Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday on Feb 26, 2012.
While frogs and toads are closely associated with rain and fertility and part of Chinese Feng Shui artifacts (images of frogs on a pile of coins are said to attract good fortune), they do not play a prominent role in Indian mythology. I found two rare references to frogs. In both cases they were about frog-queens, who like the frog-prince of fairytales, became human following a matter of the heart.
The story goes that Shiva once asked the demon-king, Ravan what he wanted. Ravan replied, “I want to marry your wife.” Shiva, the guileless ascetic, gave his assent. Shiva’s consort, Shakti, did not blame her husband — she realized Ravan had taken advantage of his innocence. She had to remedy the situation herself. So she took a frog and turned her into a nymph. Ravan saw the nymph and assumed that she had to be Parvati. Which other damsel would live on the icy slopes of Mount Kailas with Shiva ? He took her to Lanka and made her his queen. She was called Mandodari after manduka, the frog. And he wondered why she always sought his attention at the start of the rainy season when the bull frogs croaked in the palace pond.
In the other story, Parikshit, the grandson of Arjuna, the great archer, had a very peculiar wife whose name was Sushobhna. “Make sure,” she had told him before she agreed to marry him, “that I never look upon a body of water.” Parikshit assumed his wife was afraid of water and so to make her comfortable, he ensured she never came near a well or a pond or a lake. Parikshit was obsessed with his wife. He even neglected his royal duties so that he could be with her, much to the irritation of his courtiers and ministers.
One day, in a spirit of merriment, he took her to a garden and in the centre of the garden there was a lake. As soon as Sushobhna saw the lake, she jumped in and did not rise again. Parikshit feared the worst. Had she been drowned? He ordered the lake be pumped dry. When the lake had been dried, he found inside no sign of his wife, only frogs. Maybe the frogs killed his wife, and ate her, he thought.
“Kill the frogs,” he ordered. So Parikshit’s soldiers went about killing the frogs until the frog-king, Ayu, begged Parikshit to stop and revealed the secret that had been hidden from Parikshit. “Your wife is my daughter, a frog princess. And this is how she seduces men and breaks their heart. I beg you to stop the killing of frogs. If you do, I will order my daughter to return to you and serve you as a wife should and not play her cruel games of love.”
Parikshit agreed and the frog-king forced his daughter to take human form again and serve her husband dutifully. Sushobhna followed Parikshit back to his palace but somehow the love between them was not as it was before.
Stories such as these perhaps humanized frogs and helped children grow up to more nature-loving adults. Or they were simply fun stories with no deep meaning, other than the insatiable desire for that complex emotion called love.