During my recent travels in Cambodia I came across a collection of folktales by Muriel Paskin Carrison. To my delight, I found that the author had chosen the stories intelligently and translated them with utmost care from the original Gatiloke (GAH-tee-Low-Kah), a collection of ancient Cambodian folk stories which is a part of the country’s ancient literary tradition. These tales were used by Buddhist monks in their sermons. They are moral tales set in villages or towns and are about ordinary people and their strengths and weaknesses and how they go about making a living. Gati means “the way” and loke means “the world”. Loosely translated “Gatiloke” means “the right way for the people of the world to live.”
Among all the Gatiloke stories, this one caught my attention because even after reading it, I was at a loss about its purpose, till I read a tiny note at the end of the book which said that Buddhist monks often told stories about a crude Brahman character. It was only then that I understood the point of the story: it was told and retold by the monks to mock or ridicule the Brahmanical society in a country which was switching over from Hinduism to Buddhism. The monks delighted in telling stories which tarnished the brilliance and high position enjoyed by Brahmans and depicted them as crude, selfish and silly. A religion based on ahimsa and very high moral standards was not averse to using some underhand methods to make its point against the abhorrent caste system and the Hindu religion with its superstitious obedience to the Brahmans.
This is how story goes……..
Once upon a time, a Bodhisattva in the form of a son was born to a noble Brahman couple. The father passed away when he was young and his mother sent him away to the eminent scholars in Taxila, a revered centre of learning, to study the Vedas and the ancient scriptures. After years of intensive study and successfully mastering the three Vedas and other scriptures, the boy returned home. His mother by then was an old lady and he began caring for her and teaching the children in his village. Soon he became popular and was well respected as a teacher and his fame spread far and wide. Scholars and students travelled long distances to study under him and listen to him.
Among the Bodhisattva’s students was one who was not only dazzlingly handsome but also intelligent, diligent and humble. The student, however, was completely unaware of his qualities. He worked hard for three years, acquired knowledge of the Vedas, bid farewell to his learned teacher and came back to his village. Upon his return, he excitedly told his parents everything he had learnt. His mother listened thoughtfully and expressed her joy at her son’s depth and breadth of knowledge, but she sprang upon him a question to which he did not have an answer. The mother asked whether he had learnt how to court a woman, the answer to which was negative. The mother suggested that he ought to go back to his teacher and learn about that too.
The handsome young man returned to his Bodhisattva teacher and requested him to teach about women and the art of courting. The Bodhisattva carefully considered the matter but given his ignorance of the subject, suggested that the student should approach his mother who was an expert. The boy thanked Bodhisattva and went to the Brahman lady, his guru’s mother. She was now an octogenarian with wrinkled skin and withered body but when she saw the dazzling handsome young man she instantly fell in love with him. She did not lose much time in professing her love for him and goaded him to marry her. The young student was perplexed at such a proposal as she was the noble mother of his respected teacher. He politely refused to do anything discourteous that might distress his esteemed teacher. The old Brahman lady was so besotted that she refused to take NO for an answer. She even promised to get rid of her son by killing him. The young man was at a loss. Her passion and lust scared him and he acquiesced, half-heartedly, with her plan. But, he was loyal to his teacher so, he went to the monastery and with great embarrassment narrated the entire story. The Bodhisattva listened to him calmly and requested his student to find out how and when his mother planned to kill him.
The youth went back to the Brahman lady and asked about her plans. The old lady, totally unsuspecting and eager to please her husband to be, told him that in the dead of night, when the Bodhisattva slept, she would behead him with a sharp sword. The youth duly reported back. The Bodhisattva hatched a plan. He asked his student to get the trunk of a banana tree, about four-arm length tall, and place it on his bed and cover it with a blanket. The young man did as told and hid with his guru behind the curtain. At the stroke of midnight the feeble old lady entered the room dragging behind her the heavy sword, went close to the bed and checked that her son was fast asleep. She tried to lift the heavy sword to bring it down on her sleeping son, but she was weak and the sword much too heavy for her. So as she attempted to bring it crashing down on to the covered banana tree, the old lady slipped, fell and died instantly.
The Bodhisattva and his handsome student watched everything hiding behind the curtain and they agreed with a heavy heart that the noble lady foolishly died of love.
Bodhisattva is a divine being worthy of nirvana who remains on the human plane to help men to salvation.
Story collected by: Anuradha Dhar Bose
Text Source: Cambodian Folk Stories from Gatiloke by Muriel Paskin Carrison
A long time ago, Tripura wasruled by a king called Trilochan who had two sons, Dripaktiwas the elder and Dakshin the younger son. A few years after he was born, Dripakti was adopted by his maternal grandfather, the King of Cachhar, as he did not have an heir to the throne. The children grew up and after the King of Cachhar died, Dripakti was made the monarch. In Tripura, Trilochan, declared his younger son, Dakshin as the heir apparent. This when Trilochan died, Dakshin ascended to the throne. But that was not the way Dripakti had envisaged the future. Uponlearning about his father’s death, he laid claim to the throne saying he was the rightful heir as he was the eldest son. When Dakshin resisted, a battle waged for seven days, where Dakshin was defeated and Dripakti took over the kingdom of Tripura. Dakshin escaped with the heads of fourteen soldiers and set up his kingdom in the area of central Cachhar.
Over time the soldiers were deified and the descendants of Dakshin began worshipping their heads. The fourteen soldiershad become gods to the tribe. It is said that after the death of Dripakti, his descendants too started worshipping the fourteen ‘deities’ and soon it became a practice.The festival is characterised by the worshipping of fourteen gods, more importantly, the heads of fourteen gods, by the royal priest called Chantai. The festival is held in July every year and it is called ‘kharchi puja’ by the local inhabitants of the region. It lasts a week, during which the entire state is in the mood of a carnival. It is the most important festival of the North-Eastern state of Tripura.
The original names of the 14 gods were in the local language of Kak-barok. They are called: Katar, Katar-ma, Burachha, Mailoma, Khuloma, Subrai Raja, Lampra, Toi Bubagra, Sangrama, Harung Bubagra, Nangkhtai Bubagra, Bachhua Bubagra, Thunirok and Banirok. But with the influence of the Vedic tribes, the gods were assimilated into the Hindu pantheon. Today the fourteen deities are called Prithvi (Earth), Uma (Parvati), Har (Siva), Hari (Vishnu), Kumar (Kartikeya), Ma (Lakshmi), Bani (Saraswati), Ganesh, Brahma (Creator), Kamdev (God of Love), Samudra (Ocean God), Ganga, Agni (Fire), and Himalaya (God of Mountains).
There are many tales around ‘kharchi puja’ and while the above is the most popular, there is another version which says that the festival is a worship of goddess earth. Kharchi or ‘khya’ means the earth and the festival is in honour of the earth goddess whoprovides sustenance to all aspects of life. Interestingly, kharchipuja takes place fifteen days after Ambubachi which is the period of menstruation of the Earth. During the ancient times this was considered to be an ‘unclean’ aspect of the earth, just as it is in a woman. During Ambubachi there is no ploughing or digging activity. The soil isconsidered unclean and in the past, women were not allowed to take part in any auspicious function during Ambubachi. Even a priest whose wife was in menstruation at that time was prohibited from conducting any ceremony. The kharchi puja was the ritual cleansing of the Mother Earth which had to be done after the menstruation period. Many even compare this cleansing to the ‘shraadh’ ceremony (after death) after which, life goes back to normal!
The rituals are marked with the bathing of the fourteen heads of the deities which is a remnant of the tribal practices that must have marked the ancient worship of the tribe. Sacrifices of goats and pigeons are an integral part of the rituals too.
Source: (I had come across this in one of the promotional papers on Tripura which had given some details, and the rest of it was from the Internet)
Story collected by: Utkarsh Patel
Image source: www.tripura4u.com
Image details: The ritual bathing of the fourteen heads of the deities.
The Kamakhya temple in Guwahati has captured the people’s imagination for hundreds of years. Its tantalising tales of tantra, mantra and vashikaran and equally intriguing rites and rituals has lured in tourists, scholars and believers from across the world. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple is a cave which is devoid of any image. It has a natural underground spring which flows through a yoni-shaped cleft in the bedrock. The inner sanctum is a deep dark underground rocky chamber into which one descends by a flight of steep steps. The “Matra Yoni” which is inscribed on a rock is covered with silk sarees and is constantly moist by underground spring water.
The Kamakhya temple is considered to be a shakti peetha. This is one of the many stories associated with the temple (For the stories around the temple, read Kamakhya’s Web) but in every tale linked to the temple, there is an underlying element of devi worship. This suggests that this is a place of worship of woman divine or, the mother goddess. The temple remains one of the holiest sites in India for tantra practitioners who associate it with powerful creative force of the mother goddess.
Among the many aspects of the goddess celebrated here, there is one which celebrates menstruation. Devotees believe that the Devi menstruates during a unique festival called Ambubachi which is observed during the Indian month of Ashaad (towards the end of June). They believe that every year on the seventh day of Ashaad, the pool containing the uterus turns red. The temple remains closed thereafter for a period of three days. On the fourth day, the doors of the temple are opened for lakhs of pilgrims who throng the temple during this festival. Offerings to the goddess are usually flowers, but might include animal sacrifices. In general female animals are exempt from sacrifice, a rule that is relaxed during mass sacrifices.
Ambubachi (or, otherwise) festival kamakhya temple draws various Shakti and Shaiva tantra practioners recognised by their respective red or black garments. Whilst in orthodox Hindu rites and rituals male dominance is an accepted norm and a female is considered impure when she menstruates, Tantric rites grant female the status of Shakti, and she is considered to have the potential to unlock her divine powers especially during her menstrual cycle. Assam and its surrounding areas are well known for various Tantric Cults with their equally exotic practices. The Sanskrit term ambuvaci from which local Assamese term ambubachi or ambubasi is derived literally means “issuing for of water”. Whilst to believers it is celebration of menstruation of goddess kamakhya, the very celebration at the onset of monsoon in the month of ashaad is nothing but homage to fecundity of mother earth which comes alive with the onset of monsoon.
The history of Assam is closely linked to the history of Sri Sri Kamakhya. The Shakti temple is mentioned in various Puranas including Kalika Purana and Yogini Tantra which establishes the temple and therefore Assam as a springboard for Shakta Tantra. The temple stands between two ethnic hill groups – the khasis of the Austro-Asiatic group who follow the matrilineal system and the Garos. Sex worship and animal sacrifice was common amongst these tribal people in the ancient past. While on the one hand, the worship of the yoni of the goddess in Kamakhya represents veneration of procreative power of nature, on the other hand it stands as testimony to magical influence and continuation of tribal culture and non-Aryan practices. The temple snuggled in the verdant Nilachal hills thus symbolises the ‘fusion of faiths and beliefs.