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THE GREAT INDIAN TREASURE

RAGHUNANDAN VADLA


Published by Raghunandan Vadla at Smashwords.


Copyright © Raghunandan Vadla

All rights reserved

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events or locales is purely coincidental.


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.






To My Parents


Contents

Note by Author

Foreword

Testimonials

Acknowledgments

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

EPILOGUE

MEANINGS

AFTERWORD

AUTHOR’S DESCRIPTION


Note by Author

I will forever be indebted to this book, which led me to meet my role model Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam and strike a conversation with him that led to several inspiring things in my life.

The book is about a quest to find a treasure which has the capacity to not only change our country into a developed country but also transform the world into a better place.

I remember Dr. Kalam saying that the development of any country is not only being developed in economic sense but also to be developed in a more human sense.

He told that marriage of both the development in economic sense and humanity is what is needed for India. He hoped to see India as a developed nation in this manner and be a role model for development to the entire world.

He stressed upon the importance of being proud of our rich history, to get inspired for future advancement of our country.

I firmly believe that we can find the treasure which can transform our country into a developed country with human ethos.

So what are we waiting for….


Let’s find the treasure and change our future.




Foreword

Raghunandan’s novel, The Great Indian Treasure can be characterized as a work of fiction with a purpose. A large, diverse society with a rich, ancient and complex history needs a strong sense of civilizational foundation to be stable. And yet, we need to play our rightful role in the modern world, and accelerate economic growth and prosperity to fulfil the potential of every child. Integration of ancient wisdom with modern technology and aspirations is therefore the need of the hour. We have many pearls in our tradition and culture. Often, it is mixed with a lot of unnecessary baggage. We need to separate the two.

Raghunandan has made a remarkably innovative and creative literary attempt to weave our glorious tradition and modern challenges into a seamless tapestry. We need a redefinition of nationalism that will transcend narrow sectarianism and bind all Indians together, and strive to fulfil the aspirations of every single child irrespective of circumstances of birth. I hope this engaging and exciting literary venture will help this synthesis of the old with the new and the traditional with the modern. I congratulate Raghunandan for his labour of love.

With warm regards Jayaprakash Narayan (Former IAS officer, Founder of Loksatta, Founder and General Secretary of Foundation of Democratic Reforms)





Testimonials

It was a pleasure reading The Great Indian Treasure by Raghunandan. The book weaves an engaging story based on archaeological investigations conducted at several locations of historical significance in South Asia. The reader gets a glimpse of glory and wisdom of the people in ancient India. I found it to be an inspiring book.

K.L Srivastava

(Professor at Centre for Social Initiative and Management)


A suspenseful drama unfolds along the way to an exciting treasure hunt involving great Indian minds. The historical insights about Indian ingenuity and inventions bring to focus the rich legacy as well as enormous potential of the country to once again be the envy of the rest of the world. A great source of inspiration and pride for young Indians.

Bhaven Shah

(Chair, Young Indians National Projects Team, Co Founder http://freightbazaarcom )




Acknowledgments

The energy of positive thinking of multiple people has created a synergized effect enabling me to complete this book. I express my earnest gratitude to all the people who were involved directly or indirectly in this endeavor.

Let me begin by thanking my mother, Pushpavathi, father, Goverdhan, and brother, Rakesh, for constantly supporting me in all my endeavors. Without your support and understanding, I wouldn’t have been able to take any bold decisions in my life, which includes the decision to become an author.

I am indebted to Dr. Jayaprakash Narayan, one of my role models for writing the Foreword for my book. His insightful words indeed inspired me.

I would be an ungrateful friend if I do not acknowledge Praveen, my friend from the days I was pursuing B.Tech. I thank you very much for all the unsolicited support during a very difficult phase of life.

Thank you very much JJ Chaitanya for helping me with your thoughts, editing the book before I took it to the publishers, motivating and supporting me. The book would have been very different without your efforts.

Thank you so much Hanu B Krishna for helping me to release this book. I’m thankful to Nani Malloju, Nishanth Appari and Mallikarjun for their constant support to the project. Thank you very much Latha Shreedhar for composing the book.

Thank you very much Sanjay Mahar for being the first one to risk, reading my book in raw form. Your feedback and suggestions helped the book to evolve.

I cannot thank Ms. Jessie Joseph enough for giving timely and candid feedback on the book. Had I published my book without consulting you, I would have written an epitaph for the writer in me. I am grateful to Praveen for introducing her to me. Thank you very much Yi Hyderabad Friends. Chandra Shekar, Sumit Kabra, Jyoti Das, Rohit Kauntia, Ashish Agrawal, Anand Agrawal for coming forward to help me with my book.

Thank you very much Rajeev Ravulapati for your support and valuable feedback about the book. Your pertinent points really made this book better. I am also grateful to Narendra Luther and Ramana Rao for their valuable suggestions. I also owe my gratitude to Krishna whose creativity helped me with ideas for the initial cover page designs.

Thank you very much Srikanth Uppari for capturing the cover page photograph of mine. You are one of the finest photographers I have seen. Thank you very much Venkata Ramana, it was your suggestion which led me to meet Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam and discuss this book with him.

I thank my other friends who have always stood by me. Dinesh, who was my classmate when I was pursuing Higher Secondary, Srinivas Geedi, who was my colleague in Valuelabs, Aditya with whom I prepared for competitive examinations together, Vinay who was my childhood friend, Sreenivas Murthy who has been my partner in several social activities and Sunil Kumar Mogulla who was my class mate in school.

Thank you very much Maruthi for supporting and encouraging me with the lyrics which I wrote for publicity of this book. I also thank Ravinder Reddy for his suggestions. They were indeed useful.

I thank Arun Kumar, Sai Teja Peddineni, Deepak Kachana, Deepak Rao, Narsing Arravally, Anil Penta, and Krishna Chaithanya for their support. There are many many more people who have come forward to help me with this book, if I start putting their names it will become another book by itself. My earnest gratitude to all of you for coming forward to help me.

I’m forever indebted to the Kumbhmela trip which I took with my friends, Naresh, Mithun, Santosh, Raj Gopal and Sridhar. The trip inspired me to write this book. Thank you very much friends for planning that trip.

You will be deeply missed Vikram, thank you for standing by me. A day doesn’t pass without remembering you atleast once, buddy. Vinay and I have many fond memories with you which we will cherish forever. It’s a tribute and privilege to dedicate a character of this book in your name.

Cover page Design Credits, Book Design Credits, Editing Credits : My previous publisher who was supposed to publish my book.




PROLOGUE

A team of Russian archaeologists were excavating at Bamiyan, Afghanistan. A man of huge proportions was savouring the cool weather while a thin man was huffing and puffing over the excavation.

“Dig deeper, Comrade! Who knows what treasures lie below?” said the big man.

“Shut up! You fat, Slob. We’ve been slogging our butts off for the last one month and all we have is dirt to show for it,” his companion retaliated.

“You need to learn to enjoy your life, Comrade. Enjoy this cool breeze, the picturesque beauty of those Bamiyan Buddhas* and the exquisite scenery of these cliffs,” pacified the big man.

“Which cool breeze? It’s a fickle climate up here and we are ploughing rocks that even nukes can’t melt,”whined the thin man.

“You need to understand, Comrade that you are not alone and that there are others who are working just as hard as you are. You should stop being so pessimistic.”

“If you are done lecturing, can you please take the spade and start digging?”

The big man immediately jumped into the pit and started digging feverishly.

“Wow, that was quick. Did I scare you?” chuckled the thin man.

“Don’t be full of yourself, Comrade. You can’t even scare a mouse. Turn and see for yourself,” said the big man.

“What is there to see except these gun-toting military men? I’m not sure whether they are protecting us or preventing us from running away,” muttered the thin man without turning his head.

“There is more to look for than these gun-toting men, comrade.”retorted the big man.

When the thin man turned his head and looked up after a short while, he saw a tall man of slender build in a brown woollen Eskimo cap, a sweater, and gloves. The man was standing on the edge of the pit and keenly observing the progress of the excavation.


“Oh, it’s Andrei Aminev, the chief archaeologist who sent you racing down here,” concluded the thin man.

“Yeah, he would be disappointed if he sees us not working as he is racing against time to complete the excavation,” affirmed the big man.

“I’m told the situation has gone from bad to worse. Do you think we will reach home in one piece?” asked the thin man.

“I just pray that we find something soon and leave this place once and for all,” the big man said wistfully.

Just then the thin man’s spade struck the ground with a clang. It was the very sound that Andrei Aminev was longing to hear for an entire month.His green eyes filled with excitement, Andrei jumped into the pit. His eyes fell on the metal case that had been unearthed. He started removing the dirt over it with the brush and the trowel from his waist pouch. He carefully opened the case and found a stone tablet and a few other stone pieces. “Wonderful!” yelled Andrei unable to control his excitement. Seeing the puzzled faces around, Andrei quickly regained his composure and said, “Let’s shift them to our tent. We’ll examine them later.”

Andrei’s tent was spacious enough to accommodate around a hundred people. A small portion of it was partitioned to create a private working space for the archaeologist. The enclosure was furnished with a table on the right, a bed on the left, and a few chairs in the middle. A magnifying glass and other archaeological instruments were kept on one side of the table. The tent was lit up by a few aesthetically-designed lanterns.

The thin man brought the metal case into the tent and arranged the pieces along with the stone tablet on the table in the order as they were found in the metal case. The tablet was grey and had rough edges. It was about two feet long and one foot high. The granite structure appeared to be more than two thousand years old. Neatly chiseled on top of the tablet were three lions sitting together, one facing forward while the other two were positioned sideways. The middle portion of the tablet was engraved with cryptic messages whereas the lower portion of the tablet was occupied by a wheel with 24 spokes.

Andrei took the magnifying glass and was just about to start examining the cryptic messages, when he saw a shadow at the entrance. The shadow belonged to a high ranking army officer. He walked into the tent with an air of superiority about him followed by a few soldiers.

Andrei looked up and smiled at his guest. “What brings you here, Captain Nikolai? I hope everything is well.”

“I wouldn’t have been here if it was so,” said Nikolai in a somber tone as he dragged a chair opposite to Andrei.

“The situation has gone from bad to worse. The Afghan rebels have stepped up their attacks. You need to pack up immediately before this site turns into full blown war zone.” warned Nikolai.

“How much time do we have?” asked Andrei. His tone betrayed his anxiety. “There isn’t any time. I urge you to vacate this place right away. Don’t jeopardize your lives. Get out of here before the insurgents strike.”

Andrei had a good rapport with Nikolai but he had never seen him in so agitated. Andrei grasped the gravity of the situation. He walked out of the tent immediately and announced “Friends, I have an important update for you. I’m told our lives are at risk. I want all of you to pack up and vacate this place right now.”

Nikolai, who followed Andrei, placed his hand on Andrei’s shoulder and said, “Thanks for understanding this grim situation. The army will escort you to the base camp. Please vacate this place as soon as possible.” “Certainly,” said Andrei. Nikolai thanked him once again and left to make preparations to vacate the team of archaeologists.

Andrei was disappointed that he had to leave the expedition midway. His team had spent the better part of the year at that site braving the ongoing Afghan war.

The entire team packed up their belongings quickly and jumped onto three camouflaged trucks and jeeps outside the tent.

Andrei and his men along with a few soldiers sat in the jeep. The excavated items were loaded onto the truck and were guarded by the remaining army personnel. The truck was followed by another jeep consisting of Captain Nikolai and his men.

The Soviet base camp was about thirty kilometers away from the excavation site and vehicles were moving slowly towards their destination because it was difficult even for the most experienced drivers to navigate the hilly terrains with their serpentine twists and turns. The vehicles negotiated their way through the roads flanked with high cliffs on one side and deep valleys on the other.

Every bend on the road seemed to hold a mystery. As the vehicle was traversing a particularly difficult bend, a donkey wandered into the middle of the road.

The driver of the jeep thought it was a trap from the terrorists to slow them down and sounded the horn to move the donkey away. Andrei who saw the predicament of the animal raised his hand signaling the driver to stop honking. “Don’t disturb the animal. It’s giving birth to a calf. Every life is precious,” he said.

The driver who knew Andrei very well, saw no point in arguing further. He immediately swerved the jeep to the edge off the road. Andrei watched with bated breath as the driver maneuvered the jeep past the donkey. He breathed a sigh of relief as they hit the middle of the road once again. But just then, the truck, which was following them, came honking to scare the donkey off the path.

Boom!

A landmine exploded with an earsplitting sound. A lump of flesh hit Andrei in the face and slid down his lap leaving a streak of crimson. The truck containing the artifacts and the jeep carrying Nikolai were totally destroyed. The explosion rocked Andrei’s jeep.

“Bloody fruits of war,” cursed a grief stricken Andrei, referring to the ongoing Afghan war, unaware about the history of the tablet below his seat, which was product of the war of wars, emperor Ashoka’s Kalinga war.



Find the treasure - Change the future...



My message, especially to young people is to have courage to think differently, courage to Invent, to travel the unexplored path, courage to discover the impossible and to conquer the problems and succeed. These are great qualities that they must work towards. This is my message to the young people.– A.P.J Abdul Kalam




CHAPTER ONE

It was a rainy night on the outskirts of Hyderabad. An antique, independent house was the scene for an important discussion. Prof. Srivastava, a middle-aged person sat on one side of a rectangular table and on the other side of the table were four of his students and a young army officer. One of the students was his only son, Vikram. The entire room was decorated with rare collections from the bygone era, one which would appeal to any visitor with an interest in history.

Srivastava, a professor of archaeology in the University of Hyderabad had conducted numerous archaeological expeditions throughout India to unearth treasures belonging to the country’s glorious past. These expeditions were a much-needed relief for Prof. Srivastava against the backdrop of his wife’s untimely death in a road accident when Vikram was just 10 years old.

Vikram, who took a leaf from his father’s book by becoming a student of archaeology, would often assist his father in his expeditions. The occupants of the room were discussing the expedition that had recently concluded in the Western Ghats of India.

“What’s next, Dad? The last expedition turned out to be a damp squib. I expected to find treasure this time,” grumbled Vikram, who was in his early twenties. “Don’t worry Vikram. Our noble motives will certainly open up new avenues. I am very sure that eventually we will end up discovering our ancestors treasures and realize our mission of utilizing it for our country’s empowerment,” said Srivastava in his baritone voice while sliding his hand through his well-coiffed hair.

“I believe in the Professor’s quest too. Who knew there was a multi billion dollar treasure trove in the Padmanabha Swamy temple of Kerala?” added Alisha in her mellifluous voice while adjusting her spectacles. Alisha was 21 years old with a pretty face and a pleasing demeanour. She was specializing in the ancient languages of India under the tutelage of Prof.Srivastava.

Vikram nodded in agreement.

“As per the old manuscripts I referred to recently, there are many treasures that need be explored in this mystic country,” opined Alisha while holding an ancient manuscript in her hand.

Alisha in a very short time had earned a special place in the eyes of Prof. Srivastava by mastering ancient Indian languages, which amazed him and her fellow students.

“And the worrying part is that there are international syndicates that are keen on acquiring those treasures and using them for various terror-related activities,” cautioned a tall and muscular Johnny whose well-built frame was in complete contrast to the timidity he displayed from time to time.

“Johnny, why do you worry all the time? Don’t let your apprehensions throw cold water on our mission,” jumped in another young lady looked dapper in her blue and white salwar kameez*. Sruthi and Johnny were specializing in ancient Indian symbols and cryptography under the guidance of Prof. Srivastava.

“Didn’t I narrowly miss death during one of our expeditions? I have every right to be worried,” protested Johnny with a timid face again.

“Didn’t Sanjay take the bullet on his shoulder before it hit you?“ retorted Sruthi in the same angry tone by pointing at a radiant young man with piercing dark brown eyes and a military hair cut.

“Johnny, can’t you see the spirit of sacrifice in Sanjay’s attitude? He showed us all that our cause is greater than one’s own self,” chimed in Srivastava.

Sanjay was serving in the army and used to join the Professor on his expeditions whenever he was free or on holiday.

“I cannot forget how he saved my father’s life during a dangerous expedition in Kashmir. Sanjay, it’s only because of your bravery that my father is here today,” remembered Vikram with gratitude.

“Vikram, I was only doing my duty. Meeting Prof. Srivastava has given my life a higher meaning. I now not only serve my country when I’m on duty but also serve her when I’m off duty!”replied Sanjay earnestly.

“The ultimate result of any noble motive will always be rosy but don’t expect the path to be easy, “ cautioned Prof. Srivastava once again.

The group was startled by the sudden knock on the door as it was an odd time for visitors to the house that was remotely situated in the outskirts of the city. The noise increased as if someone was pounding down on the door.

Sanjay was alert in a flash. He pulled out his pistol and took his position knowing very well from past experience that the profession of treasure hunting was fraught with dangers.

When Vikram stepped up to open the door, Sanjay interrupted him and said,

“Wait Vikram, let me check.”

Sanjay opened the door carefully and peeped outside, only to find an injured man writhing in pain on the door steps. Sanjay was perplexed and several questions ran through his mind.

“Who could be this man?”

“Why is he injured?”

“What is he doing here?”

Sanjay acted quickly, pulled the man inside and closed door. The injured man was well built and tall. He was shot in his stomach, there was blood all over his face stemming from several gashes and bruises, giving ample evidence that he had been ruthlessly tortured.

Everyone rushed to the injured man’s aid. Sanjay shouted, “Get some water!”

“I don’t have time, I just don’t! Where is Prof. Srivastava? Where is he?” requested the man in an agonized voice.

Srivastava leaned over the injured man and then let out a cry. “Mithilesh is that you? Tell me, tell me who did this to you?”

Mithilesh handed over a heavy suitcase he was clutching to Srivastava and spoke in a weak voice. “Some anti-nationals have smuggled this stone tablet from Afghanistan. This has a clue to the great Indian treasure…,”

“The Great Indian Treasure!” exclaimed Srivastava.

The team was surprised to see the reaction of Srivastava.

Mithilesh paused to collect his breath and then waved off Sruthi who had brought a glass of water. “And the worst part is, some of our politicians are hand in glove with the foreign mafia. They will be happy to get a piece of the treasure and utilize it to retain their power.”

“Who are these politicians?” asked Prof. Srivastava angrily.

“Janardhan, Janardhan, one of our sitting Member of Parliament.”

“Janardhan, our MP….!” before Srivastava could finish the sentence, Mithilesh took his final breath.

Srivastava checked the pulse and pronounced in a mournful tone, “He is no more. Rest in peace, my dear friend. Mithilesh was an officer with the Archaeological Survey of India and over the course of years, we had interacted several times to discover and preserve several archaeological artifacts of this nation. Mithilesh died for his country, let’s not allow his sacrifice to go in vain.”

“We are with you, Professor,” assured Sanjay.

“A dead body! I believe we are in big trouble! Let’s approach the police and give that suitcase to them,” suggested Johnny in a petrified voice.

“Be calm, Johnny. Let wisdom prevail over the instantaneous decisions. If we give that suitcase to the police, it will eventually go to that Janardhan and Mithilesh’s sacrifice would be wasted,” chimed in Vikram.

“I beg to differ. We should approach the police but we should not mention about this suitcase, “cut in Alisha.

“The people who killed Mithilesh will go to any extent to get this suitcase. If we go to the police, we might be walking into a trap, “argued Sruthi looking at Vikram. She expected him to come up with some brilliant plan as usual to pull them out from this unexpected quagmire.

“Fate has put us into this strange situation. It’s really a tough decision to make…” Before Vikram could finish the sentence, the entire room reverberated with sounds of gunfire and shards of glass flew in all directions.

Sanjay dived to the floor and shouted,

“They are firing at us. Everyone bend down.”

Sanjay pulled out his pistol to give the attackers a fitting reply.

“Why use force, when we can escape through the back door. Sanjay, we all know how capable you are but this is not the time to fight. Let’s get to safety and live to fight another day,” urged Vikram.

Sanjay reluctantly agreed and all of them managed to get to the back door and escape unscathed while the gunfire continued. Fate had landed them in an unexpected adventure.

***




A man is great by deeds, not by birth. - Chanakya




CHAPTER TWO

Janardhan was relaxing in his farm house on the outskirts of Hyderabad. Spread across 200 acres, the massive farm house was clearly a testament to his political and financial clout. Scores of security guards were stationed around the place and were keeping a constant vigil. Janardhan’s icy demeanor, cold eyes were a scary sight to behold. At the moment, however, he was relishing his cigarette and was lost in deep thought. He was surrounded by his trusted bodyguards who could put away anyone with a single snap of his fingers.

Janardhan’s thoughts were rudely interrupted by a confidant who walked into the room and started complaining. “Sir, we’ve lost our gold again due to the strict vigilance at the airport. The smuggled gold is in the hands of the police now.”

Janardhan fumed at the person’s insolence. “How dare you come inside without asking for permission, you scoundrel? Get out!”

Janardhan’s tirade sent the man scurrying out of the the room. He hastily exited the room and requested permission to enter the room once again. “Can I come in sir?”

“No, you may not, rascal. Learn some manners before talking to me again,” roared Janardhan in an angry voice.“I just can’t stand such people,”muttered Janardhan under his breath.

After he had cooled down, Janardhan made some inquiries with regards to what transpired with the gold at the Shamshabad Airport.

Ram Singh, a close associate of Janardhan explained, “The police officer at Shamshabad Airport is upright, Sir. He cannot be bought or coerced. It will be very tough for us to smuggle goods into the Hyderabad as long as he’s there.”

“Then let’s silence him like Mithilesh.”

***

Later that night, a well-built man in his late twenties rushed into Janardhan’s room. “That rascal Mithilesh, he gave the suitcase containing the clues to that bloody professor.”

Janardhan, who was on the phone, immediately waved for the person to stop speaking and whispered, “Mr. Viktor’s on the line.”

The name“Viktor”had a numbing effect on the young intruder. He waited patiently for the conversation to finish and wondered how powerful this Viktor was to make his father, the great Janardhan behave in such a subservient fashion.

After finishing the conversation with Viktor, Janardhan turned towards his son.

“What were you saying, Ami?”

“We killed Mithilesh, Dad but, that bugger managed to hand the tablet over to Prof. Srivastava before dying. We attacked his home but he managed to get away with the tablet! “answered a frustrated Amresh who was Janardhan’s only son.

“Did you dispose of Mithilesh’s body?” inquired Janardhan.

“Don’t worry, Dad. It has been taken care. Why take unnecessary risk of involving police into this treasure hunt.”clarified Amresh.

“There must be a reason why Mithilesh had to go all the way to this Srivastava’s place?”

“Well, Srivastava is a well-known archaeologist and has, in the past, successfully excavated several historical artifacts. He is a close friend of Mithilesh and the bad news is that he has the ability to decipher the clues on that tablet. In one word, he is mad about archaeology!”

“My son, that’s actually good news. We no longer have to worry about deciphering the clues. We can just show up and claim the treasure for ourselves once they discover it,” reassured Janardhan.

“Dad, how do we catch them before they run away with the treasure? My gut feeling says that they won’t approach the police as there is a fair chance that Mithilesh would have spilled the beans to them before dying,” said Amresh who was still unconvinced by his father’s conviction.

“We need to keep a close watch on them. My instinct tells me that this Prof. Srivastava will not be able to resist the urge to go after the treasure. “

“Dad, then I need your help in tracking their current location.”

“Don’t worry, we will smoke them out, I have the entire government machinery at my service but, once I give you their location you shouldn’t lose sight of them,” cautioned Janardhan. Amresh then took leave to make preparations to pursue Prof. Srivastava’s team.

“All of this seems like a blessing in disguise. Who knew the tablet would land in the hands of a treasure-crazy archaeologist? I need to let Viktor know about this good news,” thought Janardhan.

***

The team reached a safe place under Sanjay’s guidance.

Srivastava and Alisha had already started examining the stone tablet.

“Did you find something, Dad?” asked Vikram.

“This stone tablet is from the Mauryan period* and was inscribed during the rule of Ashoka the great. It is more than 2,300 years old!” explained Srivastava.

“How can you be so sure that it is from Ashoka’s period, Sir?” enquired Sruthi.

Srivastava pointed his finger at the stone tablet.“You see, the Brahmi script used on the tablet was from Ashoka’s time. The text here refers to someone called ‘Devanampiya Piyadassi’ which means ‘the beloved of gods’. ‘Devanampiya Piyadassi’ is another name for Emperor Ashoka. Many relics of Ashoka’s period found throughout the Indian subcontinent bear this name. Ashoka used to refer himself with this name.”

“I agree with Dad. I have also read about Ashoka being called as Devanampiya Piyadassi in my research on Mauryan history,” added Vikram.

“How can a stone tablet belonging to an Indian emperor end up in the distant land of Afghanistan?” asked Sruthi inquisitively.

“Ashoka ruled a huge empire. His kingdom covered almost all of modern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The best part was that most of his rule was marked by prosperity and people-friendly administration,” clarified Srivastava with a sense of pride.

“I heard Ashoka established a secret society consisting of nine people to preserve and protect knowledge that could be dangerous to mankind if it falls in the wrong hands. Is it true?” enquired Vikram.

“Yes, it is believed so. Each of the nine people in the secret society were assigned the task of securing knowledge related to propaganda, psychological warfare, physiology, microbiology, alchemy, communication, cosmology, light and sociology. Some people believe that this society still exists,” explained Srivastava.

“Ashoka was definitely farsighted in terms of caring for his land,” opined Alisha.

“He was a visionary no doubt, and that is the reason why his pearls of wisdom have stood the test of time as engravings on rock edicts, stupas, pillars, and monuments spread throughout the Indian sub-continent. He was also a benevolent ruler who loved his land and took care of his people like his own children,” revealed Srivastava and then proceeded to write the translation of the inscription on the board that was hanging on the wall.

‘Devanampiya Piyadassi is deeply pained by the death and devastation that took place when the unconquered country was conquered.

Devanampiya Piyadassi has maintained peace and prosperity in his beloved land.

Devanampiya Piyadassi is unsure of the fate of his beloved land after his death.

The place where Dharma* was first taught and the place where holy men landed will guide the righteous at heart on the path towards the Great Indian treasure.’

“I think he was referring to the Kalinga war in the first few lines. It was supposed to be one of the bloodiest wars in Indian history where the casualties on both sides mounted to more than one hundred thousand people,” inferred Vikram.

There was a hint of apparent admiration on the face of Srivastava about the knowledge his son possessed on the history of the Indian subcontinent.

“The deep remorse that Ashoka felt for perpetrating such a gory war led him to embrace Buddhism. This transformation and his subsequent rule secured his legacy as one of the finest emperors in the history of the world,” added a beaming Alisha.

“Fantastic my dear wards. Now I’m about to share the information, which thrilled me the most,” Srivastava proclaimed with the excitement of a 10 year old.

There was silence all around as everyone strained their ears to listen to every single word that Prof. Srivastava was saying.

“We all can easily infer from the lines that Ashoka was skeptical of his beloved land’s future after his death. He might have anticipated a foreign invasion or could have feared that the rulers following him might not be as capable as he was. In order to ensure that the future generations of this civilization are not deprived of the treasures from the country’s golden age, he took up the responsibility of hiding a massive treasure at a mysterious place,” declared Srivastava with enthusiasm.

“It sounds interesting and adventurous,” remarked a delighted Sruthi.

“This treasure, which could transform our country, should be enormous!” chimed in an elated Alisha.

“Indeed, that treasure is referred here as Akanda Bharata Maha Sampada, which means The Great Indian Treasure,” asserted Srivastava.

“The Great Indian Treasure, which has the potential to transform India as a developed country... Wowwwww! I’m thrilled just by the very thought.” expressed a joyous Sruthi.

“I just want our country to have pothole free roads, free quality universal education, and free quality universal healthcare. Is this treasure so huge that it can provide these needs to our massive population?” asked Sanjay solemnly. “Yes Sanjay, I believe so, because, it isn’t the first time I’ve heard as an archaeologist about this treasure hidden by Ashoka. It’s going to be an adventure of finding the biggest ever treasure in the world. It will be a game changer for our nation if we find this massive treasure. However, let’s reign in our emotions for the moment,” cautioned Srivastava.

“But where can we find this great Indian treasure, Dad?” cut in Vikram.

“According to the stone tablet, we have to go to a place where Dharma was first taught, and where holy men landed. That should be our first step to get more clues and if I am not wrong the only possible place, the stone tablet seems to be referring is Sarnath.”

“What made you come to that conclusion, Dad?”

“Gautama Buddha taught the Dharma to his five disciples for the first time at Sarnath. There is another name for Sarnath which is ‘Isipatana’ which means ‘where holy men landed’. So that is how I came to the conclusion that the first stop in our expedition is at Sarnath,” concluded Srivastava.

“But where in Sarnath should we begin our search?” questioned Sruthi.

“There is a huge stupa* known as Dhamekh Stupa in Sarnath, which was built on top of the stupa constructed during the Mauryan era. Alexander Cunningham, father of the Archaeological Survey of India drilled a vertical shaft through its centre down to the foundation level in search of a relic casket. He couldn’t find anything substantial but we should do an extensive examination of that shaft as we might find clues relating to the great Indian treasure there,” replied Srivastava.

“So when are we gearing up for the adventure, Dad?”

“What do you say, Sanjay?” asked Srivastava as Sanjay took all their security decisions.

“Let’s start immediately before Janardhan makes a move. I know some people in Sarnath. We should get an unofficial permission for our activity without any hassles, “ replied Sanjay.

“Let’s gather all the paraphernalia we require and start our journey tomorrow. Sarnath, here we come,” declared Vikram

***



Take care of the pieces well. The whole will take care of itself. - Visvesvaraya




CHAPTER THREE

Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India. The almost 50 metre tall cylindrical Dhamekh Stupa was an awe-inspiring sight to Prof. Srivastava and team. The ruins beside the Dhamekh Stupa dated back to pre-Ashokan era while the current stupa itself belonged to the Gupta regime of the post-Ashokan era. Every one of the team members was ecstatic to be at the place where the national emblem had been standing tall until the Turkish invasion almost destroyed it.

“Professor, what are those inscriptions on the stupa?” asked Sruthi.

“Those inscriptions seem to be in the Brahmi* script. Come let’s take a look at the stupa more closely,” replied Srivastava.

The team observed that the walls of the stupa were also engraved with some exquisite carvings of humans and birds. After inspecting the stupa, the team visited the museum to catch a glimpse of the remnants of the Ashoka pillar - the elegantly sculpted four-faced lion capital of the Ashoka pillar, which was later adopted as the national emblem of India and the remains of the Dharma Chakra.

After the visit to the museum, Sanjay utilized his defence connections to make a secret pact with the security incharge in Sarnath to investigate the ruins covertly for a week during the nights. The first night of the expedition involved taking a closer look at the Dhamekh Stupa past midnight.

The deserted look of the surroundings, the emptiness of the ruins and the fluttering of the tree leaves were creating a sense of uneasiness in Johnny’s heart.

“It seems as though this place is haunted. Let’s get out of here…”

“Johnny, there is no such thing as ghosts and even if this place is haunted, we are not afraid because we have such a well-built personality like you with us,” teased Sruthi.

“I can fight with living beings. You know, I once tamed a tiger. This scratch on my arm is proof of that but how can I fight with things that don’t even exist. Wait a minute…I believe we are being followed by someone,” shuddered Johnny.

“Oh, please stop hallucinating, Johnny. There’s nothing there,”clarified Alisha.

“No, I can sense something moving behind those bushes. Let’s check it before it jumps on us.”

Concerned about the safety of his team members, Sanjay went along with Johnny to investigate the noises and as soon as both of them reached the bushes, a wild pig ran out from behind those bushes. Johnny heaved a sigh of relief as he watched the pig run helter-skelter.

An irritated Sanjay growled at Johnny, “Don’t tell me we wasted all this time just so that you could scare a pig.”

Johnny was still looking intently at the bushes but found nothing suspicious. His tension abated for the moment. But the moment he turned, he felt a tug on his shirt and let out a loud shriek.

Sanjay rushed back to Johnny in the anticipation of an unforeseen danger but all he found was an outstretched tree branch to which Johnny’s shirt was hooked. After unhooking the shirt, Sanjay found how shaken the big man was and pulled Johnny’s leg saying “And you were just telling us that you tamed a tiger with your bare hands!” The entire team burst into laughter at Johnny’s unintended histrionics. However, the entire team was unaware that they were really being watched by someone.

After Johnny’s episode, the team made their way to the top of the Dhamekh Stupa. Sanjay provided them with the safety harness to avoid any serious injuries while studying the structure. They had high beam torch lights, some sophisticated equipment, and all the archaeological paraphernalia, which was required for the mission. As the team was inspecting the ruins, Sanjay was keeping a strict vigil around.

Vikram said,“Alexander Cunningham himself was not able to trace any substantial relics from the Dhamekh Stupa. We need to have luck on our side to do better than him.”

“Are we looking in the right place, Sir?” asked a skeptical Alisha.

“I’m certain that this was the place indicated on the stone tablet. Patience my friends, let’s persevere and the clues shall not elude us,”reassured Srivastava with his typical optimism.

***

It was the seventh and final day of the search for the coveted clue. The morale of the team was at an all-time low even though Srivastava, Vikram, and Sanjay were trying to boost everyone’s spirits. The last night of the unofficial permission arrived and the team still hadn’t found anything substantial. Realizing that a change in tactics was required, Vikram decided to check out the shaft himself without relying on the equipment.

Vikram entered the shaft all alone. He carried a high beam torch light, an oxygen mask and an excavation kit along with him. In no time, he was hovering over the ruins inside the circular shaft and was giving instructions over his walkie-talkie to make adjustments to the harness so that he could examine different sections of the shaft.

“I can identify different brick patterns at the bottom of the shaft,” Vikram informed his father via the walkie-talkie.

“Vicky, those bricks might belong to the Mauryan era as the present stupa was commissioned on top of the stupa built by Ashoka,” replied Prof. Srivastava.

The examination continued for several hours but did not yield any expected results.

It was early in the morning, and the team had to vacate the site before dawn as per Sanjay’s agreement with the security in charge.

Vikram was despondent as he came out of the shaft. “There is nothing substantial I found there, Dad,” he said in a weak tone.

“Don’t worry, Son. We will re-strategize our mission by examining the stone tablet once again,” pacified Srivastava.

Vikram removed his gas mask and was about to unfasten the harness when Alisha shouted, “Vikram, wait.”

“Why? What’s the matter?”

Alisha deftly unhooked the object that was hanging over the oxygen cylinder.

“The object must have clung on to your cylinder while you were examining the walls of the shaft.”

Vikram took a closer look at the object and found that it was an ancient stone casket of the size of a fist. It was an exhilarating moment for Prof. Srivastava when he took the casket from Vikram’s hands. With tears in his eyes, Prof. Srivastava proclaimed, “Kudos everyone! History indeed is in our hands. Now we are one step closer to our dream. Let’s stop not till the goal is achieved.”

***



If you desire ease, forsake learning.If you desire learning, forsake ease.How can the man at his ease acquire knowledge, and how can the earnest student enjoy ease?-Nagarjuna




CHAPTER FOUR

Dawn had given way to morning by the time the team reached their hotel room. Prof. Srivastava was determined to decipher the casket even though he was sapped by the week-long efforts that were put in at the stupa. The professor examined the casket carefully. The face of the cylindrical stone casket was engraved with a Dharma Chakra flanked by a horse and a bull on either side. With nimble fingers, Srivastava pried the casket open and pulled out a well-preserved but delicate leather manuscript

“I thought I would find some valuables in it!” cried out a dejected Johnny.

“What will you do with the valuables, Johnny?” asked Alisha curiously.

“First, I will build a school for the underprivileged,” replied Johnny.

“And then?” goaded Sruthi with a sense of appreciation.

“I want to build the world’s most expensive toilet seat studded with diamonds, rubies, and other precious stones which is strong enough to bear the weight of my world famous rear,” revealed Johnny with a sense of pride.

Both Alisha and Sruthi burst out laughing. They couldn’t help but be amazed at the innocence of their friend.

Oblivious to this conversation, Srivastava and Vikram had already started decoding the inscriptions on the leather manuscript, Alisha joined after some time. By evening, the three were able to decode the inscriptions in the Brahmi script. Vikram wrote the translation on the makeshift board in the room.

At the place which is insatiable in giving

Rests the commander of Dharma

In order to find the magical brick which will unravel

the secret

Believe in the purity of your Karma

“It’s all Greek and Latin to me!” frowned Johnny.

“Mr. Rear, you need to have something up here to get it,” chuckled Sruthi as she pointed at her head.

“Come on, Sruthi. Let’s focus, no more jokes,” urged Vikram.

“She pulls my leg all the time,” complained Johnny, glaring at Sruthi.

Srivastava chimed in and admonished, “Let’s not deviate from our mission.”

There was silence for few seconds until Sanjay interrupted with his question. He was pointing at the makeshift board.

“But what do these lines mean? Do they give any clues as to where we need to go next? ”

“Yes, they do and the next stop in our expedition is at Nalanda,” declared Alisha.

“How did you figure that out?”

“The title of Dharma Senapathi, which means Commander of Dharma, was given to Sariputta who was one of the chief disciples of Gautama Buddha. He was born in Nalanda and also attained his Parinirvana* there. There is a stupa of Sariputta in Nalanda which was commissioned by Emperor Ashoka at the place where Sariputta attained his heavenly abode. Our search must start there,” explained Srivastava.

“How do you justify the second condition, ‘the place which is insatiable in giving’?” asked Sruthi.

“We have taken care of that too. The place which is insatiable in giving, is one of the many meanings for Nalanda.”

“Never satisfied in giving… Isn’t that a strange name for a place?” questioned Sruthi.

“Not just any place, Sruthi. Nalanda was the crown jewel of our country, the seat of learning for the entire world for more than 800 years. It was one of the world’s oldest universities and at one point housed almost two thousand teachers and ten thousand students. Famous scholars from all over the world visited Nalanda to hone their skills. Knowledge was shared unconditionally to the students of Nalanda and the university produced experts in key knowledge areas. Because of its rich history and culture of sharing, I believe you will agree with me now, that “never satisfied in giving” truly embodies Nalanda,” concluded Srivastava with a smile.

“I guess the magic brick could very well be one of the bricks of the stupa,” added Alisha.

“When do we start for Nalanda?” queried Johnny.

“Let’s start tonight. We can reach Nalanda by tomorrow morning. What do you say guys? We rest or we proceed?” asked an elated Sanjay who was in no mood to rest.

“We proceed!” declared the group in unison.

***

The update on the expedition reached Janardhan. “Well done, Professor. You are even better than I had thought. Now I’m sure that the great treasure exist. It’s time for action, watch out Professor.” Janardhan couldn’t help but smile at the thought of the treasure.

***

Everything looked quiet. They had covered a good distance. Srivastava was looking out of the window of the vehicle. The others were lost in their own thoughts when suddenly a heavy gale shrouded Nalanda in dust.

Everyone was blinded for a while. When the gale subsided, colossal ruins of red bricks spread across more than fourteen hectares appeared before the team. The historical grandeur of the site was inspiring. The team couldn’t help but visualize University of Nalanda at its zenith, the institution where great minds from across the world congregated and made remarkable advancements in various fields.

The illustrious institution, which had once been the seat of learning for several world-class innovations and inventions now stood lifeless, giving only a faint glimpse of its past glory to its visitors.

Sanjay whispered something into Vikram’s ear before the latter got down from the vehicle. Sanjay then descended from the vehicle and disappeared in a flash.

Srivastava took a few steps towards the site. He came down on his knees and folded his hands with reverence. There were unshed tears in his eyes. The Professor felt a divine joy within, something that he experienced everytime he came to Nalanda.

Vikram was surprised to see his father so emotional but in a way he understood how much Nalanda meant to the Professor.

Srivastava slowly got up and said solemnly, “Here stands the greatest learning centre of them all, the world’s first residential university. It was the elixir of knowledge to its students. It sheltered students not only from India but also from countries such as Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Persia and, Turkey. Team, we are standing on the cusp of history.”

While they were walking towards the ruins, Vikram asked his father,“Dad, I believe Nalanda wasn’t the only university during India’s golden age. Right?”

“Yes, you are right. It was not the only university we had. There were other renowned universities such as Takshashila, Vikramashila and Pushpagiri. This was exactly why our country was called as Vishwa Guru*.”

The sky had become overcast while they were talking. “I guess we should prepare ourselves for heavy rain,” observed Johnny.

The moment he uttered those words, a steady rain descended upon them.

Sruthi shot an irritated look towards him, “You and that jinxed tongue of yours.”

Johnny looked sheepishly and said, “Yeah, if everything I said happened, we would be millionaires by now.”

With the rain turning into a downpour, the team took shelter under the ruins of the student hostels.

“Where is Sanjay? Why didn’t he come with us, Vikram?” probed Alisha.

“He will be with us shortly once he is done taking care of some important things.”

“What could be more important than being part of our mission? His absence makes me feel insecure,” complained Johnny. His voice trembled as he said this.

To divert the attention of the team from Sanjay’s topic, Vikram asked his father a question,“Who founded this great university, Dad and how long was it active?”

“Kumaragupta of the Gupta dynasty is said to have founded this university. After the Guptas, it was patronized by Emperor Harshavardhana and then by the Pala kings until the end of the 12th century. The Gupta period was a golden age for India. It was rich in scientific and artistic achievements. It was the period when we achieved supremacy in all the major fields such as science, technology, engineering, art, medicine, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion and philosophy.”

“Surely, we should be indebted to the Guptas for providing such a stable governance, which enabled us to have such a splendid heritage,” remarked Vikram earnestly.

“Yes, it was during this period that great minds like Kalidasa, Aryabhatta, Varahamihira, Vishnu Sharma and Vatsyayana excelled in their respective fields and made invaluable contributions to our country’s heritage and legacy,” continued Srivastava.

“Wow, the history of this place amazes me, Professor!” exclaimed Alisha.

Buoyed by the response, Srivastava asked “You guys want to know more?”

“Yes, Dad please enlighten us.”

“When most of the world was under the illusion that the earth was flat; our ancestors postulated the earth as spherical and the sun as the centre of our solar system. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“It was only in the 16th and 17th centuries that the West came to know about this theory thanks to Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler. However, we read in our textbooks that they were the ones who made this discovery even though this discovery was made several centuries before them. It’s terrible that our place in history has been denied all along and even now we don’t stake a claim for what is rightfully ours,” lamented Vikram.

“You are absolutely right, Vikram, but weren’t the people who proposed that the earth was not the centre of the solar system persecuted in Europe?” asked Alisha.

“Yes, they were persecuted there but here we accepted the findings with an open mind. It shows the respect we had for an individual’s thoughts and the reverence we had for the wisdom of those scholars.”

“There are discoveries other than the one we just discussed. The lunar and solar eclipses were clearly expounded by Aryabhatta who was a scholar of astronomy in the Gupta period. He was also the first to determine the time taken by the earth for its rotation and revolution. How amazing is that?” revealed Prof. Srivastava.

“Wow unbelievable!! Aryabhatta was a real genius. Please continue Professor, don’t stop,” exclaimed Johnny.

“Ok now, let me ask you a question. Who discovered gravity first?”

“It’s Newton,” replied Alisha and Sruthi promptly.

“That’s absolutely incorrect. It was in fact discovered by Varahamihira, Brahmagupta and Bhaskaracharya long before Newton did. Varahamihira and Brahmagupta belonged to the 5th century A.D. of the Gupta period. These findings were also recorded in one of the earliest books of astronomy, Surya Siddhanta.”


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