Nandi waited at a distance in the garden as he had been asked to, while
Shiva stepped behind the hedge that separated the dance arena from the
garden. The silent dance stage had already convinced Nandi that his Lord
would not find anybody there. However, Shiva was filled with hope and
waited expectantly for Sati. After having waited for the larger part of an
hour, Shiva realised that there would be no dance practice today. Deeply
disappointed, he walked silently back to Nandi.
Is there somebody I can help you find, my Lord? asked an earnest Nandi.
No Nandi. Forget it.
Trying to change the topic, Nandi said, My Lord, you must be hungry.
Should we go back to the guest house and eat?
No, Id like to see a little more of the city, said Shiva, hoping that fate
would be kind to him and he would run into Sati in the town. Shall we go
to one of the restaurants on the Rajat platform?
That would be wonderful! smiled Nandi who hated the simple Brahmin-
influenced vegetarian food served at the royal guest house. He missed the
spicy meats that were served in rough Kshatriya restaurants.
Yes, what is it Parvateshwar? asked Daksha.
My Lord, I am sorry about the sudden meeting. But Ive just received
some disturbing news which I must share with you in private.
Well, what is it?
Shiva is already causing trouble.
What have you got against the Neelkanth? Groaned Daksha, rolling his
eyes in disapproval. Why can you believe that the Neelkanth has come to
This has nothing to do with my views on Shiva, my Lord. If you will
please listen to what I have to say. Chenardhwaj saw Shiva in the gardens
Chenardhwaj is here already?
Yes your Highness. His review with you has been fixed for the day after
Anyway, so what did Chenardhwaj see?
He is also sickeningly taken in by the Neelkanth. So I think we can safely
assume that he doesn have any prejudice.
All right, I believe you. So what did he see the Neelkanth do?
He saw Shiva dancing in the gardens, answered Parvateshwar.
So? Is there a law banning dance that I am not aware of?
Please let me continue, your Highness. He was dancing while Sati
watched in rapt attention.
His interest suddenly aroused, Daksha leaned forward to ask, And?
Sati behaved correctly and left the moment Shiva tried to get too familiar.
But Chenardhwaj heard Shiva whisper something when Sati left.
Well, what did he whisper?
He whispered — Holy Lake, help me get her. I will not ask for anything
else from you ever again!
Daksha appeared delighted. You mean the Neelkanth may actually be in
love with my daughter?
Your Highness, you cannot forget the laws of the land, exclaimed a
horrified Parvateshwar. You know that Sati cannot marry.
If the Neelkanth decides to marry Sati, no law on earth can stop him.
My Lord, forgive me but the rule of law is the very foundation of our
civilisation. Thats what makes us who we are. Better than the
Chandravanshis and the Nagas. Not even Lord Ram was above the law.
Then how can this barbarian be considered so important?
Don you want Sati to be happy? asked Daksha. Shes also called
Parvati for a reason — its because she is your goddaughter. Don you want
her to find joy once again?
I love Sati like the daughter I never had, your Highness, said
Parvateshwar, with a rare display of emotion in his eyes. I would do
anything for her. Except break the law.
That is the difference between you and me. For Satis sake, I would not
mind breaking any law. She is my daughter. My flesh and blood. She has suffered enough already. If I can find some way to make her happy, I will
do it. No matter what the consequences!
Shiva and Nandi tethered their horses in the parking lot next to the main
Rajat platform market. Moving forward, Nandi guided Shiva towards one
of his favourite restaurants. The inviting aroma of freshly cooked meat
brought forth a nostalgic hunger in Nandi that had not been satisfied in the
past two days at the royal guest house. The owner however stopped Shiva at
Whats the matter, brother? asked Nandi.
I am deeply sorry brothers. But I too am undergoing religious vows at this
time, said the restaurant owner politely, pointing to the beads around his
throat. And you know that one of the vows is that I cannot serve meat to
fellow religious vow keepers.
Nandi blurted out in surprise, But who has taken religious…
He was stopped by Shiva who signalled downwards with his eyes at the
bead covered cravat around his throat. Nandi nodded and followed Shiva
out of the restaurant.
This is the time of the year for religious vows, my Lord, explained
Nandi. Why don you wait on the side? There are some good restaurants
on the street at the right. I will go and see if I can find a restaurant owner
who has not taken his vows.
Shiva nodded his assent. As Nandi hurried off, Shiva looked around the
street. It was a busy market area with restaurants and shops spread out
evenly. But despite the large number of people and the buzz of commerce,
the street was not noisy. None of the shopkeepers stepped out to scream and
advertise their wares. The customers spoke softly and in an unfailingly
polite manner, even if they were bargaining.
These well-mannered idiots would not be able to conduct any business in
our boisterous mountain market!
Shiva, lost in his observation of the strange practices of the Meluhans, did
not hear the announcement of the town crier till he was almost right behind
Procession of vikarma women. Please move!
A surprised Shiva turned to find a tall Meluhan Kshatriya looking down at
him. Would you care to move aside, sir? A procession of vikarma women
will soon pass this way for their prayers.
The criers tone and demeanour was unquestionably courteous. But Shiva
was under no illusions. The crier was not asking Shiva to move. He was
telling him. Shiva stepped back to let the procession pass as Nandi touched
him gently on his arm.
I have found a good restaurant, my Lord, said an ecstatic Nandi. It
serves my favourite dishes. And the kitchen is open for yet another hour. A
lot of food to stuff ourselves with!
Shiva laughed out loud. Its a wonder that just one restaurant can actually
make enough food to satisfy your hunger!
Nandi laughed along good naturedly as Shiva patted his friend on the
As they turned and walked into the lane, Shiva asked,
Who are vikarma
Vikarma people, my Lord, said Nandi sighing deeply, are people who
have been punished in this birth for the sins of their previous birth. Hence
they have to live this life out with dignity and tolerate their present
sufferings with grace. This is the only way they can wipe their karma clean
of the sins of their previous births. Vikarma men have their own order of
penance and women have their own order.
There was a procession of vikarma women on the road we just left. Is
their puja a part of the order? asked Shiva.
Yes, my Lord. There are many rules that the vikarma women have to
follow. They have to pray for forgiveness every month to Lord Agni, the
purifying Fire God, through a specifically mandated puja. They are not
allowed to marry since they may contaminate others with their bad fate.
They are not allowed to touch any person who is not related to them or is
not part of their daily life. There are many other conditions as well that I am
not completely aware of. If you are interested, we could meet up with a
Pandit at the Agni temple later and he could tell you all about vikarma
No, I am not interested in meeting the Pandit right now, said Shiva with
a smile. He might just bore me with some very confusing and abstruse
philosophies! But tell me one thing. Who decides that the vikarma people
had committed sins in their previous birth?
Their own karma, my Lord, said Nandi, his eyes suggesting the obvious.
For example if a woman gives birth to a still born child, why would she be
punished thus unless she had committed some terrible sin in her previous birth? Or if a man suddenly contracts an incurable disease and gets
paralysed, why would it happen to him unless the universe was penalising
him for the sins of his previous life?
That sounds pretty ridiculous to me. A woman could have given birth to a
still born child simply because she did not take proper care while she was
pregnant. Or it could just be a disease. How can anyone say that she is
being punished for the sins of her previous birth?
Nandi, shocked by Shivas statements, struggled to find words to respond.
He was a Meluhan and deeply believed in the concept of karma being
carried over many births. He mumbled softly, Its the law, my Lord…
Well, to be honest, it sounds like a rather unfair law to me.
Nandis crestfallen face showed that he was profoundly disappointed that
Shiva did not understand such a fundamental concept of Meluha. But he
also kept his own counsel for fear of opposing what Shiva said. After all,
Shiva was his Lord.
Seeing a dejected Nandi, Shiva patted him gently on the back. Nandi, that
was just my opinion. If the law works for your people, I am sure there must
be some logic to it. Your society might be a little strange at times, but it has
some of the most honest and decent people I have ever met.
As a smile returned almost instantly to Nandis face, his whole being was
stricken by his immediate problem. His debilitating hunger! He entered the
restaurant like a man on a mission, with Shiva chuckling softly behind.
A short distance away on the main road, the procession of vikarma women
walked silently on. They were all draped in long angvastrams which were
dyed in the holy blue colour. Their heads were bowed low in penitence,
their puja thalis or prayer plates full of offerings to Lord Agni. The
normally quiet market street became almost deathly silent as the pitiful
women lumbered by. At the centre of the procession, unseen by Shiva, with
her head bowed low, draped in a blue angvastram that covered her from
head to toe, her face a picture of resigned dignity, trudged the forlorn figure
So where were we, my Lord? said Daksha, as Shiva and Nandi settled
down in his private office the next morning.
We were about to discuss the changes that Lord Ram brought about, your
Highness. And how he defeated the rebellion of the renegade Brahmins,
Thats right, said Daksha. Lord Ram did defeat the renegade Brahmins.
But in his view, the core problem ran deeper. It wasn just a matter of some
Brahmins not following the code. There was a conflict between a persons
natural karma and what society forced him to do.
I don understand your Highness.
Let me explain. Do you know what was the essential problem with the
renegade Brahmins? Some of them wanted to be Kshatriyas and rule. Some
of them wanted to be Vaishyas, make money and live a life of luxury.
However, their birth confined them to being Brahmins.
But I thought that Lord Brahma had decreed that people became
Brahmins through a competitive examination process, said Shiva.
That is true my Lord. But over time this process of selection lost its
fairness. Children of Brahmins became Brahmins. Children of Kshatriyas
became Kshatriyas and so on. The formal system of selection soon ceased
to exist. A father would ensure that his children got all the resources and
support needed to grow up and become a member of his own caste. So the
caste system became rigid.
Did that also mean that there could have been a person talented enough to
be a Brahmin but if he was born to Shudra parents, he would not get the
opportunity to become a Brahmin? asked Shiva.
Yes Shiva, said Parvateshwar, speaking for the first time to Shiva. He
noticed that Parvateshwar did not fawn all over him and call him Lord. In
Lord Rams view, any society that conducted itself on any principle besides
merit could not be stable. He believed that a persons caste should be
determined only by that persons karma. Not his birth. Not his sex. No other
consideration should interfere.
That is nice in theory, Parvateshwar, argued Shiva. But how do you
ensure it in practice? If a child is born in a Brahmin family, he would get
the upbringing and resources which would be different from that of a child
born in a Shudra family. So this child would grow up to be a Brahmin even
if he was less talented than the Shudra boy. Isn this unfair to the child born
in the Shudra family? Where is the ”merit ” in this system?
That was the genius of Lord Ram, Shiva, smiled Parvateshwar. He was
of course a brave General, a brilliant administrator and a fair judge. But his
greatest legacy is the system he created to ensure that a persons karma is
determined only by his abilities, nothing else. That system is what has made
Meluha what it is — the greatest nation in history.
You can underestimate the role that Somras has played, Parvateshwar,
Lord Rams greatest act was to provide the Somras to
everyone. The elixir is what makes Meluhans the smartest people in the
universe! The Somras is what has given us the ability to create this
remarkable and near perfect society.
Begging your pardon, your Highness, said Shiva before turning back to
Parvateshwar. But what was the system that Lord Ram set up?
The system is simple, said Parvateshwar. As we agreed, the best society
is the one where a persons caste is decided purely by his abilities and
karma. Not by any other factor. Lord Ram created a practical system that
ensured this. All children that are born in Meluha are compulsorily adopted
by the empire. In order to ensure that this is done methodically, a great
hospital city called Maika was built deep in the south, just north of the
Narmada river. All pregnant women have to travel there for their delivery.
Only pregnant women are allowed into the city. Nobody else.
Nobody else? What about her husband, her parents? asked Shiva.
No, there are no exceptions to this rule except for one. This exception
was voted in around three hundred years ago. Husbands and parents of
women of noble families were allowed to enter, answered Parvateshwar,
his expression clearly showing that he violently disagreed with this
corruption of Lord Rams system.
Then who takes care of the pregnant woman in Maika?
The hospital staff. They are extremely well trained, continued
Parvateshwar. Once the child is born, he or she is kept in Maika for a few
weeks while the mother travels back to her own city.
Without her child? asked a clearly surprised Shiva.
Yes, replied Parvateshwar, with a slight frown as if this was the most
obvious thing in the world. The child is then put into the Meluha Gurukul,
a massive school created by the empire close to Maika. Every single child
receives the benefit of the same education system. They grow up with all
the resources of the empire available to them.
Do they maintain records of the parents and their children?
Of course they do. But the records are kept in utmost secrecy and are
available only with the record-keeper of Maika.
That would mean that neither in the Gurukul nor in the rest of the empire,
would anybody know who the childs birth parents are, reasoned Shiva, as
he worked out the implications of what he was hearing. So every child, regardless of whether he is born to a Brahmin or a Shudra, would get
exactly the same treatment at the Gurukul?
Yes, smiled Parvateshwar. He was clearly proud of the system. As the
children enter the age of adolescence, they are all given the Somras. Thus
every child has exactly the same opportunity to succeed. At the age of
fifteen, when they have reached adulthood, all the children take a
comprehensive examination. The results of this examination decide which
varna or caste the child will be allocated to — Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya
Kanakhala cut in. And then the children are given one more years caste-
specific training. They wear their varna colour bands — white for
Brahmins, red for Kshatriyas, green for Vaishyas and black for Shudras —
and retreat to the respective caste schools to complete their education.
So thats why your caste system is called the varna system, said Shiva.
Varna means colour, right?
Yes my Lord, smiled Kanakhala. You are very observant.
With a withering look at Kanakhala, Parvateshwar added sarcastically,
Yes, that was a very difficult conclusion to draw.
Ignoring the barb, Shiva asked, So what happens after that?
When the children turn sixteen, they are allocated to applicant parents
from their caste. For example, if some Brahmin parents have applied to
adopt a child, one randomly chosen student from Maika, who has won the
Brahmin caste in the examination, is allotted to them. Then the child grows
up with these adopted parents as their own child.
And society is perfect, marvelled Shiva, as the simple brilliance of the
system enveloped his mind. Each person is given a position in society
based only on his own abilities. The efficiency and fairness of this system is
Over time my Lord, interjected Daksha, we found the percentage of
higher castes actually going up in the population. Which means that
everybody in the world has the ability to excel. All it takes is for a child to
be given a fair chance to succeed.
Then the lower castes must have loved Lord Ram for this? asked Shiva.
He gave them an actual chance to succeed.
Yes they did love him, answered Parvateshwar. They were his most
loyal followers. Jai Shri Ram!
But I guess not too many mothers would have been happy with this. I
can imagine a woman willingly giving up her child as soon as he is born
with no chance of meeting him ever again.
But its for the larger good, said Parvateshwar, scowling at the seemingly
stupid question. And in any case, every mother who wants an offspring can
apply for one and be allocated a child who suits her position and dreams.
Nothing can be worse for a mother than having a child who does not
measure up to her expectations.
Shiva frowned at Parvateshwars explanation, but let the argument pass. I
can also imagine that many of the upper castes like the Brahmins would
have been unhappy with Lord Ram. After all, they lost their stranglehold on
Yes, added Daksha. Many upper castes did oppose Lord Rams reforms.
Not just Brahmins, but even Kshatriyas and Vaishyas. Lord Ram fought a
great battle to defeat them. Those from among the vanquished who survived
are the Chandravanshis we see today.
So your differences go that far back?
Yes, said Daksha. The Chandravanshis are corrupt and disgusting
people. No morals. No ethics. They are the source of all our problems.
Some of us believe that Lord Ram was too kind. He should have completely
destroyed them. But he forgave them and let them live. In fact, we have to
face the mortification of seeing the Chandravanshis rule over Lord Rams
birthplace — Ayodhya!
Before Shiva could react to this information, the bell of the new prahar
was rung. Everyone said a quick prayer to welcome the subsequent time
chapter. Shiva immediately looked towards the window. A look of
expectancy appeared on his face.
Daksha smiled as he observed Shivas expression. We could break for
lunch now, my Lord. But if you have another engagement you would like to
attend, we could continue tomorrow.
Parvateshwar glared at Daksha disapprovingly. He knew exactly what the
emperor was trying to do.
That would be nice, your Highness, smiled Shiva. Is my face such a
Yes it is my Lord. But that is a gift you have. Nothing is prized more than
honesty in Meluha. Why don you leave for your engagement and we could
convene here again tomorrow morning?
Thanking Daksha profusely, Shiva left the room with Nandi in tow.
Shiva approached the hedge with excitement and trepidation. Scarce had
he heard the beat of the dhol emanating from the direction of the garden, he
despatched Nandi to the guest house for lunch. He wanted to be alone. He
let out a deep sigh of ecstasy as he crept up behind the hedge to find Sati
practising under the watchful eye of the Guruji and Krittika.
So good to see you again, Shiva, said the Guruji as he stood up with a
The pleasure is all mine, Guruji, said Shiva, as he bent down to touch the
Gurujis feet as a sign of respect.
Sati stood silently at a distance with her gaze on the floor. Krittika said
enthusiastically, I just couldn get your dance out of my mind!
Shiva blushed at the compliment. Oh it wasn all that good.
e fishing for compliments, teased Krittika.
I was wondering if we could start off where we left the last time, said
Shiva, turning towards Sati. I don think I have to be your teacher or
anything like that. I just wanted to see you dance.
Sati felt her strange discomfort returning once again. What was it about
Shiva that made her feel that she was breaking the law when she spoke to
him? She was allowed to talk to men as long as she kept a respectable
distance. Why should she feel guilty?
I will try my best, said Sati formally. It would be enriching to hear your
views on how I can improve myself. I really do respect you for your
Respect?! Why respect? Why not love?!
Shiva smiled politely. He knew instinctively that saying anything at this
point of time would spoil the moment.
Sati took a deep breath, girded her angvastram around her waist and
committed herself to the Nataraj pose. Shiva smiled as he felt Mother Earth
project her shakti, her energy, into Sati.
Energised by the earth she stood upon, Sati began her dance. And she had
really improved. The emotions seemed to course through her. She had
always been technically good, but the passion elevated her dance to the next
level. Shiva felt a dreamy sense of unreality overcome him again. Sati
maintained a magnetic hold over him as she moved her lithe body with the
dance steps. For some moments, Shiva imagined that he was the man that Sati was longing for in her dance. When she finally came to a stop, the
audience spontaneously applauded.
That was the best I have ever seen you dance, said the Guruji with pride.
Thank you Guruji, said Sati as she bowed. Then she looked expectantly
It was fantastic, exclaimed Shiva. Absolutely fabulous. Didn I tell you
that you had it in you?
I thought that I didn get it exactly right at the moment of attack, said
e being too hard on yourself, consoled Shiva. That was just a
slight error. It happened only because you missed out on holding one angle
at your elbow. That made your next move a little odd. Rising swiftly to his
feet, Shiva continued, See, Ill show you.
He walked quickly towards Sati and touched her elbow to move it to the
correct angle. Sati immediately recoiled in horror as there was a gasp from
the Guruji as well as Krittika. Shiva instantly realised that something
terrible had happened.
I am sorry, said Shiva, with a look of sincere regret. I was just trying to
show you where your elbow should be.
Sati continued to stare at Shiva, stunned into immobility.
The Guruji was the first to recover his wits and realise that Shiva must
undergo the purification ceremony. Go to your Pandit, Shiva. Tell him you
need a shudhikaran. Go before the day is over.
What? What is a shudhikaran? Why would I need it?
Please go for a shudhikaran, Shiva, said Sati, as tears broke through her
proud eyes. I would never be able to forgive myself if something were to
happen to you.
Nothing will happen to me! Look, I am really sorry if I have broken some
rule by touching you. I will not do it again. Lets not make a big deal of
IT IS A BIG DEAL! shouted Sati.
The violence of Satis reaction threw Shiva off balance.
Why the hell is this simple thing being blown completely out of
Krittika came up close to Sati while being careful not to touch her, and
whispered, We should go back home, my lady.
No. No. Please stay, pleaded Shiva. I won touch you. I promise.
With a look of hopeless despair, Sati turned to leave, followed by Krittika
and Guruji. At the edge of the hedge, she turned around and beseeched
Shiva once again, Please go for your shudhikaran before nightfall. Please.
At the look of uncomprehending mutiny on Shivas face, the Guruji
advised, Listen to her, Shiva. She speaks for your own good.
What bloody nonsense! yelled Shiva as his disturbed thoughts finally
broke through his desperate efforts at silent acceptance. He was lying in his
bedroom at the royal guest house. He had not undergone the shudhikaran.
He had not even bothered to find out what the ceremony was.
Why would I need to be purified for touching Sati? I want to spend all my
remaining years touching her in every possible way. Am I going to keep on
undergoing a shudhikaran every day? Ridiculous!
Just then a troubling thought entered Shivas mind.
Is it because of me? Am I not allowed to touch her because I am caste-
unmarked? An inferior barbarian?
No. That can be true, whispered Shiva to himself. Sati doesn think
like that. She is a good woman.
But what if its true? Maybe if she knows that I am the Neelkanth…
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