Disciple of Peperna
- May 20, 2004
Her name was Peperna.
To all appearances Peperna was a normal enough cow, indistinct from ten thousand others that roamed the farms and fields around Vijayanagara, with only a bejeweled band on her forehead to suggest any special status. For the most part this common appearance proved accurate: She gave milk and could moo if she chose. A lucky arrow or spear could pierce her body as easily as any other.
No, the rub came from the fact that Peperna was nearly one thousand years old.
Her earliest memories were from the final days of the Roman Empire and the barbarian kingdoms that followed. In time she migrated east witnessing horrors and beauties in equal abundance. In time she crossed the Indus River into lands untouched by western sword or thought, then south to ancient Chola and Hoysala where she once more witnessed humanity's triumphs and disasters.
She loved the Hindu people and their faith, precisely because it defied easy explanation. Future generations would describe Hinduism as a way of life rather than a faith, for there was no one book to point to as the font of all spiritual wisdom, nor any single list of accepted deities. It was a lifestyle built upon meditation, prayer, and moral virtues most civilizations could agree upon such as loyalty and an appreciation for the arts. That single unifying thread, more tenuous yet less dogmatic than western religions, defined medieval India and the cultures that evolved there.
Their advanced ideas on how cows should be treated didn't hurt either.
Hinduism also encouraged tolerance for other ideas, something ancient Christianity had yet to master. Peperna had no particular issue with Christians, but she found the belief of there being only one way to connect to the Divine dangerous. And frightening.
So she dwelt with her new friends, happy to let them think she was nothing more than she appeared and moving from place to place to avoid suspicion, until the Delhi Sultanate invaded.
Peperna didn't dislike Islam any more than Christianity, and if they wanted to devote themselves to 'Allah' that was certainly up to them. Their demand that all Indians, north and south, should worship Him as well worried her. Their willingness to fight, ravage and destroy their way down the subcontinent to make it so grieved her. As the fourteenth century aged Hinduism itself seemed on the verge of being relegated to the status of heretical cult.
In 1336 she came across two brothers, Harihara and Bukka. They were treasury officers for the court of Warangal before being captured and forcibly converted. Now they led a Muslim army against Kampili intending to rule as the Sultan's deputies. She convinced them of their error with the help of the holy priest Vidyarana. Harihara and Buka renounced Islam, and over the next forty years unified much of the southern continent by promising protection from the sultans of the Deccan plateau in exchange for homage.
Harihara I (1336-1356) ruled from Vidya Nagara - the City of Learning, but his brother Bukka (1356-1377) moved the capital to the fledgling city of Vijayanagara (City of Victory) as being more defensible, yet close enough to act as a base in future hostilities against Deccan. His son, Harihara II (1377-), succeeded him. Under his wise rule (with Vidyarana's and Peperna's guidance), literature and the arts continued to flourish.
And so, on a beautiful day in what the Christians would call the autumn of 1399, Peperna found her rajah in the palace gardens. Most would consider the air stifling and humid, with distant clouds over the western Ghats promising torrential downpours in neighboring Mysore and Travancore. After several lifetimes in India, humidity didn't much bother the cow any longer.
Rajah Harihara II was aging, as all humans do, yet in tolerable shape for his age. He dressed in white, with a Muslim turban rather than an Indian pugree, perhaps as a concession to the growing power of northern merchant houses. Using an ink brush purchased from Chinese traders in Goa, he slowly wrote along a palm leaf cut into a rectangle.
"Kaavya Vijaya?" she read carefully. "Poems of Victory? What is this, brother?"
"It is the story of our people," Harihara said proudly without turning. He closed his bottle of ink and wiped his brush on another leaf. "Palm keeps longer than paper. I would hope people will read about us long after you and I are gone."
"So they shall," Peperna agreed quietly.
"But enough of me. What brings you here?" He turned and beamed at the bovine.
"I have come to offer counsel Fear not, for your poems will be read and revered for a thousand years while Harihara Raya and his scions will be remembered as the men and women who saved India. This is my promise to you."
Vijayanagara and neighbors, 1399