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

Friday, December 15, 2017

Veda to Bhrantan

An earlier post here on the barber's profession had quoted from a vedic hymn on Agni, the fire god: "Agni eats up forests just as a barber cleans up a beard!". The other day, I saw in the Rigveda: "Ushas, the goddess of dawn, sweeps away darkness just as a barber shaves off unwanted hair".

Back in the 1950s, working well past his 75th birthday, Kerala's great poet Vallathol put together the first ever Malayalam translation of the Rigveda. A copy of this swansong of his - as remarkable a feat of endurance as of scholarship - has just come into my possession.

At a quick glance one observes that some of the most hard-hitting verses in the Rigveda are dedicated to the Aswin twins:

- "O Aswins, moved by the site of your devotee Gotama suffering from thirst, you uprooted and brought a well from far away and tipped it over to bathe him in a bounteous waterfall!"

-"When your mount, the donkey took the form of a she-wolf and approached prince Rijashwa, your devotee, he stole a full hundred sheep from his subjects and slaughtered them to feed her. And when Rijashwa's enraged father Vrishagir smote him with blindness, you restored his eyesight!"

Note: Rijashwa's eagerness to please the wolf is likened to that of a young man's zest to satisfy the cravings of another man's wife - with whom he is having an illicit affair. This is one metaphor even Kalidasa would find hard to beat.

- "When princess Vadhrimati, married to a eunuch, sought your blessings to conceive, you came down in person and sired the noble Hiranyahasta in her" (very Greek, isn't it?)

More on this thread in future posts...

'The Rigged Veda'. That is the name of a chapter in Shashi Tharoor's Great Indian Novel'. I had dismissed that phrase as just another of the empty puns that litter this mostly insufferable novel; but as I have just come to know, the Vedas can be - and indeed have been - seriously rigged by, of all people, their ardent devotees. For example, there is a hymn in the Rigveda dedicated to Agni that has the following straight and punchy interpretation: "O Jataveda (Agni), we shall now press out the Soma juice for you. Have your fill of this potent brew and go burn up our enemies' wealth!"

Here is a bit from an online page that translates the same hymn thus:

"To that Jataveda (one from whom the Vedas are born, the Goddess Durga) we press out the Soma (i.e. Invoke Her ardently); (We invoke that Jataveda) Who consumes by Her Fire of Knowledge (Veda) all the Adversities (within and without) (And frees us from the bondage of the world)"

Note: Durga is not a Vedic deity at all. And also note the additional Vedantic baggage that has been foisted on to the original direct supplication:


A quote:

My biggest disappointment when it comes to India is the education system. It should be far better. I don't want to be critical, but I do want to create higher expectations about it. - Bill Gates

Captain told me the other day: "I was at the Calicut beach and saw a group of lower primary kids being shepherded around the park there by a couple of lady teachers. In the park is a vast and shallow concrete basin with a little water and a dead fountain. A little boy asked a Miss, pointing at the basin: "Is this water drinkable, or is it salty?"

Miss: " This water has to be salty.... they must be pumping it in from the sea!"

Boy: "But then Miss, this water is so still. If it were sea water, should it not go up and down in big waves?"

At this point Captain pauses and asks me. "What would the Miss have said?"

Self: "No idea. But nice question!" Captain: "Whatever, the Miss silently gave the boy a sharp slap and he asked no more questions"


All over India, one finds women named after rivers and the Earth. Men named after mountains or the ocean or the sky are also legion. The other day, I made the acquaintance of a 3 month old girl who has been named 'Vasudhara'; the first and only instance known to me of someone named after a waterfall (Vasudhara falls are beyond Badrinath - a few kilometers past Mana village on the Satopanth trail).


I recently reread an adventure of Naranath Bhrantan, Kerala's crazy master of antiquity. It goes thus:

A certain smart loafer, having heard Bhrantan is great company, asks if he could join him on his wanderings and tags along. They soon come upon a feast being held somewhere. Bhrantan sits down among the guests and is served. His companion follows suit and has his fill as well. "Hey this is cool!" he muses.

They start walking from the feast venue and eventually Bhrantan says: "I am thirsty". "So am I" says his self-appointed friend. They look around and see a metal worker smelting copper. "That will do" says Bhrantan and gathers some molten metal in his cupped palms and drinks it with relish. "You too have it!" he says. Seeing his companion dither, Bhrantan says: "Look here, if you want to live my life, you need not only to eat what I eat but to drink what I drink!"

Some of my colleagues happened to tell me the very next day: "You have lots of generous friends; they give you books, they take you to far off places, they buy you nice gadgets,... why don't you introduce some of them to us, we too could do with some gifts!"

And I heard myself say: "I can happily share my friends with you provided you agree to share my enemies too - I have had several viper-like illwishers. If you can take both sets, it's a deal!"


While on Bhrantan and his admirers, here is another episode:

As part of his ongoing research project, Vimal was exploring the myths surrounding Bhrantan and his siblings, especially, the master craftsman Perunthachan. I went along on his very first field trip last April. The principal objective of that particular trip was to meet Dr. Rajan Chungath, who has spent several years studying - and writing about - folk traditions surrounding Bhrantan and his brothers. We had an appointment at 3 pm but reached Pattambi, Dr. Rajan's hometown by 1. Wondering what to do with the two hours remaining, we thought of Rairanelloor hill, where Bhrantan used to roll up boulders; it was just a few kilometers away so we drove there. Long story short, we had a very hard time trekking to the summit but managed, beating severe dehydration and cramps and the searing heat.

We got to Dr. Chungath's place bang on time. He asks: "You drove down here from Cochin... how did you time your arrival so well?" Vimal says: "We actually arrived here long back. Since we didn't want to disturb you before the appointed time, we decided to take a look at Rairanelloor"

Chungath: "Rairanelloor? What did you do there in this weather?"

Self: "When we reached there, it was just past 1 pm; there was plenty of time, so we just climbed the hill"

Dr. Chungath stares at us in disbelief, then laughs out aloud and says: "You guys are Bhrantan's men, well and truly!"


Ezhattumukham is a scenic spot on the Chalakudy river; the river is broken into several frothing streams by granite hilllocks and they all rejoin a little downstream. On a recent visit there, we spotted this:

The pristine white lumps are diapers, perhaps used, perhaps adult. Many more littered the bank, all spotless. Maybe they were dumped somewhere upstream and the river washed them up here, cleansed.


Thanks to Captain, I recently visited Kozhikode, a city where I spent my first six years. Waves breaking on the Calicut beach and the pier are powerful visual memories from my early childhood. The latter has since turned into what looks like a row of black storks.


A brief exchange I had with a social media friend:

Self: This idea of the a bullet train from Amdavad to Bombay is idiotic. We should be trying to develop the entire network... And what is the goddam point in going from Bombay to Amdavad in 3 hours when to go from Bombay to Blore or Chennai or Hyderabad - all bigger cities than Amdavad - by train will continue to take so many hours more than even intercity buses. Bullet train it seems!

Friend: USA has 2000 active airports. India too needs to get them and get all kinds of planes, big, small, tiny... and all should fly. About time we stopped caring about our trains. Indian Railways is just a job generator and vote bank creator - a means to win elections by doling out government jobs and filling SC/ST quotas!


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