Death of a Reader

Banaphul (Balaichand Mukhopadhyay) was the King of Bengali short stories – according to me. I tried to translate one of his stories.

Almost ten years back.
I was waiting for train at Asansol station. Another person was sitting beside me. He had a book in his hand. It was a thick novel. After we began chatting, I came to know that he had to wait the whole day for his train.
My train was supposed to arrive in three hours.
Both of us were Bengali.
Hence, within five minutes I asked him, “May I see the book once?”
“Oh yes, why not?” – I received the answer as I expected.
I possessed the book immediately as he handed it over.
It was an afternoon of the intoleranly scorching summer.
We were sitting under the tin roof of Asansol station.
Nothing could bother any longer.
It was a wonderful novel.
The owner of the book looked at me once with the corner of his eyes. A line appeared between his eyebrows for a moment. He took out a time table then and concentrated in that.
I continued reading breathlessly.
Excellent book!
In fact, I did not read such an appealing novel before.
The lines were almost whipping me.

***

Two hours passed.
The owner of the book browsed through the time table several times in the meantime. Finally he looked at me and told, “I think it is almost time for your train – so…” he cleared his throat once.
I was immersed in the book.
Once I took a quick look at my watch. It was still one hour left for my train. The book was left over a half. I did not want to waste time by talking. Again I concentrated in the book. I was devouring it.
Wonderful book!
That one hour almost flew away.
The bell for my train rang.
The large part of the book was still left unread.
I turned aggressive.
I said, “I will go by next train – not going to leave before finishing this book.”
The owner of the book coughed once and went silent after this.
The train left – I continued reading.
But I could not finish it – a few pages at the end of the book were torn.
I said to the owner of the book, “Oh – so many pages of the book are torn! What a shame! You could tell me before!”

The man only gazed at me in response. I noticed the veins on his forehead bulging.
***
I found the book once again after ten years.
It was the in-law’s place of my niece. I accompanied her to her home and was supposed to come back that day only. But my attraction for the book made me stay back.
I picked up the book from shelf; began reading once again. I decided to start anew instead of reading arbitrarily from the end.
I felt bizarre after a few pages.
I turned the cover – was it the same book? – It was the same!
Again I started – But another few pages of reading brought me the same feeling –something seemed wrong!
Yet I continued.
After some time I realized my inability to carry on reading anymore.
Was it the same book which I was reading breathlessly in the scorching summer afternoon in Asansol station?
How could an author write such a rubbish!
It was not at all possible to finish it!
I could not even realise when the curious reader of ten years back had died.
I could not finish the book this time as well.

Madhumala 11

Did we forget what happened in Madhumala’s land?

At daybreak after that night, the parrots in her cage began talking, the court drummers started beating the drums, her maids entered her chamber to find flowers scattered everywhere and her bed displaced. The cleaning cloths slipped their hands, the princess’s attendants looked nervous. The parrot Shuk asked, “What happened? What?” Also the parrot named Sari repeated, “What happened? What?”

The anxious attendants wake the princess up. Opening her eyes Madhumala murmured, “How strange my Madankumar dressed! Oh my prince, what did you do? Did you put out all lamps of the room only to illuminate the room by own glory?”

Madhumala lost her awareness so far that she could not recognize own attendants. The worried girls asked, “What are you telling princess? Who is the prince?”

Madhumala replied, “First you forget yourself and then you ask me!”

The girls said, “Princess, we are friends – what are you telling? Wake up from your dream; see the parrots talking. If you talk like that, even your parrots with fly away. We wish to end our lives in the sea if you talk like this!”

They did not know Madhumala had lost her sanity. She sang:

 “O prince, my prince, let us go where you ocean is.

Wherever your bed is, I will find there my bliss.”

The disheveled princess lost consciousness again in the lap of her red-attendant and black-attendant. The red was worried that god of fate had written something wrong in the royal family’s fate.

The no-nonsense black said, “We need the mist of the dawn, the cleanest water collected from the lotus-leaves, and the morning breeze illuminated by the sun to bring her into consciousness. I am taking her to the garden. You write a letter to the king.”

As the morning shined, the honey-bees came near the flowers in the garden, the palace guards started loitering noisy, and a letter was sent to the king. The mist of the dawn, the cleanest water collected from the lotus-leaves, and the morning breeze illuminated by the sun brought the princess back into senses. Sitting on her bed, she saw the golden morning light shimmering on the sea outside her window. But she runs to the sea stretching her hands:

“Prince, my Prince, why are you in the ocean so far –

While you had to open this anklet of mine shackling me here?”

Poor Madhumala! She was mistaking plants, ocean, stones – everything in her sight as her Prince. She was lost forever – fainted again.

The king and queen hurried in – executed palace guards. People from his court rushed to the palace – but Madhumala did not open her eyes that she closed not seeing her prince around.

Everyone began wailing – entire kingdom was shedding tears as all the subjects began mourning their loved princess’s miserable state.

Deceiving thousands of eyes, Bidhi has sneaked in her room

Who brought such a dream in her eyes spelling her doom?

Only palace floats in the ocean; princess floats inside –

On the ocean of tears shed by everyone there alike.

Where is the Rahu gone, breaking into the palace –

Eating our moon, leaving her in a state hapless?

*****

Days passed, the shine in the moon did not return. Flowers bloomed in the gardens but without fragrance. The princess breathed but never giggled. The king in tears ordered, “What shall I do now? Demolish the walls of my golden palace, open all its doors, guard the place day and night- let us wait. Whoever the prince is, if he comes back, my Madhumala might be alive again.

After his servants pulled down the walls and the golden temple which was highest peak of the palace, opened the doors and windows and deployed guards everywhere, the king sent message to all his neighbouring kingdoms – “I will gift him my kingdom along with my princess – if the prince Madankumar comes back.”

They kept on waiting – and waiting.

*****

The night was dark and silent – as if someone had poured blank ink on the sky and the hell alike.

All on a sudden, the sky was illuminated as if thousands of lamps were lighted together. Even before people had time to wink their eyes, the thousand blazing planets came on top of the palace. The night guards fainted.

What happened in the sky on the other hand? Madankumar sitting on the thousand gemstone-studded wings of his priceless peacock which illuminated entire sky, found no trace of the temple. He became numb – and then – cried revealing the grief of the entire world:

“Tell me sky, tell me dear ocean –

Who has stolen my life’s gemstone –

Mistaking her as the moon of Lakshmi

Took my Madhumala away from me?”

*****

Hearing his voice mourning for her, Madhumala woke up, crying:

“Prince, my Prince, why are you in the ocean so far –

While you had to open this anklet of mine shackling me here?”

Madhumala hurtled toward the sound, she fell down. Hitting her head against the golden wall of the palace she fell on the ground.

Moving the sky and pushing the air, the peacock rider Prince descended in her chamber.

*****

The king came running, also the queen came running. All of palace dwellers came running. But the princess was not opening the door.

The King called out, “Madhumala, my child!  She replied, “I will open only if you promise whatever I want.”

The King promised. As she opened the door, everyone found two stars together – as if the moon of the full-moon night and the morning sun sparkling together. One half of the kingdom thought, they were experiencing a full-moon night. They played their conch shells and lighted lamps in their homes. The other half of the kingdom assumed the hour to be a bright morning. They cleaned their courtyard and took the bullocks to the fields.

Right that moment a letter arrived from the land of King Dandadhar. What was written there?

“There was a prince Madan who lived inside stone palace for twelve years.

Goddess of fate betrayed as the door was opened three days before time appeared.

The beautiful Madan came out from under the ground.

Not listening to anyone he went hunting – did not find game, instead had a dream.

Taking fourteen boats along with his ship he went on voyage following his fate.

The king still looks at the road, his eyes hazy with tears.

Two kingdoms devastated – only for one prince.”

The kingdom of Tambul started celebrating as soon as they came to know what was written in the letter. Every home was decorated with colourful flag, an auspicious pot in front placed in front of every home, the roads were decorated with bejeweled canopies and aromatic flowers. Cheerful king sent a letter to King Dandadhar with the good news. The dhak and flute players began playing music of joy and happiness. Under the canopy of love and abundance, the prince and princess exchanged garlands. Seeing the beautiful couple unite pleased every one of the heaven and earth and underearth. Subjects of the kingdom enjoyed every kind of delicacies for thirteen nights and twelve days. Giving a dowry of jewelry, precious stones, silk, kingdom with its land and rivers, lakes and canals, the Tambul king and queen gave their daughter and son-in-law a splendid send-off. People from entire kingdom crowded before the palace when Madhumala and Madankumar flew towards the sky sitting on the golden peacock.

*****

Soon the golden peacock crossed mountains and plateaus, rivers and lakes; then it crossed the sea. As it was flying above Chandrakala’s land, Chandrakala saw them from her palace.

“Sister Madhumala, come down – let us sit on the same palanquin for sometime.”

Madhumala asked the prince, “Who calls me?”

“One sister of yours.”

“Let us take her along.” – upon her words, the peacock came down. The King welcomed them. After three days and three nights, three of them together started their journey towards Madan’s home sitting on the peacock. On their way, they stopped for Panchakala and Champakala too same way.

*****

The king Dandadhar, his queen Pateswari along with their courtiers and servants and maids and attendants were spending their days and nights looking at the sky. Their joy knew no bound when one day they spotted a golden peacock carrying Madankumar with the four princesses in the sky. Like the sun rises in east with goddesses of directions –

The golden carriage with the prince with princesses was seen in the sky.

They were all eager to welcome the peacock-riding son of Ujani-nagar along with his wives.

Within moments the peacock came down on earth. Madankumar jumped at the feet of his parents, asked for their pardon for his forgetting them for so long.

Happiness reigned everywhere. The palace dressed up in euphoric lights. On an auspicious day the prince was declared as crown prince amidst joyous celebration in the royal court. The flag of prosperity flew there forever. The reign of the King Dandadhar surrounded by his queens, son, daughter-in-laws and grandchildren was extended through four yugas.

“What shall we see – what is left there to see

Bidhi had created the sun and moon –

Both of them came here as her boon

We the sisters will dance here with jubilant glee.”

Singing this song, the two fairy sisters, Time-fairy and Sleep-fairy came to dance in the court of Dandadhar leaving Indra’s job.

The end

Madhumala 10

He walked and walked – he saw someone on the way – a sentry.

Madan asked, “Could you tell me where the kingdom of Panchakala is? I have to go there to find a trace of my Madhumala.”

Soon, the guard brought palanquin, carriage, carriers and many other sentries to escort him. They all knew this unknown man would be the husband of their princess.

The lotus-eyed princess Panchakala was doing a Brata. She got up the moment she heard the “O Madhumala – my Madhumala!” cry, she too ran to her father to tell, “Look father, this is my husband. But the god is on his mission, we won’t be able to keep him here. Arrange my marriage with him today.”

“So be it.” Telling this, the king called his employees and servants. Finding an auspicious moment that day he arranged the marriage in festive mood. The chamber for the newlywed was bedecked with incense, camphor and five ghee-lamps. Panchakala asked, “Dear husband, won’t you share your mind with me?”

Madan too was curious, “Do you know the trace of my Madhumala?”

The princess said, “I understand your pain. I will tell you about her. But you are my husband, my only hope of life. I am like your housekeeper married to you – tell me, would you support my living?”

Madan answer, “Well, I will.

If I can return my kingdom taking my Madhumala along,

I promise I will support your living lifelong.”

The lotus-eyes princess lighted five wicks of the ghee-lamp in her auspicious tray. Washing her husband’s feet with the water from the golden pot she said, “But dear husband, I won’t be able to tell you the whereabouts of Madhumala; another princess Chandrakala will be able to. Please wait till dawn – I will send some people with you to make your difficult journey easier.”

Madan denied, “I do not want people with me. Wait looking at the road through which I will walk down. Someday I will come back.”

Like the sun-god on his way to morning, he took the path along with banks of seven rivers.

(To be cont…)

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 6

Crossing the sky from one corner to another, the sisters reached where Madhumala lived. Only the sound of the waves roaring and crashing  in the sea was heard in the dead of the night. Silent but watchful guards were all alert. The golden palace having golden pot on the top of its dome was glittering even in darkness.

Madhumala’s chamber could be reached crossing seven thirty six thirteen rooms of the palace. Madhumala sleeps alone on thirteen layered mattress on the golden cot surrounded by 3 rows of ghee lamps.

Princess Madhumala was sleeping in peace

Under the umbrella of thousand gemstone-snakes

She was in deep sleep on her bed, her cloths ruffled

Like cloud in the sky looked her long hair disheveled

Like sleeping moon, her skin as smooth as flower-petal –

Flowers adorning her hair, like a seabird she was special.

Images of moon broken on the sea-waves looked dull beside her – those are created and destroyed every moment. But the moon inside the golden chamber was tied by floral garlands forever – never to be diminished.

The fairy sisters entered the chamber making themselves invisible to place Madan’s cot near her’s. Both the full moon of the full moon night and the morning sun seemed shining beside each other as if sleeping in same carriage. The time-fairy’s thirst couldn’t be quenched even after seeing them together for long – “How come Bidhi* could keep them separated so long? Let us wake them up and see what they do.”

“No, don’t!” – Sleep-fairy looked alarmed as she moved from there creating a mild floral breeze, “what are you doing, each of them will become distracted if one sees the other!”

The time-fairy did not listen; she was humming a tune:

“What is prettiness if I can’t see it with my own desire?

Unless I surrender my life to it – be it water of fire.”

*Fate – female form of Bidhata

To Be cont….

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?)

417px-Matsyendranath
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