Saturday, 1 January 2011

Forests - One

this is the sequel to an earlier series i had written called Ayodhya. All parts of my unworthy version of the Ramayana can be found under the label myths.



A forest is full of sounds. This was the first thing that Rama noticed. It was one thing to have keen ears in a palace, where it was only people who talked and walked and made noise. It was quite another in the natural habitat of dozens of different predators and just as many prey. Every noise signified something, but in the time it took to ponder it’s significance, another replaced it. Even Rama’s admittedly superior sense of hearing could not keep up with the sudden increase in information.

'Just a little further, young princes. I imagine after yesterday you need rest, yes?' the Hermit said. Vishwamitra really was unlike Vashista in the most surprising of ways. They had stopped at the Hermitage of Kama the day before, and the things that he had heard still made him blush! The Hermit, on the other hand, did not seem to care. He merely smiled and said something about getting a proper education. And when he spoke to Lakshmana about it, his brother looked at him and said that learning to control one’s urges was all very well, but they had those urges for a reason. It had taken him an entire minute to realise that he had been joking. Perhaps his brother was coming back to them, however slowly the process might be.

However, the visit did prove useful. Vishwamitra used a combination of flattery and seniority to persuade the brahmins to keep the princes occupied, and disappeared into the forest. After listening to several rather embarrassing treatises on various ….. positions inspired by the escapades of God of Love himself (or so the legend went) they had finally come to something useful. The demoness Tataki, devourer of brahmins.

It was one of the elder yogis who told the story. They called him Shanti, though it was likely that his parents had named him something different, a name that he had replaced once he joined the ashram. He intoned the Gayatri mantra first, something that Rama had heard since before his birth, but could never recall. It seemed that whenever he tried, he came up with nothing but a blinding headache. He had once asked Guruji why this was so, and Guruji had smiled at him, and said 'Some things are hidden even from the one from whom nothing is hidden'. Guruji really did take a delight in being obtuse, sometimes.

'Listen well, Daasarathi, for this story has its beginnings in the very dawn of time'. Just like many of the priests sitting around them, he thought, before he batted it away. Next to him, Lakshmana restrained himself from letting out a loud guffaw, no doubt from having entertained a view along similar lines. Rama frowned. It seemed the Hermit was rubbing off on both of them, and not always in a good way. He shook his head and continued to listen to the yogi, who now seemed to be extolling the virtues of Ganesha, though for what reason Rama could have guessed. In an extremely roundabout manner, the yogi finally arrived at what Rama assumed was the crux of the matter.

'-and that is why we do not anger any of the Seven, for their wrath can be, and often is, great and terrible indeed. This is a lesson that Tataki learned a very long time ago, in the Satya Yuga itself. In those days much that we take to be fixed was mutable, and much that we now know to be mutable was fixed. Some laws, much more lenient then, have now become harsh, while others, which are now guidelines at best were then rules that no one broke. One such law was brahmahatya.'

'I would imagine killing in general would have been condemned then, much as it is now, Shantiji’, Lakshmana interjected, a little harshly in Rama’s opinion.

The yogi only smirked at Lakshmana. 'In those days, young prince, death was not as permanent as it is now. To be reborn after dying was a certainty, not a hope. Indeed, many souls could and did remember their past lives, and sought out their past parents or children, though that action always had terrible consequences. But killing a brahmin meant making all of his tapas null and void. All of the restraint poured into a lifetime's worth of rigour, gone in the instant it took for Yama's noose to encircle a brahmin's neck. The loss of such tapas could only be balanced by the punishment meted to those responsible for such a heinous act. As a result, brahmins themselves used their tapas to administer harsh punishments on those foolish enough to harm one of their own.'

'So the brahmins were unrestrained in their punishment of otherwise defenceless people?' Lakshmana interrupted again. What was wrong with him? He was never this rude to any of the palace brahmins.

'I think it would be very hard to attack someone and not have any defences, prince. And I think you fail to understand, that in the Satya Yuga there was no reason for anyone to attack anyone else. Food was plentiful, there was no shortage of space, and no one's desires outmatched their needs. Any violence was rare. Violence inflicted upon brahmins was thus even rarer. Our ancestors merely strove to keep it that way.'

Strangely, neither the yogi nor his brother seemed to be at any unease. A smile played on his brother's lips, while the yogi was still smirking, his eyes twinkling in the firelight.

'At any rate, whether or not it was, in fact, a bad thing', and upon saying this he raised an eyebrow at Lakshmana, 'the fact remains that brahmahatya was punishable by whatever the attacked brahmin deemed appropriate.'

Then, having explained in great detail the whys and wherefores of brahmahatya, the yogi did something that should really not have surprised Rama. He changed the topic to something completely unconnected to his previous subject.

'Once, there were Yakshas on Bhulokam. In the days before the advent of Ravanasura, the isle of Lanka belonged to Kubera, the god of wealth, and the guardian of the North. It was he who ruled the Yakshas, the Gandharvas, the Kinnaras, and a host of other beings. These beings frequently travelled outside their lord's realm, and settled in many places far removed from his influence. One such Yaksha was called Suketu.'

'Suketu was a Yaksha of no mean power. He had won the right to leave his lord's realm through many trials of wit and combat, and settled himself in a wealthy forest kingdom which he ruled for many centuries. However, despite his loyalty to his king, and his respect of his people, there was one thing that Suketu lacked. He desired a child, someone to carry on his name and bring it even more glory. And so he began a penance great and terrible, fasting and chanting hymns continuously, so that Brahmadeva might bless him. Eventually, Brahmadeva did take notice of the Yaksha king, and blessed him with a beautiful daughter. This daughter Suketu named Tataki.'

'Tataki was a joy to her father and her people. Her beauty was renowned far and wide, and many princes from great kingdoms sought her hand in marriage. In the end, Tataki married Sumali, the son of an ancient Daitya called Sukesh. Unlike his wife, and his wife's father, Sumali was not the most humble of men. His propensity to insult those above his station would prove his undoing.'

'Tataki bore Sumali two sons, Mareecha and Subahu, and one daughter, Kaikesi. These sons would often walk for hours with their father, conversing on a wide variety of topics. It so happened that on one of these walks, they walked past a man. As Daityas, they stood no less than ten feet tall, and this man was perhaps five feet at most. And so Sumali called out to his sons, saying 'Look at this puny man, who does not even reach my knees! Who is this worthless being who dares to walk upon the lands of Sumali the Great? I shall have his head for my dinner table tonight!'

'That man was no other than the Sage Agastya. As you are no doubt aware, the Seven are capable of hearing and seeing things that would normally be hidden from mere mortals.’ A sardonic grin appeared on Lakshmana’s face, mirroring Rama’s own. ‘Upon hearing this threat to his person, Agastya was fearful of his life. It is not a small thing when someone threatens one of the Seven.’

‘And so he used this law of brahmahatya to visit some terrible punishment on an arrogant Daitya prince.’ Lakshmana finished for him coldly.

‘That is indeed what he did, young prince. He ended the poor Daitya’s life, and confined him to the lowest levels of Patalam for all eternity, for only then could he be sure that the Daitya would not come upon him to take his revenge.’

Then Shanti smiled at Rama, and said ‘So, rajkumar, what do you think happened next?’

And, strange as it was, Rama did know what happened next. ‘Mareecha and Subahu were enraged by this action. As princes of their kingdom, as sons of their father, they were honour bound to retaliate. Along with their mother, a powerful warrior in her own right, they tracked down Agastya and attacked him. At this time, however, Agastya was more prepared, more in control of his emotions. The fact that this attack was brought upon by the love they held for Sumali meant that any retribution he might bring upon them had to be at least slightly mitigated. And so he cursed them. He cursed them, not to Patalam and the ministrations of the Asuras who reside there, but to live the life of Rakshasas in Bhulokam. In sparing them from death, he gave them a small sliver of a chance of salvation. But they spurned it. Even today, they prey upon all brahmins who dare enter their territory, their anger dulled not in the least by the passing of a Yuga, always seeking their one true enemy, the one who cursed them into their pitiful states.’

The fire was guttering out, its reflection in the eyes of those around him slowly dying. Lakshmana looked at him dumbstruck, while the yogi continued that to smile that infuriating smile, the rest of his face blurred by the darkness.


wilkommen to my next bit. hopefully i am deviating enough from whatever other versions you have read, and i am not boring you. the next bit will have fighting in it, i promise!


Anonymous said...

Well written. Especially the part about Shanti.

s said...

thanks :D

Shanti was meant to be slightly insufferable. If he was, then I have succeeded.