Ganesha was happy. He was finally going to have a sibling. Have the company of someone other than parents, relatives, collaborators, friends and devotees. His own baby brother. He was slightly disappointed it wasn’t to be a little girl, but that was okay. A boy just meant more ego, a little slowness, nothing he couldn’t deal with. Besides, if this boy was going to be all that they were expecting him to be, it would be fun, and fun was something Ganesha sorely wished for but rarely, if ever, got.
Everyone, including his parents, had grown used to depending on him for sagacity. Now, after just having completed the gruelling scribing of the “longest poem ever”, he was especially weary of sagacity and dependability. He would so like some baby babble in his ears.
Sometimes he felt as if the portentous sound of the “language of the gods” still clung there, making him want to put a little finger in and ease it out. A baby brother would laugh and clap and talk in a language that had neither grammar nor rules of composition or sound units, or balance of sense and suggestion.
He would gladly exchange the status of Elder God, Leader of the Ganas, for Elder Brother.
He would not be able to see the little boy just yet, though. As soon as he was born, he would be taken away to Bhuloka, the seventh or eighth of the fourteen worlds, depending on whether you were counting from the top or the bottom, to a land with water on three sides and mighty Himavan standing guard at its head. He would be taken to a forest in the south, where his arrival was awaited.
The journey was to be a relay, with different people, already selected for this task, carrying the baby, each in their turn. The child would be received and cared for by the six women waiting there, and taught the many lessons he must learn.
That was one of the conditions of the child’s birth; Father and Mother had agreed to it, as had the two gurus, Brihaspati and Shukracharya, and everybody else, including Ganesha. But that didn’t lessen his annoyance.
Ganesha turned to his father, who was seated under his favourite tree, and the sight made him smile. No matter how many times you saw them, tree and man, you marvelled at how grand they both looked, despite being so dishevelled, especially now, in the glow of the rising sun.
From his father’s head, the jata, bleached red and gold by the sun and wind and cold on this highest mountain in all creation, tumbled down, like the ashen ariel roots of the tree. A thin stream of light, powdery, like fine dust, emanated from the middle of his forehead. Mother, seated beside Father, was leaning towards him, and he knew that their two bodies, at some point, would be so close together, you couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began.
They were called by many names: Shiva-Shakti, Shambhu- Uma, Shiva-Parvathy, Gauri-Shankara. Most people thought of them as a single unit; even when their names were said, one seemed incomplete without the other. It was not without some irony that the wise ones called them the Mother and Father of Creation, knowing that the Father could be motherly, and the Mother just as easily not.
They were his parents and the parents of the little boy whose birth was imminent, the baby for whom these uncountable creatures were gathered: two-legged, four-legged, many-legged, fierce, gentle, Gandharva, Rakshasa, Asura, Pishacha, Kimpurusha, Vidyadhara, Sura, Manava, they were all here.
Father Shambhu and Mother Parvathy were engrossed in the birth of their second son, for this was no ordinary birth. Father Shambhu’s legs, lean and muscled from years of walking, dancing and climbing the high mountain, were crossed; his back was parallel to the trunk of the tree, not leaning against it. Mother Parvathy sat next to him; her legs were folded at the knee and tucked to one side.
His left hand curved around her waist, resting on her hip; his right hand rested on his right thigh, as if to hold himself down, if needed. Mother’s right hand was on his back; the fingers of her left curved around a sprig of newly blossomed saffron flowers. Ganesha liked to look at them when they sat like this – they really looked like they had given birth to the endless universes.
Father’s third eye was pulsating. Its glow grew more defined, more solid, even as they watched, and the warmth it gave off became more pronounced and spread further. Ganesha looked around at the rows of beings, all waiting; some of them were becoming restless, they shifted from foot to foot, and wiped their foreheads, as the air began to get warmer.
Ganesha himself was sweating, so he pulled the green upper cloth off his shoulders. The two lobes of the eye on his father’s forehead quivered, they were moving like the twin lips of a fish mouth: open-close, open-close, open-close. When they stilled, only a delicate line remained, trembling and shifting, as if it was an image under water.
The light inside seemed to be pressing against it. He couldn’t say how long it was before the lids widened and light, fierce and fiery, pushed through, filling the air with a burn that made those gathered there to shift and shuffle and exhale louder. In silent consensus, people moved aside to make place for those who found the heat unbearable and wanted to leave. How right Nandi had been to arrange the waiting crowd in rows, in order of their ability to bear the heat of Father’s third eye.
Ganesha looked over at his mother; she was smiling, of course she was smiling, she was always smiling, with that heart-warming smile that could change in a moment to glaring anger, to quaking rage that shook the worlds and sent its beings scattering in fear. An anger that could alarm even Father. Ah! So many stories to tell his soon-to-arrive baby brother.
Even as he thought this, Ganesha’s eyes were viewing another scene, one that would not happen for a long time yet – his baby brother, grown to a man, standing at the head of an army, his face raised to the sky, his eyes blazing, his shoulders squared and his hands holding a lance. That lance would have a name, but the name would be in a language not yet formed – the old language made new by this baby who wasn’t even born yet.
On that day, he would be accompanied by several lakh battle-ready women and men, who thrust their weapons high in the air and shouted his name. And by his brother’s side, there would be a woman, unarmoured, unarmed, in her hands cymbals, on her lips that very language.
Ganesha’s eyes narrowed in reflex against the relentless gust of burning air that was now beginning to surge from his father’s third eye. Father’s other eyes were still shut; Mother’s were open, watching the crowd. She would be looking for those who, unable to bear the heat, might need to be led or carried away. Nandi and Uncle were close by, both also looking around.
Then, the moment that they were all waiting for arrived: the third eye was widening, accompanied by a reverberation, like the trailing ring of a cymbal. As the crowd watched – and it should be no surprise that, wherever they were, each one of them could see Lord Shambhu’s face – the eye opened fully, and from it rushed a swirling, many-ribbed curl of blazing light. The musical re-echo grew more pronounced, more defined, and collected into strains; notes tumbled like marbles from a child’s fist.
After a pause, they resumed, surer, spaced out, rhythmic. They seemed to gather order and concord, and flowed now as music – its eddies and waves lucid. Like an underground stream that breaks through burning desert sand to pool into an oasis, it cooled the air and the breath of those breathing that air. A wind began to stir in the trees; the leaves of the great banyan that grew on Kailasa, unaffected by the cold, quivered and rustled. Sighs of relief rose here and there, blending into the music.
Ganesha was thinking, Oh, this sibling, he gets better and better, when his breath stopped for a tiny fraction of a matra – he could see the child: a face and hands and legs, dark as ebony; in the face, twin eyes as big and shapely as half-open lotus buds, lips curled in a smile.
Ganesha often wished that he didn’t need to know everything, but at that moment, though he knew the baby would only be “born” after he had reached his designated home, part of him wanted to stretch his arms out and pick up the little one. He wanted to kiss him on those cheeks, round like his belly, which had begun to shake –
He was laughing! This boy, yet unborn, could see him! Tiny fragments of the laughter Ganesha was trying to hold in, escaped. Here he was, able to see everything, everywhere, and this little boy had begun to see even before he was born! And already, the two of them were sharing a secret that was invisible to the rest of the universe.
The flame was beginning to get fierce once again. Here and there in the crowd, people fainted and were carried out by beautiful Gandharvas, who could carry whole mountains in the palms of their pink hands, their graceful fingers capable of playing and fixing everything, including broken hearts.
Ganesha stood up, so did his mother, and then Uncle Vishnu moved forward, and the three of them stood under the flame as it sputtered and began streaking back and forth with a lusty ringing, covering the length and breadth of the gathering – no mean distance.
The heads of all the assembled beings moved as one, this way, that way, forward, back, sideways. The boy was already playing tricks! Ganesha could see the little one’s belly rise and fall as he laughed, his eyes spilling light, his clapping hands sending sparks flying.
Father Shambhu was lost to the world, his eyes closed, all three of them. Sweat was breaking on his forehead, running down his neck and chest. His face looked just like the poets described it: the splendour of a thousand suns, all at once. His body shone like burnished copper, its evening-sky ruddiness dusted over by sun- glow. Father had sighed when Mother’s hand left his back and her hip moved from under his hand.
Ganesha, noticing this, was reminded of the time one of Father’s chelas, wanting to worship only Father, turned himself sliver-thin and tried to slip between them, and they just fused, making the deluded devotee see the foolishness of trying to separate what was inseparable.
A loud crackle snapped him out of his reverie. His head shot up, and there was the little one, grinning at him, his hands waving from side to side, making the light sputter and hiss and fizzle. He smiled, and the boy smiled back. Ganesha raised one hand and lowered it unhurriedly to chest level, and the little one seemed to understand that it was a sign to slow, for the sounds and movements began to settle, and the boy in his crib of flame, he too settled.
The music from the flame started again, more complex now, the notes in a formation, as if the phrases were telling him something. Ganesha’s heart surged: this music was for him; it had the slow grandeur of an elephant’s gait! It rolled, sped up, charged, slowed, turned around, as if the notes were a ball that the little boy was playing an intricate game with. Invisible and inaudible to everyone but Ganesha, the sound dissolved into the flame, and there was only one thing now: resonant light.
The little one continued to look at his elder brother and smile, and as the elder watched, the baby eyelids closed, sleep settled on his face, and the swirl of sound and light settled around his ankles. He was wearing anklets of sound! There was no other way to put it – the notes had taken life and were now sleeping, coiled like a leafy vine around a slender bough. Ganesha’s heart pushed against his ribs, tears sprang to his eyes, he glanced towards his mother, and she smiled at him, then turned back to the flame, now still and silent.
Excerpted with permission from Mahasena: Part One of the Murugan Trilogy, Kala Krishnan, Context.
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