Professor Pyare Lal wiped the sweat off his brow. The temperatures in the month of May were at 48ºC. The hired labour was going slow, heat and dehydration making them lethargic. It was not an easy job, chipping off the compacted earth, gradual sifting of soil, making careful inventory of each and every pebble, lest it turn out to be a valuable gem, or a priceless historical artefact.
Satellite imagery had revealed a fairly uniform mound in the sparsely populated wasteland outside the town. A mound which had no reason to be there. Using cutting edge science and a lot of hard work, the middle aged professor had unearthed the remains of a Bronze Age town.
He had finished most of the excavation work over the last six months. He and his team now had an exposed area which they could map fairly well. They had mapped out the markets, residential area, the central pond, the temple, guardhouse etc. They had also uncovered a massive ruin with broken columns at the northern periphery, which could be a residential or administrative building. It was this spot that had given the Professor most bother.
The city of Mahissati was a vibrant melting pot of craftsmen, traders and artists. Merchant caravans, guarded by fierce looking mercenaries. Bronze smiths, weavers, carpenters, potters and others of varied profession occupied the colourful and hustling bazaar area. At the South, by the river bank, the palace dominated the cityscape. The pillars, built like stilts, made the palace look slender and graceful. It didn’t occupy too much space, but soared tall, perhaps fifty hands.
The occupant was no king; infact he was the governor, the city being the southern outpost of Ujjaini.
That year, in the month of Chaitra, he was hosting an important guest from the Western coast: The warrior lady called Kamsakanya. She was barely twenty-five, but her reputation as a dancer and a warrior preceded her coming. The entire city put aside their busy routines and lined the streets to welcome Kamsakanya as she entered the city gate on horseback. She was followed by a squad of one hundred mounted Asvaghoshas, the elite scouts/raiders of her kingdom.
As custom, the Chief of Guards gave a ceremonious welcome, with trumpets and drums. Kamsakanya bowed briefly at the chief, and got off her mare in a smooth motion. She patted the animal and spoke a few words before it was led away to the stables.
Sudarshan, the Chief of Guards, sized her up as she strode towards him. She was tall. Taller than any man in the city. Possessed of a slender waist, her broad shoulders were accentuated by the light leather armour she preferred to wear. The light riding gear couldn’t hide the grace of her figure or the power of her body. Her bare, bronzed arms and calves glistened in the sunlight. Long striding legs brought her quickly to Sudarshan. They gave each other the customary salute: the right fist on the left breast. As she clenched her fist tight, he couldn’t help but notice the way her arm muscles bunched up at the elbows and the biceps.
“The Governor awaits your honoured presence, Shrimati Kamsakanya.” Said Sudarashan, to which she replied, “The honour is mine.”
He indicated her to go up the narrow flight of stairs, intending to follow her. Kamsakanya moved gracefully up onto the palace. As he followed in her steps, he was struck by how large and solid her bare calves looked as she walked up the stairs.
This woman cannot be underestimated, he thought.
Months of excavation, careful measurement, marking and plotting of the stones and an incredibly detailed 3D location map helped to recreate the shape of the palace. In fact, this was the most scientific archaeological dig done in India. The Professor’s acute administrative skills allowed him to get the best talents in Archaeology and Geology together. He had a superb 3D rendering of the site ready now.
It was just that the palace had thrown up an enigma to be resolved.
The city seemed to have been abandoned suddenly; Time and dust had erased the memories of the place for more than 3,000 years.
The Professor had discovered the distinct pattern of deposition and erosion that indicated abandonment. There was virtually little left in terms of artefacts or even coinage to determine precisely the affiliation of this ancient city.
The only thing that went against the abandonment theory was the state of the palace: His computer rendering indicated a catastrophic failure of structure. The palace had been brought down.
This theory was lent substance when his team stumbled upon four skeletal remains. All showed massive trauma. Green copper carbonate remnants near the skeletons indicated bronze weapons. One of the skeletal remains was particularly intriguing. Preliminary bone structure analysis indicated that the remains were that of a female, of exceptional height.
And against all logic, they had found a spear head made of iron. A spear head that had neither rusted nor lost its edge. And this was supposed to be a Bronze Age find!
The governor, a cheerful, rotund man welcomed Kamsakanya to Mahissati. She felt herself warming to this man. After the courtesies, she retired to her quarters, as the formal discussions would begin the next day.
Her room was large, and had an even larger balcony with stilt like pillars along the edges. Kamsakanya wasn’t feeling particularly tired, so she decided to practice with her weapons, particularly with the spear, which was her favourite weapon.
Her spear was made of cane and bronze wire, laminated with natural glue. The spear head was a grey metal, unlike any other. The metal was extremely hard, forged from a burning rock that was found in a forest. The metallurgists had spent months trying to work the metal. In the end, they managed to make it into a spear point, which her father gifted to her. She found the spear perfectly balanced. It was sharp, and even managed to dent and gouge the best bronze weapons and shields. So she would use it only in battle, not in sparring practice. The spear and her martial abilities gave her a reputation of a fearsome warrior and brilliant tactician.
But she was not here to battle; it was her first diplomatic mission. She was here to propose a treaty of partnership with Ujjaini. The treaty would open trade routes to the powerful kingdom in the North, allowing gold to flow into her kingdom’s coffers. It would also lead to a lessening of border skirmishes and misunderstandings that seemed to be happening more and more frequently.
Kamsakanya trained by loosening up. This was followed by vigorous yoga exercises. Then she picked up the spear and balanced it on her shoulders. She then swung it round, making the broad edge slash like a sword. She moved like a tornado, circling, whirling round, unpredictable in her movement. The spear edge slashed with blinding speed, the whooshing noise indicating the speed at which she wielded it.
After a while, she picked up a wooden shield. She alternated a block of the shield with a thrust of the spear. The block was economical, meant to stop the strongest of blows. The thrust was delivered like lightning. So fast and strong were her movements, the arm and a spear blurring before halting sharply; the spear held perfectly horizontal, perfectly still.
After an hour of exercise, she decided to have a bath. With her blood pulsing, she missed her husband, Hari. It would have been good to pick him up and make love to him now, she thought wryly and smiled.
Hari was her lover, and at one point, been the best grappler in the kingdom. Unfortunately, he had been deceived and maimed in a hand to hand fight with an evil wrestler. Kamsakanya took revenge by defeating the said wrestler, and later she married Hari. As her father put her in charge of various aspects of running a kingdom, she found Hari to be a wonderful advisor and foil. They were strongly in love, and she wished he were here in Mahissati.
Kamsakanya stepped out of her robes in the bath. The attendants in the bath were stunned to see such a statuesque combination of power and beauty. Her bronze skinned body was long limbed. Lithe, she moved with the grace of a panther.
Suparna was the lead attendant, the only one allowed to touch Kamsakanya. She brushed the latter’s back with running water. Her shoulders and back had thick, ridged muscle. “How strong her back is… Even our best warriors do not have a back like that!” She wondered.
The water cascaded down her back, the flow broken by her muscles at numerous places, the way rocks break the flow of water in falls.
Suparna rubbed Kamsakanya’s arms with scented oil. Her arms looked, and felt as hard as a bronze statue’s. Her forearms had tendons that felt indestructible. The upper arm was quite big, and the bicep bulged significantly when she flexed her arm. A tingling sensation in Suparna’s groin made her go red in the face. She was aroused by this strong yet beautiful and hard warrior woman.
As Kamsakanya stood naked, Suparna bent down and rubbed her thighs and calves. The skin was incredibly smooth, yet the thighs felt like marble. Suparna unconsciously slowed down the rubbing, just to feel the hard solidity of the thighs. She bit her lips, as the tingling sensation grew into a full arousal.
Her hands moved down further, onto her calves. These were like sculptures, fashioned perfectly. So hard and defined were these, Suparna gasped audibly as her trembling fingers moved over them.
Kamsakanya looked down. She could see the attendant in distress. In fact, her powerful body had brought Suparna to the throes of an orgasm, and the latter clutched her calves and moaned loudly, “Oooohhhh Maaaaaaahhhh!” and collapsed on the bath floor, breathing heavily. As the other attendants became alarmed, Kamsakanya told them to wait. She bent down, picked up Suparna and carried her to the rock slab meant for keeping clothes.
“Suparna, I understand what you have just undergone. Do not be ashamed of it. I am proud of the fact that my body and my power can turn you on. Henceforth, do not be ashamed of what you feel. Trust your nature”.
So saying, she let the other attendants pour water on her, and took a cotton cloth to dry herself off.
Later, Suparna, heavily camouflaged, came to her bedchamber. She told Kamsakanya to beware of Sudarshan, as he intended to assassinate her.
“Why do you tell me this, O Suparna? How do you know?”
“B…Be…Because I am his keep. And I know he is an evil man. He has his own private army in a village in the south. They raid the villages along our borders, so that both nations start blaming each other. He wants a war to weaken both the kingdoms, so that he can carve out his own.
“Why are you telling me this, Suparna?”
“Because you… you are a Goddess. You are strong, like Anahita, who we worship before our winter harvests. You are a protector, mighty, invincible. You killed that Asura Mushtanda, with your bare hands. The fate of both kingdoms lies on your strong shoulders, my Goddess!”
Kamsakanya saw tears in Suparna’s eyes. She knew that the attendant girl was in love with her. Her fate was miserable. But it was strength of spirit that had made this girl confess.
“Suparna, if we survive, I will take you away from this place. That is a promise”
The forensic pathologist at Gwalior had driven down to the site when the Professor called him. He was the son of Pyarelal’s best friend. And he was a great admirer of his work too.
They were in a climate controlled tent meant for storing sensitive, possibly perishable artefacts. “Tell me about them.” Said the professor.
“Well, these two guys have definitely been killed in battle. See the neat severing of the bone here? And this one has had his skull crushed.
“About this…well, your guys were right – from the pelvic girdle, I’d say this one’s a female… though the height is all wrong. She (if it’s a she) seems to be at least 6’8”, if not more.”
Located off the main road, a small hut housed a few people. They had arrived by night, and moved only at night. Sudarshan, with a blanket around him, gave the appropriate signal, which let them know that a friend was approaching.
“I will let you in secretly, but take care not to alert the sentry. Kill them both. And you must hack off the Governor’s head, and make it look like Kamsakanya did it. Make the signal thereafter, and I will come in and claim that I killed her.” It must happen tomorrow night.”
Back in the palace, Kamsakanya had long discussions with the governor. She found him to be a nice man, full of jovial stories. Perhaps a bit too soft to run the state. Both agreed that the tensions at the border needed to be scaled down. A treaty between both the kingdoms would benefit each other a lot.
The next day, Kamsakanya met the governor in the inner chamber of the palace, to finalise the draft of the treaty. The drafts would go to the respective kings for ratification. They went through the drafts together (unlike most warriors, Kamsakanya was literate). They came to an understanding to finalise the treaty. Just then Kamsakanya could hear muffled gasps. She called for the guards. No response. In her mind, she cursed herself for not keeping her personal guards on standby.
The chamber door burst open. Two dark skinned men entered. Both seemed to be foreigners. With large, sinister looking sickles. Kamsakanya pushed the governor behind her, and took a stance with her spear. In the narrow chamber, she would not be able to manoeuvre it very well, so she would have to depend on her thrust.
As the first one charged at her, swinging his sickle menacingly, Kamsakanya thrust her spear up and ahead. The sickle and spear head clanged together. She brought the spear back and tried to slash at his leg, but he parried it away. A swing grazed her forearm.
Changing her strategy, she thrust low. As the assassin parried again, she moved the spear left and up, so that the sickle was blocked from movement. As the man hesitated and extracted the sickle, Kamsakanya pulled back the spear and thrust it straight with blinding speed. It cut through his ribs, straight into the heart.
Eyes wide, the man collapsed in a pool of blood.
The second man cursed in his native tongue. He came forward, slowly. He whirled the sickle round his shoulders and torso, the blade making a fine swishing sound.
He was ready for Kamsakanya’s thrust, which he deflected. Kamsakanya tried different approaches, but his whirring blades managed to deflect all her blows. The man was greatly skilled with his weapon. And Kamsakanya had little room.
With a sudden series of slashes and jabs, he had cut Kamsakanya in half a dozen places. She was being forced back to the wall, with the governor behind her. As the man repeatedly cut at her, the governor suddenly moved to her side. “No!” she screamed; but the governor screamed “The treaty must be seen by our kings”, and leapt at the man with a dagger in hand.
It was a brave but suicidal move. The man cut off the governor’s wrist, sliced his belly open and then cut his throat in a few moments.
But this gave Kamsakanya her only chance… she thrust down, and cut the man’s tendon behind his foot. The man screamed. Hobbled, he hopped on a foot, trying to avoid Kamsakanya’s series of thrusts. But he slipped on the governors’ blood and fell. This was enough for Kamsakanya to put the spearhead through his chest, mortally wounding him. Stepping up to the assassin, Kamsakanya leapt in air and shouted. She landed with her foot on the man’s skull, crushing it with her powerful foot.
Taking a deep breath, she ran out of the chamber, only to be tripped heavily. As she got up, a dark figure loomed in front of her. In the low light, the figure appeared to be tall, taller than her even. It was hooded, and by the sound of it striking the floor, had a bronze staff in hand.
As Kamsakanya’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, she saw the figure take off its hood. It was a woman.
Dark, almost black skin. Hair that was crinkled, and almost level with her scalp. With the discarding of the cloak around her, she revealed a muscled, strong figure.
She put a hand on her chest, and said “Jara”, to indicate her name. She pointed the staff westwards: “Nuba”. She pointed at Kamsakanya and made a chopping motion. It was clear that she wanted Kamsakanya dead. Then she was in her battle pose, the staff held in both hands.
The two warrior women circled each other. Jara swung her staff, only for Kamsakanya to parry it away. Kamsakanya’s thrust was deflected by her. They kept swinging and slashing for quite some time. Jara had cuts on her shoulder and arms, whereas Kamsakanya had a painful blow on the thigh that almost made her limp.
They kept fighting and hitting at each other, and it was proving to be a draw. So Jara put down her staff, and motioned Kamsakanya to do the same. Mindful of the conduct of duels, Kamsakanya put down her spear as well. And they lunged at each other, arms and shoulders locked.
Kamsakanya had wrestled with Hari many times. She knew all the moves, and could hold her own against Hari. But this was different. The tall woman was not only very strong, but her long limbs gave her the advantage of leverage. Very soon, Kamsakanya was tiring in the grapple of attrition.
Sweat flowed off the bodies of the warrior women. Neither wanted to give any quarter. Veins rippled on their arms; muscles roiled and bulged. Bronzed sinews strained through the skin. Limbs locked with fearful power. Blood and sweat made the skin gleam. It would be a battle of attrition.
As Jara gradually locked her arms around Kamsakanya’s neck, the latter struggled to keep those muscled arms from constricting her throat. She wished she had Hari for advice at this stage.
After a while, it was evident that Jara would come out on top. Straining, gritting her teeth, Kamsakanya bent her knees somewhat. Feeling her opponent give way, Jara pulled Kamsakanya towards her to complete the neck lock.
This was the move which Kamsakanya had been waiting for Jara to make. Dipping her knees suddenly, she made Jara tip ahead, unbalancing the tall woman.
Quick as a snake, her powerful forearm went behind the knee of Jara, and moved upto her crotch. Locking it there, she grabbed Jara’s neck. In one motion, she stretched up, lifting Jara from the ground. The shock of being lifted up made Jara lose her grip. Feeling her shoulder free, Kamsakanya heaved her arms up, lifting the mighty Jara above her head.
She was holding up the woman with her right arm at the woman’s thigh near the crotch, and the left arm at the base of the neck.
Jara struggled, but could not do much with Kamsakanya’s hand at her throat. Beating her hands and legs, she tried to make the latter lose her hold. In response, Kamsakanya turned Jara round, and threw her with great force against the nearest pillar.
Jara’s back hit the pillar with great force. Falling on the floor, she winced, arching her back. Kamsakanya was on her again. This time with both hands tight on the throat, she picked up Jara.
Jara, with feet dangling in the air, was kicking about madly. She beat her powerful arms helplessly against Kamsakanya’s shoulders. After a while, her protests wilted, and her eyes rolling up.
As she turned to throw down Jara, the sharp thwack of an arrow hit the assassin. Jara let out a roar of pain. Quickly turning, Kamsakanya saw Sudarshan nocking another arrow.
Dropping Jara, she rolled and reached for the bronze staff that was near. An arrow whizzed by. Holding the staff at the centre, she bent back and threw it like a javelin. The staff went straight towards Sudarshan’s gut. To hit him on the wrist as he drew another arrow.
Screaming, as his wrist shattered, Sudarshan fell. With his intact left arm, he tried to take out his dagger. Kamsakanya was by his side. Raging, she caught his good wrist and pulled him up. Holding his left forearm in both hands, she brought it down on her knee, snapping the forearm bones like twigs.
She then dragged the shocked Sudarshan onto the palace.
“Why?” She asked.
“Why not? The Raja of Ujjaini collects taxes. Does he know this place? My ancestors ruled Mahissati when it was a village. It belongs to me. ME!”
“I wanted to rile both the neighbours, to make you fight, to block your trade. To weaken you both. So that I could make my rightful claim. I am the ruler here.” He continued.
“It doesn’t look like you will be the ruler here.” Said Kamsakanya.
“Look again. See those ropes around the pillars. See the oxen my men have tied around the palace…. PULL IT DOWNNNNN….” He screamed.
The snorting of oxen was heard, as the whips descended on their backs. Kamsakanya rushed out to see a dozen oxen, tied to the pillars, straining. The thin stilt like pillars wouldn’t stand much of a chance.
“ASHVAGHOSHA… ASHVAGHOSHA…” Screamed Kamsakanya at the top of her voice. Then she ran back into the palace. The treaties had to be brought out.
She ran into the sanctum, where the governor lay. She paused a moment, then took the man’s turban. Taking the palm leaf documents, she ran out… only to feel the ominous rumble as the structure started to collapse around her. The masonry started to fall dangerously all around her. Dust made it difficult to see things.
Running towards the nearest source of light, she saw a small part of the building still intact. Because Jara had propped up Kamsakanya’s spear at the lintel, and was herself straining to prevent the structure to collapse.
Kamsakanya came out, but turned round to pull Jara out.
In the dim light, she saw tears. Their eyes locked for a few moments. And then the structure collapsed.
Kamsakanya had been imprisoned. But it was her Asvaghoshas who had rounded up the culprits and made them confess.
The new garrison officer in charge himself freed Kamsakanya, and put Sudarshan in. The next day, as Kamsakanya made ready to leave, he asked her what Sudarshan’s fate should be.
“He is guilty to us both. But he is also a traitor. He has murdered your governor. You decide.” Saying that, she handed over the governor’s turban to the officer.
Taking the turban reverently, he said: “Then he has in fate a punishment that reflects his crime. We will seal him in the prison.”
“So be it then.” Kamsakanya had nothing else to say. She had lost a friend in the building and made another, just to lose her as the palace came down.
Suparna rode by her side, with the Asvaghosas flanking them. She rode with the thin long bronze staff balanced across her thigh.
Sun set on the town.
A few months later, flood waters ravaged the city. The new governor was forced to evacuate. Silt covered the ruins of the palace, and no human settlement came up at that place ever.
“A collapsed palace, bodies showing trauma. Perhaps we will never know what really happened.” Thought the Professor. He was in his tent, washing his face of the grime.
The sound of running feet, and a call of “Professor, Professor…”
The professor stepped out… “What is it?” “Sir!” exclaimed the nearly breathless intern. He looked wild, with the sweat cutting channels across his skin. “You’ve got to see this…”
They had found a narrow cubical chamber, about three feet on each side. A fairly intact skeleton lay there. The chamber seemed to have been buried under soil. There was a headstone on the chamber. A quick inspection revealed that it was in Prakrit, a language that was the vernacular of those times.
Back at the tent, an examination revealed that the skeleton had a shattered right wrist and a broken left arm. “Had this man died of his injuries? Or was he doomed to death in that sealed chamber?” thought the professor.
The professor was a keen student of the language. It took him an hour to translate the terse message, which went thus:
“As he wrought, the unnamed one shall stay here until his misdoings are revealed. It is as deemed by the bronze lady.”