This story available on Mar 13, 2021
Gandabherunda, the two headed Garuda
The Gaṇḍabheruṇḍa flew high in the clouds, its massive size was evident even at this height. Its twin heads cocked and swilled as it hunted for its prey. It dived and came from the sky, seeking vengeance, waiting to rip and eat warm human flesh …
Long ago, ancient India
It was the Vedic times, when magic and rituals guided the people, coercing righteousness, obedience and fear. Raja (king) Ravi Verma, a small retinue, and the raj purohit (royal priest) had climbed up the sūcyāsya shikha (Needle Peak) to the shrine at the peak. Soldiers dragged a goat along for sacrifice. The structure rose vertically like a needle in the Himalayan Mountains with a flat top and a cave where the shrine was built.
Craftsmen had toiled dangerously to sculpt the shrine on the rock face and the cave, creating intricate shapes and figures of gods. They had hewn steep steps in the rock for worshippers.
The raj purohit placed a panch-dhatu, the five metal alloy statue of Bhagvan Vishnu in the shrine. Then he completed the rituals and consecrated the shrine, chanting Sanskrit mantras. The idol would guard against pillaging invaders from beyond the mountains
He bowed to the two engraved statues of eagles placed as dwar-palak (gate keeper) and intoned, “O Gaṇḍabheruṇḍa, (twin headed garuda, eagle), vahana (vehicle) of Bhagvan Vishnu, I implore you to guard the valley and your devotees for all eternity.”
He gestured at the soldiers who pushed the goat forward, “I beg you to appear and take the offering"
The temple stones trembled and the retinue was almost swept off due to the huge force of air that beat on them. Small stones flew off and splashed in the Alkananda River. A huge garuda came down from the sky and perched on the edge, cocking its two heads and glaring at them. It was as big as an adult elephant, the talons and curved tipped beak about a foot long, the wings extended to more than 50 feet. It was the vehicle on which Bhagvan Vishnu rode.
The retinue bowed to the garuda and the purohit gestured at the soldiers. They threw the goat over. The bird flashed down like a grey streak and seized the animal in its talons, ripping it into pieces. The twin heads reached down and gobbled the carcass, and then it soared off and disappeared in the sky.
The purohit turned to the King, bowed and said, “The valley and idol will remain safe for all eternity. Gaṇḍabheruṇḍa will kill defilers.”
The Present and the Thief
Bitta, the thief crawled stealthily over the steep slippery steps to the shrine. His eyes were fixed on the idol in the Garbhagriha (sanctum santorum). It was amavasya, the new moon night, an inauspicious time. The rains had made the climb very treacherous, a slip would mean tumbling to his death.
He entered the shrine and the tangy aroma of incense sticks, camphor, and burnt ghee from rituals of the previous night hung in the air. An oil diya, lamp cast a feeble light in the room.
Bitta grabbed the statue, pushed it into his waistband and turned to flee. In his haste, he toppled the lamp and it fell with a clutter.
Cursing, he turned and bumped into the old Brahmin pujari who had awakened at the sound.
The pujari shrieked, “Thief! Place the statue back. Bhagvan Vishnu will put a curse on you.”
Bitta laughed derisively and pushed the pujari, sending him reeling, and he fell dashing his forehead against the doorway.
As the thief rushed out, the bleeding pujari stumbled, caught the bell and it started chiming. He screamed,“O Garuda protect the shrine, and bring back the idol.”
Bitta ran out and handed over the idol to his accomplice, Kalu, who hid behind a rock.
Bitta jerked up his head at the starry night and saw the sky darken as something huge flew over, the force pushing him down. He heard a piercing cry that sounded like a thousand shrieking lions. Razor sharp talons seized him, tearing his body into pieces and the body and shadow disappeared into the night.
Horrified, Kalu cowered behind the rocks and a garbled whine sounded from his dry throat.
The bell rang across the hills and valley and villagers woke and looked up at the shrine. They were the guardians of the shrine. However, climbing the steep steps in the night was suicidal.
An old villager said in a hushed voice, “Something evil has happened. Gaṇḍabheruṇḍa is angry and hunting.”
The villagers climbed early next morning to the shrine and ran to the pujari who still clung to the bell.
Then they saw blood and torn pieces of flesh. Who, or wha,t had died?
In the sky, the garuda circled overhead. It was searching for the idol and would continue killing until it found the statue.
They took the old pujari to the hospital. Kalu sidled from his hiding place and joined them. When he reached the village, he ran away and jumped into a truck leaving the village.
Gaṇḍabheruṇḍa starts killing
The group of trucks drove up the treacherous pass very carefully. Rain and ice had made the roads very slippery. A skid would send them tumbling into the deep ravines.
The lead vehicle slowed when it came to a small clearing, and the driver Kuldeep peered out of the door at the other trucks behind.
Something huge flew down from the sky, snatching at the drivers head, slicing it clean from the body. The headless body flopped back on the steering wheel and jets of blood spurted covering the windshield.
The passengers screamed in shock at the blood and twitching body. Then their screams grew louder as the truck pushed on with the lifeless driver pressing the accelerator.
People in the trucks behind missed the attack since the fog was thick, and the bird was a blur. They saw trucking breaking the barriers and going over.
One of the drivers muttered, “This Kuldeep was a drunk. He must have lost control. Let us return.”
Only Kalu managed to jump to safety from the ill fated truck and he crawled into another truck. He was trying to run away with the idol to Dehradun, and then to Delhi. He now sat shivering with fear and cold as they headed back. He caressed the statue, it was worth a lot of money and he would not give it up.
On a high misty, craggy mountain, the twin-headed garuda looked hungrily at the villages and swept down.
Sanjana Bhawar and her friends were grazing cows. She loved the animals, grazed and fed them. She looked worriedly at the overcast sky hoping that lighting would not kill a cow.
There was a sudden huge pressure of air pressing down and leaves from the tree bent down then up, and she was blown off. A warning screamed from the sky as the garuda swooped down.
It struck a cow, breaking the spine, talons ripping into the flesh. Then it started tearing chunks of flesh and entrails and gobbling the morsels, all the while glaring around with its two heads.
Sanjana and the other children screamed in fear. Villagers came running and stood aghast at the sight. They threw sticks and rocks, and the bird took off, disappearing into the clouds.
They muttered, “Gaṇḍabheruṇḍa will kill us all.”
The Pujari tells the tale
The villagers gathered around the old pujari in his hospital bed.
The village headman said, “O Acharya, what is this Gaṇḍabheruṇḍa? Why does it kill?”
Propping himself on a pillow, the pujari said, “The inscription in the shrine tells of Raja Ravi Verma who built the shrine many hundreds of years ago to honor Bhagwan Vishnu. Wild mountain tribes often raided the outlying villages. They came from the passes and pillaged the land, stole grains, animals, and kidnapped women.”
Pausing to drink some water, he continued, “The king prayed to Vishnu asking for protection. Vishnu appeared in his dream and told him to build a shrine on the peak, install his statue and a statue of his vahana the Gaṇḍabheruṇḍa. The garuda protected the mountains, killed the raiders, and peace prevailed.”
“Why is the garuda killing now?”
“A thief stole the idol and Gaṇḍabheruṇḍa has woken.”
“What can we do to save the people?”
“Find the statue and install it again.”
“How can we do that?”
“I recognized the thief. He is from the Bhawars clan. The bird killed him, but he had an accomplice and the fellow must have the idol.”
“Bhawar! That tribe of nomad thieves! We will catch the thief.”
The old pujari whispered, “The garuda will kill anyone who places the statue.”
They rushed out to the camp and pulled out the Bhawars.
The villagers crowded the nomads into a corner and gestured at them threateningly.
The sarpanch asked, “Where is the idol? Who stole it? Speak up else we will throw you on the rocks.”
“Dhanyaru (wealthy person), we have not stolen anything.”
The people spoke among themselves. One of them blurted, “Bitta and Kalu went away yesterday and have not returned.”
A tribal sadi, “I saw Kalu today morning when we climbed to the shrine. Then he went away to the Dhaba (restaurant) where the trucks stop. He must have gone away.”
The sarpanch spoke, “The fellow who died must be Bitta, the other one must be Kalu.”
One of the women squatting started wailing and beating her breast. She was Bitta’s wife.
Turning back to the people, he asked, “Where is the family of Kalu?”
“Kalu and Bittu are brothers. Kalu’s wife went away to her father in the nearby village. His niece Sanjana is here.”
Sanjana was pushed to the front. The sarpanch grabbed her and started dragging her.
“Come with us. Your uncle Kalu will come to search for you.”
The trucks had returned and the headman asked, “Was the thief Kalu in the truck that went over?
The crowd muttered and they were not sure. They had not seen the nomad Kalu before.
One of them said, “In our truck, one extra person had climbed in when we returned. He disappeared into the forest when we came here.”
The sarpanch looked at the trembling girl, “Hey, you go into the forest and find your uncle, else your people will die.”
The group sat in the Dhaba smoking hookah with ganja and drinking.
The dark forest crowded on Sanjana’s senses, the rain filled branches dripped water, and it was very scary. Night was falling as Sanjana stiff with terror walked along one of the paths.”
She started shouting, “Kaka (uncle), please come out. It is very urgent.”
She sat down on the path in a small clearing, famished and frightened. There was a faint sound of branches cracking and her uncle beckoned from the shadows. He moved onto the path to hug her.
“Come here child.”
Sanjana ran to him sobbing her tears. “Did you and Bittu kaka steal a statue? The villagers, they will kill our people.”
“Keep quiet, child. I plan to sell the statue in Delhi and become rich. Then I will take you away and put you in a nice school. We will hide here and run away tomorrow.”
“Kaka, it is wrong. The big bird is killing people and animals. The statue should be put back.”
He sat quietly and then said, “Yes. You are right. If I come out, the bird will kill me.”
“Can I see the statue?”
He pulled it out of his wais band and handed it to her. Sanjana raised it to her forehead as a mark of homage, placed it on the ground and prostrated before it.
Swift as a wild wind, the garuda hovered over them. It reached down with its talons and gripped Kalu. He could only scream, “Sanjana, return the idol.”
The garuda did not attack her. It had seen her prostrating before the idol.
Crying at the death of her uncle, Sanjana stumbled back to the Dhaba to hand it to the villagers.
“Good girl, now you climb up the hill and place the statue back in the shrine. We will wait at the bottom.”
Sanjana goes to the shrine
They had brought the old pujari on a cot swathed in blankets. The steep hill was a shroud of darkness, the steps slippery, and it would be impossible to climb in the night.
“Dhanyaru, I will climb in the morning.”
“You thief, you people can see in the dark like a cat, and are expert climbers. Go now.”
The leader motioned to his henchman Bhiru to go hide behind a rock and then climb after her.
The pujari spoke then.”See child. You are a brave girl. Your uncles stole the idol. Only you can replace it. Chant the mantra of Bhagvan Vishnu. Ring the bell after you place the idol.”
Sanjana placed the statue in a bag, tied it around her neck, and started the dangerous climb.
The height of the first few steps was low. As she started climbing, the steps became steeper, rising to her knee, then thighs, then to her waist.
There were some twists and turns, and side paths with broken steps that ended abruptly. She got on to the wrong path and stared at the broken steps that opened into a steep fall.
She turned back when Bhiru slid in front of her.
“Ah girl, give me that idol.”
“No. I have to put it back in the shrine.”
“You fool, it is worth thousands. Give it to me, you can rest here for a while then come back and say that you put it back. Who will know?”
“Go away. I will scream for help.”
He pulled out a dagger and started moving towards her.
“I will kill you and throw your body over. No one will find you. Give it over.”
Sanjana folded her hands, went down on her knee,s and started chanting the mantras.
“Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya।।“ (I bow to Bhagvan Vishnu who resides in the hearts of everyone)
The stars dimmed out as the garuda swooped down on the evil Bhiru and snatched him. He could not even scream. The severed head rolled down the step and fell in front of the villagers waiting below.
They looked at the bleeding head in horror. A few screamed in terror.
The pujari asked, “Why did this Bhiru go after the girl?”
“Sarpanch. This Bhiru is your servant. Did you pay the thieves to steal the idol?”
Trembling and shaking, the sarpanch fell at his feet, “Save me purohitji. I had asked the two to steal the idol so that I could sell it..”
“I cannot save you. Go away you sinner. We are the guardians of the shrine and you stole the statue.”
Sanjana places the idol
The wind lashed savagely as Sanjana started climbing up, almost blowing her off the cliff face. She could make out something large flying through the clouds and mists.
Her arms were tiring and she started chanting the Vishnu mantra. A new energy flowed through her body and she clambered up, grip firm on the steps. She climbed on until she reached the top.
The shrine was just ahead. Sanjana bent low, went down on her knees and then prostrated in front of the doorway.
“O Bhagvan, I have come to place the idol back. I seek forgiveness for our sins.”
The bird flew down and settled on the precipice, one head staring at her, and the other moving around.
She went inside, wiped the dirt and dust from the pedestal in the Garbhagriha, Bowing low, she placed the idol on the pedestal and moved back. The deed was done.
She remembered the Pujari’s words, and reached up, ringing the bell to let the villagers know that the idol was back in place.
The stress of the climb had worn her out. She knew that climbing down would be more difficult. She moved to the steps and her heart sank as she looked at the darkness that shrouded below. She swung one leg down, gripping the steps. Her tired arms gave away as she swooned and fell.
She dimly sensed lying on something soft and feathery as the garuda glided down to the bottom with her safe on its back. The garuda hopped and landed and she slid down. The villagers looked at her, mouths open in wonderment and awe.
“Sanjana had sat on the Vahana of Bhagvan Vishnu!”
She was the talk of the countryside and welcomed everywhere. She was glad that the idol was back in its place, and her people were not called thieves anymore. They were welcomed.
The priest recovered in a short time. The village elders sat and discussed the event. Then the pujari announced to the gathering of villagers, “It is decided by us that we will conduct a last maha puja tomorrow of Bhagvan Vishnu. We will then demolish the steps leading to the shrine. This will make it impossible for thieves to climb again and steal the idol.”
He turned around and looked at the people, “If anyone has any objections, they may speak now.”
There was no reply and the people nodded in assent. The next day, a last maha puja was performed. The shrine was sealed and workers demolished all the steps.
Bhagvan Vishnu and the garuda would continue to guard the devotees.
The sarpanch rode his motorcycle fast through the passes, desperate to escape. As he turned a corner, the garuda swooped down, the talons tearing away his body at the waist.
They found him with his lower body still seated on the bike.
Gaṇḍabheruṇḍa had made the last kill?
Or maybe not.
Based in Pune, India, Shashi Kadapa is the managing editor of ActiveMuse, a journal of literature. A Pushcart nominee and two-time award winner of the IHRAF, NY short story competition, his works have appeared or forthcoming in anthologies of Casagrande Press, Anthroposphere (Oxford Climate Review), Alien Dimensions #11, Agorist Writers, Escaped Ink, War Monkey, Carpathia Publishing, Sirens Call Publications, Samie Sands, Mitzi Szerto, and others. Please follow these links to review his works: http://www.activemuse.org/Shashi/Shashi_Pubs.html
Interview available on Mar 13, 2021