Holy Salt and Sacred Boar

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I

The two sacred birds Kaga-crow and Pechu-owl were tired of listening to tales of the chuckling stream. Dusk was falling when suddenly Kaga noticed a wave throw onto the banks, a leaf thick with red ants. Slowly the ant colony crawled and spread out and when only a small cluster remained, the sage sitting under the banyan near the temple wordlessly touched the minds of the birds.

“Go my birds – pick up the leaf and hitch a hike on the yonder floating cloud.”

Gurudev’s word was his command. Swiftly the two fluttered down to pick up the leaf with the ants and settled down on the passing cloud rushing northwards. After some time, the cloud jerked to a halt. They could now see the snowy peaks. Below the snowline were trees and shrubs with gaps here and there. Through them was rushing down a mighty flow of water. The cloud began to shed tears.

“Get off! Get off! I cannot go any further. I have to go back to my mother – there she is rushing down the gorges.”

The passengers scrambled off with the ants. They landed on a bare patch of land. Nearby in a crevice, an eagle was sitting on her nest. The two holy birds knew her – an old friend – Cheel.

“Namaskar holy birds! Where are you all going?

They didn’t know. The two waited for Pechu-owl to find the answer as she sat in meditation on a low branch waiting for dusk to fall.

Trees out! Zoo in!

II

Following Gurudev’s commands, Kaga-crow and Pechu-owl reached a broad plateau stretching for miles and miles dotted with green foliage and sparkling streams that seemed to start from nowhere and vanish into nowhere. The plateau housed three villages – each with their totems and warning of taboos. Flags with the resident gods fluttered from each of the three temples – Baraha the boar-god, Vasuki the snake-god and Hanuman the monkey-god.

The weary but excited travellers reached the village of Ningel and hopped down on the branches of a tree near the temple dedicated to the boar-god – Baraha.

The ancient one sitting on the temple steps at first did not notice the birds. Bent with age, Imai’s attention was focused on her grandson Thingrik and his constant jabber about the outside world.

“A bus full of tourists has come – no – they are going to Snake-village and Monkey-village – why should they come here – look at its condition – and there is not even a Boar-idol in that temple overgrown with weeds and bushes.”

Tears of anger welled up in the eyes of the ancient one.

“The tree is still there!”

“It will be cut down.”

“What?” Trembling, Imai stood up straight.

Young Thingrik continued, “Yes! There are plans to make this into a huge zoo. We will then be one up on the other villages. Development! Tourists will pour in. I am doing all the talking – you just wait and watch.”

Imai smiled – her lips curled in disdain – her eyes far away. “Yes – you too just wait and watch – I am also doing what has to be done. They have come.” She pointed to the birds perched nearby. But Thingrik did not have the time to listen to more of her ancient nonsense – he rushed down the hills.

Imai shrugged off her truant grandson. There was plenty to do. She called out to her three young granddaughters. Silently the four of them entered the temple and then – simply vanished! The birds however knew. They took to the air and met the four women at the edge of the plateau that seemed to touch another one –  but just about, for there was a gap between the two points; an animal could have jumped across but it seemed an impossible yawn for any human to bridge. This did not bother Imai and her troupe. They used notches on the side of the precipice to reach down to a point where stood a tree with strong branches and waving creepers. Each selected a sturdy one or two and with the nimble grace of monkeys swung across to the other side – the Sacred Grove. The entire exercise was in secret for none but Imai’s family knew of the tunnel below the temple that led to this vantage point.

III

The Secret Sacred Salt

Yes! It was in this secret Sacred Grove the Holy Salt could be found. Swinging across they touched the holy ground with their forehead before going down an incline to an underground cave.

As they groped their way through in the dusk, Imai started recounting the story of the Sacred Grove; it was part of the ritual in search for the Holy Salt.

“In the beginning, the forest was marked off by three circles. The rule still holds. The first is for the use of Man and farming. The second is for the domestic animals and the collection of firewood. The third is the Sacred Grove where the gods Shiva and Parbati play and love. If any human enters this zone then that person will become a tree and never be able to tell anyone about what they have seen. We know the story from messages written on leaves by the trees that fall into the gushing river below.”

Down below when they reached their favourite platform everything was as before – the pots and pans, clay for shaping hollowed moulds and the makeshift oven for boiling water of the hidden wells; time had to be given for the water to evaporate leaving behind the precious salt. The operation would last about two months but they had come prepared for the challenge.

The girls began to chatter hunting for this and that when the old lady broke in.

“First let us inspect the wells.”

Yes! Unbelievable! Wells with perennial salt-water high up in the hills below the snow line and far far from the salty oceans. Pushing ahead Imai began to recount the legend of the Baraha-avatar – the Boar-god.”When Mother Earth began to sink, God took on the form of Baraha the boar. He picked Ma Earth up on his snout and saved her. As the earth got squeezed, the hills and mountains were formed but some part of the ocean managed to remain deep down in the crevices here forming wells – the Sacred Wells.

Come girls – from tomorrow we will start to work. Lift the water, boil it and then pour into the clay pots; the salt will settle in the bottom. Holy Salt! No marriage or birth ceremony is complete without this salt. It’s an infallible cure for many ailments. But we do not want everybody to know where the wells are – it is OUR  secret.”

One of the young girls who had run ahead suddenly returned agitated.

“Grandma– the wells are dry. There is no water.”

Imai somehow managed to ask “All the wells?”

“All!”

“Holy Baraha! Let us go back. My grandson – Thingrik has brought us misfortune. Let us go back.”

IV

The Ritual

Back in the village Imai suddenly remembered the bulging pockets of her grandson. She knew that the outside world he visited – the cities were paved with gold. But now a chance remark of meeting the foreign dealer of antiques raised doubts. Had he been foolish enough to collect idols from forgotten temples that dot this land?

Emerging from her hideout Imai hunted for telltale signs inside the temple premises and sure enough, tucked behind a broken slab in the wall was a bag containing idols. She was too furious to go through the loot but sat down to think positively.

The land had become barren. While the other villages prospered, the people here in the Baraha-village were thinking of moving out. It was the Sacred Salt that had brought the village name, fame and prosperity Suddenly the flapping of two pairs of wings broke Imai’s reverie. The holy birds had followed her; they knew how her mind was working as they each perched on her two knees.

In vibrating silence, the ancient one got the message. The boar has to return to the village! Only holy Baraha can lift Mother Earth and tilt it at the proper angle to allow the seawater to flow once more into the revered wells.

But how to bring back Baraha? This village was ideal for his family to survive – here brushes abounded together with shrubs, creepers and trees; there were innumerable streamlets and snowfall was rare and erratic – not regular.

But how to bring back Baraha? An elaborate ritual would have to be performed by Imai in the spring month of Phalgun, on the 12th day of the waxing moon. First a hole made from the hooves of a boar would have to be found. Next, water would be poured into it for two days. Then the aspirant would, on the night of no-moon or Amavasya smear her face with the clay before taking a dip in the stream at dawn. After the cleansing, prayers would have to be offered to either an image, the Sun, Water, Fire or Guru.

Imai became restless. If there was no boar, none romping around for a long time then how to find a hole made from its hoof?  The two birds flew around searching with focused piercing eyes for any dried up hoof marks left behind by boars of the past. But they came back shaking their heads.

Suddenly Imai noticed ants moving the bag of stolen idols to and fro. She immediately understood.

“The boy must have stolen not only the idols but also the plates and bowls of the temples; the ants were cleaning up whatever was left of the food offerings made to the gods.”

She rushed to the bag and upturned its contents. Out fell an exquisite antique idol of the boar-god Baraha – still shining after all these years. She drew back in awe before picking it up with deep reverence. Suddenly the thought struck her.

“Why here is the answer to my problems! I will dig a hole with the hooves of this idol – let me see what is the position of the stars – fine – I can start tomorrow.

V

Ants Eagles and Piglet

The holy birds were as thrilled as Imai. They sat in meditation to pick up commands – vibrations of Guruji sitting miles away about the next move. Soon after Kaga-crow spread his wings and reconnoitred a large area; he swooped down to say cheers to the nesting eagle pair and then rested near a bend of the river. Suddenly he noticed two local boys carrying on a pole a struggling piglet held upside down. Here was the opportunity! He rushed back to Cheel-eagle.

“Hurry! Do me a favour – snatch that piglet from the boys and drop him gently near Imai.”

Cheel disdained to answer the white raven. But Kaga-crow was not to be ignored. He rushed back to Baraha temple and picked up some ants on a leaf, flying swiftly back to Cheel.

“Look at what I have brought. Either you save the piglet or I will release the ants on your nest. I will bring more ants – Pechu will join me. Like the piglet, your eaglets too will be devoured alive…”

“Stop!”

Cheel knew when it was wise to surrender. She took her mate and with spreading wings and talons it took them a few minutes to frighten the boys and snatch the trembling piglet.

Little later, Imai felt something warm wriggling on her lap. She did not doubt that it was the hand of the god Baraha who wanted to return and colonize this village again. Above all, it meant that the salt would again be found.

It took another two years, a minor earthquake and two trips to the sacred grove to find the wells overflowing again as the village became overrun with wild boars; you see the piglet was no ordinary pig but a descendent from the holy line of sacred boars – the Baraha, an avatar of Vishnu.

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- Total nr. of readings: 208 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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