“Are you a guide or a storyteller?”
I almost spat these words at Raju and not for the first time. Larger part of my indignation was due to the fact that I was mesmerized by his stories which he swore to be true historical events!
Dressed in camel-brown Jodhpuris and a dark weathered velvet coat he looked like a lost Baarati, sans a saafa from a wedding procession! Unperturbed by my obvious irritation he was saying,
“Mr. Das, be it sarkari guides or ASI stamped tour operators, no one can enlighten you about the mystery! They prattle from books written by firangis; how could they understand local nuances of an incident? I recount events with which I have a connect!” His eyes were twinkling mischievously with a lynx like glint.
I could see he was putting his bait and I was mad because we both knew that I’d swallow it.
Emphasising he continued, “…no one, except Raju can Guide you, to the truth about the Purabiya Diwal.”
We both were standing under the shadow of Dhauladhar mountain range and he was referring to the East wall of Kangra Fort. With this cocksure claim and a flamboyant sweep of hands like the Air India Maharaja, he bowed low.
The sky was fast turning pale, its deep crimson veering from indigo to azure blue with morning sunshine framing every dewy leaf with a gilt edge.
A few stray dogs sprawled across a mud path with their fur gleaming like gold-strands, two-three roosters clucking around with their maroon- black plumage glinting like daggers or the orange Tibetan mastiff of the tea stall-wallah standing with his heckles raised looking every inch a ball of blazing fire on guard, all were transformed in the glow of the rising sun.
Pulling my eyes away from these bucolic scenes I looked askance at the fabled structure… The Eastern wall of the Nagarkot castle, once considered imperishable but now in ruins. Quite ordinary to look, the dilapidated wall was covered with thick velvet of mossy green. Tufts of pale orange grass were jutting out from its crevices, hanging down in a parabola like tiny ochre chandeliers glinting in the breaking dawn.
People were rushing past in their morning hurry without the faintest notion of having an exquisitely rich display of light and colour at their service! At other times they would have gladly peeled their eyes off to experience a similar show but none had ever felt the need to look up and glance at the familiar wall of an old decrepit fort.
Fruit sellers were deftly arranging their lush ripe wares under its shadow to protect themselves from the biting winds, completely unaware of the wonderful founts of light just above their heads! Sparkling under the rising Himalayan sun the long dry grass quivered, gave out ripples of light, not much un-like a cascade of tiny jewels…
I heaved a sigh.
Taking it as his cue, Raju grabbed the opportunity and without any preamble started on with another of his narratives.
“It was the gravest winter of the decade…” here he stopped to enquire if I know about the fort’s history to which I denied. Straightening up, he performed an elaborate pandiculation and started again, this time dotting up his narration with factual details.
” It was the gravest winter of the decade in 18th century AD. The entire Himalayan region was covered with a thick blanket of snow. Everyone was tortured by the biting cold however, the city of Nagarkot- was braving those cold gusts of harsh wind and snowfall with high spirits. After all, it was the greatest fort in the entire Himalaya. The common belief was, ” He, who holds the Kangra fort, holds the hills. ”
Elaborating, he said, ” The present day Kangra, ( Nagarkot of 18th century ) was Susarmapura of Mahabharata era named after Duryodhan’s close ally-Trigartha King Rajanka Susarma who was later killed by Arjun- the Pandava-Prince.
After the death of his father and uncles, losing their plain territories Susarma’s son, the Trigartha Prince moved his kingdom to the Himalayan region where he constructed the mighty fort- the prestigious seat of Katoch Dynasty of which he was the 235th Rajanka.
The region was surrounded by three great rivers- Ravi, Baes and Sataluj and somewhere between Ravi and Sataluj, Baes had three tributaries – Banganga, Nayagul and Kurali where, including the upper mountainous and lower Baes valley region, Susarmapur was constructed.
Not only was it nourished by three tributaries of three mighty rivers but it also consisted of present-day Multan, Jalandhar and Kangra – three regions, hence the term Trigartha or Trigadh. The sanskrit rhyme ‘Jalandhar Trigarthaah syuthah..’ meant that, ” ..in all probability Jalandhar is Trigartha”
With this Raju cast a glance at the fort which was standing as proud on that winter morn as it must had stood on the day of the anointed coronation of its first Katoch ruler… Katoch – in Sanskrit kat is- killing by sword, och is– uchh or lofty- those identified by their Superior swordsmanship were the Katochas!
I was thinking on these lines when Raju, as if reading my thoughts interrupted, “As mentioned in Markandey Puran, during the combat of Goddess Durga with demon Raktbeej, when a drop of sweat fell down on the ground from Devi’s brow; Bhoomi Chandra- the Son of Earth stood up and helped Devi to annihilate the demon. The title she granted him was of Katoch, the first person of this dynasty. ”
His fan-fared version corroborated well with the fact that Devi Ambika, a manifestation of Durga is the presiding deity in the Katoch Kuldevi temple! Knowing my Guide from past 5-6 days of dwelling together, I could feel him warming up to the narrative.
Circa: 1710, 18th century
“On that winter day when all was frozen still, the Nagarkot Durg was splendid in its joyous gaiety. It was just another day as morning sunrays entered inside the fort, waking up people and spreading warmth, they glistened on the zari kinari of Queen Mother’s sari as she paid her obeisance in the temple and shone in diamante of adornments of Kuldevi Ambika- the one with tender eyes and lotus feet.
However, as they traversed the temple, no one noticed the sinister green glint in the bejewelled eyes of exquisitely carved stone serpents on the temple columns!
The ancient fort was standing as magnificent and imposing as ever albeit, a little more beautiful due to the ongoing celebrations. Ten days back, the betrothal of Yashodhara – the 12 year old Kangra princess with the crowned prince of Kannauj had been accepted. The entire palace was lit with thousands of earthen lamps twinkling in every jharokha; every door festooned with the rarest Brahmakamal flowers making the palace shine with an ethereal golden glow.
Much below the fort, Banganga and Patalganga, the otherwise torrential rivulets were flowing gently embracing the frozen valley.
Festivity was all-around, except on the visage of Royal astrologer Kulshrestha Dhakal whose face was creased with deep lines of turmoil. He was the chief counsellor, astrologer and the priest of the royal family.
Reasonably tall at 5.8 ft, extremely fair like fresh snow with an exalted expansive forehead, high eminent nose flaring up near the nostrils, a straight un-smiling mouth, thin lips, deep set hazel eyes with inscrutable expressions and translucent skin defying 78 years of age, he was a sapient, discreet and shrewd man with a haughty mien perfect for the triple responsibilities he had been shouldering.
Since last month, he was not his usual controlled self. He had discerned a mute footstep of evil; felt a menacing shadow lurking in the palace’s jewels inlaid corridors. Despite his astute knowledge of astrology and his foray in spiritual and devotional realms, he was unable to quell the feeling of a sinistrous presence – elusive, yet torturous like being in a nightmare!
Rajanka Prithviraj Chand had patiently listened to his otherwise quiet counsellor as Aacharya Dhakal, sought King’s approval for the ministration of an exclusive week long ritual with axiomatic chanting and oblations deep inside the sanctum sanctorum of the Brijeshwari Temple to avert the impending doom.”
Raju paused before continuing in a grave tone,
“The fort was designed in the shape of human Ear to minimise the impact of an attack, thus giving it the name Kan-garh or Kangra.
Hoping and praying ardently for a miracle, Acharya Dhakal was uttering shlokas in chaste Sanskrit with an uncharacteristic tenacity and vehemence. Today, on the seventh day of his worship he was at his wit’s end, burning with the same fervent fire as that of the huge havan kund; to alter destiny, to revert the prognostications and pacify the maleficence of the rare planetary position which was so clearly looming over the Kangra Kot- citadel of great Katochas ruling Trigartha for thousands of years!
Unawares of the conspiracy in skies and the profusely sweating Rajpurohit offering immolations to the Kuldevi, the majestic fort was standing proud on the backdrop of mighty Himalayas, basked in afternoon sun, like a gleaming jewel in snow…
The merry making was at its peak. After a week-long tourney of jousts and lavish outdoor meals, an opulent feast within the grandiose walls of the splendiferous palace hall was the closure to the event.
Dhakal guru was performing duties as if in trance. Virgo lagna was rising with Moon in ascendance and the lagna lord Mercury was retrograde, combust and debilitated. The sun had entered in the 7th house joining Mercury.
At that very moment, Shreshtas- the guests from far away Hindukush mountains opened an immaculately planned full throttle surprise attack on the kot from inside its own fort walls! They were well prepared with a meticulous plan and spared none butchering everyone without discrimination of gender age or stature.
The retograde Saturn looked at Mars- the jallade falak ….
…at that time the young princess was playing with her 11 friends under the mammoth east wall outside the palace when foreign plunderers did the heinous act…upturning vats full of boiling hot oil on the unsuspecting girls.
The child bride and her bridesmaids were all singed to a horrible death. The loot and massacre lasted for 3 days; lore is, no one except mounds of mutilated bodies were found to guess what exactly happened where. The city and the fort were left to crumble not unlike the Katoch pride.
Time moved on.
Circa 1950, 20th century
It’s been close to three centuries from that day of bloodbath. The fort had turned into ruins, crumbling with earthquakes and weathering.
The serpents with their jewelled eyes and the supporting pillars were long gone, but the Eastern wall was standing intact and sturdy, grief stricken and full of deep remorse.
Eons back when it witnessed the barbaric murder, from that instant, it went into trauma! Years of neglect had hardened its rock heart into numbness. It had been covered by thick moss and dry grass but unlike other deteriorating structures clad in blooming flowers, it never had a single flower! The anguish had taken such a deep hold within its craggy layers that nothing beautiful can survive. The locals used to pay homage while passing by it, with folded hands and bowed head, in reverence of its apparent defiance, its sorrow and contrition.
Moments scattered like gold bells from the anklet of Time danseuse while she danced unawares… mutely.
Circa 2004, 21st century
With the turn of the new century, awareness and progressive ideology the tiny hamlet of Kangra Old got two new schools, one government and one private.
Due to the instant popularity of the private school its gleaming school van and other paraphernalia the government counterpart situated under the fort wall was compelled to be jolted out of its peaceful slumber and rattling on its ramshackle gate by admission seekers kept growing!
Sarkari Master ji adjusted his spectacles looking at the long line of school aspirants, most of them, daughters of daily wagers working at the construction site of multi-storey hotels due to the sudden tourism boom thanks to the advent of – Facebook.
It was the inkling of a new era.
From morning to evening, 6 days a week the Fort resonated with vibrant laughter and full-bodied recitations. While returning to homes, curious students explored fort ruins and one day Bholi, Lali, and Guddo, girls of class 4th trespassed the courtyard to reach the Eastern Wall becoming fascinated by the mammoth structure!
Awestruck they touched it. First gingerly then with a happy fierceness! Soon a levelled part worked as their picnic spot with a straw mat and a sumptuous meal of dry chapatis and onions, after which they’d play, ..atakkan matakkan ,dahi chatakkan…DHAP..PA…. running; shrieks of their untamed laughter a music to stone ears. The wall could not remain unaffected. By the caress of their tiny fingers and pitter- patter of their unrestrained feet… it started to stir.
..till one day, a year after the increased admissions in the school, people were surprised to see a pale pink rose blooming in the Purabiya Diwal!
They gasped. How?
People smiled; the wall is breathing!
A few days later, another tiny flower opened its sleepy petals on the erstwhile barren wall! Spotless white with a yellow middle it resembled a long-forgotten child- princess.
The Wall shuddered with joy making space for the new populace, its cracks deepened. Soon, there were 10 more bunches growing out of nooks and crannies, craning their slender stems through the dry grass with a grace befitting red rose creepers in a Queen’s bower.
Pristine and bright, they beamed at the aged rocks, tickled the rough surface and caressed ugly stones jutting out at odd angles from the broken edifice with their delicate petal hands … Wall which failed once; safeguarded them now.
The three friends stomped at the wall and snuggled the flowers filling the rocky heart with a tender warmth. After some days, the flowers wilted, falling limp on the wall as if, in a final embrace. When dawn broke, the century old pain of the wall thawed and trickled.
People shouted in astonishment; the wall is weeping!
It had resurrected from a numb Ahalya into a happy wall with 12 clusters of flowers. Yet, every year during peak winters it melts for a day… come hail or snow, thawed by innocent love of school children, it mourns her child-bride and brides-maids who perished an infernal death lunging at them from its edifice.”
Here Raju stopped. We both were silent. I was touched by the poignance of the tale and wondered aloud if he was making up things? Casually, he replied ” I know, because, I am one of the dynasties.” I was flabbergasted!
Being with him from almost one-week I never suspected anything Royal about him! Looking closely, I discerned the sharp Rajputana nose with a haughty bridge with pointed tip, long eyebrows, elevated forehead, a strong jaw and the stubborn turn of the chin, however all was veiled under a decrepit air of eccentricity.
Going by my dumbfounded look he did not need to be a clairvoyant to understand my questions.” My mother had a deep love to this fort. I have inherited it from her.” He said in a flat tone. Suddenly, with puckered forehead, he firmly stationed his right foot on a high stone, like some Katoch prince standing with an aggressive stance of a warrior! I stood there hypnotized watching him change, evolve!
He growled, “Mr. Das, I am descendent of Chandravanshi Rajput – the Lunar dynasty of great king Dushayant, Bharat, Pandavs and Kauravas. My clan Katoch is the oldest surviving clan in the world and this fort, MY Fort is still the greatest in the entire Himalayan hills! With my gotra Kashyap, Shunak, Ishta Nag devta and deity Mahalaxmi, I belong to the mightiest rulers, the bravest warriors, for whom Jwala ji emerged ripping out the visage of mountain, the patriarch of Gulerias, Jaiswals, the builders of this impregnable and unassailable fort which had been besieged no less than 52 times by other rulers but no one could have it!”
He was bathed in sweat and was shaking visibly; I could see him smouldering. I was both, touched and amazed at the intensity of his emotion, hence did not correct him regarding the fort being unassailable in the light of his own version of the weeping wall.
He was standing facing the Purabiya Diwal with sun shining directly on hm. The Wall was in bloom, I counted exact 12 clusters of various flowers, all pink and white swaying in the afternoon mountain wind. He looked at peace, a part of the day, of Himalayas, unified with the rubble and ruins the fort- his fort.
I started chronicling the events of past few days. A travel blogger with a panache for history I was the CEO-chief editor- reporter- all bundled into one person of a popular travel E-zine, ‘ Arey, Yayaavar’ the Bible for wayfarers, Research-Architecture scholars and solitary travellers.
Mulling over the events, taking down notes I asked him why was he not living with the rest of his family? The Katoch Royal family lives in parts of Punjab, Himachal and Jammu taking care of Raja Sansar Chand Museum. Some parts of palace and the Kuldevi temple is their private property while rest of the fort is under the Archeological Survey of India. Then?
He did not answer. Fretting, I turned around to find an empty space. Silence was whistling like wind in the ruins.
I was stunned. I called him by name several times, my own voice sounding hoarse and strange to my ears; as if from fear. Steadying my nerves, I took a quick tour of the whole structure.
There was so much left, bastions and gates, hidden wells , the Jahangiri and Andheri darwaze, temple, jalaashay, armoury and the treasury, the palace and thousands of stories strewn around with these remains of time , but the storyteller, the Madari who made me dance to His tunes for a week was nowhere to be found.
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