Myths, Legends and Rituals in Bhyrappa’s Novels – Part 6

This article is part 6 of 7 in the series Myths, Legends and Rituals in Bhyrappa’s Novels

Even today it is believed that if the ‘śrāddha’ rites for ancestors are performed once in Gaya, they need not be performed again every year thereafter. The ancestors would attain ‘Viṣṇu-pāda’ (Viṣṇu's feet) i.e., salvation through this. These rites may be performed here, not only for one’s parents, but for any of the person’s relatives or friends. Even childless people may perform their own śrāddhas here (page-186 ‘Saartha’). This myth regarding the holiness of Gaya is a continuing myth that has been growing through generations. In the novel, the pilgrims, who had come to perform the rites of their parents reveal to Nagabhatta that Buddha is considered as one of the incarnations of Viṣṇu. This is an example of how new myths are constantly added to the original myth, or the original myths would modify their frame and expand to include new ones as well with the passage of time. Pilgrims who come to Gaya visit Buddha Gaya also.

Nagabhatta, a Vedic scholar, who was well acquainted with the rites and rituals of śrāddha, wanted to perform the śrāddha of his mother. It is ordained in the śāstras that a son should perform the śrāddha of parents even if he has to beg and receive alms. He collects all the things needed. But as his mind is full of conflict, and brooding on the ‘śūnya-vāda’ of Buddhism, he does not perform the rites at all. After he is released from prison, he performs the śrāddhas of his mother and of Chandrike’s friend Charumathi. Many instances of these ceremonies of śrāddhas in Bhyrappa’s novel surprise us by the various attitudes of the performer towards the dead person. Sreenivasa Shrotri, who performed the rites with devotion and faith until his old age, loses his belief in it after coming to know the secret of his birth, and the whole process seems meaningless to him. Cheeni is instructed to perform the funeral rites of his mother Katyayani, even though he did not want to have any attachment with her while she lived. In ‘Daatu’, Ramakrishna has to perform the rites for his dead father, and he does it with love, regret, as well as devotion. Ramakrishna had to perform the funeral rites of Manjayya, who was the chief cause of the tragedy in Ramakrishna’s household. Even after knowing that Manjayya had seduced his mother and was the cause of her suicide, Ramakrishna controls his hatred and rage with superhuman effort and performs all the rituals. The same person, Ramakrishna has to perform the funeral rites and all other rituals for his father-in-law Nagappa as well, to whom nothing mattered but money. Hating, abhorring, disdaining, Ramakrishna had to perform these rites for Manjayya and Nagappa, with the sole and noble purpose of helping their spirits achieve the status of pitṛtva. Sometimes faith in rituals and traditions, compel a person to do something that his inner self refuses to do. At the end of ‘Saakshi’, it is seen that Manjayya’s spirit,  is still lying before Yama, even after Ramakrishna had performed all the rites,. Janakamma’s spirit, too, hankers after Manjayya. We are left perplexed; what about these religious rites and rituals then? Bhyrappa plunges us into confusion through these conflicting attitudes of the ritualists.

Vishwakarma Sthapathi and his sculptures introduce to us the mythological gods and goddesses and how many of these gods and goddesses of the mythological era were transformed into Buddhist gods and goddesses. The episode of Vishwakarma Sthapathi, brings to light the relationship between art and mythology, art and religion, and the plight of an artist who is compelled to convert and change his religion. In such contexts, art has to become the handmaid of religion.

The rites and rituals of sanyāsāśrama has been very clearly presented in Bhyrappa’s novels such as ‘Vamshavruksha’, ‘Nirakarana’ etc. A sanyāsi should beg for alms in seven houses only, and these houses cannot be pre-planned. Before offering food to a sanyāsi, the host should pour water into his hands. Then the food should be given. After this water should be poured again on his hands. A sanyāsi should never eat till his stomach is full. He should not be elated when he gets good food, nor should he be sad if he does not get any food. He can only keep with him only a kamaṇḍala, a cloth to wring water, wooden slippers, a seat and a staff. He should sleep in a place that is elevated. He should not worry if he falls ill. He should neither invite death, nor love life. (page 335 ‘Vamshavruksha’). ‘Nirakarana’ pictures another type of sanyāsa in Bara-masi-maharaj, in the snowy heights of the Himalayas. Maadevayya of ‘Gruhabhanga’ represents the jaṅgama tradition of the 12th century. Adi Shankara and his disciples represent the ‘parivrājaka’ of the eighth century. Mandana Mishra is an example of a Vedic scholar and gṛhastha, who used to perform the rituals of gṛhasthāśrama according to the ‘karma-kāṇḍa’ part of the Vedas. Sreenivasa Shrotri of "Vamshavruksha’ is also a Vedic scholar of modern times, yet he follows the tradition of gṛhastha-dharma as prescribed in the texts. Religious texts like the ‘sāṅkhya kārikā’, save him from having sex with Lakshmi, the ślokas in that texts help him to triumph over his ambition. The ślokas reveal the myth of the primordial relationship of prakṛti and puruṣa, that is, the principles of male and female (‘Vamshavruksha’, page 155). Prakṛti retires after showing to puruṣa his own self, just like a dancer or a prostitute retires after dancing before the audience in the theatre. In another śloka , it is said that prakṛti is tender, and extremely shy. As soon as she knows that puruṣa recognises her as different from him, she will not stand before his eyes...’ These are the two ślokas from ‘sāṅkhya kārikā’ that describe the relation between prakṛti and puruṣa.

1) raṅgasya darśayitvā nivartate nartakī yathā nṛtyāt |
puruṣasya tathātmānaṃ prakāśya nivartate prakṛtiḥ ||

2) prakṛteḥ sukumārataraṃ na kiñcidastīti me matirbhavati |
yā dṛṣṭāsmīti punarna darśanamupaiti puruṣasya ||


The rituals of ṛṣipañcami in ‘Tantu’

It is not clear whether myths, stories based on mythology and the continued observance perpetuated the rituals, or whether the rituals that were performed regularly helped in perpetuating the myths. Whatever the truth may be, myths do not die, as they are the outcome of collective consciousness working through generations. As such, myths, rites and rituals do affect and influence the thought patterns, actions and behaviour of people -  sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. But the power, depth and wide spread influence and belief of myths and rituals cannot be denied (side-lined). They spring from the core of a generation’s life itself. Even today we witness collective rituals like the marriage of frogs and asses to placate the rain god, prayers to Kumaraswamy for rains, collective worship of the village goddesses, etc. Rites and rituals that constitute a ‘vrata’, like ‘ṛṣipañcami’ fall under the group of rituals that are performed by individuals.

Our ancestors had charted out the life span of a man into four periods (states) and had called them āśramas. They had prescribed the ‘śoḍaṣa-samskāras’ as essential to all persons. In a woman’s life, menarche was celebrated joyously as it marked the blossoming of fertility. Her first pregnancy, too, was celebrated with joy and happiness. Similarly, marriage etc. were other occasions to be celebrated. In the same way, after marriage and childbirth, when a woman’s body ceases to be fertile, she attains the state of menopause. At this stage, many women are disturbed and feel depressed too. Our ancients tried to create a sense of freedom, an awareness of the spirituality in women, by means of vratas like ṛṣipañcami. The rites, rituals and the meaning of the mantras of the ṛṣipañcami, reveal how a woman becomes free and self-controlled after menopause - the cyclic activity of the body, which is like turning and turning in the wheel of sex and childbirth and entanglement in the process of perpetual creation. This vrata sets an ideal life of the couple, who lead a harmonious life without having physical union, and who share the spiritual companionship and reach the most mature stage of relationship. The woman freed from her biological functions of menstruation, giving birth, becoming a mother etc., would achieve the status of a man, a rishi. A woman should get the permission of her husband to perform this vrata. (This vrata may be observed by widows too, but according to the old rules, she must be tonsured.) This vrata is not limited only to brāhmaṇas, it could be observed by kṣatriyas, vaiṣyas and śūdras also. After performing this vrata, physical union with the spouse is taboo. ‘Tantu’ describes the rituals of ‘ṛṣipañcami’ and evokes the life pattern that existed in our culture and tradition since a long time (Page 53-54, ‘Tantu).

This vrata is prescribed for women only. As a part of the vrata, the woman should first bathe, dipping in a pond or tank 108 times in succession. If she is weak, another person may be delegated to perform this ritual on her behalf. In ‘Tantu’, Ravindra performs this ritual on behalf of his grandmother. After the ‘saṅkalpa’ and the purification ceremony by imbibing  ‘pañcagavya’, a mixture of five ingredients obtained from the cow, that is, milk, curd, butter, ghee and cow urine, she should declare her intention of performing this ritual, to be redeemed of the impurity of menstruation cycles that her body has undergone till now. All the seven great ṛṣis (sages), Kashyapa, Atri, Bharadwaja, Vishwamitra, Gowthama, Jamadagni, Agastya, Vasistha with his wife Arundhati are invited, prayed to and worshiped, so that the performer, too, can become free, self- controlled like them and find happiness in herself.

This bodily cycle of menstruation has a mythological allusion. Vṛtrāsurathe demon had become a menace to the three worlds. Indra  killed him with the help of ṛṣis and other angels. As vṛtrāsura was a brāhmaṇa, Indra was tainted with the sin of ‘brahmahatyā’ - killing a brāhmaṇa- which is considered the greatest sin. Indra, to be absolved of this sin, prayed to Brahma. He then distributed the quantum of this sin and distributed it first to the flame of fire, the full floods of the rivers, the third part to trees, plants and mountains and the fourth part to women. That is why women become impure during menstruation according to this mythological story. However, the inner meaning and the purpose of ‘ṛṣipañcami’ is to realise the supreme values of life and a fruitful way of living.

In ‘Nayi-Neralu’, a saga of crime, punishment, repentance and redemption, Bhyrappa has used one ritual which could be called ‘impregnation of a woman through sheer will power’.  When a sanyāsi refuses to receive alms from Acchannayya’s wife as she is childless, Acchannayya requests the sanyāsi to bless them with a child. The sanyāsi comes as invited. The home is cleaned and everything is arranged for the worship. The couple had been fasting from the previous night. The sanyāsi makes the couple sit on a wooden plank, chants some mantras, closes his eyes and meditates. After completing the meditation, the sanyāsi opens his eyes, and fixes his sight for a minute on Nanjamma’s face. Nanjamma, too, had been looking at the sanyāsi’s face with faith and devotion. Then the sanyāsi sprinkles water on the plantain kept there, plucks the stalk of the fruit, and feeds it to her with his own hands, cuts open the tender coconut, pours the coconut water into his right hand, and tells her to drink it straight from his hand. Nanjamma does so. The sanyāsi continues to chant mantras. As Nanjamma’s lips touch his hands, the sanyāsi’s face becomes excited, and followed by a shadow of disgust. After taking milk and fruit, he leaves. This reminds us of the Niyoga in ‘Mahabharatha’. But in this case, everything happens sans physical contact.


To be continued...



Prof. Shantakumari is a teacher, writer, translator and literary critic. Her seminal work ‘Yugasaakshi’ is a critical and definitive study of S. L. Bhyrappa’s Kannada novels. ‘Chaitanyada Chilume’ and ‘Nenapu gari bicchidaaga’ are her autobiographical works. ‘Satyapathika-Socrates’ and ‘Kaggada-Kaanike’ are some of her major works. She has co-translated many of Bhyrappa's novels into English and parts of Will Durant's 'Story of Civilization' into Kannada.

Prekshaa Publications

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


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इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


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