To avert an outbreak of open hostilities between the Kauravas, led by Duryodhana, and the Pandavas, led by Yudhishthira, the elders of the Kuru Kingdom had brokered a plan. The Kauravas remained in Hastinapura, the Kuru capital, but the decision relegated the Pandavas to Khandava Prastha, a hostile stretch of land along the Yamuna River.

A deep jungle, Khandava, which covered much of the country, gave the region its name. Nagas, asuras, and rakshasas inhabited Khandava jungle, which was impenetrable and notorious for its thick interlocked thorn brushes and strange happenings.

Krishna and the Pandavas arrived in Khandava Prastha with their large number of followers. All the rakshasas and many of the asura clans, well aware of the zeal and power of the newcomers, abandoned Khandava and moved to unexplored lands.

But the nagas, the most numerous of the demonic clans, held their ground. The naga king, Takshaka, refused to visit and pay respects to his new sovereign, Yudhishthira. Descended from the Solar Dynasty of Sri Rama of Ayodhya fame, Takshaka was fiercely independent and had paid scant regard even to the Kuru kings of Hastinapura, who were of the Lunar Dynasty.

“You’re angry, my friend of six lives, but it bodes not well for your future,” said Mayasura, an asuran architect of the highest order. He had erected a magical redoubt around Khandava forest, one that kept out casual travellers and determined hunters. Even intrepid trackers who found a way into the jungle soon got lost in a maze of illusionary dead ends and circles. The humans who ventured in never returned. Searchers found skulls and bones on the periphery of the jungle. Fear birthed dark stories of cannibalism, ghouls, and ghastly creatures.

“You’ve kept my fiefdom safe,” said Takshaka. “I’ve provided for my people; kept them well-fed and happy. They’re contended. I’m contended. Pray tell, why should I accept the Pandavas as sovereigns?”

“The humans see us as demons and spread the vilest lies about all of us,” said Mayasura.

“The deer sees the tiger as a beast. But is it the striped-one’s fault that to survive it must hunt, choke and shred its meal? It’s in our nature, is it not, that we are what we are? The gods treat us as props on a stage to bring forth the worst and best in all of us; human, naga, asura, rakshasa or deva.”

“My wise friend, all you say is true,” said Mayasura. “We chose our parts and paths. My forefathers fought many battles with the ancestors of Krishna. They gained many victories but ultimately failed every-single-time.”

“Go then, if you fear for your life, my friend, for our paths have reached a cross-road. Join the cowardly curs of your clan. Tuck your tail, run and hide as they do. I’ll never grovel before these vagabonds who dared not lay claim to their rights in Hastinapura, but have come here to squat on our lands,” said Takshaka.

“At least hear my good counsel, dear Takshaka,” said Mayasura. “Go to Hastinapura. Petition the king for land to build your kingdom.”

“My ancestors have never bowed before the Kurus. Why should the bloated ones in Hastinapura favour my petition?”

“Steer clear of the old ones and their bigotry. Look to the future; seek Duryodhana the Just; for you and he face the same adversary. He carved Anga out of his kingdom and installed a charioteer’s son on that throne. He’ll not do any less for you.”

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