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.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Generous Karna

Karna_sliderThe generosity of Karna is narrated in all version of Mahabharat and is described in great details with tragic consequences, especially, when Lord Indra comes to take the armour and his earrings, just before Karna’s fight with Arjun. But this story, titled as ‘Data Karna’ or Karna the Giver or Generous, written somewhere around 1475, takes it a lot farther to prove his generosity.
According to the Odiya Mahabharat, Arjun was assured by Krishna that at the opportune moment, they would be able to get the armour through Indra. To prove his point, Krishna decided to put Karna through a test. According to Krishna, he would ask Karna to kill his son and serve him as a curry, and if he could do that, then getting the armour would not be very tough.
             Putra marina bhojana deba mote yebe |
             Kabaca kundala niscaye deba Indra ||

             If he kills his son and gives him to me to eat
            Then he will certainly give his armour and earrings to Indra.

Krishna then assumed the form of a Brahmin and went to Karna’s palace. There he was hosted with all the due respect and was asked what would he like for food. Krishna responded by saying that he would prefer meat, and that too human flesh. Karna, was uncomfortable, but agreed to serve and asked as to how many people he would have to kill for this. To this Krishna said that he would have to kill only one person and that too his own son. When Karna protested, Krishna in the form of the Brahmin proceeded to leave.
Karna’s son, Bisikeshana, who was listening to this conversation, ran up to the Brahmin and brought him back. He then urged Karna to do what was asked, as he didn’t want his father to refuse to a Brahmin. Karna wondered if this Brahmin was some demonic enemy of his, but there was no way of finding it out. Karna struck off the head of his son, and soon the body was given to Karna’s wife, Tulasa to cook into a curry. Special instructions were given by the Brahmin for cooking – the body was to be cut into seven pieces, spiced well and made into a curry. Tulasa did as told to her, but hid the head away. When the food was served, Krishna asked for the head, and insisted that the head be chopped in front of him and cooked.
Once the grisly meal was ready and served, Krishna insisted that Karna and his wife partake the meal with him. Reluctantly, they sat with Krishna, but Karna noted an additional space next to Krishna. When asked, Krishna said, it was for Bisikeshana, and asked his mother to call out the name of her son three times. No sooner had the name been uttered the third time, Bisikeshana came running into the room, in his full regalia. Karna immediately realised that this was a test for him.
The Brahmin then assumed the four-armed form of Lord Vishnu and Karna and his wife paid their respects to Krishna.
This story has been found in many a version in Eastern India, with slight variations, be it in Assam, Bengal or even Odisha during the later centuries.

First appeared in the Talking Myths Project - Generous Karna

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Shakuntala - The Woman Wonged - Introduction

Many ask me, how is “Shakuntala – the woman Wronged” different from Kalidasa’s Shakuntala.

Here is an extract from the Introduction of the book –

“………what is lesser known is that Shakuntala is one of the first female characters to appear in the epic Mahabharata written by Maharishi Ved Vyasa. Shakuntala’s story is told in the Sambhava Parva part of the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata. The story is recited by Vaishampayana to Janamejeya. This tale from the Mahabharata was taken by Kalidasa and recreated in his own way into one of the most romantic plays of all times. Many of his other plays were also based on mythology, like Kumarasambhava, Raghuvamsham, Meghaduta, etc.

However, there is a big difference in the original characterization of Shakuntala by Vyasa and the dramatic representation by Kalidasa.

Vyasa’s Shakuntala is the precursor to many of his later heroines in the Mahabharata—strong, decisive and fiery. She had a mind of her own and could stand her ground against the mighty king of Hastinapur, King Dushyant. Also, Dushyant is a king of little character and displays rather loose morals in Vyasa’s Mahabharata, instead of someone who suffers from temporary amnesia as represented by Kalidasa in his version. The major difference, however, is the character of Sage Durvasa.

Sage Durvasa is an invention of Kalidasa, whose curse brings on the dramatic forgetfulness, leading to all the troubles in the life of Shakuntala. It also gives Dushyant the much-needed excuse to reject his wife, which, in the original version of Vyasa, is a breach of morality and a sign of his lusty escapade with Shakuntala.

Vyasa’s Shakuntala knew the background of her birth and understood its repercussions. She stood her moral ground when the king refused to recognize her and ensured that she won justice by the sheer ability of her reasoning and straightforwardness. Vyasa’s Shakuntala is not a damsel in distress shedding copious tears; she fights for her right and gets her way, and does not succumb to the man, irrespective of his position and stature. She was amongst the first women in the Mahabharata to fight for her rights in a man’s world and get her due.”

My Shakuntala is based on Vyasa’s version from Mahabharat.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Shakuntala - The Woman Wronged - Foreword

An extract from the Foreward of the book, written by Prof. Satya Chaitanya -

"(Shakuntala) …… is the story of a woman and a wife. A wife who insisted on equality and respect from her man, who reminded her husband of his duty towards her, who told him what honour is and what an honourable man should do. Such honour in men is something our own times need greatly. She had the courage to stand up for herself, to stand up for all exploited women, who are treated as objects rather than as people, for women who to this day are used for pleasure and then discarded like trash. And she showed this courage openly—by walking right into the royal court, standing there in the presence of all possible earthly power and challenging her man who sat on the throne to do what was right.

Shakuntala is all that a woman should be—independent, assertive, courageous and yet endowed with tenderness, capable of great love, the ability to give of oneself unreservedly, to take risks. Perhaps she imbibed all this from the environment in which she grew up after she was abandoned by her biological father because she was the symbol of his fall, his shame. That environment—the environment of the ashram of a rishi—is India’s richest heritage, the ambience from which the most beautiful things Indian were born. She grew up in an environment where she felt secure—totally secure—loved and cherished. Our girl children today too need to grow up feeling secure, loved, cherished."

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Murder Most Foul – Part 2

The Volsunga Saga of the Norse tells of Signy, who is different, as in the fact that she did not quite have to battle emotions in murdering her children. Needless to say, that this complicated tale sure is a saga in itself. Let us read this story in slight details.

Signy, the daughter of a king was married against her wishes to Siggeir. During the wedding, a one-eyed man (Odin in disguise) came and plunged a magnificent sword in a tree and said that anybody who could take the sword out, could keep it, and left. One by one everybody tried, but none could take the sword out. After everybody had tried, Sigmund, one of the nine brothers of Signy and also her twin, tried and pull it out without much effort. All praised him for the feat, but Siggeir offered to buy the sword from him and offered him three times its weight in gold. Sigmund declined leaving Siggeir disappointed.

Siggeir decided to leave immediately the next day after the wedding, as he claimed the weather was clear, with a promise from the King that all of them would visit him after three months. Signy expressed her reluctance to go with her husband and even said that she foresaw grave misfortunes, but her father would not listen to her.

Three months later, when the king and his sons came to visit Siggeir, they had to wage a battle against Siggier, and soon the king was dead and all the brothers taken prisoners. Siggier intended to kill them, but on the persuasion of Signy, he decided to leave them in the forest with their feet bound. But Siggeir’s old mother who was skilled in sorcery managed to kill all but Sigmund, who was saved by the help of Signy, resulting in the death of the old woman.
Sigmund Bound in the Woods P. Wilson Illustration, 1900

Sigmund decided to stay back in the forest and along with Signy started to plot revenge against Siggeir. Signy in the meanwhile had given birth to two sons. When the eldest was about ten, she sent him to Sigmund, to see if he could be of any help. Sigmund gave the son a sack of meal and asked him to knead some dough for him for baking bread. On returning he found that the child had done nothing as he was scared to touch the sack since he found something moving inside the sack. Sigmund concluded that the child was of no use to him and sent message to his sister. When Signy came to know the reason, she ordered Sigmund to kill the child as he did not deserve to live. The second child met with the same fate. In both the cases, the children were killed under the order of the mother.

Signy one day took the disguise of another woman and went to her brother who could not recognize her and stayed with him for three nights, after which she came back to her place and assumed her earlier form. Soon she was pregnant with a son. She later gave birth to a large and strong son and named him Sinfjotli, who obviously resembled Sigmund in every way. When Sinfjotli reached the age of ten, Signy sent him to Sigmund, who gave him the same tasks as the children earlier.

When Sigmund returned, not only was the dough kneaded, but bread was baked too. He asked Sinfjotli, if he found anything in the sack, to which the child replied that there was serpent in it, but he kneaded it in the dough. It was a poisonous serpent. Sigmund was impressed with the child, but realized that he was too young to assist him in his work. So he started to train him, but would often be surprised to see him deliver beyond expectations, not knowing of course that the child was his own blood.

Soon it was time to take revenge. Sigmund took Sinfjotli to his Siggeir’s house and as planned with Signy, they hid at one place. While they were hiding, two of the sons of Signy and Siggeir came there and saw them hiding. They rushed to report to their father, but Signy once again ordered Sigmund to kill the two children. This time, Sigmund could not do so, but Sinfjotli, caught hold of the two, killed them and threw them in the hall.

Soon a battle broke out, but the two were overpowered and tied. Signy again came to their rescue and with the help of a sword, released the two. They headed straight to the place where Siggeir was sleeping and killed him. Later the entire palace was put to flames but Signy decided to perish in it, as she had avenged the death of her father and brothers. She however, didn’t regret murdering her four sons and sleeping with her own brother to give birth to a son, whose sole purpose was to take revenge.

The above sure has a disturbing feel to it, as the killing was very cold-blooded and not an iota of remorse was found in the woman who orders the killing just because they were of ‘no use’ to them in killing their own father.

While some of the stories have the nauseating quality, what with the detailed descriptions of slit-throats, blood, consuming of hearts and goblets of skulls, the plots also have an ability to shock and make for a gripping tale, however gory they be. Also, progressively, the murderers seem to have something heroic in them, as portrayed by the later writers or re-tellers of the tales. While the crimes have not been overlooked, the cause has definitely been given some more importance, than what might have been done in the earlier versions. While moral questions around the crimes remained, the question of kinship and familial affinity in many of them and the justification of retribution for abandonment in the case of Medea, got more attention, in the later retellings.

While murdering of children is not very common in the case of Hindu mythology, we do have examples of people sacrificing their sons/daughters on the command of gods, much like Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac, resulting in resurrection of the child later. Even if we see, the beheading of Ganesha in a fit of anger as a case of filicide, the resurrection of the son, does not quite reach the levels of cold-blooded murder as we have seen in the some of the myths earlier.

Mythology is the mirror of the society in which such stories took birth and shape. While it is important to understand that this was a primeval society and such stories like all, had a particular function. These stories either highlight the hurt a woman goes through on being spurned and the extent she would go to avenge the insult, or went on to prove the power of kinship for certain individuals, women in some of the cases discussed earlier. From a narrative perspective, they provided a shock-value and gave rise to a sense of disgust or hatred for certain characters, thus once again setting a benchmark for what ought not to be done. Be it for fear of retribution or establishing a not-acceptable behavioural rule, these stories were told with a purpose.

However, the presence of such acts in modern times is quite unexplainable. No justification like honour-killings, poverty, etc. can be given, and the present case of Sheena Bora, seems to defy all reasons. Society has moved far from rule-setting and establishing norms of behavior. A murder is a murder and gruesome murder of one’s own child is unacceptable in any cultural milieu. Modern day Medeas, Procnes and Signys have to device ways of retribution which does not involve the murder of their children.

While mythology seems to have served its purpose for the larger audience, greed and lust seems to have gripped a few in the modern society beyond expectation. Is this a case of unbridled greed for money and power, or does this expose the underbelly of the high society, which thrives on charades and subterfuges, is beyond the simple thinking of ordinary mortals more. Besides satiating the hunger for intrigues and melodrama in people at large, the Sheena Bora murder undoubtedly, will go down in the annals of history, as the murder most foul, unless human beings manage to dig pits deeper than what they have reached.