The Immortals Siva

Abode of the Gods

Nandi lay semi-conscious for several hours as the medicines administered

by the doctors worked on his body. Shiva sat by his side, repeatedly

changing the wet cloth on his burning forehead to control the fever. Nandi

kept babbling incoherently as he tossed and turned in his sleep, making

Shivas task that much more difficult.

Ive been searching… long…so long… a hundred years… never thought

I…. find Neelkanth… Jai Shri Ram…

Shiva ignored Nandis babble as he tried to keep the fever down. But his

ears had caught on to something.

Hes been searching for a hundred years?!

Shiva frowned.

The fevers affecting his bloody brain! He doesn look a day older than

twenty years!

Ive been searching for a hundred years…, continued the oblivious

Nandi. …I found… Neelkanth…

Shiva stopped for a moment and stared hard at Nandi. Then shaking his

head dismissively, he continued his ministrations.

Shiva had been walking on a paved, signposted road along the River Beas

for the better part of an hour. He had left the rest house to explore the area

by himself, much against a rapidly recovering Nandis advice. Nandi was

out of danger, but they had been advised to wait for a few days

nevertheless, so that the Captain could be strong enough to travel. There

was not much for Shiva to do at the rest house and he had begun to feel

restless. The three soldiers had tried to shadow Shiva, but he had angrily

dismissed them. Will you please stop trying to stick to me like leeches?

The rhythmic hymns sung by the gentle waters of the Beas soothed Shiva.

A cool tender breeze teased his thick lock of hair. He rested his hand on the

hilt of his scabbard as his mind swirled with persistent questions.

Is Nandi really more than a hundred years old? But thats impossible! And

what the hell do these crazy Meluhans need me for anyway? And why in the

name of the holy lake is my bloody throat still feeling so cold?

Lost in his thoughts, Shiva did not realise that he had strayed off the road

into a clearing, where, staring him in the face was the most beautiful

building he had ever seen. It was built entirely of white and pink marble.

An imposing flight of stairs led up to the top of a high platform, which had

been adorned by pillars around its entire circumference. The ornate roof

was topped by a giant triangular spire, like a giant Namaste to the gods.

Elaborate sculptures were carved upon every available space on the


Shiva had been in Meluha for many days now and all the buildings he had

seen so far were functional and efficient. However, this particular one was

oddly flamboyant. At the entrance, a signpost announced, Temple of Lord

Brahma. The Meluhans appeared to reserve their creativity for religious


There was a small crowd of hawkers around the courtyard in the clearing.

Some were selling flowers, others were selling food. Still others were

selling assorted items required for a puja. There was a stall where

worshippers could leave their footwear as they went up to the temple. Shiva

left his shoes there and walked up the steps. As he entered the main temple

he found himself staring at the designs and sculptures, mesmerized by the

sheer magnificence of the architecture.

What are you doing here?

Shiva turned around to find a Pandit staring at him quizzically. His

wizened face sported a flowing white beard matched in length by his silvery

mane. Wearing a saffron dhoti and angvastram, he had the calm, gentle look

of a man who had already attained nirvana, but had chosen to remain on

earth to fulfil some heavenly duties. Shiva realised that the Pandit was the

first truly old person that he had seen in Meluha.

I am sorry. Am I not allowed in here? asked Shiva politely.

Of course you are allowed in here. Everyone is allowed into the house of

the gods.

Shiva smiled. However, before he could respond the Pandit questioned

him once again, But you don believe in these gods, do you?

Shivas smile disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.

How the hell does he know?

The Pandit answered the question posed by Shivas eyes. Everyone who

enters this place of worship has eyes only for the idol of Lord Brahma.

Almost nobody notices the brilliance of the architects who built this lovely

temple. You, however, have eyes only for the work of the architects. You

have not yet cast even a glance upon the idol.

Shiva grinned apologetically. You guessed right. I don believe in

symbolic gods. I believe that god exists all around us. In the flow of the

river, in the rustle of the trees, in the whisper of the winds. He speaks to us

all the time. All we need to do is listen. However, I apologise if I have

caused some offence by not being respectful towards your god.

You don need to apologise, my friend, smiled the Pandit. There is no

”your god ” or ”my god ”. All godliness comes from the same source. Its

just the manifestations that are different. But I have a feeling that one day

you will find a temple worth walking into purely for prayer and not its


Really? Which temple might that be?

You will find it when you are ready, my friend.

Why do these Meluhans always talk in bizarre riddles?

Shiva nodded politely, his expression suggesting an appreciation for the

Pandits words that he did not truly feel. He thought it wise to flee the

temple before he outlived his welcome.

I should be getting back to my rest house now, Panditji. But I eagerly

look forward to finding the temple of my destiny. It was a pleasure meeting

you, said Shiva, as he bent down to touch the Pandits feet.

Placing his hand on Shivas head, the Pandit said gently, Jai Guru

Vishwamitra. Jai Guru Vashishtha.

Shiva rose, turned and walked down the steps. Looking at Shiva walking

away from him, clearly out of earshot, the Pandit whispered with an

admiring smile, for he had recognised his fellow traveller in karma. The

pleasure was all mine, my karmasaathi.

Shiva reached the shoe stall, put on his shoes and offered a coin for the

service. The shoe-keeper politely declined. Thank you Sir, but this is a

service provided by the government of Meluha. There is no charge for it.

Shiva smiled. Of course! You people have a system for everything. Thank


The shoe-keeper smiled back. We are only doing our duty, Sir.

Shiva walked back to the temple steps. As he sat down, he breathed in

deeply and let the tranquil atmosphere suffuse him with its serenity. And

then it happened. The moment that every unrealised heart craves for. The

unforgettable instant that a soul, clinging on to the purest memory of its

previous life, longs for. The moment which, in spite of a conspiracy of the

gods, only a few lucky men experience. The moment when she enters his


She rode in on a chariot, guiding the horses expertly into the courtyard,

while a lady companion by her side held on to the railings. Although her

black hair was tied in an understated bun, a few irreverent strands danced a

spellbinding kathak in the wind. Her piercingly magnetic, blue eyes and

bronzed skin were an invitation for jealousy from the goddesses. Her body,

though covered demurely in a long angvastram, still ignited Shivas

imagination into sensing the lovely curves which lay beneath. Her flawless

face was a picture of concentration as she manoeuvred the chariot skilfully

into its parking place. She dismounted the chariot with an air of confidence.

It was a calm confidence which had not covered the ugly distance towards

arrogance. Her walk was dignified. Stately enough to let a beholder know

that she was detached, but not cold. Shiva stared at her like a parched piece

of earth mesmerised by a passing rain cloud.

Have mercy on me!

My lady, I still feel that its not wise to wander so far from the rest of

your entourage, said her companion.

She answered. Krittika, just because others don know the law, doesn

mean that we can ignore it. Lord Ram clearly stated that once a year, a

pious woman has to visit Lord Brahma. I will not break that law, no matter

how inconvenient it is to the bodyguards!

The lady noticed Shiva staring at her as she passed by. Her delicate

eyebrows arched into a surprised look and then an annoyed frown. Shiva

made a valiant attempt to tear his glance away, but realised that his eyes

were no longer in his control. She continued walking up, followed by


She turned around at the top of the temple steps, to see the caste unmarked

immigrant at a distance, still staring at her unabashedly. Before turning and walking into the main temple, she muttered to Krittika, These uncouth

immigrants! As if well find our saviour from amongst these barbarians!

It was only when she was out of sight that Shiva could breathe again. As

he desperately tried to gather his wits, his overwhelmed and helpless mind

took one obvious decision — there was no way he was leaving the temple

before getting another look at her. He sat down on the steps once again. As

his breathing and heartbeat returned to normal, he finally began to notice

the surroundings that had been consecrated by her recent presence. He

stared once again at the road on the left from where she had turned in. She

had ridden past the cucumber seller standing near the banyan tree.

Incidentally, why is the cucumber seller not trying to hawk his wares? He

just seems to be staring at the temple. Anyway, it is not any of my business.

He followed the path that her chariot had taken as it had swerved to its

left, around the fountain at the centre of the courtyard. It had then taken a

sharp right turn past the shepherd standing at the entrance of the garden.

But where were this shepherds sheep?

Shiva continued to look down the path that the chariot had taken to the

parking lot. Next to the chariot stood another man who had just walked into

the temple complex, but had inexplicably not entered the temple itself. He

turned to the shepherd and appeared to nod slightly. Before Shiva could

piece together the information from his observation, he felt her presence

once again. He turned immediately to see her walking down the steps, with

Krittika silently behind. On still finding this rude, caste-unmarked,

obviously foreign man staring at her, she walked up to him and asked in a

firm but polite voice, Excuse me, is there a problem?

No. No. Theres no problem. But I feel that Ive seen you somewhere

before, replied a flustered Shiva.

The lady was not sure how to respond to this. It was obviously a lie but the

voice was sincere. Before she could react, Krittika cut in rudely. Is that the

best line you can come up with?

As Shiva was about to retort, he was alerted by a quick movement from

the cucumber seller. Shiva turned to see him pulling out a sword as he

tossed his shawl aside. The shepherd and the man next to the chariot also

stood poised in traditional fighter positions with their swords drawn. In a

flash Shiva drew his sword and stretched out his left hand protectively, to

pull the object of his fascination behind him. She however deftly side-

stepped his protective hand, reached into the folds of her angvastram and drew out her own sword. Surprised, Shiva flashed her a quick, admiring

smile. Her eyes flashed right back, acknowledging the unexpected yet

providential partnership.

She whispered under her breath to Krittika, Run back into the temple.

Stay there till this is over.

Krittika protested. But my lady…

NOW! she ordered.

Krittika turned and ran up the temple steps. Shiva and the lady stood back

to back in a standard defensive-partner position, covering all the directions

of any possible attack. The three attackers charged in. Two more jumped in

from behind the trees. Shiva raised his sword defensively just as the

shepherd came up close. Feigning a sideward movement to draw the

shepherd into an aggressive attack, Shiva dropped his sword low. He hoped

to tempt him to move in for a kill wound and in response, he would have

quickly raised his sword and dug it deep into the shepherds heart.

The shepherd, however, moved unexpectedly. Instead of taking advantage

of Shivas opening, he tried to strike Shivas shoulder. Shiva quickly raised

his right arm and swung viciously, inflicting a deep wound across the

shepherds torso. As the shepherd fell back, another attacker moved in from

the right. He swung from a distance. Not too smart a move, as it would

merely have inflicted a surface nick. Shiva stepped back to avoid the swing

and brought his sword down in a smooth action to dig deep into the

attackers thigh. Screaming in agony, this attacker too fell back. As yet

another attacker joined in from the left, Shiva began to realise that this was

indeed a very strange assault.

The attackers seemed to know what they were doing. They seemed like

accomplished warriors. But they also seemed to be in a bizarre dance of

avoidance. They did not appear to want to kill but merely injure. It was due

to their circumspection that they were being beaten back easily. Shiva

parried another attack from the left and pushed his sword viciously into the

mans shoulder. The man screamed in pain as Shiva pushed him off the

blade with his left hand. Slowly, but surely, the attackers were being worn

out. They were suffering too many injuries to seriously carry on the assault

for long.

Suddenly a giant of a man ran in from behind the trees carrying swords in

both hands. The man was cloaked in a black hooded robe from head to toe

while his face was hidden behind a mask. The only visible parts of his body

were his large impassive almond-shaped eyes and strong fleshy hands. He

charged upon Shiva and the lady as he barked an order to his men. He was

too large to battle with agility. But his slow pace was compensated by his

unusually skilled arms. Shiva perceived from the corner of his eye that the

other attackers were picking up the injured and withdrawing. The hooded

figure was performing a brilliant rearguard action as his men retreated.

Shiva realised that the mans hood would impair his peripheral vision.

Here was a weakness that could be exploited. Moving to the left, Shiva

swung ferociously, hoping to peg him back so that the lady could finish the

job from the other side. But his opponent was up to the challenge. As he

stepped slightly back, he deflected Shivas swing with a deft move of his

right hand. Shiva noticed a leather band on the hooded figures right wrist.

It had a sharp symbol on it. Shiva swung his sword back but the hooded

figure moved aside effortlessly. He pushed back a brutal flanking attack

from the lady with his left hand. He was keeping just enough distance from

Shiva and the lady to defend himself while at the same time keeping them

engaged in combat.

All of a sudden the hooded figure disengaged from the battle and stepped

back. Even as he retreated, his swords continued to point menacingly at

Shiva and the lady. His men had disappeared into the trees. On reaching a

safe distance, he turned around and ran after his men. Shiva considered

chasing him but almost immediately decided against it. He might just rush

into an ambush.

Shiva turned to the lady warrior and inquired, Are you alright?

Yes I am, she nodded before asking with a sombre expression. Are you


Nothing serious. Ill survive! he grinned.

In the meantime, Krittika came running down the temple steps and asked

breathlessly, My lady. Are you alright?

Yes I am, she answered. Thanks to this foreigner here.

Krittika turned to Shiva and said, Thank you very much. You have helped

a very important woman.

Shiva did not seem to be listening though. He continued to stare at

Krittikas mistress as if he were possessed. Krittika struggled to conceal a


The noble woman averted her eyes in embarrassment, but said politely, I

am sorry, but I am quite sure that we have not met earlier.

No its not that, said a smiling Shiva. Its just that in our society, women

don fight. You don wield your sword too badly for a woman.

O hell! That came out all wrong.

Excuse me? she said, a slightly belligerent tone creeping into her voice,

clearly upset about the for-a-woman remark. You don fight too badly

either for a barbarian.

Not too badly?! Im an exceptional sword fighter! Do you want to try


O bloody hell! What am I saying? Im not going to impress her like this!

Her expression resumed its detached, supercilious look once again. I have

no interest in duelling with you, foreigner.

No. No. Don get me wrong. I don want to duel with you. I just wanted

to tell you that I am quite good at sword-fighting. I am good at other things

as well. And it came out all wrong. I rather like the fact that you fought for

yourself. You are a very good swordsman. I mean a swordswoman. In fact,

you are quite a woman…, bumbled Shiva, losing the filter of judgement,

exactly at the time when he needed it the most.

Krittika, with her head bowed, smiled at the increasingly appealing


Her mistress, on the other hand, wanted to chastise the foreigner for his

highly inappropriate words. But he had saved her life. She was bound by

the Meluhan code of conduct. Thank you for your help, foreigner. I owe

you my life and you will not find me ungrateful. If you ever need my help,

do call on me.

Can I call on you even if I don need your help?

Shit! What am I saying?!

She glared at the caste-unmarked foreigner who clearly did not know his

place. With superhuman effort, she controlled herself, nodded politely and

said, Namaste.

With that, the aristocratic woman turned around to leave. Krittika

continued to stare at Shiva with admiring eyes. However, on seeing her

mistress leaving, she too turned around hurriedly and followed.

At least tell me your name, said Shiva, walking to keep pace with her.

She turned around, staring even more gravely at Shiva.

Look, how will I find you if I need your help? asked Shiva sincerely.

Momentarily disarmed, she remained silent. The request seemed

reasonable. She turned towards Krittika and nodded. You can find us at Devagiri, answered Krittika. Ask anyone in the city

for Lady Sati.

Sati…, said Shiva, letting the ethereal name roll over his tongue. My

name is Shiva.

Namaste, Shiva. And I promise you, I will honour my word if you ever

need my help, said Sati as she turned and climbed into her chariot,

followed by Krittika.

Expertly turning the chariot, Sati urged her horses into a smooth trot.

Without a backward look she sped away from the temple. Shiva kept staring

at the fast disappearing profile of the chariot. Once it was gone, he

continued to stare at the dust with intense jealousy. It had been fortunate

enough to have touched her.

I think Im going to like this country.

For the first time in the journey, Shiva actually looked forward to reaching

the capital city of the Meluhans. He smiled and started towards the rest


Have to get to Devagiri quickly.

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