Encounter with a Brahma-Raakshas
February 18, 2012 5 Comments
Here’s one of those folktales told to us as children to quell many a living-room riot and sober us up for a while:
Satya lived with his mother helping with odd jobs in the village temple. In return, he got a room to live and a sack of grains every week. And, some left-over’s from the offerings the devotees brought to the temple. All of it was not sufficient to provide for even two square meals a day. Tired of a life of constant deprivation, Satya thought hard on ways and means of escaping from the vise-like clutches of poverty once for all and came to a decision. He told his mother he was going to the city of Indrapuri to try his fortune. The mother was alarmed at the prospect of her young son journeying long distances and living in an unfamiliar city. She tried as best as she could to dissuade him into staying back. However Satya was firm about his plans and reassured his mother not to worry for him and he’ll take good care of himself.
Thus one morning he set out for Indrapuri. Since the journey was long, his mother packed some curd-rice to sustain him until he reached the city. He was on the road until noon when he decided to have his lunch and rest for a while under a large banyan tree.
He selected a spot under the tree and set down his modest travel-sack. He washed his hands and feet in the waters of the pond nearby and came back to the spot. Taking out the packet of curd-rice, he got ready to eat. That’s when he heard a somewhat muted roar from overhead. He looked up and could not see anything untoward. While he continued eating, now the sound was no longer sporadic, was up to a steady tempo. He quickly gulped his meal, washed his hands in the pond, returned to pick up his sack and make himself scarce from the spot. He stopped in his tracks when he heard a disembodied voice:
‘Please don’t leave.’
Satya, rattled for a moment, quickly regained his composure and asked, ‘Who are you and where are you?’
‘I’m up here,’ said the voice.
When Satya looked up, he now saw in the branches above his head a fearsome Bramha-Raakshas (a kind of demon) in the size of a midget.
‘Do not fear. I mean no harm. You can and you must help me.’
The Bramha-Raakshas continued with his story: ‘I was a nadhaswaram (a long axially played wind instrument of music) vidhwan (an artist of consummate skills), playing in the temple nearby. I persistently refused to take anyone as a sishya (student). For not sharing my knowledge with anyone, I am now born as a Bramha-Raakshas and am living here on this tree.’
‘All right. What’s gone wrong now? How can I help you?’
‘Well, over the last few days there is a fellow newly appointed to play nadhaswawram at the temple nearby. This fellow’s music is killing. And he plays this abhaswaram (discordant) music for hours on the end. It’s like driving hot nails into my body. Try as I might, I am simply unable to bear it any longer.’
‘Why don’t you move away to a place away from here?’
‘I can’t – this music has sapped all my strength that I am not able to move. All I can do is sit here and moan in distress.’
‘Please get this fellow somehow to go away from here. I’ll be deeply indebted to you.’
‘On the other hand, it would be easier for me to move you to another place.’
So, Satya, carried the demon shrunk in form to the size of a midget and placed him on another tree some distance away where the music could not be heard.
The demon slowly regained his powers. When he did, he let out a thunderous roar and turned to Satya:
‘Thanks, my friend, for the help. I would like to return the favor at the earliest. From here I’m going to the city of Chandragiri and very soon possess the princess of that kingdom; I would leave her only when you show up.’
Satya changed his course now to Chandragiri. On reaching the city a few days later he casually inquired and learned about the princess’ ailment. A pall of gloom had descended on the whole city. Satya realized his moment had come. Immediately he headed for the palace whereupon he claimed he could cure the princess of her illness. At the palace there was so much despair that despite the skepticism on seeing a young lad turn up where so many seasoned vaidhya’s (physicians) and maanthreeka’s (exorcists well-versed in invoking arcane mantra’s) had failed, he was allowed access to the princess’ chamber. Once he ordered everyone out, the Bramha-Raakshas spoke through the princess:
‘I’m glad you came. I keep my word to you and leave now. The Raja would be mighty happy and shower you with gifts. It’s even now between us. Remember not to try this ever again anytime in future. You’ll not find me so obliging on that occasion. In fact I’ll kill you without a thought.’
He made his exit with a roar that shook the pillars of the palace.
The princess became her usual self and an overjoyed Raja overwhelmed Satya with gifts of silver, gold and land. Satya went back to his village and returned with his mother. In due course, he married a local girl and lived happily raising a family.
One day his placid life was disturbed when he received an order from the Raja to proceed to the city of Devnagar. The Raja of Devnagar was a close ally of the Raja and his daughter was afflicted with the same ailment. The Raja had promised services of Satya to cure the princess of her sickness.
Satya could not think of disobeying the Raja’s order and incur his wrath. At the same time, if he went in to attend on the princess he was sure to be killed. After much deliberation, he decided to go. It was just possible he might get lucky to face a different demon.
Bidding a tearful farewell to his family, Satya proceeded to Devnagar. On reaching the palace he was welcomed as a savior – his reputation obviously had preceded him. Without further ado he was conducted to the chamber of the princess. When he was left alone and the Bramha-Raakshas saw him, he let out his customary roar dispelling all of Satya’s doubts and hopes. It was the same demon ready to pounce on him this time.
Facing a certain death, Satya calmly turned around towards the chamber door and said to the guard standing out: ’Hey, there, will you send in that abhaswara vidhwan I had brought with me to play his nadhaswaram? What’s keeping him back?’
Memories of the painful experience came flooding back to the Bramha-Raakshas. There was a loud clap. In a flash the demon was gone.
Needless to add Satya returned home with more honors and gifts.
Brahma-Raakshas as per Hindu mythology is actually the spirit of a dead scholar, who has done evil things in his life or has misused his knowledge, who has to suffer as a Brahma-Raakshas after his or her death. The demon spirit is said to have lot of powers and only few in this world can fight and overcome them or give it salvation from this form of life. It retains the knowledge of its past lives and vedas and puranas. But it would eat human beings!(from Wiki).
Image of nadhaswaram concert by K.M. Dakshinamoorthy and K.M. Uthirapathy at Tiruchi is from http://www.thehindu.com/arts/music/article972084.ece?viewImage=1
Image of Mahishasura installed in Chamundi Hills near Mysore is from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mahishasura.jpg
A version of this story appearing at: http://www.knowledgecommission.org/brahmarakshasa-a-tamil-folktale.html helped in serving it up afresh from misty memories.