Monday, February 28, 2011

Oh, still for that normal birth!

As I write this article, this still remains my most viewed post (though Hotel Rose is making serious attempts at going past it). And while all you good people appreciated it, there were some of you who kept requesting for a similar post based on the "other" epic.

We elders tend to underestimate The Ramayan to a great extent. It's not greatly unjustified, given the dimensions The Mahabharat has to offer: The Ramayan seems rather simple and one-dimensional in comparison.

But then, it wasn't full of normal births either.

Let's go way, way back in time to start with. Long before Dasharath gave in to his favourite queen's wishes, Ayodhya was ruled by Ikshvaku and his successors (despite the huge success of Kalidas' Raghuvansam, the dynasty is typically named after Ikshvaku, and not his possibly more illustrious successor Raghu).

The pregnant king:
(Yes, I know Devdutt Pattanaik has written a book by the same name on the same king.)
There was one of these earlier kings called Kuvalayashwa. He killed the infamous demon Dhundhu, and got to be known as Dhundhumar (the battle was, as you'd expect, a ferocious one; the word Dhundhumar is still used in Bangla as a synonym for anything violent on a serious note). He had twenty-one thousand - a number one typically associates with a fresherman's salary - sons.

Of this number, 20,997 were killed in the allegedly furious battle. The eldest of the three left, Yuvanashwa, went on to rule Ayodhya. He did not have a son despite having a hundred wives (it's a good thing that actuarial sciences were not conceived at that point of time; they might have died a premature death otherwise).

Yuvanashwa needed a son to keep the legacy going. When placed with the challenge, he asked, with all the sweet innocence of the kid to whom desibaba translates to The Father of the Nation: How?

Ah, said the Brahmans. He's soooooo cute, said their wives.

Apparently, all the King's Brahmans and all the King's Men weren't too keen on training him. Instead, they conjured a pot of an incredibly potent drink that would made anyone who drank it pregnant.

Later that night, the cute king, oblivious to the technicalities of human reproduction, felt incredibly thirsty. What did he do next? You've guessed it right. What happened to him next? You've guessed that one right too.

After the usual pre-natal stages, his wives nursed him through all three trimesters, and then, he had the long-awaited son, who also turned out to be his heir.

Note: This son was known as Mandhata. This would possibly give you an idea of how ancient Yuvanashwa was. Obviously there was no sex education in that era - even the storks or the birds and bees were not being observed at that point of time.

Mandhata obviously had no breast to suckle upon; this led Indra (why him, of all people?) to provide him with an amrit-dipped thumb. Mandhata went on gleefully, thereby paving the way to quadrizillions of babies to suck their own thumbs in subsequent years.

The man who gave the sea its name:
The name was Sagar. This is not Ramesh Sippy's creation we're talking about - the one with the song and the la-la-la la-la that rocked the 1980s. This was an A short. As per Sanskrit grammar, this meant that the movie (and the sea, in general, that gave the movie its name) got its name from Sagar - saagar means "one born from Saagar".

Was it because his great-great-grandson brought the Ganga on Earth and led it to the ocean, thereby enriching it? Possible.

Was it because the last four letters of his name are the ones that begin the last name who had conceded an seas of runs and put the entire nation in an ocean of despair in the 1990s and 2000s? More probable.

But the sea had possibly some deeper reason for being named after our hero. Let's do some RnD:

Sagar had two wives - Keshini and Sumati. Unlike his ancestor mentioned above, he was aware of the mysteries of childbirth, and went about peacefully on his business.

Keshini got pregnant first, and gave birth to a son called Asamanja. So far so good.

Sumati got pregnant as well; only that she delivered a lau/lauki (bottle gourd). Had Sagar been a Bengali folk singer of the last millennium, he might have composed a song on the event. Instead, accumulating all the fury that one usually associates with a man whose wife has just given birth to a green gourd, he ripped the vegetable apart (he might have asked the royal chef, but Ramayan is surprisingly not very detailed on this aspect).

The gourd, incidentally, had minuscule babies instead of seeds. He went past Dhundhumar's existing record (you see, there was inflation in the air), and sixty thousand babies were born of that innocent-looking bit of vegetable.

Note: This incredible battalion was sent later to rescue Sagar's ashwamedh horse. They found it at Kapil's ashram and called the holy man a thief. This was ages back, this hadn't happened, and the poor kids were not aware of the thumbrule: DO NOT MESS WITH A MAN CALLED KAPIL. The princes were all burnt to ashes.

Yet another actuarial nightmare, this: try plotting the population of Ayodhya over their lifespan, and it might change a few theorems and axioms to come along in subsequent years. Sixty thousand, after all, is too large a number of people to have been born and died together.

Horny father, horny son:
Vibhandak was a really powerful sage. There was a time when he set out on a serious-scale tapasya; as a result Indra got psyched out, and sent Menaka, one of his Grade A apsaras to distract Vibhandak. This is the same Menaka who, after a couple of steamy sessions with Vishwamitra, had actually given birth to Shakuntala, and has a prominent theatre in South Kolkata named after her.

Vibhandak, deprived of sex for some time, couldn't make it to the much-coveted body of the nymph. He ejaculated way before that, unloading himself on the grassy pasture next to The Narmada. A somewhat youthful doe happened to be grazing on the grass, more fertile now than it seemed to the casual passer-by.

Vibhandak saw her consume, well, whatever was there on the pasture and went back to his ashram (there are rumours that he kept spending the next few months singing the first line of a certain song from The Sound of Music, but these are just rumours).

A few months later the doe gave birth to a bonny son: he looked like a human boy, only with the horns of a stag. Vibhandak found and raised him; he taught him on various aspects, including a profound knowledge of shastras and the art of head-butting; what he did miss out on was, though, a knowledge of women. When I say that I do not mean the knowledge of female bodies: Rishyashringa was brought up without the knowledge of the existence that females even exist.

Note: I could have given a profound account of exactly how Rishyashringa acquired a knowledge of women and the mysteries of their physiology, but it's a really tough ask to write anything on the topic after Crystal Blur's outrageously good account of the incident here (do read all parts - it's well worth it). And besides, the incidents, however intriguing and educative, do not involve birth, and are hence off-topic as far as this article is concerned, isn't it?

A daughter-in-law and four, well, sons:
As all these were happening in Anga (Bihar), King Dasharath of Ayodhya was drowning in the deepest depths of despair: he didn't have a son. He did have a daughter, though, presumably of Kaushalya, and named her Shanta.

Lompad (whose name translates to "the one with hairy legs"), the King of Anga, was a close friend of Dasharath's. Dasharath gave away his daughter (just like that) to his mate; this daughter got married to Rishyashringa (mentioned above).

When Dasharath didn't have a son for a really long period of time, he invested on a putreshti yajna. This was a ritual men, especially kings, are supposed to perform when they need sons. These rituals cannot be typically performed by mere mortals: you need specliased putreshti specialists.

And whom did Dasharath call upon to conduct the yajna? His own son-in-law - the man with the horns.

Rishyashringa performed the rituals. The three main queens, Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra were dished out payesh/kheer (white viscous creamy dessert). They consumed them and had sons: Kaushalya and Kaikeyi one each, and Sumitra twins.

Note: These, by all definitions, are normal births and might look a bit out-of-place in the article. Maybe I'm losing it.

The celestial simian adventures:
News spread out throughout the country that as per Brahma's boon, Raavan could not be felled by Gods, yakshas, rakshashas, nags, gandharvas, kinnars and whatever species that existed on Earth. He left out humans and other animals, though, for reasons only fathomable to him.

Vishnu, therefore, took birth as Ram, with the supreme mission to kill Raavan. The Gods then conspired that Ram needed support from the animal kingdom as well. They aimed for Kishkindhya, a land full of nubile female monkeys.

Pandemonium followed. The forests of Kishkindhya were soon filled with intense, intimate sighs and cries of simian females being nailed by Gods (and possibly the depressing spectacle of male primates roaming around, being unable to compete with their divine rivals).

There was this particularly hot damsel called Aruni who was sought after by both Indra and Surya. They decided to share her, one after the other: she had two sons, Vaali and Sugreev, both of whom ruled Kishkindhya in due course of time.

Meanwhile, Anjana, another sought-after lady, had a stormy session with Pavan. Hanuman was born as a result.

Every possible God went out in their respective ways: Agni was hot, Varun got one wet, Vishwakarma was crafty, Dhanwantary was surgical: they gave birth to Neel, Hemkoot, Nal and Sushen, all four playing a part in the final war. Neel and Hemkoot were very capable warriors, Nal built the bridge, and Sushen, apart from being the father-in-law of both Vaali and Sugreev, was also the physio of the team.

The lesser Gods went at it as well, and pretty soon an entire future army to topple any power was born in the dense forests of Kishkindhya.

Brahma, of course, had a different taste. He sought out a bear, and fulfilled his desires the ursine way: the wise Jambavan was born as a result.

Once all the action was over, the monkeys (and bears) did go back to their previous partners (mind you, Aruni did this twice) to raise the newly born supermonkeys (and superbears).

Note: It's interesting that Indra and Surya had this knack of mating the same partner over the ages. There seems to be a pattern as well: the elder son was killed, either directly or indirectly, by an avatar of Vishnu, in manners of various degrees of unfairness. They took turns, though. In Ramayan Indra had the elder son, while Surya was the less fortunate one in Mahabharat.

Not that it was anything spectacular, but isn't it quite striking that there existed parents who had Raavan, Kumbhakarna, Surpanakha and Vibhishan as children?


Of the two epics I definitely prefer Ramayan less. What, then, made me research on the book and make me write this one?

One was the fact that I have been receiving requests for this post. The other is somewhat non-trivial. The other day, Sabari, a colleague of mine, offered me some kul/ber. I laughed at this, and had to explain the funny side of the incident to her. This, however unbelievable, was the main reason to have triggered the post.

As with the previous one, this post was not written to hurt any religious sentiment, and I deeply apologise if I have done so in the process.


  1. Good research. anekgulo golpo notun poRlam.

  2. "(and possibly the depressing spectacle of male primates roaming around, being unable to compete with their divine rivals)"

    And thus the first band of sexually frustrated eve-teasers and molestors were born :-)

    I don't see how this could hurt religious sentiments. First, as fools often forget, the Ramayana calls itself an epic. It is not scripture. And even were it scripture, you're quoting given facts, not making them up. Er porei jodi karur gaaye lage, taholey shey gaaye laganor jonnoi dharmiker bhek dhorechhe. Ashol dharmik shey na. Shotyikarer Hindu der pokkhe conservative howa besh mushkil.

  3. good one... but not as good n versatile as the 1st 1...can't blame u 4 that... this "epic" lacks in content... but reading this was much easier than ur last 1 in bengali as the font is too illegible for visually challenged ppl... I cud go thru only half of it...

  4. Hey,
    I've written 12 episode mahanhatara.
    Drop by and tell me how's it.

  5. As always, a fount of information and myth-ology. Keep it up!

    In the meantime, let's keep seeing England's amazing run in the 'Cup. Four out of four strange matches. Oh, still for that normal match!

  6. Amazing. After reading Devdutt Patnaik, I thought I had a different perspective on mythology. But after reading your blogs, my perspective has moved to a different level all together!!

  7. Oshadharon! Knew about Pawan-putra Hanuman, but had no idea about the other banar-army parentage.

    ~ Krishanu