It may have started as a means of escape but Padmavati found herself feeling much better every time she visited the gods and goddesses in their temples, entreating them to watch over her husband as well as Chittor and to tide them over the impending crisis. Which was how she found herself in the Kalika temple on ammavasin for Chandi puja to invoke the blessings of the warrior goddess and beseech her to grant them victory in battle.
She was somewhat on edge. It could have been because many goats had been sacrificed and their bleating sounded exactly like the weeping and wailing of bereaved women. It took a lot of effort not to gnash her teeth. The priests were reciting thousands of verses to awaken the primordial energy of the goddess and imbue the men with her unstoppable force and ferocity.
They poured oblations into the flames and Padmavati, lulled by the heavy smoke and sonorous chanting, felt herself gradually sink into a torpor. The flames danced before her reddened eyes and she watched mesmerized as they beckoned to her, urging her to draw ever closer, inviting her to plunge into the very heart of the prancing heat.
Bathed in the rosy glow, Rani Padmavati looked more alluring than ever and Agni, the Fire God, reached for her. Panicking, she tried to flee but her flesh seemed to be melting and she stood rooted to the spot. He took her in his scorching embrace and the tongues of flames roved over every inch of her. Wracked with agonizing pain which she wouldn’t have wished on even the worst of their enemies, Padma howled in mortal anguish.
Tossed this way and that in an ocean of agony, she saw them both at the very heart of her torment—the primordial mother and father—as they copulated to the cosmic rhythms that governed all in existence. Their coupling grew more and more frenzied, raw power emanating from their sweatslicked bodies in waves. Caught up in the swirling mass of heat and energy, she was torn away from herself and everything else in her existence.
Exhilaration surged through her veins as their power washed over her and she laughed out loud. She had done it! In her hands, she held an indestructible weapon that would annihilate adversaries and everyone who wished her loved ones harm. Using the secrets she had unearthed, she would smoke out the enemies who lay in wait and snuff them out. It was the power of mrityunjaya, wielded by Shiva himself, and would conquer death. In her hands was the power to deliver her lord, husband and her people from evil.
The heat scorched her body and pain devoured her from inside, but she would not relinquish her hold. Even when she felt herself torn apart by the arrows that fell thick and fast in a relentless torrent as the battle raged fiercely all around her. Desperately, she searched for his dear face. He had to be saved and their people as well! Except the gift she bore was death and it could not discriminate.
So she swooped into their midst and killed them all. Laughter erupted out of her in gales as the weapons she wielded from a thousand arms took more lives than she could count. Sinking her fangs into exposed throats she grew drunk on fresh blood and feasted on flesh. Then she tore off her bloodied clothes and danced on the corpses that lay in all directions.
Mother and Father. Uncle Sthaladeva. Maitreyi. Ratan. They all lay at her feet. Her weapons had made short work of them all. And she danced on, inebriated, filled to the brim with death, and still she wanted more.
The battle raged on. The flames devoured everything with a ravenous appetite that could never be assuaged. Death and destruction prevailed over everything, even the impenetrable walls of the ancient citadel. Leaving nothing behind but pain and mourning. And ashes.
A girl stood tall and proud as the flames towered over her. The flames licked at her tears, drying them. Her skin was milky white and perfect. All around, they prostrated themselves at her feet, worshipping her the way they would a goddess. Her eyes, dark and intense, were looking into the distance. Searching for her hero. She tried to call out to him but the wind snatched the words from her and swallowed them whole, leaving them unsaid. ‘Father! Don’t leave me! Take me with you.’
‘Child of my blood! Child of my heart! Gladly would I bear you away in my arms if honour allowed it. Have faith, my dearest one. We go to the same destination. Where all souls must go when they are set free. Farewell, my love!’
His honour had not saved him. He died just the same as the ones who had lived in dishonour. Death would not discriminate. It could not. It should not.
(The book will be released on December 3)