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24 Shatrughna

When it comes to Hindi movies aka Bollywood, there are two terms that puzzle me the most. Actually there is a lot that puzzles me, but these two are almost like enigma, because I can't understand what in Dadasaheb Phalke's name do they mean.

The first one is 'Item Number'. I mean, what exactly is the definition of this term -- an "item number"? When does a song cease to exist being just another song, and suddenly become an Item Number? Earlier it was easy. There would be one jhatka-matka song in the film - especially filmed on some good-looking woman with great body and almost negligible clothing. The song's mood would be different from the overall movie, and most importantly, this femme fatale from the item number had very little (actually absolutely nothing) to do with the rest of the film. So that was easy.

But now I am not so sure --- you know, with Shahrukh Khan - not a gorgeous babe but a 45-year old skinny dude - dancing in his own movie where he has not one, but two, roles - and both are title roles. This is no guest appearance for one song, unless he has used body doubles for the rest of the movie ... Then I hear that in some trash-can movie they have 4 ITEM SONGS - I mean come on, so is every song an Item Number in this movie? Is every peppy number an item number? Is every number filmed on people who have nothing to do with the rest of the team an item number? What exactly is this term - Item Number?

The other word that stumps me is 'Guest Appearance'. I used to think that a cameo appearance is a 'guest appearance'. And so the definition for this is 'a very short appearance'. But apparently that is not so ... In 'Bhootnath', SRK - whose name is given as guest appearance / special appearance in the title credits --- has more role, more work to do, more lines, more footage and more screen presence than Salman Khan had in the titanic disaster called 'Saawariyaa' of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. But in the latter, Salman Khan's name appears in the main credits and not as Guest Appearance. So does Guest Appearance mean pro bono work? 

I wish someone would conduct lessons in filmy goobledygook, so that these definitions are clear to mere mortals like us.

Speaking of Guest Appearances, one cannot but think of the characters in the Great Epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata - BharatShatrughnaNakula and Sahadeva - the younger brothers of the key protagonists in the Epics. 

Of these, Bharata perhaps has more airtime in Ramayana than Shatrughna, just as Sahadeva has in Mahabharata than Nakula. Of course, this is only true about the versions prevelant in Northern India. In South India, as well as other parts of the world - especially Southeast Asia, these heros have their due mention. They even have their own stories - especially Sahadeva - sometimes fleshy enough for an independent Wayang plays.

So what of Shatrughna -- the son of Dashratha with his third wife Sumitra, and the twin brother of Lakshmana? Most people don't realize that he - and not Bharata - was responsible for the kingdom of Ayodhya all by himself while Rama was away ... Rama went to forest, ... Lakshmana followed Rama, ... Bharata loved Rama too much and so was in too much grief to function normally when the eldest brother is away. 

So who has to get ready and go to work every day for those 14 years? Shatrughna. For fourteen years he ruled, like an alert soldier and administrator. And yet, he plays a relatively minor role in the Epic. His most famous deed and chief exploit is the killing of Lavanasura at Madhuvan - the present day Mathura. Here is the story of his great moment of glory.

Shatrughna and the battle with Lavanasura

So this story begins much after the events detailed in the great epic Ramayana, when Rama has come back to Ayodhya and has become the king, and when Bharata has become the prince. The people of Ayodhya are now being happily ruled. All the rakshasas in Lanka - along with their king Ravana - are destroyed and Lanka is now ruled by the wise Bibhishana.

So overall in Aryavarth (India), there is happiness everywhere - except in the jungles of Madhuvana (later called Madhupura --- which is present-day Mathura). It is said that one will satisfy all desires in this forest. Madhu means “honey". Madhuvana forest is 5km west of the current location of Mathura city.

It is believed that Lord Vishnu appeared in Madhuvana in all four yugas. In Satya-yuga He appeared before Dhruva. In Treta-yuga He came as Satrughna and killed the demon Lavanasura. He came as Lord Krishna in Dwapara-yuga and as Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Kali-yuga. But that is later.

Now Madhuvana was earlier ruled (in Krita yuga) by the demon-king Madhu, who in all likelihood built the palace and city of Mathura. Madhu was married to Kumbhini, sister of Ravana and Kumbhakarna, (this seems an overlap as Ravana's sister was Soorpanakha, but let's go with this version for now). And, just like Ravana, Madhu also was a great devotee of Lord Shiva. He was also kind to his people and to the brahmin sages in Madhuvan. Pleased with his devotion, Shiva had offered Madhu his famous divine Trishula (Trident), which made Madhu practically invincible. But Madhu was a righteous and pious person. He ruled his kingdom with compassion and so his people were happy as long as he ruled them.

Cut to Dwapara Yuga. Madhu has passed away and his rule is now inherited by Lavanasura *, his son - and with the rule, the Trishula too. Now Lavanasura is the anti-thesis of his father. His deeds are more suitable to what he is - a rakshasa / demon. Since childhood he is known to be a brat, who bullies brahmin children while at school and also an arrogant despot. And now, he gets the Trishula as inheritance, wielding which makes him invincible ... No one can stop him now!

Relying upon the power of his Trisula, Lavansura starts terrorizing the rishis (sages) and other good people. Lavanasura continues to torment the innocent and destroy many sacrifices of sages and terrify them in many ways. Many kings are defeated by him and they are all afraid. Lavana's rakshasas would not allow any sages or rishis to come and mediate in the area nor would they allow anyone to come and take bath in the Yamuna or to drink water from the Yamuna. They would harass the yogis and sages at every opportunity.

The havoc that is created by Lavanasura knows no bound, and very soon the tales of his crimes and sins fall on Rama's ears. One day the sages headed by sage Chyavana (descendents of sage Bhrigu) travel from Madhuvan to Lord Rama in Ayodhya with a plea to protect them. Shatrughna, who is also present when they narrate this, begs his elder brothers to let him set out on a mission to kill Lavanasura. Rama gives him a Deity of Varahadeva that he had gotten after defeating Ravana in Lanka, and a divine arrow imbibed with the power of Lord Vishnu, and sends him on the task with a portion of Ayodhya's army.

On his way, Shatrughna spends the night at Valmiki's Ashram - where he sees Sita and the two newborn children of Rama - Luv and Kush. After reaching Madhuvan, Shatrughna spies on Lavanasura and finds that the demon is invincible as long as he is wielding the Trishula -- which the demon keeps in his house / cave , close to him. So he cannot enter the house and kill the demon. The only way to kill him is to find a chance when the demon is away from the invincible Trishula. So Shatrughna waits for the chance.

Lavanasura's daily routine includes game - going into the forest, hunting animals and then bringing them back for making a meal. One day he goes out hunting without taking his Trishula along. Shatrughna seizes the opportunity, and positions himself right in front of the cave in the forest. After a while, Lavana returns with several tigers, a water buffalo, an elephant, a big fat snake and a crocodile - this is supposed to be his dinner! ... As soon as the demon is in sight, Shatrughna gives out a loud war-cry and jumps on to the demon. Lavanasura is taken by surprise at first, but fights back with vigor.

Lavana asks Shatrughna to let him fetch his weapons from inside his house, so that both are suitably armed. Shatrughna says that Lavana already has a spear which he has used for hunting, and so he is armed already.

The fight goes on for hours, and both fight valiantly, while the demon tries hard to get inside the house and fetch the Trishula and Shatrughna tries every trick possible to block his way. Lavana uproots many trees and throws them at Shatrughna. Finally Shatrughna sends a death blow with his divine arrow right in the heart taking out his life-breath and slays Lavanasura - and thus validates his name, which literally means 'destroyer of the enemies'.

He returns to Ayodhya, tells stories of his exploits and expresses his desire to spend the rest of his life with the brothers. Rama however rules that he should become the king of the area that Lavanasura was ruling earlier. 

Thus, Shatrughna returns to Madhuvan and rules over the kingdom of Lavanasura in manner that gives great happiness to the people, the rishis and other inhabitants for 12 years. He rebuilds the city of Madhupuri, and claims the land in Aryan fold. He is married to Shrutakirti (lit. 'one whose fame is heard'), daughter of Kushadvaja, who is a brother of King Janaka of Mithila. By this relation, Shrutakirti is a cousin of Sita.

After 12 years, Shatrughna returns to Ayodhya to join Rama. Rama completes his pious rule upon earth and then walks into the river Sharayu to return to his true and eternal Mahavishnu form. Bharata and Shatrughna follow him into the river, and merge into Mahavishnu.

Today, there is a Deity of Shatrughna, said to date back to Treta-yuga, in a temple next to Krishna Kunda. There is a cave near the Dhruva-Narayana Temple in which the demon Lavanasura is believed to have lived.

- Best

* Lavanasura -- There is another mention of Lavanasura in the Puranas. This seems to be a different Lavanasura than the one in Shatrughna's story. This one story is related to the formation of Lonar lake - the salt-water lake situated near Buldhana, ahead of Aurangabad, in Maharashtra. Lavana in Sanskrit means 'salt'.