The Fifth Brigade

When Dharmapala became King of Malva, he had two able ministers to assist him in ruling the country correctly. One of them was called Vijaya, and the other was called Vihara.

Immediately after the crowning ceremony, the King called the ministers one after the other to his private chamber. He asked them, “What policy should I adopt to rule the country ably and justly?”

Vijaya advised the King, “O King, the most vital thing is the Penal Law. It alone protects people from harm and gives them security and happiness. Gold is purified by heat, iron is toughened by hammering, and applying the Penal Law strengthens a king’s rule.”

Next, Vihara tendered his advice to the King in the following words:

“O King, the ruling is a complicated job. The King who wants to rule ideally can afford neither to eat nor to sleep. Therefore a wise king leaves the job of ruling to his ministers and spends his time in endless pleasures.”

“And what about the King’s Code?” the King asked.

“O King, codes are to be found only in books. No one should allow them to interfere with one’s pleasures. Even great rishis like Vyasa and Parasara infringed the codes when they wanted to enjoy life. We are but small creatures in comparison. You are young. Neither your youth nor your pleasures are eternal. So, it would be best if you enjoyed them while you had them,” Vihara replied.

“What do you say to the Penal Law?” the King asked.

Vihara replied, “Even the abridged version of Penal Law by Vishnugupta contains six thousand verses. Even if one were to master all the verses, one should be able to interpret them. Various interpretations hold the ground, and judgement often fails. We go by usage in matters pertaining to Law, ignoring the code.”

The King appeared to be satisfied. He put the entire burden of state upon Vihara and devoted himself to such pleasures as a drink, hunting and gambling.

Vihara now became the virtual King. He never referred any state matter to the King but looked to everything himself. If anyone had injustice at his hands, they could not complain to the King. Those who had his favour were free from all laws.

Slowly the entire administration became disorderly. Among the populace, drinking and gambling became common. Theft, too, was on the increase.

News of the anarchy reigning in Malwa reached the kingdom of Chola. Under normal conditions, the Chola king could never hope to conquer Malwa. But, since conditions there have changed, he employed his minister’s son, Vineetha and sent him to Malwa as a spy. Vineetha observed the conditions in Malwa and made friends with Vihara, the all-powerful minister.

Then both of them started a conspiracy against the country.

One day Vihara took Vineetha to the King and introduced him thus:

“O, King. This young man is the son of the Chola Minister. Insulted by his King and swearing vengeance, he has come to us seeking asylum. The King’s Code defines that our enemy’s enemy is our friend. Therefore I strongly feel that we ought to grant him asylum.”

The King consented. Only Vijaya disapproved of this very strongly. He went to the King and said, “O King, we should not harbour this Vineetha without properly investigating his credentials. We know that the Chola King had his eye upon Malwa for a long time, and only our strength was holding him back. If this Vineetha should start collecting our secrets and passing them on to Chola, we will fall.”

“Don’t be afraid, my friend. We shall learn all the secrets of Chola from him,” the King replied calmly.

That became a noted favourite at the King’s court. H in a short time, retinue changed from day to day. Strange persons kept pouring from Chola, went with him for a few days and then disappeared.

“All these people are my trusted servants. They will lay down their lives to deliver Chola into our hands,” Vineetha told the King.

They were all soldiers of Chola. Not one of them went back. Vineetha built a massive building with state funds, surrounded it with a very high wall and lodged these soldiers inside it with all sorts of weapons and other war materials. About five thousand soldiers were getting ready like this, and they were all fed at the state’s expense, which they were to destroy at a signal from Vineetha.

The only man who kept track of all these activities was Vijaya. He even made an approximate estimate of the number of soldiers. The amounts maintained by Vineetha he was drawn from the treasury. Thinking it was futile to warn the King, Vijaya narrated his findings to Queen Sunanda. The King, in his turn, learnt the facts from the queen.

The King never completely believed Vihara. But, since he was too young and ignorant of state affairs, he wanted to find out which of his ministers was trustworthy and pretended to believe everything. He knew the time would come for him to show his iron hand. Now the time had arrived.

The next day the King came to court and told Vihara, “You have been looking after the state affairs for so long. Let me see how things stand.”

The minister wanted to divert the King with some jocularities, but it did not work. The King went into all details about cash, income, expenditure, tax collection, appeals from the subjects, actions taken about them and so on.

Then he turned to the minister and said, “Should anyone think of marching upon us to wage war now, they would find conditions very much in their favour, wouldn’t they?”

“We have no fear of war from any quarter!” puzzled greatly. said Vihara,

“Ah, you are not aware that the Chola king is getting ready to march his Five Brigades against us!” said the King.

“Five Brigades?” said the minister, still more puzzled. The armies of those times were divided into four brigades, the chariot brigade, the elephant brigade, the cavalry brigade and the infantry brigade.

“Of course, the Chola king will march upon us his Four Brigades. But his fifth brigade is right here, eating our salt. If you do not know even this fact, you are not fit to be our minister,” said the King. He ordered Vihara to be arrested and imprisoned, appointing Vijaya in his place.

Then the King proceeded with his new minister to where Vineetha hid his soldiers. He was told that the building belonged to Vineetha.

The King sent for Vineetha and asked him, “Does this building belong to you? What do you keep in it?”

Vineetha replied, “It is true that I got it built for Your Highness on the minister’s orders, but it does not belong to me. I do not know what it contains.”

“Well, I have no use with it now. Let all the windows and doors be blocked up with brick and mortar,” the King ordered. “I shall see what it contains by and by. I may need Vineetha, then. For the time being, keep him safe in prison.”

Thus five thousand enemy soldiers were entombed alive, and their leader clapped in prison for the quick and timely action of the King. But by then, the armies of Chola had already started their march on Malwa.

The King was prepared for it. Large contingents of Malwa armies were concealed at various places around the fort. When Chola armies laid siege to this fort, they were attacked both from the fort walls and behind, they sustained a heavy defeat, and the Chola king escaped death only by a hair’s breadth. He never knew why the secret armies inside the fort did not join his regular forces by giving him entry into the defence.

King Dharmapala got Vihara and Vineetha judged as war criminals. They were sentenced to death. Their corpses were hung upside down on the fort walls, and underneath them was written: “Fate of the Leaders of the Fifth Brigade.”

Chandamama October 1955 | R V Ramanatham

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