Saturday, September 27, 2008


As a child, I was kind of captivated by the stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana. The stories of valour, sacrifice and intrigue left a deep impression on my mind. As I grew older, many of these stories went into a kind of ‘hiding’. When I was standing in front of the panels of Shyam-Rai and Jor-Bangla temples of Bishnupur, depicting the stories of these epics , a few of the stories did come out of the hiding !

Panel on Jor-Bangla Temple, Bishnupur

One of the stories is that of kidnapping of Rama and Lakshmana by Mahiravana. A Tale of valour and grotesque! A Tale of two relatively unknown 'rakshasas', one of them died within hours of birth, but not before he fought hard with Hanuman!

The story goes like this : Ravana is crestfallen after death of Indrajit, his beloved son, one of the greatest warriors of Ramayana. His mother rebukes him for his folly of entering into enmity with Lord Rama. At the end of her tirade, Nikasha reminds Ravana that one of his sons, Mahiravana can be called and sent to fight Rama and his army.

Mahiravana is a great warrior and a king of 'Patala' ( it literally means : below ground level. Was that a region down south of Aryabarta ?) From Krittibasi Ramayana, it is not clear to me if Ravana sired him during a campaign to 'Patala' or he was one of the sons of Mandodari, principal queen of Ravana.

Mahiravana is a great devotee of 'Mahamaya' ( the Mother Goddess) and knew a lot of tricks or magic, apart from being a great warrior. He joins Ravana’s battle against Lord Rama when called and planned to kidnap him and Lakshmana, take them to his kingdom and sacrifice them in front of Mahamaya.

The army of Rama encircles him and Lakshmana in the night and Hanuman stays in the gate to guard the gate to ensure Mahiravana does not trick an entry into this circle. But, he does become successful. He comes repeatedly to the gate of this protective circle dressing up as various family members of Rama. He observes every time Hanuman asks him wait for Biveeshan ( Ravana’s brother who joined Rama , taking side of ‘Virtue’ in a battle between good and evil) to come and approve the visitor. He fools Hanuman by appearing as Biveeshan, goes inside the circle , put Rama and Lakshmana and all the monkeys guarding them asleep and takes them away into ‘Patala’ creating a deep tunnel.

Hanuman, in remorse, goes into the tunnel and learns from the tattle of an elderly woman of the beautiful city Mahiravana rules that Rama and Lakshmana will be sacrificed next day in the temple of Mahamaya. When Mahiravana stoops low in front of the Goddess to demonstrate to Rama how to prostrate in front of the deity, Hanuman beheads him with Her sword .

Hanuman cannot bring back Rama and Lakshmana immediately. Mahiravana’s widow, who is pregnant , regroups the army and puts up a tremendous fight .She gave birth to Ahiravana , a four-headed demon, when Hanuman kicks her in the stomach to subjugate her. Ahiravana gives Hanuman a tough fight too. Slippery with mucus and blood, catching Ahiravana becomes difficult for Hanuman. He throws dust on this infant demon to get a grip on his legs and crashes him to death.

Not a pleasant Tale at all!

Hanuman moves away from the thrashed body of Ahiravana

Here is the scanned copy of the illustration from Krittibasi Ramayana, edition of 1949 AD. The introduction to the 1st edition of this book was written by late Dineshchandra Sen, the famous Bengali historian.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Literally translated, ''Mahishasur' means 'Buffalo Demon'.
Was he really a 'Demon' or a dark-skinned and athletically built King of a non-Aryan kingdom?

Very likely the later. His story is probably 3000 years old, when there used to be a lot of fights between Aryans , who spread their kingdom in India,along the coast of rivers of the Sind area and later along the coast of the Ganges. and non-Aryans , who were in this country from the pre-Aryan days.

Kingdom of Mahishasur worshipped animal totem . Mahishasur was a natural leader and had military skills superior to the satraps of Aryan kingdoms neighbouring his territory. He was a shrewd person who stole a lot of military secrets of the Aryans in his early days by pretending to be a devout of Aryan beliefs.

After each of his victories , he took away wealth, weapons and women of the Aryan satraps , leaving them bitter and furious. But, he was invincible , commanded a deadly army and plundered Aryavarta at his will.Aryans dreaded Mahishasur who would terrify his opponents soldiers by leading his flock wearing a buffalo's mask and holding a dead Aryan's head at the tip of his sword.

Powerfully built , dark and handsome Mahishasur enjoyed the awe he inspired among his soldiers, subjects and women . He was virile , a person with high libido and an ego which grew in size with each of his triumphs . His libido and ego would cause his defeat and death as he aspired to capture the great Queen of the Aryans .In a way, this tragedy was the precursor of that of Ravana.

The great Queen lived and ruled the northern portion of Aryabarta. She was adored for her beauty,valour and insight .... she was literally worshipped by her subjects .She commanded great respect among the satraps of her kingdom because of the strength of her character.

At the early stage of this campaign,Mahishasur scorched through the neighbouring districts of Aryabarta towards north in persuit of his ambition .But the satraps who were directly subordinate of the great Queen's kingdom put great resistance.Her army was aided by those satraps of Aryabarta who were defeated time and again by Mahishasur earlier.Soon, the strength of his team started depleting in face of the stiff resistance he received.Deep inside Aryabarta, his supply line was getting thinner by the day.He himself got tired .A king who thrived on success time and again failed to recognise the negatives staring at his face. He believed he would be able to charm the Queen to come out with him as his consort.He continued in his efforts and sent a messenger to her court with this impossible suggestion that was outrageous to the Aryan community.The great Queen sent a warning to Mahishasur, but, he paid no heed to the Queen's words.

Was he infatuated and therefore unable to realise that he had crossed the limit?

The tragic end of the king who crossed his limit

The Aryan Queen regrouped and led the army herself to vanquish the Mahishasur's army.He tried all his tricks without success. He prayed to his god,wore his lucky mask and charged towards the great Queen to capture and run away with her. She was far too fast for the worn-out Asur .She pierced the breast of Mahishasur with her spear and the half-dead king was captured in no time . The Queen did not look back ....she ordered her General to throw the still alive body of king Mahishasur to her pet lion's cage.

A hero of Mahishasur's stature could have had a much better life and a more befitting death if he did not cross his limit.But, he did not know when to stop .

The pain of the Vanquished

This great Queen's victory gradually transformed into the eternal Tale of good versus evil in the hand of the conqueror's poets and bards. People started to worship the Queen as the deity of 'Power'..........'Shakti' in Sanskrit.... decades after she was gone . When Aryan's Puranas chronicled this Tale, she was given the name of 'Durga', the Goddess whose worship leads to overcome 'durgati' , i.e., ill-fortune.

There are two ways of concluding this Tale. We may conclude that Mahishasur deserved his end, because he was 'evil' and tried to over-reach . The second is just the diametrically opposite view: Mahishasur was an ambitious king, fighting with Aryans to expand his territory , no way different from the Aryans who pushed the people of this country down south , beyond the hills of 'Vindhya'. His story was written by the conqueror ,therefore, he has been painted as an 'evil' person .If we compare his character with those of many other kings of our history, he was not much different !

Whatever is the interpretation, we can agree about one point : we do need Goddess Durga to reappear among us to tackle the 'Asurs' of 21st Century!!