Maneka Sanjay Gandhi
The first book I wrote is called Brahma’s Hair and it was about the mythologies around Indian plants. How much of mythology is simply story and how much true fascinates me.
There are about a 100 recognised breeds of cats. Most of them are just mutations of the original species. The original breeds have legends that are truly interesting.
The Birman is a revered cat breed from Burma.The temple of the golden image of Goddess Tsun Kyan-Kse was attended by the Kittahs or monks of whom the head, Mun-Ha, always meditated in front of the Goddess. Accompanying him in his meditation was Sinh, the white cat . One night Mun-Ha was killed by Siamese invaders as he meditated. Sinh placed his paws on the monk’s robes. Facing the Goddess, Sinh’s fur became as golden as the statue and his eyes became the beautiful sapphire of the Goddess. His legs, tail, ears and face became a velvety rich brown. His paws became white.
The Kittahs closed the bronze doors of the temple, saving it from the invaders. The next morning, the remaining cats had been similarly transformed. As the priests argued about Mun-Ha’s successor the cats surrounded the youngest of the Kittahs to succeed him. It is believed that when a Kittah dies, he will be reincarnated as a Birman cat before attaining Nirvana.
The heavy furred Norwegian Forest Cat originated in the forests of Norway around 4,000 years ago, and is considered one of the oldest cat breeds. According to legend, enchanted felines roamed the forests for centuries, disappearing and re-emerging at will. Eventually, the cats came out of the forests to live with farmers. Viking ships sailed with Forest Cats on board. In Nordic folklore, Freya, goddess of love, beauty, fertility, and the home, travelled across the sky in a fiery golden chariot with two huge cats pulling it. One cat was black and the other one white, one male, one female. Freya controlled the sunshine and rain and farmers who sat out bowls of milk for stray cats were rewarded for their kindness with bountiful harvests.
Another old cat is the silent French Chartreux originating from Asia Minor. The breed came to France through returning Crusaders who brought back these blue-grey cats from Syria as gifts to French monks of the Carthusian order, whose metallurgical expertise had provided swords for the conquests. According to legend, Chartreux cats kept by the monks, on islands like Cyprus and Malta, would leave the monastery in the morning to kill poisonous serpents. In the evening, when the monks rang the bells, they would return to the monastery for their evening dinner. It is said that, like the monks, Chartreux cats took on their vow of silence. Some Chartreux still pose as if praying, sitting with front paws raised together, gazing heavenward.
The tailless Manx breed originated before the 1700s on the Isle of Man. Apparently the Manx lost its tail because it was late arriving in the Ark, and Noah accidentally jammed its tail while closing the door. Another legend claims that the Manx is the offspring of a cat and a rabbit, explaining why it has no tail and rather long hind legs. Manx cats move with more of a hop than a stride, like rabbits.
From Thailand come two cats : The Siamese, held in such high esteem that no one except the King and the royal family were permitted to own them. It was said that when Siamese kings died, their souls would pass into a Siamese cat, so that he could be present at the coronation of the succeeding king before attaining heaven. When a person of high rank died, one of these cats was selected to receive the dead person’s soul. The cat was sent to a temple to spend the rest of its days living a life of great luxury, which had been provided by the departed one’s relatives in an attempt to receive blessings.
Some Siamese cats have a kinked tail. Legend has it that a cat ancestor voluntarily kinked its tail so as to provide a safe place for the princess’ rings while she was bathing. Another fable accounts for both the cross-eyed feature as well as the kink. Once, when all the men of Siam left their homes to defend their kingdom, two cats – one male Siamese, Tien, and one female Siamese, Chula – remained in order to guard Buddha’s golden goblet in the sacred temple. Tien left to find a priest. The female never once glanced away from the goblet, wrapping her long tail around its stem to prevent theft in case she should fall asleep. She gave birth to kittens with a kinked tail and crossed eyes.
The Korat is a blue grey cat. These cats are carried by farmers in ritual processions meant to bring rain to the fields. It is known as the good-luck cat of Thailand and a pair of Korats are often given to brides on their wedding day to ensure a happy marriage.
The Egyptian Mau is the only naturally spotted breed of domestic cat. Considered a personification of the Sun God Ra as far back as 1400 B.C, they were worshipped as deities, cherished as pets, protected by laws, and mummified and mourned upon their deaths. One of the legends of Mau is that he killed the monstrous serpent deity, Apep the God of Evil and protected Persea the Tree of Life.
The Persian cat, with its long flowing coat and open pansy-like face has been written about as early as 1684 B.C. According to mythology the cat was created on Noah’s Ark: Alarmed at the increasing number of mice Noah asked God for help; God ordered him to rub the lion’s nostrils, whereupon the lion sneezed out a pair of cats. This myth is at the root of the Persian folk belief that the cat is vain because it fell out of a lion’s nose,
One legend tells the story of a merchant who came across a band of robbers attacking a man. The merchant fought off the thieves and cared for the injured stranger. When he recovered, the stranger told the merchant he was a magician and promised him one wish. The merchant told the magician that he liked to sit under the sparkling stars at night and watch the smoke curl from a crackling fire.
The magician took a swirl of smoke, a spear of fire and the light of two stars. He created a cat with a fire tipped tongue, smoke grey fur and sparkling eyes. It was the first Persian cat.
From Turkey comes two species: The Turkish Van Cat with a red tail and a red spot on its head. They are the only cats to like playing in water. Legends state, that the Van Cat accompanied Noah on the Ark and, being impatient, jumped off the Ark and swam to shore to Mount Ararat.
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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi