the oath of the vayuputras - Page 26

‘That’s exactly what the Vasudevs and I discussed. My proclamation should not only reach the royalty but every citizen of India directly. The best way to ensure this is to display the proclamation in all the temples. All Indians visit temples regularly, and when they do, they will read my order.’

‘And I’m sure the people will be with you. Let’s hope that the kings listen to the will of their people.’

‘Yes, I cannot think of another way to avoid war. I expect unflinching support from only the royalty of Kashi, Panchavati and Branga. Every other king will make his choice based on selfish interests alone.’

Sati held Shiva’s hand and smiled. ‘But we have the King of Kings, the Parmatma himself with us. We will not lose.’

‘We cannot afford to lose,’ said Shiva. ‘The fate of the nation is at stake.’

‘Are you sure you can do this, Kartik?’ asked Ganesh.

Kartik looked up at his brother with eyes like still waters. ‘Of course, I can. I’m your brother.’

Ganesh smiled and stepped away from the elephant mounting platform. Kartik and another diminutive Vasudev soldier were sitting on a howdah atop one of the largest bull elephants in the Ujjain stables. The howdah had been altered from its standard structure; the roof had been removed and the side walls cut by half. This reduced the protection to the riders, but dramatically improved their ability to fire weapons. Kartik had come up with an innovative idea that used the elephant as more than just a battering ram for enemy lines; instead, it could be used as a high platform from which to fire weapons in all directions.

This strategy envisioned a deliberate and co-ordinated movement of war elephants as opposed to a wild charge. The issue of the choice of weapons, however, remained. Arrows discharged from elephant-back could never be so numerous as to cause serious damage. The Vasudev military engineers were ready with a solution – an innovative flame-thrower which used a refined version of the liquid black fuel imported from Mesopotamia. This devastating weapon spewed a continuous stream of fire, burning all that stood in its path. The fuel tanks occupied a substantial part of the howdah, leaving just enough room for two such weapons and infantrymen. The flame-throwers were not just heavy but released intense heat while operational. Therefore, they required strong operators. But constraints of space in the howdah also meant that the operators be, perforce, of short stature. Kartik, along with such a soldier, had volunteered to man this potential inferno.

Ganesh stood at a distance along with Parshuram, Nandi and Brahaspati. He shouted out to his brother. ‘Are you ready, Kartik?’

Kartik shouted back, ‘I was born ready, dada.’

Ganesh smiled as he turned towards the Vasudev commander. ‘Let’s begin, brave Vasudev.’

The commander nodded and waved a red flag.

Kartik and the Vasudev soldier immediately struck a flame and lit the weapons. Two devilishly long streams of fire burst out and reached almost thirty metres, on both sides of the elephant. A protective covering around the elephant’s sides ensured it did not feel the heat. Kartik and the Vasudev had been tasked with reducing some thirty mud statues to ashes. The ‘enemy’ mud soldiers had been spread out, to test the range and accuracy of the weapon. Though heavy, the fire-weapons were surprisingly manoeuvrable. The mahout concentrated on following Kartik’s orders and the mud-soldiers were reduced to ashes in no time.

Parshuram turned towards Ganesh. ‘These can be devastating in war, Lord Ganesh. What do you think?’

Ganesh smiled as he borrowed a phrase from his father. ‘Hell yes!’

‘We have transcribed your proclamation, Lord Neelkanth,’ said Gopal.

Gopal and Shiva were in the Vishnu temple, near the central pillar. Shiva read the papyrus scroll.

To all of you who consider yourselves the children of Manu and followers of the Sanatan Dharma, this is a message from me, Shiva, your Neelkanth.

I have travelled across our great land, through all the kingdoms we are divided into, met with all the tribes that populate our fair realm. I have done this in search of the ultimate Evil, for that is my task. Father Manu had told us Evil is not a distant demon. It works its destruction close to us, with us, within us. He was right. He told us Evil does not come from down below and devour us. Instead, we help Evil destroy our lives. He was right. He told us Good and Evil are two sides of the same coin. That one day, the greatest Good will transform into the greatest Evil. He was right. Our greed in extracting more and more from Good turns it into Evil. This is the universe’s way of restoring balance. It is the Parmatma’s way to control our excesses.

I have come to the conclusion that the Somras is now the greatest Evil of our age. All the Good that could be wrung out of the Somras has been wrung. It is time now to stop its use, before the power of its Evil destroys us all. It has already caused tremendous damage, from the killing of the Saraswati River to birth deformities to the diseases that plague some of our kingdoms. For the sake of our descendants, for the sake of our world, we cannot use the Somras anymore.

Therefore, by my order, the use of the Somras is banned forthwith.

To all those who believe in the legend of the Neelkanth: Follow me. Stop the Somras.

To all those who refuse to stop using the Somras: Know this. You will become my enemy. And I will not stop till the use of the Somras is stopped. This is the word of your Neelkanth.

Shiva looked up and nodded.

‘This will be distributed to all the pandits in all the Vasudev temples across the Sapt Sindhu,’ said Gopal. ‘Our Vasudev Kshatriyas will also travel to other temples across the land. They will carry your proclamation carved on stone tablets and fix them on the walls of temples. All of them will be put up on the same night, one year from now. The kings will have no way to control it since it will be released simultaneously all over. Your word will reach the people.’

This is exactly what Shiva wanted. ‘Perfect, Panditji. This will give us one year to prepare for war. I would like to be in Kashi when this proclamation is released.’

‘Yes, my friend. Until then, we need to prepare for war.’

‘I also need to use this one year to uncover the identity of my true enemy.’

Gopal frowned. ‘What do you mean, great Neelkanth?’

‘I don’t believe that either Emperor Daksha or Emperor Dilipa is capable of mounting a conspiracy of this scale. They are obviously being led by someone. That person is my real enemy. I need to find him.’

‘I thought you know who your real enemy is.’

‘Do you know his identity?’

‘Yes, I do. And you are right. He is truly dangerous.’

‘Is he so capable, Panditji?’

‘A lot of people are capable, Neelkanth. What makes a capable person truly dangerous is his conviction. If we believe that we’re fighting on the side of Evil, there is moral weakness in our mind. Somewhere deep within, the heart knows that we’re wrong. But what happens if we actually believe in the righteousness of our cause? What if your enemy genuinely believes that he is the one fighting for Good and that you, the Neelkanth, are fighting for Evil?’

Shiva raised his eyebrows. ‘Such a person will never stop fighting. Just like I won’t.’

‘Exactly.’

‘Who is this man?’

‘He is a maharishi, in fact most people in India revere him as a Saptrishi Uttradhikari,’ said Gopal, using the Indian term for the successors of the seven great sages of yore. ‘His scientific knowledge and devotion to the Parmatma are second to none in the modern age. His immense spiritual power makes emperors quake in his presence. He leads a selfless, frugal life in Himalayan caves. He comes down to the plains only when he feels that India’s interests are threatened. And he has spent the whole of last year in either Meluha or Ayodhya.’