“Kesava, Narayana, Madhava, Govinda….coming, mother, coming.”
He ran up the ghat stairs, put on his shoulder cloth and began running towards the temple. Ever since the mahayagna had been announced, all else had been driven from his mind. There would be laddus, modaks, rice of many kinds, vegetables, mangoes…for seventeen days. There would be cows, silken cloth, gold jewellery, silver bowls, coins to be given away, even a hint of land.
He had just recovered from the ganadhipati’s four-day digvijaya yagna; he hoped that one or the other of the city’s senior priests might not. Then he’d have to be called to officiate at one of the minor fire-pits himself (there were a thousand and one), and rise in the hierarchy. Now he was just apprentice to Kumarila, the assistant to Visnubhatta, who was second-priest to Syamasastri, who was junior only to the rajpurohit Vedasparsha.
“Where is that fool Paramesvara? There, there, see in that row there, gorging among the funeral-priests. For a measure of rice he will do anything. Seize him by his ear and drag him here.” thundered Vishnubhatta, half-annoyed, half-nervous.
“Ouch! You don’t have to pull so.”
“Has Kumarila taught you the anveshanastuti? Yes? You know where minister Bhattiprolu’s fire is? They have one priest short.”
Paramesvara was already running before he finished.
Bhattiprolu’s fire was just a three priest-fire, with the irascible Shivasharma in charge. Shivasharma, always ready to twist his ears and propagate whatever violence a Brahmin had license to, began immediately to demonstrate it. Vedasparsha due for vanaprastha at the end of the yagna would leave the succession to Syamasastri, and in order to Vishnubhatta. Shivasharma becoming assistant second-priest depended on how imbecile Kumarila’s student (and thus his teaching) appeared. And so Paramesvara did nothing that day but pick up dry grass, modaks, pedas and other things which the other priest tossed among the flames, forbidden to open his mouth.
If he got a half a coconut, a discoloured mango, three marigolds and three copper coins, he should count himself lucky, he was told by Shivasharma. A young Brahmin like him cannot foul himself with material things like the Vaishyas did. Anyway food was plenty in the yagna, and this country still had enough dharma not to deny a Brahmin his bhiksha if he asked for it. Today’s young men have all become lazy, loathe to roam the streets as every brahmachari should. Aiming an imaginary kick at his back, Paramesvara turned towards the food-stalls, whence he could smell the steaming rice. Of course, this country was run on the principles of dharma, but even more so on the arthashastra. Why should a Brahmin boy be paid for keeping his mouth quiet around a fire?
His tummy distended after seven helpings of rice, and the fires not to blaze until the tummies of the senior priests had finished distending (which would take a while), he went looking for a place to snatch a nap. He knew just a spot behind a pillar in the main temple hall, which Vishnubhatta would never thought of looking in. The only fear was that one of the other boys, with whom he had had many fruit-eating escapades might already be asleep there. But they were still eating (Paramesvara was known to be a poor eater), so his nook was free.
“Paramesvara! Paramesvara! Get up. The yagna is starting again.”
He rubbed his eyes to see his mother kicking him in the ribs.
“You idiot! Daydreaming as usual. Vedasparsha, Syamasastri, all the priests are waiting. If you miss the muhurtham, the whole kingdom will descend into misfortune.”
“Make way, make way! The king of kings, the most brilliant, the most illustrious, the bravest, the wisest, confounder of his enemies, the victor of Rakshasi-tangadi, the emperor of eight nations, Paramesvara-varman Choda-gangaraya…”