Friday, June 15, 2012

Myths and folk beliefs: reflections of past - Swati Gupta

The story of humanity replete  myths and legends. Mythological characters often represent entities that lived on the Earth thousands of years ago. Some of these entities were referred to as creator gods who seeded this planet creating the environment in which we experience in the magic and illusion of time and emotion.
As the renowned historian, Arnold Toynbee says, “Myth reflects man’s earliest attempt to impose some kind of form upon this bewildering universe” and Levi Strauss, the Anthropologist has written somewhere, “All Myths in all cultures mediate contradictions.”Mythology, besides being the ancient cousin of culture, is also the curious chronicle of its highs and lows, its changing perspectives and world views and preserves it all inside as a seed. Myth has existed in every society. Indeed, it would seem to be a basic constituent of human culture. Because the variety is so great, it is difficult to generalize about the nature of myths. But it is clear that in their general characteristics and in their details a people's myths reflect, express, and explore the people's self-image.nThe exhibition at Indira Gandhi National Museum of Man, Bhopal, attempts to bring the storytellers themselves in a dialogue with their own myths and belief systems to mainstream. Here are some interesting folk stories reflecting the disappearing traditions and life skills.
Many regions in India such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan the tradition of snake worship is ancient to Indian culture. Death by snake bite used to be one of the common events in rural Indian life, following which the fear induced imagination invented ways of worshipping the snake as God. The fifth Day of the waning moon in the month of Shravan (July-August) is celebrated as the day of the snake or Nagapanchami as it is popularly known as across the country. In Bihar, terracotta images of snake couples are offered as part of ritual worship. In the Malwa-Nimar regions of Madhya Pradesh, they paint snakes of four, sixteen or twenty one knot for the same and in Rajasthan it is reveres as Takhaji, the hooded snake made in relief on a terracotta plate.


“The story of Pabuji” from Rajasthan is most popular in the region. There are innumerable miracles associated with his life, including the snake making shade for new born Pabu riding the camel and killing the wild boars and lions etc are a few incidents of his childhood. As a youth he fought for the Bhils who thereafter remained his lifelong friends.
There is another myth associated with the Potters. In ancient times it took six months for a potter to bake his pots. One day a group of eunuchs took refuge inside his urns kept in the kiln to save them from kinsmen. None could conceive of the kiln as a hiding place. After lighting fire, the tired potter fell asleep. In his dreams, the potter heard a voice proclaiming that his pots had turned golden; this however did not cheer him up. After a while the same voice said” your pots have turned silver”. The potter did not pay need. For the third time the voice was heard saying that half of his pots have baked and others have remained unbaked. At this the potter rushed to the kiln and was delighted to find the eunuchs alive inside the baked pots. Since then, the pots take only a day to get baked, but some pots are always left half baked. The potter could have chosen the golden or silver pots, but he chose to save a few lives at the cost of riches. In Kutchh even today, the eunuchs regard the potter and his wife as their parents, seek their blessings on important occasions and offer money and clothes to them.
From Orissa belongs the myth associated with the Kaamdhenu. Kaamdhenu, the wish fulfilling Goddess is regarded as one of the fourteen precious things emerging out of Samudramanthan, or the churning of the ocean. It is supposed to be the wish giver and was bestowed upon the sage, Vasishtha by the Gods themselves. The terracotta image of Kaamdhenu as half woman and half cow is made by potters all over India and is revered as mother of cattle.
The ritual of mendhaka bihav, from Bastar, Chattisgarh reveals the most prevalent ritual of frog marriage which is practiced even these days. Whenever the first half of the monsoon go dry the villagers meet at Goddess Jimidarin mata’s shrine to take her permission to conduct the ritual frog marriage. The whole village contributes in cash and kind towards it. A person Marar or Panara caste is given the job making the marriage crown from palm leaf. On the appointed day the gayeta or the priest brings two frogs from nearby stream, young girls and boys fetch a branch of the Mahua tree and fix it in the marriage pavilion. The crowned frog couple are then placed under the branch and anointed with turmeric and oil. A married woman carrying the pitcher takes seven rounds of the couple before the knot is tied. The whole village then feasts and merry. Thereafter the frog couple is taken back to their original abode. It is believed that the happy couple will croak and this will lure the clouds to their parched fields.

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