10 February 2012

Judges (ספר שופטים)

The Five Books of
Moses (Torah)
The Eight Books of
the Prophets (Neviim)
The Eleven Books of
the Writings (Kesuvim)

1.      Genesis
6.      Joshua
14.  Psalms
2.      Exodus
7.      Judges
15.  Proverbs
3.      Leviticus
8.      Samuel
16.  Job
4.      Numbers
9.      Kings
17.  Song of Songs
5.      Deuteronomy
10.  Isaiah
18.  Ruth

11.  Jeremiah
19.  Lamentations
12.  Ezekiel
20.  Ecclesiastes
13.  The Twelve (minor prophets) Trei-Assar (1. Hosea, 2. Joel, 3. Amos, 4. Obadiah, 5. Jonah, 6. Micah, 7. Nahum, 8. Habakkuk, 9. Zephaniah, 10. Haggai, 11. Zechariah and 12. Malachi)
21.  Esther
22.  Daniel
23.  Ezra/Nehemia
24.  Chronicles

In the Hebrew Bible Tanak, the Book of Judges is the second book under Neviim (Prophets). As shown in the table above, it is also the seventh book of the Old Testament as well as the Hebrew Bible. The Book of Judges (Tamil: நியாயாதிபதிகள்) contains 618 verses and true to its name, it contains the information on Hebrew prophets who were selected by Lord Yahweh to deliver the Israelites from their sins. Every time the Israelites would go astray breaking the covenant with God, divine retribution would follow and later commandments reinstated through a chosen Judge or prophet.  

Operation Fire-Fox

As a literary work, the Book of Judges does not contain anything of great merit for me to make a significant presentation here. Having said so, the story of Judge Samson, setting the crop fields in Philistine on fire by releasing foxes with their burning tails caught my attention for a different reason. I take this opportunity to describe this episode in detail as it has an interesting parallel in the Indian context of the famous epic Rāmāyana. The story goes that Samson marries one of the daughters of Philistines in spite of her origin amongst uncircumcised Philistines. When Samson did not visit here for a long time, her father gives her to one of Samson’s companion as he thought Samson actually hated her (Judges 15:2). This news gets Samson angry and going; and he decides to punish the Philistines with vengeance with divine help.  Now the relevant passage from the book of Judges (15: 4-5):

‘And Samson went and caught three hundred jackals,
And took firebrands, and turned tail to tail,
And put a firebrand between each set of two tails.’ 

‘And when he had set the brands on fire,
he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines
And burnt up both the shocks, and the standing corn, and also the olive orchards.’

In the Judges, it is Philistines who ask “Who did this?” and in Rāmāyana, Ravan asks the same question to his fellow demons the reason behind the burning of Lanka. Reproduced below the relevant passage from the Tamil Kamba Rāmāyanam:

Biblical references (Judges, 15:6)
Then the Philistines said,=
"Who did this?"
And they said,
"Samson, the son-in-law of the Timnite,
because he took his wife
and gave her to his companion."         

Ravan asks his demons the reason behind the disaster
ஆழித் தேரவன் அரக்கரை அழல் எழ நோக்கி,
ஏழுக்கு ஏழ் என அடுக்கிய உலகங்கள் எரியும்
ஊழிக் காலம் வந்து உற்றதோ? பிறிது வேறு உண்டோ ?
பாழித் தீச் சுட வெந்தது என், நகர்?' எனப் பகர்ந்தான். (38)

Demons reply that the monkey has set the country on fire
கரங்கள் கூப்பினர், தம் கிளை திருவொடும் காணார்,
இரங்குகின்ற வல் அரக்கர் ஈது இயம்பினர்: 'இறையோய்!
தரங்க வேலையின் நெடிய தன் வால் இட்ட தழலால்,
குரங்கு சுட்டது ஈது' என்றலும், இராவணன் கொதித்தான். (39)
(13. இலங்கை எரியூட்டு படலம், சுந்தரகாண்டம்)

In the Sundara Kandam of Rāmāyana contains all the heroic exploits of Hanumān monkey in Lanka. Hanumān, who offers to go as a messenger in search of the abducted Rama’s wife Sita in Lanka, is determined to find the whereabouts of Sita and pass on the good news to Rām. In the process he gets caught by the demons and is presented before the great assembly of Rāvan for spying. 

Reproduced in the following table are some of the relevant passages from the Rāmāyanas in Tamil by poet Kambar, Sanskrit by Vālmiki and in Hindi by poet Tulsi Das. The passages pertain to the three stages of Hanuman’s encounters: (i) Rāvan’s instruction to set Hanumān’s tail on fire, (ii) Rāvan’s demons bandaging the tail, fueling and igniting it, and lastly (iii) the annoyed Hanumān setting Lanka on fire with his burning tail.

Tamil verses from Kamba Rāmāyanam (Rāmāvathārām)
Vālmíkí Rāmāyan in English (5.53 and 54)
Ravan's instruction to torch Hanuman's tail

'நல்லது உரைத்தாய், நம்பி! இவன் நவையே செய்தான் ஆனாலும்,
கொல்லல் பழுதே' - 'போய் அவரைக் கூறிக் கொணர்தி கடிது' என்னா,
தொல்லை வாலை மூலம் அறச் சுட்டு, நகரைச் சூழ்போக்கி,
எல்லை கடக்க விடுமின்கள்' என்றான்; நின்றார் இரைத்து எழுந்தார்.
(112) (12. பிணி வீட்டு படலம் in Sundarakāndam)  

The tail, I fancy, is the part
Most cherished by a monkey's heart. 
Make ready: set his tail aflame,
And let him leave us as he came,
And thus disfigured and disgraced
Back to his king and people haste.'

Hanuman's tail set on fire

வேந்தன் கோயில் வாயிலொடு விரைவில் கடந்து, வெள்ளிடையின்
போந்து, புறம் நின்று இரைக்கின்ற பொறை தீர் மறவர் புறம் சுற்ற,
ஏந்து நெடு வால் கிழி சுற்றி, முற்றும் தோய்த்தார், இழுது எண்ணெய்;
காந்து கடுந் தீக் கொளுத்தினார்; ஆர்த்தார், அண்டம் கடி கலங்க.
(118) (பிணி வீட்டு படலம் in Sundarakāndam)  

The giants heard their monarch's speech;
And, filled with burning fury, each
Brought strips of cotton cloth, and round
The monkey's tail the bandage wound.
As round big tail the bands they drew
His mighty form dilating grew
Vast as the flame that bursts on high
Where trees are old and grass is dry.
Each hand and strip they soaked in oil,
And set on fire the twisted coil.

Now it is Hanuman's turn to set Lanka on fire 
துன்னவர் புரத்தை முற்றும் சுடு தொழில் தொல்லையோனும்,
பன்னின பொருளும், நாண, 'பாதகர் இருக்கை பற்ற,
மன்னனை வாழ்த்தி, பின்னை வயங்கு எரி மடுப்பென்' என்னா,
பொன் நகர் மீதே, தன் போர் வாலினைப் போக விட்டான்
(130) (பிணி வீட்டு படலம் in Sundarakāndam)

Through Lanká's town again he strode,
And viewed each street and square and road,--
Still wreathed about with harmless blaze,
A sun engarlanded with rays.

(Translator: T.H. Griffith)

Burning buildings

கொடியைப் பற்றி, விதானம் கொளுத்தியே,
நெடிய தூணைத் தழுவி, நெடுஞ் சுவர்
முடியச் சுற்றி, முழுதும் முருக்கிற்றால்-
கடிய மா மனைதோறும் கடுங் கனல். (1)

வாசல் இட்ட எரி மணி மாளிகை
மூச முட்டி, முழுதும் முருக்கலால்,-
ஊசலிட்டென ஓடி, உலைந்து உளை
பூசலிட்ட - இயல் புரம் எலாம்.  (2)
(13. இலங்கை எரியூட்டு படலம் in Sundarakāndam)

Reflecting thus, his tail ablaze
As though the cloud lightning plays,
He scaled the palaces and spread
The conflagration where he sped.
From house to house he hurried on,
And the wild flames behind him shone.

The friendly wind conspired to fan
The hungry flames that leapt and ran,
And spreading in their fury caught
The gilded walls with pearls inwrought,
Till each proud palace reeled and fell
As falls a heavenly citadel.

(5:54) (Translator: T.H. Griffith)

Tulsi Rāmāyana (RāmacharitRāmanas) (Canto 5.)
English translations of Tulsi Rāmāyana

दो-कपि कें ममता पूँछ पर सबहि कहउँ समुझाइ।
तेल बोरि पट बाँधि पुनि पावक देहु लगाइ।।24।।

A monkey is deeply attached to its tail: I tell you this secret. Swathe his tail with rags soaked in oil and then set fire on it.

देह बिसाल परम हरुआई। मंदिर तें मंदिर चढ़ धाई।।
जरइ नगर भा लोग बिहाला। झपट लपट बहु कोटि कराला।।

Though enormous in size, Hanumān appeared most nimble bodied; he rushed and sprang from place to place. The city was all ablaze and the people were distraught as many millions of fierce flames leapt up.

ता कर दूत अनल जेहिं सिरिजा। जरा सो तेहि कारन गिरिजा।।
उलटि पलटि लंका सब जारी। कूदि परा पुनि सिंधु मझारी।।

The reason why Hanumān went unscathed, Girija, was that he was the envoy of him who created the fire. Thus he consumed the whole of Lanka from one end to the other and then leapt into the ocean.
(Translator: G.B. Kanungo)

In both the stories, the culprit is only an individual (Rāvan in Rāmāyan and Samson’s father-in-law in Judges), but the punishment is handed over to the entire population of Lankan and Philistines. Men, women, crops and animals suffer at the hands of this onslaught. Asides these similarities, the differences between these stories are obvious:

o   In the Bible, Samson resorts to this operation “fire-fox” because his wife was given to one of his companions by her father. In Rāmāyana, Hanumān’s mission was to help his friend Rāma find his wife who was abducted by Rāvan.
o   In Rāmāyana, Sita is rescued and bonded with Rām, whereas in the story of Samson, his wife and her father get killed by the Philistines.
o   Apart from the fact that a canid is involved the Biblical narration and a primate in the Indian epic, it is Samson who torches the fox’s tail, while in the Rāmāyana, the villain Rāvan’s supporters set Hanumān’s tail on fire.
o   While Hanumān sets the entire Lanka on fire, sparing hardly anything, Samson employs the foxes only to set the croplands on fire.
o   While three hundred foxes or jackals are involved in the Biblical story, it is all one monkey in Rāmāyana.
o   Rāmāyana presents Hanumān with some supernatural powers, while the foxes or jackals in Samson’s story are projected as ordinary wild caught individuals who run wild only because their tails were set on fire. 

What species of canids and primates were these?
Bonnet macaque
Common langur
·         According to the IUCN Red List, four species of canids are reported from the modern day Israel (*). These include two species of foxes of the genus Vulpus (Blanford’s fox and Rueppell’s fox) and two species of the genus Canis (Golden jackal and Gray wolf). The author of the Bible could have meant any of these four species. Since no description of the canid used for torching has been mentioned in the Bible, it is impossible to pinpoint whether the writer of Judges meant the jackal or fox.  As far as the Ramayana is concerned, the popular belief has been that the species of primate is the Common langur (also called the Hanumān langur). However, there is a recent scholarly evidence to indicate that the so called Hanumān and his vānavars that poet Vālmiki presents in Rāmāyan fit the description of the bonnet macaque (Macaca radiata) more than to the common langur (Vivek Menon, pers.com.). This argument, however, has a rider attached to it. Ādi Kavi (first poet) Vālmiki is traditionally considered to be of north Indian origin where the long-tailed bonnet macaques are not found. We have to assume that Vālmiki was aware of this south Indian species when he wrote the work.


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