The Battle of Panchavati – Part VII of VII

Having thus conversed amongst themselves, Khara and Dushana parted with their sister and approached the clearing where Ram stood, resplendent like the God of Death. All around him lay the remnants of the once mighty raakshasa army, and their broken weapons. A bow in the left hand and an arrow in the right, his back erect, his muscles taut, his brow glistening with sweat and his body streaked with blood, Ram was a sight to behold. Like a farmer surveys his field after he has harvested the crop and cut all the underwood, Ram stood in the field, looking around. As Khara and Dushana entered the clearing, Khara spoke up, ‘Dushana let us take this banished prince together. We will attack him from both the sides and cut him to pieces with our mighty swords.’ ‘Yes brother,’ spoke Dushana, glaring at Ram with menacing eyes, finding his voice after a long time, ‘this drama has gone on for a long time. Let us finish this and carry away that woman Sita after we slay him and his brother, who hides from us’. Saying so, Dushana turned his head to look up where he knew Lakshmana stood guard at the mouth of the cave sheltering Sita, and smiled.  At the mention of the names of Sita and Lakshmana, Ram clenched his teeth, his temper rising! His eyebrows drawn together in a knot in the center of his forehead, his bloodshot eyes smoldering with anger, Ram let the bow and the arrow slide soundlessly from his hands and hit the soft earth below. Without letting his eyes move away from his advancing foes, Ram knelt down gently to pick up his shield, embellished with the royal emblem of Ayodhya, in his left hand. As he rose slowly from the ground after picking up the shield, his hair, which he had tied in a bun on the top of his head, came loose and fell around his shoulders. While he held the shield in his left hand, his right hand moved slowly towards the left side of his waist and unsheathed his royal sword from its scabbard. He gave a small tug to the knot of the scabbard tied around his waist with his left hand, and the assembly came loose and slid to the ground. Thus freed of all restraints, Ram gave a flick to his head, his unruly locks flying like angry serpents looking for their prey. Slowly moving his shoulders in a circular fashion, Ram started to move towards the approaching duo, letting his muscles relax.

Khara and Dushan had started to part ways and were now approaching toward the hut in a progressively widening arc, trying to encircle Ram from both sides. Moving away from the shadow of the hut, Ram walked into the evening light and stopped in the middle of the clearing, keeping an eye on the movements of the raakshasa brothers. After having thus stationed himself equidistant from both, Ram held his shield in front of his torso and hit it’s surface with the hilt of his sword. A loud report rang out in the forest as metal hit metal; reverberating in the valley, carried far away along the river, booming across the plains, clear as a thunderclap. Shoorpanakha who stood far away from the clearing, at the edge of the forest, shuddered at the sound. It sounded like the doomsday bugle, beckoning the twin brothers to their end. Khara and Dushana paused in their track, their hearts beating loud with anticipation and anxiety.

Ram looked at them once more, they had nearly completed their arc, and turned a little so that his left side faced Khara and his right side faced Dushana. Having thus positioned himself he waited. Khara spoke again, ‘Brother Dushana, how long has it been that we have tasted human meat? I bet this woman Sita’s flesh will be very soft and delicious’, saying so Khara smacked his lips and rolled his tongue on them as if he was enjoying a delicious meal. Their tones menacing now, the brothers kept talking amongst themselves, trying to throw Ram off balance. ‘Yes Khara’, Dushana said, ‘ I am really looking forward to cooking that woman in a pot and having a good dinner. Or maybe we can carry her off to Janasthaan and make her our slave’, and they both laughed. The baritone of their laughter sounded eerie, and frightening, in the gathering dark. Ram looked up in the sky, at the setting sun, and realized there was not much time before it would be dark and these creatures would resort to deception.  Lakshman, up on the hill, meanwhile, had already lit a fire and perambulated around it, saying his thanks to the fire God and getting ready for the night. The fire that blazed on top of the hill threw strange shadows on the ground, mingling with sunlight here, cutting through darkness there, and dancing a macabre dance that strangely suited the scene being enacted below.  As if on a cue, a bolt of lightening streaked across the sky, emanating from the bank of clouds approaching from the distance. Thunder followed, the smell of water and a few tentative drops of rain. As a soft drizzle fell on Ram, wetting his hair, washing his wounds and cooling him off, Khara and Dushana paused in their tracks, contemplating their next move.

Ram was getting tired of all this now and wanted to end it quickly. Steeling himself against their verbal onslaught, Ram closed his eyes slowly and tried to remember his training. As he closed his eyes, the world suddenly fell away. He felt relaxed and at peace with himself, his Gods and his training. He focused inwards, listening! He could hear the wind blow, hear it shake his locks that fell across his shoulder, feel its cool touch on his sweat and blood drenched skin. He could hear the occasional splat of the drop of rain on the ground; hear it fall on his skin and rustle down towards the earth, washing his sweat and blood away with it. He could hear the rustle of leaves faraway in the woods, the scurry of little feet as reptiles slithered in the underwood. The sound of the river came clearly, loudly; he could also hear the fire crackle above, in the cave on the hill. Most of all, he could hear Khara and Dushana breathe. All his years of training, he brought to bear on this one single moment. His eyes closed, his senses drawn inwards, now he could ‘see’ the world with his ears, while the enemy thought his eyes were closed. The ‘sound’ was everything, he had been taught. The ‘Shabd-bhedi’ technique, or aiming towards the sound, had been a favorite of his and also his father’s. It would be tested today in very strange circumstances.

And so it was that Ram stood in the middle of the clearing, his eyes closed, flanked at some distance by the raakshasa brothers Khara and Dushana. He stood still, his breathing even and slow, his powerful limbs relaxed as they held their weapons. Khara and Dushana looked at each other, mischief in their eyes now. They could see the ascetic was tired and almost falling to sleep, this would be easier than they had thought. Slowly, tiptoeing almost, they started to inch towards the ground where Ram stood. Their steps were loud, to Ram, he could even hear the rustle of their clothes, his focus intense. Lakshman watched from the hilltop, tense, but also realizing what Ram was doing.

When they thought they were near enough, Khara and Dushana abandoned all caution and ran towards Ram. Slowly, almost as if in a dream, Ram moved his left hand in an arc, turning it back ever so slightly. At the same time, the right hand had started to move towards the other side in a circular fashion. He kneeled, very little, just to give his legs the necessary propulsion. As Khara lunged from Ram’s left with his sword arm raised high to hit Ram and possibly decapitate him, Ram’s shield caught him squarely in his chest and the backward motion of Ram’s left arm deflected Khara’s weight so that he flew and landed far away, doubling up in pain as he realized that his ribs were broken. A moment later, Ram completely twisted to the right and, slicing with his sword arm, caught Dushana in his thigh. As a fountain of blood erupted from the raakshasa’s thigh, Dushana howled in agony and collapsed on the ground. Ram completed his arc and stood up swiftly, his weapons ready again, his eyes still closed.  Dushana continued to howl, while Khara tried to get up slowly, wincing with pain. Even breathing was difficult for him; Khara realized in a panic. They had been severely wounded in one stroke by this man. Truth had started to dawn slowly on both of them, but it was too late to retreat now, they were committed to a fight till death. Khara stood up, slowly, painfully, his face turned to stone, realization flooding over him between waves of pain. He looked at Dushana and saw pure terror on his brother’s face, this had never happened before!

Standing erect, with difficulty, Khara summoned all his strength and called out to Dushana, ‘Brother, please get up and fight. In our arrogance we could not realize who we were up against and have foolishly let ourselves into this fight, out of which there is only one way – the way of martyrdom. But do not lose heart brother; we are warriors. All our lives we have lived by the code of the valiant. This is the best way a soldier can hope to die, fighting a worthy foe. So get up, take courage and face the imminent with courage. We shall meet again in heaven, where the brave go, as our fathers have done before us’.

Dushana heard Khara’s voice calling to him from a distance, encouraging him, and speaking the thoughts, which were also going around in his head. Steeling himself, Dushana, stood up, leaning on the one uninjured leg.

Both raakshasa brothers stood up and looked at each other, across the valiant hero standing between them, and saw understanding in each other’s eyes. This will be their last stand, they knew. ‘Let it be an end fit for a warrior’, said Dushana. Khara nodded in understanding. ‘Ram’, Khara spoke, his voice devoid of all the haughtiness and arrogance of a few moments ago, ‘ we know this may be our last stand. We have only one request to make of you. Please cremate us properly, so that we may ascend to the heavens justly, as we should, and be with our ancestors.’  Ram nodded in assent, his eyes still closed, his mind turned inside, his senses heightened by the near-trance he was in.  Summoning all their strengths, the brothers rushed at Ram once more, their weapons raised, their face taut with pain and fear. A flicker of light and darkness, three shadows in a huddle, a flash of blade, quick as the lightening that had seared the heavens, and two heads rolled on each side of Ram. The headless torsos of Khara and Dushana, slumped to the ground a moment later, lifeless, spouting blood. Ram stood still again, eyes still closed. He listened for a moment and then opened his eyes slowly, letting them adjust to the evening light and the darkness that approached from the west. He surveyed the two heads, and the two lifeless torsos lying on his sides, in a detached manner and turned and raised his sword arm towards the hill.

Lakshmana saw his brother’s signal and he raised his sword arm in reply, the battle was over!

As Lakshmana started his preparations to descend the mountain along with Sita, he looked down and saw Ram looking intently into the forest. Following his gaze, Lakshmana saw Shoorpanakha retreating into the darkness of the forest, mounted on her mule. As she withdrew into the foliage, she looked back, her face twisted with sorrow and rage, her eyes flaming with a burning desire for revenge. Looking at her demonic face melt into the darkness, the brothers knew the war was far from over!….(End of #TheBattleOfPanchavati ?)