XIV. A KONKAN LEGEND.

Legend and tradition have rendered many a spot in India sacrosanct for all time; and to no tract perhaps have such traditions clung with greater tenacity than to the western littoral which in the dawn of the centuries watched the traders of the ancient world sail down from the horizon to barter in its ports. As with Gujarat and the Coast of Kathiawar, so with the Konkan it is a broken tale of strange arrivals, strange building, strange trafficking in human and inanimate freight that greets the student of ancient history and bewilders the ethnologist. The Konkan, in which in earliest days "the beasts with man divided empire claimed," and which itself is dowered with a legendary origin not wholly dissimilar in kind from the story of Rameses III and his naval conquest, offers a fair sample of these semi-historical myths in the tale of the arrival of the Chitpavans at Chiplun in Ratnagiri. For, so runs the tale, on a day long buried in the abyss of Time it chanced that a terrific storm gathered over the western waters; and as night drew on the sky, black with serried ranks of clouds, burst into sharp jets of fire, the rain poured forth in torrents unquenchable, and the shriek of a mighty whirlwind, mingling with the deep echoes of Indra's thunder, drowned even the roar of the storm-lashed seas. Among the ships abroad on that night was one of strange device with high peaked prow, manned by a crew of fair-skinned and blue-eyed men, which was forging its way from a northern port to some fair city of Southern India; and when the storm struck her, she was not many miles from what we now call the Ratnagiri coast. Bravely did she battle with the tempest; bravely did her men essay to keep her on her course, bringing to play their hereditary knowledge of sea-craft, their innate dexterity of brain. But all their scheming, all their courage proved fruitless. As a bridegroom of old time scattering the bridal procession by the might of a powerful right arm, the sea swept away her protectors and carried her, lone and defenceless, on to the surge-beaten shore. And when morning broke Surya, rising red above the eastern hills, watched the hungry waves cast up beside her fourteen white corpses, the remnants of her crew - silent suppliants for the last great rites which open to man the passage into the next world.

Now at the ebb of the tide the dark people that dwelt upon the marge of the sea fared shorewards and found the blue-eyed mariners lying dead beside their vessel; and they, marvelling greatly what manner of men these might have been, took counsel among themselves and decided to bestow upon them the last rites of the dead. So they built a mighty funeral pyre for them with logs of resinous wood hewn in the dark forest that stretched inland, and they fortified the souls of the dead seamen with prayer and lamentation. But lo! a miracle: for as the flames hissed upwards, purging the bodies of all earthly taint, life returned to them by the grace of Parashurama; and they rose one and all from the pyre and praised Him of the Axe, in that he had raised them from the dead and made them truly "Chitta-Pavana" or the "Pyre Purified." And they dwelt henceforth in the land of the arrow of their Deliverer and were at peace, forgetting their former home and their drear wandering over the pathless sea, and taking perchance unto themselves wives from among the ancient holders of the soil. Now the place where they abode is called Chittapolana or Chiplun unto this day.

 

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And it came to pass in the fulness of time, as the Sahyadri-khand tells, that Parashurama called all Brahmans to a great festival in the new land which he had created between the mountains and the sea. But the twice-born hearkened not to his words; whereas the God waxing wroth determined to create new Brahmans who would not turn a deaf ear to his counsel. Revolving this decision in his heart he walked down to the shore, and there in the seaward-gazing burning-ground he met a stranger-people, white-skinned, blue-eyed, and fair to look upon, and asked them who they were and whence they came. "Fishermen (or hunters) are we," they answered, "and dwell upon the seashore, sixty families of us in all." And the God was pleased with them and raising them to the rank of Brahmans, divided them into fourteen "Gotras," and made them a solemn promise that should they ever call him to mind in any real emergency he would come to their assistance. So they dwelt for many a day, waxing by the favour of God both numerous and learned, until by ill-hap they hearkened into evil counsel and called upon the God without just reason. And He, when he learned what they had done, was exceeding wroth and cursed them, dooming them to sorrow and to the service of other men so long as the sun and moon should endure. Thus the Chitpavans gained their Brahmanhood, but lost their right to superiority in that they flouted the promise of their God.