In ancient times, when Bhukhamumookha was queen of all of the Myapakka Valley, there lived a devoted yogi who practiced his sadhana in the forest that surrounded the great Lake Nagshala.
After twelve years intense sadhana, the yogi achieved certain siddhis. He gained the power to heal through his presence, the Maha Devi Siddhi.
Quickly, news spread about this yogi’s achievements. Many people, local and from far away, wanted to meet him. Over time, the sick and those in great need would travel to sit with this yogi. In return for his blessings and healings, visitors would bring the yogi gifts. Many benefited from being in his presence. Eventually, many people grew to love and fear this powerful yogi.
Near this yogi’s forest was a village where there lived a talented female weaver named Gunjika. She lived with her family and worked hard at weaving to ensure her family would have enough to eat. She wove scarves, robes, blankets, prayer rugs, baskets. You name it, Gunjika could weave it. The villagers adored this honest artisan.
One day, a stranger came traveling through the village seeking the help of the well-known forest yogi. The stranger had spent years trying to find a wife. Alas, his deformed face scared people. He’d hoped he would meet the yogi to receive help and guidance to ease his troubled heart.
Before meeting the yogi, the stranger wished to find the perfect gift to bring to this yoga master. A kind villager learned the stranger was looking for the perfect gift. So, the villager described Gunjika’s woven goods as the most magnificent of gifts the village had to offer. The villager guided the stranger to Gunjika’s stall. It so happened, this villager was also the caretaker of wayward orphans. The orphans loved nothing better than to sneak around playing tricks on people. While the villager led the stranger to Gunjika’s stall, the orphans followed quietly, suppressing their laughter at the stranger’s deformity. Without being seen, the orphans spied on the stranger while he looked over Gunjika’s blankets, robes, and baskets.
Gunjika smiled at the stranger as he wondered over which of her creations he should choose. He was mesmerized by all the beautiful choices. After much deliberation, he found the perfect robe to bring to the yogi. “Ah! This is perfect!” He chose a simple, honey-colored sevani robe. Gunjika said, “Great choice!”
While the stranger was digging into his pockets to produce the money to pay Gunjika, the orphans secretly sprinkled some stolen emodulanda powder into the folded robe. Then they ran off to find a place to hide so they could burst into laughter.
Now, emodulanda powder is nothing that exists in these modern times. In ancient times it was a kind of powder that was used to heal wounds from snake bites. However, if too much contacted your skin, you would turn emotional, mostly angry mixed with delusions of grandeur. It was the village orphans’ intention to play a prank on this foreigner with the ugly face. In their ignorance, they even thought the powder would help him fall in love with his deformity. They did not know the extent of damage their prank would cause.
The stranger made his visit to the yogi and waited his turn to have his private moment with the yogi. The yogi gave him his blessing and healing. Then the stranger presented the yogi with the robe. The stranger explained to the yogi that he had purchased the robe from Gunjika, the finest weaver in all the village. The yogi was humbled and grateful for the gift. He, too, admired the honey color and the perfect weave of this fine robe. After his meeting with the yogi, the stranger left the village and was never seen again. Perhaps we can assume he lived a happier life after visiting the Maha Devi Siddhi Yogi?
The next morning, after bathing in the lake, the yogi dressed in the fine robe the stranger had gifted him and proceeded to practice his bowing meditation. When the sun struck the yogi’s visual horizon at 35 degrees, the yogi felt an unfamiliar emotion rush over him — he grew very angry. While he sat in meditation, the yogi heard resentful voices fill his head, shouting about enemies chasing after him and the world coming to an end.
In a moment of clarity, the yogi sensed that something was wrong with the robe the deformed stranger had gifted him. Immediately he took off the robe and rushed to bathe in Lake Nagshala.
The yogi contemplated the matter for a few days then decided that Gunjika’s woven fabrics put the village in danger. Feeling righteous and courageous, he marched himself to the top of the steps of the Temple of the Goddess and proclamed: “Everyone, hear this!” The humble villagers listened with reverence. When he had everyone’s attention, the yogi continued: “The noble sages of high teachings have charged me to pronounce a curse on Gunjika the Weaver. The robe she wove contained foul enchantment. Come new moon time, Gunjika the Weaver shall turn into a fig!”
The yogi’s curse frightened the villagers. From then on, all avoided Gunjika, the Weaver. Only her daughter stood by her. Gunjika was confused by the curse and had no idea what the yogi was talking about. What foul enchantment could be in the robe she wove? This curse didn’t seem fair to Gunjika, but no one would listen to her when she asked for help to try to solve the mystery. She requested the yogi return the robe to her so she could see what was wrong, but the yogi claimed to have destroyed it in the fire ceremony for Boopoo Muni. And now to the simple villagers, Gunjika had become a pariah.
Just as the yogi had said, at the new moon, Gunjika turned into a fig.
Her daughter brought her mother-turned-fig far outside the village and buried her. For the rest of her life, Gunjika’s daughter mourned her mother’s passing by visiting the Temple of the Goddess every day and praying for mercy., until she grew old and died quietly and all alone.
Centuries have passed since this sad story took place. Lake Nagshala is all dried up. These days, a proud city has been built over the land where that lake once existed.
However, in the forest outside the city, there grows a rare type of ficus tree, called ficus maposyrupa. Monks use the wood from the tree’s thick branches to make fragrant prayer bead malas. Mothers pick the sweet figs to feed to their babes. The tree’s bark drips an unusual sap that cooks use to mix into special sweet sauces to pour over bread and rice. Songbirds nest in the tree’s branches. Bugs crawl through the tree’s bark. Worms, grubs, and slugs live deep in the soil curling up close to the roots of the tree to enjoy nourishment and protection. These centuries — long after the death of the yogi and the death of the weaver’s daughter — this one fig tree has provided sustenance, protection, beauty, and nourishment for countless beings from above and below. It welcomes all and judges none. One rare fig tree grew up from a fig planted by a grieving daughter who would never see the glory of this tree these hundreds of years later.
One day, a forest yogi, descended from the Maha Devi Siddhi Yogi, came to sit under the tree to meditate. There he achieved his enlightenment. After that, he went around blessing people and proclaiming his profound connection to the divine. Little did he know that there is no such thing as enlightenment. He mistook the tree’s nourishment — a little breath of fresh air — for enlightenment.
Nowadays, tree lovers are realizing this: we don’t need to follow the teachings of “enlightened” men. Simply praise trees! And like trees, be nourishment to all. No doubt tree wisdom surpasses that of the human . They live longer and give freely.
By now, everyone has forgotten the story of the time when a yogi turned Gunjika into a fig. No one ever tells the story about the daughter who buried that fig and spent the rest of her life in grief for her fallen mother. Only this one fig tree stands as silent witness to all the beautiful life force that moved back then, through the ages, and here and now. Trees do not tell stories in the conventional ways we are used to, but trees have so many stories to tell.
Infinite gratitude to Richard Powers and his novel The Overstory, which was the inspiration for this blog post. The Overstory
May I become quiet so as to let the trees sing. Through listening endeavors, may this mind grow green, lush, and fruitful! May the cycles of this human life flow toward growing thick with nourishment potential. May all humble beings come to know the curses that are blessings in disguise.