Sunday, June 10, 2012

Beautiful Rangolis!

Purandaradasa walked into his little hut-like house near the banks of the river Tungabhadra in Vijayanagara (present Hampi in Bellary District of Karnataka) and called his wife.  Saraswati was busy doing something in the backyard.  She recognised something urgent in her husband's voice and came to him with hurried steps.

"Saraswati, today's rangoli is very beautiful.  I have not seen such beautiful Rangoli done by you before!"
"Ah, I am glad you noticed them at least today"
"Why, are you making such beautiful Rangolis everyday?"
"Where is the time for you to observe them?"
"Why do you say so? Don't I observe these things?"
"Half the time you are lost in the thought of Purandara Vittala. Other half is spent in Vyasaraja Guru's mutt"
"Do you mean to say that they are done this beautifully every day?"
"For the last two weeks or so"
"Where did you learn this? And from whom?"
"I wish I had done them.  But not me"
"Not you? How is it? Who else will do it in front of our house?"
"I wish I knew. But honestly I do not know!"
"This is indeed a strange act. Such a fine art"
"I have also been observing. Each day it is different.  Some days it is with powder. Some other days it is done with different coloured substances.  Some days it is with flowers.  And the type of flowers that are not be seen anywhere near Vijayanagara or nearby areas! I wonder who brings them and from where?"
"This is very intriguing. Come, let us take a look together"

 "This is just beautiful. Flower pots have been kept around it to prevent someone from inadvertently stepping on them"
"This has been the most colourful of them all.  No wonder you observed it today"
"Saraswati, but who is really doing this? It was not there when I went out very early today"
"When I came out with the broom and water pot to clean the yard in the morning before sunrise, it was already there"
"Somebody is doing a favour to us. We should thank them and find out the reason for such a favour"
"I agree. But how to do it?"  "Let me think and find a way"

Purandaradasa could not sleep that night.  He was wondering about the event that perplexed him and his wife.  Early in the morning he heard some noise and movement in the front yard.  He felt he heard some women talking in a low voice.  He got up and silently moved towards the window to have a better view of the goings on.  What he saw totally surprised him.  The seven women had already cleaned the front yard and were now engaged in making a new Rangoli, this time with flowers.  He waited till they finished their work and came out of the front door just as the group was moving away and spoke to them.

"Please let me thank you for your kind favours showered on us. You are not among the human women folk and all of you are radiating heavenly charm and divinity.  Please favour me with your real identity"

All of them turned towards the saint and faced him for the first time.  Purandaradasa was struck by the benign radiance of their presence.  Their leader spoke to him with all reverence.

"I am Ganga.  These are Yamuna, Godavari, Saraswati, Narmada, Sindhu and Kaveri.  We are the seven rivers that flow in this land.  We did not want to disturb you.  Though we are sorry we disturbed your rest, we are indeed lucky to see you and talk to you today"

"It is indeed my good fortune to see all of you together today.  It is difficult to have darshan of even one of you after a long meditation.  Please bless me by advising me the reason for decorating my hut with such beautiful Rangolis"

"People all over the country come and bathe in our waters and get rid of their sins.  We have no way to dispose off all those accumulated sins.  We come to the abode of pious people like you and do some little service.  The accumulated  sins left by all the people gets destroyed by serving someone like you who is always thinking of the Lord and singing in his praise.  Now please permit us to get back to our duties."

All of them bowed to him with respect and received his own salutations with due kindness.  Next moment they had all disappeared.  The beautiful flower Rangoli remained a witness to this strange spectacle.

This might well be an imaginary story.  But its beauty lies in its conception.  How many stories are actually true?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Archer and the Tyrant

The father and son duo were strolling in the market place. The son tugged at the father's finger and drew his attention to the long pole and the hat placed on it.  The long pole was raised in the market place in Altdorf, Uri, Switzerland.  Albrecht Gessler, also known as Hermann, had placed his hat atop the pole and had ordered all the people of the area to to bow before it as they passed the pole. It was his way of enforcing his will and authority on the subjects of his rule.  The Harisburg bailiff had orders from his masters in Austria to compel the locals towards a rebellion so that it would pave way for the Austrian forces to occupy the areas.  The locals were seething with anger but yet complied with this humiliating order.  The atmosphere was pregnant with possibilities and now the time for action had actually arrived.

William Tell was a very strong man and originally came from Burglan, southeast of Lucerne.  He was an excellent marksman with the crossbow and was known as the best archer of his time.  His pride was as legendary as his marksmanship.  It was said he never missed the target he aimed at.  As his son drew his attention to the hat placed on the pole, his anger rose and he decided to do something about the situation.  He walked towards the pole as his son followed him.  He walked past the pole without complying with the order to bow before the hat on the pole.  Gessler's servants were aghast at the sight of a man and his little son walking past the pole without bowing before it.  Even after being reminded of the rule William Tell did not relent and publicly refused to bow before the hat on the pole.  The servants were now convinced that this was not a mistake or the act of someone not knowing the rule.  It was indeed a deliberate and provoking act.  If left without any action, others may follow suit and the very purpose of placing the hat on the pole may be defeated.  They dutifully reported the matter to Gessler.

Gessler duly arrived on the scene and ordered William Tell's arrest.  He was about to order Tell's execution when he saw Tell's crossbow.  Gessler was tempted to test Tell's skill with the bow.  He offered Tell a choice of either being executed or shoot an apple placed on his son's head from a distance in one try and be let off alive. Tell was in a quandary now.  Refusal to shoot the apple meant certain death.  An attempt to shoot the apple may endanger his little son's life.  Moreover, there was no guarantee that Gessler would really set him free even if he succeeded.  While he was debating about the options, his son made the decision.  The young boy had great faith in the marksmanship of his father and assured his father that he would stand perfectly still with the apple on his head and Tell could fearlessly shoot the apple.  William Tell finally agreed to shoot the apple placed on his son's head.

Tell and his son were led to a nearby tree as a large crowd gathered around them.  Guards kept the crowd at bay and the son was made to stand below the tree.  An apple was placed on the boy's head and the distance was measured from him for Tell to take his position with his crossbow.  Everyone waited with bated breath as Tell got ready and took aim.  The boy was standing still unmindful of the crowd and threat to his own life.  The arrow left the bow and pierced the apple placed on the boy's head!  There was a sigh of relief by the crowd and Gessler himself was flabbergast.  In one arrow Tell had saved his own life and earned his freedom.  Gessler observed that Tell had readied two arrows and asked him why he had two arrows when he was required to shoot the apple with one arrow.  Tell lied and said that it was due to force of habit.  Gessler assured Tell that he had indeed earned his freedom and he can fearlessly tell the true reason for readying two arrows.  Tell finally relented and told Gessler that the second arrow was intended for killing Gessler if any harm befell the little boy.  Enraged at this Gessler had Tell arrested again and he was taken by boat across Lake Lucerne, to Kussnacht on the northern tip of the lake to make him spend the rest of his life in a dungeon.  As luck would have it, a sudden fierce storm terrified the crew and they handed the wheel of the boat to William Tell as he was a better sailor!  William Tell maneuvered the boat skillfully and instead of heading to the dungeon he escaped to the shore and ran towards Kussnacht.  He ambushed Gessler and his men along a narrow stretch of road that cut through the rocks between Immensee and Kussnacht.  He killed Gessler with the second arrow, an arrow which met its purpose.

With this act of killing Gessler, a rebellion against Austrian rule ensued and William Tell emerged as the central figure of Swiss patriotism.  Foundations of Old Swiss Confederacy were laid.  A statue of William Tell and his son has been erected (picture of the statue given alongside downloaded from the internet) in Altdorf, Switzerland.  The legend of William Tell is recorded in a 15th century Swiss Chronicle.  There have been poems, songs and plays about William Tell and his deeds. There was a short story about William tell in our text book when we were studying in middle school. During our visit to Switzerland in 2008 we visited Lake Lucerne though we could not go to Altdorf due to bad weather.  Our host was willing to take us there despite the long distance, but I thought it fit not to venture there in pouring rain. I paid my tribute to William Tell and his little son on the banks of Lake Lucerne.

Modern historians have raised many doubts and question marks about the legend of William Tell.  As it happens so many times with historians, they do not realise that non-availability of proof of someone's existence in the past does not prove their non-existence.  Whether someone agrees or not, William Tell has been and is a hero for all freedom loving people.  Even if he was not really there.