One day our “Atirikta Sahitya (Supplementary Literature)” teacher told us the story of the river Yamuna. I was in Class Vi or VII then, studying in my village school, which was called a “minor school” then, with classes from IV to VII. In the next class, he told us the story of the river Ganga. I liked the stories which were a great deal more about Lord Krishna, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva than the rivers themselves. Much later I understood why it is so. In our tradition, objects of nature became subjects of talk when the gods or the sages or the kings or the exceptional persons get connected with them.
It was only then that I understood why our teacher never told us about the river Mahanadi, the longest river of Odisha, on the bank of which our village was situated and which was functionally so very important for us in our day-to-day life. Life in our village was (needless to say, still is and will always be) unimaginable without the Mahanadi. This river was unconnected with any great puranic god or any local goddess. By the way, it is not the great gods but the local goddesses whoare the protectors of our villagers.
It was just a few months ago that I chanced upon a story that connected our dear river to a puranic god. The river originated because of the tapasya of sage Sukanti (doesn’t seem to be a very well-known character in our puranic literature) and as it was flowing down into the coastal Odisha, a mountain covering an area of seven kosas or fourteen miles blocked its flow. Sage Sukanti prayed to god Indra, the lord of the abode of the gods. Responding to his prayer, the king of the gods struck the mountain with his infallible astra (weapon) named vajra, and made a cleavage in the mountain for the river to flow. This came to be known as the “satakosia gorge”. But people do not know the story because no poet celebrated the story, no wandering story-teller told this story to people, going from village to village, which at least were close to the great river. So despite there being such a beautiful story associated with it, the river remains story-less in the collective consciousness of the Odias.
The grand temple of Lord Neela Madhava, who is believed to be the earlier manifestation of Mahaprabhu Jagannathis close to the bank of the river Mahanadi in Kantilo but in the narrative of Lord Neela Madhava there is no mention of the Lord’s association with the river. As a result,the river did not become sacred in the way the river Yamuna did.
Now, if our river Mahanadi did not have a story, our village did, but people outside did not seem to know it because it had no promoters. The name of our village is “Subarnapur” and we, children, heard from our elders and from our teachers in the minor school why it had that name. But they showed no emotional involvement when they told us the story. Maybe they were unsure about its historicity and did not want to misinform us. They told us that it was named after King SubarnaKeshari, the last king of the well-known Keshari dynasty of the kingdomthat, roughly speaking, is now called “Odisha”. He wanted to spend the last part of his life in a quiet and serene place and he chose our village. No one knows what the village, now a big village, was like then. No one knows where the recluse King lived in the village.
He had no children. But was the queen with him? Most probably not. His story of his last days in Subarnapur contains no reference to her. History tells us that ChodagangaDev succeed him and with him, started the Ganga dynasty. It is said that he was killed in the battle against ChodagangaDev but there is no certainty about it. Defeated in the war, he might have left the palace and lived in a place where he was unlikely to be found by Chodaganga’s men. And if that was the case, that place could indeed be Subarnapur!
Close to the bank of the village, there is a Shiva temple – the temple of “SubarnaKeshari”. It’s a rather unusual name for a Shiva linga. A devotee of Lord Shiva, as were all the rulers of the Keshari dynasty, King SubarnaKeshariis said to have installed this Shiva lingaand worshipped him. People in our village believe that it was he who had built the temple. The linga is called – no one knows since when – “SubarnaKeshari” after his royal devotee’s name. Normally it’s the reverse: the devotee bears the name of his Ista deva (the most cherished god).
Now, in the compound of this temple, is a Shiva linga in the open who is called “Khara Khia Mahadeba”, which literally means “sun rays-eating Mahadeba”. He is called so, because, with no shade over him, the linga is open to the sky. When he was installed and who installed him, no one knows. No one connects him with Subarna Keshari. You don’t have to enter the compound to have his darshan. You could have his darshan from the other side of the compound wall.
Sailendra Narayan Patnaik of the village (a servitor of the more known Trutiya Deba – Jagannath – temple of the village) told me that someone wanted to build a temple for him and had started the process. Then one night he had a dream, in which Lord Shiva told him that he preferred to be the way he was. The devotee obeyed the Lord. Nothing is known who the devotee was and when all this happened. Sailendra told me that it is a local lore and no one knows its origin.
The servitors of the Trutiya Deba temple assert that it was built by a king of the Ganga dynasty, who, as has been mentioned above, ruled the kingdom after the Keshari kings. They claim that only two Sri Jagannath temples are older than this temple: the Puri Temple and the Kendrapada temple. They also say that Kalapahada, who had attacked many temples, had also disfigured the TrutiyaDeba temple.
Let’s move out of this village. In the town of Byasanagar (Vyasanagar), near Jajpur, in Odisha, there is a tank called Vyasa Sarovara. It’s a small pond and there is the belief that the river Ganga is hidden in it, hence it is also called “Gupta Ganga” (hidden Ganga). It is believed that it was in this pond that Duryadhana was hiding. Near the pond, the conclusive fight between Bhima and Duryodhana had taken place and it is here that Duryodhana had died, felled by Bhima.
And it is here, the local people believe, that the great Sage Vyasa wrote the last parva of his “Mahabharata”. There is a statue of him here. This is where the guru, Vyasa, and his sishyaRaghavji are worshipped together – an unusual happening – on Maghasuhlaekadasi (the eleventh day of the waxing moon in the month of Magha) and on this day, the eleven day long ByasaSarovaramela (fair) starts.
In our county there has been a “known” tradition of stories, to which belong our great puranic compositions and a “lesser known” tradition of stories, which are our lokakathas, as the young academic and writer Sanjaya Kumar Bag would put it. In this classification, our stories here belong to the latter category. On the one hand, these stories relate the local to the classical and thereby acquire visibility and on the other, they contest the classical narratives by providing an alternative version and in the process, the community constructs its identity. Historians and scholars reject these as false narratives. But think! Truth may not be just one. What a community believes to be true, which constitutes a kind of “poetic truth”, cannot be rejected as false because it lacks support from history.We need to appreciate that truth has many versions.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)
Retd. Professor of Linguistics and English, IIT Kanpur
Email: [email protected]
(Images from the net)