ambe bhAratI! sarasvatI!! Do thou nourish forever all that is worthy and noble and do thou squelch always the ignorance and poverty from the minds of those that knowest thee not as surely as from the minds of those that seekest thee! May thy swift channels flow on forever, O Mother, with hundreds of ever-fresh spills and glacial streams guided by varuNa running to thy clasp, and may these banks continue to provide in abundance and till eternities, as they have since hoary past, the courage and inspiration for higher quests that set one free from the three bondages mundane! All the four varNa-s are but thy santati entreating thee alone for blessings O Mother most magnanimous! For, thy one bountiful glance might turn, if thou will, like petty pebbles into chintA-maNi, the ordinary minds into a kAlidAsa or a kAtyAyana, a pANini or a pata~njali, a dvaipAyana or a saumilla, a vAlmIki or a bR^ihaspati, a kauTilya or a kaNAd, a jaiminI or a janaka; then do thou bless ambe, bless all thy children!
In the first muhUrta of uShA we performed our sandhyA on the stepped banks of sarasvatI, which flows through the outskirts of sthANvIshvara, though she is here called ‘oghA’ by the local folks. (It is later that we learnt, going through the great itihAsa, that this name was not uncommon even in the long bygone days.)
We had spent the night, not an uneventful one, at one of the Ashraya-s in the vicinity. The place was overcrowded, bustling mostly with the pilgrims who had come hither from faraway janapada-s en route to the celebrated mahA-pITha of kArttikeya at rohitaka, or to the famed shrine of Aditya at mUlasthAna, and some to the siddha pITha of vaiShNavI. Most pilgrims stop over to perform their devotions on the banks of sarasvatI at sthANvIshvara, a pilgim center in its own right.
Then there was also a party of the mukta-kachcHa-s transiting from, as we learnt, the frontier chaitya-s of kubhA-gandhAra to the vihAra-s of kushInagara. Some of these muNDaka-s were also chIna-s who spoke in otherwise chaste saMskR^ita, albeit to our amusement, with a strange boisterous nasal accent.
We had retired to the corner bed under the covered wooden yard that the one-eyed elderly gurjara boniface of the inn had given us. No sooner had the hustle of the sweet-sellers and milkmen settled down, neither our contemplations about the future course nor the atrocious mosquitoes could prevent us from quickly slipping into slumber, exhausted and spent as we were.
But hardly a prahara must have passed that we were roused from our sleep by uncertain hushed voices which sounded like sobs and gasps. We sat up and straining our eyes in the dimly shade of the corner lamp, looked at the secluded beds to our right, and found that a man was sitting up with the head of another in his lap, the latter babbling in sunken voice. Going towards them we asked whether there was any matter.
But the matter was evident to us as we went closer. Even in the dim light, we could see the face of the young man lit up with a burning jvara, his pale eyes turned upwards. We asked the older man whether we might take a look, and not waiting for the answer, reached out for the oil lamp bringing it closer to the man.
During our endless toils of wandering life, we had also spent over a year at kA~nchIpura in the draviDa country, serving under a rasa-vaidya and training with him. While we could not pursue that line and had to leave kA~nchIpura due to certain embarrassing reasons that are better left out of these leafs, we had learnt enough of basics and always carried a small peTikA of OShadhi-s for own use.
The menacingly high santApa with trembling shivers, delirious speech and shrinking nADI-gati, blackening lips and turning pale eyes, and as we opened the leather vest of the patient, reddish koTha patches all over his chest and abdominal desha: this surely was no ordinary prAkR^ita jvara nor doShaja jvara, we suspected this seemed like a gambhIra caused by some toxin. Unless he was quickly attended by an Agad-pravINa vaidya, the patient had little hopes, we candidly told the companion of the suffering man. But whence could a vaidya be fetched at this midnight hour in an unknown country?
Not until the morning, grimly told the one-eyed gurjara innkeeper who was now at the bedside. Though, after another prahara he could arrange to take the patient to chAruSheNa sharman, a renowned chikitsaka. If the patient survived the night, that was, which to us seemed uncertain looking at his sinking breaths.
We hesitated, and then reluctantly told the older man that while we were no practicing expert, we were still trained in medicine and knew the OShadhi-s that might help the patient a bit, and if he so consented we could attempt at reviving the patient until the care of a proper chikitsaka was arranged. kiM-kartavya-vimUDha, the man looked at us helplessly, then slowly nodded.
We asked the elderly gurjara to fetch some curd, dhR^ita, and saktU preferably of barley, and then for a brief moment remembering the AchArya who had taught us, set out to prepare a yavAgu with suitable OShadhi-s: pR^iShNiparNI, bilvamUla, trAyamANa-phalAdi that we had in our possession, while sorely missing the others that we knew were required but we had not. For a moment we considered whether emesis through vamana should be first attempted, but then remembered the counter-indication in the saMhitA in case the toxins had gone beyond the stomach, and decided against it. With an atharvan mantra on our lips we administered the first oral dose to the patient, and applied paippalAdi mixed with dhR^ita on his upper limbs, uttering a kaumAra mantra that we had received from our teacher.
After a few ghaDI-s of thus treating, by the grace of our learned AchArya, and certainly because the patient had more life destined to him, he showed improvement. While the fever was still high, we observed perspiration of sveda, stabilising breathing and improving nADI-gati. We then administered another dose and now had to wait until the gurjara could arrange the patient to be taken to the vaidya at the dawn.
The grateful older gentleman opened up to us, and as we sat observing the patient, he told us that they were sons of a merchant from kAshI, and had led a sArtha of a five-hundred shakaTa-s laden with various merchandise to bAlkha and pArasIka countries. Having done their business there, they had gone further west towards the metropolis of bhagadAda to buy merchandise for import, as they had done several times in the past. But not this time. This time they returned plundered and desolate, thankful for their lives. There was some devilry in the making, told the merchant. “How could the pArasIka armies be defeated in their own backyard, not by the yavana-romakau but barbara desert-dwelling aravaka-s!”
“And why not?”, joined the gurjara, “have you forgotten the invasion of the hUNa-s only two decades back at our own frontiers? Had it not been for mahArAjAdhirAja prabhAkara vardhana’s visionary policy, the barbara hUNa-s would have overrun even sthANvIshvara!”
The gurjara had in his youth, we learnt, served the different armies as a soldier, sometimes under the uttara-gupta-s, the other times under the vardhana or maukharI-s, and had seen action when the joint armies of different mahAsAmanta-s had marched under the generalissimo of prabhAkara vardhana, the father of harShadeva, to flush out white hUNa-s some years back. We did remember those events from what we used to hear in our childhood.
“And now”, continued the gurjara, “you would not even imagine the different desha-s under now independent mahA-sAmanta-s, ever joining forces to replulse an external invasion leaving that duty to be faced only by those on the front!”, then spitting the tAmbUla, “Why, see the treachery of gauDa-naresha narendra gupta, who now takes the title of shashA~Nka! See the treachery of maukhAri mAlava-naresha, who has stabbed the vardhana-s in the back! Can you even imagine these petty minded mahAsAmanta-s ever rising above their selfish ends! May shiva only protect us from any barbara invasions at the moment!”, then lowering his voice, “Why, let me tell you, I am even suspicious of all these chIna-s now making rounds to our country here”, throwing a glance in the general direction of the chIna muNDaka-s, “who could say how many of these are spies!”
The gurjara was referring to a recent stratagem by which the va~Nga naresha shashA~Nka had deceptively gotten rAjyavardhana, the elder brother of harShadeva, assassinated only a few months back. The prince whose nAmakaraNa was celebrated yesterday, was a posthumous son of rAjyavardhana.
Our mind was not in the talk, as our attention was focused on the patient, who was now showing definite improvement. We were relieved as the sky began becoming gradually illuminated and the gurjara rose to arrange for a shakaTa to take the patient to the professional. As we took leave from the merchant to bathe and perform our sandhyA, the grateful man thurst something in our palms.
From the river, we were now retreating back towards the rAjapatha with sluggish steps, not sure where we should now go. We intuitively began following a group of brAhmaNa-s dressed in bright shuklavarNI-s, with bright chandana lepa on their foreheads, which so reminded us of our pitAshrI.
We had hardly proceeded a few paces in the vIthikA that led towards the rAjapatha when we heard a female voice tentatively calling out, ‘bhaTTa?, bhaTTa??’
At first we thought that the lady was perhaps calling someone from the group ahead of us. But we turned. Or shall we say that it was our fate that really turned sucking us into a whirlwind of events?
It was nipuNikA who stood before us!
The same mocking smile, the same rebellious pair of eyes, the same defiant posture with the left arm confidently resting at her slim waist. Had she changed not a bit since we had seen her last in ujjayinI, maybe six or was it seven years back, on the stage in the play of mR^ichChakaTikA, finally playing the part of vasantasenA that night?
[Guess this is where we must stop the atrocity. With apologies to AchArya Hazari Prasad Dwivedi]