Man had his humble beginnings in villages alongside rivers. He was very much in tune with nature and understood the interplay of creative and destructive forces. He accepted the dynamism and diversity of the world around as the essence of goddesses in whom they saw a Mother. When migration to larger settlements began, nature appeared more and more like a chaotic force to be mastered. That needed fixing up.
Hence, Mother Goddess Devi manifested herself as consort, queen, mother, sister and daughter of the gods, demons and divine humans. One of her manifestations is Jara but Jara raised herself from the ranks; from a blood-thirsty, meat eating ogress to that of a Goddess. While she started off as a ‘night-eater of corpses, Jara is the Goddess of the household, domestic health, happiness and prosperity. Jara is identified with Goddess Jivantika, Goddess of Midwifery.
MYTHOLOGY: The Kingdom of Magadha is one of the sixteen Maha Janapadas. This literally means ‘foothold of a tribe’ or the great realm referring to the ancient Indian Kingdoms. Various Janapadas are mentioned in the Ramayana and Mahabaratha. The earliest reference to the Magadha people occurs in the Atharva Veda. It is gainsaid that two of India’s major religions, Buddhism and Jainism had their roots in Maghadha. In present day geography, Maghada is an area of Bihar south of the Ganges.
On the Puranic days, Maghada had a King in the name of Brihadratha. His queen was from Varanasi or Benares which has the reputation of being the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and perhaps the oldest in India. Now, Brihadratha and his queen lived a content life. He was a famed and fair king. But they were childless and the kingdom suffered an heir. Over time the king feels frustrated and took to a spiritual life. He retreated to the forest where he ended up in the sage Chandakaushika’s ashram. There he relentlessly served the sage and took to severe tapas.
Soon, Chandakaushika comes to know the real reason of the king retreating to forest life. Taking pity, the sage convinces the king to return to the palace. He also gives him a fruit which would enable the queen to conceive a child. But the sage was not told that Brihadranatha having two wives. Palaces those days had an ‘anthapuram’ which is a outhouse within the palace where the secondary wives are housed. Secondary wives were not sometimes not spoken of.
When the king returned, he did not intend to displease both the wives. Fair chap, isn’t he? So the fruit gets cut in two halves and both consume it. Unknown to all three, Chandakaushika fruit had lost some of its original value. But the wives become pregnant. On the delivery date, each of the wives gave birth to two halves of a human infant. It was sort of a bundle of meat and bones, what in Tamil is called a ‘mamisa bindam’. The two pieces looked so horrible, so Brihadranatha them to be disposed in the forest.
Some writings state that both the queens made a joint effort to chuck the lifeless half-infant in the palace garden. But we have to say the bindams were royally chucked as they were regarded as abortions and regarded with honour before being thrown away.
Apparently, the rakshashi Jara got wind of fresh blood and human meat. Jara, also called Barmata, found the two pieces. In all her motherliness she held them in her two palms and put them together. Her maternal instincts were fruitful. A baby boy emerged and shrieked so loud, creating panic for Jara. She did not have the heart to eat a living child. So she breastfed the baby and thereafter went to the palace grounds to summon Brihadranatha. He was pleased after getting an explanation. He was named Jarasandha, literally meaning ‘joined by Jara’.
King Brihadranatha also declared Jara to be guardian of newborns. Jara turns over a new leaf. Later the king declared Jara to be a goddess and guardian of all new-borns to be worshipped by all mothers. In time with feminine worship of Mother Goddess Devi, the cult of divine baby-sitter led to the worship of many mild and fierce goddesses who personified childhood welfare such as Goddesses Satavati and Sashti.
Shasti is the companion of the boy-god Sastha. She is the Goddess of Married Women, Fertility and Childbirth. She represented fertility, pregnancy and childbirth protection. It is said that this companionship is indicative of her protecting the young, symbolically Shashta and his cat. It is said Shahsti visits the child the first week of birth and writes their destiny on their forehead. Jara, on the other hand is infinite protection. She was worshipped as Goddess and sometimes came to be known as Goddess Jivantika in some places.
JARASANDHA: Sage Chandakaushika arrived at the court and saw the child. He prophesied to Brihadratha that his son will be specially gifted and would be a great devotee of Lord Shiva. It seems the decendants of Jarasandh still exist, going by the family name of Joriya, meaning piece of flesh named after their ancestor. Now, what about Jarasandha? Through the favour of the all-merciful Lord Siva, he prevailed over many kings.
Jarasandha also fought Lord Krishna, who while killing Kamsa, also killed two of Jarasadha’s husbands. He besieged Mathura and attack Krishna eighteen times and was often defeated. But Krishna was also weakened and retired to Dwaraka. Jarasandha had many kings from the Krishna camp in captivity.
When Sri Krishna returned from Dwaraka, he gathered strength to recommence the attack. So Krishna went with Arjuna and Bhima to Jarasandha’s capital to liberate the kings. Jarasandha refused to submit and accepted the alternative of combat. In the ensuing battle, Jarasandha was killed by Bhima. It is said that at the instant of his death, Goddess Jara shed tears. This gesture from the heart, is representative of Mother Goddess Devi, the Universal Mother.
Hara Hara Mahadeva
(draft Gods, Goddesses, Minor Deities and Sages)
Yogi Ananda Sarawathi