Time came for Arjuna to chart his journey to seek Lord Shiva. He set off for Mount Kailash, which was the pre-eminent peak of the Himavan mountain range. It was rough terrain, and locals related many legends of the superhuman beings who lived in the snow-capped mountains. Some legends spoke of deities and sylvan beings who metamorphosised into animals so they may move about without arousing attention upon themselves. But other tales were fantastic even when compared to humans shape-shifting into animals.

“It is said that sometimes Himavan himself rises and moves about,” said an elderly sage, a frightening man. Long silvery strands of hair fell down his face. His teeth were yellow and worn down to the gums. He was one of the three oracles of the mountain tribes.

“The mountain becomes a man,” said another decrepit old man who looked older than the first. His eyes, sunken deep into their sockets, did not move about but stared straight. His breath wheezed and saliva leaked from the corners of his mouth. 

“Our forefathers’ forefathers of a thousand generations before us believe that Himavan and his consort, Meenavathi, are Parvathi’s parents. Shiva visits them and attends to the duties of a filial son-in-law,” said the last of the three oracles, another terrifying caricature of a man.

“Parvathi, Lord Shiva’s consort?” said Arjuna.

“Is there another?” said the last oracle.

“What for do you seek Shiva?” said the first of the three. His two companions, their eyes rheumy, remained fixed on the Pandava hero.

“That is not your concern, good sirs.”

“A secret then,” said one oracle. Arjuna was not sure who spoke, for all three mumbled.

“Must be of the unkind type,” said another.

“Shiva is a destroyer; guardian of the graveyards; smears himself with the ash of the dead,” said one. Arjuna lost track of who said what. The three men, all ghouls more than men, spoke over one another, and their words overlapped.

“Tread with care, Pandu’s son, for you leave the world of reality and enter the world of illusion,” said the second oracle.

“Or perhaps, you leave the world of illusion and enter the world of reality,” said the first. He cackled. His companions joined him. The exertion proved too much for the decrepit ones. They broke into coughs and wheezes.

“Take that path.” A thin hand, covered in tight skin and thick veins, pointed to a jungle that skirted the foot of the Himavan mountains.

“I don’t see a path,” said Arjuna.

“Take this,” said the third oracle. The dried, skeletal man gave Arjuna a pouch that contained flint and tinder. Even under daylight, he, like his companions, looked demonic.

“Light a torch,” said the second.

“You will see.” The third one drew out the last words.

Arjuna paid his respects and set off towards the impenetrable jungle. Behind him, the three shells of what were once men cackled and coughed.

The Pandava prince stepped into the trees and darkness surrounded him. It was daylight beyond the jungle fringe, but sunlight did not penetrate through the overlapping branches and thick leaves. Pandu’s son struck the flints and lit a torch which he held aloft.

From the corners of his eyes, he spotted figures dart about. As he ventured into the packed trees, the jungle noises ceased. Eyes, many curious but some baleful, watched his every step. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up, but with bow strung and an arrow nocked, Arjuna kept walking in the general direction of Mouth Kailash.

An inviting patch of clearing, about an acre in size, attracted him. There was a welcomed gap in the tree canopy above and glorious sunlight bathed the jungle floor. A small stream glistened as it trickled through the sloping open ground. Arjuna claimed this spot for his ashram and set about making a small hut for himself. 

But all the while, secretive eyes watched. He called and challenged the thing or things that watched him. His challenges were to no avail. No human or rakshasa appeared, and no terrified animal took flight. Whatever it was, it remained silent.

Satisfied that the clearing gave enough time for him to react to any attacks, Arjuna gave himself over to prayers. But it was difficult to concentrate. The jungle sounds erupted and intruded into his meditation. He could not concentrate but persisted. The noise became unbearable, and he realised these were demons sent to disrupt his peace.

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