The Battle of Panchavati – Part V of VII

Trishira’, shouted Khara, ‘Command the remaining two columns, if any of the soldiers run away, you lose your life’. Trishira bowed his head and rode back into the remaining columns, encouraging and threatening them, alternately. ‘You are the great raakshasa warriors, commanded by Khara and Dushana, brother of the great Ravana. Have the great Khara and Dushana ever lost a battle? No, and neither will they this time. But if you choose to run away, be sure, the raakshasa hordes will pursue you and find you and kill you. Your family will meet a similar fate. On the contrary if you stand and fight, glory and rewards from the great masters await you. Don’t lose heart now, stay in formation’ exhorted Trishira, the commander of the raakshasa forces. Though he tried to encourage his soldiers, he himself was not so sure now. This Ram was obviously no ordinary warrior; he had the divine weapons with him, the weapons of the Gods, and was obviously well versed in their use. They had misjudged this ascetic’s abilities. But now the troops were committed to war, there was no going back. Galloping in his mule around the shifting troops, Trishira cracked his whip and shouted orders to stop them from breaking formation. The flag bearers, meanwhile, had surveyed the blast site and separated the alive from the dead and dying. The living were instructed to join the remaining two columns, the rest were just left to their fate. There was no time to carry them back.

While the raakshasa army reorganised itself, Ram surveyed the scene again. The weapon of the Fire God had had its intended effect, the troops had lost several thousand soldiers and were now shocked, scared and discouraged. He could see their commander rallying them back into formation, but it had gained him time for his next assault. He looked up towards the mountain, where Lakshman stood guard at the mouth of the cave. Lakshman, too was surveying the scene below, with satisfaction and pride. He had always been a devotee of his elder brother, completely dedicated to serving him. He knew Ram’s prowess, knew also that there was none in the world to stand before Ram, should he make up his mind. His heart welled up with love and respect for the warrior who stood down below in the clearing, barefoot, surrounded by an army. ‘Bhaiya’, yelled Lakshman, as Ram looked up to see if everything was all right, ‘ the left flank of the army is standing too close to the river’. Ram waved his hand at Lakshman to indicate that he understood what he was trying to say. Smiling inwardly, Ram chose his next weapon from the pile lying to his right.

Divine weapons were limited and could not be used again and again in one battle, they needed time to recharge, reform and return to their owner before they could be used again. He would not be able to use the weapon of the Fire God again for some time now, and so he had to be careful in choosing what divine weapons he used in his battle. He looked at the weapons arrayed before him and chose the Vayu Astra or the weapon of the Wind God. He brought his palms together in ‘pranam’ to pay respects to the weapon, lifted the mighty shaft, put it to his forehead and mounted it to the bow that he held vertical in his left hand. Arrow loaded, bow steady between his left hand and left foot, Ram stood ready again.

The raakshasa army, meanwhile, had recovered from the initial shock and had regrouped. Shoorpanakha, Khara and Dushana stood to the right of the army now, just in front of the crater where the column of soldiers had perished. While they stood aside, out of the way, they still had an unrestricted view of the battlefield. Trishira, on the other hand, stood in front of the remaining two columns, their numbers a little swollen now due to addition of the remaining soldiers from the destroyed column. It was clear that he was now leading the charge while Khara, Dushana and Shoorpanakha watched from a distance. As he barked orders, the column to his left started to move forward, slowly, breaking into two arcs and trying to cover both the flanks of the clearing. This was when Ram launched the second missile.

For a moment the advancing soldiers hesitated, sensing that another great weapon had been launched towards them by Ram. The moment of hesitation proved dear to the soldiers, for the missile launched by Ram shot towards them with great speed, carried by the power of the wind and buried itself in the ground between the two arcs of the column which had started to move. As the soldiers watched, relieved that the shaft has not exploded, the weapon buried itself farther into the earth till it disappeared from sight. Thinking it to be a failed missile, the two arcs started to move again. Suddenly the ground below them imploded with great sound and fury. A huge hole opened up in the earth, increasing in size and sucking everything in its vicinity into it. A huge cry arose among the soldiers, who again broke formation, trying to run away from the hole, which was trying to suck them into the earth. After a moment’s pause, came the explosion. The piece of land, adjoining the river bank, on which the contingent of soldiers were standing, gave way and fell off the edge and into the river, carrying the soldiers and their mounts with it. While others stared, terrified to the core now, the great river rushing beneath carried away their army, screaming, into its current. The whole bank of the river over which the column had stood, cascaded down and disappeared from the sight before anyone could even move from their places. The great river Godavari soon flushed away all the remnants of the soldiers that had fallen into it and the current flowed clear again.

Trishira, panicky now, shouted command to the archers to stand ready. Hundreds of raakshasa warriors readied their bow and arrows and waited for the order to launch. Meanwhile, Ram had quickly put down the large bow that he held, on the ground and, paying his respects to it, picked up the shorter, lighter bow that lay on his left side. This was the bow he normally used for routine archery, for either hunting game or for duels and skirmishes. He kept a shield ready to his right for when the attack came. Looking around him he located the inexhaustible quiver of Varuna, the sea God, and quickly strapped it to his back. This quiver was different from the normal round one that held a few score of arrows. Shaped like a rectangular box, the quiver carried several thousand arrows made of special seaweed and threaded with a core of metal. These arrows were light, occupied less space and were extremely sturdy. The points of the arrows were so sharp so as to completely penetrate the target and exit from the other side. Thus, they could be used again and again if they could be collected and stored back into their chamber after use. Thus the story grew that the quiver was inexhaustible. But Ram knew that he had only a few thousand arrows with him. Looking at the remaining raakshasa soldiers, Ram thought, ‘This should be enough’!

As he was doing his preparations he heard Trishira shout, ‘Launch’! And the raakshasa soldiers released their arrows. The sky was covered with hundreds of shafts, blotting out the light, as the arrows rose into the sky, poised momentarily and descended with great speed into the clearing where Ram stood. Ram quickly kneeled, and laying down the bow that he held in his left hand, picked up the shield with his right. No sooner had he brought the shield in front of him that the arrows hit. Like an incessant shower of wood and metal the arrows kept thudding into his shield and the ground where he crouched. A few of them hit his chainmail, which broke off and fell to the ground. One arrow grazed his left arm, bringing forth a quick gush of blood. Another grazed his right thigh, tearing a small hole in his clothes, which quickly soaked with blood. Few moments later, the shower stopped…….(to be continued)