Archive for ‘myth’

November 21, 2008

A History of the Kingdom of Mo

I spent the afternoon in a friend’s room studying and discussing embalmed bodies, lost civilisations and other things relevant to a term paper I’m supposed to be working on. In the course of events, William Le Queux’sThe Great White Queen: A Tale of Treasure and Treason (1896) came to our attention and caused us unimaginable joy. Which is why I had to extract this for you – Indian readers especially, you should enjoy this.

There is a strange story connected with this place known to us as Zomara’s Wrath,” Omar said, when together we turned away and mounted our horses to ride back to the camp.

“Relate it to me,” I urged eagerly.

“To-night. After we have eaten at sundown I will tell you about it,” he answered, and spurring our horses we galloped quickly forward.

When we had eaten that evening and were seated aside together, I reminded him of his promise.

“It is a story of my ancestors, and it occurred more than a thousand years ago,” he said. “Ruler of the great kingdom of Mo, King Lobenba had no children. The three queens observed fasts, kept vows, made offerings to the fetish, all to no effect. By a lucky chance a great hermit made his appearance in our capital. The King and queens received the visitor at the palace, and treated him with the most generous and sincere hospitality. The guest was very pleased; by a prompting of the fetish he knew what they wanted, and gave them three peppercorns, one for each queen. In due time three sons were born, Karmos, Matrugna, and Fausalya, who when they reached a suitable age married by the ceremony of ‘choice,’ daughters of a branch of the royal family. When the brides arrived at their husbands’ family and were disciplined in their wifely duties, King Lobenba, who was growing old, thought the time had arrived for him to make over the royal burden to younger shoulders, and to adopt a hermit’s life preliminary to death. So in consultation with the royal fetish-man, a day was appointed for the coronation of Prince Karmos, who had married a beautiful girl named Naya. But the fates had willed it otherwise. Long before the children were born, when King Lobenba, in his younger days, was subduing a revolt in this region where we now are he once fell from his chariot while aiming an arrow, and got his arm crushed under the wheel. The three queens had accompanied their royal husband to the battlefield to soften for him the hardships of his camp life, and during the long illness that followed the wound, Queen Zulnam, who afterwards became mother of Fausalya, nursed him with all the devotion of a wife’s first young love. ‘Ask me anything and thou shalt have it,’ said the monarch during his convalescence. ‘I have to ask only two favours, my lord,’ she answered. ‘I grant them beforehand. Name them,’ he cried. But she said she wished for nothing at that time, but would make her request in due course. She waited twenty years. Then she repaired to her husband on the morning of Karmos’ coronation and boldly requested that the prince should absent himself for fourteen years, and that her son Fausalya should be crowned instead.”

“She was artful,” I observed, laughing.

“Yes,” he went on. “The words fell like a thunder-bolt upon the king, the light faded from his eyes and he fainted. Nevertheless, Zulnam’s wish was granted, and Karmos’ departure was heartrending. To soften the austerities of forest life, Prince Matrugna tore himself from his newly-married bride to accompany Karmos. But the hardest was to be the latter’s wrench from his devoted Naya. The change from a most exuberant girlish gaiety to quivering grief, and the offer of the delicately-nurtured wife to share with her lord the severities of an exile’s life are often told by every wise man in Mo. Fourteen long years Karmos spent in exile with his beautiful wife as companion, until at last they were free to return. The home-coming was one long triumph. The people were mad with delight to welcome their hero Karmos and their beloved Naya. Karmos was crowned, and then began that government whose morality and justice and love and purity have passed into the proverbs of my race. There was, however, one blemish upon it. Poor Naya’s evil genius had not yet exhausted his malevolence. A rumour was spread by evil tongues that she was plotting to possess the crown, and Karmos, sacrificing the husband’s love, the father’s joy, to his kingly duty, while standing on that spot we have visited to-day—then his summer palace surrounded by lovely gardens—pronounced sentence of exile upon her. But in an instant, swift as the lightning from above, the terrible curse of Zomara fell upon him, striking him dead, his magnificent palace was swept away and swallowed up by a mighty earthquake, and from the barren hole, once the fairest spot in the land, there have ever since belched forth fumes that poison every living thing. It is Zomara’s Wrath.”

“And what became of Naya, the queen?” I asked, struck with the remarkable story that seemed more than a mere legend.

“She reigned in his stead,” he answered. “Whenever we speak of the Nayas we sum up all that is noble and mighty and queenly in government, its tact, its talent, its love and its beneficence, for every queen who has since sat on the Great Emerald Throne of Mo has been named after her, and I am her lineal descendant, the last of her line.”

August 12, 2008

Magical Vanaras

Since I have blogged about weird parallels in myths before.Recently in a discussion elsewhere, Belle linked to the Wikipedia page on the “magical negro“. It was in a completely different context, but this caught my eye:


The magical negro is a reoccurring theme in Chinese Literature from the Tang Dynasty. Known as “Kun-lun” (崑崙, an ancient Chinese term that denoted all dark-skinned races), these African slaves were portrayed as having supernatural strength and the power to invade people’s dreams to reveal great knowledge. One tale known as the Kun-lun slave mentions a slave leaping over high walls while laden with the weight of two people in order to rescue his master’s lover.

This sounds rather
familiar. Though of course Hanuman does not carry Sita back to Rama. Nor does he carry two people – though considering his other feats of strength one assumes he could do so, if required. And Gods don’t have slaves, they have devotees. The parallel is strong enough, though, to make me curious about how closely Hanuman in the Ramayana could be said to conform to the type. Bear with me – this is pointless geekery.

  • The magical negro is typically but not always “in some way outwardly or inwardly disabled, either by discrimination, disability or social constraint,” often a janitor or prisoner. Nope. Doesn’t fit.
  • He has no past; he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist. Also doesn’t fit, Hanuman has a pretty well fleshed out back story. Then again, there’s this whole gigantic body of myth for said backstory to exist in.
  • He sometimes fits the black stereotype, “prone to criminality and laziness.” No, not that I’m aware of. Then again, since Hanuman isn’t actually black (and Rama isn’t actually white; he’s blue), there’s no black stereotype for him to fit into*.
  • To counterbalance this, he has some sort of magical power, “rather vaguely defined but not the sort of thing one typically encounters.” No, I think the incredible strength part, at least, is reasonably tangible.
  • He is patient and wise, often dispensing various words of wisdom, and is “closer to the earth.” Er. Not sure about this one, especially the “closer to the earth” bit. What do people think?
  • The magical negro serves as a plot device to help the protagonist get out of trouble, typically through helping the white character recognize his own faults and overcome them. Er. Again, not sure about this. He’s certainly a lot better fleshed out than a mere plot device. And Rama by definition has no faults.
  • Although he has magical powers, his “magic is ostensibly directed toward helping and enlightening a white male character.” It is this feature of the magical negro that some people find most troubling. Although from a certain perspective the character may seem to be showing African-Americans in a positive light, he is still ultimately subordinate to European-Americans. This, yes. Except with a blue non-vanara/ brown vanara dynamic instead of the black/white thing.

Of course, this would be easier if one could work out what the Vanaras were supposed to be. This being Hinduism there doesn’t seem to be a Canon answer, and one can get any answer along a scale from “really clever monkeys” to “tribe or community who the author thought of as kind of simian and not entirely human”. Which just carries all sorts of potential for winceage.

* Is there a Vanara stereotype though?The wikipedia page says they’re “amusing, childish, mildly irritating, badgering, hyperactive, adventurous, bluntly honest, loyal, courageous, and kind. They are at least a foot shorter than an average human and their bodies are covered with light fur, generally brown in colour” but I’d like a more learned source.

June 4, 2008


One of the books I bought in Calcutta was Thomas Frederick Crane’s Italian Popular Tales, edited by Jack Zipes. I’ve been reading it in a very scrappy fashion. The first story in the book is a variation of sorts on the Cupid and Psychemyth. It’s from Sicily and is titled “The King of Love”. For those of you who don’t know the story, Psyche is married to a mysterious man who only comes to her at night; she’s curious about what he looks like (or made curious by her sisters, depending on what version of the story you read); she takes a lamp into the room at night, finds hot nekkid Cupid, manages to drop burning oil/wax onto him and thus wake him up; he disappears and she has to face much torture by Venus before she can achieve marital bliss.In the Sicilian story, the King of Love (he disappears when Rosella, the heroine of this story finds out his name) first appears in the form of a green bird. In my head, I picture him as one of the bright green parakeets (that everyone calls parrots – as far as I know there are no parrots in India. They also refer to that bright colour as “parrot green”.)

(from here)

The Hindu god of love, Kamadeva, is said to travel around on a parrot. I assume this too means a parakeet – certainly all the pictures of him I can find seem to have interpreted it that way:

I find this a strange coincidence, this intersection of love gods and green parrots-that-aren’t-parrots. I suspect I only blogged about it, though, so I could make the horrendous pun in the title.

September 3, 2005

No contemporary Indian writer…

On wednesday after a particularly disastrous assignment (Milton is practically spinning in his grave as we speak) I went to the Delhi book fair with SV. I like the book fair. While one could probably get most of the books at Midlands for the same price or less, sometimes you get great bargains. And you do get some good bargains, or some rare-ish books. And you get to be surrounded by books over a vast area, which is worth it.
Much recommending to each other was done. I caused her to buy Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Last Temptation of Christ, and (she got someone else to buy her this one) Baudolino. She convinced me to get Roberto Calasso’s Ka.

This weekend in between studying the epic background and Restoration England this weekend is not a good one) I have been reading the book. I am progressing slowly, due to the massive workload, but am about a third of the way through. So far, it’s excellent – I love it.

However. The blurbs on the cover are pissing me off.

The best book about Hindu mythology that anyone has ever written

Wendy Donner

…no contemporary Indian writer would be able to manage such erudition and originality as Calasso displays…

The Independent

Ah. Well.

I have a lot to read. This, then Pixel Juice and Nymphomation by Jeff Noon, Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books, Calvino – If on a winter’s night a traveller, Murakami – Hardboiled wonderland, Angela Carter’s Several Perceptions, Julian Barnes’s Before she met me, and Jeanette Winterson’s Art & Lies and The Passion.