The Morning Goddess, Ushus started on her routine journey, ushering in the start of yet another day, spreading her cheer across the gloomy world. The creatures that lived way up in the Himalayas also started their day in relative calm as a cold mist enveloped the mountains in her chilly embrace. The mist fought back against the intruder; the heat from the approaching Sun much like how the rains fought a losing battle against the flames during the burning of the Khandava Forest. The cosmic order in the universe, Rita, had to be upheld and such battles between two opposing states of that cosmic force played out every day in every single part of the world. Yet, in the midst of all such activity, there sat a lonely figure in the lotus position, immobile, deep in thought and full with internal heat (tapasya).
He kept falling, head first through the dark tunnel frozen in time and space with only the Lord’s image in front of him. The immobile, blinding light of the Lord seemed so far away, yet looked as if it was within an arm’s distance. The harder he tried to reach it; the more he accelerated, the further away his target seemed to slip away. Chanting the Lord’s name again and again, he kept at it with intense concentration; the only tangible support system left in his current world. A primordial world created by his mind; a cosmos fashioned out of non-dual perception; a reality born out of Nirvikalpa Samadhi.
The sanyasin, of noble countenance sat on the cold rock boulder near the edge of a cliff with his eyes closed, dressed in nothing but a saffron robe; deep in penance on the pristinely beautiful mountains of the eastern Himalayas. The mattress that he had fashioned out of kula grass provided a measure of comfort against the frigid cold. He had not yielded to the elements of nature or the needs of the human body. It was his 2nd day in penance and nothing had broken his single minded determination.
His fine, almost delicate features betrayed his noble lineage and a calm, serene look on his face only added to the remarkable brilliance which seemed to radiate from him. His shoulders were remarkably broad for a man of his stature and he almost seemed to flaunt the multiple scars that his body carried; a sordid reminder that he had taken part in multiple battles. His arms were abnormally thick compared to the build of the man with the muscles in his right shoulder slightly more pronounced than his left, which all pointed out the fact that he was a warrior of the highest order; a maharathi well versed in the art of dhanurveda. Besides him on the rock boulder, wrapped in pure silk were his weapons, which included his magnificent bow Gandiva, his two inexhaustible quivers; which were a gift from the Gods and a majestic sword, tempered from the finest wootz steel in all of Bharatavarsha.
Prince Arjuna, son of Pandu, sat there praying to Lord Sankara as he wanted the lord’s favorite weapon; the Pashupatastra for the Great War that he knew would soon erupt like a raging volcano, engulfing the entire civilized world. It was the fifth year of the exile for the five brothers, the Pandavas and he knew that he had to get the lord’s weapon to make him truly invincible against his arch nemesis, the greatest fighter in the world who was protected by his divine kavacha and kundala: Radheya
Suddenly, his thought stream was broken by a disturbance nearby and he was forced out of his transcendental state. He was livid and opened in eyes only to spot a wild boar creating a ruckus nearly. Angered that the boar had wasted his efforts, he picked up the Gandiva in one fluid motion and was ready to let loose, a deadly arrow aimed for the boar’s throat, when the animal bolted away from him.
Picking up all his weapons, he gave chase to the boar. The boar was fleet footed, as if it was aided by some divine power but Arjuna was up to the challenge. And thus he gave chase for about 5 minutes, until both of them came upon a clearing in the woods. It was his chance! In a fleeting second, he released an arrow which found its target. But at the same time, another crescent shaped arrow from the opposite direction lodged into the boar as well! And the boar fell dead.
As he looked around, a hunter made his way out from behind the bushes.
“That boar is mine,” Arjuna said loudly.
“Sorry to burst your bubble arya (nobleman), but I shot it first,” the hunter replied calmly and held his bow out for the man to see.
Arjuna laughed loudly in disbelief and held out his jewel studded bow, the mighty Gandiva, which glowed like the Sun itself, out for the hunter to see.
“Do you think that an arrow released from this great bow will lose to yours?”
The hunter calmly pointed to him and replied, “Is that a challenge?” trying hard to control his smirk.
It was a standoff, and Arjuna took a closer look at the hunter. He was a kirata; people who lived on the fringes of the Kuru Empire, way up on the mountains. The man was of Mongolian stock; heavily built and dressed in a tiger’s fur. He almost reminded Arjuna of the warrior saint Parashurama.
“If it is a fight you’re looking for, you will get it,” warned Arjuna in riposte. “But tell me something hunter. Why are you so eager to meet Lord Yama?”
The hunter had a hearty laugh. “A man is born alone and he dies alone. He merely experiences the good, the bad and the consequences of his karma.”
“Only the faint hearted depend on karma; not me!” Arjuna replied defiantly.
The kirata’s penetrating gaze was almost overpowering. “Arya, think twice before you release an arrow from that mighty bow. The bow and the arrows in your quiver are mere material objects now. But the moment, you release an arrow from that mighty bow; it ceases to be just another arrow but becomes a part of your prarabdha karma. So choose your next action well.”
Quick as a flash, Arjuna released an arrow aimed directly for the man. But his anger turned to amazement as the hunter, showed extreme dexterity in dealing with the arrow.
He had only seen such brilliant skill in a few people on earth: Radheya, Ekalavya and his guru, Drona!
While he marveled and appreciated the hunter’s skill, he knew he had to win the fight! And thus, they started fighting! Separated by a mere fifty meters, Arjuna released arrow after arrow aimed at the man, but could not pierce his defenses. Slowly with every passing second, he realized that he was losing the encounter with the hunter, who was fluid in action but still retained that winning smile. The kirata matched him arrow for arrow.
It hurt his ego more than his anything else! And Arjuna decided to move onto the divine astras to fight the kirata. Suddenly, he found it perplexing that he had forgotten the sacred incantations of the divine astras. It had never happened to him in his entire life! The divine incantations should have come naturally to him like breathing. As he fought against the rising tide of arrows, he quickly grew weak by his efforts to remember the incantations!
And suddenly, his quiver ran dry; his divine quiver crafted by the Gods themselves ran dry! But he had little time to think about it! Picking up his sword, he ran towards the kirata, who only seemed to grow in stature as Arjuna approached him.
Arjuna’s eyes gleamed red like hot embers of coal and his face looked an unhealthy pale color as cold fury was written all over it. Hot tears like molten lava streaked down his cheeks; as his eyes were transfixed upon the enemy; the kirata who was fighting like Lord Shiva himself.
The kirata was as skilled with the sword as he was skilled with the bow. Arjuna never had a chance to penetrate the kirata’s defenses. The kirata always seemed to be a step ahead of him with his swordsmanship and his footwork! Arjuna’s technique seemed forced and stifled when compared to the graceful kirata, who almost seemed to dance! Finally after a couple of minutes, the kirata managed to subdue Arjuna and cut the hilt of his sword. Arjuna fell back to the ground, senseless, because of the shock of defeat.
When Arjuna opened his eyes, he still spotted the kirata standing over him, with the very same smile and it infuriated him. But he knew what to do. On the very spot that he fell down; he fashioned a lingam out of mud, soaked in his tears and placed a garland over it. He then proceeded to pray to Lord Sankara for his divine grace. When he opened his eyes after a minute, he found the garland missing!
As he looked around, he was startled to find the garland around the shoulders of the smiling kirata and that was when realization struck; when the truth sunk in!
As he rushed to fall at the Lord’s feet, he realized the simple truth. He did not need to gain the Pashupatastra to become truly invincible!
All he needed to do was shed his ego.