How the World Was Born: Read an exclusive excerpt from a book on Indian creation myths - Hindustan Times
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How the World Was Born: Read an exclusive excerpt from a book on Indian creation myths

ByLopamudra Maitra
Jun 14, 2024 01:25 PM IST

Who protects boats in Odisha’s Chilika Lake from the vagaries of the weather? Through the unfortunate tale of a new bride, see how Kalijai Island got its name.

The Sad Legend of Jai of Chilika Lake

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Kalijai hills in Chilka Lake is surrounded by very deep waters. The water also appears dark in colour to the layman’s eyes because of its depth. The temple of the deity Kalijai stands on the hill. When one gets closer to the temple, it is almost an instant reminder of the popular legend of the land and also the famous poem which takes after it and was written by well-known Odia poet, Godabarish Mishra.

So goes the poem:

Sail carefully. Oh! Boatman.

Sail carefully

The girl fears the water,

People in the fort are waiting

The girl goes to her bridal home…

And thus, the poem brings to life a myth about a local deity and a legend from the past.

As the popular story goes, Jai was a young girl, probably in her late teens, who was travelling by boat to her husband’s house for the first time after marriage. She was being accompanied by her father and other people. The in-law’s house was in the Parikud Island of the Chilika Lake. As the travel drew on, Jai sat thinking about her life—about her father’s house, about her friends, her mother and many of the known faces—all of which she would not be seeing anymore. Her eyes welled up, and she choked with grief.

Suddenly, her trance broke with the rocking of the boat. In the middle of the deep waters of the lake, the boat was swaying furiously. There was a sudden storm brewing, which started to cover the sky with thick dark clouds, the harbinger of the thunderstorm followed by torrential rains. Sitting in the rocking boat, Jai started to feel scared. She felt her distant memories fading in her mind as fear started to grip her. Jai’s father began to caution the boatman. They were thinking of the water of the Salia River, but here, they were facing the turbulence of the sea, the Bay of Bengal, as the storm drew nearer.

Slowly the boat reached even deeper waters. The boatmen were struggling, but they were experts in the area and they thought that they could manage the situation. The people in the boat trusted them and so did Jai and her father. By now, the thick clouds were just overhead the little boat. They stretched far into the horizon and over the Bhaleri hills in the distance.

Swiftly and in no time, they had covered the top of Jatia hills too and the clouds started floating all across the lake now. The deep waters of the lake reflected itself in the dark clouds above. With the clouds came gusts of very strong winds, creating high waves and froth on top of the splashing water. The waters of the lake, swirling around the boat, moved with purposeless yet determined vigour, evoking the fierce winds that created them.

The ripples of the waves started to increase and the large waves picked up momentum to lash against the sides of the boat. The boatmen, though experts, knew their boundaries and the fact that they were no match in the face of the mighty fury of nature. Their efforts proved too feeble in the face of the mighty wind and the waves. The boat was picked up by the large waves and tossed around several times. It was bouncing up and sinking down the very next instant. The people inside the boat started to scream for safety.

Suddenly, there was a loud noise, a tremendous force hit the little boat and it came to a sudden stop. Before anybody could realise, they felt that they were lying on the banks of the lake. For the frightened people, it was the merciful moment that they were praying for. The boat had violently crashed against a massive rock on the island and broken down into pieces. All the people were thrown off the boat. They lay hurt and aching around the massive rock and the moment they gathered their senses, they started to scamper for their lives and look for shelter. The broken pieces of the boat lay strewn across the banks of the lake and the jagged rocks, getting drenched in the strong rains, while the treacherous waves lashed against them.

Finally, the storm abated. A very bright sun began to emerge gradually from behind the dark clouds, while the winds eased into a gentle murmur, occasionally falling completely still, as if to warn of the recent destruction. All the people who had taken shelter at various places, started to come out in search of each other. All the people were present, including Jai’s father, but unfortunately, he could not locate Jai anywhere. Everyone, including the boatmen searched the banks all around, but Jai was nowhere to be found. The father was shocked beyond grief. The people and the boatmen soon returned in another boat but with heavy hearts.

Jai had vanished from the mortal world and to this day, it is believed that Jai still looks after all the boats which travel through the area. It is said that her voice, carrying through the hills, seems to be crying from a distance. No boat has ever capsized in the deep waters of the Kalahari hills as it is believed that the soul of Jai calms down the strong winds.

Thus, the boatmen and the locals started to worship Jai as the Goddess Kalijai of the region. She is also considered as an avatar of Kali.

Note about the story:

This myth is after the legend of the region, which inspired the poem, ‘Kalijai re Sandhya’ by noted Odia poet Pandit Godabarish Mishra (1886–1956). Odisha’s coastline is often prone to very strong storms and cyclones. The poem is an important reminder of the cyclonic weather, lest one gets caught in mid-water. A beautiful, heart rending and famous piece, the poem has also been sung by many. However, many critics often question the reality behind any actual incident which may have taken place. In the book, The History of Parikud, published in 1930 and written by Dr Radha Charan Panda, it is mentioned that the temple of Kalijai was built in 1717 by Shri Jagannath Mansingh, who was the king of Bankad, which is presently known as Banapur.

(Excerpted with permission from How The World Was Born: Wondrous Indian Myths and Legends by Lopamudra Maitra, published by Aleph Book Company; 2024)

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