The Caretaker

Vinu came up to the cinema booking counter. Gasping for breath, he requested ” 2 tickets please“. It was the fifth day the new movie was playing at the theatre. Reji at the cash counter asked him “All alone today?” to which he replied ” she is not keeping well“. Reji gave the change back but before he could ask why two tickets, Vinu had vanished into the crowd.

A few days back while coming from the weekly market hosted by the neighboring town, Vinu was getting worried as he still had 2 long miles to cover before he could reach the fields where his village was. It was getting slightly dark although the rising moon seemingly bigger than usual, heralding a full moon night comforted him. The next 15 to 20 minutes would be treacherous, he thought. He was also thirsty and cursed himself for not carrying a bottle of water on him. He had heard a few stories from the villagers about these woods and they came to him now, he hurried almost breaking into a run. This was the place where robbers used to trouble weary travelers and the poor villagers who went this way to the weekly market. In the morning, he had gone with Hari and Shyam, but they had returned back early, he had said he would be right behind them, but had lost a lot of time in the market loitering around all the stalls making those several item purchases which was asked of him.

What is the hurry comrade, are you afraid of the darkness or is it that you are carrying something valuable that you don’t want to share with us?” came a whispering voice at close quarters. Very soon a hand on his shoulder and a knife placed on the other prompted him to turn slowly. There were two of them with handkerchiefs tied around their mouth. “You are a good lad. Let us relieve you of the burden that you have carried so far safely to us. Now will you run across the fields to your home where your people would be worrying about you. Tell them your goods were stolen here and they will believe you, since this is not the first time it has happened“.

Vinu, of 15 years although a brave lad, started crying. How could he face those who had given money to his volunteering for small purchases on the eve of the festival. Dinakar his wealthy neighbor had gifted him 50 extra rupees for bringing his ordered goods. How he and Vimla, his childhood friend had planned to see the new movie that would be shown in the theatre with this prize money. Now as he walked alone crying thinking about his impending loss of face on his arrival back home, he hated going home and decided to stay put in the woods. The fear of the woods and the thieves had vanished. How one fear, the fear of facing them all had become the primary one and banished all others out of his mind.

What if he loitered around and found the robbers den and recover his goods if they had let their guard down. It was not only easy but risky too if they saw him or sensed his motive. A second meeting would turn out to be a sour one and mighty unpleasant. “What can I do alone against the might of two grown up thieves. Who knows if there are more of them in the den. Oh if there was some goodness in the forest let it come now to help me out“, he cried out to no one in particular but hoping that someone in the dark woods might take pity on him.

What are you doing here at this time of the hour. Don’t you know that I frequent this path on the new moon day and why are you crying“. The harsh tone suddenly changed soft. Vinu looked up to see a goddess form standing in front of him. “Who are you?”, in all innocence, he asked. “No I am not that
which you are thinking. I can assume any form I wish and to you I would look like how you see me now. I am the caretaker of the woods here. I see that no harm comes to it and no one disturbs the sanctity of these good old trees. Now can you tell me your story that made you cry
?”

Vinu recounted all that he had experienced in the last hour and how his hopes of seeing the movie with his earned money seemed to have dashed to the ground. “Don’t worry about the movie now whatever it is. Let me handle your case. How do you want your goods back. Do you want to smoke them out or drown them all“. “No, no.. Nothing of that, just let us go and get my goods and if they see us, can you frighten them out of your magic prowess which I assume you must have“, he paused looking at her.

The smiling spirit said, “So be it. Let your imagination run wild but keep holding my hand firmly so that no harm comes to you. At the forest shrine at the outskirts, a lot of your villagers had come to me with complaints for the past few months. Some of them have given me small presents and promised
more if I can get rid of these gang of thieves”
.

They walked hand in hand and at every step Vinu kept looking at the face of the forest caretaker who had appeared to him as a goddess and also to assure himself that every moment of it was real. When the caretaker of the place walks with you why should one fear. The spirit said to him. “I will give all
what you lost, what will you give me in return”. “I will, I will…” nothing came to his head all the more because he wanted to gift something valuable in return. Lost for words, he put a question back. “Ask
me. What do you want me to give and if I am blessed , I surely will?
“. “You truly are blessed little one, or else why would the wonder of time make us cross each other’s paths today. I will ask my gift when I have helped you with the return of your goods. Come on now, and as we walk, tell me all about the village, the villagers, the theatre and the movie that you intend to see”. Vinu though tired went on rattling everything he knew like a tourist guide that made even the spirit sigh and whisper, “How I wish to be a part of your sweet little village“.

They had come to a clearing in the forest where a few trees had met the axe and logs were arranged in a circle with a small fire lit at the center. The gang of four now were resting and one or two wandering off to sleep. “There it is! my sack of good things. Let me go and get it”. But the spirit
holding on to him said they will walk together into the ring. As they walked into the ring, there was everything that would warrant a fight. One of them noticed the lone Vinu and started laughing at which the other got up and started towards the boy with a stick. “Unless he gets a sound beating,
he will not remember to go home
“. Vinu at the sight of the stick thought of running away but the forest spirit invisible to others held on to his hand and whispered to him that he would not be harmed. 

All of a sudden, a pack of wild dogs descended on to the place and started fighting with each other barking ferociously at the party of thieves who didn’t know how to contain the animals who had come uninvited. They beat a hasty retreat with the pack close on their heels. “I don’t think they
would come back here for a few days or so, and then I would deal them in my own way”.
Vinu, all smiles, tired and famished thanked her when she picked a bunch of fruits from a tree which he ate in no time sitting on the ground. “Now pick up your sack and let me come with you till the outskirts in case you fall into another situation. Why don’t you come with me to the village, stay with us and enjoy the festivities? I will also take you to the Cinema and we can watch the new movie”. She smiled, “Good lad, I have a lot of work here, but yes, whenever you go to your theatre for the movie, have a seat beside you for me, so that we can watch it together. And make me a promise, you wouldn’t tell anyone what happened here and about me helping you”. Both of them hand in hand walked across the tall mighty trees spread out like a procession and the moon light so very bright peeped into the dense foliage lighting up their path to the fields. All the way back, Vinu was telling the spirit how glad he was to get out of the forest that night without any injuries, thanked her at the perimeter of the fields where she stood still, till his diminutive figure vanished into one of the houses.

When Vinu arrived that night, half of the village was awake looking out for his arrival and how glad they were to see him walking back across the fields, especially Hari and Shyam who had arrived earlier without him and subjected to a lot of scolding from the elders for not taking care of the boy on the way back. Heaping blessings on the boy and a lot of thanksgiving to the forest deity, they all retired to their houses. The next day, a lot of people came back for their goods and were glad to see him having picked the finest at best rates. But towards the evening, he developed high fever and was in bed for a few days, though now and then few came to enquire about his wellbeing especially Vimla.

After 4 days into the festival, the fifth day he went to Vimla’s house wanting to ask her out to see the new movie which had run for four days and might disappear on the seventh day. But it seemed he had passed on his fever to her and she was not all in a position to accompany him that day or the next. A sad Vinu, ambled across to the theatre all alone. At that point he remembered what the forest goddess had told him, she will come and sit beside him if he had a vacant seat reserved for her. With a rush of happiness coming back, he ran to the cinema and bought tickets for both of them.

The cinema hall was always packed during the Navratri festival, as most of the villagers was seeing it many times over; he hurried across the hall searching for the seats, as his eyes was getting adjusted to the darkness. He seated himself and waited for her. Within a few minutes, he sensed her hand in his, her typical fragrance but couldn’t see her because of the darkness. “So you came, just as you promised!“. “Yes, I never break my promise“, she replied in a sad way. The movie started immediately and Vinu was all eyes and ears into the movie and enjoyed it thoroughly. As the movie ended, he looked at the forest spirit, she was almost invisible, though he knew she was there. “Why cannot I see you now?” “You will, whenever our paths cross next time, but for now, you will have to content with my presence“. They walked out hand in hand just as they had walked through the woods. Vinu was silent, he had broken his part of the promise as he had confided to Vimla about the encounter in the woods. She bade him a whisper of a goodbye with Vinu hoping that they would meet in the near future, the dense woods willing…

 

A Kadali Tale

As per Wisdom Library: Kadalī (कदली) is a Sanskrit word referring to “Banana”. The equivalent name in the Prakrit language is kelī, and is Hindi it is known as kelā.

Hope you enjoy this Kadali Tale laced with karma…

kadali

Reghu chanced upon a small cottage while on the run away from the nearby Chartusra city and in his travails, hungry and famished and with a bag laden with stolen valuables, the robber makes his arrival known to the inmates by coughing and gasping at their door. Vedha, the small time jeweller traded in his jewellery which was made at the cottage with Bhanu, his helping hand welcomed the tired robber not knowing his exact credentials. On inquiring as to why he looked so tired and out of breath, he said he was a trader from Chartusra and had been followed by robbers while coming this way to Patali, the port city, the same place where Vedha used to sell his home made jewellery.

Reghu was welcomed as a guest and was told, he could stay for a few days before he could gain enough strength to go to Patali. One day Reghu’s eyes fell upon the golden bunch of 4 Kadali kept in front of the Lord and worshiped by Sree, Vedha’s wife, Reghu was thinking of adding it to his collection. The old caretaker and help, Bhanu to whom Sree was just like a daughter took good care of them all. Bhanu was not happy about Reghu but Vedha dismissed his fears and allowed Reghu to stay. With stolen silver and gold coins he impressed upon the jeweller to make a replica of the Kadali saying it would fetch him a good price at Patali. The jeweller obliged and took a week before finishing one, an exact replica of the one which he had made earlier on Sree’s request.

Once the work was completed and Reghu getting impatient and tired of the stay with the lovely couple, one day kills them and flees but not before taking the work in progress jewels and the two Kadali bunch. After walking for two days and night he came across a plain land with not much human habitation near a placid river. As dusk was approaching he thought of burying the 2 golden priceless Kadali. He chose one huge old jack-fruit tree to bury one near it. As he was in the process, a fearful spirit came down the tree and asked him what he was doing. Reghu told her that he was hiding this Kadali which he had in his hand and said he would return in a week to claim it. She agreed and asked him about the other banana jewel he had in his bag. Reghu on second thought thought of burying the other one too there, but she told him to hide the second one, a hundred yards away as she could not stand the sight of the divine jewel. Do claim this one in a week otherwise you will forfeit it and I will not allow anyone who comes in possession of it, any peace, was her parting words.

Reghu walked a hundred yards and came upon a mango tree near the river bank and as instructed started burying the Lord’s Kadali there. A benevolent spirit came down the tree and asked what he was doing…. He said that he was burying the Jewel in his possession and showed it to her. So be it, she said with a smile, I will guard this till it reaches the rightful owner and help him in any test that he is put to, she murmured to herself..and went back to the tree.

The river was in full flow and had submerged most of the land when he came back after selling the stolen jewels and the coins with a few workers to set up a home. To his surprise he found the landscape had changed thanks to the flood. The marked trees had got uprooted and he knew not where his twin treasure lay buried. He was seen digging most of the time but never told his servants as to what he was looking for. They deserted him soon after his money got over. He was now a man gone mad…

Years had passed by with the jewels remaining hidden where they lay for a few generations. The land had changed much and it was a small village now. Jinu was a landless worker who got a tract of land on lease from the greedy village officer to plant banana plantains. Half of the produce he would need to give to the officer as per the deal struck between them. As expected and to Jinu’s happiness, the first crop turned out well. One day while digging a canal to water the plants in the land, he came upon one of the golden plantains. He took it to Jayaram the local jeweler who had a good look at it and gave a small token to Jinu assuring him the rest of the money, but as a law abiding citizen, he had to talk to the village officer first about its antiquity before he could sell it as the laws had changed. He showed it to the village officer the same day who kept it with himself though he told Jayaram and Jinu that he would be handing it to the higher officials in the government and had no plans to keep anything to himself. The next day he told Jinu he had other plans and asked him to stop using the land for his planned second crop.

Jinu was out of work and was finding it difficult to sustain himself after whatever money he had on him ran out. He could see that the tract of land was fully dug up by the village officer in the hope that he would get some more of such golden Kadali, but his search for more treasure turned futile. Meanwhile Jinu again approached the village officer after a couple of weeks to use the tract of land for plantation, but he was driven out.

The village officer’s wife was fascinated by the golden fruit so much that she took it daily out of the strong box to marvel at it. The fascination increased so much that the officer had to hide it in another room and lock it. Meanwhile Jinu thought of planting a few banana plantains around his small home near the river bank where he was forced to retire. At least it will keep him from hunger once his efforts bore fruit. He prayed to Krishna at his home that the first fruit from his land will be gifted to him. As he dug another canal he came upon another golden plantain which was the exact replica of the first one he had got, but this time he made good his promise and bestowed the golden marvel to Krishna. Whenever he prayed, the golden jewel would change to real bananas and he would take one as prasadam(offering from the Lord).

One day he chanced upon Tulsi standing nearby who happened to watch him at his plantation work. He inquired of her and came to know that she was jeweler Jayaram’s daughter. One day she asked if she could assist him at his work in the plantation. He replied on one condition that she should accept her fair share of the produce once it materialized to which she gladly agreed.

The officer came to know that Jinu had a small plantation around his house. Somehow be didn’t like it but also couldn’t do much about it. Jayaram paid a visit to Jinu and saw the bunch of 4 bananas with a golden hue kept near Krishna’s idol. Oh! how marvelous a sight and so golden, said he after tasting the one from the bunch offered to him by Jinu. Can I have one more..Why not sir…take two, one for Tulsi too, smiling at her, who was standing at the door. The much pleased Jayaram had never had such a tasty fruit and he expressed the same while having it. Sir, my Krishna’s prasadam is always like his love. The more you love Him, more sweet will be your offering to Him and so, his prasadam in return. Being a devotee himself, Jayaram was no doubt thrilled by Jinu’s company. He and his daughter became frequent visitors. One day Jinu revealed to Jayaram, his wish to marry Tulsi. But Jayaram first decided to put Jinu to the test before he could approve his request.

Krishna

Jayaram asked Jinu. This bunch of mini kadali that you offer to Krishna daily…can you show me the plantain which yields such sweet bananas to you. Jayaram was sure no plantain could yield a bunch daily, in fact not more than one in its lifetime and with Jinu having not more than a dozen odd plantains, there seemed to be a mystery about them which he wanted to unravel.

Jinu was in a fix as to what he should say when an old woman came that way and asked for some ripe banana as food to be given. Jinu said I can give you some rice and vegetable but I doubt I can give you a banana at this time as it was well last noon and his kadali prasadam could yield real banana only before noon based on his experience.

The old woman laughed a bit loudly, much to Jinu’s and Jayaram’s consternation. You call yourself a planter? There, yonder. I can see a bunch of fine kadali. Jinu rushed to his garden and much to his surprise there was one ripe kadali bunch awaiting them. He took it down and gave to the woman. No, I don’t want all of this, maybe you can give the better share of this to your guest here, smilingly pointing at Jayaram. Saying so, the woman took leave.

Jayaram was a bit disturbed and left with a perplexed mind. The next day he sent Tulsi to bring a bunch of fresh Kadali. Tulsi came in the morning as was her wont, to Jinu’s house, prayed to Krishna, took two of the prasadam kadali and there were only two left for the day. Father has sent me for a bunch if you could provide it. Jinu at a loss went to the same tree and there, lo another bunch of ripe bananas was waiting to be taken down.

This went on for a few days. Jayaram came on the fourth day himself and examined the tree. There was none. He was going to win he thought when another woman appeared asking for something to eat. Jinu asked what he could give her. Don’t bother I will go inside and take what I need. She went inside and was not to be seen for sometime. Both went in to see her feasting on a bunch of freshly plucked kadali. Jayaram was at a loss of words and failed to understand what was going on. He asked Jinu from where this bunch came when Tulsi appeared in the doorway saying I plucked it in the morning before you two had even got up and kept it here.

The woman had her fill and after blessing Jinu and Tulsi and laughing at Jayaram went her way. It was a matter of a few weeks time before Tulsi and Jinu got married on an auspicious day.

The village officer couldn’t sleep on many a night as he could hear someone pounding on the closed door. The noise from the room where he kept the golden Kadali, the disturbance from the roof as if someone heavy was trampling upon the tiles…the fearful shadow behind the curtains, the poor sight of his wife already at her wits end when she could not see the golden fruit anymore, now out of sight behind the closed door of the cursed room. It was just a matter of time before the officer too went mad after he saw the room ransacked, one day, by some robber and the golden Kadali missing…

Yajnavalkya

This story is a sequel to my earlier post in poetry
Story of a Ruin

I thought of reposting this story during Navratri. My best wishes to all of my dear readers. May the goddess of learning bless us all…

A young scholarly man well versed in the scriptures who had set out on a journey to many great lands in the peninsula happened to come across a temple in a place near the Vindhya mountain range that stretched from the east to the west across the country. It was sometime afternoon maybe when the Sun was thinking of winding up for the day in a couple of hours and the hot sand was in the process of cooling much to the delight of Charna, the horse of Vedavalkya who was galloping at a cruising speed while his master observed the beauty of the place they had come to, but not before crossing a mighty river at a shallow point some miles away, though it seemed only a few moments ago.

Amidst the groves some distance away, he could see an ancient temple and reined Charna towards it as the destination. Vedavalkya thought there would be some habitation near it where he and the horse could rest for the night before proceeding to Magadha which was still a few days away. At a distance of a few miles, he could see a few hills jutting out of a thick forest. Having brought the horse to a halt, he alighted and looked around the precincts of the shrine but could find none to his surprise. He bound the horse to a rock with a short rope, which Charna could break loose easily if some calamity approached. Maybe there would be habitations at the backyard,thought Veda as he walked across.

No sooner had he put a few steps, when from nowhere a group of bandits on horses came up and were bent on injuring him. One of them rushed upon him on a dark horse and swished a dagger at Veda who while sidetracking him and the horse fell on the soft sand. The leader of them and the few others laughed at his plight. Before they could proceed to rob him of whatever valuables on his self and injure him, they all were startled to hear a laughter that came from a lady who had appeared on the steps of the temple. Veda was surprised to see a beautiful girl nay a lady, dressed in an attire which only the well to do could afford, and who though looked at him with soft eyes, was at the same time laughing at the band of thugs, who took to their heels and vanished into the distant forest from where they had appeared to come.

Getting up, disheveled from the sand, his long hair matted with the dust, he got up and approached the young lady and with folded hands asked, ” Oh Devi, from where have you thus appeared to save me in time?” to which she replied with a assuring smile, “Why, isn’t this place mine, where I have resided for a long time? I was watching you for long and was wondering if you would miss this place on your journey in your quest for furthering your knowledge“.

I am deeply indebted to you for saving me, but am also confused as to how your pleasing laughter to the ears caused the bandits to flee in fright?” asked Veda. “That is another story, which I would narrate along some day, but now you look very tired, why don’t you get fresh with the water near that well and I am sure you would find some fodder for your horse near the barn and the hut you see yonder“.

Veda approached the well, cleaned himself of the mud, drank some cool water and took a wide vessel that appeared to be a drinking pot for the cow standing there and munching and observing the stranger that was him. He then went up to the barn and took two sheaves of hay for Charna and walked beside the hut and observed the open door it had. There was nobody it seemed at first glance, but then there was a glow coming from someplace inside it. Though curious, it seemed inappropriate to trespass as per his morals, and he walked up to the steed and handed it to him along with the vessel of water for him to drink.

Call me Mitra” the voice came from so near that he almost jumped. She was standing at a distance smiling at his bewilderment but the voice seemed so close as if she was whispering in his ear. There seemed to some aura about her but he couldn’t pin point it down as to what it was. “Why don’t you take a bath in the river and come for the evening prayers?, the offerings are ready for the Goddess in the shrine” to which he consented and hurriedly walked across to the river flowing at its own sweet pace. It was quite some time he had taken a bath in a river in the last two days and the warm water did him good to clear up the fatigue in his body.

With fresh clothing from his haversack, he groomed himself to let the water drain from his long flowing hair before he climbed the steps of this seeming divine temple. Built in solid rock columns it somehow gave the impression that this temple was hewn out of a solid rock that existed ages ago at this place. He came near the sanctum and was surprised to see the worship items that had been arranged in front of the deity along with a few well lit lamps. It was his turn to get dazzled as the form of the goddess which appeared dark so far dazzled in a slow ever growing glow and became so bright that he could not look at her for more time. He prostrated before the divine and by the time, he got up after his prayers, the form had subsided to the initial warm glow resembling the presence of a smoldering fire within.

Veda got up and sat in meditation for quite some time into the night before he got up and was aware of his surroundings. The form of the goddess had assumed the original dark hue. The items of worship had disappeared and there was only the sound of the owl and the crickets in the silence. Charna was sleeping in his standing position as all horses did especially when it was not familiar territory and the sounds from the nearby forest not helping much as assurance to the poor creature.

There was no sign of Mitra, whom he thought would have retired to the hut or a row of huts behind the barn. This was no time to enquire and he took a sheet and laid it on the steps and was sound asleep in a few moments.

When it was dawn as heralded by the chirping of the birds and the neigh of Charna, Veda woke up just in time or so he thought, before Mitra could chide him for sleeping so late. Although an early riser, the travel had left him a bit tired. He rushed to the river had a quick bath and returned in time to take Charna for a quick gallop around the place before he could think of having some food. The horse was happy to go places and he set up a pace which would take them to the perimeter of the forest but Veda checked him not to dwell in too deep for he knew that wild beasts and men existed who would not stoop to venture out to see a welcome meal presented before them in the early morning. He patted on its hind leg and swerved him back to turn towards the temple for he had to meet Mitra, have some grub if she had something to offer and be on his way to the next destination.

The horse trotted its last steps before it stopped for him to descend and survey the barn and the hut and any trace of Mitra. This time, he would have to go near the hut and call her to come out if, as per his thoughts, she stayed in it. “Looking for me“, the voice boomed near along with the chime of anklets as she walked up to him. She had a plate of fruits and a sweet dish ready for him to savor. He gratefully thanked her for it and sat on a stone seat nearby after she had seated herself at a nearby one. “Oh but I should be feeding Charna first“. “I have already done that” she told him as if she read his thoughts. Charna was busy feeding at some grass and sprouts of ground nuts, that she had spread in front of him.

After having the morning ritual prasad/offering presented to the Goddess, he was thinking of leaving when Mitra said, “What is the big hurry, stay here for a few days, be in the company of the Goddess and get her blessings before you set out“. Veda was in two minds, one part of his was now asking him to stay, for he definitely thought there was much more to learn from this place than all the places he had visited so far, but one part was also worried to leave, considering this place looked strange as did Mitra who was smiling at him as if she understood what he must have been thinking.

Don’t you worry about your stay. You could be lodged in one of the huts behind the barn and your horse can share the barn with the cow until you stay put here”. “But then who stays in the hut next to the well, is that you or someone else?”
Oh no, that hut is the hermitage of the Sage Dhuwija who happens to stay here for most of the time doing penance. After a week on the full moon day, he will leave this place to the south of the Vindhyas, but before that I will set up a meeting with him. Beware, he is no ordinary sage, he will put you to the test and if you come out of it with success and life, I will reward you“.

and what reward are you thinking of giving to me after the meeting”, in half jest asked a smiling Veda. “That will be known to you when the time comes. Come, now I will show your lodging so that you can see if it suits you well or do I need to set something else there“. “I am a wandering pundit in search of knowledge, don’t bestow any more luxuries than I need at this moment”, said Veda.

What is it that you seek Vedavalkya?, asked Mitra, “is it just knowledge or something more“. How did she know my name, or did I tell her already, he seemed confused but answered “I seek knowledge to refurbish my soul and in the material context, i need knowledge to govern for I am the prince of Videha and the kingdom has seen better days than the present state it is in now. I have been sent out by my ageing father to seek that knowledge to administer them and the power to be invincible to seek protection from my neighbors when ever the need arises. For a King to rule wise and well and protect his subjects, he himself should get a shield of protection from the Lord without which he would be subjected to many attempts of disconcert and a ruler who falls to a mortal wound takes his state along with him”. Hmm pondered Mitra looking so deep into his eyes, he wondered if he could stare back without blinking at those beautiful yet striking eyes. The case of the bandits fleeing at her laughter was still in the back of his mind, but he had not ventured to ask her, what it was that made them flee! Just plain laughter it could not be, there was something more, but some times the glance and her ever knowing face curbed him to voice his thoughts. By now, he was sure she was a mind reader and kept quiet.

She showed him the hut and asked him to meditate for a week, “Just take plain water and the fruits that I bring to you in the morning, that should be enough for the rest of the day. Come to the temple in the evening and offer your salutations to Her and seek her blessings. Get up in the morning, be at the river as the first rays of the Sun fall upon you. Never ride your horse during these seven days till I ask you to. Remember these, I will meet you every evening when you come up the temple steps and do not wish to seek me, any other time”. So be it, with folded hands said Veda to the ever smiling Mitra but when she had said all these, he had seen streaks of some sternness in her eyes or did he feel that way, he was not sure. She appeared to be the same age as him, but sometimes when she talked especially when she put forward the commandments, she appeared to be ageless.

Veda surveyed the interior of the small hut, there was a wooden bed and a box to keep his belongings, a couple of windows to the east and one to the west all made up with matted reed and leaves and some wooden finish here and there. There was a lamp lit inside in one corner. there was a rack of a fresh set of clothes for him kept for use. Was there some divine help here or who else could furnish these things at such short notice, or were they kept for some guest who was expected here, he knew not. A leafy tray of fresh chosen fruits was kept for him. They looked inviting and delicious and he had his fill before he ventured out for a walk. He carefully avoided the hut near the well, thinking he might spot Mitra and thus break the vow he had promised and came back in a span of an hour spying Charna happily grazing in the barn next to the cow who looked at him as he came near. Putting his hands on her head to which she did not express anything, he then ruffled the mane on Charna before going back to his hut and set himself up for meditation. He closed his eyes and the form of the Goddess came to him. He focused himself on her and sat in a deep trance for many a hour he knew not. The slanting rays of the sun through the window caught his eyes and disturbed them and when he opened his eyes, he knew evening was fast approaching.

As per Mitra, he prepared himself for the evening salutations, by going to the river, taking a bath, donning a fresh set of clothes, he hurried back through the sand to be in time for the evening ritual. As he climbed the first step, Mitra met him on her way out, telling him to light the lamps and pray to the Goddess for divine help to achieve his goals. Just as the previous day, Mitra had kept all the worship paraphernalia ready. He lit the lamps and looked up with folded hands towards the Goddess.

The glow as the previous day appeared, as he prayed to her and when he opened his eyes, he could see the Goddess divine in all her splendour exuding rays filling the places with the atoms of light striking him and rebounding back. He felt as if washed by her glory and a strength that seemed to grow in his mind and body as he stood there. Finally he prostrated again at her feet for many long moments and as he got up, the glow had subsided and strangely the offerings had disappeared. He stood again hoping Mitra would appear but there was no sign of her coming and he bowed down again before coming down the steps back to the hut by the barn.

After seven days of such ritual followed strictly by Vedavalkya, on the seventh evening as he got down the steps, Mitra was smiling at him standing next to him, from where she appeared all of a sudden, he was at a loss to explain. So you have passed the first test well, Veda and now tomorrow I will usher your self to the holy Dhuwija who would test your knowledge. You should answer him to the best of your knowledge though there will be some harsh tests you would be subjected to at the same time”. “What harsh tests? gasped he “that you will find out in due course, but do not lose hope and maintain your calm however rigorous it may seem for the rewards are great”.

They walked together to his hut but she did not enter and bade him good sleep. He stood at the door as she walked across to the next hut at quite some distance and disappeared into it. He wondered when he would ask her the question, who she was, but then there was still time to ask it, but first he thought of how he would fare with the Sage. Mentally he said his prayers and went to sleep. In his dream he saw that Mitra was riding his horse and had ventured into the forest to seek out the bandits and their hideout. She rode daringly with Charna getting accustomed to her style as if he knew her for ages. Presently as the bandits came out, all swords in hand, she raised her hand and to his wonder, he could see her hand now wielding a spear. She threw it on one of the men and nailed him. Others rushed on to her giving huge cries, but then she came down from the horse and in a maze of dexterity what he could see in a matter of moments was, everyone had hit the dust and it was at that time Veda saw Charna hit on his side by a small wound from one of the swords of a bandit. She looked back at Veda, he who was hiding behind the trees. That look was really fearful and he got up from his dream sweating. After having a mug of water, he got up surveyed the surroundings, everything seemed peaceful. Everything looked fine and then he went back to sleep and got up only in the early morning.

The next day morning Vedavalkya got up, had his morning ablutions done and prepared himself mentally by meditating on the Goddess and was he charmed to see Mitra’s eyes upon him as he opened his door. “It is time for me to introduce you to the rishi. Be calm and answer his questions. Once he acknowledges you, then maybe you can be free to ask yours. But I again warn you, during this time you have to be fearless and not of weak mind as you will be tested as required by the Sage”.

They walked beside the barn, and he looked to Charna and immediately saw the fester caused by the wound, so the dream was true, he thought. He didn’t look at Mitra much less ask her about last night’s foray into the forest made by her. Not dwelling even a moment to pause by his dear horse, he moved on, accompanied by the young lady. She got in and foretold about Veda’s visit to the Sage and came out. She looked once at him and walked away to the temple. With slight hesitation, Veda stood at the doorstep, when again he was startled by her ‘now go inside‘ voice that came so close even though she was a good 20 steps away from him now.

He stepped in, the hut had a glow of the sun, the glow of enlightenment, wisdom, knowledge all put together. The sage welcomed him and asked him to take a seat opposite to him on a seat of grass which it seemed was hot with embers and dark ashes. Obediently he sat with a clear mind, the seat was fine, maybe it was a glow, it was not hot at all.

“Son, what do you seek? Do you seek wealth, knowledge or wish to live long?”

Sire, I seek knowledge and your blessings so that I might live long to accomplish my mission of imparting peace and justice to my people of Videha“.

It is good that you seek the welfare of others along with the self and not at the expense of others“, said the Sage.

I see that you have read the scriptures well, that shows on your face but I want to test your determination and courage while testing how far you will suffer to get these“.

I will ask you 5 questions, son be prepared. Answer them best as you could, formulate and answer them in your mind if not through your tongue“.

“Yes Sire, I am all ears..” to which the sage smiled and said, “only the ears to hear the question would be sufficient“.

My first question dear, what are the six means of knowledge to know the self?”

Veda replied they are “Pratyaksha—–Under this comes our five senses—-Visual, Auditory,Touch,Taste, and Smell. Also our thoughts &emotions in our mind. They are also directly known or seen.

Anumana—–We do not directly see the object in reference, yet we associate two things cause of experience. Like if we see smoke,we instantly conclude that there must be fire somewhere.

Upamana In comparision. Like we see a new animal and come to know about it with reference to a similar thing seen earlier.

Arthapatti—-is presumption. Like if someone is fat and he says I do not eat the whole day, we persume he may be eating at night.

Anupalabdhi—–Means non-availability or non-existence. We know very clearly the absence of a particular thing or person by it’s non-availability at this time & place.

Sabdha—–Means the words of a knowledgeable person.It is a revelation about something by a wise person.

Just as he had answered the first question satisfactorily, to his horror, the seat on which he sat became hot and hotter, so that he could think of nothing else but the fat melting and the smell of burnt skin, but he stay put where he was, remembering Mitra of the experiences he would have to face while facing the venerable sage.

Somehow he lost the sense of smell and the pain dulled as the Sage went on to ask his next question. “Who is the person whom we consider wise?”
Veda’s tongue seemed to weigh a ton now as he could not lift it to answer, try as he might. Then he thought of Mitra and the Goddess and saluted her in his agony and mentally answered to the Sage,” It is the wise man who beholds all beings in the self and the self in all beings and it is for that very reason he does not hate anyone“. Veda looked down and to his horror, he now knew why he couldn’t spell the answer, as his very tongue was lying beside him. This could only be a dream he thought, but the seat again started getting hot and Veda waited for the Sage’s next question with abated breath.

What is one thing that causes bondage and at the same time liberation?”
Veda replied mentally, “It is indeed the mind that is the cause of man’s bondage and liberation. the mind that is attached to sense-objects leads to bondage, while when dissociated from such sense-objects it tends to lead to liberation“.

Just as he had finished answering, his eyes dropped off from its sockets and he went blind but still luckily he could hear as that was good enough for this session.

How is the atma known?” was the next question put forth.

The Atma is really worth seeing. One should ‘see’ the Atma by Sravana,Manana,& ‘Niddidhyasana’ which means that one should first hear these scriptures from a ‘right teacher’, then reflect on what is being revealed by ‘Him’, and finally meditate on it ,till the knowledge is assimilated throughly” was his mental answer to the sage.

After this answer he lost his hands and limbs as they were cut off suddenly and scream he couldn’t, the pain he was experiencing already was too much so that the loss of his limbs did not much add to it. He was surprised why he had not fainted by now, and then attributed it to the blessings of the Goddess. Mitra had prepared him for it well in the last seven days.

Now what remained was his trunk and head which lay prostrate in front of the sage. Was the next blow the death blow, he wondered, even ready to take it as it came, if it did come.

My last question, Son, if you answer well, this trauma and agony should end, but your answer should contain the misery you are experiencing now. Here it is, listen to it carefully. How does the knowledge of the scriptures, the Vedas help you?”

Vedavalkya, a poor semblance of himself answered mentally, “The Vedas cannot show you Brahman, you are That already; they can only help to take away the veil that hides the truth from our eyes. The first veil to vanish is ignorance; and when that is gone, unskillful behavior goes; next desire ceases, selfishness ends, and then all misery disappears”.

The answer was to the point, just as the Sage expected him to. Mighty pleased, the Sage got up and placed his hands on Vedavalkya and blessed him saying, “Your parents had rightly named you as Vedavalkya and you have truly lived up to the name given by them, but answers that were given by you in great agony just as I was sacrificing your body parts as offering to the mighty Goddess who wanted to test you all this while through me, Son, have bestowed on you the new name Yajnavalkya. Go back to your kingdom as I deem you fully fit in the knowledge that you wished to acquire through her blessings. There is no need to go to farther lands, for you are knowledge incarnate with my blessings. Go in peace and take Mitra with you, she is an expanse of the Goddess herself and where ever she is with you, victory will be yours”.

The blessings of the sage made Yajnavalkya whole again as he recovered all what he had lost a while ago and shown with a lustre never before and as the sage took his hand, Mitra stepped in and the sage placed her hand in his.

Both stepped out of the hermitage, the test was over, he had come out successful, just as he had hoped. Mitra was all smiles looking at him as she took him one more time to the temple as though it seemed only a few moments of test, the sun was setting and it was time for the evening ritual. There were a lot of questions he wished to ask Mitra, but again he kept silent till the ritual was over. This time too, she asked him to wait at the steps as she ascended to make the preparations for worship of the Goddess and then came down as he climbed the steps to pray to the Goddess who seemed to be in all her glory. A beam of light from her struck him and with that he knew he was granted immunity from the many perils he would have to face when he would rule over Videha some day in the near future.

After taking her blessings, he came down and saw Mitra waiting for him next to the barn. Charna was being readied by her for the journey back home where she would accompany him, a wise woman to add to his knowledge and hold discourses with him as two equals that would be the pride of Videha as they lived as much as they wanted in the city.

“Are we riding back to Videha this very night?, asked Yajnavalkya. “Sure, why can’t we in this bright moon light”. “and what about the sage and the Goddess? asked he. “You forgot, I told you the Sage would move from here to the south of the Vindhyas on the full moon night and it is fast approaching. As far as the goddess is concerned, her larger expanse remains here for the next person who would come here after a thousand full moons, and a part of her has detached from her to serve her and worship her, the role which I played so far. See, there she is, Vaishnavi, she is all set to take over from me”. Yajnavalkya looked across to the temple and could see a female form waving at her. Assuming courage Yajna asked, “Could you now please tell me, what caused those bandits on the first day of our meeting to flee?”. “My face, Yajna” with a smile Mitra said, “just as it is pleasing to you and for every right minded, it harbors a fearful form that even the evil could never withstand and add it to the laughter emanating will be like the sound of heavy drums sounding next to their ears. So never ask me to show that face to you”. “No No, I am happy to see your smiling face” replied Yajnavalkya as they rode into the moonlight.

In due course of time, Mitra and Yajnavalkya on Charna’s back, rode night and days to reach Videha to the great satisfaction of his father who then relinquished the throne in his favor for a golden period for many years which the people would cherish….

I hope the Goddess who inspired me to write this story blesses every reader who reads this

The Great Teacher

 

teacher

I longed to understand the person they called God
poring over religious texts, I could not understand
somehow, the great personality He was made of
I had questions that one had no clear answers to.

I joined a group who said they will bring verily, Him
close to me, just as I had become very close to them
but then I knew, they were a group like many others
caring only for more members getting added to them.

I went to places of worship with people chanting
who appeared holy, just as He appeared to us all
as we left those sacred places, was I surprised
to see them engrossed in petty chatter and  rant?

I went to those mountains searching for dear Him
on the way, a huge tree fell and barely missed me
In my weary wanderings,  as I got up from sleep
a snake meandered away, how close was I to death.

Then as I continue to trod on, in desolate jungles
thirsting for water and dreading many a beast
whose fearful voices were too close for comfort
was I pleased, to see a pool that appeared as feast?

It was one night when due to lack of moonlight
I stepped on a stone and fell, I not knew where
as I sensed up, I saw a stranger attending to me
Why he cared for me, when God still eluded me?

Why was it, the Great Teacher that He was
fail to appear, putting a halt to my journey?
Holding a peaceful  smile on his lips, He asked
Son, why do you think, He evades you, a seeker?

Just as you care for the kids and pets at home
He keeps a roving eye upon you, all the time.
A tree pauses before it falls, a snake beguiled
a helping hand such as me, send to tend you.

Do not ever think, He  does not see or think of you
He may not always comfort or deliver what you ask
but if it is Him that you ask for and long to be with
He will put a halt one day  to help you attain bliss…

 

Birding in Sattal

Hope you enjoy this birding post from Thomas.

I had heard so much about birding around Sattal and Pangoot from several people that they became “must visit” destinations for me. So when my friend Ajit mentioned in our Birding Buddies (Ajit, Vignesh, Kumar and I) get together that he was considering a trip there, I needed no further cajoling. After 8 months of […]

Birding in Sattal

Son of the Soil

A poor man cared for his family, worked for his landlord all the while but never cared a bit about himself. He worked in the fields from dawn to dusk. His skin weathered the elements, the seasons and the taunts of the landlord on whose fields he worked. His shirt and dhoti was all torn. He never cared for foot wear. His feet had developed corns and these days he walked in pain.

One day it was the village festival and he went to the village fair with his wife and daughter. He was in search of a young man for his daughter. He had come to know of Chandan who worked in the village office. He would be an ideal suitor for his daughter. But his parents were middle class. He had once mooted about it to Shri Dinanath who did not give any reply to him at that time. How could Shri Dinanath, Chandan’s father agree for a poor farmer’s daughter. This had been his worrying thought for a few months and when he passed the village shrine, he would talk about it to the diety there in the evening at the temple gate. Yes, he could not enter since his whole body and torn shirt was soaked in mud while coming home from work.

With his family in tow, Girish walked in front wearing a clean dhothi and light blue shirt. But the layer of sand laid out at the village fair was not favourable to his feet. It was paining and it was really getting difficult to walk. He told about his situation to his wife and all the three decided to go to the temple which was nearby and walk back home.

As they were leaving the fair, a hawker selling footwear was calling out for prospective customers. He also appeared poor to Girish’s eyes, when their eyes met. His call seemed desperate. Who would buy footwear when there was so much else on display to buy. Why don’t you buy one for yourself, his wife said. Maybe I should, more for this poor fellow than for myself, murmured Girish.

There were many varieties on display to Girish’s confusion. Sensing that, the hawker looked at Girish’s feet, measured it and went around looking for one that would give him comfort. Finally he got one to his satisfaction and put it on Girish’s feet all the time looking at him with a pleasant smile. Girish paid more than what the poor hawker asked, thanked and bade him goodbye and walked towards the temple with his family.

After leaving their footwear behind, they ascended the steps and prayed for the wellbeing of all in the village. As they came out after taking the prasad from the old Pujari, Vaishnavji, who had been serving the temple for  decades, they found that Girish’s footwear was missing.

It was really unfortunate Girish thought. More than the loss, he had taken a liking for it and the comfort it gave. Simple people were content with simple treats like these in life. Maybe this luxury was not for me, thought he, as he tread his steps slowly due to his pain. Since it was getting dark, he asked his wife and daughter to hurry home as he would take time walking across through the freshly laid gravel.

Before long, Vaishnavji having finished his duties at the temple caught up with the slow walking Girish and enquired about his feet. Girish told him all what had happened. Vaishnavji comforted Girish and gave him company till he reached his house. That night there was thundershowers which gave a welcome relief to the villagers from the heat.

The next day morning, when Vaishnavji climbed the steps of the shrine he found it dirty with mud. It was as if someone had walked with footwear not only on the steps but everywhere outside and inside the sanctum. And there just below the feet of the diety was a pair of muddy footwear. Who could have done such an act, he muttered, getting angry. I am sure someone who came to the village fair from far would have done this.

Tendering an apology to the Lord, he started to clean the inner sanctum and was shouting curses at that ruffian who had the audacity to do this. Did he hear someone giggling or was that a laugh. Did he really hear or his old mind was playing tricks. Never mind, thought he and continued on with his work and it was then he remembered that the muddy footwear was still inside the sanctum. When he started removing it, a voice boomed. “Do not remove it, dear Vaishnav. It is dear to me. It was I who danced around with it last night amid the rains. Do not bother, as from now on, it will be my footwear” .

Vaishnavji was enthralled with what he had heard. The Lord had talked to him after all these years to him. Girish had woken up early and started to tread his way to the fields. Surprisingly he did not feel any pain today while walking. He had thought of taking a longer route instead of the gravel filled village fair path, but since it was not paining at all, he decided to take the short route and thank the Lord on the way. It was still dark and dawn was still a few moments away.

Girish climbed the temple steps along with Chandan’s father who was also a great devotee of the Lord and both of them saw Vaishnavji in a trance. When they enquired, he told them all what had happened. To set their sight on the divine footwear, they hurried to the inner sanctum and  was Girish surprised when he saw that it was the very footwear he had worn the last night. He prostrated before the Lord crying out how thankful he was to see that the very good  Lord had taken a liking for it.

The booming voice came again. “Girish, I was twice lucky yesterday. To touch your feet and adorn this footwear on your feet and then like a thief snatch it and play around here wearing it that gave me so much joy. Let it remain here with me and in barter I have taken away your painful corns from your feet”.

How glad the three were that morning to hear the Lord’s voice. Dinanath with tears in his eyes embraced Girish remarking, “you are the true son of the soil and I will be glad to have your daughter grace my home  after our children’s wedding at the next auspicious muhurat here in  the temple”.

I fervently hope, the good Lord who inspired me to write this, bestow upon my readers, simple gifts and the best of health as we walk across the paths in life which may not be comfortable at all times…

Paths in Life.. It is your choice. Thanks to Rupali who has a photography  blog at mazeepuran.wordpress.com for allowing me to use this lovely picture.

Examining our cultural journey

I have reblogged this post from Vidya’s site.

When we were children, India was still an agriculture-based nation. Coming home to Kerala during our vacations meant coming home to the fields. Of course, the young people had all found their way out of agriculture, but the fields of paddy that had been created painstakingly by our dedicated ancestors who had mastered the art […]

Examining our cultural journey

Coined Treasures

Once a rich man invited all to give some amount of his wealth to all the poor folks around him. A poor man lived with his son and wife. He also came to see the rich man more because he wanted to meet and talk with the rich man. After spending a few minutes he came to know that this person was very generous at heart. The rich man’s stock of gifts had exhausted by the time their conversation ended. So he asked of the rich man that nobody even thought of.

Can you give me 1/10th of what you have every year to which the rich man agreed.

So every year our poor guy visited him and took his share and returned. Everybody envied the poor man and asked the rich man to stop giving to the poor man every year. But as was his nature he gave a lot of presents to everyone who came to him for help. Slowly all his wealth disappeared and his business suffered and he saw bad days where he couldn’t survive with some help from the villagers. He had to sell his house and look for a small shed at the outskirts.

His wife told him to ask help from the villagers whom he had helped all along. But nobody bothered to help and chided him for wasting his wealth away and for his charitable acts. On the way he met our poor man who looked the same to him. He lived in the same hut with his family and worked in the same fields as before.

Feeling sorry the rich man asked what did he do with the wealth gifted by him. You are still poor. I thought of asking you for some money but you appear worse as before. The poor man smiled. Nobody is poor as long he wants to help someone. At one point of time you were rich and you were generous and true to the word. I, by my experience knew that wealth and trade do not flourish for ever if we aren’t careful. So all the money I took from you is still safe with me. Take it, buy back your house and live peacefully. Help others who are needy and don’t give away wealth to those who do not value it. You may earn yourself a name but that will vanish as soon as your store is empty.

Depression

When you are experiencing any of the below it is high time you call out, raise your hand, confide and get help.

When daylight peeps in on you

You wish the sun had slept all day.

When you see the crisp newspaper

You see it just as a piece of  trash.

When someone does call you

You just hear through the rings.

When cloudy thoughts thunder

How you wish the ground to open

To envelope you from painful darts

that fly around and pierce you…