Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Researching for Dharma: A Rekha Rao Mystery

Vee Kumari:
Researching for Dharma: A Rekha Rao Mystery

I had to do quite a bit of research about archeology as well as Indian and Hindu idols to ensure the facts presented are accurate. I hope I haven’t erred by omission. As a former neuroscientist, I was used to research.

EXCAVATION IN INDIA

The story of the discovery of microliths, 35,000-year-old stone tools in Jwalapuram in the state of Andhra Pradesh in central India, is true and comes from an article I came across in the journal, Antiquity (Volume 83, Issue 320, June 2009, pp. 326-348), written by first author Chris Clarkson.

Its abstract:

The Jwalapuram Locality 9 rockshelter in southern India dates back to 35000 years ago and it is emerging as one of the key sites for documenting human activity and behaviour in South Asia. The excavated assemblage includes a proliferation of lithic artifacts, beads, worked bone, and fragments of a human cranium. The industry is microlithic in character, establishing Jwalapuram 9 as one of the oldest and most important sites of its kind in South Asia.

The excavation plays a minor role only in the novel. I wanted to connect archeologists Faust and Davidson with an excavation in India where the Durga could potentially be discovered. Certainly, no idol was reported to have been unearthed among the Jwalapuram finds, but I used my creative license to invent that. I wrote and obtained permission from the first author to do this. Any reader who notices the discrepancy in the timeline–excavation of the microliths published in 2009 and the beginning of my story in 2017, will hopefully forgive me.

THE DURGA AS THE MAHISHASURA MARDINI

Having grown up in the south of India, I knew the basics about how Goddess Durga was created from parts of the Trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. I also knew that the Mahishasura Mardini was one of her incarnations created with the specific purpose of destroying the buffalo-demon, Mahishasura. However, I was unaware of the folklore about their relationship that ends in a battle in which the Goddess kills the demon.

Durga, (Sanskrit: “the Inaccessible”) is the most powerful Hindu Goddess in the Hindu pantheon. The word Durga literally means "impassable", "invincible, unassailable." It is related to the word Durg which means "fortress, something difficult to defeat or pass."

Mahishasura Mardini (sometimes written as one word) means the killer (maradini) of Mahishasura (the great Asura*, one of a class of beings defined by their opposition to the devas or suras, the Gods. From: https://www.britannica.com/topic/avatar-Hinduism).

On the left, the stock photo used as the cover of my book, showing the figure of Mahishasura being impaled by Durga’s trident. Out of the buffalo’s cut neck, a human head emerges, that of Mahishasura. The lion that she rides on can be seen on the left, trying to do his share of damage to the demon.

On the right, Durga Ma (Mother), a more benevolent and nurturing version of the Durga, on her tiger, without the Mahishasura. (By multiple authors - Konkani vishwakosh, Goa University, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31111758).

She is usually depicted riding a lion or tiger and with 8 or 10 arms, each holding the special weapon of one of the gods, who gave them to her for her battle against the buffalo demon.

Durga-puja, or pooja, is a prayer ritual performed by Hindus to offer devotional worship to one or more deities. It is held annually in her honor and is one of the great Hindu festivals of northeastern India. In 2020, Durga Puja dates are: October 22-26.

The Divine and The Demoniac, Mahisha’s Heroic Struggle with Durga by Carmel Berkson, published in in India by the Oxford University Press in 1995, is a wonderful resource for the Mahishasura Mardini story. In small font and 318 pages, it offered a true challenge for me. It covers in detail the birth and growth of Mahisha in as much detail as it describes the encounter between him and the Goddess. The story goes that he falls in love with the Goddess and offers his hand in marriage, which Durga rejects. Enraged, Mahishasura declares war and dies in the battle. I, like my protagonist, focused on Chapter Nine The Life Stages of the Hero: Depictions in Stone, and Conclusion, pp. 220-232. For anyone interested in the details, it is a vital resource.

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Author Vee Kumari, author of Dharma, A Rekha Rao Mystery, grew up in India. She loved to read, and often used it to avoid her mother, who might want her to do a chore or two. It was her mother who directed her to use the dictionary to learn the meanings of new words and construct sentences with them. Vee wanted to become an English professor but went to medical school instead. 



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