A Mother’s Legacy - contd
by Shweta Joshi Dixit
Back to page 1 of the story
But there was no life around to respond to Shikhandi, only some birds chirped nearby and Shikhandi kept staring at his image in water when some tears from his eyes trickled down and mixed with spring water.
Shikhandi, a man now, was standing in a chariot observing Bhishma from far off, though he found old regent haughty but he could not help to notice a radiant aura around Bhishma. His huge frame, fair and supple skin, long silver hair and flowing beard set him apart in the entire field. Bhishma was clad in ivory colour garments and shining pearl ornaments adorned on him. “That bejewelled crown on his head looks much more majestic than the one of King Indra’s” Shikhandi said to herself trying to decipher every move and every command of Bhishma. He looked like a swift white cloud moving around on the field.
“Are you sure about this Shikhandi?” Arjuna broke his reverie. Shikhandi glanced at Arjuna and then looked back at Bhishma “This is the moment I have waited for my entire life Arjuna, so if I am not sure about this then there is nothing else left for my existence”. Shikhandi walked towards the chariot taKing confident steps and bowed in gesture of Namaste in front of Krishna sitting in charioteer seat. In his presence Shikhandi felt at home, he felt there was always a motherly kind of affection coming from Kirshna towards him. “Namaste Shri Krishna, may I seek your blessings, O revered one as I walk on the path of my destiny”. Krishna had an enigmatic smile on his face as usual. “Come my dear Shikhandi, climb this chariot and let me take you to your destination”. Shikhandi was very happy to hear this and he immediately climbed the chariot followed by Arjuna. As soon as Krishna took the reins of horses in his hands, chariot started speeding towards Bhishma as if it was flying in mid-air. Chapter 7 : Death of Bhishma
“Who is this boy Arjuna, he looks too weak to pick up a bow and you make him stand in front of me?” Bhishma bursted out laughing when he saw Shikhandi standing on Arjuna’s chariot and ready to fight with him. Shikhandi didn’t utter a word and calmly stood there only staring at Bhishma. “Bhishma Pitamah, he is Shikhandi, you failed to recognise him but his only aim in his life is to kill you as he is Amba’s….” Arjuna hesitated and was unable to find appropriate words for introducing Shikhandi.
“As I am Amba’s daughter, yes Bhishma, I was born as Amba’s daughter but as the destiny had it, the sole purpose of my birth was to end your life and so Amba’s daughter relinquished her feminine body and took up a new body, a body of man which he deserved for achieving his goal. So I am Shikhandi, now Amba’s son and your destruction”! The last words said by Shikhandi echoed in the air around as if nature was also repeating it loud and clear to Bhishma.
Bhishma scanned Shikhandi carefully and realised there was truth in what he explained just now. Bhishma was perplexed for a moment and then Amba’s memories came rushing down on him. Bhishma never bothered to look back at Amba after asking her to go away from Hastinapur. He had defeated his own Guru, who stood up once for her but that incident had become a long-lost memory in all these years as Bhishma forgot about Amba’s declaration of taKing revenge. But the spirit and determination of Amba, he did remember and now he could see it all again in Shikhandi, her daughter who also proved to be her son.
“Arjuna, we are Kshatriya and there are certain codes we follow, don’t you know that? A Kshatriya never fights a woman in the battlefield. I will not fight with you Shikhandi as you were a woman once”. Bhishma declared his decision and Shikhandi was furious to hear this.
He once again challenged Bhishma “Is this your fear speaking Bhisma? Are you really scared now to see that fate is at work now and the prophecy made by my mother Amba will be fulfilled today? Look at you, the Great Grand Regent of Hastinapur, a legendary warrior but hiding from his death behind an excuse of my birth as a girl.” “Yes, Bhishma I was born as girl but today am a man, it’s the present which matters”.
Bhishma admired the way Shikhandi spoke with confidence. He looked around at the army of both the sides and found himself helpless and depressed to see how the entire Aryavarta was standing on the brink of destruction as the brothers were fighting among themselves. “Alas! It’s all for one chair, the throne of Hastinapur which gives immense power to the one who sits on it.
But I who served this throne selflessly all these years know that these children of my family are unaware and foolish as this throne can never belong to any one person, it’s never faithful and throws you over just when you are completely immersed in the pride of holding it”.
Bhishma looked up at Shikhandi again, he was standing there fully armed not only with his weapons but also with his life-long resolve. His face beamed with his courage and to Bhishma, he looked like a benevolent Yama came down especially for him to put him on his path of redemption. “O brave Arjuna and courageous Shikhandi, I am firm on my decision to not to fight with a woman. Even though Shikhandi is a man now but was born in body of woman once. I do not accept this transformation and so I will neither fight nor back-step.”
Shikhandi was frustrated now, he expected a good fight with Bhishma which will also give him an opportunity to show his newly-found manhood and its valour but if Bhishma doesn’t put up fight, he will never be remembered as a warrior. “Shikhandi, you will have to make a choice” spoke the charming charioteer Krishna in his sweet voice. “But Gopala, he is not ready to attack me. It will be unethical isn’t it”? Krishna started laughing “Ethics Shikhandi? Who decides it? Well if Bhishma had thought of ethic so much many years back then your mother would not have been abducted in first place, and Oh yes how can we forget that it was adherence to this so called ethics that Bhishma took the oath of celibacy for which your mother’s life was perished in hope for revenge and Draupadi, your sister endured horrifying insults. Shikhandi my child, it is these very ethics for which you have spent your entire life burning with injustice you have faced and today we stand here in this war of Mahabharatha, yes it’s this distorted views of ethics which have brought all of us so far”.
Shikhandi was enthralled to hear these word of Krishna, it was as if he was in a trance hearing to all this and picked up his bow and arrows to aim at Bhishma. Krishna nodded to Arjuna and he also picked up his Gandiva behind Shikhandi, ready to aim at Bhishma. Bhishma had heard the entire conversation between Krishna and Shikhandi and felt blessed. He joined his hands and bowed in reverence to Krishna. “Come my dear child, take me to the path of my salvation, the day I saw Amba at my Guru Parshurama’s hermitage burning with rage towards me I realised the fire of her wrath would be cause of my funeral pyre one day. Aim your arrows and shoot!” As soon as Bhishma uttered these words an arrow loosened from Shikhandi’s bow swished towards Bhishma and within a moment pierced across his chest. Bhishma took Shikhandi’s arrow to his heart. He lost his balance for few seconds but stood up again, at this moment as per Krishna’s instructions, Arjun led loose thousands of arrows with tears in his eyes and then Bhishma was lying on the bed of arrows.
As soon as Bhishma collapsed, Shikhandi felt a vacuum arising in his chest. He felt numb and suddenly his life looked senseless to him. It seemed to him as entire scene of war came to a standstill. He got down from his chariot and started walking but he didn’t know which direction he should go to. “Shikhandi?” a familiar voice called out from behind, he turned around and saw his mirror image standing in front of him but it was the image from his past, it was her own image as a girl. That girl Shikhandi came near him and spoke slowly holding his hand now, “Shikhandi has fulfilled her mother’s legacy today, but are you at peace now Shikhandi? Bhishma was very brave isn’t it? Amba spent her entire life with revenge inside her heart and it continued with you as a daughter and as a son, but where were you in all these?” Who are you really Shikhandi? There was an eerie silence and suddenly wind started blowing making Shikhnadi close his eyes tightly. When he opened it again he found himself in midst of war again, the clamouring sounds of swords and cries of anger were piercing his ears. Shikhandi looked around perplexed and he saw Krishna sitting in Arjuna’s chariot some distance away, it was as if Krishna sensed it from that much distance as well and looked at Shikhandi, their eyes met and Krishna smiled. Shikhandi’s tears at last started melting down. He bowed again to Krishna with folded hands and with tired steps started walking away from the war field to the forest far away from the world where Shikhandi’s role was now over. ***