Satyakaama Jaabaala story in WARLI style

One of my recent paintings which I completed around Christmas this year. This was for a nice little house tucked away in a lush green belt on the country side. This painting is the depiction of episodes of a story from the Upanishads.


The painting has a number of sectors, 12 sectors and over 150 characters. There is a little story that the painting portrays.


This is a story from the Chaandogya Upanishad, a part of Saama Veda. This story has been interpreted in a number of ways by many people. It is the story of a young boy with a humble background, who by his shear efforts and honesty grew to become one of biggest sages of the Vedic times.


Once there was a woman by the name Jabaala. She was a woman who was once a slave (or probably a prostitute). She was a single mother and had a son whose name was Satyakaama.

In the olden days it was a custom that a boy who reached the age of 7-8 years would go to school. These schools were residential schools setup by a group of teachers outside the city limits, in the forests. The students were supposed to live in these schools with their teachers for at least 12 years (or more) and learn not only whatever the teachers taught them, but also help the teachers in the day to day chores of the school.

It was also a custom in those days, that one would normally follow the same profession as his father after schooling. A Brahmin boy would continue Brahminical profession, a Kshatriya would continue as a king or a soldier, a Vaishya would continue as a farmer and so on. Accordingly, the teachers in the school would teach the students whatever skills the students needed in order to continue their family profession.

When Satyakaama turned 7, he wanted to join some school. So he told his mother of his intention and asked her.

Satyakaama: “Mother, I want to join the school. What caste (family profession) do I belong to?.”

Jabaala: “My son, I don’t know who your father is. When I was young, I served several people and in those days you were born to me. But I really don’t know who among them was your father. But what is certain is that you are my son. You can call yourself Satyakaama Jaabaala.”

With this reply from his mother, Satyakaama went to some school.

Satyakaama approached the head of that school, who was a great sage. He told the head about his desire to study.

Satyakaama: “Master, I want to study. Can I join your school?”

Teacher: “Why not my dear, but what caste do you belong to ?”

Satyakaama: “Sir, I really don’t know who my father is. I asked my mother. She too didn’t know. What she told me is that I was born to her when she was serving several people. My mother’s name is Jaabaala and so, I am Satyakaama Jaabaala.”

Teacher: “My dear child, you have spoken the truth. A non Brahmin would not have spoken this truth so fearlessly. So you are definitely born to a Brahmin. I will accept you as the son of a Brahmin and conduct the thread ceremony to you, so that you can join my school as a Brahmin boy.”

So saying, the great sage conducted the thread ceremony to Satyakaama.

But the sage did not teach him anything. Instead, he showed him a herd of 400 cattle, each of which were very weak and suffering. He asked Satyakaama to follow the cattle wherever they grazed and return back with them when they multiplied to 1000 in number.

Satyakaama left the teacher’s place, following the cattle wherever they went. He roamed around with them for more than a year in the forests.

Finally, when they became 1000 in number, one of the bulls in the herd came to Satyakaama and started to speak to him.

Bull: “Satyakaama, we have now become 1000 in number and you can return to the teacher. But before you do that, I will teach you one prominent aspect of the Brahma (the all pervading God of the Upanishads).”

Satyakaama: “Please teach me Sir.”

Bull: “The Brahma is the light that pervades all directions.”

Satyakaama: “I understood Sir.”

After learning his first lesson from the bull, Satyakaama started returning to his school. On the way back, one night he stopped at one place, lit a fire and sat in front of it. The fire started to speak to him.

Fire: “Satyakaama, I will teach you one more aspect of Brahma.”

Satyakaama: “Please do Sir.”

Fire: “This earth, the entire galaxy, the world beyond are all aspects of the same Brahma.”

Satyakaama: “I understood Sir.”

Satyakaama carried on with his journey. One night a swan flew to him.

Swan: “Satyakaama, I will teach you another aspect of Brahma.”

Satyakaama: “Please Sir.”

Swan: “The energy in the fire, sun, moon, stars and the lightening are all from Brahma.”

Satyakaama: “I understood Sir.”

On one more night, a strange bird approached Satyakaama and told him that it would teach him one more aspect of Brahma.

Bird: “The life force in each living being, the power that drives its sense organs, its mind are all Brahma.”

Satyakaama: “I understood master.”

So, on his return journey, four different beings – bull, fire, swan and bird – each explained to Satyakaama one aspect of Brahma. Satyakaama finally reached his school, accompanied by the herd of cattle.

When he went to his teacher, his teacher was amazed to see him.

Teacher: “Satyakaama, I see some aura around your head, as if you have already attained the knowledge about the Brahma. Did anyone teach you about Brahma?.”

Satyakaama: “No master, no human being taught me anything. I have heard that the knowledge about Brahma should be learnt only from a proper teacher. So, please teach me about it.”

Then the teacher taught Satyakaama about the Brahma. But whatever the teacher taught was no different from what Satyakaama had already learnt from the bull, fire, swan and the bird.

A similar description of the Brahman is given in the well known Purush Sooktha of Rigveda, where he is described symbolically as the one with thousand heads, thousand hands, thousand legs and so on. He is supposed to pervade the entire universe and he is even beyond the universe.

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