Thursday, January 24, 2008

CASTE, POLITICS AND RELIGION - STORIES FROM MEDIEVAL BENGAL

Chandi Mangala

Manasa Mangal

Satya Pir

While travelling in the countryside of Medinpur in West Bengal, one come across several villages of chitrakaras, called Patua Paras. Patuas, the chitrakaras straddle the ideological border between the two faiths of Islam and Hinduism. Patuas however have traditionally been painting mythological themes and move from village to village to attract audience.
In a typical Patua scroll, the first frame is devoted to the main character of the story, as the singer would call for attention of the audience and explain who it was about. Following are three well-known Patua themes.
A close analysis of these paintings and songs also reflect the social and political episodes that shaped the society in Bengal during the Medieval era.

Chandi Mangal

Durga, Durga, Tara oh mother, the remover of distress
Hard to vanquish Dakshina Kali, the daughter of the king of mountains (Himalaya)
Laxmi and Saraswati are on the left. Kartik, Ganesh, the lion, the demon, Jaya and Bijoya (the two friend – Sakhi) are with the mother.
One day mother Durga was very pleased. She showed the jewels under the Pomegranate tree.
Kalketu got the jewels from under the dalim tree and established a city, cutting down the Gujarat jungle.
Sadhu was imprissioned for 14 years. Shrimanta was born in Khullana’s womb.
Shrimanta grew up, was educated & wanted to go in search of his father.
You are my only son, the apple of my eyes. I will be lost if I let you go.
If you must go, first invoke Durga. When she was invoked she appeared.
His mother gave him to the goddess. He started the boat saying – Jai (hail) Bhavani.
In a storm in Magra Shrimanta saw Kamini swallowing an elephant, sitting on a lotus.
Kamala Kamini in a lotus, swallowing an elephant, the mother of Ganesha.
The goddess swallows an elephant in a silence unbroken by any movement. Sadhu Shrimanta does a million pronams.
After bowing to her Shrimanta shows up in Ratnamala’s ghat.
There is the sound of Dhamsa (a kind of drum) in the ghat. The king’s officers are fighting among themselves.
Whose is the kingdom? The officers are bleeding in white. They don’t bother to ask or inform the king.
King Shalibahan was sitting, having neglected his golden kingdom Shrimanta stood before him with folded palms.
He said oh King I have seen a goddess on a lotus swallowing an elephant in your kingdom.
Where is that Shrimanta? Show it to me – I will give you half my Kingdom and marry you to my daughter.
But if you can’t, listen to my words. You will be killed in execution ground in the south.
Having made that promise, King Shalibahan came to Kalidaha to see Kamala Kamini.
Mother Bhagabati played a trick. She hid within the hundred petals of the lotus.
Being unable to show her Shrimanta was in a fix. The city keeper came to execute him and tied him up.
Ensnared, Shrimanta prayed to Durga & she displayed herself, resplendent with 18 arms.
Where did you go mother? Who worshipped you? Indra the king of gods became the king of heaven, having worshipped you.
I am giving you this boon Shrimanta. You will marry king Shaliban’s daughter.
Manasa Mangal

Victory! O Victorious One, We worship you "Oh Mother."Victory! O Victorious One, who takes away the poison. Your bed was made of serpents; your throne was made of vipers. The snakes on which the Goddess' seat is made are enchanted by good words.

The bark is shaken with fury the ropes are pulled.Who is the fool to abuse Mother Manasa?Who is he but the husband of a woman of easy virtue?

If I get hold of that easy virtue womanI will beat her with a hental stick and break her bones forever.[Curses Chando, the merchant]

But altercation and enmity are never really good. Think you of Ravana of Lanka who nursed enmity and this was the cause of his deathHis ten thousand sons died and fourteen thousand grandsonsNow there is none in the city of LankaTo keep the family light burning.Wicked Chand Merchant, he did not understand anything.He abused Mother Manasa calling her "sister-in-law's son"That abuse Mother heard with her own ears.In wrath she ate Chand Merchant's six sons.Six sons' wives became widows.

The old man does not have this wisdom to offer her a token flower.He has his youngest son who is named Lakhindar.He says, let's go to Nichaninagar to marry him off.In Nichminagar lives Amulya Merchant.He has a daughter - he calls her Behula Ballerana.

The old matchmaker went to finalize the match.His teeth are like black pepper from taking pan.At the wedding Lakhindar rides a palanquin,Bandmaster Ray Harimohan's band plays with pomp.The room for the newlyweds is made of ironIn it sleeps Behula and LakhindarLike a thread, Kalia [venomous snake] gets into the roomSeeing how beautiful Lakhindar is, he begins to thinkSuch a beautiful body, where shall I sting?When the gods ask me, what shall I say?Then an unlucky thing happened to Gentleman Chand's son.He turned the other side, slack with sleep.Then, calling the Moon and Sun as his witnesses, the snake bit LakhindarThe burning venom makes Lakhindar senselessHe cries, "Wake up, get up, O daughter of Saya the Merchant, what has bitten me?"She makes a wick by tearing her sari and lights the lamp.Seeing the snake, she threw the betel nut cutter.People came running to the merchant and said, "your son is dead."Merchant Chand listens, "It is good my son Lakhindar is dead."And saying this, he took up his stick and began to dance."When the day dawns, I will roast a fish and eat it with day old rice.

Behula said: O Father-in-law, I did not live for 20 days in your house.There are so many gods, what made your quarrel with Manasa?You gave me conch shell bangles and saris, take them back as compensationCut up banana tree bark, and put then in the water.Taking the banana plant, the old man cut them and made a raft,Behula set sail.Say how many ports she missed.Her six brothers followed her.Her brothers called out "O elder sister, our loved one, why are youdrifting with a rotten corpse? Come back home, we'll take care of you.You have six brothers' wives, we'll make them work under you."

Behula: "The parental home in not for me anymore. Your wives will always befighting with me. I have become a widow at a tender age. I will not returnto my parents' home." Consoling the brothers, she sails on.

The corpse on its raft reached Goda's wharf. Goda is a clever fellow. Sittingon the sandy banks of Dangra, he doesn't eat rice, only rui carp.Seeing a young woman, Goda mocks and teases: "Tell me woman withvermilion on her forehead, where do you live?"
Behula: "Ash in your mouth, Goda, ash in your mouth. I am the handmaiden ofMother Manasa. I float downstream." And she floats away.

In this fashion, she passed by the landing places.For six months they traveled in this fashion.Arriving at Tamluk Port, the corpse begins to dance.Netai goes and washes clothes, flowery draperiesBehula also goes and washes clothes as bright as the sunTaking these clothes Behula goes to the city of the gods.She asks a boon from Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswar"We bless you Mother Behula, we bless you with a boon. Take your sixbrothers-in-law and your husband and depart to your father-in-law's house."
She prepares six rafts in a joyous frame of mind.Resurrecting her dead husband, Behula comes back to her native land.She worships Mother Manasa back homeChand Merchant gives Manasa a flower offering with his left hand.

No woman is as virtuous as BehulaThe old man gets seven sons and their seven wives all at home.From that day on, people began to worship Manasa in every house.

Satya Pir

Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame? Arise oh Baba.
Arise oh Baba, oh Saheb Satya Pir.Baba has clogs on his feet; shackles round his waist, with a stick in his hand.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.Baba, you are Narayan for the Hindus, Pir for the Muslims. You are great, having sinni from both communities.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame? Baba says: I will be true to my name. I will preach my worship in the kingdom of king Sindhu.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame? Arise oh Baba.
Having thought it out, Satyapir went to Sindhu kingdom as a fakir (Muslim priest), with a stick.The king welcomed the fakir carefully & said I don’t have any issue—tell me what to do.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.Baba said—king takes my blessings. You will have a child if you worship me.Repeat
The king asked—Baba what is required for your puja?The fakir said—let me tell you.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.You will have to gift a golden seat; & a cow & calf tied to it.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.The royal couple agreed. Some time later, a son was born to them.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.Having seen the baby, the couple forgot their promise & he died from Cholera & small pox.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.They said—alas, how did this happen? Oh unlucky me.In my old age I can leave no heir (who will carry on my line)
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.The king went for trading on a ship, & it sunk in the middle of Deep Ocean.Repeat — The king lost consciousness; the Fakir showed himself then.Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.He asked—why did you forget your promise—the shinni?
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.The king evinced pride in his sleep. Satya pir was sad & left immediately.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.The king & queen cried then & said—Baba if you rescue the ship we will certainly worship you with shinni.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame? Arise oh Baba.Finally the blessings of the Pir were evident. The sunken ship came to the banks.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you— Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.The dead son was revived.The king went home & did the Puja.The king gave the golden astana, the cow & the calf. The queen gave shinni. From that time the worship of the Pir was widespread.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.Sanatan Mandal was the noted miser in the village. He kept promising to worship the Pir but never got around doing it.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.The scoundrel was caught by a tiger round his neck while a crocodile held on to his legs.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame? Arise oh Baba.The miser was being pulled apart, while the villagers abused.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.They said come on, kill birds, and let the world arise. What legacy have you left behind?
Arise oh Baba.Those who won’t worship the Pir in this life will suffer thus here.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame?
Arise oh Baba.You are the Narayan of Hindus, Pir to the Muslims. You are strong with the sinnis (worship) of both communities.
Arise oh Baba—Saheb Satya pir.Where are you—Satya pir, I have taken shelter in you. Who else will cover our shame? Arise oh Baba.

The Chandi and Manasa patas have been drawn from Medieval Bengali Mangalkavyas (auspicious poems). Both deal with religious conflict between competing sects, with the deity being honored in the hymn usually winning out in the end and thus establishing worship.

These poems were written between the 13th and 18th centuries, also depicting the social scenario of Bengal. These were written to celebrate the victory of the local gods over the Aryan gods. Contemporary political and social conditions had some connections with the emergence of Mangalkavyas in the 13th century. It was at the juncture of the 12th and 13th centuries that Turkish force lead led by Bakhtiyar Khalji defeated Laksmanasena and conquered Bengal. Senas, who were patrons of the Brahmins, did not have the support of the lower castes who were neglected and oppressed.

When the alien Muslim forces became the new rulers, the pride of the dethroned upper class Hindus was hurt. At the same time, they realized their mistakes, and the ignominy of their defeat brought them closer to the hitherto ignored lower class Hindus, ending years of social divisions. The upper class Hindus then started respecting the religious beliefs of the lower classes. Their defeat also demoralized them and resulted in a lack of confidence in themselves and an ever-increasing reliance on supernatural forces. They started believing that fortune and misfortune were in the hands of a providence that regulated everything and that, no matter what heroic qualities human beings possessed, they were helpless without supernatural aid. This led them to create new deities who combined the power of the Aryan gods with that of the indigenous gods and who could be implored for all sorts of material and spiritual boons. This new breed of deities became their mangal gods, and the epics composed in their honour became the mangalkavya. The defeat of the alien deities and the victory of the local deities depicted in the mangalkavya were in fact symbolic of victory of the Bengalis over the foreign races.

Worship of the Satya-Pir (or Satya- Narayana) was almost similar to the worship of local deities Manasa or Chandi; the Satya-Pir was represented not by any deity but by a simple wooden plank. The Satya-Pir worshippers generally came from the poor class people and their offerings were also simple. There were both Muslim and Hindu elements in the concepts of Satya-Pir and it can be said with some amount of certainty that the Satya-Pir (Satya-Narayana) concept originated through a fusion of Muslim idea of the pir and the Hindu notion of the local deities. It is a local variation of the Muslim concept of pirism, when the local people were converted to Islam, they got the conception of pirism mixed up with the old idea of the supernatural power of their deities.