Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wild Lands and Magic

In both the Vatnsdaela Saga and the Legend of Ponnivala the wild, mountainous areas are important. These uplands provide a contrast to the much flatter farmed (or grazed) lands in each case. The Vatnsdaela valley is hemmed in by hill rocky hills of volcanic origin. These hills are where the magicians, sorcerers and spirit beings generally reside. These are dangerous areas not to be entered thoughtlessly. 

The Land of Ponnivala is also surrounded by high hills that are filed with wild animals and populated by fierce hunters. In these areas the paths are full of thorns, a wild boar stalks intruders and a fierce goddess (Kali) reigns. In both stories three underlying contrasts are fairly obvious: wild versus civilized, chaos versus order and danger versus safety.

The Vatnsdaela Saga speaks of Porolfur (the dark skinned trouble-maker) who lives in a fortress in the hills and who is suspected of animal sacrifice (in other words, of sorcery). Here the hero of the third generation, Jokul, scales Porolfur’s defensive wall in order to get at him and destroy this dangerous adversary. 

In the Ponnivala Legend Shankar, the third generation hero, has an assistant who visits the hunter’s forest palace on his behalf. This residence is also fortified just like the one in the hills of Vatnsdaela. But there is no need to scale its walls, because Shambuga is shrewd and knows how to speak candied words with the forest princess who rules this domain. However, Shambuga is a very strong man and certainly could scale the fortress walls if he so wished. The hills among which this hunting palace sits are visible in the background. And the geographic area referenced as belonging to these hunters also has a likely volcanic history.

The wild hills of Ponnivala are full of tigers and cobras. And these are not ordinary animals. The palace princess mentioned above controls them and can speak to them in their own language(s). She can also speak with parrots and there are two very special parrots, descended from the heavens above, that live in a fine banyan tree near her residence. This hunter’s sister has the power to anticipate future events and she knows that her two lovely parrots (a couple) are at risk of being stolen by her adversaries, the farmers who live on the flat lands below. So this young princess (also a virgin) asks 5,000 tigers and 5,000 cobras to guard these two treasured birds and keep them from harm. Unfortunately, with Shambuga’s help, the farmers eventually outwit her, and steal her beloved female parrot. This theft of a bird (likely a symbolic substitute for the princess herself) signals the start of a great confrontation between the hunter-tribal forest dwellers and their non-forest neighbors.

In these two pictures, one from each epic, we see the third generation hero in the process of killing his dark-skinned forest-dwelling adversary. In the first image Porolfur has been on the run and is exhausted. Jokul’s kill appears easy though the lead up to it was challenging. In the second image we see Shankar confronting a skillful fighter. But these hunters are true athletes and martial artists too. Even armed with just one stick they can do real damage in a fight. Shankar wins the struggle and the story uses this outcome as one more demonstration of his courage. Of course Shankar also carries the superior weapon.

Finally (not pictured), there is a tenacious wild boar named Beigad in the Vatnsdaela Saga that Ingimund chases. Eventually it jumps in the water and then runs up a hill. There, exhausted, it dies. There is a similar tale in old Norse mythology with a boar of the same name. By contrast that boar escapes and spares the exhausted hunters! http://www.mythicalcreatureslist.com/mythical-creature/Beigad The story we are examining shines much glory on the Vatnsdaela hero! In the Ponnivala tale we find a similar wild boar and he is considerably more important than is his Vatnsdaela Saga equivalent. Komban is a magical boar, perhaps a kind of sinister yogi. His roots likely lie entwined with a very ancient tribal belief system seen in petroglyphs from South India. Komban is eventually killed by Shankar’s great boar spear but not without a huge struggle. His identity is also more complex that Beigad’s as Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva also (both) take the form of wild boars (albeit very different ones) in their own well-known Hindu mythologies.  

~ Brenda E.F. Beck

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