Arvind Mandrekar/Luis M Fernandes
Editor(s): Anant Pai
Publisher: India Book House
ISBN/UPC (if available): 817508 et.al
1. Tales of Shiva
Shiva is the third deity in the Hindu triad. He ought to be the most terrible one because he presides over destruction, whereas Brahma and Vishnu are associated with creation and preservation respectively. Yet Shiva is as much loved by mortals as Vishnu is. He inspires fear in the hearts of the wicked; love and affection in the hearts of the pious.
Hindu mythology sometimes attributes all the three acts of creation, preservation and destruction to Shiva. In the Maheshamurti at Elephanta, all these aspects are combined.
The story of Shiva appearing as a fisherman is told in the Tamil classic, the Tiruvachagam.
The story of Markandeya attaining immortality by the grace of Lord Shiva is taken from the Skanda Purana.
Ghototkacha was one of the finest characters in the Mahabharata-affectionate and kind even though he was a Rakshasa. Perhaps that was because he was only half a Rakshasa, being the son of Bheema and the Rakshasi Hidimbaa. From his mother he learnt all the arts of the Rakshasas. From his father he inherited an affectionate and chivalrous temperament. He was an invaluable ally to the Pandavas in times of trouble-he appeared before them whenever they thought of him.
The theme of Vatsala’s wedding, a very popular one in South India, is much exploited in ballads and stories. It was Ghatotkacha, who with his Rakshasa hordes and their magical powers, made the wedding of Abhimanyu and Vatsala possible. This story is not found in the Mahabharata or in Sanskrit literature. It seems to have evolved at a much later date, as a legend, in Telugu and Kannada. The exponents of the art of Harikatha count this story as the most popular one in their repertoire and it has been handed down by word of mouth for generations. Our Amar Chitra Katha is derived partly from the Mahabharata and partly from the legend.
3. TALES OF VISHNU
Vishnu, the Preserver, is the second of the Hindu triad. Whenever evil is on the ascendant, Vishnu descends on earth to uphold righteousness and to destroy evil.
The tales of these descents or avatars told in various puranas have contributed in no small measure to make Vishnu the most popular of Hindu deities. His worshippers are called Vaishnavas. Of the eighteen major puranas six are known as the Vaishnava Puranas as they eulogise Vishnu and depict him as the Supreme Self.
Vishnu is more a love-inspiring than a fear-inspiring deity. The Bhagavata Purana, from which these tales are adapted, abounds in narratives of the benevolent acts of Vishnu. Although he is kind and sympathetic, he is never taken in by the apparent devotion of evil men. Even when they succeed in wresting favours from other gods, Vishnu manoeuvres to bring about their destruction without falsifying the boons given to them by the gods.
Drona, the valiant archer, is second only to Bheeshma among the respected elders of the Mahabharata. Yet he remains an outsider. He added a streak of personal vendetta to that tale of family feud.
Drona had studied together with Drupada, who later become king of Panchala, in the ashram of Agnivesha.
It seems very cruel on his part to have demanded the thumb of Ekalavya, the great archer, but her again his won motives left him little choice but to pamper Arjuna.
India has always prided in calling herself the land of the Rishis (Rishi Bhoomi). Indians proudly claim as theirs the heritage of the Rishis. And Vishwamitra stands out as a distinct example of the achievements of the Rishis.
Vishwamitra was a Kshatriya king who perceived the immortal realms beyond the kingdom of the earth. His confrontation with the Rishi, Vasishtha, convinced him of the superiority of the spiritual power over material strength and he set out to make it his.
Even when he was given the status of Rajarshi, he was not content because the world meant a Rishi, who was born a Kshatriya and was considered inferior to a Brahmarshi-a Brahman who had become a Rishi.
The tortuous paths that Vishwamitra had to tread, to gain mastery over the passions to reach spiritual heights, are described in detail to give us a glimpse of the glory of the Rashes. His story is inspiring, particularly to us who have chosen to name our country after Bharata, the grandson of Vishwamitra.
6. Krishna and Shishupala
Jaya and Vijaya, the guards at Vishnu’s abode, were vain and rude and were cursed to be born thrice in the world of mortals. The contrite guards were subsequently permitted one concession: they would be killed in each of their separate births by one of the incarnations of Vishnu.
Thus, first they were born as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu, next as Ravana and Kumbhakarna and last as Shishupala and Dantavaktra.
While the first two pairs were leading characters in their times, Shishupala remains a minor character in the Mahabharata and Dantavaktra, almost a nonentity. Shishupala for all his show of valour remains a man of straw. In fact his only distinction was that he died at the hands of Krishna. He is also remembered as the jilted suitor of Rukmini.
Draupadi sprang full grown from the fire but no other heroine in Hindu mythology was as earthy as she.
Her birth, sought by King Drupada, presaged a purpose. Her steely will, which often gleams through her helpless married life, was shaped by the power and plenty that she knew as the beloved daughter of the wealthy king of Panchala. But for this, her tale would have been as passive as that of any other woman of that era, which was less than kind to women. Even as she lived as a woman typical of her times, her fiery personality lent a glow to everything that she did.
Draupadi was the total woman; complex and yet feminine.
The tenth book of the Bhagavata Purana, gives in detail the life story of Lord Krishna-his birth, early childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The many incidents narrated are full of adventure and romance and at the same time inspire, enlighten and guide human beings whose aim is to ennoble their lives and attain God.
The story of Sudama (a great devotees and childhood fried of Lord Krishna), which has retained its popularity with children down the ages, occurs in the same tenth book. The love of Krishna for Sudama forms the theme of many a devotional song and this story has been a source of sustenance of faith to the poor in the land.
Sudama has understood the principle of non-attachment. He lives in dire poverty, and yet is happy. His wife too is content to do the same till some children are born to them. How Sudama’s wife coaxes him to go and see Krishna, his prosperous and generous childhood friend, and what happens when Sudama does is retold in pictures in the following pages.
In those ancient days, when the king was next to God in power and authority, a young prince, Devavrata, declined a kingdom. He reinforced his refusal by a vow of celibacy so that no offspring of his could come forth to claim the throne. He took this difficult decision to please his father, Shantanu, and was hailed by the gods as Bheeshma or the terrific one.
It is ironical that Bheeshma, who declined to be a king, wielded royal powers for a longer period than any other king of that dynasty. He was the regent for his step-brothers and for his nephews. In fact, he ruled over the land till Duryodhana came of age. Yet all this was not of his seeking. He had to rule in spite of his renunciation. A partiality to the throne which he had guarded all his life, was perhaps responsible for his siding with Duryodhana against the Pandavas in the Mahabharata war. Bheeshma commanded the Kaurava army when the war started. As a soldier he was invincible.
Mythology is not all fact, we know, but yet, in its vast poetic exaggerations, one can always trace an outline of truth. The presence of the Rajasthan desert, in close proximity to the indo-Gangetic plain makes it plausible that perhaps there was a time when there was no Ganga in India.
It is not difficult then to visualize what agonies the people there must have suffered without the blessed water. If that had been so, then Bhagiratha’s task of bringing Ganga to earth was indeed a colossal one, and one that merits all that has been sung and said about it in the epics.
11. INDRA AND SHACHI
In the story of Indra and Shachi retold from the Mahabharata, we trace the fluctuating fortunes of Indra in his battle with the evil forces seeking to oust him. We see how the devotion of his wife leaves him unscathed through his tribulations.
Shachi is a figure many women admire and strive to emulate. This story is adapted from the Mahabharata. It is narrated to Yudhishthira before the Mahabharata war to console him for his sufferings.
12. Shiva Parvati
The Puranas are full of legends about the victories of Shiva over the forces of evil. As Rudra or Bhairava, he is the destroyer of evil. As Shankara or Shiva the auspicious- he restores that which is destroyed. He is also the ideal Mahayogi, a great ascetic, engaged in meditation.
According to Puranic legends, Sati, the daughter of Daksha, is his consort. Daksha however, does not hold his ascetic son-in-law in high esteem. Daksha performs a Mahayajna, to which he invites all except Shiva. Sati finds it difficult to bear the insult meted out to her lord. And when Daksha deliberately slights Shiva, unable to bear the humiliation, Sati enters the sacred fire. She is reborn as Parvati, daughter of Himavat.
Kumara Sambhava of Kalidasa, on which this illustrated classic is based, narrates the enduring love of Parvati for Shiva and her efforts at winning over her beloved by penances and austerities. To this day, the abiding love of Parvati for Shiva is the theme of many a folk song in Indian languages.
13. Sati and Shiva
The story of Shiva’s marriage is symbolic of the perfect fusion of the male and the female principles which, according to a Hindu view of life, are the moving powers behind the universe.
Shiva (the male principle), the Supreme Consciousness, will acquire the power to create and destroy the elements only in conjunction with Shakti (the female principle). That was why Vishnu and others were keen to see Shiva married.
The story of Sati brings home to us in simple terms, the truth and beauty of a lofty Vedic concept.
Karttikeya, the commander in chief of the celestial army, is also known as Subrahmanya, Skanda, Guha and Kumara. In the southern states of India, Subrahmanya is a popular deity even today. Among the Tamil-speaking people he is better known as Murukan or Murugan. In the North, he is largely unknown; but he is worshipped in the East, especially in Bengal, where women pray to him for worthy sons. Like Ganesha, he too is a son of Shiva and Parvati, miraculously born. If Ganesha was created by Parvati, Karttikeya was the creation of Shiva, nurtured by Agni, Ganga and Krittikas in turn.
The story of karttikeya is found in the Mahabharata, in the Shiva, Skanda and Brahmanda puranas, and in the Ramayana. Our story is based on the Tamil version of the Skanda-Purana-Samhita.
Abhimanyu, like a shooting star, illuminates the horizon of the Mahabharata epic for a few moments and vanishes in trails of glory. Abhimanyu’s father was the great Arjuna. His mother, Subhadra, was the sister of Lord Krishna. In spire of being overshadowed by such powerful personalities, Abhimanyu had no difficulty in finding his rightful place among the greatest of his time.
We know little of Abhimanyu’s childhood except his lineage. His marriage to Uttara remained in the shadow of Arjuna’s overbearing presence. But in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, he came into his own and proved his mettle. His humility as seen in his obedience to Yudhishthira, his idealism in taking up the fatal assignment and his courage in confronting the enemy-all these proclaim a hero greater than any of the Pandavas.
It took seven of the greatest on the Kaurava side to vanquish the young lion that was Abhimanyu. Youth has seldom scaled such heights in any epic known to mankind.
16. THE CHURNING OF THE OCEAN
The story of how the Devas procured the divine nectar and became immortal after drinking it, is interesting as well as dramatic.
It was the ocean of milk which was churned. The great mountain Mandara was the staff used for churning; the serpent Vasuki was the cord. Lord Vishnu assumed the form of a tortoise and served as a pivot for Mandara, as it was whirled around.
Our version is derived mainly from the Bhagawat Purana and the Mahabharata.
17. Dhruva and Ashtavakra
The story of Dhruva is taken from the Bhagawat Purana. Dhruva was hardly five years old when he observed severe penance to win the favour of Lord Narayana (Vishnu). The Lord was pleased with the faith of the child. He appeared before the child and told him that he would rule the earth for 36,000 years and thereafter occupy a very important place in heaven. Even to this day the Pole star is referred to as Dhruva Nakshatra by tradition-loving Hindus.
The story of Ashtavakra is taken from the Mahabharata. While in exile, the Pandavas visited a number of holy places. When they reached the hermitage of Shvetaketu, Sage Lomasha who was accompanying them told them the story of Ashtavakra, the nephew of Shvetaketu.
Krittivasa wrote a version of the Ramayana in Bengali nearly five hundred years ago. As he was a poet of the people, his story is written in simple language and has metaphors that are easily understood. Our story of Mahiravana has been derived from his Ramayana.
19. Tales of Narada
The divine sage Narada is the most popular figure in Puranic lore. No event of significance takes place in the Puranas that Narada does not have a hand in. He is depicted as a messenger always on the move, visiting the devas, the manavas and the asuras and honoured by all. He is a great devotee of Vishnu.
Although Narada is always referred to with respect in mythology, he is often misunderstood and ridiculed by the common people as a carrier of tales and a mischief maker. However, Narada’s so-called mischief invariably brings about the down fall of the wicked and furthers the cause of the good.
He is credited with the invention of the Veena –the musical instrument – and the authorship of a code of laws, and of Narada Bakti Sutra (aphorisms on devotion).
The three tales include here are based on the Shiva Purana and some popular legends. They tell us how Narada, although a divine sage, at times fell a prey to temptation, and became conceited. Fortunately for Narada, Vishnu was beside him to pull him up every time he succumbed to human weaknesses. Gradually, Narada became free from human failings and attained true equanimity of mind.
20. ASHWINI KUMARS –TALES FROM THE VEDAS
In the Rigveda there are several hymns addressed to the Ashwins who are the divine physicians. Judging from the number of these hymns, the twin deities seem to be next in importance only to Indra, Agni and Soma.
We also learn from the hymns that the twins are inseparable. They are extremely fond of honey and even carry it wherever they go, distributing it to bees and mortals.
The two stories in this Chitra Katha are developed solely from Vedic literature.