Long time ago in the village of Kishenpur situated in the shadows of Himalayas, lived a goon named Chandu. He was 6 feet tall and weighed 100+ Kgs. No one dared to challenge him as he had sent many a people to hospital and a few to their deathbeds as well. Chandu was local Zamindar’s right hand. Chandu usually collected the taxes from the defaulters by using all the means of violence known to him.
Zamindar was an evil person, and Chandu made sure to spread his fear in the whole of the village and the adjoining areas. Even the police officers were bribed and therefore, no one ever helped the villagers who were always oppressed by the unfair means.
One day while sitting under the shade of a banyan tree with his henchman Chotu, he made a declaration.
"Chotu, it has been 20 years since I've become a goon. Moreover, while working for Zamindar and various other rich people, I've caused enough harm in so many families. I want to get out of it and settle down now," Chandu said.
"But boss, how will you survive without heckling the villagers. Do you know any other work? I don't think you have any other skill that will help you to survive," Chotu replied.
"There has to be a way I want to get out of this business; I have decided not to pick weapons for the evil purposes again. I just don't feel right, whenever I pick up the pistol my hands tremble. I never wanted to live this life, however, the circumstances made me.,” Chandu revealed as he was going through a transformation of sorts during past few days.
"Boss, what are you saying?" Chotu said as the tension gripped his facial expressions.
Chandu didn't reply and started walking towards his house and Chotu followed. He didn't think about the future but knew that he would never become a Zamindar or a mafia, and as soon as he'd get old, Zamindar was going to break all connections with him. Then at any moment, villagers can take revenge. Therefore, he had to settle down, earn money and shift to the city to lead a tension-free life before he lost all his strength and skills which made him a force to reckon with.
"Chotu, where are these people going?" Chandu said while pointing towards a group of men waiting for the bus at the stop.
"Boss, they're going to Haridwar. The Maha Shivaratri is coming; they'll be bringing Kanwar, the holy water of Ganga, from there," Chotu answered.
"But why are they doing so?"
"People say that if you go to Haridwar and bring back the holy water to pour on the Shiv Ling, then Lord Shiva forgives all your sins and fulfils all your wishes as well. However, it's not that simple; a person has to return from Haridwar to his hometown on foot, and during the journey, they can't put the vessel carrying the holy water on ground at any moment. It's very difficult; you can't smoke, drink or have non-veg during this period. In addition, before bestowing the holy water upon Shiva Ling on the night of Maha Shivaratri, you can't take shelter in a building not even in your own home. Therefore, only a few people go there every year," Chotu explained.
"Have you ever tried?"
"I did, but I failed. It was too difficult, anyway I don't believe in such superstitions," Chotu laughed it off.
"I want to do it," Chandu announced.
"There's still an hour for bus to arrive, I'll leave with these people," Chandu said and continued walking towards his house to get necessary items for the journey and Chotu joined him as well.
During the journey, while sitting on the window seat Chandu observed the possession of people walking with a bamboo placed on their shoulder. Two baskets were tied on each end of the bamboo with holy water placed in one basket, and photographs of deities in the other.
Chandu and Chotu were scheduled to take a holy bath before they took their respective Kanwars and started their journey back home with the other villagers.
So according to the custom, Chandu and Chotu shed their clothes and proceeded towards the boisterous Ganga on one of the ghats in the Haridwar.
"Chotu the flow is really fast here; can't I take a bath in some hotel?" Chandu said as he almost chickened out while looking at the Ganga's waters flowing past them at a high speed. Deep water was the only thing Chandu feared.
"Boss, don't worry, just hold these chains and take a dip. It'll be fine, and we're all there to help if anything happens. Plus the pandit ji said that we couldn't complete the ritual without a holy bath in the Ganga."
Chandu entered into the icy cold water of the river, and felt as if his whole body had gone numb for a moment. Shivering he proceeded towards the deep part of the river holding an iron chain which was connected to a pole on the banks.
Chandu lowered himself into the river. However, due to the coldness of water his hand had gone numb, and he immediately lost the grip on the chain. However, before he could jump back towards the shallow part, his foot slipped and river's flow completed rest of the task.
Chandu was now drowning in the river; and the water was continuously filling up his throat as well as his nostrils. Thus, he wasn't even able to shout for help as he floated towards the deeper part of the river, and he slowly lost his senses until he felt a strong grip on his arm.
"Are you alright?" An old sadhu pulled him to safety.
Chandu nodded while coughing. He looked at the sadhu; his thin body was draped in a saffron cloth, and his forehead was smeared with the ashes.
"Thank you for saving my life," Chandu said while looking around. He recognized the ghat, but was bewildered as it was deserted and even Chotu was out of sight.
"Where is everyone?" Chandu asked.
"I guess the flow of river brought you to the next ghat. All the ghats look same here, and that's the reason for your confusion," Sadhu reassured him as he helped him in standing up.
"Would you show me the way to the other ghat?"
"Why not, even I'm going there. I guess, we should walk until the next ghat. So what's your name?"
"I'm Chandu, from Kishenpur."
"Oh that small village in the Kumauni region, I've heard there's an evil Zamindar there."
"Yes sadhuji, you're right. And I'm Chandu, his right hand."
"So what are you doing here?"
"Washing away my sins, my henchman Chotu told me that if you take holy water back to your hometown while travelling by foot, and offer it to Lord Shiva on the night of Maha Shivaratri, he'll rid you of all your sins," Chandu explained.
Sadhu laughed in reply.
"What happened, why are you laughing?" Chandu questioned.
"How can you believe in such superstitions? There's nothing like that, you'll return to your home, offer the holy water and from the next-day onwards get back to your violent business. Do you think this will wash away all your sins?" Sadhu questioned while staring into Chandu's eyes.
"I have decided to leave violence, and lead my life in a peaceful way. That'll help, right?"
"No, it won't. From past 20 years, you've beaten up and killed various villagers and you think that in a day it'll all wash away. How is that possible Chandu?"
"How do you know that I've been involved in this activity from past 20 years?" Chandu was shocked.
"I know everything, but answer me first. Do you think a journey can wash away all your sins?"
"No, it won't but I can try."
"Do you know why do we celebrate Shivaratri?"
He responded in negative but showed a willingness to acquire the knowledge.
"Thousands of years ago, during the Samudra Manthan(Churning of the sea) gods and demons were getting various presents for themselves. Then suddenly, a pot of poison appeared during the Manthan. This terrified both gods as well as the demons, because it had the power to destroy whole of the world. Tensed, they went to the Lord Shiva and asked for his help, he obliged and helped them by drinking the poison. In this way, Shiva saved the world and came to be known as the protector of the world.
However, instead of swallowing, he kept the poison in his throat, and thus it turned blue. Therefore, we call Shiva, the Neelkanth," the Sadhu narrated the story.
"And since then this day is celebrated as Maha Shivaratri, when Lord Shiva saved this world from the poison by taking it upon himself."
Chandu nodded as he silently listened to the sadhu's story.
"So why do you think he'll save you? You're the evil, and you're the poison which is affecting the village."
"What are you saying?" Chandu said trying to veil the expression of worry on his face.
"You know what I'm saying, you're the right hand of Zamindar and thus destroyed your own village, your own people."
"So what can I do?"
"You know what to do; it's Maha Shivaratri in three days. Only on that night your sins will be washed away, but you have to decide if you really want to wash them off. Hey, I guess we've reached your ghat," Sadhu said while pointing towards a group of people standing at a distance and walked away smilingly.
"Hey please stop...," Chandu unsuccessfully tried to stop him. Sadhu kept on walking as Chandu stared at his figure, and then suddenly gazed back towards Sadhu's neck.
It was blue in colour.
"Boss, boss... are you alive?"
Chandu opened his eyes as Chotu was trying to pump out the water through his lungs.
"Oh thanks to Lord Shiva and Ganga Maiya, we thought that we've lost you but thanks to these divers, they saved you," Chotu said.
"Divers? No, I was saved by a sadhu; he was just there," Chandu pointed towards the ghat's exit.
"Boss, what are you saying? These divers saved you; they were on alert as during the heavy rush, as frequently river's flow engulfs the devotees. Therefore, as soon as they spotted you drowning; they jumped after you. They only saved you, there wasn't any sadhu," Chotu revealed.
Unable to understand anything, Chandu got up and proceeded to complete the remaining rituals with the Pandit ji. Chandu didn't mention about the sadhu to anyone.
After completing the ritual, Chandu and Chotu left for their village carrying the Kanwar in the basket tied to bamboo stick on their shoulder. It took them three days to reach back to Kishenpur, and after a tiring journey, Chandu was happy to return to his village.
It was the eve of Shivaratri, when the whole village was busy celebrating the festival, Chandu and Chotu directly proceeded towards the only Lord Shiva's temple in the village, as soon as they arrived.
"Chotu, how many guns do we have?" Chandu asked to the surprise of Chotu.
"Tell me how many?"
"We just have two pistols and few bullets."
"No boss, nothing except two pistols and a sword."
"Do the villagers have weapons?"
Chotu laughed in return, and told him that it was impossible for villagers to afford weapons when they couldn't even afford proper meals, at most they only had sickles.
"Remember there was a weapon's shipment that arrived last week?"
"Yes, boss but it is kept in the Zamindar’s godown in a box which has a number lock."
"I remember the combination."
"Can you gather all the men in the village, and ask them to bring their sickles. Furthermore, ask for the ones who can fire a gun," Chandu ordered as they stepped into the temple.
"But boss, what are you planning to do?"
"Zamindar will be busy in the Lord Shiva's pooja(prayer), and between 10-10:30 PM, he will ask the guard to join him for the prayers. This is when we're going to attack the Zamindar's Haveli and finish them forever."
"Are you out of your mind?" Chotu was outraged as soon as he heard the plan. "How can you attack the Bade Sahib?"
"Chotu, that's the only way to the end the poison in this village. Just like..."
"...the shiva did," Chotu completed him, as he slowly understood Chandu's intentions. He immediately left to gather all the villagers.
Chandu smiled and slowly poured the Gangajal on the Shiva Linga as he remembered the last words of the sadhu. He felt a new energy channelling through his veins, as soon as he heard the chants of 'Bum Bum Bhole' from outside the temple. The villagers had started to gather up when suddenly he felt the presence of the same sadhu in that temple.
He immediately turned around but found no one except a small white light flickering in the verandah outside the temple. He slowly walked towards that white light as he felt the weight on his heart getting lighter by each step. He was feeling more powerful than ever, and cleaner than ever when he walked through that white light with his eyes closed.
It was the night when his sins were going to be washed away, he knew the Zamindar had to die if he had to protect the village. The villagers had gathered outside the temple, as he climbed down the temple staircase and looked in their eyes. He knew the boil inside the villager’s blood, they were just waiting for their leader. They were waiting for someone to drink Zamindar’s blood, the poison slowly destroying them and their village.
For that night he was their leader, for that night he was their protector and for that moment, he was their Shiva.