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Tag: fort

Hirakani Buruj – Tribute to a Great Mother!!

Just back from a trip from magnificent Maharashtra and so thought of dedicating this story to a brave woman of Maharashtra….

I had been to the Lohagad fort at Lonavala and found it not so simple to climb even in broad daylight with almost proper stairs, an inexperienced trekker that I am. It brought to my mind the story of Hirakani who scaled down the Raigad fort in pitch darkness and had the honour of having a watch tower built in her name by none other than Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had acquired the fort at Raigad and made it an impregnable fort. The fort was at the top of a very steep mountain. It was a marvellous fort which contained a city within it and nobody could enter or exit the fort without the knowledge and permission of the gatekeeper. The fort’s giant gates opened in the morning and people who were living on the foothills of the mountain could go into the fort and come out till the gates closed again at sunset. The gates would not be opened on any account till the next morning except on the word of the Chatrapati.

There was a lady by name Hirakani who made a living by selling milk to the residents of the fort. She lived in the foothills and maintained a few cows and selling milk was her occupation. She had a small baby who was looked after by her mother in law when she went to deliver milk. The mother in law was very old and could barely manage the baby during the day time. Hira’s husband worked in the army of Shivaji Maharaj and used to be at his place of duty on most days leaving Hira alone to manage the house and the baby.

One day as usual Hira milked her cows and carried the milk to the fort. On that particular day she had to help out with the delivery of a baby of one of her friends who lived in the fort. In those days, babies were born at home and the pregnant mothers were helped by other ladies to deliver the child. Hira was delayed there and by the time she started for home she realised that the sun was about to set. “Oh God”, she thought to herself. “It’s going to be sunset, and the doors of the fort will close. What will my child do if I cannot go home on time? He will be crying with hunger! I have to rush…”

Thinking thus, she ran to the gates and just at the moment she reached the gates, they were closing with a screeching sound and the next moment, the lock was sealed.

“Guard” cried Hira, “please open the door once so I can go out. My infant son will be hungry and waiting for me. I need to go home. Please open the door”

The guard looked at her with no emotion. With a cold look in his eyes he said “Sorry, I cannot go against the order of the Maharaj and it is his order that the doors closed once should be opened the next morning only. You have been coming here for the past so many years and not new to the rules. If you were in such a hurry you should have come earlier”

“Oh Bhaiyya, I am extremely sorry” pleaded Hira. “I did not realise that it was so late. In all these years have I ever come late on any day huh? Please open the doors just this once”. Hira’s eyes were full of tears at the thought of her infant child crying for her in hunger.

The guard did not even look at her face. With the same stony voice he repeated what he had said before. “Go and stay in any of your friend’s house and go in the morning. Now, don’t bother me again and again hmmph…”

Hira was helpless. All her thoughts were with her baby son whose smile on seeing her would make her forget all the troubles of the day. The very thought of that smiling face crying in hunger and anxiety at her absence was intolerable to her. And she was helpless…..

Hira ran back the way she had come. She was determined to get out of the fort come what may. She walked all along the boundary walls of the fort which was perched high on the mountain. At one particular point she noticed that there was no wall built. The portion of the mountain where the wall was missing was so steep and the vertical drop from that particular spot was so very deep with thorny bushes that no one would probably be able to climb up from there and get into the fort and therefore no wall had been built at that spot.

Hira looked down. The sun had set completely and it was pitch dark and she could see nothing but outlines of thorny branches sticking out from the shrubs on the mountain. The thought of her baby kept on lingering in her mind and she decided to climb down from the mountain by holding on to the thorny shrubs. She placed her empty milk cans slowly on the ground fearing that the slightest clanking noise would alert any soldier nearby. She looked around cautiously to see if any soldier was coming on patrol. Fortunately none were in sight.

In an instant, Hira had jumped over the edifice on the side of the mountain and caught hold of a thorny branch with one hand. The sharp thorns pierced her skin and her hand was bleeding. Her dress was caught in another thorny bush below. With great difficulty, she extricated her dress which tore at many places as she was sliding down on the depths of the mountainside, her hands groping in the dark to catch hold of the successive branches. Her arms, legs, face and body were terribly bruised and bleeding. Now and then, owls flew over her head with a “Whoosh” frightening her out of her wits but the image of her son’s face crying for her only increased her pace and within a short while she touched the ground. But the dangers had not ceased.

In front of her eyes, she could see, even in the dark, long snakes slithering around freely, rustling the leaves as they went in search of prey. The various sounds of the insects and the croaking of frogs with the occasional sound of the cane of the soldier patrolling made it very fearful. If she was caught, she would certainly be punished. Somehow, hiding behind bushes and trees, Hira made her way home. As she had expected, the child was crying uncontrollably and her mother in law was helpless as there was no way for her to find out why Hira had not returned from the fort.

The moment Hira called out to her baby, like magic, the crying stopped. Quickly washing her wounds, Hira carried her baby, spoke endearing words to him and fed him and soon the baby was gurgling with laughter, the one thing that made Hira forget all her ordeal that night. With her mind at rest, Hira slept peacefully cuddling her baby.

The next morning as usual, Hira milked the cows and set out to the fort to sell the milk.

The guard who was there in the evening had not gone yet. When he saw her he was aghast! How could a lady whom he had not allowed to go out of the fort come from outside?? The fort as far as he knew did not have any weak point anywhere. It had such high walls and where there was no wall the mountain was so steep that no one could scale it…
As she neared the gate, he stopped her.

“Halt” he said in a gruff voice, “where are you coming from huh? I had not allowed you to go out of the fort yesterday and did not see you going out today. So where are you coming from? Tell the truth”

Hira laughed. “Why are you frightening me thus with your gruff voice Bhaiyya?” she said feigning a frightened look. “I jumped out from the side of the fort where there is no wall and climbed down the mountain. Can you not see my bruises?” she said pointing to her bruised hands, face and shoulders.

The guard was shocked beyond words. “A milk vending woman scaling down the steep mountain? Impossible!!” he thought to himself and said again, “Now Hira, you know the punishment for telling lies don’t you? Come on tell me the truth or I shall have to take you to the presence of His Highness Chatrapatiji”

Hira got angry. “Why will I tell lies?” she asked him angrily, irritated that he was not believing her and also that she was getting late to deliver the milk. “You did not let me go in spite of my telling you that my baby would be waiting for me. So I jumped the wall and went home. I am also showing the bruises I suffered and still if you do not believe then do as you like. Now let me go!” she shouted.

“No way” said the guard. “Come with me immediately to the presence of our Maharaj and only then you will tell the truth it seems. Looks like you are destined to get punished today by His Highness. Hmm… how can I prevent what is written in your destiny?”

He did not realize the great reward destiny had for her, at that point.

Marching ahead with Hira in tow, soon enough the Guard ushered her into the presence of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the great ruler who was renowned for his sense of justice.

Shivaji Maharaj was perplexed on hearing the story told by the guard. He too did not think it was possible for a woman to do what Hira had done, but he could not disbelieve her too looking at the bruises sustained by her.

He thought for a while and said to her, “Well, show me from where you climbed down”.

Hira went to the place from where she had climbed down, followed by the King and the guard and on reaching the spot, pointed the place to the king. The king looked at her and said, “Well Hira, can you do that again now? Climb down now in front of me!”

Hira went near the edge of the rock and peered down. Seeing the steep fall made her dizzy. The sight of the thorny bushes crisscrossing, gave her goose bumps. For the first time she realized what a dangerous thing she had attempted. If she had slipped even once she would not have been alive now.

She looked at the King and the depth of the mountain again and again and suddenly realized she could not do what she dared to do the previous night.

Not able to look into the King’s eyes, with her eyes downcast she said, “Sorry Maharaj, I will not be able to do it now. I realize how deep and dangerous this side of the mountain is, only now. Yesterday, the motherly instinct in me and the anxiety to see my child who would be crying with hunger blinded me from seeing these dangers, but I have not lied to you Maharaj and therefore I am willing to accept whatever punishment you may deem fit for my action”

A moment of silence followed. Then the Maharaj spoke “Yes Hirakani. I have decided to punish you…”

Hirakani’s heart was beating fast.

“I am going to punish you by building a watch tower at this very spot”

Hirakani looked up surprised.

Shivaji Maharaj was smiling and continued, “You have displayed exemplary courage and motherly affection by risking your life. But, if an untrained woman like you can scale this dangerous mountain, it indicates that I have to be careful that trained soldiers of the enemy do not use this very route to come into my fort which all along I was thinking was impregnable… So, I am ordering a watch tower to be built here and it will be named after you, the Hirakani Buruj. Not a severe punishment I hope….”

Hira was relieved and conveyed her happiness to the king with folded hands bowing her head in respect.

And the tower which was built in honour of Hirakani came to be known as ‘Hirakani Buruj’ and is still seen at Raigad fort. The tower which reminds us of both Hirakani’s exemplary courage and the greatness and humility of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj!!

PS: The photo collage which is shown in this story is not that of Raigad fort but is of Lohagad fort.

Five Point Everything!!

In a remote village of Rajasthan, there lived a young lad by name Bhimsingh.  Bhimsingh was a hard working lad and had lost his mother at a very young age. His father had married again, but the father had also passed away recently. It was the habit of Bhimsingh’s step mother to taunt the poor lad continuously and in fact, that was the only thing he could not tolerate. So, one day, after she taunted him a lot for some minor issue, Bhimsingh decided to leave the house and seek his fortunes elsewhere. The very next morning, before the sun was up, Bhimsingh collected a couple of his clothes which were his only belongings and started to leave.

Bhimsingh had a friend and guide in an old man who was his father’s friend and guide too. Before he left the village, Bhimsingh wanted to bid good bye to the old man whom he considered as his Guru. So, when he went to meet the old man, the man advised Bhimsingh to stay back in the village as his parental house would always be the best place to live in. But Bhimsingh was very frustrated and wanted to get out of there. He told the old man to give him advice out of his experience as this was the first time he was going out of his town alone.

“If so,” said the man, “then be it, but,” he added “Wherever you are, follow the following rules and you will be blessed.” “And what are they?” asked Bhimsingh. The old man said, “Number one; always obey your master. Number two; always speak courteously to others so that they are never hurt by your words. Number three; always be honest and hardworking. Number four; never try to act equal with people of higher status than you and lastly, whenever you get an opportunity to listen to good teachings by any one, spend some time to listen to them and register it in your mind. If you remember all these, you will be always well, wherever you are. God Bless!!”

Bhimsingh took leave of his Guru and walked for a long distance and just before night fall, he reached the city where the King’s palace was situated. He sauntered into the market and was fascinated by the large shops selling various items from grains to vegetables, clothes to toys and all things he could imagine. He saw a tall man standing outside a shop selling grains. Bhimsingh went up to him and introduced himself and asked him for a job. The vendor looked at him from head to toe and thought for a while. Then he said, “Hmmm… You are well built, tall and sturdy. Unfortunately, I do not have any job for you, but yes, the Minister, who is my friend, has just dismissed his personal assistant only today and he wanted a replacement. Why don’t you go to him, huh? Go and tell him that I sent you.” And then, the vendor told him the directions to reach the minister’s house.

Bhimsingh was very glad and went to the minister’s house. He got the job immediately and was given a place to stay too with a decent salary and food. Bhimsingh was very very happy and settled down to his new routine. All was going on well. One day the King decided to go on a hunting expedition. Some ministers along with their assistants and soldiers, with lots of elephants and camels made their way to the forest which was a long way ahead. Bhimsingh was also in the group accompanying his master, the minister. At dusk, they reached a village at the outskirts of the forest. The group was very thirsty. Some of soldiers went to a villager’s house and asked if they could get some water.

The villager sadly shook his head and told them that there was no source of water anywhere nearby and the nearest lake was about ten kilometres away.” We all walk every day that far to bring water” he said. “However, there is a step well in our village, but a fearful, ghostly giant lives there and anyone who goes to get water there never comes back. If any one of you is brave enough, you may go there.”

The soldiers came and informed the minister of what they heard from the villager. The minister at once looked at Bhimsingh and said, “Bhim, I think you are the fittest person to go and check whether what the villager says is true or not. Take the villager along and take a couple of pots and go to the well and get us all some water as it is not possible for us to walk ten kilometres more.” Bhimsingh at once remembered the first advice of his Guru -“Always obey your master!”

“Ok Sir”, he said without saying a word of protest and off he was, carrying four pots on a horseback, the old villager accompanying him. After some distance, the villager pointed out to the step well some distance away and excused himself and hurried back. Bhimsingh got down from his horse and looked around. The well was eerie looking alright with no habitation nearby and a huge tree with lots of thorny plants and overgrowth of creepers hanging over wall of the well, hiding the little bit of sunlight there was. Praying to God, Bhimsingh stepped into the well and started climbing down. There was no evidence of any one around. He reached the bottom and saw crystal clear water. He cupped his hands and took the cool water and splashed over his face and drank some. It was so…. refreshing. Just then, there was a huge shadow above and a booming voice was heard.

Bhimsingh looked up to see a fearful sight. There was a Giant hovering around above him. The Giant had no legs and in his hand he held a skeleton. The skeleton was wrapped in a piece of cloth which seemed to be the remnant of a saree. “Who are you? And what are you doing here?????” boomed the Giant. Bhimsingh answered politely about his mission. The Giant was impatient. He said pointing at the skeleton, “Look at my wife. Isn’t she beautiful? Everyone says she looks awful ….” Saying thus, the giant broke into sobs. It appeared that the Giant’s wife was dead long back and the Giant was apparently very fond of her that he was carrying her skeleton all the time. Then once again, he boomed, “You tell me. Is she beautiful or NOT????”

Bhimsingh remembered the next advice, that he should not hurt others with his words and so he said, “Yes Sire, she is as beautiful as the moon!!” To his surprise, the Giant was so happy and said, “You are the first person who has made me happy. What do you want? I promise to grant you what you want. Do you want me to show you the dead Kings’ treasures hahahahahahaha………..” His booming laughter resonated so loudly that Bhimsingh almost slipped into the water. Then he realised that the Giant was actually offering him a deal!

Bhimsingh politely told the Giant that all he wanted was that the Giant should leave this well and go away to some other place. The Giant gladly agreed and before leaving picked the pots Bhimsingh was carrying and kept the four filled pots outside the well in a jiffy. With a Swoooosh, he left the place with the skeleton. Bhimsingh went back with the water as if nothing had happened and told the minister that there was plenty of water in the well and they could use the same. He did not mention anything about the Giant. The whole retinue was happy to have sweet cold water and the King was especially pleased at the attitude of Bhimsingh and told the minister that he was interested in hiring Bhimsingh as his personal assistant.

Now, Bhimsingh was the King’s personal assistant and was doing his duty always keeping advice number three in mind, to be honest and hardworking. The King was very much impressed by Bhimsingh’s sincerity and began to give him all the important tasks. Bhimsingh was also happy and was also made a part of the King’s security guards to be with him always.

The King had a wicked cousin brother who wanted to kill the King and usurp the Kingdom.  He kept planning in many ways, but due to the presence of Bhimsingh could not do anything. So he slowly became friendly with Bhimsingh and kept flattering him always. One day he offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to Bhimsingh. Bhimsingh remembered the fourth advice of the Guru and politely refused the offer telling the prince that he was not equal to them in status and hence would always prefer to be submissive.

The prince was very enraged that this plan to lure Bhimsingh did not work out and so, in a rare moment, on a day when Bhimsingh was not well and could not come for duty, slowly poisoned the mind of the King saying that Bhimsingh was really planning to kill the King and that his spies told him that he was meeting someone in the neighbouring Kingdom often to plan his strategy. The King did not believe this but the prince had bribed two ministers also to concur with his version and when the two ministers also echoed the prince’s ‘theory’, the King started suspecting Bhimsingh. The prince told the King that there should not be any delay in executing Bhimsingh and also suggested a plan for the same.

Accordingly, the King summoned the contractor who was building his new fort at the farther end of the city and told him that he should chop off the head of the person who would come the next day and ask him, “Is the work  finished yet? How much longer will it take?” The body should be buried and the head brought and shown to him. The contractor found this order very strange but if the King ordered something no questions were to be asked!

The next day, the King summoned Bhimsingh and told him to go to the new fort that was being built and ask the contractor, whether the work was finished yet and how much longer was it going to take. Bhimsingh, as usual truly and sincerely believing the King took his horse and was riding his way to the fort. On the way, while passing the Kali temple, he saw that there was a discourse going on in the lawn of the temple on “the good qualities a human being should inculcate”. Bhimsingh remembered the fifth advice of his Guru and thought he would just spend half an hour listening to the discourse and thereafter continue with his mission. The discourse was so absorbing that Bhimsingh forgot about his mission and stayed on for a full three hours there.

In the meanwhile, the wicked prince was getting increasingly impatient as he had not got news of the death of Bhimsingh. “I shall go and see for myself!” he said to himself and wore a disguise and mounted his horse and sped away in full speed to the fort. He called for the contractor and asked him, “Is the work finished yet? How much longer will it take?” He was of course meaning the work of ‘execution’ of Bhimsingh, but to his dismay, the contractor, pulled out a sword in a flash and the next moment the prince lay dead. The contractor buried the body and was taking the head to the King.

The King in the meanwhile unable to contain his curiosity, rode himself in disguise to the fort. On the way, he saw Bhimsingh who was hurriedly mounting his horse near the temple. The King was shocked and Bhimsingh recognised the King and sought pardon. The King was hesitant to tell Bhimsingh to go to the fort and therefore told him to go back to the city and he returned to the palace, only to see the contractor waiting with the Prince’s head which he alone recognised. The King was shocked and upset but could not show his feelings and told the contractor to take the head and bury it with the body. That night, on some intuition, the King thoroughly searched the Prince’s room and found all his plans of overthrowing and killing the King written in a detailed manner with instructions to his friends on what to do after Bhimsingh’s death. The King understood the truth and felt happy that the sincere Bhimsingh was not killed. He thanked the divine intervention that saved Bhimsingh and him and made Bhimsingh his minister.

Bhimsingh married a lady of equal status and lived happily ever after. He often visited the old man, his Guru, in the village and thanked him for all his words of advice which had brought him to this position.

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