Bharat – Ramayana’s Underappreciated Character – An Excerpt From Warlord of Ayodhya by Shatrujeet Nath

It was sixth sense that made Bharat drop his pace and look back over his shoulder. It was sixth sense that saved Bharat that night inside the Sanctum of the Fire. He turned and looked. The kshurika was a blur in the dark, almost impossible to detect, but the magic infused in its blade left a faint thermal wash in its wake that Bharat’s honed senses were able to spot instantly. Meant to strike the back of his head, it flew straight at the king’s right temple now, mean in appearance, murderous in intent.



The dagger was no more than a hand’s distance from Bharat, speeding in to part him from those he held dear, when acting on reflex, he caused a mantle of protective energy to manifest around him. The kshurika came in contact with the mantle immediately, and strong magic encountered stronger magic, triggering patterns of electric charges. The dagger’s tip pierced the mantle and pressed towards its target, but on entering the mantle’s power field, it was overwhelmed by the purity of Ayodhya’s magic. Exploding in a flash of light, the kshurika vaporized inches from Bharat’s head.



“Get down,” he screamed in warning. Too late. The king had dodged death in the nick of time, but his militiamen weren’t as fortunate. Kshurikas smacked into five heads, cracking skulls open and burying in deep to deposit potent rakshasa magic into the men’s bodies. Five nagarapalas dead on their feet, their legs carrying them forward, running with the rest until they lost momentum and went crashing to the ground in a jumble of limbs, their javelins clattering and spraying on the hard floor.



“Watch out,” Bharat called again, whirling to face the source of threat, shield up, the shul ready. He sensed the nagarapalas slowing down, alerted by his shouts. He also heard shrieks of terror rise from the direction of the homagriha. A fresh bout of apprehension seized him. That was probably the rishis or their –

His eyes caught movement and widened in relief at the sight of six nagarapalas emerging from the dark. He wondered where they had been all this while. Had they been fighting the attackers who –



That’s when Bharat noticed the residue of the magic in the nagarapalas’ hands — the thermal stains left by the kshurikas that had just been thrown at him and his men. Disguise, the word skidded and bounced through his mind. Or was it a betrayal…?



Opening himself to superconsciousness, Bharat sought the identity of the attackers in the light of Ayodhya’s magic. Their disguise immediately fell away in a shower of dust, and stripped of illusion, the six revealed their true forms to Bharat. His eyes widened at the sight of the magic tattooed across their bodies, glowing like neon stigmata, lighting up their dark blue faces, their hair and beards white as snow.



Rakshasas, he gasped in disbelief, his resolve wilting for a moment as the enormity of what was happening struck him with the force of a battle-hammer. Not once in Kosala’s long history had rakshasas struck at Ayodhya. Not once had they attempted storming the Sanctum during the reigns of Dashratha and his forefathers, and though they had invaded Kosala from time to time, they had always been stopped and repelled well short of Ayodhya, first by Dashratha, and later by Rama and Lakshmana, who had famously fought and defeated the formidable Lankan general Tataka almost a decade ago.



Importantly, unlike Rama and Lakshmana, not once had he faced a rakshasa in battle, Bharat realized, as he ran his tongue over dry lips. This was proving to be a night of many firsts.

“They are rakshasas,” he shouted, suppressing the panic stirring in his chest. Hearing footsteps slowing behind him, he called over his shoulder, “Keep going. I will handle them.”

He fervently hoped the nagarapalas had heard him and would do as they had been told. Someone in the homagriha was in urgent need of help. “Just keep going,” he repeated, dropping to a crouch to face the oncoming rakshasas, unsure of what to expect, not knowing how to react.



The rakshasas unloosed another volley of kshurikas, two aimed squarely at Bharat, but he was better prepared. Flinging his shield sideways to intercept the daggers meant for the militiamen, he said a mantra and cast another energy mantle, which expanded in a bubble around him; the kshurikas thrown at him struck the mantle and disintegrated on impact. His shield meanwhile knocked two of the other daggers from their paths, but the last two blades zinged past, and Bharat heard cries from behind him as both weapons found their mark.



“I said I’ll handle this… just go,” he bellowed, awake to the threat of losing all his nagarapalas right away. Listening to the militiamen’s footsteps recede, he sighed inwardly in relief.

Faced with defiance, the rakshasas slowed their charge and began spreading out, the two in the middle assailing Bharat repeatedly with kshurikas while the others tried to flank him from the sides. Having dispensed with the need for a disguise, all six had reverted to their rakshasa identities.


Knowing he couldn’t allow the rakshasas to circle past him, Bharat marked an arc on the ground in front of him with Siripala’s shul. Sparks flew from the spear’s tip as it grated on stone, and a shimmering curtain of energy sprang out of the arc between him and the rakshasas. Daggers dashed against this magic and were destroyed.


Balanced on the balls of his feet, Bharat drove the shul’s point rapidly into the curtain, turning all the while in a tight semicircle. Every thrust of the spear generated a magical spearhead that steamed and hissed with energy as it sped from the curtain and struck the rakshasas. Spearheads scorched the space between the combatants, sending the rakshasas staggering back in surprise, but they regrouped in no time, spearheads ricocheting off their magic armour as they conjured wreaths of Sorrows that reared into the sky, large mouths wailing noiselessly in preparation to swoop down on Bharat.



Watching the attack materialize, the young king hesitated, trying to anticipate what was coming next. He had never heard of anything that matched the six soot-grey apparitions looming before him, shapeless and lacking all features other than a bulbous head and a rudimentary mouth that yawned pit-black, darker than the night all around, darker than anything he had sighted before.



He raised the shul in defence, but he supposed the spear would be anything but effective against these amorphous forms. He even doubted if magic would serve any purpose…


He darted a glance at the rakshasas, who had started edging around him. In two minds whether to focus on the apparitions or stall the rakshasas, Bharat turned his spear to the energy curtain when the Sorrows lunged at him. Bharat instinctively cast the mantle over his head and ducked, praying the mantle would keep the entities out. To his immense relief, the smoky forms pulled to an abrupt halt a yard or two in the air above, hanging for an instant, as if in indecision… and then their mouths split wide to disgorge a blackness, a void, that poured and splashed over the energy mantle before seeping through to cascade over the king’s head and shoulders. The same moment, a wail broke like a wave against Bharat’s eardrums.



In a flash, he recognized the wailing voice as his own. It was coming not from his mouth but someplace deep… deep inside his ribcage. And sorrow — heavy, bone-crushing, soul-crushing, spirit-sapping sorrow — engulfed Bharat in a flood, mopping all other thoughts, feelings and emotions from his consciousness. It scoured his mind clean, leaving nothing but an unbearable black pain in its wake. A pain impossible to explain, its source unknown. A pain, a sadness, that manifested from itself, existing in isolation, but feeding on all the collective pain and sadness that the young man had ever experienced in his life.

Heavy, soul-crushing sorrow that caused Bharat’s knees to buckle as he drew breath in and sobbed in sheer grief, the shul loosening from his grasp and slipping from his fingers…


Excerpted with permission from Warlord of Ayodhya by Shatrujeet Nath

Publishing/ Jaico Publishing House (2023)

You can buy your copy here.




Shatrujeet Nath is the creator of the runaway national bestselling series Vikramaditya Veergatha and the latest ongoing alternative mythology series Warlord of Ayodhya. Described as “a new face to Indian mythology” by DNA, Shatrujeet writes for movies and web shows as well.