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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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mandapal and Lapita

A love story from the epic Mahabharata.

Lapita was the daughter of a sage and was brought up in a hermitage. Though she was brought up in the confines of an ashram, she had a favourite spot in the forest, which was a small heaven for her. It was lush green bower, with sweet fragrant flowers and humming bees all around. At this place, once she had offered water to two thirsty Kinnars, who in return had offered her a boon. The simple Lapita did not know what to ask for. So she asked instead, “What can you offer me?”

Kinnars were mythical creatures, and they said that all they could offer was a life like theirs. Lapita wondered what kind of a life would that be? “A life of love and that of a lover and none other. There was no place for a third in their love, not even offspring’s, but a life of everlasting love.” Said the Kinnars. Lapita wondered if that was life at all, and the Kinnars assured her that it sure was life. Lapita opted for a life of everlasting love and since then was waiting for her lover in this bower of hers.

Sitting in the swing in her bower, she would wait for her lover, for she had faith in her boon and love. Some days were days of longing and some days the loneliness pained. But she knew that love was not far and soon, her lover would come for her.
 
Painting by Raja Ravi Varma
One spring morning, she found a handsome rishi, the most handsome rishi she had ever seen, standing in front of her bower. He was Mandapal, who had once embraced the life of celibacy to seek knowledge. His father had suggested that he get married and live the life of a householder, to ensure salvation of his and his ancestors. While he had not quite heeded his father’s wishes and that of the society, he was also told that there was a girl Jarita, who was waiting for him and would marry none but him. The thought of such a person waiting for someone giving up on normal life intrigued the seeker of knowledge and thus had decided to seek her out and so he was on his way to the Khandavprastha, the forest where Jarita dwelled.

Lapita wondered what made Mandapal seek Jarita suddenly. Mandapal replied that he had realised that there was no life without a wife and offspring’s and that he had to attain completion. Lapita laughed and wondered what kind of a life would that be when more than two is a crowd? Lapita espoused the life of love which had space for none between two lovers. Mandapal was unsure if that was life and wondered who this woman was. Lapita assured him that she too was a mortal and knew that such life did exist and was more enjoyable than what Mandapal was seeking.

Mandapal couldn't help but exclaim that while Lapita sure was beautiful, the same couldn't be said of her thoughts. “I have never come across a plant which didn't like flowers”, and with these words Mandapal left the bower of Lapita. But Lapita’s eyes had found whom she was seeking and knew that this was her love. She called Mandapal and said that he could go seek a life that he wanted, but she had found hers. She would love none but him and wait for him. From, then onwards, her eyes would seek and wait for none but Mandapal. Mandapal saw the pained and sad face of Lapita and moved on.

Jarita was ecstatic to see Mandapal. Her happiness knew no bounds when she saw him and her prayers answered. The two got married and time flew fast. The marriage yielded children, as desired by them and the society and soon Jarita got busy with life, family and children. Mandapal was beginning to feel a void in his life as he found Jarita always busy with their four children. Mandapal’s love was seeking a partner and he never found Jarita with him, even when the two were alone, as she was always preoccupied by the thoughts of her children and their needs and wants. Mandapal’s heart felt lonely. Jarita realised it and assured him that on the full moon night, she would meet her as before.

That night Mandapal met Jarita with garland with the choicest of fragrant flowers. But just when he was about to garland her, Jarita rushed to attend to one of their children, who she thought had called for her. Mandapal’s unfulfilled love burnt him inside and he left home. He soon found himself at the bower of Lapita who was waiting for Mandapal ever since he had left the bower many years back. Lapita had vowed that her partner would be none other than the handsome rishi Mandapal and she welcomed him. Mandapal garlanded Lapita and lived a life of love and joy, till.....

One day, Mandapal noticed Lord Hutashan, the god of fire heading towards Khandavprastha in what seemed to be a bid to consume the forest. This disturbed Mandapal, as his cottage was in the same forest. Lapita noticed the disturbed face of Mandapal and asked him the cause of his concern. When Mandapal told her that he was worried about the safety of his children, Lapita was saddened to see, that Mandapal’s heart still ached for someone other than her. When Mandapal decided to pray to Lord Hutashan, she got angry, but agreed to join Mandapal in his entreaties to the lord of fire.

Mandapal was relieved when Lord Hutashan agreed to spare the single hut of Mandapal, but Lapita was disturbed to learn that Mandapal had not erased the memories of his first love. She could not reconcile with the fact that Mandapal’s heart still ached for Jarita, who he had wanted to be spared. Mandapal was saddened at Lapita’s jealousy and wondered as to what kind of a heart could even think that a man’s heart would not ache for his children and his wife who had done no harm to him. Mandapal, realised that this was not the life he had wanted as this had no place for anyone, not even ones loved ones, and he decided to leave Lapita and return to the mother of his children. Mandapal heard Lapita say, “If you don’t return to me, then I will tear this garland and curse the objects of your love and attention.”

Jarita received Mandapal, but the joy was missing. She had welcomed the father of her children but this was not the man who she had loved. Mandapal had returned for her children and not for her, she said. But Mandapal assured her that he had returned to his home and his life of love. Today he had understood the true meaning of love and his love had found its true meaning. His life was nothing without both Jarita and their children. He had got lost in seeking pleasure and not love. But now he had found love.

Mandapal drew Jarita closer to him, but just then Lapita sprang in front of them from nowhere. She had the same garland which Mandapal had given to her when he had come to her bower. Her eyes gleaming had Mandapal worried. At last she said, “Don’t worry Mandapal, I will do nothing to you as I accept defeat. Defeat not from you or from your wife, who sure is more beautiful than me. But defeat from those who have made your wife more beautiful than me. The precious gems which adorn her, your children.” Mandapal pleaded to Lapita not to curse his children, as they were most precious to him than any wealth of the world and so was Jarita who had enabled the wealth to him.

Lapita stared at Mandapal’s sad and helpless face.
She held the torn garland in her hand, and with sadness on her face, said, “No, rishi Mandapal. This garland that you had given me, will now adorn your precious gems. I have not come to curse, but to see, what I have lost. They, who have defeated me, will adorn this garland.” So saying, Lapita garlanded the children of Mandapal and left.....

.......left for her bower, Lapita still alone, but waiting for none.

Here's wishing all my readers a very Happy Valentine's Day!!





This is an abridged version of the English translation by Pradip Bhattacharya, of a Bengali story written by Subodh Ghosh.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Eros and Psyche

Psyche was one of the three daughters of a King. Amongst the daughters Psyche was very beautiful so much so, that she seemed like a goddess amongst mortals and soon became well known for her beauty. Men from far would come to witness her beauty, and soon, people started comparing her with Aphrodite and felt that Psyche was more beautiful than her. When Aphrodite heard about Psyche’s beauty, she was jealous and summoned her son, Eros (also referred to as Cupid in some stories) and ordered him to cast a spell on Psyche, so as to ensure that nobody would want to marry her. Eros flew down to the earth to follow his mother’s instructions.

Eros picked up one of his magical arrows (so that his magic could work as per Aphrodite’s desire), but at that very moment she opened her eyes. When Eros saw the beautiful Psyche, he was so moved by her beauty, that by mistake he pricked his own self with one of his magical arrows. As destiny would have it, he fell in love with Psyche immediately. In love, Eros regretted what he had done, so he sprinkled a magic potion on her eyelids to ensure that she found all the love and happiness in life. With a heavy heart, Eros left, but not before doing what his mother wanted him to do, albeit with a heavy heart.

Sure enough, as Aphrodite had willed, nobody was willing to get married to Psyche. Her parents were worried that they must have earned the wrath of the Gods, asked an Oracle to reveal her future. The Oracle said that no mortal would marry her, but there was a monster at the top of the mountain who would marry her and that they should leave her there adorned in mourning clothes.

Giving in to what was destined for Psyche, her parents along with her, headed for the mountains. When they were close to the peak, a gentle breeze lifted Psyche and took her to the top of mountain. On reaching the peak, she came across a beautiful palace decorated and lit up for a wedding. The palace was all set for a grand princely wedding but there were no guests. Psyche soon realised that there were invisible servants waiting on her and escorting her along. At night, when it was very dark, she felt the presence of a prince. The prince was very gentle and nice and assured her that he would love her no matter what. He was very romantic and Psyche instantly fell in love with him. But the prince made a condition, that she should never insist on seeing him, and if she did, he would have to leave. Psyche started living a life of romance and was happy in ignorance, that the Prince was none other than Eros himself.


Needless to say that Aphrodite was not aware of all this and Eros was happy with this arrangement. But during the day Psyche would feel lonely and started missing her family members. She pleaded with Eros, to allow her to get her sisters to visit her. Though Eros warned her that it would lead to trouble, Psyche would not hear, and Eros gave in to her request. When her sisters saw her opulence, they were jealous. When they came to know about Psyche’s unique relationship with her ‘husband’ and the fact that she had not even seen her husband, they were even more worried. They revealed to her about the Oracles prophesy and convinced Psyche that her lover was a monstrous creature. Psyche was falling prey to all this and one night agreed to check out on her husband as suggested by the sisters.

On the fateful night, Psyche went to bed with a candle and a dagger. If she found out in the light that the Prince was a monster, then she should kill him with the dagger. But in the light of the candle when she saw that her husband was the most handsome young man in the world, she was happy. In her delight a drop of candle fell on Eros who woke up to find Psyche staring at him. A disappointed Eros left the palace saying where there was no trust, there could be no love. Psyche pleaded with him, but it was too late. Psyche, was not willing to give up and decided that she would get him back, no matter what she had to do.

Aphrodite soon learnt about her son’s disobedience and decided to punish Psyche by making her suffer. Psyche by now had offered prayers to all gods to help her, decided to approach Aphrodite directly. This further infuriated Aphrodite, who decided to put her through trouble. On sighting Psyche, she dumped a pile of seeds of different kinds and ordered her to separate then by sundown. The pile would have taken Psyche hundreds of years to sort, but moved by her beauty; hordes of ants came from nowhere and did the job in no time. On seeing the work done meticulously, Aphrodite decided to give her a much tougher job.

This time she ordered her to collect wool from the fiercest man-eating sheep that lived in the midst of the thorn-bushes near the river. Psyche knew that attempting it would mean sure death, but she decided to do this for her love, even if it meant death. When she reached close to the thorn-bushes, she heard a voice which told her to wait till it got dark, when the sheep would leave the bushes and she could collect all the wool that was stuck on the thorns. When Aphrodite saw the wool, she was very angry with Psyche’s success. Aphrodite knew that she had been helped by some force, as both the tasks were beyond the might of a mere mortal.

Aphrodite then decided to test her once again. This time she was asked to fill a jar with the dark waters of River Styx from its source, which was from a huge waterfall. This was an impossible task, as the source was high above a mountain peak and it would be impossible to reach up there, as the rocks were steep and slimy. But as always, she got help here too. An eagle, supposed to be that of Zeus, took the jar from her hand and flew up to the source and returned the jar to Psyche.

Charon Psyche
By now, Aphrodite was raging in anger to see Psyche succeed in every instance, which seemed impossible. She tried one last time to get rid of her completely. This time she gave her a box and ordered her to take it to Persephone in the Underworld and ask her to fill the box with some beauty potion, as Aphrodite was worn-out and needed the potion to enhance her looks. However, Psyche was not to open the box once Persephone had given it to her. Psyche understood that this was her sure elimination, but she decided to give it a try. On
the way to the Underworld, she got advised by a voice from a tower, which told her exactly what to do. In the earth, she would find a hole and deep inside she would find the river of death. There she would have to give a penny to Charon, the ferryman who took the dead to the other side of the river. She was advised to carry some bread with her as Cereberus, the three headed dog which guarded the doors of the Underworld could be appeased only by that. Everything went as advised, and soon she got the box with the potion and was on her way back. But yet again the advice of not opening a box given to a woman, failed (This is Utkarsh Speaking: The Gift of Fire)! Psyche decided to see and probably use the beauty potion for herself. When she opened the box, she found it empty, but as soon as she opened it, she passed into a deep slumber.

Eros who had been silently helping Psyche right from sending the ants and advising her at each step decided that Psyche had gone through enough. With one of his arrows he revived her and sought the help of the gods, to win his love.


Zeus, who was aware of everything, said that Eros had proved his love for Psyche time and again and Psyche too had reciprocated by being patient and obedient in love, and decided that it was time to unite them. Since Psyche was a mortal and could not live with them like one, she was given the ambrosial nectar of the gods which made her one of them. Aphrodite was no longer jealous of Psyche as she didn’t resent a beautiful goddess and decided to bless the union of Eros and Psyche.

This love story of romance, patience and perseverance has given rise to many a well-known story in later times, the most famous being, ‘Beauty and the Beast’.


One more tomorrow for the Valentine Day! Keep reading!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Navagunjara

Mythology is replete with interesting mythical creatures, some like Kamdhenu, Garuda, Narasimha, Hanuman, or the Greek Centaur and the Egyptian Sphinx to the dangerous ones like Gorgons or the Greae or even the chimera. The one thing common to all of them is that they have been extremely awe-inspiring and at times creative to the last bit.

Many of the above are known to us as our basic knowledge of mythology or have been part of childhood fiction. However, I came across one such interesting creature, which finds a mention only in the Oriya version of the epic Mahabharata, by Adikavi Sarala Dasa. He has created an excellent example of an enigma of a creature, known as Navagunjara, which finds artistic expression in the local paintings better known as Pata-chitra and the Ganjifa playing cards. But first the creature.

During the exile of the Pandavas, once Arjuna was performing penance in the hills of Manibhadra. When Krishna came to know about it, he decided to test Arjuna as it had been a long time since he had met Arjuna. Krishna assumed the form of the Navagunjara, an animal composed of nine different animals. The Navagunara had the head of a rooster, and stood on three feet, each of which was of an elephant, a tiger and the deer or a horse. The fourth limb was a raised human arm carrying a lotus. The creature further had the neck of a peacock the hump of a camel (which incidentally also was in the shape of a linga), the waist of a lion, and the tail was a serpent.
(Courtesy - Rare Book Society  of India *)
When Krishna in the form of the Navagunjara presented himself in front of Arujuna, he was both terrified and baffled. He picked up his bow and arrow to shoot the creature, but paused for a moment trying to understand the creature. How could such a creature exist? Just what could it be? It was at this stage that he understood that this must be none other than Krishna testing him. He immediately bowed his head and sought his blessings.

One wonders what this could be all about. Is it about the ability of Krishna to assume an unexplainable form? Or is it about the limitless creativity of the Creator? As mentioned earlier, this episode is found in no other version of Mahabharata, except in the version by Sarala Dasa. The author’s creativity is full of symbolism and metaphors. Many have compared this with the virata-swaroop of Krishna, except that this one is a baffling form, which is not explained or probably left unexplained.

The Navagunjara is seen as the unfathomable possibility of nature and at times its incomprehensible aspects. The creative manifestation of god and the capability to evoke a sense of awe is unimaginable. The form also implies that not all aspects of god can be understood, no matter how knowledgeable one is, like Arjuna, who was very close to Krishna. Human mind or brain has limitations and some things are beyond the scope of human understanding. While Arjuna was amazed at his own inability to explain the existence of such a creature, his picking up the bow without giving it a thought is an example of human reaction, when there is no prior knowledge of such situations.

While the episode does not have any major bearing
Neela-chakra
on the narrative by itself, it was pregnant with symbols and created a deep impact on the belief system of the locals. Besides being a prominent aspect of Oriya art, as mentioned earlier, it finds a place in the form of a sculpture on the famous Lord Jagannath Temple walls in Puri, Orissa, besides the eight of them crafted on the Neela-chakra or the disc above the temple.

Needless to say, that among all the mythical creatures that I have come across, I find this the most enigmatic. Another such creature that comes to my mind is the Sharabha form of Lord Shiva, though not as creative or metaphorical as Navagunjara.



*Image source - The Metropolitan Museum of Art with Prashanth Nair

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

She is 16, going on 17...

Our bundle of joy
Came after much pain that night...
She didn't seem to be in a hurry to enter the world
She sure did make her mother wait
She sure did make her father bite all the nails of his fingers
She sure did make things a trifle tough for all waiting for her

But that was some 17 years back.

From crawling to walking
Time flew
From mumbling to speaking (& pretty fast at that)
Time flew
From asking to asserting
Time did fly
From holding my finger to directing me by my arm
Time did fly pretty fast
From tiny frocks to shorts
Time didn't wait for me to catch up
From shorts to shorts-skirts
She didn't give us time


And yesterday, she draped herself in the 6-yards 
Time – I said Wait
Wait, I don’t want her to grow so fast
Wait, the world is not good enough for her
Wait, I can’t be with her everywhere
Wait, she is growing young, but I ain't
Wait, she is just a little girl, she needs some time

I was nudged out of my reverie,
When an arm slid down my side and a voice said,
“Are you OK Dad, do you need some help?”

There was my little girl, nay, a lovely lady,
Looking resplendent in her long hair and tall frame
With wings ready to flap confidently
A smile that told me “Chill Dad!”
Her fingers arranging my upturned collar
“Look at you Dad, when will you grow up?”

And I just mumbled – 
I don’t want to grow up my dear
As that will add years to you.....




The last time she grew up, was My Guddi Moment 




Friday, January 2, 2015

Baku – the dream eater

Dreams have been every child’s own world. I have yet to come across a child, who hasn’t dreamt about something and is simply too eager to talk about it. As a child, I was no different; rather the recollection of my dreams were so vivid, that many a times my mother thought I was weaving yarns! But childhood sleep was not just about dreams and fantasies, there were nightmares too. While I didn’t wake up with a jolt as we see them in the movies, I did wake up a lot disturbed. Tried many means of avoiding them, some worked, if there were none that night, while many didn’t. If only I had known about Baku, way back then.

Baku, also known as the dream-eater, is a mythological creature from the Chinese and Japanese folklore which eats up nightmares! It has an interesting description, more like a chimera (a Greek hybrid mythological creature), a beast made out of different parts of animals. Baku has been depicted as an animal which has body of a bear, the nose and tusks of an elephant, feet like a tiger, tail of an ox and the eyes of a rhinoceros. It is said that Baku was created with the left-over pieces of animals after God had finished creating the other animals.
Baku (Pic courtesy - www.hyakumonogatari.com)
Baku has undergone change over time. Ancient Chinese legends spoke about hunting Baku’s and hanging their skins on the walls of the bedroom to avoid nightmares. But now, hanging pictures of Baku on the wall was good enough to ward off the nightmares. When a Chinese or a Japanese child wakes up in the middle of the night due to a nightmare, the child says “Baku, come and eat my dream” three times and goes back to sleep. Baku is then supposed to eat the nightmares and relieve the child of the trauma. However, one should be cautious enough of the severity of the nightmare before calling. If the nightmare is not very severe, then the Baku is not left with much to eat. Under such circumstances, it might end up feeding on to the dreams, hopes and desires of the child, which could be counter-productive. Thus it is important to understand when to call Baku. It acts as a deterrent to nightmares if summoned before falling asleep and thus it is quite common to find, Baku talisman at the bedsides of Japanese children.
Baku at the Konnoh Hachimangu Shrine, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan
Though a number of colourful depictions of Baku in its original descriptions are found, in Japan it is also depicted like a tapir (a pig like animal with a long snout), since the kanji (Japanese form of writing) for Baku is same as that of the tapir. According to a modern tradition, children sleep with small Baku amulets under their pillows between Jan 1st and 2nd, and if they have good dreams, then its an indication of a good year ahead! To avoid a nightmare, just invoke the Baku before going to sleep and you will be relieved of a bad year!

Bakumon
In modern times, Baku in the form of a tapir has found a representation in well-known series like the Pokemon as the character Bakumon, who can hurl ‘undigested nightmares’ at the opponent in the terror of nightmares!



So here’s wishing all of you a very happy new year and a year where your dreams are fulfilled and nightmares are eaten away by Baku!!