Published on 21st May, 2023, in Mid-day.
In Hindu mythology, during the battle between the devas and asuras, the guru of the asuras, Shurkracharya, is about to use Sanjeevani Vidya to resurrect all dead asuras. To prevent this from happening, the gods beg Shiva to help. Shiva swallows Shukracharya and keeps him in his body. But Shurkracharya manages to escape in the form of semen. This is why “shukra” means semen.
In another story, the asuras kill Kacha, the son of Indra, and get Shurkacharya to eat him. But Shurkacharya’s daughter is in love with Kacha. She begs her father to bring him back to life by regurgitating him. Shurkacharya does not know how to do this. So he comes up with another idea. He teaches Kacha who is in his body the secret of Sanjeevini Vidya. Then Shukracharya’s body is cut open and Kacha is pulled out. Kacha then resurrects his teacher, Shukracharya.
In another folktale, we are told how Kalidas sees the goddess Saraswati and is so impressed by her beauty that he starts describing her. But he describes her from head to toe, and this is seen as disrespect which is why the goddess who gets angry, takes the form of the terrifying Kali, and swallows him. He apologises from within her stomach for his mistake and starts describing her from toe to head. Pleased by this new narration, the goddess spits him out, which is why he is called the servant of Kali.
Then there are stories where the endings are not so happy. For example, we hear how the asura Atapi would turn his brother Vatapi into a goat, cook his meat and offer them to guests. When the guests had eaten this meat, he would get his brother to turn back and rip his way out of their stomachs. That would naturally kill the guests. But, when the goat meat was offered to Agastya Muni, he digested Vatapi before he could turn back. Agastya is famous for his digestive powers. He is supposed to have swallowed the entire ocean and revealed the asuras who were hiding under the sea.
In the folk Ramayana, in Tamil Nadu, we learn of a fight between Surpanakha and her sister-in-law, Mandodari. Enraged by this fight, Surpanakha’s husband swallows Mandodiri’s husband, Ravana. Ravana begs his sister, Surpanakha, to pull him out, but the only way to do so is by killing her own husband. Ravana tells Surpanakha that if she does this, he will declare her son as his heir. Greedy for the throne, Surpankaha cuts open the husband’s belly and releases Ravana. But then Ravana goes back on his promise and refuses to make her son his heir. This makes Surpanakha furious, which is why she procures the help of Ram to destroy Ravana.
In a Rajasthani folk Ramayana, it is said that, at the time of their first meeting, Hanuman swallows Lakshman, when Lakshman eats a mango from a tree without his permission. Ram apologises on Lakshman’s behalf, and Hanuman is appeased enough to regurgitate Lakshman.