Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Casabianca and Mount Vindhya

"The boy stood on the burning deck
When all but he had fled,
The flame that lit the battle's wreck 
shone around him over the dead"

"Casabianca" is a famous poem by Felicia Dorothea Hemans, an English poetess from Ireland.  She lived for only 41 years (1793-1835) and in her short life span wrote several poems, said to have been published in 19 volumes.  Her eldest brother Lt General Sir Thomas Henry Browne had a distinguished position in the Army and other brothers also held high positions in the Government. Her husband Captain Alfred Hemans served in the Irish Army.  She was naturally well versed in battlefield exploits.  "Casabianca" is a true account of an actual incident from the 1798 "Battle of Nile", between the French navy and British navy under the command of Admiral Horatio Nelson.  The poet was only five year old when the incident happened.  This probably left a deep impression on her and resulted in the writing of the poem.  British Navy ships chasing the French navy made a surprise attack on them in the Aboukir Bay near the Egyptian city of Alexandria.  This surprise attack and destruction of the French navy ships in the Aboukir Bay defeated Napoleon Bonaparte's plans of attacking the British forces in India.


Louis de Casabianca was the captain of the French flag ship "Orient" that took part in the Battle of Nile.  He had taken his 12-year old son Giocante de Casabianca also on the voyage.  When the ship was attacked by the British, father Louis was standing on the deck with the young boy Giocante, supervising the activities on the ship.  The captain was called by another officer for attending to an emergency in the lower deck.  While going over there, the father advised the son to stay on the deck till he returned.  When the father was on the lower deck, the ship's magazine (a place in the ship where ammunition or other explosives were stored for distribution in time of need) exploded and the whole ship became a giant inferno.  As the other sailors abandoned the ship and jumped into the sea, they asked the boy to accompany them and save himself from death. He refused to leave without his father or his permission.
Say, Father, say, if yet my task is done
Speak Father, once again he cried
If I may be gone
Shouted once more aloud 
My father, must I stay?
alas, of course, there is no response

The father was in no position to reply as he had died in the explosion on the lower deck. The boy would not listen to others and did not move without his father.  He dies on the deck in the burning flames.  The poet concludes:


With mast and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part-
But the noblest thing which perished there
Was that young faithful heart

The father did not return.  The son would not leave.  Casabianca, the 12-year old boy, is burnt with the ship and dies, and yet lives as a symbol of a faithful son for ever.  The picture given above (from the internet) aptly explains the situation.  

*****

Several million years ago, the legend says, the mountains had wings and could fly in the sky.  This was causing havoc in the order of things.  Lord Indra wanted to restore some order and using his weapon, Vajraayudha, cut the wings of all mountains.  The problem of flying mountains was stopped for ever.  But one mountain, Vindhya in Central India, had the special capacity to grow.  His growth resulted in another problem; it obstructed the movement of people on either side to cross over to the other side.  Sun god was also afraid that one day his path too would be obstructed and his movement restricted.


Sage Agastya is considered as the shortest of the seven celestial sages, known as Saptarshis. He was requested to do something to stop the growth of Vindhya.  Agastya Rishi is highly revered and considered as the founder of the "Siddha Form of Medicine", a branch of Ayurveda.  He was held in high esteem by all including Vindhya. The sage who lived in the Himalayas came south with his wife Lopamudra. Looking at the sage near him, Vindhya bowed to him in reverence. Agastya blessed Vindhya and told him that he was going south for some work and would return after sometime.  He also told Vindhya that his growth would create problem for him to cross over to the north when he returned. Being a short man, it was difficult for him to climb a growing mountain and move to the other side. Due to the respect he commanded, Vindhya promised the sage that he would stay in his bowed form, thus shortening his height, till the sage returned from the south.  He would hold his growth till Agastya returned to the north.  The sage was happy and went south.  He told his wife Lopamudra that they would settle down in south forever.  Vindhya is waiting for the sage to return; that is not going to happen as the sage Agastya has settled down in south of South India.

Agastya is still believed to be living near Rameswaram.  He is said to have been present when Lord Rama created the Temple of Rameswara, during Ramayana days.  He is credited with being the earliest author of Tamil Grammar.


*****
        
Casabianca waited for his father who could not come.  Vindhya is waiting for a sage who would not come.  We also keep waiting for things that either cannot come or do not come.......

7 comments:

  1. True, we keep waiting and hoping for things that may never happen. Some of this may be wishful thinking.
    On a humorous note,, here is what a professor of English in Madras thought of Casabianca and I quote " In my simple , humble opinion Casabianca was a fool. Had it been an Indian boy he would have grasped the situation and fled for his life"

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  2. I could not control my tears while reading about Casabanca, the 12-year old faithful bud. He will stand in the hearts of million. I admire and adore Felicia Dorothea Hemans, an English poetess for the nice poetry on the French boy.
    Kindly continue writing more articles like this. With greetings......
    Gopinath Lingappa.

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  3. In a lighter vein I would like to comment that had Casabianca studied Indian mythology on sage Augastya and Vindhyas, he would have learnt a lesson and fled. Anyway well narrated story. Please keep writing. K N Chidananda
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  4. We grew up on stories about Casabianca's obedience when we were young.The young boy's father taught him to obey orders, but destroyed his spirit. Instead , if he had trained him to use his intelligence, we might have had a story of a bravery. The story on Sage Agastya is interesting and one of reverence more than obedience.

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  5. The stories beautifully narrated above and such other stories relating to the Indian Mythology highlights the human values inculcated from the day we born and carried forward and transferred from generation to generation.
    The things have diluted so much taht we have to fall back on these stories to remind us the values. Thanks Keshu for yet another master piece.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The stories beautifully narrated above and such other stories relating to the Indian Mythology highlights the human values inculcated from the day we born and carried forward and transferred from generation to generation.
    The things have diluted so much taht we have to fall back on these stories to remind us the values. Thanks Keshu for yet another master piece.

    ReplyDelete
  7. well narrated stories and the comparison was imaginative.

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