The earth shook a little as she sat up with a start, eyes darting on all sides. Her breasts danced like great temple bells at the evening hour. Vultures napping on surrounding trees took off in a whoosh. She flung a Terminalia arjuna at the universe, aiming at nothing in particular. A stray elephant rumbled deeper into the tall grasses. Tadaka was in a foul mood. How could there be humans in her forest? Who would dare enter the dark fortress of Tadaka, the invincible? It was not possible. But she was sure she had heard them. There was no doubting her extraordinary sense of hearing. She could pick up a wild boar’s footsteps from miles away. Tadaka stood and let out a war cry. The earth shook again. Her frown turned into a greedy smile. It was time for lunch.
Towering above the tallest of trees, Tadaka could spot three figures making their way into her forest. They were clearly rishis, the older one walking behind while the two younger ones cleared the path ahead. Anger rose from the pit of her stomach and reached her throbbing temples. Spite coursed through her veins, taking her back several years. She hated these rishis who pretended to be the up-holders of dharma. What did they know, but prayers and silly rituals? What did they know of the dilemmas of life and the agony of loss? How could someone who lives in isolation from society be given powers to pass judgement? They lived in forests, but advised the greatest of kings on administration. They claimed to be divine souls, but did not think twice before mouthing the deadliest curses. What ever happened to the virtue of mercy? Oh, but how would they know empathy when they had never been in love? How could anyone be truly enlightened without having loved even once? She had loved. And lost. She knew the answer to life. The answer was that it didn’t matter. Because there was no life left in her anymore.
Tadaka had been born as the daughter of Suketu, a formidable yaksha known for his trouble-making. He had performed rigorous penance towards Brahma for a powerful son. Anticipating more trouble if the already strong yaksha were granted a son, the Creator had given him a daughter with the strength of a thousand elephants, trusting the intrinsic benevolence of females. Tadaka grew up to be a beautiful maiden who attracted the eyes of several men, well-learned and all-powerful, yet kind and loving. She lived her life to the fullest, enjoying the simple pleasures of life in the forest, talking to animals and making friends with trees. When it was time for her marriage, the power-hungry Suketu gave her hand to Sunda, a demon chief. Tadaka fell madly in love with her husband. He was strong, fearless, handsome and moved about like a dark cloud that holds thunder within. He was struck by her rare combination of great physical strength and a deep emotional sensitivity. They made passionate love and produced two sons - Mareecha and Subahu, who inherited their mother’s power and father’s looks. The family spent their lives in the wilderness, hunting, eating and drinking to their heart’s content. But one fateful day, driven by intoxication, Sunda had damaged the great Sage Agastya’s ashram and earned his wrath. On seeing the demon wreak havoc, the angry sage had burnt him down to ashes. When news of Sunda’s death reached his wife, she was devastated. For the first time in Tadaka’s life, sadness gripped her. Her chest constricted, she could not breathe. The happy times she had spent with Sunda flashed in front of her eyes. Every nook of the forest brought back a memory. Every bird wailed a funeral song. Every creeper reminded her of his embrace. Tadaka was angry. And for the first time, she realized the full extent of her powers. She wanted to harm the man who had done this to her. Who had left her sons fatherless. She wanted to tear his limbs and toss them to the vultures. Tadaka wanted revenge. She remembered running. Running like the wind towards her villain and watching her sons run ahead of her. She remembered feeling proud of her sons for a fleeting moment, before she saw them disfigure and turn into ugly monsters in front of her eyes. The sage must have cursed them. She lunged forward with greater vigour and met his second curse half-way.
“You will lose all your beauty, you yakshii! You will turn a man-eater, with your form contorted, face distorted and body monstrous”, he said.
Tadaka roared. Lamented. Saw her own body transform into a mountain of flesh. She was consumed by bitterness. She began to hate anything that lived. From a yakshi who had cared about little other than her family, she now became a demoness who wanted to destroy the world. Why did her love have to be taken away so suddenly? So forcefully? For a tiny misjudgment made in drunken stupor? She uprooted trees, gobbled up anything that stood in her way. Why was she being punished when she had not committed a crime? She could never go back to her father now. Her folks would never want a monster to live with. She had been singled out, broken and left with nothing to live for. She took revenge on rishis every day, disrupting their sacrifices with her sons for company. The darkness in her heart flowed out into every living being around her. Trees in her forest spread their thick branches and blocked out the sun. Small animals fled, leaving only wild boars and venomous snakes behind. No flowers bloomed in her forest. Weeds and cobwebs filled almost every corner. Water bodies turned poisonous. The earth burned with heat and cracked open. Her sons moved out and joined other rakshasas, but Tadaka refused to leave her sanctuary. Her hair grew matted, her breath stank of blood and her nails hid piles of dirt. She lived a life of misery, knowing nothing but anger, hate and a greed for revenge. She missed him everyday. She missed being in love. Her forest stood out like a sore thumb in an area of peace and sparkling beauty, showing the world how it felt inside a broken woman’s heart. Her forest was the fortress she had built against life itself. And it had now been breached.