Kalpaka stood in the middle of the hastily prepared shivir around half a mile away from the Pataliputra fort. The Ganges river flowing beside the shivir is indifferent to the human activities taking place along the length of its bank. He had only few specific details that he mentioned to the soldiers putting up the shivir regarding the direction of the doorway, the specifics of what part of the fort needs to be visible from where his guest sits. He had also made sure few fruits and water is available for the guest. The adversary was going to arrive pretty soon to the shivir . He moved out of the shivir and gazed at the fort which was getting ready for the battle ahead. He could see the cavalry taking its position just outside the fort. His instructions before he left the fort was very clear; any person, a peasant, farmer, mason, either male or female who could ride a horse should be dressed as a soldier and out there representing the cavalry, the rest who could not ride were dressed to take the position in infantry. Women and children were disguised and mixed to increase the number of infantry outside the fort. He was a master of deception, but he was always deceptive to appear weak when he was strong, never the other way. He could not risk a war, war would mean the end of Magadha. The enemy had to be subdued without fighting. He laid his eyes on the arrangements inside the camp once more and moved to take his seat.
The united armies of Panchalas, Kasis, Vidarbhas, Avanti, Kurus, Surasenas had camped just a mile away from the fort, safe distance from where they could plan an attack on the fort. They were attacking under the banner of Panchalas led by their Prime Minister Aruni. The shivir where Kalpaka had arranged for the meeting with Aruni had couple of openings, one for Kalpaka to see the biggest of the enemy shivir and another behind to the left of him so that Aruni can see one part of the fort when seated with Kalpaka. The soldiers had left and should have entered back into the fort now. In a short while, he could see that there was some movement in the enemy camp and he could see Aruni coming towards him. He had met Aruni previously 3 to 4 times under different circumstances when they visited universities to lecture or pick the brightest of the students to serve their kingdom and them. Kalpaka had grown a liking towards him, the conversations they had always left him with a sense of satisfaction. In the eyes of Kalpaka, Aruni was as good a prime minister as any in the history of Bharath. Though Kalpaka was highly regarded as the wisest prime minister of all times, today he felt he was unprepared for this meeting. He would have never got into the current situation if not for the insecurities of the king and incompetence, sycophancy of the ministers in his own kingdom. He knew this could be the war he might lose. As he saw Aruni approaching closer, he shook himself out of negative thoughts, got back his composure and reminded himself that he had a kingdom to defend.
Aruni reached the shivir, washed his feet and entered into the camp. Kalpaka could see a glint of surprise in Aruni’s eyes when he saw him sitting for negotiations on behalf of Mahapadma Nanda, the Nanda king of Magadha. Kalpaka welcomed his guest and asked him to take a seat. Aruni smiled and said, “I really did not hope to see you on the negotiating table”
“I know you were expecting Govisanaka to be here, but the role of Govisanaka is done. He doesn’t need to be present for anything that happens from here on”
“Very well. But in our view, there is nothing left for negotiations here”
Kalpaka smiled. “There is always something worth negotiating. I think we need not hurry to decide on what is left to negotiate. I believe we both know we have enough time for it.”
“I agree, we are not pressed for time”
“We are meeting at the apt moment. For some time now, I was trying to solve the problem of spies. Also you might agree if I say that there are not many people with whom you and I can discuss our problems.”
“The problems of spies! I believe they are the most efficient problem solvers”, Aruni said returning the smile
Kalpaka nodded. “I agree with you on this, but what if the spy is compromised”
“What do you mean by compromising the spy? The first thing any king does on finding a spy or someone suspicious to be a spy, is try him for treason and make a spectacle of his death. The inhumane way in which he is killed both thrills the common people and sows seeds of fear so strong that they pledge never to think of treason. That is why there are not many takers for this profession.”
“I agree, but what if a spy or a chief of these spies is identified, but not reported to the king, but is maneuvered to spread disinformation and used to our advantage?”
“That is a very risky prospective. You are suggesting to base the politics and foreign policies of the state on one person whom you do not completely trust, neither know where his allegiance lies. I am more comfortable in getting all the information out of him, bring down his network and making a spectacle of his death. I would not want to rely my plans based on someone whom I cannot trust”
“I agree, but even though it is riskier, don’t you think the returns are high if you are able to successfully convert. Moreover how can you trust your spy residing in the enemy country for decades, having a family there, listening to the false propaganda against his real king? He too can be untrustworthy and risky for the state right? ”
“You and I both know what goes into placing a spy. You would be the last person I would have to explain the details to, but I would say with confidence that we can trust the person who has successfully cleared the training and our personal approval. The elite of the spies whom we trust are not working for the king, but are working only for us. Moreover we provide for his family’s luxuries and he knows what will happen to them even if the thought of double-crossing comes to his mind. Personally, I would never trust your spy even if he pledges he has changed his allegiance. I would still prefer making a spectacle of his death rather than putting my state at risk by looking at his confidential information.”
“Yes, it is complex, I have been trying to solve this problem for nearly a year now in vain.” He pointed towards the opening in the camp and asked Aruni to look at the fort. He pointed towards where Yajnavalkya was standing holding a position on the fort and said, “You believe Yajnavalkya is your spy and I believe I successfully converted him to mine”
Aruni felt a little uncomfortable knowing that Kalpaka knew the identity of his spy, but he didn’t let the reaction show on his face. “I believe our army standing by the doorstep of your fort when the main army of yours is down south-west readying itself for a fight with Asmaka clearly tells us whose spy Yajnavalkya is. Even if you had managed to send a message to your army before the siege, it will take at least a month for them to come to your rescue. But my estimation is we will be able to take this fort in a week”
Kalpaka smiled “What if I told that the words coming off your mouth confirms Yajnavalkya and Kamandaka being successfully converted by us. Our army is there in the south-west, but what if I told you Kamandaka has exaggerated the numbers and intent of my army based on my instructions. The army I sent below is strong enough to rout the Vidarbhas but it is not strong enough to threaten the Asmakas. Our intent was never to attack Asmaka”
Aruni calmly said, “I won’t believe you. I would just believe that you have identified our spies. It doesn’t give any indications that you were able to convert them. Since we are talking so frankly, can you apprise me of why you are here but not in the dungeons where you were rotting for the past year?”
“I had to go to dungeons for you to be here. I couldn’t continue to be the prime minister and catch you off guard. You were too good for that. I had to change something, wherein I could see you lowering your guards. What better way than to put Govisanaka at the helm. You had measured him long back when you were in Takshashila with him and we both don’t have much respect for his abilities in defining the state policies”
“So you want me to believe that the mighty Magadhan army is still in the fort and not down south-west. Then why did you call me for the negotiations here, you could have just allowed us to attack you and rout us in the battlefield and fulfill the wet dreams of your king to be an Ekachhatra of this land. Don’t try to fool me Kalpaka. Looking at you, I don’t see a prime minister who was ruling from the dungeons, but I see a person starved in the dungeons for a year. You know what I believe and is true. Your ego-centric king came under the persuasion of sycophant ministers like Govisanaka and put you in dungeons. He was insecure about your allegiance and was scared of your wisdom and moreover you are not good at flattery which is scarily becoming the most important trait a king sees in his minister these days. On seeing us in preparation of a united attack on Pataliputra, your King came back to his senses and remembered who made him, a low born son of a barber, a King to rule over and defeat the Kshatriyas. He came running to you to save the state. But O Kalpaka, I am sorry to say but this time things have gone too wrong for even you to save the king.”
“I would not make any comments on what you believe as it was something which I instigated“. Kalpaka went on to explain in detail every activity of Yajnavalkya and Kamandaka for the past two years. He explained in details the turn of events which led them to have the meeting now. He said it in a way that Aruni felt that his spies were converted two years ago and were used to spread disinformation. Kalpaka hid the fact that though the spies were identified and monitored, they were not converted. Before any attempt to convert the spies were made, Kalpaka was thrown into the dungeons partly because of the successful infiltration of Aruni’s spies in high offices in the Nanda Empire. He had lost all the power to influence in the matters of state for the past year. He knew Aruni was confident that he had won the war even before their army had reached Pataliputra. In reality, he was correct; the war was already won, he just had to execute his plans. The only thing Kalpaka was attempting was to sow seeds of doubt in the mind of Aruni on what he believed. Kalpaka took an educated gamble and to prove he had successfully converted the spies revealed the attack plan which Aruni had decided on. Yajnavalkya was a mid-ranking soldier in the Nanda army. Based on this, Kalpaka drew an attack plan which Aruni might have thought of through the smuggled information from Yajnavalkya. There was silence in the camp for few minutes. Kalpaka’s confidence increased.
Kalpaka broke the silence, “You ask me why I called for the negotiations when everything was going as per my wishes. These negotiations are to stop the war.”
Aruni sarcastically said, “Why stop the war when you were the one who instigated it? Now don’t tell me that there is an uncontrollable out pouring of brotherly love from you.”
“The negotiations are to stop this war and to start a more profitable one down south, on the other side of the Godavari River. You and I both know of the wealth present there beyond the Asmaka kingdom, we know of their naval strength and weak army. If we unite under a treaty and head south, it would be the easiest way for all our kingdoms to get wealthy and flourish. Our influence will spread across the seas. The infightings among us has always made us weak and vulnerable. Let us make each other strong. Not one of us have enough resources to both head south and maintain a strong hold up here. But if we unite there is enough wealth in the south to be shared among all of us. We have to bind under a treaty which I have had ready, prepared during my time in the dungeons. If you agree on it, we can stop the current conversation and start negotiations to sketch a plan on how do we share army, wealth and under whose command we make inroads into southern India. Also, we have to start acting on the plans decided in another three months. We don’t have time to spare.”
“I will convey your messages to my King. We will let you know our decisions on your proposal once we discuss it amongst us.”
Kalpaka raised his voice a little and said in a clear authoritative tone, “The message is not yet over. Tell this to the king of Vidarbha, if he doesn’t agree to our proposal and plans to unite with you guys in this war, then our small army in the south west, which you guys think have went to wage a war against Asmakas, will change its course and take over the Vidarbha rajya. Even if he disagrees with the treaty and runs back, he will not have a home to go back to as it will be taken by us and I promise him that he will never be able to take his fort back from the Nandas. The message to the rest of the Kings is this, you will be annihilated in this war and we would take each of your territory, we would destroy your families, your palaces and will build our empire on the bones of your deceased. The Nanda King will be Ekachhatra and we will conquer the southern India too. If you agree to help us, we will ride south this year as allies, else we will vanquish you, build another army and ride south, maybe 5 years from now.”
Aruni raised, bowed a little to Kalpaka and turned to leave. It was getting dark outside. He didn’t like how things were turning out now. He had expected Govisanaka to be on the negotiating table, he had expected him to make offerings of rich Magadha provinces to the Kings to avoid the war. He had decided how he would disregard the offer and take over Pataliputra and bring the Nanda king to his knees infront of the Panchala King. Once the fort and the King is captured, the Nanda army would have no choice but to come under the Panchalas. If he succeeded, he would be acclaimed as the greatest prime minister in the history. He still did not believe Kalpaka, but he had enough doubts to believe he was fed disinformation. Kalpaka, who was in the dungeons for a year, magically representing Nandas, he knowing the details of every activity that Aruni was doing had thrown him off-balance. He started doubting his spies. But he did not want to return without a war. He had planned and worked too hard to let it go at this point.
In Pataliputra, in the King’s chamber, Govisanaka was furious over Kalpaka when he came to know that he did not try to negotiate by giving away the rich provinces of Magadha to the aggressors. Govisanaka was convinced that the only way to avoid a war would be to give away rich provinces of Magadha and letting Aruni know the profit he was reaping without even shedding blood of a single soldier in exchange. Kalpaka didn’t have the patience to explain Govisanaka why that would be considered weakness and why Aruni would have enjoyed such diplomacy and would have started the war just on return to his camp if he had tried to talk in that manner. He asked Govisanaka to leave the chamber. Govisanaka felt insulted, but when Mahapadma asked him to leave, Govisanaka left the chamber without a word. Kalpaka apprised the King of the situation and mentioned the details of how his disciples are completing a treaty regarding the southern invasion. He explained the details of the treaty and the common understanding of it. He mentioned who will be the involved parties, what will be the terms and the agreeable conditions. The King was excited by the details of the plan and he was enthusiastic about venturing into southern India. But he had his reservations. He asked Kalpaka, “What if they double cross us when we are venturing towards the south?” Kalpaka replied saying “We will cross that bridge when we come to it”
Aruni hated this part. The relaying of information to the Kings, but more so when the news is such that it throws the current plans into a state of indecisiveness. This was going to be a long night for Aruni. Before he had started, earlier that day, he had convinced the Kings that he would not agree to any of the negotiations and war is inevitable. Few of the Kings didn’t even want Aruni to go for negotiations as they felt there was nothing to negotiate on. The Vidarbha king was the most vociferous of all wanting to show a low born Shudra King his right place in the society. Now, he would have to relay the information to 6 Kings with varied level of interests in the war and who have united to bring the Nanda ruler down. He knew the war would not happen if he said he was unsure. He had to be sure and convince the Kings to wage the war in spite of all the new information which has been uncovered in such small duration.
The mention of Kalpaka representing Nanda’s caused a brief commotion. Aruni went ahead and reported the claims of Kalpaka, regarding the conversion of the spies, the disinformation, the brief points regarding the attack plan, the proposal of the new treaty to be negotiated and finally the threat directly against the Vidarbha King and generally against others. There was silence in the camp for an extended period of time with all the kings trying to absorb the new information. Finally, the Panchala King asked Aruni for his opinion. Aruni said that he doubted Kalpaka’s words and he believed that this treaty is just to keep Pataliputra and Magadha from falling. The Vidarbha King impatiently interrupted Aruni asking, “How do we believe you now as everything you told us till now has proved untrue. Kalpaka is still at the helm of affairs. Weren’t you the one who had suggested that with Kalpaka being the prime minister, we cannot take Pataliputra? With what you said, it feels like he has trapped you while you were thinking you were trapping him and putting him into the dungeons”. The Kasi King started, “If the army sent to the south-west is indeed small, then we don’t have a chance to take the fort here. We will be losing our major strength and we will not be able to defend our forts in case we are met with a rebound attack”. Aruni again said, “I still don’t believe this elaborate plan. Kalpaka might be a master politician, but this is far-fetched even for him. I still would say we should prepare a newer attack plan and attack the fort. It does not make sense to not get into the war after we have committed so much into it”. Aruni felt that the Kings were not giving the same attention to him as they had few hours before. After hours of intense discussion, the kings were divided in their opinions. The Panchala and Avanti kings sided with Aruni and agreed that they should change the attack plan and go ahead with the war. They felt Kalpaka had bluffed through many of the battles before and they should not trust a word uttered by him as this might just be a ploy to save the kingdom. The Vidarbha, Kasi and Kuru kings were of the belief that the treaty put forward by Kalpaka was a win-win situation. It would allow them to weasel out of the war and not look bad in front of their army or their people back home. Moreover they can follow the treaty to invade south if it is mutually beneficial else they can break the treaties or reassess and plan attacks when they are not in such state of confusion. The Surasena King was about to say something when the Vidarbha king interrupted. If you are not agreeing to negotiate on the treaty, I am afraid I would have to side my army with the Nandas and fight against you. I can’t risk losing my home and family and everything I care for on a war with such lapse of intelligence where we do not even know who is the prime minister of their state. I am the most to lose if we go for a war here and I will take a stand against you if you plan for a war. On hearing this the Kasi and Kuru Kings who were not willing mentioned that though they will not fight against the coalition, they will return back to their respective kingdoms if they plan for a war. After a few more hours of discussion, just before the dawn broke, the Panchala, Avanti Kings and Aruni didn’t have any other choice but to reluctantly agree to make a treaty for united invasion of the southern India.
The next two days were of intense negotiations for both Kalpaka and Aruni. Both did not sleep for the 48 hours with their disciples churning out a treaty beneficial for their Kings. All the Kings had their representatives in the negotiation and all felt they reached an agreement on the afternoon of the third day. Magadha and Panchala were supposed to take the majority of the gains obtained from invading south as theirs were the biggest army set to venture into the South. The Panchala military commander was designated to lead the army into the south and it was agreed upon that they will start their journey 3 months from now. Once the treaty was finalized, there were celebrations for another day. Aruni tried his best to contact Yajnavalkya or any one of his spies, but Kalpaka had taken enough precautions in the matter and Aruni could not clear his hunch that all this was an elaborate lie just to evade the war.
The camaraderie between the kings and the ministers in the past three days was exceptional. It didn’t feel like there was a war averted here, but felt like old friends meeting to celebrate their next planned joint venture together. The people of Magadha and armies on both the sides were left baffled by the turn of events but were happy nonetheless. On seeing the enemy armies returning, a legend started to spread in Pataliputra saying “Kalpaka was the war god himself in the form of human on whose sight the enemy ran away”. Kalpaka loathed the fickle mindedness of the common people. A year ago the same people had cheered when he was taken to the dungeons and flung stones and filth at him. They had called him corrupt, greedy, unlawful while welcoming the new minister as though he would bring the much needed prosperity into their lives. Now they compare him to a demi god.
The day after the armies returned from Pataliputra’s fort, Kalpaka urged the King to send a messenger to his army in the South West. Ask the commander to first kill Kamandaka and retreat back prepared for a war. Meanwhile we will follow the retreating armies here and send regular message to our army regarding where to retreat and intercept King Panchala and his united armies. We will annihilate them for thinking of taking over Pataliputra. We will then take over their Kingdoms and you can become the Ekachhatra of Bharath. The King was surprised, “so we don’t hold our end of the treaty, wont we venture towards southern India.” Kalpaka just said “No”. The Magadhan army intercepted the unaware army under Panchala and destroyed them. The Kings were taken by surprise and were already fighting a losing battle when they realized the treachery of the Nanda King. The army was annihilated and all the 6 kings along with Aruni were killed in the battle. With this victory, Mahapadma Nanda, laid the foundation to establish the first great North Indian Empire with its political centre in Magadha, which would in the following years lead to the largest empire in Indian Subcontinent built by the Mauryas.
The King planned to depose Govisanaka and reinstate Kalpaka back as the prime minister. Kalpaka refused the offer and shared his desire to go live as a monk with few of his disciples in Takshashila University. The King agreed to the request and bid his goodbye to a Guru who had made him, a son of barber to an Ekachhatra of Bharath. Kalpaka had made him a King, he now had saved his Kingdom and made him a true “Chakravartin”. He was indebted to Kalpaka and wanted to show his thankfulness. Kalpaka declined the gifts showered on him along with the titles conferred to him by the King. He saw the indebted King on his knees and remembered the same King indebted to the same Guru 2 decades ago in similar way, but still throwing him in the dungeons when he did not flatter the King enough as much as the other ministers.
Kalpaka started his long journey with few of his disciples from Magadha to Takshashila. In the background he could hear the sycophantic voices screaming as loudly as possible “Long live the King, May the King live forever, May the kingdom flourish forever”. He wagered against one of his disciples saying that the King and his kingdom will not last for another 10 years. The kingdom will be taken over and the King will be deposed by another ambitious young lad under tutelage of another learned man. After many years of prosperity, the learned man will be either killed or deposed either by the young lad or his son or his relatives. Once again people will forget about Kalpaka and Mahapadma. They will remember the new king and the new minister till another one arrives. History will repeat itself. Kings might not live forever, Kingdoms might not flourish forever, but the politics of power, the diplomacy of deception and the stupidity of the common people are something which will remain in this land forever and ever.
The Map used in the blog is courtesy of: World History Maps by Thomas Lessman
The Map used in the blog is courtesy of: World History Maps by Thomas Lessman
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