A long time ago, in heaven, Shani the god of bad luck and Lakshmi the god of good luck had a row. Both claimed they were higher than the other in the hierarchy of gods. The gods were equally ranged on either side and a resolution was hard to find. So their sights settled on a man who was known to be wise and just. His name was Sribatsa, which meant the child of Lakshmi.
When Sribatsa was told that he had play adjudicator he panicked because he did not want to get on the wrong side of either. He decided that he would not speak at all but let his actions speak instead. He got two seats made, one of silver and another of gold. When they arrived he asked Lakshmi to sit on the golden stool and Shani on the silver. This infuriated Shani and he cursed him, saying that for the next three years, he would make life a living hell for Sribatsa. Lakshmi told him not to worry because she would always be beside him.
Sribatsa went to his wife Chintamani and told her that he would go away for a while so that Shani’s evil eye would spare her. She would have none of that however and refused to stay behind and the two set out together. Before leaving their house they did two things: hid all their gold and wealth in their mattress and invoked Lakshmi, asking her to watch over their home as they wandered the world. Lakshmi promised them her protection.
The two left with the mattress and soon reached the bank of a river. A boat with a boatman was waiting in the water. Sribatsa asked him to ferry them across. But the boatman said, he could take only one person at a time. So Sribatsa said, take my wife and mattress across first. But the boatman said, the mattress would have to be taken across separately. Reluctantly the couple agreed, but no sooner had the boat got to the middle of the river, a massive whirlpool rose out of nowhere sucked the boat into its swirling waters. The boat disappeared and so did the river.
Sribatsa and his wife found themselves in a village full of woodcutters. Sribatsa convinced the village folk to let him stay. He soon learnt the art of wood cutting and being sharp and skilled, he began felling trees whose wood carried a greater value. He would cut sandalwood trees make more money than the others with half the amount of wood. The angry woodcutters drove the couple out of the village.
The next village was full of weavers. Chintamani was a skilled weaver and she was soon spinning finer yearn than the other women in the village for which she earned more money and also their envy. To make matters worse, Sribatsa to earn the favour of the men of the village invited them for a feast where his wife cooked such a good meal that everyone went back and praised her to their wives. The women started hating her even more. One day at the village river, the women had gathered for work when they saw a boat standing by the water. Chintamani accidentally touched it and the boat began to move. The boatmen who had been unsuccessful in all attempts to move the boat for a few days were astonished and thought that this woman must have magical powers. So they ambushed her and dragged her on to the boat. The women stood watching and did nothing as they wanted to get rid of her.
When Sribatsa heard what had happened to his wife, he went mad with grief. He came to the river and decided to follow its course till he found her. As it grew dark he climbed on to a tree and slept. The morning came and he saw a Kapila cow which was known to be an inexhaustible source of milk. So he milked her and drank to his heart’s content. As he looked up he saw that the cow dung was pure gold and he wrote his name on it while it was still wet. As it hardened it took the shape of a gold brick. This went on day after day as Sribatsa set up a post on the tree from where he could watch the boats going up and down the river. The number of bricks went up and they made a neat pile of glistening gold which caught the eye of every traveller on that river and that is what drew the boat carrying Chintamani to the spot too.
Meanwhile on the boat, Chintamani prayed to Lakshmi to make her ugly and despicable so that her abductors would leave her alone. Chintamani’s face changed and her body broke out in sores and repulsed by her looks, the men threw her into a small cell where they let her rot. The boat made its way to the foot of the tree and the men grabbed the gold bricks and with them Sribatsa; he too was put into the same cell as Chintamani and despite the sores on her body, he recognised her. The two however kept this knowledge secret. Meanwhile the batmen who enjoyed a game of dice found an able partner in Sribatsa and they would often bring him into their group. But as Sribatsa began winning all the games, they threw him overboard. Luckily Chintamani had the presence of mind to throw a pillow over to him and he used that to float ashore. He found himself in a garden that seemed to have fallen upon bad times. He spent the night shivering in the cold. By the morning, as the sun came out, the garden had undergone a dramatic change. It was a riot of colour; every tree was laden with flowers and fruits. Now the garden belonged to an old woman who used to supply flowers to the king’s palace. But as the garden fell barren, she had lost her place and livelihood as the chief flower supplier to the royal house. She was ecstatic when she saw her garden blooming once again and when she saw Sribatsa curled up in a corner, she believed him to be a lucky charm. So she ran to the king who gave her back her job and she recommended Sribatsa for a job. The king found him to be an intelligent man and asked him to choose the post he wanted. Sribatsa asked that he be made in charge of collecting toll from all the boats that travelled up and down the river. And soon enough he found the boat that had his wife and his gold bricks. He detained the boat and charged them with kidnapping and theft and since all the bricks had his name on them, the king had no trouble believing him. Also when Chintamani stepped out of the boat, she turned as beautiful as she once was. And the king, when he heard all the troubles that Sribatsa had been through, plied him with gifts and food and after a few days sent him home.
The stories that we tell shape our lives and define our roles within our communities. They are incredibly powerful. And if we want to create change – effective sustainable change – it is these stories that we need to change.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the narrative of women? How is it that the woman started off as the supreme goddess worthy of worship and ended up at the bottom of the food chain? What changed?
The story begins with woman as the goddess and she was the goddess because she had the ultimate power – she could create life. That was the ultimate miracle and that is what made her worthy of worship.
Ironically as time moved on it was not her story that changed – after all she still creates life – is the way the story was told that changed. Woman no longer created life because she could or because she wanted to but because she was told that she had to, she was told when and she was told with whom!
Her ability to create life was no longer seen as her power but her duty as a subservient being. This was now the weapon with she was to be dominated.
The same things that made woman the goddess are now what make her the slave. It is not the story that changes but how you tell it. It is the tiniest little shift in the story.
Interestingly, every 1000 years or so, a revolution seems to take place in the narrative of women. We can trace a pattern of renaissance, a kind of resurgence; like the crest of a wave which attempts to overturn the existing stories of disenfranchisement and retell them as they were to begin with—an empowering narrative. At the turn of this millennium we are once again in the midst of a narrative revolution and whether by accidental birth or by the design of karmic rebirth we are the women into whose laps this renaissance has fallen. In the cycle of events it is an extraordinary time to be around because now it is we who must decide how to change this narrative.
It is time to look at our stories – and I would like to begin with this tiny story….
In the Hindu traditions of North India on the morning of the wedding the bride is given a set of red and ivory bangles to wear. They are arranged in a set except for one extra white bangle that sits on the outside of the set which is known as Gaurja ki Choorri (the goddess Parvati’s bangle). When I was getting married I remember asking the priest what that extra bangle meant and he told me that the bangle was a bride’s prayer to the goddess Parvati to grant her a husband just like goddess’s own husband.
Now I had to wonder about this. The goddess’s husband Shiva, though a great God (and I am sure many wonderful things in his own way) is not an ideal husband by any stretch of imagination. He drinks, he indulges in narcotic habits, he keeps the worst kind of company, he disappears for months on end because he wants alone time. He is a hermit so doesn’t believe in jewellery and nice things generally. I mean why would I want to pray for a husband like him?
So it took a bit if research but I finally found out – yes, that extra bangle is a prayer to the goddess but the prayer says ‘please give me the strength to love my husband even if he is like yours’. (Alf Hiltebeitel)
Now that’s a story that makes sense
Incidentally there is a school of thought that women want a Shiva-esque man – the thrill of the ‘bad boy’ syndrome. This story teller would like to hear your views.
There is a myth, at least there was in the times gone by, when my mother was a girl. It is that women do not suffer from the curse of flatulence. She told me this story. In a Goan village, many years ago, folks lived in harmony. There lived amongst them two families who had two sons of marriageable ages. Both of them, it was said, were born on the same day, same time right down to the exact moment of birth. Duly, and dutifully too, their parents arranged their marriages. Their respective wives also had striking resemblance to one another. So striking was their likeness that newcomers to that village believed that they were sisters.
However, the outer similarities did not bespeak of their inner make up and their characters. While one was sweet, the other was bitter; one the very embodiment of womanhood, the other had flaws in her nature not quite in keeping with the norms of feminine temperament. But there was no discord between either because of or in spite of their contrasting natures. In fact, both the girls soon won the trust and affection of all elders in the village.
One day there was a function in one house hold. The newlywed bride (the sweet one) was so adept at all the household work that not only did she help arrangements but cooked, it was said, a meal most delicious. Just as the men folk were busy satiating their appetites, the girl had an irrepressible urge to release pent up intestinal gasses. The girl panicked, for to let go in a hall full of people, all men at that, was the most horrifying predicament. She excused herself and rushed into the confines of a suitable antechamber, but alas! It was a tad late. All heard the most embarrassing sound enhanced by the concentrated quiet of the lunch hour and knew at once its producer. The poor girl ran right out of the dining hall through the passage out into the back yard where the well was. Not looking behind, she rushed on and jumped straight into the well overcome with shame.
In no time she drowned and her soul went directly to heaven. There, in heaven, Indra, the god of thunder was presiding. The celestial court was in session! The guards tried to hold the newly dead girl when she rushed to fall at the Gods lotus feet. The ensuing commotion interrupted the court proceedings. Looking at the lovely girl, puzzled by her young age, Indra asked Chitragupta, the Divine bookkeeper, the cause of her death. Chitragupta told Indra what had happened. He felt sorry that a young girl, in prime of her youth, was overcome with shame because of flatulence. He sent summons to the King of gas, Vayu who presented himself before Indra with folded hands. Indra, revealed the reason for his summons and ordered him never to inflict women. “From now on no woman will entertain you!” said Indra. Vayu accepted the command, and retreated with his Godly dignity.
Indra turned to the girl and smiled. “There!”, he said, :” From now on all women will live a long life bereft of the ignominy and shame of flatulence.” Then he called his treasurer, Kubera, and asked him to bedeck the girl with his priceless ‘abhushanas’ and asked Yama, Death, to bring her back to life and her homestead. Then he blessed the girl and bid her leave.
Down below, on earth, there was commotion near the well. The husband of the girl had jumped into the well. He had dived to look for her body many times but had failed. He dived again. This time, he touched something. So he quickly grabbed it. It was her arm and he pulled her out. The girl was resuscitated and brought home to rest after this tense incident.
Next morning, as though nothing at all had happened, the girl set about her chores. She went to the well to fetch water. There, all the women had gathered. They were restive, dying to know how the girl had managed to not only survive, but how she had come up with such exquisite ornaments of diamonds and gold. They had noticed the dangling diamonds dazzling her face. They all rushed to her with the other girl leading (the bitter one). She was the most curious of them all!
“What happened? Where did you get this? Is there gold at the bottom of the well? – There was a barrage of questions from the curious ladies.The girl calmly told her unbelievable story. No one believed her. They thought that the girl was fibbing in order to avoid telling them the truth. No one believed her, except her neighbour. They both knew each other well enough to know when the other was telling a lie.
After filling their pots the women dispersed. The other girl was thoughtful. She also wanted the diamonds and decided upon a plan. Soon enough an opportunity presented itself. The girl cooked many dishes, all with gas inducing ingredients. Before lunch the girl, with the pretext of tasting the dishes consumed much food. Her belly was tight! She tried hard to release the gas, but in vain! She ate more, and more; tried harder. She kept on trying to fart but it was not to be.
Vayu was a faithful ally of Indra, the king of gods. The girl was getting sadder by the minute, but something happened. Just as she bent to serve her father-in-law, a faintest of farts escaped her. She was elated! She rushed to the well and jumped. She died instantly. Yama’s aides were waiting for her. They escorted her to Indra’s court. Before Indra could ask, the girl putting on a great show of shame and grief told Indra why she had committed suicide at such a young age. He sent for Vayu. His guards returned with the news that Vayu was hospitalized with high fever and inexplicable but severe injuries to his whole body. Indra arranged to visit him with his retinue accompanying him and the girl. Vayu looked very badly hurt. Indra, moved to pity restored Vayu to some semblance of health and asked him what the reason was for breaching his trust.
Vayu sat up with difficulty and told Indra how the girl had coerced him. He told how he had resisted, pointing to his wounds and sobbed uncontrollably. Indra put his hand on Vayu and restored him to full health. They returned to court. He called in Kuber and fired an angry order, “Go at once and fashion ornaments in lead and iron. Don’t waste time designing things of beauty. A token embellishment would do fine!”
When heavy ornaments in lead and iron were brought to court and the girl bedecked with them, Indra said, “Go now back to mortality and toil there till such a time as death does not relieve you!” Quietly Indra’s guard accompanied the girl, deep into the cold waters of the well in the village.
Indra revoked the orders given to Vayu and said, Vayu, my dear friend and ally; I am pleased with your devotion. From today you are free to inflict any stomach that you deem worthy of your grace!” Vayu smiled at his Divine master. He saluted Indra and took his leave.
STORY COLLECTED BY: Vidya Kamat
STORY TOLD BY
Dhaumya was an upadhyaya, a great teacher. He had three disciples, Aaruni Paanchalya, Upamanyu and Veda. The three were devoted to their guru and would do anything he asked without question.
One day, the guru asked Aaruni to fill a hole in a dyke as water from the hole was flooding his field. Unable to do anything, despite his best efforts, Aaruni lay down on the hole and blocked the flow of water. When a long time had lapsed and Aaruni did not return, Dhaumya along with his disciples went to look for him. When he called out his name, Aaruni got up from the hole and upon his teachers’ asking, told him what he had done to prevent the water from gushing out. When Aaruni told him what he had done, Dhaumya blessed and sent him on his way. Aaruni’s education was done he said. And since he had got up, tearing out the hole from the dyke, he would hereon be known as Uddalaka.
It was then Upamanyu’s turn to be tested. Dhaumya sent him out for the day with his flock of cows. At the end of the day Upamanyu came back and presented himself. He was a plump boy and the guru, intrigued that a day spent out in the fields guarding cows had left him unchanged, asked him what he had eaten that allowed him to look well-fed. Upamanyu replied that he had sought food as alms and that had helped him keep hunger at bay. Dhaumya found this unacceptable because no student can eat without first offering his teacher. So he ordered all the alms that Upamanyu would collect the next day, be brought to be him. Upamanyu did as asked but he still looked the same. Dhaumya asked him what had he eaten through the day and Upamanyu replied that he had gone for a second round of begging and the alms he collected thereby had been his food. Dhaumya said that this was not proper behaviour for a student as he was depriving people of their share of food.
The next day Upamanyu refrained from such action but he still looked plump. When Dhaumya asked what the secret was, he said that he had drunk the milk of the cows. Dhaumya reprimanded Upamanyu again; the cows were not his and hence he could not drink their milk. Obediently the student followed the latest instruction too, but he still looked plump and well fed. Now what had he eaten that day, the guru asked. Well since the milk was forbidden, Upamanyu said that he had filled his stomach with froth that the calves spat out after drinking from their mothers’ udders. Not done, said Dhaumya because the virtuous calved were probably giving up their share of food by throwing up more froth than usual out of pity for Upamanyu.
Upamanyu went back to his task, and this time he spent his days without any food. After a few days, tortured by hunger, he had arka leaves which turned him blind. And as he wandered about thus, he stumbled and fell into a well.
Dhaumya noticed his pupil was missing and he went to look for him. He called out and Upamanyu replied from the bottom of the well; Dhaumya advised that he pray to the Asvins who would restore his eye sight and help him climb out of the well. Upamanyu did as told, singing hymns in praise of the Asvins who appeared before him and offered him apupa (honey comb or rice cake). But he refused saying that he could not eat anything without giving it to his guru first. The Asvins persisted and when they found him steadfast in his refusal, blessed him and said that they were pleased with his behaviour and would not only help him out of the well but also restore his eyesight.
Upamanyu went back to his guru and told him everything that had transpired. Dhaumya pleased with his student; granted him knowledge of the Vedas and sent him home. The test was over.
STORY COLLECTED BY: Arundhuti Dasgupta
SOURCE: Mahabharata, Paushya Parva (Translation: KM Ganguli); The Sankrit Epics’ Representation of Vedic Myths by Danielle Feller
Location: Pan India
Many ancient cultures have beliefs about animal and birds. Some believe that they were among our ancestors and some look at them as protectors of mankind. Verrier Elwin collected several such beliefs from tribes in the North East.
There are several beliefs about arthropods which are invertebrate animals. The Singhpo people believe that the spider taught the first woman to weave. Similarly the blacksmith learnt his trade by watching the crab; he modelled the first tongs on its claws. And who taught men to chew betel? The mosquito. When men saw its lips reddened by the blood it had sucked out, they felt that they could do the same with betel leaves. The Shimong people believe that the bees make sweet honey because they stole rice beer from man!
There is a common belief among many Naga tribes that leeches are immortal. Some believe that if a leech is cut in half, it dies. But if it is cut into three pieces, a bird takes the middle piece as its share and joins the other two to bring it back to life. Leeches are part of many stories in the region as are snakes which are believed to have lived among men and married human beings too.
There are also many interesting ideas about how large animals came to take their current forms. The elephant for instance is the result of a house changing its shape. The story goes among the Idu Mishmi people of the region that the first man to build a granary was Inni Abromai. He was a proficient builder and having made a large storehouse for his grains, he went on to build a fine home for himself. The home however did not last very long. After a few years it fell down and turned into a great animal as long as a Mishmi house. A Mishmi house is a long structure, rectangular and somewhat like a modern day bus Inni Abromai’s house turned into a long animal with the pillars becoming the legs; the roof, the head and the ladder that led to the door of the house, turned into the trunk. This was the first elephant.
Text Source: Myths of the North East Frontier of India, Verrier Elwin, Printed by SN Guha Ray at Saraswaty Press, Calcutta, 1958
Web Sources: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthropod) and (http://roing.nic.in/idu_mishmi.htm)
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta Singhal
Satti, Shati or Shashthi, is a goddess propitiated on the sixth day of the birth of a child in Goa, a small state on the western coast of India. It is believed if she is not propitiated appropriately she can harm a newborn child and the mother, even causing their death. Shashthi generally afflicts newbornchild and the mother in form of puerperal fever. Hence she needs to be pleased.*
According to common lore,a daughter in law stolesome food from her father-in-law’s home. Afraid of being humiliated by her in laws, she blamed it on a black cat, who was duly punished for stealing. Incidentally the cat was the vahanaof Satvai CHECK. The cat decided to take revenge for being wrongly accused and started stealing her children as soon as they were born. Cat would take away her children and give it to Satvai. She thus stole six of her sons. When the daughter in law realisedwhat was happening, she prayed to goddess Satvai and asked for forgiveness. Satvaithen advised the daughter in law to sculpt acat out of rice flour and tie this to theimage of the goddess with a sacred thread andworship both. Once the child is born the sacred thread should be tied to the new-born baby as a sign ofprotection of Satvai. This should be done with a vrata or a vow, whereby the new mother should keep a fast on the sixth day by drinking only milk and fruits.
It is also believed that Satti visits new born child on sixth day and writes his/her destiny on her forehead. A midwife (voizin) generally conducts the ritual of Satti on the sixth day of birth of newborn baby. A winnowing fan is placed in the chamber of the new mother. Rice, coconuts, betel leaves, betelnut, flowers, vermillion powder, lampblack and turmeric are placed uponthe winnowing fan. An oil lamp is lit for entire night. Women of the family sometimes play games like fugadi. And conch and empty vessels are blown to drive away the evil spirits. The purpose of these festivities is to keep the child awake through the night when Satti comes visiting to write his fate. It is believed that death follows Satvai and if he sees a sleeping baby then he may snatch him away.
*Over time, the characterizations of Shashthi underwent a gradual evolution. Aforementioned folk traditions originating between the 10th and 5th centuries BCE associated the goddess with both positive and negative elements of fertility, birth, motherhood and childhood. However, between the 4th century BCE and the 5th century CE, a shift occurred in which Shashthi was increasingly depicted as a malevolent deity associated with the sufferings of mothers and children. The fifth century text KashyapaSamhita calls Shashthi by the epithet Jataharini (“one who steals the born”) and provides a list of the malevolent activities in which Shashthi is believed to engage, including her practice of stealing fetuses from the womb and devouring children on the sixth day following birth. For this reason, the text recommends that she be propitiated through worship in her honor on this day in the delivery room and on the sixth day of every fortnight thereafter.
Over the past 1500 years, the characterization of Shashthi gradually shifted toward that of a benevolent and protective figure. Shashthi’s evolution mirrors that of the demonessJaraof the Mahabharataand a similar Buddhist goddess, Hariti all of them are characterized in early texts as malevolent goddesses, but over the course of time these deities transformed from devourers of children into their saviors and protectors.
Story collected by: Dr. PandurangPhaldesai
Text Source: Goa: Folklore Studies by Dr. PandurangPhaldesai
Location : Goa
The unthinkable had happened. Sati was dead.
Her charred corpse slung upon his shoulders, the Great God, Shiva wandered the lands, heartbroken and alone. Day after day passed but he could not let her go. Such was his grief that the gods feared the world might drown in it. At last, Vishnu hurled his sudarshan chakra, his disc and split Sati’s body into many pieces which fell to the ground. Devastated, Shiva retreated to his home in the Himalayas, forsaking the world that had so brutally snatched his beloved from him.
Ages passed but there he remained lost in meditation, removed from the world. A world that was in deep trouble. A demon named Taraka was growing more powerful each day wreaking havoc and destruction upon men and gods alike. No one could stop him for Brahma had granted him a boon. Taraka could only be killed by the son of Shiva. A boon cleverly elicited by the demon who knew very well that Shiva had renounced the world.
Meanwhile, away from all the troubles, Uma the daughter of the mountains was falling more and more in love with the hermit who sat unmoved, in deep meditation, a god like steadiness in his being. She had seen him like that since she was child and as she had grown into a young woman her fascination with him had grown too, till all she wanted was to marry him. She would bring flowers and lay them at his feet every day and watch him for hours. Her heart told her she belonged with him.
Little did Uma know that she was none other than Sati, reborn.
But the gods knew and they waited for love to find its way into Shiva’s heart. But alas, it was not to be. The world and Uma with all her loveliness did not exist for Shiva.
And who would dare wake Shiva up from his revere? No mortal, nor god.
There was someone however who could spring love in the coldest of hearts.
So Indra the chief of gods, called upon Kama, the god of love, for help. The tall and handsome young god turned pale when he understood what was being asked of him.
To incur the wrath of Shiva was to ask for death. At last the god of love spoke. If Spring will go before me, he said, I am willing to try. Now when Kama set forth to find Mahadev, Spring went before him. At Spring’s approach, forests bloomed and springs gurgled, birds chirped and a gentle breeze whispered. In his footsteps followed Kama along with his wife Rati, Desire, and the world warmed with the friendship of creatures.
But the great yogi remained untouched, unaware. The archer, Love, with his bow of flowers and arrows tipped with humming bees, hid among the trees waiting for the right moment. Before long, the beautiful Uma appeared, bringing with her flowers to lay at her Lord’s feet. Kama’s hands shook a little as he pulled back his string but his arrow found its mark and shattered the ice that encased Shiva’s heart.
For the briefest of moments, an image flashed through Shiva’s mind- a beautiful maiden and then horror swept over him like a wave. His third eye opened spontaneously to find the source of such an impulse and in that instant Kama was reduced to a handful of ashes. Livid with rage, Shiva got up and walked away with not a thought for the maiden who lay at his feet.
Rati, distraught at losing her husband, begged the gods to bring him back.
Be patient, Indra said to her, your husbands’s arrow has found its mark. Let us wait for it to do its work. Shiva the merciful will bring back your love. Uma, who was left alone grew more resolute to win Shiva’s heart and chose to embark on a path of serve penance. Months passed and Uma’s austerities grew more severe each day till they melted Shiva’s heart and he came to her disguised as an old man.
Why do you torture yourself so? The old man asked. What is it you seek, fair maiden?
To win the heart of my Lord Shiva, she replied. Shiva! the old man scoffed. That beggar ? He is not worthy of you. You would not understand the ways of Mahadev, replied an angry Uma as she started to walk away. Shiva then appeared as himself and stopped her. Uma’s devotion had won his heart. As he looked into the eyes of the shrivelled but radiant woman before him, he saw his Sati. He recognised the love he had lost. Uma was married to Shiva and the world rejoiced. Soon they had a son Kartikeya who killed Taraka and became a renowned warrior.
And, just as Indra had promised, Shiva brought Kama back to life too. His body was gone and not even God could bring it back but Kama’s spirit would live on. No one would see him except his wife Rati. Since that day Love walks silently among us, invisible to both men and gods. In the south of India, Holi is celebrated as Kamadahan, the burning of Kama, when Love is remembered for its ultimate sacrifice. Although, we may never see the god of love, we can feel his presence in the first blooms of Spring, in the singing of the birds, the fragrant breeze and in the flutter in our hearts.
On the full moon night of Holi, bonfires are lit to burn all that is old and decaying, all that is base and dark to make space for the new and light. In this myth, the seers allude to another bonfire. With his third eye of intuition Shiva burnt to ashes the base passion that clouds the mind. For Kama also means passion.
It was not the beauty of Uma that captivated Shiva but her deep devotion that eventually won his heart. When Shiva finally came to Uma, she was a shadow of her physical self but the radiance of her tapas shone through. It is this tapas, the burning of one’s lower self in the fire of one’s true spirit, is what this myth talk about.
This story is also about Love. A Love so great that it sacrificed itself for the good of others.
Vinata and Kadru are sisters. They are the daughters of Daksa and wives of Kasyapa. Pleased with their love and devotion, Kasyapa offered them a boon. Each wife asks for her heart’s desire. Kadru asks that she be the mother of 1000 sons. And that her sons should be the nagas, invincible and powerful. Her boon is granted.
Vinta asks for two sons, but the condition is that they should be more powerful than all of Kadru’s sons. Her boon too is granted.
Soon the sisters lay eggs: Kadru lays 1000 eggs and Vinta, two. And things seem to be going to plan. The sisters are pleased with their lot and Kasyapa is busy building the world.
The nagas are born first. And Kadru is delighted. But Vinta’s eggs seem to be as they were when they first came out. Day by day, Kadru’s joy with her sons seems to grow and multiply. Seeing her thus, Vinta frets because her egss haven’t hatched. She watches over them day and night, but it is of little use. The eggs stay just as they are. One day, unable to bear the suspense any more, Vinta breaks one of her eggs. And out comes a half-formed boy. He has no legs and his body looks like a lump of flesh. He is Aruna.
Aruna is furious with his mother for her impatience. She has left him crippled and misshapen. He curses her. Driven by jealousy, you have harmed your own child so may you suffer, he says. May you become a slave to your sister! Vinta is grief-stricken and begs to be forgiven. After some time, Aruna’s temper having suitably cooled by then, he relents and says that she can be released from her curse if she is patient enough to let the second egg hatch in its own time. The son that will be born from that egg will deliver her from slavery, but until then she will have to do as her sister says.
Having said this, Aruna flies up to the skies and becomes the red dawn, or as some versions say, he becomes the charioteer of the sun. In many sculptures and paintings, Aruna is shown as a half formed man, holding the reins of the horses that drive Surya’s chariot.
And the second egg was allowed to hatch in time and a god was born from it. This is the god we know as Garuda, a mythical bird that looks like a mix between an eagle and a falcon and who is also Vishnu’s vahana.
STORY COLLECTED BY: Arundhuti Dasgupta
SOURCE: Mahabharata, Adi Parva; Translated by K M Ganguli and The Sanskrit Epics’ Representation of Vedic Myths by Danielle Feller
LOCATION: Pan India
The Sindhi community and has an interesting myth which involves the Vedic god, Varuna, the god of the oceans. While many of the present day Sindhis either follow the Hindu mainstream deities or the Sikh religion, on the day of Cheti Chand, they remember their patron saint, Jhulelal.
It is said that around the 10th Century AD, the Turkish invaders were imposing their might and right on the Hindus by forcing them to convert to Islam, in the region of the Sapta-sindhu, the land of seven rivers. Among them was a tyrannical ruler called Mirk Shah who issued a dictat that all the Hindus should embrace Islam. The people of the region (Sindh, now in present day Pakistan) went to the banks of the river Sindhu and prayed continuously for forty days to the Varuna. On the fortieth day, they heard a voice which said that the Lord would take a human form (avatar) and be born to one Ratanchand Lohana and his wife, Devaki. The boy would be their saviour. Soon a child was born to the Lohanas, who was named Uderolal (one who came from the waters). When the child was placed in the cradle, the cradle started rocking itself and thus he came to be popularly known as Jhulelal.
During his birth and thereafter while he was growing up, there are many stories that highlight a number of miracles performed by him. All these miracles only reinforced in the minds of the people and the rulers that this was no ordinary child. Mirk Shah, in the meantime while had patiently been waiting for the ‘saviour’ who was supposed to bail out the Hindus from forceful conversion, as he wanted to give a fair chance to the people, much against the wishes of the clergy. Jhulelal’s fame had reached Shah and some of his people had also claimed to have witnessed some of his miracles.
Soon Jhulelal and Mirk Shah came face to face and Jhulelal and tried to convince Shah that who he called Allah was none other than who the Hindus called Ishwar and the two were one. Mirk Shah however did not give up till he was threatened by a miracle. It is said that when Jhulelal tried to convince him about the oneness of the religion, Mirk Shah ordered the arrest of Jhulelal in court. As soon as he did, waters gushed into the court from nowhere drowning all those who were present. They threatened to do the same to Mirk Shah too. At the same time, there was fire all around. Mirk Shah was surprised and scared to see what had just happened and begged for mercy. No sooner had he done that, the waters receded and the fire was extinguished.
After this, Jhulelal was worshipped by both the Hindus and the Muslims and it is said that when he died, to commemorate the site of his death, a structure was built, one side of which is a Hindu Samadhi and the other side is a Muslim Dargah – a rare symbol of the unification or the oneness of the two religions. In 1356, a shrine was built around his tomb, in present day Sehwan, in the Sindh province of Pakistan. Cheti Chand is the birth day of Jhulelal, who has come to be known as the patron saint of the Sindhis and a messiah of communal harmony. His shrine is thronged by people of both the communities every Thursday and on the occasion of Urs celebration.
The iconography of Jhulelal depicts him as an old man sitting atop a ‘pala’ fish (a fish which swims against the tide, again symbolic of Jhulelal’s going against the powers-that-be of the times). Since Jhulelal was considered to be the human form of Varuna, the depiction of fish (again a marine life) is not too far-fetched. Also since the civilization and the culture thrived on the banks of the Sindhu River, association of Lord Varuna can be explained. The popular depiction of Jhulelal being old and elderly could be to grant him a sense of acceptance amongst the people of the times as old was always associated with wisdom, though in the myth, there is a mention that Jhulelal grew up quite faster than what mortals did.
STORY COLLECTED BY: UTKARSH PATEL
LOCATION: SINDH, PAKISTAN
TEXT SOURCE: Contemporary Hinduism – By P. Pratap Kumar
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