Once there lived in Kishtwar, a district in the province of Jammu and Kashmir, a dayan. There are few words in English that capture the meaning of this word, commonly used across nations in the subcontinent (and perhaps beyond) but the closest word would be–demoness or sorceress.
The dayan of Kishtwar is believed to have amazing powers and is on the lookout for men who fail to do the right thing or protect themselves from her. Her dazzling and mesmerising appearance hides an evil and powerful being whose victims are consumed by death in a slow and excruciating manner.
Vijaya Dar, a gifted story teller, who lived in Kashmir for 20 years but has now settled in Coonoor in Tamil Nadu, remembers that, as a child, he and his cousins would be warned: ‘Don’t do that or the dayan of Kishtwar will catch you’. He says he had an uncle who worked with the state government and was posted to Kishtwar for a few years where he began to waste away. He was brought back by his family who were convinced that the dayan had got to him. But his uncle, even though he was treated by the best doctors in Srinagar, failed to survive. It was noticed that ever since he had come back from Kishtwar, a crow would perch itself on the window in the room where he lay. The family was convinced that the dayan had taken the form of a crow and followed him to Srinagar, eating away at his core till the pain and agony consumed his life.
The dayan’s powers are legendary. It is believed that Maharaja Pratap Singh, the Dogra ruler of Kashmir, who was believed to be an enlightened king sought to dispel the myth about her abilities. He summoned the dayan to his Durbar, where he ordered her to demonstrate her powers. She asked him to keep an apple on a table in the middle of the hall. Apparently, after a few moments when the apple was picked up it was found to have been consumed from within leaving the peel intact. There is no record of the event, except in the oral folklore of Kashmir.
As he tells this story Vijaya Dar says that it may have been entirely possible the victims of the dayan died from tubercular consumption or from a cancer but why the creatures were linked only to Kishtwar is not clear.
Story collected by Arundhuti Dasgupta
Story told by: Vijaya Dar
Source: Vijaya Dar who has heard it from family elders
Amongst the many untold stories of Ramayan is the myth of Mahiravan. We find that these stories remain out of the popular people’s narrative either because they were added to the main text later, over a course of time, or are important to a particular region or culture but unimportant for the larger community.
The story goes that after Ravan lost his brave son Indrajeet in the epic battle he was crestfallen. His mother came to see him when he was in this state. She reminded him of what his arrogance had done to his family and how he was wrong to let his ego blind him to the grave error of his ways. Ravan was not willing to listen to anything from anybody.
Before she left him to grieve for his son, alone, his mother asked him to think about another one of his sons (some texts refer to him as brother of Ravan), Mahiravan, who was king of the Patala-loka, or the underworld. Mahiravan had initially decided not to be a part of the battle, as he did not approve of Ravana kidnapping Sita. Mahiravan was the master of occult and a devotee of Goddess Kali. Ravan managed to convince Mahiravan to join him in battle by telling him that if he offered Ram and Lakshman as a sacrifice to the Goddess Kali, she would be happy.
When news of Mahiravan’s entry into Ravan’s battalion reached the army of Ram, there was consternation. Everyone was worried, especially Vibhishan, Ravan’s brother, who knew about Mahiravan’s skill as a sorcerer. He warned everyone about his nephew’s (brother) ability to change form and emphasised on the need to ensure that Ram and Lakshman were guarded well all the time. Hanuman was appointed as guard and told to keep watch so that none got into the cottage of Ram and Lakshman. Hanuman created a shield by his tail, around the cottage where the two were resting.
As expected, Mahiravan tried to break into the cottage. He changed into many different creatures but could not pass through. At last, he assumed the form of Vibhishan and approached Hanuman. He asked to be allowed in as he wanted to ensure that Ram and Lakshman were fine. Hanuman, allowed him to go through, thereby unwittingly breaking his own security shield for the enemy.
As soon as Mahiravan got into the cottage, he cast a spell on both Ram and Lakshman, and took them deep inside the ground. By the time Hanuman and Vibhishan could realise what had happened, the two were gone. Vibhishan was very worried as he knew that Mahiravan was capable of the worst kind of magic which could put the brothers’ lives in danger. He guessed that the two had been taken deep inside the ground in the patala-loka and urged Hanuman to go the same way.
Hanuman did as he was told. It is said that when Hanuman reached the patal-loka, it seemed to be a city by itself, with forts and fortresses and guards at every point. He met many characters who tried to thwart his mission but he managed to cross all hurdles and reach his destination. His adventures in the patal-loka are interesting, but we will not get into the details of it here.
On his way to the patala-loka, Hanuman had heard that Mahiravan was going to sacrifice Ram and Lakshman to the Goddess Kali in return for more occult powers. The myth gets really interesting here. Hanuman decided to go the root of the problem. He takes the form of a small bee and approaches the goddess Kali. He asks her if she wants the blood of Ram. Kali is supposed to have said that she would rather have the blood of Mahiravan, than that of Ram. She then goes on to suggest a way out, which Hanuman whispers into the ears of Ram.
Now the time for the sacrifice drew near. Ram and Lakshman were readied for the ceremony and at the auspicious time, Mahiravan asks Ram to put his head on the sacrificial altar. Ram has a problem; he says that having been a Kshatriya, a warrior, all his life he did not know how to bow in front of anyone, could Mahiravan show him how? Mahiravan was irritated but eager to get on with the sacrifice, places his head on the altar. No sooner had he done that, Hanuman who was hiding behind the idol of Goddess Kali, assumes his original form, takes the sacrificial blade and beheads Mahiravan. Thus Ram and Lakshman were saved. He then offered the blood of Mahiravan to the goddess.
Matters don’t end here. Mahiravan’s wife was pregnant and it is said that when she came to know about the death of her husband, she fought back. There is mayhem and in the commotion that is unleashed, Hanuman’s kick lands on her stomach and out comes the child, Ahiravan, ready to fight. Ahiravan is full of blood and mucous, and tough to get a hold of. Hanuman manages to throw some mud on him and catch him by his limbs. He kills him by smashing him to the ground. Hanuman then carries both Ram and Lakshman back to the battle field.
This myth is found mainly in the Ramayans of the East, especially in the Bengali version by Krittibash, the passage better known as ‘Mahirabonerpala’. The involvement of Goddess Kali and the occult practices find a mention in the epic here. Also, Kali plays a positive role here and asks for the blood of Mahiravan. Many scholars have opined that this story could have been a folktale that was woven into the epic. The changing of forms, sacrifices at the altar of Goddess Kali, etc. are common folktale motifs in the East. The twist of the ‘sacrificer’ getting sacrificed is also a common folktale element, which highlights that gods don’t support their ardent devotees if they take the wrong path. All in all, a very interesting myth.
STORY TOLD BY: Utkarsh Patel
TEXT SOURCE: Krittivasi Ramayan (or Sri Ram Panchali (Bengali: শ্রীরাম পাঁচালী), composed by 15th century Bengali poet Krittibas Ojha, is a translation of the Ramayana into Bengali. This story is found in the chapter, Mahiraboner-pala.
LOCATION: West Bengal