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Quest for Slumber

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

In the realm of a sleepless king, duty and longing collide to tell a captivating tale of true love. Tanish, a wise and burdened ruler, embarks on a quest for a slumber that eludes him. Amidst the splendour of his prosperous kingdom, he yearns for relief from the weight of his responsibilities. But as he delves deeper into his pursuit, he uncovers a love story woven with sacrifice and devotion.


Guided by a mystical presence, Tanish discovers the true meaning of sleeplessness and the profound choices made for duty and love. Will he find solace and unlock the secret that was tormenting him all along? Join him on an enthralling journey through the echoes of longing and the pursuit of serenity. “Quest for Slumber” by Nikhila Kotni is a mesmerising tale of a king’s relentless search for sleep, amidst a kingdom on the brink of a bittersweet awakening.

 

Note: Read/Listen to the “Free Access” of this story on Medium or Substack!

 
Illustrated by Nikhila Kotni

Contents


Free Access

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Credits

This story is reviewed by Rajiv R Nair, edited by Aastha Agrawal, and illustrated by Nikhila Kotni.

 

Product

This novelette is available in paperback & ebook.



 

Chapter I

The Summoning Ritual

Illustrated by Nikhila Kotni

Once upon a time, there lived a Maharaj named Tanish in the kingdom of Ujjesa. He was rich, handsome and ruled over a prosperous kingdom. However, he had a problem with his sleep.


Ending another sleepless night as the warm rays of the early sun touched Tanish’s weary eyes. The world awakened around him, and his men approached, offering their morning greetings.

“Have a healthy and prosperous morning, your majesty,” they wished him.

Though well-intentioned, their wishes echoed hollowly in Tanish’s troubled mind. He wondered if their wishes for his well-being were what kept him alive throughout these sleepless years. It had been almost four years since he returned as an apprentice from the neighbouring Sahira [1] Empire and ascended to the throne. Yet, he couldn’t find respite in the embrace of sleep.

He had tried everything to conquer his insomnia, from practising yoga to indulging in the precious lavender scent imported from the West. He had sipped the calming chamomile tea from the East and explored countless other remedies that induced sleep in ordinary mortals. But neither the sleep-inducing potions nor the traditional prayers offered solace to his restless mind.

As the day unfolded, a glimmer of hope flickered within Tanish’s weary heart. The chief servant approached him, and his voice tinged with excitement as she stated calmly, “Your majesty, Dhāma has returned from his visit to the Himalayas.”

The mention of Dhāma, his trusted confidant and mentor, straightened Tanish’s drooping shoulders. Dhāma had always been a guiding light in his life, a kindred spirit who understood his struggles. He was like the older brother Maharaj Tanish had never had, the only person with whom he could shed his royal burdens and act with childlike abandon.

Anticipation surged through him as he hurriedly made his way to meet Dhāma. He could not help but presume his journey to the mystical Himalayas, home to the greatest sages and physicians, had uncovered a remedy for his affliction. Maharaj Tanish always believed the land of sacred & wise, where the most precious and unique herbs were found, must possess the promise of a solution to his sleepless nights.

He met Dhāma before even reaching his chamber corridors, unable to contain his impatience. Gripping his shoulders tightly, Tanish pleaded, “Tell me, Dhāma, tell me that you have brought an end to this curse that has plagued me.”

Dhāma’s expression turned sombre as he met Tanish’s gaze. “No herbs can lift your curse, your majesty,” he replied, his voice laced with a hint of resignation.

Confusion and frustration welled up within the king. “What do you mean? You must have learned something from the great sages and physicians of the Himalayas,” he urged, desperately clinging to a glimmer of hope.

Dhāma’s eyes sparkled with determination as he explained, “After months of wandering in search of a cure for your affliction, I encountered a great sage who has meditated in the Himalayas for over two centuries. He imparted to me a summoning ritual; a ritual passed down through generations.”

“A summoning ritual?” Tanish’s curiosity surged again. “Whom are you summoning?”

Dhāma’s smile held a touch of mystery as he revealed, “We are summoning a goddess as strong as Parvathi, as wise as Saraswathi, and as beautiful as Lakshmi. We will be summoning Nidra Devi, the goddess of sleep.”

The notion of summoning a divine entity had been unheard of for centuries, a practice shrouded in mystery and legend. Tanish’s initial scepticism clashed with a glimmer of hope. The severe look in Dhāma’s eyes convinced him to embark on this unorthodox endeavour. Determined, he consented to Dhāma’s request and commanded his men to commence the ritual without delay.

Following the sage’s instructions, Dhāma organised the ritual in the castle with a sacred fire and on the ninth auspicious day of the month, when the constellations aligned in the Moola Nakshatra, the birth star of Goddess Nidra Devi, Maharaj Tanish was tasked with chanting the mantra to summon the goddess. As instructed, the Maharaj continuously chanted for five days and nights without opening his eyes.



“|| Ya devi sarva bhuteshu nidra rupena samsthita,

Namastasvai namastasvai namastasvai namo namaha||”


Each time, Tanish took a deep breath and kept his eyes closed while ensuring his heart was filled with hope despite all the trepidation it held. The mantra escaped his lips in a steady and focused rhythm, resonating with the flickering flames of the sacred fire. For a while, he managed to maintain his concentration, but as the sun set for the second time, his voice grew hoarse, his lips parched, and his eyes sunken. The toll of starvation weighed heavily upon him, yet he persevered, unyielding in his pursuit of answers.

On the fifth day, at the stroke of midnight, a surge of energy coursed through Tanish’s weary body. The sacred fire blazed with newfound intensity, casting an eerie glow upon its surroundings. Sensing a shift in the atmosphere, the Maharaj slowed his chanting, attuned his senses to the ethereal world that enveloped him.

Throughout the five days and nights, Tanish had been aware of the presence of his men, the priests, and Dhāma. He could sense their movements and whispers a faint backdrop to his mantra. But now, a profound stillness settled, swallowing the ambient sounds and leaving behind a profound silence that echoed with a sense of foreboding.

With bated breath, Tanish opened his eyes, only to behold a sight that sent shivers cascading down his spine. The fire before him burned with an otherworldly intensity, and in its embrace, a figure emerged. A woman of unparalleled beauty stepped forward, her radiant face outshining the moon, her eyes holding depths vaster than the myriad stars in the night sky. A smile, bright as the sun, graced her lips as she spoke in a voice that was both sweet and mischievous.

“Are you searching for me?”


The enchanting voice resonated within Tanish’s very soul, drawing him deeper into the mysterious realm that had unfolded before him.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Sahira: The name "Sahira" refers to a geographical location full of mountains.

 

Chapter II

Journey to North-East

Illustrated by Nikhila Kotni

“Why have you summoned me, mortal? Do you wish to have unimaginable wealth? Do you wish to have unending knowledge? Tell me, what do you seek?” the Goddess asked.


Looking at the woman who emerged from the flames unscathed, Tanish’s eyes widened while he stood with his mouth gaped. He then bowed, realising his folly before stating, “Oh, heavenly Goddess, I’m grateful for your kindness, and I’m fortunate to be blessed by your presence. Although I’m grateful to thirty-three million Gods for having given me wealth, knowledge and health, I’m distressed with only one thing.”


“And, what would that be?” the Goddess asked.


“Sleep, Goddess. I haven’t slept for the past four years. Not even a single night, not even for a few moments,” the Maharaj stated.


Nidra Devi curiously asked, “A mortal who hasn’t slept for years?”


Noticing Maharaj’s silence, the goddess closed her eyes to find the reason behind his predicament. While her intense frown reduced to a calming smile, she continued, “Only unconditional love can fulfil your quest for slumber.”


“Unconditional love? My family does so. Shouldn’t that grant me sleep?” questioned Tanish.


“Doesn’t your family expect anything from you?” Goddess Nidra Devi playfully asked.


Tanish couldn’t answer her question since he knew very well that his family had always had great expectations of him. They made sure to remind him what a great ruler he should be at every chance they had. So, giving up on his earlier remark and desperate to find an answer, he asked, “What about my friends?”


“Even if you don’t support them in their times of need, will they still show you their love?” asked the Goddess, raising her eyebrows.


Tanish knew that wasn’t the case either. All his friends were involved politically and worked on the give-and-take policy. Just when he felt hopeless, flashes of memories ran through his mind. A voice echoed, “No matter where you are and what you do, I’ll always love you.”


“Wow! That’s interesting!” the Goddess giggled. Looking at the confused Maharaj, she continued, “Start travelling towards the northeast as soon as the day breaks. You will find your answer.”


“Your Majesty, are you alright?” a voice asked.


Turning to see his chief servant for a moment, the Maharaj turned back to see that the Goddess had already disappeared.


Confused if what he had just witnessed was an illusion, Tanish stood up. He thought about what happened for a moment and realised he was out of options.


“Prepare to travel northeast first thing tomorrow morning. I will be going in disguise,” Tanish declared before leaving for his chamber.


His guards quickly started roping in scouts since Maharaj wanted to travel in disguise. While his men were busy preparing, all Tanish could think was the voice that echoed. He wondered if the lady who said those words still meant it even after years. Tanish always had thoughts of her often while drifting through his sleepless nights. For a while after he left her last, he often pondered about her, but each time he could not help but think, why would she waste her time waiting for someone who left her for his ambition? He swayed his hands in the air before the illusion of her beautiful innocent smile and her long silky hair dispersed to his men’s morning wishes.


“Have a healthy and prosperous morning, your majesty.”


Heavy-hearted, Tanish sighed. Glancing at the sun and starting another sleepless day, he left along with his men to find his cure. Throughout their journey, the Goddess guided him through her whispers, and the retinue kept travelling day and night, with the charioteers changing shifts. All was well until the fourth night. Amidst the howling winds and the pitch-black night, the startled horses suddenly froze.


“My Lord, the horses are startled and tired. Can we rest for the night?” the concerned driver begged.


A man with a face as radiant as the moon said, “Of course. Take the tents and lay them out.”


Wondering if he travelled with them all along, the drivers stopped the carriages and started laying out the tents.


“Goddess Nidra Devi, is that you?” questioned Tanish as he bowed.


“You are not that dull,” exclaimed Nidra Devi, disguised as a man, smiling.


“No matter what form you take, your radiance is uncloaking, Goddess.”


“You do know how to flatter. Come, let’s take a walk,” the Goddess suggested.


As they kept walking, they saw the men setting up the tents. As soon as the tents were up, the tired men fell asleep the minute they laid down.


“It’s nice to have someone awake with me while the world around me is fast asleep,” confessed Tanish, smiling.


“Oh, poor mortal, you must’ve been lonely,” the Goddess patted his shoulder.


Like an injured bird which could fly again, like a fluttering fish which could breathe again, the moment the Goddess touched, his years of the heavy burden that kept suffocating him melted away.


Realising the reason for the emptiness that carved a hole in his heart, the Maharaj smiled as he said, “Lonely! Ah! So, the feeling that was weighing my heart was loneliness.”


“Cheer up! We are not the only ones who are awake,” the Goddess giggled.


Confused, Maharaj followed the Goddess, who walked towards a guard, twisting and turning.


“Trouble sleeping?” Nidra Devi asked.


“Ah! My Lords!” sitting up, the guard replied.


“Yes, my lord. It’s been days since I had a peaceful sleep.”


“Pray to Goddess Nidra Devi, and you will attain a peaceful sleep,” the Goddess disguised as the lord suggested.


“Nidra devi? I never heard of her, my lord. Who is she?”


“You insolent imbecile! How dare you act ignorant about Goddess Nidra Devi? Don’t you know when you upset her, you also repel the Goddess of health, Dhanvanthri?” Her eyes turned red.


“Please don’t let his ignorance anger you!” prayed the Maharaj.


“You! Apologise to the lord and beg the Goddess Nidra Devi to forgive you and pray to her wholeheartedly to grant you sleep,” Maharaj commanded.


“I apologise to my lord. Oh, heavenly Goddess Nidra Devi, I beg you to forgive me and grant me a peaceful sleep. I will forever be your devotee,” the guard prayed to the skies.


“Alright!” the Goddess giggled and snapped her fingers. As soon as he heard the snap, the guard fell asleep.


Amazed by her powers, the Maharaj begged, “I’m so lucky to have witnessed your miracles, Goddess! Just as you snapped your fingers and made the guard fall asleep, can’t you please grant me some sleep instead of sending me on this unknown quest?”


“Did you know, from the start of the universe until now, no life has ever lived who defied me? Except for one!” mentioned the Goddess.


Looking at the puzzled Maharaj, she smirked and continued, “With you included, it’s two.”


“You mean, there was another person who was unable to sleep for years, just like me?” asked the Maharaj.


“Yes, but unlike you, he asked for it. Now I think he was such a rascal,” the Goddess pouted.


“Can you please tell me about him?” asked Maharaj curiously.


“Should I?” she laughed for a moment before starting the tale, “As you know, there are thirty-three crores Devas. Each Deva has a specific duty that keeps the world running. Just like how Dhanvanthri helps people with health, I help people with their sleep. Whenever there is an epidemic and thousands are affected, Dhanavantari gets a throbbing pain in her heart. So, she tries her best and controls the epidemic. Similarly, I will receive a throbbing pain when many lives are having trouble sleeping. Since humans cannot live without sleep for more than three days, I never felt that pain until one day. Wondering what would have happened to cause sleeplessness for me to receive such pain, I followed my divine instincts. I expected to see hundreds of sleepless lives. However, I only saw one man guarding a hut that had a couple sleeping peacefully. To control the situation, I snapped him to sleep. However, he resisted so hard that instead of falling prey, he became more alert. Although his determination impressed me, it also offended me. Deciding to confront him, I showed up in my most intimidating form and questioned him why he was resisting sleep. Do you know what he said?”


With intense eyes, the Maharaj nodded sideways, and the Goddess Nidra Devi answered, “With an unwavering look, he asserted that he wouldn’t sleep because he had a duty to protect his brother and sister-in-law.”


As Nidra Devi narrated, Maharaj started imagining the Goddess arguing with a peasant in the woods beside a hut.


I yelled at him, “You mere mortal! How dare you argue with me? Don’t you know that surviving without sleep is impossible?”


Taking a moment to relive the moment, the Goddess continued, “To which the peasant proudly replied, if I survived till now, I’m sure I will survive the next 14 years.”


Looking at the Maharaj, who was lost in his thoughts, Goddess continued, “I asked fourteen years? How dare you take me so lightly? Do you want to rebel against the law of nature and experience my wrath?”


The moment she said fourteen years, Nidra Devi could see the Maharaj connecting the dots. However, letting him do his own thing, the Goddess continued, “The man then begged me to understand. He told me that his brother has to live in the forests for fourteen years and that he is duty-bound to protect him at all costs.”


The Maharaj finally realised who it was, and Nidra Devi smiled as she stated, “When I asked how he intends to manage without sleep for such a time, his answer surprised me.”


Glancing into her eyes, the Maharaj curiously awaited the answer. With a broad smile, the Goddess added, “He said sleep and survival are incomparable to his wife. However, he must survive to protect his brother and sister-in-law and then return to the love of his life.”


Guessing who it might be yet not certain, the Maharaj remarked, “He left his wife to protect your brother and sister-in-law? How did she even agree to that, or did she not want to leave her comfortable life and suffer in the woods?”


To which the Goddess pleasantly replied, “The mortal did answer when I asked him about it to not doubt his beloved. He informed me that it was his wife that urged him to take her along, saying that all the comfort and riches don’t mean anything without him by her side. It was his fear of putting her in danger that stopped him. He confessed that his heart would shatter into a million pieces if he lost her. So, he promised her that he would survive these fourteen years and be back together for the rest of their lives.”


Maharaj immediately asked, “Oh, Goddess! Did you grant him his wish?”


“I did mention that the love he had for his wife has melted my heart away. So, I offered him an alternative so he can stay awake for the entire fourteen years without sleeping for a second,” confessed the goddess.


“An alternative? Oh, heavenly Goddess! Please, let me know the alternative. I will do anything to fulfil my duty,” the Maharaj begged.


With a frown on her face, the Goddess replied, “You will reach the empire by tomorrow’s sunset,” and disappeared.


How is it so far?

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Chapter III

The Legacy of Sahira Empire

Illustrated by Nikhila Kotni

As the moon cast its soft glow upon the surroundings, King Tanish found himself drawn to a tranquil spot, away from his tired and resting men. The weight of his responsibilities and the sleepless nights plagued his mind, leaving him in search of solace and answers.


Gazing at the moon & its radiant light piercing through the dense canopy above, Tanish’s thoughts began to drift. Memories of his youth, of times spent by his father’s side, flooded his mind. It was during those formative years that the legacy of the Sahira [1] Empire took hold of his imagination. In the quietude of the forest, Tanish’s mind journeyed back to a time when he was just a young prince of sixteen summers.


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