Among the Unique Twelve, there is an abundance of stories about Naaraanathu Bhranthan – the Madman of Naaraanathu. Here is one:
The Madman of Naaraanathu followed a certain routine every day. He would wake up at the crack of dawn and then roll a huge rock uphill puffing and heaving under its weight. He would often reach the top of the hill by midday. Then he would give the rock a mighty push downhill. As it rolled down he would clap his hands and laugh gleefully. This was one reason the people called him Madman. Then he would go from place to place and beg for food.
This was according to the rules of sanyasa. The rules forbade him to ask more than three times a day and if no food was given in alms then he went hungry that day. Otherwise he would cook the rice and have a meal at the end of the day. He would stop at the place he reached when the sun set, cook his meal, eat it and sleep in the same place for the night. He would move on at day break and begin rolling a huge rock uphill.
One evening as the sun was setting he reached a cremation ground. Just an hour ago, people had cremated a body there and so the fires were still burning. Madman decided to stop there for the night. It was a fearsome place with many pyres burning with a low flame and some with the embers glowing eerily in the twilight. Not a soul was to be seen anywhere.
Madman lowered his cloth bundle took out his copper pot and went down to the stream that flowed close by to collect water. He set up a stove by placing three bricks in a triangle and started a fire using the embers from the funeral pyre nearby. He then set his copper pot on the stove and added the rice collected that day and sat down nearby enjoying the warmth of the fire as it was a chilly winter night.
As the water in the pot bubbled merrily Madman hummed a tune to himself and sometimes nodded off as he was pleasantly tired. Then he woke up and stirred the contents of the pot and hummed some more. After some time had passed by he heard the tinkling of several anklets and turned to find the terrible Goddess Kali entering the cremation ground with all her entourage of attending ghosts and spirits shouting and screeching at the prospect of their nightly dance party.
Goddess Kali was the goddess of all cremation grounds and leader of all the ghosts and spirits of the world. A mere glance at her would make people die of fear for her form was so terrible. She was as dark as the night and had large blood shot eyes. From her red mouth an even redder tongue dangled and the long viciously curved canines stuck out at the ends. She wore a garland of skulls and had ten pairs of hands. Her voice when she spoke would make the blood curdle.
“You!” she now screeched when she found Madman sitting perfectly calm by his cooking pot and not in the least frightened by her or her mates. “Who are you?” she thundered, annoyed to find a human breaching the privacy of her dance party. “Go away immediately,” she ordered imperiously.
“Can’t you see who I am? I’m a human being. I don’t happen to have any plans to go away,” Madman returned coolly.
“Is that so? Okay, then we will scare the living daylights out of you,” roared Goddess Kali.
“What if I don’t get scared?”
“Is there anyone on earth who doesn’t get scared when we frighten them?!”
“I wouldn’t know, would I? Anyway, there’s no harm in trying. That’s a good way to find out. Go on, scare me.”
Incensed beyond endurance and furious with this human who showed such temerity, Goddess Kali and all her aides did their best to frighten Madman. They glared at him from their bloodshot eyes, let out terrifying screeches and gnashed their long curved teeth and dashed towards him as if to attack. Madman remained as cool as cool could be and chuckled and grinned at the terrifying lot.
“Have you finished scaring me?”
Goddess Kali had never met such a human being before. She realized that Madman was indeed a divine person and so she spoke in a respectful way, “I realize that you are not just anybody, you are unique. So I request you to leave this place as it is time for our dance.”
“You are welcome to dance in a corner of this cremation ground, I don’t mind,” said Madman.
“No,” said the goddess scandalized. “No human should see us dance.”
“Then you can dance tomorrow night for I shall leave this place early in the morning.”
“That’s not possible. Today is the day of the dance party.”
“Then please continue. Don’t think you will be able to get rid of me. I too have certain principles. I stop to cook where I find fire and water. I eat where I cook and sleep where I eat. I too cannot give up my principles.”
Goddess Kali realized that this man would not go away. So she said, “Okay, since you are unwilling to move we will. But before I go please ask me for a boon.”
“I don’t want any boon of yours.”
“But it is one of our principles. We either curse or bless a human before leaving him. Since I don’t want to curse you, please ask me for a boon.”
“Please go away. My food is ready and I want to have my supper,” said Madman. When he found that he was causing the goddess considerable embarrassment he relented.
“Oh, alright. I’ll ask you for a boon. Do you know when I’m going to die?”
“Yes indeed. Thirty six years six months twelve days five hours and three seconds from now,” said the goddess.
“Then please extend it by one day.”
“Sorry, but we can’t do that.”
“Then shorten it by a day.”
“Sorry again, but we can’t do that also.”
“Then I don’t want any boon from you. I knew you could not do a thing. That’s why I refused in the beginning when you offered me a boon.”
Now, the goddess was positively entreating. “Please ask us something that is possible for us to do. Then we will go away and not trouble you anymore.”
“Okay then,” said Madman and looked thoughtfully down at his left leg which was swollen due to elephantiasis.
“Please transfer the disease from my left leg to my right.”
“So be it,” said Goddess Kali and disappeared with her entourage.
Madman had his supper. Then he spread out a cloth on the ground lay down and slept like a baby.
Read more folk tales in the folk tales section of this blog.