All the eleven living children of Vararuchi may have been equally great. Their greatness was that they were evolved souls, not affected by the ways of the world. Most of them exhibited a sixth sense. It is said that they could see the future in store for themselves and for those with whom they moved. Most of the recorded stories surround five or six of the eleven. There may be more about them and about the others, told and retold locally, in the respective areas where they lived.
Among them the mad Narayana (Narayana Bhraanta) impressed me most. He was believed to be fostered by one sub-division of Brahmins, an Ilayath, though that is not so recorded. He was known more for his idiosyncrasies.
He was always dressed in rags and appeared in the most untidy way. He spoke little and had very little to do with others. He needed very little to maintain himself and survived only by begging.
What earned him the epithet, “mad”, was his strange daily routine. He used to start the day rolling a rock up a hill nearby. He would toil, in sun or rain, until he reached the top of the hill, rolling the rock up with all his strength. Once he reached the top he would roll the rock down the slopes of the hill and enjoy the sight. He would clap his hands and laugh loudly, as if appreciating his own achievement. Wise men have tried to explain the madness of Narayana saying that he tried to send the message that the path uphill was always difficult. And a fall from a lofty position earned the hard way was so easy.
Ten thousand gone, ten thousand yet to go
One of the trivial pursuits of Narayana was his pre-occupation with nature. He would watch arrays of ants passing so intently that it would appear that he was counting them. One day some one who passed by mockingly asked. “How many have gone?” Our Narayana, even without turning around, replied. “Ten thousand gone, another ten thousand yet to go.”
It was said that the man who asked the question was suffering from a severe stomach ailment. He had already spent ten thousand Rupees in treating his illness. Yet, he did not get cured. In fact, he had kept an equal amount aside for the purpose. The unexpected reply from the mad Narayana made him thinking. Even mad people often would make sensible statements. It was possible that Narayana, though mad, might have got an inkling of his future, that he would be cured by spending the amount he had earmarked for his future treatment. That was the thought that came to the mind of the passer by. It is said that finally the prediction of mad Narayana came true. The guy was cured of his ailment after he spent ten thousand more Rupees on treatment.
All alone in a cremation ground
Narayana, after spending the mornings in such frivolities, would start begging for food in the afternoons. His only worldly possession was his begging bowl which he also used for cooking his solitary meal of the day, at night.
He would go to a place where there was water in the evenings with whatever food, mostly a handful of rice, he collected by begging during the day. He would collect water in the bowl, make fire near by, cook his meal and enjoy the simple dinner. Then, he would sleep in the open near the fire till morning. If he got nothing he had no complaint. He could go without meal for days together.
Narayana had collected some rice for his dinner that day. He found fire in a cremation ground near the river. The relations of the dead person had left after performing the funeral rites. Normal persons never entered such places for any other reason, especially at night.
There are always ghost stories built around cremation grounds. It is believed to be the place where Goddess Kali entertained herself with her companion ghosts. Ordinary humans used to shudder at the very thought of cremation grounds and of the terrifying sights they might witness there, especially in the middle of nights.
Not so for our Narayana. He feared nothing and cared for none of the norms that bound ordinary humans. So, for him a cremation ground was as good a place as any other that suited him as a camping site. There was a huge fire that was burning from the pyre and there was a river nearby. Besides, the place was desolate giving him the much cherished peace.
So, he made an open oven with three rocks and pulled some logs off the funeral pyre to their middle. He placed his begging pot with rice and water on top and left it for cooking. Narayana had his left foot slightly swollen because of elephantiasis which he placed on top of one of the rocks for temporary relief. He started humming a melody and was drowsing off in between.
(We continue the story of Mad Narayana in the next episode)