The Battle of Panchavati – Part VI of VII

No sooner had the hail of arrows stopped, that Ram sprang up and started shooting arrows from his bow towards the adversary. Pull and release, pull and release, pull and release, he went on and on, shooting arrows at a terrifying speed. His practiced hands went back and forth on their own, retrieving, aiming and shooting without a moments pause. As Lakshman looked on from above, all he could see was a blur where Ram stood, with an orb of arrows issuing from him. The raakshasa warriors fell, right, left and centre. While Khara and Dushana protected themselves with their shields, Shoorpanakha retreated into the safety of the woods and watched from there. Trishira trotted to the back of the column to avoid the barrage of arrows, but an arrow caught his mule in the neck and it fell down dead. By the time Ram paused to take rest, the battalion has been reduced to a few hundred warriors while the majority lay dead, impaled by Varuna’s arrows. The sky was filled with the shrieks of the dying and the wounded warriors and angry shouts from those still left standing. There was absolute chaos in the raakshasa camp. Khara, Dushana and Trishira were all shouting at once, shouting orders, threats and inducements to the soldiers left alive, encouraging them to stand and fight and trying to boost the morale of the forces as well as themselves.

Trishira rounded up the few soldiers left and then approached Khara, fear writ large in his face. Though he knew that he was going to his imminent death, he walked with confident steps, for the benefit of his troops and also because he was a warrior and knew that this end, fighting a worthy adversary, was far better for a soldier than any other. He bowed low in front of his master and said, ‘ O Great Master! Allow me to lead my men into battle. If I live, I shall bring Ram’s head for you otherwise I shall meet a glorious death reserved for the valiant. It is much better to die at the hands of an accomplished adversary like Ram, than to die running away from battle. Permit me master, to go meet my fate’.

Khara had great confidence in Trishira and, beaming, he said, ‘O Great Trishira! Warrior of warriors! Go and subdue your foe. Bring me the head of this mortal who has caused us so much trouble. I have no doubt that victory will be yours.’  Thus exhorting Trishira, Khara stood back with his brother Dushana and watched the men get ready to approach the field where Ram stood.

The clearing where Ram stood was littered with arrows, which the raakshasa army had rained upon him. Though injured and without help, Ram stood erect, his face impassive. Blood had trickled down his left arm, and stained his clothes red. Standing in the middle of the field, Ram shone like the God of Valour. Eyeing the small contingent of soldiers approaching him, he knew the battle was coming to an end soon. Others watched the scene too, with awe and pride and cheer. Lakshman watched from above the mountain and narrated everything to Sita, who worried about Ram and prayed for his safety and his victory. The celestials that crowded the heavens were happy with anticipation and eager to see how this will end.

As Trishira lead his army towards the clearing, Ram readied his bow again. A great war-cry rose from the raakshasa soldiers as they rushed towards him, flinging maces, boulders, uprooted trees and pretty much whatever they could lay their hands on. Ram calmly aimed and shot down all the weapons hurled at him. Frustrated, the soldier rushed at him, galloping into the entrance to the clearing, pushing each other to get past the narrow entrance. Ram concentrated all his arrows towards the entrance to the compound and kept shooting the arrows at a great speed. He shot one, two and sometimes five arrows at a time. He aimed low, hitting the rushing soldiers in their torso or their thighs, the column of soldiers collapsing at the entrance like a great stampede of animals collapses as the ground beneath them gives way. Most of the soldiers were killed before they even crossed the entrance, the few that were able to gain an entrance could not stand much longer before Ram’s arrows found them. Howling and shrieking, the great raakshasa army fell one by one till only Trishira remained. Watching all his mighty warriors fall one by one, like lame birds felled by an ace hunter, Trishira lost all inhibition and rushed towards Ram, yelling, with his mace held high. He had hardly covered half the distance to the hut, that Ram shot an arrow towards him, which hit him in the neck, decapitating him instantly. The force of the mighty arrow carried his severed head through the air and threw it at the ground where Khara and Dushan stood, as his now lifeless body slumped to the ground.

Khara and Dushana were stunned and rendered speechless at this outcome of the skirmish. They had not expected their forces to be decimated by a truant prince, living the life of an ascetic in the forest. Shoorpanakha was hysterical. She shrieked and gesticulated wildly, hurling abuses at her brothers, her eyes bloodshot and streaming with hot tears. ‘You call yourselves the brothers of the mighty Raavana? You cowards, you are not even fit to be a raakshasa. You could not bring me the head of a lowly human? Could not avenge your sister’s mutilation at the hands of these weaklings. Shame on you!’ She spat and heaped all sorts of profanities on the two brothers who stood as if fixed to the ground.

Presently, Khara regained his composure and said, ‘ Dear Sister. This ascetic is not who we thought he would be. It is clear we have made a great mistake in making him our enemy and picking up a fight with him. He is a great warrior, as is clear by the way he slaughtered fourteen thousand of my most valiant soldiers in a few hours. However, do not lose heart. Your brothers, Khara and Dushana are still alive and will go forth presently and defeat him and cut off his head like he has cut off Trishira’s head. You will rejoice yet, for I have never been defeated in battle. Don’t insult me, Sister, I am the great Khara and will redeem your honor shortly. Wait and see how I quench this ground’s thirst with this young ascetic’s blood.’ Hearing Khara speak thus, Shoorpanakha felt a little better. She said,’ Go my brother; all my prayers are with you. All the forest deities to whom we pray, may they shower their blessings upon you and Dushana that you may slay this ascetic and bring me his head.’…….(to be continued)