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
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)
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
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
There is a saying that it takes all sorts to make the world and the story I am about to tell you proves this.
About 50 kilometers from Jodhpur, Rajasthan, on the highway to Pali, near Chotila village, one comes across a deity called Bullet baba. On a raised platform, a Royal Enfield Bullet 350 motorcycle stands upright as people offer their prayers and donations. Travelers stop by to pray for a safe journey. People worship, and garland the old motorcycle and even light incense sticks without a trace of skepticism or disbelief. They believe in the Bullet Baba and his power to keep them safe.
The motorcycle god is a new entrant to the pantheon. As recent as 1991, one Om Singh Rathore, the son of the village head of Chotila, was driving from Chotila to Pali and crashed into a tree and fell in the ditch. He died instantly. The local police registered a case of accidental death and took the motor-cycle to the local police station. But next morning the motor-cycle was missing and when the police set up a search, they found it at the accident spot. The police thought it was a prank of some sort and took bike back to the police station, and this time, they chained it. But next day, the motor-cycle was found at the same spot.
Sensing that this was beyond their jurisdiction, the police handed the motor-cycle over to the family of Om, who in turn sold it to a resident of the neighbouring state of Gujarat. But no sooner had the new owner taken possesion, the motor-cycle found its way back to the spot, travelling about 400 kilometres from its new home. Spooked by this behavior, the buyer abandoned it too.
Soon news spread and people started visiting the site from far and wide. The motor-cycle was placed at a prominent spot and people began praying to it. And the tree which Om Singh (also known as Om Banna, Banna being an honorific in the local parlance) had crashed into also became an object of worship. Soon miracles came to be attributed to the site. According to one, a traveler crashed his vehicle not far from the site and claimed that Om Banna helped out of the crash, thus saving his life. Some locals even claim that they can hear the bullet revving at the dead of the night and according to them, it is Om Banna who does that as he loved riding his Bullet.
There is not a single trucker, biker or traveler who does not stop on the way to pay his obeisance to the Bullet and pray for his safety. Another interesting aspect is that among the many offerings that are offered to the ‘shrine’ is beer, and not surprisingly, Bullet Beer! Needless to say, that a market-place has come up in the vicinity all, doing reasonably good business.
While, this definitely beats all logic both rational and mythological, one must not overlook its ability to hold sway on folks. While this ‘deity’ does not hold allegiance to any existing deities from any pantheon, and is a creation of modern times, one marvels at the new induction of a tech-deity in the relatively over-crowded pantheon of ours!!
Story collected by: Utkarsh Patel
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
A few kilometers before Auroville, between the spiritual vibes and the foreigner-made Goa feel there is a small village with no significant name of its own. Perhaps as a visitor I have not cared to look for the name of the village. But by the side of a sharp turn in the road, I notice this small temple with a lot of idols. They cannot be missed because like in many Tamil Nadu temples, these idols also are painted in enamel colours. These anthropomorphic images are highly impressive with their rose bodies and multi-coloured costumes. I could have regarded this as one of those temples and invested my gaze into the silent wonders of nature around. But what attracts me is the main idol that lies down on the ground under a canopy, with guarding votive figures around it.
By the time I could take the details in my car has crossed the temple. Hence, while coming back I ask the driver to stop at the temple. I get down with my small camera and walk into the premises. I am very impressed by what I have seen there.
The signboard done in flex board says that it is ‘Arassummoottil Sree Ankala Parameshwari Amman Aalayam’. I look at the main idol that lies on the floor. It is the idol of a goddess and I recognize her as a Devi figure. Later researches prove that she is one of forms of Parvati worshipped in the Southern part of India. She is called Ankala Parameshwari. Ankala means Universe. This goddess who rules the universe. And she is in a relaxing posture after she danced to kill. According to the myth of Ankalamman it is said, once five headed Brahma performed a yagna to save men from two demons Sandobi and Sundaran. From the fires of yagna came Tillotama, an apasara who mesmerized the two demons by her beauty. To save herself from the clutches of two demons Tillottama fled towards Kailasa, followed by two demons and Brahma. When Parvati saw Brahma with five heads she mistook him for Shiva and feel at his feet. But when she realized the truth she was angry and prayed to Shiva asking him to destroy Brahma’s fifth head. Thus Shiva assumed the form of Rudra and beheaded Brahma’s fifth head.
Angry and humiliated Brahma cursed Shiva that his head would get attached to his hand and thereby Shiva would be affected by hunger and lack of sleep. Shiva as Kapalika- i.e. one with skull in hand, roamed the earth, slept in graveyards and smeared ashes over his body and started begging for food. Whatever food he would get the skull or Kapala began to eat most of it. Meanwhile Parvati was unable to bear her husband’s misery. She approached her brother Lord Vishnu and pleaded him to relieve Shiva from Kapala. Lord Visnu told her, “My dear sister, go to Thandakarunyam graveyard with your husband and make a pond there and name it “Agni Kula Teertham” then prepare a tasty food made by “Agathi Keerai” mix it with the blood and spread that food around the graveyard. With the smell of blood, Kapala would leave Shiva’s hand and eat the food. Then take your husband to the pond and wash him clean with waters so that Kapala would not get stuck to his hands again.”. Parvati did as her brother said and when Kapala got detached from Shiva’s palms she cleaned him with the water. When Kapala came back to Shiva it could attach itself, but now it attached itself to Parvati hand. She became so furious with anger and began to dance. As she danced she grew in size. bigger and bigger till she covered the universe. In this gigantic form she crushed the Kapala with her right foot. Only then she lay down to relax on the ground to relax.
In this fiercest form which destroyed Kapala, and which came out of Parvati is called Ankala Parmeshvari or more fondly as Angalaamman. Parvati then asked Angalaamman to stay in the same place and serve the people.
Ankala Parameshwari is worshipped in different parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. In some places she is worshipped as a pregnant goddess. And most of the pregnant women from these regions travel to Ankala Parameshwari Amman Alayam for healthy children and painless delivery.
There is a beautiful mutative blend of Shaivite and Vaishnavite cults in this temple. The guarding angles of Ankala Parameshwari are the incarnations of Vishnu. And interestingly most of them are in the female form. So you see a Narasimha moorty and Varaha in female forms. Even the mutations of the cults are shown in the Ardhanareeshwara.
This particular village temple is called Arasummoottil because there is an arasu tree in the premise. And one interesting idol that I find is a small sculpture of a tortoise kept under a tree. And before this tortoise figure there are a row of bricks kept vertically smeared with turmeric powder and kajal. There are yellow threads running around it.
Women constitute majority of devotees in this temple. What interests me is the celebration of femininity and feminine principle including pregnancy as a centre of worship in this temple. Without controversy the transformation of male incarnations are made into female incarnations. This I feel is like a reading of the male scriptures from a female point of view; a sort of discursive cult that challenges the male point of view without breaking much of the ideologies built around the Hindu temples.
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.