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 9

Madankumar never had an intension to listen to anyone. With his fleet of fourteen boats, he set off on a voyage of discovering Madhumala’s land. The fleet sailed and sailed and sailed. All on the sudden, a violent storm broke out in the middle of the sea. All his people washed away, all the boats with the sailors capsized; a huge wave carried Madan away from his ship. His persistent loud cry “O Madhumala – my Madhumala!” was still being heard – he was floating on the high turbulent waves.

The storm continued even after seven days and seven nights. Floating and crying and relentlessly reciting Madhumala’s name, Madankumar lost consciousness. After thirteen nights, the stormy waves changed into tidal waves. Tidal waves carried unconscious Madan to seashore in an unknown land.

There were grazing lands close to shore where cowherds used to come with cattle. One of those boys found him lying on the sand. He cried as loud as he could, “Brothers! Come here fast! The moon from the sky has fallen on the bank today!”

All of the boys gathered there. What did they see? “No, this cannot be the moon. He has hands and feet. This could be a god – perhaps fell down from heaven while fighting with other gods; or this is a god emerged direct from the sea. The terrified cowherds rushed back to village to inform everyone about their discovery. Villagers crowded in the sea-shore to see that fallen god, which could be either the moon from the sky or the god from under the ground. But there was an intelligent milkman among them. He said, “We are mistaken. This must be a human. Either this is a prince or a trader, might have fallen into trouble in the sea-route.

By the milkman’s effort, Madan came back to sense. He opened his eyes, “What’s name of this place?”

“O my fate! I went a-hunting first

Failed, I slept in forest accursed;

With Madhumala I dreamt my first romance

Taking fourteen boats drawn by mesmeric trance

I set off on voyage to find her out –

Hurting my loving parents devout.

Shall I see you again my love?

My tears tell my story of truelove.”

Everyone was convinced that he is the husband of the princess of that land about whom the astrologer foretold.

The princess Champakala was beautiful and knowledgeable. She had finished reading Mahabharat and all Purans. Her father King Champaman invited many princes from many other kingdoms to marry her, but none could answer her quarries regarding Sastras. She could not be married as right match was not found. After a long wait, Champakala had informed her father, “Father, none of these princes are suitable to be my husband. My husband will be the one who will come on his own chanting the name of ‘Madhumala”. 

The king’s announcement reached every corner of the kingdom. Everyone came to know the name of Madhumala. Hence the moment the subjects heard the name from the mouth of the frantic Madan, in no time they escorted him to the royal palace.

The princess was engaged in reading Puran. She heard someone crying “O Madhumala – my Madhumala!” Leaving her books she ran to her father before whom the prince was brought.  She said, “Yes father, this is my husband. He is being carried by high tide of love, who would be able to keep him home forever? Please arrange my marriage with him today.”

The wedding was celebrated with great pomp. Everyone in the palace was happy like never before.

As they meet in their bedchamber on the wedding night, the gorgeous princess asked the prince “What is your name, dear husband?”

Madan answered, “I am Madankumar. I will go to the land where Madhumala stays.”

“I know, dear husband, but you have married me. Tell me one thing – would you look after of me in future?”

Madan said, “Yes, I can look after you. If I find my Madhumala one day and return to homeland with her, I will take you too as one of my queens.”

The doe-eyed princess prepared her auspicious goodbye-tray with ghee and sandal. Taking vermillion from own forehead, she drew a dot on her husband’s forehead saying, “After seven rivers stays another princess Panchakala. Go to her – she will give you the direction to reach Madhumala.”

“Well, you stay here till I come back!” – saying this, Madankumar left the palace long before dawn. He started walking along the banks of the 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 – The astute Yogi foiled Siva’s trick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Kathakali Mukherjee, 2018

Folktales from Bengal – Yogi who taught Goddess Parbati a lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kali idol of Kalighat temple, Kolkata

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

© Kathakali Mukherjee, 2018

Folktales from Bengal

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!

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.

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

Charyā -Pada — thousand year old songs from Eastern India — Part 3

Let’s go through some more verses to find out what makes Charyā-lyrics unique.

Charya 8:

Raga Daivakri

Composed by Kamali pa –scholars place him between 800-850 AD. Kameli might have derived from the word ‘Kambal’ – blanket. Did he wear rough saffron cloth instead of fine saffron cloth? We don’t know – we have no way to know. He is anticipated to be a disciple of Kanhapa and an inhabitant of Kalinga (Odisha).

The boat of Kamali is loaded with gold,

With no room for silver as the boat poled.

Let’s sail towards the void called sky;

What went past shouldn’t come by.

Uproot the anchor and untie the rope

Sail guided by mentor with abiding hope

Look around carefully when you sail –

Rowing without oar cannot propel.

Look around left and right as you sail

On the voyage of life bliss will unveil.

 (Remember the famous Tagore poem “Sonar Tari” (the golden boat)?

Clouds rumbling in the sky; teeming rain.
I sit on the river bank, sad and alone.
The sheaves lie gathered, harvest has ended,
The river is swollen and fierce in its flow.
As we cut the paddy it started to rain.

One small paddy-field, no one but me –
Flood-waters twisting and swirling everywhere.
Trees on the far bank; smear shadows like ink
On a village painted on deep morning grey.
On this side a paddy-field, no one but me.

Who is this, steering close to the shore
Singing? I feel that she is someone I know.
The sails are filled wide, she gazes ahead,
Waves break helplessly against the boat each side.
I watch and feel I have seen her face before.

Oh to what foreign land do you sail?
Come to the bank and moor your boat for a while.
Go where you want to, give where you care to,
But come to the bank a moment, show your smile –
Take away my golden paddy when you sail.

Take it, take as much as you can load.
Is there more? No, none, I have put it aboard.
My intense labour here by the river –
I have parted with it all, layer upon layer;
Now take me as well, be kind, take me aboard.

No room, no room, the boat is too small.
Loaded with my gold paddy, the boat is full.
Across the rain-sky clouds heave to and fro,
On the bare river-bank, I remain alone –
What had has gone: the golden boat took all.

Do those compositions look same? No – apparently no. First one is talking about fulfilling a purpose; gaining eternal bliss by following the guidance of the wise mentor while sailing cautiously through the fluid life. Tagore’s poem can be (and are) interpreted as manifestation of loneliness and helplessness by western scholars. Western scholars found the influence of Wordsworth’s and Keats’s melancholic loneliness on Tagore in this poem. To an Indian reader, Tagore’s poem seems a follower of legacy of voidism planted in India’s own soil – manifested in Charya-songs thousand years back. Kamali pa seeks the eternal bliss in the void during his voyage guided by his guru while Tagore’s human waits eternally in the void seeking a place in the almighty’s boat to start a voyage towards the unknown. Ancient Indian philosophy recognizes Void as part of life – the monastic scholar integrates void with life while the 20th century poet stays with his inner self in the void observing life flowing before him.

Charya 10:

Kanhapa –

Rag Deshakh:

O outcaste woman, your hut is outside town

Do you touch all those monks and Brahman?

Kanha free from disgust will make love to you

Standing naked before you, the yogi is your beau

You dance on the lotus with petals sixty four

On whose boat do you travel door to door?

You sell loom to others but spread mat for me

You are the reason for whom I’ve set myself free

For your sake I turned a wizard wearing garland of bones

You ate the lotus roots churning the oceanic zones

Once rituals over, I’ll kill you to take out your life

The soul of the outcaste will make Nirvana thrive.

But Charya 10 seems to be little disturbing. If we decipher this as per tantric tradition, it unequivocally tells us about the determination of a spiritual seeker’s obsession of reaching Nirvana removing all impure obstructions of life. But why does the composer need to use the simile of impurity with an outcaste woman? Is caste concepts only determined and maintained by Brahman class or also by the Tantrics, who perhaps adopted people from so-called lower strata to help their ritual practices but continued to consider them as polluted only? Is this a monk’s way of expressing his helplessness before the almighty’s power or a poet’s regret for leaving home (probably social status too) falling in love with an outcaste woman?

Women’s role in these lyrics looks interesting. Monastic system emphasises on the negative influence of women on the path of salvation again and again. Women are not allowed in the monasteries. Therefore in contrast to Vedic hymns, we don’t find any trace of a women lyricist here. All composers of the lyrics are men. But they refer to women. They are aware of the existence of women outside the monastic domain but they consider women to be hurdle on the way to Nirvana. The Tantric scholar speaks of using women’s body as a part of ritual, but then compares her with impurity that needs to be removed. Avoidance of women – is this misogynist approach? Or shall we call this a monastic effort to escape from the world? We don’t know whether the poets imagined to be remembered after one thousand years when people would try to decode the meaning of their lyrics applying the logic of contemporary understanding. What I find remarkable is the development of a people’s religion at certain period of Indian history which denied accepting women as part of their community.

Another attention-grabbing point is Manifestation of Voidism which is distinct from the Upanishadic nothingness. Upanishadas belief in Paramatma. The soul, which cannot be touched by hunger, aging or death, mingles with that Paramatma, the formless almighty, at the end of its journey in the earth. Paramatma or Brahma is the truth here. On the other hand, Nagarjuna’s Madhyamiksutra defines truth as natural void. There is neither beginning, nor end. Nothing is born. Hence nothing dies. There is no act and therefore there is no driving force behind an activity. There is no heaven and Nirban is attaining the void. Why did the lyricists use worldly metaphors on the way to reach that “Void”? The Siddha reaches his freedom by freeing himself from all kinds of carnal temptations. The process of removing all worldly attractions is frequently described as killing own family members. Why are the symbols used by the Siddha are all taken from day to day life? The songs prove they were knowledgeable about boat-making and rowing, game of chess, country-liquor making, village life and even art of love-making — why are those references taken to describe the void? Scholars tell this signifies the end of Buddhist influence in the region. The influence of Buddhism, like any other doctrine-based religion, depended on preaching and gaining more number of believers. With passing time, the monastic ideology was being detached from householder’s life; it was also losing popularity among common people. Perhaps declining acceptance motivated Bajrayan followers to use metaphors from daily life to attract householder towards their belief at the end. I guess presence of another reason behind using these kinds of similes. A religious doctrine is made for people. People convert to that religion and start following new regulations. But in course of time, as more and more people become part of the religion, they bring in their own belief and cultural awareness, all of which intermingle under the umbrella of that religion. We don’t know the background of Siddhacharyas. But probably all of them, though staying in monasteries and following the same philosophy, continued revealing own distinct cultural understanding while composing poems which gave the monastic ideology a diverse make over.

We don’t know what actually led the monastic lyricists compose these songs using unusual figures of speech so that these remain incomprehensible to common people, even though the language they use is commoner’s colloquy, not the literary Sanskrit or Pali. Only thing sure is these will continue haunting us for their unique ways of expression, stylistics and contents developed in Eastern part of India over thousand years back.

Charyā -Pada — thousand year old songs from Eastern India — Part 2

Let’s read some more translation of those age-old Charyās. I did not translate with original meaning in mind, neither depending on Munidatta’s interpretation made in 12–13th century. To me, they carry poetic value which can be interpreted in different ways — thousand years after they were originally composed. I interpreted them my way, without pondering occult symbolism.

The composer of the following pada is Birua pa. He existed during the regime of Devapala. Scholars say, he created these Charyās around 830 AD. He was a person from Triur, probably current Tripura. Even today the locals in Tripura makes country wine following own method. Birua pa name is famous as an author of many books. Some of them are Dohakosh, Amritasiddhi, Biruabajragitika etc.

Raga – Gabara

She pours wine from the narrow-spouted pitcher

Drinking in serenity makes one eternally mightier

How a drinker enters the room on his own –

When the sign for tenth door is aptly shown?

Wine is served in each of sixty four cups;

Drinker can’t leave though life is in a flux.

Wine poured through narrow spout of pitcher,

Birua tells that’s route to be followed for better.

The one compiled by Gundrari pa illustrates Tanric idea of intermingling with the immortal formless being symbolized by mortal lovemaking:


Raga – Aru

O Yogini, in your arms my life finds meaning

Let me make love with you entire evening

I cannot live without your company;

Kissing your face feels sucking honey.

How does one devote to love if not insane?

Happiness comes through love mundane.

Shut mother-in-law indoor to be able to flee

Sun and moon will turn your lock and key

Gundari says – I’m champion of passionate love

Amidst man and woman flies the flag above.

Unfortunately, we do not get much information about Gundari pa. Probably he was not as wise as other Siddhas. We don’t even know whether he had authored any book. We will remember him as a poet – probably as a bold 9th century poet. He was a person either from western part of Bengal or Bihar.

Next one is by Chatila pa – another Siddha about him we don’t know much. Probably he lived around 850 AD in southern part of Bengal but that is not beyond doubt. Following one is the only verse of him that we could access.

Raga Gurjari

The deep river of mortality flows fast;

Both sides of it sunk in polluting mud.

Upholding dharma, Chatil makes bridge;

Traveler crosses fearless through the ridge.

Mat is made splitting tree of obsession;

Rope of Nirvana binds non-duality strong.

Once in bridge, one cannot deflect;

Wisdom attained as you reflect.

Those who search route to wisdom –

Follow Chatila who leads therefrom.

Bhusukupa, on the other hand is a familiar name among Siddhas. He used to live by 770-850 AD. Researchers from northern India associates him with Bihar and some are of the opinion that was a teacher of Nalanda. Many others place him in different parts of Bengal.

Raga –Patamanjari

Who are you staying with, who have you left?

All corners try to catch you lonely and bereft.

The stag’s own flesh turns its enemy;

Bhusuku the hunter doesn’t leave any.

Stag neither eats grass, nor does it drink;

Doesn’t even know where the doe lives,

The doe tells the stag to leave the forest

Freedom shows the way to bliss earnest

The stag’s hooves remain hidden under the wave

Bhusuku tells- unwise can’t find the meaning grave.

Kanhapa or Kanupa or Krishnapada is the most familiar name among all Charya composers. Among the fifty, 13 are written by him. He is believed to be a wise man who had written many books. He was probably from Karnataka region; came to Magadha for higher studies and did not go back.

Raga –Patamanjari

Truth and untruth block path of wisdom

Where shall Kanhupa find his sanctum?

One who is wise, is unwise at the same time

Separate are heaven, earth and hell for certain

Kanhu tells that all should be sanctified –

Those who once came had to leave albeit.

Comings and goings make Kanhu depressed

Kanhu knows the garden of bliss comes ahead

How one reaches the garden unhurt?

Kanhu cannot enter own true heart.

Charyās, being the first literary example of several east-Indian languages, became reason of regional academic conflict since long. The history of that conflict is no less interesting; hence trying to draw a simple sketch of the age old arguments.

After the discovery of Charyās by the Bengali academician MM Haraprasad Sastri, Bengali scholars had the first chance of deciphering those. After MM Sastri, Sunitikumar Chattopadhyay proved in his publication ODibil (1926) that those were composed in Proto-Bengali but other eastern languages were originated from that language. Md. Shahidullah did his research on Charyā in French which brought him d-lit in 1928, but it created a new interpretation of the songs as well. Later Prabodhchandra Bagchi and Santi Bhikshu Sastri presented another interpretation based on a Tibetan translation. Again in 1966, Sukumar Sen published his research based on a Japanese version, which obviously presents a completely different interpretation.

In Assam, many scholars claimed Siddha as Assamese Buddhist monks. In fact Tantrik Buddhism was widely practiced in Assam in comparison to other eastern regions. Dr. Parikshit Hazra published his research work claiming Charyās to be based on Kamrup region. Even in 1981, Dr. Satyendranath Sharma claimed Charyās to be the origin of Assamese literature.

Scholars of Odisha were no less confident. The research paper by Dr. Khageswar Mahapatra in 1965 mentioned the influence of those Charyās language on Odia. In his work Pratnaodia in 1979 on Odia grammar he proved those to be composition in Proto-Odia. Dr. Karunakar Kar’s research also tsays the same. In general Charyās are considered to be the earliest example of Odia language and literature.

Maithili was associated to Charyās since long. Nepali scribes used to make palm-leaf manuscripts knowing those to be written in Maithili, but no research was done claiming it to be Maithili till 1949. Dr. Jaikanta Mishra was the first scholar who established the Maithili origin of those songs in his work on ancient Maithili literature denying the Bengali declarations.

Hindi-speaking scholars initiated largest discourse on Charyā-songs. Rahul Samkrityan’s many papers on this deserve special mention. He defined the language of these verses and Eastern Hindi. Bihar or Magadh was the abode of many of the Charya composers. Nalanda as a university became the center of Buddhist studies where many Buddhist scholars from many parts of the country assembled together. Dharamvir Bharati’s work published in 1945 also claimed that Charyas are composed in proto-Hindi.

Charyāgiti are very much based on Buddhist occult philosophy, the language of which reveals remarkable dependence on symbolism. Gaining control over body and mind was considered to be the way to eternal bliss and life of the Buddhist tantrics were supposed to be spent in search of this that bliss. Naturally they developed own symbolic rituals as well as connotation of words to signify particular practices. The word “Aalikali” is used to the process of Inhaling and Exhaling, “sabara” and “Sabari” for Wisdom and Nothingness, “Ganga-Yamuna” – knowledge to be received and Recipient.

Still they could not completely avoid mentioning worldly affairs – sometimes symbolically, to explain their philosophy. Life on the banks of a river obviously associated with boats and its different parts, boatmen, boat making as profession. Similarly, weaving, hunting, woodcutting, wine-making are frequently referred which had obvious association with village life. Robbers and women sex-workers are often mentioned which makes us assume their existence as well. When the monastic Charyāgiti-composer mentions different jewellery, loud wedding procession, musical instruments, bull cow and elephants as domestic animals, cultivation, people’s drinking habit, love-making and expresses concern about women’s losing chastity, we have reason to believe that they stayed in close association with so-called worldly affairs as well.

We don’t have idea whether people outside India found the spiritual approach most interesting or worldly content. But these gained immense popularity as carrier of particular branch of Buddhist philosophical thought, developed after inclusion of occult in the monastic religion in neighbouring geographies as well. Charyās were translated in Tibetan, Japanese and Mongolian. Buddhist scholars started visiting East-Asian countries long  back.  As Buddhism started being admired in all those countries, the later developments in the religious philosophy were also accepted with same admiration. The first Tibetan Buddhist monk visited Mongolia being invited by a Mongolian emperor in 9th century AD and preached the religion there. And then Mongolian Buddhist scholars traced Tibetan manuscripts containing Charyā-songs. These were being widely translated in Mongolia, Vietnam and Korea in 18th century too.

Charyā- songs influenced Islamic Sufism as well. Sufism is believed to be originally developed in Iran. Many Islamic scholars call Sufism the ‘Tantric’ (occult) branch of Islam. They are of the opinion that Buddhist “Shunyabad” (theory of Nothingness) was main influencing factor behind the birth of Sufism. But how did it go that far? The Iranian scholar Abu Raihan Al-Biruni came to India in 11th century AD and carried knowledge of Indic philosophies and religions back. His book Tarikh Al-Hind mentions not only Brahmanic philosophical schools but also Buddhist theories along. Buddhist monasticism with their occult branches was still influential by the time he came to India. He had no reason to ignore them. Secondly Eastern part of Iran, i.e. Afganistan was very much influenced by Mahayan Buddhism. The giant sized Buddha idol curved in their mountain caves carry the evidence of that. Theory of Nothingness along with the monastic religion didn’t have many hurdles to cross to reach to West Asia.

Continue reading “Charyā -Pada — thousand year old songs from Eastern India — Part 2”

Charyā -Pada — thousand year old songs from Eastern India — Part 1

Remarkable is, the composers did not call these Sloka or Pada, words commonly used to mean verse; they named those Charyā – chants or song of their secret sadhana. “Pada” was added by MM Haraprasad Shastri, the researcher and publisher of the collection of Charyās. The composers of Charyāpada are Buddhist tantric Siddhas. We see, Siddha as a title were commonly used by Buddhist Tantrik sect and Saiva Nath Yogi sect. Was there any connection?

The manuscripts containing Charyāpada text was found in Nepal. We know stories about how MM Haraprasad Shastri found the Charyāgitikosh, which is a selection of only fifty verses with explanation by Munidatta (12th century AD), and how those were extracted. But isn’t it interesting that one selection of Buddist texts composed in Eastern India – comprising today’s Assam, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and Bangladesh are not traced where it was composed but found preserved in some other neighbouring country? Anyway, there were other verses of this class of Buddhist literature found in Eastern India. H M Shastri’s publication of 1916 included Dohākosh by Sarahapada (Sarahapa), Dohākosh by Kanhapada (Kanipa?), and Dakarnaba along with Charyāgitikosh.

How shall we translate the word “Charyā” in English – verse or lyrics? They were sung with fixed raga, taal, and tune as a part of secret devotional prayers of the venerated Buddhist preachers. The language of those lyrics was suitable to maintain that secrecy as well. This was some form of proto-Bengali and proto-Odia, proto-Assamese or Maithili, probably a version of Eastern Prākrit or colloquial language of old Eastern India, to which all later languages of this region are connected. Sandhyā bhāsā is the term used by Munidatta to name this language – but what does Sandhyā mean? Does Sandhyā signify the interim language between Prākrit and later languages or does it signify ambiguity of the language? Does the language determine the ‘nationality’ of its composers? Probably no – Kānhapāda was probably an advocate of Buddhist Tantrik philosophy from current Karnataka. Buddhism became the dominant religion of the subcontinent once, especially the region between Nalanda to Assam as well as Odisha, and Karnataka. Pundits migrated from one region to another and learned regional language.

How do we identify the names of the composers of these songs? Among the fifty songs of Charyāgitikosh, the name of Siddhacharya Kanhapada is associated with 13 verses, Bhusukupa  with 8, Sarahapa with 4, Kukkuri pa with 3, Sabarpa and Lui pa with 2 each. Each of Dham pa, Jaynandi pa, Kankana pa, Birua pa, Gundari pa, Chatila pa, Kambalambara pa, Dombi pa, Mahidhara pa, Beena pa, Dendana pa, Ajadeva pa, Dhendhana pa, Darika pa, Bhade pa, Taraka pa, Shanti pa composed one song of this collection. But the explanation of Munidutta names some other poets like Nagarjuna pa, Hebajra pa, Charja pa, Dauri pa etc. where are there compositions? Probably those were included in the collection of the hundred poems which is not yet discovered.

In last hundred years, many old texts of Charyā-song are discovered from different parts of Asia. Some texts are re-translated in different languages. Buddhist literature and their thought process influenced not only later Hindu spiritual thought but also Islamic Sufi belief, destroying Bamiyan Buddha idol could not remove that influence of idol-worshippers on medieval Islam. But let’s not enter into those details – at least at this stage of our deciphering a class of thousand year old songs.

What makes those old songs interesting? Let’s check the content, e.g. the one composed by the Siddha Lui pa (Luipada?)

The body is like a tree with five branches;

Which is destroyed by a mind restless.

Bliss is found by attaining strength

Guru will take you to the route in depth.

Learn many ways of meditation –

Surpassing pain and satisfaction,

Evading sensory desires fruitless,

Mingle with eternal emptiness.

Lui has seen it clearly sitting on –

His two seats called moon and sun.

(one interpretation of Kayatarubara panchbi daala…)

Tantrik interpretations of the verses are different. We will not go through those in detail as we are not discussing Tantrik philosophy and practices here. Our purpose is to find how religious Tantric practices, which were supposed to be observed in secrecy, gave birth to distinct literary tradition in a large tract of Eastern India. We don’t know whether Tantric disciples achieved their target of attaining eternal bliss by withdrawing or closing sensory organs, but their poems remained interesting from the viewpoint of literary and social history.

Who is this Lui pa? The name is mentioned in many other texts of Tantric and Yoga texts, but how to be sure that all of them and this Charyā-composer Lui pa is the same person? Tantra texts assign him another name “Meenanath” or “Matsyendranath”. Meenanath is worshiped by Buddhists in Nepal and believed to be an Avatar of Avalokiteswar. But if Lui pa considered the guru of all Siddhas as mentioned in Tantras, then he existed during the Bengal-Magadha King Dharmapala’s regime in 8th century. Then there is no way of his being identical with Meenanath who is considered to be spiritual guru of Gorakshnath in Bengal (12th-14th century). Anyway even a serious effort to define date and time as well as identity of the composers leads only to fierce debate.  Let’s read some interesting Charyā composed by another Siddha Kukkuri pa instead:

Vessel cannot be filled milking the tortoise

Crocodile can’t eat all tamarind from the trees

Courtyard becomes home – wife turns a saint

Thief steals the earring in the middle of the night

Father-in-law sleeps but wife remains awake

Where to find the earring for heaven’s sake!

Wife is scared of even a crow in daylight,

Moves out to make love when its night

When Kukkuri pa sings such a difficult song

Who can comprehend without instruction?

Kukkuripa existed in 8th or 9th century probably by end of Dharmapal’s or beginning of Devapala’s regime. People from Northern India believe he was from Nepal. Another belief associates his birthplace with Uttarakhand. The two books believed to be composed by him, are Yogabahvanopradesha and Srabapariccheda.


Continue reading “Charyā -Pada — thousand year old songs from Eastern India — Part 1”

Hadisiddha – spiritual leader or illicit lover?

(Continuation of ‘The Story of the mighty mother Maynamati’)

We know who Maynamati was. We also assume where her kingdom was located. The small North-Bengal town Maynagudi still carries her memories — at least in the name. We also have enough information about Gorakshnath. Apart from Viyapati’s Gorakshavijay, several other versions of panegyrics on Gorakshnath were found from different parts of Northern India. But who Hadipa was? Harisiddha’s role in Maynamati stories, his overwhelming presence in Maynamati’s dialogues justifies our curiosity — it is sometimes difficult to determine who is the major male role in the ballad — Govindachadra or Harisiddha?

Hadi is considered to be a community engaged in cleaning and sweeping in Bengal. Ancient India defined communities according to their profession — at a time when people usually picked up family profession to earn livelihood. Probably being in same profession created belongingness in a family or community. By the time Maynamati’s songs were composed (10th century), community professions were being associated to the concepts of purity or impurity. Hadi or sweeper became an impure caste; apparent reason both Manikchandra and Govindachadra denied becoming his disciple. But was it possible he was not a sweeper, but a Vaishnav (worshipper of Vishnu or Hari) whom the Shakti worshipper Kings considered abominable? Rangpur is the place where we find most number of texts of Maynamati’s songs. Rangpur was also part of Kamrup state which was famous as follower of Shakti cult and Yogini tantra. Obvious that power-goddess worshipper wouldn’t find a Vaishnav teacher eligible to teach them. Siddha is word signifying the person who has found the path of eternal wisdom; of course owner of immense supernatural power. Till date siddha songs are popular among Baul singer, which is considered to be branch of Vaishnava community.

Buchanan finds him a disciple of Kanipa, who was disciple of Gorakshnath and defines as a person of Yogi Community. Who were these Yogis? Some historian would say, they were formerly Buddhist wisdom seeker or cult followers who later converted to Hinduism. But the myth found in Nepal is interesting. According to their belief, during Yudhisthira’s journey to the heaven all of the brothers perished felling down on the chilly hill tracks of Himalayas. Only one survived was the club-bearing Bhima who was not only saved by the Buddhist saint Gorakshnath, but also made the king of Nepal. Was Gorakshnath (and obviously his disciples including Hadi Siddha) Buddhist cult follower who was not acceptable to Shakta Kings of Kamrupa and considered low-born?

But Shaivaits wouldn’t accept this theory. Gorakshnath is considered a Saiva saint who founded the Yogi sect. Also possible that he had a connection to the Shaiva Pashupata sects in Kamrupa which was converted to Yogis under his influence. Another myth describes Yogis as former disciples of the great Shaiva saint Shankaracharya who were expelled because of their habit of consuming liquor.

Thus determining the identity, i.e. caste, sect, community of Hadi Siddha becomes a next to impossible task. But what’s more interesting is the story of his involvement with his disciple Maynamati. According to legends Gorakshnath was teacher of both Maynamati and Hadi Siddha. Later Hadi Siddha took the role of spiritual guru of Maynamati. And the relationship of faith became so strong that Maynamati started forcing her husband Manikchandra, the king to adopt Hadi Siddha as his guru too. After her husband denied, the relationship between husband and wife became so sour that they started staying separately while Maynamati continued her cult practices under the supervision of Hadi Siddha. And the story of the illicit relationship grows stronger as Maynamati gives birth to her son Govindachandra eighteen months after Manikchandra’s death. Of course the ballad talks about spiritual intervention by Gorakshnath to solve problems of Mayna after her husband’s death which brought the childbirth to a halt for many months. The guru also forecasts her son’s death if he doesn’t worship Hadi’s feet. The way Mayna tries to convince her adamant son to submits himself to the Hadi is also notable. SO great is the supernatural power of the Hadi that he lights up his lamps with water instead of oil. He has more number of lamps in his hut than the king has in his palace. Even the ocean’s movement is dependent on his will. Why does such a powerful person need horses, elephants, royal staffs and umbrella as remuneration from his disciple? He is even able to create a forest for Govindachandra and then roads through the forest making Yama and Hanuman work for him. The Hadi takes his disciple through lots of hardships, demands price for assistance; finally pawns him as Govinda is not able to pay him the price. The powerful Hadi needs money to buy Ganja (cannabis) and he does not hesitate to sell Govinda to a prostitute making proper paperwork. Nevertheless the Hadi makes the disciple a Napumsaka (neither man nor women) to save his honour. But the Hadi, being a spiritual Guru vanishes the moment Hira, the prostitute takes charge her slave. Govinda’s queerness saves his manhood from being exploited by the lady, but how come the almighty guru never bothers to extend his support to the disciple for twelve years while the young boy was subject to tremendous physical and mental torture? Well, at the end of twelve years, he comes back to save him and punishes the prostitute by taking her life. After killing her, he makes her a bat and sends to heaven. The Hadi also makes the prince beg in the market before teaching him his magic spells. He brings him back to the palace, receives remuneration and goes back to heaven establishing the disciple on the throne.

Mayanamati’s song doesn’t tell us anything else about him. But Gorakshavijay, another famous ballad composed by Nath Yogi Community gives another interesting account about him. Hadi siddha was a saint in his previous birth in the Himalayas who fell in love with goddess Parvati. He tells Parvati that he would accept even the terrible life of a Hadi if a beautiful lady like Parvati reciprocates his love. Parvati told him to go to Meherkula, where the queen Maynamati, who was as beautiful as Parvati, would fall in love with him. Obviously the man would have to work as a sweeper there. In another line, the guru Gorakshnath tells his disciple Kanpha that Hadi Siddha is thrown into prison for having an illicit love affair with Maynamati. In another text collected by Durlabh Mullik, this Hadi Siddha is the all-powerful one who plans everything from his heavenly abode. He is propagator of non-violence who plays more influential role than Gorakshnath here.

From different versions of different texts found in different locations, it is difficult to draw a conclusion about the character of Hadi siddha and the nature of his relationship with the queen Maynamati. Only thing we can tell is that his spiritual power earned lot of reputation at a point of time in Bengal’s history when spirituality used to be mingled with supernatural. In fact, possessing supernatural power did set the height of Hadi siddha’s spiritual existence.

© Kathakali Mukherjee, 2018

The Story of the Mighty Mother Maynamati

Mother’s day special – for my blog readers 🙂

pic mayanamati


We are fascinated by women’s roles in stories — loving, caring, compassionate, strong, determined, chaste, loyal — sometimes fierce too. How do we perceive a female character having layers? I remember one lady illustrated in Ancient Bengali literature — in Maynamatir gaan (The songs of Maynamati), composed between 11th century-17th century AD. These were preserved in oral traditions and also in many written texts— naturally having several versions. All of them present Maynamati with equal importance.

Sisumati was the princess of Meher-Kul (current Tripura), the lovely daughter of king Tilakchandra. She was merely a kid when the Yogi Gorakshanath came to her father’s palace. Out of sheer affection to her, the Yogi made the kid his disciple. He taught her the ‘Mahajnyan’ — the sanctified lessons that could resurrect a dead person. He also gave her a new name, ‘Maynamati’.

She was married to Manikchandra, the prince of a neighbourhood kingdom Vikrampur. Maynamati was only daughter of her father. So Manikchandra shifted to Meher-Kul, so that he could take care of both the kingdoms. The loving queen Maynamati wanted to teach him the Mahajnyan. Manikchandra denied. She tried to convince her telling, “Listen my love! This Mahajnyan will make you immortal by removing all your mortal disease and pains.” Manikchandra replied, “For a man, there is no greater humiliation than accepting own wife as preceptor. I can’t accept you as my teacher.”

As time was passing like this, Maynamati was growing old. As per tradition of the royals, Manikchandra married another four princesses and espoused hundred eighty ordinary wives. They were all young and beautiful. Soon the old queen and the proud youngs engaged themselves in a spiteful fight against each other. Manikchandra drove the old Maynamati out of the palace. She left the capital and started living in a small town named Ferusa.

The king became adamant. Insisted by a long-bearded minister from Bangla, he started torturing his subjects. The subjects resorted to worshiping the deity ‘Dharmathakur’, pleased him and pleaded for the destruction of the cruel king. Dharmathakur listened to them. The king fell fatally ill. Maynamati was called back to the palace to help him. She brought water from the sacred river Ganga in the golden bejeweled vessel to bring her husband back to life. She chased the messengers of Yama, the god of death to the river, the messenger jumped into the river; the queen took the form of a buffalo and the messenger hid in the waves becoming a fish. The queen attacked the fish becoming a crane. The messenger turned into a lobster to get rid of her but she turned herself into a goose. Leaving water, the messenger turned itself into a pigeon but the queen continued chasing him, this time taking the form of an eagle. Finally she severely beat up the messengers of Yama, the god of death who tied her husband’s life with a strong rope but nothing worked. Manikchandra died, leaving a seed in Maynamati’s womb. Their son Govindachandra was born after his death. The large kingdom was being ruled by Maynamati.

Govindachandra was married to Aduna, the elder daughter of a Dhaka king Harischandra and received the younger princess Paduna as dowry. Bhattasali’s lore tells that he also married a daughter of the powerful southern king Rajendra Choladev. But the eighteen year old prince was sent to exile by his mother, Maynamati. The old queen was convinced that if her son does not spend the life of an ascetic in exile in a forest for twelve years, he would die at the age of nineteen. The young queens were obviously against the old lady’s decision. As all their efforts to stay with the husband failed, they tried to poison the mother-in-law. Maynamati’s Mahajnyan helped her defeating them. Govindachandra resisted becoming a disciple of a guru of cleaner community telling: “How shall I, the illustrious ruler of a state become a disciple of a person of low birth who cleans the roads and marketplaces in my kingdom? Yours is such a mean option to humiliate me!” The old queen was angry –“The person you call scavenger is so powerful that even Indra, the god of heavens worship him. Wearing a pair of golden sandals, he is able to walk on the river. His food is prepared in his residence in the moon while the river crocodiles make his dining table. How dare you ignore his kind of a man of wisdom?” Govinda hit back, “I don’t believe any of your words. I hate being the son of your kind of a mother! You have accepted the offerings of love from the low-born one only to acquire the knowledge of Mahajnyan. You poisoned my father to death following your paramour’s advice. Now both of you conspired against me — while you want to enjoy the amorous pleasures of your illicit love sending me to exile! Why didn’t you sacrifice yourself in my father’s funeral pyre? I could consider myself a pious prince at least!” The queen started cursing him: “The low born one is my brother while both of us are disciples of the venerable Gorakshanath. How could I give birth of your kind of a son — the one who could scandalize own mother?”

The queens cried helplessly. The lustrous Aduna spared no effort to dissuade her husband from leaving her alone. But Govindrachadra was powerless against the strong will of his mother. He had to go to the forest alone and accept all kinds of miseries of the life in jungle. A beautiful wealthy prostitute sought to win his love. Failing, she forced him into slavery. He had to bring water for her from a river far away. One sudden morning, as he was walking through the jungle to fetch water, he realized that his twelve years of exile was over. He cut his thigh, so that he could use own blood to write a letter to his home. His guru saved him from there and helped him fly to his palace.

Twelve years were too long for Aduna to recognize him. She ordered the royal elephant to kill the trespasser in the palace and called the royal dog. But the elephant bowed his head before this bearded ascetic; also the dog started wagging its tail at his sight. Aduna understood her mistake, “Even the speechless animals could recognize you, My Lord! How stupid is your poor queen that she could not!”

Govindachandra ascended the throne and ruled the kingdom to peace and prosperity for years.

The story is simple — and Maynamati is the lady who stands in the core of the story. Was this Maynamati an immoral character who had an illicit affair with her fellow-disciple of the spiritual guru Gorakshanath? Was she a murderer who killed her husband not being able to make him follow the spiritual path she was following? We do not know, but even if she did not commit any crime, her aggressive way of expanding own dominance over the kingdom as well as the family, and her cruel treatment to her own young son doesn’t seem ideal from our point of view. The songs of Maynamati were composed by same Nath community, the disciples of Gorakshanath. And some of the texts mentions her being imprisoned by Govindachandra for having corrupt intensions. How come this kind of a lady becomes a role-model in the lore of a society where women’s morality is given lot of importance?

We have to go back to history to find out answers. Existence of Goraksnath, a legendary Nath-Yogi and the king Gobindachandra somewhere between11th-13th century in Bengal is established from literary records found in Eastern part of Bengal, Odisha and Maharashtra. Probably Maynamati’s stories were compiled to illustrate the greatness of her mighty spiritual guru Goraksnath, while only the magnitude of his spiritual prowess could make the immoral Maynamati a powerful one. Probably eleventh century Bengal, which was suffering from political anarchy, also bit puzzled in the realm of conflicting religious beliefs, sought the help of some supernatural power of an incredibly self-restrained Yogi — whose support could help even an allegedly wicked woman to gain power over the society and its people. Hence, Maynamati’s story becomes the story of making the impossible ‘Possible’ — establishing a strong-willed woman’s supremacy subduing all who denied accepting her.

Continue reading “The Story of the Mighty Mother Maynamati”

Where is Bengal — exactly?

Again an old post: sharing for blog readers 🙂

bengal6th-9th century
Probable location of Bengal during 6th-9th century

Bengal, West Bengal, East Bengal, Bangāl, Banga — too many names to describe a region in eastern part of India — right? Or is it different parts of the land probably defined by the same name in different periods? The question is critical, answer of which has to be simple. We want simplicity.

Thing is, ancient Indian historical texts refers to many places like Dravida, Karnat, Maharashtra, Panchal or Magadha, but the name of Banga or Bangāl is rarely mentioned. Ancient texts found in eastern part of India talk about Anga, Magadh, Gandhār and Kalinga but no Banga. Check the list of names of 16 Mahajanapadas (3rd — 6th century BCE); there is the name of Anga, but no Banga! (neither Kalinga). The map that accompanies this article has been prepared during British rule. There of plenty of references of Banga in our mythological texts; but its difficult to determine their time. When historians say that the history of Anga, Magadh or Kalinga is the history of Banga, that leads to the question — was there any region called Banga in ancient India at all?

First consider the name ‘Banga’. Shaktisangamtantra, a Tantric text, compiled around 7th century tells that the land spread between the sea and the river Brahmaputra is called Banga (Ratnākaram samārabhya Brahmaputrāntagah Shive\ Bangadesho mayā proktah sarbasiddhipradarshakah)

But does that territory lie on the eastern shore of the river or west? The Tantra text doesn’t clarify that. The description given in the copper plates of Lakshman Sena (12th century) supports a conclusion that the eastern part of Brahmaputra including the area called Vikrampur is ‘Banga’ and this was probably stretched till the Bay of Bengal. But the 6th century text Kurmabibhāg by Barahamihir mentions difference between Samatata (near sea-shore) and Banga!

Second name we may discuss is Vangāla \Bangāl (Bôngal). The earliest reference to this is found in the Nesari plates of 805 AD) of Rashtrakuta Govinda III. This plate names Dharmapala as the king of Vangala. Pala era (8th-12th century) was before Sena’s. Was Vangāla the earlier name of Banga? Again, Thirumalai inscription of Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty, who invaded Bengal in the 11th century, mentions Govindachandra as the ruler of Vangālaadesa. Also the Goharva inscription of Chedi king mentions “Bangāl”. Interesting to find the same name in records of southern rulers and Turkish sultans who invaded this part of land much later. Abu’l Fazl (16th century) in his Ain-i-Akbari tells that the original name of Bengal was Bung, and the suffix “al” came to be added to it from the fact that the ancient rajahs of this land raised mounds of earth 10 feet high and 20 in breadth in lowlands at the foot of the hills which were called “al”. From this suffix added to the Bung, the name Bengal arose and gained currency.

Also interesting is, the inscription of Vijjal, the Kalchuri descendant, differentiates between Banga and Bangāl. Abhidhan Chintamani by Jain Harichandra has a line, “Bangastu Harikeliya”. This Harikel must not be Bangāl — that is proved from other texts like Dakarnava. Therefore we may imagine Banga and Bangāl could be separate regions in this part of land. During Shah Sujah’s regime, the tract between Rangpur and Brahmaputra was known as Bangālbhum. True that Bangāl doesn’t find mention in the record of Iban Batuta or De Barros, but Gastaldi’s map of 1560s shows the presence of Bengālā. Shall we conclude that there was a city name Bangālā near the sea, from which the name of the region was derived later.

Well, Rampal-text of Shrichandra supports separate existence of Banga and Bangāla. This text and Chinese monk Yijing’s account proves separate existence of areas called Harikela, Banga and Chandradwipa. In addition, if we consider Lakshmansena’s plate and some other texts of that period, we may conclude that the tract between Vikrampur and eastern side of Brahmaputra was known as Banga or Harikela between 7th-13th century. Mahabharat and Brihatsamhita determines ‘Samatata’ — the sea shore’s exclusion from this region. Bangāl was located in the sea shore — also Samatata. Probably both were outside the boundary of Banga?

bengal5th-6th century
5th-6th century AD

Vijjala’s inscription tells us that the borders of Banga and Bangāla didn’t merge till 12th century. Even Rāda and Varendra were separate. Islamic texts written in 13th-14th centuries also support this view. First reference of Subah Bangāla stretched from Srihatta located in current Bangladesh to Purnia and Kankjol in current Bihar\Jharkhand is found during Mughal emperor Akbar’s (1556–1605) regime. In 1593, Capture of Orissa and Medinipur by Raja Man Singh, Akbar’s lieutenant brought Medinipur under Mughal rule. But Medinipur and Hilji was not included in Bangāla subah. Cooch Behar was independent state and Chattagram was under state of Arakan. Well, by the time Shahjahan and his son Aurangzeb established their rule in eastern part of India, the borders of Bangāla were expanded much beyond their previous limits — finally creating a large powerful state called Banga or Bangāl.

The name of Bengal is permanently associated to the geography extended over current Bangladesh and West Bengal by British ruler, but its boundaries were continuously redefined till very recent time, even after independence.

This ‘sudden’ inclusion of discussion on ancient geography in the history of literature series may surprise readers. But history of Bengali literature cannot be understood unless we have knowledge of its changing geographical boundaries. Even if we deny mythical references, historical records show constant changes in boundaries among the eastern states like Magadh, Pragjyotishpur\ Kamrup, Samatat, Banga, Suhma, Kalinga, Utkal — as a result of expanding of kingdoms by all powerful rulers through the ages. So at some point of time, part of today’s northern Bengal (probably till the border of Dhaka in current Bangladesh) was under the state of Pragjyotishpur (which falls mostly in current Assam), while in the middle ages Koch Hajo’s (bifurcated eastern part of Koch kingdom) independent state expanded till Guwahati. Similarly parts of southern Bengal was ruled by the kings of Kalinga and Ganjam at different points of time, but in 7th century AD a Gour (current Malda, Murshidabad in West Bengal) king named Sasānka, who was a descendant of a Kamrup dynasty, established a large eastern empire expanding his rule till Utkala and Magadh regions. Before the rise of Hindu Sasānka, the region named Gour was under Buddhist Magadh kings. These changes not only lead to bloodshed and war (even GI patent debates in recent times), but also striking cultural intermingling and shared linguistic and literary heritage among the states of current Assam, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal. Reason ownership of the Buddhist Charyāpada texts or the poets Vidyāpati and Jayadev remains an issue of critical debate.

map bengal1853-2
Bengal as in 1853