Bhairavi munched on a Kaju-katli in reverie. The night sky was a kaleidoscopic dome of sparkling colours. It was Dussehra night and she was sprawled on an oversized chair in her Nani’s balcony. Inside, the adults chatted animatedly at the annual family gathering. 11-year-old Bhairavi was always bored at social parties. Sighing, she reached out to a dusty pile of books stacked in the corner. Nani was donating some old scripture texts to the local temple. As she lazily opened a book, a paper fell onto her lap. She stared at it. Lettered in the Hindi script, her name was written in beautiful black calligraphy.
That is so strange, she thought. The paper was wrinkled and worn out with time. Bhairavi carefully opened the sheet. Along with some text, there was an illustration of a beautiful lady holding a sword in one hand and a lotus in the other. There was something familiar in the illustration. Bhairavi peered at it. Strangely the face in the picture resembled her own, only much older. Suddenly Bhairavi felt a sharp pull towards the paper like something was sucking her into it. She was falling, falling swiftly into a deep void.
She landed with a loud thump on the grass and looked around in bewilderment. What is happening? Where am I? She was in a meadow with beautiful flowers. Straight ahead she saw gently sloping hills, peppered with pine trees while the sun was on his lazy descent home. Just then Bhairavi heard strange sounds, like hushed whispers. She treaded ahead cautiously. Many animals were huddled together talking in human voices and shaking their heads. How can animals talk? What is happening?
“How can a mountain disappear like this? We need the Sanjivani plant before midnight” grumbled the cow.
“I heard it was a monkey-faced human who flew away with the mountain,” said the mouse with exasperation.
As he turned around, he saw Bhairavi giving him a queer stare. His eyes widened with terror. “Follow me”, he mumbled surreptitiously and scampered in the opposite direction. Completely confused, Bhairavi ran after him.
The sky had turned deep blue by the time they stopped. Panting and holding her side, Bhairavi heard a low growl. An enormous tiger appeared from a small cave. Her knees felt like jelly and hands started shaking. “Please don’t be scared,” the tiger said in a gentle voice. His soft eyes sparkled with wisdom.
“My name is Dawon and I am here to hide you from them.”
“What … what exactly are you protecting me from?”
“All in good time. Drink this first.”
The tiger pushed a cup in her hand. “Drink it quickly” he urged. Bhairavi gulped down the colourless liquid, fearing the unknown. Her body felt warm and comforted.
Dawon continued in a grave voice. “The Asuras, also known as the Demons, have created havoc in the world. They are stealing all the vital senses of humans, animals, and the Devas. Every single day, one sense is abducted. Lord Indra tried to stop them but failed. The Asuras hide in the celestial flying city called Hiranyapura. It can disappear in the clouds, plunge into the deep sea and even sink under the earth. No one is able to catch them.”
“But aren’t the Devas more powerful than the Asuras” protested Bhairavi. Her mind was swimming with questions.
“Yes they are, but the Asuras have taken the pot of the Amrita drink churned from the sea. Drinking it grants them immortality. The only cure for this impoverishment of senses is eating the medicinal herb Sanjivani. This plant grows sparely on land but in abundance in Hiranyapura.”
“Is this why the animals wanted the Sanjeevani plant from the mountain?”
“Yes, but the whole mountain has been abducted by a monkey-faced flying man.” groaned the tiger in despair.
“But I don’t … I don’t understand, you seem to be fine … fineeeeeee” slurred Bhairavi, as she slowly drifted into sweet slumber.
She woke up to emptiness. This is just a dream, she thought and closed her eyes again. She only remembered lying on a soft bed, mumbling some incoherent words, and passing out again.
When she finally woke up, there was darkness all around. She felt dizzy as she got up. Why is it so dark? Where is everybody?
“Careful,” a familiar voice said. Dawon was standing next to her and she could hear his deep breathing. “Today is the day we all are blind. The Asuras have stolen our vision. Tomorrow we turn deaf. This goes on for every coming day. And only you, Bhairavi, can save us.”
“Who I – wait a minute, what do you mean?” said Bhairavi, her heart was pounding insanely fast.
“You can enter Hiranyapura and bring the Amrita to the Devas. You can kill the king of Asuras”, said Dawon quietly.
Bhairavi yelled. How can she kill a powerful demon king? She wanted to run home but couldn’t. She had no vision. “Yesterday all your senses were crippled. To sleep through that, you drank a sedative. The day before was the only day all the senses function immaculately,” said the tiger.
“Let us hurry,” he pleaded. “You will ride on an owl called Vahana. He is always blind in sunlight and so today is like a normal day for him. He will fly you to the entrance of the Asura city. I will meet you there.” Saying this Dawon hurried out of the cave. Bhairavi, having no other option, climbed onto Vahana’s back. He immediately ascended high into the clear blue sky.
They reached the Asura’s city at dawn the next day. Bhairavi could see clearly but her hearing was impaired today. The city of gold glistened under the sun. Bhairavi shielded her eyes from the piercing glare. A demon stood in rapt attention holding a big spear while guarding the city gates. He had an enormous head, cruel black eyes and wore a large headgear with two bulging pointy horns. The gates had beautiful intricate carvings, but on looking closely, were etched with scenes of death.
Vahana landed in a cluster of trees few feet away from the gates. Dawon walked out from behind a bush and handed Bhairavi a large white conch. He then signalled towards the gatekeeper. Giving him a quizzical stare, Bhairavi inched out from the tree covering into the open land towards the demon.
As she stepped on the branches and rocks, the demon suddenly looked towards her, straight into her eyes. Oh how could she have forgotten, no Asuras are affected with the senses plague. The demon had heard her coming. As if on cue, the gatekeeper bellowed in rage and stormed towards Bhairavi. The fear in her stomach wanted to make her run but her legs were frozen. Vahana valiantly flew towards the demon, trying to stall his stride by pecking him furiously. The demon shot out his hand catching the struggling Vahana as he tried to fly away. With an angry roar, he tightened his fist, squeezing the owl till he vaporized in thin air.
Anger replaced Bhairavi’s fear. A newfound energy filled her limbs. She picked up the conch and blew into it viciously, trusting Dawon’s plan. The Asura stopped in his tracks, shut his eyes and began to sway to the music as if in a trance. Bhairavi continued to blow as he lay down and fell into deep slumber.
Exhausted, Bhairavi climbed onto to Dawon as he gave her a triumphant smile. They entered the city through the unguarded gate while the gatekeeper Khumbhakaran slept peacefully.
Bhairavi and Dawon woke up at dawn the next day. Today only their taste buds were impaired. Hiranyapura was breathtaking. The houses were palatial mansions, copiously adorned with precious stones. The city roads were paved with gems while trees bloomed with gold flowers. The only distraction to this sublime view was the inhabitants. Horrendous and beastly Asuras walked around tending to their day’s work.
Hidden well among the bushes, they worked out their plan. Bhairavi was to enter the royal palace and take the pot of Amrita. Bhairavi was perplexed at the simplicity of the plan.
“Bhairavi, you are the chosen one. Only you can defeat the evil forces and restore peace, prosperity and dharma of the good” said Dawon as he pushed the weapons in her hands. Trusting his instincts, Bhairavi rode the tiger majestically. In her one hand was a rotating discus and in the other, she held a shining sword.
As they entered the royal palace, havoc and chaos broke loose among the Asuras. Who is this girl riding a tiger? How did she enter the guarded city of Asuras. All the demons, big and small, charged towards her smiling grotesquely.
Bhairavi’s stomach lurched. She only did what came to her naturally. She threw the discus in the air and swung the sword. The discus swirled around slicing the demons. As more and more Asuras rushed towards them, the spinning discus attacked them all. Dawon also aided her by clawing the Asuras. Blood spurted everywhere. It even splashed in her mouth, leaving her sputtering, but it didn’t distract her as she tasted nothing.
Bhairavi and Dawon continued to fight gallantly, all day and all night. She should have felt fear, but instead felt angry. She was angry about the severe atrocities of the Asuras. She was angry at how helpless animals and humans suffered. She was angry about the terrible plague of senses. Anger filled her body with courage and strength. She wanted to destroy all evil.
The next day came. The sun influenced by her bravery stood undauntedly in the sky. The Asuras roared with laughter as they started fires to trap her. Since Bhairavi’s sense of smell was absent today, she didn’t notice the flames till they were just a few meters away. She stared at the fire, her eyes challenging the dancing flames, piercing through them like a spray of water. Submitting themselves completely to her divine power, the flames bowed humbly and receded. The Asuras squealed and scampered out. They had been outmanoeuvred by a divine force.
The battle spilt onto the next day. Suddenly, a chilly wind blew down the corridors and a door swung open. A huge Asura walked in. He was at least 8 feet tall and dressed in a black silk dhoti. His face was of an ugly buffalo with a large snout, and the snotty nostrils had a gleaming brass ring. On his head, he wore a big gold helmet crown with 2 bulging horns on each side. His eyes shone in pure evil and he radiated power and dominance. He was Mahishasura, the king of Asuras.
“I have been fighting for an eternity now. I have unlimited strength and a boon that no man can kill me,” he said arrogantly. The whole castle shook with his bellow.
Bhairavi gripped her sword tightly. It glinted like fire in the sunlight. Her face radiated determination and calmness. Dawon roared, pawing the ground. Bhairavi looked at Mahishasura undaunted. She was no man, she was a woman, a powerful woman ready for battle.
As she let out her battle cry, it seemed the whole universe shook. They fought fiercely. Bhairavi didn’t feel any pain or fatigue. Was it because of her sense of feel was missing today, or was it because she was now an avatar of the great goddess Durga?
The legendary battle continued for nine days and nine nights. On the ninth day goddess, Durga used her sword to behead the buffalo-headed demon king Mahishasura. She had finally destroyed all evil. She was the omnipresent warrior goddess holding weapons in her ten hands as she sat on her tiger and protected the world.
Somebody was calling her name. She woke up with a start. She was back in the balcony and her Nani was calling out to her.
“Bhairavi, your cousin’s want a story. Why don’t you tell them about the battle of goddess Durga with Mahishasura and why Vijayadashami is celebrated? You know it better than anyone else,” Nani said as her eyes twinkled playfully.