Friday, October 5, 2012

Fruit of Discord

It is said that an apple was the cause of discord between the Greek goddesses and this in turn led to the Trojan War. In Hindu Mythology, a mango caused the two sons of the god Siva to fight among themselves. The story of the Amshavatars too have fruit that played such a role. It wasn't intended to be so. But such things just happen.

After Bharatburi took the reigns of the kingdom into his hands, the kingdom continued to prosper. Bhartbuhari kept his word to his father and did not have any children. But he did marry. His wife was the jewel of his eye and he would do anything and everything to keep her happy. Bhartbuhari was a wise and just king but often he was blinded by his Queen's whims. Young Vikramadithyan began to observe is brother and then questioned the King's action. The King was ashamed and could not answer his brother.

"You the king.", said Vikramadithyan. "Your service to the people must be above everything else. You must not continue to serve your wife more than you serve the kingdom."

Vikramadithyan's words reached the Queen's ears and she was not amused. The Queen hardened Bhartbuhari's heart and compelled him to expel Vikramadithyan from the capital. The young prince moved to the lands on the outskirts of the city and began to live there.

As this drama unfolded within the palace walls, an old brahmin was consumed in unshakable meditation to the goddess Bhoomidevi. After a long while, the devi appeared to the brahmin and gave him a divine fruit as a gift for appeasing her.

"This is no ordinary fruit", explained the goddess. "Whosoever shall eat this fruit shall live a 100 years and his youth shall remain just as it was when he ate the fruit."

After the devi left, the old man pondered to himself. "What am I to do with such a fruit? I am an old man. What use it to me?"

The brahmin then thought it best to present the fruit to King Bhartbuhari. The King would then be able to live a 100 years with his current youth and vigor and thus serve the kingdom better. So the King obtained the fruit from the old brahmin.

The King had other plans. He gave the fruit to his beloved wife thinking she will have her beauty for a 100 years. The Queen secretly wooed a courtier at the palace. She thought that giving the fruit to him would make him like her more and so she gave him the fruit. The courtier in turn was in love with one of the palace dancers. And so the fruit reached the dancer. The dancer was again in love with a palace stable boy. The divine fruit reached the stable. The stable boy was again in love with the girl who cleaned the stables. And so she was presented the fruit. The girl put the fruit in the basket of dung that she carried and walked off.

The fruit being divine shone in the afternoon sun with all its radiance among the dung that laid in the basket. This curios sight caught the eye of King Bhartbuhari. He called the girl and asked her how she came to acquire the fruit. She told the king about the stable boy and how she got the fruit from him. The king then went to the stable boy and from there to the dancer and by-and-by pieced the puzzle together.

When he realized that his beloved wife betrayed him, his entire world broke down. He did not know what to do. After many painstakingly maddening days, he emerged from his quarters understanding one simple truth. Everything in this world is untrue. Everything is maya, a myth. He decided to leave all worldly pleasures and devote his life to appeasing the gods and being of service of man. He went out in search of his brother Vikramadithyan. Finally, Vikramadithyan got the fruit and was made the new king.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


                                                                    Chapter - 5

In time, King Chandragupta passed on the crown of Magadha to his son-in-law Samudragupta. With the reigns of the kingdom in his hands, Samudragupta began a conquest of expanding Magadha's territory. He conquered kingdoms to the far south reaching including the areas through which the Krishna and Gowdavari flowed. His expansion covered almost the whole of India and brought Palaghat, Assam, Nepal, Bengal and the lands of the Narmada under the Magadha flag. From king he moved on to become Emperor and was known by the title "Maharajadhiraja". He let the regional kings continue to rule but ordered them to pay due tributes to Magadha. Under his rule, trade flourished. He organized the society into a more efficient civilization. He introduced several reforms that revolutionized the land and brought prosperity to the people of the kingdom.

As the years passed, the sons of Emperor Samudragupta grew up into stately youths. Their father, by that time, fell ill and none of the physicians of the land were able to comprehend what was the illness was. One day, he called for his eldest son, Bharthuhari. Since the emperor was not in a position to take care of the official court duties, Bharthuhari was often consulted in matters concerning the empire. In a short span, he managed to learn well on conducting the affairs of the court and thus, proved to be a blessing to the people in the time when their emperor was ailing.

Bharthuhari entered his father's chambers quietly. The emperor had been frequently in and out of sleep and his son did not want to disturb him from his much required rest.

"Bharthu, my son", whispered Samudragupta as he attempted to pull himself up a bit more higher as he layed on his bed.

"Father", excalimed Bharthuhari as he moved towards the emperor. "Let me help you with that."

Samudragupta looked lovingly at his eldest son. He was indeed proud of him.

"What is that you require of me, father?", enquired Bharthuhari.

The emperor let out a sigh and remained silent for a while. He seemed lost at finding words to tell what he wished. "My son", said the emperor."My time draws near."

"Nonsense, father", Bharthuhari said. "You will live many more years."

"No, no.", exclaimed the ailing Samudragupta. "Listen to me. I know of it. My time to depart is nearing. And...and I must tell of...something."

"Yes, father. Please tell me."

Samudragupta looked towards the open window in his chamber. "I was dying before", he said. "Your mother brought me back to life. And for this, I owe her everything."

Bharthuhari listened intently as his father spoke. All of this were stories that he had known of. What is that his father was telling him.

"In return, your mother asked me to wed her", continued Samudragupta."At first, I opposed this request. I was brahmin. And she, a shudra. I was convinced that such a wedlock would incur the curse of the gods. But your grandfather, Chandragupta, and his priest persuaded me to agree to the marriage. They argued based on the Puranas and Vedas. At last, I married your mother and the mothers of your brothers. All these years, I believed I was right and that I had not wronged the commands of the gods. But now, as this illness strikes me I fear that I may have swayed from the path of righteousness and dishonored the very Vedas I preached."

The emperor's eyes were filled with pain. Bharthuhari could feel the intense anguish within his father's heart as his continue to pour out his sorrows. "I had nightmares", exclaimed the emperor."Horrible nightmares. And I fear. I fear for my soul."

"I must do penance for my wrong doings", said Samudragupta as he stared into the eyes of his son. "Else...else I will be punished severely in my next lives. But I fear that even then I would not go unpunished. I have caused the curse of the gods by fathering someone who is neither brahmin nor shudra. For this I can pay penance. But for your children and their generations ahead, no penance would be enough and my soul shall eternally be cursed."

Thus saying the emperor closed his sorrowful eyes. A single tear trickled down his bearded face. His son sat beside him as though he had been turned to stone. He could not believe what he had just heard. He, Bharthuhari, who loved his father so deeply would be the cause of his father's greatest sorrow? His insides seemed to burn like a furnance of blazing coal. He would not let this be.

"No, father", said Bharthuhari. "You shall not befall the curse of the gods. I swear, by holy Agni, I shall not have any generation beyond me and you shall be free from any paap."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Amshavatars - 4

                                                                    Chapter - 4

The king of Magadha was in a dilemma. He was known throughout his kingdom as a just and wise king and these were qualities of which the king was proud of. His subjects sang praises of how well he handled each dispute that was brought to his court. There were some that were not as easy as the others and some which were first thought to be trivial that were later found to be a bit perplexing. But still King Chandragupta had managed to find solutions that even both the sides agreed was fair. The task at hand was unlike anything he had ever handled. Probably no one could have imagined that such a situation would have ever presented itself.

Vali had come to the king with her plea. The king heard her case and was troubled to know of her stand as well as Samudragupta's side of the story. It seemed pointless, but the king sent for Samudragupta to present his side. Samudragupta made his way to the palace and came before the king. The king was taken aback by Samudragupta's grace and stature. With each moment spent with him, the king's respect for the learned brahmin grew greater and greater. Yet, justice takes no sides. Both sides had arguments that were equally valid. Chandragupta knew the solution would take some time to be found; if ever there was a solution.

"Be present at the court tomorrow evening.", said the king. "I will need to discuss this matter over. Meanwhile, you both can stay at the palace. My servants will make due arrangements."

It was the right thing to do. And, king Chandragupta knew that it was perhaps the only thing he could do right then - buy time. Even as he got one day, the king knew this case would last forty-one days. That is the longest that he would ever go. A solution had to be found by then, however impossible it was. Judging a case maybe difficult. It may require some amount of time to weigh out every aspect involved. But justice has to swift, else it is not justice at all. The Mauryan emperors had long set aside forty-one days as the maximum time to deliver a verdict for any case. Forty-one was regarded as an auspicious number and any event that took place in forty-one days was thought to have been the will of the gods.

 That evening, the king was in a closed chamber with his prime minister and the royal high priest. The point of discussion was the case between Vali and Samudragupta.

"She cannot marry him.", said the Priest. "I mean, he cannot marry her. A brahmin is a brahmin. He cannot marry a shudra. That is out of the question."

The king and his prime minister knew what the priest was talking about. Everybody in ancient India followed the tradition of the castes from birth to death. Every man born on earth belongs to one of the four castes - the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaisyas and the Shudras. The Brahmins were considered the highest among all the castes. They were considered to learned men and sought occupations such as priests, advisers, teachers and doctors. The Kshatriyas were below the Brahmins and above the rest. These were men of valor and courage. The kings, soldiers and warriors belonged to this caste. Next to them came the Vaisyas. They were considered to be skilled in the art of trading and negotiations. Hence, most men in their caste took up livelihoods as traders and moneylenders. Finally, came the Shudras -the lowest among the castes who took up professions such as farming, artistry and masonry. Among the rules the abide among the all people was one should only marry someone belonging to one's same caste. This rule had even at times gone to level of being implied to one's subcaste as well. To break the laws of the caste system would mean to displease the sentiments of the people and their beliefs. Not to mention incurring the wrath of the gods.

"We all know the rules, Acharya", said the minister. "But, what are we to do with Vali? You heard her case. How can we argue against it?"

The king sat silently eyeing his minister and then the priest. The other two fell silent as well. It seemed as though there were not even any arguments left to discuss.

"Marry him to my daughter.", said the priest.

The other two were too stunned to reply. They had just heard something, but it seemed absurd to be true.

"Let him marry my daughter.", the priest restated.

"Acharya, are you insane?", said the king. "We are here discussing the marriage between Vali and Samudragupta and you are proposing that he marries your daughter?"

"Yes.", said the priest."Just think about it. He is a brahmin. So is my daughter. He is well learned and of high stature. I am the high priest of the palace. The alliance is perfect."

"Agreed, but that has nothing to do with what we are discussing.", said the minister. "We are discussing whether we should support or oppose the marriage between Vali and Samudragupta. Not who else we can get Samudragupta to marry."

The chamber was silent again.

"I need more time.", said the priest, looking at the others. "I can find a solution if I have more time. I will go through the scriptures. Some solution will be there in them. I just need to go through the scriptures and discuss with the other priests."

The king heard the priest and then got up from his seat. Silently he went and opened the chamber door. He turned and, looking at the priest, said, "You have forty more days."

Then the king was gone.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


                                                                   Chapter - 3

Alangara Valli waited outside the room while the physician examined the slumbering brahmin. It wasn't long before the bewildered doctor came out.

"This is the most peculiar case I have ever seen.", exclaimed the amused physician. " This man seems to have had no food or sleep for the past several months."

"How can that be",thought Valli. "How is it possible that a man survives months without resting himself and without having food? Surely this man has great powers. Even when my eyes first set sight on his weakened body my heart bet harder. Something about him seemed to call me. Something far beyond what can be seen."

Even as Valli was lost in her thoughts, the doctor was deeply thinking of how to revive Samudragupta back to his former self. "There is only one way you can awaken this brahmin.", said the doctor. "You would have to boil a lot of rice and massage the body of the brahmin with the rice for three months. If you do this without fail, the brahmin will be restored to his former health and awaken after the three months are over. If, however, you fail to do so, the brahmin shall perish in the sleep that has presently captivated him."

"I will surely have this done",said Valli. She thanked the doctor and then immediately began to make provisions for the treatment. She set the pot to cook and rushed out again to her mistress's house. She told the lady that she had to take care of a unwell relative and so would not  be available for work for the next three months. Her mistress was generous enough to allow this and also handed over a few coins to see to it that she fared well during this hard time.

Valli returned back to find the pot overflowing with the steaming porridge. The rice inside had been heated far too much and began to form as a paste. "All the more better",thought Valli. She began to massage Sumudragupta with the rice paste as the doctor had advised her. The frail patient seemed to take no notice of this. He was well content in his world of sleep. A weeks treatment was hard enough, but it seemed to have little effect. Samudragupta was alive but just as frail. By this time, Valli had bought enough rice to sustain the course of the treatment. But her wood reserves had been depleted. She quickly rushed to the nearby woods to collect a few fallen branches and returned to the house.

The weeks went by slowly but surely. Valli felt content that her efforts were paying off. The brahmin's health looked to  improve day by day. By the end of three months, Valli was glad a healthy young man now rested in her house.

Sleep felt like an eternal bliss. Samudragupta felt that all the worry in the world could not disturb him. He was happy. He was content. He was asleep. And yet, he was unaware of it. He felt it rather rude that he awoke one day. To his astonishment, his surroundings were strange to him. He could see the cracked ceiling of a thatched house. To his side was a small window which portrayed the vision of a crowded street. The sunlight cut mercilessly almost blinding the bewildered man. Towards a bit more darker portion of the room, he was able to see a young woman busily working by the fireside.

"Where am I?", asked Samudragupta.

The woman dropped the firewood that she was holding. With a slight shiver, she turned around almost as if unwillingly to believe what she was about to see.

"Ahh",she sighed. "You are awake"
Her voice was nothing more than a whisper. She clasped her hands in way that revealed both her pain and joy. Slowly, her round eyes began to swell with tears.

"Yes. But where am I?", asked Samudragupta as he began to scan the area once more.

Valli began to narrate the tale of how she happened to find the sleeping brahmin by the roadside and how she had, as per the advise of the doctor, administered to him for the last three months. Samudragupta sat there as he listened in rapt silence. His heart filled up with gratitude for the young maid who had saved his life. He knew well enough that if it had not been for Valli, he would have had to leave his present life.

After Valli was done with her tale, Samudragupta began to tell his own and told her how he had ended up by the roadside as she had seen him. "My dear woman, you have been extremely gracious to me and I am forever indebted to you", said Samudragupta. " I must now be on my way. I thank you again for your kindness. I do not know how much trouble you have borne on my behalf. If ever there is anything I can do for you in return, please do let me know."

"Wait", muttered Valli."You are leaving? How can you be leaving....just like that?"

"What do you mean?"

"I take care of you. I look after you day and night.", chanted an angered Valli. Her voice growing with every word. "I see to it that you live. When all others called me insane, I took no notice and cared only for your welfare. For three months, I slaved like a mad woman just to see you open your eyes."

She fell silent for a while. Tears poured down her soft cheeks as she began to sob uncontrollably. Her voice was straining as she struggled to let out the words. "And now...when you find that you are well wish to leave...and leave me alone?"

Samudragupta was not prepared for this turn of  events. "What more do you wish me to do?", he asked.

"I had loved you...I had loved you more than my own life...",sobbed Valli. "All these days, I prayed for the day that you would wake up and we would be wed. That is what had kept me sane through all these miserable days.... Even when the neighbors made fun of me and mocked me, I cared not. For I had dreamt many dreams....I dreamt of our wedding day...of our future together....I had dreamt of being your wife........ I took care of you as though you were my own husband......and all that you wish to do is to leave...."

The silence in the room was deafening, broken only by the occasional sobbing. The two figures stood facing each other. Samudragupta was at lose of words. He did not know how to console Valli, but surely she must understand.

"How can this be, Valli?",said Samudragupta. "What you have spoken must not take place. You do know that I am a brahmin and as such, cannot marry you. The very gods would enraged that a brahmin be married to a woman of lower caste."

"I did not care for you thinking that you were a brahmin",snapped back Valli. "Nor do I care for it now. I do not know what caste you belong to nor do I know mine. All I know is that I loved you. And, as for the gods that you now spoke of. Where were your gods when you were dying by the roadside? Where were they when your life was being taken away from you? Did your gods come and save you then? No. It was me. Only me."

"I understand what you are telling me, Valli, but this just cannot be.", said Samudragupta, unable to think of anything else to say.

"You have dealt with me injustly, O Samudragupta. But I shall plead for justice. Surely the king would grant me justice.", said Valli. "I shall plead my case to King Chandragupta."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Amshavatars - 2

                                                               Chapter - 2

The Brahm Rakshas sat still for a while. His mind was pondering. He knew who Samudragupta was. The great Samudragupta was a learned man who had knowledge of all the Vedas. The great teachers from all over India paid homage to the young scholar. None among those who lived in the civilized world were ignorant of the reputation and respect that the name 'Samudragupta' had earned. Yet the crest-fallen brahmin who now stood before the Rakshas looked hardly the man of such stature.

Deeply moved by what he was witnessing, the Brahm Rakshas asked Samudragupta where he was travelling and what it that he sought. Samudragupta let out a sigh and began narrating his tale thus far. The learned brahmin had a great thirst for knowledge. He learned from many teachers and was a master in the Vedas and Puranas. Even while his fame grew far and wide, a great fire began burning inside. Although he had learned all that was there to be learned, he felt deep inside that there was yet something that he did not know. His hunt for knowledge led him from teacher to teacher, but none could provide him with more than what he had already known. Depressed by the failure he met so far, Samudragupta swore not rest until he found the knowledge that he sought so feverishly. After all his exploits turned out to be fruitless, he found himself in the dark forests near Ujjain.

After hearing the Samudragupta's tale, the Brahm Rakshas was elated. The Brahm Rakshas had taken this form because he did not perform his primary duty in his life as a brahmin, that is, to teach what he had learned to a good pupil and thus uphold the passing of knowledge to generations. If the Brahm Rakshas were to teach Samudragupta, surely he would get his moksha. For who would be a more worthy student than the great Samudragupta himself?

"Oh Samudragupta", cried the Brahm Rakshas."I possess the knowledge that you seek. I would gladly teach you what I know.  But for this you would have to stay six months without food or sleep. I will give you a special power so that you would be able to do this. But, be warned, after the six months, you shall be overcome by sleep and hungry. If you agree to this, I will teach you all the you seek to learn."

Samudragupta readily agreed. The Brahm Rakshas used his power and cast a magic spell on him. For the next six months, Samudragupta would not know what sleep or hunger was. The Brahm Rakshas would write a new slokh on a palm leaf and drop it down to Samudragupta who would learn it. After he completed one lesson and new one would be dropped down to him. And so it was for six months.

After the six months were over, Samudragupta had received the knowledge that he so passionately yearned for. He thanked the Brahm Rakshas and got up on his way. By this time, he was reduced to nothing but skin and bones. After entering the city of Ujjain, he was succumbed by hunger and slumber. The tired brahmin lay down by the road side and started sleeping as though he had never slept before.

At that time, a young hand maid called Alangara Valli was passing through the street to her home. She was tired after a hard day's work and her mind wandered as she strolled through the narrow lanes of Ujjain. Her dancing eyes stopped at the sight of the skinny Samudragupta asleep in a world of bliss. She went across and tried awakening the young brahmin. But Samudragupta was far too content in his slumber to be awakened so easily. Seeing that if she left him by himself the young brahmin would perish, Alangara Valli took him into her house and laid him on a bed.She immediately called a physician to have a look at the sleeping brahmin and cure him of his deep sleep.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Amshavatars 1


This story is an attempt to shed light on the Legend of the Amshavatars of Lord Vishnu. Amshavatars means semi-avatars or semi-incarnations. Within these pages I hope to make clear the secrets that led to the birth of these divine beings, their wonderous deeds and legendary stature from tales, centuries old, to what is left of their memories in the present day. Their legend is not common outside the people of Kerala and few outsiders have ever known of their existence, but their's, I believe, is the greatest folklore of Kerala.

The true origin of this legend began generations before the birth of the divinties and none could have actually comprehended the sequence of events that were to take place.......


                                                                    Chapter - 1

Around 355 A.D., in ancient India, there was a dense forest that grew around the great city of Ujjain. A narrow river flowed through the forest and into the mighty river that passed through the city. It was evening, and the dense forest looked darker than ever. Through the rustling leaves, the hollow chirps of the birds could be heard as they flew to take rest in their nests. In the cold waters of the river, a lone brahmin was taking  his evening snanh. The weary traveller dried himself and packed his few belongings into a bundle. His eyes were restless. They wandered hither and thither as if seeking something. He walked towards a banyan tree beside the river and laid down to sleep for the night. The noises from forest did not seem to disturb him. Soon, he was fast asleep.

High above, in the branches of the banyan tree, a Brahm Rakshas sat fascinated by the sight of the young brahmin. His initial instinct told him that he ought to go down and devour the young human. But his curiosity got the better of him.

As a Brahm Rakshas, he had great knowledge and wisdom. In fact, only learned brahmins who have led an evil life or have not performed their earthly duties become cursed to transform into a Brahm Rakshas upon their deaths. Brahm Rakshasas are powerful fiery demons who are known to eat humans and cause terror and havoc. They possess great powers and can grant boons to those they are pleased with. A Bramh Rakshas is both a brahmin and a  rakshas at the same time and so, possess knowledge of the Vedas, Puranas and of their past lives. Yet, all this knowledge did not seem to provide the answer to the question that plagued the Brahm Rakshas right now. What was a brahmin doing in the middle of the forest at this untimely hour? Surely, he could have rested himself in the nearby city of Ujjain. There would have more than one household who would happily agreed to entertain a brahmin for a night's stay. Who was this young brahmin and what is it that led him in this forest?

The magnificent dawn broke through the high canopies. Bright beams of sunlight peeked into the forest floor below. The forest was once again bustling with life. The young brahmin was awoken. His weary eyes reflected the same dissatisfaction that was present in them before. He stood up and said a silent prayer.

"Who are you, young brahmin?"

The praying lips stood still. The hoarse voice seemed to boom down from up the tree. The brahmin stood still for a while. He turned his head towards the branches seeking the face behind the voice. The penetrating sun rays blinded him. He could not see anyone or anything among those lofty branches. The Brahm Rakshas had hid himself among the branches lest his gory figure frightened the brahmin. "Who are you, young brahmin?", came the voice again.

"Who is this who addresses me?", demanded the brahmin. His voice showed no signs of fear or bewilderment.

"I am a Brahm Rakshas", said the voice. "This tree is my abode. Now, answer me, young brahmin. Who are you?"

The brahmin fell silent for a moment and almost as if out of anguish answered,"I am Samudragupta."

The forest was silent again.