The Story Of The Brahma-Raakshas And The Mango Trees (For Children)

May require reading it to them.

Part 1

They were resting after a simple meal of dal (lentils) and roti (flat bread), on the rope-cots laid out in the open front-yard of the temple. The temple usually served as the night shelter for wayfarers who happened to pass by. A light breeze provided relief from the stickiness in the air. The sun had gone down a couple of hours ago. While the birds had returned home, the insects came out buzzing aloud. The street, poorly lit by lampposts, one here and one there, was deserted save for an occasional villager returning home from some field work.

The old priest, a kind and hospitable host, was making polite inquiries to the visitor by his side, a young man in early twenties, where was he coming from, where was he going, etc. It turned out he was hailing from a place not very far off proceeding to meet his cousin residing in the town.  Just then, interrupting their conversation, some soft and melodious music, played on a bansuri (flute) floated in from a distance. Had he heard the tunes before? Didn’t seem so.

BansuriNewIndianExpress

‘The villagers seem to take care of you well – there’s even music to lull you to sleep at night!’ the visitor said in jest.

‘Oh, that’ll be Keshav, the milkman…he’s good at it…happens every night…one day it is bansuri, sometimes it’s ektara…’

‘So you don’t get bored…’

‘It’s not what you think.’

‘Well, what is it then? Someone running classes for aspiring artists at this hour?’ He said it so light-heartedly it didn’t offend the priest.

‘It’s a long story.’

‘The evening is young yet. Am all ears. Unless, of course, you’re tired…’

Thus, thanks to the visitor, came to light a strange story that would have been otherwise lost to posterity.

Here’s the long and short of the priest’s account.

Part 2

The story started decades ago, when the priest’s father, also a priest, was serving at this temple.

One day — unfortunately, it was also the day he had to go out, leaving the temple in the hands of a stand-in – a yogi passing by arrived at the temple in the same manner the visitor had. The stand-in did not know enough to receive the yogi with due respect and provide him for a comfortable night stay.  The yogi, short on temper like Sage Dhurvasa, felt slighted.  Before departing, next day morning, the yogi cursed the village as a whole: he summoned a brahma-raakshas (a super-demon) and instructed him to live among the mango orchards, never to move out or unnecessarily hurt any human.

The curse was harsh on the village; for the village was known for its delicious mangoes, available in the summer, much sought after by the royalty of the land and the rich, the leftovers picked up by the traders for the commoners’ market.

Right from day one, the raakshas made his presence felt. He would make hideous sounds all day and night sending a chill up the spine for anyone in the vicinity.  There were also short interludes of delightful music sounding like coming out of some wind-instrument that could calm the nerves of an incurable insomniac – but these were few and far between. The orchards were left alone by the villagers for the fear of their lives. When one or two picked up enough courage to venture in, they were chased away by the raakshas with a dire threat to kill them if they ever returned. Come summer, he grew quieter – but only after consuming the all the ripe fruits as if he was making up for all the months he had gone without, essentially destroying the livelihood of the poor villagers.

Gloom descended on the village. Poverty sneaking into every house threatening to take up permanent residence. Many tantriks were brought in to evict the raakshas from their midst to no avail.

Finally the priest thought of a way. He located the whereabouts of the yogi through his network of priests. He went up to him in person and explained with due apologies why he was not welcomed and cared for properly when he had visited the village. And also the subsequent havoc that the raakshas was causing all around. The yogi was mollified; but he expressed his inability to recall the raakshas since he had stayed within his limits as instructed by the yogi himself; he could only be punished if he had transgressed in any manner. By way of a partial redressal, however, the yogi imparted a mantra to the priest. Without realizing the implications in full, the yogi also extracted a promise from the priest he would not share the mantra with anyone else. If he did, it would cease to be effective.

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On his return, the priest used the mantra month after month – it had to be recited on every ammavasya (new-moon day) morning before sunrise to forcibly bind the raakshas to a small cluster of trees until the next ammavasya. From time to time the raakshas roared out his resentment in no uncertain terms setting off palpitations in the hearts of the villagers; but there was little else he could do. The villagers gradually gained confidence knowing the raakshas would not cross his limits and went back to tending their orchards and plucking the fruits in summer, leaving the cluster well alone. And, much to everybody’s relief, life quickly returned to normal as before.

Happy times don’t last forever as they – pessimists – say. One day disaster struck.

It was the day before an ammavasya when the priest suddenly passed away.

Amidst the grief over the priest’s sudden death, even before the embers turned cold on the funeral pyre, a sense of nervousness gripped the villagers on how would the raakshas be kept in check now. For a while, it seemed there might not be any real cause to worry; for, there was the priest’s son, a young man barely out of his teens, but properly groomed by the father to take over. Their nervousness turned into pure panic when they learned the son was not initiated into the mantra by his father so as to comply with the solemn promise given to the yogi.

The vision loomed large of those terrible days when the raakshas was in full fury.  What would they do now? No one in the village slept even a wink that night.

Part 3

It was morning of ammavasya – the day to renew and recharge the bondage of the raakshas. With the earlier spell almost spent, the raakshas was kicking up fury threatening to break free, a show he put on every month without a let-up knowing well the monthly check on him would inevitably be reinstated by the priest.

Only this time the priest was not around to put him back on leash.

The son anointed as the new priest offered the morning pooja at the temple and turned up at the spot before sunrise. He called out – he know how from his father – to the brahma-raakshas:

‘Look, my friend…’

The raakshas derisively laughed: ‘Friend?? What friend? Where’s your father, one who has imprisoned me here?’

‘A friend or a foe, you’ll know when I’ve finished. Not sure if you’re aware – my father passed away yesterday, that’s why I’m here today.’

‘Sorry to hear.’ Somehow he didn’t sound he was mocking.

‘I know you too have a heart…and live by scruples. Like you haven’t harmed any of us from the day you came here though on occasions it was pretty close. And I know, for a brahma-raakshas, it’s not easy being confined to a small space.’

‘Thanks, but no thanks for your commiseration.’

‘I’ve a deal for you…’

‘Deal? What deal? Why, you now wish me to spend all my days sitting on a single branch of a tree?’ This time he was certainly mocking.

‘No, on the other hand, I would love to give you back access to the whole of the orchards like before for you to move around. No mantra, no bond.’

The raakshas had not known the mantra was not passed on to the son by his father. Hence the young priest was in no position to restrain the raakshas in any manner.

‘So what is it? I’m keen to hear what you’ve come up with.’

‘It’s like this: As I said before, you’ll have an unfettered access to whole of the orchards. In return you promise you’ll let the villagers freely tend to the trees without fear. Also you’ll not henceforth pluck the fruits…’

‘Ah, Ah, so I starve all through the summer just like at other times of the year, watching those luscious mangoes swaying in the breeze right in front of me, yet forbidden to touch…am I allowed, Sir, to take in the aroma that wafts in…’

‘Every evening, food would be brought straight off the kitchen of one of the houses in the village for you. All through the year, every day you’ll enjoy a varied meal instead of just mangoes and mangoes and mangoes…that too only in summer. Aren’t you fed up? Though, I know you’ve grown fond of those fruits. Think about it.’

‘Mmm…,’ the gears meshed and the wheels turned for a little while. And, then: ‘Sounds good, I’ll take it. Just make sure, during the season, to include a few mangoes in the meal.’

The young priest, heaving a sigh of relief, continued:

‘I’ve a further suggestion for you.’

‘What is it now?’

‘I suspect you must have been a sangeet vidwan (musician) of no mean merit in your earlier birth. For, I’ve heard the occasional music, so melodious, interspersing the awful racket – a veritable assault on the senses –  you usually produce.’

Tickled at the praise, the raakshas was willing to ignore the rebuke: ‘Go on.’

‘Perhaps you did not share your knowledge with your sishya’s (disciples) causing you to turn into a brahma-raakshas upon your death. Under this new mutually agreed arrangement, we needn’t be so adversarial from hereon; hence, why not you give up producing those hideous sounds – there’s no need to scare away anyone now, you know – and instead, sing to the trees the melodies you could? Will do them good, I’m sure. Might make the fruits even more delicious; after all, happy means produce happy outcomes. It’ll also do you enormous good – won’t be a wasted effort, I assure you.’

The raakshas thought for a moment. Won’t hurt him to do it…he agreed. How was he to know then this simple decision would prove to be life-changing for him in the time to come!

Thenceforth there was peace, prosperity and happiness in the village with the folks going about their business fearlessly, and the raakshas, generally relaxing, moving about as he wished within the orchards, singing as he pleased for the trees and enjoying the evening meal brought for him every evening without fail.

Years rolled by. The fruits indeed grew more delicious than ever before garnering rave praises from all over.

And one morning…

Someone saw strangely the food brought in the night before was left untouched. What happened? Was he ill? During the day, the music also had ceased, replaced by an eerie silence.

The priest was brought in to investigate.

‘Our friend seems to have attained eternal salvation…earlier than he was destined, perhaps due to his good deeds of service to the trees and hence to all of us,’ declared the priest.

The whole village was grief-stricken like they lost someone in the family.  Even the trees in the orchards appeared crest-fallen.

It did take a few months for the village folks to regain their equanimity and go about their lives as usual.

The following summer, however, brought some bad news: The fruits didn’t taste their best. It was like the trees had lost their verve.

It was then the practice was started at the priest’s suggestion of playing music – a song or two – every evening for the trees too to recover from their loss; life wasn’t the same for them without the daily treat of raakshas’s music, he suspected.

The next summer’s bountiful produce of mangoes confirmed the priest’s surmise.

Part 4

The priest concluded his story: ‘The practice continues till date. And that’s the music you heard.’

For a minute no one spoke.

Then the old priest went in and brought a plateful of sliced mangoes as a dessert.

The visitor took a few slices and went ecstatic in his praise.

The priest gave credit where, he thought, it was due: ‘All thanks to our late friend, the brahma-raakshas.’

Finishing the last piece, ‘You were pretty smart to push the deal through when you actually held no aces in your hand. A fair deal it was, I would think, paying off both sides: stopping him from depriving the villagers of their fruits while freeing him up and feeding him on the other hand,’ said the visitor.

‘You could say that,’ smiled the priest.

‘You were very clever too. You also got the raakshas to sing and got rid of him in the only way you could ever – an impossible task otherwise. It wasn’t through any unfair trickery either, I would say – for, it provided him with much needed salvation from an unenviable existence. When his bad karma was completely offset by the good he had accumulated by singing to the trees, even the yogi, his master, could not have stood in the way of his salvation.   And at the same time, the fruits got even better for the village!  Again, pay-off for both sides. And, what a pay-off for a mere act of singing!

All in all  brilliant moves on your part: ‘contain the damage first, eliminate the cause second’ with everyone a winner and a loser none!!’

Acknowledging with a hint of a smile, the priest added: ‘In fact these unusual melodies are entirely his – we play it with as much fidelity as possible.’

By now the visitor’s regard for the priest had gone up by several notches.

With the conversation thinning out, it wasn’t long before the old priest, exhausted at the end of the day, fell asleep, totally lost to the living world. The visitor however slept fitfully that night, turning on sides frequently, his dreams filled with angry yogi’s, their curses and a mishmash of freely-mingling disembodied spirits. Though spirits never put fear in him; for he was fed on countless incredible stories by his grandmother on spirits and their antics – some of them she had claimed to be her own real-life experiences.

Following morning, he got up early, readied himself and took leave of the priest thanking him gratefully for his hospitality.

An hour into the journey, for no reason, his mind wandered back to the music he had heard the night before.  Might be that there was always music in his family? Thinking about it, the notes did sound familiar – at least in some parts. Yes, it was kind of like what his grandfather played on the harmonium for his students years ago in the main hall of the ancestral house. It could as well be his mind was playing tricks after hearing the priest’s story. Dismissing the thoughts, he moved on.

End

 

 

 

 

Source: Image of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia from newindianexpress.com, and deviantart.com/interrage

 

A Tale From A Mango Tree (Children’s Story)

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‘You, know, I’m the one taking all the risks, sneaking into houses. You stand at a safe distance ready to run away at the first sign of trouble.’

‘And don’t forget you’ve no act unless I pick you up and drop you over the fence, keep watch and get you back same way.’

The two men, one short and the other tall, were arguing under the Mango Tree over their fair share of the loot taken from an unwilling wayfarer whose misfortune it was to cross their path early in the evening, .

As always their wrangle was inconclusive and it was agreed to maintain the status quo at 50-50. .

The short man now emptied the contents of the wayfarer’s bag into a pile on the ground – it was all silver coins. Didn’t amount to much belying the heft. Cursing their luck over the insubstantial returns for their efforts, he dutifully did the ‘one for you, one for me, watched over by a pair of wary eyes,’

The meager split finished, ‘Okay…means we’re not done for the night.’

‘You’re right. You have anything in mind?’

‘I have heard there’s an widow living all by herself in the village. Old money. I suggest we pay her a visit tonight. A real cinch – we should be done and gone before the clock moves.’

It wasn’t dark yet and a little shut-eye was in order before attending to their business usually conducted after mid-night. The coins were secured in  waist belts covered by the dhoti folds, the turbans straightened and laid out on the ground and in a few turns they were lost to the waking world.

The entire proceedings were watched with dismay by Kaaga, the crow. The hapless wayfarer had rested under the Tree and even shared his food before running into these men. And now they plan to rob the poor lady.

He turned sad:

‘The kind lady…never missed setting aside every morning some cooked rice for us. But how do I alert her to their nefarious plans? We don’t speak their language.’

Awash with despair, ‘A shame that I know what’s going to happen and still helpless to do anything about it.’

‘May be we could do something,’ said the Mango Tree, a mute witness to the happenings till now.

‘How do you mean?’

‘It might just work…go and get Mooshika (the mouse) here – we need him.’

Soon enough an excited Mooshika scampered to the base of the Tree – for, it was quite unusual to be called at this hour.

‘You’ve told me some time ago you hoard things people leave behind or lose at the village tank and it’s getting so full up that you find it difficult to move around in your own home?’

‘That’s right. Badly needs cleaning up – since she’s isn’t around I don’t mind saying this.’

‘Anything in silver? Not coins.’

‘Oh, plentiful – chains, rings, tiny bells fallen off anklets, small diya’s (wick-lamps)…you know we have no use for these.’

Thereupon Mooshika heard from the Mango Tree what was to be done, which it accomplished silently in the next few minutes, helped by a few friends.

Just when the tall man got the spell right to open up the treasure chest inside the cave, he was rudely woken up by faint sounds near his ears of bells tingling.

A light sleeper he was as suited for his trade, he was immediately alert. Unable to discern any immediate threat he calmed down. Nevertheless it was safer for them to be ready for any danger lurking close by; so he woke up his accomplice.

As the short man got up, a rain of silver trinkets fell on the ground from his garment.

The tall man’s countenance hardened.

He fixed the other man with a malevolent glare: ’So you hid these from me…you cheat’.

‘Don’t know what you’re talking about.’

The tall man silently pointed to the silver on the ground.

‘Oh…no idea, really, how they got to me…believe me you’

Trading mutual allegations, the feud heated up.

It was too late…the rising decibels had brought a crowd of unwelcome villagers to the spot.

Without a thought, they took off to keep the hide on their back…as fast as their legs could carry, stumbling and pulling themselves up and helping each other in their flight.

Never mind it was late, Kaaga cawed gustily, Mooshika and his pals danced unabashedly and the Tree sighed in relief.

End

A Tale From A Mango Tree (A Drabble)

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As the sun dipped out of sight below the horizon, the feathered folks were finding their way back home..

The Wise One saw a forlorn Kaga and knew at once not everything was right with the latter.

‘Kaga, you don’t look your usual self.’

‘Yes, my friend, you guessed right. These days when I go out, I’m not sure if I would be back in the evening with hair and hide in place.’

‘Why so?’

‘Well, you know I love those berries on the lone tall tree behind the mirasdar’s house.’

‘Yes, I’ve seen you stuffing yourself nonstop with those little things I don’t particularly care for. Am not surprised you’ve problems taking off after your fill.’

‘You with your evil eyes – it isn’t going to happen anymore.’

‘Why? Has the tree stopped producing berries? Has some one hacked it down?’

‘Mercifully, no.’

‘Then?’

‘All this time, no one paid any attention to those trees in and around – they were on no-man’s land. Suddenly the mirasdar is now claiming the trees are his.’

‘Still there’s no way he can fence them off to keep you away from the berries high up on the tree. Can he?’

‘An evil mind is devil’s workshop. He has a dog and a man to keep watch. Whenever I alight on the tree and take the first bite – mind you, I do it absolutely noiselessly that would not awaken an insomniac – the blessed dog somehow catches sight of me and starts howling his head off. This gets the man to the spot from wherever he is and whatever he is doing to launch a fusillade of stones and pebbles with his slingshot. He’s quite good with it – he almost brought me down earlier today… frightened the blazing daylights out of me. So, my friend, my favorite feeding ground is now out of bounds for me. Don’t know where the next meal is coming from.’

The Wise One commiserated: ‘So sorry to hear. It’s cruel to snatch the food off someone’s mouth.’

There was silence with either having little to say.

‘I’ve a suggestion to make, if you care to listen and do as I say,’ spoke the Mango Tree so far passively listening in on Kaga’s sad story.

‘Anything for those juicy berries, dear sir, as long as I live to see the sun set.’

‘Tomorrow, when you alight on the tree, don’t be sneaky. Make a show.’

‘Eh?’

‘Yes, no cawing – that’s not what I meant. As soon the dog begins to announce your arrival, tell him you’re not amused, display your temper by vigorously shaking the (tree) limb you’re perched…jump up and down on it like you were on a hot brick, push with your beak like you’re fighting off a vulture…whatever to show your annoyance. Keep at it for a minute and you’ll have a peaceful meal. After a while your friend on the ground may open his loud mouth once again. At which instant you repeat your act. If it ever gets hot at anytime like today with pebbles and stones beginning to fly around you, make an immediate exit without losing a moment. Go back if you must not before allowing an hour or two for matters to cool down.’

‘Well, sounds quite doable…no harm in trying it out. Anyway things can’t get any worse from here.’

Once Kaga moved away for the night, the Wise One threw a quizzical glance at the Tree saying ‘Man, have you gone senile?‘ and received a signal in response to wait and watch.

The following day was like any other day – the birds lodged in the leafy Mango Tree headed out early in the morning seeking food and adventure, and returned in the evening flapping their tired wings looking to a night of repose.

And there was Kaga gliding in gracefully. The glow on his face said it all. He thanked the Tree profusely: ’You know, after a few rounds, strangely the dog appeared to be amused by my act more than anything else. I almost got a feeling he opened his mouth now on purpose to get me going and entertain himself.  In the afternoon he even went so far as to wag his tail a few times! Thanks very much, sir, for restoring my lifeline.’

‘Just as I expected. Keep the show on and note all that jumping and pushing helps your digestion too.’

After Kagha took leave on this happy note the Wise One turned to the Mango Tree:

‘Just as you expected? All this song and dance – mind telling me what’s all this hooey?’

‘Nothing out of the ordinary…it always good to share…’

‘Eh?’

‘Soon Kaga will figure out for himself why it works for him. They are a team now –  the dog is hooked on the berries that Kaga shakes down!’

 

End

A Tale From A Mango Tree (100 Words)

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The Wise One chatted up: ‘A Guru has come into the village.’

‘I know,’ said the Mango Tree.

‘You know? How?’

‘They rested right here under on their way to the village.’

‘Oh…last evening, had gone to the hut where he is staying…a steady stream of people kept up going in.’

‘Hear any wise words from him?’

‘No, there was no pravachan. Just people fussing about…he seems to enjoy all their attention and adulation…just like us.’

‘Well, his way of staying connected with the world for what it is, I would think. And be reminded, yes, he’s just like us.’

End

 

A Tale From A Mango Tree – A Short Story For Children

It was beyond the end of season.

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Their chattering was hushed by the Wise One who spoke up:

‘The man is nearly passed out from hunger, I can see…struggling to keep himself up. We must get some food to him without delay.’

‘Aye, Aye,’ they chorused.

‘But we’re small, our beaks smaller to carry chunks of food for him,’ one from them bemoaned.

‘I’ve thought about it. Here’s what we could do. Each of you, go for a kitchen in the village. Bring back cooked rice as much your mouth holds. Make many trips until we’ve collected enough. All this in double haste.’

They liked the plan and knew what must be done now, taking off from their perch right away for the village. All but one.

‘Why aren’t you gone like your friends? Don’t you want to do your bit?’

‘It won’t work…the plan.’

‘Pray, tell me, wise guy, why would it not?’

‘At this hour, the kitchens would be closed with pots and pans washed and stowed away.’

‘You, silly bird, that’s exactly right for us.’

‘All the left-overs would have been collected in lidded pots beyond our reach. And cooked rice…’

‘We’ll see about it soon…okay, brilliant guy, you doing anything besides nay-saying?’

‘mmm…I smell somewhere here…’  

‘Going after a teeny rat, you twit?’

Safe to assume the words were lost as the bird had long disappeared into the thick of leaves and branches.

Soon it was peck, peck…peck and a soft thud waking the man up from his stupor.

Gathering his last ounce of energy, he reached for the mangoes, semi-ripe, landed on a bed of dried leaves at arm’s length.

A while later the distant chatter of the birds drew closer, growing louder by instant, signalling their return. How could they…with their mouths full? Ah, it must be they were returning to the Wise One for his Plan B?  

Now they knew cooked rice in villages is always saved overnight with lots of water standing over.’

End