Wings and Chirps

Wanderings of an Itchy Feet

Category: Mythical Mondays (Page 1 of 2)

#MythicalMondays – Manjadikuru

Most of you now know that I hail from Palakkad District in Kerala. To be precise, a small village between Ottapalam and Shoranur, the two nearest railway stations. The infinite train journeys to Kerala on-board the Kerala Express or the Mangala Express remain a significant part of my childhood memories. We made a lot of friends. Even though most of those friendships lasted only for those 48-50 hours of journey, many a teenage love stories bloomed and died during this short period of time. Some of these had me as the supporting cast while a few others had me as one of the lead characters. But each one of these died within few minutes of getting off the train while a few others breathed their last only when we found a new crush.

There is another incident, a regular practice during our temple visits, especially Guruvayoor, which I hold very close to my heart. Stirring the manjadikuru at the Shree Guruvayoor Kshetram. The magical little red seeds. It is believed that the seed contains 12 tiny white elephants, considered lucky for a dozen wishes. At Guruvayoor temple, a large ‘ottu uruli‘, a heavy-bottomed vessel, is placed near the entrance to the sanctum of the temple and it is filled with bright red “manjadikuru” seeds. It is believed that the devotee who places his hands in the ‘uruli’ and ploughs or stirs through the seeds three times is cured of all diseases and attains prosperity.

Here’s a story that I read online. A Tale to Tell From Guruvayur
by Anjali MenonThe exact story that was narrated to me by my maternal aunt, Girija Mema.

The origin of this practice lies in folklore of the temple of Guruvayur. According to the story, a peasant woman who lived in the northern province of Kerala was an ardent devotee of Krishna and aspired to someday visit Guruvayur temple. It was customary to bring offerings to the temple, but she was too poor to afford any gifts. She knew of an old tree that shed beautiful shiny red seeds, so she gathered a handful of them. Leaving the safety of her home and loved ones, she set out on her quest to reach Guruvayur. It was a long, perilous journey on foot during which she had to traverse rivers and deep forests.

Four days later she arrived in Guruvayur. Apparently it was the first day of the month, and the local ruler or Naaduvazhi would visit the temple on the first of every month. To display his devotion, he would donate an elephant every month as an offering to Krishna. Officers of the Naaduvazhi cleared people away from the path to make room for the ruler and his elephant. During the procession the women was knocked to the ground, spilling her precious pouch of red seeds on the ground. Immediately the elephant went berserk and began to run wild. People ran for their lives as the mad elephant began to destroy everything in its path. Unable to control the elephant, the Naaduvazhi prayed to Krishna for a solution to this dangerous dilemma. Suddenly a voice was heard from within the temple: “Where is my Manjadikuru? Where is my devotee, who you have insulted and hurt? Where is my gift that she lovingly put together?”

As the story goes, the people apologized to the woman and gathered up her seeds that were scattered on the ground. With her pouch full of seeds she was escorted into the sanctum of the temple. After submission of her offering, the elephant returned to normal. In memory of her offering, even to this day, a large urn of shiny red seeds is kept within the temple.

These are called manjati in Tamil and Gulgangi in Kannada.

We used to have this tree at my paternal grandmother’s (Achamma’s) house and it was customary for us to spend our days at her house picking up Manjadikuru. Whoever managed to pick up the most was considered the richest. In fact, Achan who was always an angry young man too joined us in picking up these seeds, much to the annoyance of Achamma as she had to keep waiting for him to finish playing with me.

While most people land in Kerala to buy latest design gold jewellery or kasavu sarees or enjoy the famous delicacies like puttu kadala, kappa with meen curry, or a sumptuous sadya, I bought two packets of manjadikuru at rupees forty each from Guruvayoor temple on my last visit, about two years ago.

What do you think is on my list for purchasing on my next visit? It is an uruli. Uruli is a traditional cookware extensively used in Southern states of India. It is commonly made of clay, copper and bronze. Amma has inherited a huge Ottu Uruli from her mother and brought it to our house in Delhi. I want an ‘Ottu Uruli’. A bronze one to be kept inside my Pooja room with my collection of manjadikuru, kunnikkuru, kowdi and gomti chakra stones.

Do you know that astrologers across India and probably the world use kowdis for their calculations? Why?

More on this in my next #MythicalMondays post next week, Kowdi and the Panikkar

#MythicalMondays – Brahmarakshassu

Continued from #MythicalMondays – Mythology and Me.

I was sitting on the windowsill of the living room. Ammamma asked me to get down from there and sit next to her. I was not very close to Ammamma because I have hardly spent much time with her. She was always and always bed-ridden and on medication all the time. We could rarely see her in upright position. I hesitated but my curiosity got over me and made me get down the windowsill. I sat on the floor next to Ammamma’s chair.

Ammamma heaved a sigh of relief. And then she began.

Brahmarakshassu

Brahmarakshassu is the wandering spirit of a Namboothiri or Brahmin (a scholar of high birth) who was engaged in evil activities in his/her life or have died an unnatural death. Brahmins were the ones who have received sacred learnings and their duty was to impart knowledge to good students. The ones who misused their knowledge for evil activities or the ones who have been mistreated in their life and died an unnatural death would turn into fierce demonic spirits after their death. They were called Brahmarakshassu. A Brahmin who is a Rakshasa, and has the characteristics of both a Brahmin and a Rakshasa. They would retain all their knowledge, remember memories of their past lives and are believed to have immense power. Thus they can only be defeated by very few learned scholars who can fight them, defeat them and give them salvation from this demonic form of life. Hindu texts mention that they eat human beings.

It was dark outside and a chill ran down my spine. I somehow managed to ask Ammamma,

Is the Brahmarakshassu resident here in our Sarpa Kavu, a man or a woman?

Ammamma then told me a story about the Mana/Illam that was situated there on our land many decades ago. She mentioned that there was this Thirumeni whose daughter was extremely beautiful and was of marriageable age. She was also highly knowledgeable. After interviewing many Namboothiris, her parents found a suitable groom for her. The marriage date was fixed.

There was a karyasthan (manager) who worked for the family in managing their day-to-day business. He had an evil eye on this girl. One night she felt the sudden urge to relieve herself. Those were the times that toilets were not constructed within the main house. They were constructed far away from the house in the backyard. So she went out with her thozhi (a house help who is also a close confidante) with an enna villakku (oil lamp). As she came out she was abducted and assaulted by the karyasthan. Apparently her thozhi had cheated her on the demands of the karyasthan. 

The Namboothiri girl was furious and heart-broken. The next morning, her parents and brothers also blamed her beating her black and blue. She was asked to leave the house immediately and the family performed her last rites as if she had died for them. It’s called Padi adachu pindam vakkukka in my native language Malayalam which is a custom performed when someone is considered dead for the family. Karyasthan and thozhi were ordered to leave her till the outskirts of the village. After travelling some distance from the Mana she arranged for a fire and jumped within. As the fire engulfed her, she cursed the thozhi and the karyasthan who later died of leprosy. She also cursed her own family that no more girls will be born in the family ever. Thus the end of that Namboothiri family.

This part of Kerala that I belong to, Palakkad, was following Marummakkathayam, a system of matrilineal inheritance. Descent and the inheritance of property was traced through females. It was followed by all Nair castes including of Royal Families, some of the Ambalavasis (priests and other people associated with temple), Mappilas (Muslims), and some tribal groups. This was one of the few traditional systems which gave women liberty and right to property.

Ammamma said that it is believed that it was this girl’s spirit that was residing in the Sarpa Kavu and was being worshipped by our family since ages to avoid any mishappenings.

I was young. I was scared. I had nobody with whom I could have confided the fact that I had entered the Sarpa Kavu not just once but many times. I feared that I would also be abandoned like that girl who did nothing wrong. I have spent numerous sleepless nights talking to the Brahmarakshassu and seeking forgiveness for the many times I had tress-passed into her territory. I was sure she’ll eat me up soon.

May and June were the months when the harvest season was just over and haystacks were laid all over the courtyard for sale and for our own use for the cattle. One night, the plantain leaves were moving from behind a haystack due to strong breeze. I woke up in the middle of the night and started shivering and sweating thinking that it was the Brahmarakshassu dancing with anger. I would fear for my life yet I didn’t have the courage to tell Amma or my grandparents about my fears. I wrote about it to Acha twice or thrice and then tore it off. I was so sure that I would be punished and abandoned.

Stories from our childhood get so engraved in our memories and have a great influence in shaping our personalities and the incidents that happen later on in our lives. After this episode till the day I was able to hold the firstborn in my arms and cuddle her tight, I had always and always blamed myself for everything that went wrong in our lives and for entering the Sarpa Kavu out of curiosity. Looking back, I understand that this was how the curiosity in children was killed right as it germinated.

Stay tuned for my next post on the other residents of the Sarpa Kavu right here next Monday. Hope you are enjoying this series as much as I am loving sharing the stories that might otherwise die a silent death.

Recommended Reading

#MythicalMondays – Mythology and Me

I grew up in an era when mobile phones, Internet, Wi-Fi and Uncle Google were unheard of. Uncle Google and not Google Baba because ‘Baba’ is no more cool. Doordarshan’s DD National was the only television channel accessible on the Weston television with the unusually pregnant picture tube and the wooden shuttered doors. Well-researched books written by learned scholars were our primary source of information.  And since we did not have many distractions, our attention spans were long, our minds were sharper and our sensibilities were still alive.

But then I grew up in a house were everything was either sacred or taboo. We were kind of used to volcanic eruptions and the tectonic movements of the mood plates of our fathers, mothers and other elders of the house and neighbourhood. It was in class eighth that my best friend gifted me a copy of ‘Love Story‘ by Erich Segal. The moment I showed it excitedly to Amma, hell broke loose. And I couldn’t read the book till I graduated from college. Our family friends took us to the cinema theatre for the movie Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. One of my friends was crazy about Madhuri Dixit and the other one was mad after Salman Khan. But I did not enjoy the movie much because the moral police was sitting right next to me and tightening their grip on my wrist every time Salman and Madhuri acted cheeky. Imagine what would have happened when we first witnessed a French Kiss in this environment.

Cable television was a no-no at our place till Acha (Dad) ended his vanavasa and returned to India in July 1995. I appeared in my twelfth class boards while Acha jumped up and down at every four, six and wicket taken during the Cricket World Cup of 1996. Trust me, I learnt all about cricket much more ambitiously than Reproduction, Genetics and Evolution, Ecology, Trigonometry, Integral Calculus, Differential Equations, Matrices, Electricity, Magnetism or Optics.

In short, we would read gyaan-vardhak books like Knowledge Bank, Reader’s Digest, Champak, Chacha Chaudhary and Saboo, Tinkle, Pinki etc. And watch TV series like Surabhi, Bharat Ek Khoj, Bournvita Quiz Contest with Derek O’Brien, Quiz Time with Siddharth Basu, Oshin, Hum Paanch, Yeh jo hai zindagi, Hum Log and the likes. I so wanted to be like Renuka Shahane of Surabhi fame. Her ever smiling face and that Namaskaar, her confidence, her enthusiasm and passion with which she performed. Class apart. And her sarees!! I adored her sarees even in that B/W television.

It was during our summer vacations that I had hardly anything to do other than write my journal entries, roam around the compound of the house, read Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha or help everyone with household chores or preparations for one or the other poojas. My favourite outing place was the Sarpa Kavu (abode of the snakes).

To read the story about the Sarpa Kaavu’s influence on my life, click on the image or the link below.

Since I grew up in an environment where only deities, poojas and personal and mythological stories were shared, slowly but surely I started having a love affair with mythology. My mind was full of questions but I wasn’t supposed to ask. Who questions Gods, culture and tradition? Not good girls from reputed families. They were only supposed to listen and obey. But then I was not the one that could have been tied for long.

Most of my free time was spent gazing at the Sarpa Kavu or the Thozhuthu (cattle shed) where Sundari Pashu stayed. Either from the terrace or from Sachumama’s bedroom window or sitting at the Ammikallu (grindstone) in the Pinnanburam (backyard). I could see a few stone idols placed on a small elevated platform, all made of black stone. Some of them definitely looked like snakes. But there was another one that I couldn’t make out. It looked like a human body. There was a two-feet boundary wall to this enclosure which nobody was supposed to cross except the Namboothiri on the pooja day. I have seen Ammamma running towards the back door and screaming at the new house help as she was about to empty the sauce pan into the Sarpa Kavu after brooming the front yard and the back yard. I almost thought she was going to be killed for this unintentional sin.

You can read my adventures with Sundari Pashu here on Withered Dreams Revisited.

Forbidden Fruit is Sweetest.

One afternoon, while everyone else in the house was enjoying their siesta, a little girl ventured out stealthily through the back door from the kitchen. Right next to it was this Sarpa Kavu. Yes. I have entered the Sarpa Kavu many a times till I actually saw a King Cobra with his hood spread wide. I still remember how I ran from there as it hissed. That was the last time I ever ventured out alone even within the compound of the house.

Once Ammamma and I were alone in the house for a day. I think I was about fourteen or fifteen at that time. I gathered courage and asked her why we were not supposed to enter the Sarpa Kavu. I think she was also tired of shutting me up again and again and finally bothered to tell me this.

This house of ours was built on a land where there was a famous Mana (house of Namboothiris or priests). The astrologer had informed our ancestors that the place was occupied by a Brahmarakshassu and Sarpangal (snakes) and we were supposed to regularly pray to them and please them by performing monthly poojas on Ayilyam nakshathram (one of the twenty seven lunar mansions or constellations).

But who are Brahmarakshassu and Sarpangal?

Stay tuned to my post on Brahmarakshassu and Sarpangal under the #MythicalMondays series on next Monday.

#MythicalMondays – Aravan/Iravan: The God of the Transgenders

When we shifted to my parents first-ever house on 4th February 1984, I was just four-years-old. I clearly remember the group of people dressed in sarees who started singing and dancing outside our gate after the early morning Grihapravesha Pooja and breakfast was done. I also remember Acha (father) giving them some amount. They in turn blessed all of us and our house. Acha believes in Karma, something I inherited from him. When I asked him about these strange people he said,

They are simple humans just like the rest of us. People mistreat them and thus they have no other means to fend for themselves than going from house to house where either a new-born has arrived or a wedding has taken place or someone has just moved in. People believe that they have special powers allowing them to bless or curse others. I believe in their blessings because they bless you from the bottom of their hearts for giving them a meal or two in the form of this money, grains and clothes.”

He did not tell me more and I did not ask anything more. We had shifted to a locality which was a new township and we were the fourth family to occupy one of the vacant flats. So you can imagine that I had the privilege of witnessing these ‘special guests’ every time a new family moved in. And then Dad left for his decade-long stint in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Later in life, I only witnessed people shutting doors as soon as they heard about these people they called hijras (eunuchs). Amma too feared them, I realized. I asked her once or twice but she didn’t tell me anything other than this that they cursed people if they got in their way and made them angry. To me, they were like the old Thirumeni (priest) at the temple in our ancestral village who would curse anyone who crossed his path. Thus my little mind also started fearing them.

Kerala: In a first, Kochi Metro to employ 23 transgenders 

This was one of the headlines that caught the attention of my eight-year-old daughter during her summer vacation.

Who are these transgenders, Mamma? What is this LGBT that’s written here?

I gave her a brief about how there are different types of people like the different types of flowers, butterflies and birds. I told her that they are almost the same as us but just that they are not men or women but a different sex that we call the third sex. She’s another curious cat like me and asked further to which I responded that I’ll share more details with her as and when I myself understand them. She immediately came up with another wonderful question which happens to be the reason for this post.

Are there any Gods who are transgenders?

I knew about Shikhandi, a character from the great Indian epic, the Mahabharatha. But I knew he wasn’t a God. I remembered a documentary that I had seen in the 90s which showed the hijras worshipping a goddess sitting on a rooster. I immediately went on a research mode and asked my parents and many others about any God who was a transgender. Amma now considers me much more knowledgeable than herself about mythology and thus asked me to find out and share it with her. And thus I came upon Aravan/Iravan

Aravan

Aravan or Iravan is a minor but crucial character of Mahabharata. It is from his lineage that the transgenders are said to have been born. That is why the transgenders or hijras are also known as Aravanis (the brides of Aravan).

Aravan was the son of Arjuna, the Pandava prince and Ulupi, the Naga princess. The Mahabharata portrays Aravan as dying a heroic death in the 18-day Kurukshetra War.

When the Mahabharata war was inevitable Sahadeva, who was well versed with astrology, decided on a day for Kali Pooja with all their weaponry for victory of Pandavas in the battle field. It was upon his suggestion that narabali (human sacrifice) as part of their prayers was decided. But only an extraordinary human who is the best in eerezhu pathinaalu lokam (the 14 lokas of Hinduism; 7 upper worlds or Vyarthis and the 7 lower ones, known as the Patalas) could be sacrificed. There were only three eligible candidates. Lord Krishna, Arjuna and Aravan. Krishna couldn’t be sacrificed as he was their ultimate source of strength for the war. Arjuna too was voted out as he was the master archer and a peerless warrior.

Thus on the 18th day, Lord Krishna explains the scenario to Aravan and he readily agrees to be sacrificed. He was granted three boons in lieu of his self-sacrifice for a greater good. He wished for a) a heroic death, b) to be able to witness the entire Mahabharatha Yudha and c) to get married before the sacrifice. His boons were granted by his uncle, Lord Krishna. With just one day’s marriage and a lifetime of widowhood ahead, no princess or woman from any kingdom was willing to marry Aravan. Krishna then took the form of Mohini and married Aravan and next day Aravan was beheaded. Mohini cried, lamented, wailed and bereaved for him like no wife would do for her husband.

Aravan watched the Mahabharata battle through the eyes of his severed head from a mountain near Kurukshetra. Thus Aravan is always worshipped in temples in the form of his severed head.

Every year, between April and May, thousands of transgenders from across the country converge at the Koothandavar Temple in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu for the annual Koovagam Festival which runs for 18 days to celebrate this single day marriage of Aravan. The ‘Aravani’s of Aravan’ identify themselves with ‘Mohini’ – the female form of Krishna as a woman trapped inside a man’s body.

In this festival, the priest who is considered as ‘Aravaan’, ties the ‘thaali’ or ‘mangalsutra’ to the Aravaanis and binds them in the relationship of marriage. The next day, ‘thali arutthal’ or the rituals for widowhood are followed, which include snapping of the thaali and breaking of the bangles to signify the death of Iravan. The ‘Aravaani’s’ wear white saree and lament over the death of Aravaan. This is done on the last day of the 18-day festival. The entire place is filled with the loud wails of the transwomen and their appearance is in direct contrast to the previous day where they were decorated in attire. Aravan is here known as Koothandavara.

Mythology connects the world. As I read more and more I realized that the story of Aravan resembled the story of Khatu Shyam or Barbareek, a popular deity in North India. I also realized that Iravan spelled as Irawan is also known in Indonesia. There are traditional plays and puppet shows which present a dramatic marriage of Irawan to Titisari, daughter of Krishna, and a death resulting from a case of mistaken identity.

During my research I also came upon Bahuchara Mata whose story connected the dots with the rooster Goddess that I saw as a child. Bahuchara Mata is the Hindu goddess worshiped by hijras and is popularly believed that they are descendants of this deity. Once Bahuchara Mata, daughter of a known warrior of the charan caste, was traveling with a caravan along with her sisters. While on their way, a notorious road bandit named Bapiya hijacked the traveling caravan. In charan culture, dying at the hands of an enemy was not accepted. Instead, charans would rather take their own lives opposed to dying at the hands of someone else. But, Bahuchara decided that it wasn’t she, nor her sisters who will die. Instead, she cut off the breasts of herself and her sisters as a way to curse Bapiya. What was he cursed with? Impotence! The only way for Bapiya to have the curse removed was if he paid homage to Bahuchara Mata by dressing and behaving like a woman.

Bahuchara Mata is shown as a woman who carries a sword on her top right, a text of scriptures on her top left, the abhay hasta mudra (“showering of blessings”) on her bottom right, and a trident on her bottom left. She is seated on a rooster, which symbolises innocence. [Source: Wikipedia]

When a transgender dies, the fellow transgender beats the dead body with chappals (slippers) so that the soul is never born as a transgender again.

With all this discrimination and social ostracism we still welcome them during the most important milestones in our lives for their blessings since we believe that they have been touched by God Himself. Why? Because we are a bunch of hypocrites who can’t accept them to be a part of our tribe yet need their blessings for good fortune, to ward off evil energies and bad luck and to bless the new-born so that he/she doesn’t end up as one of them, a hijra. Shame on us!

I hope you found this mythological story as interesting and informative as was my journey researching and writing it. I leave you with this detailed video on the Koovagam Festival at Koothandavar Temple in Villupuram, Tamil Nadu.

Recommended Reading:

#MythicalMondays – Sampati

Most of us are aware of Jatayu and his role in Ramayana. This post is about his lesser known brother Sampati. Sampati turned out to be crucial in Sita’s search in Valmiki’s Ramayana.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The great king Daksha Prajapati (father of Sati, Shiva’s consort) was one of the Manasa Putras of Lord Brahma, born from his right thumb. Daksha had two wives; Prasuti and Panchajani. Vinata was one of the daughters of Daksha and Panchajani. She, along with twelve other sisters, was married to sage Kashyapa.

Vinata had two sons with Kashyapa, Aruṇa and Garuda. She brought them out as eggs. She was promised that she will have two powerful sons when the eggs hatch. However, out of impatience and curiosity she broke one of them. Aruna, radiant and reddish as the morning sun, was born from the broken egg. Due to premature breaking of the egg, Aruṇa was not as bright as the noon sun as he was promised to be. Aruṇa’s brother, Garuda, was born at full term, and eventually became the main vehicle of Lord Vishnu. Aruṇa supposedly was the charioteer of Surya, the Sun God.

Sampati and Jatayu were the sons of Aruna. Sampati and Jatayu were giddha (vultures) of the Deva (demi-gods) dynasty. Sampati was the King of Vultures and he was an old friend of Dasharatha (Ram’s father). He was the elder brother of Jatayu.

As young children they used to compete with each other as to who could fly higher. They could fly higher and higher than any other bird in the sky. On one such occasion, Jatayu flew so high that he was about to get charred by the scorching sun rays. Sampati saved his younger brother by spreading his own wings over him, protecting him from the hot flames of sun. But in this attempt Sampati got injured and lost his wings forever. Wingless, he fell down on to the earth near the Vindhya Mountains by the Southern Sea. Jatayu also was no longer able to fly and fell near the banks of Godavari River. This way, the two brothers got separated from each other.

Sage Chandrama informed Sampati that he will have to wait there till Lord Vishnu’s incarnation reached the place and restored his wings.

Later on in Ramayana, when Sita was abducted by Ravana, Jambuvant and Hanuman led Sugriva’s army of monkeys and reached the seashore in search of Sita. Tired and exhausted, they had collapsed on the sand when an old and hungry Sampati came out of the cave and thanked the Lords for bringing him food.

Picture Courtesy – Good Kids

Jambuvant told Angad how ironical life was. He said how this vulture was waiting to feast on them while another blessed vulture named Jatayu tried to rescue Sita from Ravana when he was on his way to Lanka after kidnapping Sita. They also informed him that Jatayu had fought a fierce battle with Ravana before he was defeated and his wings were cut. When Rama and Lakshmana reached there searching for Sita, they found an injured Jatayu. A dying Jatayu informed Rama about his fight with Ravana and also informed them the direction in which Ravana had taken Sita.

The moment he heard of Jatayu’s death, Sampati wanted to perform his last rites. The monkey army helped him in this. Afterwards Sampati, who could see beyond what others could see, informed them of how Ravana had taken Sita across the sea to Lanka in his Pushpaka Vimana. He also told them that Sita was waiting for Rama in the Ashok Vatika underneath a tree. At this time Sampati’s wings were healed. After thanking Jambuvant, Hanuman and the monkey army, Sampati flew away.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén