The Shadow Castle - alignthoughts


The scarlet ball of fire turned into hues of orange and then tangerine, and gradually it merged with the distant hills of Aravalli leaving a pale reddish shade in the horizon. Silhouettes of birds flew home across the sky became gray, and the shadow of Aravalli grew larger than its original size. Through tired eyes, I watched the sun disappear beyond the undulating profiles of Aravalli Mountain.

“Acharya,” I asked politely, “How far is Bhangarh?”

Acharya Mahalankar looked at his disciple and smiled affectionately, “Look at the top of the cliff.”

He raised his eyes and noticed a rampart at the topmost layer of the cliff. I also noticed flickering lights across the wall and sensed the movement of human beings.

“Bhangarh castle is not too far from this place, my son. The only thing is that we have to follow the mountain trail.”

“Acharya, we should walk faster; otherwise, we may have to spend the night under the open sky,” I suggested.

Acharya scolded me mildly, “You are a monk’s disciple, and you should not be afraid of spending nights outside a four-walled room.” He retained his speed.

The mountain path grew wide near the fort. It’s one side was a vivid green, and the other side had a deep gorge within which a ribbon-like river had formed a lush green pasture and an ideal place for terrace cultivation.

Our journey abruptly stopped after seeing a group of people coming toward us from the opposite direction. It was not a group, but a troop. It was King’s retinue. The procession halted abruptly, and a huge royal elephant with an ornamental Howdah (a carriage which is positioned on the back of an elephant or camel) and decorated headcloth moved forward, it gradually sat on to the ground, and its riders dismounted from the mighty elephant. A man in royal attire dismounted from the elephant along with two women.

The man walked slowly toward Acharya and knelt before him. Acharya raised his hand, formed a sign of blessing and asked the man to rise. Acharya looked at me and asked to bow to the King, “My son, He is Maharaj Chandrabhan, King of Bhangarh and…..”

“She is my wife Maharani Chandravati,” The King introduced the older lady and then turned toward the younger ones, “My daughter Rajkumari Ratnavati.” The younger one bowed and said Pranam in a soft voice.

I became speechless to see her beauty. The Princess was not only attractive but the epitome of beauty; I had no words to describe her beauty. As a mendicant’s disciple, I hardly got any chance to meet young women of her age.

“Shabar,” Acharya might have noticed my excitement, “Bow to the King.” He ordered sternly.

Without raising any objection, I mechanically obeyed my master.

“I have arranged everything for your accommodation in the royal guest house, Acharya. Please follow me,” The King politely requested.

“Wait, Maharaja,” Acharya raised his hand, “I am a sage, and I cannot live in a palace. Please allow me to build a small hut near the cremation ground.”

Oh! My foolish master had not only missed a chance of royal living but also compelled me to spend another harsh night in a cremation ground.

The King agreed easily and asked his men to help us. We walked the extra mile to reach the cremation ground. King’s soldiers helped me to build a big hut overnight and arranged for drinking water as well as the night’s meal.

I was still in the dark about the real purpose of our visit to Bhangarh. Usually, my Gurudev (Mentor) did not like to leave Varanasi easily.

“Shabar,” Gurudev (Mentor) called me politely. His voice broke my contemplation. I turned back and uttered, “Pranam.”

“Shabar, sleep early. There is no need to stay awake tonight.” He looked at the King’s soldiers, “Jackals and hyenas cannot attack us. The King has already posted his soldiers here as the night guards, and they have created a ring of fire around our hut.”

Oh, what a great relief! I thought.

“Tomorrow we have to wake up early in the morning.” He said, “I have to perform a difficult ritual for the Princess. Her horoscope has some problems; if I fail to remove the obstacle, the little princess will have a difficult married life.

Now I understood why we came to Bhangarh. I again imagined Rajkumari Ratnavati in bridal attire, and the imagination itself fascinated my mind.

“Shabar,” Acharya scolded, “don’t waste your time, my son.”

I went inside the hut and tried to sleep, but Ratnavati in bridal attire, again and again, came in my dream.

The next morning, the ritual started on time. The King and his queen were following Acharya’s instruction blindly and sacrificing ghee, honey, grains, coconuts, sugar, flowers and many other valuables in the fire-altar. However, the princess was found nowhere.

Suddenly Acharya asked a maid, “What about the Prasadam (Food dedicated to God)? I hope the meal is prepared already.”

“Acharya, Princess is preparing it.” The old maid informed.

Oh, so, the princess was busy with cooking. I left the place and found out the makeshift kitchen, where the girl was cooking. Ratnavati was looking beautiful in a pastel yellow sari and floral ornaments. Her attendants were helping her cooking, but men were not allowed to come near the kitchen.

“Excuse me; you are not allowed.” A soldier informed me in a harsh voice.

“I am well aware of it,” I replied bitterly.

“Then what are you doing here?” The question came from a woman’s voice. I turned back and found the old maid was standing in front of me. She repeated her question.

“I…I am here to inquire about the Prasadam (Food dedicated to God)….”

“Or watching them cook, secretly?” The woman mocked. The soldiers broke into laughter, and the women attendant giggled.

“Before seeing the princess, look at your own face.” A girl bantered.

Yes, I was well aware of my shortcomings, I did not have a good looking face, but a horrible face with a blind eye.

“Why did you choose to become a monk? You should stay with your family.” The old maid scolded me mildly and asked the girls to mind their own business.

I was feeling insulted. Tears came in my eyes. No, I did not choose my destiny, but destiny chose me. Acharya found me as an abandoned infant at a bathing ghat (A flight of steps leading down to a river) in Varanasi.

Having no idea who was my parents, he gave shelter to me and raised me as his own son.

However, in the air of Varanasi, I had heard a different rumor. Acharya Mahalankar once lost himself in the love of a beautiful courtesan, and thus I was born. He neither accepted nor denied the hearsay, but always remained silent.

I still could not understand whether his fatherly affection toward me was only for a foster child or for his own offspring. Perhaps I would not be able to find it out in my entire life.

“Shabar,” Acharya’s voice broke my contemplation, “My son, have you taken meal?”

“Yes Gurudev (Mentor),” I replied. I looked around and found we were standing in a deserted cremation ground.

“What about the ritual, Gurudev (Mentor)?” I again asked.

“It’s over, my son.” He said in a heavy voice, “but I failed.” He nodded, “I have to perform another ritual, in which I required your help.”

I looked at him eagerly.

“I am going to perform the most difficult Yoga in the world. My soul will leave the body for a while, and you have to guard my mortal body.” He said. “If anyone kills me in this state, he will automatically have all of my power and skills. So, I cannot trust anyone except you.”

I was well aware of this ritual. Acharya had performed it earlier also and asked me to guard his body from the hungry animals and curious people.

Acharya started the ritual, ignited the fire in the altar, uttered Sanskrit spells and finally sank in deep meditation. Gradually, his body became cold, and breathing stopped. I knew it would be normal before the sunrise, so, I did not waste my time and severed his head from the body with an ax.

“Adieu, my foster father, my mentor and my only companion in this world.” I smiled, “Now I am the most powerful man in the universe.”

I looked at the sky and noticed after a long dark night the daybreak brought glimmers of warmth. The soft orange light caressed the hills of Aravalli and ignited the birds into a chorus of sweet melodies. The new day had brought new meaning in my life.

Suddenly I noticed the silhouettes of horse riders on the distant horizon; the King was coming!

Bhangarh Fort Story Part-II

Five years later I was again walking along the same mountain trail, which once led me to the castle of Bhangarh, but the only difference was that today my mentor was no more with me, because I killed him on that fateful night only and the foolish King believed that the great sage sacrificed his own life for his daughter’s sake. I conveyed my mentor’s last message to the King. The princess should not get married before the age of twenty.

Yes, I required time. Though I had automatically acquired all the magical power of my mentor, they were of no use unless and until I learned how to control them. So, I left Bhangarh almost immediately and asked the King to arrange for the fast transport to Varanasi.

However, my journey to become a fully qualified Tantric (Those who perform Tantra/ Magical ritual) was not an easy one. After reaching Varanasi, I had to find out a worthy Guru, who could help me in understanding my newly acquired power. Yes, I found one, my foster father’s friend and cousin; he easily accepted my story and recognized me as the true heir of his late cousin. However, a few years later he doubted in my words and again wanted to ask what actually happened to his cousin. Oh, again, I had to kill another mentor due to his too much curiosity. But, this time I did not regret, because I had full control of my power.

Again, I left Varanasi and set out for Bhangarh. The beautiful girl Ratnavati might be a full-grown lady now, and very soon she would get married. I had to reach Bhangarh before that. I crossed mighty rivers, endless deserts and reached the craggy lands of Aravalli, where my infatuation lived.

I was not wrong. When I entered the city of Bhangarh, I initially thought that it was a Diwali eve. Thousands of candles were flickering in every house, every person in the town, rich and poor alike, wearing new clothes.

Fireworks brightly illuminated the dark sky even after the dusk, making artificial stars and garlands in the air. Colorful lights of sparklers brightened the city like a gorgeous bride, and the deafening sounds of firecrackers were almost severed my eardrums.

The festive mood of the city ignited my curiosity. It was neither Diwali nor any other festival, then why the people of Bhangarh were in celebration mood? I asked a shopkeeper about the reason, and he informed me that the city was celebrating their beloved princess Ratnavati’s wedding.

“When is the wedding?” I asked.

“Why, Sadhu Baba?” He surprised to see my curiosity, “On the day after tomorrow. Today is the Sangeet (A Musical celebration of North India held before the wedding) celebration.”

I left the shopkeeper and started walking toward the King’s palace. Though there was tight security, I managed to change my appearance and pretended to be a musician. The guards easily allowed me to pass the main entrance and showed me the way of Rangmahal (A place within a royal palace, where musical performances were held), where the celebration was going on.

The first time in my life I entered a palace and dumbfounded to see its architectural grandeur and lavish lifestyle. The Ranagmahal was a big hall with large galleries from where the music grew louder, dancers dressed in silk saris, dhotis, and heavy ornaments were moving delicately on its tunes forming beautiful postures on the golden floor.

Suddenly my glance fell on the dais on which a gorgeous young woman in gold attires and scarlet silk lehenga-choli (Long skirt like the eastern dress, popular in north-west India) was sitting on an ornate couch.

She was not alone but surrounded by her female companions and some old ladies. I easily recognized the queen and her former maid among those elderly women.

Though I was standing in a corner, a woman noticed me. She assumed that I was a flute player and waiting for my chance to come. She conveyed my unspoken message to the dais. The queen politely asked me to perform. I brought out a flute and started playing it. Suddenly I noticed that the princess’s old maid was looking at me carefully.

As I stopped playing the flute, they applauded. The princess asked me to perform another and finally requested me to play on the eve of the wedding too. Finally, the queen dismissed me with a pouch full of gold coins.

Then I humbly requested that I too wanted to give her some present. The queen agreed, and I brought out a mirror. The princess took it and graciously thanked me for the gift. I smiled secretly, the mirror was bewitched, and it would help me to control her even from a great distance.

Oh, after five long years I had seen the beautiful princess again. But, I had very little time in hand. Though other musicians were staying in the palace only, I preferred to live in that cremation ground, where I killed my mentor years ago.

Tonight, I had to awake my full power to attract her. I made a huge fire altar and started uttering the Mantras (Spells), without realizing that someone was already watching me.

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Mala Mukherjee is an academician by profession who has completed her Doctoral Degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and currently working as an Assistant Professor in a Research Institute. She was born in Kolkata and began her literary career in her mid-twenties when her short stories were published on various websites during Halloween. She is an author by passion, an impulsive writer, who enjoys writing horror stories, paranormal and fantasy fiction.