pots, brahmin names, and potters

Artur Karp hart at POLBOX.COM
Wed Dec 30 00:48:01 UTC 1998

Dear Dr. Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan,

I do not know all the reactions to your earlier postings, so I am sending
mine at the risk of forcing an open door.

Consider the following three texts:

1. "The KumhArs give their name to KumhArsain, one of the smaller Simla
Hill States. The State was founded by PahAr Singh, one of four Brahman
brothers from GayA, who had a pet cat which was killed by a mouse that
sprang upon her from beneath one of the 18 potters' wheels than at work at
KumhArsain. He complained to Koteshar MahAdeo, who is said to be the owner
of the chiefship (gaddi), and the god promised him redress. So all the
Kumhars were killed, except a pregnant woman and her descendants still live
in the State". [A Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and
North-West Frontier Provinces, vol. II, Indian Reprint, Delhi 1970, p. 570]

2. Mbh. I.169. KRtavIrya had the descendants of BhRgu as his priests. He
satisfied them with riches [dhanena... tarpayAmAsa vipulena, 12]. When he
died his sons were in need of money. They asked the BhArgavas for it, but
(some of) the BhArgavas buried their riches [bhUmau...
nidadhuH...dhanamakSayam, 15]. One day when one of the kshatriyas was
digging the earth in a BhArgava's house, he found the money [mahItalaM...
kSatriyeNa... khanatAdhigataM vittaM kenacidbhRguvezmani, 17]. On seeing
it, the kshatriyas started exterminating the BhArgavas. All the BhArgavas
were killed. Their wiwes escaped into the mountains. One of them carried in
her thigh a child of great power and he was to prolong her husband's line
[tAsAmanyatamA garbhaM bhayAddadhAra taijasam/ UruNaikena vAmorurbhartuH
kulavivRdhaye, 20]. The child was to become RSi Aurva.

3. Panchatantra II.2. An ascetic named BUTakarNa lives in a hut near
Shiva's temple [mahezvarAyatanam, 134.26.]. A mouse named HiraNya  harasses
him in the nights by jumping up to get to the food that he places high up
in a pot hanging from the wall [135.1-6]. The ascetic wonders why is it
that the mouse can jump higher than cats, monkeys, and so on. His friend
BRhatsphij suspects that the mouse must live over a treasure, because it is
obviously the heat of the treasure that gives him the power to jump so high
up [nUnaM nidhAnasyopari tasya bilam/ nidhanoSmaNa nizcitaM drakkUrdate
'sau, 136.15-16]. Brhatsphij finds HiraNya's hole and digs out the treasure
buried under it. HiraNya is deprived of his power and cannot reach the food
anymore. When HiraNya tries to regain his treasure, BRhatsphij hits him on
the head with a reed. HiraNya somehow manages to escape with his life. [The
Panchatantra, A collection of Ancient Hindu Tales, J. Hertel Ed., Harvard
1908, HOS XI, pp. 134-136, 140-147]

A bit of textual archaeology - very sketchy at this stage - to show in what
way the mouse named HiraNya ("Gold") can provide a clue to what connects
the genealogical story of the BhArgavas with the dynastic legend of the
rulers of the KumhArsain Gaddi.

"BhArgava's Genealogy" - Bh
"The Story of the KumhArsain Gaddi" - G
"The Story of the Mouse and Two Monks" - M

1. Bh: King KRtavIrya employs the BhArgavas as his priests.

2. Bh: The king pays substantial fees to the BhArgavas.

3. Bh: After the death of the king his heirs find the royal treasure empty.

4. Bh: The heirs of the king go to the BhArgavas and ask them to return the

5. Bh: The BhArgavas bury the money in the earth // M: A mouse named
HiraNya ("Gold") lives in a hole in an ascetic's hut.

6. Bh: The heirs start searching for the treasure in the BhArgavas' huts //
[G: The royal cat enters the KumhArs' compound]

7. G: A mouse springs from beneath one of the wheels at the royal cat // M:
The mouse can jump higher than any cat and gets to the ascetic's food.

8. G: The royal cat is killed by the mouse // M: The ascetic's food is
spoiled by the mouse.

9. G: The ruler complains to Koteshar MahAdeo // M: The ascetic complains
to his friend BRhatsphij // M: The ascetic's hut is in the vicinity of
Mahezvara's shrine.

10. G: The ruler is promised redress // M: BRhatsphij explains his friend
the reason for HiraNya's extraordinary power and promises to end his problem.

11. Bh: The treasure is found under the floor in the hut of one of the
BhArgavas // M: Brhatsphij finds HiraNya's hole and digs out the treasure
buried under it.

12. Bh: The BhArgavas ask for pity but to no avail // M: HiraNya is
deprived of his power and cannot reach the food anymore.

13. Bh: The heirs of the king start killing the BhArgavas // G: The ruler
and his brothers start killing the KumhArs //

14. Bh: All the BhArgavas are killed with reed-made arrows// G: All the
KumhArs are killed // M: BRhatsphij hits HiraNya on the head with a reed.

15. Bh: One BhArgava woman stays alive // G: One pregnant KumhAr woman
stays alive // M: HiraNya manages to escape with his life.

16. Bh: The BhArgava woman carries a child in her thigh // M: BRhatsphij
means "One of big thighs".

17. Bh: A son is born to the BhArgava woman and he will continue the line
of her husband // G: The descendants of the KumhAr woman "still live in the

There is no symmetry in the way the three texts relate with each other.
Their comparison does not seem to add anything to M. One element from M
could be inserted in the Mbh. story of the BhArgavas' extermination (the
treasure might have been discovered thanks to the observation of the
behavior of mice), but it's not really necessary. It seems, however, that M
is needed if we want to understand why the royal cat was killed by a mouse
in the KumhArs' compound. M is definitely related to both G and Bh, but the
relation is not always clear. Large parts of Bh and G are identical. If the
motif of the hidden treasure from M is added to G, the drama at the
KumhArs' compound becomes more comprehensible: the KumHars were
exterminated not because they let a mouse to attack the royal pet, but
because they may have amassed too much wealth thanks to their prior
services to the Gaddi - very possibly as royal priests. It looks like Bh
and G are two variants of one multiform. Its heroes would be the

With highest respects,

Artur Karp

University of Warsaw

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