Madhumala 8

Everyone in the royal hunting troupe got up when the first ray of the sun called them in the morning. The noise of morning commotion filled the mountain. The minister’s son called:

 “Madan, my dear, open your lotus eyes.

Let’s return home, for the sake of your parents.”

Waking up, Madan found himself inside the tent but on a different bed. He burst into tears lamenting – “Where is my Madhumala? I set out first time to hunt jungle animals and spent first night outside home. But did I spend the night in this forest or in Madhumala’s land? What an amazing first night of love I had – the image of her face is still clear in my mind. How come all those can be a dream?”

The entire mountain forest began mourning with the prince – what kind of a magical dream came to ruin him? None of sandal paste, honey and butter, cold aromatic water from the golden pot, waving fans could help rejuvenate him. The prince went of lamenting, “O Madhumala, my Madhumala!”

The minister’s son went on pursuing, “What is in a dream, my Prince – one should not lament a dream. Let us return home – who knows how our parents are doing without having us around?”

Madan could not be comforted anyway, “Who says dream is only a dream?”

“If dream is only a dream – how did we exchange rings?

How did we chew betel-leaves together in my dreams?

If dream is all untrue, how did we change shawls there?

How do I still remember the fragrance of her hair?

If dream is all false how did our cots exchanged?

O dear! How did I see in dream how she is dressed?”

“How do I still remember the beautiful name – Madhumala – my Madhumala?”

True – now the minister’s son realized the truth – Madankumar’s cot and the shawl and the ring were all different. “Who used such a sorcery against us last night! Did we enter a sorcerer’s zone by mistake?” He ordered the troupe to move out of the place.

 ***

The evening lamp was not lit in the royal palace that day. The troupe came back devastated – Madankumar still crying loud, “O Madhumala – my Madhumala?”

The weeping king and queen rolled on the dust if grief. Madan said, “Please listen to me. I did not dream – it was all true. Now I have to go to find that truth. Father! Please arrange fourteen boats to accompany my Madhukar ship. Mother! Please bless me showing your auspicious lamp before my journey once again. I will find out my Madhumala. Without her, I cannot live in this earth.”

“O Bidhatapurush, what did you do to us!” – His parents fainted.

Only their people stopped calling them barren. Their happiness did not last long. The king and queen realized opening the door of the underground stone palace only three days before time became reason of their ill-fate. They were going to lose their only son, the apple of their eyes once again. The heartbreak could not be avoided.

(to be cont…)

Madhumala 7

Who opened the eyes first? – Madhumala. She opened her eyes wondering why the parrot in the golden cage did not start talking, why the anklet-bells of her maid was still not being heard, why the three rows of ghee-lamps were still alight. She sat on her bed – and her eyes fell on whom?

“Seeing the morning sun so close before her eye,

The princess fainted at once as if lost in the sky.”

After some time her sense revived – she looked at him again. Her eyeballs were not moving; her long dark eyelashes seemed frozen. Gazing and gazing and gazing at him, Madhumala thought – “Is this a Devata? Who else can enter my chamber crossing the fluctuating sea, so many guards and all these seven thirty six thirteen rooms in the palace?”

Removing her anklets and bangles and floral jewelry, she took the seven headed knife from the betel-leaf casket. Silently she held it on Madankumar’s chest –if he was a devata, he would wake up; if he was a Daitya or Danav or sorcerer, blood would ooze out from his heart.

Madan woke up the moment the knife touched him. He saw the  dark cloud hair, cloud-colour saree and sandal-coloured shawl of the princess –

What a gleam was hidden in the moon,

Like lightning from cloud it appear by which boon?

He looked at her long – to realise she was not the moon in the sky. He had heard of fairies from paradise; began crying thinking he had been fallen in their trap.

Madhumala kept the knife aside, said:

“Who are you, Devata or Danav, tell me wiping tears for Bidhata’s sake

Golden face should tell the truth; death awaits if you settle for a fake.”

Madan replied, “Neither I am a Devata, nor a Danav. I am only a human being.”

Going back to her seat, the princess asked:

“Who are your parents – from where you came,

Tell me all about you, what is your name?”

Madan narrated:

“My home is in Ujaninagar, my father king Dandadhar

I am his only son, named Madankumar.”

The princess giggled happy as showering flowers around. Madan asked her who she was.

“Bhatina Sea is where I live. My father is the king Tambula

I am the princess of the kingdom, named Madhumala.”

Both giggled together.

Princess said, “When Bidhata sent you inside my chamber in this golden palace crossing the barrier of the ocean and seven thirty six thirteen rooms, then I cannot think of marrying anyone else but you. Accept my finger-ring, give me yours.”

Both stood up; exchanged rings; the parrots from the cage sang auspicious song. The prince said, “Once we exchanged rings, let us exchanges our shawls too.” They looked like the dazzling sun wrapped in transparent cloud and the gleaming moon in the fog.

The sleep-fairy asked the time-fairy, “Sister, how long the night will stay with us?”

Time fairy said, “Well sister, bring them sleep.”

Before they finish chewing betel-leaves from their casket, the prince and princess fell fast asleep.”

The time fairy said, “When we have done so much, why don’t we change their beds too? The two sisters placed the princess on the prince’s bed and the prince on the princess’s bed. Taking the prince on her bed, they flew again to that mountain-forest – to place the bed beside the minister’s son’s inside the prince’s tent.

The sleep fairy said, “How shall we go to paradise today? See the sun we have hidden under the ocean yesterday, is coming out from the east.”

To be cont…

Madhumala 5

They had already crossed a long way before their royal cavalcade reached a mountain-forest. It was a large mountain forest, yet no sound of birds chirping was heard there. Not even a shadow of a deer was seen.

At the end of the day, everyone was tired of the futile search for the hunt. None found anything that could be hunted. The shadow of the sun in west elongated till east; slowly the sun went down; the arrow Madan picked up in the morning still stayed in his hand in the evening – he didn’t find a chance to shoot.

He kept his horse under a tree; said to the minister’s son,“See what an inauspicious moment we have started in. We did not find any stalk in this vast forest area. I don’t want this bow and arrow any longer.” He threw his bow and arrow on the ground.

The minister’s son said, “Well prince! Let’s go back then  -it is already evening.”

Madan protested, “What are you telling!”

“This is inauspicious as well as humiliating

Not finding a game after coming for hunting

I brought dishonor upon my family

Having failed in my first venture silly

Listen, Minister’s son! Pitch a camp here

I won’t go to meet father today for sure.”

The minister’s son replied, “My Prince! You are only son of the King – heir of the throne.

Not returning will force them bemoan.

Madan remained resolute as before, “I am not going to listen to you.”

“Neither kingdom, nor king means anything

When Madankumar fails in life for first time.

No, that is not going to happen. Call the people – tell them to arrange tents here.”

Soon the rows of tents of royal troupe were set in the wide valley in the middle of the mountain forest. The prince ordered, “Let all take rest tonight.” Only the minister’s son had reason to worry.  

In the evening, there was much noise; in the late evening, his people were still busy with cooking. In the middle of the night, everyone fell asleep. The tents of his force surrounded his tent; his was decorated with a silk-canopy with dangling gemstone-designs. On their golden royal beds, both the prince and the minister’s son fell asleep.

***

In that bewitching hour of the night, the two fairy-sisters- one time-fairy, another sleep-fairy were on the way to Indra’s palace illuminating the sky with their aura. The stars were sparkling in the sky. The wind was blowing mild. The time-fairy called the sleep-fairy:

 “Look sister, crossing so many forests, bushes and mountains.

Where we came, what are we seeing in the valley astounding?”

“True, every day we go through this route but never notice anything like this. What we are seeing today – fainted stars, faded moon, daitya and danav stopped moving, even the breeze is mild – what happened here today?”

 Startled time-fairy said, “Look downwards, there are lamps alit as if thousand moons blossomed in the earth. Or did anyone collect all the sparkling gemstones of the world here together? Did any of our devatas from heaven come to stay here? – let’s have a look.”

Sleep denied, “Let’s not spoil our time here – the night passes fast.”

Time-fairy was not ready to move without exploring.Sleep-fairy discovered, “No, this is neither gemstone, nor a devata – this is a mortal prince!”

“Prince! How come a mortal can look so beautiful? I am not going from here before seeing him once! – She started floating downwards. Her sister had no other choice but to follow. Coming down, they stood near the bed of Madankumar to see him properly.

Time-fairy was surprised:

“Did Fate-deva create him to puzzle women on the earth!

Did he give his form using a paintbrush?

To draw lines, where did he find the ink? 

Did he collect butter from the ocean of milk?

Why did he create a beauty so rare

If for him he didn’t make a suitable pair?”

Smiling sleep-fairy answered:

“Madhumala is the Tambul princess,

If this is gemstone, she gems-basket.”

As time-fairy expressed doubt whether anything in the world can be more gorgeous than the prince, her sister informed:

“Entire kingdom laughs if she laughs,

All of them cry when she sighs

Making a golden palace in the middle of the sea

King of Tambul keeps her there, not everyone can see.”

The news cheered up the time-fairy, “Is it? Then let’s help the prince meet Madhumala. Hold the other side of bed.”

Sleep, her sister differed again, “No sister, the night will be over soon. We won’t be able to attend Indra’s festival if involve ourselves in mortal’s affairs.”

“No, we have to make sure that two of them unite once we have found one of the pair. Let Paradise go to hell! Let’s carry the bed to the land of Madhumala.”

“What a trouble you invite!” – Sleep sister expressed concern, but then – two of them flew in sky spreading their floral wings holding Madankumar’s bed from both sides amidst that lonely night.

(to be cont._

Madhumala 4

One year after another passed. The doubt about losing the prince disappeared from everyone’s mind. The king ruled, looked after his subjects;happiness abounded.

One day, the kingdom was still flourishing; the royal court thronging; people prattling –all on a sudden prince Madankumar got up. His stick slipped from his hand. He said, “I am the prince –son of a king – my life has been wasted till date.Father! Please permit some people to accompany me – I will go hunting.”

All the noise in the court stopped at once. The King fainted. He fell down from his throne that was placed on the top of fourteen steps –

 “I cannot live without seeing you for moments

 Don’t go hunting, Madan, flame of my lineage!

 Flag bearer of family, apple of my eyes

Don’t go leaving us dear, ruining our lives.”

Courtiers and attendants pursued the prince for long against hunting. But Madankumar had made up his mind. He said, “What is the purpose of life if I don’t go hunting?How to prove my hands are strong enough to hold the club of judgment if I don’t shoot arrows using these? Let me leave, father! Being a prince, I don’t want to live a worthless life.”

The king jumped in panic hearing Madan’s commitment, “Don’t tell that, my dear son!Better go wherever you want. Let astrologers find an auspicious day. I will arrange people to accompany you.”

Madan agreed,“Good!”

In an auspicious moment of an auspicious day, touching his parent’s feet, Madan set off. The disheveled queen touched his head with blessings collected from one temple, dust from another. Tears welled up in the kings eyes – his heart did cry in pain. He sent elephants, horses, palanquins and carriages, wooden poles and tents, and as many people as possible together to accompany his son. Finally he called a minister’s son to request, “My son, take care of my Madan –make sure that the evening-drumbeat of my life returns safe at the lion-gate of the palace.”

Madankumar went hunting as if taking the daylight away from parent’s life and moonlight away from the courtier’s life with him.  

(to be cont.)

Madhumala 3

Joy and happiness filled the kingdom. The king couldn’t be called barren.any longer. The glitter in the underground palace too went on growing every passing day. The King carried on counting days.

Abundance blessed the Kingdom after Madankumar’s birth. Number of elephants grew in the elephant shed, number of horses in the horse-shelter. Overflowing milk kept the ground of the cowshed wet, grains overflowed farmer’s granaries, flowers covered the roads in the flower gardens, excess fruits in the trees ripened in the trees, water in the rivers and lakes flowed forever, beggars and destitute built own homes, the precious stones in the kings treasury spilled over the roads and playgrounds, markets and ports. The kingdom became rich.

Prince Madankumar danced and played in the dark underground palace, He learned to read and write. He completed learning all twelve Vedas and eight lessons by the time the twelve-year period was almost over. Only three days were left — we do not know what revolved in his mind, what brought tears in his eyes — he went to his mother, sat on her lap and said, “Mother, I am twelve now, but do not know how the sun and the moon look like.”

Embracing him the queen said, “You waited so long, my gem of the heart! Only two more days are left. Then not only the planets, entire kingdom will be yours.”

Madankumar did not listen. Embracing his mother’s feet he cried:

“Please open the door, mother, forgetting your sacred vow.I will kill myself if I cannot see the planets now.”

The affectionate mother’s heart broke in fear, she fell unconscious. The nurse sent the doorkeeper to inform the king.

The king shuddered with fear recalling the words of the monk. His mouth dried. Calling all his priests, pundits, yogis and astrologers, he asked their opinion, “Three days are left to complete twelve years — shall we open the door or not?”

Counting and calculating a lot, the astrologers declared, “When Madan is telling he would commit suicide unless the door is opened, what else we shall do? The twelve year timeline is almost reached — you may open it now.”

The king too had no other choice. He ordered, “O-P-E-N!”

Hundred of axes, and hammers, and clubs broke the closed door of the stone-palace open.

Joyful Madankumar came out in the open — thousand flowers seemed blooming on earth, all splendour of the universe seemed arrived on the earth. Whoever seen the prince before, felt they had seen him on the first night of waning moon, as if the full moon on his glorious chariot finally arrived from under the ground.Those who did not see him before found him like the shining Sun-god stepping out from his underground palace. The kingdom dazzled with his rays.

People from everywhere came running to have a look of him. The queen came to give him a bath with aromatic oil. Madankumar, smeared with sandal-paste and brows lined with black kohl, having royal lunch of five Payas and eight delicacies along with his father, arrived in bejeweled dress of fourteen gemstones to adorn the royal court.

“Good luck, Gods bless us all!” — was that all the courtiers chanted. The conch-shells of the royal palace announced ascend of the crown-prince.

Madhumala 2

The monk was never found. The king called astrologer Brahmins to calculate auspicious moments for his union with the queen. Aromatic smoke of incense cones filled the quarter of the Queen of the queens. All corners of her chamber dazzled by freshly-lit Ghee lamps. She prepared welcome-tray for the king with fragrant Champa-flowers and the seven-wicked ghee-lamp. Taking auspicious bath, she gave alms to the poor. Then in the moonlit night, through the corridor decorated with flower bouquet, flower pots and floral canopies, the king entered the queen’s quarter.

Days passed,also the nights. After six months the king ordered to build an underground palace of stones as was directed by the monk.

His men rushed to all kingdoms in all directions. All his miners, soldiers, guards, stone masons,wood cutters, wrestlers brought all kinds of red, white, black and blue stones from every corner of the world. As those colourful stones were piled in one place – a large mountain of stones was formed beside the palace. Then the best stone masons of the kingdom – Sonalal, Rupalal, Hiramanik and Joybijay came with their assistants to cut the stones – to build a beautiful stone palace under the ground.

 What awonderful palace they built! Setting the stones one after another, they made its foundation with thousand stones; another thousand were used to construct the wall. They created a brilliantly designed roof with one thousand stones and encircled the palace with stone boundary wall. They didn’t make any door or window except a small door towards north. The door was tightly close so that no light, even moonlight could enter through that. Also the wind was barred –darkness reigned there day and night.

Guarding that doorway of darkness stood expert saw-blade army. Even a honey-bee was to be chopped into thousand pieces by their saw blades if one tried to pass through the door. The saw blades in skilled hands cut from both sides. Hence the underground palace became impassable – none could enter or come out of that.

The king ordered everything three people might need in next twelve years to be placed inside. As ten months and ten days of her pregnancy completed, the queen entered the palace with only one loyal nurse. Drumbeats announced the upcoming celebration.     

The moon from heaven took birth first time on earth – the offspring;

As thousand lamps lit in the dark palace underneath – lucky is the king.

As if thousand suns and moons play – in the palace underground.

Thousands of flowers spread sweet aromas – leaving all astound.

The queen and the nurse fell unconscious in the midst of the fragrance of thousands and ten thousands flowers. The stone wall could not contain the glow of the baby as glittering as thousands of lamps together, the scent of his skin as fragrant as thousands of flowers. Also the doorkeeper outside the closed door of the stone-palace fainted. The King was informed.

Taking all his ministers, councilors, courtiers, singers, Brahmins, astrologers, priests,musicians and singers, the king came to see his son with leading a spectacular procession. Tears of joy filled everyone’s seeing the newborn prince. All the jewelry and gemstones he brought as gift failed to match the radiance of the newborn.

The prince was named as the monk suggested – Madankumar.

The king told the queen not to open the door for next twelve years, Madankumar should see neither sunlight, nor moonlight till twelve.

The King returned his palace above the ground with great pomp and ceremony. The queen shut the underground door to the world above in the name of twelve long years.

Madhumala

One of the little known Rupkatha (fairytale) from Bengal. Notable for presence of gods in the story which is rare in case of common fairy tales here.

There was a king who ruled a kingdom.

The royal palace was all agog with footfalls of courtiers, soldiers, servants as well as countless visitors. Diamonds and rubies spoke of the abundance in the palace. The gods from heaven often came to work as doorkeepers here – such was the glory of the king.

The king was the master of his territory. Yet he was not happy. He was childless.

Who would keep the seven-wicked ghee-lamp in the palace alight if the king didn’t have an offspring — who would rule the kingdom after him?

What’s more, his subjects had started gossiping about the barrenness of the king.

Once the sweeper was sweeping the palace courtyard at dawn; the king woke up hearing the sound of the broom, opened the door and ohhh! — He saw the sweeper.

Also the sweeper saw the king. He hurriedly covered his face with both his palms; then recalled the names of twelve deities with a sigh — “Ohh!”

“Seeing the barren king at the dawn / Food will be spoiled today, my luck is gone!”

The king could hear that. To his sheer surprise, he discovered, “Even the hapless sweeper finds me an ill-omen — my face inauspicious!”

He did not scorn the sweeper. After all it was his fate which kept him barren. With a heavy heart he closed his bed-chamber’s door. He kept himself  locked in his bed-chamber. Water preserved for him in the golden kettle outside evaporated, the betel-leaves prepared for him dried in the tray. At the end of the day, entire palace was heard mourning his absence. All royal tasks were stalled – even judges stopped judging the complains of the subjects; none was there to look after people of the kingdom.

Seven days and seven nights were over. All courtiers, ministers, officers and servants queued in front of the king’s closed door. The king uttered only one sentence “I do not want to show my face to anyone in this world. I do not want to live.”

That day, Bidhatapurush the god of fate was the doorkeeper at the lion gate. The king’s palace swept away by the tidal wave of tears of all the people in the kingdom. Cloud of dust covered the royal throne. And Bidhatapurush was touched by the overwhelming sorrow there. Letting his club of judgment lean on the gate, he took his pen.

Drawing only one line with his pen, he smiled. Dressing like a monk and taking the lamp of hope in hand, he arrived before the king’s closed door.

“Get up and come out!

You are King, the owner of the club of judgment,

Why are you wailing like wretched repugnant?

As the days of your misery is over

Get up, embrace your future in clover.”

The loud wake-up call attracted everyone’s attention to the door – they found a monk with a lamp. Also the surprised king got up from bed.

The monk was singing:

“What was written in your fate has changed,

Look, for you twin fruits on the tree arranged

Go forward taking the lamp of hope in your hand

Find your luck, future ruler of the land!

Golden temple stands beside the water

Where you see the life-lake –

It’s not far from where comes your son –

With nine qualities to glorify your throne.”

The hope-lamp in the monk’s hand lighted on its own. The overwhelming mourning ended. After seven days and seven nights, the king opened the door.

The monk said, “Wipe your tears King. Go to your life-lake with this lamp of hope. You will see twin golden fruits in a golden tree. Keeping the lamp on your head bow before the tree, hold your breath and pluck the fruits. Those will fulfill your wish.”

Hopeful king went to the lake placing the lamp on his head.

He saw gravels had covered the way to the lake within those seven days, snakes and jackals had dug holes on both sides of it, flowers stopped blooming in the garden, the lake started drying, weeds covered the ground surrounding the trees.

Wiping tears with his tears, the king went under the golden tree. He bowed before the tree – but what happened? He let his hope fly by mistake as he exhaled instead of holding his breath. Hope returned without touching the fruit. Holding the lamp on his head, the king fainted on the ground. The monk called him again, “O mighty King! You shattered it all committing a mistake absent minded. Nevertheless –

Get up, o King, close your eyes

Open your palms – get a golden bird nice

Cut its claws, and wings; also its beak

Preparing seven dishes, all you eat.”

The king stood up, folded his hands, closed his eyes and then, opened his palms.

A golden bird from nowhere fell on his open palms.

His soldiers and guards were waiting in the courtyard with their newly sharpened swords. The chief Queen was waiting making fire in her wood-stove. The moment king entered the yard with the birds, all soldiers and guards chopped off its claws and wings and beak with their sharp swords. The ghee in the golden cooking pot began crackling on the sandalwood flame. It did not take long to prepare seven items. The king sat to have a meal with seven items together on seven golden plates.

The monk said –

“O king, eat the meat of bird from the family-tree;

Golden prince will bring kingdom in happiness-spree.

Ten months and ten days, calculating time –

Send queen to stone palace underground prime –

Away from planets and light for twelve years.

Golden son of yours, Madan is the name he bears.

Countless carts, carriages, rows of canopies

Will make his convoy conquer planetaries.”

More the king listened, more he became proud. His chaste grew sevenfold wide with pride till he finished eating seven items made of the bird-meat. The monk continued,

“Listen more, O king, stay yet cautious.

Don’t open the door before twelve years,

If opened, having his flags unfurl

Wayfarer Madan will roam in the world.”

The startled king looked at him, found none on the seat where the monk was seating.

His guards and soldiers ran off in all directions to find him out. The king came out of the palace. He saw the first ray of daylight coming splitting the dark night apart.

(to be cont.)

© Kathakali Mukherjee 2018

 

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 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.”

Rato_Machhindranath_Temple,_Patan,_Lalitpur_02
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

Kali of Kolkata – Chitreswari

This story is based on history. The early 20th century author Jogendranath cites reference from Calcutta Review, volume III of 1845. I had to rewrite while presenting it for English-speaking readers of 21st century.

I was walking through Chitpur Road. Renamed as Rabindra Sarani, it was given a chance to associate itself with the Nobel-laureate Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. True, that the palatial ancestral home of Tagores is located by this road; but while renaming, did anyone ask the road whether it wanted to forget its colonial past or even the notorious Kali temple located here? – A sudden though crept in my mind. If not, why commoners in the locality still love to call this Chitpur Road, why do we still see nameplates before many old buildings here displaying the address as Chitpore Road? Local belief says that long before the road was made for motorized vehicles it derived its own name from the terrifying Chitreswari – form of goddess Kali, who once offered boon to devotees in exchange of human blood.

This is one road of much significance in old Kolkata. This crowded road was constructed later for trams and other vehicles by the British ruler, at a time when they developed Calcutta as a city to be suitable as the capital of India. India became one of their prestigious colonies from the very beginning of their coming here.

That day while walking, I heard the road telling me something whispering:

-“Do you know, I did not always look like this?”

-“You mean you looked different before?

-“Yes.”

-“How did you look previously then?”

-“That is your task to find out.”

The road went silent making me speechless. Only the vehicles kept on moving on it making noise as usual.

I knew what Chitpur Road told me was true. Probably it was trying to encourage me to tell the story of its past.

Long before the Battle of Plassey, the Dutch, Portuguese and British were engaged in trading in Eastern part of India. Current West Bengal became the centre of their activities. They conducted mainly import and export business from the business houses – locally known as Kuthi which they had built in cities and towns. The country was being ruled by Islamic rulers – Mughals were still in control from their throne in Delhi, though their power started decreasing and influence shrinking. The Nawabi throne in Subeh Bengal was seeing disputes – Aliwardi Khan became the ruler defeating the competitor Sarafraj. Anarchy overtook law and order in this area.

During that chaotic period, none could imagine Kolkata to emerge as an enormous city like today’s. Only three small villages, Sutanuti, Kolikata and Govindapur were human-habitats surrounded by forests and canals. Near Chitpur canal, one route starting from the bank of river Bhagirathi connected Sutanuti, Burrabazar, Kolikata, Govindapur and Chowringhee through its serpentine course before ending near the temple of Kalighat at the bank of Adiganga, an older course of Ganga. British settlers named it Pilgrim Road. This had no resemblance to the asphalt road we know these days. If we could go back few hundred years from now, we would find dense forests adjacent to Chitpur. Large Sundari and other varieties of trees lined up besides cane forest, long bushes, narrow and wide canals, water bodies, marshland and bamboo forests surrounding that narrow muddy track. These bushes and forests were inhabited by dacoits and slaughterers and burglars. Also the famous Royal Bengal tigers, wild boars and different venomous and non-venomous snakes were others inhabitants of this region. Tidal waves also created knee-deep muddy patches on the track in this low lying area. Our story evolved in that area called Calcutta by the European traders.

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Kolkata in 17th\ early18th century

There were two old Kali temples in northern and southern end of this area. The one in the north was for Chitreswari Devi in Chitpur inside the forest on the bank of Bhagirathi. Legends tell that the dacoit-leader Chitreshwar established this Goddess and named her after own name – announcing own notoriety reflected by the Goddesses’ look. His Goddess Chitreswari looked as ferocious as Vargbhima of Tamluk, Kali of Kalighat or Yashoreswari worshipped by Pratapaditya. People believed that Chitreswar gained his power from some secret Tantric practice. He set out for his looting action leading own team every time after performing a special Puja in this temple. The indispensable offering of the Puja was human sacrifice. After the sacrifice, he asked for the Goddess’s blessings placing red hibiscus and other flowers and leaves from wood-apple trees (considered sacred leaves) at the idol’s feet. That offering’s staying on her feet for some time was considered to be the sign of her consent to their future heinous activities.

This temple is now far from the river that changed its course in the meantime. The other Goddess in the south end of the area was Kali in Kalighat. Pilgrims used to walk down to Kalighat through the long pilgrim’s road forming a large group after visiting the Goddess Chitreswari. Walking alone almost ensured death by tigers, snakes or dacoits on the way. Dacoits used to throw the dead bodies of pilgrims in the dense forests or canals after looting them. Killing the victims was part of looting process those days.

Chitreswar terrorized not only these three villages, but all the localities on the banks of the river. Local people called this De facto ruler of this area Chite dakat.
He used to lead a large gang of almost 500 people including thyangare – looters who killed before looting, stick fighters, sword-fighters, archers etc. Numerous pirates operating in this area used to work under him. His dominance was extended over neighbouring districts like Howrah, Hoogly, Nadia and Bardwan which fell within 200 kilometer radius from Calcutta.

The gang included people from different communities from different regions – some from Bihar, some from Odisha, some were Gypsies and some Mohammedan. They were so well organised that catching hold of them became difficult for the administrators. Whenever they anticipated the threat of being caught, they fled to some remote village in Chandernagore, Hoogly or Burdwan – making all the efforts to catch them futile.

Chite dakat was extraordinarily desperate who seldom left his own forest fortress. He used to perform Puja in his own temple reciting own chants. None had an idea what exactly the chants were.

The defiant Chite looted the merchandise ships of East India Company between Kolkata and Murshidabad. Govindapur was, in fact famous as business hub of cotton and cotton yarn. Ships loaded with cotton yarn were frequently attacked by his gang. They invariably killed the sailors after looking the cargo. Another group controlled by him was into looting small cargo boats carrying salt from Hijli using same Modus operandi. River transport was the main option for carrying goods those days. Ships and boats en route between Kolkata, Murshidabad and Dhaka were being looted so often that not only common people, also traders had to be extremely cautious while travelling. The gang of Chite earned infamy for being even more ferocious than Portuguese pirates.

At some point of time, East India Company realized the necessity of finding a solution for this. Chite became irresistible also as burglar invading wealthy people’s mansions. The Brobdingnagian size of his gang and the inaccessibility of his abode in the dense forest was main obstacle for Company.

Chakrapani Datta, a commander of Bengal Nawab’s army had ancestral home in Chitpur. The Kayastha* nobleman was gallant fighter. He stayed either in Gaud or Murshidabad, capital of Bengal at that time. Once he came to visit Chitreswari temple along with his family members. The dacoits dared attacking this wealthy administrator’s group too. Chakrapani Datta, like all other influential aristocrat, travelled well-armed. Also the local villagers came forward to help his family. Chitreswar could not succeed. But the Nawab’s commander took an oath to demolish the dacoit gang after this incident. He began consulting with officials of Bengal Nawab and East India Company regarding this.

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Chitpore Nabaratna Kali temple in 1798 – destroyed in natural disaster.

It was the new moon night of a Saturday – the auspicious day for traditional criminals. The dacoit’s team met in the temple’s courtyard.

The auspicious time for worshipers was in the middle of the night. The night was silent; not even the trees in forest dared to break the silence it seemed. Only the sound of some wild tigers roaring somewhere far from there was announcing the existence of life in the earth. The Puja was being performed by two priests – one Tantrik and the other – Chitreswar himself. They collected all necessary materials for this Tantric form of worship – only the human body was left. The ferocious long haired Goddess, standing on the corpse, wearing human skulls and holding sacrificial axe seemed to be waiting for human blood. Where to find the human offering? The Tantrik priest smeared in red sandal paste continued muttering prayers while counting the conch-shell garland.

A young handsome Brahmin was walking alone towards Kalighat at that time. He missed the group of pilgrims he was supposed to come along. The dacoits hunting for a man did not miss the chance of catching him. He was brought before the Idol. The wild idol in the violent ambiance frightened the young man. He requested them – “Don’t kill me, I am a Brahmin* – only child of my widowed mother.”

The barbarous gang-leader yelled at him – “The Goddess calls you. You have nothing to be scared!” Gang members dragged the man towards the sacrificial post. The Brahmin found no other way but to scream for help as loud as possible and forcibly making himself free. Fortunately, he was strong enough to push those brutal yet drunk dacoits. Calling for help he began running towards the Pilgrim’s road. The gang chased him, but failed to catch him.  Another large group of pilgrims was coming towards the temple following the same route. This group went to Kalighat at first and then started for Chitreswari temple. They lost their way in the dense forest and found the it again late in the evening. The prey was miraculously rescued.

Chitreswari’s puja was disrupted that night. Even the offering was missed. Did this frighten Chitreshwar?

Chitreswar was preparing for the Puja once again after the Brahmin youth ran away. Other gang members were guarding the place. All on a sudden, the combined force of the Nawab and Company attacked them. They surrounded the temple from all corners of the forest, making it impossible for the dacoits to flee. The leader too tried to, but could not succeed. He was convicted and sentenced to death to law of those days. People believed catching him was possible because he could not complete the ritual of human sacrifice that night. A properly completed Puja of the Goddess Chitreswari would keep him irresistible as ever.

The temple and Goddess were abandoned for sometime after Chitreswar was caught. People started worshipping her again at a later point of time. From the same clan emerged Raghu Dakat – another infamous dacoit who operated after a few decades.

 

(illustrations from Wikimedia commons)

* Kayastha – Hindu upper caste – was mainly engaged in administrative and legal jobs at royal courts in Pre-British Bengal.

*Here we see conflicting religious practices in the name of Hindu rituals. Brahmin, as a caste was on the one hand considered to be of higher quality and that’s why killing a person of Brahmin origin was considered to be a sin as per puranic tradition. People believed that a killer of Brahmin would be sent some treacherous hell after his death. On contrary, young Brahmin male, preferably a handsome one without any scar or defect in the body was considered to be best sacrificial offer to God according to Tantrik tradition.

 

 

© 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

A story found in my dreams

cont.

On the way to palace

Am I, the esteemed King Dusmanta running away like a mouse? In the morning I told my hunting force to decamp, told to dress my horse and now I am speeding away from the forest. Am I trying to escape from her as well? Those couple of days in the hermitage with her seemed moments of  heavenly bliss. Am I trying to abscond from heaven? Sakuntala spent her childhood happily roaming in the greenery of the forest in the hilly terrain, on the bank of a flowing river; I in the grandeur of royal palace learning etiquettes that would make me suitable heir of the throne of illustrious Chandras. I had companions in tens and twenties, but no friend except that loquacious Botu; she had two closest friends Anasuya and Priyamvada among some others, hermitage girls learning lessons of running modest family homes. She was simply clad in her tree-bark garment that does not add anything to her beauty while I learnt selecting the variety, colour and texture of my silks. She never had used to anything but forest flowers for ornaments while I learnt the use of gold of gemstones to add majestic shine to my attractive body. Our sole similarity is that she grew up to be a intriguing beautiful young lady radiating elegance along with youthful charm while I, a captivating handsome man of pride and luxurious means revealing the splendor of my royal lineage. But does that make enough ground for two people to become lifelong companions? Her sweet voice gives an impression of a docile nature but in reality, she is as strong as my other queens raised in their royal paternal homes. Same like them, my sudden absence will hurt her but she is not going to kill herself not seeing me around. I guess Botu could be more upset by my leaving without taking her permission. Did my royal family allow him to become my committed companion because they expected him to give me moral lessons every now and then? I think so! Whatever would be Botu’s opinion, the sweet and sober lotus will still emit her fragrance staying in the midst of marshland.

Peggy went to her usual dormant state. I did not hear her voice since several days. Previous experience says she might come back all on a sudden to drench me with her moral preaching. She is another lady I am occasionally keen to communicate with, despite of her incomprehensible approach to life. Probably her company could bring me some peace during my homeward journey this time. She brings me an idea of future, the unknown which I cannot imagine. How far does that future exist? How many generations will my illustrious lineage will have to cross before reaching there? – Or shall we continue living in this world till that period far ahead of us? What will happen if I cannot produce a son? No, I will definitely arrange Putrakamesti Yagna before dying without leaving an heir for my throne. I am not barren but some of the gods might be angry with me for some reason.

My thoughts are striking me faster than my horse. I want to reach my palace as soon as possible. I know I cannot get rid of my forest lady’s thought till I unite with my own people in the palace. At this moment, I want to free myself from her thought. I know how deceptive I look this moment. The graceful maiden trusted my words. She believed in our being husband and wife through that Gandharva ritual without as idea that for a Kshtriya King, this is only a ritual that allows him to bring ladies from different social stature to the palace, not necessarily staying with them like a modest householder. I feel pity for her. Grown up in the forest, she did not develop idea of the life of people other than modest householders – royal way of life she cannot imagine. She believed me saying, “I shall send for you, my lady of sweet smiles, to escort you to our palace!” I told her we shall thrive by letting go of our fear and envy tomorrow when sunshine will be brighter; she trusted without understanding the obscurity lying in that tomorrow. She does not know how her naivety proves her ineligible for a royal status – how incongruous she would appear in the complex royal surroundings even if I send for her. How much her inarticulacy would set her is contrast with my eloquent ladies in the palace. No, I do not want to take her there in the jungle of luxury and anonymity. Perhaps, if gods want, I will return to this forest, to her heaven, which gifted me couple of blissful days.

But what will the illustrious sage Kanva say knowing about our affair? Driven by her honest intellectual lucidity, the girl herself will tell him the truth if not anyone else in the hermitage does. I am anxious; not because I anticipate him to be angry with me. Even if he is angry, I am sure the kind sage will not curse me – he cannot curse the king of the land for falling in love with an abandoned girl he had fostered. But more I am nearing my capital, more I realise the uncertainly of meeting my celestial beauty again in near future. I won’t be able to establish my logic against bringing her to the royal palace neither before her, nor before them, the simplistic hermitage people. The moisture in my eyes made the road before me invisible. I let my horse to carry me.

An unprecedented gloominess covers me as I enter my kingdom’s capital.

 

To be cont.

A story found in my dreams

cont.

Peggy the philosopher

Dussi sleeps. He is exhausted, not only physically. I anticipated this – I know what an exhaustion success brings. These guys run behind obsessions like a child, takes all kinds of attempts to grab their objects of obsession; and after obtaining those, they sink in an unfathomable exhaustion. Thank God or Satan whoever available – I’m not born man! I had chance to earn some common sense at least. People may argue that a sensible woman don’t explode like I do. To be honest, I find exploding best option to keep myself calm – shout and scream using all possible nasty words I learnt from different places starting from the streets to beer pubs, against whatever angers me and then revive to normal peaceful self to start working again. It’s wisdom that told me not to run behind Joy. I already knew the patchy side of it. What I was not ready for was that wedding card – they didn’t need to send it to me. Anyway a petty content writer busy earning own living would never be interested to attend a high profile wedding taking leave from office, purchasing last minute air ticket for high price and all. Not that Joy didn’t know that – he just needed to hit me with a piece of information. And that infuriated me – fine. It could take another couple of days to calm down – he is not only person in the world who finds pleasure in mocking at me. Working girls are clowns for every Dick – Toms and Harries too!

But this guy crosses the limit of idiocy – he wants to win every pinch of success at his disposal. He doesn’t have the vigour to fight Indra the King of paradise and win the ownership of paradise. He won’t try that. He wants to win all women on the earth with the same irresponsible notion Indra has about his territory. He had thrown countless women out of his life after convincing them – this girl is not going to be an exception. That’s what I find even more obnoxious than polygamy these days. This bonehead doesn’t even bother to satisfy girls he picks up! He had to visit a hermitage couple of times more than he expected to win couple of hours of pleasure with that teen-age forest-girl. Her teachers might have taught her the worth of promise and oath and she blindly believes it without an idea that words do not worth anything to men of reputation. This guy is going to run away tomorrow for sure. Stupid are satisfied with a minute’s pleasure without bothering what they are going to lose in the long run. And I know I won’t be able to save him despite sitting inside him.

The handsome prince attracted me – I found him awesome, I really felt a desire to kiss him French. Now I find his stupidity even more attractive. I could leave him as long I imagined him to be an intelligent ruler. Now I cannot- how come a woman leave a freak who follows own prejudices?

I saw the girl from an extremely close distance in the morning. She is unbelievably beautiful, not like the fiery Marilyn Monroe but close to Umashashi, a silent era Bengali movie star, whose photograph I have seen in my grandmother’s old film mag. I couldn’t imagine such large innocent eyes could express such a sheer determination. She was listening to this blabbering Dussi like the marble statue of Michelangelo`s Pieta, as if mourning the lost awareness of an adult child in her lap – any sensible person could see that. Only if this nonsense didn’t lose his vision in the forest of own phantasm! She tried to deny his advancement in farm words, accepted after realising her further denial would lead to rape. This guy had lost his ears as well. She knows the pain of growing as an orphan – doesn’t want to push own child to the same fate she faced – asked this buffoon a place for the unborn child which she predicts to be a son – but how? Hmm – I find it little tricky – but forest girls may have knowledge about making baby better than me. The power-monger chap had lost insight too. The girl showed him her exquisite beauty, but how much he had seen? I think I have seen her more than he did. Like a fairy on earth she moves – light and delicate. Don’t know about the guy, but my senses felt heightened with the subtle scent of her skin. I heard her heart pounding; seen her long sensitive fingers, her pink toes; felt her heavy breath on my face – oops Dussi’s. Sigh – she loves Dussi, not me.

Imagine what could happen to this age old love story if the girl knew I became part of Dussi in the meantime! Now I feel like laughing.
To be cont.

A story found in my dreams

cont.

What quality of the maiden brings me back to a jungle hermitage again and again? Is it her exceptional beauty comparable to the celestial or the polite but firm manner or the refined articulation unexpected of a woman in the forest? True her shape is perfect, her feature is flawless. But her beauty is enhanced by the ideal blend of confidence and humility in her expression. She is an ascetic in the forest whose splendid youth bloomed to the fullest extent.

Why only me – didn’t she attract all those pet birds and deer with her gentle care and soft touch? Her friends told me how she keeps herself busy in taking care of the shelterless ones. I want a share of her generous love. My heart sobs like a begger’s waiting for alms before a wealthy merchants home.

With my wild intense desire burning me from inside, I reach near her hut at dawn. Most of the hermitage dwellers stay busy with their studies or work early in the morning – this is best time to be with her alone.

She comes out of the hut. As simple and charming as before, glowing even before the golden morning light approaches. The generous beauty welcomes me courteously. She brings me a grass seat from her tiny hut, then fetches me water to wash my feet – more I look at her more the grace in her movements astonishes me. Today she enquires about my well being, my stay in the forest tent. Her elegance is inherited, I must say – daughter of a human, especially those brought in this kind of modest hermitage cannot have chance to learn this eloquence. No princess on earth could provide such a comfort to a king in the outlandish forest environment. I hear her pleasant voice, “How could the Hermitage serve you, King! I await your command.”

“You words drench my heart like sweet nectar flowing down from a high mountain, my Lady of the forest! Not only your exquisite beauty is fascinating, the tale you told me that day is equally heart rendering. You became my dream, O princess! Princess is the title you deserve. I propose you to be my wife, my beautiful lady! Tell me what shall I do for you? Which gift from me would suit you the most? This tree-bark attire does not suit you. Your divine body deserves most expensive silk of my country. Why adorn yourself with garlands made of forest flowers? Let me bring baskets of gold jewelry, exclusive ear-rings, and white pearls. You steps should fall on the finest carpets instead of this muddy forest floor. Let me admire your lotus feet.” – How else shall I express my desire to this graceful but inexperienced forest girl?

But why is she still silent? She looks at the ground as if she tries to ignore my existence here. How is it possible that King Dusmanta’s expensive gift basket cannot win the heart of a lady? Or a girl brought up in the jungle hermitage does not know the difference between silk and tree-bark, jewelry and forest flowers? I think I have to tell her more, “My charming lady, be the queen of a powerful king. Reign on the whole kingdom instead of this hermitage. Do not remain hesitant. Let your elegant beauty join my craving soul through marriage. Come to me shedding your shyness, let me adore you gorgeous thighs, let me be yours today!” – I feel my voice getting chocked.

I see her movements. She lifts her face towards me, her large deer-like eyes looking straight at mine. Her sober voice gives her first consent: “As you wish, my King! My father is away at present you know. Wait but a moment. Let him come back and bestow me on your hands.”

She does not know that the impatience of a king cannot be subdued. I want my treat right now. I would plead till she accepts the pleasing moments I am offering her. “My beautiful lady! Both your body and mind are flawless. Please fulfill my desire to get you as my life’s companion. I came here for you, and you are sitting in the core of my heart. As you are grown in up in a hermitage where people gain infinite knowledge, I guess you have earned knowledge that nourishes humans though their course of life. One person is the best friend of oneself. You do not have any other friend better than yourself. Therefore, you are the one who can certainly bestow yourself to me in a marriage duly ordained.”

I try to explain her more, “You might have known there are eight kinds of marriages, namely Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa, and Paisacha. Manu, the son of the almighty upholds the appropriateness of all these forms according to place and time. The first four of these are suitable only for Brahmanas, and the first six for Kshatriyas. Being a Kshatriya, I may take you through a Rakshasa form of marriage. Though both Gandharva and Rakshasa are most suitable for warriors and kings, dharma of a King tells me not to take you by force. You need not entertain least fear from your King. But your King wishes you to know how frustratingly he is yearning for your love. Full of desire I am, my Lady! I see the colour of same desire in your unblemished body too. Come let us face the fear of unprecedented love undaunted. Accept my love being my wife with vows appropriate to the Gandharva marriage. Let your passionate King fulfill your desire.”

She listens to me with undivided attention. She seems moved by my earnest request. Taking a small pause, she answers, “If this is the course we have to follow to fulfill love, and if I am the person who would decide for myself, then please listen to me, My King! O chief of the Purus, if indeed we are marrying following Gandhava rituals, I have terms to betrothal. Promise me what I ask from you as the prospective queen of yours. The son you are going to gift me shall be your heir-apparent. This is my resolution you have to grant, My King, before our union takes place.”

Siva, Siva! She is interested in the throne, not in my handsome body? Does she ever look at my majestic face, my intriguing moustache, royal grandeur, the precious stones adorning my neck and hands and arms? Am I the scion of the great Chandra, so undesirable? Didn’t she find any of my passionate words impressive enough to fall in love with me? Or she proves herself to be the daughter of a heavenly nymph with an wolf’s heart who indulges herself in the game of love with non-human motive? Isn’t Love only a route to secure their divine desire of grabbing power and territories? Isn’t their cobweb of Love is weaved only to attract submission of the mortals? I have submitted myself, cannot even take time to consider, even if I have to pay an exorbitant price for confessing my love to her.

At once I say, “As you wish, My Lady! There is nothing else than your pleasant smile I crave for in this world. You deserve all what you want. Soon I will take you to my capital to fulfill my duty of the mortal husband. I promise you to make our son the successor of the illustrious dynasty of Chandras. Let us quench our thirst of love keeping the gods of ten quarters as witness. Let Agni bless our union to flourish our burning love to the fullest extent. Let our passion take form of a son in your womb, Sakuntala.”

I embrace her like an elephant maddened by the pain of love. I take her lips in mine like a hungry honey bee drinking nectar sitting on a sweet flower. I enter her hut to lose myself to the nymph-like beauty on this earth.
To be cont.

A story found in my dreams

cont.

At the end of a fruitful journey

As my loyal horse takes me towards the tent cutting the forest once again, I remember Peggy. I call her, “Where are you dear Peggy, have you heard her story?” She remains speechless. I lose myself in deep thought of the lady of my dream who is spending her youthful days in the shade of a forest despite having enchanting prettiness in form as well as virtues.

I hear Peggy’s voice after long – by the time I almost reached my tent.

All on a sudden she speaks, as if she got up from sleep –“Don’t worry prince charming, she will be yours. I don’t think you will need me after tomorrow. I prefer to stay with those hundred abandoned women in your palace and recite the same prayer they read before each of you hunting sessions – “Be victorious My King. May celestial power help you find your fertile soil that would bear you a son to carry the legacy of the great Chandras. We will stay happy in the forgotten corner of your palace looking at your glory forever.”

“Cannot you spend a day without hitting me, Peggy?”

“Only if you had the sense to understand!”

“Soon I will loss all kinds of potency – including understanding – having your kinds of women playing around with me.”

“Oh yes, our kind of women, whose suppressing own desire till death glorifies your dynastic legacy for centuries. Why don’t these women cease to exist?”

“I never told you to cease to exist. You know how much I need women. But I need a son too. A king has to think pragmatic.”

“True, you men are always pragmatic.”

“Peggy, please try to understand.” – I do not know why I am try to appease her – a women of no origin, may be a working class one who was busy in the weaving cloths in some weaver’s home few days back. I cannot justify my insanity that led me calling her at this moment. She doesn’t reply, but I know she is listening.

I feel the necessity of saying something more, “Peggy, as long as you came from our future, you know how vital it is to ensure our existence in future. My having a son will ensure pleasing my clan by securing it’s existence in this earth, and I find pleasure in my clan’s pleasure. Please respect my privacy – at least for next few days. I hope you understand.”

I hope she does.

*****

Peggy goes anxious

Finally I am convinced that the intellectual incapability of the body inside which I have taken shelter is below normal. The stupid fellow is worried about his privacy when carrying another person inside his body! I felt like telling him direct how watching his attractive face and bare body everyday arouse me beyond my expectation. I didn’t showing some mercy at the poor guy. Even I am worried about being witness of a couple’s intimate moments. I watched porn movies sporadically only to collect idea about erotic stories, when my boss assigned me some of those; never had a desire to watch a live show. I am a middle aged undesirable woman spent a life almost without having physical intimacy with potential lovers. And this guy is a habitual womanizer! I feel like crying once again, but then the tear will well up in his eyes – I never imagined my life could be so frustrating. And this stubborn nonsense has no idea of my emotional crisis.

I decide to keep my mouth shut for next few days, even if shutting my eyes may not be always possible.

To be cont.

A story found in my dreams

cont.

Royal journey to hermitage

I reached hermitage quite early today. I had a purpose behind today’s journey, hence did not waste time by watching the lustrous autumn forest, happy gurgling springs and attentive students devoted to the good of the world. I am drawn to the elegant girl – splendid in a piece of tree-bark covering half of her body. I drenched myself in the dream of her lustrous bare legs while entering the Kanva’s territory. Pity me! I didn’t know meeting two young girls at the gate welcoming me could be catastrophic!

One brought me water to wash my feet, another asked for my pardon for not knowing my identity previous day and forgetting their duties to the most precious guest of the land.

“O master of the land, pardon the ignorant hermitage-dwellers for failing to perform the sacred duties of the host.” – said the sweet voiced girl; probably the younger one. I smiled with a nod. The older one continued, “Great men have large heart that forgives big mistakes committed by insignificant people. Please show your forgiveness by giving chance to the poor hermitage dwellers to serve you afternoon meal today.”

“Sure!” I assured them, “The hermitage of the great sage Kanva is the pride of King Dusmanta’s kingdom. The king finds himself fortunate to be invited for afternoon meal with the wise sages here.”

And it took no time for me to understand what a blunder I have done. These are no petty young country girls but awfully cunning Brahmin offsprings raised by the knowledgeable sages. They are trained to manage both household works as well as hospitality. Even after I had expressed my desire to roam around alone for some time, they continued accompanying me with the pretext of showing me around with such a polite gesture that I could not free myself from their grasp. They showed me the large fruit trees and medicinal plants they are cultivating here and explained each of their use and healing properties. They took me to their large dairy that is a home for few hundred healthy and productive cattle and described how they arrange fodder for those. They showed me jungle animals – dozens of deer, peacocks, few domesticated cheetah along with cats and several other types of birds and informed me how these find shelter in the hermitage during my hunter’s ransacking the forest. I had to admit my fault and promise not to come for a hunting game in nearby forests again. They took me for a walk by the quiet flowing river Malini to heal my heart tormented by the sight of poor animals I tortured. (while I was disappointed understanding the difficulty to get a few more shiny leopard and deer skins from here in future). They also showed me the huts where the sages and their students stay, the seats where meditate and finally, they took me to the sages for a spiritual discussion. Only if I had the power to curse Brahmins!

As the sun rose to the middle of the sky, we finished our spiritual discussion on cosmic energy and its manifestation on the earth, power of contemplation and penance and the like. Then it was time to bath and meal. I enjoyed the simple and tasty meal of rice cakes, lentil soup, ghee and thickened milk presented with great care and affection. Still not seeing my divine beauty around frustrated me.

Spoiling more than half of my day, the girls left me in this small yard surrounded by flower garden for rest where I am sitting now. The sun is already moving towards the western sky. Within a short time, he will disappear. I start pondering what other option I may have to meet my dream.

And she appears opening the door of a small thatched hut on one corner I failed to notice!

She looks surprised seeing an unfamiliar person near her cottage. But within moments, the expression of surprise turned to curiosity. Like a curious deer attracted by the pretentious hunter, she comes towards me.

I gaze at her adept dancer-like smooth movement, her perfect oval face, large curious eyes, a sharp yet petite nose, red lips resembling the cupid’s bow, inviting cleavage behind the tree-bark covering her full-breasts, flawless golden skin, bare thin waist – oh no! I should not stare below her waist like this revealing my stubborn hunger for her body. I focus my eyes on her face as she stops near me. She is still curious but shows little discomfort now. Her discomfort gives me hope. My heart starts beating faster. I should not stay here tonight in the absence of Kanva, the owner of the hermitage. But now I am determined to come back. I look at her eyes. Oh, what a gentle but determined voice she possesses. She asks, “How could this poor hermitage serve you, dear guest! Hope you had a look of our modest abode?

My awestruck voice somehow utters, “I have come to pay my respects to the venerated sages here. Tell me, amiable lady, where has your illustrious father gone?

She looks at my eyes while informing me politely, “My illustrious father is gone to another hermitage run by one of his students for a philosophical discussion. He is supposed to come back within a few days. You may wait here for a couple of days and you will meet him when he arrives.”

I know I will have to talk to her to gain the innocent one’s trust first, hence continue murmuring, “O beautiful one. I king Dusmanta, the ruler of the kingdom is glad having opportunity to be with you. Who are you truly, beautiful lady? The blessed sage is universally honored for decades of celibate austerity and following rigorous vow of withdrawal from senses through meditation. Dharma himself may wander away from his path but an ascetic of rigid vows such as sage Kanva can never fall down to sensory matters. I have never seen complexion fairer than yours; cannot imagine you to be born as his daughter. Would you please clarify my sincere doubt that immediately needs to be dispelled?”

The girl brought up by spiritual truth-seekers does not hesitate telling the truth, “Then listen My King, what I have learnt regarding my birth from the sage Kanva himself – how I became the daughter of the venerable sage.”

“Yes, tell me why gifted with such beauty and qualities, you are staying in these dense forest. Form where have you come? My charming lady, you have deeply touched my heart. I crave to learn all about you; please tell me all.” – I show eagerness to learn it all from her.

She continues telling the story of that old austerity-oriented Biswamitra, whose penances alarmed Indra, the king of the celestials, how fear of being ousted from the high seat in heaven made Indra meet Menaka, the best of celestial Apsaras with a request for a service, how alarmed Menaka first expressed her doubt about tempting the mighty ascetic possessing great spiritual power and finally agreed to support Indra to retain his seat by luring the sage with her beauty, youth, articulation, arts and smile. Without any faltering, my charming lady goes on telling how her voluptuous mother engaged in sensual sport of her dazzling beauty baring half her body being played by the breeze, how her sagacious father war aroused seeing her gorgeous form and invited intimacy, to which her mother responded. Yes her mother was separated from her father after her conceiving through their conjugal bliss of many years. I hear her repeating the same story Botu had told me – Menaka left her as new-born on the bank of the river Malini and went away, never to look back. An entire night she was protected by scores of vultures only to be rescued next day by the Kanva the hermit. He named her Sakuntala deciding to adopt her as his daughter.

Sakuntala concludes her story telling, “This is how I became the daughter of the celibate hermit Kanva. Yes, I am proud daughter of the virtuous, wise and illustrious ascetic.” I see a mysterious smile on her lotus-petal lips and tear in her eyes.

The sun is going down leaving his spreading his red robe in the western sky. This is time for me to leave. I promise her to come back soon. I know how painful it has been for her to tell her life story to an unknown person. Her heavy heart needs rest before being exposed to my lustrous game of love.

I tell her, “Your speech is as beautiful as your flawless form. It pierces my heart even more intensely now. Give me some time to come back to you again and express my feelings as well. Allow me to meet you again day after tomorrow.”

She nods without a word. The same mysterious smile appears on her curved lip again as she bows before me gracefully with folded hands, bending half of her body forward. I bid adieu for the day.

To be cont.

A story found in my dreams

cont.

Girls in hermitage

I have been grown up in this hermitage along with this girl. While I the all-knowing Anasuya and our pretty Priyambada share similar fantasies, our serene Sakuntala remains beyond our grasp. I think this is obvious considering our different places of origin. Both I and Priyambada are daughters of poor Brahmins, who could belong to nowhere else but here. I lost my parents in childhood and Priyambada’s parents have left her here because of unsurpassable poverty. Hermitages raise many like us with parental care. From our early childhood, we know where we belong to and what to expect from life, who we should fall in love with and how will be our life’s course. As I reached my puberty few years back, I was not uncertain about my desire, my duties, which household activities I should learn, which form of service my future husband’s family will expect from me or which kind of a man I should fantasize. I shaped by daily activities accordingly preparing to embrace by predictable future. Priya is still too young to visualize that much, but it will be same for her. I know she too will not face difficulty in coping with life as our god of fate offered to us. The reason we share our stories comfortably with each other, touch each other’s bodies playfully to discover the blooming womenhood in us – discuss our future family environments with certainty.

But Sakuntala? She is grown up here with us, still not one of us. She came here as an orphan rejected by parents not because of poverty or ill-timed death. None in the world would be able to explain her father’s denial of her existence; her mother’s leaving her as newborn at the mercy of the beasts in the forest. She is the unwanted burden to her parents who was left to die but survived at the will of Mother Nature manifested in form of father Kanva and mother Gautami. Is it that inexplicable pain that made her so calm and composed? Hermitage is a place where children explore the truth of the world. Knowledge of truth prepares them to accept life with open arms. Sakuntala also learnt the truth about her origin in early childhood like all of us. But did the harsh truth behind her coming here give her mind a shape different from all of us?

Or is it the blood she is carrying in her veins makes her so distinct? Her father is the son of great Kshtriya King Gadhi but born with the qualities of the Brahmin due to the thoughtless self-appeasement of Gadhi’s Kshatriya wife. We do not know what kind of state of mind encouraged her to drink the conception-potion her Brahmin son-in-law Ruchika made for her daughter. We only know why the valorous King Biswamitra was so envious of the greatest Brahmin Basishtha’s spiritual power, why he attacked hermitage of the peaceful Brahmin hermits again and again. The power obtained by penances than mere physical might attracted him to such an extent that he renounced his kingdom to undertake fierce penances spending years of hardships in deserted mountains and dense forests in extreme weather. Attaining the identity of the super-human Brahmin free of greed and lust leaving his royal lineage became his life’s purpose. Yet he could not resist the human desire for exotic beauty when it exposed herself in form of a divine Apsara. He submitted himself before worldly longings, lost himself in the extravaganza of love and lust forgetting his spiritual purpose. And he could not forgive himself for own fall. He had to reject his love and responsibilities the moment he realized own fault. Desire to attain supreme spiritual power is far more powerful than material desires. Only that desire strips a man from all human emotions, and when a man driven by that desire – no relationship on earth seems worth anything to him. Hunger for supreme power drove him back to the deserted mountain from where he descended. Mortal Sakuntala could not stand in the comparison with immortal power. Does not Sakuntala carry the same leaning towards renunciation of the world?

Her youth started blossoming couple of years ago. Now she is a fully bloomed lotus. Why is the ecstasy of youth still absent in her appearance? She does not take interest in household works though never denies a responsibility assigned to her by mother Gautami. Unperturbed by any provocation, she loves to spend time with her plants and animals. Sometimes birds and our domestic animals seem to be her closer friends than us.

That day she was busy with feeding her flock of deer which took shelter in the hermitage few days back escaping the wrath of the King’s hunters.  The ruler of the land paid a visit here. Within a few days we had another guest – the King’s friend named Botu. He came with a bodyguard, spent an entire day with us and had a talk with almost all of the hermitage-dwellers. King’s men do not have so much of free time. We all understood the reason behind their coming here often; yet did not notice any change in Sakuntala’s usual reluctant behavior. I was discussing about her with mother Gautami and Priya yesterday. Mother Gautami contradicted my reasoning behind her reluctance.

“She is not only the daughter of a King who had renounced the world, she is also the daughter of a king who had once ruled a kingdom. She is born to rule.” – Said she.

“But she never tries to dictate. I find her rather submissive.” – I argued.

“No, what you assume to be her submission is actually her assertiveness. She decides for herself.” That is true. I had to agree with the experienced lady.

Her insight lead her explain more – “Do not confuse her obedience with meekness. The most courageous is never vocal. Her low voice expresses politeness, not timidity. Do not be mistaken by the sleepiness of the lioness early in the morning. As the heat of the day rises, she shows her real nature.”

“And she is an elegant lioness glowing with both innocence and charm.” – commented Priya.

“Her charm is given by her mother. Do not forget her mother is the most beautiful and most articulate Apsara in Indra’s paradise who proves her excellence in intriguing people time and again. She is the manifestation of many different qualities inherited from both her parents. She is may seem fragile from outside but firm inside. A mysterious aura covers her radiant beauty like a thin veil of fog covers the flowing river in winter. But under the shimmering sunlight, she will sparkle like thousands of diamonds flowing towards its destiny.” – Mother Gautami seemed predicting her future. I felt a little discomfort remembering that mystifying lion-heart Apsara who left her newborn to die in the forest. I did not find any more word.

Priya said, “She is our full-bloomed lotus in the muddy pond of hermitage. Honey bees arrive only when sweet fragrance emanates from the flowers in bloom. I anticipate the most desirable honey-bee of the kingdom will arrive soon again.”

I found my words, “And the flower seems unaware of the honey-bee’s existence. Shall we not make her aware of that?”

Priya replied with an obscure smile, “We have to. We the hermitage dwellers will send the flower to the honey-bee’s place one day.”

 

To be cont.