Part II The Birth, Life and Death of Lingo (4)

The description of Lingo playing on his guitar up in a tree (the two-stringed guitar is a favourite instrument with Gonds), while the giant and his wife dance (dancing is a passion with the Gonds and other aborigines of India), is most grotesque and amusing. As a result of his visit he takes away with him the giant’s seven daughters to wed with the four Gonds. He said, “I will show you something; see if anywhere in your waistbands there is a flint; if so, take it out and make fire.” Then they took out pieces of flint and began to make fire. But the matches did not ignite. As they were doing this, a watch of the night passed. They threw down the matches, and said to Lingo, “Thou art a saint; show us where our fire is, and why it does not come out.” Lingo said, “ Three koss (six miles) hence is Rikad Gawadi the giant. There is fire in his field; where smoke shall appear, go there. Come not back without bringing fire.” Thus said Lingo.

They said, “We have never seen the place, where shall we go? Ye have never seen where this fire is?” Lingo said; I will discharge an arrow thither. Go in the direction of the arrow; there you will get fire.” He applied the arrow, and having pulled the bow, he discharged one; it crashed on, breaking twigs, making its passage clear. Having cut through the high grass, it made its way and reached the old man’s place. The arrow dropped close to the fire of the old man, who had daughters. The arrow was near the door. As soon as they saw it, the daughters came and took it up. And kept it. They asked their father, “When will you give us in marriage ? ” Thus said the seven sisters, the daughters of the old man. “I will marry you as I think best for you; remain as you are,” so said the old man, the Rikad Gawadi. Lingo said, “Hear, O brethren! I shot an arrow; it made its way. Go there, and you will see fire; bring thence the fire.” Each said to the other, “I will not go,” but at last the youngest went. He descried the fire, and went to it; then beheld he an old man looking like the trunk of a tree.

He saw afar the old man’s field, around which a hedge was made.  The old man kept only one way to it, and fastened a screen to the entrance, and had a fire in the centre of the field. He placed logs of the Mahua and Anjan and Saj trees on the fire. Teak faggots he gathered, and enkindled flame. The fire blazed up, and, warmed by the heat of it, in deep sleep lay the Rikad Gawadi. Thus the old man like a giant did appear. When the young Gond beheld him, he shivered; his heart leaped; and he was much afraid in his mind, and said: “If the old man were to rise he will see me, and I shall be eaten up; I will steal away the fire, and carry it off, then my life will be safe.” He went near the fire secretly, and took a brand of Tembhur wood tree. When he was lifting it up a spark flew and fell on the hip of the old man. That spark was as large as a pot: the giant was blistered; he awoke alarmed.

And said, “I am hungry, and I cannot get food to eat anywhere; I feel a desire for flesh; like a tender cucumber hast thou come to me.” So said the old man to the Gond, who began to fly. The old man followed him. The Gond then threw away the brand which he had stolen. He ran onward and was not caught. Then the old man, being tired, turned back. Thence he turned to his field, and came near the fire, sat, and said, “What nonsense is this? A tender prey had come within my reach; I said I will cut it up as soon as I can, but it escaped from my hand! Let it go! It will come again, then I will catch it. It is gone now.” Then what happened? The Gond returned and came to his brethren. And said to them, “Hear, O brethren! I went for fire, as you sent me, to that field; I beheld an old man like a giant. With hands stretched out and feet lifted up, I ran. I thus survived with difficulty.” The brethren said to Lingo, “We will not go.”

Lingo said, “Sit ye here. O brethren, what sort of a person is this giant. I will go and see him.” So saying, Lingo went away and reached a river. He thence arose and went onward. As he looked, he saw in front three gourds. Then he saw a bamboo stick, which he took up. When the river was flooded. It washed away a gourd tree, and its seed fell, and each stem produced bottle gourds. He inserted a bamboo stick in the hollow of the gourd, and made a guitar. He plucked two hairs from his head, and strung it. He held a bow, and fixed eleven keys to that one stick, and played on it. Lingo was much pleased in his mind. Holding it in his hand, he walked in the direction of the old man’s field. He approached the fire where Rikad Gawadi was sleeping. The giant seemed like a log lying close to the fire: his teeth were hideously visible; his mouth was gaping. Lingo looked at the old man, while sleeping. His eyes were shut. Lingo said, “This is not good time to carry the old man off, while he is asleep.”

In front he looked, and turned round and saw a tree of the Peepul sort standing erect; he beheld its branches with wonder, and looked for a fit place to mount upon. It appeared a very good tree; so he climbed it, and ascended to the top of it, to sit. As he sat, the cock crew. Lingo said, “It is daybreak; meanwhile the old man must be rising.” Therefore Lingo took the guitar in his hand. And held it; he gave a stroke, and it sounded well; from it he drew one hundred tunes. It sounded well, as if he was singing with his voice. Thus, as it were, a song was heard. Trees and hills were silent at its sound. The music loudly entered into the old man’s ears; he rose in haste, and sat up quickly; lifted up his eyes and desired to hear more. He looked hither and thither, but could not make out whence the sound came. The old man said, “Whence has a creature come here to-day to sing like the Myna bird?”

He saw a tree, but nothing appeared to him as he looked underneath it. He did not look up; he looked at the thickets and ravines. But saw nothing. He came to the road, and near to the fire, in the midst of the field, and stood. Sometimes sitting and sometimes standing, jumping and rolling he began to dance. The music sounded as the day dawned. His old woman came out in the morning, and began to look out. She heard in the direction of the field a melodious music playing. When she arrived near the hedge of her field, she heard music in her ears. The old woman called her husband to her. With stretched hands and lifted feet, and with his neck bent down, he danced. Thus he danced. The old woman looked towards her husband, and said, “My old man, my husband. “Surely that music is very melodious. I will dance,” said the old woman. Having made the fold of her dress loose, she quickly began to dance near the hedge.

Lingo said in his mind, “I am a devout Lingo; God’s servant am I. I wear my dhotee (cloth round the loins) down to my heels, and keep a knot of hair on my head, and on the navel a diamond, and to my forehead a sacred mark. “Water may possess a stain, but I have none. I am Lingo. I will make the old man and woman to dance the Gond dance. I will sing a song, and cause them to dance, if I be Lingo.” Lingo worshipped his god, and invoked Budhal Pen, Adul Pen, the sixteen satika (goddesses) and eighteen flags, Manko Rayetal, Jango Rayetal, and Pharsa Pen, and said, “Salutation to you gods!” He, holding his guitar in his hand, sang various tunes. “Is my guitar an allurement to them?” So said Lingo. He stopped the guitar. From on high he saluted the uncle, Rikad Gawadi, the old man; who looked towards the top of the tree, and said, “Salutation to you, O nephew. Well hast thou deceived me, and caused us to dance, whither hast thou come, nephew?”

Lingo going to the old man, held his hand, and said, “Uncle, salutation to you!” They met together: nephew became known to the uncle, and the uncle to the nephew. After the meeting was over, the nephew held the uncle’s hand. They both came near the fire and sat. “O nephew, whence hast thou come?” asked the uncle. “I have killed sixteen scores of deer; we want to roast their liver to eat. “We were trying to make fire fall from the flint, but fire fell not. You possess fire in your field, therefore I discharged an arrow. It came near your fire. It arose and fell at the door of your daughters. The daughters have lifted it up and carried it away. Have you no sense, uncle? I sent my brother to fetch fire, and you ran to eat him. If you had caught him you would have eaten him up; and where should I have seen him again?’’

The uncle said, “I made a mistake, 0 nephew, the thing that I did is past.” He replied, “O uncle, I have killed sixteen scores of deer! Go and eat their flesh as much as you like.” Thus said Lingo. Then the old man said, “Hear, O nephew, my word. There are seven sisters, my daughters; I have them here. Take them away, having first bound their eyes.” Lingo then arose, and stood before the uncle and said, “I am going, uncle. Receive my salutation.” Lingo thence went by the way to the house, where the old man’s daughters were. Having arrived, he stood at the door. Lingo appeared a youth of twelve years. Or as sixteen years old ; in front he looked foppish, like a young man; from behind he looked like a devout Brahman. He appeared as a good man. The seven sisters from within the house came to Lingo, and regarded him as a young man. They came out and stood before Lingo.

Note: Excerpt from ‘Story of Gondwana’ by the Right Reverand Eyre Chatterton (Bishop of Nagpur).

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is based on an engraving known as ‘A Strolling Minstrel at Madras Playing the Tingadee’ (1876) appearing in Illustrated News London. Stringed instruments have been very popular in South Asia. Even tribal communities developed their own stringed instruments, such as the Dhodro Banam of the Santhals or the Kikir of the Gonds.