TODAY -

The Stories of Suns: Shadows from the Past

James Oinam *

An illustration of 'Nummit Kappa ' : Re-imagining the Light Spirit '
An illustration of 'Nummit Kappa ' by James Oinam



In this essay, I will talk about three stories of the sun to show how folk tales might give hints about our distant past. The first story called Nummit Kappa (Shooting of the Sun) folk tale of Manipur says there was a time when there were two suns in the sky. They were brothers. And they used to shine alternately, so there was no night.

This upset a servant a lot. He had to look after his master all the time and never got enough time for his wife and child. 'My child is getting spoilt because I can't look after him properly,' he moaned.

So he decided to do away with one of the suns. He took permission from his master for this. He made a bow and arrows with bamboo. Then he practiced his aim.

When his wife returned home with mud pot on her head, he shot down the pot with his arrow. 'Now I'm ready to shoot down the sun,' he said. When one of the sun brothers was rising on the horizon, he shot at him.

The sun got injured and went into hiding. From that day, we have the night time to rest and to be with our families (Source: Ch. Manihar Singh, A History of Manipuri Literature).

The second story is a Chinese folk tale, which is about a time when there were ten suns in the sky. It says the heat of the ten suns shining together scorched the fields causing famines. A brave man came forward to save the mankind from this misery. He shot down nine suns from the sky.

Pleased with this, a divine goddess gave him an immortality potion as reward. From here, there are two versions of the story. In one, after becoming famous, he becomes corrupt and tyrannical.

In order to save common people from his tyranny, his wife drinks the potion and flies to the moon. He shoots at her, but misses. He dies of anger because of that. In another version, he has an enemy who defeats him in competition by cheating. The wife drinks the potion to stop it from falling into the evil man's hands and flies away to the moon.

The third story of sun is from Hawaii Island and Polynesia (Australia) (different versions are said to exist in the islands). The mythological character Maui is the hero in these stories.

To put it simply, the villagers were very unhappy because the sun used to travel across the sky quickly and they did not have enough time to complete their work before it was dark. Maui made a net to catch the sun when it was rising on the horizon early morning (in some versions he uses his special weapon, the jaw bone of his ancestor instead of a net).

He sought help from the villagers to accomplish his goal. The next day when they caught the sun, they struck a deal with him that from that day on he will move slowly across the sky so that villagers would get enough time to complete their work. They released the sun only after he agreed to their demand.

From these stories, we notice geographic proximity and similarity between the stories found in the regions or populations go together. Quite understandably, during human migration and trade and commerce, people must have shared their folk tales (or inspired to write their own versions).

This implies that similar folk tales indicates human interaction between the populations in the past. In case you are wondering if this may be just one-off case, I may remind the reader the Chinese mythological character called Monkey King (Sun Wukong), which has been wonderfully portrayed by Jet Li in the movie The Forbidden Kingdom.

The character would immediately bring to mind the character of Hanuman from the epic Ramayana. This is in spite the fact that there are fundamental differences between the two.

Unlike Hanuman, Monkey King was born mortal 'out of chaos' (according to some authors, maybe because the character is a bit unruly). But he defeated heaven and earth and became immortal. We may scratch this area a little deeper.

In the Chinese mythology of the White Snake, we find that when the husband dies of fright on seeing the true monster/snake form of his wife, the wife 'flies' to a 'mountain' to bring a 'herb' and brings him 'back to life'.

Also this story has an evil monster 'abducting' them to keep the couple apart. Doesn't that remind us of an Indian epic? Sometimes I cannot help wondering if the seven brothers of Kabui Keioiba were inspired by the seven dwarves of Snow White.

Hundreds of versions of Snow White are said to exist all over Europe and Africa. But I have digressed enough from my topic to argue this point any further.




* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on April 06, 2017.



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