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

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

'Tale-less' Tales - 1

Note: 'Tale-less-ness' is the literal translation of the Malayalam word ‘kathayillaayma’. The latter is a rather subtle word and indicates a total freedom from concerns about moral, intent, meaning…. I believe this quality to be the hallmark of a truly great story. The Mahabharata is of course, the ultimate, Cosmic-level example of kathayillayma but smaller examples abound, scattered all over the vast corpus of our Puranic lore.

A recent exploration of ‘Puranakathamalika’ , a massive compilation of Puranic stories by the late Mali has been greatly illuminating. Here are some samples... and btw, I think someone ought to bring out an English translation of at least a subset of this tome.



A Brahmin and his young family were traveling along a jungle path in the Pandya kingdom. It was a hot day. The Brahmin told his wife and child to rest under a tree and went to fetch water.

Meanwhile, a Hunter nearby shot an arrow at a flying bird. The arrow missed the mark and briefly got caught in some foliage. A gust of wind caused it to fall and it fell bang on the neck of the Brahmin’s wife. Returning with water, the Brahmin was shattered to see his wife lifeless, her throat slit by the arrow. And the unsuspecting hunter presently made an entry, weapons and all. In a tearing rage, the Brahmin caught the hunter and dragged him to the court of king Kulottunga Pandya, with the Hunter protesting his innocence all along.

The king was puzzled. He felt sad for the Brahmin but the Hunter's words rang true as well. He prayed to his tutelary deity Sundareswara (Siva) for guidance. Presently, he heard an inner voice: “O King! Go out in disguise tonight and mingle with the guests at the first wedding celebration that you see!”

The king did as he was told. At the wedding venue, he spotted some shadowy, shady-looking guys lurking in a dark corner. They were talking in hushed voices. The king stealthily approached and listened:

Shady 1 : “You, get going! Grab the groom. The Master waits"

Shady 2: “ Hello, I know my job. Just wait for the ceremony to get over!”

Shady 3: “And then?”

Shady 2: “See that cow tethered there? I will cut that rope and make her rush madly, scattering the guests..”

Shady 1: And?

Shady 2: "The animal will go straight for the groom and gore him. Neat, isn’t it?"

Shady 4 (he had been silent till then): "Not a bad idea. But not as neat as what I managed yesterday!"

Shady 2: "Oh, really?! And what is the big thing you did?"

Shady 4: "The Time had come for a Brahmin’s Wife. I simply deflected a misdirected arrow from a hunter straight down and cut her throat!"

Shady 2: "Hmm, smart work, Elder!.... Hey, the ceremony has begun!"

The eavesdropping king had figured out the shady characters were actually agents of Yama, the God of Death. But just to be sure, he waited and watched.

Indeed, the ceremony got over, the cow charged and the bridegroom lay dead in a pool of blood!

At the next day, the King revealed what he had seen the previous night to his courtiers. The innocent Hunter was acquitted and sent away with some gifts. The bereaved Brahmin received a great amount of gold.



Durvasa is a sage known for his short temper and a propensity to hand out curses.

Once, he felt he didn’t have sufficient clarity on Dharma (loosely translated as Virtue; but it is more of the Cosmic Order of Things). He performed very rigorous Tapas to earn an audience with Dharma in person.

The austerities went on for a long time, but unsuccessfully. Durvasa’s frustration became anger and was just beginning to explode into a rage when Dharma appeared.

“O Sage, kindly control your anger. It can harm me greatly. And it might even harm you!” Dharma pleaded.

Durvasa wasn’t impressed. But asked nevertheless:

“Well Dharma, I see a group of divinities with you. Let me know them!”

Dharma was somewhat relieved. He introduced his retinue: “This is Ahimsa, that is Chastity, meet Compassion, Patience, ….”

Having gotten to know Dharma and his entourage fully, Durvasa spoke again: “Look here, Dharma, you have been unfair to me. Over the years, I performed severe penances but somehow, you never seemed to care enough. Even today, you took too long. At least, you did well to reach me before I totally lost it. So, I shall give you only one Curse!”

Dharma: “if you curse injures me, the whole world will be affected!"

Durvasa: "I know, I know. But you shall have two curses, one for getting me angry and one for arguing with me!"

Dharma: "I didn't argue with you. Instead I beg of you, please don’t curse me!"

Durvasa: "Make it three curses!"

Dharma: "Sir, is there any request whatever that I can make?"

Durvasa: "Yes, I shall allow you one request."

Dharma: "Please don’t condemn me to an Earthly life as either a King, a Servant Maid’s Son or a Cremation Yard hand!"

Durvasa: "I allowed you one request and you made three! … Enough of bargaining, here are my three curses. May you be reborn as a King, a servant maid’s son and a cremationn yard hand! "

And sure enough, Dharma had to incarnate as a King (Yudhishthira), a servant’s son (Vidura) and a chandala (Harishchandra).



Vitahavya was a warlike Kshatriya king. He had many mighty and brave sons.

Vitahavya and his sons attacked and looted the prosperous kingdom of Kashi. They also put Haryaswa, the king of Kashi, to death.

Sudeva, Haryaswa’s son and Divodasa, his brave grandson, rebuilt Kashi but they too couldn’t hold out when Vitahavya’s sons made repeated invasions. Kashi lay in ruins.

Driven to exile, the desperate Divodasa performed a special sacrifice for a valiant son. He soon begat a bright and energetic boy whom he named Pratardana.

Pratardana slowly rebuilt Kashi and organized a powerful army. He boldly took the initiative and attacked Vitahavya’s citadel itself. War raged - and one by one, all of Vitahavya’s sons fell, all despatched by Pratardana's sword.

Utterly beaten and shattered by the loss of his sons, Vitahavya fled and sought refuge in the hermitage of the Rishi Bhrigu. Vengeful Pratardana, who had sworn to kill Vitahavya, followed him there.

Bhrigu received the victorious king with courtesy. Pratardana said: “Sir, a sinner, who did great damage to my country and family, is hiding here. I need to punish him!”

Bhrigu: "Pratardana, this hermitage is a peaceful place where there can be no killing, no war. Only Brahmins, I repeat, only Brahmins live here!"

Pratardana knew that Bhrigu was one of the very few Masters who had the spiritual authority to ‘promote’ a Kshatriya to Brahmin-hood. So, he figured out that the hapless Vitahavya had been converted to a Brahmin and was now beyond his reach – for, although Kshatriyas could attack and kill each other, the scriptures strictly forbade a Kshatriya from killing a Brahmin.

He spoke: “I have killed all of Vitahavya’s sons. And I managed to make him give up even his caste in fear and that is a victory as well. So I shall consider Justice as having taken its course, and yes, my revenge as complete. Grant me leave!”


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