The Indian Subcontinent. Year: 1925
The Sanaps were one of the smaller tribes living in the Tundra jungles that stretched between India and Nepal. They were a nature loving tribe, who like most indigenous people, lived in perfect harmony with their environment. They were devotees of the Forest Goddess, whom they believed, was a ferocious female deity, an avatar of Goddess Kali. She, they said, roamed the dense forests and the valleys, protecting the flora and fauna, and giving deft punishment to those who disobeyed her by disrupting the perfect balance of nature.
The forest track was known as an area frequented by the local nobility and later, the English Sahebs, for hunting. Often, when the simple tribespeople would get to know that a British officer had got severely injured while hunting or the son of a local landlord had an accident during his stay in one of the hunting lodges, they always believed that it was the wrath of the goddess that had befallen these men.
Interestingly, however, they worshipped the child form of the goddess in her temple.
According to tribal legends, one of the earliest ancestors had chanced upon a little girl in the forest, tending to animals.
In fact, he saw a few hundred birds and animals around her – from an injured egret to a sick swan, from a maimed rabbit to a wounded tiger.
It was such an unusual sight to see a young girl taking care of these animals in the middle of the forest, that the tribal elder along with other clansmen, decided to do the same. Soon after the Sanaps decided to take the responsibility of caring for the injured animals and releasing them to the wild, the girl one day just disappeared.
The Sanaps also consider this as their sacred task and demarcated an area in the village, where they took care of injured and sick animals. They considered it their sacred duty and a commitment to the goddess.
For a few centuries no one saw the goddess again. They continued to worship her in a beautiful little temple they had built in the deep forests.
They also believed that she had become more ferocious and angrier over the years on account of the increasing exploitation of the wildlife habitat.
The present-day chief, a wise old man, was a direct descendent of the forefather who had seen the child goddess. He had seen in the last decade deforestation happening in a significant section of the forest – it was not only the wild that was losing its shelter but the goddess was also losing her home.
He knew she was very angry, for in the dead of night he had often heard a strange roar, when she roamed around as the fearsome Goddess Kali through the valleys and woods. He, along with the other elders, feared that her wrath would come – as a natural calamity, an unexpected happening, or something else. They feared the repercussion.
The Sanaps were often at conflicts with the neighbouring tribe of Rahigyas. It was an enmity that dated back to as long as the elders of both tribes remembered. The difference had more to do with the ideology of how both tribes viewed the wild.
The Rahigyas, whose forefathers had migrated from the desert to the fertile plains of the Himalayan foothills, could never consider the forest as their sacred home, like the Sanaps did.
They remained a nomad at heart and took from the land, whatever wealth it offered – from felling the trees to poaching of wildlife. They were skilled huntsmen, who had perfected the craft in every generation. For the local princes and the British officers, the Rahigyas were the perfect companions during their hunting expeditions.
It was during one such hunting expedition that the Sanaps clashed with the Rahigyas who were accompanying a young prince and his friends from a nearby principality.
The prince’s party was astride on elephants while the Rahigyas were on foot, guiding them. They had just killed a tiger and were going back to the hunting lodge to take rest and celebrate.
For the Sanaps, the tiger was a sacred animal being the mount of their divine mother, Goddess Durga. Unable to stop the kill when it happened, the enraged Sanaps waylaid the hunting party and attacked them. They fought with their spears but were no match for the guns that the prince and his friends carried. They retreated and fled to their village, but not before they had taken the prized trophy of the prince – the dead tiger.
They buried the tiger as someone would bury a close relative. Because they were helpless in stopping the killing, they prayed to invoke the forest goddess in the fierce form of Goddess Kali to teach the perpetrators a lesson.
Three days passed, and they got to know that the same hunting party had killed a tigress, and after two days, two more of these magnificent beasts were slayed.
Unable to stop the killings the Sanaps were aghast that their goddess has done nothing to stop the slaughter. They wondered how she could abandon her children, these mute animals, who were no match for the most dangerous animal of all – man himself. They were sure she had not left the forest and gone, for sometimes they heard her roar.
Who will protect them now? They constantly worried, with increasing incidents of hunting and poaching.
Years passed, and the Sanaps started losing hope. Their pride as protectors of the forest had taken a beating. Even their faith on the invincible power of the goddess was now shaken.
Gradually, apart from the elders in the tribe, who held on to what they considered their true identity as protectors of the forests, the later generations of Sanaps also changed. Like the Rohigyas, a few of the younger ones started accompanying the nobility on hunting trips to guide them through the forest.
Then one day while returning from one such hunting expedition, a group of young Sanaps, saw a young girl lying on the ground. Thinking that she was from one of the neighbouring villages, who had lost her way and got hurt, they brought her home with them.
It took a few weeks of medication and care to bring the girl back to consciousness. She seemed traumatised by her experience in the jungle. They tried to find out information about her home, but could not. She was mute, and unable to communicate with them.
The elders in the tribe recounted with hushed tones how their most revered ancestor had also found a girl in the forest, who was their deity. But they knew that the frail youngster who had sought refuge with them, was an ordinary village girl, who had lost her way home. They started calling her Chara.
The girl always seemed listless and at a loss. The youngsters in the tribe tried to include them in their games, but she was always disinterested. She never smiled, nor cried, or asked for anything. She was particularly wary of all the young men in the village, including the four who had saved her.
A month later, one evening when these four young Sanaps returned to their village after being paid a significant amount helping three British officers on a successful hunting expedition, they saw a very strange site.
Chara had somehow managed to climb on top of the huge boulder that protected the village from the eastern side. Her body, clothed in the white robe that the women in the village wore, almost seemed translucent against the backdrop of the moonlit sky.
Her face contorted into a strange expression as an unearthly cry escaped from her lips. The sound was almost blood curling, and stunned all those who had gathered around the boulder.
Considering that Chara looked so delicate and weak, the loudness of her scream shocked everyone.
She continued making the strange sound for some time, shaking her head, her dishevelled long hair flying around. Almost like when a lion roars while shaking its mane.
Then Chara looked down at them, her eyes were blazing. The girl who had never spoken a single word all these days, seemed to be transmitting her thoughts to everyone.
“I had given you a sacred legacy. What have you done with it?”
As they stared at her in shock, they realised now that she was no ordinary girl. Some got down on their knees, others were too shocked to even move, and of course they were all terrified.
Then in the blink of an eye, she vanished. It seemed; she had just merged with the moonlight.
The most affected were the four young Sanaps. They knew they had defiled a sacred heritage, entrusted to their tribe by their revered goddess.
They promised themselves that from now on they would become protectors of the wild.
The Sanaps from that day onwards, never let go of their valued legacy. Through the decades, each member of the tribe took on the protection of wildlife and the forests’s natural heritage, as their sacred life purpose – the reason for their birth and their existence – even successive generations who moved to the cities.
While some, including women, studied to become environmentalists. A few researched on conservation and even wrote a book or two.
Then there were those who lived in the village, protecting the hallowed ground where the goddess lived with them – they became forest guards and rangers, even guides and local naturalists for tourists.
They had erred, but were never going to repeat it again. Their devotion to their goddess never failed. Sometimes they worshipped her as a divine child who inculcated in them love for wildlife, sometimes she was the warrior Goddess Durga riding a tiger, sometimes she was the fearsome Goddess Kali who vanquished both internal and external evil, and sometimes she was Mother Earth – tolerant yet cataclysmic in her fury.
(Excerpt from the book ‘Mystical Tales Of Sacred Earth’)
(Sudipta is an energy healer, Akashic Records practitioner and mystical storyteller. Her collection of magical short stories ‘Invoking Our Inner Goddess’, ‘Mystical Tales Of Sacred Earth’, ‘The Blue God’s Love’ and ‘Enchanted Waters: The Magical Flow Of Life’ are available worldwide on Amazon Kindle.)