Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

My Fair Lady is Indian

P. Thankappan Nair

There are some people who maintain that my fair lady Miss Nicotine is foreign. There is proof incontrovertible to show that she is 100 per cent Indian and labelling her as a Yankee stuff uncharitable. You may call her a Virgin in the sense that she was discovered in Virginia by the Englishmen. My fair lady’s kith and kin living in the inaccessible areas of India believe that she was created for the good of the mankind. The origin of tobacco is traced by the autochthon our tribal people of India to its utility as a means of breaking the monotony of continuous work or for offering it as a gesture of friendship or hospitality. Its origin is also attributed to its medicinal properties such as alleviation of pain. Accidental discovery is also claimed. These traditions of the aboriginal population of India are at variance with the generally-accepted theory that tobacco is a native of America and it is the Portuguese who introduced it to India about the year 1600 A. D., following its popularisation by Francisco Fernandes in 1558 in Europe.

The medicinal qualities of tobacco were known to the tribal people of India since time immemorial. They did not impart its secrets to the Aryans as they have not done so in the case of indigenous methods of family planning. The tribal people of India living in and around Andhra Pradesh, where the bulk of India’s tobacco is cultivated, have several myths. In fact the tribal people all over India have different folk traditions about the origin of tobacco. The tribesmen belonging to the Gond, Bondo, Gadaba, Juang, Kamar, Koya, Kond, Muria, Ojha, Pardhan, Parenga, Saora and Santal communities have interesting aetiological myths. From the available literature it may be concluded that tobacco is a Dravidiun trait, as there is no reference to it in the sacred scriptures the Hindus.

Divine origin is attributed to tobacco by the Bondo, Kamar, Khuntia Chokh, Kond and Saora tribesmen. It is Mahaprabhu, the supreme god of the Bondos, who gave tobacco to their ancestor Soma Bodnaik. The Kamar tribesmen inhabiting the lonely areas of the Bindranawagarh and Kariar Zamindaris tell us that it was Mahadeo, their supreme god, who gave a little morsel of tobacco to Kachara-Durwa, their ancestor. The Khuntia Chokh blacksmiths residing in the Chattisgarh area also believe that it is their Mahadeo who showed the mankind the art of preparing the tobacco leaves for the pipes. The notorious Maria sacrificers inhabiting the Ganjam and Koraput districts of Orissa believe that it was Nirantali, their goddess, who created tobacco. The properties of the leaves of the tobacco plant were explained by Durha Pinnu and Pusrudi to Sonali Dom and his wife, Rupamali Dom. Another tradition of the Konds of the Kalachandi district describes that Nirantali created tobacco by picking up some dust and ash and rubbing a little dirt of her body by throwing it all on the ground whence the tobacco plant sprang up. The wildest section of the Konds, the Kuttia Konds, who inhabit the Ganjam district, believe that the tobacco seed was dropped by Nirantali from the bun of her hair on the banks of the river Bujiano whence the plants took root. The Saoras, who are immortalised by their reference in the Ramayana, have various traditions about the origin of tobacco. The Hill Saoras of Koraput district believe that it was Ramma and Bimma, who were brothers, who got tobacco seeds and taught a Dom to make them into cheroots. However, the Hill Saoras living in the Tarebil village of the same district assert that it was Piskisum, their tribal god, at the request of their women, bestowed tobacco on the mankind for giving notice of the approach of their menfolk. The Lanjhia Saoras, a branch of the great Saora tribe, inhabiting the hills of the Koraput and Ganjam districts of Orissa, give credit to Mahaprabhu, their super god, for creating tobacco from the dead body of an issueless Pano lady’s breasts and bones. The Ojhas, a Gond sub-tribe of soothsayers and minstrels living in the Raipur district, think that it was Mahadeo who created tobacco by cutting two ears of the cow and bull of Baghirati’s son and throwing them away which took root to sprout as tobacco.

The Girl Nobody Liked

There are a number of myths about the creation of tobacco from the dead body of a girl whom nobody loved in her lifetime, but who becomes the object of love of all the world. This motif, ‘The Girl Nobody Loved’ is widely distributed in India. “I have,” wrote the late Verrier Elwin, “found it among the Kond, Gadaba and the Juangs of Orissa, the Muria of Bastar and the Gond of Mandla.” Curiously, this motif is associated with opium and Khampti, Moklum, Taroan Mishmi and Singpho stories repeat it with interesting variants in details. The popular version of the myth is transmitted to the posterity by the Santal tribesmen. The gist of the story is: Once upon a time there lived and died a young lady whom no one wanted to marry. In fact she died of a broken heart. The benign gods felt great compassion for her sorrowful end. They decided that, as no one wanted to marry her while she was living, they should arrange matters in such a way that everybody should ask for her, now that she was dead. Having come to this conclusion, they metamorphosed her ashes into the tobacco plant. Ever since then, men have come from far and near for its leaves. In this way, it came to pass that one, who had been neglected while she was living, was wanted by all men after death.

The great Gadaba tribe living in the Koraput district believes that a certain Rajah’s cross-eyed and ugly daughter had the meanness to request Mahaprabhu to make love to her. Mahaprabhu cursed her: “Go, you will be no more a woman; become a tobacco plant and then all of the men you want will enjoy you.” As she stood there the girl became a tobacco plant, the precious leaves of which all men desire above food and wives. “There is no difference between tobacco and a wife: we love them equally” say the Juangs.

The motif, “The Girl Nobody Loved” occurs in a somewhat different form in a Bondo story gathered from Dumiripada village of Koraput district. Mahaprabhu, supreme god of the Bondos, fell in love with Diyamati Kaniya. Both joined hands in killing her husband, a snake, but the paramour found that she was sexually insatiable even by elephants. So, Mahaprabhu killed her and out of her grew a plant. “Many men enjoyed the leaves and now at last Diyamati was satisfied, for soon the whole world was enjoying her,” the Bondos say.

The tradition of the Rajnengi Pardhans of Patangarh, Mandla, is also slightly different. A Brahmin girl, who was married by a Chamar boy impersonating as a Brahmin, died of broken heart when she came to know of her husband’s identity. The boy committed suicide when he found his wife dead. The two bodies were cremated together and from the ashes of the girl’s body grew the tobacco plant and from the boy’s ashes grew the hemp plant.

The accidental discovery of the plant by Juangs and Doms have fascinating grounds. However, the strong belief that Godcreated tobacco on account of its utilitarian qualities is shared by a number of tribesmen all over India, especially by the Kamar, Kond, and Ojha tribesmen, whose traditions have been handed down to us. The Kamars of Dilaijhar village ofthe former Bindranawagarh Zamindari believe that their supreme god Mahadeo created tobacco at the request of the cow-queen who implored him to take pity on the bullocks of Kochara-Durwa. Mahadeo, in the form of an old man, came to earth and met Kochara-Durwa, who used to plough the land all the day. Mahadeo asked forfire to light up his pipe and gave Kochara-Durwa a little of tobacco and taught him to sow its seeds and prepare the pipe. “Soon every half an hour Kochara-Durwa and his men were finding it necessary to rest from their ploughing so that they could sit down for a smoke. In this way the bullocks got a little rest,” say the tribesmen. Nirantali, according to the Konds, had a great deal of trouble by working all the day and created the tobacco plant from the hair of a little girl and a white bug. Nirantali gave a pipe to her husband, Semakupli. He propagated its culture and transmitted the art ofsmoking to the posterity as an excuse for taking rest while working. The Ojha tradition gives credit to Mahadeo for the creation of tobacco. He taught the art of making the pipe to Baghirathi’s son, who used to plough all the day. “Ever since when people plough they step frequently to smoke their pipes and in this way the cattle get a little rest.

Another motif which not infrequently underlying the tribal beliefs is the notion that the gods bestowed it on the mankind as a means of giving entertainment to visitors. Tobacco is also used for cementing friendship. In fact giving one’s pipe to another is the greatest sign of friendship among the tribal and civilised people of India. The Bondo and Saora traditions illustrate this point. Mahaprabhu, according to the Bondos, created the tobacco plant with this advice: “When visitors come, entertain them with it and they will admire you and become your friends.”

The offer of tobacco as a sign of hospitality is prevalent all over India. The tradition of the Murias living in the Berma village in Bastar is interesting: Once rice took flight as it became disgusted with the tribesmen who had to offer it first to every visitor as there was no other substitute in those days. On the way rice met a tobacco plant which asked what was the reason of her flight. When it heard the story, the plant said: “Don’t worry. From today, when visitors come to the house, I will take the first place and you can come afterwards and be given as food.” So today tobacoo is first given to a visitor and afterwards comes the rice.

Tobacco alleviates pain. People smoke cigarettes, cheroots, etc., in increasing numbers when they are mentally worried. The grief resulting from the death of one’s near and dear ones is the severest. It is the custom among many a tribe that the relatives of the deceased should present a quantity of tobacco to the survivors. Even a highly civilised community like that of the Nairs of Kerala does not dispense with this custom. The Konds or Kurutigadu, Koraput district, plain that the custom originated in this way: Sonamali, husband of Rupamali Dom, died sometime after their discovery of the tobacco plant. All efforts to revive the grief-stricken Rupamali failed. Then her mother put a little tobacco leaf into her mouth and she sat up and wept no more. “Since then whenever someone dies we buy tobacco from the Dom and give it to the mourners and they soon forget their sorrow.”

The medicinal properties of tobacco were recognised by the tribesmen long before the Portuguese are said to have brought it to India. The Didayi, Gond and Saora traditions illustrate the point. The Lanjhia Saora, and Juang traditions state that the medicinal properties were imparted to them by animals.

The tribal people of India, who still remain inaccessible, have very fascinating traditions about the origin of tobacco. These un-contaminated people cannot fabricate stories to show that tobacco is indigenous. They have no need for it. Not a single myth points out to a foreign origin of my fair lady, Miss Nicotine.

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