Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mohini

Since my previous post was about an eclipse, I cannot resist following it up with a story from Hindu mythology about immortality, seduction and – you guessed it – eclipses.

The devas (gods) and the asuras (demons) had worked together to churn the Ocean of Milk, seeking the nectar of immortality. When the nectar finally emerged, the alliance broke down and the devas and the asuras began to fight over it. Vishnu, cunning as ever, assumed the form of Mohini (the enchantress) and persuaded the asuras to entrust her with the the nectar; she would distribute it among the devas first, and then among the asuras.

Beguiled by her beauty and her honeyed words, the asuras agreed to this obviously questionable plan. But Rahu, an asura, suspected foul play, so he disguised himself as a deva and took his place among them. Unfortunately for him, he was recognised by Surya (the Sun god) and Chandra (the Moon god). Surya and Chandra alerted Vishnu, who instantly cut off Rahu's head with his discus. And not a moment too soon, because the nectar had already reached Rahu's throat, making his head immortal.

The immortal head, so the story goes, has never forgiven the Sun and the Moon. It roams the heavens and periodically, it devours them in anger. But because the head is not attached to a body, the Sun and Moon slip out again, and the eclipse does not last forever.

Anasua's cat (pictured below) is called Tentul (tamarind), but this is his daak naam or nickname.


Tentul's formal name is Mohini, after the philosopher Mohini Chatterjee. After Anasua's family found Tentul as a kitten abandoned on their doorstep, the vet identified him as a female. It was only on the next visit that the same vet realised he was male. So in his sexual mimicry, Mohini the cat lived up to his mythological namesake in a way no one had quite foreseen.

6 comments:

Sujaan said...

I see you've translated "daak naam" as "nickname". Wouldn't "petname" be really appropriate in this case? :D

Sroyon said...

Heh, I thought about it, but left it for Bengali-speaking readers to make the connection.

Rara Avis said...

The debotas in mythology are much greater assholes than asuras mostly - asuras are bumbling and stupid mostly but hardly as disturbingly entitled and cunning as the debotas. Not sure why we're supposed to worship one and hate the other.

Sroyon said...

I suppose we're supposed to worship them because they have power, not because they are the embodiment of goodness or whatever.

Anonymous said...

your Surya and Chandra translations need to be swapped.

Sroyon said...

Thanks, I've corrected the mistake now.