Mythologist | Author | Speaker | Illustrator

December 9, 2013

First published December 8, 2013

 in Mid-day

Footprints of Pilgrims

Published August 11, 2013 in Mid-Day.

Should we sit or should we move? Should we be in repose or should we be restless? Should we root ourselves or should we travel? The hermit was advised to never stay in one place for more than a night, expect during Chaturmaas, the four months of the heavy rainy season. The householders stayed in one place, in the village, but were advised to go on a pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime.

European scholars have always argued that India as a concept does not exist; it was created by the British. They are thinking materially as is the Western wont. But the idea of Bhaarat is an ancient one, known to every Indian. It is not a political entity, but it is certainly an economic entity well known to pilgrims and traders. It was created by the pilgrim trail and marked by mobile marketplaces or melas, where people came together to worship, bathe, trade and talk. This diamond-shaped land was described as Jambu-dvipa, the continent shaped like a rose-apple. The Persians called it Hind, located beyond the river Hind, which the Greeks called Indus. It was a land watered by rivers, foremost of which was the great Ganga and its many tributaries. It expanded south beyond the Vindhyas.

In the ancient chronicles (contrary to beliefs of European Orientalists) there are no tales of people migrating from the West of the Indus to the East of the Ganges, but there are many tales of kings and sages, even mountains and rivers, travelling from north to the south. The Bhagavat Puran describes how Krishna migrates from the Gangetic plains to the coast of Gujarat. The Ramayan describes how prince Ram leaves Ayodhya and travels to the shores of the sea and beyond. It also describes the travails of a sage called Agastya who makes the Vindhya bend as he moves southwards. Agastya carries with him a pot containing the waters of the Ganga; a crow tips the pot and out flows the river Kaveri, which then in essence becomes the southern version of Ganga.

Shiva, lives in the north, atop Mount Kailas and his son, Kartikeya, after a fight moves south where he mourns the absence of mountains. And so his mother, Shakti, sends him mountain peaks, carried south on a sling by the rakshasa Hidimba. So the mountains of the south become southern versions of the Himalayas. On the southern tip of India stands Kanyakumari, the eternal virgin, waiting for her groom, Shiva, to make the trip south and marry her but the gods prevent this for as long as Kanyakumari stays virgin, she will remain rooted to the tip of the land, preventing the sea from overwhelming the sacred continent.

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