Fun Mango Folktales That Will Make You Nostalgic
Stories have always enchanted us — long or short, modern or ancient, true or mythical. If there’s a story, there’s always an audience. Folktales and fables remain children’s favourites. Talking animals and plants, mighty kings and their adventures, and what have you. They make for such happy memories.
For centuries, writers have also been influenced by Gods and their favourites — be it fruits, flowers, or trees. A fruit that frequently features in Indian stories is the royal mango — hailed as the king in both life and literature.
Let’s start from the very beginning. Kamadeva, the Indian Cupid, is often pictured shooting flower-tipped arrows at gods and humans to inspire love and all feelings associated with it. One of his five arrows holds a mango blossom and is considered a powerful weapon. A reference to this potency is also made in Kalidasa’s play ‘Shakuntala’, where it symbolises the arrival of spring, desire, and fertility. Interestingly, a Gouache painting kept in the British Museum depicts Lord Shiva meditating under a mango tree while Kama aims his flowery arrows at him.
Remember the Jataka tale of a monkey chief saving his troop and mangoes from the king’s men? Let’s jog the memory for those who don’t. Long, long ago (this is the most important part - lends weight and credibility to a story of yore), there was a group of monkeys that lived on a mango tree. One day, the king of the land happened to pass by the tree and picked a mango. A bite was all it took to enthral him.
He ordered his men to pluck all the mangoes. The monkeys feared for the safety of their prized possession and started plucking them randomly. With all the ruckus — the king, who was resting with his men below the tree at nightfall — woke up. As the men started shooting with their bows and arrows, the monkeys ran hither and thither. There was a gap between their tree and the next, preventing the monkeys from escaping. The monkey chief immediately slipped between the gap to form a bridge, allowing his troop to scamper away to safety. When the king saw this brave act, he was full of admiration for the chief. He asked his men to stop shooting and promised never to harm the monkeys again. And the monkeys lived mangoly ever after.
Two neighbours, Abu and Rehman, claimed ownership over a mango tree that was right in the middle of both their plots of land. They went to Birbal, Akbar’s minister, to seek justice. Birbal ordered that the mangoes be divided equally between the two and also the wood of the tree. While Abu was happy, Rehman was saddened. He had watered the tree for 10 years and couldn’t bear to see it felled. He said he’d rather give up his share and let Abu keep the tree as well as the fruits. Birbal found his answer. He said the tree only belonged to Rehman because he cared for it. Moral of the story: love thy mangoes, but love thy mango tree more.
Fruitful Idea By Tenali Raman
Tenali Raman was an adviser in King Krishnadevaraya’s court in Vijayanagar. Just like in all stories, if there’s a hero, there’s bound to be a villain - in this case, royal priest Rajguru. One day the Raja was extremely sad. It was his mother’s death anniversary and he remembered how at the time of her death, he couldn't fulfil his mother’s last wish of having mangoes. Rajguru, who was forever waiting for opportunities to play his dirty tricks, prophesied that his mother’s soul would rest in peace only if the king gifted gold mangoes to all priests. The king did as was told.
Tenali, always wary of such manipulations, invited the priests as well as the king to his house. As they reached Tenali’s house, they saw him heating iron rods. On being asked, he said, “My mother’s last wish was to get her rheumatic legs burnt with hot iron. As her wish remained unfulfilled, I thought you all could…” And before he could complete his sentence, the pandits vanished. It immediately struck the king how he had been duped and he ordered that all the gold mangoes be returned to the exchequer. Rajguru was taught a mangolicious lesson he would never forget.
And the aam story continues …
Modern literary works too focus on the king of fruits. The opening of Arundhati Roy’s ‘The God of Small Things’ mentions mangoes in the most fascinating way: “May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees.”
In the words of writer Deepanjana Pal, “... the mango’s shape, the fact that there’s a seed inside and that consuming the mango requires activities like sucking has contributed to eroticising this fruit.” Now, haven’t we already heard of foodgasm!
And sometimes the fruit is conspicuous by its absence. As Randy Boyagoda who, while reviewing Anita Desai’s ‘The Artist of Disappearance,’ couldn’t help noticing that the story benefited from being bereft of mangoes - a preoccupation with most Indian works. So whether you like it or lump it, mangoes are likely to continue intriguing, inspiring, and finding a mention in literary spaces.
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