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?