Saturday, March 17, 2012

Life Cycle of a folklored Kashmiri Snake

Continuing with the snake tales.

An abandoned shop turned parking lot turned temple in Jammu
"Listen. If for the space of one hundred years the sight of no human eye falls on a snake a crest forms on its head, and it becomes a shahmar; if for another hundred years it comes not into the sight of a man, it is changed into an ajdar; and if for three hundred years it has never been looked on by a human being it becomes a viha. A viha can stretch itself to any length, possesses enormous power, and can change its appearance at will ; it is very fond of assuming the form of a woman, in order that it may live with men."

~ from a version of the story 'The Philosopher's Stone' (another version of which features Kurdish govenor of Kashmir, Ali Mardan Khan) in 'Folk-Tales of Kashmir' by Rev. J. Hinton Knowles (Second Edition, 1893). The snake woman claims to be Chinese and Ali Mardan Khan  builds Shalimar Garden for her. In Kashmiri the name for the snake is given as Shahmar. Shahmar also appears in 'Hatim's Tales: Kashmiri Stories and Songs' (1928), recorded with the assistance of Pandit Govind Kaul by Sir Aurel Stein.

Here's the interesting part: Shahmar is the lord of snakes in Armenian folklore too. In one of its most popular appearance in a story, it gives a hunter named Purto a magical stone.* That's not all, Viha in Uralic language means snake-poison as well as hatred. Considering that the The Levantine Viper (Macrovipera lebetina) infamous in Kashmir as Gunas is infamous in Russian belt as Gjurza makes me wonder if all our snakes and their gods and demons came from Urals.

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*Encyclopedia of Russian and Slavic Myth and Legend by By Mike Dixon-Kennedy.

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The snake woman or Lamia by J. Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard Kipling.
It accompanies the story of 'The snake-woman and the king Ali Mardan'
in 'Tales of the Punjab : told by the people' (1917) by Flora Annie Webster Steel (1847-1929).

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4 comments:

  1. This post is dedicated to Kashmiri obsession with etymology.

    ReplyDelete
  2. About our Gods coming from Urals. Try YAZIDs on wiki or any edu. site. I'm sure you are aware about these ancient people of Arabia still fighting it out with ever persecuting compatriots. Their temples and gods will make you think... Dinesh

    ReplyDelete
  3. I had a chance to capture both the poisonous snakes of Kashmir Levantine viper (Macrovipera lebetina)and Himalaya pit viper (Gloydius himalayensis).They are beautiful creatures and I think only two poisonous species of Viperidae found in Kashmir. With respect to etymology I think mythology should be interpreted symbolically not literally.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for writing in and sharing your views on the subject.

      Delete

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