40. The Mother Who Married Her Own Son
Brahma had a daughter. She came of age and stayed at home. Brahma and his wife used to go out every day to create the world and all the things in it. One day the daughter asked: “ Appa, where do you go every day?”
“Daughter dear, I go out to create the world and people. Then I write their future on their foreheads.”
“What do you write, Appa? ”
“Child, you won't understand if I tell you. I write whatever is their fate.”
“Then what is my fate?”
Brahma thought for a while. Should he tell her, or shouldn't he? But the daughter was insistent. She asked him the same question again and again. Brahma yielded at last. He looked at her forehead and said, “Daughter dear, I've written that you will marry your own son, the son of your womb.” Then he went out to work.
Brahma's daughter was horrified, angry. “Can there be such injustice?” she thought. “If I'm here, what Appa has written will come true,” she argued with herself. Then, without telling anyone, she left home and came down to earth. She went to the seven hills and shut herself up in a deserted cave. There she lived in exile, on fruit and vegetables.
One day she was thirsty. She went down the slope of the hill and looked for water. A bull had urinated in a rock pool. Brahma's daughter didn't realize what it was. Thinking it was ordinary water, she drank it, found it a bit salty, and came back to the cave. Because she had drunk a bull's urine, she became pregnant. Months later, she gave birth to a male child.
She was panic-stricken. Her father's word had come true. In her anger, she threw her baby son on a rock, closed her eyes, and pounded him with another rock. She tore off the end piece of her sari, wrapped the baby in it, and threw him down the hillside.
A childless cowherd was grazing his cows in the valley. His eyes lighted on a baby wrapped in a piece of cloth. The baby was badly bruised and crushed in places. The head was bloody. But he was still alive. The cowherd took him home, nursed him, and looked after him. He and his wife, long childless, loved the foundling child and brought him up. He grew up to be a robust young fellow.
Living in the hills for years, Brahma's daughter began to get bored. Fruits and nuts were getting scarce. She came down the hill slopes. She was hungry. She saw a house and went into it for food. The family asked who she was and where she came from. Hearing that she had no one in the world and nowhere to go, they asked her, “Would you like to stay with us?” She felt that it would be nicer to stay in one place with people than to roam here and there. So she agreed to stay. The couple in the house had once found a son at the foot of the hill; now they were delighted to find a girl at their door. They thought, “Here we have a daughter,” and treated her as one. The boy and girl lived well together as sister and brother. Unwittingly, Brahma's daughter had joined her own son.
The foster-son came of age. His parents thought of getting him married. They asked him what his wishes were. He said, “ Appa, my marriage can wait. Get Sister married first.”
The parents had reared them both lovingly, and wanted good marriages for both. They said, “It doesn't matter who gets married first. Whoever gets a good match should marry first. Don't you agree?”
The young man agreed, and so did the young woman.
The parents went to the elders and the astrologers. Wherever they went they had trouble with their son's horoscope. They could find no suitable brides for him. Astrologers said, “The horoscope says that he is destined to marry a girl who lives in his own house.” What could they do? They came home and told the son about what the astrologers said. He was furious.
“I've called her ‘Sister, Sister,’ all my life. I've grown up with her. How can I marry her? I'll go to some other town and ask other experts. Give me fifty rupees,” he said.
He took the money and went with an older man to the big town to consult astrologers. There too they gave him the same message as before. Downcast, his face drawn, the son came home.
“I'll never marry,” he said, and sat down, dejected.
The father and mother were full of worries now. “We have one son. Even this son, we heard him crying in the woods and we found him. We want to see him married before death shuts our eyelids. But he says he'll never get married. What shall we do?”
Then they brought a council of elders from seven villages to talk to their son. The elders counseled: “Look here, you were found in the woods. Your poor parents picked you up because they had no children of their own. This girl too, like you, came from somewhere else and joined this family. How can the two of you be brother and sister? Did you come out of the same womb, or what? We would have agreed that you were brother and sister if you had the same mother. That isn't the case, is it? The astrologers and all the signs say that you two should marry. Would God accept it if we went against the signs? Come now, give your consent to the marriage. Accept this girl, marry her, be happy. Make your parents happy.”
The young man bowed to the elders' wishes. The girl too, who had been saying “No! Never!” all this while, was persuaded by all sorts of ruses. Then the wedding took place. Without their knowledge, mother and son had married each other. And it was a good match. They were harmonious and happy as husband and wife. She soon gave birth to a son.
One day, Brahma's daughter was combing her husband's hair, and looking for lice. She noticed that his scalp was full of scars and scabs of old wounds. She thought dimly of something. She asked him, “Why is your head like this?”
“I don't know. It's always been that way,” he said.
Just then, their foster-father happened to come in and hear their conversation. He told them the whole story of how he had found the baby in the valley. He even went in and brought out the piece of sari that the baby had been wrapped in.
As soon as she saw the end piece of the sari, Brahma's daughter remembered everything. She recognized the sari as her own. She was convinced that her husband was no other than her son. “ Appa's word came true at last!” she cried, beating her breasts in despair.
“I married my own son, a son born from my own womb! How could I? How could I?” she said over and over, and hanged herself with her own sari twisted into a rope, and died.
[AT 931, Oedipus. See also Ramanujan 1983.]