Amongst many untold stories of Ramayan, the myth of Mahiravan and Ahiravan is one such story. Untold, as they get added in due course of time, or are specific to a culture while they remain unimportant for many. We will analyse this later, but first the story.
After, Ravan lost his brave son Indrajeet in the battle, he was crestfallen. His mother met him and reminded him of what he had done to his family and how he was wrong but his arrogance was not allowing him to see through the web woven by him. Ravan was not willing to listen to anything and from anybody.
Before leaving, his mother reminded him of one of his sons (some texts refer to him as brother), Mahiravan, who was ruling in the Patala-loka, or the underworld. Mahiravan had initially decided not to be a part of the battle, as he did not agree with the kidnapping of Sita. Mahiravan was the master of occult and was a devotee of Goddess Kali. Ravan managed to convince Mahiravan by telling him that if he could offer Ram and Lakshman as a sacrifice to the Goddess Kali, she would be happy.
When news of Mahiravan’s joining the battle reached the army of Ram, they were worried, especially Vibhishan, Ravan’s brother. Vibhishan knew about Mahiravan’s abilities to change forms due to his mastery in sorcery. He warned all to ensure that Ram and Lakshman were guarded well and appointed Hanuman to ensure that none got in the cottage of Ram and Lakshman. Hanuman created a shield by his tail, around the cottage where the two were resting and ensured that none could break the barricade.
Mahiravan tried many forms but could not pass through. At last, he assumed the form of Vibhishan and approached Hanuman. He asked him to be allowed in, just to ensure that Ram and Lakshman were fine. Hanuman, allowed him to pass without realising that he had just breached the security created by him. As soon as Mahiravan got in the cottage, he cast a spell on both Ram and Lakshman, and took them deep inside the ground. By the time Hanuman and Vibhishan could realise, they were gone. Vibhishan was very worried as he knew what could be the fate of the two. He urged Hanuman to do something.
Vibhishan explained that the two were taken deep inside the ground in the patala-loka and Hanuman should go the same way. The adventures of Hanuman in the patal-loka are interesting, but we will not get into the details of it. It is said that when Hanuman reached the patal-loka, it seemed to be a city by itself, with forts and fortresses and guards at every point. After eliminating all opposition on his way, he met one, who seemed to be quite a match for him. This character is known as Makardwaj. We will discuss Makardwaj in the next part of this article.
On his way to the patala-loka, Hanuman had heard that Mahiravan was going to sacrifice Ram and Lakshman to the Goddess Kali in return for more occult powers. The myth gets interesting here.
Hanuman takes the form of a small bee and approaches the goddess Kali. He asks her, if she wanted the blood of Ram. Kali is supposed to have said that she would rather have the blood of Mahiravan, than that of Ram. She then goes on to suggest a way out, which Hanuman whispers in the ears of Ram. Ram and Lakshman were readied for the sacrifice and at the auspicious time, Mahiravan asks Ram to put his head on the sacrificial altar and ready himself for the sacrifice. Ram said, that he had been a Kshatriya, a warrior, all his life and had never known how to bow in front of anyone, could Mahiravan show him how to bow? Mahiravan was irritated and tried to demonstrate. No sooner had he done that, Hanuman who was hiding behind the idol of Goddess Kali, assumes his form, takes the sacrificial blade and beheads Mahiravan. Thus Ram and Lakshman were saved. He then offered the blood of Mahiravan to the goddess.
Another interesting version adds that killing Mahiravan was not going to be that simple. His life was distributed in five different flames around the temple. If one flame was extinguished, it would come up again; so the flames had to be blown off all together to kill him. To achieve this task, Hanuman took the form of Panch-mukhi, or five-faced. By doing this, he could blow all the flames together, thus killing Mahiravan.
Matters don’t end here. Mahiravan’s wife was pregnant and it is said that when she came to know about the death of her husband, she joined the fight. In the commotion that is unleashed, Hanuman’s kick lands on her stomach and out comes their child, Ahiravan, ready to fight. Ahiravan is full of blood and mucous, and was tough to get hold of and was proving to be quite a tough match. Hanuman manages to throw some mud on him, gets his hand on Ahiravan’s limbs and dashes the child on the ground, killing him instantly.
Hanuman then carries both Ram and Lakshman back to the battle field.
This myth is found mainly in the Ramayans of the East, especially in the Bengali version by Krittibash, the passage better known as ‘Mahirabonerpala’. The involvement of Goddess Kali and the occult practices find a mention in the epic here. Also, Kali plays a positive role here and asks for the blood of Mahiravan. There are many aspects to this myth –
Both Hanuman and Mahiravan seem to have similar powers to change forms as we have seen, but both use it for different reasons. Hanuman’s role of the killer and a blood-thirsty one at that, especially the way the child Ahiravan is killed bears testimony to the tantric angle to this myth. A very different form of Hanuman, which has rarely been seen. Hanuman has always been portrayed in a submissive, but brave and strong disciple of Ram. Such violent form has seldom been portrayed, and this could be region or even audience specific.
The entire myth goes on to highlight the importance of Hanuman. In the entire episode, there has been no role in terms of action from Ram and Lakshman. Very clearly this is a myth which goes on to add heroic credentials to Hanuman.
Many also see this as an aspect of ‘myth-making’ to justify the creation of the Panch-mukhi Hanuman, akin to creating the means, to justify the end. An important aspect of this Panch-mukhi Hanuman is the five faces. The five faces are that of Hanuman himself, and the other four being that of Hyagriva (horse), Varaha and Narasimha, all three being forms of Lord Vishnu and the final being that of Garuda, again a vahana of Vishnu. In this myth, Hanuman is given the importance of Lord Vishnu himself, which makes him at par with his Lord! While this is strange, such comparisons are not unheard of.
Also, keeping with the theme of the Bengali version of the epic, Ram plays a very passive role. A similar underlying theme can be found in the other neighbouring versions, like the Oriya, Assamese, etc. In the actual text, Ram is shown as crestfallen and is even scared at his predicament, when he is about to be sacrificed, a far cry from many other versions of the epic where he is the dynamic hero who gives the war cry.
Many scholars have opined that this has a folktale motif and has blended well in the epic. The changing of forms, sacrifices at the altar of Goddess Kali, etc. are very common folktale motifs in the East. The twist of the ‘sacrificer’ getting sacrificed is also a common folktale element, which highlights that gods don’t support their ardent devotees if they take the wrong path.
All in all, a very interesting myth.
Next time, we will continue this one with reference to Makardhwaj….. Keep reading…