‘Asurpriya’ (play)

The nature-loving Asurs have been portrayed as villains in the description of the so-called Devasur battle in Hindu scriptures. Sanjeev Chandan reinterprets the battle from a Adivasi-Bahujan perspective

Act I

A 20-year-old woman, Asurpriya, is sleeping in her bedroom in a relatively big manor on the banks of the River Sindhu. This is a house built with bricks and mortar, a house like those found in the Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. Two attendants are waving a fly whisk. The walls of the manor are decorated with several attractive contemporary designs. There are two earthen water pots placed close by and some earthen goblets. Outside at the door to the room burns a torch but the lamps inside the room have been extinguished. Some light from the torch is spilling into the chamber such that the scene within is barely discernible.

Asurpriya wakes up with a start calling out, “O grandmother!” One of the attendants casts aside the fly whisk and stands in front of her. Nririti also instantly runs to her side. The other attendant lights a lamp in the room so that the room is illuminated.

Nririti is a woman probably 60 to 65 years old with a few strands of grey in her hair. Her face bears the stamp of royalty. Nririti sits beside Asurpriya and puts her hand on her head. Asurpriya’s face is very tense and she is breathing very fast.

 

Nririti: Today you have again seen some dream. I was passing by when I heard your fear-filled voice.

Asurpriya: (puts her head on Nririti’s lap and looks at her with some amount of relief) O dear grandmother, again today I have dreamt about the battlefield. I am unable to forget that moment of deceit and treachery.

Nririti: Indra has organized a sacrificial fire in your honour. Today two bards sent by Indra are also staying at the guesthouse. They have asked for permission to present some songs of praise in your glory. I have invited them tomorrow to present the songs before the entire tribe.

Asurpriya: But grandmother … !

(All paintings by Dr Lal Ratnakar)

Nririti: No buts and no doubts; you have been declared the future head of the tribe. Being emotional and fearful like ordinary women does not suit you.

Asurpriya: O grandmother, don’t you think we are losing our independence? Is this the price we will have to pay in exchange for peace? This is not what we had visualized.

Nririti: Permanent peace is what this entire island needs.

Asurpriya: (agitatedly) So was he the only one who stood in the way of peace on this island? That’s not true honourable mother! There was prosperity of every kind in his region; he was popular among his people; women sang songs in his praise; the entire community worshipped him; he held pride of place in every home just like the family deity.

Nririti: But he was besieged my dear one. Gradually all the tribes had been defeated by the Aryans or had made peace agreements with them. Womenfolk have always given precedence to peace; development of agriculture has been our aim; even so we were the last among the womenfolk who agreed to peace talks. You have seen for yourself the efforts of the Narmada tribe leader, Urvashi, for this. Mahish was the most charismatic leader but he was besieged by the Aryans. Mahish’s clan leader was also hand in glove with them in their treachery. Falling for their assurance of getting a share of the pleasure and being placed among the most revered deities to be worshipped he lost his catastrophic powers and joined forces with them. News of breach of faith by leaders of clans is coming in from all the tribes regularly.

Asurpriya: Even so I have been used; I was made a part of their treachery in the murder of my own beloved. That was not what I wanted. I succumbed to the sheer power of Indra’s politics, O grand mother! And in this I had your unknowing consent.

Nririti: But my dear one you have to overcome your grief for the welfare of your people. After all they have chosen you as their leader.

Asurpriya: Can all this not be set aside for a few days? Dear grandmother, let me live with my grief! I have become a victim of the politics of this island. I find myself alone today, alienated from you, too.

Asurpriya: (lamenting) The trend of a new era of politics has begun dear leader and you have become its omen. The tradition of women troops is going to be destroyed. Now Asurpriya or other such women will be sacrificed at the altar of politics. Take this for granted dear one that this is the beginning of the end of an era; the end of a culture.

Nririti: (caressing Asurpriya to comfort her) Don’t punish me my child. How was I to know that the cruel Aryans would murder Mahish. I had sent you for a peace accord. That is what Indra had told me. Maybe because he knew that you and Mahish both ….

(Asurpriya looks at Nririti with tear-filled eyes and shock written all over her face.)

Nririti: Yes, my child, Indra had said that for peace to prevail on this island he too wanted to be detached from all the battles. He had said that it was only in this area, near the Ganga and the plateau region, that the sages who propagated his doctrine and his culture had encountered difficulties. If Mahish would give his consent the war could be avoided and he thought you were the most suitable person to approach in order to convince Mahish through you.

Asurpriya: (annoyed) But how would we benefit from this grandmother!

Nririti: We have always believed that if our philosophy and culture are strong then we should not fear anybody. Our windows should be open for cultural exchange and if because of this peace, happiness and prosperity prevail on this island how would this endanger us?

Asurpriya: The danger is quite evident now. The traditions of women clans or tribes are being destroyed. Asur, Rakhsas, Naag – all these tribes are being declared as uncivilized. Equality among people, the tradition of respect for women are all on the decline. The culture of the Surs and their Sura (wine) will reign supreme. The smoke from the culture of yagyas (sacrificial fires) will shroud the entire island.

Nririti: Mahish could not have held fort for long, dear daughter. The Aryans had already spread their tentacles throughout the island.

Asurpriya: Was it necessary that we become the means of their treachery? Like the clan leaders or Ganapatis have we also become part of their design, dear grandmother, due to our greed for a share in the simple pleasures and privileges and for a place among the top deities to be worshipped?

Nririti: (crying) I am to blame for the fact that we have become the means of bringing this calamity upon us! Forgive me, O dear one!

(Asurpriya is disturbed at the sight of her grandmother crying and cradles her face with the palms of her hands in order to pacify her.)

Nririti: I did not have the faintest idea! Looks like I am growing old now and am unable to gauge the treacherous treaties of the enemies! That is why I want to pass on the leadership of the clan to you.

Asurpriya: (with child-like suppleness) The joy of sleeping on the lap of one’s grandmother is incomparable to any other joy, even that of becoming the leader of the clan.

(Looking at Nririti with affection and respect, Asurpriya slowly shuts her eyes and Nririti while patting her head loses herself in deep thought. Lost in thought, Nririti weaves scenes from old memories.)

At the mansion of Mahish, the leader of the people of the Gangetic plain and a part of the plateau region, officers of his governing body have taken seats arranged in two rows of ten each on either side of a somewhat comfortable and large seat. On a seat of equal importance, alongside Mahish, is Nririti and on the first seat at the head of the row of ten seats for the officers, sits a very young Asurpriya who has just crossed the threshold of youth.

A person in soldier’s attire enters the hall and salutes Mahish.

Soldier: Mahish, some of the peasant leaders from the regions nearby want to meet you and put forth a proposal.

(The soldier gets a nod from the Asur leader, goes out and comes back with four peasants.)

First peasant: Mahish, under your leadership we village folks have been living a very pleasant life. Nurtured and satisfied with our own resources, villagers and entire villages live lives full of joy and happiness. There is no place for anger, envy, fear or greed.

Asurpriya: But these days …

Mahish: (surprised) But these days what …?

Second peasant: Indra and his soldiers are wreaking havoc! They are destroying the structures constructed by us for storing water and for irrigation. They are destroying the dams built by us.

Nririti: (letting out a long sigh and angry) So that evil destroyer of fortresses has reached these regions, too!

Mahish: Dear comrades and peasant friends present in this meeting, (addressing the peasants and signalling towards Nririti’s seat) I have forgotten to introduce you to honourable Nririti. She is the leader of the tribes who dwell on the banks of the River Sindhu. The credit for the invention of agriculture along the banks of the faraway Sindhu River goes solely to her. She is our royal guest. The purpose of her visit to our region is to forge unity among the tribes in the face of the terror being unleashed by Indra and the Aryans. Along with her is (looking lovingly in the direction of Asurpriya) her granddaughter Asurpriya who is also our guest.

Nririti: It is a matter of concern that they are becoming dominant in our Sindhu region. They are luring our people over to their side by giving them livestock and other gifts. They have with them some bards and poets who tempt our people to perform puja by conjuring up illusions of a divine world beyond this one. They have won over many of our brave tribal leaders by offering them chief honour. Before coming to your region I met Urvashi, the leader of the Narmada region, and the Aryans have lured the tribal leaders of that region too in a similar manner.

Mahish: (Angrily) But they will have to pay the price of this insolence in our region!

Nririti: We are aware of your valour and your love for justice, too, Mahish but it is not easy to fight these enemies alone. They are known for using their cunning along with their might, bribery, guile. They will not stop at anything.

Mahish: O great one, you underestimate the strength of the people from the Gangetic region and the plateau region, though an experienced leader like you should have had an estimate of our strength. (addressing the peasants) Peasant leaders! Please go back to your villages without any fear or care. We shall punish this evil Indra very soon and solve this problem you are facing.

(The four peasants who had come to the court pay their respects and set out on their return journey.)

Mahish: (to Nririti) O great one, please retire to the guesthouse and rest. I shall meet you in the early morning and discuss the strategy for our next move. It is necessary to find a permanent solution to the problem created by these insolent Aryas.

Nririti: Yes, certainly, O leader of the Asuras! They are not only attacking us but also running a campaign to destroy our culture.

(Coming out of her thoughts from the past Nririti talks to herself.)

Nririti: And he never came back in the morning. His attendants said that before dawn he had to set out towards the borders of the villages. The Aryans had launched an attack on their borders. The evil Aryans not only destroy the fields, break the barriers in the fields built to hold water, demolish the dams wasting all the water stored in them but also abduct beautiful women and take them forcibly along with them. Mahish went away and did not return for many days. I came away in his absence. What I had wanted to convey to him remained in my mind, unexpressed. After all how long could one leave one’s own tribe? The Aryans were wreaking havoc in our region. (Looking affectionately at the sleeping Asurpriya) Who other than Mahish could have been a suitable life partner for my granddaughter? In selecting the brave, generous and much loved leader as a partner for my dear Asurpriya, the embodiment of beauty and valour herself I was making the right choice. Asurpriya herself had also …! But destiny had something else in mind. (With tears in her eyes) Unknowingly she was made the means of killing her own beloved.

(Stroking sleeping Asurpriya’s hair Nririti stares into space.)

A verse from a hymn describing Asurpriya’s beauty resonates in the background:

I meditate about the three-eyed goddess, Asurpriya / The aura of her beautiful body is as lustrous as lightning / Sitting on the shoulders of a lion she invokes fear / Many maidens armed with swords and shields are standing in attendance to her / She is armed with a chakra, mace, sword, shield, bow, arrow and noose and has her forefinger in a threatening pose / She bears a fiery appearance and wears a crown of the moon on her head.

Nririti: These bards are well versed in the art of appeasing people with their songs. They compose poetic pageantry full of exaggeration. Looks like it is almost daybreak. (She leaves the sleeping Asurpriya quietly, taking care not to wake her even with the sound of her footsteps.)

Asurpriya: (suddenly awakens and says to her retreating grandmother) And grandmother tell these evil bards to convey my message to their king Indra that this flattery and enticement will not have any effect on me. (Nririti halts) And, yes, spread this message to our entire tribe and throughout the island that Asurpriya has accepted the leadership of the Nririti tribe only on the condition that she will never get married. (Nririti is stunned and wants to go back to her granddaughter but doesn’t) This news should certainly reach the ears of the brash Indra, grandmother. (Asurpriya breaks out into peals of laughter. Nririti hastily disappears from the chamber.)

Asurpriya: (soliloquy) This deafening music played by these bards is so artificial and pretentious. Oh! The echoes of the melodious and sweet sounds that fell on our ears in Mahish’s territory stir my mind and soul even today. Though we did not understand the meaning of those songs they still seemed so close to our hearts. (Closes her eyes and loses herself in memories. The sweet melodies of Adivasi songs engulf Asurpriya’s entire being in their embrace.)

The hills and forests are on fire/ Ants have been betrayed/ Winged insects have all flown away/ Ants have been betrayed.

Reference: This song is sung at the end of the Sarhul season in raag dohdi.

 

Act II

The leader of the Aryans is seated on a high throne. On seats lower than his are his officials and some peasants. Two local peasants are presented before him tied up in ropes. Five to six soldiers lead the peasants by a rope tied around their waists and bring them before him. The peasants have a strong and sturdy physique.

Indra: (agitatedly) Who are these people?

Rishi: O Indra! These people are Asuras who disrupt our sacrificial fires, they are the Rakshasas.

Indra: (angrily) Were there not enough soldiers to punish these evil ones who are disrupting our sacrifices? (addressing the soldiers) Why have you brought them to me?

Soldiers: (in a humble and fearful tone) Forgive us, O lord! These evil ones have killed more than ten of our soldiers with their dangerous weapons. We have captured them with great difficulty and brought them here.

Indra: (soliloquy) This is proving to be the most difficult territory to conquer. Every individual of this region of which Mahish was the leader, is a soldier. We did not have any difficulty in conquering the other regions but in this region, bribery, guile, might or divisive tactics – nothing works.

Indra: Have your weapons failed?

Second soldier: O Lord! These people have weapons made of iron and they attack us in mobs fully equipped with their weapons. Our bows and arrows and other weapons do not work against their superior weapons.

Indra: (addressing the tied-up peasants) What do you have against the sacrificial fires?

One peasant: Your rishis sacrifice our animals for their worship of the Gods. What religion is this Indra for which the very same animals that we use to cultivate our lands are killed and thrown into the sacrificial fires?

Indra: Can you not employ the means of having a dialogue with the gods?

Second peasant: These are the only methods of dialogue that we are aware of. Our livestock is being killed for your (sarcastically) “great tradition of sacrifice”. Your destructive Aryan soldiers destroy our irrigation system by breaking the small dams that we build. And you propagate all this as measures being taken to develop a great civilization. We know that your bards and poets are also trying their best to prove that we are ill-mannered, uncivilized and crude.

A member of Indra’s court: Isn’t the language and audacity with which you address the Indra (head) of the gods enough to prove that the adjectives assigned to you by our bards are absolutely appropriate?

Peasant: Is the consumption of our cows, sacrifice of our livestock, destruction of our dams and abduction of our women decent and civilized, Indra?

Indra: (angry, addressing the soldiers) Take them away and send them to Yamlok (hell).

(The soldiers take the peasants away, almost dragging them.)

Indra: (addressing the rishis) O great Rishis can there not be any permanent method of establishing victory over these evil ones?

One Rishi: O great Lord, other than military victory we need to establish the greatness and might of our rituals and practices. We will have to preach about sacrifices free of any obstacles. We will have to propagate stories of moral and spiritual merit gained by doing sacrifices. A permanent influence of tales and narratives is essential for a lasting victory.

Indra: You will get full cooperation from my side for the development and propagation of your knowledge and philosophy. You go ahead and develop gurukuls (schools) without any fear in your minds.

Second Rishi: We are honoured, O Indra! We and our trained poets and balladeers will establish your victories, your strategies of chanting mantras, bribery, punishment and divisive tactics in the form of immortal and excellent events. You will be the hero of each and every narrative that we shall weave. The entire Aryan civilization will be known by narratives full of praises sung in the glory of your leadership. You just establish your victory. We shall do everything in our power to send the Asura heroes to the very bottom of these narratives.

(Just then a messenger enters.)

Messenger: (bowing his head before Indra) O Leader of the Aryans, some Ganapatis wish to meet you.

Indra: (to the messenger) Bring them with all due respect. (after the messenger exits, addressing the rishis) Rishis, these uncontrollable Ganapatis have caused us to suffer many losses. They have been the axis of power of the Gananayaks or tribal leaders. However, the tactics suggested by you were very useful. We were able to win over quite a few of them by tempting them with the promise of more honour and respect and higher posts. So Rishis, let us not leave any stone unturned in honouring them with godliness.

(The messenger enters with three Ganapatis. Indra leaves his throne and goes forth to welcome them. After seating them on one side he goes back to his throne.)

One rishi: (sings in praise of Ganapati)

I bow to you O Vinayak

You are a lover of sweets

May you always remove all obstacles from all that we do

Indra: (addressing the Ganapatis) O great Ganapatis you must be weary of these endless wars. Let us create conditions for cessation of hostilities for some days and you can indulge in merry-making and pleasurable pastimes.

One Ganapati: Indra, we are all grateful for your kindness, the honor and posts you have endowed us with and for all the comforts and privileges. However, we are in a dilemma all the time. We have to wage war against our own people. We are forced to plan strategic attacks against our own people engaged peacefully in agriculture or industry.

Indra: Gods! You are part of a great task. As soon as the culture of sacrifice is established this endless war will also stop. All of us will be able to engage in agriculture, industry and spiritual practice.

Second Ganapati: But all of us …

One rishi: Ganapati, you are the bearer of the Head-of-the-gods’ so-called chariot of development. The ignorant people from your tribes are unable to understand the development plan of the Head of the Gods. And all of you Ganapatis will be established at the head of those worshipped during the sacrifice. You will be honoured as the gods of the gods. The culture of sacrifice is the greatest culture in the Universe. Your war against the wretched who are trying to obstruct the development of this culture will be praised by the coming generations.

Second rishi: Indra, the head of the gods, wants to make this island the land of the Aryans, where one language and one culture will flow freely; where all men and women would behave like the superior Aryans. It is such a developed land of the Aryans that Indra, the head of the gods, is persistently trying to establish through his efforts and by waging wars.

Indra: (overwhelmed) It is due to the valour of Rishis and Ganapatis like you that the Aryan civilization will spread seamlessly in all directions. Leave it to me to plan the strategy of the war and victory. Come, let us stop this discussion on ethics and vulnerability. (without looking at anyone in particular, just looking straight ahead) Ready the goblets of wine (somras) and call on the apsaras to dance.

(As the apsaras start dancing the entire assembly, including Indra, gets immersed in merry-making.)

 

Act III

It is a night following the war, in the plains of the Ganga. Some women soldiers are sitting in one of the camps in the war zone. They are sitting in front of a fire. They are all women soldiers but not engaged in war. They are the soldiers of the tribal leader, Nririti, from the Sindhu Region. Nririti’s granddaughter, Asurpriya is also one of them.

First woman: Mahish has descended upon these Surs like an avalanche. These gods won’t have faced such a tough battle in any other region.

Second woman: I fail to understand which great culture these blood-sucking Surs are trying to propagate by going on a killing spree throughout the island. I detest their sacrificial fires! They have these spiritual congregations in which they sacrifice animals while reciting absurd poems and try to please the gods by doing so.

Third woman: The propagation of their culture is sure to bring an end to our matriarchal system – although they have given an assurance to our leader, Nririti, that they will not try to influence our tribe and our matriarchal culture. They have also made a friendly truce with our leader.

First woman: I have heard that they are in talks with the Urvashi clan for a similar truce. Our peace-loving clans are trusting them and accepting their peace talks.

Third woman: However, these peace talks are not in essence what they appear to be.

Second woman: (startled) What do you mean?

Third woman: Are we so naïve? Can’t we see that the ancient form of the matriarchal structure is weakening among our very own tribes? As if that was not enough, now even among our clans the ritual of small sacrificial fires has started. Though there is no provision of animal sacrifice yet, how many days will it take for that to start? Very soon there will be animal sacrifices, too.

First woman: And their bards come like this (suddenly standing up with her stomach sticking out) into our region and sing their verses in their harsh and shrill tones. (She imitates a song sung in praise of Indra and bursts out into peals of laughter.)

O Lord Indra! One who showers all things erotic,

may you be provided with horses to bring you your wine!

May you be blessed with divine light.

When our people stop these scoundrels from singing such songs of praise these cunning bards begin to sing verses in praise of our goddesses. (comes close to Asurpriya, who has been sitting quietly all this while) If they sing in praise of the beauty of our Asurpriya, who will want to chase them away? (repeats a verse of praise with a mischievous expression on her face).

The shape of the “Rakt-Dantika” Goddess is as vast as the Earth / Both her breasts are like the Sumeru mountains / They are well built, voluptuous and very beautiful / Despite being hard they are very erotic and are oceans of pleasure / The goddess offers both these breasts that fulfill all desires to feed her devotee.

Second woman: (noticing that Asurpriya is indifferent to this banter) Quiet, don’t you see that Asurpriya is quiet despite your jest. She is probably lost in thought.

Asurpriya: (who has been quiet all this time, looks at them with a faint smile, gets up and begins to pace up and down agitatedly, then comes close and sits amid them) We are forced to sacrifice ourselves faced with the power of these politicians. Otherwise what do we have to gain through this war? We had already signed a truce and our tribe was living happily engaged in business, our joys and festivities. Right in the middle of all this I fail to understand why honourable grandmother commanded me to come here, stating the peace talks as a reason. Why would Mahish, who was emerging victorious, want to have peace talks with Indra?

First woman: Asurpriya, you too had defeated these gods with your war skills and courage. Frightened by your valour they were about to retreat when …

Second woman: Just then there was treachery among our own ranks and our Ganapati (clan leader) turned traitor and joined forces with Indra. Our leader, Nririti, was taken a prisoner by these people. There was chaos in our tribe. We advanced towards Indra’s camp with our weapons and battle gear. Our leader, Asurpriya, was at the forefront.

First woman: We, that is, our brave women soldiers, had decided that we would end the reign of terror of Indra and his gods forever.

Third woman: However, we were unaware of the treacheries of Indra and his rishis. We were advancing with the purpose of waging war and here they were singing songs in praise of our leader Asurpriya and showering flowers on us. They were aware of the fact that they could not defeat Asurpriya through warfare.

First woman: But our Asurpriya was not fooled by these illusions created by them and led by her, we were marching angrily towards Indra’s camp when …

Second woman: … when we were taken by surprise. The leader of the clan belonging to the Narmada region, Urvashi, came forward to welcome Asurpriya. This was a great surprise for us.

Third woman: The rishis and Indra had planned their army campaign very successfully. On the one hand, they were spreading their culture among our tribes like slow poison  and on the other hand the peace-loving tribal representatives were exerting pressure from their side. Those Ganapatis who used to be our strength during wars were now being tempted by these peace-loving representatives. This is what was happening throughout the island. They had already made a truce with the tribal leader, Urvashi.

First woman: And when we reached Indra’s camp we were confronted by an even bigger surprise. Our leader, Nririti, was sitting among them not like one defeated but instead seated respectfully on a high throne. Seated on a lower throne near her were Indra and our Ganapati.

Asurpriya: Seeing all this, the anger we had felt while marching towards Indra’s camp to release my honourable grandmother changed in intensity. I could see an invisible helplessness in her eyes. It was clear that, overwhelmed by the prevailing circumstances, she had decided to move towards working out a compromise.

First woman: So, should we accept that our leader Asurpriya is now in the same predicament as the Narmada clan leader Urvashi?

Asupriya: (silent)

Third woman: (brushing her off) Keep quiet. You talk too much! Our leader, Asurpriya, has come to this island as a messenger of peace on the command of her grandmother.

Asurpriya: (remembers something) Only a few months have passed since we, my grandmother and I, were the guests of Mahish.

First woman: (teasing her) And we have heard that at that time leader Nririti had a suitable groom in mind for our leader Asurpriya. Was it then a trip made for matrimonial talks dear friend?

Asurpriya: (blushing) So was I travelling in search of a groom with a garland in my hands, you wicked woman?

Third woman: Whatever the purpose, I know leader Nririti well enough to say assuredly that she must have taken her granddaughter to acquaint her with the valour of the great majestic Mahishi, hoping that the flame of love would be kindled in her heart for him.

Asurpriya: (somewhat angrily) So is this the appropriate time for this discussion …

(There is peace and quiet in the camp. Just then a melodious voice is heard from a distance. Asurpriya and all those present seem to be moved by the melody.)

Asurpriya: Oh! What a melodious song this is and what a sweet voice!

First woman: I can comprehend this language and the melody. I have spent many months in Mahish’s region. This is what they are singing:

I have sung myself hoarse but my heart still yearns for those songs

My hands ache playing the maandar,

But my heart is strung on the beats of the maandar

Asurpriya: There is peace, prosperity and happiness everywhere in Mahish’s kingdom. The harmonious relation of this land with nature is so simple and joyous. Mahish himself is known to be a good singer. His love for nature has helped him forge a deep connection with the plants and trees of these forested regions.

Second woman: He is also skilled at making medicines from these plants to cure different diseases that people suffer from.

Third woman: That is why he is also known as the king of medicines.

(The melody reverberates once again. The first woman sings along and interprets the song)

Rise up O earth, rise, the marriage is incomplete without you

Dig O baiga, dig, the marriage is not possible without you O earth

(An attendant comes to ask for permission for Indra to come. Indra also arrives close on her heels. His eyes are bloodshot due to drinking and he is not stable on his feet. Asurpriya and her friends become cautious.)

Third woman: (angrily) O King of the gods, could you explain the reason for your coming here at this odd hour and that too without prior permission?

Indra: I have come to make sure that honourable Asurpriya is not facing any discomfort in our camp.

Second woman: (sarcastically) Ah, that is why you have presented yourself at our service in this inebriated state at this hour of midnight. This is not the chamber of your court dancers, Indra!

Indra: I know that this is the chamber of honourable Asurpriya but in the traditions of women-led clans, is an offering of love also …

Third woman: King of gods, your proposal is extremely untimely! Also women-led clans know how to differentiate between proposals of love and proposals that are sensuous.

Indra: (coming closer to Asurpriya) Since the most undisputed beauty of the Universe is in our camp it is but natural that the king of gods is here in person to enquire about her comfort and welfare.

Asurpriya: (with a determined facial expression and tone) Indra may rest in his own chamber without a care. I shall certainly approach Mahish tomorrow with a proposal for peace.

(She moves some distance away from there. Her women companions surround Indra with their hands on the daggers tied around their waists. Indra is humiliated and goes away staggering on his feet.)

 

Final Act

Mahish’s chamber. Mahish is seated on a high throne. Asurpriya is seated on a seat next to his. All the other seats are occupied by members of the assembly and Asurpriya’s three women companions.

Mahish: (addressing Asurpriya) Is our leader Nririti well? I wish to apologize for the fact that after our last meeting I was unable to reappear before both of you. Once I had left for the war …

Asurpriya: Mahish, please do not apologize! The whole island knows how dedicated you are to your people. Seeing your busy schedule, after you had left, my grandmother decided that we should go back. We too had been away from our people for a very long time.

Mahish: A lot has happened since then. The Surs or Aryans have used treachery and might to terrorize the people of this island.

Asurpriya: Grandmother wished to see all the clans of the island – Asur, Yaksh, Naag, Dravid, Stree (women) – united so that we could all work out a permanent solution for the preservation of our culture.

Mahish: (tauntingly) However, before this could happen all the clans have made peace treaties with these wicked Aryans.

Asurpriya: I am aware that you were hurt most of all by the surrender of the Nririti clan.

Mahish: Undoubtedly! I considered it to be the most valorous clan and also the closest to us. A clan whose future leader was respected for her achievements, valour and leadership qualities throughout the island.

Asurpriya: I am grateful for your words, Mahish but we have been rendered helpless by Indra’s shrewdness and the prevailing situation.

Mahish: Today they want to score a victory over us Asuras even in the Gangetic plain and the plateau region.

Asurpriya: Their bloodlust is just on the rise and they are going on a rampage throughout the region. Mahish is one of the few clan leaders who are still safe from their tyranny. He has neither been defeated nor has he surrendered and made a peace pact.

Mahish: However, their tactics are affecting all of us. Their wicked rishis are trying to promote the culture of sacrificial fires (yagyas) even among our Asur clans. They are trying to take advantage of our policy of tolerance towards all ideological traditions. (after a slight pause) Asupriya, please tell me the purpose of your visit. I have heard many a tale about your valour and achievements.

Asurpriya: O Mahish, we want peace to reign on this island forever. Their terror should be stopped once and for all.

Mahish: (sarcastically) Oh! So you have come as an ambassador of peace! (with some agitation) What peace are you talking about, O beauteous one from your clan? By sacrificing our animals? By surrendering the welfare of our peasants? What sort of peace do clan leader Nririti and her granddaughter want? Is the corruption of the culture of the women tribes hidden from anybody on this island now?

Asurpriya: O leader, we do not have the slightest of doubt about your valour and prowess but these Aryans with their treacherous ways have succeeded in expanding their empire.

Mahish: (raising his voice) So, you too have come here as part of that treacherous plan. Just as Urvashi became the reason behind your defeat.

Asurpriya: Peace is of advantage for all of us Mahish! Our people are weary of this frenzy of war. With the establishment of peace we can work towards strengthening our culture and then fight against them to put an end to their cultural conspiracy.

Mahish: What battle are you talking about? Not one of the women’s clans was able to fight this battle. It has been heard that their bards are composing verses in your praise, too, now. Narratives of mutual bonds of marriage between those worshipped by the women clans and those worshipped by them are being built. You are being spoken of and made into a goddess of might.

(There is a commotion at the door.)

Mahish: What is all the commotion about?

Some soldiers: (come running and shouting): Indra has attacked the camp and … and Asurpriya …

Mahish: (draws his sword and advances towards Asurpriya) So you have come as part of this conspiracy, Asurpriya! How many soldiers have you brought along with you?

Asurpriya: (stunned) Believe me, Mahish, I had come here unarmed with only three of my trustworthy companions.

(Indra enters through the door along with his soldiers. They start attacking those present there and killing anyone and everyone. Asurpriya shouts to them to stop but the uproar of the battle goes on increasing. Asurpriya and her three companions snatch the weapons from the gods and start fighting from Mahish’s side. The armies of the Aryans are no match for the outstanding warfare of Mahish and Asurpriya. Indra starts losing. Just then another battalion reaches there in their support.)

Asurpriya: Indra! You still have time to stop this war! This is a conspiracy and treachery! As you could not defeat Mahish in the battlefield you used me to launch this treacherous attack!

Indra: This is love and war, O goddess! The king of the Asuras will be killed today and his empire will be mine and you shall be my future empress!

Asurpriya: Wicked Indra! This will not be possible while I am alive! (she is even more enraged)

(Unaware of this conversation due to the commotion, Mahish advances towards Indra fighting his way ahead. Just then somebody stabs him from behind with a dagger. Mahish and Asurpriya see the person who has stabbed him from behind.)

Mahish and Asurpriya: (shout aloud in unison) Ganapati you!

(Mahish stumbles towards Ganapati to attack him but just then Indra manages to attack him. As Asurpriya gets distracted Ganapati takes this chance and snatches Asurpriya’s weapons. As Mahish falls due to the unexpected attack on him Indra slashes at him repeatedly. Asurpriya screams! There is total confusion with people shouting – Run, attack …!!

(Mahish lying in a wounded state shouts out to Asurpriya. Asurpriya comes to his side distressed and frantic!)

Mahish: (groaning with pain he looks at Asurpriya) I did not move towards you with a sword with the intention of killing you. O’ tribal beauty, we Asurs do not attack women. I wanted to just disarm you and take you prisoner so that I could send you away safely far from this war-torn region … and also the wicked Indra … (in pain) Aah! You will be punished for your deceit Asurpriya, the future will punish you and you will be deprived of all the respect and honour that you have enjoyed so far. What I am worried about is that when the Asurs come to know about your deceit, not only will they be extremely hurt but there will also be infighting among the friendly tribes of this island and the gods and this Indra will take advantage of this.

(He closes his eyes in agony.)

Asurpriya: Please believe me, O’ great one of the Asurs, I had no such desire. (looks angrily at Indra) It is the gods, Indra who have deceived us. I had come to you only to respect my grandmother’s desire for peace. I had only one desire that this island should be free from war! You must have seen the devastation caused by these bloodthirsty wars! We women bear the brunt of these wars! Women, men, children all are being killed. Women are being ravaged and are becoming the objects of lust of the victors. This was the singular purpose of all the peace treaties, Mahish. All the women-led tribes are working out a compromise with these wicked Aryans with this single purpose in mind. Despite her valour and might, leader Urvashi, too did that and later we and our leader, Nririti, also followed suit.

Mahish: (looking at Ganapati with anger, anguish and sorrow) What were you lacking in terms of position and prestige among the Asurs, Ganapati? What did you gain by this treachery?

Mahish: (without waiting to hear Ganapati’s response, writhing in agony) The Aryan culture will swamp this entire island … very soon they will establish their dominance over the original system of the women-led clans. They will also destroy the culture of the Asurs. With the help of their new narratives they will determine heroes and villains … Ganapatis are now being called Ganadhipatis, they have been bribed with the promise of eminent positions of honour and worship … and …aah … congratulations to you too Asurpriya … you will be declared a heroine (an expression of sarcasm and anguish) aah!

Asurpriya: (weeping and lamenting) Dear Mahish, please do not leave me in pain, wounded by your parting words. We had a dream, O’ king of Asurs, of unity and peace in the entire island and, yes, also of an intimate alliance between the two of us. Wicked Indra has snatched our dream from us (weeps).

(Mahish looks lovingly at Asurpriya and with anger at Indra.)

Mahish: (with all his might he tries to say) … Long live the Asur culture! Mahish takes his last breath and closes his eyes. Asurpriya gives a cry of anguish and becomes unconscious.

Indra: (to the soldiers) Take Asurpriya to the camp and make sure that before she reaches her own clan safely, she should not be allowed to meet anybody else and she should also not regain consciousness till then. Tell the rishis to compose an account of today’s battle highlighting Asurpriya’s conquest. This battle should henceforth be known as the battle of Asurpriya. The Asurs should be kept in the dark about the treacherous and deceitful role played by Ganapati. Ganapati still has to a lot to do in order to remove all obstacles from the path of this journey of victory of the Aryans. The Asurs’ faith in him should remain unshaken. And yes, verses should be written in praise of Asurpriya for vanquishing Mahish. (laughs shrewdly) And … and now the campaign for victory over all the Dravids! (He roars with laughter.)

Rishis sing songs composed in praise of Asurpriya.

 

Editing: Nawal; translation: Ujjwala Mhatre; copy-editing: Anil


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