In his fourth and last part of the series, Osho in Kerala, Tarpan writes about not generally-known but surprising people and tales from Kerala.
A Master, an enlightened being, might not be missing anything. It doesn’t make any difference to him if he is reading or not reading a book, or interacting or not with the outside world. As he himself is centred within, the world we are talking about is merely a namesake one. That’s all what we assume about that phenomenon. But, as a person from Kerala and also a few of my friends always feel that we really do miss some wonderful discourses by Osho, as nobody had brought to his notice certain myths, ballads, poems, legends and mystics from this part of India. (I am sure that anybody from any other place would have the same feeling. Is there any land without stories and legends and myths? Is there any land where a Zorba was not born? A Buddha was not born?)
Here too, there were indeed some mystics – Narayana Guru and Chattambi Swamikal, who were contemporaries of Ramana Maharshi, whose works are considered to be of the same heights of Shankara. At least two spiritual poems – Harinamakeerthanam (author yet unknown) and Njanappana by Poonthanam can be compared to any Upanishad or Songs of Kabir.
Osho has talked about a meeting of two enlightened individuals, Kabir and Farid, in the 15th century. Another such incident happened in 1916 at Tiruvannamalai, Ramana Maharshi’s place. Narayana Guru from Kerala went to meet Ramana Maharshi. The only talk between Narayana Guru and Ramana Maharshi was when the latter approached Narayana Guru, who was sitting in the shade under a tree, and asked him to come for lunch. No other interaction happened between them during that 3-4 hour visit. But they were in close contact with each other until Narayana Guru left his body in 1928.
Art, stepping stones to witnessing
Kathakali and Koodiyattam, the traditional performing arts of Kerala are of some meditative significance which Osho would have mentioned for sure but not because of their perfection as an art. In these two art forms, a combined form of dance and theatre, acting is taken to the height of pure witnessing. It is totally different from the acting generally performed in a movie or drama, where the actor is almost identified with the character. Generally, when a character laughs, the actor laughs and he wants to make it as real as possible. When the character wants to cry, the actor tries to shed tears from his eyes. But in Koodiyattam, or in Kathakali, the actor acts as if he is laughing, or as if crying. In reality, he never laughs, or cries. The whole attention of the actor is to convey the emotional climate of laughing or crying to the audience. He will be using all possible gestures which are called mudras, face muscles, body movements, and will use the help of live background music.
Importantly, the actor never gets identified with the character the way it is performed in other art forms. To be more specific, the actor in these artforms is really challenged how NOT to get identified with the character, and at the same time he must be totally into it!
When stating that “Acting is one of the most spiritual professions in the world,” it seems Osho was emphasizing the non-identification of an actor with his character. Not all actors of these artforms are meditators or are into the realm of witnessing. But it will be very easy for them to at least understand what is meant by the term ‘witnessing’, and seeing that art, it will be easy for the spectators too.
With Kerala, Osho has also some other ‘distant acquaintances’ or trivial connections.
Osho used to joke about a ‘big belly’ Baba. That was Bhagavan Nityananda, the master of Swami Muktananda who became famous in the USA. Swami Muktananda had some contacts with Osho in the early days.
Nityananda was born in Kozhikode (commonly called Calicut) and established an ashram in the northern part of Kerala and another one close to Mumbai.
I was very happy to read in a darshan diary about a person from Kerala receiving sannyas from Osho. Speaking to the new sannyasin, he asks Deva Vedant to start spreading the message in Kerala: “Which meditation is going well with you?… Dynamic? Very good. Continue it, and in Kerala, much has to be done. Now start spreading the message: you have to become a vehicle for me there!” The Shadow of the Bamboo, Ch 25
Myths / Legends
Perhaps, Osho’s most cherished connection with Kerala is the following:
There is a great series of legends / folktales in Kerala about a 12-member family, Parayi Petta Panthirukulam (twelve clans born of a pariah woman), who were the sons and one daughter born to a brahmin man and his lower caste wife. His name was Vararuchi, his wife was called Panchami.
Vararuchi was the half-brother and close confidante of Emperor Vikramaditya (57 BCE -78 CE) in Ujjain (today’s Madhya Pradesh). Because of some unusual events in his life, Vararuchi married Panchami, not knowing that she is a lower caste woman. But after some time, he recognized that his life was unfolding as per the fate which had been predicted to him earlier.
Although he had tried in many ways to avoid his fate, he finally understood that life was not in his hands at all and was moving in its own ways. He immediately left the palace together with his wife and they spent the rest of their lives on a pilgrimage walking towards the south. Meanwhile Panchami conceived her first child.
After nine months on their path, having at last reached Kerala, she delivered a boy near the side of a small jungle. Vararuchi, who was waiting aside in a clearing, called out to her, “Does the baby have a mouth?”
“Yes, of course!” she called back.
“Leave him there and come with me. God will provide him with food and shelter since he can cry,” Vararuchi said and his wife complied.
They continued their journey ahead. Thus, in twelve years she delivered eleven children including a baby girl but discarded all of them as per her husband’s instruction.
When she was pregnant for the twelfth time, she wanted to keep the child for herself. After the delivery, when the husband asked her the usual question, she told him a lie, “No, the child is born mouthless.”
Vararuchi asked her to take the child with her. Holding the child tightly in her arms, she walked along with her husband. But before taking eleven steps, the infant suddenly became mouthless. She started crying loudly. Realizing what had happened, Vararuchi took the child to a hilltop and consecrated it there, which became the famous Vayillakunnilappan (the deity of the mouthless hill). The couple continued their pilgrimage and finally attained moksha, the ultimate, absolute freedom.
The entire legend can’t be shown here as it is rather lengthy, including the early days of Vararuchi, the meeting with Panchami and several wonderful anecdotes about their children. And that’s not the scope of this write-up either. All these children were twelve unique individuals. They were scattered in different regions of the state, and grew up in different castes, religions and in very different backgrounds. All of them were leading an enlightened life of their own, discarding the communities around. They have left many signs and landmarks of their life in society; as far as Kerala is concerned, they are no more a legend, rather, they are almost a mysterious history; a reverberating myth.
The main reason for bringing up the legend here is that every tale of these twelve children (and there are more than a hundred of them) is simply awesome and enriched with sharp insights like Zen anecdotes. We wish Osho had heard of them! He would definitely had given a long series of discourses on them.
Naranathu Bhranthan: A legend comparable to Greek Sisyphus
Osho always reminds us that a myth is more valuable than a historical fact, as a myth carries the truth, while the fact merely shows some data. While talking on the myth of Sisyphus, Osho expressed the poverty of that story as a myth, a kind of incompleteness. And he visualized how it should have been and explained it in much detail.
In this legend, we have a Sisyphus-like character, Naranath Bhranthan. Bhranthan in Malayalam means a mad man. He was called so because of his activities and behaviour which was generally considered eccentric. But all his stories are simply superb, showing tremendous insights. His daily activities and courageous approach towards the unknown, god, was exactly like Osho visualized. When I read those lines from a discourse for the first time, my immediate feeling was that Sisyphus must be closely related to Naranath Bhranthan. Before going into the story of that mad man, let’s look into Osho’s words:
“The myth of Sisyphus is significant. It was written in Greece. If it had been written by a Zen Buddhist, he would have given it a totally different flavour. Sisyphus would not have bothered about the rock slipping back into the valley, he would have enjoyed the whole trip to the top and back into the valley. It is beautiful: flowers are blooming by the side, the birds are singing, and the fresh morning air… one is ecstatic. And Sisyphus is singing a song – a shodoka, a song of enlightenment. He would have defeated the gods if he had been a man of Zen; the gods would have cried and wept, because they had punished him, and he is enjoying! He would have enjoyed the trees by the side of the road, and the rocks, and the rock itself that he was carrying – the texture of it.
And if it were a morning like this… and the raindrops, and the smell of the freshly wet earth, he would have sung a beautiful song, he would have shouted a few haikus, he would have said ‘This is it!’; he would have danced with the rock, around the rock. He would have enjoyed it. And when from the top the rock slips back… the sound of it! And again a new thrill, and the adventure of going down into the valleys and bringing the rock up again, and all that beautiful journey. Then the whole perspective changes.” The Sun Rises in the Evening, Ch 5
Now to the story:
Naranath Bhranthan was the fourth son of Vararuchi, perhaps the most rebellious among the whole clan. He is the ‘lion’s roar’ of ‘Parayi Petta Panthirukulam’. His parents had left him on the banks of the Kunthippuzha river immediately after his birth, in a village in Palakkad and he was brought up by a woman from a nearby high class family (Narayana Mangalathu Mana). That is how he became known as Naranath; the suffix Bhranthan was added later because of his abnormal behaviour and mysterious way of living. He was very knowledgeable in tantric sciences and all.
He lived the life of a vagabond and earned his living by way of alms. He would make a hearth wherever he arrived in the evening, cook some gruel and sleep on the spot. In the morning he would climb a nearby hill while embarking on his hobby of rolling big stones to the hilltop. From there he would push those stones to the valley and roar with laughter, clapping his hands. In the evening he would go around for alms.
One evening he reached a nearby cremation ground; a pyre was still burning there. He brought water from the nearby river, made a hearth and started cooking his dinner gruel. His left leg was a little painful because of dropsy. So he stretched out that leg and kept it near the fire to enjoy the warmth. Along with the boiling sound of the rice in the pot, he began to hum a folk tune. As the night became darker and darker, he heard some fearsome noises, cling-clang, cling-clang. It was Bhadrakali, the goddess of the cremation grounds who, together with her demons was on her nocturnal rounds. They were surprised to see a human sitting there with a doughty expression, staring at them with a fearless face.
“Who are you?” Bhadrakali demanded to know. “Can’t you see? I am a human. People call me Naranath Bhranthan,” he replied.
“Get out from here immediately,” she ordered.
“Why should I?” he asked.
“If you don’t leave, we will scare you away.” She started frightening him with some gestures.
“I won’t be afraid of anyone. Better you leave me alone,” he said with a sarcastic smile.
“We are different from others,” she shouted back.
Settling into a more comfortable posture on the side of a tree, he said, “Go ahead. Do what you can.”
Bhadrakali and her demons charged at him, showing their fierce eyes, hot and reddish like burning coal. Their canines appeared like hot iron, their blood-red tongues danced like serpents. But Naranath sat there fearlessly, with a nonchalant smirk on his face. The goddess was amazed about his behaviour.
He asked, “Finished? Or is there any other stuff to frighten me with?”
Bhadrakali said, “Oh, great soul, I think you are not an ordinary being. So I plead with you to go away from here. It is our privilege to continue with the ecstatic dancing ceremony and celebration in the cremation ground at night.”
Naranath said, “You can go on with your activities. I won’t disturb you.”
She replied, “But we are not supposed to dance in the presence of a human.”
“If so, you may entertain yourself tomorrow,” he said, “I won’t move from here.” Bhadrakali said that they cannot postpone their ceremonies and Naranath told her, “No need. You can start dancing right now. I will sit in a corner without disturbing you.”
The night was going to end soon. Bhadrakali went on and on requesting him to go away, but he didn’t listen. Finally, she had to give in.
She said, “Oh, great one, we are leaving. But I cannot leave without either blessing or cursing you. Since I am convinced of your greatness, I would like to bless you. Tell me, what boon do you wish from me?”
Naranath replied, “Nothing please. I don’t need your blessings. Please go away with your friends. My dinner is already late now. Let me have it in peace.”
Bhadrakali insisted, “Please don’t disappoint us. Unless I grant you a boon, I won’t be able to go back.”
Naranath retorted, “To hell with you and your boon! OK, then tell me when I am going to die,” to which she answered, “You will die after 36 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days 5 hours and 3 minutes from now.”
Naranath said, “All right, then postpone my death for one more day.” Shaking her head, the Goddess said, “I am sorry. I am unable to grant that boon.”
Naranath sighed, “Then take away one day from life span,” and Bhadrakali said, “I am helpless to do so.”
Naranath, now irritated, “That’s why I told you that I don’t need your boons and bonuses!”
Bhadrakali pleaded, “Please have mercy upon me. Ask for anything else.”
Naranath said, “If so, grant a boon to shift the swelling on my left leg to the right leg.”
By then, it was day break. He left happily to the hill with his now swollen right leg and started his daily activity of rolling stones up to the hilltop. The valley was again filled with the sound of the falling stones and the echoes of his hands clapping, his roars, his loud laughter.
(From ‘Aithihyamala’ by Kottarathil Sankunni, translation courtesy Sreekumari Ramachandran)
There is a memorial for Naranath Branthan in Rayiranellur Hills in Palakkad, Kerala. Once a year, on a special day generally in September, hundreds of people climb the hill to pay tribute to him.
Meditation may dissolve all the boundaries in and around us, it is said. But surely better than that, by dissolving boundaries of space and time, one comes closer towards meditation. Osho says:
“Remember to act more and more with alertness. Even in small things – walking; walk with full awareness. Let the whole world disappear and just be the walker or the dancer. Or in taking a shower, remain there in the presentness of it – the water falling on you, the cool touch, the joy and the freshness that is coming to the body, the exhilaration…. Remain alert to it all and you are in meditation.” Don’t Look Before you Leap, Ch 28