This clip presents a rather unique set of scenes. There has been a sudden and severe famine in the Chola’s kingdom. Interestingly enough, this repeats a very similar disaster event that earlier befell the Vellivala area, the place where Kolatta and his eight brothers first tried to farm (see blog post 1.7?). Everything is dry, including the big water tank where much of the king’s irrigation water was stored. As already noted, localized droughts were once commonplace occurrences., and their severity was considerably heightened due to poor food transport facilities. Nowadays food can easily be trucked into a locale where the rains have failed, but in earlier centuries this was not the case and people had to live (for the most part) with what was grown in their immediate vicinity. Even someone as powerful as the Chola king could fall victim to a random bout of ecological misfortune like this. The soil is so hard that the king’s workers cannot get their plow tips to penetrate it. There is not even enough fodder left in the land to feed the king’s twelve favourite cows!
But what happens next is very interesting. Since cows are so revered, there is a way out.... at least for the king’s twelve finest milk-givers. He calls his scribe to the cowshed. There he asks him to write this message:
“This cow belongs to the Chola king. It is hungry and has been set free due to a great drought. If you find it please feed it and care for it well.”
The benevolent king then asks his scribe to make twelve copies of this message. The scribe uses a traditional stylus and writes on a well-dried and shaped palmyra palm leaf, as the custom of the day dictates. This was the local equivalent of paper. However, these leaves are hardy and quite resistant to damage, unlike our soft paper today. One of the twelve identical leaf copies is then tied to the ear of each of the king’s dozen hungry bovines. Now the king sets them free saying: “Farewell my beloved ones. Find a land where the crops are lush and eat your fill. I shall miss you.” His affectionate feeling towards his suffering cows is clearly genuine and heartfelt. . Cows were then, and still are, an object of affection... even of devotion. They are considered to be very special creatures by most Hindus. The king knows that they deserve all possible protection, and he expects that others, more fortunate than he at the moment, to provide for their care. Indeed it is both a social and a moral duty to do so.
In the next several blog posts we shall see what happens next. What I will state in advance is that cows were then, and still are, an object of both affection and devotion. They are considered to be very special creatures by most Hindus. How these wanders are destined to suffer will soon provide a key to understanding much of what happens later in The Legend of Ponnivala story. For this blog I will just elaborate on one theme: the wandering cow is a kind of saint, a world-renouncer. Just like one should honor itinerant holy men like those one can still see traveling the back roads of India today, wandering cows deserve food offerings and special respect. In a sense they are holy men (in this case holy females) in animal form. Local beliefs hold that it they are not treated
As such, dire consequences may follow their mistreatment. Indeed, we will see exactly that happen... very soon!
Signing off for now,
“Blogger” Brenda Beck
The Sophia Hilton Foundation of Canada
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To find out more about The Legend of Ponnivala -- the legend, the series, the books, and the fascinating history behind the project, visit www.ponnivala.com.