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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