Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The story of Shanta.

              Couple of days ago, I wrote a post with old Hindu beliefs as the background. As I discussed it with my mother, she narrated a story she heard when she was a little girl. The story, too, has those same beliefs as the background. Here it is:

              Long ago, in the village of  Paatgaon., there lived a family. It was quite a big unit consisting of the head of the family, his wife,  her sons and their respective wives. The youngest daughter-in-law, Shanta, who had entered her marital home without much dowry for her husband, was the one who  bore the most amount of atrocities one could think of.
              Shanta would wake up at the crack of  dawn and get down to doing each and every chore in the household while the rest of her family slept soundly. She had to clean the utensils, sweep the house, wash the clothes and then get down to prepare food for all. And, this over-worked, tired soul would be allowed  to eat only after she had finished the chores allocated to her. 

              So, she would leave the house to go to the river-side for washing  a  big load of clothes  after finishing her kitchen duties, but without a morsel of food in her belly. In the initial days, Shanta obeyed the orders mutely. She was the daughter-in-law, after all. But, slowly and steadily, she began  putting  her wit to good use. She would, stealthily, wrap  a big ball of dough used for preparing rotis, along with  some salt and some jaggery, in the folds of her garments and then make her way to the river-side.

            Once she finished her job, she would look around for some wood and some cow dung as fuel for her bonfire. Then, she would unwrap all the ingredients from her garment and get down to rolling neat little sweet rotis for herself. She would then eat contentedly, enjoying the cool air and the blissful silence of her surroundings. After having her meal and freshening up, she would head home to finish the remaining of her chores. Not a soul at home ever suspected her of anything.

           One day, as Shanta made her way to the river-side for washing, it began to rain. Hurriedly, she walked up to the river, washed the clothes and then began finding a spot to prepare her snack. But, alas! she couldn't find any. The place was wet and so were the twigs she used to prepare her stove.  There was no wood for the fire. The rain had played  spoil-sport! 

         She looked all around her, her hunger nagging her from within. Finally, she hit upon an idea.  A little way ahead, she saw  a pyre burning. The wood on the top of the pyre had all gotten wet, but the wood below was still burning and good to use! She looked around but saw not a soul from the dead person's family. She quickly went towards the pyre,  grabbed a hot, burning log of wood and sprinted towards a temple nearby. 

      Once inside the temple, she found a stone she could use to light her stove and prepare her meal on. As she got busy doing this, the Goddess whose temple Shanta had entered, came to life! She was aghast at what she saw! A young woman cooking rotis on a log of wood used for  a  funeral pyre! This bizarre scene left the goddess so astonished that her hand flew to her mouth!  Shanta, who was too hungry to get concerned, looked at the goddess with frustration. She let out a worn-out, harassed sigh and said to her,"What is so amazing about it? This is what I have to do to fill my stomach. But, why should you be bothered? You get all the food you want, right  at your door-step, prepared lovingly by your ardent devotees. You are just an idol, made out of stone. But, just look at  the way people  bow before you! And, look at me,  a poor human being, serving my family tirelessly. And what do I get? Harassment!"

           She spat out the words with disgust and resumed her cooking. After her sweet roti was ready, she finished it off hungrily and then left the temple in a rush. After she had left the rains stopped and people began leaving their dwellings to continue with their tasks for the day. Some of them visited the temple and were stunned! Their respected goddess had covered her mouth and had  a look of shock on her face! The news spread like wild fire throughout the village. People began gathering in the temple wondering what to do! The goddess was angry with them and now they would suffer her wrath.

       Discussions and arguments rang the air. Men were being sent to neighbouring villages to get the help of their village elders and the priests on  how the goddess could be placated.  News also reached Shanta's family. All were worried and began preparing for the  impending doom. Shanta, who also heard the news, came out of her kitchen and gathered the courage to speak to her in-laws. She told them that she could try to calm down the goddess provided they all trusted her. After a long discussion, they agreed and left with her to the temple.

      As they reached the temple, Shanta turned to the people who had gathered there. She announced that she knew how she could calm their goddess, but, she would need to spend some private time with the idol and thus would be shutting the temple door. Everyone agreed to every thing she said. FInally, with an air of importance, Shanta entered the temple and shut the door. She then picked up a stone used to break coconuts and held it in her hands. Then,looking at the stone figurine in the eye, she spoke in an unwavering voice... 

     "Mother, I know I stunned you with my actions today. And now, here I am, trying to resolve the matter that has become a  grave problem to all. I have given my word to the villagers that I shall solve it, so, oh Mother, please cooperate. Get back to your original position or I will have to shatter your idol and then shatter my head with this stone. After all, it is a matter of my self-respect." So saying, Shanta lifted the huge stone to hit the idol. And, lo and behold! the goddess went back to her original position, her arms akimbo! Shanta was so relieved!

      She then quietly opened the door and looked around at the faces waiting with bated breath. With a solemn look, Shanta told the gathered villagers that she had done the trick. The goddess had relented and forgiven them for their sins. Now there would be peace. The villagers were ecstatic! They rushed in to bow in front of the goddess. Then they turned to Shanta and bowed before her, too! She had saved them from the goddess' wrath. She was their saviour! 

     And that was the last day of Shanta's suffering. 

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