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The Mother Who Eats Her Own Children

by Dr. Sushil Fotedar

Ramakrishna Paramhansa during the course of his intense austerities had a peculiar, horrifying vision one day . While walking casually in the precincts of the Dakshineshwar temple in a contemplative mood, he saw a young, beautiful woman emerge from the Ganges. She seemed to be pregnant and in no time delivered a handsome baby on one of the banks of the holy river itself. Carefully, she picked up and started breast-feeding the child with tender care while all the time looking at it with expressions of motherly love. Then suddenly, she assumed a horrendous form and laughing aloud, tore the child into pieces and ate it up limb by limb. Having committed this act of wanton cannibalism, she appeared gratified and with one look at the shell-shocked Paramhansa vanished into nothingness.

I have often wondered at this grotesque vision of the Paramhansa which I read many years back in “The Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna” published by the Ramakrishna Mission. The symbolism of such a terrible act has fascinated me no end and I have dwelt on this theme many a time in my reveries.

So,  who is this Mother that eats her own children?

Birth into this world is a painful experience for everyone. Coming from the limbo of emptiness, a bundle of vasanas is delivered into this samsara of suffering in one momentous movement of ejection through the tunnel of birth. The experience is definitely frightful and in moments of serious death-like situations people even in adult life have reported having undergone a suffocating sensation of passing through a dark tunnel, as it were. This has been well documented by Dr Raymond Moody in his famous study of near-death situations. And what is it that then comforts this frightened child once it is dropped into this strange land of ours? Yes, it is the mother’s breast! Groping with its weakly developed tactile feelers in the hands and lips the child sucks in the first elixir of life, the mother’s milk from her warm breast. It does not only fill its empty stomach but over a period of time gives it a sense of fulfillment. Slowly, as the child grows, the comforting form of the breast comes in its field of vision and then the beautiful face of the smiling mother is also seen ; this one face a person always remembers in hours of crisis and, perhaps, even at the time of death it flashes across the dying mind as it frantically cries out for help! This is the first vision of the Divine Mother, our own dear earthly mother.

There is a curious legend about a stone lingam in the form of a breast worshipped in the village of Achant in Andhra Pradesh. It is said that the sage Achyuta was born on this earth as Oduyanambi because he was guilty of breaking the vow of celibacy. He was a devotee of Lord Shiva and had vowed to worship a Shiva lingam at certain regular intervals. As he grew up to be a handsome young man, he fell in love with a dancing girl. One night after a passionate bout of love, he fell fast asleep and when he got up he was horrified to find that hardly any time was left for him to keep his vow. His heart was filled with despair and he was feeling hopeless when his eyes fell on the naked breast of his lady love who was sleeping by his side and he was overwhelmed to see his beloved lingam in the same. Quickly he smeared the breast with sandal-paste which was then used in love rites and worshipped it with an offering of betel leaves. The breast was transformed into a stone lingam, the “Chanti Lingam”, the lingam of the breast. The rest of the body of the dancing girl with her “yoni” is supposed to have got buried beneath the lingam.

See the curious parallelism between this mythical story and the birth of a child and the subsequent events. The child is born into this frightful world like Oduyanambi getting up from his sleep and is then comforted by the breast of the Mother, the Goddess that fulfills and, therefore, is worthy of worship.

She is the same Mother whom the sensitive soul sees in the earth that provides him with everything to eat and drink and, therefore, survive to work out his karma. She is the dear Mother Earth from whose womb the life giving plants and trees grow. She also becomes the Beloved of the rural farmer who needs to be playfully wooed before she gives “ the earthen drum’s sweet note”. The Pardhans of the upper Narmada valley still sing these love songs free of the moral confines of settled societies, which celebrate this ever-ongoing love story of man and his dear Earth, at once the Mother and the Beloved:

“My Singer
From that earthen drum
What sweet music you bring
From the earthen drum of my body
Who can bring such music
As you, my Singer?
Take, take me in your arms,
Sling me about your neck,Play on me, on my body till I give the drum’s
Sweet note.”
(Sham Rao Hivale, The Pardhans of the Upper Narmada Valley, p.153)

Some time back, I used to visit a Vaishnava saint who one day told me something which I initially found very disturbing. He said that it is the Divine Mother who brings you in this world out of intense love for you so that you can work out your karma and then proceed on the path to moksha ;she becomes your earthly mother and brings you up at a time when you are utterly helpless. As time passes, you grow up to be a young man full of desires and intense passions and lo and behold, the same divinity appears to you in the form of a young beautiful woman who then quenches the fires raging inside your young chest! Oh, what a dirty perverse concept ! How incestuous !But then it slowly dawned on me. Yes, the Motherhood of God does it all. She stills your childhood hunger. She quenches your youthful desires, and …

… And she is the one who takes you back when the time comes—she stills your life-force; she quenches your prana.

She is the one who tears you into bits and eats you up limb by limb!!

Mother Kali roams the cremation grounds freely. For the common man she is terror personified. As the old man slowly nears his death, her frighteningly dark colour goes on deepening till she becomes the colour of kalaratri, the darkest night of no-moon and gulps him down with his blood dripping from her mouth. He is relieved of his ageing body so that he can take another birth in a new body for the cycle to go on. But for the sadhaka who has courted her lifelong, she become the “Bhavatarini”, one who helps him cross this ocean of misery, a veritable wish-fulfilling tree :

“In the centre [of the island of gems] is the wish fulfilling tree. Under this, a sadhaka should meditate on himself as being one with Tarini, as bright as the rising sun, the utmost sphere of light, in a place surrounded by beautiful maidens with fans and bells, wafted by a gentle breeze bearing the odour of scent and incense - Todala Tantra, IV”

In Trichur the legend of mother Kali is re-enacted by the Marars and the Chakiars. On a dark no-moon night,  the image of the mother is drawn on the earth using coloured powder. She is the Mother Earth in all Her power, glory and, of course, ferocity. Oil lamps are lit all around and one is put in one of her hands. To the chanting of mantras and the thunder of drum beats, the tantric priest then dances the destruction of the Goddess, slowly wiping away her limbs, belly,  breasts and the face till only the hand holding the lamp remains because like fire the primeval female energy is eternal. Another lamp in a human hand is then lit by this lamp while the form of the Goddess disappears in the dust from which She had arisen.The drum beats reach a crescendo and thus the cycle of creation and destruction, of birth and death, is re-enacted and transformed in the hands of the tantric priest and in the human form as Bhadrakali.

That very moment,  the eternal dance begins!!

अंत में एक कविता, अपनी प्यारी-सी माँ के नाम !!

"माँ,  मेरी प्यारी-सी माँ "

खून में लथ-पथ पडा था
जब अपनी अनगिनत भुजाओं से तूने
मेरी प्यारी-सी माँ
मुझे उठाकर
अपने दूध से सींचा था
मैं अंधा-सा
कैसे रो-रो के
तुमसे लिपटा था माँ
मैं भूला नहीं
जब जवानी की लपटें
मेरे सीने में धधक रही थीं
तुम्हारे ही किसी सुंदर छरहरे रूप ने
अपने उन्नत स्तनों में छुपाकर
मुझे तृप्त किया था
अब मैं बूढा हो चला हूँ माँ
थक चुका हूँ
शरीर जर्जर है
आँखों में अन्धेरा -सा छा रहा है
फिर निःसहाय,  नग्न
तेरे गर्भ में
प्रवेश चाहता हूं
मेरी प्यारी -सी माँ
मेरे अस्तित्व को
अपनी अनंत कोख में
समेट लो



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