Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The indian queens bob haircut (original story)


The fort of Kadaloranadu was about to fall. It was under heavy attack from
the forces of Malairajyam. The forces of Kadaloranadu
were vastly outnumbered by the forces of Malairajyam. Nine of their
divisions, consisting of horse cavalry, elephant cavalry, and
some 20,000 foot soldiers were camped outside Kadaloranadu.Their victory
appeared imminent. The battle’s outcome was now
no longer a matter of conjecture. Only a miracle or divine intervention could
save Kadaloranadu from the greedy grasp of
Malairajyam.
King Nallarajan of Kadaloranadu huddled with his ministers and advisors.
They had to decide whether to surrender to the
invading forces of Malairajyam or fight to the end and die in glory. Almost to
the last man, the advisors of King Nallarajan wanted
to pursue the latter course, but King Nallarajan despaired over the massacre
that would follow, and the hordes of innocent men,
women, and children who would fall victim to the marauding forces of
Malairajyam. It was a wrenching choice to be made
between military glory and certain devastation of the entire populace of
Kadaloranadu, or surrender and the possibility of
perhaps losing his and his general’s heads but saving the people. This was
the third siege mounted by the forces of Malairajyam
on Kadaloranadu. The two previous attempts had been thwarted, thanks to
the bravery and valor of Kadaloranadu’s proud
military. Despite being outnumbered in men, horses, and elephants, and
despite having suffered huge losses of men, cavalry
animals, chariots and other war material, the fort of Kadaloranadu was
defended with fury by proud warriors to whom death in
the battlefield was the ultimate reward and the ultimate glory. The fort could
simply not be breached. Malairajyam too suffered
huge casualties. They had been rebuffed by strategy, ruse, as well as the
sheer battlefield ferocity displayed by the
Kadaloranadu forces. The Malairajyam forces had been worn down and
compelled to retreat.
King Rakshasaputran of Malairajyam had ordered the beheading of his top
generals’ heads on those two previous humiliating
occasions when his forces could not take Kadaloranadu, so great had been
his wrath at their inability to seize that much
besought prize. His main military goal in invading Kadaloranadu was to take
their three wonderful seaports, which supported a
flourishing trade with places as far as the Arabian peninsula. The ports had
contributed to the amazing prosperity of
Kadaloranadu, which had beautiful palaces, market places, thriving pearl
fishing villages, temples, roads, gardens, fruit groves,
rich fields of paddy, and irrigation canals.
Before they came under Malairajyam’s rapacious notice, peace had prevailed
in Kadaloranadu under the benevolent reign of
King Nallarajan, and the people were happy and prosperous. The arts
flourished. Temples, assembly halls, centers for the
performing arts, and inns were built. Visitors converged from everywhere
including such faraway places as China. Kadaloranadu
came to be regarded as heaven on earth, or as close to that as a human
kingdom could aspire to become. Travelers told of its
wonders and poets sang of its riches. They also waxed eloquently about the
might, wisdom, and generosity of King Nallarajan
and his beautiful Queen Keshasundari.
The king was compared for his physical prowess to Indra, for his valor to
Arjuna, and for his generosity to Karna. He was a
consummate master of all the arts of war, including archery,
swordsmanship, horse riding, elephant riding, and spear throwing.
Enemies were as likely to be bedazzled by his resplendent form which shone
like the sun, as they were to be overwhelmed by
the ferocity of his skills in battle. Despite this, King Nallarajan was a pacifist
who never attacked any other kingdom, big or small.
He was a deeply religious ruler who surrounded himself with buddhists,
jains, and hindus alike. In his reign, there were no
religious tensions, and everyone got along well. He was known to reward
artists and craftsmen with spontaneous gifts of handfuls
of gold coins. Wise men were welcomed with great honors at his court, and
received generous rewards of land and cattle. His
fame had spread across the entire continent.
Just as famed was Queen Keshasundari’s beauty and kindness towards her
happy subjects. The queen was a magnificent figure
and her subjects thrilled to see her as though she were the very
personification of a goddess. She was a stunning beauty in her
glittering dresses, her gold and diamond ornaments, and her flowing hair,
whose shimmering texture was likened by the poets to
silk, whose jet black hue to that of the new moon’s night, and whose
movement to the waves of the restless sea. Her voice drew
comparison to the melodious calls of the koel birds and nightingales that
wafted in with the cool breeze from the mango groves
in the evenings. When she appeared before her subjects on her carriage
drawn by a team of white horses, the populace bowed
their heads, not so much in fear as in awe and reverential deference. To be
in her presence became an honor, a fulfilment of
life’s very purpose, and a God conferred blessing. She was even known to
step down from her chariot to comfort any subject
who beseeched her for her favors and her mercies during her periodic
processions through the broad streets of Kadaloranadu.
So compassionate was she that she was known to become tearful if she came
to hear of the suffering of some town or village in
her husband’s dominion. Such things happened due to periodic natural
calamities like floods from the mighty rivers that watered
the kingdom or the ravaging cyclones that blew in from the sea. She would
prevail upon the king to send his envoys to see that
the suffering of the people was immediately redressed.
In secret, Rakshasaputran lusted as much after Queen Keshasundari as he
did after the sea ports of Kadaloranadu. He had never
seen her, but the accounts of his spies who infiltrated into Kadaloranadu
from time to time, had fueled his unseemly desire for
Queen Keshasundari. He had sent an artist in disguise to the court of King
Nallarajan. This fellow, known as Oviamedhai, had the
gift of capturing in his mind’s eye any person’s features and physical
attributes in an instant. All he needed was one brief
glance, and he trapped in his brain the minutest details of what was before
his eyes with total clarity and precision. Some even
believed that to be seen by him was a curse, and that he actually stole a part
of the soul of whatever it was that he cast his eyes
upon. According to them, it was not a matter of just superior memory but
some secret power of abstraction that took from the
very nature of whatever or whoever he chanced to be looking at. This was
taken to be true, as Oviamedhai was always ordered
to appear before King Rakshasaputran with his face covered in a blackened
sack. Later Oviamedhai could render this mentally
stolen image in shocking precision, on a mural in dazzling colors or as a
stone sculpture that seemed to come alive and move.
He had created a portrait of Queen Keshasundari at the behest of
Rakshasaputran as well as produced a life-size image of her,
cut out of solid granite, for display in the King’s secret garden. Every day,
Rakshasaputran stood transfixed before the likenesses
of Queen Keshasundari that Oviamedhai had created for him. Every day his
desire for the destruction of King Nallarajan and the
capture of Kadaloranadu’s ports as well as the hand of Queen Keshasundari
grew in intensity until it had become an unbearable
ache, and an unstoppable obsession.
King Rakshasaputran epitomized the exact opposite of everything King
Nallarajan represented. He was a cruel and unjust a ruler
with a sadistic bent that he never failed to display whenever a chance arose
to do so. He constantly attacked nearby kingdoms
without provocation. Unfortunately, fate favored him with many a victory.
He tortured his enemies in the many prisons and
underground dungeons that littered his mountain kingdom. Under his rule,
the once affluent and prosperous kingdom had
become pitifully impoverished. Its gardens were overgrown with weeds, and
scorpions, snakes, and other dangerous creatures
overran them. Expenditures on the military far outstripped other spending in
his belligerent kingdom. Makers of swords, arrows,
chariots, wheels, spears, and tools of torture received the King’s constant
patronage. The populace was taxed heavily, and some
farmers had to surrender their entire years’ produce just to pay those taxes.
The more he conquered, the less wealthy his
kingdom became, as good and just people fled his kingdom and sought
refuge in other nearby lands.
Yet, Malairajyam had known better days under his predecessor on the
throne, King Shantaswaroopan. Shantaswaroopan had
signed a peace treaty with Kadaloranadu, and given his daughter
Keshasundari in marriage to King Nallarajan to ensure that their
neighboring kingdoms would coexist in peace forever. There were constant
cultural exchanges between the two kingdoms.
Although Malairajyam never attained the opulence and glory enjoyed by
Kadaloranadu, it was a happy and prosperous land.
Heavily forested, its main industry was the logging of timber. Wood
sculpture was a highly developed art in
Malairjayam in the days of King Shantaswaroopan. Their artisans worked on
many of the construction projects going on in
Kadaloranadu and left their artistic imprint on Kadaloranadu’s history. The
intricately carved gates and temple doors that gave
entrance into many of Kadaloranadu’s magnificent buildings were the work
of Malairajyam’s talented wood carvers.
Unfortunately, Malairajyam’s furure was to be changed in a single cruel
instant.
Rakshasaputran, who had been a minor general under King
Shantaswaroopan, had seized the kingdom by a daring but
reprehensible act of treachery. He had murdered the old king while he was
praying in his private temple in the palace. He had
then thrown Shantaswaroopan’s sole heir, Crown Prince Gunasheelan into a
dungeon. Nothing was heard of Prince Gunasheelan
again. He was rumored to have died of self-inflicted starvation in one of
Rakshasaputran’s many prisons. The loyal subjects of
King Shantaswaroopan grieved the loss of their former king and later his
son, the handsome and wonderful Prince Gunasheelan,
but what could they do to oppose their new king, whose power and greed
grew by the day and the minute? Like all oppressed
people, they suffered in silence, praying and hoping that someday God’s
closed eyes would open, justice would prevail, and
peace and prosperity would return to their tortured land. Rakshasaputran
annulled the peace treaty and put Kadaloranadu on
notice of his military intentions. The former friendly neighbors became
bitter enemies almost overnight. On this third and most
desperate siege, King Rakshasaputran led the charge himself, cutting down
his enemies like an elephant mounted reincarnation
of Yama himself. Inspired by his ferocity, his troops fought like demons,
cutting a horrible swath of death and destruction in their
wake. Kadaloranadu soldiers, brave and determined though they were, could
not arrest the relentless advance of their enemies
under their King Rakshasaputran’s command. They saw the futility of
opposing him and scattered in disarray. Horses raised their
forelegs and neighed piteously in terror, disoriented elephants sank to the
ground like collapsing tents under the volley of arrows
Rakshasaputran showered on them.
After thirteen days of fierce battle, his forces reached the outskirts of
Kadaloranadu’s fort. Leaving a field of maimed bodies
behind him, where blood flowed like a river in spate, and where men lay
groaning and wailing in the throes of death, and where
injured animals ran hither and thither in utter confusion, Rakshasaputran
ordered his troops to rest for the night. There was
practically no resistance coming from Kadaloranadu’s fighters now. It would
be easy enough
to take the prize in the light of the following dawn.
He cast off his sword and shield, and threw himself on the bed in the royal
tent, and immediately fell asleep, his twelve highly
trusted lieutenants standing guard over him as he gathered his strengths. He
began to dream of Queen Keshasundari, delicate as
a flower, dressed in a white robe as translucent as the early morning fog
that was sometimes seen in the mountainous forests of
Malairajyam. As though in a drunken swoon, she was wrapping her luscious
form around his strong, muscular, blood soaked
body, giving herself completely to him. Her heavy sighs mingled with his
racing breath.
2. Do the Stars Lie?
Just as King Nallarajan conferred with his advisors as to the right course to
follow in this dark and desperate hour, Queen
Keshasundari was being given a bath by a bevy of tearful female attendants.
News of the imminent fall of Kadaloranadu had
reached their ears, and the queen had asked her attendants to remove all
her ornaments and fineries. Her whole body burned,
as though on fire. An attendant gathered her hair, twisted it loosely into a
rope, and knotted it up high on her head. Her heart
shuddering at the thought of the almost certain capture and beheading of
Nallarajan, his generals, and military advisors, the
distraught queen slid into the cool pool in her palace to ease the burning in
her body if not her soul. In his previous conquests,
which were many, Rakshasaputran had been known to perform his cruel
executions in full view of the humbled king’s consorts,
usually over their cries and pleadings for mercy. Even the lotus flowers in
the pool seemed to have sensed the approaching
doom, and had drawn themselves into drooping buds. The water, scented
though it was in everyday fashion with rose petals,
smelt to the queen of blood and the decaying bodies of the faithful soldiers
who had laid down their lives in yonder fields in the
service of Kadaloranadu. Tears filled her eyes and her heart felt as if it
would burst.
With none to turn to, she mentally invoked the royal deity to come to her
country’s succor, for who else could avert the fate that
was about to befall them but Kailasanatha, Lord of the grand and towering
Temple of the Crashing Sea, built by King Nallarajan’s
father and predecessor on the throne, nearly half a century ago. She hoped
fervently that the Deity would hear her plaintive cry
for help over the roar of the sea, where He stood vigil, watching the surf
and foam hurling themselves against the jagged, black
rocks. The bell of the Shiva temple a little distance from her palace sounded
just then. Who could be about at this hour, ringing
bells at the temple? She puzzled over that for an instant, and in the very
next instant felt as though a thunderbolt had struck her.
Surely, this was a sign that all hope was not to be given up. Surely, there
was some way out of this horrible predicament.
Suddenly, she remembered Dheergadarishi, the royal astrologer. She knew
Deergadarishi had not been part of the King’s Privy
Council in the last few days. His failure to predict last year’s devastating
cyclone had made the king wonder about his astrologer
royal’s abilities. Dheergadarishi would have been ordinarily advising the
King at that very moment, but his credibility had been
damaged even more by his seemingly failed prediction of the outcome of this
present war. He had confidently asserted that King
Nallarajan would emerge victorious from this latest siege, but after day after
day of losses, and after the tide of the battle had
turned clearly in favor of King Rakshasaputran, the Kadaloranadu king had
become deeply disappointed with his royal astrologer.
He had therefore not bothered to include Dheergadarishi in his emergency
council. The queen, however, set great store by his
prognostications. After all, he had correctly predicted, as recently as the last
rainy season, both the size of the paddy harvest
and the impending pregnancy of one of her royal companions and also the
gender of her yet unborn child. She had tried to
reinstate the astrologer in the King’s good books again, but the king had
begun to wonder seriously if old age had started to
blunt the astrologer’s instincts and ability to read the signs accurately. He
had, therefore, relegated him to a secondary status.
The palace astrologer and fortune teller was immediately summoned to the
Queen’s chambers. He wasn’t to be found at his
residence but someone claimed to have seen him climbing laboriously up the
hillside where the Shiva temple stood from whence
the Queen had heard the chiming of the bells. They found him there and
gave him the queen’s urgent summons. Dheergadarishi
arrived, breathing heavily from the exertion. He was a heavy man, with a
perfectly round face, who had no hair but for a small
tuft at the back of his head, and whose forehead as well as body were
smeared with holy ash. He carried in his hands, a bundle
of palmyra leaves, a pair of brass dies, and a small copper vessel filled with
cowrie shells. Dheergadarishi himself, puzzled more
than hurt by this cool response from the king, had gone to the Shiva temple
to meditate and pray. In his mind, he was convinced
he had read the omens right, exactly in accordance with the shastras of
which he was an acknowledged master. It was his bell
ringing that Queen Keshasundari had heard while taking her bath.
“Dheergadarishi,” said the queen, “night is here, and we hear that it is only
a matter of hours before Rakshasaputran’s
bloodthirsty hordes will penetrate our meager defenses, to enter our palaces,
to plunder, to pillage, and to rape. Such a dark
hour as this, our Kadaloranadu has never witnessed. What do you see in the
stars, Deergadarishi? Do you see the death of your
king? Do you see the humiliation of your queen? Do you hear the wails of
the widows? Do you hear the terrified cries of the
children? What is to come? What are we to do? Is there any way to protect
our honor other than by way of suicide?”
Dheergadarishi asked leave to sit down on the floor before the queen, facing
the west. Then he cupped the brass dice tightly in
the palm of his right hand and rotated his cupped palm in front of the
queen, first in a clockwise direction, then the other way.
Then he flung the dice on the ground. Eyes closed, he asked her to call the
number. “Nine,” said the queen.
Now Dheergadarishi dipped his hand into the copper vessel and produced a
handful of the cowrie shells. He threw these before
the queen, and bid her to only count the ones that had fallen with their
cracked sides facing up. “Nine again,” said the queen.
Dheergadarishi drew a palmyra leaf from the bundle he had brought and ran
his eyes quickly over the secret script inscribed on
it.
Dheergadarishi said in a clear voice, “Oh, great queen, providence continues
to smile on this great land of ours. No harm can
come from the confluence of nines – the nine planets are speaking to us in
whispers. Victory for Kadaloranadu is certain.”
This was like music to the queen’s ears, but a small part of her did wonder
if the astrologer were slowly losing his grip. She was
about to address a question to him, when she saw him assume the lotus pose
and begin breathing deeply, his eyes closed. Then
he seemed to fall asleep. In this state he remained for half and hour, then
his breathing subsided. He entered first a trance-like
state, and then a deathlike state whereby his breathing seemed to have
altogether stopped. His tuft stood erect and pointed
straight upward like the tapered husk of a peeled coconut. The minutes
turned to hours. As dawn began to break,
Deergadarishi’s voice was heard faintly. It seemed to be coming from deep
inside a well, and not from the lips of the stiffly
seated but soundly sleeping Deergadarishi.
The voice sang:
“Six of a tamed heart and six again
Can undo what twenty thousand demons have wrought
The dweller of the dungeon
by fate’s fickle hands
Shall the mountain throne attain
Men can die by the touch of snakes,
If not their venom
Victors shall die with the salt of blood on their lips
The vanquished shall live to taste the salt of joyous tears
All is settled as the spinning planets spell
When Kailasanatha stirs at the edge of the roaring waves
Hence, look to the morrow
Without sorrow.”
Except for the last two lines, the song made no sense to the queen or to any
of her attendants. Presently, Deergadarishi awoke,
and rubbing his eyes asked what had happened. The queen, who composed
beautiful poetry herself, repeated the song she had
heard.
Deergadarishi smiled. Just then the sound of trumpets was heard from the
distance. An attendant came running into the queen’s
chambers.
“May this tongue rot that has to bring you this wretched piece of news. The
King’s Council has decided to surrender! The fort is
to be turned over to Rakshasaputran immediately!”
Deergadarishi smiled again and rose to his feet. Everything was going
exactly according to his prognostications! Then he walked
backwards, facing the queen until he had reached the door. Then he turned
sideways, quickened his steps, and was quickly out
of sight. Despondency engulfed the queen’s chambers. Wails were heard
from the chambermaids. Then they began beating their
chests as though a royal death had occurred in the palace.
3. Humiliation
Rakshasaputran sat on a makeshift throne in the middle of the battlefield.
Behind him fires still burned here and there, their thick
smoke rising into the orange sky. The sun was rising. Before him, head
bowed, stood King Nallarajan and his generals, all of
them bound in chains. On one side stood Queen Keshasundari, accompanied
by her attendants. On his other side stood his
twelve trusted generals.
“Oh, great king,” mocked Rakshasaputran, “you have shown wisdom in
choosing to surrender. But you have choices yet to make.
Pray, how do you and your vanquished generals choose to die, by this sword
whose hunger for Kadaloranadu blood is still not
satisfied, or by being trampled under the feet of my elephants who want to
celebrate their victory by stomping on the heads of
you and your entourage?”
King Nallarajan said nothing and fixed his stare at the ground before him.
He couldn’t bear to look at the tearful queen and her
screaming attendants.
A man with a blackened sack covering his head entered the assembly. A
little while before, Rakshasaputran had sent for
Oviamedhai to be brought to the assembly. His intention was to have him
look at the scene of the beheadings that he shortly
expected to unfold and then have him create a grand mural of the scene for
his palace back in Malairajyam.
Then Rakshasaputran turned toward Queen Keshasundari. “Oh, great queen,
behold your husband who stands manacled and
unfit to protect your honor. But you are fortunate that I am here to protect
you and to share my throne with you. All you have to
do is to indicate your consent by word or action, and you shall have all the
riches of my kingdom at your disposal.”
The queen said nothing, but her Chief Maid of Honor spoke. “You vain and
miserable incarnation of an offal eating jackal! Our
queen, and indeed all of us, would sooner choose to die right here than to
become your concubines.”
Rakshasarajan looked at the row of women with his eyes spewing flames.
“Who was it that spoke?” he shouted, “let her step
forward and face us if she has the courage to do so.” The Chief Maid of
Honor stepped forward from the row of attendants and
faced the king with defiance.
“Murattukaattaan! Show this insolent woman the consequence of addressing
the king of Malairajyam and the conqueror of
Kadaloranadu in this disrespectful manner.”
The soldier named Murattukaattaan, a fierce looking savage with a huge
moustache and red bloodshot eyes, sprang forward with
sword unsheathed. Before anyone could grasp what his intentions were, he
seized the Chief Maid of Honor by her long hair and
hacked it off at the neck. A collective gasp arose from Queen Keshasundari
and her attendants.
The shocked Chief Maid of Honor was rendered speechless for a moment, but
her defiance was unabated. “You dog, you licker
of discarded food, you brainless brute, you foul refuse pile, who smell of
rotted corpses, do you think you can silence us by just
cutting our hair? We have come here ready to have our heads cut off.”
Murattukaattaan leapt at her. He swung the sword
through the air, as if he were going to cut her head. The sword blade almost
touched her neck, as it cut an arc in the air, slicing
down dangerously close to her. “Go ahead, cut my head,” dared the Chief
Maid of Honor, her voice charged with contempt.
“Eventually, but not quite yet,” Murattukaattaan let out a howl of laughter,
and grabbing hold of a section of the Chief Maid of
Honor’s hair, he pulled it straight up. Then he cut it in half. The crowd
roared in approval, as did Rakshasaputran. The soldiers in
the front rows unsheathed their swords, and raising them above their heads,
clicked them together in a gesture of scorn and
menace towards the woman. “Perhaps you like this better,” chortled
Murattukaattaan, cutting another clutch of hair off of the
Chief Maid of Honor’s head and throwing it at her face. The woman’s
beautiful hair was already pitifully disfigured, as
Murattukaattaan cut sections of her hair off with his sword. Then he
sheathed his sword and produced a dagger. Grabbing
fistfuls of the woman’s hair, he mercilessly hacked away at it with the
dagger.
“Do we have a barber here” he yelled, “who can rid this woman of all her
hair better than I can?”
There was no response. He shouted and repeated his question, indicating he
was serious. A figure stepped forward meekly. “I
am a barber of Malairajyam who
volunteered to go to battle for our good king.”
“And a good thing you did too,” said Murattukaattaan, “here, shave this
woman’s head. Teach her a lesson for defying our
mighty king. The barber took the proffered dagger and advanced toward the
Chief Maid of Honor. Holding the dagger in his left
hand, he ran its edge on the palm of his right hand to test its sharpness. A
thin red line of blood appeared on his palm. Satisfied
that the weapon would serve for his purpose, the barber stepped closer. The
woman was restrained by two of Rakshasaputran’s
soldiers, who held her arms tightly from either side. The woman squirmed
and kicked ferociously. A third soldier grabbed both
her legs and she was wrestled down to the ground. After some struggle, the
woman came to terms with the futility of resisting.
As she crouched down, someone emptied a big buffalo skin bag full of water
over her head. Drenched, the Chief Maid of Honor
lay still, curled on the ground like a small animal being tortured by cruel
children. Soon she felt the barber’s hands massaging
her wet hair. Then she felt the cold dagger gliding up on her neck. She
didn’t resist as strong arms turned her over on her other
side. Cold steel slid under silken tresses and began its grim work of cleanly
separating hair from scalp.
Soon it was over. The brute soldiers released their hold and the barber
withdrew quietly. Another water bag was emptied on the
shaven head of the Chief Maid of Honor. Wet, humiliated, she shivered
under the caress of the cold wind that began to blow
across the battlefield. Coils and little bits of her wet, black, cut off strands of
hair clung to her ankles, her slender wrists, her
shapely breasts, her graceful neck, and her broad forehead. Tears streaming
from her eyes, and her heart pounding within her
chest, she spat in the direction of Rakshasaputran.
“You vile son of a wolf and hyena, you blot on the masculine gender, you call
yourself a ruler? What kind of ruler are you, you
cockroach, you carcass gouging field rat, that would standby and witness the
humiliation of a defenseless woman?”
Tearful but undaunted, the entourage of Queen Keshasundari applauded her
outburst. Their defiance fueled Rakshaputran’s
anger even more. “Shave the head of every woman but the queen,” he
shouted, “Let an example be set today. Let it be
understood that it is not the place of a woman to speak before the king, let
alone hurl curses at him. Let it be seen what fate
awaits those who brave our wrath.” The women stiffened. A crowd of
soldiers closed in on them. Every one of Queen
Keshasundari’s attendants was led away, kicking and screaming. Water bags
were emptied on them as the crowd of soldiers led
them to the center of the field and forcibly arranged them in a circle. The
place was rent by derisive laughter, catcalls, and
hoarse voices hurling insolent remarks at the women. The crowd became
totally wild. Trumpets were sounded in discordant
cacophony. Drums were beaten as a gang of monkeys might beat them,
without rhythm, beat, or cadence. Some soldiers tossed
stones and whatever small objects they could find into the center of the
circle of woman being readied for their humiliating head
shaves.
The lone barber, poor fellow, realized that all eyes, especially
Murattukaataan’s and Rakshasaputran’s, were riveted on him.
Fear gripped him and made him tremble. He steadied his hands with an
effort. He worked rapidly, shaving each woman’s head
as quickly as his hands would move, as she was forcibly held down by
strong soldier arms. The handle of the dagger felt
slippery under his wet, bleeding hand, but he wielded the weapon with
caution so as not to hurt the women whom he secretly
applauded in his heart even as he discharged the horrid duty to which he
had been unexpectedly entrusted.
An hour passed this way. The chorus of catcalls around them was deafening.
All pandemonium seemed to have broken loose.
One after one, every woman had been forcibly rid of her long, flowing hair.
The ground around their feet became thickly carpeted
with their shorn off hair. Each woman drew strength from the fortitude
shown by her sister in suffering. Each looked at the other,
and they stroked each other’s shaved heads in a gesture of giving comfort
and support. Though the tears flowed freely from
every woman’s eyes, their courage was not subdued in the least. Pride
welled within their sobbing hearts even at this moment of
utter humiliation. They stood up in unison, and defiantly faced away from
the king, turning their backs on him. The sound of hand
claps mingled with the clangor of chains was heard from Nallarajan and his
manacled companions, as they tried to clap their
chained hands together and stomped their chained feet.
Even as he applauded the brave women, Nallarajan’s heart was being torn by
guilt and remorse. He blamed himself for this day
of ignominy. He closed his eyes and prayed to Lord Kailasanatha to forgive
him for having brought his Queen’s entourage to this
sad pass.
Suddenly, the sky grew dark. Bolts of lighting lit up the sky. Then thunder
struck, somewhere near by. The ground shook. Thy
rain fell in large, slanting strngs of water drops. Against the light of the sun
which still shone through the black clouds, the falling
rain looked like a volley of silver arrows being thrown down from the
heavens. Just then, there was a stir from the direction of
Queen Keshasundari. She had seized a dagger from a soldier who stood near
her, totally stunning him by the speed of her
movement. Caught in the frenzy of the
moment, and completely distracted by the spectacle of the mass head shave
that had taken place a little distance from him, the
man had let his guard down. Another soldier shouted urgently and tried to
grab the dagger from her hand, but it was too late.
The Queen had taken hold of her own hair and pulling it tightly down, she
had firmly drawn the edge of the blade just above her
hand which was tightly gripping the knotted hair. The dagger cut cleanly
through the clutch of hair, knot and all. She held her cut
off tail of hair high above her head for all to see.
“My dear attendants, do not grieve the loss of your hair. I am prepared to
join you in your hairlessness, in complete solidarity
with you. No one can subdue the fire of pride and valor that burns in
everyone who calls Kadaloranadu their home, be it man or
woman. Weshall show these mangy dogs, these illegitimate claimants of my
beloved Malairajyam, what we are made of.”
Rakshasaputran was aghast. He watched with his mouth open, as the queen
brandished the rope of hair over her head, twirling
it above her head like a whip.
“Oh, foolish queen, what have you done? Why have you cut off your most
beautiful hair? How often have I dreamed of running
my hand through them! Someone please bring Queen Keshasundari’s hair to
me. Let me feel its softness. Let me run my fingers
through them.”
As she ended her rousing exhortation to her companions, the queen had
hurled her hair into the crowd. It fell at the feet of the
figure with the blackened sack covering its face. He bent down and picked it
up.
“Allow me, great King,” said the figure with the blackened sack over its
head in a muffled voice, “allow me to approach you with
the Queen’s hair.”
“Yes, Oviamedhai, yes,” said the king impatiently, “bring it to me.”
The figure with the blackened sack moved forward taking rapid strides
toward the king. He held the hair by both ends and it
hung like a loosely fastened rope from his two outstretched hands. King
Rakshasaputran held out his right hand. Instead of giving
the hair to the king, the figure with the blackened sack, threw it over the
king’s head. Quickly stepping behind the king, the
figure tightened the noose of hair around Rakshasaputran’s neck. Before
anyone could realize what was happening, the figure
tightened and tightened and tightened the noose, such that
Rakshasaputran could not breathe. His eyes rotated in their sockets, but the
figure with the blackened sack held the king tightly
pinned by locking his legs around his and pressing his body firmly against
the king’s.
“Rakshasaputra! The end of your life is near. This coil of hair choking your
throat may well have been a cobra come to bite you
and fill your veins with its lethal venom. May it be a cobra whose mere
touch kills you! It is only fitting that you should die thus,
by the stranglehold of my beloved sister’s hair! Her whom you intended to
dishonor with your disgusting and shameful dreams of
lust. If you still wish to be spared, make a sign to your henchmen to keep
their swords sheathed and to not make a movement.
Two thousand of my men have circled this assembly. Escape is impossible.
Contain your men. And do it now!” Gasping for air,
Rakshasaputran, tried to nod his head all around. The figure in the
blackened sack gave him just enough slack to do this, holding
on tightly to the hair.
A hush fell on the entire assembly. No one moved. No one, except the twelve
“trusted” generals of Rakshasaputran who stood a
short distance away. “Well done, Prince Gunasheela!” their chief cried
addressing himself to the figure with the blackened sack.
We expected to see your sword action today, but this is equally impressive.
Thank you for ending the rule of this cruel tyrant.
Many a time we came within an inch of hacking his body to pieces as he
slept in the royal tent these past thirteen nights, but
our high birth and our sense of hindu dharma kept us back. We couldn’t
bring ourselves to attack a sleeping king. We waited for
the correct opportunity to engage him in a moral fight, but it never came.
Our just conduct was obviously wasted on this
heartless tyrant, who has shown no shame in presiding over the shaving of
the heads of these defenseless women. Their bravery
and valor impresses us immensely. It also puts us to shame. We should have
severed our allegiance to Rakshasaputran the day
he began this ill-intentioned and ill-timed campaign against Kadaloranadu,
just as Queen Keshasundari severed her own hair
minutes ago, but cowards, we followed him like helpless sheep. Yet, you
have come in the nick of time, exactly as planned, to
release us from the clutches of this monster, who is a black mark on royalty
everywhere.”
The figure with the blackened sack removed the sack. “Prince Gunasheela!”
Everyone gasped! How could it be, hadn’t Prince
Gunasheela been killed ten years ago by Rakshasaputran? “Yes, my loyal
subjects, it’s me Prince Gunasheelan. Rakshasaputran
held me in a dungeon and declared me as dead. I bided my time because I
always knew my time would come some day. How
could it not when the prognostications of Dheergadarishi of Kadaloranadu
had made that so clear to me. It was Dheergadarishi
who sent a spy to Malairajyam to mobilize a coup against Rakshasaputran
while he was away at war. He also came up with this
ruse for me to take Oviamedhai’s disguise and appear here today without
being questioned or stopped. I am here to humbly fulfil
Dheergadarishi’s prediction. No, no, Rakshasaputran, you can’t escape, ha,
ha, you didn’t think I’d be that easily distracted, did
you?
Foiling the sudden lunge Rakshasaputran attempted in an effort to throw off
his captor, Gunasheelan tightened the noose some
more. The color drained from Rakshasaputran’s face. His tongue hung out of
his mouth like a dog’s, dripping saliva on the
ground.
“No, no, do not kill him, Gunasheela!” It was King Nallarajan who spoke,
“Let us not return violence with violence. It behooves us
to treat him as a disgraced King, and not in any other way. Let our council
of the wise decide the appropriate punishment to be
meted out to him for his crimes against humanity.”
“Oh, great King Nallarajan! All that I have heard about your magnanimity is
true. You are truly one in a million among rulers.
Soldiers, free the King and his generals immediately. Let the kingdoms of
Malairajyam and Kadaloranadu sign a peace treaty for
eternity right this very minute. Let us combine our resources so that we can
face any greater future enemies with our combined
strengths.”
The mood of the soldiers changed at once. To the last man, they all fell to
the ground, and prostrated themselves before the
shaven women first, then towards King Nallarajan whose manacles were
being hastily removed. To misguided men of good
hearts, remorse can come easily, when the light of truth and justice are
shone before them, as Prince Gunasheelan and King
Nallarajan were doing at that moment.
(Note: Thus it was that King Rakshasaputran escaped death on that
incredible day where the future of a nation was recast in a
mere blink of an eye by either the extraordinary play of fate or the
inscrutable will of the divine, and who could tell which it was?
The tyrant was subsequently banished to Mosquito Island, some distance off
the coast of Kadaloranadu. There he languished in
chains for six months before contracting what we now know to be a fatal
case of malarial fever. With him ended one of the worst
phases of Southern India’s otherwise glorious and largely peaceful history.)
4. A Tradition is Born
The miraculous turn of events sent a wave of excitement throughout
Kadaloranadu and Malairajyam. First the war dead were
given solemn funerals. The injured received immediate medical attention.
Then, on the first night of King Nallarajan’s triumphant
return to the throne, fireworks lit up the sky. An explosion of joyous
celebration followed. King Nallarajan and Crown Prince -
soon to be crowned King – Gunasheelan of Malairajyam rode together in
procession through the main streets of Kadaloranadu.
The populace danced in the streets. Melodious music punctuated by drum
beats and trumpet calls filled the air. Feasting went
on nonstop for fourteen days. Cattle and gold coins were given away to the
families of the war dead. King Nallarajan accepted an
invitation for a state visit to Malairajyam during the following month. The
joy of the long-oppressed people of Malairajyam knew no
bounds. They delighted in the knowledge that collaboration between their
two kingdoms would now bring untold prosperity to
their neglected cities, their barren fields, and that their wonderful but
languishing cultural institutions would burst again with
creative endeavors of every description.
The common women of both Kadaloranadu and Malairajyam happily had
their heads shaved to mark their solidarity with and
admiration for the valor shown by the brave companions of Queen
Keshasundari at the Assembly of the Surrender of
Rakshasaputran, as the event had come to be known. The royal women of
Malairajyam, the counterparts to Queen
Keshasundari’s entourage in that former rival kingdom, had their hair cut
off at the neck to mark their respect for the Queen of
Kadaloranadu and there was a tacit decision not to grow their hair until the
Queen’s own hair had returned to its former length
and glory. But to their surprise, and in some cases, delight, Queen
Keshasundari decided she liked her hair the way it was, and
even though she missed the hair garlands and hair jewelry she used to wear
before, she found a new sense of freedom in her
short hair. She explained her decision saying that keeping her hair short was
a way for her to constantly remind herself and her
subjects that abundance and prosperity were never to be taken for granted,
and, after all, had Kadaloranadu not come
dangerously close to losing both?
(Note: Centuries later, in tracing the history of the bob, ill informed
historians would attribute it to Western women like Louise
Brooks, while the real truth, if the historians would only care to check their
facts, is that Queen Keshasundari popularized this
look in in ancient Southern India, in a kingdom whose glories have long
since been lost to antiquity. But this is nothing new to
Indians, whose forefathers are the original inventors of such innovations as
the airplane, atomic energy, extra- terrestrial travel,
etc., that are described in astounding detail in their texts going back to
Vedic times, even though later Westerners have been
given undeserved credit for these developments.)
Dheergadarishi was reinstated to the King’s Privy Council. Not only that, the
King offered him all the land he could cover in a
day’s walk. Poor Dheergadarishi, who was of big stomach and heavy breath,
could walk only a distance of 7 miles on that day,
but even that amounted to a huge increase in his wealth. He was not a man
of the world, anyway, and so received this bounty in
true humility, and at his death many years later, he bequeathed even this
modest property to the Guild for Fortune Tellers that
had been set up under his tutelage.
On the morning of the Assembly of the Surrender of Rakshasaputran, the
granite figure of Kailasanatha at the edge of the sea
had miraculously spun itself around by 145 degrees so that it no longer faced
the sea, but instead seemed to be looking in the
direction of the battlefield where Rakshasaputran had been defeated.
Modern day seismologists would theorize an earthquake
may have caused this strange and inexplicable phenomenon, but in
Kadaloranadu lore, the event was unquestioningly accepted
as the fulfilment of the prediction presaged in the poem Dheergadarishi had
sung in a trance in the queen’s chambers on the eve
of the Assembly of the Surrender of Rakshasaputran.
Prologue
Oviamedhai who had been bound, gagged, and thrown down a hill in
Malairajyam by the plotters who had planned the overthrow
of Rakshasaputran, walked for nine days to reach Kadaloranadu. He turned
out to be not a bad fellow at all. The rumors of his
secret mystical powers proved to be totally false. Once they got to know him,
the people of Kadaloranadu saw what a funny and
pleasant man he really was. He received a commission from King Nallarajan
to paint a mural of the Shaving of the Queen’s
Entourage at the Assembly of the Surrender of Rakshasaputran. He recreated
the scene entirely from eyewitness accounts and
the accuracy of his rendering would forever compel breathless admiration
for his fantastic powers of imagination and immense
artistic skills. Each woman’s eyes glowed proudly and brilliantly in the gold
fringed painting created by Oviamedhai, and the
dawn’s light reflected beautifully on their bald pates. Oviamedhai had
outdone himself on this final work of his. He died quietly in
his sleep the day after he completed the last brush stroke on his master work
and received a funeral with full state honors. The
mural, instead of being a scene of the humiliation of the King of
Kadaloranadu as Rakshasaputran would have had it, became
revered as a shrine to the extraordinary bravery of that country’s beautiful
women. In the decades and centuries that followed,
throngs of worshippers lit lamps and left flowers and offerings of rice,
mango, coconut, and bananas at the mural, historians tell
us, which were distributed to the poor and the sick every day.
This priceless treasure of ancient S. Indian art would, alas, be carried off
section by section by future invaders from England, to
eventually enhance the Indian art collections of the British Museum, and
thus forever lost to our great country. After many years,
fearing damage to the delicate vegetable dyes, the Museum authorities would
move the entire mural to a dark, climate controlled,
basement storage area, where it would be periodically inspected by
Indologists but never put on public display again!
Unless some team of ragtag cricketeers comes along to win back our lost
mural through a Lagaan style match against the
Curator’s Eleven of the British Museum, I’m afraid we modern day Indians
are never going to see this extraordinary piece of
artistry by Oviamedhai of Malairajyam.

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