Translation of Writer Jeyamohan's Short Story -
Serpent ( நச்சரவம் )
A kind of subtle complexity observed in History, can never be soundly debated with majority of our historians. They presume history as a well constructed firm structure with substantial facts. These historians always tend to discuss history like their dinner party debates. Being a theorist of History, I do not agree with them. I imagine history like a stage backdrop screens. We change that frequently in flash depending upon the subject at the “center of stage” of that moment. Houses, Foothills, Sea shore, Royal court. Whenever i claim this with any historian, he scowls and flushes hotly at once. They misconceive that i accuse them as a fictitious fabricator, instead of consenting as an intellectual who formulates permanent truths. Once i wittingly cited a historian as a fabricator who fictionalizes the truths. He loudly squalled at me till eyes glistened with tears.
Let me start with a precise example. What is the current state of Hinduism’s largest and oldest religious section Shaivism’s one of the main center Thirparappu mahadevar temple? Inside the fort like compound walls, there are erected large mahals(stone pillared structured opened in all four sides) and pragarams ( paved way surrounded the sanctum). Within the sanctum, roofed with copper sheets, in the shiny pedestal oil-lamps and hanging lamps, a Lingam resides in exalted position with Golden shields. Fifty years before, the avarna caste(Section of people in Hindu, whom do not belong to any Varna) people were not allowed to walk, not only inside temple, but even in the temple surrounded streets. People trespassed by violating this ban, were tied with the wet skin of rat snake in the Coconut tree and left under sunshine. Dried up and contracted snake’s skin tearing apart the skin, sank into the flesh. This was a modest punishment. More awful punishments can be found in the erstwhile “Tantra prabhodhini” book. The accumulated wealth of the temple was in stunning scale. On those days, in order to feed the Brahmin community for free, 3 specific eateries functioned uninterruptedly for whole year. In the temple surrounding streets, the arrays of bullock carts from all the four sides, used to continuously merge like unceasing river stream. Also Hegemony of brahmins was at its peak.
But if we go back in the history what do we discover? The inscriptions and the copper platted documents of ancient kings states a contrary version. These malayala brahmins were chased away and expelled by force like flock of crows by Chola kings. They forcefully introduced the Aagama worship methods in the temple. Hundreds of tantrism books were destroyed by burning and the tantras were slaughtered. The gratis eateries functioning was stopped and the cooks were exiled. Chola kings carved these brave achievements in various stone and metal inscriptions called Meikeerthi (true fame) as praise of their conquests. All these information are elaborately researched and written by Kavimani, K.K.Pillai and A.K.Perumal.
In my view, why should not we go back beyond this? Historians usually trust stone,metal inscriptions and palm leaf manuscripts as their evidence. Sir, these are all concretes, solids. Why don’t we take account of the incisively subtle and imperishable evidences found in language? They don’t answer this question. “Thirparappu mahadevar” is called fierce god sivan(shiva) even today. Temple priests have lots of stories related to this term. In a legend, after burning the three outer sheaths known as muppuram (gross-subtle-causal bodies), in unendurable hotness Lord siva had taken off and placed his attire “tiger skin” on the river bank, ought to take bath in the water falls. The lingam beleived to be uprised from that exact place. Siva’s body and mind was appeased after dipping in the waterfalls, then he returned back to kailasham. But in all the erstwhile tantra books , this lord Siva was referred as “Kradha(barbarian) god” instead of Fierce god.
This is the only “Kradha idol” of the whole South Travancore region. “Kradha” means barbarian, a tribe. In another legend, “Kradha” siva had intercepted Arjun who was on this way in search of a special “Paasupatha” weapon. Then siva had drawn him for a combat to assess Arjun’s strength and at the end of the fight, had bestowed him that special weapon as gratitude. Even today there the tradition of enacting this event in Kathakali (Indian dance-drama with attracted make ups) dance every year has been maintained. On that festival day, entire village gathers to watch the play of roaringly dancing main actor( also a dancer) in “Kradha” get-up , with black colour applied in his entire body, with big white teethes ,flaming eyes and with a crown made of red hawk’s feather was worshipped by another actor in Namboothiri Brahmin get-up. When the “Kradha god” appears on the stage, fully erupted crowd venerates Kradha god by chanting “Hara Hara Mahadeva, Sambo Mahadeva”. When i had the glimpse of “Kradha”’s blackish laughter like of piled up clam-shells, a screen apparently unfolded in front of me. I obtained the profound revelation of history which i mentioned earlier.
After that incident, i started extensively analysing the tantra books and investigating the Thirparappu temple. First i observed that all the tanra books are translation or elucidation or supplement from some other older piece of writing. I detected that source written material vanished long ago, after searching it for 8 years. Seven namboothiri families were the only tantras of Thirparappu temple. At that moment, no one was associated with the temple administration. After completing their education three families of them moved to abroad in search of jobs. Heirs of remaining families were not even aware of their association with the temple.
After persisting hunt for few months, finally found a useful information from an elderly man Sridharan Namboothiri in Banglore. He had preserved few inscrutable books of palmyra leaves hereditarily. But recently he donated those to bangalore archaeological center. Still, i was able to recover those books from archaeological center without much effort. I had already read most of those palm leaf manuscripts. But one particular manuscript was written in brahmi script. I was able to interpret those with the help of an archaeological linguistic Sankara Kuruppu. Yes!! that was the source tantra book , i had been searching for long time. But it looked like, that itself a translation of some other source. I was not able to exactly find the source language.
I did elaborate and intent investigation on that lingual structure. Usually, Sanskrit translations would have indistinct traces of source language. In this case, it more and more seemed like a Tamil source. But still, the translation appeared to be less complicated than a regular tamil translation. I was totally perplexed. I instinctually believed that from any of the temple related objects or from the rituals associated with temple, there must be a definite solution to this puzzle. So i visited the temple more often than ever. A Temple is an ancient and mysterious book. We see only covers of that book with our normal eyes. It possesses heaps of unexplored information. But with all my efforts to explore that, still i was yet to resolve the puzzle.
On those days, i noticed an elderly man sitting near the entrance of temple administrator Narayana pillai’s office. He had unkempt lengthy tuft of hair tied at the end, putting on wooden ear rings, with chewed betel leaf saffron smeared up in his mouth and bloodshot eyes. He did not have any facial hairs, with closely spread wrinkles like elderly chinese man’s facial wrinkles, all over his face and neck, accompanied by a small girl appeared to be a rural girl with a majestic blackish colour. She had big eyes like the rural goddess “Yatchi”. The old man made obeisance by folded hands upon seen me. she turned towards me with glittering lethargic eyes and stood quietly.
Narayana Pillai was seated in the office along with old , wore off tables, chairs and wood shelf typically found in the Devasthanam(governing body of a temple) board offices, Milk-free tea, betel leaf box, Kolaambi (a small brass vessel used to spit the chewed betel leaf ) , beedi (raw roll of tobacco - a kind of cigarette ) bundle.
“Oi, Pillai!! Who is that at the entrance?” i asked Narayana pillai.
“At entrance?” pillai replied.
“Some old man...”
“oh that fellow? ...Malaiyan, (tribe man) ..He is waiting here to collect his bill 180 Rs from that Petulant Superintendent for upteenth time. Superintendent would snarl upon me if i insist that. Do you want to have tea? black- tea?”
“He does puja for ‘Athi (old)-Kradha idol‘ of this locality, a ritual has been performed from olden times.” replied Pillai by pouring tea in a cup.
“Athi Kradha temple?”
“Well, it is not exactly a temple. A Siva lingam resides in the other side of the river bank, deep inside forest, beneath a papal tree is addressed as Athi-Kradha idol. It is believed to be the foremost Kradha idol. Though there is no daily puja peformed, before start of every Thiruvaadhirai festival season , a sheep or a hen must be sacrificed as offering to appease the Athi-Kradha. At the end of the festival, another puja would be performed along with sacrifice of animal offered as subsidence the Athi-Kradha. One of the prescriptions of the religious custom maintained traditionally. ” explained Pillai by drinking tea.
“man, Now it is almost eight month elapsed after Thiruvaadhirai festival!!!”
“This is a ‘Government bill’ sir!! how would a commoner expected to get it so soon. Usually it takes at least a year to get cleared, some times more than year and half. Only during the auditing in the pressure of cleaning up the accounts, secretary hastens me to seek Malaiyan.”
“Does the ritual mandated only for Malaiayn?”
“Yah, That was the Tantra rule. Now a days, there are not much tribesman left in the hill. Barring malaiyan only one another toddy drunkard remaining to perform this ritual at the moment. But during 1920s in Maharaja period, this was not the case. When Malaiyan gets down from hill to commence this ritual, a Samanthan Nayar (A dignified sub-clan of ruling elite Nayar) receives him with the royal sword and holy parasol. He even used to perform a foot adoration pooja to Malaiyan. This 180 Rs offertory was exclusively ordered by Maharaja to deliver Malaiyan directly from treasury. On those days , police man’s monthly salary was 3 Rs. In a sacred salver, along with the coconut, flowers, betel leaves, this offertory was bestowed to Malaiyan in the form of Gold coins. In the following 4 months, entire hill bustles in stirring dance parties, meat dinners and soaks in toddy beverages. That bygone era passed away long ago. Now, look at him, this little money would not even sufficent for his beedi spending, yet he came here to collect it.”
“Disburse him the money by collecting his voucher. I will give back that money later.” I said.
“I have a small business with him...”
“Your research work, Huh?, Why are you wasting time on researching these tribe-men? Better do research on noteworthy autom bombs or hybrid vegetables, or at least do sane research on these desirable tribe-women. would you?”
Malaiyan handed over the payment to his daughter at once receiving it with shivering hands after signing the voucher with thump impression. She hastily counted the money using the saliva. Then Malaiyan started getting down upon obediently greeted us. I followed him right away.
His daughter turned towards me and whispered something to Malaiyan after noticing me. Malaiyan looked at me intently by keeping his hands above eyes and then obediently greeted me once again when i approached him. He gesticulated inquiry through the unfolded mouth.
“Malaiyan, where are you from?” I asked.
“From the North of the hill.” replied Malaiyan. I was surprised to find his hearing sense at this age.
“oh!!, So, how old are you? around 80+, huh?”
“yes,” grinned Malaiyan. I noticed that his teethes were still intact. “ I surmounted 9 decades already, waiting to pass through 10th one.”
“I came here to collect some information about the temple on my research. I need your help. I will remunerate to your help. You know...”
“I don’t know much about the temple details. Pothi people or Namboodiris may help you on this.” said Malaiyan as though excusing himself.
“‘I‘ve already enquired them. But this is about the Athi-Kradha temple in the hills.”
“Oh..” exclaimed Malaiyan. “The same old story, sir. In the actual temple Lord Siva placed his tiger skin attire at first. When he found there were ants, he replaced the attire here in the hill place. Thus brahmins take care of the rituals in the original temple and Malaiyans (tribe-man) perform rituals in the hill temple. That tradition have being followed for long time. ”
“This story is the version of Brahmin’s, isn’t it? What is told in your caste?”
“Same story been told in our caste too..” said Malaiyan without any intention to conceal anything.
“So, Do you have any songs related to this?”
“No there are no songs, we perform only the rituals.”
I explained him few information that i translated from brahmi language to tamil. “ These are all erstwhile tantra rules. This particular song has some details about the offerings, sacrifices for kradha (sacrificed lives). Did you ever heard this song in your language? ” I asked curiously.
”We have so many songs in our language. but none is related to the Kradha worship rituals.” answered Malaiyan resolutely.
Later I gratified malaiyan with one kg Palmyra jaggery, 300gms tobacca and quarter kg tea packet. Malaiyan bought 2 kg salt by himself without waiting for my consent. I enquired the detailed direction of the path to his house in the hill. Later he took leave from me and entered into the forest through the hill path by crossing the river stream.
Next day i went directly to the Athi Kradha idol located place in the hill. At least 500 thousand similar idols can be found in this south Trivancore region. The idols used to be formed beneath trees, mostly using a stone erect kept perpendicular above another horizontal stone. I found this particular idol situated under the cool shadow of the trees amidst of dry leaves, with the garlands made of oleander leaves or தெற்றி மாலை a, Perfumed sandal paste and Kungumam (holy red power or paste formed of turmeric with alum and lime juice) applied all over. Though in records that region was declared property owned by temple, it was still a forest region with typical ceaseless cicada’s droning, bustling wind’s sound, decaying dry leaves's smell and with horrendous noise of several reptilians moving over the dry leaves. I sat there for a while. It was hard to believe that a vast temple, surrounded with palace alike house streets is located within a kilo meter distance from there. The same sonance of the waterfalls was heard as one of the temple’s sound from the temple, heard as forest’s sound from here.
A week later i met Malaiyan in the hill. Top of the Neeli hills was the only remnant region of forest. It was surrounded by rubber estates in all the four sides. From road it looked like army men’s haircut. Malaiyan’s hut located under a big rock, near to whirling formed due to river water ran afouls with the rock and the water about to gently falls in the stream. Malaiyan’s hut constructed by planting the bamboo sticks firmly on the ground, in the modest height, looked like a small float or sparrow nest. When i went there , Malaiyan was tightly tying a drum. His grand-daughter or may be great-grand-daughter was grilling some tubers in the accumulated dry twigs fire. By hearing my walking steps with the sharp hearing instinct from good distance, he noticed me at once. He looked at me intently by keeping hand above his forehead, nodding his head and greeted me with a smiling face. I sat on the pial(a raised floor of the verandah outside the house ), he cordially offered me honey mixed in water. Later we three started having the grilled fumy tubers by dissecting it served in the banana leafs. Malaiyan narrated his family story during the meal time. All of his seven son had died long ago. Grand sons were scattered intractably. Remaining sole grand daughter gone into forest to collect honey. That small girl named Regina mary was her daughter.
“Regina mary? ” i asked with surprise.
“Yah, she is studying in a christian missionary school.” replied Malaiyan. Malaiyan’s son was also converted to Christianity earlier. “They get wheat grains and tooth powder. Also new clothes for Chrismas.” said Malaiyan.
“You have not converted ?”
“I can’t manage my meager Pooja rituals and Christian prayers at the same time. Thats why i have not converted” retorted Malaiyan .
On that day, I conversed with Malaiyan till night and left the hill. Only useful information i managed to affirm from Malaiyan was that the Source Tantra book was actually translated from Malaiyan’s language. Though Malaiyan’s mother tongue appeared to be same as tamil but it was some kind of proto language. Some of the wordings of his language presented in the Tantra books as it is. For example he mentioned the flower KamugamPaalai as Kamugin Kaathu (Kaathu - Ear in tamil), and bud of the thechchi flower he refered as thechchi Mookku (Mookku - Nose in tamil).
But Malaiyan was completely unaware of any points mentioned in the Tantra book. He repeated same old stories of the Thirparappu pilgrimage legend. I exhausted finally after the failures of my repetitive attempts to extract any other useful information from him. My oftenness meetings with him was reduced, also because of the expenditures on Malaiyan who stopped buying tobacco, Tea powder and Palmyra jaggery after my first meeting with him. More over he started complaining on the quality and quantity of these things believing that gratification of those was my mandatory duty. Once i willingly went there without these gratifis , that day Malaiyan did not even pretend to receive or notice me. Added to this, his grand and great grand daughters trusted that a non-believer like me bring along satan’s feature, so they never ever attempt to converse with me.
Seven or Eight months later i went to hill to meet Malaiyan again. During the mean time the Thiruvaathirai offering rituals were performed without Malaiyan. Another drunkard Malaiyan fuddled with Palymya beverage staggeringly performed the rituals like offered blood of sacrificed seven hens to lingam and confered the garlands made of oleander leaves, baels and தெற்றி மாலை. He stumbled twice on to the lingam and grabbed the lingam for balance. Only myself , Nayarana Pillai and a Sendai man (man who plays a kind of large drum) were witnessed that. Later Narayana Pillai informed me that Malaiyan was unwell. “Imminent death is possible, after all a fusty body...” said Pillai. After founding uncertainty over Malaiyan’s health, I started to hill to see him. On the whole way i was mulling over the thought of Malaiyan might already have died at that time. But I intuitively believed that he wouldn’t have died that easily. When i reached his hut, he was not there. I found only that girl.
“Grand father have gone to upper hill..” said she.
“To give sacrifice offering to Hill God ‘Malai Vaadhaiya patchi’”
“oh..on which side?”
She came out of the hut. “Look at there... on that Peak!!”.She gesticulated by pointing towards the top of the mountain.
Climate of the hill was mild on that day. Though it was windy and chilly, was not humid. Also i went there in a passed by lorry, i was not tired at all. So i started climbing the hill with full of zealousness. After an hour of walk, it became more clear that, only from the downward river stream, that hill appeared to be without trees and much nearer but both were wrong. Trees stood up clasping with branches like couples tightly holding the hands, plaiting their fingers, embracing waists. The thorny plants and creepers plaited together like tangled flowing hair of woman, intercepted the way. Through these, the hill path appeared like hair parting line.
On the way, i relaxed for some time after drinking the river stream water in two places. As distance and time progressed, it became very uncertain to find Malaiyan in this thick forest. But i sensed that particular hill path through i was walking, must be formed for procession of that deity. Soon i was totally drained up, by observing the creeping hot blood flow in my flushed red ears, when i was heedlessly looked around, noticed a small stone deity there. I got up , went nearer and absorbed it. A small stone was placed above a broad stone in the center. Close to a “Siva lingam”. It looked as if no one touched that deity for many years, dominated by hair mosses and covered with bushes and creepers. There was a nearby pit, closed with tangled plants and covered by few blossomed white flowers. A thousand leg leech was creeping over the siva lingam. I guessed there must had been a big papal tree, crumbled after decaying. Siva lingam never decays.
Soon i proceeded in the same path. on the way, i spontaneously looked around searching for the other deities. I saw seven or eight sivalingams in the side of the Path. Which means there may be many more in the deep forest. Hundreds of, thousands of, like these trees, like these hidden roots, there may be countless sivalingams buried under soil eternally. A kind of unquietness filled up my mind.
At last when i discovered malaiyan he finished his pooja rituals. The stones resided under a luxuriantly expanded pterocarpus tree, appeared like sivalingam and plain stones at the same time. Under that tree, Malaiyan reposed by keeping his head on a root bulge. He wore a mucky towel in the neck, typically used while climbing trees to seize his legs and on the waist there was another red towel. I found தெச்சிபூ garland in his head, when i saw him intently. “Malaiya!!!” i called upon approaching him.
He looked at me with red shot eyes and closed back. i sat on another root bulge in fair distance. His body was like soil of forest, on that strings of nerves appeared like root bulges, even the mucky towel looked like a kind of root. His blackish colour naturally blended with that forest atmosphere. My light blue shirt and light skin colour was unusual and odd for that place. In case a wild elephant appears there, it would chase after me and squash like louse upon caught me. Elephant hates the light colours. Thats why fences and sluices built in the forest streams usually in ash colour. Yet the elephants demolishes those furiously. It ragingly dislikes the on-forest objects.
When Malaiyan woke up his neck towel slipped down on his lap and wriggled. He put on the towel back and started walking and i followed him at once, almost ran after him.
“I kept the gratis es in your hut” said me, to divert that uncomfortably silent atmosphere. But he did not seems to be listened that.
He started climb down from there through some other path. The river stream passes through Malaiyan’s hut was visible from there. Below hundreds of feet , it looked like a silk thread coated with silver laid on the floor. The small mountains appeared in variously densed light blue colour. At long distance even the “Agastiyar kooda Moutain” appeared like light blue screen. All these mountains are like curtains. What would appear, if we swiftly discard these one after another?
“Is this a short route?” i asked Malaiyan.
He entered into a path through bunch of bamboo trees without answering me. Suddenly it become rustling dark. Greenish shadow formed above the head by leaves of bamboo. In both side ways, bamboo’s yellowish line contoured like walls.
“Is that your family deity?” i asked.
He did not react even now. He turned back and saw me as if he was noticing me only that moment. The sound of the flowing wind chimed with bamboo trees, varied sounds of flowing wind sliced and perforated in the holes of bamboo forest, resounded like several animals groaning in unendurable pain, growling noises, howling noises. Still there was no sign of spotting me in the eyes of Malaiyan but I found a wild animal’s look in his eyes. Am i the prey?
It was a daunting task to recover my voice at that moment, but still i wanted to say something to normalise that atmosphere. “Who is that god?” i asked.
That old man did not stir his face. But i heard a voice just behind him,
“I am the one!!!!”
My body tingled in excitement and frozen for few minutes, i heard echoes of that uttering repeated over and again in various tones and several places.
I flew back from there at once and darted in to the hill path tremblingly, on the way i hurriedly crashed down and got up to running in several places. At last i was unconsciously lied down in a place called “Sitrayampalam” with muddy clothes. Later i was rescued by a passed by lorry and reached my town. My friends told that was just a hallucination. Yes indeed, In the deep forest various noises, sounds are common. Anyone can explain and prove that incident was just an illusion. Including the snarling of the mucky neck towel of Malaiyan with glittering eyes and ferocious twin tongues.