Onion:Chapter 8) Nalanda 1193 CE. Last Stand Part 2

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Bakhtiyar Khilji, in his attempt to burn down the biggest library of the early medieval world, finds his path blocked by few brave men.

Submitted: January 16, 2020

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Submitted: January 16, 2020

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Chapter 8

Part 2

The rhythm of the charging hooves was matched equally with the intensity of the drummers and the fiendish desires of the riders. They rode in droves. Some two hundred swordsmen rode infront of Bakhtiyar Khilji, while nine hundred riders followed him. The last column of every row was filled by drummers, who matched their beats and created a synchronous music of meatware, designed to destruct and devour the pride and hope of the people who weren’t riding along. Thirty miles back, an entire centre for learning lay in ruins. Fire from its libraries burned with flames reaching almost thirty feet, like a solitary torch burning atop the mountain, which would continue to do so for three more weeks. Khilji’s eyes now longed for the fire in Nalanda. The revilement regarding his birth had consumed his heart with hatred and vengeance. A year ago, despite his impeccable record as an administrator and military commander, Sultan Aibak had refused his request to join the royal army as commander’s aide. Instead, he was sent to a lowly warden of the eastern sector as a common recruit, because he was a low born. It was in that moment, that he had decided to conquer not just the lands that lay in front but also the throne that lay beside the Sultan. He knew; the price of his vengeance was to hammer his religion, and will, over the country. That was the only way to rise in the eyes of the casteist Sultan, Khilji believed. 

As Khilji and his raiding party neared the outer walls of the Nalanda, a deep seated sense of remorse started to engulf his heart. Was this really so important, he thought. He knew that the Sultan was now in Ghazni, and would not return any sooner. Maybe the respect he received from the warden Malik al-Din was enough. Then an image of the Sultan’s stretched index finger flashed in his mind. It was the same image that had made him kill the residents of Odantapura when they had peacefully requested him to spare their lives and literature, for they possessed no gold; only knowledge and food. Khilji had envisioned the Sultan stretching all his fingers and handing him the command of his army, after his return from Ghazni, when he is told how the Mamluks now ruled not just the lands, but the dominion of Gods and Literature in the country. All because of the audacity and cruel intentions of a man he had not considered worthy of leading the royal army. Remorse was gone, replaced by fury.

The raiding horde came to a halt on Khilji’s orders. Kicking his horse forwards, he positioned himself between the large wooden doors and his men. He turned his horse and faced the dust ridden men. Unsheathing his sword he spoke to his men, “[My brave soldiers. The men behind those walls think they know God. They have the audacity to pretend to be creators of God, our God. But when we bring down those walls and litter the land with their corpses, they will know the true consequence of blasphemy. My brothers, show them no mercy for they deserve none, but not because I tell you, but because it is God who wills it]” Khilji shouted in Farsi. An energetic “hyaah” echoed in the night. Few soldiers jumped down from the saddles and divided themselves into two groups. One group ran behind to bring the battering ram tied to the few horses at the back; other group rushed forwards and torched the wooden gates. The other group then, joined with the group that carried the battering ram and rammed the gates. The drummers now banged the drum in sync with the battering ram and the rhythmic ‘whoo’ of the men who pushed it. Moments later, amid the sounds of banging doors and drums, an enormous echo of ‘we fight’ (in Sanskrit, Chinese, Farsi, High German, blended together) rang in the air. Khilji was enraged. “[Bloody monks. Cut out their tongues]” he screamed in anger. On cue, few riders dismounted and joined the battering group.

The latch broke, and the huge doors opened partly, not fully because the left door had broken from the frame and now hanged asymmetrically. The raiders found it difficult to enter from that side while mounting the horse, but the Fidain’s had a plan for the entrants. They fired steel tipped mini arrows sized fifteen inches from the sling fitted crossbows tied to their wrists, directly into the horse’s eyes. The oncoming charge of howling riders faltered when the barrage of short arrows hit their horses and consequently sent them hurling in air as the horses galloped back in fear and pain. Before a single raider could enter the premises of the university, almost a dozen horses had turned and ran ushering chaos in the army which stood outside the gates. The screaming raiders, who were left in the doorstep, found it impossible to dodge the curved blades of the Fidains and hence were slain. More horse mounted men charged in, hoping to catch the silver cloaked assassins, but just at the verge, the Fidains parted to make way for the long sharp lances of the Hohenstaufens. The lances pierced skin and bones of horses and men alike, and to the utter lividness of Khilji, none could enter the premises. A loud bang erupted from the back. A group of riders were blown apart. Khilji looked towards the ramparts; a smoking cannon stood defiantly. Alongside stood a group of men who began raining down fire arrows. Khilji and few others moved their horses around to escape the shower of steel and fire. The raiders hurled curses at the men who stood at the ramparts, for they carried no arrows or bows. Who could have expected resistance from men with history of non- violence and peace. Hand cannons grabbed the attention then. They did not have the power of a cannon ball but they could easily hole up a man’s body if they hit them. Both Cannon fire and Hand cannons, assisted by a steady volley of fire arrows began killing men, majority of whom stood behind Bakhtiyar. “[Dismount and charge]” Khilji ordered his bemused riders. He needed his men to avoid the lance and break through. He turned towards his deputy “[Where are the reserves?]” he asked. “[They are burning a village, west of here]” The deputy replied. “[Send someone for them and gather some men, start hurling stones and rocks at the wall. We need to....]” but before he could finish his sentence, the deputy grabbed him and both dived sideways as a grenade came hurling down from the ramparts. The ceramic ball filled with packed gun powder hit the ground where Khilji saddled moments earlier, and set it ablaze with a loud bang, flashing a stream of light, killing their horses and few others nearby. Karthikeyan frowned. He had missed his best opportunity to cut the snake’s head.

The buzz in Khilji’s ears made it impossible for him to apprehend what was going on. He lay on the ground as three guards shielded him with their bodies from the fire showers. Two of them were killed by the flaming arrows, the other tried to pull Khilji away but he sat unmoved, anger boiling in his veins. Sheer will and rage powered him back to senses. When he got up, he saw some of his men in a daring dash, ran up to the wall and threw stone, rock or whatever they could hurl. He looked at the gates. Number of his dead soldiers was piling up steadily. Unsheathing his sword, he charged towards the gate, followed by five hundred of his men.

The raiders who managed to push through the gates were mercilessly cut down from the front by the Fidains and Hohenstaufens. Even Pundit Gangadhara put up a brave fight but his body now bled from more than half a dozen cuts. The Kakatiyas and Hoysalas grindcored from the left and right, respectively. They beheaded men with a single swing of their wutz steel and years of perfected military discipline allowed fluid movements among them, such that each soldier killed atleast two raiders. Pile of heads were rolling on the floor consistently, along with the meat filled clavicles, humerus and shoulder blades (courtesy of the lances). Two Kakatiyas helped Gangadhara to the back where the Dashanamis were waiting. Then, with a huge human effort of aggregated bodies, the burning left door broke away and fell on the sword entangled fighters. Some perished instantly but others stepped back from the roaring heat of the burning wood and bodies. Among the burning men, Bakhtiyar Khilji charged in. A Fidain jumped from the edge of the wall, with a curved blade and flowing cloak but another soldier stepped forward and took the blade in his head. Khilji turned and cut the Fidain’s head with a single blow. Seeing the flow turning towards the gates with increased vigour, the Cinas and Cholas started a fresh barrage of grenades and hand cannons ignoring the rocks and stones that pelted them in regular intervals now. They had run out of cannon balls, so Uddan-Parvatah was out of question. Then Karthikeyan saw fresh soldiers galloping towards them from the distance. He ordered the Cinas to stay on the ramparts and keep shooting at the new arrivals while the cholas would join the battle below.

Khilji dodged a lance and punched his sword against the breastplate of the Hohenstaufen soldier. It pierced the man’s rib, but he didn’t die. Stepping back he pulled his sword but Khilji’s thrust at the hilt of his sword, drove it right past the heart, killing the man instantly. Fidain’s meanwhile fought with utmost bravery. They ducked and escaped multiple blows from the raiders, and in turn slashed throats and stabbed necks before being caught by an oncoming sword. One Fidain who was felled, sliced though the Achilles tendons of atleast three raiders before a sword was thrust into his head. The Hohenstaufens were trained in engaging enemy at the front, but most of them were now being killed from behind by the horde of raiders who escaped the lances and swords. Gangadhara watched as the battle slowly started to turn into a massacre.  He stood up, and along with the Dashanami and Shaolin warriors ran forwards, meanwhile Karthikeyan with his chola warriors charged down the wall.

Cinas fired continuously; cannons and grenades. But their ammunition was depleting fast. Although they did manage to kill a large number of the raiders, but failed to make a significant impact. The fresh horde of oncoming raiders fired arrows sitting atop the horses. Most missed but some found their targets; and that was enough to diminish the Cina strength, which consisted of barely thirty men. They too decided to join the battle below. If it was a choice between an arrow and sword, death will be greeted by swords, they thought. The reserve raiders saw the men atop the wall dwindling in numbers. Chucking the bows and arrows, they pulled out their swords and kicked their horses to gallop faster.

Gangadhara slashed his long sword sideways and cut down a raider in half from the diaphragm. Another raider adjusting his sideways stance, lunged, but his attack was thwarted by a trishul (trident) which struck the jaws and tore apart his face. The men marauding the dead Hohenstaufens for the gold and gems in their shields and swords suddenly became aware of the cries of ‘Har Har Mahadeva’, and flash of trishuls, which dismembered and gutted them with absolute punition. Ganagadhara himself who dedicated his entire life at teaching the virtues of compassion found no space for it in his heart now. He cracked open the skull of a raider with his sword, who had just pushed his sword down the throat of a Hohenstaufen soldier from behind holding his neck back. Both fell down with a thud. A sword was partially protruding from the mouth of the Hohenstaufen soldier. Maybe thirty minutes of battle taught him what thirty years of meditation didn’t. To fight off wolves, one must be willing to spill blood. Gangadhara’s attention was brought back to the battle. A fraction of hesitation had allowed a raider to strike a sword in his shoulder but before that could make any contact with the Guru’s skin, a stick blocked the attack. A monk jumped with a bowed leg and another stretched right into the raiders face, kicking his nose, sending him tumbling backwards. Another attack came from the side, but the monk parried it with his stick and arching his arm, he kicked the leg of his attacker at two places and cracked his ribs with the stick. Gangadhara turned instantly to parry the attack that came from behind and blocked it over his head. He raised his leg to kick the attacker but the raider was quick to sidestep and plunge a dagger down the guru’s stomach with his other hand. Gangadhara’s hand resisting the blow gave away, and the sword of his attacker struck him in the head, sliced his brain and stuck to the cranium. A monk’s fist flew past the Guru’s temple out of nowhere, and hit the raider in the neck, who sat down choking on his blood. The monk bent down supporting Gangadhara’s lifeless body. But before he could lay him on the ground, another sword pierced his throat from behind.

The Cinas came down howling and swinging swords, but minutes later, the reserve force cantered in and surrounded the fighting men. Riding high and dirty, they easily and systematically hacked through the fighting men. The Kakatiyas were routed, Hohenstaufens dead and plundered, Fidain’s crushed under the raging feet and hooves. Cinas entered the foray last but they, along with the Hoysalas were the first to be cut by the reserves, as they mainly fought on the outer rim of the small battle field. Few Dashanamis, Shaolins and Cholas remained. Khilji ordered his men to stop. Everyone pulled back. The defenders of the university flocked together and pointed bloodied weapons towards the raiders. Khilji stepped forwards “[Stop fighting. It’s over]” he said in Farsi. Among the five Chola warriors, stood Karthikeyan. He understood Farsi. “[It’s over when we are dead]” He replied coldly, in Farsi. “[Why do you fight? This isn’t your kingdom]” Khilji asked. “[This is the kingdom of God. We fight to protect his children]” Karthikeyan replied angrily. “[Oh!]” Khilji exclaimed. “[Stand down and I will spare them]” He offered. Karthikeyan spit on the ground. This enraged Khilji but he kept his temper in check. “[You know that it will take a moment for us to finish you and then kill your supposed children of God, my friend]” Khilji said and stepped forward. Some of the raiders stiffened, seeing the closing distance between Bakhtiyar Khilji and Karthikeyan. “[You have fought bravely. And I respect that. Now put down your weapons, and I will spare your lives and the lives of the monks inside]” He said and pointed at Gangadhara’s residence. Karthikeyan knew that evacuation was not complete by any means. The University was too full of people to be evacuated completely in matter of hours. He decided to trust the promise of the Pathans. They had the reputation of keeping their promises even to the peril of their lives. He requested the men to lay down their weapons. Bakhtiyar Khilji smiled wide as he saw the men laying down their weapons. He motioned to his men to close in; and as they did, Khilji unsheathed his gold hilted dagger and pushed it straight into the heart of Karthikeyan. His pride and vengeance outweighed his inherited tradition of keeping to his words. All were slain in seconds. Khilji wiped the dagger clean on his black attire and commanded “[Burn it down.]”

The mounted raiders sprang away, others who could find themselves a horse, mounted and joined their raiding comrades. Rest, took their feet and dashed around wildly. They blazed through the gardens, setting them on fire. They killed monks who unfortunately encountered them at almost every turn. Few raiders caught some women trying to flee with their children, or discovered them hidden inside the monastery buildings. They were raped; inside the monastery, on the sidewalks, outside the temples of Budhha, Shiva, Ahura Mazda, Vishnu, Brahma and hundreds more. The Gods were rendered helpless, because they could neither help with their stone hands nor close their stoned eyes. Pregnant women were first raped, then their wombs were cut open and their foetuses were thrown into fire. None could plead, nor could run, for the beastly nature of humans was unleashed. Slowly, the structures caught fire, and the men started vandalising the temples of Gods. It was perhaps Irony of fate; the place which enlightened men, women and children with God, was being lighted down in the name of God.

Half a kilometre away, some monks were hurriedly assembling the books and parchments in one section of the library. They wished to preserve as much knowledge as they could from the hands of the raiders. Few Chola soldiers helped them. The vastness of the library made it impossible for them to save most of the documents, so they decided to preserve some vital ones. One of them though, was separating few documents from the assemblage. “[What are you doing?]” Monk Qi asked exasperatedly in ancient Chinese. “[We can’t let these survive]” Monk Kushalpala replied in Sanskrit holding up a piece of parchment. “[Who are you to decide that?]” Qi asked angrily. “[I am a Dharmakriti. It is my duty to ensure its destruction]” Kushalapala replied and went back to separate more parchments. Qi rushed in and thundered his hand atop the parchments that were kept separated. “[You cannot do that. This is important to us]” he implored. “[Generations of Dharmakritis have been entrusted with this task if opportunity arrived. And twice we have done that sacred duty. This time too, the duty shall be done]” Kushalpala replied and tried to pry away Qi’s hand. “[What do you mean?]” Qi asked removing his hand, letting Kushalapala do his work. “[The first Dharmakriti, our reverend teacher was visited by two men who had travelled against time and space from a distant age. It was them who had foretold the destruction that lay in our paths. It was them who had warned Dharmakriti about the power some of these knowledge possessed. They warned us of the danger that it posed to the future of our kind.]” Kushalapala recited as he moved through more pages. “[It was an age of peace and prosperity, So Dharmakriti secretly entrusted his followers to make sure that when the time arrives, these dangerous knowledge are allowed to be destroyed]” He finished. “[You knew that this was going to happen?]” Qi asked bewildered. “[Yes]” Kushalapala replied. “[We could have saved so many and so much more]” Qi cried out, frustrated. “[That was not my karma. My Dharma is to ensure that these are destroyed]” Kushalapala replied steadily pointing at the parchments that he had accumulated. Qi didn’t question the authenticity of the tale, or the motive of his fellow Monk. He knew that Kushalapala never lied. In fact, none in the monastery did. “[What are these?]” He asked. “[Tantric methods....life altering inventions of our best mahagur....]” but the rest of Kushalapala’s words were drown out by a huge explosion which erupted somewhere near the section of the library. They turned towards the source, and from a small window, saw the silhouette of a burning building. The city was ablaze. The chola soldiers ushered the monks out of the library and carried the documents. Once outside they saw the whole monastery crumbling under the boots of Khilji and his men. Kushalapala tried to argue with the guards for the documents that he had separated from the lot, but they were mixed up now and the Cholas handed them to the fleeing Cina monks. Seeing that he failed to perform his karma, Kushalapala ran and jumped into the blazing flames that were fiercely engulfing the library. His body burned away in a matter of seconds but the fire burned the library for more than a year.

 

 

 


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