Sunday, November 8, 2009

Things I've Learned

I pick things up quickly, Being a veritable font of knowledge is a responsibility I take seriously and so I make at least a halfhearted attempt to pay attention to things going on, whether or not they concern me. I never know what tidbit of esoteric wisdom is going to raise up its head at just the moment you need it to cure a snakebite or win a bar bet. I figure it’s best to pass them all along to you, just in case.

On this trip, a lot of information is tossed about, whether on busses, tours, guidebooks or the interesting hallucinations I get with fever. No reason to differentiate between them; it’s like choosing one’s favorite child (The youngest…) Here they are, in no particular order.


The Taj Mahal is located on the Yamuna River in Agra. Yamuna is named after the sister of Yama, the Hindu god of death whose task it is to escort the souls of the newly deceased into the afterlife.

This would be a tough job in any case as the souls often just don’t want to go, refuse to kick in for the cab or want to stop off for “just one more” on the way and often stick Yama with the bar tab. (Yama has trouble asserting himself, even though he’s the god of death, go figure…)

Making things tougher is the fact that Yama’s mother is constantly pestering him to find “someone nice” for his older sister. Yama tries to explain to his mother that everyone he meets is either dead or gay and thus not a great choice for Yamuna who, in her third incarnation, has the body of a woman and the head of a river catfish (and not a particularly attractive river catfish) Plus, she tends to cry a lot for no apparent reason, which makes her seem kind of desperate and needy, which most incorporeal spirits are just not up for at this point in their careers. (In her fourth incarnation, Yamuna has a regular head but heavy, poorly toned upper arms that she’s real self-conscious about.)

The Vedas tell the tale of the time when Yama comes to collect the soul of Arun, a nice, Brahman boy from a good family who has just died. Yama offers him the gift of immortality and a magic cow that can whistle the entire score from “The Fantasticks” if Arun will marry his sister. However, Arun has seen statues of Yamuna in the temple and decides to take his chances with eternal nothingness, thanks very much. In his rage, Yama turns Arun into a neem tree. Arun still figures he’s come out ahead on the deal. This, then, is the origin of the tale of how the camel lost its appendix (Translation in question…)

Death also has a younger brother, Billy, who is often portrayed in carvings and sacred books as a small, stocky figure in a horizontally striped dhoti. Billy is usually seen standing at the left hand of Lord Yama, repeatedly whispering the “three sacred questions” into his ear.
  1. “Whatcha doing?”
  2. “Can I hang around with you guys?’
  3. “Now whatcha doing?

Lord Ganesh is the son of Shiva and Parvati and the great favorite among Indian deities. Krishna and Kali claim this doesn’t bother them but, deep down inside, you know they’re hurting cause they really try…

When Lord Ganesh is very young, Shiva, in a fit of pique, cuts off his head. Realizing that Parvati will be home any minute and will not be at all pleased, Shiva hits on a desperate scheme. He takes a head from an elephant that happens to be passing by (apparently on the worst day of its life…) and sticks it on his son’s body. Apparently this works, as there is nothing in the Upanishads about child protective services being called in or Parvati being any the wiser. Shiva and Norton make it to the Raccoon Lodge meeting after all and Ganesh grows into the great elephant-headed god of happiness and, strangely enough, luck. This, in the Hindu mythos, apparently passes for irony.

Popularized in the epic poem from the Maurya period, “Everybody Loves Ganesh” is second in popularity among the religious faithful only to the episode of “The Mahabarata” in which Rob is bringing Lord Krishna and his wife Lakshmi  home for dinner but Laura realizes she is all out of Puja. Hilarity ensues.


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