The Twin Heroes of Maya 1 - The Ball Game

Fantasy has been favorite fiction genre and I dream of writing one myself one day. Actually my attempts at reviewing fantasy and science fiction is an attempt to take them apart piece by piece to see what makes good fantasy so that I can pick up those elements and put them together and write my own. One thing I observed in most fantasy is that they had some connection to the various mythologies – the Celtic, the Greek and Norse mostly. Today I see Indian authors also emerging trying to make use of Indian mythologies. That got me interested in different mythologies. I thought of reading some of them up and retelling them in my own words. This being 2012, I thought it would be appropriate to start off with Mayan mythology. After all if the world ends this year, my blog’s readers will know why before they die.

The first story I am going to start with is the story of two Mayan heroes Hunahpu and Xbalanque. These are pretty tough to pronounce. I thought of changing the names to make things easier. But then many ancient people believed names had power. I don’t know how far that is true. But what I know is it’s not cool to call your Mayan mythical heroes George and Bill just to make it easier to pronounce. And anyway guess no one’s going to read this story aloud. So how does it matter even if you can’t pronounce their names? As the story moves, you will have more names of this sort. Let us not bore each other trying to pronounce them properly. A typical blog post is 500-1000 words long. So I will keep to the limit and try to post the story in a series of posts. That the intro part. Now let us get cracking on the story.
As with all traditional stories, it all began at the time of their father. Incidentally he was also called Hunahpu. Calling him Hunahpu senior may sound a bit contemporary. So let us call him One Hunahpu and his son just Hunahpu. He had this brother called Seven Hunahpu. I am not sure why it had to be seven and not two or three. But I guess it had something to do with seven being a sacred number for the Mayans. As we move on with the tale, we will come to know their antagonists are called One Death and Seven Death as well.

Like Mahabharata, here also the story begins with a game. The game in question here was known as the Mesoamerican ball game. It was probably an ancestor to the modern day volleyball and basket ball. It was played on a stone court with a hard rubber ball the size of a short put. The court was bordered by stone walls on all sides. Instead of a net there was a high hoops well above their heads right in the middle of the court suspended from the walls on either side of the court. The objective of the game was to hit the ball with their hips, arms and other parts of their body without using their hands and try and get the ball through the hoop. The first team that succeeded in doing that won. The balls always had to be in the air and there was a penalty for letting the ball drop to the ground. The players wore gauntlets and harnesses to protect their arms and hips. This game had great importance to the Mayans and in many cases, these ball games often served as substitutes for war between tribes.

One Hunahpu has two sons Batz and Chouen. So the three of them along with Seven Hunaphu used to divide themselves into teams and play this Mesoamerican ball game. The problem begins when the Lords of the Xibalba get disturbed by the game. Xibalba is the Mayan underworld, the equivalent of Greek Hades. This is where souls of the Mayan people were taken after their death. It was ruled by these bad guys, One Death and Seven Death along with their terrifying underlings. So these Lords get irritated with all the shouting and stomping of the ball players and decide to teach them a lesson.

Like all villains in stories, the Lords of Xibalba do not just like that want to come out and kill the heroes and be done with it. They prefer to do it in a long drawn complicated way, gloating over the heroes’ torments, deriving sadistic pleasure. Thankfully so! For if villains were not like that, there would be no stories.

These Lords also had an ulterior motive of wanting to acquire our heroes’ gaming equipment. So they got their head together and devised a more devious plan. As part of the plan, they decide to summon the players to the underworld.

Andrew Stuart on Flickr

The death Lords send four owls to One Hunahpu with their messages. The owls have interesting names – Arrow Owl, One Leg Owl, Macaw Owl and Skull Owl. The names were based on their physical characteristics. Arrow Owl had a piercing look like an arrow. One Leg Owl had somehow lost one of his legs. Macaw owl had some red shades like a macaw and skull owl looked like a skull. I guess owls do have some of these characteristics. No wonder are they feared birds. The Mayans were not the only people who considered owls as messengers of death.

So let us leave the story here with the owls on their way to deliver the message to our heroes. The heroes are still happily playing the game with their sons unaware of the death Lords’ dubious plans. In the next episode of the story we will meet the death Lords and their minions. We will follow the heroes in their preparations for their death match. If a match against the lords of death in the land of death cannot be called a death match what else can be? Do come back for the next episode.

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Deepak Karthik said...

wow !
infotainment i say :)
am waiting for the message from owl :)
Thanks for making the story in a way even i can understand !

T F Carthick said...

Thanks Deepak. Glad to see your comment. I am very dedicated to this series and very keen on having readership.

Karthik said...

Quite an interesting tale. Is this your own or just retelling in your own words? Either ways, instead of delivering it like a simple fable, why don't you write it in your style that I have come to admire? I mean since you said you were dedicated to this series.

T F Carthick said...

Thanks for the comment, Karthik. As I have mentioned I am trying to retell what I discovered as a sketchy translation of Mayan epic in verse form. Initially I wanted to adapt it for the Fablery contest but after writing close to 2000 words, I was not satisfied with the result. So I thought I will write it as a series in an informal contemporary tone.

I am glad to know you admire my style. Maybe I will improvise along the way and bring in my style. Any specific suggestions are welcome. As the plot and the characters are already there, I need to focus only on the narrative. Would be good practice before I write entirely my own long story.

P.N. Subramanian said...

Beautifully told. Thanks.

T F Carthick said...

Thanks, P.N. Subramanian. Welcome to my blog.

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