Friday, May 18, 2012

The Meleager Story and Ponnivala

In a recent post, we discussed the similarities between The Legend of Ponnivala and the Calydonian Boar Hunt from Greek mythology. In both stories, the giant boar was sent to ravage the farmers’ land in revenge for a great insult. And in both stories, twin warriors figure very prominently in the battle (in Ponnivala they’re the heroes, while in the Illiad they’re helpers on the hunt).

There is, however, another set of curious parallels that bears some interesting discussion. One of the reasons Artemis is so insulted by Oeneus’ neglect of a sacrifice is that she is the goddess of the hunt, while he is a farmer. Although in Greek mythology these castes are not always as opposed as they can be in Indian tradition, this parallels the basic reason for the fight between Komban and the kings of Ponnivala. They have stolen a parrot, which provokes the vengeance of the forest princess Viratangal. In the war between the farmers and the hunters, Komban is a major combatant on the side of the hunters.

A similar theme occurs where Atalanta the huntress joins Meleager’s hunt (it’s her arrow that kills the boar). Despite generally accepting her skill, the other farmer/warriors of Calydon don’t trust this forest dweller. In the Roman version it’s assumed it’s because she’s a woman; in the Greek version, hero females who follow Artemis are quite common, and the aversion appears to be because of her caste as hunter. Following the hunt Atalanta is awarded the boar’s hide, which is an insult to Meleager’s farmer uncles. In the ensuing fight the uncles are killed, and their sister, Meleager’s mother, curses him and he dies.

Meleager’s death causes his sisters (called the “Meleagrids”) to weep so profusely that Artemis takes pity on them and turns two of them (Eurymede and Melanippe) into birds. This isn’t a direct parallel, but in Ponnivala the two parrots who live in Tamarai’s nose while she meditates outside Lord Shiva’s chamber also represent an avian pair that has a great deal to do with the fate of the heroes. Their separation at the hands of Ponnar and Shankar is what incites violence between the forest kingdom and the young kings.

Are there other instances in folk tales or myths when differences in occupation or social caste is an underlying force in personal or political conflict? Share your thoughts below!

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