Shadow and Light

In Kerala folk versions of Mahabharata, there is one which has the story of ” shadow kill” or Nizhalkutthu. Duryodhan hires a hunter who  dabbles with black magic  and asks him to kill off the Pandavas by performing Nizhalkutthu. Literally, it means, stabbing the shadows dead- leading to the death of the living bodies. Something like a shadowy voodoo ritual. The hunter returns home victorious, with many gifts from the King,  telling his wife that he killed off five fledglings of a bird using black magic. She  understands that the Pandavas are dead; and is outraged by his evil. Then, to show him what it really means to lose an off spring,  she kills their son in front of him.

The famed film maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan made a movie by the same name, Nizhalkutthu, based on the story of the last hangman of Travancore. The symbolic meaning of the original story, was carried on in the film, about meaningless killings- whether done as part of duty or to teach a lesson.

In the original Nizhalkutthu Attakatha, based on which Kathakali is performed, Lord Krishna gives life to the dead Pandavas and also to the dead son of the hunter. All is well, and of course, innocents do not die in a meaningless manner. The viewer is happy and hopefully has reflected on the way,  human talents are wasted in unethical ways for the sake of earning the King’s favours. Perhaps, he or she also reflected on the impulsiveness of human nature and how ‘an eye for an eye ‘ philosophy of the huntress, left everyone blind.

In Sundarakanda of  Sri Ramcharitmanas by Goswami Tulsidasji,  is the description of the Shadow-Catcher! She is a demon, who lives in the oceans and catches the shadows of everything that flies in the sky. She pulls the shadows that are reflected on the water .  All which  once flew in the sky, fall down into her clutches. She proceeds to eat them. Well, she meets her match in Hanumanji, whose shadow she catches.He sees through her evil, kills her and proceeds to Lanka.

” Nisichary ek sindhu mahu rahai/ Kari maya nabhu ke kha gahaye

Jeevi janthu je  gaganchar udahy/ Jal biloki tinh hai parichahy

Gahai chah sak soh na udai/Ehi bidhi Saha gaganchar khayi

Soyi chal Hanuman kah kinha/ Tasu kapadu kapi turanthuhu chinha”

I am intrigued by the  similiar tale from  Mahabharatha of  the South and  Ramayana of  the North. Shadow Catchers and Shadow Stabbers are so common in society. They specialise in destroying high spirited beings through manipulation and games behind their backs. Gossip, petty talk, conspiracy, plain evil lead to many deaths- symbolic and real.

Did the great writers, want us to ruminate on Soul Catchers and Soul Stabbers of the mortal kind? After all, to destroy one’s spirit is an equal form of murder.

Like Lord Krishna who gave life back to the innocent victims, it is time perhaps to wonder on whether we contribute to killing off spirits of people who are near us or whether we give life and energy to others through our words and efforts. And whether we have the spirit to call a shadow catcher in the sea/ rye/ nearby -by the name and stop his or her nefarious functioning like Hanumanji himself.


One comment

  1. Interesting point. I used to scarred of black magic and spent hours reading books on psychic self defense . talking to black magic experts and astrologers. In parrallel trying to figure ways to manage/handle backstabber etc in the real/corporate/business world.

    In a way satan in also an angel. He is there is make us realize the value of good. So black magic can’t harm me in the long run or universal context as in the kingdom of God nothing ever happens which shoudln’t happen. Only in the short term I dont get to see the big picture because of my limited knowledge of the world.

    The base skills I am focusing is the ability to see the good side of any person and focus on it to expand it. In the process learning to vulnerable ala walking into the lathi of british soldiers during ahimsa struggle ( on a side note it took me years to understand Gandhi).

    It takes a lot and continues to do so in practicing this. A deep belief that utlimately everything is covered and taken it just the ability to be out there holding “faith” and “love” as the only weapons as we stand alone out there in the “real bad” world with the many things around us falling apart.



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