Friday, 15 October 2010

Ayodhya - Omake Two

The Entrance of Sumitra

When Sumitra first entered into the court, she was a little slip of a girl, with no idea how to deal with the cutthroat world of Ayodhyan politics. When it became obvious that the continual political war between the First and Second Queens might actually enter into a lull as they both tried to deal with this newcomer, she quickly capitulated to both sides. As tongues began to wag and it came out that she had pledged loyalty not just to Kausalya, but also to Kaikeyi, she played the part of a confused princess from the small, insignificant kingdom of Kashi to perfection. Both Queens dismissed her as airheaded, and continued their war on each other with renewed vigour. It certainly helped that Dasaratha spent perhaps three weeks with Sumitra before deciding that she, too, would not be able to help him sire an heir.

And so she watched Kausalya and Kaikeyi plot and machinate against one another, saw rumours spread and saw them crushed, learned to read the spaces between lines and the gaps between words. She learned from not one, but two masters.

It was a fine day in the spring, about five years before the birth of the princes, when she proved to the court of Ayodhya that she was not to be underestimated. It was two weeks before Holi, which was traditionally when new members of the court would be given lands and titles, which meant that it was wartime for the First and Second Queen. The resources and political standing of both sides were used most quickly during this period, for the induction of new houses into the ranks of the court would provide them with new advantages with which to wage their battles. But while they were busy strategising, Sumitra made her move. Although her sister-queens prided themselves on subtlety and misdirection, Sumitra preferred the attributes of clarity and straightforwardness. The most powerful of the new houses, intimidated by the power and wealth on display, were quickly drawn to Sumitra and her seemingly nonchalant approach to politics. But Sumitra saved her best for last, she made her most explosive move in the same fashion as Kaikeyi had when she first entered the court: in full view of all concerned.

As the king and Queens watched, the former amused, the latter aghast, Sumitra performed the arghya ritual for the three most powerful houses to enter the court that spring, drawing them under the formal protection of the Third Queen of Ayodhya. Just hours later, rumours of the Third Queen's aims began circulating. She did not wish to engage in the political war, nor did she plan on joining one of the other Queens. She would simply better the standing of any house that came to her, in a way that ensured the ruffling of no feathers. They would not enjoy the massive advantages that one Queen would give them, but they would also not reap the wrath of the houses on the side of the other. And so, every spring, those houses which did not know or want to care about the politics of Ayodhya's court joined the side of Queen Sumitra. While most major houses continued to ally themselves with either Kausalya or Kaikeyi, there were always one or two who thought their best interests lay with the minimalistic yet dignified approach perfected by the Third Queen.

She had no wish to be a real power. The fact that she was, in fact, a princess from a small, insignificant kingdom meant that any truly weighty political capital she gathered would quickly dissipate in the face of one or the other of the Queens. But she made it very obvious that she would not be trivialised, and she would not tolerate anyone taking advantage of her. Gurudev had been very impressed, and so had the king. Things in the court would never be the same again.

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if the first omake was my favourite, this is easily my second favourite. according to the legend, Sumitra was in fact the wisest of the three queens, which is why she got two servings of whatever prasadam that makes women pregnant, while Kausalya and Kaikeyi got only one. while this kind of classification is exactly what makes the myth so appealing, it is also what makes it so open to reinterpretation.

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