Folk Tales of Kumaon
The Gatha of Ghana and her man Narsingh, is a prominent folktale rendered as a Jagar in Uttarakhand. The story dates back to the reign of Kumaoni King Kalichand (1437-1450)
By Anjali Nauriyal
Narsingh was a famous Bhad (wrestler, brave warrior) of Askot. He lived in the hills of Dhandhura situated on the banks of Gauri Ganga, surrounded by rich fields and thick Sal forests.
Being venturesome, fearless, valiant and lion-hearted, he was considered the bravest amongst brave and referred to as the Daredevil Narsingh of Askot.
His beauteous wife, Dhana was enticing and angelic in her appeal. She was as bewitching as the Apsaras of Indra. And above all she was bold and unflinching
One day Narsingh expressed to his wife his desire to win over the Kali Kumaon and its capital Doti Kingdom situated in areas across Kali Ganga.
But Dhana alerted him that he should remove the idea of conquering Doti from his thought altogether, as their menfolk were dauntless and difficult to defeat in any encounter. They wear long caps and gowns and eighteen feet long Janeu (auspicious thread worn around the neck).
She cautioned Narsingh regarding the exceptional physical prowess of the men of Doti. “Those who challenge them are slaughtered and never allowed to cross Kali Ganga,” she warned.
Undeterred by her tip off, Narsingh replied, “Your praise of your paternal people is unreasonable. I don’t fear them and am certain I can vanquish them easily. Nothing and no one can stop me from conquering Doti.”
Dhana was petrified and tried to stop her husband from taking unnecessary risk, but to no avail. Iron-willed Narsingh was determined to carry his weapons to enemy land. He mounted his horse and rode away in the direction of Doti.
Seeing her husband riding towards potential danger, Dhana lighted lamps around her house to appeal to the deities. She even prayed in the village temple to her family deity to safeguard her husband and grant him long life.
Up in the higher reaches Narsingh rode like the wind. His horse pierced through the mountain paths like lightening. Wherever it set foot the rocks turned into dust and fissures opened up. He crossed Pipalkot, Kaudihar and Fulaghat. In no time he reached the banks of River Kali.
Here the river had overflown the banks and flooded the surrounding land. Narsingh uprooted trees and placed them on Kali to make a bridge and then crossed over to reach the other side. He raced his horse further and crossing Betadi and Silgadhi reached Doti, where he pounced upon his enemy men like a ravenous lion. All work came to a grinding halt at Doti.
The womenfolk of Talli Doti (lower regions of Doti) who were busy collecting firewood and fodder in the forest were aghast when suddenly the forests became dark and dusty, and an eerie silence pervaded the neighborhood. They were able to sense the presence of some enemy. They knew that the Death Deity was hovering in Doti. And they were right, as Narsingh had wrecked havoc upon the enemy. There was death everywhere.
Womenfolk could not believe that Dhana’s husband had devastated her own people. They could not believe that King Kali Chand’s relative, his own kith and kin, was out to destroy him.
Narsingh was by now tired in the battlefield and wanted food and rest. But so intense was his rage that he now proceeded towards Talla Doti (Upper Doti) and wrecked the same fate upon its menfolk.
When information regarding the destruction of Talli Doti and Talla Doti reached Kalichand he was beside himself with rage. He wielded his double-edged sword and proceeded to slay the man who had entered his kingdom as its worst destructive force.
A fierce fight commenced between the two. In swift movements Kalichand got the better of Narsingh. He then cut off both his hands with the mighty blows of his weapon. Narsingh fell to the ground whimpering like a ferocious animal.
He called out to Dhana to save his life before taking his last breath.
Dhana at this time lay asleep in her home in Askot. She had a terrible dream – that Kalichand had arrived at her threshold as a groom. The nightmare shook her to the very core. She woke up with a start. Surely it was a bad omen. Then she learnt of her husband’s brutal death. She was shattered and took a vow that she would take such revenge that entire Doti would be terrorized. She pledged that she would not return to Askot without vanquishing her enemy.
She took on the guise of a soldier and reached Talla Doti. When she saw her dead husband, she started slaying one enemy soldier after the other and annihilated Talla Doti. The villagers of Talla Doti were fearful as she now proceeded towards Kalichand’s palace.
When Kalichand got to learn of the entire episode he announced that one lost both hands, the other would lose her head.
He pounced upon his enemy. Both fought for a couple of days and nights. It was as if an earthquake had struck the kingdom. Then a moment arrived when Kalichand’s weapon tore Dhana’s garb. This exposed her mangalsutra (a sign that she was a married woman).
When Kalichand discovered that it was a female he was combating, and that too his relative masquerading as a male, he was completely taken aback. Rather than fighting her, he now gave her an offer.
He now decided to make Dhana his wife. Dhana’s beauty had charmed him. He decided to make her his queen.
“I will win your heart and make you my Queen,” he said to her. At this Dhana was infuriated. “I am like a sister to you, how can you ever think such a blasphemous thought,” she chided him.
The fight continued and he overpowered her. Seeing her bravery Kalichand repeated his words. “I have won over you and will do just as I want.”
Dhana looked at him, thought for a while and replied, “If you are so insistent, then I agree to be your wife. Take me to your palace and we will live happily ever after.”
Kalichand was overjoyed. The two proceeded for his palace. There she saw her husband’s body lying in a pool of blood. She requested Kalichand to allow her to carry his body for cremation. Kalichand agreed. Dhana then carried the body on her back, with the assistance of ten sturdy men of Doti. Kalichand accompanied them.
When they reached Kali Ganga, it was in floods. Dhana said they should not be fearful of the deadly waters and began crossing the river. It was not easy for her as she carried her husband’s corpse.
When they reached the middle of the river, she found an opportune moment to suddenly turn and behead Kalichand. She then ordered the other men to carry his head to Doti.
The brave Dhana had avenged her husband’s death. She then continued moving towards the riverbank, where she looked for a secluded corner to place the body. When the funeral pyre was lit she jumped in and became a Sati.
(Dr Anjali Nauriyal, veteran journalist, author, actor and social worker is currently Senior Fellow with Ministry of Culture, GOI)