Ghatotkach’s Mace

K S Subramaniam

K. S. Subramanian

Kurukshetra, the holy city humming with the deep voices of immortal lore, is ensconced in its own meaningful solemnity.  It is immensely aware of the great past whose echoes ring in every memory.  The peepul tree stands tall and stately in the fertile ambience of the most enduring and captivating song that defined the course of the 18-day war. 

The city was witnessing the unraveling of the philosophical discourse where the greatest archer (perhaps not so because he had a gallant, redoubtable rival to the pedigree) was getting a glimpse of the construct of Dharma from the all-knowing philosopher.   All were at a standstill because the rules of combat prohibited any force from making the charge especially when the other camp was constrained by necessity to be in non-combat posture.  Bhishma Pitamah, who was watching the spectacle 3km away, knew well the nature of the discourse and wished he had been blessed to be in Arjuna’s spot.  The squirming Duryodhana was tongue- tied knowing that his huge force could never move a step forward unless Pitamah sounded the bugle.  The city was well aware of the deep tensions brewing and veins on a leash on either side while the tree remained a mute witness. 

Forces ranged face to face across the huge plains where the distance hardly mattered as sturdy horses could gallop and caparisoned elephants stamp down on anything breathing with impunity.  Jayatradha, King of Sindhu region, knew that his father’s boon had sealed the fate of the opponent who severed his head if it landed on the earth.  He knew as well that he could only stall and tarry the Pandavas but could never defeat them.  He was grinning maliciously behind the powerful and overbearing Duryodhana giving verbal, mocking barbs at the seeming failure of Arjuna’s vow to kill him before sunset unaware that it was a sleight of the eye worked out by the magician from Gokulam.    The sun reappeared and though Jayatradha realized the game was up he felt a twinge of delight that Arjuna would die with him.  It was not to be. 

This city saw the spectacle of his head stuck on a crescent shaped arrow moving across the skyline leaving the tired soldiers to wonder where it was headed.  They knew later his father’s boon had turned into a curse for the family.  But neither the story nor the war ended there.  This city watched with trepidation the long drawn out battle that night where Kaurava soldiers were trampled under foot like ants befuddled by the sorcery and overwhelming prowess of a giant who was now visible, then not seen.  
Now this observant city has a tale to tell.  Ghatotkach, the roaring, rampaging giant on the battlefield, was then a frolicking, playful boy known more for his generosity than his ghatam shaped head.  Bhima, big boned and exceptionally strong limbed, watched his son running his fingers lovingly on the fur of a squirrel.  Hidimba watched solicitously.

“Hidimba!  He seems to have a soft underbelly just like the squirrel he is caressing.  You think he will measure up to the stature and grandeur of the Pandavas? “
She smiled, characteristic of a loving and composed mother who had known the lacerating edges of life.  “Lord!  The whole world knows your valour, sense of right and wrong and enormous strength.  You have never taken a false step till now always ready to obey the diktat of your elder brother Yudhishtra.  You gave me a life of dignity and respect. Don’t you think your son would have inherited a great part of your virtue and strength?

There was silence for a while as Bhima lapsed into a reverie.   He sighed and spoke with a sense of expectancy and foreboding.  “Hidimba!  You know my commitments, the call of honour which should come some day.  It will take me away from you and Ghatotkatch for the monumental battle that would redeem our esteem and standing.  I hope I would never be thrust into the situation where I would have to ask my son to be at my side.  He is brave and ever ready for the plunge.  But I would hate to lose him in a battlefield.  Lord Krishna has taught him some decisive skills which he says would come into play at the momentous instance.” He paused.  “I don’t know what he means, Hidimba, but it fills me with forebodings.” 

Hidimba’s deep voice admonished her that Lord Krishna’s gracious boon of special skills to her son would make him strong but also vulnerable in some way.  Women, especially mothers, normally listened to their deep voices which made them proverbially inscrutable.  “Is my son destined to do something which, in a battle for ethics, would make me loose him?  If it does am I to feel pride or anger over my bereavement?”  She closed her eyes.  “If fate which no one knows has willed it that way whom am I to stop it?” But she was love-bound to counsel and console her husband that his worst fears were misplaced.  It was her dharma, after all. 

“Lord!   A warrior like you cannot be stuck in forebodings.  I know I will have to lose you some day to your call of duty but cannot fret over it.  Poor mortals don’t have control over every day or moment of their lives?  Think of it.”

The great mace ace suddenly felt a scepter of lightning pass through him.  He turned to her. “Hidimba!  You could not have said anything truer!”

***
Jayathradha’s demise turned out to be a shot in the arm for the war to get bitter and fearfully aggressive.   Soldiers never felt the fatigue of sleeplessness or the stinging pain of scars and stuck to the duty of battling the enemy.  A huge dark cloud of arrows, spears and glittering, clashing swords hung in the air amid the shrieks of huge, sturdy elephants swerving through the forces while the horses, powered by great warriors, galloped to well- directed targets.  What the uncomplaining soldiers did not bargain for was the sudden appearance of a giant with blazing eyes, ghatam- shaped head, who cut a swathe through them with his unmatched sorcery skills. 

It was like being hit by a tornado on the plains where there was no place to hide.  They were smitten like flies and suddenly felt powerless and also clueless against the giant.  His broad chest appeared to take any number of poisonous, sharp arrows which he playfully plucked and threw.  He was like a god sporting with flies.  The Kauravas felt as if they had been enmeshed in a huge void where they could be trampled with impunity by his giant foot.  They were unquestionably brave, skilled and ready to die but not without a fight.  Ghatotkach appeared to give them no space to mount even a feeble, if not spirited, fight. 

Duryodhana was aghast.  It hurt his pride that a half demon could so masterfully overpower his army.  Aswathama, one of the few wise souls who could dare to counsel or contradict him, was scared out of his wits.  Never known to have harbored fear Aswathama felt that against such overwhelming display of sorcery conventional resistance could fall apart.  “Dear friend… this is going too far.  Soldiers are not only fatigued beyond recovery but also are ready prey to him.  If we do not stop him now they will have little fight left in them.

To the Kaurava Prince the moment alone mattered.  Ghatotkach was engrossed in his moment and reveling in his sorcery skills at night when he was nearly invincible and swinging mace at the maze of soldiers who were fleeing in panic.  His dear friend Karna was giving the demon a few stomach-churning scares with his unquestionable bow skills and was unsettled slightly when Ghatotkach made a customary bow to the King of charity.  “I never thought I would match my skills against a matchless warrior like you, King Karna”, he said smiling.  “But it is my day.” It seemed to be an unending night. 

Duryodhana was besieged with anxiety that his troops would hardly be in a frame of mind to face the battle on the 15th day.  He nearly screamed at his dearest friend.  “Karna!  I cannot believe that you cannot get rid of this pest.  You are a veteran of scores of battles and he is just a fly for you to swat at.  Do you want to see a beleaguered force for tomorrow’s battle?”  The mighty warrior paused and turned to his friend with a streak of agony in his face.  “Duryodhana!  He is no pest as you seem to think.  He is a great warrior, invincible at night.  I have exhausted all my skills of archery but am left with one option which I do not want to use.
 
Just then the Prince saw the infantry getting bulldozed by the stamping foot of the demon.  “Karna!  I do not know what you can do or want to.  But I want him dead and now.  I have not fought all this while just to see the battle slipping through. “ 
At a distance Lord Krishna was watching the conversation with an uncanny smile.  Bhima saw it but was enraptured by his son’s stupendous fight.  “Your son’s moment has come, Bhima!” he said leaving his close cousin flummoxed.  “What do you mean Krishna?” he asked with rising suspicion when suddenly the great roar of his son came through.  Krishna’s inscrutable smile had its answer.  Bhima saw him tottering, chest in flames and excruciating pain, as he turned his blazing eyes towards his father.  “Father!  Is it my moment?”  he enquired feebly as he fell slowly forward.  “Ghatotkach!  You cannot let me down even now.  Show me son, even in your last moment you are an invincible giant.”  Bhima shouted his last missive as his heart broke. 

Ghatotkach’s giant frame crashed on the retinue of soldiers crushing them.  Duryodhan yelled, raising his arm in victory while his dearest friend sat down on his chariot, tears rolling down his cheeks.  “I have lost the only ace I preserved against Arjuna,” he muttered.   Duryodhan did not know or understand but at a distance Krishna’s inscrutable smile widened.  Bhima yelled at him in anger.  “I am buried in grief and you are smiling, Krishna!  I never thought you would be so heartless.” Krishna laid his arm on his cousin’s broad shoulder. “Bhima!  Today your son gave his life to save Arjuna.  Some day the truth will be told, and your son will soar in your estimation.  But no, this is no time to talk about it. You take care of the rites for your dear son.”  Bhima looked bewildered.                   

Bhima felt a searing lump of agony in his throat that his son not only died a martyr for a cause but also nurtured no resentment at the fact that his father deserted him for a bigger vow.  When he went around his son’s body on the pyre the sole emotion coursing through his heart was “I let you down when you needed me the most.  But you more than atoned for it.” His immaculate brothers stood in a row, smothering their grief. 

Before lighting the pyre, Bhima spoke to the skies with a raised fist. “My son will not leave the abode of earth without me. He will take my memory too with him.  I am burying this mace as the token of my unquestionable devotion to him.” He did. A solemn, forlorn wind whistled across the plains as some kind of a dirge for the departed warrior.  There was not only a tragic nuance to it but also a sigh of acknowledgement. 

I, the witness, was lone and silent as darkness totally enveloped the day.

***
They were archaeologists who had descended on the area as part of the excavation work that was going on for quite a few years. Dig… dig… dig… the effort unraveled quite a few artifacts and structures that dated back by a few centuries though narrowing down the periods and the cultures embedded in them would take a lot of cohesive reasoning and empirical analysis. Discoveries have been made with startling results and inferences would attract more questions, especially skepticism. 

There were a dozen of them working on a broad area and carefully assembling and marking out the findings.  Only two of them were staring wide eyed, inquisitive and also befuddled at the long metal specimen gleaming through layers and layers of accumulated sand that time had not cared to stop. It was long, domed at the top with sharp pointed spear thrusting out.  Rusted and coated solid with grime it looked heavy and beyond human capacity to lift. 

“What the hell is this, man?” enquired one archaeologist to the other who was equally perplexed.  Both tried their hand to lift what seemed like a metal stick riveted to the dome.  “God!  Looks like it would weigh a ton. We may have to haul it out.” Again, one said to the other. “Send word to the team. Here is something we cannot make head or tail of.”

They kept staring at the finding which had the appearance of a time-worn weapon while the team members, with brimming curiosity, rushed to the spot. 

I, the witness, remained silent. I cannot vouch or speak for what has been found because I am a tongue-tied onlooker to endless waves of scenarios that have swept through.  Some have no answers even in Time?
………

1 comment :

  1. Congratulations to K. S. Subramanian for the short story based on a character from epic mahabharata a treasure house for lovers of epics. It is lucid wellwritten. The story of unhonoured unsung hero because ghatotkach belong to rakshasa tribe.

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