During my recent travels in Cambodia I came across a collection of folktales by Muriel Paskin Carrison. To my delight, I found that the author had chosen the stories intelligently and translated them with utmost care from the original Gatiloke (GAH-tee-Low-Kah), a collection of ancient Cambodian folk stories which is a part of the country’s ancient literary tradition. These tales were used by Buddhist monks in their sermons. They are moral tales set in villages or towns and are about ordinary people and their strengths and weaknesses and how they go about making a living. Gati means “the way” and loke means “the world”. Loosely translated “Gatiloke” means “the right way for the people of the world to live.”
Among all the Gatiloke stories, this one caught my attention because even after reading it, I was at a loss about its purpose, till I read a tiny note at the end of the book which said that Buddhist monks often told stories about a crude Brahman character. It was only then that I understood the point of the story: it was told and retold by the monks to mock or ridicule the Brahmanical society in a country which was switching over from Hinduism to Buddhism. The monks delighted in telling stories which tarnished the brilliance and high position enjoyed by Brahmans and depicted them as crude, selfish and silly. A religion based on ahimsa and very high moral standards was not averse to using some underhand methods to make its point against the abhorrent caste system and the Hindu religion with its superstitious obedience to the Brahmans.
This is how story goes……..
Once upon a time, a Bodhisattva in the form of a son was born to a noble Brahman couple. The father passed away when he was young and his mother sent him away to the eminent scholars in Taxila, a revered centre of learning, to study the Vedas and the ancient scriptures. After years of intensive study and successfully mastering the three Vedas and other scriptures, the boy returned home. His mother by then was an old lady and he began caring for her and teaching the children in his village. Soon he became popular and was well respected as a teacher and his fame spread far and wide. Scholars and students travelled long distances to study under him and listen to him.
Among the Bodhisattva’s students was one who was not only dazzlingly handsome but also intelligent, diligent and humble. The student, however, was completely unaware of his qualities. He worked hard for three years, acquired knowledge of the Vedas, bid farewell to his learned teacher and came back to his village. Upon his return, he excitedly told his parents everything he had learnt. His mother listened thoughtfully and expressed her joy at her son’s depth and breadth of knowledge, but she sprang upon him a question to which he did not have an answer. The mother asked whether he had learnt how to court a woman, the answer to which was negative. The mother suggested that he ought to go back to his teacher and learn about that too.
The handsome young man returned to his Bodhisattva teacher and requested him to teach about women and the art of courting. The Bodhisattva carefully considered the matter but given his ignorance of the subject, suggested that the student should approach his mother who was an expert. The boy thanked Bodhisattva and went to the Brahman lady, his guru’s mother. She was now an octogenarian with wrinkled skin and withered body but when she saw the dazzling handsome young man she instantly fell in love with him. She did not lose much time in professing her love for him and goaded him to marry her. The young student was perplexed at such a proposal as she was the noble mother of his respected teacher. He politely refused to do anything discourteous that might distress his esteemed teacher. The old Brahman lady was so besotted that she refused to take NO for an answer. She even promised to get rid of her son by killing him. The young man was at a loss. Her passion and lust scared him and he acquiesced, half-heartedly, with her plan. But, he was loyal to his teacher so, he went to the monastery and with great embarrassment narrated the entire story. The Bodhisattva listened to him calmly and requested his student to find out how and when his mother planned to kill him.
The youth went back to the Brahman lady and asked about her plans. The old lady, totally unsuspecting and eager to please her husband to be, told him that in the dead of night, when the Bodhisattva slept, she would behead him with a sharp sword. The youth duly reported back. The Bodhisattva hatched a plan. He asked his student to get the trunk of a banana tree, about four-arm length tall, and place it on his bed and cover it with a blanket. The young man did as told and hid with his guru behind the curtain. At the stroke of midnight the feeble old lady entered the room dragging behind her the heavy sword, went close to the bed and checked that her son was fast asleep. She tried to lift the heavy sword to bring it down on her sleeping son, but she was weak and the sword much too heavy for her. So as she attempted to bring it crashing down on to the covered banana tree, the old lady slipped, fell and died instantly.
The Bodhisattva and his handsome student watched everything hiding behind the curtain and they agreed with a heavy heart that the noble lady foolishly died of love.
Bodhisattva is a divine being worthy of nirvana who remains on the human plane to help men to salvation.
Story collected by: Anuradha Dhar Bose
Text Source: Cambodian Folk Stories from Gatiloke by Muriel Paskin Carrison
A long time ago, Tripura wasruled by a king called Trilochan who had two sons, Dripaktiwas the elder and Dakshin the younger son. A few years after he was born, Dripakti was adopted by his maternal grandfather, the King of Cachhar, as he did not have an heir to the throne. The children grew up and after the King of Cachhar died, Dripakti was made the monarch. In Tripura, Trilochan, declared his younger son, Dakshin as the heir apparent. This when Trilochan died, Dakshin ascended to the throne. But that was not the way Dripakti had envisaged the future. Uponlearning about his father’s death, he laid claim to the throne saying he was the rightful heir as he was the eldest son. When Dakshin resisted, a battle waged for seven days, where Dakshin was defeated and Dripakti took over the kingdom of Tripura. Dakshin escaped with the heads of fourteen soldiers and set up his kingdom in the area of central Cachhar.
Over time the soldiers were deified and the descendants of Dakshin began worshipping their heads. The fourteen soldiershad become gods to the tribe. It is said that after the death of Dripakti, his descendants too started worshipping the fourteen ‘deities’ and soon it became a practice.The festival is characterised by the worshipping of fourteen gods, more importantly, the heads of fourteen gods, by the royal priest called Chantai. The festival is held in July every year and it is called ‘kharchi puja’ by the local inhabitants of the region. It lasts a week, during which the entire state is in the mood of a carnival. It is the most important festival of the North-Eastern state of Tripura.
The original names of the 14 gods were in the local language of Kak-barok. They are called: Katar, Katar-ma, Burachha, Mailoma, Khuloma, Subrai Raja, Lampra, Toi Bubagra, Sangrama, Harung Bubagra, Nangkhtai Bubagra, Bachhua Bubagra, Thunirok and Banirok. But with the influence of the Vedic tribes, the gods were assimilated into the Hindu pantheon. Today the fourteen deities are called Prithvi (Earth), Uma (Parvati), Har (Siva), Hari (Vishnu), Kumar (Kartikeya), Ma (Lakshmi), Bani (Saraswati), Ganesh, Brahma (Creator), Kamdev (God of Love), Samudra (Ocean God), Ganga, Agni (Fire), and Himalaya (God of Mountains).
There are many tales around ‘kharchi puja’ and while the above is the most popular, there is another version which says that the festival is a worship of goddess earth. Kharchi or ‘khya’ means the earth and the festival is in honour of the earth goddess whoprovides sustenance to all aspects of life. Interestingly, kharchipuja takes place fifteen days after Ambubachi which is the period of menstruation of the Earth. During the ancient times this was considered to be an ‘unclean’ aspect of the earth, just as it is in a woman. During Ambubachi there is no ploughing or digging activity. The soil isconsidered unclean and in the past, women were not allowed to take part in any auspicious function during Ambubachi. Even a priest whose wife was in menstruation at that time was prohibited from conducting any ceremony. The kharchi puja was the ritual cleansing of the Mother Earth which had to be done after the menstruation period. Many even compare this cleansing to the ‘shraadh’ ceremony (after death) after which, life goes back to normal!
The rituals are marked with the bathing of the fourteen heads of the deities which is a remnant of the tribal practices that must have marked the ancient worship of the tribe. Sacrifices of goats and pigeons are an integral part of the rituals too.
Source: (I had come across this in one of the promotional papers on Tripura which had given some details, and the rest of it was from the Internet)
Story collected by: Utkarsh Patel
Image source: www.tripura4u.com
Image details: The ritual bathing of the fourteen heads of the deities.
The Kamakhya temple in Guwahati has captured the people’s imagination for hundreds of years. Its tantalising tales of tantra, mantra and vashikaran and equally intriguing rites and rituals has lured in tourists, scholars and believers from across the world. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple is a cave which is devoid of any image. It has a natural underground spring which flows through a yoni-shaped cleft in the bedrock. The inner sanctum is a deep dark underground rocky chamber into which one descends by a flight of steep steps. The “Matra Yoni” which is inscribed on a rock is covered with silk sarees and is constantly moist by underground spring water.
The Kamakhya temple is considered to be a shakti peetha. This is one of the many stories associated with the temple (For the stories around the temple, read Kamakhya’s Web) but in every tale linked to the temple, there is an underlying element of devi worship. This suggests that this is a place of worship of woman divine or, the mother goddess. The temple remains one of the holiest sites in India for tantra practitioners who associate it with powerful creative force of the mother goddess.
Among the many aspects of the goddess celebrated here, there is one which celebrates menstruation. Devotees believe that the Devi menstruates during a unique festival called Ambubachi which is observed during the Indian month of Ashaad (towards the end of June). They believe that every year on the seventh day of Ashaad, the pool containing the uterus turns red. The temple remains closed thereafter for a period of three days. On the fourth day, the doors of the temple are opened for lakhs of pilgrims who throng the temple during this festival. Offerings to the goddess are usually flowers, but might include animal sacrifices. In general female animals are exempt from sacrifice, a rule that is relaxed during mass sacrifices.
Ambubachi (or, otherwise) festival kamakhya temple draws various Shakti and Shaiva tantra practioners recognised by their respective red or black garments. Whilst in orthodox Hindu rites and rituals male dominance is an accepted norm and a female is considered impure when she menstruates, Tantric rites grant female the status of Shakti, and she is considered to have the potential to unlock her divine powers especially during her menstrual cycle. Assam and its surrounding areas are well known for various Tantric Cults with their equally exotic practices. The Sanskrit term ambuvaci from which local Assamese term ambubachi or ambubasi is derived literally means “issuing for of water”. Whilst to believers it is celebration of menstruation of goddess kamakhya, the very celebration at the onset of monsoon in the month of ashaad is nothing but homage to fecundity of mother earth which comes alive with the onset of monsoon.
The history of Assam is closely linked to the history of Sri Sri Kamakhya. The Shakti temple is mentioned in various Puranas including Kalika Purana and Yogini Tantra which establishes the temple and therefore Assam as a springboard for Shakta Tantra. The temple stands between two ethnic hill groups – the khasis of the Austro-Asiatic group who follow the matrilineal system and the Garos. Sex worship and animal sacrifice was common amongst these tribal people in the ancient past. While on the one hand, the worship of the yoni of the goddess in Kamakhya represents veneration of procreative power of nature, on the other hand it stands as testimony to magical influence and continuation of tribal culture and non-Aryan practices. The temple snuggled in the verdant Nilachal hills thus symbolises the ‘fusion of faiths and beliefs.
Not colours, but sticks and stones; that is how Holi is celebrated in a village near Mathura. Better known as the festival of colours, Holi brings about water-drenched, colourful euphoria among the people in most parts of the country. But the Lath Mar Holi celebrated at Barsana near Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh is a different game altogether.
Lathmar HolI? What is that?
A literal translation would be ‘Beating Sticks Holi’. In this, the women of Barsana beat up the men who come from the neighbouring village of Nandgaon to play Holi with them.
Why do they do that? And why do the men come every year to get bashed up?
Barsana is believed to be the birthplace of Radha who was Krishna’s lover and divine consort. The story goes that Krishna slapped mud or a brown coloured powder on her cheeks because she was fairer than him. Radha beat him with a stick for this and when he brought his gang of guys from Nandgaon, Radha and her friends beat them all up. The men came with colours and water. Even today the men of Nandgaon where Krishna grew up come to Barsana and the ritual is replayed. The men rush in praying colours and water and try to get to a temple dedicated to Radha in order to hoist a flag on its roof. They come padded and well-armed with protective shields. The women await their arrival with sticks in hand and start raining down their sticks on their backs as soon as they start trooping in, in groups. Some men are forced to dress up in skirts and sarees too! While the men try and get to the temple, the women make every attempt to block their path and not let them anywhere near it.
Really? That’s how it started?
Well, that’s what we have heard. But it is also possible that the ritual is aboriginal in its origins. Over the years, the practice grew popular and was made part of the larger mythological narrative.
Aboriginal practices? Such as?
Lighting of bonfires, dancing in streets, shouting obscenities, throwing mud at each other, playing pranks on women, women playing on the swings (dolayatra), throwing water at each other etc; these are all aboriginal practices. In some cases communities often got together to hurl abuses at a god or each other or garland deities with shoes — Holi is a fertility festival and probably was celebrated by aboriginal people in a similar fashion. But what we have retained today is the lighting of bonfires and splashing water and colours on each other.
Of course it is. It was also a lot of fun when it was first played eons ago. It was also a festival meant to denote the end of a year. That is why we light a bonfire which, in a way, is how you bring closure to the past and set the stage for all things new in the New Year.
I am confused– is this a New Year Celebration?
Not exactly. In the Hindu calendar, Holi comes before the year ending festivals that are celebrated by most communities sometime around the middle of April. It is a harvest festival. But the LathMar Holi carries some traces of the way the new year-year end festivals were celebrated.
During ancient times in Europe, the Maypole and in India during the Vedic period, the Indradvaja festival was celebrated. For this, a pole was erected in the centre of the village, it was decorated with flowers and fruits and people drank, partied and danced around it. At the end of the celebration the pole was set on fire. The belief was that fire would kill evil and usher in a new beginning. Holi or Hutasani means that which is brought to closure by fire. Also soon after Holi, the New Year is brought in by several communities in the country.
And is Holi celebrated in March every year?
It could be in February or March. The celebrations are during spring. The festival period starts ten days before full moon of Phalgun (February – March). But the Holi or bonfire happens only on the last day or the full moon day of Phalgun. In Manipur, the Holi festival lasts the entire 8-10 days.
Interesting. And is there any other story of Holi ?
Yes. There is a story that says Holi was celebrated by burning the demoness Holika, sister of demon king Hiranyakashipu and father of Prahlad. In south India, Holi was celebrated as the lamentation of Rati wife of Kama who was burned by Shiva.
(You can read the full story here.)
Information collected by: Vidya Kamat
Text Source: Hindu World: An encyclopedic Survey of Hinduism By Benjamin Walker.
Location: All India
A long time ago in Kashmir, there lived a king who loved a good war. He took great pride in his military and lost no chance to talk about the courage and prowess of his fighting men. He also lavished his kingdom’s treasures on his army, looking after his men well and buying them the best weapons his gold could get.
One day, keen to see how his army was shaping up, the king asked all his forces to congregate at a maidan on the outskirts of his capital city. His wazirs were also asked to be present and on the appointed day a large crowd gathered to attend the grand show.
As the king sat there, in the midst of his people, decked out in regal finery, his eyes fell upon a strange creature. A seven legged haiwan (strange animal) who upped on all sevens and fled as soon as he spied the king spying him. The king chased after him and after a short distance, the animal stopped in the middle of the path and shook himself all over, turned into a djinn and slew the king and ate him.
Upon his death, his son was anointed to the throne. He too ruled well with a firm but kind hand. Until one day, he was seized by this great desire to know what had happened to his father. When the whole story was revealed to him, he announced that he wanted to arrange just such a grand display of the kingdom’s armed forces. And so it was organised. The whole town gathered and just as it had happened in the case of the father, the young prince too spotted the same seven legged beast. He too ran after him and the beast did exactly what it had done before: shook himself all over and turned into a djinn. But the prince invoked the great god and asked him for help. And god sent an angel to the rescue who warned the prince that the beast that stood before him was among the most dangerous beasts ever to have walked the earth. If even a drop of his blood fell to the ground, it would lead to many more beasts springing up from the earth. He gave the prince a double edged arrow and asked him to pierce the beast’s eyes and bring him down. The prince did as told and the beast fell to his death.
The prince cut off his head, stuck it on the arrow and took it back with him to his palace where there were 12,000 rooms. He locked up the head in one of the rooms and handed the key to his mother. But the mistake he made was that he did not tell his mother what he had brought back with him; he merely told her that she could go to all the rooms in the palace except the locked one. Naturally, curiosity got the better of the queen and one day, she opened the door to the room with head of the beast. As she stepped into the cold dark space behind the door, she heard a hollow laugh.
Your son is a djinn, the voice said. He killed me, your husband and now wants to kill you.
The queen was shocked, confused and extremely frightened. What should she do she asked the voice.
Pretend to be unwell and ask him to get the milk of a tigress and if he can, then you will surely know he is not human.
The queen obliged and one early morning, well before dawn, the prince set out for the forest. He sat waiting on top of a tree when his eyes soon spotted a tigress with her cubs sprawled upon the grass. He aimed his arrow and luck was on his side, quite clearly that day, because his arrow tore upon an abscess that had given the tigress much pain and upon whose release, she was greatly relieved. She looked at him with gratitude and beckoned that he should ask anything he desired. The prince told her the entire story and the tigress willingly gave him some milk. The tigress also gave the prince a tuft of her hair; show it to the sun when you are in trouble and I will come to your aid, she said.
The prince duly carried it back to the queen, who was horrified at the thought that her son had achieved what no human could have done. Back to the room with the head, she went and this time the djinn said, she would have to pretend to still be unwell.
Send the prince off to a castle far away from the kingdom. In that castle, guarded by fierce men and animals, lives a princess. Ask him to bring her to you as her touch is the only cure for your sickness. The prince will not survive the journey.
The queen sent the prince off. After a while he remembered the tuft of hair and as promised, the tigress and her cubs appeared when he held it up to the sun. The tigress warned him about the mission. There were three doors to the castle she said. Behind one was a block of iron which the prince would have to cleave, if he wanted to go further. The next door had an imitation cow behind it which the prince would have to milk, or else the djinns would have him for a meal. And finally behind the third door was a princess, who would accept him only if she was pleased with him. If not, she would ensure his death.
The frightened prince asked for guidance. The tigress said that she would help him. She would sit inside the block of iron and force it to break into two. And, said one of the young cubs, he would help him milk the cow without letting the djinns interfere. And, said the other young cub, he would sprinkle a charm over the princess so that when she saw him, she would have eyes for none other.
The prince managed to get to the princess who was so smitten that she accompanied him back to the palace. When he reached home, he told his mother everything. Even his adventures with the seven legged beast and that is when his mother the queen realised her folly. She sought his forgiveness and the prince readily gave it. He married the princess and ruled over his kingdom well. And the room; that was left locked for ever.
STORY COLLECTED BY: Arundhuti Dasgupta
TEXT SOURCE: Folk tales of Kashmir, J.Hinton Knowles
Shirnathji is the presiding deity of Nathdwara and is popular with the Vaishnav community in Gujarat and Rajasthan. It is commonly believed that the Vaishnav and Mother Goddess cults do not see eye to eye. However we were surprised to spot the painting at the temple of Bahucharaji –
On enquiring, we were told the following myth:
Legend has it that the famous devotee of Bahucharaji, Bhakt Vallabh Bhatt once visited Nathdwara to worship Nathdhish (as Srinathji was known then). When the doors of the temple opened, Bhatt hailed the god by saying – “Jai Bahuchara ma”! On hearing this, the temple folk and the assembled Vaishnavs were agitated, and severely beat him up and kept him in solitary confinement.
In the middle of the night, Bahucharaji came with a plate of food to Bhatt to feed him. Bhatt declined to have the food and said that he would not have his food till he sees her image in the idol of Nathdhish. Bahucharaji promised him that he would see this the next morning.
Early the next day, Bhatt went to the temple and waited along with the rest of the crowd that had gathered for the morning darshan. As the temple doors opened everybody was shocked to see, that Nathdhish was wearing a nose-ring, ‘payal’ or anklets in his legs and had a ‘chunadi’, a veiled cloth worn by women, over his head. His hands were in a position to clap as in the traditional garba.
Realisation dawned on the assembled devotees who apologised to Bhatt. From that day onwards, Nathdhish is referred as Srinathji, ‘Sri’ standing for the goddess Srishakti.
Story collected by: Utkarsh Patel
Source: Temple priest
Location: Nathdwara, Gujarat
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
During a recent visit to Faridabad, Haryana I saw a temple which was called “Maharaja Agrasen ka Mandir” — the temple of Maharaja Agrasen. It wasn’t a typical temple structure and there weren’t too many people around it at the time. Besides the temple was closed at that time and although the name had piqued my curiosity, I had to be content with looking at it from the outside. I enquired from the people who were standing around about Maharaja Agrasen and then intrigued by the story they told me, spoke to some people from the village nearby. From the bits and pieces and a few fragments here and there, this is what I got.
Maharaja Agrasen was a Suryavanshi King (of the solar lineage), who ruled during the Dwapar Yuga, which according to the current times would be approximately more than 5000 years ago. He was the first born of King Ballabha of Pratapnagar and was supposed to have been married to Princess Madhavi who was a Nagvanshi (the Naaga clan). The marriage had brought two very powerful clans of the time together. Madhavi had selected Agrasen in a swayamvar.
It is said that in the swayamvar, Lord Indra too was present and was infatuated by Madhavi’s beauty. But Madhavi angered Indra by choosing Agrasen. So jealous was the king of all gods that he decided to withhold rain from the kingdom of Pratapnagar which led to a famine like situation.
King Agrasen decided to wage war and since he was on the right side of Dharma, Indra and his mighty forces were soon vanquished. Indra then sought the help of Narada to settle the matter amicably. And it was decided that normalcy would be restored if Indra declared Agrasen to be a righteous and a religious ruler who would wage a war against even gods for the welfare of his subjects.
After this, Agrasen decided to propitiate Shiva who was soon pleased by his penance. Shiva then advised him to propitiate Mahalakshmi, who too was pleased with the penance. She appeared and blessed Agrasen and suggested that he give up the role of a King and change his caste to Vaishya, the business community and found a new kingdom and she would bless all his people. King Agrasen, then gave up his Kshatriya-hood and became a Vaishya.
Agrasen was a very compassionate person and the happiness of his subjects was his prime concern. He conducted many yagna’s for the well-being of his people and once during the well-known 18 maha-yagna’s, during an Ashwamedha Yagna, he saw a horse being forcibly pulled to the sacrificial altar. The pathetic plight of the animal saddened him and it was decreed from then on that there would be no more animal sacrifices in Agrasen’s kingdom. He became a champion of Ahimsa and was of the opinion that prosperity could not be brought at the cost of death of animals.
He later divided his kingdom amongst his 18 children, and named the 18 gotra’s after the gurus of each of his sons. Some of these are Mittal, Bansal, Goyal, Jindal, Tayal, Bindal, amongst others. Finally the most important aspect of this legendary king is that the present day Agarwal community traces their origins from Agrasen. In Delhi, one can see Agrasen ki Baoli, which is supposed to have been built during the Mahabharat epic times and later rebuilt by the Agrawal community in memory of their ancestor, Maharaja Agrasen.
Story collected by: Utkarsh Patel
Location: Faridabad, Haryana
Tags: Agrasan, Agarwal, Agrasen ki Baoli, Shiva, Indra, Suryavanshi, Queen Madhavi
The story below is a composite; I first heard it from a colleague who heard it from his father. It was added to by a young boy from Ayodhya who had just turned 21. He is employed by a cab company in New Delhi and said that he had heard it from his grandfather. The story belongs to a time when India was yet to be carved up into different states and thus belongs to many regions – if we had to place it within a framework, the story would be from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. But the devi temple where this lore is still sung is in Maihar, Madhya Pradesh.
There once lived two brothers — two warriors to be more precise — who none could defeat. They are immortals and live among us even today and some say that they have become one in death but others say that they are still two people. Whatever be the real story, the truth is that they are the most favoured devotees of Maihar Devi who does not accept the offerings from anyone – not from the priests, not from the big people of the village or country, not anyone at all – before Alha and Udal have offered their prayers, lit the diya and done the aarti. Such is the power of their bhakti.
When Alha and Udal lived there was no one in whole world who dared challenge them in a sword fight. The saying was that ‘talwar bhi unse haar man gayi’ (even the sword accepted defeat at their prowess and courage). They fought against kings and were the most renowned fighters in their region. Even Prithviraj Chouhan was no match for them. They were generals in the army of Raja Parimal of Chandel (Rajasthan) and one day Prithviraj Chauhan decided that he had to establish his supremacy over all the kings of the region and went to battle against Chandel. The brothers fought like lions and in the process, Udal was wounded which angered Alha so much that he ravaged the entire army and managed to bring Prithviraj Chauhan to his knees. As he was about to cut off his head, the Devi appeared and told him that he should spare the life of the man in front of him because he would change the lives of many people from his tribe. Alha who had drawn his sword out by then bowed to the devi’s wishes and cut off his own head instead. For this sacrifice – the biggest sacrifice of all according to our tradition – Alha and his brother were made immortal. And today it is said that in the temple of the devi which is at Maihar, when the doors open at 4 in the morning, a lamp is lit, there are fresh flowers at her feet and the water has been filled in the bowl beside her. The brothers have offered their prayers because without their offering, the devi will not accept anything from the anybody else.
Story collected by: Arundhuti Dasgupta
Text Source: (For stories of Alha,Udal) Rethinking India’s Oral and Classical Epics: Draupadi among Rajputs, Muslims, and Dalits
Every time I visited my grandparents’ house in Salcette Goa, I would accompany Thomas, who worked in our house, to the shrine outside the village. In reality there was no temple or a shrine or even an idol at the spot, but a huge Banyan tree with a hollow base which looked like it was the entrance into a tiny cave. Unlike other temples where there is an idol which is decorated with flowers and perfumes and the place is buzzing with devotees, this shrine was stark, empty and devoid of any decorations. However, there were signs that oil lamps were being lit regularly as dark soot had blackened the roots of the Banyan tree.
Every Wednesday, we would walk up to the village boundary where the tree was located with a bottle of country liquor and a roti or bread made of husk with a preparation of meat placed on top. We would also carry a small bottle of oil to light the lamp. I had also seen people leaving leather shoes and rough woolen shawls (kambal) under this tree. Thomas would light the lamp and then ask me to place the food and liquor at the base of the tree. Our offerings were always made after the sunset. Before leaving we would fold our hands in reverence, circumambulate the tree once and quietly walk away without talking. Thomas would warn me not to look behind.
Curious about the entire proceedings I once asked my granny: “For whom do we carry this food?” She said, “He is our Rakhno.” Rakhno in the language of the region (Konkani) means protector. A guardian spirit. For us Rakhno was a village spirit who protected all of us. We worshipped him and at the same time feared him.
No one knew how he looked but there were many opinions — some said that he was a tall man who was dressed like a shepherd. He wore a woolen shawl on his shoulders and carried a wooden staff. Some believed that he carried a sword rode a horse and always moved with a band of followers. What everyone agreed on was that he had a fearsome gaze and that if you looked into his eyes you would either end up dead or crazy.
My mother had her own story of Rakhno which I have tried to tell in her words, as I remember it:
“Once I and my friend went to the riverside to play. The river was little distance away from the centre of the town. We were there a long time and got so busy gathering pebbles that we did not realize that the sun had set and night was approaching. We were alone and the darkness made us afraid so we began to cry. Suddenly we heard a male voice calling out to us. “What are you two girls doing so late in the evening?” His voice was rough and commanding.
Frozen with fear, we could not speak. We could not see him but the voice was clearly emanating from a few feet away. He rebuked us for being out so late and said he would drop us home. “I will walk behind you” he said. “Now get moving”, he ordered.
We clutched each other and began walking. We could hear the sound of leather shoes marking the road behind us. It was a peculiar sound, that which you hear when someone walks in a new pair of shoes. He was probably carrying a wooden staff which he banged on the ground with every step he took. His footsteps were very heavy so we presumed he must be a tall man. We reached my friend’s home and the sound of the staff stopped. In a gruff tone he asked my friend to run into her house. “Don’t look back”, he warned. I realized I was all alone. I could see the lights of my house in the distance. I began to run but my feet were getting heavy. I was sweating and panting profusely and as soon I stepped onto the doorway I collapsed. I don’t remember anything after that…”
My Granny believed it was Rakhno who had safely brought her daughter home. Since then she had set up this practice of sending food to this village deity every Wednesday.
Location: Salcette . Goa
Tags: Village spirit God, Rakhno, Village guardian, belief, meat, food offerings,