There is a kind of literature in Urdu called muraadi kahaaniyan [votive tales] which are listened to in gratitude upon the fulfilment of a prayer. While praying for something — happiness, prosperity, marriage, children, etc — the person making the prayer solicits the intercession of a saint on her or his behalf, and pledges to make a food offering and listen to the history of that saint’s life and deeds.
The votive tales serve the function of keeping alive and propagating the memory of the lives and deeds of saints. These tales must be listened to with devotion, after cleansing the body. If someone forgets to listen to the votive tale after a prayer has been answered, something can likely go wrong. However, if the missed offering is made and the votive tale listened to, the calamity may be reversed.
Another kind of tale is one which offers protection against calamity. One example is Teesray Ke Chaand Ki Kahaani [Tale of the Third Day’s Moon], the sight of which, according to the tale, is inauspicious, and can be guarded against by listening to the tale’s narration.
If a person is suffering from the adverse effects of sighting the third day’s moon and is unable to find someone who can narrate the tale, she or he can recite to others the tale of their own woes for relief. A summary of the Tale of the Third Day’s Moon is given below, whose opening has similarities with Qissa Agar-o-Gul (translated as A Girl Named King Agar).
Tale of the Third Day’s Moon
Once upon a time, there was a king who had no offspring. His vizier, too, was childless. One day, the queen was giving audience in her vestibule when she saw a faqeer [mendicant] asking for alms in the neighbourhood. The queen sent for him and offered him gold and silver, but the faqeer refused them, saying that he would not accept alms from the house of a barren woman. Upon hearing these words, the queen became sorrowful.
If someone forgets to listen to the votive tale after a prayer has been answered, something can likely go wrong. However, if the missed offering is made and the votive tale listened to, the calamity may be reversed.
When the king returned to the palace, he found the queen in tears and asked her the reason. Upon learning what had happened, the king went in search of the faqeer. He found him saying his prayers in a forest. When the faqeer finished his prayers and asked the king why he was there, the king replied that he would not leave his side until his fortunes changed and he received a child from God’s bounty.
Thereupon, the faqeer gave the king a stick and, directing him to a garden, told him to strike a mango tree with it and bring whatever fruit fell down from the tree, and to not be greedy for more. When the king struck the mango tree with the stick, only one mango fell down. The dejected king struck the tree again, but no more mangoes fell.
The faqeer told the king that he was fated to have only one child. He advised the king to share the mango with his queen. The king did as he was told. The vizier’s wife heard about this and sent her servants to retrieve the peel and seed of the mango eaten by the king, which she and the vizier then ate.
After nine months, boys were born to both the king and the vizier from eating the mango. The astrologers studied their horoscopes and announced that for a full 12 years, the boys must be closely guarded and not allowed outdoors, otherwise some evil would befall them. Thus, the two boys grew up together, isolated from the rest of the world.
One day, they insisted on going hunting. The king, forgetting all about the astrologers’ injunctions, gave them leave to depart. In pursuit of a deer, the prince and the vizier’s son were separated from their entourage. Their companions returned and announced to the king that they had lost them, and he and the vizier set out in search of them.
Meanwhile, the prince felt parched with thirst. He asked the vizier’s son to search for water. The vizier’s son went deeper into the forest and found a woman selling watermelons. He bought one, found a piece of wood with which to cut it and tied both of them in a kerchief. As he headed back to the prince, a strong wind carried away the prince and the two friends were separated.
The king and the vizier arrived then and asked the vizier’s son about the prince’s whereabouts and demanded to know what he was carrying. When the vizier’s son opened the kerchief, instead of the watermelon the prince’s severed head and a knife fell out.
The vizier’s son was arrested and condemned to die for the prince’s murder. The vizier’s son sought leave to say his final prayers and, at the intercession of an old man, it was granted him. As he went to a body of water to make his ablutions, he saw an ewer lying within with 12 spouts and saw a moon entering the ewer’s mouth and emerging from a different spout each time.
The boy made his ablutions and said his prayers. Then he narrated what he had seen in the water to the old man, who told him that it was on account of the sight of the moon of the third night that the calamity had befallen him and if he would listen to the tale, it would be warded off. And in case none could be found to narrate the story, the vizier’s son should narrate what had passed with him to the people gathered there.
The vizier’s son narrated his story to the crowd. Before he had finished, a dust storm blew and the prince emerged from the forest, safe and sound. The king sought forgiveness for his actions from the vizier and they all returned happily to the seat of the kingdom.
Through the protective tale, the narration seems to create a parallel world, which wards off the calamity from a person by confining and dissipating it within the tale’s realm.
The columnist is a novelist, author and translator. He tweets @microMAF. Website: micromaf.com
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, May 14th, 2023
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