lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A caller tune and a story

I am going through a phase of reading old favourites again. So there I was in the middle of reading Sripada Subramanya Sastry again- his autobiography, called anubahavaaloo jnaapkaloo', reminiscences. I have read the work many times before and Sastry always provides another angle to consider, another thing to ponder, every time I read him.

This time, I stopped at a particular usage. I came across it before, of course, in his books that somebody took on the aspect or avatar of Virabhadra. I always assumed, somewhat correctly, that somebody got hopping mad, blew a fuse and went nuclear and all that.

This time, I actually considered why Sastry used that particular phrase and that took me on a trip of searching memory and books that ended with a delightful coincidence.

See, when creation happened, the three aspects of it, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, were bestowed with the power that would activate them and make them functional, the feminine principle. Mother Goddess completed them and made them what they were.

Well, Siva and Vishnu won a battle over the evil ne'er-do-wells and boasted about this to their better halves. Siva's feminine aspect took exception at not being credited and deserted him. Then after some aeons, gods managed to please Mother Goddess enough that she granted a boon that she would incarnate as a daughter to Daksha, and wed Siva.

Ah well. Siva by that time was an outcast god, tainted with being cursed to carry eternally the fifth skull of Brahma, which he beheaded in an argument. Not just that, he was a nomad, frequented cremation grounds and was generally uncouth. But Daksha duly begat Sati and she was given in marriage to Siva.

Then Daksha planned a major sacrifice, and invited everybody and his wife, omitting only this daughter and her husband. Sati attended the sacrifice nevertheless, was ignored and further had to listen to her husband being belittled.

She felt humiliated, insulted and outraged. She got mad, and got even by immolating herself in the sacrificial fire. Bad move, but still.

As if that wasn't enough to ruin the party, Siva learnt of this, plucked two hairs out of his matted locks and threw them to the ground, creating Virabhadra and Bhradrakali, who destroyed the sacrificial altar, scattered the invitees and beheaded Daksha.

That is the story of Virabhadra, a metaphor for destruction in a fit of temper, rather than just being furious. Sastry used the phrase, becoming avatar of Virabhadra, fittingly. He was describing how he rebelled against his brother's persecution and cut up the brother's favourite coat to shreds.

To digress a bit, I always feel awkward calling doctors on their mobiles. Doctors are busy people, and it feels an intrusion to call them. I prefer to make appointments and see them instead. But my doctor had asked me to call him at a certain time, so I didn't feel too awkward calling him on his mobile this time.

I can't be bothered to download ring tones, my phone has plenty to choose from, thank you very much, so downloading call tunes that will serenade people who call me until I answer is unthinkable. But I do hear songs people choose to play to their callers.

As my doctor took a while to answer, I heard a snatch of a song. It was in Bengali, with the usual dirge-like tune and soulful (that means the singer sounds like he or she will burst into tears soon) rendition. It wasn't Rabindra Sangeet, as far as I could tell. Once the business part of the call was out of the way, I asked my doctor about the tune. Oh, it is from the film, Maru Tirtha Hinglaj, he said. I thanked him and rang off.

I asked the Resident Bengali about it, and he said that it was a film adapted from an eponymous travelogue. It means 'oasis of Hinglaj', he said, it is one of the Shakti Peethas, an obscure one.

Now that made me smile. The Shakti Peethas came into being because of Siva's grief and rage and what happened after Virabhadra, you see?

After the destruction of Daksha's sacrifice, Siva took up the body of Sati, and depending on the version you read, either began a dance of grief and destruction or wandered all over the earth. If you subscribe to the dance version, Vishnu had to intervene to stop the universe coming to an untimely end, and did it by taking up his discus and cutting Sati's body to pieces. If you prefer the walkabout version, Vishnu followed Siva, and shot off pieces of Sati as and when he could with his bow.

Wherever a part of Sati fell, there came to be a Peetha, Tirtha or a place of divine power. Shakti is worshipped in all these places along with Siva. There are fifty-one of them, though Devi Bhagavata lists many more, where only insignificant parts of body fell, perhaps.

Hinglaj is the only Shakti Peetha in Pakistan, and didn't used to be visited much because of its remoteness and the hardship of travel. I remember reading about it a few years ago, now that I did some research.

Isn't it amazing and a wonderful coincidence that Sastry and Virabhadra and a chance question about a caller tune led to my finding out about this?



Blogger anantha said...

Missus Em: Coincidences are wonderful, yes. :)

9:53 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Right you are, young man. :-)

10:01 pm  
Blogger wanderstruck said...

Very nice coincidence indeed. Loved your description of it :-)

2:04 am  
Blogger dipali said...

Hearing this from you when we met and reading the same story- two wonderful experiences:)
I love the way you knitted the entire thing together.

8:34 am  
Blogger gaddeswarup said...

Some nice photographs here:

9:22 am  
Blogger Kshama said...

Intriguing Sati, who rebels her husband to attend an uninvited function. Aggressive, stands by her decision and yet falls into the pyre for his sake. What was she seeking, respect for him or her? Did she immolate to prove a point or was she just egoistic.

11:19 am  
Blogger Rimi said...

Not quite as wonderful as your post, Lali. And a moment of empathy besides, about being reluctant to call busy people on their mobiles during the day.

I'm curious though: what song was it that your doctor has as his caller tune? 'Pother klanti bhule'? Now that is soulful (teehee!).

In other news, I've been trying and trying, but I can't seem to get past my post-block. Oh well.

1:41 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Wanderstruck- Thank you.

Dipali- :-) Well, narration and writing it down are two different things, aren't they? I find that a post idea that I discuss mutates as I write it, always.

gaddeswarup- Look who is gracing my blog! Thanks Swarup garu, the pictures were lovely.

Kshama- I always thought that Sati and Siva were both very touchy people. She went uninvited because it was her father's home, but that consideration vanished when her new loyalty to her husband came in.

Both of them wreck the sacrifice, she pointedly, and Siva permanently. Vengeful people, both.

Rimi- Tell me about it, I always feel bad calling people on their mobiles if I know the land line. Old-fashioned, I guess.

Yes, that was the song, tee hee. Do stop complaining about block, and post, princess.

5:26 pm  
Blogger gaddeswarup said...

Lalita, Sorry for the abrupt appearance. I do see many blogs off and on but do not comment. English is still a foreign language and except for some obvious things, I find it difficult to write in English. Moreover Leila (our Lalita's daughter) is keeping us busy and exhausted.

7:05 am  
Blogger Guruprasad said...

coincidences are fun most of the time.

but the way you spun the story around them makes it even more fun :)

4:19 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Swarup garu- If you feel English is still a foreign language, I am afraid a lot of Indian bloggers should just shut up shop and give up. :-)

My blessings to Lalita's little one. The little girl who sat in my lap for a photo one New Year's Eve party is a mother now. Time, sigh.

Guruprasad- I could state it the the other way, that coincidences aren't always fun, but let it be. There is nothing like re-reading old favourites and letting the mind wander, I tell you, for entertainment.

5:15 am  
Blogger rohit joshi faquir said...

somebody please tell me who wrote the travelouge maru tirath hinglaj.iam looking for it for last tweenty years. I think it was originally written in bangla and later on it was translated in hindi. Please some body tell me where and how to get this book

11:51 pm  

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