Khona - Remembering A Legend [Explored]
Khona (ক্ষনা / খনা) lives on as a mystery in folktales and legends of eastern India and in the curious brick structure that bears her name. Who was she really? History is mute about her story. Her fame in folklore is linked to some verses she is thought to have coined. These verses (popularly known as “Khona’s sayings”- খনার বচন) are mainly to do with weather forecasts and agricultural advice: what sort of weather is good for crops and when should a certain crop be sowed, and so on. There are also some verses dealing with astrology.
There are many versions of her legend. The common theme is that the famous mathematician, scholar Varahamihira from Ujjain had a son, and he was horrified by the horoscope he had cast for the newborn. He thought his son would die within a year, and abandoned the child inside a vessel and let it flow with the river. The child was rescued and brought up in a distant land by demons, and named Mihir. Kalhan’s Rajtarangini referred to Gauda, the then Bengal, as the kingdom of demons. Mihir later married a brilliant woman (Khona), and they travelled together to Ujjain to face his father. In the royal court, Mihir’s wife defeated Varaha in a debate. She exposed and ridiculed his mistakes in public. Unable to bear the shame, Varaha ordered his son to cut his wife’s tongue.
The ruins that bear her name (traditionally, the 'Mound of Khona-Mihir') lie about 40 km northeast of Kolkata, at a place called Berachampa near the town of Barasat. These ruins have not yet been excavated and studied well. There have been some excavations in this area in 1950s, and historians think that the story of the place dates back to as early as the third century BC, judging from the Roman and Mediterranean coins found here. Archaeologists have also found artefacts from ancient times to the Maurya and the Gupta period.
The bewildering mix of these folk verses, the peculiar legend of her rivalry with Varahamihira and the torture, and the curious ruin in Berachampa makes one wonder about it all. Was she simply an astrologer who had different ideas about horoscopes, or is there more to the story? Was the structure in Barasat something other than just a “temple” — an observatory, perhaps? Did she find something unpalatable to the medieval scholars like Varahamihira who lived in the last years of the Gupta age? But shall we ever find out who Khona really was? Or, will her identity remain mute and tongueless forever?
Excerpts from: Khona’s tongue by Biman Nath
Images of Bengal, India
Explored #79 August 15, 2011