Jayary Newsletter # 77
|Rajesh Kasturirangan||Sep 27, 2016|
The Daitya Digester
The rishis are strange; like the gods, they have extraordinary powers but unlike the gods, they have a personality. They have great compassion but are easy to anger; it's easy for an arrogant king to be cursed by a rishi. In short, we can write novels about them in every possible genre.
Consider Agastya, the first rishi to cross the Vindhyas. I like the story of Agastya and Vatapi. It seems Ilvala the Daitya king wanted a son who was greater than Indra, but no brahmin was able to deliver that blessing. I find it amazing that such a blessing is considered within the realm of possibility: how can a human - brahmin or otherwise - help anyone acquire an heir who's greater than the greatest god?
Anyway, Ilvala is pissed off with all brahmins and wants to kill them all. Like a daitya Parasurama. Except he does it retail rather than wholesale. His brother Vatapi is a shapeshifter and can take on any human or animal shape he desires. Ilvala in turn has the ability to summon any being, dead or alive.
So Ilvala asks his brother to turn into a goat, which he slaughters and serves to visiting brahmins. When the brahmin is done, Ilvala summons his brother from the dead, tearing through the brahmin's guts in the process. Which, of course, kills the visiting priest. As I said, Ilvala's believes in retail murder but what a technique!
Unfortunately for Ilvala and even more unfortunately for Vatapi, Agastya's gut instincts are sharper than the daityas.
From a modern liberal's perspective, Agastya's life is pretty messed up. He's taking a stroll when he notices a cluster of tied-up hung over a pit. The ever solicitous Agastya asks these men if they have a problem, seeing as the aam aadmi doesn't like to be tied up and hung over a pit filled with creepy crawlies. Of course they have a problem. He's their problem.
If you've been paying attention to the Jaya, you know what's coming. Flash quiz: under what conditions does a man see a gaggle of men trapped in a cave or stuck over a pit? Hint: Jaratkaru.
Of course they are his ancestors, unhappy that the ascetic Agastya isn't furthering the lineage. All that tapasya is fantastic - it helps the A-man digest daitya-goats before they can tear him apart, but that daitya proof stomach doesn't do much for Agastya's predecessors. They're the past and as we all know, the past depends on the future. Without a future, the past begins to fade. Children are the life insurance of the rishi world. Plus, they're useful when a genocidal king decides to kill all snakes in the world.
Agastya is sympathetic to his ancestor's predicament and promises to do something about it. But how? He's a rishi; he isn't buying no life insurance. Remember Vishwamitra. What does a rishi do when faced with a challenging problem? Say, the gods are refusing admission to your candidate just because he's a living man? Simple: create a heaven of your own.
Similarly: what does a rishi do when forced to produce children with a wife he doesn't have? Create a wife of your own.
Frankenstein: even the name incites a little twinge of horror. The machinic monster is an enduring myth of the modern era. Whether it's the all too real fear of robots taking away our jobs or the less likely fear of robots eating our children, we are consumed by the fear of machines even as we use them every waking moment of our lives.
The rishi is more open to cyborg existence than us mortals. If you've been reading, you know that Agastya has an ancestor problem; his progenitors are unhappy (which you would be too if you were hung head first into a pit) that Agastya hasn't furthered the lineage yet. That should be an easy problem to solve isn't it? Surely there are any number of parents who will marry their daughter off to a daitya dissolving rishi?
But Agastya is a headstrong man. He doesn't want any wife; he wants a sparring partner, a lover and an ally, someone who will share the joys and frustrations of rishic existence and leave him alone when that rishic existence is at its most engrossing. Plus, she has to be ready to spend her days clad in bark. Imagine an advertisement that goes:
Needed, Harvard PhD.
Can work eighty hours a week.
Willing to teach schoolchildren.
Skilled in firearms and guerilla warfare.
Eager to travel to remote areas in the Andes and Afghanistan.
Looks good in barkware.
The CIA probably hired a few with those qualifications, but they have a ton of money. Agastya is a poor rishi. Frustrated after an extended job search fails to uncover viable candidates, Agastya decides to create a wife for himself.
Frankenstein, meet Adam.
Design and Development
Everything's fair in love and war and to be frank, not much distinguishes the two. We are reading an epic - like every epic I know - in which love leads to war and war leads to love. So it's not surprising that every trick known to humankind has been recorded in the book of love.
Still, Agastya's method has to got to be one of the more original contributions to the Annals of Seduction. Having tried and failed in the marriage sweepstakes, Agastya makes a bold move: he creates a wife for himself out of the best parts he can assemble.
Having built the prototype in-house, Agastya outsources the production. There's always been more money in design than in manufacturing. Fortunately, the king of Vidarbha is thirsting for progeny, so Agastya approaches them with a deal: I will give you a daughter as long as I can come back to reclaim her when she's of age.
That's how Lopamudra is born. She grows up to be the most beautiful woman in the world and just as the king was hoping Agastya will forget her in his tapasya, the rishi comes back to claim Lopamudra as his wife. Can a man marry a robot he manufactures in his basement? Does that qualify as incest?
Well, no one seems to mind Agastya's switching of roles. What they do care about is his lack of riches.