Emperor bharata can well be considered the founder of the Indian state. His exploits have earned him near legendary status. First as a 6-year-old abandoned prince in the hermitage of the sage kaNva, bharata apparently tamed the wild lions and played with their cubs. Then, as emperor of hastinApura, he is said to have established a kingdom covering significant parts of modern India. Bharata is featured in the mahAbhArata (which derives its name from his descendants) as well as in kAlidAsa’s famous play Abhijñānashākuntala.
Painted in casein on watercolor paper 10″x14″. A thin layer of acrylic matte medium was first used to reduce paper absorbency and aid the flow of paint. The characters are based on several little studies, such as the one below:
In the great epic Ramayana, Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya has an unannounced visitor to his court one night. The mighty sage Viswamitra has come all the way from his hermitage to seek the king’s aid:
स्वपुत्रं राजशार्दूल रामं सत्यपराक्रमं। ककपक्षधरं वीरं ज्येष्ठं मे दातुमर्हसि।
“I am performing a sacrifice, which is being defiled by two shape-shifting demons (Mareecha and Subahu). Send your eldest son Rama with me, so he may defeat them.”, he says.
Shocked by this sudden request, and overcome with love for his teenage son, Dasharatha politely declines Viswamitra’s request. He instead offers to send his huge army for the sage’s aid. He even offers to go along personally.
His request being declined, the mighty Viswamitra is enraged beyond measure. So much so that the earth trembles under his very feet! He shoots back at once:
“Fine! I will go back whence I came. You can then live here happily with your family, ‘O mighty king!”, he says sarcastically. Viswamitra then gets ready to storm out of the king’s presence.
After much persuasion by his court advisor Vasishta, Dasharatha finally parts with his son Rama. Lakshmana also decides to go along with his elder brother and along with the (now pacified) Viswamitra, the three of them leave for the sage’s hermitage.
Today we travel back in time, some 3500 years into the past. The location is the outskirts of a small village near the bank of a little rivulet in northern India. We stand outside the hut of Astrakaaraja, the local weapon-smith. After much persuasion, he has agreed to teach us the time-tested art of arrow making.
“Listen carefully”, Astrakaaraja says, “If you do not follow the rules explicitly laid down in the scriptures, your arrows will be worthless. They will not even pierce the flesh of a rabbit.” He then goes on to explain, meticulously showing us every step in vivid detail.
“First, you must find the perfect shaft. This does not come easily.The best shafts may be obtained from the branches of the ambuja (Indian oak) tree, such as the one here”, he says and proceeds to carefully pick up one shaft from a pile near him.
“The shaft must first be checked for straightness. A curved arrow is as useful as a broken wooden sword” so saying, he places one end of the arrow on the thumb of his outstretched left arm. Balancing the other end at the tip, he looks down the length of the shaft. “If the arrow is only minimally bent, one can straighten it by heating it a little in the fire. But you must be careful, too much heat and the shaft will be burnt and will crumble.”
Then, like the experienced hand that he is, Astrakaaraja proceeds to the next step. “This is the most important one – the fixing of the arrow head”, he cautions us. “This is how the arrow gets its potency and strength. An arrow without a head is like a snake without its teeth – dead.”
Our simile-and-metaphor-embracing friend then starts the painstaking process of adding the arrow head. First, one end of the shaft is carefully chiseled to form a groove. Then, Astrakaaraja opens his little pouch of arrow heads and picks one made of flint among several others fashioned in metal or stone. He seems to keep these pre-prepared heads just for demonstrations like these. He matches the chosen arrow head with the groove he has just made.
“The groove must be a little smaller than the head, otherwise it will fall out.” Once he is satisfied with the dimensions, he proceeds to fix the head in place using torn out animal skins and sinew. He pulls at it several times to make sure it is intact.
To the other end of the shaft, our friend carefully fastens some (presumably chicken) feathers on all sides. One quick look up and down the shaft and he is satisfied. He hands the arrow to us with a hint of a smile. “You are lucky I had all the materials with me. Just looking for the right arrow head could take you days. Obtaining stocks of the correct shafts could take a month’s journey to the mountains. Even then you are not certain of finding them.”
“Here, you can keep this arrow as a token of my respect. I hope you have learnt something from me. You may now leave.”, cautions Astrakaaraja, with some apprehension. Seeing his stern demeanor and the terrible looking weapons he has handy, we’d better be going on our way!