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The Man from the Egg



  Unusual Tales about the TRINITY

  Illustrations by Priyankar Gupta





  1. Brahma’s Folly

  2. A Celestial Solution


  3. The Story of Sati

  4. The Birth of Parvati

  5. The Indian Cupid

  6. A Match Made in Heaven

  7. The Moon and the Leaf

  8. The Legends of the Elephant God

  9. The Slaying of the Asuras

  10. The Half-Man, Half-Woman

  11. Folk Tales


  12. The Bones of Dadhichi

  13. The Churning of the Ocean

  14. The Ten Avatars

  15. Three Mortal Lifetimes

  16. A Friend in Need

  17. The Man from the Egg

  18. The Forked Tongues

  19. The Honest Cheater

  20. The Choice of Death

  21. To Marry a Monkey or a Bear

  22. The Web of Illusion

  23. The Debt for a Wedding

  24. The Asura and the Super-God


  4. The Birth of Parvati

  5. The Indian Cupid

  7. The Moon and the Leaf

  8. The Legends of the Elephant God

  9. The Slaying of the Asuras

  11. Folk Tales

  17. The Man from the Egg

  23. The Debt for a Wedding


  Follow Penguin




  Sudha Murty was born in 1950 in Shiggaon, north Karnataka. She did her MTech in computer science, and is now the chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. A prolific writer in English and Kannada, she has written novels, technical books, travelogues, collections of short stories and non-fictional pieces, and six bestselling books for children. Her books have been translated into all the major Indian languages. Sudha Murty is the recipient of the R.K. Narayan Award for Literature (2006), the Padma Shri (2006) and the Attimabbe Award from the Government of Karnataka for excellence in Kannada literature (2011).

  Also in Puffin by Sudha Murty

  How I Taught My Grandmother to Read and Other Stories

  The Magic Drum and Other Favourite Stories

  The Bird with Golden Wings

  Grandma’s Bag of Stories

  The Magic of the Lost Temple

  The Serpent’s Revenge: Unusual Tales from the Mahabharata

  To Kris Gopalakrishnan and Sudha,

  for the precious memories made during the making of Infosys


  In India, the term Trimurti is used in reference to the three faces of god. They are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and collectively called the Trinity.

  Together, they represent the oneness of the universe while retaining their distinctive nature and are known for their ability to grant people boons. Hymns are chanted every day all over India, in temples and homes, and countless stories abound in their praise.

  And yet many questions remain.

  Several temples are dedicated to Shiva, as well as Vishnu and his various avatars. But there are hardly any that are dedicated to Brahma, an equally important part of the Trinity. Why?

  How do the demons or asuras attempt to cheat the Trinity in their endless quest for immortality? How do their efforts fail?

  Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati are the respective consorts of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. But it is Parvati who displays many avatars and is popular as Shakti, the divine female power, and Durga, the warrior goddess. How did Parvati, a beautiful and gentle being, come to be known as a feared warrior?

  This is the second volume of my series on Indian mythology, written for my dear readers and for future generations.

  As always, I would like to thank my wonderful editor Shrutkeerti Khurana and Anju Kulkarni for their roles in bringing out this book. I am also grateful to Sohini Mitra and Hemali Sodhi from Penguin for their support and belief in me.

  Brahma’s Folly

  Lord Brahma is the creator of the universe and everything both living and non-living. He is said to have risen from a lotus that emerged from Vishnu’s belly button. Just as an artisan moulds statues, Brahma is the eternal sculptor responsible for the intricacies of all life forms. We are all his children.

  Ages ago, the god of love, Manmatha (better known today as Kamadeva), and his wife, Rati, prayed fervently to Brahma for a boon. They wanted a special bow and arrow. So they fasted and meditated for days and days, and finally Brahma appeared.

  Manmatha said, ‘Dear lord, give me a bow and arrow that will make anyone I shoot it with fall instantly in love with the nearest person.’

  Brahma considered the request. ‘This boon is perfect!’ he thought. ‘It will encourage more humans to fall in love and over time, the number of children on this planet will increase and the human race will flourish. But I don’t think strong-willed people or those who follow a spiritual path will fall prey to Manmatha’s arrow. However, that shouldn’t stop me from granting the boon.’

  Brahma raised his right hand. ‘So be it.’

  A bow of sugar cane and an arrow of flowers appeared in front of the delighted Manmatha. He took possession of it and thanked the god with all his heart before going on his way.

  Soon, Manmatha wanted to test the bow and arrow. Without thinking too much, he shot the first arrow at Brahma himself!

  At that time, Brahma was in the process of creating a beautiful maiden. She was named Shatarupa, a woman with a hundred beautiful forms. Her beauty was nothing like the world had ever seen.

  As soon as Brahma finished breathing life into her, the magic of Manmatha’s arrow started to take effect.

  The lord began gazing at Shatarupa so intensely that it scared her. She hadn’t expected her creator to behave in such a manner. So she stepped away from him, turning to his right. Brahma couldn’t look away—his eyes followed her. To his surprise, a second head sprang up on his right. Alarmed, Shatarupa ran the other way, to his left, but a third head appeared in that direction as well. Finally, Shatarupa was right behind Brahma, and lo and behold, another head was formed. Now Brahma had four heads facing all four directions—east, west, north and south. This way he was able to see Shatarupa no matter where she went.

  The maiden now had no choice but to turn upward. Unfortunately for her, that didn’t stop Brahma. Another head facing the sky sprang up on his first head. And thus Brahma’s gaze stayed on Shatarupa.

  Shiva, who had been watching the entire incident, was furious. ‘It is time for me to step in and help the poor girl,’ he thought. ‘Brahma is Shatarupa’s creator—it is not right for him to fall in love with her like this.’

  Shiva cut off Lord Brahma’s sky-facing head in one swoop with his trishul and cast a curse on him. ‘Henceforth, you will eternally be a four-headed god, and furthermore, you will be worshipped in just one place.’

  Only after he had removed Brahma’s fifth head did Shiva realize that Brahma hadn’t been completely responsible for his behaviour. It was Manmatha’s arrow of love that had started it all.

  So, to soften the curse, Shiva declared, ‘Brahma, even though you may not be worshipped the way Vishnu and I are, you will always be revered as a part of the divine Trinity.’

  There was no denying that Shiva had sinned by punishing Brahma. As a consequence, he became a wandering ascetic and made his way to Brahma Kapala (better known today as Badrinath in Uttarakhand). Shiva carried Brahma’s severed head in his hands and used it as a beg
ging bowl, but strangely the skull would never fill up. No matter how much food went into it, the bowl remained empty. It was only when Shiva made his way to Varanasi and received alms from Annapoorna, the goddess of nourishment and an avatar of Parvati, that the begging bowl finally began to fill up. It is believed that Brahma’s fifth head has remained with Shiva ever since.

  The place where this incident is said to have taken place is in Pushkar, Rajasthan.

  A Celestial Solution

  The asura brothers Sunda and Upasunda were inseparable. They shared everything equally—food, clothes, even their kingdom.

  In the hope of gaining immortality, they performed severe penance to please Brahma. After a long time, the god finally appeared.

  ‘We are overjoyed to be in your presence, my lord!’ they said, bowing to Brahma.

  ‘Your penance is commendable, my dear devotees.’ Brahma smiled. ‘I will grant you a boon. Tell me, what do you wish for?’

  Sunda and Upasunda had been waiting for this moment. ‘We want to be immortal,’ they chorused.

  ‘I’m afraid that is impossible. Any living being that is born must die. I am only the creator, and have no power to stop death. Ask me for something else instead.’

  After careful thought, Sunda and Upasunda said, ‘Then give us such a boon that will allow us to die only by each other’s hand and no other.’

  Now, Brahma was famous for granting boons to his asura devotees. More often than not, there were strange conditions associated with these boons. The truth was that Brahma made sure to weave loopholes into his boons, knowing that every mortal must die. This time was no different. He nodded and said, ‘May you be invincible from this day on. You can only be killed by each other.’

  Sunda and Upasunda were ecstatic. They knew that they would never fight each other.

  Together, the brothers conquered many lands and became immensely powerful. Their invincibility made them arrogant, and they soon started to abuse their subjects. Friends and enemies alike feared them because they were known to seize kingdoms on a whim. After decades of suffering their torture, the whole world wanted to see the brothers dead but the bond between them remained as strong as ever. They didn’t seem to have a single difference of opinion!

  Finally, the people appealed to Brahma. ‘Please rid the world of these monsters. We have no one else to turn to,’ they pleaded.

  ‘All powerful asuras inevitably turn towards the destruction of mankind,’ thought Brahma as he listened to the people’s relentless cries for help. ‘As I’m the one who bestowed the boon of invincibility upon them and caused this misery, it is my responsibility to find a solution.’

  After much thinking, Brahma hit upon an ingenious plan. He created a beautiful and irresistible enchantress and named her Tilottama.

  Tilottama, by Brahma’s design, ran into Sunda and Upasunda during one of their strolls. The brothers were immediately captivated by her magical beauty. She nodded at them as she walked past.

  Sunda stared at Tilottama in wonder and said to his brother, ‘I want to marry her.’

  Upasunda did not reply. He was thinking the same thing!

  Sunda noticed his brother gazing at his future wife and realized what was going on in his mind. ‘This exquisite woman is going to be Upasunda’s sister-in-law!’ he thought. ‘How dare he stare at her in this manner?’ He barked at his brother, ‘Come to your senses. She is going to be my wife. You must treat her like a sister.’

  ‘But I was the one who saw her first! She must marry me,’ replied Upasunda.

  ‘How can you say that, brother?’

  ‘Listen to me. The moment our eyes met, I knew we were meant for each other.’

  Sunda did not agree. ‘I am the older sibling. I am to marry her and my decision is final.’

  ‘Just because you are older doesn’t mean you can force your choices on me. My opinion matters too.’

  This rankled Sunda. Gradually the argument between the brothers escalated. Neither of the asuras was ready to relinquish Tilottama. After much debate, they decided to approach the maiden herself to ask her whom she liked best, agreeing to respect her choice no matter what.

  When the asuras explained the conundrum to Tilottama, she pretended to be upset. ‘I curse my beauty!’ she exclaimed. ‘It has caused a rift between the two of you. It is better that I leave your kingdom.’

  ‘No, Tilottama, please don’t leave,’ they pleaded. ‘Be honest with us. Whom would you like to be wedded to?’

  ‘My dream is to marry the greatest warrior on earth,’ she said coyly. ‘So I will wed whoever is stronger, but I will leave that to you both to decide.’

  Sunda and Upasunda forgot everything except their love for Tilottama. They decided to have a wrestling match. The news spread like wildfire. Many people, animals, birds and even devas swarmed to the scene.

  The match was fierce and intense as the brothers were equal in strength. Sunda and Upasunda were aware of each other’s weaknesses and fought viciously like two enraged elephants as the world watched with bated breath. In the end, neither of them survived.

  Everyone rejoiced and Brahma smiled. What could never have been put an end to by might was easily undone by beauty.

  The Story of Sati

  King Daksha was one of the sons of Lord Brahma. Daksha had many daughters. Twenty-seven of them were married to the handsome moon god, Chandra, and among his remaining daughters, Dakshayani was married to Shiva.

  Daksha was not at all happy with Dakshayani’s choice. Shiva spent most of his time either on Mount Kailash in the freezing Himalayas or in cremation grounds. To make matters worse, he looked positively dreadful with his long, dark, matted locks and that snake wrapped around his neck like a garland. Daksha felt that his beautiful daughter deserved a better husband. But Dakshayani (who was also known as Rudrani) was very happy with her husband and enjoyed her time with him no matter where they were.

  One day, Daksha decided to perform a grand yagna. He invited all his daughters and his sons-in-law, as well as many other relatives and friends to participate in the event.

  On the day of the yagna, as soon as Daksha entered the place, everyone stood up to welcome him. All except Brahma and Shiva.

  Daksha was livid. God or not, Shiva was his son-in-law. And by not standing up at his arrival, Shiva had insulted Daksha—at least that’s how the king perceived it.

  A few months later, Daksha held another grand yagna. But this time, he didn’t invite Dakshayani and Shiva. When Dakshayani heard that all her sisters were visiting her father’s house, she said to Shiva, ‘I want to go to my father’s house for the yagna. Will you come with me?’

  Shiva smiled and replied, ‘You shouldn’t go without an invitation, even if it is your father’s home.’

  ‘A daughter doesn’t need an invitation to visit her parents,’ she retorted.

  ‘All right, but be warned that your father may use strong words against me. I know how loyal and kind you are, and I’m afraid that it may be hard for you to listen to him. I hope you will be careful. I won’t accompany you, dear wife, but my blessings are with you.’

  Dakshayani quickly collected a few gifts and left for Daksha’s house with Nandi, Shiva’s gentle white bull and his primary vehicle.

  When Daksha saw his daughter, he said, ‘I don’t remember having sent you an invitation. Is your ill-mannered husband also going to turn up later?’

  Dakshayani didn’t say anything, barely restraining her anger.

  The yagna began, but Daksha wasn’t done ridiculing Shiva. ‘Go back, dear daughter, to your husband, whom you love more than your father. I remember his insult very well, and both of you are no longer welcome here.’

  He continued in this vein until Dakshayani couldn’t take it any longer. Humiliated beyond words, she closed her eyes and prayed to her husband, ‘My lord, I have made a mistake by coming here and not heeding your warning. You were right. And I cannot live with the scars of the words my father has inflicted on me.’ She
then jumped into the sacred fire of the yagna, thus performing the act of sati.

  A disturbed silence fell over the room. All the guests were shocked at what had just happened.

  When Shiva learnt of his wife’s fate, he cried out in such anger that the entire world shook. In his rage, he created a fearsome avatar, Virabhadra, and provided him with a forceful army. He then ordered Virabhadra to stop Daksha’s ritual and destroy anyone who stood in his way.

  His grief and fury not quelled yet, Shiva began his divine dance of destruction, Tandav Nritya. The earth quaked in the wake of his wrathful steps and people started panicking, convinced that the world was about to end. But Shiva didn’t stop or falter.

  Meanwhile, Virabhadra and his army destroyed the yagna. He cut off Daksha’s head and vanquished the other sages and gods who came forward to help the king. As the destruction continued, they called upon Brahma for help, who entreated Shiva to pardon Daksha and restore normalcy to the world.

  Finally Shiva calmed down, his compassion awakened. He brought Daksha back to life, replacing his head with that of a goat’s so the proud king would never forget his folly. Daksha immediately fell at Shiva’s feet, vowing to spend the rest of his life as his devotee.

  Once order was restored in the world, Shiva withdrew into himself and entered a state of deep meditation. And Dakshayani came to be known as Sati from then on.

  The Birth of Parvati

  Taraka was a powerful and ambitious asura, and a devotee of Lord Brahma. One day he began a severe penance for Brahma, living on a mountain for a long period of time. Pleased with Taraka’s devotion, the creator appeared before him.

  ‘O my lord!’ Taraka cried. ‘My life’s purpose has been fulfilled now that I have felt your presence.’

  Brahma smiled. ‘Tell me what your heart desires.’

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