One of the many reasons I like reading is to be able to experience something that maybe I wouldn’t be able to otherwise…like a different culture or a different time period. Rudyard Kipling’s short story “The Miracle of Purun Bhagat” did just that. With beautiful prose, it whisked me away to an India caught between English rule and Hindu beliefs.
Purun Dass grew up within India’s Hindu culture, but believed that society was changing and if he was to get anywhere, he needed to get on board with the English way of doing things. He didn’t completely give up his Hindu beliefs, but kept them somewhat quiet. As a result, he was able to rise in the ranks of the English-controlled Indian government. He even became Prime Minister of one of India’s States. At a point in time, when Purun Dass was at his most prominent, he “died”.
While many within the government and many of those he governed may have thought he actually died, Purun really decided to leave his world of achievement in order to get “back to the place whence his soul had come”. He left most of his worldly possessions to travel through the small, poorer villages of India. In finding a final destination, he settles on the top of a mountain in a small hut that oversees a village. The villagers decide that he is a holy man and rename him Purun Bhagat. Both the villagers and the animals of the forest become his friends or “brothers”.
In being in tune again with the animals and nature, his instinct tells him that a rainstorm will end with a tragic mudslide destroying the village. He uses his “leadership skills” to travel to the village with his animal friends to warn the villagers of the impending doom. The villagers leave and are saved (though their homes are not).
The relationhip between Purun Bhagat and his animal friends was the most fascinating part of the story. Animals seem to play a large part in Kipling’s writing. While they may be a little more anthropomorphic than Jack London’s animals, Kipling still seems to have the same type of respect and awe for the natural world.
The contrast between the English government and the Hindu culture was done in a manner that seemed more complimentary than adversarial- neither culture was made out to be the “bad guy”. While one had the upper hand in power, the other had the upper hand in spirituality.
If Kiplings other stories are as wonderful as this one, I can’t wait to read more.