Fantastic ancients

Just yesterday I was watching this serial “Prithvi Raj Chauhan” on TV. In the programme, Prithvi raj (a young student) enters the forbidden portion of his teacher’s library and picks up a book on “shabd-bheydi band kala” (i.e. voice-piercing arrow craft). The moment he read out the name of the book, I experienced goose-flesh and a storm of previously learnt facts, lessons from history and a few portions of the old TV serial “Discovery of India” (based on Nehru’s works) flashed in front of my eyes. It appears, that one word “shabd-bheydi band kala” triggered a sudden complex thought process in my brain where, in an instant (say blink of an eye) I connected a number of things that I had learnt at different places and at different points in time in my life. Here’s what I connected:

1. “shabd-bheydi band kala”, the very word reminded me of the story of Ekalavya. We all know that Ekalavya used to practice archery in front of a clay idol of Dhronacharya as Dhrona did not admit the guy into his academy. It is said that once when Ekalavya was practicing archery deep inside the forest he heard a dog (from far away) barking loudly and coming towards him. This was disturbing Ekalavya and he shot seven to eight arrows in the direction of the dog (which was very far away on the basis of where the sound was coming from. His arrows pierced the inside of the dog’s upper mouth. It was like when the dog had it mouth open (in the process of barking) the arrows hit the inside of his upper mouth such that he could not close his mouth and hence could not bark. This was an incredible show of archery by any standards even till date. It was a show of the “shabd-bheydi band kala” or the voice piercing arrow craft. That dog belonged to Dhrona and when Dhrona saw the dog with those arrows in its mouth, he realized that Eklavaya was a serious threat to Arjun’s number one position in the world. Rest is what we all know!

2. In Ramayana, once when King Dhashrata went out in the jungle for hunting, he could not find any game and went deep into the forest searching for one. Deep in the forest, he spotted a deer, but lost sight of it again. Desperate to get the game, he followed the deer very carefully. He set himself at a point and waited for the deer to emerge from the bushes. After waiting for a while, he ran out of patience and then suddenly he heard some noise from behind the bushes. He immediately shot an arrow in the direction of that sound expecting it to be a deer. But to his horror he realized that it was a boy. This boy was Shravan Kumar (whose examples of obedience are given till date) and knowing of his death his parents had cursed Dhashrata that his sons will not be present at the time when he will need them the most. The arrow that killed Shravan Kumar was again a “shabd-bheydi band” or voice-piercing arrow.

3. In History and even from the TV programme “Discovery of India” (which used to come on DD long before cable TV hit the scene), I have studied that Prithvi Raj Chauhan had lost a battle to the invading army of Mahumad Ghori. Ghori had imprisoned Prithvi Raj and insulted him every possible manner. And he had also blinded Prithvi Raj by piercing his eyes with red hot iron rod. He is also supposed to have ravaged many innocent women and children. This had angered Prithvi Raj but he was helpless as he was himself a prisoner to the invader.

Prithvi Raj’s former courtier Chand Bardai, who was later to compose the Prithviraj Raso, a ballad-biography of Prithvi Raj, came to Ghori to be near Prithvi Raj in his misery. Chand Bardai came in disguise and secured himself a place in Mahmud’s court by purveying his skills as a composer of poems. On the one hand, he earned Mahmud’s regard; on the other, he took every opportunity to meet with Prithvi Raj and urge him to avenge Ghori’s betrayal and daily insults.

The two got an opportunity when Ghori announced an archery competition. Chand Bardai told Ghori that Prithviraj was so skilled an archer, that he could take aim based only on sound, and did not even need to look at his target. Ghori disdained to believe this; the courtiers guffawed and taunted Chand Bardai, asking how a blind man could possibly shoot arrows. In the spirit of their usual barbaric mockery, they brought the blind and hapless Prithvi Raj out to the field. Pressing a bow and arrows into his hand, they taunted him to take aim. Chand Bardai told Ghori that this taunting would avail nothing, for Prithvi Raj would never do as some sundry courtiers bade him do. He said that Prithvi Raj, as an anointed king, would not accept orders from anyone other than another king. His ego thus massaged, and in the spirit of the occasion, Mahmud Ghori agreed to personally give Prithvi Raj the order to shoot.

Thus, Chand Bardai provided Prithvi Raj with an aural indication of where Ghori was seated. He gave Prithvi Raj one further indication of the same, by composing a couplet on the spot and reciting the same in Prithvi Raj’s hearing. The couplet, composed in a language understood only by Prithvi Raj went thus:

“Char bans, chaubis gaj, angul ashta praman,
Ete pai hai Sultan, (Taa Upar hai Sultan),
ab mat chuko hey Chauhan.”
(Ten measures ahead of you and twenty four feet away, is seated the Sultan. Do not miss him now, Chauhan).

Ghori then ordered Prithvi Raj to shoot. Prithvi Raj turned in the direction from where he heard Ghori speak, and, taking aim based only on the voice and on Chand Bardai’s couplet, he sent an arrow racing to Ghori’s throat. Ghori was thus struck dead by Prithvi Raj. Naturally, after this deed, Prithvi Raj was killed by Mahmud’s courtiers. (portions of the text are from wikipedia)

“shabd-bheydi band kala” was the common link between two epics that form a part of mythology and an instance from India’s medieval history which is a fact. “shabd-bheydi band kala” is probably a small part of what the ancients knew about the craft of war and the art of living. Today we remember nothing of what they knew though we say we live in the age of information. Our traditional education and knowledge have been forgotten and we have submitted to the western style of education which I think might cover just a fraction of what the ancients knew.