'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Curious Case of Korah and Cowlick

I recently met an up and coming artist by name Kora Koulik. Whatever that name indicates (or does not indicate), it belongs to a solid, confirmed Keralan - male.

I don't know Mr. Koulik very well yet but ventured to ask him about his unusual name. He must have heard such questions many many times, yet answered sportingly: "Kora is an old-fashioned Malayali Christian name of Jewish origin (the way I spell it is atypical - 'Korah' is standard) and 'Koulik' was freshly coined by my dad who wanted a community-ethnicity-nationality neutral byname for me".

I looked up 'Korah' in Britannica and it said: "Korah is the name associated with at least two Biblical villains.". Needless to say, I had to explore more.

Here is what Wiki has to say on the Korahs: one was a descendent of Esau and fought against Israel, presumably without much success. But his career was a decidedly quiet one - compared to that of his namesake who led a daring revolt against Moses.

"Korah rebelled against Moses, and was punished for his rebellion when God sent fire from heaven that consumed him and 249 of his fellow conspirators. His two Reubenite accomplices, Dathan and Abiram, also perished when God caused the ground to split open beneath their feet and swallow them up with their families and everything they owned. Furthermore, the Israelites who did not like what had happened to Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (and their families) objected to Moses, and God then commanded Moses to depart from the multitude. God then smote 14,700 men with plague, as punishment for objecting to Korah's destruction."

If that really was something, what followed was a total knock-out:

Korah incited all the people against Moses, arguing that it was impossible to endure the laws instituted by the latter. He told them the following parable: "A widow, the mother of two young daughters, had a field. When she came to plow it, Moses told her not to plow it with an ox and an ass together (Deut. xxii. 10); when she came to sow it, Moses told her not to sow it with mingled seeds (Lev. xix. 19). At the time of harvest she had to leave unreaped the parts of the field prescribed by the Law, while from the harvested grain she had to give the priest the share due to him. The woman sold the field and with the proceeds bought two sheep. But the first-born of these she was obliged to give to Aaron the priest; and at the time of shearing he required the first of the fleece also (Deut. xviii. 4). The widow said: 'I can not bear this man's demands any longer. It will be better for me to slaughter the sheep and eat them.' But Aaron came for the shoulder, the two cheeks, and the maw (ib. verse 3). The widow then vehemently cried out: 'If thou persistest in thy demand, I declare them devoted to the Lord.' Aaron replied: 'In that case the whole belongs to me' (Num. xviii. 14), whereupon he took away the meat, leaving the widow and her two daughters wholly unprovided for" (Num. R. xviii. 2-3; Tan., Ḳoraḥ, 4-6).


Yahweh gave Korah the double punishment of being burned and buried alive.... Rabbah bar bar Ḥana narrates that while he was traveling in the desert, an Arab showed him the place of Korah's entombment. There was at the spot a slit in the ground into which he introduced some wool soaked in water. The wool became parched. On placing his ear to the slit, he heard voices cry: "Moses and his Torah are true; and we are liars"

Korah's tragedy - his audacious and brilliantly articulated attack on high and mighty priest Aaron and stern lawgiver Moses and the punishment he receives for his transgression - is quite an equal to what befell Prometheus for disobeying Zeus (and obviously, hugely more poignant than the fate of Mallu Mahabali for daring to challenge Indra). Note: Yahweh is more humane than Zeus in that he is moved by the pious Hannah's prayers to grant Korah a (indefinitely deferred?) 'pardon'.

Obviously, it is a mystery why Syrian Christians of Kerala have continued to give the name Korah to their sons (I myself have known a couple before meeting Koulik). A contemporary parallel is that the name of Esau (another solid, straightforward, Old Testament character cheated out of his inheritance by his smarter brother Jacob - a very unfair Yahweh favors the latter) is popular among Telugu Christians (as "Yesobu").

Note: The Esau-Jacob story has parallels to Karna-Arjuna. In both, the elder (and in many ways better) brother is ruined by 'higher' powers. Moreover, Jacob and Arjuna are both heroes who get to fight duels with God himself in disguise. Therein is also a difference: Arjuna needs a sound thrashing to identify his superior adversory; Jacob has the better of his night-long wrestling bout and at the end, he refuses to let God get out of his grasp "until you bless me!". Some interpreters have said Jacob fought against only an angel and not God himself but that sounds contrived - angels are only messengers and servants to God, they don't bless people!

The latter half of the artist's name 'Koulik' is pronounced 'cow-lick'. And just like anything else, Wiki has plenty on 'cowlick':

A cowlick is a section of hair that stands straight up or lies at an angle at odds with the style in which the rest of an individual's hair is worn. Cowlicks appear when the growth direction of the hair forms a spiral pattern. The term "cowlick" originates from the domestic bovine's habit of licking its young, which results in a swirling pattern in the hair.

... Many people find cowlicks irritating, as they often conflict with the desired hairstyle. There are several methods of taming an unruly cowlick. For most people, a combination of the right hairstyle, length, product used, and styling technique can overcome the appearance. For people more serious about cowlick management, more drastic measures may be used....

There you are: like Korah, like cowlick - pesky, plucky, die-hard rebels both!

Kora and Koulik would have been in perfectly combed sync had it not been for one serious ... cowlick: The name "Korah" is said to mean (of all things in Yahweh's creation!) "baldness." - he got it on account of the gap or blank he made in Israel by his revolt!

Added on April 16th 2013: I just saw Mr. Koulik at a game of tennis ball cricket and he invited me to join with a very ... intriguing compliment: "You have the physique of a batsman!". And between us, he does not seem to know of this post yet!


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