Once upon a time, in a world very similar to our own, there was an ancient land called Bharat. Within Bharat was a small kingdom called Videha. This is where our story begins.
The ruler of Videha was King Janaka. Under his long reign, Videha was prosperous. The people were happy, and life was peaceful. There was just one problem. King Janaka was aging and he didn’t have an heir. For many years, Janaka and his beautiful queen, Sunayana, prayed to the gods for a child. But the gods remained silent. No child was born.
One day, a senior advisor in Janaka’s court, named Vyasa, approached the king in the throne room. “Sire,” Vyasa beseeched him. “You have heard me talk of the Seers for years. The time has finally come. You need their help.”
Janaka’s brow furrowed. Everyone in Bharat had heard of the Seers. They were a group of golden-eyed mystics who lived in the kingdom of Mahishūru. They followed the teachings of an Asura called Mahishasura. “Demons,” Janaka sputtered at the thought of an Asura setting foot in his kingdom. “You want me to ask those demon Asuras for help?”
“Janaka, I am your friend,” Vyasa looked him in the eye. Few others would dare do the same thing. “We have known each other since childhood. I will not just sit beside you and feed you idle words in this time of need.”
“I still have time,” Janaka protested, flushing angrily. He was older, but still one of the most powerful kings in Bharat.
Vyasa raised an eyebrow. He was accustomed to Janaka’s ego, but the time for soothing injured pride had ended. “Sire, please allow me to speak honestly,” When Janaka nodded, Vyasa continued. “Your enemies are mobilizing against you. They are waiting for the first sign of weakness to pounce on Videha. You must have an heir and time to train him. Without one, Videha is in danger.”
“But to ask an Asura for help is outrageous,” Janaka scowled. His distaste for Asuras was deep-rooted. Devas and Asuras had been fighting each other for centuries. It was only in the last two decades that a tentative peace agreement had been forged between the two groups. But the distrust still lingered. “There must be another way.”
“My brother, there is no other way,” Vyasa said softly. It pained him to admit it. He didn’t want to approach the Asuras for help either. “I’ve seen it. This is the only path to an heir.”
“So, who do you propose we call?” When Vyasa raised an eyebrow, Janaka shook his head. “He won’t come,” Janaka crossed his arms. “Even if I ask him to. There is too much bad blood between our kingdoms.”
“Yes, he will.” Vyasa smiled. When his visions were clear, they were never wrong. “Ask him and he will come.”
One week later, Vyasa’s statement was proven correct. He rushed into the throne room and found King Janaka conducting his daily meeting with his ministers. Conversation halted as Vyasa approached the king.
“Sire, he’s here,” Vyasa whispered into the Janaka’s ear.
The king waved his hands, dismissing the ministers. Once they scurried out of the room, Janaka nodded to two of his guardsmen.
The heavy doors at the opposite end of the room swung open. An Asura named Mahishasura entered. He surveyed the room with one sweeping glance as he strode across the marble floor. Despite his towering height, Mahishasura looked up at the throne from the bottom of the steps. “Janaka.”
“So, we finally meet,” King Janaka nodded back, and remained seated. He pointedly lowered his head to look down at the Asura. It was customary for two royals of equal status to greet each other on level ground. “I’m told that you are the legendary Mahishasura.”
Mahishasura’s golden eyes eyes narrowed. He recognized the insult. “I am.”
“You look more human than I expected,” Janaka remarked casually. He scanned the Asura from head to toe. “I’ve heard that you are part water buffalo. If the stories are true, where are your horns?”
Mahishasura smiled, baring even white teeth. “Stories don’t always contain truth.”
Vyasa fluttered around Janaka nervously. He said softly, “Sire, I must remind you that we invited him here. We need his help.”
“Yes, yes,” Janaka lifted one hand and waved Vyasa away. The internal struggle was apparent on his face. After a few moments of silence, he stood up and walked down the steps. “My advisor has reminded me that you have done us a great favor by appearing in our court.” He extended his hand. “Please forgive me. You have shown us a great honor with your visit.”
Mahishasura raised an eyebrow. After pausing, he took Janaka’s hand and clasped it in greeting. “You are forgiven. Now, what is the purpose of my visit?”
“I have been told that your people have special,” Janaka hesitated. He searched for the word. “Abilities.” When Mahishasura remained silent, Janaka continued. “I have need of such abilities.”
“Is that so?” The expression on Mahishasura’s face was mild interest. “And why is that?”
Janaka grimaced, as if he spotted something distasteful. He squared his shoulders. “My advisors tell me that I will never have an heir without your help.”
“I see,” Mahishasura replied evenly. He didn’t appear surprised by the revelation. “And if this is true, why should I help you?”
The Asura was trying to bargain with him. Well, this was something that Janaka could understand. “What do you want from us in exchange for your help?” He extended his hand to point out the splendors of the room. “Gold? Jewels? I will pay your fee.”
Mahishasura snorted. “I am the rightful King of Mahishuru. It is one of the wealthiest kingdoms in Bharat. Do you think I could be bought so easily?”
“But you’re not,” Vyasa interjected. When Mahishasura turned his gaze to Vyasa, the old advisor stammered. “Your Highness, I mean no disrespect. But I have been told that you gave up your right to the throne to follow the teachings of the Seers.”
Mahishasura nodded. “You speak the truth. I am no longer the King of Mahishuru. But my people still follow my words as law.”
“Then why are you here?” King Janaka demanded. He didn’t have time to banter with an Asura. “If not for gold or wealth, why are you here?”
Mahishasura’s brow furrowed. Why indeed? “I will help you. But for a price.”
King Janaka threw up his hands in exasperation. “What price? I just offered you all of the gold you could ever want.”
“My price isn’t wealth,” Mahishsura replied. He glanced over his shoulder and nodded at someone waiting outside the throne room. “I need your protection. For him.”
A woman holding the hand of a boy walked up to the group. The boy was young and handsome. While the woman kept her eyes cast downward, the boy boldly met the penetrating gaze of Vyasa. He grinned, showing a flash of even white teeth, before turning his golden eyes to King Janaka.
“Who is this child?” King Janaka demanded. There was something about the boy that made him uneasy.
Mahishasura smiled. He rested his hand on the boy’s thick black hair. “He is the younger son of the Sage Vishrava. His name is Ravana.”