This painting was made sometime in the late ‘eighties of the last century. It was sometimes called “The Hunter under the Bell tree”, sometimes called “The Story of Mahashivratri”. It was loved by all Indian visitors to Mumbiram’s mandai atelier.
Mumbiram’s artworks always show people. In fact Artist Mumbiram’s Rasa Renaissance originates in his early ‘Personalism’. People have always been the domain of his works, especially the graceful charcoals of rasik moments that show people of all walks of life.
In the “Hunter under the Bell Tree” the artist has depicted a scene, which could be in many places in India. The landscape of hills and fields in the background has been captured in all its sweetness and simplicity. This artwork shows again the artist’s sensitive distribution of detail and colour.
A herd of deer have appeared at the pond under a Tree. There is a Shiva Lingam in the pond and Lotuses are blooming in the water. The deer are peacefully standing and sitting right next to this man, who is really a hunter. Why are they not running away ?
The hunter has gone down on his knees folding his hands in a prayer. What is happening ?
The tree is a Bell Tree with its typical round fruit. Bell leaves are very dear to Lord Shiva.
Here the artist refers to the story of a hunter and a stock of deer who outdo each other in grace and get rewarded from Lord Shiva himself.
For the auspicious occasion of Mahashivratri here is the story of a hunter and a flock of deer who outdo each other in grace and get rewarded from Lord Shiva himself.
“Lord Shiva’s Mercy upon the faithful hunter and the truthful deer”
In a forest in India there lived a hunter. Every day he would set traps to catch animals and birds which he used to sell on the market. He had a family-he had a wife and children. One day he decided to go to a certain hill, where he had seen a flock of deer running around and resting. From far away he had always noticed that. So he decided to go to that hill and set his traps there on the hillside. There was a tree that had nice leaves and gave a nice shade. It was directly next to a pond. He decided to set his traps near that tree so that he could climb up the tree and wait for the animals to get caught. At about the time of the sun going down, he had set up the trap. As it was getting dark he climbed up the tree and decided to wait. He knew that is the time when many animals go to have a drink of water in that pond.
Soon there appeared a flock of deer, beautiful golden deer. They were very handsome, very good looking. They came running and they got caught in his trap and could not escape. The hunter came down from the tree and said to them, “Haha!” The deer knew that this hunter had set the trap and now he was going to take them to the market and sell them for people to eat them. Then something very unusual happened. These deer spoke in a human voice to the hunter and they said, “Hey hunter man, you have set up this trap and you have caught us. Now you are going to sell us off and we know we are going to die. We don’t really blame you, we don’t think that you are a bad man. You do this because that is how you get your money to buy food and clothes and all the household needs for your family. We also have families. We have little kids, we have our parents, older parents. We keep them back home and we go out looking for food, just like you. And now, you have caught us. But we have one request for you. We think you will understand, because you also have a family, you also have children, you also have a wife and parents that you love very much. We want to go and say goodbye to our families, to our old folks and children. We want to tell them that we didn’t forget them or get lost in the forest or something, but we got caught in a net and we couldn’t help it. We will feel very bad if our children think that their parents forgot them and just went away because they found some nicer place to live, eat and play. We would feel very bad if our children thought like that. So we want to go and tell them that something happened that we couldn´t help and therefore we have to go and leave them.” The hunter wouldn’t have let escape the animals that he had caught. But he was surprised that these deer spoke in a human voice.
This was not ordinary. This was something very unusual, almost magic, a miracle such as only demigods or gods could perform. So he listened to them and thought, ‘Hmm, these are no ordinary deer. They are speaking so reasonably. They are reminding me of my family and they also have families. Why don’t I let them go and say goodbye? But will they come back?’ He said to them, “Oh deer, it’s amazing that you are speaking to me in a human voice but it is more amazing that you are so attached to your family, just as I am to my family. You care for your families as much as I care for my family, I should have thought about that before. You are reminding me of that. I am quite touched. I cannot say more. I allow you to go. But you must promise that you come back. Right now the sun is going down. Promise you will come back here before sunrise. You can spend all night at your families’ and come back in the morning. I will take your promise, because I trust you. Even though I may be foolish to trust. But you are not ordinary deer.” So the deer promised all together, in one voice, “We will be back before sunrise”. Then they ran away.
The hunter decided to spend the night up on the tree so that he was safe from other wild animals. He had his bow and arrow with him and a dagger and a knife. He climbed up the tree and as luck would have it, this was a bell tree.
Bell tree is very dear to Lord Shiva. There was a Shiva Lingam under the Bell tree. The hunter didn’t know, he had not seen it under the tree. While he was up on the tree and spending the night, he wanted to do something to pass time and therefore he was plucking the leaves. The leaves were falling on the Shiva lingam down there. Shiva likes bell leaves decorating his shiva lingam. He was very pleased. All night the hunter spent like that. Plucking leaves to keep awake, letting them drop. Soon it came to be the time when it gets light.
The hunter was wondering, ‘Are the deer really going to come back ? Even if they don’t come, I can understand. I would not have come back if I was in their place. But look there they are.’ Indeed the deer had gotten back to where the hunter was and it was getting light and the sun was about to rise.
The hunter was so touched that he didn’t know what to say to these deer. They were better living entities than many people, who won’t keep promises or don’t think for others. Here these deer could even think about the hunter and his family, somebody who is like their enemy, who is ready to kill them. They kept their promise even at the danger of death.
Lord Shiva appeared from the lingam and said “I am very pleased with both of you. I know this hunter. Without knowing he has worshipped me with bell leaves all night. I know he has a good heart. I know he is hunting only for earning money for his family. If he had any other way, he would be happy. I am also pleased with the deer because they kept their promise and because of their attachment to their families. I am going to turn the bow and arrow of the hunter into gold. Then he can sell it and live with his family for the rest of his life.
The deer I am going to set free. They have the choice to go back to their family or to Vaikuntha or Goloka.”
Then they all sang and danced together. It was a very happy ending.