Gods, Giants and the Geography of India by Nalini Ramachandran; An Excerpt

Nalini Ramachandran
Gods, Giants and the Geography of India by Nalini Ramachandran draws connections between ancient tales and the science behind the geography of India. An excerpt from the chapter The Mighty Guardians: Himalayas:

Vishnu had grown rather fond of the Prithvi Lok that Brahma had created. He built himself a cosy home close to a vast blue sea once and decided to stay there for a while.

One day, a pair of seagulls arrived at the seashore. The female seagull chose a safe spot away from the sea to make a nest – it was time for her to lay her eggs. But just as she finished laying them, the seawater sped ashore and consumed the seagull’s eggs in a single gulp. The shocked seagulls fluttered around for a while, circling the place where the eggs had been just a few moments ago. They screeched and screeched, but the eggs were gone. After mourning for a while, the couple flew away.

A year later, the two seagulls returned to the same shore. Fearing that the sea would swallow her eggs again, the mother gull chose a spot further away, near some rocks. The eggs were laid. Once again, before the seagulls could rejoice, the sea groaned, lunged forward and gobbled up the eggs in a single swallow. The dejected seagulls fluttered and cried out, and then quietly flew away.

The next year, the seagulls came to the seashore again. This time, the female seagull laid her eggs far, far away from the sea, high up in the rocks, hoping that the waters wouldn’t steal her little ones. But the waves twirled and danced, and in a giant leap, took away the eggs all at once.

Heartbroken and unable to bear the grief of seeing their unborn young ones being washed away year after year, the seagulls flew straight to Vishnu’s seaside home. He was still living there, as luck would have it. The birds told him all that had happened.

The annoyed god reached the seashore, and when he saw the sea wash away a poor crab, he couldn’t take it anymore. He opened his mouth and began to inhale slowly.

The sea realized what Vishnu was up to. At first, it tried to resist, but it knew that it was no match for the god’s powers. So it apologized to the seagulls and pleaded with Vishnu for forgiveness, even as its waters were drawn towards the god’s open mouth.

But Vishnu heard nothing except the sound of his own breath, much like the sound trapped in a conch shell on the shore.

In no time, he had gulped down all the water in the sea. In its place, as far as the seagulls could see, only land was visible now.

‘Happy?’ Vishnu asked the birds, who went around him many times, squawking, to thank him. They were thrilled that the god had taught the arrogant sea a lesson – its waters would not destroy any more lives.

Meanwhile, Vishnu was exhausted. ‘Drinking up the sea has drained me out,’ he said to himself.

Too tired to go home, he stretched himself out on the soft shore and fell asleep. It was a slumber so deep that he missed an entire one-sided battle that took place around him – the match between the freshly emerged land and his old enemy, the asura Hiranyaksha!

Hiranyaksha, who had been passing by, had witnessed all that had transpired between the sea, the gulls and Vishnu. He had been waiting for a moment like this – to show Vishnu how powerful he was.

‘Creating new lands, eh, Vishnu?’ he said to the sleeping god. ‘Come on, get up and fight me! You know I won’t attack a sleeping enemy!’

His eyes gleamed when Vishnu didn’t budge. He knew the god had no energy left in him.

‘Tsk tsk tsk… How can you sleep when I, the great Hiranyaksha, am here to destroy the very earth that you have just created?’ And he thrust a strong fist into the ground. But Vishnu didn’t stir.

Hiranyaksha went on and on. He tore the heart of the earth out. He broke it bit by bit. He threw rocks here and upturned tonnes of mud there.

When he was done, it seemed as though the land’s many limbs were strewn all over and arranged into tall heaps. The whole place was a complete mess.

The asura dusted off his silk robes and his hands, went close to the still sleeping Vishnu and whispered in his ears, ‘Sweet dreams, Vishnu. You’re going to wake up to a bitter nightmare!’

Laughing wildly, Hiranyaksha walked away.

In his sleep, Vishnu smiled.

The broken pieces of the earth, which looked likenothing more than giant heaps of rubble, suddenly merged together. They transformed into a chain of majestic mountains with peaks that rose so high that they almost touched the sky.

The region that was home to a sea until that morning had now become a mountain range.


Connecting the Dots…

 The sea that Vishnu swallowed is believed to have been the ancient Tethys Sea, and the mountain range that formed in its place, the Himalayas! In Sanskrit, Himalaya means the ‘abode of snow’, a name it gets because of its snow-capped peaks and glaciers. A part of the Himalayan Mountain Range, the Hindu Kush–Himalayan belt, which spans many countries, is also called the Third Pole (the other two being the North Pole and the South Pole), due to the large volumes of snow found here.

Excerpted with permission from Gods, Giants and the Geography of India by Nalini Ramachandran published  by Hachette India.

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