Translated from the Tamil by V. Ramakrishnan.
The herd of sheep scattered in fright. No one was chasing them away, and yet...
Look there, the woman who comes running with eyes burning like fire—that’s Goddess Mandaveli Mariyamman.
Mariyamman is the goddess of epidemics—yes, people raise temples for and worship even such cruel goddesses. After all, isn’t piety a product of the fear-ridden mind?
A dilapidated temple—an unruly gathering in front of it... two goats tethered in its midst—drenched in water, smeared with turmeric and garlanded.
Mandaveli Amman cried out, “Don’t you slaughter them! If you slaughter those goats now, I’ll send a bout of small pox and clean up the whole village. Are you even my devotees? You are a bunch of demons! My name is Mandaveli Mariyamman, and it is my duty to safeguard my mandhai, the cattle. You, on the other hand, have brought two of my own goats to sacrifice in my name! Scoundrels! Who are you to make offerings for me? Do you consider me incapable of fending for myself? Don’t you think I could take some goats myself if I needed them?”
“Mother, how could you ask that? This idiot asked us the same thing a few minutes ago. We threatened to behead him instead, and that shut him up for good. Idiot!”
“He is not the idiot here. It’s your brains that are rotting! If you really believed I was a powerful goddess, would you dare to sacrifice one of my own creations for me?”
“Mother, isn’t that our custom?”
“You have betrayed your gods today in the name of custom! Creating numerous deities, inventing families for each of them, building several temples for them and hosting festivals with sacrifices and fireworks—today you’ve revealed that it’s all a silly game for you!”
Mandaveli Amman untied the two goats that had been readied for slaughter. Even before the goats ran away, the herd of men had scattered.
“How sensible is it to sacrifice one of God’s own creations to please God? Leave aside mercy, there is no logic in it! It makes some sense that goats and chicken are eaten as food. But what’s the purpose in pointlessly killing them?
“At a time when man had not completely evolved as a human being, he slaughtered animals and scattered the blood everywhere as a sign of his reverence to God.
“Is it right to follow those beliefs even in this day and age? Let the god that demands a goat to be slaughtered go to a butcher,” the rationalist said. He found no support, though. Diamonds, although rare, don’t lose value; sand, on the other hand, is everywhere, but who cares about it?
That herd of men had threatened him and shut him up.
We would all be better off going to our worlds instead of staying on earth. It’s only in India that we’re still hanging around. Divine families have gone back home in several other countries. In some countries, gods have even been exiled!
I have no idea where gods like Thor and Odin have disappeared. Here, though, everyone, including Mari, Kali, Tirusooli, Mutthalu Ravuttan, Muniyan, and Sangilikaruppan, is still around.
As for me, I’ve decided to leave this human world for good.
My job is to torment these people with diseases, and yet they’ve kept me around all this while. But this can’t last forever.
People get vaccines ready at the very onset of an epidemic—who’s afraid of my powers anymore? My devotees, even those who are capable of reason, lack courage. Their devotion to me is greater than their courage to stand up to brainless fools who want to sacrifice goats for me. What do I do with these people? I’d rather leave this earth for good.
How gruesome to sacrifice goats for me! How senseless to label those who oppose this custom as my detractors! Let me go to Konangi Pillai, the trustee of this temple, right away to discuss this matter....
Bhogalingam, the priest, woke up suddenly. He could’ve sworn he had heard someone muttering incessantly inside the temple. He was startled to see Mandaveli Amman leave the temple muttering to herself.
“It’s not wise to stop me. Step aside, you fool?”
“To Konangi Pillai....”
Amman was gone within moments. Legs trembling, the best the priest could do was collapse where he stood.
“You vile creature! You criminal! Aren’t you ashamed to call yourself my devotee?” Amman seethed. “It was I who told them that sacrificing goats is a sin.”
“But I’ve already sacrificed four goats in your name, Mother!”
“It was an offering... not a murder...”
“‘What’s more, you’ve spread lies! No, even worse, you’ve given people the idea that I’m powerless! You’ve smuggled my statue out of my own temple!”
“Oh, that! That was just to frame those rationalist idiots...”
“You’ve treated me like a plaything, and used me in your lies!”
“‘No... no, no...”
“‘If you really believed I was powerful, you would have come to me, not made false accusations to the police.”
“It’s not like that, Mother. Don’t those unruly fools deserve punishment?”
“Who are you to punish them? Who are you to assume that authority when I, your goddess, sit here watching everything? Moreover, he said nothing against me. In fact, he was right.”
“But he said the custom of sacrificing animals for you...’
“...is sinful. Yes, he said that to save me from disgrace.’
Konangi Pillai felt dizzy. He couldn’t make sense of what was happening.
“Konangi... it’s because of devotees like you that we stand disgraced today. You’ve brought things to a state where we can’t be around anymore. All this is because of people like you, who go around claiming to be my devout followers. I’m leaving now. Mandaveli will still be there – but it’ll just be a place where foolish cattle like you flock.’
She was gone!
Konangi Pillai woke up with a start. He realised that the whole scene had been just a dream.
In front of him, the statue of Amman he had smuggled out of the temple stood smiling at him.
He had come up with a simple scheme to silence the rationalist movement in the village: to accuse the rationalists of having stolen the statue of their deity. He had instructed his servant to spread the word in the village that Paramasivam and Parthiban, members of the rationalist movement, had stolen the statue. He had conveyed the same to Bhogalingam, the priest. However, before dawn, the servant who had helped him smuggle the statue into his house had confessed to the village about the theft.
The dream had hardly faded from Konangi’s mind when he saw the villagers gathered in front of his house. He trembled. He was afraid now because what was in front of him was not a cattle of men.
It was a people’s union.
Selected by Mini Krishnan
Reproduced courtesy of Bloomsbury India
Illustrations by Siddharth Sengupta