What Makes the Eclipse- A Khasi folktale through my eyes

We all saw the moon blushing when it was paired with Mars a week ago. The moon turned red during the lunar eclipse.

But do you know why do eclipse happen?

Stories and myths surrounding eclipse can be found across cultures.

I have selected a beautiful Khasi folktale that tells us what makes the eclipse happen. Khasis are nature loving tribal, ethnic group residing in North Eastern part of India. This story is from the book, Folk-tales of Khasis by Rafi.K.U. You can see the book here.

I will look at the story in the modern context from the women’ perspective.

There was a beautiful girl named Ka Nam in a village. Her mother was so scared that someone may kidnap her because of her beauty. She kept the girl isolated indoors.

Though Khasis are a matrilineal society, looks like even they are not spared from the common North Indian patriarchal view that girls should be trapped inside, secluded from the male gaze. Women are considered honor of the whole family, and fear of their abduction by the enemies is a common belief in India.

Her father rubbished the baseless fears of her wife and allowed Ka Nam to play outside with other kids.

A tiger kidnapped her when she was at the well, filling water in her pitcher. Tiger wanted to eat kill and eat her and but when he saw she was so small and delicate, he decided to wait till she grew little older. Tiger took great care of her and presented her with rare delicacies. The poor girl who hadn’t seen such expensive things was ignorant and unaware of the real intentions of the tiger all this while. She adjusted to the den of the tiger and grew into an unparalleled beauty.

Tiger here symbolizes the male who kidnaps or abducts the women to marry her by force. Tiger tried to lure the young girl by giving her gifts as male often use the gifts as a means of exchange to demand a sexual favor in future.

Sometimes a bottle of perfume
Flowers, and maybe some lace
Men bought Louise ten cent trinkets
Their intentions were easily traced

(Lyrics from Song ‘Lousie’ by Bonnie Raitt )

Tiger decided to bring all his friends to feast upon the young women.

When the Ka Nam came to know about the real intentions of the tiger, she cried due to her helplessness. A little mouse helped her to get out of the den of the tiger. The mouse took her to a U Hynroh, a giant toad, who was a magician and an old rival of the tiger. The old toad was smitten by the beauty of the women and agreed to keep her in his custody. He made the women his slave and asked her to wear a toadskin and not to divulge herself to outsiders.

This particular scene in the story reminds me of a typical harem of the kings where wives, concubines, slaves and female servants were kept. They entertained the king, and also maintained his household. The toadskin is akin to purdah which is a symbol of oppression of women, by limiting her freedom and autonomy. It perpetuates the notion that female is weak and in need protection from the aggressive male.

The poor mouse took pity on the plight of the woman and took her towards a magical tree. The woman climbed the magic tree, and the tree became taller and taller. When the tree touched the sky, the woman alighted and thanked the tree. The tree came back to its standard size.

Meanwhile, the friends of the tiger got enraged when they saw that they had been deprived of their feast. They tore the tiger to pieces in a fury. This highlights the male violence and aggression towards women and others.

Melissa M. McDonald, Carlos David Navarrete, Mark Van Vugt (2012), in their article, Evolution and the psychology of intergroup conflict: The male warrior hypothesis writes about how evolution has shaped ‘warrior males’ in old and modern environments. Authors say that men are biologically programmed to form aggressive coalitions in both humans and non-humans.

Ka Nam was wandering in the sky, still covered in the toadskin. Years of conditioning had made Ka Nam so shy and under confident that she was scared to reveal her true self.

Ka Sngi, the Sun took pity on her and asked to live in the outhouse of the palace. She used to wrap the toadskin whenever she used to venture outside.

One day, the son of Ka Sngi saw her without the toadskin. He was astonished to see her beauty and fell in love with her. He told Ka Sngi, songs about the real beauty of Ka Nam and expressed his wish to marry her. They both thought that the young woman was some under an evil spell.

Ka Sngi decided to break the spell by burning the toadskin when Ka Nam was sleeping.
The burning of the skin signifies the rebirth of Ka Nam and her renewal. She marries the son of Ka Sngi.

U Hynroh, the giant toad gets very angry when he comes to know about how Ka Sngi has deceived him. Again, the fragile ego of the male come into play.

The boisterous and aggressive masculine male pride combined with the cultural attitude towards violence led to a fierce struggle between KaSngi and the toad.

When people saw the conflict, they uttered loud cries and began to beat mournfully on their drums. The giant toad got scared and released Ka Sngi from his grasp.

Khasis believe that eclipses happen when U Hynroh attacks the sun to devour Ka Sngi. Even today, Khasis beat huge drums to scare away the giant toad.

Image Credit: http://megtourism.gov.in/photos_dbmuseum.html

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