Back in the Pandava camp, in the foreyard outside the war tent, Yudhishthira watched the maharishi and his one hundred priests. They sat in concentric circles around a large open firepit and the butter-fed fire danced. The priests chanted and as their tempo rose, the flames opened like the petals of a lotus flower.

A small lump of black earth rose in the centre of the flames. It grew, reached, and the coating of soil dropped off; and took the form of a small stalk. It swayed; a black stem that grew to the size of a man’s hand.

“Don’t stop. Remain focussed,” said the maharishi; betraying a tinge of fear in his voice.

The priests continued to chant the ancient mantra never heard in a hundred years or more. Musicians beat various types of drums: large drums that required sticks; medium drums that demanded both hands; and small handheld drums struck with one hand. Now and then conches blew.

Unknown to the priests and musicians, every time an arrow struck Aravan, one blotch on his body disappeared. With each disappearance, the waving stem in the centre of the firepit grew thicker and taller.

After the fifth arrow struck Aravan, the stalk morphed into a black doll. It swayed, smooth and surreal, and grew into a black wispy form about the height of a toddler.

“Durga.” Yudhishthira clasped hands and shivered as he prayed. The hair on his body stood, and a chill filled him.

Durga danced back and forth in that same rhythmic movement; and the wispy figure wavered and grew ever larger.

“Pray! Pray! Don’t stop.” The maharishi’s voice cracked with fear. “Close your eyes but pray.” The chanting continued; the drums played and conches sounded.

*** Copyright @ 2022, Eric Alagan ***

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