Creation is a common theme in all mythologies and even in folklore. Man has been concerned about how we came to be, how the universe was created and the source of all creation since the beginning of time. This is a story told by the Gond tribe, found largely in central India today but whose members were once part of a larger group of people and spread over a much larger land mass.
As the story goes, there once lived a creator. Originally he did not have a name, but over time as the tribes mixed with other groups and their religions, the creator god was given a name. Sometimes he is called Bada Deo, some call him Mahadeo and some Bhagavan. The creator was sitting on a lotus leaf when the idea of creating the world came to him. But how could he build a world with nothing. He thought and realised that he needed clay. But where would he find clay? He looked down but all there was, was water.
So the god rubbed his chest and removed some of the congealed dirt that had gathered there and made a crow. The crow flew around him and asked him where he should perch himself; for there was no land for as far as the eye could see. So the god said to him, get clay.
The crow flew away in search of the clay. He looked everywhere but all he could see was nothing but water. Flying for endless days and endless nights, the crow grew tired and exhausted. Until one day he finally could keep flapping his wings no longer and saw a stump peeking out from the endless sheet of water. He flopped down in relief. But no sooner had caught a breath, a voice accosted him: “Who is this sitting on my claw”, he asked.
The voice belonged to Kekda Mal, the crab. And the crow had landed on his claw. Frightened that the crab would shake him down into the water, the crow began telling him his tale of woe. The crow said that he could not go back without the clay because the god has asked him to get some. With that clay the god would create the world, but there was nothing but water all around cried the crow. Where was the clay?
Kekda Mal said to the crow, “The clay has gone to the nether world and is being eaten up by the earthworm”.
But Kekda Mal assured the crow that since the god had asked for the clay, he would help the crow get it. Kekda Mal dragged the earthworm out of his bed under water and told him what the god had told crow and what the crow had in turn told him. But earthworm was not convinced. The clay was his food, he said so why should he be asked to give it up?
Not one to believe in the powers of persuasion, Kekda Mal caught the earthworm by the neck and squeezed it really hard. Instantly, the earthworm spat out the clay. The crow grabbed it and flew back to Bada Dev. And that is how the world was made.
No, wait! There is more to the story. When the god tried to create the world, he laid out a sheet of clay on the water. But the clay was too thin and the water too ferocious and the clay kept sinking into the netherworld. So the god now called upon Makda Dev, the spider. And the spider spun a web across the sheet of water, the god spread the clay on the web and released all the animals and birds and other living beings on the earth.
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta
Location: Madhya Pradesh
Image Source: www.ignca.nic.in
Gond Creation myth, Makramal (spider) in the Gond creation Myth
Artist : Kalabai
Medium: Acrylic on canvas – 2′ x3′
Once upon a time, in the kingdom of heaven, Shiva wanted to build a magnificent palace for himself and Parvati. He approached Vishvakarma, the god who is worshipped in many parts of the country as the divine architect, divine carpenter and the god of all arts and crafts.
Shiva knew that there was none except Vishvakarma who could do the job. He had built Indra’s grand palace, Vijayanta; the Pushpak Ratha (chariot) for Kubera and the idol of Lord Jagannath in Puri. He had introduced the science of mechanics and architecture to the gods and had created something of renown in every yuga — in Sat Yuga he built Swarga, in Treta Yuga he built Lanka and in Dwapar Yuga he built Dwarka, the residence of Krishna. He is also believed to have given all gods their names and their ornaments. His name means omnificent – one whose powers of creation are unlimited. In the Rig Veda, Vishvakarma is also known as Tvastar where the marriage of his daughter (Saranyu) to the sun god Surya is described. (RV10.17). He is also said to have sacrificed himself to himself in the Sarvamedha Yagna which was performed for the evolution of the visible world.
At Shiva’s request, Vishvakarma set to work on a palace fit for the divine couple. He spent a lot of time planning and conceptualizing the structure. After all it had to be large; it had to be full of grand structures, planned streets and gardens and; it had to be home to the most exquisite crafts. Vishvakarma used the most lustrous metals and materials at his disposal and he built a palace in a city and a city in a palace and called it Lanka.
Shiva was ecstatic and invited his disciple Ravana to perform the inaugural ceremony. Ravana readily agreed and pleased with his devotee’s actions, Shiva asked him to name the gift he would like to have in return. Smitten by the dazzle of Lanka, Ravana asked for the city as his gift. And thus he came to inhabit the palace that was once meant for Shiva.
Vishvakarma is also said to have given the gods their weapons. The story goes thus: He had a daughter named Sanjna/Saranyu whom he gave in marriage to the Sun god Surya. Sanjna was unable to bear the harsh rays of Surya and appealed to her father for help. Vishvakarma decided to reduce the dazzle of Surya and put him on his lathe machine and cut off his brilliance by one eighth. Fragments of the sun’s rays fell on earth and out of the fiery bits, Vishvakarma created the Sudarshan Chakra for Vishnu, the Trident for Shiva, Kubera’s weapons and Kartikeya’s Lance. Vishvakarma also created Indra’s weapon Vajra (thunderbolt) out of the bones of Dadhichi. Apart from Sanjna Vishvakarma fathered Nala the monkey who possessed some of his father’s skills and built a bridge by floating stones on the sea for Rama and his troops.
In Bengal, Vishvakarma Puja is celebrated on the 17 September every year. The occasion heralds the arrival of the festive season in Bengal, commencing with Durga Puja followed by Lakshmi Puja and Kali Puja /Diwali. As the presiding deity of all crafts, Vishvakarma is worshipped by engineers, architects, ironsmiths and all artisans and craftsmen. Tools used to ply a trade, machines and implements and other things that are used to build, create or produce a good are worshipped on this day. In Kolkata you can see cars adorned with marigold garlands as owners propitiate the engines that power their vehicles. The idol of Vishvakarma is modelled with four hands in each of which he carries a book, a noose, a water-pot and tools. However the deity is said to have faces hands and feet in all directions with which he created the heaven and the earth.
Vishvakarma Puja coincides with “ranna puja” or cooking festival in Bengal which is widely celebrated in the villages and peri-urban areas. On the day preceding the Puja, the kitchen is scrupulously cleaned up, the clay oven is built anew, and new earthen pots are purchased in which multifarious dishes are cooked including different variety of sweets. While the cleaning is done throughout the day by the womenfolk, the cooking is done through the night after fasting during the day. The cooking must be done after a bath. The next morning the oven is not to be lit. The clay oven is worshipped and Puja is offered to the Snake Goddess Manasa. The food cooked during the previous night is offered in Puja. Neighbours and relatives are invited to have the food which must be served cold.
There is a rationale behind the scrupulous cleaning of the kitchen and the clay oven. The monsoon months cause extensive flooding in the villages with water entering the mud houses and snakes sometimes slithering into the houses and coiling up near the warm oven. The cleaning up of the kitchen thus forms an important activity for the safety of the house and therein lies the significance of trying to propitiate Ma Manasa. On the day of the Puja the people in West Bengal also participate in a kite flying festival. Until some years back the kite flying was held on a grand scale with folks of all age groups participating in competitions in different parts of the city. The celebrations have been much scaled down over the years with high rises having taken the place of rooftops of single / double storied buildings and life getting busier and difficult for people.
STORY COLLECTED BY: Sumitra Sen
TEXT SOURCE: Indian Mythology by Veronica Ions, Pouranik Avidhan by Sudhir Chandra Sarkar, Rig Veda
STORY TOLD BY: Inputs for this story came from Sita, Anjali and several others who have worked in my house in Kolkata over the last 39 years
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
Tanot is a small town about 120 Kms from Jaisalmer. It lies very close to the Indo-Pak Border. We visited a temple there which takes its name after the village or, perhaps, it is the other way around – it is called the Mata Tanot Rai temple.
There are many myths surrounding the temple but one of the oldest is the one associated with the self-immolation of Sati. As the popular tale goes, Sati was aggrieved that her father Daksa had not invited her husband Shiva for the grand yagna. She went even though she had not been called and against Shiva’s wishes and when her father refused to change his mind about Shiva, threw herself into the fire that had been kindled for the Yagna.
Shiva was grief stricken and furious with the ganas (Charans) who had been sent along with Sati. He cursed them for not being able to protect his wife and banished them from heaven. They ceased to be immortal and were sentenced to life on earth. The Charans pleaded but Shiva refused to yield. The Charans then fell at the feet of Sati’s lifeless body and started lamenting. A voice emanated from the dead Sati that said that Shiva’s curse would have to be borne. However, since she was responsible for their condition; every time she was born as a human, it would be in the Charan community. It is said that due to the blessings of Sati, there were numerous births of Sati in the Charan community and there are many minor myths and miracles credited to the goddess. Ever since, the Charans have come to be referred to as ‘devi-putra’ or sons of the goddess.
Shiva’s anger and grief however knew no bounds. He danced a terrible tandava with Sati’s body. Finally Vishnu was forced to use his sudarshan-chakra, the discus, to sever the body into different pieces. And every spot where a piece of Sati’s body is believed to have fallen has sprung a temple. In this region fell Sati’s head, and the place is known as Hinglaj.
The village, after Partition, was given to the Balochistan province of Pakistan and over time, the Charan community converted to Islam. The present temple is considered to be an extension of the main Shakti-peeth at Hinglaj. While there are many stories and miracles associated with Tanot Mata one of the most recent is set during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. The Pakistani troops were very close to the temple premises. They had set off more than 3000 bombs and nearly 450 of them were targeted at the temple. But none exploded! The villagers see this as nothing short of a miracle–some of the shells have been kept in the temple premises as souvenirs. After the war, the temple was handed over to the Border Security Force (BSF) which manages the temple and has erected a memorial within its premises. The temple has also found fame outside Rajasthan after being featured in the Hindi movie “Border”.
LOCATION: Tanot, RAJASTHAN
STORY COLLECTED BY: UTKARSH
Tags: Tanot Rai temple, Devi, Charan community, Sati, Shiva, Hinglaj, Shakti Peeth
We had to be appropriately dressed for a visit to the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum. I had to be clad in a saree and my husband in a dhoti – both legs covered – that was the requirement. No, salwars and trousers would not do – we were sternly told.
The temple is a spectacular sight and to those who may balk at the sartorial requirements, let me tell you it is well worth the effort. It looks like a city — with huge pillars, neatly laid pathways and exquisite sculptures – of mythic proportions.
The idol of Vishnu inside the temple is massive – 18 feet long, we were told. He is resting on the serpent Ananta Naga and has a lotus rising from his navel on which sits Brahma. The idol is breathtaking but this story that I heard at the temple was just as fascinating…
Somewhere in Mangalore there lived a rishi called Divakar. He was a Vishnu bhakt. One day as he finished his daily prayers and was walking back home, he saw a small boy playing under a tree. Divakar was drawn towards him for some strange reason. He walked up to him and after a brief moment of hesitation, he asked the boy to come home with him. The boy agreed easily but he had one condition: none could question his ways. He said that if Divakar raised his voice or asked him to explain his actions, he would leave. Divakar agreed but the condition had him worried. Soon after the boy came home he would worry about where the boy had lived before coming to his house and who his parents were and such other things. Also Divakar was on tenterhooks all the time, afraid that the boy would vanish just as suddenly as he had appeared.
One day as Divakar was busy with his prayers, the boy came and sat beside him and began playing with the shaligram (a black stone believed to be a symbol of Vishnu). He then looked at Divakar and bit the stone. Divakar flew into a rage. He shouted at the boy who reminded him that he had broken his word. The boy would have to leave but before he disappeared, he told Divakar that the sage would find him at Ananthan Kadu (the spot at which the temple stands today in Trivandrum), a dense forest where the snakes lived.
Divakar rushed to the spot and saw the boy getting into the trunk of a large tree. Before he could reach out and grab the child, the tree crashed to the ground in the form of the sleeping Vishnu. He lay on the Anantha Naga and from his navel emerged a lotus on which sat Brahma the creator. This is the idol that is worshipped even today in the Padmanabhaswamy temple.
Alauddin Khilji was on his way to India and busy demolishing all the temples en route. He reached Siddhpur, close to the village of Becharaji. The Brahmans of Siddhpur were disturbed and annoyed with the sultan’s destructive ways and decided to fast to please lord NilkanthMahadev. The sultan asked them to prove their God and failing which, they would have to adopt Islam as their religion. Bahucharaji appeared in the dream of a Brahmin named Budar. “You need not be afraid, bring the king to Chuwala and I will show them a ‘chamatkar’, a miracle, which the Sultan would have never seen”. The Brahmins got together and got him to Chuwala, but night had fallen by then, so they decided to set up camp and wait for daybreak.
Meanwhile the sultan’s soldiers were tired and hungry. They came across a number of roosters and Khilji ordered that the soldiers make a meal out of the birds . The rooster is considered to be a holy bird, but Khilji would not listen. All the roosters were killed and eaten, except one who hid behind a rock.
The next morning, the rooster did not crow. When Bahucharaji asked the rooster as to why it did not crow, the rooster said that all his friends were killed, so who will crow back in his support. Bahucharaji told him to do his work and see. So the rooster crowed. As soon as he did, all the dead roosters came out of the soldiers stomachs and joined the chorus, killing all the soldiers who had eaten roosters the previous night.
Needless to say that Khilji did not demolish the Bahucharaji temple.
As a mark of respect it is said that till date, in all the 44 villages in and around Becharaji, the Muslims do not kill/eat the Rooster. This is considered something unique in India and also the only place in India where the Muslims do not kill/eat the rooster.
Some of the soldiers who had not eaten the roosters and were thus saved, decided to stay back and did not join the army. These soldiers who stayed back became firm believers of Bahucharaji and were thereafter referred to as ‘Kamariya’ and are said to be serving the goddess even today. This community of kamariya’s are not found anywhere in the country, proving that they did not leave Becharaji and are still serving the goddess. We did come across a person who told us that he was a kamariya and begged for alms.
Some say that as a sign of respect to the goddess, the Muslim soldiers decided to dress up as women and men simultaneously. They used to be clean shaven on one side and had a moustache on the other, wore a bangle in one hand and kept a trishul in the other and wore both the ghagra and a dhoti. We could not have anybody vouch for this as it is said that this tradition continued till two decades ago, but now stopped and not many recollect having seen any of them like this, but their belief system makes them believe in this practice.
Story collected by: Utkarsh Patel
Location: Mehsana, Gujarat
Image: The above is a painting in the premises of Bahucharaji Temple, at Bahucharaji or Becharaji as it is popularly known. The temple is in a taluka of the same name in Mehsana district in North Gujaratand is one of the Shaktipeeths in Gujarat.