Saturday, June 27, 2009

A SHELF-FUL OF IDOLS: AN ASSORTMENT OF MYTHOLOGY FACTS AND FANTASIES

I personally am of the belief that any self respecting author (or blogger in our case) writing theme tales should try his/her hand out with the short stories. So, inspired by the great Mr. Archer or even Ms. Christie, I present to you an assortment of Mythological Facts and Fantasies. I intend NOT to bore you with any prologue. So, without any further ado, here we go!

What’s in the name, especially the Villain’s?
The eldest son of Dhrithrashtra and Gandhari was named at birth as Suyodhana. It is not difficult to digest this considering the fact that no self respecting parent names a child derogatively. Through the course of the epic, he was re-christened as Duryodhana. Some claim this to have happened owing to his general ill behavior whereas some attribute it to his near invincibility in battle.


A ‘Sonny’ Affair:
Part I – Hanuman, the unwavering celibate, actually had a son. When flying over the sea after burning Lanka, a tired Hanuman dropped his sweat which was consumed by a lady crocodile named Makari. Makari, who could also assume the human form, was a part of Mahiravana’s court in the Nether world. She gave birth to a half monkey-half human boy and named him Makara-Dhwaja. Hanuman first encounters his son in his quest to save Lord Rama and Lakshmana from the Nether world. Makara-Dhwaja was appointed the guardsman to the palace and Hanuman was compelled to fight him. Makari however brought acquaintance between the father and son, thus in a way avoiding any irrecoverable blood-shed. After Mahiravana’s death, Lord Rama installed Makara-Dhwaja as the King of the Patala-Loka.



Part II – One significant question dogging many an enthusiast is ‘How many had been a direct audience to Lord Krishna’s discourse of the Bhagawata Gita?’. The obvious ones are Arjuna (addressee), Sanjay (using Divya Drishti gifted by Rishi Veda Vyasa) and Lord Hanuman (perched atop Arjuna’s chariot). I’d long heard of another individual who had been a part of this esteemed audience. Finally a good friend revealed the name to me as Barbareek, son of Ghatotghaj (Son of Hidimba and Bheem). Not only the Gita, but Barbareek had also witnessed the complete 18 days of action at Kurukhsetra. His tale is that of extreme valor, talent and humility.
Barabareek had earned three arrows from Lord Shiva (to mark, unmark and destroy targets). However a paradoxical promise, which his mother had extracted from him, and Lord Krishna’s request kept Barabareek away from the war. He had promised his mother that he would only side with the weaker of the two armies. Lord Krishna explained that Barabareek was so strong that whichever army he was to join, would become strong. Hence he would have to keep changing sides until nobody but he was left in the battle. Accepting the situation, Barabareek requested that he be allowed to witness the war (which was his primary intent). Lord Krishna granted the wish, however asking Barabareek for his head, which was to mark the beginning of the war of such reckoning. So, finally Barabareek’s head was perched upon a hill from where he witnessed the complete Kurukshetra battle.
After the battle, the Pandavas argued among themselves as to who should be accredited for the victory at Kurukshetra. Lord Krishna suggested them to ask Barbareek, who replied that “Oh brave Pandavas, I could see only the Sudarshan Chakra revolving everywhere which was hacking the Kaurava army to pieces and Draupadi assuming the fearful form of Mahakali Durga, was drinking bowl after bowl of blood and was not allowing even one drop of blood to fall on the earth”. Thus the Pandavas were silenced of their question and vanity.
The Great Accountant:Lord Krishna was killed by a hunter (who used the accursed metal as arrow head – For details, search for end of the Yadava race and submerging of Dwaraka) who mistook the lord’s toe to be a bird. The hunter tried his best to help the lord and apologized deeply – this, the Lord explained only to be a settlement due since their previous birth, when the Lord in the incarnation as Lord Rama had killed the hunter, stealthily, who was in the form of Vanara King Vali.
Devotee first, even before Consort:Lord Vishnu’s incarnation as Narasimha was so fierce that even Goddess Lakshmi could dare not approach him. Only Prahalad was able to go near the Lord and sit upon his lap singing his praises.



The Compassionate God:
Lord Karthikeyan, son of Mother Parvathi and Lord Shiva (and elder brother of Lord Ganesha) was born to kill the demon, Tarakasura. He was raised by the Kritthikas and led the divine armies when he was 6 days old. It is unique to him that he is the only god to be worshipped alongside his enemy, Tarakasura. It is said that after defeating Tarakasura, the Lord forgave him and transformed him into his ride, the peacock. So, whenever we offer flowers to the Lord, a transformed Tarakasura also stands addressed.


The Book of Beauty:The Ramayana was created as a compilation of 7 books (Kandas) – Bala Kanda, Ayodhya Kanda, Aranya (Forest) Kanda, Kishkindha Kanda, Sundara Kanda, Yudha Kanda and Uttara Kanda. Whereas most of them are self explanatory by their titles, the Uttara Kanda is the story of Lava & Kusha and is said to be a later addition to the original composition. It is of course the Sundara Kanda that can be translated as the ‘Book of Beauty’. But whom or what part of the Ramayana does it relate to? And the answer is…Hanuman! Hanuman was fondly called so (Sundara) by his mother (Anjani) and Sage Valmiki chose this name over others as this kanda deals mainly with Hanuman’s journey to Lanka and back.
The Picture shows the Pancha-Mukha form of Lord Hanuman. This he assumes in the episode of Patala-Loka in which he saves Lord Rama and Lakshmana from the clutches of Mahiravana.


Saturn-Man:The basis behind many of our day to day practices and beliefs lie in the mythological tales. Take for instance the popular practice of worshipping Lord Hanuman on Saturdays. It happens to be for nullification of the malefic effects of the crow mounted, the son of Surya and Chhaya (Shadow), Lord Shani. Ramayana reveals that Shani Dev, who was captive at Ravana’s palace, was rescued by Lord Hanuman. As a token of thanks, Shani Dev offered reprieve to all devotees of Lord Hanuman. Alternately once Shani Dev was caught between Hanuman’s shoulders and the ceiling when attempting to mount the latter to influence his stars. Unable to bear the pain, Shani Dev offered gratitude in return to an immediate release.
Just as with Lord Hanuman, a Shani Chalisa is chanted to worship Shani Dev.


The greatest of them all:A simple read of Mahabharata will reveal a very common reference to Arjuna as the ‘Greatest Archer’. But was he so considering that competition consisted of none less than the Great Grand Sire or the self learned Ekalavya? Based on some sources, the list of the archers in descending order of their skills is – Lord Krishna (though he never lifted the bow in the war), Grand Sire Bheeshma, Karna and then Arjuna. Lord Krishna of course had skills compared to none and Bheeshma was the best of the bests; but how about the unending tussle between the prolific Pandavas? One incident during the 17th day of the Kurukshetra war reveals it all. Arjuna’s arrow struck Karna’s Chariot hurling it hundreds of feet away. Likewise, Karna’s arrow struck Arjuna’s chariot but displaced it only by a short distance. At this, to Arjuna’s surprise, Lord Krishna praised Karna for his skills. Asked to explain, Lord Krishna simply asked Arjuna to compare Karna’s chariot which consisted of Karna and the Shalya King (Charioteer) with Arjuna’s own which consisted of the Universe in the form of Lord Krishna, Arjuna himself and the mighty Hanuman!


Saffron atop the Chariot:One of the few common threads between the Ramayana and the Mahabharata is the fluttering flag bearing Hanuman atop Arjuna’s chariot. The incident behind this arrangement almost had Arjuna sacrificing himself out of ignominy. During the Vanavasa tenure, Arjuna was travelling the length and breadth of the world acquiring great weapons. During one such journey, he went to Rameshwaram admiring the great bridge that had been built by Lord Rama’s army to cross over to Lanka. However, knowing that Lord Rama was a great Archer, he wondered aloud why the Lord didn’t build a bridge of arrows. Hearing this, came a small Monkey challenging Arjuna to build such a bridge which could bear the monkey’s weight. Not knowing that the monkey was none other than Lord Hanuman in disguise, Arjuna out of vain started building the bridge. Each time he did so, the monkey destroyed it merely with its tail. Unable to bear this humiliation, Arjuna decided to burn himself upon a pyre. Upon this, Lord Vishnu himself interfered, reprimanding both Arjuna and Hanuman for their respective actions. Feeling guilty that he had broken Arjuna’s supreme confidence, Lord Hanuman agreed to passively assist Arjuna in the great war of Kurukshetra by looking over his chariot.


Long Live the Great…We come across the term Chiranjeevi often; apart from the glorified Telugu actor, it is something which we see on Marriage Patrikas. It may appear as though Chiranjeevi means an immortal; but it essentially means one with a very long life. As per Hindu Mythology, in the current phase of the four Yugas, only a handful of individuals qualify as Chiranjeevis. A few among them are:
Mahabali (Vamana Avatar)
Parashuram (Lord Vishnu’s 6th Avatar)
Vibhishana
Hanuman
Markandeya
(Destined to die at the age of 16, he was saved by Lord Shiva from Lord Yama)

Veda Vyasa
Kripacharya
Ashwathama
(cursed to such a state of being)

Jambavan (the wise bear who reminded Hanuman of his powers)


Highway to Hell…Heavens eventually!B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharata ends at the point of Bheeshma’s passing away and the coronation of Yudhishthara as the King of Hastinapur. It is common knowledge that he ruled the kingdom for 36 years, post which the Pandavas with Draupadi retired to the Himalayas passing the reign to Pareekhshit, the son of Abhimanyu. In the meantime, Dhrithrashtra along with Gandhari and Kunti had retired to the forests. Soon they ascended towards heaven with their bodies consumed in a forest fire. The Pandavas in their journey over the Himalayas faced immense severities and soon Draupadi followed by Nakul, Sahadeva, Arjuna and Bheema perished. Left alone, Yudhishthira was accompanied by a dog till he reached the summit of the mountain. A golden chariot with Indra upon it descended from the heavens. However, Indra refused entry to the dog to which Yudhishthir responded that the dog was his true companion on this journey after his kith and kin had left him alone en-route. Upon this, the dog transformed into Lord Yama who seemed pleased as his son had passed this second test. Some versions speak of Yudhishthira losing a thumb (for the only lie he uttered), though I’m not sure where to account it.


But shocked was he to see none of his brothers in the heavens. Instead he found the Kauravas with Karna seemingly purified of their sins. Appalled he enquired with Lord Yama, who explained – The Kauravas though vile, died fighting in the battlefield, which was honorable for Kshatriyas. All the Pandavas but Yudhishthira and Draupadi were vain beings and also partial in some way. Nakul, Sahadeva, Bheema and Arjuna were excessively proud of their beauty and skills. Draupadi was partial towards Arjuna though married to all. Hence all of them had to spend some time in Hell as penance. A distraught Yudhishthira refused to remain in heavens and marched towards hell to be with his brothers. Convinced of his son’s righteousness, Lord Yama brought the Pandavas to Heavens. This was the third and the last test conducted by Lord Yama on his son, Yudhishthira (The first being the Yaksha Prashna episode, in which Yadhishthira saves his four brothers by responding to questions by Lord Yama in the form of a Yaksha guarding a lake from which they wish to drink water).


Just to mention, Yudhishthira means the ‘One who stands still in the middle of a war’. He was also known by the names of Bharata (as a descendent of Bharata) and Ajatashatru (one without any enemies) – Not to be confused with the Magadha King in the 5th Century BCE.


The Not-so-Usual Consort:
Whenever the Gods were in need of consorts for their avatars, they depended on the original ones. Meaning to say, for Lord Vishnu’s avatar as Lord Rama and Lord Krishna, Goddess Lakshmi took the incarnations of Mother Sita and Rukmini Devi. However, there is an exception in the form of Satyabhama. Mind you, whereas Lord Krishna had 16,106 other wives, he only lived with them as an image (a copy); and of course Radha was never the Lord’s wife. Only Rukmini Devi and Satyabhama enjoyed the presence of the original one. So, how was this supposed incarnation of Bhoomi Devi (Earth) able to win the Lord’s heart and attention? As it happens, this was the result of a commitment guaranteed by the Lord in his previous incarnation, as Lord Rama, to a Serpent Princess, Chandrasena. Chandrasena was a great devotee of Lord Rama and wished to serve only him as her lord. However, she was abducted by Ahiravana, brother of Ravana who was totally smitten by her beauty and took her to the Patala-loka. When Lord Rama is held captive in the Patala-loka, Chandrasena extracts a promise from Hanuman in return of the secret to defeat Ahiravana. As per the promise, Lord Rama sits with Chandrasena on a swing. But the same breaks (hanuman’s trick) when Chandrasena attempts to put a garland across the Lord’s neck. An incensed Chandrasena is about the curse Hanuman, when Lord Rama requests her to forgive Hanuman as he had actually helped the Lord stick to his one-consort promise. He however consoles a grieving Chandrasena by committing to have her as his consort in his next incarnation as Lord Krishna. Thus came about Satyabhama, erstwhile Chandrasena and daughter of Satrajit, as the esteemed consort (though second to Rukmini) of Lord Krishna.


Finally…No, no further tales up my sleeve. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any more; quite the contrary actually. Having explored this bit, I’m raring to spin (narrate rather) many more. But I think these many are sufficient for now. Also, I am tired; of writing maybe not, but the theme maybe yes. I just hope all this reading has kindled sufficient interest in you about this ageless timeless theme!
Until later, if ever…Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi!


P.S – I think we’ll meet back festival time. It is difficult to omit them altogether!

5 comments:

Sujata said...

Highly informative and very interesting! Mythology and Indian folklore is certainly full of amazing, little-known facts. Full credit goes to you for bringing it to us in an extremely reader-friendly manner!
Hoping to see the next post on festivals soon..

Nitya said...

it is well written with lots of information. Thank you for such Informative writing. Please continue writing such article.
bahut bahut sadhuwad

Abirami mall said...

This blog is nice and I have a one idea to know secretes about Shiva. On the whole, the secret and adventures of Siddhars in different moulds is what is Siva Ragasiyam.
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anvidh k said...

Jai Hanuman. Hi Friends,
I think "HANUMAN JI" is most powerful god in universe.
I pray to "HANUMAN JI" for long and happy life of every good person in world.
Reading hanuman chalisa will give you success.

Jyothi Sree said...

Thank you for sharing the informative blog. It is indeed wonderful to read and useful. Read hanuman chalisa.