Gayana (Song of Creation) of the Bhilala tribals of Anjanwara Village on the Banks of the Narmada River in Alirajpur District of Madhya Pradesh, India.
The song has been transcribed into English prose by Amita Baviskar and is excerpted with some small changes from her book - In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in the Narmada Valley, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1995.
I am Malgu gayan ( the bard who sings the song). God give me wisdom. At my breast I have God's wisdom; on my lap I have a rangai (a stringed musical instrument). I will sing Neelsa's song.
I came to the mountains. Tigers and bears were roaring. Rani Kajal, the queen, was crying - "Now what do I do?" She called Ratukamai - " Devar, Devar (younger brother of husband) our mountain has changed. What should we do?" Ratukamai said "We should call our mother's priest". The priest came. He told them to go to the maal and get the singer Malgu.
So who went? Ratukamai did. Went and caught the king's horse. With silken reins and shoes of bronze. The horse started flying. Ratukamai hit him with a whip of gold. He took the path to Malapur. He reached and called "Dada, Dada (elder brother). Malgu gayan sleeps for twelve years and wakes for thirteen. He awoke with a start and said " Dada, what brings you here?" Ratukamai said " Our task is big. Our mountain is changing. Tigers and bears are roaring. So I have come to you." Malgu gayan replied " Go now and I will come after four or five days".
Where did Malgu gayan go? To the house of Halva the hutar (carpenter). But wood was hard to find. So Malgu made a letter with the dirt of his chest. Where did he send the letter? To the house of Relu kabadi ( woodcutter). The letter fell on Relu kabadi's chest. He picked it up and started reading - "There is a famine of wood. So I have given you this letter Relu kabadi. Go!"
"Yes, I shall go" said Relu kabadi and got ready. He took some bits of iron and went to the house of Lahiya luhar ( blacksmith). An axe of twelve maunds (one maund is roughly 40 kilos), a hammer of thirteen maunds, a chisel of six maunds - all these he got forged. One and a quarter rupees - the price of these - he gave to the luhar. Then he went home. He took a tumbda ( a dried out hollow gourd used as a water bottle) of twelve maunds and filled it with water. He tied food to his waste and took the stony path.
Relu kabadi had two daughters. Their names were Revlia and Devlia. They followed him. "Daughters, do not come! You must not come! I go into the big mountains" shouted Relu kabadi. They did not listen and kept going after him. Relu kabadi went to Vije mountain. He looked all over Vije mountain but didn't find any wood. Not even in Dulye mountain, Andaryo mountain, Neelyu mountain, Bhooryo mountain, Janjryo mountain, Hadyo mountain, Hadyo maal (plateau) and Dulye maal. " All the mountains have I searched but there is no teak wood" said Relu kabadi. Hungry and thirsty, he took the cloth off his head, spread it on the gournd, sat down and swore "I didn't find any wood" and started crying.
Then he thought for some time and picked up some leaves and started worshipping. He prayed and sat. Lo and behold, he looked up and saw a tall teak tree! Relu kabadi laughed and smiled. He brought down his axe and danced four times. One blow of the axe to the tree and a stream of blood gushed out. So he thought yet again. Again he picked up some leaves and started praying. Then he hit another blow with the axe and water flowed out. " The mountain does not listen" he swore. He took some more leaves and prayed. Then he hit the tree another blow with his axe. A stream of milk flowed out. "Even now the mountain does not listen". He picked up more leaves and started praying. Another blow with the axe and the tree turned black. " Now I have it " he roared and gave the tree five blows with the axe. He then raised his head to see where the tree would fall.
While Relu kabadi looked up at the tree, his daughters went and hid under the tumbda. The teak tree fell on the tumbda. The tumbda burst and the water flowed out. Flowing with the water Revlia and Devlia went to Amarkantak ( The source of the Narmada River). Relu kabadi looked towards the tumbda and exclaimed "My daughters who were here were washed away". He ran after them and looked everywhere but didn't find his daughters. Amarkantak was barren and so she started caring for the girls. She gave them names. The first one she named Reva (the name by which Narmada river is known in western Madhya Pradesh) and the other she named Tapti (another river south of the Narmada).
Relu kabadi said " I cant find my daughters so I should continue with my work". He started breaking branches off the teak tree. First he broke off ganjyo dhol ( a drum), after that a rangai, then other musical instruments heeramangli, raivajo, phoolvajo, dulki, tutdio and pipario. He broke the branches and began carving them into shape. "All my instruments are done; who shall I give them to? The first letter to come was from Malgu gayan and so I will give him the rangai. The ganjyo dhol shall be the bazaariya's (the non-tribal residents of the towns), the dulki drum I shall give to the kumbhi ( farmer), the dhed ( trader in cattle) will get the mandal drum, the pipariyo will go to the chamar ( hide tanner) and the rai vajo and phool vajo shall go to those who sweep in the markets. All the instruments he gave away and took his wage of one and a quarter rupees.
Malgu gayan took the rangai. "Five days are done; the time of my going has come." His wife was Mala rani. She made him sit. Heated some water, washed his head and bathed him. Folded him a dhoti of new cloth, dressed him in a bright shirt and tied him a grand turban. "Time for my departure has come. Rani Kajal has called me. I will go to her". Through deserted lands and peopled lands went Malgu gayan. When he reached Rani Kajal came forward with water to greet him. " You are really needed, dada. Now that you have arrived it is very good". She started unfolding the golden cot for Malgu. " O Queen, I wont sit there. My place is on the ground" said Malgu and he sat leaning against the wall.
On his lap he had the rangai. Then Malgu gayan prayed. The tigers and bears turned their ears back in alarm. He started playing. The tigers and bears scattered. The rangai played and its music went to the nether world. The music reached the ears of Relu kabadi's daughters Revlia and Devlia who started singing and took on the new names given to them by Amarkantak - Reva and Tapti. Dudu Hamar, the king of the white sea, had asked for the hand of Reva in marriage and not Tapti's. Reva prepared to set off and meet the sea and the sisters separated. Tapti said to Reva " I shall go through Gujarat while you can go through Nimar ( the lower Narmada valley). Reva came to a place and called it Rajghat. From there she cascaded to another place which she called Khalghat. From there she reached another place she called Pipalghat. After that she came to the place where Omkar maharaj ( Lord Shiva) was standing with pooja offerings in his hand. He said " Mother, mother I want to come with you". Reva admonished him " No, my son, do not come with me, I am going to meet Dudu Hamad". When Omkar maharaj would not listen she said " There will be a temple built here for you and as Amarkantak is our mother your food and drink will be provided for".
From there Reva went to Badwani and then to Dharamrai. Stopping at so many places made Reva late and so Tapti reached the sea first and married Dudu Hamad. Then a fish started swimming up stream as Reva progressed. At Kakrana she met Chauriyo naik, a fisherman, who said "Mother, mother I am very hungry. Give me something to eat." He took his fishing rod and sat down in front of Reva. She said " My son, I have a lot of creatures in my belly. You can catch them, kill them, sell them and eat".
Then the fish met her at Chiloda, " Bhabhi (elder siser in law) what has taken you so long? Tapti has already reached the sea." Reva asked " How did she get ahead of me?" She had a bundle of chivle (a leafy vegetable) with her and in her rage she threw it away and turned in to the hills. She named the river fords as she passed them - Bhootvalai in Bhitara village, Helkaryo and Dudli in Sirkhiri village. From there she went on to Jalsindhi via Anjanwara village. She named the ford there Peeparghat. Then she flowed through Gujarat and reached the sea only to find that Dudu Hamad had already wed Tapti. "What can I do with them?" she cried in exasperation and dived to the bottom of the ocean. She went to Helke ocean, Jelke ocean and finally to Neelye ocean.
After naming all the oceans, she asked " This is sand and barren land. What should I grow here?" So she went to God's garden. What seed did she bring? A thorny white brinjal. She planted the seed and employed Vasda and Jasda Londia to take care of it. Day by day the palnt grew bigger. Grew nine branches and nine leaves. It was filled with life. And it bore flowers. Their scent went to Kavar land. A brown dog in Kavar smelt it and said " Where has this scent come from?" He then bathed himself in ash and became a black eagle. He put on wings of gold and flew away. He came to Kale jug and his nose found the scent and he took the path of the oceans.
The nine flowers were in bloom. The black eagle went and started peeling the flowers. After peeling them he came away. Then that thorny white brinjal started growing fruit. Nine months and nine days later nine flowers fruited. The first flower burst forth and from it was born Veelubai. Then it was Katubai. Again a fruit burst and from it was born Jatubai. Another fruit burst and Bhuribai was born. The next fruit burst and the diseases of the stomach came out. After that fever was born. Then epilepsy was born. Finally other illnesses, sores and boils were born.
When Veelubai was small, she crawled. Day by day, she grew and started walking on her feet. Day by day she grew and became very wise. "I didn't come from a mother's womb and so I shall make a name for myself. Not a small name but a big name." She rubbed some dirt off her chest and made a daughter Bhena kuthar (wasp). She dreamed of creating the world. Clay , the son of Bhuinraya who is the king of the nether world would be required. So she started teaching Bhena kuthar " Beti ( daughter) go to Bhuinraya's house because I have to make the world". Bhena kuthar went to Bhuinraya's house.
Bhuinraya sleeps for twelve years, stays awake for thirteen. Bhuinraya was asleep. Bhena kuthar went and stole a lump of clay and brought it to her mother. " Beti, this wont be enough you must go again." Later Bhuinraya woke up and shouted "Who stole my clay?" He took hair from his head, made a noose with it and laid a trap. Bhena kuthar went and stole some more clay. As she came away she fell into the trap. Bhuinraya went and caught her. "Beti, beti, why do you steal my clay?" Bhena pleaded " Dont take my life, I only labour for someone else." Bhuinraya said " Beti, henceforth dont come this way". Bhena said " This work of mine is very important. If you dont give me clay, how will I fulfil my task?" " Take it then, beti. ther is nothing to be done. Take half a lump."
Bhena kuthar brought the lump to her mother, " Take it, mother, but from today I wont go to get clay." "Why, beti, why wont you go?" asked Veelubai. "Bhuinraya has woken up" answered Bhena. Veelubai called her sister Bhuribai and said, " Let us start shaping the world." They prepared the clay and fetched the water. Then they started to turn the golden potter's wheel. Veelubai made the world and held it on the palm of her hand. " I have shaped the world but on what should I place it?" Veelubai started crying. From the nether world the cobra stood up and raised his hood, "Mother, put your world on my head." The world was kept on it and the cobra's hood started trembling. "I can't hold it up" said the cobra.
The cow then offered to help, " Mother, put the world on my head". Her horns also bent backwards. "Mother, you take care of your world, I can't do it." Veelubai cried even more, " Who will hold my world?" Then she made a platform on nine pillars and placed the world on it. But they also started shaking and said, " Mother, take back your world". Veelubai cried all the more, " Who will hold my world?". Then a fish, Ragal maccha, turned over on his back and said, " Mother, keep your world over here." He took Veelubai's world and said, "Mother, I will carry your world, but make any creature and place it on my tail." So Veelubai rubbed some dirt of her chest and made a crab. " Take this son, when the hair of your tail grows too long and starts coming into your eyes this crab will keep it trimmed. "
"Now I have a place for my world, but my world is barren. What creatures should I give shape to?" Veelubai started wondering. She made some trees and planted them. "Beautiful looks my world! I have made all the world, but from where do I make living creatures". She took some clay and began shaping creatures. She shaped some lizards. Then she made tigers and bears. Followed by snakes. Finally she made men and women. Thus, all creatures were shaped.
"I have shaped everything but my creatures dont have life", Veelubai said and started thinking. As she thought, she rubbed the dirt off her chest. With the dirt from her chest she made a letter. She sent it to God's house. God was sleeping. God sleeps for twelve years and stays awake for thirteen. The letter fell on his chest and he woke up. He read the letter and said " I am a great God and you are Veelubai. You have made such big creatures, tell me the names of your mother and father and I will give life to your creatures." He wrote this in a letter and sent it to Veelubai.
Veelubai read the letter and went into deep thought. " My mother has a name, but I don't know my father." Veelubai after all was born of the thorny white brinjal. She wrote another letter to God " I made the world's creatures but today I don't have a father; I did have a mother but I did not feed at her breast." Then God wrote a letter and sent it to her, " Give me your creatures. A mother is all that you have; you dont have a father. Since you have made the world you have made a name for yourself also." Veelubai sent a letter back, " I will send you my clay creatures. What will you do with them?" God said "They have to have life and blood put into them". So Veelubai gave God her creatures of clay.
Now God did not really know how to put life into creatures. God had an aunt Banglatrani who lived in the nether world. He sent her a letter and she picked it up and started reading. Her daughters Lekharia and Jukharia (deities who keep a record of every person's deeds and write her destiny) were studying. Their mother told them " Beti, God is the supreme king. He has sent us a letter asking how life and blood are to be put into these creatures that Veelubai has made." Banglatrani's daughters said, " Mother, we know how to put life into creatures. But God ought to give us something in exchange". They sent a letter to God's house and he said " Take anything you want in return for putting life into these creatures".
Lekharia and Jukharia said " We had written the letter jokingly but God has taken us seriously." They thought and wrote to God " We know about life but not all only half". God replied " Beti, even that is a lot. Somehow or other, we have to put life in the world". Lekharia and Jukharia went around looking for life. There is an ocean - Vanthar - where the wind blows and makes the ocean speak. Lekharia and Jukharia set about stealing life from the ocean. When the wind blew for the ocean to speak, they quickly shut it in a box. Then they went to God's house and asked, "Where are your creatures of clay?" Then they released the wind and the creatures made by Veelubai came to life. They told God " We have put life into them. Now it is up to you to put blood into them."
Now God had a garden with all kinds of plants in it. Part of his garden was for humans - the garden of juvar ( sorghum). Then God gave breasts to the juvar. The men fed from the breasts and blood flowed into their veins. That is why if we do not eat juvar our blood dries up. For livestock there was a garden of jinjvi grass and God gave it breasts. Livestock also fed from this grass and came to have blood. For lizards there was a garden of brown flowered bengaliphool. God gave it breasts and blood came into the lizards when they fed there. But the blood wasn't ted it was brown. For the snakes there was the ningal tree with posionous flowers of blue and yellow. God gave it breasts too and the snakes after feeding had blood in them. To put blood into the tiger, God made a garden of the ocean - half of milk and half of ghee. That is why the tiger has such a flexible body and can glide anywhere.
" All the world I have now made along with the creatures but it is still dark" said Veelubai and fell into deep thought. There was a Ravat ( cattle tender) and she sent him a letter, " How do I light up this world? You must go and take the form of Bhuria gosain ( mendicant)". Then Ravat broke off his own hand and made it into a coconut. With the skin of his palms he made his loincloth of animal hide. With his nails he made a horse; he broke his little finger and made pegs for his rantha (musical instrument). With the hair of his head he made the strings for the rantha. He took the rantha and started walking. Through deserted lands and peopled lands went Bhuria gosain to Rabubai and Panubai's house.
Ranubai and Panubai were barren from birth. They had no child. " O Maharaj, where have you come from?" " I have come from roaming the world. Whatever alms people gave me along the way, I have eaten and now I am here". " Maharaj, we are barren from birth. We dont have a son. You won't get any alms here." the sisters said. " Ranubai, Panubai, since you do not have a son I will do some magical healing.". "Maharaj, if you give us a son, we will even give you our house of Gold bricks." "No, Beti, I don't ask for anything else but you must give me your first child." The sisters replied " Yes, Maharaj, we are ready."
Then Bhuria gosain made a thread. With the thread he tied up Ranubai and Panubai. "I will come after nine months and nine days", he said and went away. After nine months and nine days Ranubai and Panubai bore children. Ranubai's first born was Surimal the sun and Panubai's first born was Chand the moon. After that were born the monring star, the pole star, Sirius and Venus. Then the maharaj had to go to them. Veelubai sent him saying, " Ravat, don't sit along the way. You must go straight to Ranubai and Panubai". Through deserted lands and peopled lands went the Ravat. In a garden was a banyan tree. He went and sat in its shade.
In that banyan lived a spirit. He stole Ravut's rantha and hid it in the tree. The maharaj woke up and started looking for the rantha. He looked in all the branches and all the leaves but the spirit lay hidden in the trunk. " Whoever it be, man or beast, return my rantha as I am going on Veelubai's work". The spirit said, " Look Maharaj, I will give it back to you but you must play me a tune." So Ravat took the rantha back and started playing a tune. The spirit began dancing and said " Maharaj, you are going but give me something as you go". Ravat said, " You are a spirit. From now on, you will be invisible to the human species. This I grant you." That is why we can't see spirits now.
Ravat reached Ranubai and Panubai's house. Seeing him coming they hid their children in seven hundred cells below the ground. They they told the Maharaj, " You lied to us. We didn't get any sons." Ravat said, "No, Ranubai and Panubai, don't lie. I know you have children". They quarrelled and fought. " Very well, if you won't give them to me, I shall look for your sons myself ". He started playing the rantha. Surimal's steps were turned. He came out of his hiding place. One by one all the children came out and said "Father, we will come with you." Said Ranubai and Panubai, " Maharaj, we will give you whatever you want. Sons, don't go away." They said "Mother, we were promised and we have to go". So they took their path.
Through deserted lands and peopled lands they went. "Father, go on. We go to bathe in the ocean. We will follow you later." That is why the sun, moon and stars rise in the ocean. First, the moon Chand came out during the day. That day it was so bright and hot that you could cook rotis (hand made bread) on the tiles. Then Veelubai said, "Surimal, you are the sun. You will come out during the day and Chand will come out during the night."