The Sacred Grove of Devrai
By Nandita Bose
I – Elephantine Problem
It was the dark night of the no-moon. After the devotees had left, Chua the rat cleaned the leftovers from below the holy banyan tree where sat the sage – Gurudev. Stars twinkled. The flowing stream chuckled on. Silence descended as a single lamp glowed. Somebody rang a bell. It was the signal for the ghost Buddhu to come down from the branch of the neem tree followed by two holy birds – Kaga the crow and Pechu the owl. The owl was the first to speak.
“Salutations to Gurudev. Chua and Buddhu have come with two petitions”
The sage smiled and asked the rat and the ghost to come forward. Chua the rat came forward with bowed head.
“Gurudev – it is not fair – not at all fair. The monkey and even the snake have their temples here but there is nothing for us rats.”
Gurudev smiled and turned to the ghost Buddhu. “What do you have to say?”
Buddhu was tongue-tied before the holy man. The violent red robe, matted locks and piercing eyes below a broad forehead covered with sandalwood paste made him afraid. But Pechu came to the rescue and spoke up for the ghost.
“Gurudev. Buddhu is a new ghost. The rules are making him nervous. He can only come down from the tree on the night of the no-moon and ..”
Gurudev leaned forward encouragingly “Speak for yourself, my child. What do you want?”
Buddhu found his voice. “How long will I remain here? I want to go where I have to go. Will this tree with its bitter fruits chain me for …”
Gurudev smiled as his wife came forward with fruits on a leaf plate. He took one and asked her to give the others the fruit-prasad.
Addressing the two Gurudev said “I understand your problem but for that, you must each do one good deed – good karma. By the way – Buddhu in your previous life were you not a lawyer?”
“Yes Gurudev, I used my brain – always files and paper –arguments and pleading and…”
Just then they heard an anguished cry from the opposite bank – a long trumpeting call of distress from a lone elephant outlined by the pale light of the stars.
Before fading into the darkness the elephant trumpeted his message punctuated with sighs and tears. A roaring puffing, whistling monster with only one bright eye running on wheels had cut through the home-ground of the elephants killing them off willy-nilly. Even they – the largest animal roaming the earth could do nothing except halt the monster for an hour or so with their dead bodies.
Gurudev now turned to his followers. “Oh, ghost and rat – both of you will have to do something good before you get what you want. Here is a chance. Save the elephants!”
So saying, the wise one withdrew. The darkness seemed to swallow him as clouds played hide and seek with the stars.
II Memory of the Tortoise
Kaga crow was perplexed. What could a ghost and a rat do to solve this problem? Pechu came forward and sat in consultation with Buddhu and Chua. The ghost was keen on his freedom and Chua was determined to show off to the monkeys and snakes that he, the rat, too would be seated in a temple. It was the ghost Buddhu who spoke first,
“Tell me – the land through which the chugging monster rolls through – to whom does it belong?”
For a moment the birds were confused but Chua came to the rescue.
“I have a friend – Kachhap the tortoise who lives by the river swimming in and out of the water. She is very old – perhaps older than the banyan tree. She told me that in ancient times the forest was divided into three circles – the outer circle was for the use of Man and the middle circle was for the grazing of animals. The third was the inner core of the forest – the sacred circle – the Devrai. Here lived the gods with the wild creatures. It was a secret paradise. Only the trees, the wind and the streams knew about it. If any human dared to enter this zone that person would instantly become a tree unable to leak the secret of the holy place. Here the gods played and laughed.”
Buddhu had not lost the questioning habit of his past life as a lawyer. “How did Kacchua come to hear of it?”
Chua replied “I do not know. I will ask Kacchua the next time I meet the grand dame. Perhaps the dry leaves of the trapped trees that fell into the waters of the streams and ponds whispered the secret to her ears. Perhaps.”
Buddhu was impatient to come to a conclusion. “This means that this is Holy land that Man has usurped – the sanctuary. But Man does not do anything without leaving a trail of paperwork, unlike the animals that leave their mark by their own smell.”
The two birds nodded their heads. “Yes, Man makes such a fuss with paper.”
Buddhu did some loud thinking. “We must attack the documents these men hold – the two owners – the village lords who pile the rail wagons with their goods – products of the soil, and those that claim to own the land through which the railways run.”
The wise birds could not understand. Chua did not even try to follow the drift of the conversation. But Buddhu was deep in thought.
“There is another third party – the government office where copies of this paperwork are kept. That too has to be destroyed.”
“Then?” the birds asked in unison.
“Then, when the papers vanish, there will rage a mighty battle between the parties claiming rights over what is not their own. The fight will be so intense that given some time they will finish each other off for they do not know where to stop in their greed and anger.”
Pechu got the picture. “Then it will be the work of the trees to spread their roots with the help of the wind and rain and even the little insects to colonize the land again swallowing up the remains of all traces of Man’s invasion into the sacred groves.”
Kaga agreed and cawed. “Those that had entered the secret forbidden territory would now become trees themselves – their carcasses turning into manure and being absorbed by the searching roots of the green giants.”
“And so the ancient prediction will ultimately come true,” said Kacchua the tortoise who suddenly appeared out of nowhere. All the while she had been silently listening.
Chua proudly came forward. He and his family knew the two places thoroughly. They even knew the third place where the documents were piled near the main road – already running to seed in damp dingy neglected corners. They set to work – hundreds of them gnawing to dust quietly after dark anything that smelt of paper in the desks and cupboards.
Soon the word got around and informers of all kinds from cockroaches to book-worms directed and joined the rats to the right places. It was great partying – a bonanza! The stream began to dream again and leaving its sloth began to swell and surge overflowing its banks to attack the houses of man as the elephants began to attack the dam that had imprisoned the water flow. The attention of Man got diverted. The elephants sensing victory, carefully avoiding moving engines derailed and upset loaded wagons standing idle in the yards. Rushing around in circles trying to tame the river and the raging elephant herds Man forgot about the documents until it was too late. Then they tore at each other’s throats claiming ownership while the birds twittered and the trees rapidly sent down roots to strangle the crumbling edifice of Man’s empire. Buddhu ghost was not far behind in this dance of death. After dark he took on dreadful forms and made strange noises spreading fear and horror; some fainted while others packed up and ran from the place that they now took to be cursed.
At the end of six seasons, the work was done.
And so the ancient prediction came to be true. Once more the sacred grove was fenced in by impenetrable watery and green barriers while what were men became rooted as green trees – their leaves rustling and telling tales of the past when they had dared to trespass into the holy inner circle – the Devrai. In due course, it was fenced in and protected by a banyan that became rapidly huge as it encircled the grove with its hanging branches creating more banyans. A stream appeared from out of nowhere and began to gurgle around the banyan. Leaves falling on the sparkling waters went round and round in circles. The stream coming from nowhere did not go anywhere but guarded Devrai – the playground of the gods.
The animals were full of awe as they saw the magic unfold before their eyes defying Time. Chua and Buddhu forgot what they had wanted from the sage but the sage had not forgotten. He pointed to a hollow inside a tree just a few yards away. Inside it were two rocks – one big and the other small. Guruma applied vermillion and sandalwood paste after covering it with a bright coloured robe. She smiled and asked the animals to come close. Chua saw a rat, his very own image sitting beside that of the elephant-god Ganesha. Bells and drums began to beat as devotees came blowing conch shells to the new temple.
Buddhu ghost found himself free – no longer tied to the no-moon night of Amavasya. He was free. But where to go? His good works guided him to the calm green gurgling haven of the secret grove of Devirai far, far from Man.- Total nr. of readings: 248 Copyright © The author  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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