Wings and Chirps

Wanderings of an Itchy Feet

Tag: mythology

#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.

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#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 – Bali Stones in Temples

I belong to the coastal state of Kerala which is popular for its coconut palm trees, spices, natural beauty and most of all, its temples.

My Ammamma (maternal grandmother) used to tell me that our house was earlier a Mana/Illam (the house of Namboothiris or the Brahmins of Kerala; also called Brahmaalayam or Mana) and it came with a Paambu Kaavu (abode of the snakes) which included Brahmarakshassu (the spirit of a Brahmin). My childhood vacations were by default spent in this house with a large compound and hence most of the stories I remember revolve around this place.

Brahma Rakshas is actually the spirit of a Brahmin, a dead scholar of high birth, who has done evil things in his life or has misused his knowledge, who has to suffer as a Brahm Rakshas after his or her death. The earth-bound duties of such a scholar would be to disperse or impart knowledge to good students. If he did not do so, he would turn into a Brahma Rakshas after death which is a very fierce demonic spirit. The word Brahm means Brahmin and Rakshas, a demon. As per ancient Hindu texts they are powerful demon spirit, who have lot of powers and only few in this world can fight and over-come them or give them salvation from this form of life. It would still retain its high level of learning. But it would eat human beings. They have the knowledge of their past lives and vedas and puranas. In other words they have qualities of both Brahmin and Rakshas.

Source: Wikipedia

We used to have regular Vishnu/Devi Poojas, Naivedyams and Sarpa Pooja. As I type this I can smell the milk and jaggery based payasams, uzhunnu vada, neiyappams and the other delicacies that were served to the gods. The poojas were mostly done by my ammavan (Amma’s younger brother). It was an exciting experience. As a child, it was fun to run around plucking Tulsi and Koovalam (Bhel) leaves, jasmine and rose flowers and dehusking malar (puffed rice). The memories of those days I hold precious.

Until I got married I hadn’t visited any place in Kerala except the houses of both grandparents and a few relatives. But I did travel the length and breadth of the state visiting various temples. Sometimes clinging on to Muthachan‘s (maternal grandfather) fingers or walking behind Amma and Mema (her younger sister).

This is what made me notice the stones that are laiden around the temple complex at various distances. These are called Bali Kallu or Bali StonesLike all children, my mischief would multiply the moment I landed in Kerala because I knew there were enough people to support and protect and acres of land to run and escape to, from Amma’s spanking. These round stones looked interesting and were nothing more than stepping stones to the innocent child in me. I used to jump around on these without any knowledge about what they were.

Amma’s punishments made me feel rebellious as she did not provide any accompanying answers to my Whys and Whats. They are sacred and we should pray, that’s all she would say. What is it? Which God are they? Why should we not step on them? My questions were always hushed and I was told God will punish me for my sins. I wanted to meet this ‘monster’ that everyone prayed and called God. I wanted to ask him in person why he will punish innocent children for asking curious questions.

Recently Li’l Love, my younger one, did the same thing and as a reflex action I scolded her. She is an improvised replica of me and hailed a number of Whats, Whys and Why nots my way. It made me research for this post.

Bali Kallu/Bali Stones

Image result for bali kallu in temple kerala

These are small stones laid around the Sreekovil (sanctum sanctorum) and the outer perimeter of the temple. These stones represent the Ashtadikpalakas or Lokapalakas, the rulers of the eight directions.

Utsava Bali at the Chuttambalam Balikallu (Picture Credit: Guruvayur Utsavam)

During the utsavam or annual festival in the temple, most of the ceremonies are around these Bali Kallus. The annual festival is meant to please these lesser known deities because they are the ones who take care of the village for the entire year. The main deity’s idol is brought out for “Bali” or rounds during the festival and during these rounds or pradakshinams, the various Bali stones are offered Pujas.

Ashta Dikpalas are the guardians of direction. They are:

Kubera : for North (Uttara)
Yama : for South (Dakshina)
Indra : for East (Pūrva)
Varuna : for West (Paścima)
Isana (Shiva) : for North-East (Īśānya)
Agni : South-East (Āgneya)
Vayu : North-West (Vāyavya)
Nirrti (sometimes Raksasa) : South-West (Nairṛti)

 

Apart from these there are two more deities added for the vertical directions and then the Dikpalakas are considered as being 10 or Dasa-Dikpalakas.

Brahma : Zenith (Ūrdhva)
Vishnu : Nadir (Adho)

Vastu-Shastra is strongly related with the eight directions. It defines the eating, sleeping, reading and worshiping habits. The most commonly referred example is not to sleep with your legs facing the South(Dakshina) direction.

Some temples in Kerala have Sapthamathrukkal (Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Shankari, Kaumari, Varahi, Chamundi, Indrani) in addition to these Ashtadikpalakas.  The seven mothers with the invisible presence of the Mahamaya is installed on a single granite stone on the inner balivattom at left hand side of the main shrine and parallel to the sreekovil (main temple inside the complex).

While you are completing the circumambulation, these stones must be on your right side. These stones are considered to be the hub of energies and are constantly transferring energies around the temple. This is why we are not supposed to touch or step on these because that causes a break in the transfer of energy between them.

So, the next time any child steps on these stones, kindly share the story with them instead of bashing them up without clearing their doubts.

Stay tuned every Monday for more such lesser known stories. Would appreciate your suggestions and additions to the stories. It helps us expanse our knowledge.

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