The Saint’s Image having Miraculous Power – from Lerchenstock near Waldrast

A folktale from Austrian Tirol region

Photo credit: Wikimedia commons – Maria-Waldrast-Kirche

It was year 1392. The great Lady of the heaven had sent an angel to Tyrol – in Waldrast on Serlesberg to be precise. He stepped in front of a concave step of Lerchenstock and spoke to it taking the name of the Blessed Mother:

“The picture of the Lady of the heaven should bloom on you.” 

In course of time a picture grew on the step. Two pious shepherd boys, namely Hänsle and Peterle from the village called Mizens first saw it in 1407. The astonished boys rushed down to the peasants in the field; said, “Go to the mountain. There is something amazing on the concave floor. We did not dare to touch it.”

The holy picture was now recognized, removed from the stone wall with a saw, and immediately brought to Matrei – which was then called Burg Matrey. It stood in the same place until a church was built on its own for Waldrast. God entrusted the task of building it to a poor woodcutter named Lusch from Matrey.

On one Whitsunday, the wood carver lied on his bed and slept like he does every night.

He heard a voice from somewhere. It asked: “Are you asleep or awake?” He thought he was dreaming; hence didn’t reply. The voice asked him the same once, twice and thrice! The third time he realized he was awoke and asked: “Who are you? What do you want?”

The voice said, “You will have to curve a chapel in the honour of the Waldrast.”

The wood-carver said, “I will not do that.” He heard nothing after that.

But the voice returned on the other night of Whitsunday, and spoke to him as before. This time the wood carver said, “I’m too poor to do that.” This time too, the voice didn’t speak anything else.

But the voice came back again on the third night of Whitsunday close to his bed. It uttered the same lines as before. The man could not sleep out of worries three nights; now he heard “How do you think you will not let me have my chapel?” Then it preached again: “You shall do it.” The man repeated like he did before: “I will not do it.”

Someone lifted the wood carver and threw him straight up into the air saying: “You shall do it now as I order you so!”

The man thought, “Oh, poor me! What can I do now? I have to tell that I will do, right?” He told that he wanted to do it but only in the location which he would find to be the perfect one.  

The voice said: “In the forest there is a green patch of mosses. You will have to lie down there and rest; then only the right place will be made known to you.”

The wood carver got up, went to the forest, found the green patch inside, lay down on the moss to take rest there. (That is why the forest is named Waldrast – meaning Forest where wood carver had taken rest).  As he fell asleep, he heard two chimes in his sleep. When he woke up, he saw a church standing before him on the green patch. He also caught the sight of a lady in white holding a child in her arm for a moment.

Now he admitted, “O God almighty! This must be the right place.” He moved to the spot where he had seen the picture and began measuring the spot where he was supposed to build a church. He heard the bell ringing till he was marking, but no more after his marking was over.

Still in despair, he called, “Tell me God, how I shall complete the task? I am so poor – do not have a manor that I can spend for this kind of a construction.”

The known voice spoke to him again, “Go to the pious people. They will donate you more than enough for this. It will take long 36 years to be prepared for consecration. After all those procedure, it will become a great symbol of piousness for eternity.”

Before starting the task of building the chapel, the man went to his confessor father and found him to be the patron, who sent him to the Bishop Ulrich gen Brixen. In fact he visited the Bishop five times to get the permission to build the church and the chapel. Finally on a Tuesday before the day of Saint Pancratius in the year 1409 the Bishop approved it and he finished his mission.

The wood carver got the permission only the moment before he had completed the assignment. The church and chapel remained a miracle of the god for ever.

(The almighty asks for submission – and every poor soul has to submit before God’s will forced by God if not abiding on his own. The moral of the story is the moral of almost all religions, but Christianity in Europe attached this kind of stories with places, indicating spreading the religion in entire Europe was not an easy task. In fact it took years to convert each of its regions to Christian belief. Language of the original story says that this version was developed in medieval era)

The Little Man on the Shoulder

It was March 1669. A rope-maker was on his way to Torgau. He came across a boy in the field. The boy was playing sitting on the ground for play. A wooden log was lying in front of him. Crossing the log was difficult – the rope maker went almost out of his wit while trying to cross it. Suddenly he heard the by telling, “Why don’t you push my log away from the road? My father will thank you for that.” The rope-maker however crossed the log taking much effort and walked away without paying attention to the boy’s words.

After one hundred steps he met a little man with gray beard. He looked old. The old man told that he was too tired as he had walked long. He asked him, “Wouldn’t you please carry me to the next village?” The rope-maker laughed at his proposition. Can you imagine what happened next?

The little old man jumps on his shoulder, and sat tight that the rope-maker had to squat till next village. Our rope-maker died after ten days. His son went on lamenting pitifully about his death. The little boy appeared before him; said, “You should be glad that whatever happened to your father is good. He is spared of the bad time approaching soon. You should now take care of your mother.”

The little boy disappeared and a natural calamity followed soon.

The Dog of Bretten

The story of punishment for faithfulness comes from the Rhenish Palatinate, especially in Kraichgau, where an associated phrase is also popular: “It may happen to you, like the dog of Bretten.” In some area the story revolves around a fish, however moral is the same.

In the small town called Bretten lived a man who had a faithful dog. He trained the dog to serve him many ways. Not only it helped him at home, but also carried out tasks outside home. The man used to send it out to shops, giving it a basket in its mouth, in which the needed amount of money and a list of goods to be purchased were written. That way it brought meat and sausage from the butcher as well. Needless to say, the faithful dog never touched the meat. It was happy with meal its master gave.

However its protestant master committed a big mistake one day. He sent the dog on a Friday to a butcher who was catholic and strictly kept the fast. As the butcher saw in slip that a sausage was ordered, he grabbed the poor dog tight, cut off its tail and put it in the basket with a note: “Here goes your sausage!” The faithful dog, even though hurt and wounded, carried the basket faithfully through the alleys to the master’s home. It died after keeping the basket before him.  The whole city mourned its death. An image of a dog without tail was curved in a stone and placed above the city gate.

The dog without a tail in a monument in Bretten – credit Wikimedia commons

But another version of the story contradicts the moral. As per the other version, the unfaithful dog used to steal meat and sausages from the basket which it had to carry for its poor master. Finally a butcher caught it one day and punished it by cutting its tail.

Same story; two opposite versions teaching two different morals – first one is the peril of being too faithful and second one, punishment of betrayal. Which one should learn? Obviously that depends on one’s own discretion. But the monument in memory of the dog in the city of Britten points to the first version.

The Wheel of Fortune

Twelve mercenaries returned from Ditmar war. They could not gain much from the war and hence, were little depressed. They were walking through the country-roads faint-hearted having no idea what they would have for food next day.  

On the way they met a gray-bearded short man. Greeting them he asked, “Where are you coming from? Where are you going?” The twelve men replied together, “From the battlefield and want to go where we can become rich, but could not find the place as yet.” The little gray-bearded man said, “The trick of being rich will be clear to you if you follow me; only don’t have a desire to have anything out of it.” The soldiers asked, “What is it you mean?” “It is called the Wheel of Fortune. It is under my control. The one I bring to the wheel learns fortunetelling and in course of time learn to dig treasure out of the earth using their knowledge. I will do this for you only on one condition – I will have the authority to select one from your group to place on the advantageous position on the wheel.”

Wheel of fortune: an woodcut by Albrecht Dürer 15th century: credit Wikimedia Commons

Now they wanted to know which one of them would be the fortunate one. The gray chap replied, “The one I am in the mood for! Anyway that I will decide later; do not know that in advance.” The mercenaries pondered long to decide whether they should accept the proposition or not. Finally they reached an unanimous conclusion, “Man must die once. We could die in the battle of Dietmar; or the devastating plague could have dragged us to hell long back. We survived all threats, and as long as we did, we dare to play the game with you. This is anyway much easier while it will hit us only once. So they joined together to submit themselves in the man’s hand, with the condition that he would take them to the Wheel of Fortune, and would offer one of them the opportunity to become fortunate.

The gray man led them to the wheel. Arriving at the spot where the gigantic wheel stood, they sat far away from each other, each one maintaining a distance of three cords from the next. However the old man forbade them not to look at one another as long as they were sitting on the wheel. Whoever does do that would break own neck. After they sat as instructed, the master seized the wheel with the cords tied with both his hands and feet, and began spinning until it went upside down, twelve hours in a row, and once every hour.

To them the world under them seemed as if clear water. Like it is seen through a mirror, they could see everything they intended, good or evil. When they saw people, they recognized them and knew each of their names. But above them it was like fire, as it burning pivots hung down.

They had endured twelve hours. The master of the Wheel of fortune singled out a delicate young man from the wheel, the son of a minister from Meissenwaar, and led him through the middle of the fire-flames. The eleven others did not know what had happened to them while they sank into a deep sleep as if intoxicated. They woke up after lying out in the open for several hours; found that the clothes on their bodies became brittle. The glowing heat they had to go through crumbled all their shirts. They got up to start walking once again with the fresh hope to find fortune and happiness. No, luck did not support them. They remained poor forever  spending the rest of their lives begging for bread at other people’s doorsteps.

The Maiden from Wilberg or The Best Treasure

Wild flowers Centaurea cyanus: credit Wikimedia commons

A peasant from Wehren near Höxter (town in NordRhine-Westphalia) went to the Amelungs mill to grind corn from his field. On the way back he wanted to take little rest near a cool pond. He was lying on the green grass when he saw a young lady coming towards him from Wilberg that lies opposite to Godelheim. Coming closer she requested, “Please bring me two buckets of water from the peak of the Willberg; you can expect a good reward for this.” He went to the peak of Wilberg and carried the water from there as she asked. She said, “Please come back at this hour tomorrow morning with a bunch of flowers from the bushes which shepherds from Osterberge wear on their hats.”

The next day the man visited a shepherd in Osterberg to get a bunch of flowers from him. The shepherd gave him one nice bunch, but only after many ardent requests. Glad receiving what he wanted, the peasant went back to the Willberg valley. He saw the young lady standing there. This time she led him to an iron door saying, “keep the flower-bunch in front of the castle-door.” He did what she said. And as soon as he did, the door opened. Both entered the hill-castle through the door.

There was a small cave inside which sat a little man at a table. His beard had grown so long that it touched the floor across the stone table. He was facing a large pile of treasure in front of the table looking like a mound. The elated shepherd kept his flowers on the table in without wasting time and began filling his pockets with gold coins from the pile.

The young lady was watching him silently. Now she said, “Do not forget the best!” The man looked around. He thought that the best meant a large and heavy chandelier studded with gemstones. But as he stepped towards that, a hand came out from under the table all on a sudden and slapped him on the face. The young lady was heard speaking again, “Do not forget the best!” However the man had nothing but the treasures in mind. He forgot the bunch of flowers by then.

Filling his pockets with as much of gold and gemstones as he could, he thought of leaving the space. The moment he stepped out of the iron-gate, it crashed terribly against him. Scared, he tried to unload everything he collected in the pockets. What did he see? All the treasures he picked up with so much of effort turned into pieces of papers. Now he remembered the bunch of wild flowers he left carelessly on the table. Finally he realized which best treasure he should have kept with him.

Saddened seeing the consequence of own foolish thought the man stepped towards his home downhill.

The Maiden of Staufenberg

On the Harz near Zorge, a Braunschweig village, lies the area named Staufenberg. It became Staufenburg after the castle was built. On a particular cliff on the mountain, there is an impression of a human foot. This was created by the footsteps of a daughter of the old castle owner.  She often stood here for long. This was her favourite spot from where she looked at the enchanting surrounding. The delighted little girl with curly golden hair is still visible on the cliff at times.

Burg Stauffenburg , bailey at the entry gate. Credit: Wikimedia commons

Stauffenburg is the ruin of a former hill-fort at Seesen-Münchehof in the district of Goslar in Lower Saxony. The first buildings of the castle were probably built in the 11th century by the Counts of Katlenburg. Over the centuries, it has been constantly rebuilt and rebuilt till they began demolishing it parts in 18th century for the construction of other buildings in the area. It was built to protect the Harz mining area as well as securing the Thuringian army road, which lies below the castle of Seesen from southeast along the Harz to Nordhausen. The first documentary mention of the name Stauffenburg is found in 1154 CE and the castle was then in the name of a ministerial family, which is mentioned in a document of Henry the Lion. This indirectly suggests the existence of the castle. Obvious that it changed hands several times through the ages. Which owner the story mentions? – We have no way to determine.

The Drowned Child

The story was first published in German National Newspaper 1796

They have lot many a tale to tell about water; also about the lakes, rivers and seas to which an innocent child has to be sacrificed each year. But the water-bodies did not turn any of those children into a corpse but threw them to the shore instantly, or a little late. True the bodies came out late at times, but even the last bone emerged floating after it sank till the innermost depth of the sea.

We have a story of a mother who had drowned her child in a lake. She kept on praying to the god and all the saints to return her at least the bones intact for the child’s funeral; and she waited in good faith in her pure heart.

The next storm brought the skull back to the shore and the following one, the body. After all the body parts reached the shore, the mother collected all the hands and feet and everything is a piece of cloth, tied them up and carried the bundle to the church. What a wonder! With her each stride, the bundle was becoming heavier.  

Finally as she reached the foot of the Alter, her child inside the pack began crying. She laid the bundle on the steps of the Alter; the child – safe and sound, showed up removing the cloth surprising everyone. Only one little finger of his tiny fingers was missing.

The mother went back to the shore later and searched carefully for the tiny finger-bone. Needless to say she found it there. The bone was preserved in the church among other relics.

The sailors and fishermen of Cüstin in the Neumark (Brandenburg) also spoke of an unknown force controlling the river Oder which claimed one innocent life every year as a sacrifice. Death came to the people for whom it was destined; rest came out of the turmoil alive. The city Halloren in Salle was especially afraid of Johannestag, the birthday of Saint John the Baptist. Sacrifice of an innocent life was predictable on this day.

Luckenwalde in Brandenburg. Die Stadtkirche St. Johannis am Markt . Credti:Wikimedia commons

What is the story of Saint John the Baptist? He was born of elderly parents; hence is associated to growth, health and fertility. If we consider the season of his birth, it is around the day of summer solstice which is regarded significant by local farmers for their livestock and crops. Local belief adopted a small, star-shaped yellow flower that blooms during this period as St. John’s word. Following an ancient Pagan tradition, large bonfires are lighted in the villages on the previous night to ward off the evil spirits who are responsible for carrying contagious diseases. These bonfires are usually arranged at the highest peak of the hill in the village. Farmers spread the ash in their fields with a belief that it would enhance the fertility of the soil. We don’t have a record of human sacrifice during this occasion here but similar kind of sacrifice was prevalent in many ancient cultures.

The story of drowning child in the water-bodies makes me remember Mahabharata story where incarnated river-goddess Ganga drowns her seven new-born babies in the river to release them from the curse of living a mortal life. We also know of the medieval era tradition of drowning new-born babies in Gangasagar. Difficult to determine if people in medieval era learnt superstitious beliefs from each other or many of the communities followed similar practices independently.

The Shepherd Boy met a Tiny Animal

An interesting story which mentions even the year!

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the year 1664, a young boy from Dresden took care of the herd of the village. One morning when he was taking his sheep for grazing, he spotted an unusual stone on the roadside. It was of moderate size, but it was jumping on the ground by itself. The curious boy stepped closer and looked at the stone. After sometime, he picked it up from the ground. As soon as he lifted the stone, a young meerkat hopped surprising him; then stood in front of the shepherd boy looking straight at him. Then it said in a human voice, “I was deported deep inside the ground, now you have brought me back to life. I will be happy to serve you now. Give me some work. I have to keep myself engaged. “

The flabbergasted boy somehow replied, “Well, you should help me to look after my sheep then.” Following his order, the tiny manlike animal guarded the flock like an expert shepherd till the evening.

In the evening, the boy was preparing to take the flock to the village. The meerkat said, “I want to go with you wherever you go.”

The boy replied without more ado, “I cannot take you to my house. I have a stepfather and several siblings. My father would beat me badly if I get another mouth to feed with me. Our home is too small to accommodate another person.”

“But you have accepted me once”, protested the ghostly creature, “if you do not want me for yourself, you have to keep me with someone else elsewhere.”

So the boy directed him to his childless neighbour’s house. The meerkat found a proper home there forever thereafter.  

Summoning the Mountain Dwarfs

From where did the great wisdom and the amazing secrets of the world emerge?

We have a story from Nürnberg. Paul Creuz was an inhabitant here who knew an amazing magic. To fulfill some of his wishes, he used his miraculous magic spell. He placed a new table in his garden, covered that with a white cloth, placed two milk-bowls on it, and also two honey-bowls, two plates, and nine knives. Then he took a black hen and shredded it on a pan in which cabbage was being cooked. The blood dripped into the boiling food. An unimaginable dish was prepared.

Next morning he took one part of it left it on the table. In the evening he kept the rest of the cabbage on the table and began chanting a spell. Finishing the incantation, he ran towards a green tree and hid himself behind that. He saw two small mountain people emerging from the earth. They sat at the table, and ate the precious smoky dish that was left there.

After they finished, Paul came to them and asked some questions. They answered. His wish was fulfilled.

Paul Creuz practiced the same repeatedly. The little men became so familiar that they too visited him in the house quite often. But he needed to give them time to finish the food first. If he did not wait, they either did not show up or disappeared soon. He finally got their king to support him. One day after hearing his sincere chant, the little king of the dwarfs came alone in a red scarlet cloak, under which he had a book. After finishing dinner, he threw the book on the table and allowed the host to read it as long as he wanted.

Eventually humans earned knowledge of all valuable secrets and great wisdom from that host of dwarfs.

The Weighing Scale of Bamberg

Curving the image of justice on the tomb of a king is an ancient practice. Also on the tomb of the Kaiser Heinrich in Bamberg, the idol of justice is carved with a weighing scale in hand. But the tongue of the scale is not on the middle; instead it leans a little in one side. The reason hides in an old belief – it was told that having both tips of a weighing scale at same level would bring the world to destruction.

Tomb of Kaiser Heinrich in Bamberg

Who wants to destroy the world only by maintaining balance in justice’ scale?

The Story of Arendsee

This story came from the region around Arendsee in the Altmark in Saxony-Anhalt. Arendsee is the name of a lake. Also an adjacent municipality is known by the same name.

Once upon a time, there was a large castle in place of the lake and the land. The castle sank under the ground all on a sudden; but reappeared soon as man and wife.  As they stepped forward, the wife noticed the swift change that took place in the location meanwhile. Her husband’s name was Arend. The lady uttered in sheer surprise, “Arend see, Arend see!” And that was reason people started calling the town as Arendsee that was built beside the lake.

Finest whitest particles of sand glittered in this lake, and when the sun shined bright, all the walls and buildings of the submerged castle were seen clearly like it is seen in Brok Sea near Ossenberg. Some people once thought of measuring the depth of the sea here. They threw a long rope into the sea to fathom it. As they pulled the rope, they saw a note pasted at the other end of the rope. What was written in it? “Do not be too curious. Engage yourself with your own business; otherwise your place will be devastated same way what you are seeing here.”

Arensea on Google map

People did not dare measuring the sea again.

Folktales from Bengal – The astute Yogi foiled Siva’s trick

Unmarried girls in Bengal once worshiped Siva praying for a loving husband. The Bengali idiom, “husband as good as Siva” is aged several hundred years. Folk stories indicate that girls those days were ready to accept even economic hardships in marital life but considered compassion to be essential quality of a husband. Even a forgetful cannabis-smoker was preferable as husband as long as the man expressed love and selflessness. Though fast disappearing, even today we see the custom of young girl’s in rural Bengal fasting and worshiping almighty Siva on particular days or months of the year asking for the same boon from him. But how much is it possible for Siva to fulfill a girl’s desire for a husband of preferred quality? This story found in one version of Gorakshabijay text narrates how even Siva’s boon could fail to fulfill worldly appeals at times.

Birahini was the daughter of a Gandharva king. The princess decided to perform a penance with a desire to have an immortal husband. She went to Kailas, Siva’s abode and began meditating standing on her head, her feet stretched upwards. Knowing her desire and seeing her strong will behind her austere practice, Siva had to contemplate. He knew Goraksha, his devotee was going against Parbati’s wishes. Not only he had disobeyed her wishes, had even punished her using his spiritual power. Seeing wife’s humiliation in the hands of his disciple disturbed Siva, a caring husband. Same like Parbati, he also thought of getting Goraksha married to the princess would fulfill her desire on the one hand and solve the unnecessary conflict between the Goddess and Goraksha on the other.

I could not trace any Gorakshanath idol or temple in Bengal though those do exist in neighbouring Odisha. This picture is from Panauti,Nepal, Credit goes to wikimedia Commons.

Siva was famous for his affection to devotees. He appeared before the girl to give her the boon – the immortal husband named Goraksha. Later calling Goraksha he asked him to marry her. As there was no other unmarried immortal man in the world, he could select none other than him to gift to the sincere girl. But this brought Goraksha to a deep dilemma. He could not deny Siva’swords being his disciple on one hand, but could not ignore his route to spiritual accomplishment too for which marrying a girl would be a barrier. After reflecting on this crisis for long, he finally decided to marry the girl.

Taking her husband along the happy princess went to a temple. And the ever-celibate Goraksha transformed himself into a six month old child there. As the child began crying for mother’s milk, the princess felt embarrassed.“what a husband I have received who is looking for a mother to feed him? What will my parents tell? Everyone will laugh at me that I achieved an awkward relation instead of a boon through my penance.” – she lamented for long in despair. At a time when she had no more tears in her eyes, she sat there frustrated thinking, “I am given this Goraksha through some magic. Did Siva create some illusion for me in his amusement?” She pondered a lot, but anyway she could not give up the responsibility of looking after the baby. While taking care of him, she said whispering, “I got you by Mahadev’s boon; why do you cheat me with your magical skill? If you don’t satisfy me on pretext of being a child, I will commit suicide so that you are punished for being a women-slayer. Your ploy will not work for long.”

Taking his real form Goraksha smiled at her disappointment. Now addressing the princess as daughter, he said, “Listen my child, it’s Shiva who played a trick with you. He cheated you by giving me – a person neither man nor woman, as a boon to you. I have neither strength nor semen. This body is as dry as a dead plank of a tree. I am a flower without smell bloomed in a body without fluid. That is reason I took the form of Siddha. If you believe me, I can predict that you will have an immortal son. What I keep in my bowl of skull works as magic potion. Have this Pakhala water if you want to have a son.”

Following Goraksha’s advice she drank the water from his skull-bowl and instantly she conceived. After ten hours she gave birth to a son.The child was born with all the signs of a Siddha.  Seeing him Goraksha chanted mantras for his well being. Giving the princess’ son a name, he left for Bijayanagar – the place where he would be able to continue his spiritual practice sitting under a medlar tree.  

Both Parbati’s and Siva’s tried to distract Goraksha. Both of their plans to drag him to the trap of the mortal world were thus failed before his determination and astuteness. Gorakshanath remained sole Siddha never enslaved by any material desire.


© Kathakali Mukherjee, 2018

Folktales from Bengal – Yogi who taught Goddess Parbati a lesson

Following Buddhist traditions we can define Mahasiddhas as great achievers of Buddhahood between 8th-12thcenturies who propelled the Mahamudra technique of meditation. We see some of the same Mahasiddhas as Siddha Yogis in Saivait Nath tradition. Does this indicate a merger of Buddhism and Saivism more than a thousand years back? I do not know if there is any conclusive evidence.

Shiva had to call all his Siddha disciples from different parts of the world through meditation to give his wife a chance to establish her truth. All Siddhas assembled in Kailas before Shiva. Parbati served them food and water. As she had predicted, the image of her lustful glance on the water in the golden pitcher maddened everyone. Besieged by an unspeakable yearning for love, none of them could help fantasising himself in the arms of beautiful women.

Once Shiva, the leader of the Yogis and his wife Parbati were discussing about his disciple’s duties on earth. Parbati wanted them to marry and have families but Siva differed saying that was impossible while his disciples were not attached to any mortal entity. The Goddess said, “Even if one can overcome anger, greed and other attachments,desire for women is the one of the six inherent human traits not even a monk can shun. Please allow me to prove – I will invoke their lust only with a gaze through the corner of my eyes.”

However, as Shiva asked her the outcome of her test, she narrated everything – that she had given boons to all of them fulfilling their desire. Only Gorakshanath’s desire seemed difficult to understand. Shiva smiled, “He is the purest Yogi disciple of mine; I would consider you the winner if you can charm him with your tricks.”

Everyone felt the lust for a sexual union with a woman in their minds. Only Gorakshanath had a different thought – “If I was born a son of such a beautiful mother, I could drink her milk sitting on her lap. She would have taken care of me with heartfelt affection, feed me,even clean my poops without disgust.” Hearing Goraksha’s thought, the Goddess decided to test him further – his looking at a young attractive lady as mother seemed unnatural.

Parbati saw Gorakshanath’s spiritual Guru Meenanath falling into the trap of beautiful women in the Land of Bananas,marry and enjoying worldly pleasures of family life. She felt annoyed seeing Goraksha still mediating to fulfill his spiritual goal unperturbed. She undressed before appearing in front of him – stretching her hands above her head. As soon as Goraksha saw her, he recognised her to be Shiva’s wife. “What this mischievous lady is doing here?” –  He thought while rushing to pluck a leaf from the tree under which he was sitting. Plucking aleaf he covered her vagina with that and then disappeared. The Goddess returned home embarrassed but with a vow to take another chance of allure him.

She took the form of a fly before approaching Goraksha once again. Seeing a fly moving before his mouth, the mendicant swallowed it. Through meditation he came to know who the fly actually was. He closed own anal tract to teach the Goddess a lesson. Going inside him,she did not find a way to come out. Struggling in pain, she called the Yogi, “I understand you know who I am. Staying inside your stomach causing me pain. You should not behave like this with your spiritual guide’s wife. Give me the way to come out so that I can go back home.” Gorakshanath chuckled hearing her meek request.However he too understood he had to let her go. Pondering which route he should open for a moment, he finally decided to open the anal track. This was only way he could ensure not seeing her again. The track was too narrow even for the fly.She broke her waist while struggling to come out.

The humiliated and injured Parbati decided to stay on the earth. He took the form of a Rakshsi now while living in the nearby forest. She began catching one human a day for her food.

Her absence for so long became reason for Shiva to worry. Not seeing her anywhere around, he meditated again to trace her.Guessing her presence close to Goraksha, he came to him. “Where is my wife –what did you do to her?” – He charged his disciple. The ever-conscious disciple laughed at him, “Too much of hemp and cannabis made you insentient. You can’t even remember where you lost your wife and came on earth to blame a celibate Yogi for hiding a woman?”

Anyway the yogi sympathised with his spiritual leader. He took up traveling to find his wife out. As he was going through the forest, the Goddess, now in the form of a Rakshasi pounced on him. Strength of his spiritual power made her immobile. He rebuked her, “What are you doing here?You are a Goddess, wife of the Shiva the greatest of the Yogis occupied with such a filthy act? Shame on you for eating humans! You should go back home at once.” The Goddess replied, “I can, only if you worship me establishing my temple here.”

The Yogi Gorakshanath not only promised so, he established the idol of the Goddess there in form of Kali and worshiped her building a temple. Pleasing the Goddess with his devotion, he took her to her husband in Kailas.

Kali idol of Kalighat temple, Kolkata

*Local belief says that the Kali idol and the temple of Kalighat were established by the Nath Yogi Gorakshanath. This story narrated in Gorakshavijay – “Ballad of Goraksha” supports the belief.

© Kathakali Mukherjee, 2018

Folktales from Bengal – Yogi trapped in a Quandary

I was reading an article on some international Yoga conference somewhere – and I remembered Meenanath, the yogi who once became susceptible to mortal sufferings and saved by his all-knowing all-pervading Yogi friends – according to a Bengali folktale.

Shiva the leader of the Yogis and his wife Parbati were discussing cycle of creation. The Goddess said, “Please do not listen to your Yogi disciples. Ganga and I – the inseparable duo became your wives. Let us have children, what is the use of all these Yoga and meditation if creation itself is at stake? Also tell your disciples to have families and live a life of fulfilment.”

Mahadeb answered, “I could tell them so, but they are free from desire, anger, greed or attachment; hence cannot be contained in a family.”

Goddess disagreed, “Even if one can overcome anger, greed and attachment, desire is the one of the six inherent human traits none can shun. Please permit me – I will invoke their lust only with a gaze through the corner of my eyes.”

Giving her a nod, Shiva called all his Siddha disciples from different parts of the world through meditation. All of them came – sat before Shiva while his wife served them food and water. Seeing her beauty, the image of her lustful glance on the water in the pitcher, everyone was besieged by an unspeakable yarning for love. None of them could help fantasising.

The Goddess came to know all the thoughts hidden in the minds of Siddhas. She gave boons to all of them fulfilling their desire of engaging with a pleasurable life on earth.

Meenanath started dreaming of company of a beautiful lady. “If I had such an exquisitely beautiful lady with me, I could spend entire night loving her” – he thought. The all-knowing Goddess understood his mind. She assured him, “Well – go to the land of bananas and be their King. You will have sixteen hundred gorgeous banana-ladies to give you company.”

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Temple of Matsyendranath is in Nepal, but Bengal has a distinct story about him. (photo: Wikipedia)

As Meenanath reached the land of Bananas he saw numerous beautiful young women around. He felt an intense desire of making love with all of them. He started dreaming of a life of a gander surrounded by adoring geese in a lake.

True the moment he put his foot on the land, the banana women encircled him. His handsome look attracted all of them. Power of his meditative mind fascinated them. All of them showed interest in him; yet Mangala and Kamala were two articulate ladies who led the large group of them when they came to meet the Yogi sitting under a Banyan tree. All the ladies, determined to steal the Yogi’s heart dressed up elegantly. Their long hairs made beautiful long plaits – adorned with floral garlands these resembled lighting in the dark cloud in the sky. Their heavy breasts were adorned with precious gem-studded long chains. They were wearing lot of jewelleries on their hands and feet and waist. Their lustful glance at him mesmerised the Yogi. Sitting before him the leading duo started talking to him in a sweet insisting tone. They showed him their gorgeous breasts in pretext of moving their hands while talking with motivation. They touched his thighs while persuading him to live a life of luxury and pleasure leaving the life of the wandering ascetic. “We two sisters rule this land of sixteen hundred banana women. Marry all of us; be our king; we would love to worship you. The dress of the beggar you are wearing doesn’t suit you; let us bring you a kingly one. Please give the banana women the chance to fan you and carry your umbrella. Oblige us by sitting on our royal throne wearing royal dress.”

He was surprised seeing a kingdom being run by not a man but women. At their insistence, Meenanath forgot his spiritual purpose of life. Sixteen hundred women gave him a bath, dressed him, and led him to the royal throne holding the golden umbrella of grandeur. Taking the charge of the land he started ruling like a good king establishing good governance. On the other hand, gaining ownership of all beautiful women of the land he discovered the pleasure of sensual love. Day and night did not make a difference for the euphoric lover. He stayed inside the pleasure garden of his palace and went on enjoying lust and luxury forgetting his spiritual guide Shiva and everything he had learnt from him. In course of time, his first queen gives birth of his son.

With this, Shiva’s curse came as true. Along with his spiritual learning, he forgot also the secrets of creation and immortality that he had learnt in disguise of the fish once. Caught in the net of worldly desires, he became susceptible to mortal sorrows and pains. He was no longer capable of defending himself against aging, disease and death using the power of his spiritual learning. The once Siddha turned into a common mortal.

However his fellow-siddhas were determined to free him from the cobweb of mortalities. Kanapha met Gorakhnath, Meenanath’s once disciple to inform him about misery of Meenanath – “I saw him in a wretched condition. His skin is loose, he lost his teeth. Sitting in the women’s lap, he lost all his strength. You weak guru looks like a skeleton covered with skin losing all his power as well as consciousness. I went to Yama’s palace too. There I received information about threat to his life. He will live in this earth another three days only. Yama directed his emissaries to pick him up!”

They discussed the need of saving him. Goraksha rushed to Yama’s place first to save Meenanath. He scolded Yama for his atrocious intention of killing a Yogi who should be solely suffering due to his Guru’s curse, but never face the death like a mortal. His anger terrified Yama, especially when Yogi Gorakshanath threatened him to take him to Brahma to ensure his ruin. Yama showed him every paper on which Meenanath’s fate was written. Goraksha erased all lines that decided his Guru’s mortality and end of life. He left Yama’s palace issuing another warning. He sent an order to Viswakarma, the ironsmith of gods to make him a golden umbrella, golden stick and ornaments through Yama’s messengers, Langa and Mahalanga. Langa narrated every detail of the story to Viswakarma to make him understand the requirement. Finally, dressed in accessories suitable for a wealthy Brahmin, and having the messengers of Yama as own attendants Goraksha entered Bananaland. He succeeded in avoiding women with lot of effort, but as he entered King Meenanath’s court in disguise of a Brahmin, the king tried to get rid of him. Sixteen hundred women with weapons in hand attacked him – no man but the King was allowed inside.

Goraksha decided to cross-dress. Next day he entered the court in disguise of a beautiful court-dancer wearing a new dazzling dress and carrying a golden Mrudanga sent by Viswakarma.

Everyone in the court was convinced that the beautiful new lady would steal the heart of the king – he might even leave his queens for her. Meenanath’s queen Mangala tried to get rid of the dancer first with lump sum alms. Not being able to convince, she ordered the the guards to oust her from palace. But tenacious Goraksha began singing standing outside the palace – his voice and drum loud enough to reach the King’s ears – his lyrics telling the stories of their past life of spiritual quest and the death threat approaching Meenanath . Meenanath, though unable to remember anything, felt curious. He ordered to bring the dancer before him. As anticipated by all, he fell for the exquisite beauty of the new dancer and her art. He proposed to marry her. The once disciple in disguise started narrating the worthlessness of women’s love and uselessness of mortal desires through spiritual songs. The lyrics brought back the king’s memories, but the dancer’s calling him old angered him – “How dare you call me old? I will prove my vigour to be stronger than hundred young men together. Come here – I will undress you right here and show my strength.” – yelled fuming King as he got up from his seat. His disciple cooked up a story of being heartless Gorakhnath’s dancer wife. Meenanath apologized for own illicit attraction to disciple’s wife who he should have seen like own daughter. Delighted, he expressed desire to meet his past disciple, the singer-dancer started convincing the king to go with him. The queen and all courtiers understood the trickery of the dancer, but they could not prevent the tenacious effort of a yogi preaching the once Guru against his intension of spending life in worldly pleasure than spiritual penance. The King, still immersed in worldly desires, was not at all ready to pay heed. He started arguing even after knowing about death awaiting him. Goraksha was left with no other option but to apply his magical power to save his Guru. After much altercation and persistent appeals, application of force and show of supernatural skill by the disciple in disguise, Meenanath regained his memories of the days of spiritual ecstasy back. His restored knowledge of eternity helped him decide to go back to his monastic life along with his disciple leaving the luxury of kingship and company of women.

Thus the glorious Yogi Meenanath was finally saved from the trap of women and mortal life in banana kingdom. His yogi follower transformed all his precious women into bats to eliminate the chance of further provocation from them. The sanctity of spiritual knowledge once earned was thus restored.

© Kathakali Mukherjee, 2018

Folktales from Bengal – The Birth of Siddhas

We have ancient folklore of Bengal having reference to the Siddhas, the Saivait Yogi cult. We also know of the Siddhas,the pioneers of Bajrayana Buddhist cult, the creators of Charyapadas. 10th century verses which are oldest example of Bengali literature as well as Maithili, Assamese and Odiya discovered so far.
Maynamati song, Gopichand ballad or Gorakshabijay – folk literature which evolved around fantasies more than actual events might haven’t give an account of Siddha scholars composing or writing verses – but in reality, the composer of the Charyas were called Siddha!
Siddha composers called those poems as Charyā meaning chants or song of their secret sadhana, not sloka or pada. “Pada” was added by MM Haraprasad Shastri, the researcher and publisher of the collection of Charyās. Anyway we see Siddha as a title was commonly used by Buddhist Tantrik sect and Saiva Nath Yogi sect. Was there any connection?
H M Shastri’s publication of 1916 included Dohākosh by Sarahapada (Sarahapa), Dohākosh by Kanhapada (Kanipa?), and Dakarnaba along with Charyāgitikosh.
Among the fifty songs of Charyāgitikosh, the name of Siddhacharya Kanhapada is associated with 13 verses. How do we identify that this is the same Kanapha or Kanipa mentionedin Natha-Yogi lore? We cannot be sure, but remarkable is Kānhapāda was probably an advocate of Buddhist Tantrik philosophy from current Karnataka, southern part of India. Also in our Gorakshavijay text, the Siddha Kanapha (Kanipa) heads towards southern part of India after his leader Shiva moves to his mountain abode with wife Parvati.
No we don’t want to make this a researcher’s account. Let’s see what one version of Gorakshavijay, a Bengali folklore tells about the origin of Siddhas – how they were born?)

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Mahayogi Meenanath, alternatively called Matsyendra Nath: from wikipedia commons

I would start my story worshipping the creator, the formless one.

Creating the universe, sky, earth and under-earth for fun

As if playing with himself, he worshipped himself unaware

Who brought awareness in him, who was his pair?

Once aware he saw own form in his own eyes. View of his own body brought him euphoric passion; enamoured he embraced the self with all his desire. The passionate lover’s nails tore the body. His Blood oozed out and from that blood were born the moon and the stars. Overwhelmed by own charm he fell unconscious. Once his consciousness restored, he saw himself again. This time his form delighted him – he started laughing. He indulged himself in self-reflection; in deep thought he growled – from his growls born Brahma and Vishnu. Intense thought caused him sweat, and the prime hymn was born from that sweat. Some of the gods, fire and clay were also born from that. The heaven and hell, location and locality, and everything else were born one by one.

Once everything was created, the one who had a beginning (time-bound) and who did not (timeless) sat together to discuss creation. The one who was born asked the eternal omniscient the secret of the creation. The timeless one replied: creation follows the way a tree is born; none knows whether the seed comes first or the tree. The process of Creation is same like churning the butter from milk or making fire brushing two pieces of woods against each other. Learning all secrets of creation and the universe from him, the one who was born, became knowledgeable.

The knowledgeable was engrossed in thinking. Time flew like that – one full moon night passed and also the dark moon night. But within next two days he got up as if resurrected. He yawned; from his mouth was born Shiva taking the form of Yogi, whose hair was matted and ears adorned with conch shell jewellery. Guru Meenanath the healer was born in the middle of the night, already dressed as Siddha. From the bones of the knowledgeable was born Hadipa, from the ears Kanapha, piercing his matted hair arrived Gorakshanath – all of them were Siddhas – the successors. Finally an exquisitely beautiful woman named Gauri was born. The knowledgeable asked if anyone of the successors had the strength to own the woman – all of the Siddhas lowered their head, all went silent. Only exception was Shiva, who even without showing a sign of enchantment, gazed at the divine female. As the knowledgeable suggested, Shiva being the strongest one owned her. The creator ordered Shiva and Gauri to go to the mortal world with the Siddhas. They did not have anything to do in the celestial abode, but a lot needed to be done for the mortal world.

Coming to earth, all of them were staying together. Meenanath and Kanapha were serving Hadipa and Goraksha was serving Meenanath. All of them were practicing yoga together having no other food but air. Yet in course of time Shiva felt desire for Gauri – both of them started conversing with each other. She asked why Shiva adorned himself with a garland made of bones. Shiva replied that the bones came from different forms of Gauri in her previous births. Every time she had died, unbearable pain of separation besieged him. Every time after her death he collected her bone and made a garland out of that to be able to keep her memory with him. When Gauri asked him the reason why she had to die before him every time, he took her to an amazing water-palace in the middle of the sea to tell her the stories in secret.

What none could imagine that the successor Meenanath would follow them in disguise of a fish. Hiding himself in the water he went on listening to their dialogue. He also noticed Gauri falling asleep while the spirited Shiva continued telling his stories. Meenanath went on saying yes affirming her attention in the voice of Gauri, so that the Mahayogi’s storytelling did not disrupt. This way he learned everything Lord Shiva wanted to tell his lady.

After Gauri woke up, she felt ashamed of her falling asleep. She told her husband how bad she felt that she did not listen to the end of stories. Mahadev anyway felt annoyed – who then had hummed “yes” during his storytelling? He had to meditate to find it out. He went upset knowing how his disciple Meenanath tricked him. The obtrusive curiosity of the Yogi in disguise of fish angered him so much, that he cursed his Meenanath – he would forget all the knowledge he earned at the time of need.

After this incident Shiva and Gauri went to Kailas, their mountain abode to enjoy their union in isolation. The group of Shiva’s successors scattered in four directions of the land. Hadipa went towards east, Kanapha towards south. Gorakhnath went to the west and Meenanath towards north – thus creating four schools of Yoga in four directions.

But did Shiva’s curse bring any trouble for Meenanath? We will hear that story too – in next episode.

© Kathakali Mukherjee, 2018

Folktales from Bengal

India, being an old civilisation has rich tradition of folktales. Folklore research of 19th – 20th century discovered many of them. Anyway Folklore studies as a subject was mostly encouraged and funded by western world, European countries or USA. They developed folklore studies as a systematic area of research, discovered stories from different parts of the world, analysed those, found similarities and dissimilarities among different regional folktales. At the same time many stories remained undiscovered. Language and dialects created one obstacle in front of the effort of translating them. Another issue was reaching the locations in remotest corners of the world where a handful of stories could have been hidden.

Being born as Bengali, I had access to good number of Bengali folktales. As I started working on history of Bengali literature, I realised many of the tales of this region are either unknown to the world, i.e. never translated or was translated over hundred years back and then forgotten. Some of those are so old that those make us remember tells of the Puranas, some of them show fantasy comparable to medieval European tells, some carry strong flavour of Bengali societal morals of an unknown era. I thought of presenting some of those stories to my readers to make them aware of the folktale traditions from Bengal. Some of the tales have different version in different districts, also in neighbouring states. Good to remember that political geography of a land changes over the time depending on ruler’s convenience, sometimes making human migration impossible. But change in boundaries of states cannot block stories from traveling from one district to another, even from one part of the land to another – stories are orally transmitted. As long as folk stories are orally created by commoner, also preserved same way, versions change as per storytellers style and understanding – storytellers interpret stories matching to their life’s experience. Interesting is to find similar stories in any two disconnected locations. We can assume similar experiences encourage humans to create similar stories to interpret their world.

The history of Bengali language explains how changes over thousand years, if not more, could have influenced folktales – stories of the commoners developed in this language. We come to know about the existence of some written language in eastern part of India in the Buddhist text Lalitavistara composed not later than 308 CE claiming that Buddhadev learned scripts of Anga, Banga, Brahmi, Saurastri and Māgadhi. And the claim establishes us that there was a distinct script for language spoken in the Banga territory even before the birth of Christ. The geographical boundary of this Banga (Bengal?) before Christ is obviously not very clear to us!

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Lalitavistara relief from Borobudur (credit Wikipedia)

The oldest literary work of India, Veda Samhitas including Atharvan do not have any reference to Bangla, or the region Banga. Aitareya Brahmana which is considered one important text among later Vedic literature mentions Vanga as a territory inhabited by barbarian tribes. True that oldest example of Bengali script is found about one thousand years back  — there are manuscripts and inscriptions to support that.

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Silver coin with proto-Bengali script, Harikela Kingdom, circa 9th-10th century. Credit: Wikipedia

But a language does not necessarily develop along with a script. History of languages tells that the grammar and script associated to a language usually develop long after the verbal usage of a language starts. And verbal language practice does not leave ‘evidence’ for historians. During colonialist period, a section of European academicians took effort to prove the origin of Bengali language and its script to be somewhere in Europe or Asian territories adjacent to Europe. Problem with those kinds of evidence based historical analysis is, those are based on very limited evidences — those kinds of evidences do not last for centuries. Ashokan inscriptions tell there were around 84000 of them scattered in different parts of the country. We found only around hundred of them! If Samudragupta, the illustrious Gupta King mentioned one of his Bengali subsidiaries in his Allahabad inscription, then there was some language and script in eastern part of the land as early as in fourth century AD. Deciphering inscriptions and manuscripts found in eastern part of India — current West Bengal, Bangladesh, Assam, Bihar, and Odisha, makes us sure of the existence of the predecessor of current Bengali script in 7th\8th century.

Difference between written and spoken language is normal. But when the difference becomes too wide, the written language dies and the spoken modifies to some extent to turn into written language.

Probably same happened in case of Bengali. If Prākrit has replaced Sanskrit in writing, then Prākrit too had to be replaced by its successor in course of time. Scriptural evidences tell us that Bengali was not a cousin, but successor of Prākrit, which began developing as the Buddhist cultural empire started collapsing. Bengali in post-Charyāpada era shows clear changes those make us anticipate that there was some effort to develop Bengali as a sankritised language removing its former Prākrtised form. Medieval Bengali texts like Mangalkavyas in 13th century becomes show signs of this kind of reformed Bengali. Chaitanya literature by 16th century presents the most refined classical form of Bengali in the history of the language. Yet many works of this period till 1st half of 19th century show desire to bring Bengali closer to Sanskrit. Some of the verses written by Bharatchandra Ray in first half of 18th century could be easily designated as Sanskrit verses considering the selection of words, metre and style. Is this an expression against invading Islamic influence on local language and literature? During Islamic rule that started around 13th century AD, Farsi was imposed as official language. Naturally, many of court literature composed in this period shows strong influence of Farsi. In sharp contrast to that, 19th century (during British rule) literature shows an inclination to use Bengali colloquy in literary works, which is no way Prākrit. Anyway most of the Hindu authors in between 18th-20th century mostly used sankritised Bengali as literary language. The Bengali educationist Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar (1820–1891) was the first person who gave Bengali a distinct form as literary language free from the excessive influence of Sanskrit, Farsi and colloquy.

Notable is, considerable section of Bengali folk literature of 17th 18th century also shows lot of influence of Farsi in language. Several hundred years of Islamic rule may have this kind of impact on literary use of language, but how come Bharatchandra Roy’s language is completely free of Farsi influence? Is it possible that different authors of same era opted for different linguistic styles depending on own subject?

Better not to indulge too much in discussing linguistic history . We will discover the stories told in this language – I promise to come up with one of the oldest stories found in Bengali in next episode.

“None knows when the era of Kalidasa was over — only the pundits continue arguing regarding the date and time.” — Rabindranath Tagore

© Kathakali Mukherjee, 2018

A story found in my dreams

cont.

King Dusmanta comes back to the palace, never to go back to the same forest again. Neither he shows any interest to bring the forest girl in his palace. Reader can argue he should have brought her as long as he promised her so. But there is also another phrase in our memory  – there is nothing wrong in love and war. Truethat the esteemed King fell in love in the forest, but that was the love in the forest, not the one he enjoys in the civilised world. Why should he carry his memories of his powerlessness of the forest in the palace which keeps him powerful? The articulate love-sick ladies in his palace makes him feel powerful. His committed army, trusted courtiers, faithful servants as well as his grand palatial structure and the planned cityscape maintains his power. A king is the symbol of power after all. Kingship is threatened without power attached to it. And hence – the king takes an wise decision of forgetting his forest experience.

Botu the Brahmin believer was not being able to cope with the ideology of power since long – his decision of leaving the job brought some relief to the king as well. Encountering unsuitable moral preaching every now and then makes the life of a King horrible. The king does not forget arranging generous pension for his once friend, anyway. The illustrious Kings of the Chandra dynasty never forget their royal duty.

The forest lady Sakuntala and her friends waits and waits for the King’s messenger, till they realise the difference between the forest and civilisation. Sakuntala gives birth to a male child as expected who is growing up in the hermitage. The sage Kanva wis aware of the overwhelming role desire and fulfillment and power-games play in human life. Lions are not always very affectionate to kids. The King is the Lion who protects the land, not individuals. The hermit took up the task of educating his grandson to be the next ruler of the land.

We see some change  in Dushmanta’s behaviour after this adventure. He stops seasonal hunting sessions after this. Is the fat little Peggy responsible for this? Did she turn an advisor stronger than Botu? We know she and Dushmanta is still talking to each other – sometimes discussing administration, sometimes fighting. But does she preach too? We are not sure.

Sakuntala will meet Dushmanta after a few years – how will act and react seeing their once lovers after years? will they  reunite and appear in the royal court as happy couple for ever? What will happen to Peggy confined in the body of the macho King Dushmanta?

We will have to wait a few more months to know the conclusion of the story. Till then….bye.

© Kathakali Mukherjee, 2018

Changing denotation or adding connotation? An interesting conflict!


goose

Yesterday one friend mentioned Kamat’s Potpourri, an old Indian cultural E-mag exploring India. But right at that moment ‘Potpourri’ made me remember ‘pot’ – the new meaning of which is certain kind of narcotics. What if this admirable Kamats start smoking pots now?

Another friend had written an article on how our love for the divine becoming the cause of environmental pollution. But as I saw the title mentioning the word ‘divine’ – I imagined this to be an article on queer rights. What if the person is into institutionalizing queer movements as a radical activism area?

Today someone sent me a poem having title ‘everyone can love’ – a simple love poem, but the word ‘love’ in the title made me imagine this to be a poem of women’s sexual freedom. What if goddess Kali in all women is unleashed while she brings lucrative business potential?

Thus is the power of words. Words – that is a collection of alphabets does not have any worth is not associated to some meaning. And the meaning we associate to a particular set of alphabets do change drastically with changing time.

I felt terrified!

Thing is when I use the word pot, I mean a vessel – earthen pot or tea-pot type. But if a day comes when everyone around me forgets the connotation I use, and as they already would have started using the word to mean narco-product, then I am going to be obsolete; a laughable grandma trying to use an obsolete language!

I remember a Bengali slang meaning hair in Sanskrit. Remember impact of my telling lines of a Sanskrit poem to explain how female beauty was described in classical Sanskrit before my non-Sanskrit knowing friends in college days. No comedian expects laughter in the places where it is not meant to. That day I learnt people from apparently same socio-linguistic group might have a habit of using words differently – might have different kind of language skill – making communication impossible. I rarely spoke in my college days – though I had many friends, from whom I learnt a lot. My American friend made me talk for couple of months – but again came the barrier when one day she asked after a music concert, “Did you have a crush with the singer?” I struggled around ten minutes to make her understand that I didn’t crush anyone, any opposition, I never intended to crush the singers even though the song is unfamiliar – in fact I loved the song too much! Finally learnt the meaning of American “crush” – but by then she lost interest of inquiring whether I was crushed or not!

Adding divine to every persona creates a different scenario – bringing the risk of deifying everyone. This is perfect for people looking forward to become a brand, or those likes to live a solitary life or comfortable only in a small group of deities, refusing communication with people outside the group. In case of ordinary people who are actually looking forward to social life as an individual, this can bring disaster. I use the word “divine” to politely describe people who I find a potential threat or a predator – unfortunately we have to meet some in our road of life. But that person is a non-human entity like film-stars who are always to be kept on deity’s pedestal, seen from a distance, could be observed or worshipped and never to interact with. Do queer people actually want “normals” to avoid them?

Same happened with an apparently innocent word “Cute”. I used this to describe adorable (probably most of the “ignorant” still do it) till I met a Carnegie Mellon funded pundit. He mentioned a dictionary meaning as the true meaning of “Cute” – sexually attractive! US University brands establish power of knowledge and I the deshi language enthusiast remained overpowered. Do not dare using the word any longer even to describe kids knowing that this may express my paedophile intent to the person I am trying to talk to.

In last few years, we have seen meanings and symbols drastically changing. Tagore’s “Sonar Tari” became a frustrated person’s lamentation deviating from its spiritual meaning. Especially as post-globalization impact, we added many connotations to our known words – We can never be sure what connotation the words “crash”, “knock” or “box” brings to the person we are talking to. Using same connotation creates comfort zone – unfamiliar connotation makes the user odd (personally I liked to use the word ‘queer’ for ‘odd’ till the meaning changed these days). I had to learn and use some American English slang to make my German software user feel comfortable while discussing on SAP application.

Knowledge is something we civilized people seek for. Humans are always in search of knowledge. Knowledge empowers us – we find new meanings of known words with changing time. New connotations sometimes lead us to create new dictionaries – finally change the connotation into denotation of the word. Using words which means the same to a group of people creates camaraderie; forming group is inevitable to explore business opportunities. We constantly create disruption; convert that disruption to opportunity using our knowledge overpowering the old; that’s how civilization makes progress – ignorant one should better shut up!

Travel Diary of a Man without a Mission- 4

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photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Morning came. But my soul did not want to open the door. So cold it was! I had to face another trouble in addition. Yesterday I was blaming the water for being too cold, probably that dismayed her so much that she decide not to come to my bathroom tap. I had to open the door – to find an early morning commotion in Kali-Kamli. There was no water in the rest-house when everyone needed it! I didn’t need that much – my food intake is too low to produce lot of waste. I found rest of my group unpacking water-bottles to survive the war-situation. Finally came the time of our auspicious start after the sun came out clear. I was placed on a mare, as planned. This mare was not supposed to gallop. It took small steps across boulders, ditches and muddy pits before stopping every now and then. Its owner started beating it from behind; and beating encouraged her to try to shake off the heavy object from its back. Understanding her mood, I grabbed its back tighter thinking – if I have to fell in the deep roadside pit, I would fell with you, my dear! Readers don’t need to worry much. There is another option to hire palanquins carried by four people avoiding these grumpy horses. Apart from overweight people eager to collect the rewards for own piety, many like me having health issues opt for these easy options avoiding walking. But the number of travellers walking miles on this rough rocky road to reach destination is remarkable. Colourful groups of old and young – men and women walking together through the steep Himalayan route catch attention here. Sight of amazingly green bushes besides the ice-formations here and there makes the journey pleasant. Dense forests in the neighbouring mountains, some stone-built and lesser number of brick-built small-houses beside the two-meter wide road catches attention. The traveller has to be prepared to cross numerous snow drifts trying to throw an unaware person into the Yamuna flowing far below dragging him off the trail. A route to heaven is always a difficult route.

I took the help of the four-legged one; hence reached earlier than my troupe mates who were depending on own two legs. I continued waiting for them standing in front of the stable. The young horse owner seemed hungry – I kept on telling him to wait – they reached after half an hour. I felt relieved.

The narrow path is crowded with innumerable people. We pushed them to reach an eatery. We found another companion to guide us in this stony route – a boy named Vijay Singh who would work as our porter. He told he is 23 but looks even younger. My group would trek some more kilometres. I am not supposed to cross my limit.

I walked till the temple, but did not enter. I am atheist by heart. Gods in form of icons irritate me. I saw some people sitting inside the hot spring, Suryakund they call it. Believers believe that this sacred spring washed their sins off along with their disease. I have doubt whether this unclean pond actually helps – does this hot water really heal?

I came back cutting my way through the crowd once again. Again that mare was waiting for me. But coming back riding became nightmare. Descending downward slope is always difficult, there is reason these poor animals don’t want humans on their back while coming down. I got down to save my life after four kilometres; started walking with the horse owner, heard the story of two people’s falling from horse last week. Both were thrown in the deep ditch inside which river Yamuna flows at her own pace. The dark Goddess Yamuna affectionately welcomed both in her womb. Storytelling skill of the boy made my last 1.5 kilometre walk to Jankichatti an amazing journey. I cannot remember stories even though I found them interesting yesterday – remembered my daughter who has immense thirst for these stories describing sacredness of the places, gods and goddesses whom none has seen. I cannot understand how adult people find relevance in these – for me these were good pastime while walking down the dangerously steep mountain path.

Continue reading “Travel Diary of a Man without a Mission- 4”