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Durable Link to this BlogSunday, September 20, 2009

Story of Punyakoti, the Holy Cow

By now academic world is fairly familiar with eco-friendly traits imbibed by ancient Indians. Their love and respect for the plant life and animal world is effectively reflected in the folk literature of those times, where animals speak, laugh, cry, fight and at times show superhuman traits as well. Tales of Panchatantra bring forth many moral lessons.

The story of an encounter between a tiger and a cow forms a touching story in Kannada folk literature which children and elders have enjoyed over ages. The story in short runs like this:

Once upon a time, a cowherd by name Kalinga used to take cattle for grazing in the near by forest. Punyakoti a pious and well-behaved cow was one of them. Once a fierce tiger, Arbud by name, was prowling near by, unwatched. He was not able to get a prey for more than a week. Unable to bear pangs of hunger, he eyed grazing cows, which formed an easy target.

Evening arrived. The ringing of small bells of round the neck of cows and Kalinga's call, gave a signal to the tiger that they were returning to the shed. He appeared and roared with all his strength. Extremely terrified and panicky the herd along with Kalinga ran for their lives. Only Punyakoti, who had joined the herd last, remained behind. Arbud made it known that she was to be his food for the day and was about to pounce, when undeterred Punyakoti pleaded to him that her hungry calf was waiting for her at the cow-shed. She would just feed him and return, after which the tiger can finish her off. She swore by God and Mother Earth that she would stick to the promise. Though the tiger was desperately hungry, perhaps understood a mother"s instinct, let her go but ordered her to return without delay!

Punyakoti, honest and God-fearing, hastily came to the shed, fed her calf and narrated the event to him. Told him that her final hour had arrived and she had to return to the fierce tiger. Pleading of the calf not to go and Punyakoti's appealing to her sister-cows to look after her to be orphaned child makes pathetic reading. After giving proper instructions to her calf to graze safely, moving only in the middle of the herd and not to straying, to avoid the cruel tiger, she returned to the forest and the death awaiting her.

She offered herself in entirety flesh, blood and warm heart as well! Arbud was not at all prepared for this unheard of magnanimity and self -sacrifice of a meek cow. He was full of remorse for killing numerous helpless creatures in his lifetime. Tears rolled from his eyes. He told Punyakoti to return to her calf as he dared not kill her. Praying God for liberation, the tiger jumped from a high cliff and ended his life. Punyakoti returned to the cowshed happily. Arbud and Punyakoti were equally blessed.

A small part of the story of tiger and the cow is included in Kannada primary school text for years. Inclusion of this song in a movie based on the novel of S.L. Bhyrappa, "Tabbaliyu Neenade Magane" (Oh child! You have been orphaned) made it still more popular. The name of the author of this verse-story is unknown. Prof. D.L. Narasimhachar, who edited authentic version of this ancient piece through palm-leaf books, writes that this story is found in Sanskrit anthology, Ithihasa-Samuchchya by name. Hence it must have appeared in other Indian languages as well. The story is appealing to one and all, children as well as elders.

Virtues of non-violence, affection, honesty, self- sacrifice and concern for fellow-beings are beautifully brought out. The description of the forest, the dress and ornaments of the cow-herd milieu of the cow-herd culture are quite picturesque in the 114 verses of the folk-tale. It establishes versatility of the anonymous author, who brought out didactic element through the pen-picture on time canvas, very effectively.

Amma's Column by Jyotsna Kamat

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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