sense of purpose in his life had helped him return to his calm state of being; in fact, he was even jovial at times.
‘Thanks to your wisdom, peace prevails all over India, baba,’ said Ganesh. ‘There are no more wars, no conflicts. So I do very little physical activity and eat a lot. Ultimately, the way I see it, it’s your fault that I’m getting fatter.’
Kali and Kartik laughed loudly. Shiva nodded faintly, his eyes not losing their seriousness.
‘You should smile sometimes, baba,’ said Kartik. ‘It will make us happy.’
Shiva stared at Kartik. It had been a long time since Sati’s death, and even young Kartik was now beginning to acquire a smattering of white hair. Shiva knew that Kartik had travelled a very long distance to come to Kailash. After most of Shiva’s tasks had been completed and he had decided to return to Kailash-Mansarovar, Kartik had migrated to the south of the Narmada, going deep into the ancient heartland of India; the land of Lord Manu.
History had recorded that Lord Manu was a prince of the Pandya dynasty. This dynasty had ruled the prehistoric land of Sangamtamil. That nation and its fine Sangam culture had been destroyed as sea levels had risen with the end of the last Ice Age. Kartik had discovered that many people continued to live in this ancient Indian fatherland, breaking Lord Manu’s law that banned people from travelling south of the Narmada. Kartik had established a new Sangam culture on the banks of the southern-most major river of India, the Kaveri.
‘I will smile when the three of you will reveal your secret,’ said Shiva.
‘What secret?’ asked Kartik.
‘You know what I’m talking about.’
Shiva did discover in due course that on the night before the destruction of Devagiri, Kali, Parshuram and Veerbhadra had kidnapped Vidyunmali. Under pain of vicious torture, Vidyunmali had revealed the names of Sati’s assassins. He had then been tormented with a brutal and slow death.
A few years after the destruction of Devagiri, Kali, Ganesh, Kartik, Parshuram and Veerbhadra had slipped out of India. Nobody really knew where they had disappeared. They had consistently refused to tell Shiva, perhaps because he had prohibited any further reprisals for Sati’s death. But Shiva had his suspicions...
Those suspicions were not unfounded, because around the same time, rumours had arisen in Egypt about the near complete destruction of the secretive tribe of Aten. It was said that the death of each of the tribe’s leaders had been long, slow and painful, their blood-curdling screams echoing through the hearts of their followers. What Kali and the rest didn’t know was that a few months earlier Swuth had exiled himself. He had gone south, to the source of the Nile River, and had spent the rest of his years bemoaning the fact that he had been unable to complete his holy duty of executing the final kill. But the magnificence of Sati had been branded upon his soul. He didn’t know her name. So he worshipped her as a nameless goddess till his last days. His descendants continued the tradition. The few remaining survivors of the tribe of Aten would have to wait for centuries before a revolutionary Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, reformed and revived the cult. That Pharaoh would be remembered as the great Akhenaten, the living spirit of Aten. But that is another story.
‘Baba, we had gone to...’
Kali placed her hand on Kartik’s lips. ‘There’s nothing to reveal, Shiva. Except that the food is extremely delicious. You need to eat. So follow me.’
Shiva shook his head. ‘You still haven’t lost your regal airs.’