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Story of Matanga - The World's First Crusader of Untouchability
The Illustrated Jataka & Other Stories of the Buddha by C.B. Varma
043 - Matanga – The World’s First Crusader of Untouchability
the Bodhisatta was born in a Chandala family by the name Matanga. Those
days the caste-system was very rigid in ancient India and untouchability
day, a pretty maiden Ditthamangalika, the daughter of a wealthy and the
so-called ‘high-caste’ family was on her way to a park with her friends.
Before, she could enter the park, she saw Matanga coming from the opposite
direction. Considering his sight ‘inauspicious’, because he was a ‘Chandala’
and ‘untouchable’ according to the social norms of the time and place,
she abruptly, recoiled and turned round to go back to her palace. This
made her friends furious. They scornfully caught hold of the poor man
and thrashed him by calling him “untouchable”. Thus, they punished him
for having trodden the path on which they intended to walk. Bruised and
hurt, Matanga lay there unconscious and bleeding.
he regained consciousness he vehemently challenged the evil system of
untouchability and resorted to the non-violent peace agitation by sitting
on a hunger strike in front of the Ditthamangalika’s house for seven days
to press his demand of marriage with that girl. Then he looked emaciated
and appeared as if he was to die soon. The social evil of the untouchability
was so strong those days that the father of the girl decided to get rid
of his daughter rather than to let an ‘untouchable’ die on his door-step.
So, he pushed his daughter out of his house to marry Matanga.
Ditthamangalika’s pride ebbed away, Matanga decided to honour her. He,
therefore, asked her to invite all her kinsmen and make a public announcement
that her husband was the ‘Greatest Brahmin’ by way of his righteous karma.
When the people assembled to examine the truth, Matanga miraculously appeared
before them by breaking the moon’s disc. This restored the honour of his
wife and since then she was no longer treated as a pariah or an ‘untouchanble’
in that city.
the evil social custom of untouchability did not die out there. Still
some people practised that custom in the city. So, Matanga thought of
teaching a lesson to that category of people. He, therefore, one day threw
a tooth-pick into the river, which flew and entangled in the hair of a
haughty brahmin, whose name was Jatimanta. Furious, the brahmin looked
around and found that it was Matang - a ‘low caste man’ -who had thrown
the tooth-pick into the river. So, fretting and fuming, he went to him
and rebuked and rebuffed him. Further, he threatened him to quit the river-side
instantly lest his head would split into seven pieces on the seventh day
by the force of the brahmin’s spiritual power. Matanga was least frightened.
He accepted the challenge boldly and did not leave the place. He instead
demonstrated his power by stopping the sun to rise for seven days. The
people then got annoyed with the brahmin, because he had insulted Matanga,
who in turn had stopped the sun-rise. So, they caught hold of Jatimanta,
and brought him before Matanga and forced him to apologise by bowing his
head on latter’s feet. Matanga then forgave him but the People kicked
the haughty brahmin out of the city.
One day, Matanga visited
Mejjha country, where the brahmin had made his abode. Accidentally, the
latter saw him there, and decided to avenge his humiliation. So, he conspired
with the local king to arrest and kill Matanga by falsely accusing him
to be a sorcerer. The foolish king took the advice of the brahmin and
sent his men to kill him as and when they could find him. The king’s men
detected Matanga in an inn, where he was taking dinner. They suddenly
attacked him from behind and slayed him by swords and spears. Thus, came
the saga of Matanga, who is often called a ‘legend’, to an end. Nonetheless,
his memory shall always remain alive in the hearts of the people to be
a perennial source of inspiration because he was the first in the world
to have challenged the evil system of untouchability.
final story was, however, rewritten by the Nature, which became furious
at his horrendous assassination, and showered hot ashes from heavens to
completely wipe out the Mejjha kingdom and the history records the event
in these words of the bards:
Matanga is identified with the Bodhisatta.
Matanga Jataka Jataka Pali No.497.
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