“Mmmm!” Pithey Buro gently hints to Pithey Buri, “I say, isn’t it the best time to go to the bazaar? There are sweet potatoes by the bushel, sweet green peas barely rounded in their shells, jars and jars of the most exquisitely fragrant, syrupy nolen gur you ever smelled!”
“Humph,” says Pithey Buri. She knows what Pithey Buro wants. At last, the most delicious time of year has come round again. This is the time of year Pithey Buri works the hardest and what Pithey Buro lives for.
It is the time of Sankrant, the Spring Equinox, when balmy spring breezes are laden with the scent of Pithey Buri’s luscious “pithey”.
Pithey Buri’s pitheys are the best in the world.
Sweet or salty, steamed, fried or soaked in syrup, no pithey is too difficult for Pithey Buri!
Off she goes to the bazaar, her keys safely tied in a knot at the end of her sari, a small draw-string bag of money tucked into her waist, and her slippers flip flopping all the way.
She passes people flying kites.
She passes a number of ponds, deeply breathing in the smell of the wet earth in the cool, spring air. She knows, the fish traps must have caught shining, jumping fish and tiny wiggly prawns as the water glints in the sunshine.
She passes the great big banyan tree where the monkeys come and steal the chai wallah’s bread. She passes the barber at the roadside saloon, styling his client’s beards and moustaches and snip snipping at their hair and carrying tales from one to another.
At last she reaches the market. After bargaining vigorously, Pithey Buri comes triumphantly home to spread out her shopping and sort it out. Making Pitheys is serious business.
She has bought rice to grind into flour, nolen gur- the sweet, smoky sap of the date palm, coconuts, green peas, sweet potatoes, milk, raisins, cinnamon, camphor, cardamom and other condiments, oil for frying, coal and wood shavings and cow pats for the earthen stove.
Now Pithey Buri is ready. She says,”Acchha, the first day will be for steamed Pithey.” She grinds the rice, grates fresh coconut, brings out the “new molasses,” moulds the sweets tenderly and steams them. At night she carefully lays clean new cloth over them. Then Pithey Buro and Pithey Buri go to bed.
The next morning, the old man says, “Buri, where are the Pithey ?”
And the old lady says sleepily, “Why? Here they are. Eat them!” but all the Pithey have gone! There is not one left!
“Alright, says Buri, “Today I will make fried Pithey.” She boils sweet potatoes, grinds green peas, rolls them, and fries them. Having fried them, once again she puts them in a clean mud pot and covers them, leaving them for the night and goes to bed.
The next morning, the old man gets up and says “Where are the Pithey?”
The old lady says, “Why, there they are. Look inside and see if they are there or not.” Buro raises the lid and finds they are all gone.
The next day, Buri says, “What shall I make today? Pithey in syrup. And tonight,” says she, lifting a stern finger, “I’m going to watch and find out what happens to them at night!” So that evening, Buri boils fresh, red, sweet-potatoes, fills them with kheer, fries them, and soaks them in syrup.” Then she puts them in a clean pot, ties them up very thoroughly, and hangs the pot from an iron hook in the ceiling. Then she takes a stick, and sits up all night. Just as her eyes droop with sleep, at the crack of dawn, she wakes up, startled by a “khoot-khoot” sound!
She peers toward the sound, and sees Buro, bowl in hand, reaching out and bringing the pot of Pithey down from the hook! In goes his hand, and out comes a Pithey. He gobbles one Pithey, then two, then three till there is not one left in the pot.
Buri jumps out and says, “I have caught the thief!”
What is Buro to do? He looks at Buri, eyes brimming with fear. He is afraid that Buri is terribly angry, but Buri says, “Nothing to worry about. There’s still time. I will make all three kinds of Pithey in one day and you will eat them all on that day.”
Buri makes so many Pithey that their whole village and all their friends and neighbours are able to feast on them. Everybody is delighted. No one can make Pithey quite like Pithey Buri!
*A Pithey is a seasonal delicacy made in homes across Bengal, usually during the Spring Equinox. There are many variations and they may be sweet or savoury, fried or steamed. Usually the first one to be made and offered to the Gods is the Akshoy Pithey, a crepe made of rice flour, filled with coconut and jaggery or “kheer” (thickened milk).Raisins nuts and condiments are optional. Other kinds of Pithey are made with sweet potato or rice flour. These are usually croquettes. If sweet, they are filled with jaggery and coconut or kheer and fried and soaked in syrup, or steamed with fresh jaggery poured over them. If salty, they are filled with a paste made of fresh peas and then deep fried
STORY COLLECTED BY: Shaiontoni Bose
STORY TOLD BY: Bunny Gupta
LOCATION: West Bengal
The character of Hanuman, Rama’s closest aide has become among the most popular characters of the Ramayana in recent years. His superhuman antics are well known and he has become a part of the popular culture today. However there are a few stories that are not as well-known. One such story was about Hanuman vanquishing Mahiravan in patala-lok (read here: On Mahiravan’s trail). On his way there he ran into an interesting character called Makaradhwaj. This is his story.
When Hanuman reached patala loka he found its entrance being guarded by Makaradhwaj. He stopped Hanuman and challenged him to a wrestling duel. Hanuman would be allowed to enter and says that he can enter only after defeating him in the duel. Hanuman agrees, but finds him a tough opponent. Hanuman is impressed by his strength, but at the end of a strong bout, defeats Makaradhwaj. After the duel, Hanuman asks him his name and wanted to know about his parents, who had given birth to such a strong child. Makardwaj said that he was the son of Hanuman!
Hanuman was puzzled, as he was a celibate and had never fathered a child. Makardwaj explained that after burning the city of Lanka with his tail, he had dipped himself in the sea. At that moment, a drop of his sweat fell in the water which was swallowed by a fish like reptile, makar. He was later found in the stomach of the animal and given to Mahiravan. Another version says that due to the intense heat generated in his body after burning Lanka, he took a dip in the sea and it was at this moment that he ejected his reproductive fluid which fell into the mouth of the reptile.
Seeing his tremendous strength, and since he was found in the stomach of a reptilian fish, he was named Makaradhwaj. Later he was entrusted with the task of guarding the fortress of Mahiravan. He did recognise his father, but he did not want to be accused of betraying Mahiravan, who had brought him up and trained him and had trusted him with an important task.
On losing his wrestling bout with Hanuman, he took Hanuman to the spot where Mahiravan was planning to sacrifice Ram and Lakshman. Later after killing Mahiravan, on the suggestion of Ram, Makardhwaj was made the king of the patala-loka, before they left the place.
The aspect of Makardhwaj is interesting. Hanuman, a known celibate fathering a son. This myth highlights the subject of supra-normal births, a subject by itself and a common factor in the study of mythology. Begetting a child from any body fluid was not an uncommon phenomenon in mythology. Many see this as yet another example of virgin birth while feminists could view this as a woman’s ultimate revenge on celibates!
Also, it is said that Makardhwaj had challenged Hanuman to a wrestling duel and had agreed to give him way, only if he defeated him in wrestling. This goes well with the image of Hanuman as the patron deity of wrestlers all over India, more so in the East.
The Jethwa community of Porbandar, Gujarat, claim their ancestry from Makardwhaj. According to them, they are the direct descendants of Jethi-dhwaja, the grandson of Makardhwaj. The Jethwas consider Hanuman to be their clan deity and the royal family even carries the image of Hanuman on their royal flag.
Story Collected by: Utkarsh Patel
The ‘Stri parva’ section of the Mahabharata narrates a story. In the story a Brahmin was journeying on foot, he comes to an impenetrable forest that scares him to death because it was teeming with huge, carnivorous beasts. Horrible, voracious beasts were scattered on every side, such as lions, tigers and elephants. When he saw this, his heart pounded wildly; his hair bristled and stood straight up. Running through the wood, dashing this way and that, looking out in every direction, he wondered, “Where can I take refuge?”. He searched for some opening among those beasts; racing forward in terror but, he could not get out, and he could not get far enough from the beasts. In some time he saw that horrible wood was surrounded by a net on every side, and that an absolutely horrible woman had embraced the wood with her arms. The large wood was dotted here and there with five headed snakes, lofty mountains that touched the sky like tall trees.
In the midst of that wood there was a covered up well; its opening was choked with vines that were hidden under the covering of grass. The Brahmin fell into that hidden well and got caught in the webbing of the vine’s filament. He hung there with his feet up and head down, like a big jack fruit hanging by the stalk. And then another calamity made things worse. He saw a large, black brindled elephant at the edge of the top of the wall. It had six faces and moved on twelve feet and it was gradually working its way over the well, which was covered by vines and trees. As the Brahmin clung to the branch of tree, at its end there were all sorts of frightening, horrible looking bees; they had gathered honey and were returning to their hive. Honey is the sweetest of all things…….A stream of this honey was flowing there constantly and copiously, and that man hanging there drank from that stream. But in this dire situation, as he drank it, his craving did not abate. Never satisfied, he kept wanting it again and again. And the man never lost hope for his life….though white and black rats were cutting at the root of the tree on which his hope of survival depended!
He was afraid of the wild animals on the periphery of the impenetrable wood, of the extremely ferocious woman, of the snake below him in the well, of the elephant at the rim of the well, and fifth, he was afraid that the tree might fall because of the rats. There was also fear of bees that were greedy for the honey.
This story is told by Vidura to Dhrtarastra. Dhrtarastra was not only physically blind, but is also blinded by the affection for his sons. After narrating the story, Vidura explains that this is an allegory of human existence. The impenetrable wood is the mystery of rebirth. From which it is difficult to get away. The wild beasts are mental and physical diseases that frighten men, the gigantic woman is decay of old age that destroys one’s beauty, and the well is human body in which the soul hangs. The great snake at the bottom of the well is all devouring time, which takes everything away from human beings. And the vine and plant that grew across the middle of the well are desires of the embodied soul to stay alive. The huge elephant moving around the mouth of the well is a year, his six mouths are six seasons and twelve feet are twelve months. The rats that were cutting down at the root of the tree were days and nights, the bees are numerous desires for pleasure and trickling honey is sweet juice of pleasure in which men drown.
This story presents a very grim picture of human existence. But forgetting the inevitability of the diseases, crippling old age and ultimate destruction of human body, we occupy ourselves in accumulating riches, which we may never enjoy. Like the man who is surrounded by dangers from all sides forgets the imminent threat and fragile existence of human being and enjoys the pleasure of drinking the trickling honey. Similarly the soul in human body is deluded by the desire of pleasure.
Story collected by: Dr Ravi Khangai
Location: pan India
Dr. Ravi Khangai, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University, India.
There once lived a goala, a cowherd who was known to be the kindest and gentlest young man in his tribe. He looked after his cattle well and every day, when the sun was too hot for them, he would herd them under a peepal tree for their midday rest. The tree had been watching him carefully and one day it decided to speak to the young man
‘If you can give me milk every day, pour it into my roots’, said the peepal to the cowherd, ‘I will grant you a boon.’
The young man, always obedient and always happy to receive a boon, did as the tree asked. At noon, each day, as he brought his cows to rest, he would give the tree its share of milk. One day, as he had finished his daily routine, he saw the ground under the tree cracking. At first he thought that the roots having grown bulky with all the milk being poured were bursting out into the open. But then he saw a huge snake buried inside which, due to its daily diet of cow’s milk, had grown too fat for its hole in the ground. He was a little afraid, truth be told, but that did not stop him from feeding the tree or, as it turned out, the snake.
One afternoon, as the cowherd stepped back having poured the milk into the ground, the snake uncoiled itself and rose like a giant from the ground. The young man shrank in fear as he was sure that the snake would make a meal out of him. Sensing the man’s terror, the snake decided to speak to him.
‘Do not be afraid’, said the snake to the cowherd. ‘You have helped me break free of years of bondage and for that I will grant you a boon.’
The poor frightened cowherd did not know what boon to ask for and so he asked that the snake to bestow upon him what he thought best. The snake called him near and blew a gust of warm air upon his head and no sooner had he done that, his hair which was thick and long, turned into gold.
‘The golden hair on your head will help you get a good wife’, said the snake to the cowherd. ‘And you will be very powerful, so powerful that whatever you say will happen.’
The cowherd was not sure what that meant so he asked: ‘What sort of things will happen?’
‘If you say a man shall die he will die and if you say he shall come to life, he will come to life’, answered the snake. ‘But you must not tell this to anyone; not even to your wife when you marry; if you do the power will vanish.’
The cowherd went about his life, not expecting much to come out of the boon and yet hoping that something would. One day as he bathed in the river, one strand of his long golden hair came loose. On a whim, he wrapped it in a leaf and set it afloat. The leaf carrying the hair tumbled downstream where a princess was bathing with her attendants. As the leaf drifted towards them, the attendants tried to pull it out of the water but it went straight to the princess. Intrigued, the princess opened the tiny bundle and found a shiny strand of hair.
The princess tied it up in a piece of cloth took it home with her. She measured it; it was 12 fathoms long. She knew instantly that she had to meet the owner of this unusually long golden hair and if it were a man, he would be her husband and if it were a woman, she would be her closest friend. And she locked herself up in her room and refused to step out or eat until the person was found.
The Raja and the Rani, her father and her mother, were troubled. But they assured their daughter that the person whose hair had floated down to her as she bathed in the river would be found. And true to their word, they sent an army of messengers to hunt for the person whose golden hair had captivated their daughter’s heart. The messengers went everywhere, knocked on every door and spoke to every tree and flowing stream but they could not find the cowherd. But the princess was adamant. Without her golden haired friend, she would not live. She would hang herself she declared. Hearing her speak thus, her pet crow and pet parrot who had been chained to the perch of her window, spoke to her.
‘The man with the golden hair lives deep inside the forest’, said the birds to the princess. ‘If he had lived in a village they would have found him. If he had lived by the river, they would have found him. If he had lived on a tree, they would have found him but they will never be able to go deep into the heart of the forest. We alone can fetch him. So unfasten our chains and we will go in search of him.’
The king immediately ordered their release and he gave them a good meal before they flew out on their mission because they could not carry any provisions with them. After all they were birds and not men.
The crow and parrot sped through the air. Free as they were meant to be, they soared high with the wind until they saw the cowherd resting under the peepal tree. They sat down on a branch and discussed how they could get the cowherd to their princess. The parrot had an idea. But he was afraid of the cattle standing below the tree and so he asked the crow for help.
‘Fly down’, the parrot said to the crow, ‘and take his flute and when he chases you, fly further.’
The crow agreed readily. He swooped down, onto the back of a cow and then hopped from one cow to another until the flute lay on the ground right under his beak. In one swift movement, the crow picked it up and flew high and far, as fast as its wings could flap. The cowherd yelled and shouted but the crow flew higher and higher. The cowherd chased the crow who, lured him further and further away, by flitting from one tree to another. When the crow was tired, the parrot took over and between the two birds, they drew him far from his home in the forest, into the palace and into the princess’s room.
Their work done, the birds handed the flute over to the princess who was overjoyed to see a golden haired boy standing in front of her.
‘Give me my flute’ said the cowherd to the princess.
‘Only if you marry me’, said the princess to the cowherd.
But how could that be asked the cowherd when they had never been betrothed. The princess gently reminded him about the day that his hair had come floating down the river, wrapped in a leaf. The leaf had sought her out and the hair was the go-between that had arranged this marriage, she said.
It all came back in a flash to the cowherd and he then recalled how the snake had told him that his hair would find him a good wife. He asked to see the floating strand and when he saw that it was his, he said, ‘We belong to each other’.
The princess opened the doors to her room and announced the wedding to her waiting parents. Also, she warned, if they did not let them marry, they would elope and never come back. So a day was set and a wedding was arranged. Everything went to plan and soon the princess was happily married to the cowherd.
Soon the cowherd fell so deeply in love with his wife that he forgot everything else, even his herd of cattle. But a few days or, maybe months later, when he thought about them waiting in the forest with no one to look after them he felt terrible. ‘I must go back to my cows’, he said to his wife. His wife said that she would go with him and they went to the king to let him of know of their decision. The king arranged for a grand farewell feast for the couple and gave the cowherd half his kingdom and a son’s share of elephants and cattle. And the kind king said: ‘Go to your home in the forest if you want. Or if you want you stay here. I shall never turn you out of my kingdom.’
The cowherd thought about the king’s offer and said that he would stay back in his kingdom but that he would have to go see his cattle first. They must be pining for him. So the next day the couple set out for the forest where to their dismay they found the entire herd of cattle dead. The cowherd began to weep but then he remembered the boon that the snake had given him and he had an idea. He told his wife that he would use some jungle roots to bring his cows back to life and so he went in search of some leaves and herbs and held it to the noses of the dead animals, whispering to them, ‘Come back to life.’ At once the cows rose and the cowherd was overjoyed.
The cowherd was loud and exuberant in his gratitude to the snake. For without him and the peepal tree, he would have had no life at all. He filled a large vessel with milk and poured it at the foot of the tree. The snake heard his prayers and came out of the hole and blessed the couple. He also breathed upon the head of the princess and her hair too turned bright as gold. The couple then collected their cattle and made their way back to the palace where they lived in peace.
All went well for a few years. But the cowherd had a thought that troubled him deeply. The snake was like his father and mother but he had come away in such a hurry after their last meeting. He owed the snake a lot more he thought and so he went back to the forest to make amends. But the snake was gone and when he asked the peepal tree about its whereabouts, there was no answer. The poor golden haired cowherd returned home to his golden haired wife, disappointed.
STORY COLLECTED BY: ARUNDHUTI DASGUPTA
TEXT SOURCE: Folklore of the Santal Parganas by Cecil Henry Bompas
Cecil Henry Bompas published Folklore of the Santal Parganas. London: D. Nutt, 1909, compiled from stories collected by P. O. Bodding
The book is available on: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/11938/11938-h/11938-h.htm#t19
Once a girl was born with a curse that she would marry her own son. As soon as she hears the curse, she vows to escape the fate by secluding herself in the dense forest, eating only fruits and foreswearing all male company. But when she attains puberty, as fate would have it, she eats a mango from a tree under which a passing king has urinated. The mango impregnates her; bewildered, she gives birth to a male child; she wraps the baby in a piece of her sari and throws him into a nearby stream. The child is picked up by a childless king of the next kingdom, and brings him up as a handsome young adventurous prince. One day the young prince comes hunting in the same jungle where the cursed woman lives. They fall in love. She tells herself her son is longer alive and she can marry the boy she is in love with. She marries him and bears his child. According to the custom, the father’s swaddling clothes are preserved and brought out for the new born son. When the prince’s swaddling clothes brought out she recognizes her sari, with which she had swaddled her first son, now her husband and understands her fate had really caught up with her.
She waits till everyone is asleep and sings her lullaby to her new born baby:
O brother to my husband
Sleep o sleep
She then hangs herself by the sari twisted into a rope.
Collector: A.K. Ramanujan
Source: “The Indian Oedipus” (pp109-136), Vishnu on Freud’s Desk. Ed by J. Kripal, & T. G Vaidyanathan, Oxford University Press, 1999
Kak Busundi (aka Kaka Bhusundi) is considered to be a great devotee of Rama and, in Uttara Kand of the epic Ramayana, he is found narrating the story of Rama to Garuda, the vahana of Vishnu. After listening to the story, Garuda was intrigued about the devotion and knowledge residing in the body of a crow and wanted to know more. It was then that Kak Bhusundi revealed his story and told him how he became a crow.
Bhusundi was born a human being in the Kingdom of Ayodhya. He was a great devotee of Shiva and at the same time he was arrogant. He refused to worship any other god or deity, rather looked down on people who did so. Once he met a saint who was charmed by the intelligence of Bhusundi and accepted him as his disciple. While the saint too was a devotee of Shiva, he had immense respect for Rama too. Over time as Bhusundi’s hatred towards the devotees of Rama grew, the saint grew visibly worried. He even noticed that Bhusundi had begun to insult the people who worshipped Rama. The saint tried to reason with him. He explained to Bhusundi that the benefits of worshipping Shiva would only lead to the feet of Rama, but this would anger Bhusundi who, at times, would end up shouting at his guru too. The saint never took offence as he felt that Bhusundi was otherwise a good disciple.
One day, Bhusundi was worshipping at the temple of Shiva. The belief that Rama was an inferior god had firmly entrenched itself in his mind by now. Bhusundi was doing his japa when his guru entered the temple. But Bhusundi decided to ignore the guru and went on doing his japa. Seeing this insult to the guru, Shiva was angered. His voice could be heard in the temple when he cursed Bhusundi that he would change into a snake and live in the hollows of a tree for showing disrespect to his guru.
When the guru heard Shiva’s curse, he was worried and immediately sang a hymn in praise of the lord (Namami shamishana nirvanaroopam….. Uttara Kanda 107) which seemed to placate Shiva. Shiva offered him a boon and the guru asked that may he always be devoted to Shiva and would he please offer him another boon? When Shiva agreed, he pleaded on behalf of his disciple requesting that he be pardoned. Shiva said that since he had uttered the words, he could not take them back; however, he could ensure that the curse in a way became a blessing for him. He would have to take one thousand such births till he assumed the form of a human; however, each birth would be like changing clothes for him. He would not have to undergo the agony of birth and death and would seamlessly assume forms and while at it, he would even retain the knowledge of his previous births. Also, since he was born in Ayodhya, he would end up being a great devotee of Lord Rama!
Soon, he changed about one thousand forms and at the end of it, he was born in the house of a Brahmin family. He became a great devotee of Rama and while he was growing up, he would not want to listen to any other gods or deities. His father would try his best to inculcate in him the devotion of other gods, but Bhusundi would not even want to listen to anything. Soon he grew up and went for his learning from hermitage to hermitage and from one teacher to another. Bhusundi ended up at the ashram of Sage Lomasa, who was renowned for his knowledge of religion and philosophy. Once, after telling some stories of Rama, the sage explained the concept of the formless Supreme Being and the concept of Brahman, as he felt that Bhusundi was ready for it. But Bhusundi was not interested in anything else and requested the sage that he wanted to know only about Rama and none else. The sage tried to explain the need for acknowledging the concept of a formless and an attribute less Supreme Being, but Bhusundi was not willing to listen. This led to an argument and the sage cursed him that he would turn into a crow for being stubborn and not willing to listen to anything and repeating only his point of view as this was how crows behaved.
When Rama came to know that his devotee had been cursed, he approached the sage and urged him to take it back. Sage Lomasa called Bhusundi back and blessed him for being the chosen one and recited the entire Ramacharitamanas and was finally blessed as one of the most ardent devotees of Lord Rama. Bhusundi was overjoyed and continued to sing the praise of Lord Rama and thus ended the story of the devoted crow.
Story Collected by: Utkarsh Patel
Textual Source – Uttarakand or the Ramacharitamanas, by Tulasidas
Location: Pan India
According to the Gond Ramayani, Lakshman is a virtuous man, so virtuous that he wouldn’t pluck grass, wouldn’t look at any woman, etc. His palace was guarded by the sun and moon, tigers and bears and many other dangerous animals and insects. One day, he came saw a musical instrument that he wanted to play. He got one made for himself, hung it on the wall and fell asleep for 12 years. Meanwhile, the musical instrument, frustrated at being hung on the wall, entered Lakshman’s dream and asked to be played.
Lakshman does as requested. He wakes up and starts playing the instrument. The instrument had promised Lakshman that none on earth would be able to hear the music he created since he was a celibate and none ought to hear him play the instrument. But the music was not willing to be confined; it wanted to step out of the palace. So it broke the walls of the palace and wafted right up to the heavens, into Indralok, thereby keeping its promise of not spreading on earth!
The music found its way into the ears of Indra Kamayani, one of Lord Indra’s daughters. She was so enchanted by the music that she turned into an eagle and flew down to earth to see who was playing such a melody. When she reached the palace she found Lakshman fast asleep. She made several attempts to wake him up, but to no avail. Eventually, out of sheer frustration, she tore her clothes, removed her jewels and threw them around Lakshman’s room.
In the morning, when Sita came into the room, she was appalled to see it in such disarray. She suspected her brother-in-law of illicit liaisons. She rushed to Ram, but he was a king after all and extremely busy with matters of the court. Sita accused him of being preoccupied with ruling his kingdom and not caring for his brother. It was time he was married, she told him. Ram was surprised at the suggestion, as he knew that his brother was sworn to celibacy. Where was the question of marriage? Sita told him her worst fears and told him that he ought to go and see for himself all that was going on in Lakshman’s palace. Ram refused to believe her version of events and called for the Pandavs to help him who arrived soon. Bhim was asked to find out the truth. (Pandavas of Mahabharat are a common recurrence in the Gond Ramayani)
Bhim checked out the palace and reported the truth back to Rama. But he was not convinced. He decided to look for himself and along with a retinue of courtiers and the Pandavs proceeded to Lakshman’s palace. When asked to explain the torn garments and ornaments strewn all over the room, Lakshman was unable to say anything at all. He protested his innocence but could not tell them where all the things had appeared from.
Lakshman had to take the agnipariksha, trial by fire, Ram ordered. And the story then goes into a detailed description of the ritual–a palace of iron is made by the ironsmith. It is so elaborate that it takes 12 years to make one. Once made, Lakshman is asked to sit inside. Wood from all over is collected to light a fire and heat the entire palace. The enormous fire heats up the area for miles and there is no chance of Lakshman being alive in it, unless he is virtuous enough to remain unscathed.
Soon when the right amount of time had passed Bhim was asked to extinguish the fire. But the fire refused to go out until Bhim filled large pots of water from a water source nearby and doused it. Predictably, Lakshman emerged unscathed, and the water which flowed out of the large pots, became the River Mahanadi that flows even today.
Another version of the same story says that Indra Kamayani was so besotted by Lakshman’s good looks, that she kidnapped him and turned him into a ram. She tied him in her palace during the day and restored to him his human body at night so that she could enjoy his company. Fed up, Lakshman communicated his plight to Sita by appearing in her dream. He pleaded to be rescued. Rama and his army along with Bhim, went to heaven, disguised as musicians and acrobats. So pleased was Indra with their performance that he granted them a wish. They asked for the ram (Lakshman). While they are bringing him home on their chariots, Indrakamani turned herself into an eagle and attacked their cavalcade. A battle ensued between Sita and Indrakamani. Narada then hatched a plan and told Indrakamani that she would get Lakshman as her husband if she went with them. Lakshman took her to his palace which had 18 doors and under the pretext of performing ancestor worship locked her in and left her there for the rest of her life. It is believed that when diseases like cholera and plague break out, it is because of the angry hissing of Indrakamani!
STORY COLLECTED BY: Utkarsh Patel
LOCATION: Madhya Pradesh
TEXT SOURCE: “Ramayani – Lakshmanji ki sat pariksha” (Hindi) by Dr. Vijay Chaurasiya
IMAGE DETAILS: Gond Ramkatha painting
IMAGE SOURCE: From the ‘Ramkatha’ series of paintings organized by Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (www.ignca.in)
There were seven suns in the creation.
Therefore the globe was very hot.
One and all were upset because of the hotness of seven suns.
One day, the seven Munda brothers conversed,
“The earth is so hot for the seven suns. If we kill the sun, the earth will be calm.”
They shot arrows towards the suns and killed six.
The seventh sun bolted from the arrow of the seventh brother and concealed itself behind the hill.
The entire world was caught in the darkness of the nightfall. The animals and birds in the forest sat in a meeting and decided to get back the light. They explored for light. But where would they get the light without the sun? They were troubled.
The bunny rabbit snooped and heard the worries of the animals and birds.
He said, “There is a sun still thriving, hiding afraid of the human being.
If you call him, he may come back and appear.
Tiger, the king of the forest called the sun.
But the sun did not turn up.
Other birds and animals tried to get the sun by calling him.
But the Sun did not listen to them.
The rooster hesitatingly asked, “May I call once?”
The birds and animals giggled at the rooster.
Tiger, the king said, “Let him try once. Maybe, the sun will come in response to his call.”
Facing towards the hill that the sun had taken shelter behind, the rooster called the sun
Kok re Kak.
The sun seemed to peek out from the other side of the hill.
Encouraged, the rooster called again, Kok re Kok
This time the sun looked up a little more.
The rooster called a third time, Kok re Kok.
Now the whole sun arose out of the hill and looked at the sky.
The sky and earth were bursting with light.
The Munda brothers understood their mistake and started adoring the Sun.
(This is a Munda oral tale collected from the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. The illustration that goes with the story is based on the Id Tal style of traditional painting practiced by the Saora tribe. The original story is told in Munda language. Dr Mahendra Kumar Mishra, a folklorist who has authored several books on the oral traditions of the tribes of Odisha has translated it into English.)
STORY COLLECTED BY: Mahendra Kumar Mishra
IMAGE CREDIT: Emam Gomanga, a teacher from the Saora tribe who paints in the Id tal style
Dr Mahendra Kumar Mishra is a noted Folklorist of India and is the author of Oral Epics of Kalahandi. He has set up Community Digital Archives in tribal areas in Odisha. He is the initiator of multicultural education in Odisha using folklore in primary schools. Dr Mishra is also the Chief Editor Lokaratna , an e-journal for Folklore Foundation, Bhubaneswar , Orissa in collaboration with the Dspace of Cambridge University, UK and National Folklore Support Center, Chennai. Dr Mishra is also the author of Folktale of Odisha published by the National Book Trust of India. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
Once there was a wizened old jogi who lived in a forest. He was very virtuous and kind, and there was no soul who received any harm on account of him. One day it so happened that a party of jogis was chasing a cobra in the forest. Fleeing before his hunters, the cobra came to the old jogi to seek refuge with him and said “A party of jogis is chasing me. Please find a way to hide me.” The jogi asked, “Where can I hide a big, giant snake like you?” The snake replied, “Open your mouth wide and I will go inside your belly. Once those searching for me are gone, I will come out.” The kind jogi trusted the snake’s word. He opened his mouth and the cobra went inside his belly.
The jogis chasing the cobra searched around, and went away when they could not find the snake. The cobra was feeling very cool and comfortable inside the jogi’s belly and did not come out. And the belly grew day by day but the cobra forgot all about his promise and remained inside.
One day the jogi was fast asleep and his mouth was wide open. Deciding to enjoy some fresh air, the cobra extended his head from the jogi’s mouth. It so happened that a cat was sitting close-by, and seeing the cobra’s head protrude out of the jogi’s mouth, she crept near stealthily. Striking like lightning, the cat caught the cobra’s head in her mouth and pulled him out whole. With her sharp claws she killed the cobra in no time.
The jogi had now awakened. Seeing the cobra lying he dead highly commended the cat, and said, “Mother Cat, from today onwards you shall be the snake’s enemy. I grant you the freedom. Now you should leave the forest and go and live among humans. Everyone shall eat your leavings and what you jump over no one will eat.*”
Hearing these words, the cat prepared to depart to live among the humans. At the time of departure the jogi stroked the cat and as the fingers of his fingers were smeared with black colour, the cat’s fur was marked with black lines running across its body. From that day every cat has carried a black line and every cat is an enemy of the snake.
(*The jogi with his blessing effectively raised the cat’s status to that of a person. An animal’s leftovers are not fit to be eaten, but a person’s leftovers can be eaten. In Sindh, if a person crosses over or jumps over food it is deemed unfit for human consumption, but it can be eaten if an animal has jumped over it.)
(Translated from the Sindhi by Musharraf Ali Farooqi)
STORY COLLECTED BY: Musharraf Ali Farooqi
STORY TOLD BY: Muhammad Soomar Sheikh of taluka Badin in Lower Sindh
LOCATION: Sindh, Pakistan
In Assam, we find a version of the Ramayana known as the Durgavari Giti Ramayana. It is a lyrical composition (giti) by a poet named Durgavar. His work was first published in 1915 by Bisay Chandra Biswasi of Hajo, an ancient place of pilgrimage near Guwahati (Assam).Since then the work has been published by a few others who have primarily drawn upon this text and in 1972, Prabin Chandra Das found a manuscript of one of Durgavar’s cantos (the Ayodhya kanda) which was believed to have been missing until then. Das retrieved it from an Oja family in Hajo.
This story was sung along with the other songs of the Durgavari Ramayana during ojapali performances which are today preserved only among the people of Hajo. Ojapali is a quasi dramatic performing art form where a group of 4-5 singers, besides their leader and chief assistant, recite lyrics from the epics and puranas. The oja leads the performance and Durgavar, most believe, was an oja or leader of an ojapali troupe.
The song begins at the point when Bharata goes back to Ayodhya after informing Rama about Dasharatha’s death. Rama, Sita and Lakshmana set out for Gaya to offer oblations to the deceased king. The brothers ask Sita to wait as they go out to collect fruits for the rituals. Sita whiled away her time playing with sand but, as she sat lost in her thoughts, Dasharatha appeared before her and asked her to offer him an oblation of san (balir pinda). Sita was reluctant but Dasharatha was adamant so she asked the sun, air, the earth and river Phalgu to be her witness. When Rama returned, he did not believe the story. So Sita asked the sun, air, the earth and the river to reveal the truth to her husband. But the devas present in nature refused to do that. However Sita was saved because Dasharatha came down to tell Rama that he had forced Sita to give him balir panda.
Infuriated by the behaviour of the gods, Sita cursed them – the sun, she said, would be devoured by Rahu and the moon by Ketu (both demons) and the river Phagu was banished to flow below the earth. She also cursed the basil plant, the kusha grass and the plantain tree.
A version of Sita’s sand oblation is found in the Garuda Purana, Shiva Mahapurana, the Oriya version of the Mahabharata and the Bengali version of the Ramayana and the Ananda Ramayana. These versions differ slightly from the Durgavari story but they all talk about Sita’s sand oblation to Dasharatha.
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta
Location: Pan India
Text Source: Prabin Chandra Das, Dugavari:An Assamese Version of the Ramayana; Rama Katha in Tribal and Folk Traditions of India Edited by KS Singh and Birendranath Datta