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Custom and Myth

Page: 32

Now is there any reason to believe that this incident was once part of the myth of Pururavas and Urvasi? Was the fairy-love, Urvasi, originally caught and held by Pururavas among her naked and struggling companions? Though this does not appear to have been much noticed, it seems to follow from a speech of Pururavas in the Vedic dialogue {83b} (x. 95, 8, 9). Mr. Max Müller translates thus: ‘When I, the mortal, threw my arms round those flighty immortals, they trembled away from me like a trembling doe, like horses that kick against the cart.’ {84a} Ludwig’s rendering suits our view—that Pururavas is telling how he first caught Urvasi—still better: ‘When I, the mortal, held converse with the immortals who had laid aside their raiment, like slippery serpents they glided from me, like horses yoked to the car.’ These words would well express the adventure of a lover among the naked flying swan-maidens, an adventure familiar to the Red Men as to Persian legends of the Peris.

To end our comparison of myths like the tale of ‘Cupid and Psyche,’ we find an example among the Zulus. Here {84b} the mystic lover came in when all was dark, and felt the damsel’s face. After certain rites, ‘in the morning he went away, he speaking continually, the girl not seeing him. During all those days he would not allow the girl (sic), when she said she would light a fire. Finally, after a magical ceremony, he said, “Light the fire!” and stood before her revealed, a shining shape.’ This has a curious resemblance to the myth of Cupid and Psyche; but a more curious detail remains. In the Zulu story of Ukcombekcansini, the friends of a bride break a taboo and kill a tabooed animal. Instantly, like Urvasi and her companions in the Yajur Veda, the bride and her maidens disappear and are turned into birds! {84c} They are afterwards surprised in human shape, and the bride is restored to her lover.

Here we conclude, having traced parallels to Cupid and Psyche in many non-Aryan lands. Our theory of the myth does not rest on etymology. We have seen that the most renowned scholars, Max Müller, Kuhn, Roth, all analyse the names Urvasi and Pururavas in different ways, and extract different interpretations. We have found the story where these names were probably never heard of. We interpret it as a tale of the intercourse between mortal men and immortal maids, or between men and metamorphosed animals, as in India and North America. We explain the separation of the lovers as the result of breaking a taboo, or law of etiquette, binding among men and women, as well as between men and fairies.


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