The Unique Twelve – Origin – Part 1

Many colourful folk tales from Kerala centre around The Twelve Siblings who were abandoned by their parents at birth. Who were these twelve people and why did their parents abandon them in the first place? This story tells us why.

In the court of the famous King Vikramaditya there lived many scholars and learned men. The brightest and most brilliant among them all was a person named Vararuchi. The king was very fond of him and often asked him to answer the difficult questions that arose in his mind. Varuruchi always had the right answers.

One day the king called Vararuchi and asked him, “O Learned One, which is the most important shloka (verse) in the Ramayana. I’ve been thinking about it since last night but couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer myself.”

Vararuchi remained silent for a long time. Of course he knew all the verses in the Ramayana by heart but he could not answer the king’s question. To him all the shlokas appeared to be of equal importance. He was unsure of the answer. The king was irritated. He was so used to being given answers and learned explanations for all his questions immediately. He could not bear the delay.

“Okay, Vararuchi, I give you forty one days to go and find out the answer. If at the end of the forty first day you have not come up with any answer, then don’t bother to come back. I don’t want to see your face again,” he said severely.

So Vararuchi set out from the royal court that very day determined and confident that he would find the answer within the stipulated time. He consulted with many scholars of the land and had lengthy discussions but no one was able to tell him the most important shloka in the Ramayana. They all felt that all the shlokas in this epic work were important.

As the days wore on Vararuchi’s anxiety grew. Yet he continued on his search travelling far and wide. Nothing else occupied his thoughts. He found food tasteless and ate very little. Life which was beautiful suddenly seemed full of sorrow.

One evening Vararuchi entered a thick forest. Forty days had gone by but he had still not found the answer to the king’s question. Feeling extremely sad and dejected he wandered aimlessly through the forest. His days of glory as the most learned man in the court of King Vikramaditya were at an end. He had not eaten for days. He was tired and sat down beneath a spreading banyan tree thinking of the good old days.

As evening turned into night, he lay down on the forest floor beneath the huge tree and prayed to the goddesses of the forest to help him. Soon he fell fast asleep. When it was midnight along the forest pathway came a group of forest goddesses. “Hey! Where are you off to?” called a group of forest goddesses that stayed on the banyan tree under which Vararuchi still slept.

“Deep inside the forest is a village. In there a poor man’s wife is about to deliver a baby. We’re going to watch over her,” replied the first group of goddesses. “Are you coming along?”

“No,” said the group on the tree, “we have to watch over this sleeping man.”

In the hours just before dawn, Vararuchi woke up. He was very hungry and his stomach rumbled. But soon he remembered that today was the forty first day and deep sadness enveloped him and he continued to lie on the forest floor with his eyes closed, unwilling to face such a sad day.

Just then the group of goddesses who had gone to watch over the delivery returned.

“Hey!” called the ones on the tree, “did all go well?”

“Yes. The poor man’s wife delivered a baby girl.”

“Do you know who will marry the girl?” asked the tree goddesses.

“Yes, of course. The fool sleeping under this tree who doesn’t even know ‘See me in Sita’,” replied the first group. “No time to stop, friends. It’s almost morning.” And they were off to their abode in another part of the forest.

Vararuchi, who had been listening to this conversation, could not contain his joy. The kind forest goddesses had given him the answer! But when he remembered what they had predicted about the girl’s marriage, his spirits fell. Being a high born scholar in the king’s court, he did not want to marry a poor low born girl.  Thinking that that was a problem that could be solved later, he got up quickly and hurried towards the capital city.

That day when the court assembled, King Vikramaditya looked for Vararuchi and found his seat empty. He felt deeply disappointed. Turning to the other courtiers he asked, “Have you heard from Vararuchi? Do you know whether he has come back?”

The courtiers said they had no news of Vararuchi and seeing the king’s sorrowful face pretended to be sad. In fact they were happy because they felt that in the absence of Vararuchi they would now be given the attention they deserved.

At that moment, Vararuchi, freshly bathed and neatly dressed, walked in.

“From the smile on your face I know that you have found the answer, Vararuchi. Tell me what you found. I’m eager to hear it,” said the king.

Vararuchi then recited the shloka he had heard the forest goddesses mention:

In Rama see your father Dasaratha, See me in Sita

Consider the forest as Ayodhya, go my son fear thee not

“This was Sumitra’s advice to her son Lakshmana before his departure to the forest,” said Vararuchi. “His mother advised him to consider his elder brother Rama as his father, Rama’s wife Sita as his mother and the forest as the capital city of Ayodhya and she was confident no disaster would befall him. This is one way this shloka can be interpreted.” Vararuchi then proceeded to give many more explanations.

All the learned men in the court applauded when they heard this and agreed that this indeed was the most important shloka in the entire Ramayana. The king honoured Vararuchi with many gifts of gold coins and sparkling jewels. Vararuchi beamed at the assembled scholars in court. But at the back of his mind the prediction that the forest goddesses had made about his marriage to the poor low born girl kept bothering him. He did not want to marry the low born girl. He hatched an evil plan. But did he succeed?

Find out by visiting the Folk Tales section of this blog.

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