This week’s story tells us of the birth of The Unique Twelve.
When Vararuchi discovered that his wife was indeed the low born girl whom the forest goddesses had predicted he would marry, he was distressed, but that did not in any way diminish his affection for his wife. It was for this reason that he told her the entire story which she listened to in complete silence. Then he told her to get ready for a pilgrimage to the southern lands.
They came down to Kerala, travelling along the Nila River and visiting various places of interest along the way. As the months rolled by, Vararuchi’s wife became pregnant. When she had carried the baby to term and the time for delivery approached Vararuchi entered the dense forests on the banks of the Nila River. The wife delivered their first child with no one to help her out. Not for her the comforts of her mother’s home nor the services of the midwife.
After the delivery, Vararuchi asked her “Does the child have a mouth?”
“Leave it there and come away. If God has given the child a mouth, He has given it a means to survive. Do not worry, come away.”
Though she was very distressed she followed her husband. They resumed their travels. In this way Vararuchi’s wife delivered eleven children. Every time a child was born Vararuchi would ask if the child had a mouth and when she replied that it had, he would ask her to abandon it.
When Vararuchi’s wife was pregnant with the twelfth child, she resolved in her mind that when she was asked if the child had a mouth she would lie and say no. She wanted to keep and raise at least one of her children. And in due course the twelfth child was born.
Vararuchi asked his usual question, “Does it have a mouth?”
His wife hesitated for a moment. The child did have a mouth. But she knew what would happen if she said so. Gathering up her courage she said, “No. It doesn’t have a mouth.”
“Okay then. Pick it up and come along.”
Overjoyed, Vararuchi’s wife wrapped the baby in cloth, taking care to hide its mouth from Vararuchi and willing it not to cry and took the baby along. They kept walking towards a hill. The wife wondered where they were going but she did not much care as she had her baby with her. When they reached the top of the hill Vararuchi stopped.
His wife looked down at her baby wondering why it had not made any sound till then and to her horror she found that the baby’s mouth had disappeared. It had no mouth! When she looked up at Vararuchi he said nothing but asked her to place the child at a spot he indicated. She did as she was told.
Miraculously the child was changed to a stone idol. Vararuchi then consecrated the idol and proclaimed, “This is the temple of The Mute God of the Hill. People from far and wide will come to him to pray for eloquence and intelligence.” To this day people visit the temple and pray for excellence in academics and for intelligence.
Nothing more was heard of Vararuchi and his wife, except that they continued their travels till the end of their lives but all his children who had been abandoned survived. They were picked up by various people and brought up according to the customs of the castes of their foster parents. As adults, since they were all divine, they realized that they were siblings and got together once a year in the house of the eldest who was known as Mezhathol Agnihotri and had been brought up by a Brahmin.
There are a number of tales surrounding the more famous of them like Agnihotri himself, Uliyannoor Perumthachan (The Great Carpenter from Uliyannoor), Vallon who many suppose is the celebrated Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar and Naaranathu Bhranthan (The Madman of Naaranathu) who by his strange actions and behavior taught people some universal truths. Akavoor Chathan (the manager of Akavoor family), Paananaar (brought up by the traditional singers of folklore) and Paakkanaar (a traditional story teller) are also well known.
Of the other siblings like Rajakan (raised by a washerman), Vaduthala Nair (an expert in martial arts), Karakkal Matha (the Mother of Karakkal – the only girl among the Unique Twelve) and Uppukootan (a salt and cotton trader) nothing much is known.
Let’s start with a tale about Agnihotri.
The Unique Twelve with the exception of the Mute God of the Hill were in the habit of gathering at the house of their eldest brother Agnihotri to offer prayers to their parents on the occasion of their death anniversary. Agnihotri always allotted ten separate rooms to the guests and saw to it that they were well looked after. His wife, being a high born Brahmin lady however was not happy with the arrangements. She disliked cooking and serving the others since she considered them lowly.
She let her husband know about her problem.
“Oh, let me see what I can do about it,” he said calmly. “Do cook the meal for tomorrow any way.”
As his wife was about to leave the room he asked her, “Who is your favourite god, my dear?”
Slightly irritated that he did not know even this she said, “You know very well it is Lord Vishnu.”
The next day Agnihotri’s wife cooked for the death anniversary rituals as usual since he had assured her that he would find a solution to her problem. After the observance of the rituals all the ten siblings were seated in a row ready for the feast. Agnihotri insisted that he would first serve his guests before having a meal himself.
When Agnihotri’s wife came in to serve the first course, he had a strange request, “Please hold my hand as you serve our guests.” As Agnihotri’s wife held his hand and turned to look at her guests, she gasped in joy as a strange and wonderful sight met her eyes. Seated in front of her were ten Lord Vishnus resplendent in yellow silk, the peacock feather adorning the long, dark, curly tresses, all smiling the famous Vishnu smile and looking up at her expectantly, waiting to be served. When she released her hand from her husband’s grasp they changed back to the motley crowd that his siblings were.
She realized her mistake. She had considered her guests lowly and had thought it beneath her dignity to serve them. But every guest in the house was to be treated like the Lord Himself. Her husband had reminded her of this basic tenet of hospitality in his own gentle way.
She proceeded to serve all her guests with care. After this incident she never protested when she was asked to cook for her husband’s siblings when they gathered at her house once a year.
More on The Unique Twelve and other interesting tales please visit the Folk Tales section of this blog.