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.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cheti Chand

Today is Cheti Chand, the New Year for the Sindhi community and there is a very interesting myth on the origins of this day too.

According to a myth, the Turkish invaders were imposing their might and right on the Hindu’s by forcing them to convert to Islam, in the region of the Sapta-sindhu, the land of seven rivers. Among them was a tyrannical Mirkshah who issued a dictate that all the Hindus should embrace Islam. The people of the region (Sindh, now in Pakistan) went to the banks of the river Sindhu and prayed continuously for forty days to the Lord of the oceans, Varuna (Varuna was a Vedic god). On the fortieth day, they heard a voice which said that the Lord would take a human form (avatar) and be born to one Ratanchand Lohana and his wife, Devaki, who would be their saviour. Soon a child was born to the Lohanas, who was named Uderolal (one who came from the waters). When the child was put in the cradle, the cradle started rocking by itself and thus he popularly came to be known as Jhulelal.
During his birth and thereafter while he was growing up, there are many stories that highlight a number of miracles performed by him. All these miracles only reinforced in the minds of the people and the rulers that this was no ordinary child. In due course of time Jhulelal and Mirkshah came face to face and Jhulelal managed to convince Mirkshah that who he called Allah was none other than who the Hindus called Ishwar and the twain was one. Mirkshah however did not give up till he was threatened by a miracle. It is said that when Jhulelal tried to convince him about the oneness of the religion, Mirkshah ordered the arrest of Jhulelal in the court. As soon as he did, waters gushed into the court drowning all and threatening to do the same to Mirkshah too. At the same time, there was fire all around. Mirkshah was surprised and scared to see what had just happened and begged for mercy. No sooner had he done that, the waters receded and the fire was extinguished.

After this, Jhulelal was worshipped by both the Hindus and the Muslims and it is said that on his death, to commemorate the site, a structure was built, one side of which is a Hindu Samadhi and the other side is a Muslim Dargah – a rare site of the unification or the oneness of the two religions. Cheti Chand is the birth day of Jhulelal, who has come to be known as the patron saint of the Sindhi’s and a messiah of communal harmony.

This is a very unique myth. Very rarely have we found a Vedic god associated with the myths and here we see the association of Varuna who has no significant counterpart in the Puranas. Also, history (the times, the invaders and the rulers can be traced back) has been merged with mythology. Jhulelal has been depicted as an old man sitting atop a ‘pala’ fish (a fish which swims against the tide, again symbolic of Jhulelal's going against the powers-that-be of the times). Since Jhulelal was considered to be the human form of Varuna, the depiction of fish (again a marine life) is not too far-fetched. Also since the civilization and the culture thrived on the banks of the Sindhu River, association of Lord Varuna can be explained. The popular depiction of Jhulelal being old and elderly could be to grant him a sense of acceptance amongst the people of the times as old was always associated with wisdom. Miracles were to grant him a divine status. 

All in all, an interesting combination of history and mythology with a message of communal harmony. On this occassion, here's wishing all my Sindhi friends -
Cheti Chand jyon Lakh Lakh Wadayun Athav

Friday, March 23, 2012

Gudi Padwa

Today is Gudi Padwa, the Maharashtrian New Year. The day is marked with celebration and rituals and needless to say that the day has its significance in the Hindu mythology!

As per the Brahma Purana, it was on this day that Lord Brahma recreated the universe after it was destroyed in a massive deluge where all life had ceased to be alive. Time started from this day and some say, it was the beginning of Sata-yuga, the era of truth and justice. Some celebrate the day as the coronation of Lord Rama on his return to Ayodhya from the 14-year exile.

A gudi is a pole on top of which an upturned pot is fixed and then the same is covered with a coloured silk cloth and hoisted at the entrance of the door. This is hoisted to ward off evil from the house. However, some call it the Brahmadhwaj, the flag of Lord Brahma commemorating his creation.

On this day, traditionally, leaves of neem tree are eaten with cumin seeds and jaggery. This is significant from a medical point of view as the weather has taken a turn towards heat and the combination can act as a good antidote to the onslaught of diseases that heat brings along with itself. To associate this with the day is only to give divine sanction for something that is good for health. A blend of religious ritual with aspects of nature which has been a staple with many a festival.

Well, here’s wishing all my Maharashtrian friends a very happy new year!!

Tomorrow is the new year of another community and we will read about the same tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Yesterday we read about Bharatanatyam.

Today we will read about another dance form that has a popular mythological association is that of the Tandava-nritya by Lord Shiva. During every dance performance, an idol of Nataraja always adorns the stage and as the name depicts, Lord Shiva is the King of all dance performances (nat – dance/performance and raja – king). In due course of time, the image of Nataraja has become the symbol of India.

There are different versions of the reason behind the dance form by Shiva. Some say that the form depicts the cosmic cycle of creation and destruction wherein Lord Shiva is on a destructive spree before Lord Brahma can begin his creation, also referred to as the ananda-tandava.

According to a legend, once a group of sages from a particular school of thought started neglecting the rituals and worship and tried to find ways of superseding the gods. To teach them a lesson, Lord Shiva walked into the hermitage in the form of a handsome youth while all of them were busy in their yagnas. The wives of the sages were so enamoured by the looks of Shiva that they gave up all decency and started following him. Seeing this, the sages were enraged and thought of teaching a lesson to the youth. Through their powers, they created a ferocious lion, who was skinned in minutes by Shiva and used the skin to adorn himself (some versions say that he had walked in the hermitage nude to lure the wives of the sages). The sages then created a serpent which raised its fangs and Shiva picked it up and flung it around his waist. The sages then created a demonic dwarf, named Apasamara, the demon of forgetfulness. To control it, Shiva started the tandava and soon alighted atop the dwarf and crushed it. Seeing the earth shake and everything tremble under the impact of the dance, the sages came back to their senses and fell at the feet of Shiva. This is supposed to have taken place in a hermitage near the present day Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, where stands the magnificent temple of Chidambaram, one of the few temples to worship Lord Shiva in the Nararaja form.

Some versions also say, that Shiva and Vishnu got together to teach the sages a lesson. Vishnu took the form of Mohini to distract the sages and Shiva took the form of the handsome youth. While the wives ran after the ascetic, the sages got distracted by the presence of the enchantress. But thereafter there is no role of Mohini in the myth, except to watch the celestial dance performance of Lord Shiva.

The temple of Chidambaram also has another interesting aspect of the tandava nritya. According to some legend, there was a dance-duel between Shiva and goddess Kali, who too was doing the cosmic dance of destruction. During the duel, Shiva raised his left foot towards the sky (urdhuva tandava) a definite mail posture, which could not be performed by a female. Kali blushed and accepted defeat and it is said that since then Kali has been relegated to another temple in the outskirts of the city of Chidambaram. This myth is depicted in one of the halls of the temple of Chidambaram.

The Nataraja is generally seen with Lord Shiva standing on his right leg with the left leg raised. But in a rare form, in one of the halls of the temple of Chidambaram, the lord is seen doing exactly the opposite. The legend associated with this is that one of the Pandya kings who was a great devotee of Lord Shiva learnt all the forms of the tandava. While learning he realized how tough the form was and he felt that the lord had been standing in the same form for too long which must be painful and tiring. So he went to the said hall and started praying to the lord to change his form and give his right leg some respite. When nothing happened he took his sword to cut off his head. Seeing this Lord Shiva is supposed to have agreed to change his posture and this is probably the only place where the Nataraja is seen standing on his left leg with his right leg raised!

The angry form of the dance form, or the raudra-tandava was performed when Lord Shiva learnt about the self-immolation of his wife, Sati. Lord Krishna too is supposed to have performed the ananda-tandava atop a serpent in the episode of Kaliya-daman (http://utkarshspeak.blogspot.in/2011/12/two-stories-and-one-meaning.html ).

The philosophers decipher meanings from different aspect of the posture and the form of the dance. Every aspect has a hidden symbolism, which is not something I would delve on. The artistic form of the tandava dance and the myriad myths associated with the form is by itself very intriguing and I hope I have been able to bring out the very spirit of the tough dance form.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Recently I was invited to an Arangetram where a friend’s daughter performed Bharatanatyam for nearly three hours. Needless to say that it was a visual treat and near sublime. During the performance there were instances when the dancer was enacting different emotions and all the references were that of gods and goddesses from Hindu mythology. This set me thinking on the origins of this beautiful and divine dance form.

To begin with – Arangetram is a Tamil word where ‘aranga’ means a raised floor and ‘etram’ means to ascend. In short an arangetram is the first public performance of a disciple who has undergone years of arduous training in the dance form. The first performance is that much a test for the disciple as it is for the guru or the teacher who feels proud to showcase his own skills as he prides over the achievement of his disciple.

As always with Indian aspects, there is mythology behind this too!

According to Hindu Mythology, the gods and goddesses requested Lord Brahma, who was the Creator of all, to create a text which was accessible and understandable to common man – a fifth veda. Considering the request, Lord Brahma created the Pancham-veda also known as Natyaveda, which was the embodiment of all the four vedas, i.e. Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Vedas.

It is said that Lord Brahma took aspects of words (pathya) from the Rig Veda, aspects of the gesture (abhinaya) from Yajur Veda, song and music (geet) from Sama Veda and emotions (rasa) from the Atharva Veda to create his final Pancham-veda. Lord Brahma then gave this to sage Bharata for him to spread it amongst mankind. With the help of this text, Bharata muni wrote what is better known as the Natyashastra or the science of drama, a complete text on Indian dance, drama and music. Bharatanatyam got its name from sage Bharata.

Another version says that this is the dance form which was taught by Parvati to Usha, who was the daughter of a demon by the name of Banasura and Usha in return taught the same to the gopikas of Dwarka. This is how the dance form reached mankind.

The modern format of the Bharatanatyam is credited to the efforts of four brothers, who were collectively known as the Tanjore Quartet, in the 19th century. Together, they organized the dance form into progressive lessons to enable teaching of the art form. They also composed additional music for performances which combined with graceful movements added to the sheer divinity of the performance.

Bharatanatyam has mythological association and has a direct ‘involvement’ of the gods. This lends it the divine credence and also the much needed dedication and discipline for such tough and long-drawn learning, which is no less than worship and on achievement, the performers feel nothing short of heavenly bliss. Ask my friends daughter and she would vouch for this!

Next we will read about another important dance form with mythological explanations. Keep reading!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Two of my articles on Lord Shiva which were written on the occassion of Shivratri have been published in the following Website -


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Holi & Women's Day

Today is Holi and also International Women’s Day, so happy holi to all and a very happy women’s day to all the women I know and the rest, whom I would love to know!
Having said that, there is a hidden irony in today’s Holi. On one hand we are celebrating Women’s day, and on the other hand this day is a day when the image of the women has to take a beating! Let’s go thru some of the myths of Holi and it will be apparent.

First and the most common name associated with Holi is that of Holika. Holika was the aunt of Prahlad, who was the son of Hiranyakashyap. Hiranyakashyap was an egoistic ruler who had commanded that only he should be worshipped and none else. However, his son Prahlad used to worship Lord Vishnu and no orders or threats would deter him from doing so. Hiranyakashyap had made many attempts of eliminate his son, but each time Lord Vishnu would save him. Holika had a boon, whereby fire could not touch her or harm her, so on this day, she managed to coax Prahlad to sit on her lap and enter the fire. But due to her evil intentions of killing a pious boy, it was she who got burnt and Prahlad came out unscathed. Holi gets its name from the evil aunt, Holika.

Mathura celebrates Holi by burning the effigy of a demoness (female demon – if I may!!), Putana. According to a legend, the King of Mathura, Kamsa (also Lord Krishna’s uncle) had sent Putana to kill the baby Krishna. She tried to suckle baby Krishna by oozing poison from her breasts. But the Lord knew about her evil designs and sucked her life out leaving her lifeless. Till this day, the Yadava community in Mathura, burn the effigy of Putana who is sometimes also referred to as Holi.

Finally a lesser known myth – the myth of Dhundhi. In the kingdom of Prithu there lived a terrible ogress (a female giant or monster in myths and fairy tales) by the name of Dhundhi. Dhundhi was invincible as she had received a boon that she would not be killed by men or gods; could not be harmed by arms or heat or cold or rain. This had made her a menace and she was known for devouring young children. Prithu was worried about this and so one day he called his priest to see if there was a solution to this menace. The priest said that besides the boons, she also had a curse from Lord Shiva. According to the curse, she was not immune to pranks and abuses from boys. So it was decided that on this day – when it is neither cold nor hot and definitely no rain, the young boys (who are not men as yet and definitely not gods) would consume bhang (to get them delirious), and make a lot of noise and abuse her out of the kingdom, which Dhundhi could not resist. Till date this behavior of young boys can be seen and no offence is taken on this day!

As we have seen, that the festival celebrates the elimination of a female form, be it an aunt or a demoness or an ogress. To add fuel to fire, the day is also known as the day to celebrate the victory of good over evil!

Heavens!! Where do I hide today?

Happy Holi and a great Women’s Day to all the lovely women of the world!!!!
What would the world be without each one of you!! Phew!!!

Read last year’s article on Holi – “Holi – Festival of Colours

Friday, March 2, 2012

Iravan – the South Indian Barbareek

In the last two articles, we read about Barbareek, aka Khatu Shyam Baba, a North Indian deity prevalent in parts of Rajasthan and adjacent areas. Today we will read about a similar myth from the South India. Please note the striking similarities.

This is the myth of Iravan which is prevalent in Tamil Nadu and the nearby areas.
Iravan was the son of Arjuna and Uloopi, the Naga princess. During the 13 year exile for the Pandavas, one year was spent by Arjuna as a penance and during this year he is supposed to have travelled far and wide. This was actually done for him to forge alliances and acquire weapons and powers. It was during this one year that, he visited what is present day North-East of India. There he came across Uloopi and they get married. However, the relationship was a very brief one as Arjuna had to move on soon after his marriage. Iravan was born out of this brief relationship. However, Arjuna gets to see his son only prior to the war of Kurukshetra and asks him to join the war, which the brave Iravan agrees to.

There are no major reasons or events leading to his sacrifice, except for the fact that he was a brave warrior and the principle of offering sacrifice prior to the war. There are different versions of the sacrifice in the case of Iravan. Some say that he offered to be sacrificed on the 18th day of the battle to Ma Kali. The more prevalent belief is that he was sacrificed at the beginning of the war. However he was rewarded by a couple of boons for the heroic deed. One was that his head would witness the entire battle from a hilltop. The other boon was that since he wanted to die a heroic death, he wanted to be mourned by a widow after his death.
Ritual enactment of lamenting the
death of Iravan by eunuchs
Having agreed to the boon, there was one problem. No woman wanted to marry him and be his wife for a night as he was to die the very next day. Seeing this Krishna decides to take his previous form of Mohini, the enchantress, gets married to Iravan and spends the night with him. Later in the morning, after his death, Mohini mourns the death of Iravan like a widow. There are different versions to this aspect, in different parts of the state and its neighbourhood with some eliminating the episode of Mohini’s mourning completely. Even to this day, in a ritual enactment of the mourning, many transvestites and eunuchs enact the ritual mourning by crying, beating their chests and breaking bangles on the day of the said sacrifice of Iravan. In some Krishna temples, he is decked in a white saree for a day, to mark the day as the day of widowhood.

What is interesting to note is that more than worship or a religious following, Iravan is a very popular folklore and a common theme or subject of folk theaters and plays. This myth could just have been woven to lend divinity to Iravan the folk hero by associating him with Arjuna and Lord Krishna of the epic Mahabharata. His face makes for very colourful masks and is a great hit with the locals in the rural areas. He is also referred to as the god of the transvestites and the eunuchs who are locally referred to as Ali’s also referred to as Aravani (that of Iravan).
In some of the plays which dramatizes the whole episode of Iravan, he is compared with the likes of Puru and Bhishma who are known to have sacrificed for their fathers, Yayati and Shantanu respectively. Iravan’s sacrifice of his life for the victory of his father is seen as bigger than that of Puru who gave up his youth for his father Yayati and Bhishma who gave up the throne and matrimony for his father, Shantanu.

Though there are similarities with that of Barbareek, there are some prominent differences, besides the parentage of the two.
First and foremost, the heroic allusions are missing in the case of Iravan, though the same does find mention in the dramatic enactments of Iravan. Nowhere is there reference of his infallible arrows and his participation in the war having a pre-condition.

Second, Lord Krishna does not have the role of testing Iravan; rather here he is central to being part of the sacrifice. He does suggest the sacrifice, but he does not make it obligatory as a word given for charity as done in the case of Barbareek. Thus in this myth, Krishna actually comes out as a savior who bails out Iravan with his last wish.
Third, the association with the transgender and transvestites is a bit of an enigma. How this practice of Iravan being a god for the community and the ritual enactment of mourning by them came about is unknown. However, one can theory could be that the marriage could not be said to be consummated as ultimately Mohini was a male and the relationship was thus not normal. Also, except for the mourning by the widow of Iravan, there wasn’t anything of a marriage as he was still deprived of a coital bliss, something that the community is deprived of too. The identification of the Ali’s state with that of Iravan and thus the lament is quite understandable. (If there are any other theories, then please feel free to forward the same to the Blog..).

During this period a number of fertility rites are also performed. One of them is that prior to the ceremony, a goat is killed and the blood of the goat is smeared with cooked rice and the same is offered to idols of Iravan. It is believed that this rice eaten by women can help them conceive. The presence of such rituals actually bears testimony to some ancient practice (even tribal practive) which has got assimilated with the popular epic. The strong folk-connotation also refers to some folklore associated with a popular folktale.
An interesting myth, but localized as per the region.

It is said that there are similar characters in other parts of India like Bundelkhand, Orissa and Himachal Pradesh. There is a popular version of Iravan in Java too, but that’s for another day!