Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The twelve children of a woman of low birth – 4

Vararuchi started a happy married life with the wise girl from the Brahmin family. One day he was enjoying her close company in solitude. While he was stroking her lovely hair his hands sensed something rough on her scalp. On close observation he realized that it was a scar. “How did this happen?”, asked Vararuchi. His wife replied in a casual manner: “You know, I am not really a child born to my parents. My mother found me afloat on a raft while she was bathing in the river. She was childless. So, she pleaded with my father to keep me. My father was hesitant initially saying that he did not know of my birth. From the look of me he knew that I was a cast away in the river for some reason he would not know. But, my mother persuaded him saying that I was god’s gift to them. Finally, they decided to accept me. They removed an oil lamp that was stuck on my head which left this scar. My mother told all these things to me after I grew up”.

The irony of fate

Vararuchi heaved a sigh wondering at the power of fate. He told her all about her birth and about the prediction. He explained how he tried to protect himself and how he failed. He concluded saying, “we should not continue living in this land as before. Let us be on a pilgrimage from now on distancing ourselves from the society and its norms.” With the concurrence of his wife, whom we may simply call Parayi (born of the Paraya family) for no other reason than convenience, Vararuchi left the palace and the country and in her company started roaming around holy places in the neighbouring lands.

The story so far must have taken place outside Kerala, probably in and around Ujjain. There is reason to believe that further journey of the couple took them into various parts of the state.

Does the baby have a mouth?

Soon, the wife of Vararuchi got in the family way. When it was time for delivery they got into a nearby forest where the good lady delivered her first child. It was a boy. When Vararuchi heard the first cry of the baby he called out: “Does the child have a mouth?” “Yes, of course!”, replied the mother with excitement. “If God has given it a mouth, then He will provide for its food also. Leave him behind, just as you come out of the forest.”

The Parayi was sorry to lose her darling baby and abandon it at a forest, with no one to care for it. But, Vararuchi started walking away even without turning back. So, she had to follow him keeping her deep sorrow to herself.

She bore another child, to another boy, and the same question was asked by her husband after delivery: “Was the child born with a mouth?” If so, leave the child behind. The Lord who gave him a mouth shall feed him as well. This was repeated eleven times. Only one was a girl. All others were boys. All were left behind, in the hands of the God who bestowed it with a mouth.

The one without a mouth

The Parayi bore a child the twelfth time also. It was a boy. This time when the same question was asked, she replied though with hesitation: “No, my husband, it does not have a mouth”. She hoped that she would be given permission, in that case, to keep the child. Vararuchi came near and inspected the baby. What a wonder, it did not, indeed, have a mouth! It is said that the words of the truly devoted (Pativrata) wives come true. How will a child without a mouth survive? So, Vararuchi carried it to a nearby hill and installed it as deity on top of it. Thus, the twelfth child born to the couple became an instant divinity. The villagers from nearby and even far away lands continue to visit the temple of the god without a mouth on a hill (vaayillaakkunnil appan).

The eleven siblings

The other eleven were picked up by kind villagers, all belonging to different castes, whoever found them. The first was a Brahmin. The boy grew up and later performed one of the rare rituals, called an Agnihotra, and came to be known as an Agnihotri. Another was adopted by a carpenter and he grew up to become one of the best known artisans in the land (perunthaccan). One, named Narayana, behaved so extraordinarily that people took him to be mad from birth. He was known by the name,“ the mad Narayana (narayana bhaanta)”. Nothing more is known of Vararuchi or his devoted wife later.

All the eleven children exhibited extraordinary traits even from their childhood. Many of their stories are told and retold even today throughout Kerala. Quite a few of them are interesting in one way or other. We may pick a few and go through them through the next episodes. The families of the eleven surviving children are traced even to this date.

After the death of Vararuchi the eleven surviving children started getting together in the house of the eldest brother, the Brahmin, for the annual remembrance ritual for their father. That practice was revived recently by the families who claim to be the true descendants of the Parayi.

(To be continued)

1 comment:

Melissa said...

An annual remembrance ritual by the eleven children he abandoned seems like more than he deserved. Is there any explanation for why he did that?