A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Third Sex - In other Mythologies

Reference to gods or goddesses like that of Bahucharaji is not very common to find in the other mythologies. But there are two different aspects to be observed in this case. One aspect is that of Bahucharaji as the universal mother goddess and the other is the aspect of Bahucharaji as the goddess of the third sex/trasvestites.

Similarity with Mother Goddess in other mythologies abounds and is not new to students of mythologies. One can compare Bahucharaji with any prime Goddesses of other mythologies.

What is of interest is parallels with Bahucharaji as the goddess of the transvestites. What does not exist is an exact replica or in the likeness of the goddess herself. However, there does exist references of gods or goddesses who are themselves of transgendered nature. References to ‘sex-less’, hermaphrodite, or castrated gods does exist in different mythologies, and some myths can get as gory as gory can be!

We will not get into details of all of them, but will refer to some of them by name and a brief description of them.

Issue of Male and Female – Hermaphrodite
In the earlier cultures some sort of a reproductive deformity or abnormality was seen as a state of blessedness. In the hunter-gatherer societies of the Neolithic era, such deformities were respected and were allowed to choose the sex that they wanted to play roles in and were considered to be a good omen. They were considered to be advocates of the gods and thus believed that such people were good.

In Babylonian culture such abnormalities were seen as gods way of reducing the population on earth, the basic reason of the flood, i.e the Flood of the Atrahasis, and thus were respected and never despised or looked down upon.

The Egyptians used the gods to symbolize the various combinations of gender and sex. According to their creation story, the first god, that was both male and female was Atum, which means asexual reproduction is divided in two, Shu and Tefnut, who in turn gave rise to Geb and Nut, Earth & Sky.

The Phoenicians worshiped the goddess Atargatis, who was hermaphrodite, whose priestesses, the kelabim, men were born, but had assumed a feminine role. The goddess, also known as Astarte, was transformed by Christianity in the devil Astaroth.

In classical mythology transsexual influence is evident in the description of the goddess Venus Castina as the goddess who attends and meets the aspirations of women's souls are in male bodies.

Some native American tribes had (and still do) the concept of the “two-spirited” person. These were considered both male and female. The female side was from the earth and the male side was of the spiritual world. Either way, both the male and female sides of a person are honoured and seen as both necessary for a person to be whole. In many cultures the “two-spirited person” is often valued as a shaman, a person who can walk in both the earthly world and the spiritual world. They are the “gatekeepers” to help people cross over to the spiritual world and back again to earthly, practical living.

Besides the above, there exist some very direct references of such Gods who we will describe in brief:

In Greek Mythology, Hermaphroditos was the god of hermaphrodites and of effeminate men. He was numbered amongst the winged love-gods known as Erotes. Hermaphroditos was a son of Hermes and Aphrodite, the gods of male and female sexuality.

Some say he was once a handsome youth who attracted the love of a Naiad nymph named Salmakis. She prayed to be united with him forever and a god, in answer to her prayer, merged their two forms into one. At the same time her spring acquired the property of making men who bathed in its waters soft and effeminate.

In Greek vase painting Hermaphroditos was depicted as a winged youth with male and female attributes: usually female thighs, breasts, and style of hair, and male genitalia.

This brings us the next step in this subject, the homosexuals. Is there a reference of homosexual relationship in mythology? Keep reading to find answers to this question.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Third Sex - 3

A number of myths abound in the region of Becharaji, which is associated with the eunuchs; prominent among them are that of the myths of Arjuna and Sikhandi of Mahabharata. Let us go through them briefly.
The Myth of Arjuna
After the 12 years of exile, as per the rule, the Pandavas and their wife, Draupadi had to spend an additional year in exile but incognito without detection. At this time, a long pending curse on Arjuna came of help. Arjuna in an earlier episode in Mahabharata was cursed for refusing the amorous advances of by Urvashi. She had cursed him to become a ‘kliba’, one of the third sex. For the thirteenth year, this was the best disguise for Arjuna.

It is said that before the Pandavas proceeded towards the kingdom of Virata, Arjuna is supposed to have visited Bahurcharaji. It is here that he hides his weapons and becomes what is known as a ‘Brihannala’, a professional dancer and musician trained by “gandharvas” or celestial beings. He transforms himself into a ‘kliba’ at Bahucharaji, before proceeding for the Kingdom of Virata. Before he left for Virata’s kingdom, Arujuna is supposed to have hidden his weapons in a thorny tree called the Sami tree in nearby Dedana village. As a part of the ritual, on every Dasherra day this tree is worshipped, and the ritual is known as ‘Sami-pujan’. It is said that this tree remains green all-round the year and does not either increase or decrease in its size.

Virata was a kingdom ruled by the Matsya king by the name Virata. Its capital was Virata Nagari, modern Bairat in the Jaipur district of Rajasthan.

The Myth of Sikhandi
An artist's impression of Sikhandi
The story of Sikhandi is well known and we will not delve in the myth which binds together some of the main characters of Mahabharata, viz. Bhishmapitamah, Princess Amba, King Salya, etc. What is of significance here is that Shikhandi was the son of King Drupad and was Princess Amba in his previous birth.

As per the local lore, Sikhandi was not a man in the sense of having masculinity. So Sikhandi is supposed to be moving around in despair to attain masculinity to take part in the famous war of Kurukshetra, as he had to fulfil his wow of killing Bhishma. When after all the efforts failed, he was dejected and came to Bahucharaji. The lore goes on to say that in this region stayed a Yaksha by the name of Mangal. When the Yaksha saw Sikhandi, who was miserable and crying and pitiful, he asked her what was wrong. Sikhandi told him his story and how it was a desire to be a man and avenge the insult heaped onto him from his previous birth.

Hearing all this, the Yaksha took pity on Sikhandi and decided to trade genders with Sikhandi, till he achieves his imminent objective. The lore goes on with more twists and turns and adding to the already complicated issue, which we will omit here.

It is said that from that day onwards, this place gets its importance of a place where lost masculinity can be gained.

Though there is no empirical evidence to prove the veracity of either of the above mentioned episodes, but the popular local belief and the presence of the eunuchs in the region is enough to strengthen the belief system. Also the proximity of Virata and Panchala from Gujarat lends some credence to the association in some form or the other.

The fact that Lord Krishna had such an influence in the region and a follower of his in Arjun makes the myth highly believable for the local populace. It also gains currency in the fact that Mahabharata is an epic of India and the locale had a share of prominence in the great epic!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Third Sex - Part 2

This myth is considered to be the main myth associated with the goddess Bahucharaji and the temple premises bears testimony to such belief-system.

A King named Raja Vajsingh was from Kalri village and ruled 108 villages of Chuwala, Gujarat. He was married to a princess Vagheli of Vijapur taluka’s  Vasai village.  The king had other wives too, but unfortunately was not blessed with a child. When this princess conceived and a child was born in the middle of the night it was a girl child. The queen decided to keep this a secret and conveyed to the king through her maid that the queen had delivered a boy.

The queen always dressed the child, named Tejpal, in male costumes and took all the ladies around in confidence and sustained this secret till the child was of a marriageable age. Soon Tejpal was engaged to the princess of the Chawada, of the kingdom of Patan and were married.

Soon the princess came to know the much kept secret of Tejpal not being a man that all thought him to be. The princess was very unhappy and returned to her mother’s home, but the mother realised something was amiss. On enquiring she told her mother the truth and the news reached the king.

The king decided to find out the truth for himself and sent an invitation to Tejpal along with the others in the family, to visit them for “fun and food” as mentioned in the invitation.

Based on this invitation, 400 people all dressed up in ornaments and finery came to Patan along with Tejpal. When the food was being laid the king of Patan suggested that Tejpal took a bath before dining and since he was the son-in-law, he would organise a royal bath for him with a rubbing by his choicest of men. Tejpal was worried at the thought of a bath in the presence of men and when he was forcibly being taken for a bath, he removed his sword and ran away on a red mare.  All present were surprised at this behaviour of Tejpal.

Tejpal, fled out of the kingdom of Patan and rode off on his mare to a dense forest on the outskirts of Patan. Unknown to Tejpal, a bitch had followed him from the kingdom and when they reached the middle of the forest (referred to as Boruvan) it was evening. Tejpal was very tired and thirsty and stopped near a late (this lake is supposed to have been in the present day location of Mansarovar, near the temple premises). The bitch that was following them jumped into the lake to quench its thirst and when the bitch came out it had turned into a dog.

A Painting in the temple premises depicting the entire myth
Tejpal saw this and was surprised and to check this once again he sent his mare in the water first and soon it came out as a horse. Tejpal then took off her clothes and jumped into the lake and when she came out all signs of being female had disappeared and he had got a moustache! Tejpal was truly a man now!

Tejpal spent the night there and next day morning left the place after he had made a mark on a tree (now known as the famous Varakhdi Tree in the temple premises, as seen in the temple premises). The King of Patan, was well informed about the blessings of Ma Bhauraji but did have doubts if his son-in-law had actually turned into a man. It is said that Bahucharaji appeared in his dream and confirmed the same.

Later, along with his wife and in-laws, Tejpal, went to the place where he had made a mark on the Varakhdi tree, and is supposed to have constructed a temple and is supposed to have installed an idol in the honour of Bahucharaji. This Varakhdi tree today is a major place of reverence in the temple premises.

Needless to say that, this legend goes on to add credence to the theory of Bahucharaji’s association with those who lack masculinity. She is thus referred to as “purushattan denari”, giver of masculinity, in local hymns and bhajans.

Next time we will see references of eunuch's in epics and thier associations with Bahucharaji - a classic case of a common assiciation with myths that are well known.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Third Sex - Part 1

Bahucharaji Mataji at Bahucharaji is one of the most sacred and famous Shaktipeeths in Gujarat. Bahucharaji or Becharaji as its better known is located in Bahucharaji taluka of Mehsana district in North Gujarat.

Goddess Bahucharaji is considered to be the primal deity of the Eunuch community of India. It is said that eunuchs from both the Hindu and Muslim communities attend the fairs and functions when held and some of the ceremonies and rituals of their communities are held at Bahucharaji.

Myths Associated with the Goddess
According to one of the folklores, Bahuchara was given in marriage to a prince who never spent time with her. Instead, he would go to the jungle every night on his white horse.

One night Bahuchara decided to follow her husband and find out why he never came to her. To keep up with his riding pace, she took a rooster and followed her husband into the jungle. There she discovered that her husband would change into a women’s dress and spent the whole night in the jungle behaving like a woman.
Bahuchara confronted him by asking him that if he was not interested in women then why did he marry her? To this the prince begged her forgiveness and said his parents had forced him into marriage so that he could father children.

Bahuchara declared that she would forgive him if he and like him worshipped her as a goddess, dressed as a woman. From that day onwards all such people worshipped Bahucharaji to seek redemption from this biological anomaly in the next lives.

In yet another folklore Bahucharaji was a daughter of one Bapal Detha of the Charan community. She and her sister were on journey with a caravan when a marauder named Bapiya attacked their caravan. It was common practice in the Charan’s that if overpowered by their enemies, not to surrender but to kill themselves. Shedding the blood of a Charan was considered a heinous sin. When Bapiya attacked the caravan, Bahuchara and her sister killed themselves by cutting off their breasts. Legend says that Bapiya was cursed and became impotent. The curse was lifted only when he worshiped Bahuchara Mata by dressing and acting like woman.

All these folklores go on to bring out the significance of the deity to the community of eunuchs or the transgendered in India. The significance to the community is such that even the Muslim eunuchs carry a certain interreligious respect for the deity and participate in the celebrations and certain functions held at Bahucharaji.

In Gujarat, the eunuchs are referred to as ‘pavaiya’s’ (a decent word) instead of the derogatory ‘hijda’ in the local language as is prevalent all over the country. They are also colloquially referred to as ‘masi’ which also stands for a maternal aunt.
They are highly respected in and around the town of Becharaji, and blessings are sought of them for the well-being and the welfare of people. Their blessings are supposed to be very beneficial, but then so are their curses, if one antagonises them.                       

During my visit to the town, after recounting the significance of the goddess to their community, Saroja Masi (in the pic) handed over to us a blessed coin which was supposed to be very auspicious. They however make a living out of the money that they get by blessing people for getting their wishes fulfilled.
It is said that since they have not received fulfilment of their primary urge of being of one gender, they have been empowered by the gods to grant wishes to the people of clear gender. They are blessed in a sense. However contradictory this sounds, this is a very important part of the belief system, and the eunuchs are always found singing and dancing at important events in Gujarat like that of marriages and most important at the birth of children and this is considered auspicious. The Gujarati’s do not shy away from seeking their blessings as shown above, rather they have a very strong faith in their blessings.

Before we move on to the other comparative aspects of this subject, mythical references of such instances of third sex in our mythology, I will recount one more very important myth related to Bahucharaji, in the next article in this series of “The Third Sex”. Keep reading.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Arjuna's Dilemma

On this Janamashtami, Lord Krishna’s birthday, I would like to clear some dark clouds shrouding the name of Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna’s role in Mahabharata has been seen by many as that of a conspiring opportunist who takes advantage of situations and even goes against the rules, especially during the final war of Kurukshetra. In short, many have compared him to the modern-day politician. I will discuss one such act of his which has been criticised by many an intellectual.

Before the war of Kurukshetra began, Arjuna did not want to fight citing some quite obvious reasons of killing so many innocent people for a mere piece of land, of which some had nothing to do with it. He wanted to avoid the mass-killing. The Nobel laureate Mr. Amartya Sen in his Theory of Consequentialism propounds that one must weigh the consequences of every action that one takes and he goes on to say that by coaxing Arjuna to fight, Lord Krishna instilled in him what Mr. Sen refers as ‘consequence-independent judgments’. He goes on to ask if this was this fair on the part of Lord Krishna.

At the onset I am not sure Arjun’s reluctance to fight had anything to do with the Theory of Consequentialism. His reluctance to fight was due to state of dejection, coexisting with a predominance of tamas (meaning lethargy and darkness), and this is considered to be detrimental to ones spiritual and psychological well-being. Instead of considering this as a reaction in the field of morality, one needs to consider this refusal to fight as a psychological reaction on Arjuna's part, which Lord Krishna had to cure through the process of counselling.

In order to be able to make the right moral decision, one must have the right psychological balance first. All this, needless to say, was consequential calculation on the part of Lord Krishna. While Arjuna was confusing compassion with cowardice, the dialogue between the two (better known as Bhagvada Gita) was to make him recognise the same. Lord Krishna was against weakness and cowardice and not love for ones fellowmen. Apart from Arjuna's need to go back to the required state of his mind, from where he could grow psychologically, ethically and spiritually, it seems that once he had come to the battlefield with his responsibility to give leadership to a vast army as a General, it may be quite questionable whether he could relinquish his commitment all of a sudden, at the very last moment. Lord Krishna wanted him to fight for the establishment of justice. When maintenance of justice was the principle involved, it was imperative on a kshatriya (the warrior) to resort to appropriate means, including taking up of arms.  To borrow Mr. Sen’s term again, was this (i.e. establishment of justice) consequence any less?

Let me provoke with a question which one might relate to better. Would taking up arms by our Government against a huge (or rather ever-increasing) group of terrorists be seen as spilling of blood, even when we know that some of them have been our brothers till some time back? Would we have said the same thing about General Sam Maneckshaw if he had declined to fight the Pakistanis just before the battle stating he did not want to spill the blood of his own brothers? Then why this double standards when it comes to judging mythical heroes?

Kurukshetra was no ordinary war for a mere piece of land. It was a war for the establishment of justice. All norms of civilised behaviour had been broken, all diplomatic efforts had been explored and every possible effort to avoid the war had been resorted to. The war itself was a consequence of immense greed and selfishness and a series of misdeeds towards mankind in general. The war was the last option and there was no going back to the discussion table (as per our corporate jargon). The only choice one had was to have a just war then or an evil war later. With so much at stake, was it not right on Lord Krishna’s part to instil in Arjuna a sense of duty that dictated that there must not be any slackness in the actions performed in anticipation of the results?

You tell me!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fairy Tales

All of us have grown up on a staple diet of bed-time or rather any-time fairy tales. Be they ‘Snow-white and the seven dwarfs’, or ‘Cinderella’, or ‘Rapunzel’ or Panchatantra and a host of local and vernacular ‘pari-katha’, tales have been told since time immemorial. Every child has lapped it up and has never had enough of it.
Bollywood star Mr. Hrithik Roshan is supposed to have said that fairy tales are the poison of our world since they do not speak of real life where there is no happy ending! If this is not blasphemous, it sure is ridiculous, to say the least.
Can you imagine a childhood without such tales? Such tales help children create a world of their own where they can take plunges in chocolate lakes, slide down the valleys and fight the evil gnomes and smile at the sun and the moon! The flowers speak to them, good spirits bail them out in trouble and flying horses and magic carpets take them to different countries. Is this poison? Ask any child psychologist and you will be told that these tales help children in “liberating the imagination of children”. It helps them grow up to healthy adults whose childhood memories enable them to fight evil and wrongs of the society and are not ‘already-lost’ to the vagaries of the real world. It helps children to triumph over their personal and cultural anxieties and introduces hem to a world that they might not get to see.
Life is not a bed of roses, but to tell them that life is not all that good because all things come to an end is such a sadistic approach to life and that too a budding life at that. Childhood is a time for fun, exploration and vivid imagination. Let the colours bloom and let then look forward to the rainbow, why paint it all black?
I haven’t quite got over the silly remark made by the Bollywood hero, but if fairy tales are a poison since there is no happy ending, how come every movie of his has happy endings? If fairy tales are a poison, it would be good to remind Mr. Roshan, that Krrish (probably his most successful movies amongst the few ones he has) was nothing but fairy tale character.

So children and adults, do not take Mr. Roshan’s verbal diarrhea so seriously. Go on and read more of such tales, after all many a Bollywood movie is based on fairy tales.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Friendship Day

Last Sunday was Friendship Day and all day long I kept receiving messages on the essence of Friendship form many of my friends. The stores all around my place were selling friendship-bands, strings, rings – what have you? All this made me wonder, just what is a friend?

Aristotle has said that a friend is a single soul in two bodies. Where do we find such soul-mates these days? Were there earlier? All of us have grown up on the legends of Krishna-Sudama, so I will not repeat it. But what about other famous friends? We have read about the friendship of Duryodhan and Karna in Mahabharat. Karna, despite the knowledge of the Pandava’s being his younger brothers, does not desert his friend Duryodhan when he needed his help the most. A friend in need they say is a friend indeed. But could this not be seen as Karna’s indebtedness to Druyodhan’s favour done to him when the world was questioning his royalty?

What about another famous pair from Mahabharata – Krishna and Arjun? Weren’t they friends too? Krishna in Mahabharata portrays all the qualities that we ought to look for in a friend. According to George Herbert, “the best mirror is an old friend” and Krishna was an apt mirror to Arjun. Krishna was the one who showed Arjun who he was and what he ought to do, especially during his time of dilemma, a time when many of us look for friends. The Gita delivered by Krishna was profound knowledge to know oneself, and that is why even today, studying Gita is considered to be swadhyaya – ‘study of thy self’.

Finally a small Greek legend that epitomizes the concept of friendship. Damon and Pythias were two good friends and both were the followers of the famous philosopher Pythagoras. At one point of time, Pythias was accused of plotting against Dionysius I. Pythias was sentenced to death as a punishment for plotting against Dionysius. Pythias requested to visit his home before he was put to death, but Dionysius did not accept this request as he was sure Pythias would never return. Pythias suggested that he hold Damon in his place till he returned. The friendship was well known, so Dionysius accepted the request, but went on to suggest that if Pythias did not return within the stipulated time, then Damon would be executed in his place. Both agreed. To cut the story short, till the due date, Pythias did not return and as promised Damon was readied to be executed. As the executioner was about to execute Damon, Pythias turned up just at the nick of time. He then went on to explain that on his way back home, his ship had been attacked by the pirates and how he was thrown overboard and how he had to swim back to reach just on time to save his friend. Dionysius who heard it all was moved by the friendship and released both and even employed then as counsels in his court.

This legend has inspired many a modern version of remakes and adaptations which have been viewed over and over again as an example of friendship, just as we have modern adaptations of Krishna-Sudama. Today, friendships do not have such altruistic flavours, but, so what; there is no harm in reliving the old legends and myths with such glorious examples.

Here’s wishing all my readers a Happy Friendship Day, albeit belated!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Devi Annapurna

This myth is in continuation to the game of dice being played by Shiva and Parvati. After Shiva was upset for losing everything to Parvati in betting during the game of dice, he was upset and left for the forests. Lord Vishnu intervened and made him agree to play the game again, wherein he won all that he had lost. Parvati got angry and accused him of cheating, which led to a verbal altercation. Lord Vishnu then appeared and reasoned out with both, that it was his wish that came out once the dice were thrown. It was all an illusion created by him which led to the delusion! We will take the myth from here.

The altercation between Shiva and Parvati, soon became a philosophical debate. At one point, Shiva reacted that everything in the world was maya, illusion, there was nothing in real. What you see exists like a mirage, not a reality. He goes on to say that everything including food is an illusion. Parvati is Mother Nature herself and the mother of all, felt insulted. She did not agree with this aspect of Shiva’s philosophy and to prove her point decided to leave and left in anger.

Parvati’s leaving created a chaos in the world. Life came to a standstill and there was no growth and generation. Man, animals all started perishing for want of food. Even the sages felt that salvation could not be achieved, if the body was not nourished. Seeing so much of sadness and anguish, Parvati was moved to tears. She could not see her children suffering. So she appeared in Kashi, Benaras (present day Varanasi), and opened a kitchen from where she started serving food to one and all.

On hearing this, Shiva ran to Parvati with his begging bowl and told her that he was wrong. Food was not an illusion and it was the only reality, if there was one. Parvati smiled and fed Shiva with her own hands. This form of Parvati came to be worshipped as Annapurna (anna means grains and food, purna meaning completeness) Devi.

In one of temples in Varanasi, it is said that the offerings is first fed to the devotees and the goddess is offered bhog or prasad only after all the devotees have been fed – this is in continuation with the underlying message that the goddess Annapurna feeds her children first.

In Gujarat, she is worshipped in Unjha as Umiya Mata. In one of the temples of Annapurna Devi in Cherukunnam, Kerala, every devotee is served food in the temple. As part of the practice, a small food packet is hung in one of the branches of a tree. This is to cater to the thieves who move around at night, even they should not go without food, after all, they too are children of the Goddess, slightly wayward, though! Close to Chikmagalur, Karnataka, in the temple of Annapurneshwari Devi (as she is known locally), all the devotees visiting the temple are provided breakfast, lunch and dinner and even shelter at night. In Bengal, Annapurna Devi has been eulogized in the poem Ananda Mangal, written by Bharatchandra Ray.

Annapurna Devi is worshipped across India. Food is critical to survive and without food, no amount of philosophy or debate or higher thinking can mean much, if the body does not receive nourishment. This myth elucidates this very basic aspect of life. Probably that is why in our religion, we do not observe a complete fast. Even during fasts, some nourishment is provided to the body in the form of milk, milk products, fruits, etc. to sustain and carry on with your faith and belief system. The body cannot and should not be deprived of the basic nourishment that it needs. The simple myth carries a very important message.