The Story of Meenakshi

Meenakshi was an incarnation of the goddess Parvati, a form she took because of a boon she granted to her devotee, Vidyavati. Pleased with Vidyavati’s penance, Parvati agreed to be born as her daughter in Vidyavati’s next life.

And thus, Meenakshi came to be the daughter of Madurai’s king  Malayadhwajan and queen Kanchanamala, who was Vidyavati reborn. The royal couple could not have children for years and finally, as a solution, they performed a special yajna. At the yajna, Meenakshi emerged from the sacred flames as a three year old girl.

Although the king had wanted a son, he accepted Meenakshi without hesitation, after hearing a voice that told him that to bring her up like a prince. She was destined to rule as a Pandian queen and would bring glory to his name.

After Malayadhwajan passed on, Meenakshi was crowned queen and she began to take out military expeditions to expand her father’s kingdom. On one such expedition to Mount Kalinga, she came head to head with Shiva himself. It had been prophesied that Meenakshi would instantly be able to recognise her future husband, which is exactly what happened when she laid eyes on Shiva. Within eight days, Shiva came to Madurai as Lord Sundareswar where they were to be united in matrimony.

Illustration: Durgesh Velhal

This celestial wedding witnessed a huge gathering of gods and goddesses in attendance, with Lord Vishnu, who was also Meenakshi’s brother, conducting the ceremony.

Every year, a grand celebration is held at the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai commemorating the holy union of the goddess Meenakshi Amma and Lord Sundareswarar.

Read more about Meenakshi and other Hindu goddesses in Amar Chitra Katha’s ‘Shakti’, available on the Amar Chitra Katha app, as well as Amazon, Flipkart, and other major e-tailers.

How Kubera Learnt Humility

In mythology, Kubera is the god of wealth. Proud of his immense fortune, he decides to throw a lavish party to celebrate it and invites all the gods and goddesses. All of them come to his party, appreciate it, and bless him. However, Kubera isn’t satisfied with this. He decides to invite Shiva and Parvati as well, who are considered the deities of the deities, the most supreme of them all. However, they politely decline his invitation, instead offering to send their son, Ganesha, albeit on one condition – Ganesha will get to eat to his heart’s content. 

 

On reaching the palace, Kubera lays out a lavish dinner for his young guest. To his surprise, Ganesha eats it all and asks for more. Ganesha soon begins to eat his way through Kubera’s entire pantry. Seeing that his coffers can’t keep pace with Ganesha’s appetite, Kubera begs Ganesha to stop. Ganesh gets furious at this and orders him to keep his promise. 

Kubera runs to seek Shiva’s help. Shiva tells him that Ganesha is still hungry because Kubera fed him with pride. Shiva gives him a bowl of puffed rice and asks Kubera to feed this to Ganesha with humility and love. Kubera takes the bowl, and offers it to Ganesha, with a heartfelt apology. Ganesha accepts the meal and the apology, and is finally satisfied with his meal. And that’s how Kubera learnt a lesson in humility from the elephant god!

Buy the beautifully illustrated ACK Junior “Ganesh and Kubera” for the full story:

Jaya

What were the different connotations of the sanskrit word ‘Jaya’ ?

 

  • Jaya and Vijaya are the gate-keepers of the abode of Vishnu. Once, when they didn’t let Rishi Sanaka enter, he cursed them, saying they would be born on Earth as asuras. They would only be redeemed when slayed by Vishnu’s celestial weapon. Accordingly, the duo was born as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashyapu, Ravana and Kumbhakarna, and Shishupala and Dantavakra.
  • Jaya was the original name of the Mahabharata written by Ved Vyasa. Many scholars opine that Vaisampayana, a disciple of Vyasa, added fifteen thousand two hundred stanzas to the Jaya. After sage Suta recited the book to other hermits at a Vaishnavite temple called Naimisharanaya, it came to be called the Mahabharata.
  • Jaya is also another name for the sun god, Surya.

The Ramayana’s Different Versions

Did you know there are over 300 versions of the epic story of Prince Ram?

Sage Valmiki wrote the definitive version of the Ramayana we all know and love, but as many as three hundred different versions of the epic are known to exist. In fact, the mammoth text even has versions that originated outside India. These versions can be found in China, Japan, Iran, Indonesia, and Cambodia, among others. Here are some of the examples of these, both within India and from abroad:

The great Tamil poet Kambar. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Ramavataram: Written by the legendary Tamil poet Kambar under the patronage of the Pannai kula chieftain Thiruvennal Nallur Sadayappa Vallal, the epic work is based on Valmiki’s work, but differs in specific incidents in the storyline and spiritual aspects. This is mainly because when in Valmiki’s version, Rama is a mortal prince whereas, by the time Kambar writes his version, Rama has already been deified as an incarnation of Vishnu himself. So when Rama kills Vaali from his hiding spot, he doesn’t feel the need to explain himself, as he fulfilled his kshatriya duty. However, when the same incident is retold by Kambar, Rama explains his actions many times over in the form of song. Even little things like the manner in which Ravana abducts Sita is shown differently. In Valmiki’s version, Ravana grabs Sita by her hair and hoists her over his shoulders. However, in Kambar’s version, Ravana lifts her off the ground with the piece of the earth she is standing on, with not even a fingernail touching her.

The story of the squirrel getting the lines on its back originated in the Ranganatha Ramayana. Image: “Rama and the Squirrel” – ACK Junior

The Ranganatha Ramayana: It is the most famous Telugu adapatation of the epic penned by the famous poet Ranganatha between 1300 and 1310 AD; there are over 40 adaptations in Telugu, but only four cover the entirety of the story. Ranganatha Ramayana is famous for introducing the fabled squirrel incident; when the vanaras were helping Rama build a bridge to Lanka, a humble squirrel decided to do its bit and help out. As a gesture of his gratitude, Rama blesses the creature by drawing three lines on its back with his fingers.

A mural based on the Reamker at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Image; Wikimedia Commons

The Reamker: A version of the Ramayana that originated in Cambodia, the epic builds on its Hindu roots and gives it shades of Buddhist philosophy. Literally translated to ‘Glory of Rama’, the story highlights the battle of good and evil, and plays on themes like justice and fidelity through Phreah Rama (Ram), Neang Seda (Sita) and Krong Reap (Ravana). In this version, there are new characters introduced like Sovanna Maccha, a mermaid who Hanuman encounters on his journeys. Like most South Asian texts, the Reamker is not limited to its literary form, but is retold through all art forms, from sculptures to dance-drama, music to paintings. Scenes from the epic appear as temple paintings and is said to have adorned the great temple of Angkor Vat.

The Javanese guardian spirit Semar and his three adopted sons, as depicted in Javanese shadow puppetry. Image: WIkimedia Commons

Kakawin Ramayana: The Jawanese rendition of the epic is considered to be the pinnacle of poetic expression in Indonesia and has a lot of differences from Valmiki’s original. While the first half still matches its Sanskrit predecessor for the most of it, the second half sees the introduction of the all-powerful Jawanese guardian spirit, Semar, and his monstrous sons, Gareng, Petruk and Bagong. These four characters are staples in Javanese shadow puppetry or ‘Wayang’, and show up as comical servants to the hero, in this case, Prince Rama. Interestingly, in this version, Hanuman is considered the king of the monkeys, not Vali or Sugriva like in the original. Scholars say that the first half is based more on the poet’s Bhatti’s Ravanavadha, written in the 6th or 7th century, rather than Valmiki’s Ramayana.

Other notable versions include:
– Ramakien in Thailand
– Phra Lak Phra Ram in Laos
– Yama Zatdaw in Burma
– Saptakanda Ramayana in Assam
– Ramacharitam in Kerala
– And of course, the poet Tulsidas’ famous Ramcharitmanas

Rama’s Ring

Over the centuries, the two greatest Indian epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, have been written in different Indian languages to enable them to reach a wider audience. Poets like Tulsidas, Kamban and Krittibas Ojha have all penned down their own versions of these stories in the common language of their regions. The tribal communities also had their own versions in the form of songs and plays that their people could connect to. These versions of Indian epics are a part of our rich Indian heritage which should to be preserved and promoted.

In this special collection entitled Rama’s Ring, Amar Chitra Katha brings together nine lesser-known stories from alternate tellings of the two great Indian epics. This is the first time we bring Ramayana stories and Mahabharata stories together in one book.

While some tellings in this book are poetic masterpieces in their own right, others are simple folk versions passed down from one generation to the next. The iconic illustrations and in-depth research of the credible team of Amar Chitra Katha make this book a must-read for all genders and all age groups.

So what are some of the stories inside?

Read about the time when Rama’s ring falls down a crack in the floor, and Hanuman takes a journey to the centre of the earth to retrieve it.

Find out how an alternate telling of the Mahabharata talked about not Krishna but a different set of saviours who came to Draupadi’s rescue when she was humiliated by Dushasana in the Kaurava court.

Did you know that Ravana was capable of replacing his physical body with a fiercer, almost demonic form which made him nearly impervious to Rama’s attacks?

Check out the special ‘crossover’ episode when the Pandava prince Bhima comes to Rama’s help when Lakshmana is kidnapped by a celestial princess.

Learn why Duryodhana, inspite of receiving five powerful golden arrows guaranteed to kill the Pandavas from Bhishmacharya, still lost the war because of a debt he owed Arjuna.

BUY THE BOOK HERE:

 

How Gurgaon Got Its Name

Do you know how the city of Gurgaon in Haryana got its name?

Legend says that King Dhritarashtra gifted the region of modern-day Gurugram to Dronacharya. It was a token of the king’s gratitude to the respected teacher for taking on the task of training the Kuru princes in the art of warfare. Dronacharya opened his school in the village, eventually settling here. Thus, the place was called ‘guru ka gaon’ meaning the teacher’s village. Over time, the name got shortened to Gurgaon, and in 2016, it was officially renamed Gurugram by the Haryana government. 

As per one story, the city of Gurgaon was the region gifted by King Dhritarashtra to Drona for agreeing to become the princes’ teacher.

Another legend attributes the gifting to the Pandavas and not their uncle, the region serving as their gurudakshina to their teacher. The Dronacharya tank still stands in the city today, a water reservoir that is no longer in use. It is believed to be the same tank where the Pandavas and the Kauravas once lost their ball while playing.

You can read the full story in Amar Chitra Katha’s Drona or the ACK Junior ‘Drona and the Ball Game’

Buy them here:

Matsya

The word ‘matsya’ has many references in the Puranic scripts. Here are some of them.

  1. The first and foremost incarnation of Vishnu.
  2. An ancient country of Puranic fame. The people of this country were called Matsyas.
  3. An ancient King’s name: King Matsya was the brother of Satyavati, the mother of Vyasa. Satyavati and Matsya were both found in a fish by the same fisherman.

The Sailoda River

The Sailoda River finds mention in both the great epics; the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

In the Ramayana’s Kishkindha Kand, when Sugreeva sends troops to the north in search of Sita, he informs them of the divine province of Uttara Kuru. This region was known for its beautiful mountains, two of them being Meru and Mandara. A graceful river, Sailoda, flows between them. Kichaka, a variety of bamboo, grows on the banks of this river. 

Kichaka bamboo is a special variety of the plant, used specifically to make transverse flutes in India. The diameter and wall thickness of each bamboo stick is analyzed to check if it produces a desired pitch and tone. The term ‘kichaka‘ itself means ‘whistling sound made as the wind passes through’. 

#LegendSays that this river was so difficult to cross, only ‘siddhas’ or truly accomplished souls could do so, that too with the help of the bamboos. 

Read Amar Chitra Katha’s Kishkinda Kand

Illustration: Ritoparna Hazra
Script: Harini Srinivasan