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.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Other Indra

After killing the son of Twashtri and the demon Vritra, Indra was reeling under the guilt of brahma-hatya, the killing of a Brahmin, and was soon overcome by depression. Indra left his abode leaving the heavens and the earth without a ruler. Anarchy prevailed, aggravated by the absence of rain on earth and land was soon getting converted to deserts. The gods in heaven too were worried about the absence of a ruler and wondered how they would counter the attacks of asura’s if there was one. It was decided that the gods would appoint someone to rule in the absence of Indra, but who would that be? When none of the gods wanted to take Indra’s responsibility, the gaze shifted to earth.

Nahusha was a great king of the lunar race and had acquired a reputation of being a brave warrior, besides the people were happy under his rule. When the gods approached him, he was rather shocked and wondered how he could rule the gods when he was a mere mortal. The gods assured him, that as a substitute to Indra, he would also have powers of Indra. Soon Nahusha was crowned as the king of the heavens, but the transfer of powers did not do him any good. He was soon arrogant and was prone to shouting at the guards and gods alike.

One day, Nahusha saw Sachi, the beautiful wife of Indra in her palace and was besotted by her looks. He proposed to her and said that all that was Indra’s was now his and thus so should she. Sachi was furious, but she did not say anything and sought shelter with the guru of the gods, Brihaspati. When Nahusha learnt that Sachi had taken shelter with Brihaspati, he rebuked the sages and gods and ordered them to fetch Sachi for him or face the wrath of their new King. When they tried to reason with him, that it was evil to covet another man’s wife, Nahusha laughed at them and reminded them, that it was not unusual to covet others wives in heaven, at least not when Indra coveted the wife of Gautam and Chandra stole the wife of their guru, Brihaspati. So why were they so surprised when all he was asking for what obviously was now his? Not able to answer Nahusha, the sages and the gods soon landed at the doorstep of Brihaspati.

On the advice of Brihaspati, Sachi approached Nahusha and said, that she did not mind coming over to him, provided she made sure that Indra was no more and gone for good. She asked for time to find his whereabouts and if her efforts failed, then she would be his. Nahusha found the suggestion reasonable as he was sure that Indra could never be found and agreed to wait. After some severe prayers offered to the goddess of Night, Sachi managed to find Indra who had reduced his form to hide inside a lotus. When he learnt what had happened in the heavens, he was worried as at that moment, Nahusha was more powerful as all of Indra’s powers were transferred to him. But nonetheless, Indra asked Sachi to go back and suggest that if Nahusha wanted to marry her, he should come in a palanquin carried by none other than the seven sages. While Indra used horses for his chariot, Nahusha was different and this would make him unique. Indra further added that the rest would be taken care of by him.

Sachi conveyed her desire to Nahusha, who was too happy to do as told to him by her. In the meanwhile the gods too were searching for Indra and on Vishnu’s suggestion, he was asked to perform the Ahswamedha Yagna to rid him of the sin of brahma-hatya as well as regain all his lost strength and vigour.

In his desire to marry Sachi, Nahusha ordered the seven sages to carry him to the palace of Sachi. The sages had no choice but to do what was told to them. The sages carried him in a palanquin and proceeded towards the palace of Sachi. On the way, the sages asked Nahusha if they believed in the truth of the Vedas, to which the arrogant Nahusha said, that he did not believe in the Vedas. This angered the sages and rebuked him for not having faith in the Vedas. The now angry Nahusha stretched his foot out of the palanquin and touched none other than the sage Agastya. (Another version says that Sage Agastya was shorter than the others and thus the palanquin would tilt at one end every now and then leading to Nahusha not being able to sit properly and in anger he is supposed to have kicked Agastya for this discomfort). This insult of a sage was enough to rob Nahusha of all his powers. Sage Agastya immediately cursed him saying that he was guilty of three crimes, one to say that he had no faith in the Vedas, second to kick a sage and third to make the sages, each of who were equal to Brahma, carry him in a palanquin. For this crime, Agastya cursed Nahusha to turn into a serpent for ten thousand years on earth.

This way, the gods were rid of Nahusha and Indra was back on his throne, after being rid of his sin. Later, we find Nahusha as a serpent in the epic Mahabharata, when he grips Bhima and agrees to release him only after Yudhishthir answers his questions, but that is another story.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Litventure 2015

Speaking at Litventure 2015, on December 12, 2015 -

Check what Asian Age, Mumbai has to say about the talk -


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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Murder Most Foul – Part 1

Pic Courtesy - www.india.com
The latest murder of Sheena Bora has raised quite a furore in the minds of people, not because of the probable gruesome death of the victim, but more so because the murder was none other than her mother. Mothers in India and similar cultures have a much esteemed position and at times dramatically divine, as mothers are akin to creators, the beings that give birth to the child. This elevated the status of a mother, in a cultural sense, and thus the place of significance. It is this very elevation, which leads to shock and surprise, when we learn of such murders, which raise questions, as to how can a mother kill her child/children? How can the hands that rocked the cradle, end up throttling the life of her child? Melodrama apart, this definitely raises a very pertinent question on the current state of relationships and the complexities involved in some cases, like the present case of Sheena Bora.

Without going into the murky aspects, and the ever-growing web of complex-relationships of the dramatis personae of the case, I am personally quite intrigued by the motif of killing ones children. While this is a disturbing aspect from a social perspective, it is this that has caught my attention, leading me to see, if this is a modern phenomenon and if I could blame it on the modern degradation of familial structures, moral values and a growing lack of sensitivity, or did such crimes exist from time immemorial.

My hunting ground (pardon the ironical usage!) is mythology. Theorists and academicians will say that myths give messages of social or accepted behaviour or norms. Simplistically put, they lay down social and cultural norms. While at it, certain characteristics are reinforced metaphorically and extremes are highlighted to shock and thus bring out the enormity of the sin, which ends up being forbidden or unthinkable. Filicide or killing of one’s children is one of them.

Mythology abounds in examples of filicide, but it is important here to distinguish between sacrifices (often by the orders of gods) and murders (with or without a purpose).

In the case of the first one, parents, often fathers, are asked to offer their sons as an offering to gods leading to the ‘sacrifice’ of their sons. The case of Abraham and Isaac is the best example of this. This is primarily to test the devotion of the father to gods and in majority of the cases, the life of the son is awarded back or the pleased god appears just before the child is about to be sacrificed. Such cases are many and we will not call them acts of filicide here. We will also ignore cases of sacrificing ones children for a specific purpose without the gods asking for them, as they remain examples of sacrifices, like Jephthah sacrificing his daughter to Yahweh, from the Old Testament.

We will only focus on cases where children were killed by their parents, often for no fault of theirs and without the divine order.

A number of such myths exist in the Greek Mythology, chief among them being Medea, Procne and Tantalus. Procne and her husband Tereus lived happily with their five year old son Itys. Once Procne
Philomela and Procne
decided to invite her beautiful sister Philomela to live with them, and Tereus volunteered to bring her. On the way, Tereus falls in love with Philomela and ends up marrying her in an island under the pretext that her sister had died. When the truth was revealed to Philomela, she threatened to expose him. Fearing the inevitable, Tereus cuts her tongue and leaves her in an island and goes back to Procne, telling her that Philomela had died on the way. Soon with the turn of events, Procne learns the truth and in an act of retribution kills her son, saying that in him she could see his father. She then cuts pieces of her son and prepares supper from it and offers it to Tereus. Only after he consumes it, does she reveal the truth and escapes a raging father at her heels.

Tantalus is another similar example, except that he had no reason, whatsoever. Tantalus was a mortal son of Zeus but unlike other mortals, was a favourite with both the gods and Zeus. He was probably the only mortal, who was allowed to dine with the gods, especially the dinner-for-gods-only kind!
The feast of Tantalus. 1767. Hugues Taraval. French
Once to prove the gullibility and the foolishness of the gods, he invited them for dinner to his castle. He then cut his son Pelops to pieces and made a stew out of it and served to the gods. None of the gods had quite had the stew except for Demeter, who unmindfully chewed into what turned out to be the shoulder of Pelops. When she realised what had happened she alerted all the gods, who were now furious. Zeus punished him and sent him to the lowest region of the Underworld. (For more on this read The Crime and Punishment of Tantalus).

Finally, the murder considered to be most gruesome was by Medea. Medea had fallen in love with Jason (of the Argonauts fame) and helped him get the Golden Fleece much against the desire of her father. Later when they were escaping from a chasing father, she is supposed to have killed her brother, cut
Medea (about to murder her children)
by Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix (1862)
him into pieces and scattered the parts all over, so that the distraught father got busy collecting the pieces for a respectable funeral for her son while Jason and Medea managed to escape. Yet further in the story, Jason falls in love with the princess of another city where they were seeking asylum and ends up marrying her. As an act of retribution for being ditched, Medea killed the princess and her own two sons, whom Jason loved deeply, leaving Jason all alone. (For more on this read Medea the Barbarian and Medea the Barbarian – Concluding Part ).

In all the three cases, the murder of the children, were not sacrifices; they were either an act of vanity or retribution, where the child was not at fault. All of them go down as gruesome acts of filicide and while literature has glorified Medea, the act of killing her children has always been condoned. There are many more such cases, like Cronos ‘eating’ all his sons, except Zeus, who later ends up killing his father. Besides these well known cases, there are other cases where fathers/mothers have killed their children by mistake, or in a fit of madness, often brought about by divine intervention, but we will not discuss them.

The Celtic myths too have some interesting references to filicide in the myth of Cath Maige Tuired, in which a man kills his son over the difference of opinion of medical method of curing the king who had lost his hand. The father was of the opinion that the king should have an artificial silver hand, while the son wanted to regenerate a hand magically from a tissue. The father was supposed to be so enraged with the superior medical skills of his son, that he struck him with a sword and killed him.

The Prose Edda of the Norse mythology also relates to many such cases of filicide and one of them is similar to that of Procne of the Greek mythology. In this Gudrun, avenges the death of her brothers by her husband by offering the hearts of their sons to the husband! The objective is to cause pain to her husband, leading to an heirless throne, an act which never went down well in the cultural milieu in which the story takes place. In yet another version of the same story, the murder is gruesome. Gudrun is 
supposed to have killed her sons, made goblets out of their skulls and fed their blood and hearts to her husband. Drinking from the skulls of enemy was a widely practised cultural act and thus went unnoticed by the husband, who is later killed by Gudrun and one of his nephews.

It is important to mention that the murder above and that by Procne earlier in Greek mythology, is seen more as an act of retribution, than filicide. The central theme is more to avenge an earlier act, than the murder of one’s own children. While this might seem an effort to overlook the crime, but the treatment of the acts is less important in the said narratives than what led to the crime. Besides the mothers who have avenged certain acts by killing their children, had to battle emotions before they committed the acts. Their love for their children was not less, though the need to seek revenge was greater, and in the case of Medea it was more out of being spurned or rejected by the one for whom, she had committed the crime of fratricide (killing ones brother) and more.

To be continued……………

Friday, August 21, 2015

Lecture on Gond Ramayani.

Conducting a lecture on Gond Ramayani 
At Artisans' Mumbai, Aug 14, 2015 -

In the backdrop of a Gond Painting

A Gond Folk song depicting the tragedy of their lives

Thursday, July 23, 2015


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
First Published in "Talking Myths Project" - Dasaratha's Children )