Saturday, June 18, 2011

10. Story of Sita and the Ketaki Flower (Shiv Puran)

Romaharshana told the assembled sages, It is easy to please Shiva. But Shiva must never be worshipped with a ketaki or a champaka flower.

Why, what is wrong with these flowers? asked the sages.

Let me tell you about the ketaki flower first, replied Romaharshana.

Rama's father Dasharatha asked Rama to spend fourteen years in the forest. So Rama went to the forest with his brother Lakshmana and his wife Sita. The three of them started to live on the banks of the river Falgu. News reached the forest that Dasharatha had died in their absence and a shraddha (funeral) ceremony had to performed for the dead king.

Rama sent Lakshmana to a nearby village to get the necessary ingredients. Time passed and Lakshmana did not return. Rama then went to get the ingredients and look for Lakshmana. But Rama too did not return. It was almost noon and the ceremony had to be performed before noon. In desperation, Sita decided to perform the ceremony herself. She went and bathed in the Falgu river and lit an earthen lamp. She then made the offerings (pinda) to the dead ancestors herself.

Immediately, a voice was heard. Sita, you are blessed, it said. We are satisfied.

In utter amazement Sita watched some disembodied hands appear in the air to accept the offerings.

Who are you? Asked Sita.

I am your dead father-in-law, answered the voice. The funeral ceremony has been successful. I have accepted your offerings.

But Rama and Lakshmana are going to believe me, said Sita. They will never believe that such disembodied hands appeared out of thin air to accept the offerings.

They have to. answered the voice. You have four witnesses. The first is the Falgu river. The second is the cow over there. The third will be the fire. And the last one will be the ketaki bush.

Rama and Lakshmana returned and said, Cook the food quickly. There is very little time left. We have to complete the funeral ceremony before noon.

Sita told them what happened, and naturally, the two brothers did not believe her. They made fun of her and suggested that she was lying. Sita called upon her four witnesses, but each denied that it had seen anything. Without arguing any further, Sita cooked the food and Rama made offerings to his ancestors.

A voice was then heard from the sky. Why are you calling us again? it said. Sita has already satisfied us.

I refuse to believe that, said Rama.

Indeed, it is true, retorted the voice. Ask the sun god.

The sun god confirmed that everything had happened just as Sita had said it had. Rama and Lakshmana were ashamed that they had doubted Sita and were also impressed with the power of her virtue. But Sita cursed the four false witnesses. She cursed the Falgu river that it would henceforth only flow underground. She cursed the ketaki flower (pandanus odoratissimus) that it would never be accepted by Shiva as an offering. She cursed the cow that its mouth would henceforth become impure. It had, after all, lied with its mouth. The hind sections of the cow would however continue to be pure. And finally Sita cursed the fire that it would consume everything indiscriminately.

That is the reason why a ketaki flower must never be used to worship Shiva.

Narada and the Champaka Tree

Nor must a champaka flower be used.

In the land of Gokarna there was a temple dedicated to Shiva. Narada decided that he would go and visit the temple. On the way, he saw a flowering champaka tree and stopped to admire it. A brahmana came there to pluck flowers from the tree. But seeing that Narada was there, the brahmana refrained from plucking any flowers.

Where are you going? asked Narada.

The brahmana lied and replied, To beg some alms.

Narada went to the temple. Meanwhile, the brahmana plucked flowers from the champaka tree and placed them in a basket that he covered up well. Narada met the brahmana again on his way back from the temple.

Where are you going now? He asked the brahmana.

The brahmana lied again, Home, he said, I could n't get any alms.

Narada's suspicions were aroused. He went to the champaka tree and asked, Has that brahmana plucked any flowers?

What brahmana? replied the tree. I don't know of any brahmana. No one has plucked any flowers. Narada went back to the temple and discovered fresh champaka flowers lying there on top of the Shiva linga. There was another devotee praying there. Narada asked him, Do you know who came to worship with these champaka flowers?

Yes, I do, replied the devotee, It is an evil brahmana. He worships Shiva every day with champaka flowers. Thanks to Shiva's blessings, he has completely brainwashed the king and has secretly been stealing the king's wealth. He also oppresses other brahmanas.

Narada asked Shiva, Why do you encourage such evil?

I am helpless, replied Shiva. I cannot resist it if someone worships me with champaka flowers.

Just then, a brahmana woman came running with her tale of woe. Her husband was crippled. But they had managed to get some money from the king so that their daughter could be married. They had also received a cow from the king. But the evil brahmana was claiming that half of whatever they had received was his. It was due to his good offices that the king had been so generous, he was saying.

The evil brahmana had already appropriated half of the money. But how was a cow to be divided?

Narada then decided that something needed to be done about the champaka tree and the evil brahmana.

Apart from everything else, the champaka tree was a liar. Narada cursed the champaka tree that its flowers would never be accepted by Shiva as an offering. He cursed the evil brahmana that he would be born as a rakshasa (demon) named Viradha. But the brahmana had been a devotee of Shiva. So the curse was qualified by the stipulation that Viradha would be killed by Rama and would then again become a brahmana.


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