Uttar Pradesh, India
'Thatching has come loose,' he mused, looking up at a rope hanging down from the wood and hay structure covering the porch.
Suddenly the rope turned into a snake that slithered down the side of the hut, bit his wife on the leg, and killed her instantly.
"Arrghh!' Rohan gasped, falling off his cot. He stood paralyzed, unsure momentarily whether to run toward his wife or away from the viper.
Then the snake writhed once, turned into a bull and charged into the field. He struck a farmer unawares and killed him outright, leaving the corpse lying over a plow.
Collecting his wits, Rohan ran after the bull and challenged him. 'I know who you are! You are Mara. You are Kali. You are the divine Goddess of Death. You manifest these different forms to judge your devotees.' Falling to his knees as a humbled supplicant, Rohan shook with fear in the presence of the deity. The bull pawed the ground and snorted, eager to move on with his work.
'Bless me, Mara!' implored Rohan. 'Please tell me when I will die.'
'That is not for you to know,' answered the bull. 'You must live your life wholly. Death will come after you've used your allotted breaths, and not before.'
'Then, pray tell me how I will die,' pressed Rohan. 'That will help me live a frugal life.'
'You will die in water,' roared the bull as he turned into a caracal and moved stealthily into the brush at river's edge.
Rohan knelt in stunned silence. In less than a moment, he had lost his family but gained a vision of the great Goddess. And he knew what he had to do. After mourning his wife's death and burning her body at the ghat, he gathered his few belongings and began his journey. Across the flat land of Uttar Pradesh, following the rural roads away from the river, Rohan walked solemnly north, into the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains. Higher and higher he climbed, through the Ghurati Forest where not a river or lake could be seen. At the palace of Surya Raj, he begged an audience with the king.
Surya was happy to have a teacher for his young son, Prasad, and he welcomed Rohan to his kingdom and court. The king even agreed to Rohan's strange request that he never be asked to go near a river or a lake for any reason.
Years passed and Prasad grew older, stronger and wiser. Soon it was his responsibility to rule the kingdom in place of his aging father. But before he could be crowned king, he needed to go on a pilgrimage to the Ganges, to be purified by the holy river and blessed by her deities.
Rohan refused to accompany Prasad to the Ganges, but King Surya was adamant. 'You are my son's guru, so you must travel to the holy river for his purification ceremony. You must guide him in his prayers and ablutions." Rohan reminded the king of the promise never to send him to water, but to no avail. At last, Rohan, the Prince, and a retinue of palace guards set out on a pilgrimage of several hundred miles, across mountain passes and deep ravines, through forests and farms. It wasn't until they reached the forked banks of the Ganges at Dharaku that Rohan succumbed to mortal fear.
'I cannot go in the water,' pleaded Rohan when the Prince was preparing for his ritual bath. 'The Goddess Maru told me I would die in water. I must stay on land! I can guide your prayers from here,' he whined. The Prince would not be moved.
'You are completely safe with me,' chided Prasad. 'I have two dozen soldiers who will protect us. They can make a circle around us, shoulder to shoulder facing out, with weapons at the ready. If anything comes toward us, we will be protected.'
Seeing he had no other option, Rohan slipped into his lungi and moved cautiously toward the river. The Prince stood in the center of his circled soldiers, waiting solemnly in the water for Rohan to join him. The circle parted, then closed, letting the teacher stand beside his lifelong student.
Rohan closed his eyes and invoked the mercy of River Ganga.
The Prince turned into a crocodile and ate him.
|North Indian Gharial|