Today we’ll dive into the story of Utanka. A story that takes us on a journey that both explores realms of the self as well as shedding some light on the practice of Kundalini yoga. In Kundalini yoga, it is said that our primordial energy lies in the form of a snake, wrapped three and a half times around a lingam at the base of the spine. The lingam is the symbol of the masculine, the serpent: the feminine. But that goddess, that energy, Kundalini, is said to be asleep. To be dormant waiting to be awoken….
Once upon a time, in an ancient Kingdom in India, there lived a great teacher known as Veda. Utanka was the principle student of Veda and one day, Veda travelled far off to participate in a special sacrifice. He instructed Utanka to take care of his house while he was away.
“I will be gone for quite some time, Utanka. I’d ask that you take care of all the needs of the household. If my wife need something done, I expect you to do it.”
“Of course, master.” He replies.
But it just so happened that while Veda was gone, his wife was began her menstrual period. The ladies of the house came to Utanka and say, “Hey, you’re supposed to do the duties of the master of his house. The signs are all there, the time has come, this is an important fruitful and potent time. You must do the appropriate duty of the master of he house.”
Basically, they are telling Utanka that he needs to sleep with Veda’s wife. Now… Veda DID tell Utanka to take care of the needs of the house and to do whatever his wife needs… So in one respect, I mean… this kind of falls under that heading. Taken at face value, Utanka was given permission to sleep with Veda’s wife.
But Utanka recognizes that to do so would be improper. He discerns. He uses his intellect. He realizes that yes, he was told to take care of the needs of the house and of Veda’s wife, but surely he did not mean this.
So Utanka, of course, doesn’t sleep with Veda’s wife.
When Veda eventually returns home, he’s extremely pleased. He tell’s Utanka, “You have served me faithfully. You have been an amazing student, and you have learned all that you need to learn from me. Your education is complete. You are now free to go off into the world as a wise man.”
Utanka was so greatfull for the teachings he received from Veda he wanted to offer him guru dhakshina. In India, students are expected to in some way or another pay their guru. Perhaps not with money, but with something that shows and honors the energetic exchange.
Veda had no desire for material things, so he told Utanka to go ask his wife if there was anything Utanka could do for her. Utanka did as he was instructed, and Veda’s wife asked Utanka to go to the Kings Palace. To find the queen of the realm, ask her for her earrings, and to bring them back within four days.
Let’s pause briefly and look at some possible mythic explanations as to what is happening here. If we look at this in terms of the hero’s journey… Utanka, he has his first mentor, he’s faced a big trial, and he’s succeeded. But he must continue on his journey. To succeed in life, to fulfill his destiny and to succeed in life, he needs to quest for the boon of the feminine. His first task was actually one of inaction. DON’T do that thing. To make the right choice he had to NOT do something.
In Patanjai’s Raja Yoga we have the yamas and niyamas. Essentially, don’t do these things, and do these other things. So here we have an example of not doing something, in essence, of nonaction. But Utanka still needs the task of action. His journey continues with having to actually DO something.
Why is this relevant? Well, for the yogi, or anyone chosing to live a spiritual life, it’s easy to choose th path of inaction. Well, the world is messed up, but I will stick to my principles and not get involved. I’m not going to dirty my hands with things. But I’m happy to sit on an ethical high horse and choose to abstain from actions that might challenge me, that might put me in unfamiliar and difficult situations. I can sit in my cave, my room, on facebook. Completely apathetic to what’s going on in the world, and put as little action into the world as possible.
Well, sure. That’s possible. But here we have the hero willing to do more. To get involved. To quest for the boon of the feminine, of the world. To go out into the world to experience the things it has to offer.
Off Utanka goes! On the way to the Kings palace, Utanka sees a giant bull with a large man riding on top of it. The man on the bull tell’s Utanka that he must eat the dung of the bull. Eat the bulls POOP. Now I don’t know about you, but if I’m walking down the street and a stranger asks me to eat poop, I’m pretty confident I’m not gonna do it…
I’m sure Utanka had the same feelings at first. But the large man informed Utanka that his master, Veda, had also once come this way and eaten the dung.
Damnit! If my master did it… maybe there is something to it – he thought. And he does, he eats the poop!
Another good moment to pause. I mean… now we are eating POOP on the story? Let’s first realize that the bull is very much associate with Shiva. Shiva represents radical transformation. The bull here, represents dharma. Your path in life, duty. Doing what you were put on this earth to do. The dung, the poop, represents wisdom, knowledge. So quite literally what this is saying is that wisdom comes from dharma. Live your dharma and you’ll gain wisdom. Your hero’s journey will give you wisdom. And that wisdom will protect from the misuse of power. We’ll dive into that soon. But power is often represented by serpents. And we’ll see how that fills into the story…
Utanka finally reaches the palace and meets the king. He asks the king to donate his queen’s earrings. And the king tells him to go into the queen’s chamber and ask her himself. But when Utanka went to the queen’s chamber, he couldn’t find her. So he goes back to the king and accuses him of playing a trick on him. The king assures him she is there, but only the pure are able to see her. He tells Utanka to do the prescribed purification rituals, and to go back to her chamber.
So Utanka does the rituals, goes back into the queen’s chamber and she’s there.
There is a wonderful parallel here with this story and stories from medieval Europe and the quest for the holy grain. Only those who are innocent and pure could ever find the Grail Castle. This treasure of the grail can only be seen by those who are truly pure of heart. Utanka can’t see the queen until he has demonstrated his purity.
“I know why you are here,” she tells him. “You may have these earrings. But be warned. Takshaka, the king of the serpents, has wanted these earrings for a long time. Be careful, because he will likely try to get them from you on your journey.”
Utanka thanks the queen and promises to take good care of the earrings, and he heads back to the King’s throne room. The king welcomes him and offers him a meal before he goes.
The meal though… it was kind of nasty. It was cold. Utanka found a hair in food. It was unclean, to say the last. Utanka kinda loses it here. He yells at the king and curses him, “You have given unclean food to a holyman, may you lose your sight!”
So, with Utanka getting pissed at him, The King gets pissed right back. “How dare your accuse me of feeding you unclean food,” he says. “I curse you right back! May you be barren and never able to father children!”
So things are getting a little out of control, like a thread on Facebook, so Utanka asks the king if he will simply look at the food he offered Utanka.
There is an exchange back and forth. The Kind realizes the food was a little nasty. Some hair had dropped in it, maybe a toe nail clipping or something. The king apologizes, and asks Utanka to rescind his curse. He says he can’t take back a curse once it’s uttered, but he’ll modify it so that the king will gain his sight back again. The king however, won’t change his curse on Utanka. He tells him he’s still pissed that he accused him in the first place, to which Utanka replies and says, “Ya know what? I was in my truth. I was on solid ground. The food was unclean. So I have faith that your curse will not affect me.”
So… we see here that after Utanka receives a boon from the femine, from life, the earrings, he fails in his first trial afterwards. Life offers him something again, a meal. But he rejects and he gets pissed off. Sure, factually speaking the food was cold, unclean, had some hairs in it, but no need for a holy man to go waving around curses because of it. So he adjusts his attitude and in essence fixes the curse.
Can we, even when we feel like we are factually correct, make a choice not to cause harm to others? Can we put our ego aside, and accept what life is offering us? Perhaps that’s what is going on here.
So now, Utanka heads back to his gurus house. One his way, he notices a beggar following him. Sometimes he’s nearby, sometimes he can’t see him… but he notices the presence… Utanka gets thirsty, as one might expect, walking on a hot day in India. And he stopped for a drink of water. He puts the earings down on the bank of a river, and steps in to cool off and get a drink.
In that moment, the beggar, who is actually Takshaka, the serpent king, takes on his true snake form, grabs the earrings, and dives into a hole in the earth down to his underground kingdom.
Utanka sees this, and runs over to follow him. The hole behind Takshaka was closed, so Utanka grabs a stick and starts digging. He’s digging away! He’s putting his whole effort into it. But He’s not making a lot of progress, so the god Indra, witnessing this scene, decides to add the power of his Vajra, his thunderbolt, to Utanka’s stick, and he’s able to create a hole to take him to the underworld.
Ok… so water… the underworld. These all tend to be clear symbols of moving into the realm of the subconscious. Utanka kind of failed his first little test after the boom of the feminine, and now he has to go to the source to understand why. He has to go deep inside his subconscious to find the truth that lies within him. When he puts his whole effort into it.
Indra tends to represent the governing force of our mind, body and senses. SO when we commit to something, we are supported by this greater force. This cohesive, synergistic force that amplifies our focus and intensity, and helps us to attain our goal.
Now, as Utanka is making his way further into the underworld, he comes across a few scenes.
He sees two women, weaving black and white thread in a loom.
He sees six boys turning a wheel with 12 spokes.
And he eventually comes to a man in black riding an enormous horse.
For Utanka, seeing these things, it is said that he realized that he was now in the world of magic.
So he begins to recite a powerful mantra.
Hearing the mantra, the man on the horse, asks Utanka what he wants.
Utanka describes the situation, says he needs to get these earrings back and wants control over the serpents.
The rider on the horse tells him to blow into his horse. Kinda strange, some random dude asking you to blow into horse. But Utanka does it. And as soon as he sends his breath into the body of the horse, the horse begins to emit fire from every possible opening of the horse. The flames rage through the underground city of the serpents, and Takshaka, afraid that the entire realm of serpents would be destroyed, comes out of hiding, and offers back the earrings that he stole.
By this time, however, a lot of time has gone by, and it’s almost the forth day, the day that Utanka needed to be back to fulfill his quest. But he was still far away from his guru’s home. The rider on the horse told Utanka that he could use his horse and that it would carry him swiftly back to his guru’s home.
So Utanka jumps on the horse, and it takes him back to his guru where he recounts his journey.
His guru helps to bring it all together for him. To help clarify the experience for Utanka.
He first explains that the bull he met, and the dung he ate, allowed him to get into the underworld. Protected him. The wisdom that he gained (aka the poop) from following his dharma (the bull) gave him the protection he needed to dive into the realms of the subconscious.
He explains that the two women weaving are fate, their names are Dhata and Vidhata. The loom they are weaving is time, and the black and white threads represent night and day.
The six boys, burning the wheel with 12 spokes represent the 12 lunar months of the year and the six seasons. In north American, we generally have what we consider to be 4 seasons (sometimes five), but here in India, they consider six: Spring, Summer, Monsoon, Autumn, Prewinter and Winter.
And the man in black was actually the God of Rain, and the horse was Angi the god of fire.
So here we have time represented. Day and Night. The seasons. The container of human life going on.
A lot of people are familiar with the Hatha. Ha-tha, which among other meanings, means Sun and Moon. Fire and Water. This is also represented in Ida and Pingala, two energetic pathways that criss cross up the spine eventually merging with shushumna, the primary energy channel along the spine. This is esoteric yoga. This is kundalini yoga.
And interestingly, Kundala is sankrit for earring. The goddess Kundalini is the serpent at the base of the spine, at the base of shushumna.
The horse here is fire. That fire is pranayama. But what is governing that fire? The rider of the horse, the god of rain. So fire is balanced with water. Masculine is balanced with feminine.
Takshaka represents vile thoughts and energy. And it’s often these vile thoughts, these destructive thoughts that steal away the gift of the world. The gift of the femine. This energy that the earrings represent, the very jewel of the feminine, of life, gets stolen by vile thoughts. You wont be able to enjoy the experience of life if you are constantly consumed by vile thinking. Feeding all of your negative thoughts.
So what can we do? Well, we have to dive into ourselves. We can utilize practices of pranayama. Utanka uses the breath, utilizing the energies of fire and water, hot and cold, to draw the serpents out. The serpents are our power, our energy! But most importantly, he draws out Takshaka, the vile thoughts, the vile energies, and gets back his life force. His Kundala.
All of this is happening in the realm of the subconscious. If we are not conscious, not awake, then fate playes itself out in this realm. Energy, aka the snakes, at play underneath the surface.
Fire stimulates the snakes to come out of hiding. It kicks up the energy, all kinds of energy. But it’s the rider, the rain, water, and its ability to subdue the fire that brings this energy into some sort of control and balance.
SO this is why so many equate this story with Kundalini yoga. There are elements moving through here that run along side the practices and ideas of Kundalni yoga. And of course I am talking about kundalini yoga the practice, not Kundalini yoga the brand solely coming from Yogi Bhajan. The Kundalini that many in the west are familiar with, people wearing white and turbans, has taken on the name of Kundalni yoga, but doesn’t necessary represent the vast scope of the practice that existed well before Yogi Bhajan came along. Just to be clear with that.
Ok! So here we are. Recognizing the things in life that wouldn’t benefit us, and abstaining from doing them. We see the necessity of following your dharma, your path in life, and not just sitting around on your butt waiting for life to come to you. We recognize that the BOONS of life come from that journey. Utanka didn’t get the boon sitting at home at the feet of his guru. He quested for it. He went out into the world. But he also had to dive inside himself. There were practices involved, mantras, pranayama, and so forth, that allowed him to tame to vile elements within himself, and to head back into the world with the treasure of life, the boon of the feminine.
Listen to the story here: