BOOKS | The Peaceable Forest: India’s Tale of Kindness to Animals
The Peaceable Forest: India’s Tale of Kindness to Animals by Kosa Ely, illustrated by Anna Johansson Insight Editions (POB 3088, San Rafael, CA 94912), 2012. [Order c/o <http://peaceableforest.com/>.] 32 pages, hardcover, illustrated. $16.99.
Kosa Ely has in The Peaceable Forest: India’s Tale of Kindness to Animals recast into a story for very young children the parable of how the wandering sage Narada transformed the sadistic hunter Mrigari into an animal-loving vegetarian. Significant in Hare Krishna teachings as a demonstration that sinners can achieve personal redemption, this simplified version of the parable might help vegetarian parents to explain why their families do not eat meat. .
Though this cannot be proven, The Peaceable Forest might also be closer in theme and purpose to the original oral tradition than the much more complex version that was eventually transcribed for literate adults. .
All of the animals in Anna Johansson’s lavish illustrations are native to India, The Peaceable Forest publicity materials mention. Cited are “sloth bears, langur monkeys, blackbuck antelope, tigers, wild boars, deer, rabbits, chipmunks, tortoises, foxes, elephants, buffalo, panthers,” and birds including “Sarus cranes, peacocks, ring-neck parrots, blue-winged Malabhar parakeets, crimson sunbirds, and tailorbirds.” Among the trees included are the banyan, magnolia, date palm, and tulasi.”
. Unfortunately, while children might enjoy identifying the animals and trees, this edition of The Peaceable Forest does not include a species list and key page that would enable children to confirm what they see.
. Ely and Johansson worked from versions of the Narada and Mrigari story that were translated and published for adults in 1968 and 1975, respectively. The earliest known written version is said to have been told by the teacher Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to the scholar and author Sanatana Goswami circa 500 years ago.
. There seems to be no older clear record of Mrigari, though his epiphany, reached through a dream in which he becomes every animal he has hunted, has parallels in stories told in several other cultures to teach against excessive hunting.
. Narada, however, first appears in The Bhagavata Purana as an emissary from the gods. Believed to have been written in present form not later than 1000 CE, The Bhagavata Purana by tradition was authored by Veda Vyasa circa 3200 BCE–about 1,000 years before mainstream Hindusim began to reject animal sacrifice and turn toward vegetarianism.