Shiva stepped back and looked at the large number of men and elephants waiting patiently. ‘It’s a little crowded, isn’t it?’
Gopal smiled. ‘This is a small clearing, great Mahadev. We don’t really meet too many people.’
‘Well, let’s climb aboard your elephants and leave for Ujjain.’
‘Certainly,’ said Gopal as he gestured towards his men.
The howdahs were surprisingly spacious and could seat up to eight people in relative comfort. The carriage with Gopal and Shiva also carried Sati, Ganesh, Kartik, Brahaspati, Nandi and Parshuram.
‘I hope your journey was comfortable,’ said Gopal.
‘Yes, it certainly was,’ said Shiva, before pointing towards Ganesh. ‘My son guided us well.’
‘The Lord of the People has the reputation of a wise man,’ agreed Gopal. ‘And stories of the warrior spirit of your other son Kartik have already reached our ears.’
Kartik acknowledged the compliment with a slight nod and folded his hands into a respectful Namaste.
‘Panditji, is it because of the distance that it takes us a day to reach Ujjain, or is it the density of the forest?’ asked Shiva.
‘A bit of both, great Neelkanth. We have not built any roads from the clearing on the Chambal into the city of Ujjain. We do not really meet a lot of people. But when we do need to travel, we have well-trained elephants that make it possible for us.’
The people sitting in the howdahs had got used to the sounds of foliage crashing and scraping against the outside of the closed carriage. It had been a long and steady ride, due to which their attention was immediately drawn when the sounds stopped.
Gopal spoke up before any of them could make enquiries. ‘We’re here.’
As he said this, Gopal pressed a lever to his left. Hydraulic action made three sides of the howdah, the left, right and rear, slowly collapse outwards. Support pillars on the sides remained strong and held the howdah roof up. Horizontal metal railings ensured no passenger fell out. But none were paying attention to the engineering behind the howdah. They were all transfixed by Ujjain, the city that conquers pride.
The entirely circular city had been laid out within a giant, perfect-square clearing in the dense forest. A sturdy ring of stones, almost ten feet in depth and thirty feet in height, ran around the city; a strong and effective fort wall. The Shipra River, a tributary of the Chambal, which flowed along Ujjain, had been channelled into a moat around the walls. The moat followed the dimensions of the forest clearing. Therefore, the circular city was enclosed within a square moat. The moat was infested with crocodiles. The elephants ambled slowly towards the moat, where much to everyone’s surprise, there did not appear to be any bridge.
Shiva had seen many forts across India with retractable drawbridges across their moats. These moats provided effective defence against the siege engines that an enemy used to attack a city’s fort walls. He expected the elephants to stop and wait till the drawbridge was lowered. But neither did the elephants stop nor was there any sign of a drawbridge being lowered. Instead, there were twenty armed men who stood on the raised embankments which ran around the moat. As the elephants neared, two men stepped back and pushed hard on what appeared like cobbled ground. A button, the size of a stone block, depressed into the embankment with a soft hiss. This in turn triggered a part of the ground, just before the embankment, to slide sideways, revealing broad, gentle steps descending deep into the earth. The steps led to a well-lit tunnel which the elephants entered. The Vasudev guards went down on their knees in obeisance to the Neelkanth.
Kartik looked at Ganesh, smiling. ‘What a brilliant idea, dada!’
‘Yes. Instead of building a bridge over the moat they have built a tunnel underneath it. And the door to the tunnel merges completely into the cobbled ground, thus being effectively camouflaged.’
‘The entire ground around the moat is cobbled. This will prevent animal tracks from appearing around the tunnel entries.’
‘Unless an enemy knows exactly where the entrance is, he can never find a way to cross the moat and enter the city.’
Nandi looked at Gopal. ‘Your tribe is brilliant, Panditji.’
Gopal smiled politely.
As the elephants moved towards the city gates, the passengers noticed large geometric patterns along the walls. They were a series of concentric circles boxed within a single perfect square that skirted the outermost circle. It seemed to symbolise the aerial layout of Ujjain. The circular fort wall of the city was not an accident but the culmination of what the Vasudevs believed was the perfect geometric design.
‘We have built the entire city in the form of a mandal,’ said Gopal.
‘What is the mandal, Panditji?’ asked Shiva.
‘It’s a symbolic representation of an approach to spirituality.’
‘The square boundary of the moat symbolises Prithvi, the land we live on. It is represented by a square that is bound on four sides, just like our land which is also bound by the four directions. The space within the square represents Prakriti or nature, as the land that we live on is uncultured and a wild jungle. Within it, the path of consciousness is the path of the Parmatma, which is represented by the circle.’
‘Why a circle?’
‘The Parmatma is the supreme soul. It is infinite. And if you want to represent infinity through a geometric pattern, you cannot do better than with a circle. It has no beginning. It has no end. You cannot add another side to it. You cannot remove a side from it. It is perfect. It is infinity.’
A bird’s eye view of Ujjain would show that within the circular fort wall, there were five tree-lined ring roads that had been laid out in concentric circles. The outermost road skirted the fort walls. The remaining four were arranged in concentric circles of decreasing diameter. The smallest ring road circled the massive Vishnu temple at the centre of the city. Twenty paved radial roads extended in straight lines from the outermost ring road to the innermost.
These roads effectively divided Ujjain into five zones. The outermost zone, between the fourth and the fifth ring road, had massive wooden stables for various domesticated animals such as cows and horses. The pride of place was occupied by the thousands of well-trained elephants. The next zone, between the third and the fourth ring road, was for the residences of the novices and trainees. It also housed their schools, markets and entertainment districts. The zone between the second and the third ring road housed the Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras amongst the Vasudevs. The one between the first and the second ring road housed the Brahmins, the community which administered the tribe of Vasudevs. And within the first ring road, in the heart of the city, was the holiest place in Ujjain, their central temple.
The temple was made of black bricks and was what had appeared as a ‘hill’ to Shiva from the Chambal. Entirely man-made, this temple was in the shape of a perfect, inverted cone, with its base in a circle, supported by a thousand pillars running along its circumference. The conical temple was completely hollow inside and rose in ever smaller circles to reach its peak at a height of a gigantic two hundred metres. A central pillar, made of hard granite, had been erected within the temple, to support the massive weight of the ceiling. A giant cupola, made of black limestone, had been placed at the apex of the temple. Weighing almost forty tonnes, the cupola had been rolled onto the top of the temple by using elephants to pull the stone over a twenty-kilometre long gradual incline. It was the remnants of this incline that Shiva had seen at the Chambal.