Author’s note: Indian mythology talks about Asura Raktbija whose blood worked as seeds. Any drop of his blood that touched the ground grew as a new Raktbija, making him immortal. Goddess Kali fought against him by beheading him and collecting his blood in a bowl, and drinking it to the last drop ensuring not a single drop of blood touched the ground. Somehow, the story always intrigued me. Here is my take on it.
This story is an ode to the scientific knowledge that existed in Ancient India. According to the researchers, a detailed classification of all living beings, including microbes existed. Various diseases were treated through herbal medication and if needed, operated on. There is proof of cosmetic and brain surgery at Nalanda University that existed 3000 years back. Charaka Sanhita, the medical treatise written by Maharishi Charaka, provides detailed treatment for numerous diseases that researchers are still working on decoding.
I stopped only to change horses, riding day and night for 30 Prahar (42 hours) all the way to the capital. It was crucial to deliver the message urgently to the King. So, I was ushered in his private quarters where Queen Kali was busy with the young princes.
“Har Har Mahadev!“
“Messenger! You look pale and exhausted from the journey. Take a seat before you fall.”
“I bring grave tidings, my lord. You might fell my head once you hear the news!”
“Do not be afraid! Tell me what you need to.”
“My lord, the entire Shakti unit is now possessed by the blood demon.”
King Mahadev’s face fell, “Two hundred of my finest men! All under the enemy’s command! Are you sure?”
I knew he would question my news. All for a a good reason too. The unit had fought against the world’s greatest fighters and never broke a sweat. “I am afraid so. I went close to their camp but did not enter. I could see all of them had discarded their uniforms and armour, and piled them under a tree. I saw blood dripping from their bodies and was worried that they were hurt but I could see no open wounds. It could be easily be the blood of the villagers who lived closeby. Their eyes were blood shot and nobody talked but grunted. There was an eerie silence that belied any possibility of them being humans. Hence, as a single man, I was wary to approach them.
I saw a lot of unfamiliar faces in the camp too. They weren’t fighters but coated with blood too. I scoured the general area and found no dead bodies or any sign of struggle. So, I don’t think our men are taken captive. The only other explanation is that they are possessed and hence, under the control of the demons.”
All of a sudden, I felt too exhausted to stand upright. Taking the seat I was offered earlier, I put my hands in my face. My brother was in that unit. I was at first name basis with every single person in that 200-strong team. That’s why, when the unit was sent to crush the demon attack in the village and they did not report back, I was chosen to bring their tidings. I could account for each one of them…I found each one of them possessed.
“How do you know they are possessed?” Queen Kali enquired. Her voice held a note of disbelief. If only she had seen the grisly sight herself. Seeing blood dripping from my brother face…Women! Unaware of my contempt, she continued, “My lord, if you do not mind, I would like to hear the whole account. It might bring the bigger picture to perspective.”
At her request, he King began recounting the tale. “One of our town offices received a missing person’s report about a group of 11. A family of 2 adults and 3 children was being too reclusive. When neighbours got too concerned, they broke down the door and found all of them hiding in a storeroom. They seemed possessed.”
“What do you mean by possessed?”
“Blood dripped from their bodies. They wouldn’t speak, only grunt. When they were told that they must be taken to Ashram for exorcism, they resisted vehemently and had to be forced into submission. So, a group of 6 strong men bound them and loaded them in bullock carts and started their journey to the closest Ashram. But the party never reached the place nor did they return. A search party of 10 soldiers was sent. They found all the eight adults hiding in the forest dripping blood.”
“And the children?”
“They killed the children, of course. That’s what demons do,” I butted in, angry at her ignorance, but wilted under the cold stare of the queen, “or so the city council assumed when the soldiers didn’t find the children.”
“Isn’t that a lot to assume? Why didn’t they ask them?”
“They wouldn’t speak, only grunt and shake their heads in denial.”
“Don’t you feel this city council’s excuse is a little flimsy. They should have tried to get more information, but I guess, nobody wanted to get close to the possessed.”
The King continued, “The soldiers forced them to return to town where they were kept under lock and key. The soldiers, however stopped coming to the mess for food after two days of return. They complained of acute body pain. Since they had just dealt with demon, it was expected, so the priest from the local temple tied Raksha Sutra around their wrist. Three days later, they escaped with all the eight people they had brought in. The searchers found blood splattered on their beds and floor but no bodies.”
“What happened next?”
“That’s when the city council requested help and I sent a unit of 200 highly trained soldiers to deal with the demon-menace.”
“When the priest get ‘possessed’?”
“How did you know about him?” I asked, curious, since I never got a chance to relay this news to the King.
“Well, I have a theory,” was all she said.
The Kings face was alight with curiosity and I can’t deny I felt the same. “Two days later he had acute body pain. He wouldn’t speak. And, after three more days, his son woke up at night and found him drenched in blood. He tried to exorcise the demon by cutting open his veins. The priest died in the process. Now the demon possess his son. Some of the villagers I talked to told me they saw him with this demonic army too.”
I was incensed. People are dripping blood and this woman finds it interesting, but then, she’s a queen, isn’t she?
The king however still seemed curious, “Can I ask you who I am talking to? The Queen? Or the Raj Vaidya (Royal Doctor)?”
“Both. As a queen, I see that no one gave the chance to the victim to defend themselves, and accepted demonic possession as the only possibility. As the Raj Vaidya, I can see that all the victims had common symptoms: They all fell ill two days after touching another victim, hence touching their blood.” Again, she did not use the word ‘demon’ or ‘possessed’ but ‘victim’, and I could see that the king noted it too. She was, after all, a disciple of Mahrishi Charak, the greatest Physician and researcher in Biology ever born.
“They all lost ability to speak and started dripping blood after five days. It seems like the work of a Sanjata Krmi (infectious microbe) that spreads through blood. It probably breaks the skin cell walls so that it cannot contain blood. They could probably be facing internal bleeding too, but that remains to be seen. It could have infected their throat so that they lose the ability to speak. The pain could be making their eyes go red, or probably they are bleeding too.
We aren’t sure about the death toll since none of them stayed with society, but the disease seems specially fatal for children, since all three of the known cases died.”
“Then, why are they attacking people?”
“And who drew the first blood? Are you telling me that they fight unprovoked? They are saving themselves and their families. They are probably banding together for the fear of persecution. Else, why have they not expanded territory in the past two months?”
“My queen, as I said, there were no broken skin, no open wounds.”
“How closely did you look?”
The King sounded perplexed, “I’ve never heard of such a disease before…”
“There are some Sanjata Krmi that are capable of one or more symptoms, and they evolve overtime. So, it could either be an evolved disease, or could have transferred from animals they killed to eat. We can only find out once I can take samples of their blood and study.”
“But my love, if your theory is true, the infection spreads through blood. And if you touch it, you’ll get infected too. I can’t risk your life.”
“If my theory is true, you sent your men to kill people who were already dying. You risked their lives…”
All of a sudden, I had a renewed respect for our queen. If she was right, my brother wasn’t a demon, and there was a possibility of saving him too. “Is there anyway I can help you in this quest, my lady?”
“Prepare to travel again. Take two more soldiers. You will relay my orders to this camp and all the villages and towns around it. Nobody attacks these victims. Nobody goes close to their camp or touches anything they have touched. In case, anyone else comes up with similar symptoms, they shall be isolated along with their families but treated respectfully.”
Addressing the king, she continued, “My lord, I would need your orders to change the local housing plan in the closest city. We need clean empty rooms in one side to provide proper isolation chambers for the victims so that they stop infecting each other. The town council must provide free rations and three sets of clean clothes for each victim. This will to stop the victims from leaving camp and entering villages or forests for supplies. They are to be provided access to clean water in a tank closest to their housing. They shall not touch a well or pond. This will contain the disease from spreading to others and new victims will come forward rather than hide.
Meanwhile, I’ll prepare my team to travel tomorrow and reach there as soon as we could. We will prepare some medications that work on most blood infections. We will, then, take some blood samples, and see what else we can do to help the victims. But the least we can do for them is to give them a respectful life while it lasts.”