The royal family, generals, ministers, the royal guard and people of the Vishala kingdom in large numbers gathered around the arena adjacent to the gurukul. Guru Dhira announced yet another session of training where he would accept new students into his gurukul. And that would mean display of his rare skill once again – a spectacle that was considered legendary.
25 dead palm trees were lying around the vast expanse which comprised of several sturdy looking palm. They called it the enchanted palm grove.
“Take aim…fire!!!”, came the command. 50 fierce arrows from the strongest archers of the land flew rapidly towards a resolute looking boulder. As the arrows hit the stone almost at the same time, it exploded into pieces without a fight. The crowd roared in applause as the archers loaded their bows for another shot. The commanding officer waived his hand to silence the crowd and said again, “take aim…”, this time the target was a sturdy looking palm tree that looked timid in comparison to the boulder that was smashed by the archers – “release!!!“. With the crackling sound of a giant whip, the arrows raced towards the trunk of the innocent looking palm with supreme confidence. The arena was filled with a loud gasp of the astonished crowd as the arrows shattered into splinters at the base of the trunk as the palm tree gently danced with the breeze. A tiny sparrow perched on the palm did not even flinch, as if it knew what was going to happen.
“As expected, the enchanted palms cannot be taken down with force. Now we invite the great Master Dhira to show the prospects how he does it and what is the potential of learning that awaits them in his gurukul”, announced the commanding officer.
Dhira is the tutor of the warriors of the land Vishala, and this is a customary display to the new students before they entered his gurukul. It also served as a reminder to his current students on what is it that they have to attain being in his gurukul. Dhira picked up a frail looking dry tree branch from the ground, gently scraped away its twigs, looked at it keenly for few moments and in a swift motion hurled it at the palm trunk. As the dry stick left his hand, it appeared like a bolt of lightning screaming through the tree trunk and before the palm realized what hit it, it broke in place and fell with a thud.
Amidst the applause of the astonished students and people of Vishala, Dhira spoke firmly, “the intention of joining my gurukul is not to learn destructive arts and to hurt others. The enchanted palm permits me to take it down, and for every tree that falls, two more will grow back. I am looking for noble souls that would ensure stability of this land and protect nature by mastering the techniques that I have to bestow. Ever since I have received the highest learning from my guru, I have been looking for the last twenty five winters for a successor to whom I could pass these powers. Some of you might get selected into my gurukul, and I hope this time I will find a few that are worthy of the knowledge that I carry”.
“Even though they don’t learn everything he has got, his gurukul delivers great warriors to the kingdom, and no one dared to conquer Vishala just because of this”, murmured the crowd. A young boy stepped forth from the 50 archers that took aim at the palm. “Guru Dhira, please accept my greetings, I am prince Arjun and I’d be thankful if you accepted me into your gurukul”. “I have heard of your valor prince, my gurukul awaits you”, smiled Dhira. “Virat, son of the commander-in-chief of the armies, also seeks your permission”, said another boy that looked much stronger than the prince. “Of course, I have been apprised by the King of your friendship, you may join as well”, said Dhira. Several students from the land came forth, but not all of them were permitted to enroll. “It is as if, he looks at them and decides who is worthy and who is not!”, whispered the crowd.
Just when it appeared that there were no more students approaching, a rugged looking tribal boy rushed forth. Dhira could see the anxiety of his parents and the tribal group who were being obstructed by the soldiers. One of the soldiers tried to prevent the boy from approaching Dhira, but Dhira raised his hand indicating to him to step away. “Where do you think you are going, who are you, what do you want?”, asked Dhira with a smile. “My name is Sravan, I want to be just like you”, he said. “Is it the wish of your parents too?”, Dhira looked away towards the enchanted palm. “Yes! they told me your stories every single day, I want to learn and master the skills you have, but did you have to fall the innocent tree Master?”, he asked innocently. “You may join”, Dhira smiled. “This is unfair, tribal boy? the guru is out of his mind”, came the cries of disappointed students and their families.
“Arjun is valorous and has all the qualities Dhira, you will ensure fair treatment, he deserves your knowledge”, said the King. “Do not forget O King! that our duty – is to provide stability and prosperity to this kingdom, you should not lose your balance, the Ehceel are constantly looking to introduce discord with their mind tricks. The vidya (superfine knowledge) I possess will flow to the deserving one on its own, I merely prepare the students to receive it”, so saying Guru Dhira walked into the enchanted grove, the other side of which lay his gurukul.
“It is true my King, our shield has been our belief and faith on Dhira and the soldiers he crafted. Our borders stay unscathed just for this reason. Do not waiver in your resolve…”, the chief minister tried to counsel the king, “…it will open up a weak spot for the Ehceel to trick you and subsequently our defenses”, he warned. The king nodded his assent, but was quite restless, “but Arjun deserves to know and be powerful…”
In the years that followed, Arjun displayed superior skills at almost every martial art. There was no weapon he couldn’t wield with ease. Virat equaled in valor and skill. The students of the gurukul whispered to each other that finally the land has brought forth two warriors with the mettle to take on advanced learning from Guru Dhira.
“Faith, humility and restraint are the supreme attributes of a warrior. Faith in your teacher and training, growing humility along with your skills and wise restraint in not using them needlessly”. Sravan was the epitome of a good disciple. Although he was not as adept as the others, he followed Dhira to the letter and spirit and practiced hard. The other students teased at him for his awkward skills, but Dhira said “your progress is faster than the others, continue”. Sravan would slip away in the night sometimes and return early next morning. “My village is on the edge of the forest and away from the protection of the guard. We get attacked by robbers from neighboring kingdoms. I want to teach my people whatever little I learn from you. Isn’t it what you taught us, a warriors true job is to provide stability and allow prosperity in the land?”, replied Sravan to an inquiring glance from Dhira one day. “Continue”, smiled Dhira and walked away.
The royal family as well as the gurukul grew restless. There was apparently no skill left for Arjun and Virat to master, and yet they knew that their learning was incomplete. “What else should we do to convince you of our merit Master?”, challenged Arjun one day. “Not of your merit, but your intention may be, and you need not convince me. You lack faith in your teacher”, smiled Dhira. “They say that with the superfine abilities you possess, you can easily take on a 1000 strong warriors at a time. My father told me that even without your knowledge, I and Virat possess the strength and skill to do the same. What do we lack Master? How do we prove our merit and faith?”, he retorted. “Perfect Faith needs perfect crisis to be proven. We shall test your faith when the right crisis hits. Crisis adds fuel to the fire of faith“, smiled Dhira.
“Who is your perfect disciple? That tribal boy? I would like to duel him, with real swords”, Virat raised his voice. “So be it”, said Dhira to the utter amazement of everyone around. The duel was arranged two days after.
Dhira called forth the two fighters and tapped on their forehead with what seemed like an enchanted leaf. “This will engulf you with a shield and even though the sword wounds would sting you for real, you will not bleed and die”, he said. “I wouldn’t need any protection with this tribal boy Master”, said Virat. “Do not reject the protection, lest it may not work on you, remember, faith is the shield”, smiled Dhira. “What is your order for me Master?”, asked Sravan humbly. “Oh! are you not scared? you think you are ready to fight the son of the commander-in-chief?”, someone shouted. “If my Guru thinks I can fight, then I CAN FIGHT!“, confidently replied Sravan. “Defend Sravan, do not lose your balance”, said Dhira.
A brilliant fight ensued, who would have thought that Sravan would last even a moment! Virat was truly marvelous and too swift for Sravan. He charged over and over relentlessly striking at Sravan multiple times. One could see the pain borne by Sravan on his face, he clenched his teeth in pain. However, he had a gigantic faith – the shield ensured that he did not die. He did not lose his balance, and defended as much as he can. “We never knew he learnt so much in such a short time”, murmured the students that gathered around. Come what may, Sravan did not fall, and Virat started to grow impatient and tired. His blows steadily lost their swiftness and eventually strength. “Hold!”, came the command and the two fighters stopped. Virat was more tired and lacking in energy, whereas Sravan stood firm despite of his unbearable pain. “The pain will also be absorbed by the shield, you showed tremendous resolve and restraint Sravan”, praised Dhira. “Now you attack and Virat it is your turn to defend”, said the Master.
Sravan pounced forth with intense focus. Although Virat defended 20 blows, one would eventually land and pierce his body. Just after a short while Virat sustained several cuts, and Dhira halted the fight. “Enough display, let the fighters rest and we will resume tomorrow”, he said and left the arena.
“Warriors are all around us. Not just those who wield weapons like you, but those who run the government, those who practice arts, those who farm, all those that ensure stability and prosperity of this kingdom. As long as that noble intent is held in high regard, our kingdom will thrive. And that is the reason we are also under the constant threat of greedy conquerors like the Ehceel. They use ancient mind bending techniques to turn us against each other. That is why my powers cannot flow to those who have any element of selfishness in them. The one that has the highest regard for the country and faith in his guru will receive the learning”, Guru Dhira addressed the students next day. The disappointment of Arjun and Virat was swiftly carried to the palace by the spies appointed by the King.
“This is not happening! The old man has lost his mind, is he going to give his knowledge to one tribal boy?”, the King demanded the Chief Minister. “O King! not if Arjun and Virat can also develop the attributes Dhira is trying to teach. His knowledge cannot be stolen by force”, the minister replied. “But it is also said that whoever kills him can also claim his powers! I will attack the gurukul with the might of our army. The very soldiers he has trained will be turned against him and I will let Arjun strike the death blow”, the King paced around with rage. “That is impossible, are you out of your mind? Even an army cannot take him down if he chooses to fight back…”, gasped the chief minister, “…you have been tricked by the Ehceel my King! please think clearly”. “He has taken an oath never to fight the internal armies and harm Vishala”, said the King and called for the commander-in-chief who was equally impatient to strike down the old Guru and claim his true military dominance over the kingdom. “With him around, my soldiers are never really mine!”, he said.
As most of the military moved towards the gurukul lying on the far northern side of the kingdom, it left the southern and eastern boundaries weak and defenseless, and the Ehceel advanced with a might of 100,000 warriors silently. They took down the front guard without much fight and steadily progressed inwards.
Meanwhile, the Vishala soldiers surrounded the gurukul. “Guru Dhira! We have tolerated your charades for several years, now is the time to let go of your arrogance and transfer your knowledge or we will rightfully snatch it from you”, boomed the commander-in-chief. Dhira calmly stepped out and spoke with a smile on his face, “you are swerved by the Ehceel! my loyalties are always to the stability and prosperity of this kingdom. Do you think this army can take me down, if I choose to fight, O king?”. “No father!”, Arjun ran forth accompanied by Virat. “If we did not gain his knowledge, it is due to our shortcomings, he has unflinching love for the country and cannot be harmed. There will not be a greater peril than that”, he said and Virat nodded in approval. Before the King could react a battalion came rushing through from the south carrying the news of the invasion.
“Oh how did we fall to the Ehceel so meekly…”, exclaimed the King, “…and lead an entire army to attack our most revered Master”, added the Commander-in-Chief. “The Ehceel planned this all along, and bent our minds on the one aspect which distracted us from our real purpose O King! this is a grave calamity, what do we do now?”, he cried.
Guru Dhira continued to smile. He looked at Arjun and Virat and addressed them, “a great crisis adds fuel to the fire of faith! do you trust your Master?”, he demanded. As if lit up by burning fire within that has suddenly been unleashed, both nodded in fierce determination in their eyes. “What is your command Master?”, they spoke in unison.
“But they are a 100,000 strong and merciless warriors Guru Dhira, and it might be too late before we encounter them. They would reach the heart of our kingdom. We cannot fight without causing significant damage to our people”, said the King. “It takes just one warrior with supreme faith to tackle an army and keep it at bay“, said Dhira. “But the best warriors are with us here, and your students are not fully trained, who is that warrior?”, asked the commander-in-chief.
Dhira looked at Arjun and Virat, “take aim at the enchanted palm, trust your Master”. Two swift arrows cut through two sturdy palm much to the surprise and joy of the King and the commander-in-chief. “You have now learnt the last and a lasting lesson Arjun and Virat – ride like wind and support your brother Sravan who I have already sent to face the army yesterday. One warrior with this knowledge can conquer any army, and three is quite a handful. Remember – to win, you need not kill them all, just kill their confidence, restraint is the true ornament of a warrior!“.
As the two warriors rode for the aid of Sravan in utter joy and enthusiasm, Guru Dhira explained to the others about Sravan’s faith and noble intent to serve the land. “He is a disciple that can make any master proud – an unflinching faith, great humility and restraint”. As your Guru it is my responsibility to ensure safety of the land and prepare for any crisis. I received news from my loyal students in the army about the internal and external disturbances – the perfect crisis that also created the perfect opportunity to prepare Sravan receive my knowledge.
Protected by the shield of his Guru, Sravan devastated the Ehceel armies without striking death blows, but scattering them in all directions. No deluge of arrows could pierce him, and his single blow hurled back entire contingents of army. As he pushed the Ehceel army steadily out to the borders, Arjun and Virat struck alongside Sravan joined by others from the Vishalan army.
Vishala regained its balance soon before it was totally lost, Sravan joined Guru Dhira in the gurukul to continue to receive training and coach other students. Arjun and Virat prepared to serve their motherland with a solemn oath to protect its stability and prosperity with unflinching faith.