The King of Himapura lost his eldest son in the battle with the beast. The beast also left the kingdom in tatters and went back into the deep forests in the mountains that surrounded Himapura.
Himapura was a mighty kingdom situated between the great mountain ranges of Nila and with an army that could face any force on the planet. However, there was an eternal curse on the royal family – legend has it that one of the ancestors of the dynasty, Surasena, who was a very powerful king humiliated an ascetic meditating in the mountains, and got cursed to live the life of a beast that will haunt the dynasty for generations to come.
The beast would attack every twenty years and challenge a man from the royal family to battle. It had tremendous strength, and could uproot trees as easily as a child would playfully pluck blades of grass. No weapon had the power to pierce its thick skin. Ever since the curse was unleashed the Himapuran dynasty lost several of its heirs to the beast. Although the beast would not attack anyone else in the kingdom, it would lay waste to the kingdom and plundered anything that got in the way. After causing this menace it would retreat to its cave for 20 years of hibernation.
King Surendra was distraught and enraged. His eldest son Ajaya who was barely 22 years old and yet one of the finest warriors of Himapura accepted the challenge and died in the hands of the beast without a fight. “Is there no way to break this horrible spell master?”, cried the King to the family teacher Guha. “We tried to kill it while it was asleep, tried to burn it with several oils and wood, block out the cave and make the entry into the kingdom near impossible with several blockades, yet it always comes back and kills one of us!”, continued Surendra. “O King! I feel your loss. It is indeed a great challenge to kill the beast, but not impossible. A worthy warrior who could wield a bow from bharani near my hermitage will get one shot at the beast and has a chance to kill it”, consoled Guha. Bharani was an ironwood tree that was centuries old and the only one of its kind in that habitat. The teachers of Himapura took care of it and it exhibited amazing strength and character.
“Yes you have told me this before and it is a legend as old as the curse itself”, replied Surendra. “That is true, this is the clue to break the curse given by the ascetic to Surasena. Bharani issues its powerful branches once in 20 years out of which the bow needs to be carved and it will not happen unless the worthy warrior himself makes it out of the tree”, calmly replied the master. “And the beast would not fight anyone else but the heirs of this kingdom, and it would mean one of my children should be worthy to do the deed! Several sons of Himapura died believing in this legend master, pray tell me if there is any other way”, pleaded the King. Guha tried to console the King and encouraged him to do his duty in bidding farewell to his son Ajaya. “Let me train Vikram, I will prepare him to kill the beast”, advised the master before he left.
“I will not sacrifice my second son to the beast in 20 years again”, Surendra told himself. “When the beast returns in 20 years, I will be too old to fight it and not have the will to live. I will face it and perish. But I will not let it find my son. Vikram will live the life of a commoner and this is the only way to break the curse”, without even informing the queen, the King ordered his most trusted servant to take the 2-year-old Vikram far away from the kingdom and never to return.
Soma the trusted servant instead took Vikram to the teacher Guha and told him the King’s predicament. Guha was a master in the art of wielding weapons and warfare and ran his gurukul to train students into warriors for Himapura. “So be it! I will bring up Vikram like a common child but will train him into a fierce warrior, but he needs to earn his worthiness or he too will perish in the hands of the beast. You leave the Kingdom and do not return until 20 years have passed”, so saying Guha bid farewell to Soma.
Guha renamed Vikram to Vijaya and brought him up as his own son. He told the rest of the students in his gurukul (the residential school run by masters in the olden times to teach students various arts, including the art of wielding weapons & warfare) that he found Vijaya in the forest and some poor mother would have forsaken her child. As Vijaya grew up in the gurukul amidst the training arena watching other students (warriors) practice the art of war, he took a keen liking to archery. Although still a young kid of 6 years, nothing impressed Vijaya more than seeing some of the best students pierce the most difficult targets and shoot arrows the farthest. “When can I start learning to practice master?”, asked the little Vijaya. “In time my son, before that you should build strength, start to play with this staff and try to bend it. The day you do that I will start training you in archery”, smiled Guha and gave him a tough looking staff that was dark. “It’s heavy”, Vijaya tried to hold on to the staff as he wanted to show that he was up for the challenge. Over the next several years, whenever Vijaya went to his master asking for permission to practice archery, he would get the same question “how much can you bend the stick?”. Vijaya could barely bend it, try as hard as he might. He trusted his master and worked on this strange piece of wood as he watched other students practice in the arena. “Why are you always going around with that strange stick?”, some of the students ridiculed him. “Does the master want to train you as a shepherd?”, smirked some of them. “No”, cried Vijaya, “I will be the best archer of all”, he replied with determination and applied some more force on the stick, but it did not relent.
Guha also taught Vijaya the art of making a bow and made him create different types of bows for the practice of the warriors. He taught Vijaya to identify the right tree – what characteristics to look for and how to gently carve out the bow. “If the tree is too hard, the bow will snap and if it is too supple, it will not shoot an impactful arrow”, advised Guha.
As two more years went by, Vijaya learnt the art of identifying trees and making good bows. However, he did not give up working on the staff, and he did not lose patience. “Now we know what the master would want to make of you, you poor servant boy, he wants you to assist him in running this place, you ‘bow-maker'”, ridiculed the other students. Although it hurt, Vijaya ignored them and he somehow had a firm belief in his master.
At last one day, with all his might that a 16-year-old could muster, he bent the staff into a beautiful curve. He ran to his master to showcase his achievement. “Indeed! this is remarkable, now you are ready to start practicing archery”, stated Guha. “Now that you have learnt to bend your bow, why don’t you carve it fully and string it up”,smiled Guha to the utter joy of Vijaya. “All along I was holding on to my bow? I knew there was something behind this exercise master, I am thankful to you. Please teach me to hit the most difficult targets without missing them”, asked an enthused Vijaya bubbling with energy. “Son! you have earned the trust of your bow by being with it, working on it but never ridiculing it. Respect on the means you have is the first sign of worthiness. Now I will train you to shoot arrows, but it will not be conventional. Are you willing to trust me once again?”, looked Guha inquiringly. “I will master, let us begin”.
The next day, Guha took Vijaya to the bottom of the mountain by name Silavarsha (raining rocks). The mountain had great slopes and still looked fresh from the volcanic eruption that formed it several hundred years ago. The boulders on the mountain continuously rolled down into the valley, giving the mountain its name. “Listen carefully Vijaya! This training may kill you, but if you show enough courage and practice with all your focus, you will be the best archer that you always wanted to be”, Guha spoke reassuringly. “I am ready master”, what should I do. “You will stand at the foot of Silavarsha and wait for the boulders to roll down, and when you see one rolling down you will charge towards it shooting arrows at it. Your task will be to smash the boulders with your arrows and when you do that, you would have been trained”, finished Guha. Vijaya felt shocked hearing this. Surely this was not what he ever saw in the gurukul! Even the worst of Guha’s students were not trained to this degree of extremity. “May be there is something in it for me. Besides I am starting so late and would never catch up to the skills of the others if I tried to do what they did. Alas! I thought archery was about piercing the finest and most intricate targets, but this seems to be a test of my courage and strength”, Vijaya paused as he tried to prepare himself for the challenge. “Vijaya, remember if you do not get out-of-the-way in time, you will be certainly killed by the incoming boulder, be quick to decide and use your courage wisely“, warned Guha.
This was an impossible task. The first six months, Vijaya barely managed to get out of the rushing boulders let alone stringing up an arrow to shoot them. He realized soon that if he needs to shoot with poise, he needs to wait till the boulder was close enough and fire a string of arrows at it, move aside in time and continue shooting. Most arrows missed the mark and those that did hit barely scratched the boulders. “Can I not first practice at a steady target master and learn to fire a straight arrow?”, he once asked his master as he tried to catch his breath after a day long practice. “Shooting a stationery object would do you no good Vijaya, continue to practice. Look for the shot that will stall the boulder and smash it!“, firmly replied Guha.
Vijaya continued to practice shooting arrows at the rolling rocks and mounds of sediment and gradually picked up the strength and agility needed in his legs to get to the state of poise while in motion. His focus became so good that he lost himself completely, all he could see was the area of the rock where he should land the next arrow and the rest of his body supported his aim. Guha was very pleased with the progress Vijaya was making as he reminded himself of the time left “1 year to go!”.
Vijaya continued to get taunted by the other warriors often and they even enticed him to duels to show their skills. “You seem to be developing the muscle of a laborer, ‘rock-shooter’, but how good is your archery? shall we have a competition”, they tried to tease him. “I know I am not good at what you do, but I believe that I am good at what I do. The one thing that I can do, none of you can and I will work further on it“, Vijaya replied calmly. “He must be born of a shepherd for sure, if he was a true warrior he would get enraged and fight with us! He doesn’t even offer us a chance to beat him up”, they laughed behind him.
Guha also observed that Bharani(the ironwood tree) issued its powerful branches indicating that the time was near. He called out to Vijaya and took him to the tree. Vijaya observed that the bow he had was of the same color as this tree and understood that the wood came from this tree. He wondered why his master never took him to this tree before. “Vijaya, do you see that sturdy branch over there? what do you think of it?” asked Guha. “I can carve a worthy bow that a great warrior can adorn master”, humbly replied Vijaya. “I am very pleased with your humility, please attempt to separate the branch and start crafting the bow”, ordered Guha. Vijaya was elated, “there must be a warrior in the gurukul indeed that I will have the great fortune to present this bow to!” he thought. It took a huge effort from Vijaya to separate the branch and even more effort to carve the bow from the branch. After a couple of months of effort, a magnificent bow was carved by Vijaya. Guha asked him to prepare tough cords made of twined fiber from the toughest bamboo and roots of other trees of the forest. “You know that a mightly bow would need…”, “…the strongest string…yes master”, Vjiaya was up for the task.
“An arrow released from this bow can even blast rocks, master, who did you choose to present this powerful weapon”, asked Vijaya in front of the warriors that Guha asked to assemble the next day.
Guha smiled and addressed all his students – “this bow has been carved out from the legendary bharani tree. Only the mightiest of warriors could wield it and face the beast that will awaken from its slumber soon. Which of you would like to take up the challenge?”, asked Guha. Several courageous warriors came forth and said “Master! we do not fear the beast as it would not fight anyone but the royalty, we would like to try to wield this bow”. “Very well, try to string it up with the chord that Vijaya has prepared and shoot an arrow”, Guha encouraged them. The warriors took turns to lift the bow which did not look very stout but was extremely heavy. It was impossible for them to even bend it slightly. “From where does it gather so much weight and resistance”, they thought. Vijaya was watching with glee to see the spectacle of the greatest warrior stepping forth and wielding this weapon. But as every one of the warriors failed, Vijaya was also disappointed. “Is there no one in this gurukul that could make my master proud? I am not even a good shot, else I could have tried”, he told himself.
“Step forth Vikram, the prince of Himapura!”, announced Guha addressing Vijaya. “The time has come for you to know who you really are and face your destiny”. The warriors in the gurukul were astonished to hear the story of Vijaya and his true identity. Vikram however felt sad to hear the story of his ancestors and the sacrifice of his father to keep him alive. “We are indebted forever to you master for having prepared me to meet the purpose of my life. Now I know why I have not trained the way others did and prepared all my life for that one shot that will lift the curse from my family”, Vikram stated courageously as he bent the bow and strung it up with determination and ease. As he finished the bow, there was a deafening cry from deep within the forest as if a huge thunder exploded in the sky. “I am ready”, said Vikram as he pulled the cord of his bow to make a vibrant sound from the bow of bharani.
The beast rolled through the forest smashing trees and rocks along the way as if the biggest boulder of the mountain came rolling down. Vikram waited patiently at the bottom of the mountain with a smile on his face. As the huge boulder (beast) came charging towards him, he gently picked up an arrow made from the bharani tree from his quiver “this is what you trained me for”, he thought. He poised his stance firmly and made a deep draw on his bow so much so that for an onlooker he appeared one with the bow itself. He lost sight of the surroundings and himself as his sight focused on the spot which should be pierced by his arrow and as the beast came within the shooting range, he released the arrow like a thunderbolt hitting a dead tree. There was a booming sound, like that of a mountain cracking up into pieces. The beast smashed hard into the ground with roaring cries in pain and breathed its last.
Guha opened his eyes as he concluded his morning meditation and smiling to his students said “the curse has been lifted, send word to the King that the prince is ready to return to the palace!”.
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