In the previous articles we read about two similar versions of abhicara. Finally, before we conclude, here is another interesting and many feel a better known version of abhicara in Malayalam versions of Mahabharat. According to this version, a sage by the name of Kaala MaMuni, an expert in rituals arrives at the court of Duryodhan, at his behest. Here the Dushta Chathushtaya (Duryodhana, Duhshasana, Sakuni, Karna), the evil-foursome, urge the sage to perform the abhicara to rid Duryodhan of the Pandavs. The sage is worried that he is being asked to do something that would rid him of all his good deeds accumulated over the last seven births. He tries to reason with the foursome, but they continue to praise him, till he gives in.
At the corner of his ashram, the sage sets out to perform the abhicara ritual. He dug a pit and made a small fire out of some special wood and by the incantation of the mantra’s created a fiery phantom like creature which was as large as the mountains. The sight was truly scary and it is said that one sight of it could even scare the gods for a moment.
All this was being observed by Yama and as the beholder of dharma, he decided to do something. Soon a Brahmin boy’s deer-skin was taken away by a deer. He urged the Pandavs to get it back from him and so the Pandavs set out chasing the deer. The deer chase was a never-ending one, and soon the Pandavs got tired and arrived near a pond, which however was poisoned. Yudhishtir asked Sahadev to go and fetch water for all. Sahadev died on the spot after drinking the water and soon Nakul, Arjun and Bhim were casualties too. However, Bhim managed to write on the ground that the water was poisoned. By then Yudhishtir was too tired and fainted for want of water.
In the meanwhile, the phantom that had emanated out of the ritual fire sought orders from the sage. The sage asked it to kill the Pandavs wherever they were. The phantom said that it would go out in search of the Pandavs and kill them, as it could not see them then, but just in case it did not find them for any reason, then it would return to kill the sage himself.
The phantom then set out in search of the Pandavs. It came across Yudhishtir who was lying unconscious and assumed that he was dead due to heat. He soon found the other four dead too. The phantom was now angry to have been asked to kill people who were already dead. It returned to where the sage was and shouted at the sage for not being able to see that his targets were already dead. It made fun of the sage’s knowledge and beheaded the sage and returned to the fire.
In the meanwhile, Yudhishtir, regained consciousness and went in search of his brothers. When he saw them dead near the pond and tried to drink the water, he was stopped by a voice, which told him to drink the water only after answering some questions. When Yudhishtir answered the questions, he was allowed to revive one of his dead brothers. When Yudhishtir asked for Sahadev and the voice learned about his reasoning, the voice was pleased and taught him a mantra to revive all his brothers. Later, the voice introduced itself as Yama, and also told him about the abhicara performed by Duryodhan.
While this episode seems to have borrowed from the popular episode of Yaksha-parva from the original, it sure has its own elements of abhicara, weaved in quite effectively.
It is interesting to see how regional beliefs have crept in the retellings of the epic. Every version has an element of localisation and the Malayalam versions are no different. What is interesting is that the retellings have been further made popular in the different dance forms which are regularly enacted, it hasn’t been lost. The rich and thriving art forms which had the sanctity of temple premises have not given way to popular dance forms and are regularly performed even today. This speaks volumes of the desire to save the art forms from dying, while keeping the old and ancient texts alive, even in difference with the original Sanskrit version.
Besides regional flavours, it also throws light on the social structure of the day. While we have read that the rituals are performed by the aboriginal tribes of today, it shows that in a period when caste-system was very strong in other parts of the country, the people of this region did not stop the people from the marginalised sections of the society from entering the temple. Not only did they enter the temples, they even performed some of the rituals and have divinity attached to the origins of the community (as seen in Lord Shiva being the first Velan).
Once again, my sincere thanks to both Mr. A. Purushothaman and Mr. A. Harindranath for sharing their knowledge on the subject with me and simplifying my learning to a large extent, something on which they have been working for years.