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In the shadow of the Sun

A tale of Mithra, the great giver of light
In conversation with mythologist and storyteller Seema Anand, who relates the tale of Mithra, the Sun God, whose sheer brilliance drives his wife to the dark respite of the forests.

by Mrinalini GhadiokPublished on : Nov 15, 2019

Mithra fervidly blazed through the open heavens on his gleaming golden chariot drawn by seven strapping thoroughbred stallions. Echoing his daily ritual, the friend God who brings light, also known as Surya, was loved, admired and awaited by all. Well, almost all. Mithra’s long wedded wife, the exquisite Sanjana was rather an exception. She had had a trying life with the ever-luminescent Mithra. His light had always been so bright, scorching its way through time, and ailing her with an incessant headache. Sanjana could never lay her eyes directly on her beloved, for he stood dazzling aflame. Squinting at his magnificence had caused the charming damsel much distress, carving wrinkles into the soft skin at the corners of her eyes.

The other Goddesses even sneered at her.

It had not been an easy life for Sanjana with the Great Giver of Light. She would have eluded his side long ago, but for the dilemma she faced – where could she hide; did there exist a place where the Sun could not reach? His light was ever pervasive, an omnipresence that could not be averted. After years of protracted thought, an idea dawned upon Sanjana. She realised that Mithra was so ensconced in his own light, and enamoured by his own effulgence that he would barely notice if another woman was to take place of his wife beside him. Now the challenge that faced the Goddess was to find a suitable woman who would agree to live an invisible life in the glare of the sun, without an identity, and unnoticed to the point of non-existence.

Not having to search too far, or look too wide, Sanjana found Chhaya, the Goddess of Shadows. Chhaya had lived her life in the darkness of oblivion, and dingy corners of nihility. She yearned for the attention of the lucid heavens, craved to experience the brightest throne, and could not care two pence for what it was worth.

Leaving Chhaya enthroned beside the majestic Mithra, Sanjana transformed herself into a mare and gratefully galloped into the welcoming shade of the leafy forests, the only place where even the mighty Sun was humbled and had to seek permission to merely peek through the thick foliage, his compelling light reduced to tiny dappled dots that lay delicately on the forest bed.

Sanjana’s plan saw fruition; for what in human terms would have been a few lifetimes, Mithra was completely unaware of the fact that he shared his quarters with a woman other than his betrothed. However, when he did open his eyes to reality, the Sun God once again blazed through the heavens, but this time in search of his pledged love. It took him no time to locate the rested mare, curled in tranquility in the depths of the somber forests. While Sanjana had become accustomed to the shady relief of verdant topiary, Mithra’s resolve to return with his wife was indomitable.

The world was plunged into darkness, and many wondered if this would mark the end of all existence. Thankfully, there was one who came to the rescue; a tall burly man with muscles of steel and hands of magic. He was none other than Vishwakarma, the blacksmiths of the Gods, and Sanjana’s father. Known to have fashioned the heavens in the giant swirling fires of his forge, on this day he offered to carve away an eight of the Sun’s energy as respite to his daughter’s plight.

While the proposition mitigated Sanjana’s concerns, and Mithra was elated to escort his wife back to their heavenly abode, a disquieting thought plagued the tenacious craftsman. The extraneous energy dissevered from the searing Sun was too volatile to contain and inconceivably forbidding to handle. Creation was once again at the risk of annihilation, when Vishwakarma declared that he would use the Sun’s surfeit fires to mould weapons for the other Gods. And so he crafted Krishna’s chakra, Shiva’s trishul and Durga’s sword to reclaim the world.

The heavens once again glistened in the radiance of the mighty Mithra, as Sanjana took her position beside him as the entrancing Goddess. And although Chhaya was relegated to the crepuscular forests, her distinction was forever engraved in the minds and lives of the supreme Gods.

The mighty Mithra hurls his brilliance, showering the earth with radiance

But all his might falls severely ineffectual, until it faces a presence

Daylight flirts with shadows in an enchanting waltz around space. While some capture this frolic to contain it within their walls, others construct a stage to abet the cavorting lovers to celebrate their amorous romance. While architecture has been created in response to the sun that traverses the sky, it also captures its invincible splendor to sketch an enduring encounter inside. The following is a careful curation of spaces, structures and experiences that exemplify this precarious affair between light and its very own shadow.

The light of day has forever sought a surface to reflect its brightness

Casting a shadow in its wake, the mighty mirrors itself in lightlessness

(The article was first published in Issue #7 of mondo*arc india journal – an initiative by STIR.)

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