by Baba Rampuri
Mother Renuka is an incarnation of the Great God Shiva’s consort, Parvati, the Lady of the Mountain. She was born out of the fire of a sacrifice performed at a Prayag Kumbh Mela in the Treta Age by the rishi-sage Agastya, and coming of age, married the rishi-sage Jamadagni. She reflects a complement to Mother Lakshmi, the Earth Mother, who is the consort of the God Vishnu, The Maintainer. While Mother Lakshmi is Fecundity and Her daughter, Prosperity, Renuka is Enigma and Her daughter, Transformation.
Two main stories about Mother Renuka find their telling, performance, and appearance in folk arts wherever there are devotees of this mother. They are both tales from which the Traditions of the Mysteries, Tantra, and Magic find a surface reflection. For many tantriks and other devotees, these stories are a hook, a beginning, that take the adept into deep subterranean caverns, below the surface of the world.
In the first story, the virtuous Renuka’s husband, rishi-sage Jamadagni questions her thought-chastity. Angry at her response, he orders his sons in then order of their age to kill their mother. They refuse their father, all except the youngest son, Parshuram, Axe-wielder, who happened to be an incarnation of God Vishnu. Following the order of his father without hesitation, he lopped off his mother’s head with his handy axe.
Seeing his son in such a distraught state, having committed such an atrocious act, he offered Parshuram a boon, a wish, as a reward for his unswerving duty to his father. With salty tears running down his face, the fourteen year old boy told his father that he wanted his mother back. “That’s it?” his father questioned him. “No Victory Over Enemies, World Empire, Victory Over The Gods, or Immortality? You name it!” Parshuram was never one to mince his words. He was a very serious character, didn’t joke around; he was all business. “No, give me my mother back,” he said.
For Jamadagni, the Knower of All Things, this was not a major problem. Taking care that her head was in exactly the right position, facing straight forward on the shoulders of her headless body (for once attached, the head would be fixed permanently in that posture), he fastened his wife’s head back on her body and she came back to life.
This very basic story is reflected in thousands of similar stories carrying similar themes. One of the most modern of these manifestations comes from, of all places, Germany, from the hand of Thomas Mann. He tells the story of a young woman, in The Transposed Heads, whose husband and husband’s best friend sliced off their own heads as an offering to the Mother Goddess. She beseeched the Goddess to restore them to life as they were sinless, good men, and certainly devoted, as their sacrifice proved. The Goddess granted her wish, warning her to attach the heads carefully, as Jamadagni had done. But the careless woman, in her haste, attached her husbands head to his friend’s body, and the friend’s head to her husband’s body. The riddle was thus posed: which person was now her husband? Is the man his head or his body?
In the second story, a great emperor, Kartaviryarjuna, came to pay respects to the rishi-sage Jamadagni, with his entourage and army of thousands. Jamadagni insisted they all stay for lunch. To the kings great disbelief, in a matter of minutes, Jamadagni, having only a small simple hut that he shared with Renuka, produced a multi course meal for the king and all his men. “You have even greater powers than I imagined!” said the king to the great and famous Jamadagni. “What, you think I produced this feast?” the rishi-sage laughed, for he was an honest man and could not take credit for what he didn’t do. “You are mistaken, great king. It was prepared by my cow, behind the hut.”
When the king understood that the cow was indeed Kamadhenu, The Wish Fulfilling Cow, The Cow of All Desires, he wanted it very badly in a way that someone who has always got all and everything he ever desired, might really want something, and, in his entire life, has never heard the word ‘no’ to any of his requests. Offers of fifty times a hundred thousand cows and half of the kingdom meant nothing to Jamadagni, who was devoid of attachment, so, when the negotiation process came to a fruitless end for the king, he just grabbed the magic cow but her snout-ring, and the royal entourage quickly departed, leaving the forest hermitage in a cloud of dust. But Jamadagni ran after the king.
When he didn’t return, Renuka went looking for him in the forest and found his lifeless body in a pool of blood. Wailing, beating her chest, she broke her bangles, rubbed off her red tika from her third eye, both marks of her fidelity to her husband, as her sons prepared her husband’s funeral pyre. The corpse of Jamadagni did not decay as his sons delayed the funeral for thirty days that they promised their mother, who went to find the rishi-sage Agastya, who had performed the sacrifice that brought her into the world.
Rishi-sage Agastya knew what to do in situations like that. He brought with him the sanjivani herb, that restores life to the dead. The same sanjivani herb that later Hanuman later procured to bring Lakshman and the Monkey Army back to life. Having the herb sprinkled on the dead body of the rishi-sage brought Jamadagni back to life.
by Baba Rampuri