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From North to South

Devdutt PattanaikDespite vast evidence to the contrary, many textbooks in India keep referring to the ‘Aryan invasion’ from the West into the Indus Valley. Neither Vedic hymns dated to 1500 BCE nor Puranic chronicles dated from 300 CE speak of such a movement. But the Puranas are full of stories that speak of movements from the North to the South. It is never clear whether these movements from North to South are physical, or metaphorical.

The most obvious of these stories is the Ramayana which speaks of Ram of Ayodhya moving south where he encounters vanars or monkey people in Kishkinda (Deccan plateau) and then rakshasas in the far south. 


Illustration/ Devdutt Pattanaik

We are informed that before Ram, many sages made their journey south. There was Pulatsya and his son, Vishrava, whose descendants are the yakshas and the rakshasas. We are told how the leader of yakshas, Kubera, builds Lanka and is overthrown by the leader of the rakshasas, Ravana. And how Kubera moves north seeking refuge and builds the city of Alaka (A-Lanka?).

Even earlier we are told of Agastya who moves south. He is ordered to do so by Shiva, who resides in the North in the Himalayas, to restore balance in the world. All the sages move North to listen to Shiva’s discourse and this causes the Earth to tilt northwards. So Agastya is told to go South. As he goes south, he ‘conquers’ the Vindhyas by making it bow to him.

Another reason why Agastya is asked to go to the South is to find out the location of Kartikeya, son of Shiva, who moves South after a disagreement with his parents in the North. Parvati sends mountains along with Agastya as gifts for her angry son to remind him of home. These mountains are carried on a sling by the asura, Hidimba, and make up the mountains of Palni which is home to the southern form of Kartikeya, Murugan.

There are other stories of how all the mountains in the south actually came from the North blown southwards by Vayu, the god of the wind, who wanted to show how strong he was. It is interesting to see the role of geography in the relationship between Shiva and his two sons. While Kartikeya moves South, Ganesha stays in the North. In the North, Kartikeya is a bachelor, in the South he has two wives. In the North, Ganesha is seen with two wives while he is a bachelor in the South. What does this mean? Does this indicate the nature of northern and southern Ganesha/Murugan cults? Must these be taken philosophically? No one is sure.

Ganesha blocks many attempts of Ravana to take Shiva to the south. And yet he is also responsible for getting rivers to the South. The story goes that Agastya carried the water of the Ganga in a pot. Taking the form of a crow, Ganesha tipped this pot and out came the Kaveri. In another story, Ganesha got Gautama to beg Shiva to force Ganga to flow in the south; that is how the river Godavari came into being. Finally, on the southern tip of India stands Kanyakumari, the eternal virgin, waiting for her groom, Shiva, to make the trip South and marry her but the gods prevent this for as long as Kanyakumari stays virgin, she will remain rooted to the tip of the land, preventing the sea from overwhelming the sacred continent.

The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at devdutt@devdutt.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper

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