The Suprising Origin of Umbrellas

4391774298_3f8d473530The origin of the umbrella is shrouded deep in legend. After a long journey of spiritual enlightenment, your correspondent has finally gotten to the bottom of things and shares these findings with you here, lucky readers.

An Ancient Tale

The ancient Shatapatha Brahmana, recorded in Sanskrit, tells the stories of the venerable Rishis, holy sages who crafted hymns to nature and spirit. These sages were immortal and revered the world over for their spirituality and wisdom. Jamadagni was one of the first Rishis. We’ll call him Jama, as in, “one bad mama-jama.”

In his early life, Jama performed severe penance, earning the favor of the gods. The local monarch, impressed by Jama’s yogic prowess, offered his daughter, Renuka, in marriage. She was eight, which was prime engagement age at the time. She was so dedicated to Jama that she could form a pot out of sand and hold it together with just the strength of her love and devotion. In modern terminology, we call that power “The Force.”

Of Arrows and Sunstroke

In addition to being the best yogi in town, Jamadagni was a mean archer. He would practice for hours out in the hot sun, totally exhausting himself. His wife, meanwhile, would run around the fields and collect the arrows she brought (apparently they didn’t have a dog). You can imagine his totally reasonable rage when, one day, it took her waaaay too long to collect the arrows. She was gone for most of the day. How long can it possibly take to go to the end of the field, find the arrows, and bring them back? Not more than an hour or two, for sure. When she finally returned, Jama was justifiably miffed. Renuka, trying to maintain the marital bliss, told her enraged husband that she was exhausted because of the blistering heat of the sun. The exchange probably went something like this:

Jama: Woman, where have you been? I’m sitting here with no arrows and no sandwich and, for the record, the hut is filthy.

Renuka: I’m so sorry for the delay! I was running as fast as I could to get your arrows, but the heat of the sun made me faint and I had to stop to rest!

Jama: Rest? What do you need rest for? All you do is fetch the arrows. I’m the one doing all the hard work of shooting them!

Renuka: You’re right, of course, light of my life, but the sun tires me!

Just an Observation

Meanwhile, a bystander was drawn by the sounds of the happy couple and approached them. He told them he thought this game of fetch-the-arrow looked like a good time and he wanted to watch some more. This really pushed Jama over the edge. He had the makings of the first spectator sport on his hands, but half the team was down for the count. Now, we know Renuka had The Force, but yogis had some pretty sweet powers of their own. Jama decided that he was going to use his to put some arrows into the sun god, Surya, to teach him a lesson for shining so relentlessly.

Jama duly started slinging arrows up into the sky, trying to hit the sun. The stranger remarked that the sun was probably a bit far off, but Jama was confident he could pull it off. He reckoned that at noon the sun would be straight overhead and right in range for a kill shot. He probably didn’t think through the consequences of this ragefest – like an arrow falling straight back down into his face or, even worse, him actually killing the sun god and plunging the world into eternal darkness.

A Gift from Above

The stranger stepped in to stop Jama’s attack on light and warmth, giving him a better way to deal with the sun. He produced a pair of sandals and an umbrella for Renuka so she would be protected from the sun’s heat from both below and above. Imagine her joy – she would be able to run and fetch arrows all day long without fear of sunstroke. Then the stranger revealed himself as an incarnation of Surya himself! Shoes and umbrellas are a gift from the God of the sun to protect us from his rays.

Aftermath

Unfortunately, Renuka’s happy ending didn’t last long. One day, she was taking her sand pot to the river to get some water for Jama. He was probably post-archery parched. While she was there, a prince and some of his wives showed up and started to frisk around in the water. Renuka was immediately extremely attracted to the handsome fellow. Remember, Renuka’s pot-creating power depended on her devotion to her husband, so the pot fell to pieces. That meant she had to return to Jama empty-handed. For the record, this spontaneous little rendezvous makes Jama’s rage about her disappearing while collecting arrows a little more understandable.

Jama was (surprise!) beside himself. He was really thirsty and to top it all off, his wife had a fling with a prince. He was so angry that he ordered their eldest son to behead Renuka in punishment. The son, however, loved his mother and couldn’t come to terms. Jama turned him into stone, which is the ancient equivalent of grounding him. Again, the exchange probably went like this:

Jama: Son, your mother is a harlot. Behead her.

Son: Whoa, Dad. Is that… are you… really? Are you maybe overreacting a little bit?

Jama: I’ve had it up to here with your attitude. Damn teenagers. (Uses yogi powers, turns son to stone.)

He repeated this process with the next three sons, eventually turning them all into stone. Presumably, Renuka was watching this whole process in some distress. Finally, their fifth and youngest son (he was always Jama’s favorite) did his duty and beheaded his mother. His father offered him a reward for his loyalty, and he requested that his mother be brought back to life and his brothers be turned back into people. Jama did what his son asked and Renuka and the first four sons got another chance at life.

A Happy(?) Ending

Renuka is now revered as one of the goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, and we have Jama to thank for the most glorious gifts from the heavens: shoes and umbrellas.

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Molly Bachechi

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