Saturday, March 30, 2013

The eye of the bird

Duryodhana was going to attend his classes and he hated it. He did not hate the classes themselves, he just hated learning these arts along with the blasted Pandavas. He could not believe it. The five brothers who had come to the kingdom looking like poor beggars were now learning the way of the warrior along with him and is brothers....He felt it beneath his dignity to learn the use of the arms with his poor cousins....They definitely did not deserve to learn anything much less as his the disciple of Dronacharya. Thinking of Dronacharya made Duruyodhana all the more angry. His guru....had a favourite student....Just thinking about it made Duryodhana's blood boil.

He could not understand what Dronacharya liked about Arjuna. He was just like the rest of them and still the teacher treated him like he was someone from heaven. Duryodhana thought contemptuously.

The very next day, Duryodhana talked with his brothers while making sure Dronacharya heard him.... 'This Dronacharya!' He hissed in atypical stage whisper. 'He just pretends that Arjuna is better than all of us....Arjuna is nothing more than us...It is all Dronacharya's ruse....Left to himself Arjuna is nothing!' Duruyodhana said making sure Dronacharya had heard him.

Dronacharya had heard him, but he said nothing. He just smiled sadly at the jealous young prince. He realized that Duryodhana was so blinded by his jealousy that he could not sense the basic truth. Arjuna was a class apart. None of the princes he had taught so far could come even close to what Arjuna was... Dronacharya sighed. He knew of a way to make Duryodhana understand that....

The next day when the princes got ready with their bow and arrow to practice archery, Dronacharya took them to the far side of the clearing. There was a tall tree and he asked them to stop a hundred yards away.

'Children!' He smiled at all of them. 'There in that tree, there is a bird! Today's class is to hit the bird with a single arrow!' His students looked at each other with surprise. Did their teacher really expect them to hit a bird a hundred yards away which was hidden between the trees and that too with a single arrow? What kind of a test was this?

Before the general murmur got any further, Dronacharya clapped his hands. 'Children! I will call out all of you! Come forward and stand beside me! Answer my questions, then if I say fire, shoot your arrow!'

The children obediently stood as they looked at the teacher. 'Yudhishtara!' Dronacharya called. As Yudhishtara was the eldest he was called first. 'Take your weapon and aim the bird!' Yudhishtara pulled back the arrow...He took a deep breath as he strained and found the bird in the tree. Yudhishtara however did not let go. He remembered his teacher's orders.

'Do you see the bird?' Drona asked. Yudhishtara nodded. 'Yes sir! I do!

Drona nodded. 'Good! What else do you see?'

'Yudhishtara looked surprised at the question. 'Why sir? I can see everything! The bird, the tree, the leaves...You and my brothers too!'

Dronacharya smiled sadly and shook his head. 'Put your weapon down son! You cannot bring the bird down with one arrow!'

Yudhishtara obediently put his weapon down and walked back to his place looking a little crestfallen. Duryodhana smirked at him when he heard his teacher. 'Duryodhana! Come forward!'

Elated at being given an opportunity to get the better of the Pandavas, Duryodhana went forward with his bow and arrow.

He focused on the bird easily and was about to pull back the arrow when Dronacharya called out. 'What do you see son?

'I see the bird, the tree and you sir!' Duryodhana said still aiming at the bird. Dronacharya shook his head imperceptibly. 'Don't waste your arrow! Put down your weapon.'

Frowning Duryodhana went back to his place.

Dronacharya called all the princes one by one and sent back all of them without firing a single arrow. The only one who remained were Ashwattama and Arjuna.

Ashwattama came forward as he took aim of the bird. 'Tell me what you see son!' Dronacharya asked a little fondly. After all Ashwattama was his own son.

'Father, I see the bird...nothing else!'

A hush fell among the princes as they heard the reply of Ashwattama. Dronacharya probed him further. 'What else do you see about the bird?'

'It is wooden, father!'

'And its eye?' Dronacharya asked raising his eyebrow in appreciation.

Ashwattama frowned looking at the bird. 'I cannot see its eye properly father!'

Reluctantly Dronacharya told his son. 'Put down your weapon Ashwattama!'

Ashwattam looked surprised but he lowered his weapon looking jealously at the last student left.

'Come forward!' Drona said looking at Arjuna. Arjuna came forward with a quiet confidence. He was standing lightly and totally relaxed.

Drona pointed at the tree. 'What do you see Arjuna?

'The wooden bird with its open eye sir!' Arjuna said as he pointed his arrow at the bird. Drona's eyes opened wide as he asked. 'What else do you see?'

Arjuna shrugged imperceptibly. 'Its head is round! Other than that nothing!'

Drona blinked inspite of himself. 'Its legs, its wings ...don't you see it?'

Arjuna said confidently. 'No sir! I don't!'

Drona shook his head in wonder. 'Fire!' No sooner had the words been uttered the princes watched as a wooden bird fell on the ground a hundred yards away with an arrow in its eye!

Dronacharya turned to Ashwattama sadly. 'You could have hit the bird,then again you could not have...It was a matter of chance. That is why I asked you not to fire at it!' Ashwattama looked crestfallen as he heard the words of his father....

He turned to the other princes. 'That is how you learn anything....' He said patting Arjuna and looking at him with pride. 'This is how you do anything...with the target in mind! While trying to do something, never waver from what your end goal and do not lose sight of it....If you have eyes for your goal and nothing else, you have as good as won what you are after!'

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ravana and Yama - Part 1 of 2

Ravana, the king of Lanka looked around Lanka with pride. His Lanka! Ravana had firmly established his rule in the kingdom and the people of Lanka adored him. But somehow this never satisfied Ravana. He wanted more and more. I have after all received the greatest boons from Brahma. I am more or less invincible. Yes! thought Ravana fiercely. I cannot be satisfied with a puny island in the sea. I want the entire earth….Why just the earth….I want all the three worlds for myself….

Ravana thought back to the day when he had met his great grandfather for the first time….

Even when he was young Ravana realized that physical power alone was not sufficient. He knew that he had to perform penances and win the favour of the Gods. Once he had the boons from the Gods, he knew that nothing could come in his way. Ravana had long since kept away from Lord Vishnu. Somehow Ravan never felt comfortable with the Lord. So he had to perform boons either towards Lord Shiva or Lord Brahma.

All through his life Ravana had always been a great devotee of Lord Shiva. But now Ravana had decided that Lord Brahma was the best person to grant him the boon he was after. After all Lord Braham was the Lord of Creation and it was within his power to grant any person immortality if he chose to….Or so Ravana believed. Besides Ravana knew that Lord Brahma was his own great-Grandfather [Ravana was the son of Sage Vishravas. Vishravas was the son of Sage Pulatsya who was one of the ten ‘Manas Putras’ of Lord Brahma] So the odds of Lord Brahma granting him the boon he was after, was high.

And so Ravana began his penance.

Ravana was arrogant and haughty and rarely respected any other person. But he had some good qualities as well. One of them was his utter, almost ferocious concentration to get a thing done, once he set his mind to it. Ravana started his meditation and kept at him. Days passed….years passed….nothing happened. But Ravana did not stop. He kept up with his penance.

Then one day, suddenly Lord Braham found himself dragged before Ravana because of the sheer power of his meditation.

‘Son! Open your eyes!’ Lord Brahma said as he sprinkled some water from his kamandalam on Ravana. The minute the holy water touched the king, Ravana woke up as if from a deep dream. He opened his eyes and saw the four faced Lord Brahma and bowed deep before him.

‘My Lord! You have come!’ Ravana exclaimed.

Lord Brahma nodded. Lord Brahma looked at the sacrificial fire before him and shook his head in wonder. ‘My son! The penance you have done is unmatched! I have yet to see something even remotely like it!’ Ravana’s face glowed with pride. Probably his great-grandfather would grant him the elusive boon he was after….

Lord Brahma continued. ‘What boon do you wish, my son? Anything you want and I will grant it to you!’ Lord Brahma said with utter sincerity.

‘Please make me immortal, my Lord!’ Ravana said. He had long decided that that was the only thing he would ever want. Once he was immortal….Ravana shivered, then he would become unstoppable…..

Ravana saw with dismay as Lord Brahma’s shoulders dropped. He shook his head. ‘My son! I cannot grant you that! It is against the law of nature. Whoever is born, has to die! I cannot change that law of nature, for anyone!’

But the Devas…they don’t die! Ravana wanted to scream.

But he held his tongue and slowly thought what Lord Brahma had told him. ‘My Lord, since you cannot make me immortal, then give me the nectar of immortality, which the Devas possess!’ Ravana’s eyes glowed as he said the words. ‘Then I will be equal to them!’ Lord Brahma looked at Ravana and realized how dangerous it was to grant the boon to Ravana. But then there was precious little he could do about it. The power of Ravana’s penance had dragged him here and he had to give what Ravana wanted….Lord Brahma grudgingly nodded his head. ‘Fine! You shall have it!’ Ravana smiled happily. ‘I wish to have the nectar stored in my navel! Till I have the nectar in my possession….I will be invincible!’ Ravana said with glittering eyes.

Lord Brahma nodded his head and a second later, Ravana felt a strange power coursing through his body…Ravana touched his stomach and found that the nectar was stored there and its power raced all though his body from there giving him greater strength than ever.

However Ravana was far from done. His rigorous penance merited him more boons. He turned and looked at Lord Brahma. ‘Lord! There is one more boon I seek!’ Lord Brahma had a very bad feeling about this but nodded his head with little enthusiasm. ‘I wish I am more powerful than Gods, heavenly beings, ganas, yakshas, rakshas, snakes and all wild animals and I should never be defeated by any of them….And I also wish to rule over all of them!’ Lord Brahma felt utter despair when he nodded his head.

Unaware of his great-grandfather’s dismayed feeling, Ravana’s eyes glowed as he happily nodded his head, feeling greater power course through him.

As part of the boon, Ravana also received divine weapons and magic…Lord Brahma vanished from there, before Ravana asked for something else from him. But Ravana was done. He flexed his muscles as he realized that  now absolutely nothing could stop him. He was for all purposes invincible…Ravana smiled….

Ravana’s reign of terror started. He started attacking all the kingdoms of the earth, randomly without rhyme or reason. He attacked the kingdom and owing to his boons, the king could not match up to the ferocity or power of Ravana. He just destroyed kingdoms and looted all the wealth of the kingdom and took away the women he liked….He did this to kingdom after kingdom…..

Ravana finally arrived at the Kingdom of Ayodhya which was being ruled by a great King Anaranya . The two kings fought for the long time, however Ravana had the advantage of being younger and stronger. Ravana hit the other king on the head while battling. Even while he fell, the Ayodhyan king showed no fear. He looked straight at Ravana’s eyes and spoke his final words. ‘You are arrogant!’ He wheezed as he felt the life being sucked out of him. ‘Your arrogance will be put to an end, by one of my own descendants! That is a dying man’s last wish!’ The Ayodhyan king breathed his last. Ravana jeered seeing the King no more…..

Ravana continued destroying kingdom after kingdom….Sage Narada who could take this no more went and spoke with him, before one of his attacks over another kingdom. ‘Narayana! Narayana!’ Sage Narada spoke as Ravana watched with disgust. He could not bear anyone singing praises of Lord Vishnu. ‘What do you want?’ He barked angrily at Sage Narada.

Sage Narada spoke with twinkling eyes. ‘My friend! You are making a mistake by attacking humans to show off your strength!’ Ravana wanted to curtly say that he was not Narada’s friend. But the sage’s words intrigued him. ‘What do you mean?’ Ravana asked inspite of himself.

Sage Narada smiled. ‘You are attacking humans….why don’t you attack Gods?’ Ravana looked stumped for a few minutes as Sage Narada continued. ‘One God in particular! How about Yama, the Lord of Death!’ Ravana looked at Sage Narada, wondering why this idea had not stuck him before….Ravana the conqueror of Yama…that definitely had a nice ring to it…He nodded as Sage Narada continued. ‘Yes, my friend! Once people know that even the Lord of Death bows to you, I don’t think any other man would even think of opposing you! Ever!’ Sage Narada said with twinkling eyes.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ravana and Yama - Part 2 of 2

Ravana nodded his head curtly and smiled. He was soon going to spread the word around that attacking the Lord of Death was his idea….after he had won!

Sage Narada left the place with a smile in his lips. He felt he had done all he could….Lord Yama was the Lord of Death and Lord Brahma had granted him a particular weapon….It was called Kala Danda….The weapon once fired would kill anybody before it…no matter what boons he had to protect himself….Ravana had sealed his fate by falling for Narada’s words….Narada smiled.

Then Narada hurriedly made his way to the abode of Yama.

‘My Lord!’ Narada called out on reaching the palace. Yama came out as Narada bowed to him. Yama looked surprised seeing Narada there. ‘Sage Narada? What are you doing here?’ He asked looking puzzled.

Sage Narada looked a little apprehensive. He finally told him. ‘I asked Ravana to come and attack you!’

Yama looked a little puzzled. He could not believe that any human would be stupid enough to come after him….He was after all the God of Death….As he was thinking, both of them heard a loud roar outside the palace. Yama was staring with utter bewilderment as he saw a huge army making its way to his palace…an army headed by Ravana. Yama let out a deep breath. He called his guards. ‘Guards be prepared! We are under attack!’

The guard was himself perplexed! The God of Death was under attack! But he anyway called the others and they all stood guard and they watched an ordinary human come and begin their attack…..To their surprise the guards found that Ravana fought brilliantly. He was slowly and systematically decimating the forces of Yama.

Watching the massacre done by Ravana and hearing the screams of his men, Yama could take it no more….In utter anger he pulled out his Kala Danda…the weapon of Death. Narada smiled as he watched Yama aim the weapon at Ravana. His mission was going to be accomplished. Ravana’s menace was going to come to an end…

Unfortunately Sage Narada had not counted on one thing….a person in fact….his father….

As Yama was about to fire the weapon, he and Sage Narada stared with wonder as time literally stopped still. Standing before them was none other than Lord Brahma himself….A flustered looking Yama and Sage Narada bowed to Lord Brahma.

Please son! Do not fire the weapon!’ Lord Brahma spoke with pleading tones. Sage Narada and Yama looked at each other with utter bewilderment. Had Lord Brahma actually asked them not to hurt Ravana! Yama was wondering whether this was some magic on the part of Ravana and hastily shook his head turned his attention to the weapon.

Lord Brahma came forward. ‘Please no! Don’t do this!’

Yama and Sage Narada looked at each other and then at Lord Brahma. Sage Narada spoke in a reasonable voice. ‘Sir! This is the best way! The Kaladanda cannot miss…that was the boon you gave Yama! Ravana will die, when Yama fires the weapons….People everywhere would be safe!’

Lord Brahma said with tears in his face. ‘You are going to make me a liar!’ There was utter desperation in the voice.

‘What?’ Yama asked.

Lord Brahma continued listlessly. ‘I promised Ravana, he could not be defeated by any God! If you fire the Kaladanda at him….either way I become a liar….I will lose face with the world!’ Yama was still looking a little puzzled.

However Sage Narada understood. If Yama fired the weapon, only two things could happen –either Ravana could die or he could survive. If Ravana died, Lord Brahma’s boon to Ravana that he could not be destroyed by any God, would become false. If Ravana survived, his boon to Yama’s Kaladanda as the ultimate weapon of destruction, would become false! Sage Narada shook his head wondering why his father made such rash promises and expected others to keep it up for him.

Slowly Lord Brahma explained to Lord Yama, why he should not fire the weapon. Yama looked frustrated, understandably so. ‘What do you want me to do?’ He fumed as he looked at Lord Brahma. Lord Brahma took a deep breath. ‘Just stop the war! Go away! Please!’

Yama looked flustered for a few seconds. ‘You want me to walk away from killing this excuse of a human being….so that the word you gave him may be true? Is that it?’ Yama pursed his lips angrily looking at Lord Brahma.

Lord Brahma bowed his head down not able to say anything. Yama took a deep breath and with a curt nod to Sage Narada and Lord Brahma, vanished from there.

Lord Brahma let out a noisy breath and he looked regretfully at Ravana and also vanished from there along with a disgruntled Sage Narada.

Ravana felt like he had woken up from a deep sleep and shook his head. He had a powerful weapon in his hands and looked around and saw that he had no one to fire it on! He remembered having come here to fight to Yama. The God had pulled out some great weapon and then suddenly everything went blank until now…..

Ravana looked with pride. So the fool ran away from him, instead of giving him a fight….Ravana grinned and shouted at his men. ‘I am Ravana, the conqueror of Yama!’
‘All hail Ravana, the conqueror of Death!’ The Asuas bellowed after him as Ravana left the place and went back to Lanka.