A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.


This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Gurudakshina

Have you ever wondered why there are different rules for different people? A recent article in the newspaper said, that the rich and powerful go unpunished or get bails in days (or hours in certain cases), and the poor languish in jails for years without trials. Why are there different rules for different people, one for the poor and one for the rich and powerful?

The answer to it probably lies in an interesting episode in the Odiya Mahabharata which in a way highlights this aspect.

Rishi Sandipani was the guru of Lord Krishna and Balarama. As per the rules of the times, Krishna and Balarama used to stay at the ashram of the sage. Once the sage had gone to bathe in the rivers, and lost his son in a huge wave. They could not even retrieve the body of the child. This loss had brought immense sadness to the sage and his wife, as they had already lost sons earlier, and this was their last child alive. The sage and his wife decided to end their lives as there was no desire to live.

Krishna and Balarama were very intelligent as students. Everything needed to be taught only once. They had finished their education and it was soon time for them to leave. But seeing the guru distraught due to the loss of their son, they decided to stay on for some more time, though there was nothing more for them to learn.

However, it was soon time to leave. Krishna approached the sage and offered guru-dakshina (his fees) before leaving. The sage desired nothing as he craved for no wealth, as there was none to inherit it. When Krishna insisted, since an education that has not been paid for was of no use, the sages wife said, that if he must, then he should bring their son back to life. While this was not quite possible and against the norm, Krishna did not say anything, though he felt that the sage lost an opportunity to seek moksha for himself.

Krishna approached the god of the seas, Varuna who told Krishna that the child was not with him, but at Yamaloka. Popular versions say, that the child was killed by the demon, Shankhasura (conch demon), who had made his home in a conch named the panchajanya. Krishna took the panchajanya, and blew it in the presence of Yama and sought the release of the sage’s son. Yama gives in and Krishna returns with the sage’s son, and since then Krishna is said to have retained his conch, the panchajanya.

The Odiya version however differs here slightly. On learning from Varuna about the child being in Yamaloka, Krishna approached Yama. When Yama sees Krishna, he asks him for the reason of his visit, and that too when he was an avatara. The inmates of the Yamaloka who were undergoing torture and pain, felt a great relief by the presence of Krishna. The dialogue between Krishna and Yama is interesting.

Krishna reprimands Yama for taking the lives of children, when they have committed no crimes, the logic being that they have not even had time or the maturity to commit crimes or sins. Children were not sinners, so ending their lives, was unfair. To this Yama said, that children did not die early because of their sins; they died because of the sins of their parents, especially the sexual transgressions of their parents. That was the law of the mankind. Strangely people never blamed themselves and would blame destiny and Yama for such tragedies. Interestingly, Yama then accuses Krishna, of the same! He then tells Krishna, that it is strange that the rules of the humans was seemingly not followed by the Lord himself, as he was seen indulging in the most irresponsible sexual dalliances with many and that too in what seemed to be in a casual manner. Yama continued, that if avatars (and great lives) like him indulged in such activities, what examples would they be setting on ordinary mortals?

While Yama was correct in his argument, the devotee in the author of this version gives the following explanation. Krishna is supposed to have said, that if that was the logic of early deaths of children, then let from that day all children born out of any union with him not be seen as the children of sexual transgression. While he accepted that he was guilty of improper sexual unions with many, let them not be seen as sexual misdemeanours and the women not be seen as violators. While Yama could continue his justice all over the world, he should leave his offspring untouched. Yama did not argue (and accepted the words), giving birth to a well-known Odiya proverb – “bada lokanku uttara nahi” – there is no answer to the great men; to further paraphrase – the powerful are above the law!!

Krishna however returns with the child of the sage and hands him over to the sage who was very happy, though he realised that his student had done something against the norms of nature and what seemed to be a lurking doubt in his mind, was a surety now. The sage realised that the student was none other than Narayan himself. The sage also realised his mistake of not seeking his moksha, the ultimate goal of all lives. The author of the Odiya version ends very beautifully by saying, that the sage must have realised that when the defining moment comes, it is always the nara who fails the Narayana, never the other way round!

Rishi Sandipani’s ashram is said to be situated in the modern city if Ujjain, MP, India, and is a place of reverence for many believers.


Based on the English translation of the Odiya Mahabharat by Shri B. N. Patnaik.




Thursday, July 16, 2015

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dasaratha’s Children

The Dasaratha Jataka  (DJ) is a version of Ramayana, which is quit distinct from the Valmiki version of the epic. It relates the story of King Dasaratha of Benares, his sons, Rama and Lakkhana, their sister, Sita, and half-brother, Bharata. There is no Shatrughna.
King Dasaratha has three children by his chief queen: Rama, Lakkhana and Sita. The chief queen dies and is superseded by a queen who bears a son called Bharata. At this the king is so pleased that he promises to grant her a wish. Soon the queen decides to check if the King was serious about his wish. When Bharata is seven, she asks that he be made king. Horrified, Dasaratha refuses. But the Queen persists. The King grew worried at thought that his queen was a treacherous woman, and if the children of his first wife, remained at the palace, she might cause them harm; maybe even murder. So he calls the three siblings and advises them to go into exile for their own safety. They should return when he died and take over the throne, he says.
Sita decides to accompany her brothers. The three settled in a hermitage in the Himalayas. Lakkhana and Sita decide they go about with the task of gathering food for the three of them, as Rama was the eldest. The soothsayers had predicted that the King would live for twelve more years. The soothsayers had predicted that the King would live for twelve more years. But King Dasaratha was so upset with the absence of his children that he died after nine years, not twelve.
On his death Bharata went with the army to fetch Rama back. They camped near the spot, and with just a few ministers entered the hermitage at a time when Lakkhana and Sita had gone into the jungle. Rama was sitting by the entrance, fearless and at ease, like a well set up golden image. Bharata went up and greeted him, stood to one side, and told him the news of the king. He and his ministers fell at Rama’s feet and wept.
Rama neither grieved nor wept; his senses were not even disturbed. When Bharata had wept and sat down, in the evening the other two arrived with roots and fruit. Rama thought, that Lakkhana and Sita were young and lacked his power of comprehension. If they were told of their father’s death, they might not be able to bear the grief and their hearts may burst. He decided that he would break the news to them gently.
He indicated to a pond and said, ‘You are late. Your punishment is to go into the water and stay there.’ They did so, and Rama said that Bharata had brought the sad news of the death of their father, King Dasaratha. At this they fainted. Twice more he tells them, twice more they faint. Then he took them out of the water. Once they were comforted, all of them wept again, except Rama.
Bharata then asked Rama why he is not grieving and Rama gives him the following explanation –
“When man can never keep a thing, though loudly he may cry,
Why should a wise intelligence torment itself thereby?
“The young in years, the older grown, the fool, and eke the wise,
For rich, for poor one end is sure: each man among them dies.
As sure as for the ripened fruit there comes the fear of fall,
So surely comes the fear of death to mortals one and all.
“Who in the morning light are seen by evening oft are gone,
And seen at evening time, is gone by morning many a one.
“If to a fool infatuate a blessing could accrue
When he torments himself with tears, the wise this same would do.
“By this tormenting of himself he waxes thin and pale;
This cannot bring the dead to life, and nothing tears avail.
“Even as a blazing house may be put out with water, so
The strong, the wise, the intelligent, who well the scriptures know,
Scatter their grief like cotton when the stormy winds do blow.
“One mortal dies—to kindred ties born is another straight:
Each creature’s bliss dependent is on ties associate.
“The strong man therefore, skilled in sacred text,
Keen-contemplating this world and the next,
Knowing their nature, not by any grief,
However great, in mind and heart is vext.
“So to my kindred I will give, them will I keep and feed,
All that remain I will maintain: such is the wise man’s deed.”
Rama explained the concept of ‘impermanence’ of things through the words.
After that Rama said that his exile had three more years to run, but gave Bharata his straw sandals to rule in his stead. Bharata returned with Lakkhana and Sita. The sandals were put on the throne when the ministers give judgment, and if the judgment was wrong they clapped together, if it was right they stayed quiet. After three years Rama returned home; he married Sita and ruled for sixteen thousand years. The whole point being made in this version is that Rama is the Bodhisattva, and as such gives an object lesson in controlling one’s feelings. From the Buddhist point of view the kernel is reached with the second verse, when Bharata asks: “Rama, by what power do you not grieve at what is grievous? You hear that father is dead but sorrow does not overcome you.” This is most unlike the Rama of the Ramayana, who faints at the news and then laments at length. He acts in accord with Hindu values. The author of the DJ is criticizing those values and saying, “Our idea of a hero is that he acts like this.”
This version however, does not proceed to take on the epic proportions that the Valmiki version does. There is no kidnapping and therefore no Ravana, Hanuman, et al.

TEXT SOURCE: The Dasaratha Jataka, Story number 461, Jataka Tales
LOCATION: Pan India
IMAGE SOURCE: Wikipedia
First Published in "Talking Myths Project" - Dasaratha's Children )

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Just what was He thinking when He shook the earth?

The recent Nepal tragedy has set me thinking again, not that I ever stopped doing that! But on a serious note, it set me on the path of stuff like faith, belief in god and such.

A newspaper article mentioned about a person, who had organised a ritual ‘saptahik pooja’ in the local parlance, on the fateful day, in Nepal. About 52 close family members had gathered for this religious ritual, of which only 9 have survived the earthquake! The 25-year old moans the death of more than 40 relatives, an entire generation, including his grandfather, his mother, all her sisters, his brother, and many others. According to him “....we were conducting the pooja to make the gods happy, they instead gave us their wrath.” Not surprisingly, he has lost faith in god. (Times of India, dt. 29/4/15, Mumbai edition).
(Courtesy - Indianexpress.com)
My god believing (or was it ‘fearing’?) mother tried her level best to instil some semblance of faith in god in me and did manage to succeed till I learnt to question; questions based on the tenets of rationality at an age when questions were natural. My mother would always justify tragedies with different words like destiny, karma, actions of the past life, etc. without much help though! Neither my mother, nor anybody could help much and questions gathered in tonnes while answers were scarce. With a growing scepticism towards god/faith and at an age when it was both natural (as well as fashionable), I only moved away from the ‘idea of god’ in the traditional sense.

When I read about instances like that of the Nepali youngster mentioned earlier, I only end up revisiting the same questions again. Faith, destiny, karma, actions of the past life, etc. haunt me with the same vigour as they did since the time my religious mom explained to me the causes of tragedies, both personal as well as common ones. Are these for real I wonder? Are these answers or escapism? Are these efforts to explain the unexplainable or simply make silly efforts to justify the presence of god and instil fearfulness in the gullible?

This takes me back to my childhood days, when the efforts of my mom met with the efforts of my English teacher, who taught me Abou Ben Adhem, by Leigh Hunt (For the full poem - http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173698). While I might not have quite comprehended the poem, when it was taught to me (Std V), it did leave a lasting impression on me, the impact of which was realised much later in life. According to this poem, when Abou learns that his name is not in the list of people who love god, he requested that his name be added in the list of people who love their fellow men. Next day, he learns that his name leads the names of all those people whom God loves! While no angel has as yet showed me any list of this kind, and I am no Abou, this poem, for me, generates immense faith in mankind.

When I read about people who perform selfless service, or jump to death to save some children or people, it gives me a lot of assurance that faith in humanity is a lot more rewarding. People who risk their lives in the face of adversities of different kinds, or save hundreds, without caring for their lives, be it the unknown jawan in the army, or a 10-year old who scares a tiger away, or a girl who braves the extremists to go to school and ends up with a bullet in her head, I feel much assured by mankind. If nothing, I can repose my faith in man, who is visible and understandable, than the god, who is unfathomable. Why else would he retain his house and reduce that of the humans to rubble?  
(Courtesy - Telegraph.co.uk)
At the end of the day, my faith in humanity is restored, however, can’t say how further I am from divinity! So whatever he was thinking when he shook the earth, Mankind will triumph in the face of all adversities.

Trust me, for I ain’t god!




Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Handicapped Ravan

This is a story that is part of the oral narrative traditions of the Kunknas, who have their own version of Ramayan. The Kunknas are a coastal tribe found in an area called Dangs which is a region located on the borders of South Gujarat & Maharashtra, states of India. Many of them speak a dialect known as Dangi, which is a mix of languages, namely Gujarati, Marathi and a bit of Hindi.

The Kunkna Ramayan starts with the story of Ravan and explores the life and times of the demon king for a significant part of the epic. The story goes that once there was a king, who had seven sons. Though he was a King he lived like an ordinary man and worked hard for a living. Out of the seven sons, six were able bodied, but the youngest one had no arms and legs, just the torso and a head. His name was Ravan. Ravan could do very little by himself. So all day, he would lie in a corner and depend on his siblings and parents for almost every task that he had to undertake.

Soon the six sons grew up and were married. While they did continue to take care of Ravan, they were beginning to get tired of looking after him. One day the six brothers and their wives decided to throw him out of the house and asked him to take care of himself. Ravan pleaded and cried, but the brothers threw him out saying that Mahadeo, their Lord must have decided his fate such, and who were they to interfere with his justice? If he wanted justice then he might as well go and approach Mahadeo.

Ravan had no choice and so tumbling and turning, he crossed fields and jungles and reached the shrine of Mahadeo. Bleeding and bruised, he started his penance. After about six months, Mahadeo who had seen everything and was impressed by Ravan’s ability to survive despite all odds, appeared before him and asked him to seek a boon. Ravan said that all he wanted was legs and arms. Mahadeo took him to his abode and asked him to rest for the night.

Next day, Mahadeo told Ravan that he had to visit Earth to feed the birds and bees and that he should wait until evening when he would be back. Before leaving, Mahadeo warned him not to enter a particular room, as that would bring him trouble. Ravan felt slighted. He was sad that Mahadeo cared less for him than he did for his birds and bees. He felt that there was no one in the entire universe that wanted him and life was not worth living anymore.

Ravan decided to end his life. He pushed open the door that Mahadeo had asked him to leave alone and entered the forbidden room. But before he could take a look around him, he felt himself falling down a well. He was drowning and in order to survive, he swallowed water from the well, one, two, three....nine mouthfuls. And no sooner had he done that, there sprang nine heads on this shoulders, nine arms on each of his sides and two legs. Ravan was shocked at this development. But he managed to pull himself out of the well and out of the room. He came out to find Mahadeo waiting for him. Ravan appealed to him for help, but Mahadeo threw his hands up in despair. He expressed his inability to do anything, since Ravan had drunk the water from the well of life which had given him all those heads and arms. Ravan didn’t know what to do. He was worried, who would give him work? Sorry for him Mahadeo said, that he would give him a piece of land called Lanka and he could rule that place. Ravan accepted the offer since there seemed to be nothing else that Mahadeo could do.

While leaving the abode of Mahadeo, Ravan saw Parvati climbing the stairs with a pot of water. Ravan again approached Mahadeo and said that since he had agreed to give him whatever he had asked for, he wanted Parvati for a wife, as he would never get any woman to marry him. Mahadeo reluctantly gave him Parvati. Ravan rushed to his land with Parvati closely following him.

All this was being observed by the assembly of the gods in Dwarka. Narandev, decided to intervene. He took the form of a local tribal and placed himself on the path that Ravan would take with an old buffalo. Ravan saw him pushing the buffalo and as he came closer, Narandev asked for help. On enquiring, Narandev said that the buffalo was a gift from Mahadeo, whom he had been serving for long, but as usual he had been cheated. The buffalo was old and useless. When Narandev learnt that the woman with Ravan was Parvati, Narandev told him, that he had been visiting Mahadeo for many years and he knew this wasn’t Parvati, but some maid, while Mahadeo’s wife was very beautiful. He should go back and check.

A furious Ravan, fell for Narandev’s words and decided to go back. Narandev in the meanwhile picked up a frog from the lake and changed it into a beautiful lady and took her to Mahadeo’s abode. On reaching there, he explained everything to Mahadeo and told him to hand over the woman when Ravan asked for her. But things did not go as smoothly as expected. One glance from Mahadeo made the frog woman conceive. She waspregnant. When Ravan came, he saw the woman standing who was better dressed and more beautiful than the one he had taken along. So he asked for the woman and returned Parvati. Mahadeo did as advised and Ravan decided to leave with the woman.

On the way, they decided to take some rest. Ravan laid his head on the lap of the woman and went off to sleep. The woman meanwhile was drawn towards a few frogs frolicking in the nearby lake. She decided to join them. She folded her saree neatly into tiny layers, kept it under Ravan’s head and joined the other frogs in the lake. When Ravan woke up and didn’t find the woman, he shouted in anger. The loud voice of Ravan shook the earth and created ripples in the water of the lake. The sound of his voice unnerved the woman and in fear, she aborted her foetus which fell out of her womb and was carried away in the waters. When she explained everything to Ravan, he didn’t pay much attention to her and decided to move on. And as the Kunkna Ramayan goes on to reveal, the foetus was later found in one of the nearby fields and the baby grew up to be Sita!