My mother told me this story a long time ago. I don’t really remember whether she ever sat me down to tell me this story, or happened to mention it when she was trying to get me interested in the early morning ritual of listening to the Mahalaya, which is somewhat like a ballad in praise of Durga’s battle against Mahishasura and used to be played on the radio when we were growing up. Now it is a different story, it can be downloaded and heard or watched any time the desire seizes you. The Mahalaya was a must-listen in almost every Bengali household as it heralds the start of Puja and sets the mood for the days of revelry and feasting that follow. I found it a chore because it meant getting up at 4 a.m. and straining my ears to catch the meanings of the words being sung but nevertheless I was caught up in the overall drama of the season and I don’t think we missed any Mahalaya day during my growing up years.
I asked my mother recently if she could tell the story one more time. She said she didn’t remember it too well but maybe my aunt (Mamie) in Kolkata would be able to help. She did and even dug up a reference book and helped me fill in details that I didn’t remember. I wrote it all down and filed it in for the archive. But stories gather a life of their own and this one had decided that it wasn’t done yet. My uncle (Chotokaka) called from Kolkata and said that he too had found out something about the story. Yes, my mother had called him and told him that I was writing something and could he help. And he told me this: Two sisters Aditi and Diti were wives of Kasyapa. Diti’s sons were the Daityas and Aditi’s sons were the Devas. They never got along with each other. But we must remember that not all Daityas are Diti’s progeny and not all Devas are Aditi’s children.
With that caveat in place, must this story be read:
Durga had just vanquished Mahishasura, the Asura king who had thrown the heavens into turmoil and whom no god could defeat. Her victory had sent tremors down the Asura kingdom. Many had decided to accept the supremacy of the gods instead of taking on the goddess in battle, but there were a few challengers who decided to take on the might of Durga.
The brothers Shumbha and Nishumbha of the Daitya race, were in deep grief at the death of their compatriot, Mahishasura. Their grief stoked a desire for vengeance against the woman who had caused his end. They refused to accept the Devi’s supremacy. Nor would they, they announced, let the gods rule over the world just because a woman had brought them victory.
Shumbha and Nishumbha were powerful though cruel kings. They were feared, not only among the Daitya clan, but also among the Devas who had been at the receiving end of their wrath for a very long time. The brothers despised the gods; they had sworn to destroy them and Indra, their king, for having murdered their third brother Nomuci. Over the years they had built a huge arsenal of weapons and an army whose might and prowess had sent the gods cowering in fear. Even Indra had run away from his kingdom and no one knew where he had hidden himself.
After the death of Mahishasura, Shumbha and Nishumbh felt that it was time to reassert the supremacy of the Asuras. Word of Durga’s valour, her strength and phenomenal courage had reached them, but that did not deter the brothers or their courtiers. So they sent out spies to find out more about this goddess who had wreaked havoc on their kingdom who came back with more stories about the goddess’s phenomenal battle skills and also about her incandescent beauty. Durga shone like fire and gold when she took to the battlefield they reported.
After listening to the reports of their spies, the brothers decided that they would make the goddess an offer. They sent word out that they would be willing to marry her and that she should hand herself over to them. Durga did not turn them down. But she had a condition: she would marry the one who could defeat her in battle. The brothers did not believe that they should fight a woman so they sent their general Dhumralocana to bring her to them. But he was beheaded by the goddess.
The brothers were enraged and ordered their valiant generals Chanda and Munda to bring the goddess to them in chains. Chanda and Munda had won many battles for their kings and were the most loyal soldiers that any king had ever had. However the two were no match for the Devi who sent them scrambling for their lives. Bruised and too embarrassed to go back to their masters, Chanda and Munda hid in a pond of water. (In some versions, Chanda and Munda are beheaded by Chamunda Devi who is a form of Durga and is usually found around cremation grounds)
When Shumbha and Nishumbha heard about their generals’ plight, they sent one of their fiercest soldiers called Raktabeej. Raktabeej had the power to regenerate himself; every drop of his blood that fell on to the ground would produce another Raktabeej. He fought a long and hard battle against Durga who, faced with this unique challenge, summoned Kali — a violent and ferocious form of herself. As Durga struck Raktabeej with her sword, Kali drank his blood and thereby ensured that not a drop fell down and together they destroyed him.
With Raktabeej defeated, there was no option but for the brothers to jump into battle. They were mighty warriors and so they engaged the goddess in a combat that went on for many days and many nights. Finally Durga, with a fell swoop of her sword, beheaded the two.
And thus was the world rid of Shumbha and Nishumbha. The Danavas lost their control over the world and Indra, reclaimed his kingdom.
STORY COLLECTED BY: Arundhuti Dasgupta Singhal
STORY TOLD BY: Sumitra Sen, Ashok Dasgupta and Kasturi Dasgupta
TEXT SOURCE: Vamana Purana
LOCATION: West Bengal
This is a temple tale from Madurai which explains how Minakshi the supreme goddess of Madurai fell in love with Lord Shiva.
The King of Madurai was childless and was distraught worrying about his successor to the throne. After much deliberation his priests advised him to perform one hundred horse sacrifices (asvamedha-s ) to gain highest spiritual merit or punya which would enable him attain a son as heir to the throne.
When he had completed successfully the ninety ninth sacrifice, Indra the Lord of heavens got alarmed. As he knew the hundredth sacrifice would dislodge him from his position of ruler of heavens, Indra appeared before the King and told him to perform instead the sacrifice of putra kameshti to obtain a son. The King took the advice and offered the sacrifice as per the rules, but to the amazement of all, a girl with a three breasts was born.
The King was troubled as he wondered how a girl with three breasts would carry on his legacy and rule the land? . Just then, a voice from the heaven advised him“ Oh pious King do not worry. Bring her up like a son. Teach her all the skills that are expected of a prince. When she meets the appropriate suitor, her third breast would disappear.”
Reassured by divine voice, the king named her Minakshi as she had the most beautiful eyes, like a pair of fish (mina= fish. aska= eyes). He brought her up like a son and taught her all the skills of a warrior. When the king died she ascended to the thrown. Minakshi- the princess was a fierce warrior and enemies feared her valor . No king could match her brevity and skills in war. Soon she set out to conquer the world.
In no time her army reached Kailasa and confronted the armies of Shiva. Shiva’s army were no match to Minakshi’s troops and began to loose the battle. Finally Shiva took to the battle field. A fierce battle broke out and Minakshi and Shiva came face to face. The moment she saw Shiva, she was transfixed and fell in love with the man before her. As the heavenly voice had predicted her third breast disappeared and Minakshi was overcome with modesty, innocence and shyness. The king’s advisor who had accompanied Minakshi immediately recognized that the prediction had come true. He approached Minakshi and said “Princess ! This man is your bridegroom” and explained to her the story of her birth.
Princess took Shiva to Madurai and married him in a grand ceremony. There Shiva reigned as Cuntarapantiya and ruled the land.
Story collected by : Vidya Kamat
Text source: Tamil Temple Myths, by David Dean Shulman, Princeton University, 1980
Location: Tamil Nadu
Image Details: Goddess Minakshi .
“Painting of the goddess Minaksi. She is depicted crowned, two-armed and with a green parrot perching on her right hand. An impression of perspective is provided by a lightly sketched in foreground. On-laid European paper watermark shows an armorial design and the letters ‘W T’.”
Artist : unknown
Image Source: Wikipedia
I heard this story from a taxi driver in Mumbai. He was ferrying me to my office and we got chatting. He was from Benares, he said, the holy city. He had left his family there but had had to come to Mumbai to earn a living. But still he is in touch with his life there, he goes back every 5-6 months and had been doing this since 1976. Mumbai has changed so much he said since he first began driving through its streets. There was bhaichara, there was more understanding and less running around. Varanasi was always peaceful and he likes going back there to smell the different life it has, he said.
Ma Vindhyavasini and Ma Kali and Ma Ashtabhuja were three sisters. They lived in the kingdom of Kansa, a cruel king who is better known to us as the uncle of Krishna. Before Krishna Bhagwan was born, Kansa’s torture and oppression had made it impossible for the people to live in peace. The king would kill and imprison people at will. There was no one to stop him or control him. He had become mad with power and was not ready to listen to anyone. The people went to the three sisters because they were very powerful and the goddesses tried to convince Kansa to be a good king. After all he had to look after his people who looked up to him. But the Raja was so drunk in his greatness that he did not listen to them and kicked them out of his court. When he kicked them, the three landed in a trikona – a triangular formation – near Varanasi. Vindhyavasini devi landed at Vindhyachal a small town on the banks of Ganga and a short distance from her Kali and Ashtabhuja devis found themselves a home. Even today, when people visit the temples of Varanasi, they make sure that they do the trikona parikrama.
The goddesses decided to teach Kansa a lesson. And they got together and made a plan. They said that the only way to end his sinful rule would be to kill him and for that they decided that the eighth child of Devaki and Vasudeva would be Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu. Devaki was Kansa’s sister but she was a good woman and her husband was a pious man and they would be the best people to have Krishna as their son. When Kansa got to know this he threw his sister and her husband into prison. And every time they had a child, he went to their cell and killed it. It did not matter if it was a boy or a girl, he would smash the child on a stone and finish its life – such a cruel brother he was. When the eighth child was born inside the prison – it was the god Krishna — at the same time a daughter was born in Gokul. The daughter was AshtaBhuja devi (it could be Vindhyavasini devi also) and once Vasudeva had replaced her with Krishna as advised by the goddesses, Kansa came and snatched her from Devaki’s arms to kill her. But she slipped away and vanished into the sky from where she made an Akashvani: the boy born to kill you is alive and well in Gokul. Your end will be at his hands.
Kansa was trembling in fear but his cruelty only increased until Krishna came and killed him.
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta
Location: Uttar Pradesh but told by a cab driver in Mumbai
Told by: Taxi driver, Mumbai
The incident of Shabari in the epic Rāmāyana which I have chosen to illustrate here occurs during the course of the 14 years of Rama’s exile to the forest. Shabari, a tribal, Bhil woman, has been a devotee of Rāma over a number of years. In her heart, Rāma is constantly present and her most ardent desire is to meet him someday in person. Now, she is old, her hair is all white, but her devotion to Rāma is as young as ever.
One day, she hears that Rāma is likely to pass through the village where she lives. And this excites her no end. She can neither eat, drink nor sleep. Her mind is effused with the thought that she will finally see the delight of her soul, her beloved Rāma. She turns into a bundle of eager anticipation. Suddenly it strikes her that when Rāma truly does come, what in the world will she offer him? She would certainly want to welcome him with some offering, but what? She neither has wealth nor possessions and nothing that would be worthy of being offered to, Rāma. Just then her eyes fall on the ripe, juicy berries hanging on the tree before her and she is inspired! She runs to the trees and begins plucking the fruit. But, what if they are sour, her mind whispers. What if appearances are deceptive and they turn out to be rotten from the inside? That would never do! And she begins to bite into and taste each berry. She throws the ones not fit to be offered and keeps aside the ones which are as sweet and pure as nectar. Now she is at peace—she can now be sure that when Rāma partakes of her offering he will receive the best there is!
And Rāma comes. She offers him the half-bitten and from our point of view, infected and soiled berries. It does not take long for Rāma to see through these half-eaten berries straight to the intention of Shabari. He realises the essence of her offering: Shabari’s total absorption in her devotion to himself. And he begins to savour them, one by one, with great relish. Laxmana is shocked. He is outraged with Shabari’s effrontery and then to witness Rāma enjoying the fruits with such relish!. Rāma then enlightens him, makes him see the ‘bhāva’, the sentiment behind Shabari’s action and clears Laxmana’s confusion.
Comment: The intention of the poet seer behind this little episode is to create an appropriate body, or form through words, sound, rhythm and meter; a form which is capable of carrying the intended content and reaching it to the depths of the listener. The content, if we summarize it, is the nature of the devotion which pervades Shabari’s state of being, the oneness in body, mind and spirit which she has been able to achieve with Rāma. She no longer sees her own self and that of Rāma as separate, they have overlapped. No discrimination or distinction remains, no boundaries divide into I and You. And because this has happened, the only way for her to be absolutely sure of the worthiness of her offering is to taste the fruits herself. The nature of the content is the nature of love, one of the manifestations of love.
Location: Pan India
Story collected by: Bharti Kapadia
Story told by: Grandmother
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Devotee Sabari offering fruits to Lord Rama (Statues at Simhachalam, Andhra Pradesh)
Kheer Bhavani Temple in Kashmir is one of a kind. Dedicated to the goddess Ragnya Devi, a form of Durga, it is located at Tullamula of Srinagar district, in Jammu & Kashmir. Tullamula, itself has an interesting origin. The land at Tullamula is extremely swampy and it was once believed to be a floating island. Hence it was called Tullamula from the words, ‘tula’ meaning cotton, referring to the softness of the land and ‘mula’ meaning worth. Locals say that if they dig a hole one can find water underneath with fishes in it. The water and its marine life are fed by the Sindh River. Yet another version says that the town gets its name from two different words, ‘atulya mulya’ meaning great value.
The story goes that Ravan used to worship Goddess Shama (a form of Parvati/Durga). Pleased with his devotion, she manifested herself in nine different forms and Ravan worshipped her with all the devotion in all her forms. Things were fine till he kidnapped Sita leading to the familiar epic battle of Ramayana. When Ravan’s brothers and sons dies in battle, his wife Mandodari requested that he send Sita back, but Ravan was adamant. His behaviour incurred the wrath of the goddess Shama too who cursed him that he would soon meet his end.
The goddess then requested Hanuman to take her away from Ravan’s kingdom. Hanuman took Goddess Shama along with 360 nags, serpents, and brought her to Satisar (Kashmir) and installed her at the present location. Goddess Shama also known as Ragnya was fond of kheer, rice pudding, and thus all the devotees offer kheer to the goddess, leading to the temple referred to as Kheer Bhavani temple, the temple of goddess Durga who loves kheer!
Some versions say that Lord Ram was a devotee of Ma Bhavani and before he went to Lanka he had instructed Hanuman to shift the goddess from there and bring her to the present location.
Another interesting version:
According to this, Krishna Pandit, a pious Brahmin once had a vision where he was told by an angel to offer respects to Ma Ragnya who was in the swamps of Tullamula. On asking how he would identify the exact location, he was asked to hire a boat from a place called Shadipora and then follow a snake. On boarding the boat, he saw a snake guiding him, which disappeared at the spot where lay a tree trunk of a mulberry tree. Krishna Pandit offered milk and other things that he had brought along with him and was happy to discover the home of Ragnya.
Krishna Pandit placed a stick at the spot and later the place was filled with mud to form a temple structure. On completion of the worship, Krishna Pandit found a bark floating at the site. He took the bark to find a shloka in praise of goccess Ragnya. He is subsequently supposed to have composed a poem in her honour, which incidentally is recited till date.
Since Krishna Pandit had found the spring on the seventh day of the Hindu month of Ashadh (June-July) the place is visited by all the local population on the eighth day of Ashadh. The day is considered to be the most auspicious and it is said that all the Kashmiri Hindus consider this deity to be their guardian mother goddess. A festival is held at this time and people observe a fast on the Ashadhi Ashtami.
The temple complex houses a spring which has its own significance. A seven sided structure houses a spring which stretches from the eastern end of the temple to the western end. The offering of kheer is made into this spring. Devotees say that the water at the spring changes colour to different shades of red, pink, orange and green and others. Black usually is seen as a bad omen. The spring is mentioned in the writings Abul Fazal and Swami Vivekananda who are supposed to have visited this place.
In the present context, the temple is also a sign of Hindu-Muslim unity. On the day of Ashadhi Ashtami, many local Muslims line up outside the temple to offer kheer to their Hindu brethren. Even in such a communally charged atmosphere this practice is followed with a lot of camaraderie.
Story collected by: Utkarsh Patel
Source: Srinagar & its Environs by Samsar Chand Koul (published under a single book on Kashmir
Near Madurai in Tamil Nadu, at the foothills of a mountain called Samanar Malai by the people who live there is a village called Nagamalai. The mountain is called thus because it houses many Jain caves and Samanar means Jain in Tamil. At the top of the mountain was a temple of Ayyanar Karuppannachami.
When the British ruled India, so the story goes, there was an army general who would regularly visit the famous Meenakshi temple of Madurai and insult the goddess. (There is no record of what he did that but there is unanimity in the belief that he did insult her.) This was unbearable for Karuppannachami. So every time the general made his way to the temple, he would knock him off his horse. Disturbed at this, the general consulted an astrologer who told him that this was being done by none other than Karuppanna Chami of Samanar Malai.
On the astrologer’s advice, the general whose name has been lost to history, brought Karuppannachami from the mountain and consecrated him near the Ayyanar temple in Nagamalai. No sooner than he did this, the problem disappeared. And a grateful general donated large amounts of land to the people who helped him do that.
Before bringing down Karuppannachami from the mountain, the Brahmins used to worship at the Ayyanar temple but afterwards the task was entrusted to the Velars. These people had to come through thick forest to reach this temple from their village Vilacheri and they believed that while walking to the temple from their villages and back, Karuppaannachami accompanied them in the form of a bear for their protection. The Velars gratefully named their children “Samanar Malai Karadi (The bear of the Jain mountain).
The village of Nagamalai however had other problems too. It along with its neighboring village of Keezh kuil kudi lay in a barren area. Famine forced its people to go to other villages for jobs. Two residents of these villages went to Karumathur and worked as priests at the Moonu Sami temple. After the famine when they were about to return , The gods Virumappa Chami and Kasi Mayan of Karumathur asked them to take one fist of mud from their temples to their villages. They took the mud and consecrated temples for these Gods near Karuppannachami of their village. They also consecrated Kazhuvanathan, Karuppayi Amman , Irulappan , Changili Karuppannachami etc as security gods.
P.R. Ramachander is a retired scientist. Apart from biometrics , he is interested in astrology, translating ancient scriptures to English, Hindu culture, and Story telling.
Sage Rishyasringa was the son of Sage Vibhandaka and apsara Urvashi. Once Urvashi was sent by Indra to seduce Vibhandaka and disturb his penance which could bring him powers that Indra perceived would be dangerous to the gods. Having broken Vibhandaka’s penance, Urvashi managed to seduce the sage, and from their union, was born a child who strangely, was born with a horn on his head. (Another version says that the child was born out of a doe, who had consumed the life-giving fluid of Vibhandaka which fell into the river on seeing Urvashi, and thus the horn) The child was thus named Rishyasringa (rishi – sage, shringa – deer horns).
Soon after giving birth to the child, Urvashi left for the heavens, her task accomplished. Vibhandaka was very bitter about the role she had played in the entire episode and took a dislike to all woman-kind. Since, his penance had been broken by a woman, and he was left with a motherless child, he decided to bring up his son without any woman’s help or presence. Vibhandaka set up his hermitage in the midst of a jungle and brought up his son, Rishyasringa, educating him on all the scriptures and Vedas, but in complete isolation. Rishyasringa had not seen any human being (read women) besides his father.
Now there came about a famine in the nearby kingdom of Anga (present day Bihar) which was ruled by Lomapada. The king was advised that it would rain in Anga only if a Brahmin who had observed absolute chastity visited the kingdom. After much discussion, the king was told that the person he needed was Rishyasringa.
The king sent beautiful damsels to the forest to entice Rishyasringa who was taken by complete surprise as he had never seen women and that too of such beauty in his entire life. Fortunately, Vibhandaka was not in the hermitage at the time and Rishyasringa was easily convinced by the beautiful women to accompany them to their kingdom. No sooner had he stepped on to the grounds of Anga, there was heavy downpour. The king was pleased and so were his subjects.
The king decided to offer his daughter Shanta to Rishyasringa as his wife. Later when Vibhandaka came to know about the entire episode, he was extremely angry. But it was too late to do anything and he accepted everything as part of his son’s fate and concluded that this was inevitable and that the principle of male and female forces can never be separated, no matter what. Rishyasringa and Shanta got married and stayed on at Anga, till it was time for their vanaprashtha, retirement to the jungles.
But there are tales within tales. It is said, that King Dasharath of Ayodhya and Kaushalya, the first wife of the King (and Lord Ram’s mother) had a daughter who was born with a defective pair of legs, much before they had four sons. The medics of the times could not do anything till Sage Vasishtha suggested that the daughter be ‘donated’ or given for adoption to some other couple. Kaushalya’s elder sister Vershini, was married to King Lomapada of Anga. Shanta was given to the King and Queen of Anga, who too had no children after many years of marriage.
The famine in Anga was also partly blamed on Shanta. Once when Shanta and King Lomapada were busy talking, a Brahmin approached the King as he wanted some help to see him through the coming monsoon season. The king was too busy to speak to him, which infuriated the Brahmin, who left the palace. This angered Indra, who decided to withhold the rains!
It was also said that when Dasharath was advised to perform a Putra-kameshti (for begetting a son) Yagna, they decided to invite Sage Rishyasringa to perform the yagna. It was after this yagna, that Dasharath was blessed with four sons, Ram, Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan.
Though Valmiki has not mentioned Shanta in any detail, many local and folk versions of Ramayana have Shanta as one of the women who have an important say in many issues.
Bonbibi protects the forests and always lives with its people. She will never leave Sunderbans – she didn’t even though her father Ibrahim (or Berahim) had come to take his wife and children back. Her parents had tired of the hard life of the jungle and wanted to go back to the life that they had left behind. But Bonbibi was not willing to leave the jungle. She felt that she would be unfaithful to her people if she abandoned them — the torture and cruelty being inflicted upon them by Dakshin Ray and his followers had increased and they needed her more than anything else. Thus even though her mother Gulab Bibi was leaving the forests forever, she decided to stay back. Her twin, Shah Jongli was torn between his sister and his parents. He didn’t want to leave her behind and neither did he want his parents to leave without him. Finally he chose to stay back and the two swore to protect all the people from the evil Dakshin Ray.
Dakshin Ray, once a great ruler had fallen upon evil times. He would change his form to that of a tiger and devour those who ventured into the forest to collect honey and wood from the forests.The people began praying to Ma Bonbibi for protection. Small shrines were set up under a tree, beneath a stone and inside their homes.
Upon hearing this, Ray flew into a rage. He got ready for battle but his mother Narayani Devi calmed him down. She said that only a woman could fight a woman and hence the fight would have to be between her and Bonbibi and Ray should take on her brother Shah Jongli. The day arrived and a great fight followed. Shah Jongli and Dakshin Ray and Bonbibi and Narayani Devi fought hard and long. Finally Bonbibi defeated Narayani who fell at her feet asking for protection and forgiveness for herself and her son. Ray did the same. Bonbibi embraced Narayani Devi and called her ‘soi’, (a term used to signify close friendship between women in Bengal). From that day on the two became close allies and Bonbibi said that the people would worship both of them.
However Ray was not happy with the truce and he continued to harass all those who worshipped Bonbibi. She, in turn, along with her twin Shah Jongli protected her followers and outsmarted his every move. Meanwhile in a village close to the shore, a young boy Dukhey lived with his mother. His father, a honey collector, had fallen prey to a tiger. The mother and son lived in abject poverty but the mother was unwilling to let her son out of sight. Dukhey was unhappy and wanted to go out to work like his father and would often plead with all and sundry to take him along on their boats. But none agreed for fear of angering his mother. One day, a distant uncle called Dhona Chacha came over and asked if Dukhey would go with him to bring back some honey from the forests. Despite his mother’s weeping and screaming, Dukhey agreed. The boat left with Dukhey and a crew of 4-5 men. Dhona Chacha was the leader of the team and he took the boat from one clump of forest to another but without any success. One night, Dhona lay down to sleep on one of the islands when Dhona was visited by Dakshin Ray. Dressed up as part tiger and part demon, he asked Dhona to sacrifice Dukhey if he wanted enough honey to fill his boats. Dhona was initially reluctant but temptation and fear got the better of him. Dakshin Ray threatened that if Dhona went back on his promise, he and his men would drown in the waters. It was agreed that Dhona would lead his men to Kedokhali – a particularly remote island of the Sunderbans which they had visited in the past but without any success – and after collecting honey to his heart’s content leave Dukhey behind.
Dukhey eavesdropped on the entire conversation. Frightened and alone, he wept for his mother in the dead of the night. And then he remembered that his mother had asked him to call Bonbibi if he was in trouble and he let out a cry for her. His cries were heard and the goddess appeared before him. She said that she would always protect him and he should go forward without fear.
Morning came early and Dhona told his men that they would have to row back to Kedokhali island. The men refused because they said that they had already been there but when Dhona told them all that had transpired between him and the demon king, they recoiled in horror. They were reluctant to sacrifice the boy. However their fear of death overpowered their love for the boy.
Dakshin Ray followed the boat. He gathered his followers, the honey bees and asked them to load all the trees on the island with hives full of honey. Dhona’s men were awestruck by the sight and wasted no time filling their boat with jars of honey. After a day of backbreaking work, the men were ready to leave when Dhona was visited once again by Ray in his tiger form. He reminded him of his promise and also told him that he will make far more money if his men offloaded the honey and keep the wax from the hives (one version has it that he teaches him how to extract the wax and separate it from the honey) on the boat as that would fetch him a far better market price. Dhona asked his men to do that and the waters were flooded with honey. That is why, say the village elders, the waters of the region around Kedokhali called MadhuPani are always sweet. The boat filled, the men asked Dukhey to fetch them some timber from the forest so that they could cook themselves a meal. An unwilling Dukhey left and Dhona and his men fled with the boat.
Ray who had been waiting for this moment all day long, pounced on Dukhey who let out a wail. The boy pleaded with him repeatedly to spare his life. But Ray refused saying that he needed to eat. Bonbibi heard Dukhey’s cries and with Shah Jongli came to him. Dukhey ran into her arms while she ordered Shah Jongli to kill Dakshin Ray.
The fight went on for days and finally Dakshin Ray had to surrender. When he realised that there was no escape for him, he began pleading for his life with Bonbibi. He begged for her to see his part of the problem too – the people had stopped paying their respects to him and he had no food to fill his belly and that was why he had to resort to such treachery to capture a young boy, he said.
Bonbibi agreed to let the Gazi Saheb, an old friend of the people and an ally of Ray, intervene. Gazi Saheb convinced Ray that he should apologise to Bonbibi for preying on those who had sought her protection and he also asked Bonbibi to forgive Dakshin Ray this transgression because he had promised never to repeat the same.
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta
Source: Collected from the shrine of Bonbibi at Sajnekhali, Sunderbans; also from a play performed by a local theatre troupe at Bali islands, Sunderbans
Location: Sunderbans, West Bengal
The mystery of death is one of the deepest mysteries that concern the human mind. This is especially true when parents have to mourn the death of their children. When a young life is snatched away brutally in an act of war the questions of death seemed more pertinent and real. In the Mahabharata, the Pandavas experienced a similar dilemma when they lost young Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna, who was killed brutally by enemy soldiers. Watching the battered body of Abhimanyu, the eldest of Pandava brothers Dharmaraja Yudhishthira could not contain his sorrow and pain and went into a state of deep shock. To console him Vyasa told him the following tale that explained how death is inevitable truth of this existence.
In the beginning of creation, Brahma created the universe. But the universe kept growing and never ceased to end. Frustrated and dejected Brahma got angry and wrath came out his body in the form of fire. The fire spread quickly and started consuming whatever came its way destroying Brahma’s creation. When the fire became uncontainable Rudra approached Brahma and asked him to restrain his wrath, otherwise the universe would be destroyed in no time. Brahma paid heed and began to absorb the fire back into his body. As the fire began to re-enter Brahma’s body a young woman was born from his limbs. She was dark in colour, with yellow eyes and blood red mouth. Her tongue popped out. Brahma named her “Mrutyu”(death) and told her that she would be the cause of death and destruction in this universe. This woman was not at all happy with the task given to her and she began to weep.
As the tears rolled down her cheeks Brahma gathered them in his palms. He tried to console her but still insisted that she should conduct her duty of destruction. Unhappy but bound by Brahma’s orders; Mrutyu went to Dhenuka Ashram and began to perform severe penance. Brahma appeared before her and asked her the reason for her harsh penance. Mrutyu reiterated her request: she did not want to be the cause of pain and sorrow to people on earth. Brahma finally agreed to set her free from the cruel task, but told her, ‘Tears I gathered from your eyes will turn into diseases and will weaken people and eventually kill them. But O’ Mrutyu! You should not hold yourself responsible for their death. Because Death is a necessity.’
Thus death was born.
Story collected by: Vidya Kamat
Textual source: Drona Parvan Adhyaya 53 & 54 also see
Dange, S. A., Legends in the Mahabharata, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi,1969.
Location: Pan India, Tales from Mahabharata
It was many years after the great battle between Rama and Ravana. Ayodhya was prosperous and thriving under Rama and one day as he sat on his throne, probably contemplating his life and the world around him, one of the rings on his finger slipped loose, fell onto the ground and created a hole into which it disappeared. Surprised Rama summoned his closest aide Hanuman who, given his powers to contract or expand to any size, slipped down the hole to get the ring back. In the meantime, Brahma and Vashistha came to see Rama and they asked to speak to him alone. Also, they said, none should walk into the room while they were there and that a trusted guard should be placed at the door. And if he let anyone in, he would be beheaded. In the absence of Hanuman, the only other person Rama could trust was Lakshmana. And so he summoned his brother and made him stand at the door.
Lakshmana did his bidding but little did he realise that the task was not as simple as he had thought it would be. Nothing really is, he should have known that. Anyway, as he waited at the door, Vishwamitra walked up to him. He had to meet Rama, and immediately. When Lakshmana tried to stall him, Vishwamitra threatened to burn down the entire town of Ayodhya. Despite his best efforts Lakshmana was not able to pacify the angry and hot-headed sage and so he decided, that it was better he lost his head than an entire kingdom perish. Lakshmana walked in to the room and by that time the conversation in the room was over. Brahma and Vashistha were ready to leave having told Rama that his time on earth was over. He should now give up his body and rejoin the gods. Lakshmana showed Vishwamitra in and then asked Rama to cut off his head since he had failed to keep his word. But, Rama protested, that would be an extreme and unwarranted step, he said. Still Lakshmana insisted pointing out that the people would find fault with him for letting his brother off when another man may not have been shown the same mercy. Rama who had exiled his wife because one of his people had raised doubts about her chastity since she had spent so much time in Ravana’s palace saw the logic in his argument and did as told. Now the fact was that Lakshmana who was an avatara of Shesha, the serpent on which Vishnu sleeps, had run out of time in this world. He too had to join the gods and thus, at Rama’s hands, he was delivered to the heavens.
In the midst of all this, Hanuman after a long ride down the hole had found himself in front of a plate full of rings. When he asked what this was meant for, the king of spirits told him that these were the many rings of the many Ramas. Thus there is not just one Rama but many Ramas and not only one Ramayana but many Ramayanas.
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta Singhal
Source: The Collected Essays of AK Ramanujan
Location: Pan India