Tobacco and gods

Ashok Aklujkar aklujkar at UNIXG.UBC.CA
Fri Sep 12 21:54:46 UTC 1997

This is related to N. Ganesan's 12 Sep 1997 14:42:04 -0600 message on
"Tobacco as Messenger."

The Subhaa.sita-ratna-bhaa.n.daagaara (8th edn of 1952), p. 100, has 7 Skt
verses on tobacco -- most quite insightful. The third among them, untraced,
is particularly well-known:

 bi.daujaa.h puraa p.r.s.tavaan padma-yoni.m
dharitrii-tale saara-bhuuta.m kim asti /
caturbhir mukhair ity avocad viri;ncis
tamaakhus tamaakhus tamaakhus tamaakhu.h //

Tr.: Once in the past, Indra asked Brahmaa, "What is the most essential (or
choicest) thing on the surface of the Earth?" With (all) his four mouths,
Brahmaa responded, "tobacco, tobacco, tobacco, tobacco!.Æ

A related  joke exists in the case of the idol of Vi.t.thala/Vi.thobaa or
Paa.n.dura:nga at Pa.n.dhara-pura in Maharashtra. In it, the idol is
interpreted as speaking about tobacco.

The hands of the idol, resting near the waist, tell us what the height of
the tobacco plant is.

(In the Paa.n.dura:ngaa.s.taka (wrongly) attributed to ;Saµkaraacaarya, the
hands tell the devotee that, for them, the ocean of transmiration will be
only so deep.)

Of these, the hand on the right, opened in the direction of the spectator
and holding part of a plant, informs us about the size of the tobacco leaf.

(In serious interpretations, this plant part is taken to be a lotus stem.)

The left hand,resting on the hip while  holding a conch , instructs us that
tobacco should be consumed in moderate quantities.

(I may not be accurate in the latter two details or there may be other
versions about them.)

A Marathi short story by D.M. Mirasdar (I do not recall the title at the
moment) utilizes this local joke.

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