When the Ancients Speak

Myths. Through myths do we hear our forebears speak.  They speak to us of the eternal fears and the never-ending hopes; of the questions that have agitated man ever since he became conscious of himself,  and the plausible answers to those questions; of every wrong that pursued the doer endlessly and for every good deed that got recompensed a hundred fold; of Parameshwar – God Supreme – that manipulated and manoeuvred His creation as He pleased; and of the world of the devas and daityas who surpassed man in everything that he has ever done or is capable of doing, and yet were as frail as the feeblest man on the earth.  Myths are in a way more real than the narrative of our day-to-day lives since they were there long before we were born and they will still be around when we would have done with our little business with the world.

Suman K Sharma

From this week on, we bring you some of these ever-lasting stories from Sukhsagar that entertain,  enlighten and uplift at the same time. Like dreams, they may not always follow common sense, but like dreams again they have things important to tell us, only if we care to delve into them.
It must be remembered that the ancients speak in a voice of universality. They speak not only of man, but of the entire cosmos, and of all the times that have gone by and all the times that will come forth. It being so, one has either to attune to their mode of speech to know what they mean, or sincerely try to find one’s own meaning into what they have said.  It is like taking a bath in a river.  Plunge into it head on, or if you are too afraid of drowning in its deep waters or fear being carried away in its strong current, you may use a bucket to bathe on the river bank.  In the end, the result would be more or less the same; you would have rid yourself of the misconceptions about the lore of the ancestors.
Man is the world
Here is how they place man in relation to the universe.  The Indra and other gods are the arms of the AadiPurusha – the Primal Man; the ten directions his ears, the AshwiniKumaras his nose.  He plants his feet in the pataal and in the rasaatal  are his knees; the sutal is where his legs are, in vital and atal may be seen his buttocks, the earth is his waist and the sky his belly-button, the luminous chakra wherein lie the sun and moon is his chest; the mehrloka is his neck and the janaloka, his face;  and in  the tapaloka is his forehead and the satyaloka his head. Aligning man with the other creature of the planet, the description of the AadiPurusha goes on: Man is born from his intellect, the beasts of burden such as horse and donkey form his legs; and birds of feather his tongue.
The use of the term “AadiPurusha” for the Godhead, and identifying man’s body-organs with different aspects of the cosmos imbue sacredness not only to our individual bodies but to everything manifest around us.  Calamity is upon us if we trifle with the phenomenal world, which is enshrined within us. We are already seeing the grave consequences of disregarding this axiom in the spoliation of nature, burgeoning violence and all-pervading hopelessness. The Gita says (Chapter 13, verse 1) that this body is the “kshetra,” and we have to become “kshetrgya”, the knower of the field.
Karma or the will supreme ?
There is this story of how Vishnu’s door-keepers Jay and Vijay, foolishly delayed by three pal (just over a minute, one pal being of the duration of 24.1 seconds) the entry of their master’s visitors and in consequence had to suffer the pain of being born as daityas three times and to die gruesomely each time at the hands of the Godhead. The heavy price the duo had to pay for their momentary lapse is appalling. But the story is not as simple as that.  Vishnu has His plans to implement, His promises to keep, His boons to grant.  He has to firm up dharma – the eternal code – by eliminating daityas, suffer pains as any other mortal to honour the shrap of one or the other of his devotees and take birth in the house of this or that hermit-couple who had undergone untold tapasya for the unique privilege of being the parents of Godhead.  Does then the minor flippancy of Jay and Vijay in discharge of their duty really matter? Point to ponder.
Take also the instance of Kaikeyi, the much maligned step-mother of Vishnu’s avatar, Ram.  If we go by Tulsidas’sRamcharitmanas, Queen Kaikeyi was as happy as King Dashrath’s other wives were with the preparations going on for the proclamation of Ram as Ayodhya’s crown-prince.  But the Devas, fearing that such a turn of events would go against their objective to quell rakshas, beseeched Sarasvati, the goddess of intellect, to curdle the mind of Manthra, Kaikeyi’s hunchback maid, who in turn poisoned her mistress’ mind to seek Ram’s despatch to the forests for fourteen years.  If Ram had not gone on vanvas, Ravan would not have stolen Sita and there would have been no a war to destroy rakshas.  It was not, as we see, Manthra or even Kaikeyi, who brought that war upon the denizens of Lanka.  Gods willed it.
Man is seen caught in the intricate web of happenstances, most of which may fall beyond his ken. The Bard said it aptly, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.” It would therefore be best to follow the middle course: do one’s best and leave the rest to the fate.
Divine justice and mercy
There arise occasions on which Ishwar takes the matters directly in His hands.  AranyaKand of the Ramayana has two episodes that are at the same time amusing as well as fearsome. In the first, Ram and Sita have set forth on their 14-year vanvas.  Resting at a particularly scenic spot, Ram bedecks his wife with his own hands with the flowers he has gathered from the surrounding bushes.  ComesJayant, Indra’s wayward son in the guise of a crow, pecks at Sita’s foot and a thin stream of blood starts flowing from the wound. Infuriated at Jayant’s nerve, Ram picks out a reed and shoots at him with his mighty bow. Jayant tries hard to seek refuge from the deadly shaft, but there is no one to give him quarter.  The heavenly brat has challenged the might of Vishnu himself.  Eventually, he returns to the spot, falling on Ram’s feet to tender an abject apology.  Ram grants him life, but not before blinding him in one eye! The second episode involves Ravan’s sister, Shurpnakha.  Sick of the her lustful entreaties first to Ram and then to Lakshman to wed her, Ram signals his younger brother to cut off her nose and both the ears and let her go bleeding to her brother, Ravan as an open threat to the Rakshas’ power.
But most terrifying is the death of King Hrinyaksha.  The arrogant Daitya potentate teases his son Prehlad to call his protector, if there be one, or face death under his sword.  Instantly, there is a loud thunder, the nearest pillar burst forth and from it appears Narsingh, Vishnu in His half-man and half-lion avatar.  He clutches at an astounded Hrinyaksha, places him in His lap and tears him apart with His claws, blood, gore and flesh flying all around.  Narsingh’s roar is so fear-provoking that not even Brahma and Shiv dare pacify Him.  Finally, it is little Prehlad himself who prays the Deity to be merciful and He relents.  Commenting on the harsh aspect of Godhead, AlokBhalla, a noted scholar and translator, has this to say, “The sacred, after all, is not required to make sentimental compromises when it comes to restoring the just balance of the world in which we live.  In the face of an annihilating power, the sacred may use all ruthlessness that it can muster, in order to survive.” Myth in Contemporary Indian Literature, pp 164-165.
That said, our ancestors thought that the Divine justice is always tempered with mercy.  A sinful creature may be consigned to even to the RauravNarka, the most horrible of hells they could think of, but his term of punishment would be limited.  There is no concept of souls burning in pain till the end of the world, as the Judaic religions would have us believe.  And unlike gods of other religions who reserve the right of punishment only to themselves, ours willingly accept the pain of shrap from their ardent devotees, like any mortal.  The sages, on their behalf, while putting a wrong-doer under a curse, were also quick to grant a boon to the accursed to meet the ends of justice.
The scheming devas, terrible daityas and the recluse rishi-muni who imposed bane and boon in the same breath, are still with us.  For theirs’ is the way we in India model our lives on, even without knowing why.


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