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Just as historical events take on the form of myth and legend, legends and myths, too, have a tendency to manifest themselves in a material form in later historical events and layering them. The account of the tula purush (man of gold) is one such example.

It is said that in the days when Raja Lakhban Phal ruled Kutch, a jogi steeped in botanical knowledge arrived in the environs. He was in search of a herb which had a property that if a live human male was thrown into a bonfire in which that herb had been placed, the human body turned to gold when combusted. Any part cut from the “man of gold" grew whole again.

In his search the jogi came upon a herd of goats and saw that the mouth of one of the goats had turned red. Recognizing it as the sign that the goat had come into contact with the said herb, the jogi kept an eye on the goat and followed it to see where it grazed. After some effort the jogi was rewarded with the discovery of the herb.

He pulled out the herb from its root and told the shepherd that he wished to worship fire and invited him to join him in worship. The two of them gathered wood and siftings and lit up a bonfire in which the jogi placed the herb. As they circled round the bonfire, the jogi asked the shepherd to walk ahead of him. The shepherd became apprehensive at this demand, and told the jogi that he would walk behind him. As they made their rounds and the shepherd’s apprehension grew that the jogi planned to do him ill, he acted pre-emptively. He hurled the jogi into the fire and fled from there, leading his herd home.

Some days later, the curious shepherd revisited the site. He discovered that the jogi’s body had turned to gold. He cut a piece from it and buried the rest. Then he went to the city and sold the piece he’d taken. The next day he returned to the site to cut away another piece. When he dug up the ground he found that the jogi’s body had become whole. In this manner the shepherd cut pieces from the body of the tula purush countless times. Once he had become rich beyond his imagination and had fulfilled all his dreams in life, he became apprehensive that someone might reveal his secret and he might be punished. He went to Raja Lakhban Phal and revealed to him the properties of the tula purush and its location.

The Raja went to the site and took the tula purush into his possession. It is said that the Raja collected so much wealth as a result of cutting and selling pieces from the tula purush that he daily gave one 1.25 lakh in alms. It is also said that when he was dying he became covetous of his legacy and prayed that the tula purush would not fall into another’s possession after him. He made a tilism (magical world) for the tula purush and hid it at the bottom of a well in Jhirk. Nobody ever found the key to the tilism.

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Mirza Shah Hasan, the ruler of Nasarpur and a tributary to emperor Babur, had an encounter with the tula purush, which was recorded in history. The Tuhfatul Karam of Mir Ali Sher Qani Thattavi mentions that as Mirza Shah Hasan was passing through Jhirk after a successful campaign, he arrived at the Jhirk well and learned of the legend of the tula purush who was said to be hidden at the bottom. He decided to take custody of the tula purush, and for that purpose had another well dug adjacent and the water from the Jhirk well emptied into it with buckets.

But as soon as the Jhirk well was fully drained, the tula purush flew out of it and dove into the other well, disappearing deep into it. Mirza Shah Hasan had the water drained back into the first well to catch the tula purush but again the same thing happened: when the second well was emptied of water, the tula purush flew out of it and dove into the first. After this had happened a number of times, Mirza Shah Hasan realized that it was some tilism that guarded the creature and which could not be broken. He had both wells filled in with soil and moved on, leaving the “man of gold" buried in the depths.

Musharraf Ali Farooqi is an author, novelist and translator. He can be reached at www.mafarooqi.com and on Twitter at @microMAF.

This monthly column explores the curious world of the myths and folk tales of South Asia.

To read Musharraf’s previous Lounge columns, click here.

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