The Folk Beliefs : Myth and Mythology
EACH COMMUNITY has its own body of myths, which are the products of its primitive beliefs and culture. Myths being an inseparable part of the religious tradition are closely related to rituals. Myths prevalent in the Punjab are akin to those prevailing in other parts of northern India. The Puranas are, of course, the primary source, but there are many, which have a distinct Punjabi flavor, and were presumably invented by the village-folk.
The popular myth about the origin of the universe is a very simple but also interesting one. This universe, it says, was originally egg-shaped, and then it broke into two; one half became the sky and the other the earth. The thread veins in the egg became streams and rivers; the fluid took the shape of the sea, the yolk became the core of the earth, and thus came into existence the universe.
According to another myth, the earth is balanced on one horn of a bull. Whenever the bull gets tired, it changes over the weight to the tip of the other horn. This changing- over creates tremors and earthquakes. Even today, whenever there is an earthquake, the Punjabis say that the white bull has changed over to the other horn. This myth too has its root in the Puranas.
BIRTH AND DEATH
The myth about birth and death is very simple but interesting. It has its origin in the popular imagination. Once when God was in a pleasant mood, He created an image in clay. This was the image of man. Then, curious to see the effects, he called one soul to him and asked it to enter that image. The soul was not quite sure of the consequences, so it hesitated. But it could not disobey God. So it pleaded with Him and said, “I’ll enter this image only if you assure me that I shall not be tied down to it for ever, and that you will draw me out of it.” God agreed to do so.
As soon as the soul entered, life flowed through the body and man started moving about. The soul began to enjoy the thrill of life. After some years when God felt it was time to release the soul from the body, it was unwilling to do so. But God had to fulfil his word. So, in spite of the soul’s unwillingness, God pulled it out. Thus life and death came into being.
According to yet another myth, in earlier times children used to grow on coconut trees. Whosoever needed a baby plucked a coconut off the tree, broke it into two and took out the baby. Consequently, people were not very much attached to their children, and whenever a child fell ill, they would throw him away and pluck another coconut for a flesh baby. All sorts of ailing children crying the whole day were found heaped under the Coconut trees. Once there was an epidemic. People dumped all the sick children under the coconut trees and took away new ones from the treetops. Sick children continued to be piled up under the trees, and the earth and the sky rocked with their cries of pain. An old man happened to pass that way. He was so deeply moved by the cries of the ailing children that he prayed to God thus: “Oh God, let the children in this world grow in the wombs of women rather than on trees, so that if something happens to them, the mother’s heart will feel the pain.” And God granted the prayer.
THE SUN AND THE MOON
In some myths, the sun and the moon are brothers and sisters, while in others they are two real brothers. According to one myth, the sun is doing penance by burning in eternal heat because its mother has cursed it, whereas the moon enjoys its mother’s blessings in permanent coolness.
According to the myth in which the Sun and the Moon are brothers, their mother was once going to take her bath. She said, “My sons, I am going to bathe you two, turn your backs or stand behind the tree.” Both of them, in obedience to their mother, stood behind a tree, but whereas Moon kept his head low and eyes averted. Sun kept peeping at his mother through the corner of his eyes. When the mother noticed this she was furious and she cursed him saying, “May you always have only one eye.” Ever since then the sun has had only one eye. Even in trying to look at it we have to close one eye and see it only with the other.
According to the other myth in which they are brother and sister, the two were once invited to a marriage. When they were about to leave, their mother told them to save some sweets and bring them home for her. Sun was greedy, so he ate up everything, but Moon saved a lot for her mother. She was bringing it all home when sun quietly ate that too. When the mother came to know of it, she was so angry that she cursed the son saying, “As I am now burning with rage may you always burn in agony.” Then she turned to the daughter Moon, and spoke lovingly thus: “My darling daughter, you have soothed my heart with your love. May you always prosper in the same soothing calmness, and radiate joy to the world.”
There is yet another myth in which again the sun and the moon are brother and sister. Once their mother fell ill and she put her children to work. She asked Moon to knead the dough and Sun to light the fire. Sun was rather unwilling to perform the work assigned to him but, being afraid of his mother’s anger, he slowly began to light it. When the fire was lit he picked up a couple of live coals and flung them at his mother, saying, “Here Ma, the fire is done.” The burning coals fell on the mother’s stringed cot, and it caught fire. Moon ran with a bucket of water and extinguished the fire. The angry mother cursed her son to eternal burning, and blessed the daughter with peace.
The phenomenon of lunar eclipse, once inexplicable to the common folk, had many myths prevalent about it. Here are two of them.
According to one, Moon, once in great need, borrowed some money on interest from a ‘Dum’ (a low-caste menial). Somehow he could not repay this amount. Interest went on multiplying and piling up, so much so that it became impossible for Moon to pay up. Moon is still a debtor. Whenever the moneylender goes to him to ask for the money, he hides his face and does not show it so long as men and women on earth do not give plenty in charity to the ‘Dum’, thus lightening his financial burden.
The other myth originates from the Puranas. The gods and the demons once jointly churned the sea in order to obtain nectar. When nectar was obtained, the demons swiped it off. The Gods took panic, thinking that if the demons drank up the nectar and became immortal they would kill them all. They ran to Vishnu-who soon transformed himself into a pretty girl, Mohini, went to the place where the demons had assembled to drink nectar, and began to dance before them. Utterly bewitched they left the cup of nectar unattended and surrounded Mohini, who, very cleverly pretending to wish to distribute the nectar among those present, took up the cup. She called the gods also and made them sit in a separate group, There she started distributing nectar, first on the gods side. Nectar was finishing fast. Rahu the demon saw through the game, he also recognized Vishnu disguised as Mohini. He quickly took the guise of a god and slipped into the rows of gods. The “young damsel” serving nectar unsuspectingly gave it to Rahu who quickly gulped it down. Sun and Moon sitting close by became suspicious because they saw that Rahu had a shadow, whereas gods did not have any shadow. Quickly they gestured to Mohini, who, understanding the situation, took again the form of Vishnu, “whisked out his wheel and chopped off Rahu’s head from his body. But even though the head had been cut off from the body, Rahu could not be killed because he had taken of nectar, the drink of immortality. Consequently, both the head and the body remained alive. The head came to be known as Rahu and the rest of the body is Ketu. Both Rahu and Ketu have ever since been pursuing Sun and Moon with vengeance because they want to take revenge. Whenever they catch up with Sun or Moon. they gulp him up, and there is an eclipse. People on earth give alms liberally in order to get their Gods liberated from the diabolical grip.
BLACK SPOTS ON MOON
There is an old woman sitting in the moon, plying her spinning wheel. When she finishes one skien she flings it on the earth, thus causing daybreak.
The Puranic myth is different and more interesting. Lord Indra was enamoured of Ahilya, the wife of Rishi Gautam. He wanted to seduce her. To be able to do so, he entered into a conspiracy with Moon. Moon, transforming himself into a cock, uttered the crow of dawn in the middle of the night. Gautam Rishi thinking that the day had dawned quickly got up and went to the river to have his daily bath. Indra, quickly impersonating Gautam, succeeded in his evil intention towards Ahilya. The friendly river-deity apprised Gautam of the truth. Gautam rushed back and accosted Moon who, in the guise of a cock, was standing watch at the door. In anger he flung his wet towel at him and cursed him. That left a permanent black mark, which we see on the face of Moon.
There is also a myth about the waxing and waning of the moon. This also takes its origin from the Puranas. Moon had twenty- seven wives who were all real sisters and daughters of a Rishi. Moon was very fond of Rajni (night) and paid scant attention to the others who were, therefore, very jealous. They complained to their father. The Rishi got vexed, and he cursed Moon saying, “He who has so tortured my daughters may himself suffer from a wasting disease.” Immediately Moon started decaying. Fourteen days thus went by and Rajni got worried. She realized that at that rate Moon could not last for more than a day. She wept before her sisters and brought them to see the end of their husband. When they all saw him wasting away like that, they too began to weep. At once all sisters rushed to their father and begged him to withdraw his curse. “But,” said the Rishi, “words once uttered by a Rishi cannot be withdrawn. I can’t revoke the curse, I can only mitigate it. This wasting disease will affect Moon for the first fifteen days of a month but will end on the fifteenth day. Thereafter he will start improving and go on getting bigger and bigger every day, till on becoming full- bodied he would wane again, This cycle would go on forever,”
In the Puranic myth the name of the Rishi is Daksha,. and the favorite queen of Moon is Rohini, not Rajni.
The Punjabi’s have their own interesting myths to tell about the stars. The general belief has been that all great men become stars after death and occupy a high place in the sky.
There are special myths about the Pole Star and the Great Bear. The constellation of the Great Bear is called Sapt Rishi, that is, Seven Rishi’s. These seven stars are supposed to be the seven Rishi’s who lived in the time of Raja Dashrath and were very close to Shri Ramchandra. All the seven were saints of a very high order who had controlled their emotions after great penance. When the great saints passed out of this world they were given an honorable station in the sky and placed next to one another.
There is a popular myth about the Pole Star. Raja Uttampada had two wives Suniti and Suruchi. Dhruv (after whom the star is named Dhruv) was the son of Suniti. Suruchi won the King over to her side and turned him against Suniti. At her instigation, the King banished both Suniti and her son. When Dhruv grew up he became curious about his father and expressed a great desire to see him. Suniti agreed to let him go and Dhruv went to the court of his father. King Uttampada was very happy to see his son, took him on his lap, and loved and caressed him. Suruchi was absolutely furious when she saw this. She quarreled with the King and dragged Dhruv away from there and threw him out of the palace. Dhruv came home weeping and narrated the entire episode to his mother and asked her how he could overcome such an insult. The mother advised him to worship Narayan, the master of the Universe. Dhruv went into the jungles and, despite innumerable obstructions, performed severe penance. At last Lord Vishnu appeared to him and said, “Just as you have remained firm and steadfast in your path of devotion, so will you remain in the sky-lofty, steadfast and shining like a constant star.” After death, Dhruv rose to the sky and became a star.
The Milky Way, or the galaxy, has many names in Punjabi, among them Akash Ganga (Ganga of the sky), and Gati-Dhuli (dust of the cow’s hooves). According to a very popular myth, the Milky Way is a counterpart of the Ganga we know on earth.
According to another myth, when Lord Krishna takes his cows out to graze and brings them back, the dust blown with their hooves shines in the sky. It is also believed that after death people go to heaven along this path.
RAIN AND LIGHTNING
In the Punjab there is a very interesting myth about the origin of clouds. Once upon a time, a Rishi was doing penance in a forest. He had only one quilt, which had multi-colored patches on it. In severe cold he covered himself with it, and in summer he put it aside. Once the summer was extremely hot but he kept sitting in the sun in contemplation. His whole body was scorched. His quilt, which was his co-sharer in all his states of happiness and sorrow, could not bear to see him suffer so. It flew up to the sun in the shape of a cloud and obstructed its heat. It has since roamed about the sky in the shape of clouds.
Lightning is supposed to be the manifestation of Devaki’s daughter. Kansa killed her by hitting her on a stone as soon as he came to know about her birth. Little did he know that Devaki’s real child, Krishna was being safely nursed by Yasodha in Gokul. The moment the little innocent girl hit the stone, she disappeared in the sky and manifested herself in the form of lightning announcing her uncle’s doom. Ever since then she has been there flashing amidst the clouds. As her maternal uncle killed the child, it is believed that lightning is hostile to maternal uncles and nephews being together. When lightning flashes in the sky, it is not considered good for the maternal uncles and nephews to be sitting together under one roof. If they are, it is feared that lightning would strike them.