It had been a long war. The stench of the dead, the cries of the carrion birds and the earth reddened with blood was commonplace now. There was no more wailing from the tents for those bereaved and death was a factor to be efficiently managed. Even the skies have been awed and struck dumb by the carnage unfolded on this field now known in infamy as Kurushetra – “the killing ground of the Kuru’s”.
The chariot was a simple affair of two fast horses moving in tandem, yoked to board and three rope bound poles on the running board for the riders to hold on to. Later poets and ministrels would wax eloquent of the dazzling array of THE CHARIOT which broke the ranks of the kaurava’s wherever its wheels turned. They would sing of golden harnesses and silver caparisoned might, arrayed for children and for adults with children’s dreams for victory and glory. They would sing of its god-like charioteer and mighty warrior bestriding behind ravaging whoever was arrayed against them, regardless whether human, demon or god.
The real chariot which turned armies into jelly, warriors into corpses by its mere presence had never existed. It had been merely another fiction of the charioteer’s agile mind which had honed war craft and strategy into something almost akin to supernatural power. Such a chariot would never have been able to breach the cordons to Jayadrath’s inner circle or fight great Drona into a standstill, much less dodge mighty Karna’s arrow showers. Such a gaudy chariot would never ensure surprise, that most important element of victory.
Such a chariot is fit only in dreams and stories, not in battle, thought the dark-skinned charioteer as he clicked his tongue to the high strung horses trotting amongst corpses and battle debris dotting the fields for miles in every direction. The clicking tongue, equally effective with restive cattle in the far reaches of Vrindavan, calmed the horses on the killing grounds as they slowed down towards a broken barricade.
The moon was full and no insects cried or birdsong broke the eerie calm of the night as the horses swung by the barricade and the charioteer leant out and touched them.
“Sleep well, invincible one, your son will rule as I promised you and I will have my revenge” the charioteer intoned silently, as he touched the broken wooden barricades still stained brown with the blood of his only nephew, his dearest sisters son.
A boy he had loved more than his own lost son and trained under his own hand, killed by eight warriors. A mere boy, defying them to the last and leaving his mark on each of the great ones before spilling his heart blood on the wooden barricades of Drona’s Chakravyuhu. A true hero, of great Karna’s ilk, equally cursed by blood and fortune, to be remembered only for his mad dog glory.
One of the only deaths he had grudged in this war and beyond. It was needed and he had fulfilled his duty and more when he led his friend, the father, away, knowing that the cowardly advisors he had planted would ensure that his eldest paternal uncle would gamble, as always and lose, as usual. But it suited his needs and so he had made his peace and sworn his vow to his dead nephew’s bloodline.
The charioteer was lost in his thoughts when another voice broke the silence from beyond the broken hulks,
“The moon holds sway in the night….”
The voice was instantly recognizable for its earthy nasal twang of Mathura’s dialect and resonance instead of the high speech of Sanskrit, but years of training and living a double life could not be set aside easily,
“…..only when the sun has set and the dark is nigh.”
Completing the first line of the code exchange, the charioteer swung down from the running board. As he swung down, he adjusted his plain dhoti and palmed the first of his throwing knives smoothly as he turned towards the speaker who had arisen behind the barricades.
“The years with the high-born’s have not robbed you of your gokul training, cousin” said the man arising from his defensive crouch, his sword also openly bared but hanging loosely at his side.
The charioteer relaxed slightly as the second coded exchange went smoothly, but his nape still tingled and he did not cache away his knife and scanned the surrounding environs silently till his eyes found a bump on the ground that did not meld with the usual churned up earth of the killing fields. And then he waited looking around for more discrepancies till the first man coughed and the hump moved to show an armed wiry man flattened on the ground underneath a dust-coloured cloth liberally smeared with the red earth. Bowing to both men, the wiry man crept off into the dark.
“You couldn’t really expect me to come alone into THE killing grounds where the only thing constant is Yamraj on the sidelines reaping souls like its harvesting season, cousin”, stated the first man, still holding on to the sword lazily like it was an extension of his body, “especially after you hacked off Sishupala’s head with that accursed discus of yours to show solidarity with those damned five, earlier”
“We needed to provoke Jarasandh and take him out of the equation or this war would have been for naught – I have explained this to you cousin, earlier” stated the charioteer easily, still scanning the landscape for anything that did not fit in, anything that tingled his senses.
“so you have, so you have…..in fact, I was one of the last to accept that the great deception started so many years ago is finally coming to fruition and you have managed to deliver each and every one of your targets as promised to King Ugrasen as payment for killing Kansa the Just. In fact, people believe that you killed an evil monster now, less than 30 years later – I have trouble accepting that you ensured even regicide would be forgotten – that too regicide of a popular and good king.”
“Gokul was a good training ground, cousin and Kansa WAS a monster to my mother, regardless of how good he was as a king to the populace. My father was promised the throne and Kansa had no right on it. The Kuru’s are merely a continuation of my revenge since they aided him then. My promise to King Ugrasen was nothing that I did not wish to achieve myself.” said the charioteer, pacing around the chariot now, looking for something that still tingled his scalp and screamed danger in seven dialects.
“So Vasudeva, are you satisfied now? Has your blood thirst been appeased with the vermillion & blood of so many including that of your only nephew being part of the red rivers you have caused to run on these killing grounds?” asked the first man, squatting on his haunches, sword held protectively before him nonchalantly.
The charioteer noted the sword position and smiled inwardly at the respect given to a seemingly unarmed and single man. True respect that was tinged with awe at the enormity of the battlefield, all caused directly or indirectly by him alone. He was surrounded by corpses of men now dead due to him and the very earth owed its colour and name to his efforts.
He continued checking the chariot and then the horses, softly singing to them, always more comfortable with animals than with humans. Even that sea serpent that mistakenly came up the Yamuna on a tidal wave had been easy enough to befriend and control with fish and offal. Something that added to his legend, but its death too was necessary like his nephew’s and he had dried his tears inwardly at both times.
So much death caused, so few regretted or even considered, how else could, people not consider him alien and at times god-like for the ability to twist events to his purposes. He had been requested to stay away from Yadav lands after King Ugrasen had ascended the throne and the court advisors had seen to it that he did not return for any significant amount of time.
He had been dispatched to build island fortresses, to overthrow challengers to the yadav clans, to win away foolish princesses whose alliances could be dangerous and more and finally to the culmination of his great efforts into this battlefield of bones, picked clean by carrion.
Was he bloodthirsty or satisfied?
The charioteer stopped grooming the off-side horse and looked at the man on the ground directly for the first time. They had studied together, played together and they had worked together for many years – but now, the man on the ground was in awe of him and his actions.
“I, Krishna Vasudev, born to the moon dynasty, sworn to action and deed, thought and belief to the night that succors us. Sworn by birth to the wishes of the Yadav clan wishes, for which I exist and for nothing else.” He softly intoned in the sacred oath of the clan. Nothing could be more profane or sacred on the killing grounds.
The first man who had swung up at the first syllable of the clan oath, grounded his sword and bowed on bended knee and said,
“I see and bow to you, great divider, narrator of war, greatest of friends, most bitter of enemies who has urged the dogs of war to the very brink of destruction and beyond. Order me, my lord, what else is left for us to do”
The charioteer looked at his old playmate, who was bowing to him and replied softly,
“The house of Kuru is extinct and the only heir is my grandnephew who is of our bloodline and therefore sacrosanct. We have created strife where none existed, brought about intercine rivalry of the worst kind. Brought to throne illegitimate offspring who have no claim, set against each other the famed chariot wheels of the clan kuru which had drank of the blood of every house and clan which have opposed them.”
Aye, we Yadavs, have broken the armour of invincible might of the scions of the sun dynasty and brought about the great schism between warring cousins leading to this great war which decimated the great house of Kuru, Paurava’s, Shantanu, thought the dark-skinned charioteer.
“We are done here, old friend. Its time for us to go home.”
Still on bended knee, his old playmate remained silent, only a slight tremble and flutter of the fine
At best, he was the ultimate weapon for them.
At best he could retire to his island fortress and endure the termagant Rukmini
Never return to his childhood lands of Gokul,
Never marry his beloved Radha as it was incestuous to marry his aunt.
Never to belong, only to be feared, famed and called upon in their hour of need.
The clan Kuru, famed and feared as the invincible clan of warriors who had dominated Bharat for ages tied by blood and forged through the chain mail of their allies was no more but there was no exultation, no happiness at the completion of the task – only a barren mind and heart. He had repaid friendship and warmth in blood. No wonder his elder brother had warned him of this and refused to take part of any of this, despite being ordered by the Yadu clans. But he had hoped to win his way back by gifting them that which they wanted most.
He had given his all to this end but as he looked upon his cousin, his kinsman, his earliest playmate, before him on bended knee sword grounded, the charioteer stood considering the bitter truth of his exile. He now understood the danger signs – his senses were warning him of this itself, not of temporal danger. He advanced upon his oldest playmate who had stood by him all these years, been his conduit to the yadu clans and embraced him.
“Go with God, Sudama. I will walk into Hell… alone” said the charioteer as he slammed the hidden knife into his playmate’s neck and ripped on, stepping aside only when the blood fountained out.
The yadu spies later reported the single chariot leaving and the decapitated body to the clan chiefs and received word which read as follows.
No man is greater than the clan. Send for the poisoned archers and await your chance.