Sharad Purnima night is the most beautiful of the year in North India. The sky has been washed clean by the monsoon, the stars acquire the cold, hard stare of winter, and the moon looks brighter and stronger. It was on such a night that gossip visualized the meeting of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal after the demise of the latter. But an older legend associated with Sharad Purnima is that of Tesu and Jhainji and the annual union of the two is a strange spectacle.

Tesu is believed to have been a son of Bhimsen, the most powerful of the Pandava brothers. He ruled an area in the Chambal region and, on hearing of the Mahabharata, decided to go and witness the battle. As he rode towards Kurukshetra he met Krishna disguised as an old Brahmin. Krishna had come to dissuade him from going to the battlefield as Tesu was a great warrior, who had the knack of helping the losing army and ensuring its victory.

Krishna asked Tesu for a boon: his head. “How can I give you that?” said Tesu. “But you cannot deprive a Brahmin of his boon!” quipped Krishna. “Sure,” said Tesu. “But I am on my way to the Mahabharata and after that to keep my promise of marrying the pretty Jhainji.” “But your wishes will be fulfilled,” said Krishna. “If that be so, then cut off my head,” replied the chivalrous raja.

Krishna did so and took the head to Kurukshetra, where he set it up on three poles. So Tesu watched the battle and was married to Jhainji too, The legend finds a befitting finale on Sharad Purnima night, when the statue of Tesu is symbolically married to Jhainji in many homes, especially in Agra and Jaipur.

The houses are tastefully decorated by the children and Tesu, depicted as a toy with laughing eyes, a red paan-stained mouth, his moustaches proclaiming his royalty, a red parrot in one hand and a hookah in the other, supported on three reeds is set up on the terrace. And Jhainji, as a decorated pot with many holes through which the light of a diya filters out, is “married” to him by a pundit.

The guests then sit down to eat the wedding meal, with the air fresh and keen, piercing through the clothes. The moon smiles in all its glory and one feels transported to some quaint place. For such is the charm of the terrace on Sharad Purnima night, when Tesu and Jhainji wed amid the singing of ritual songs, and Dussehra makes its final bow.

Harnam Singh Uncle attended one such function in 1940 at the house of a friend, who was uncharitably dubbed Tunta Thakur because of a deformed hand. Jaipur was then more or less confined to the Walled City but Thakur Raghunath Singh lived some distance away near Moti Doongri, which was to become the residence of Maharani Gayatri Devi later and whose light shone so bright that it could be viewed from the gate of the Secred Heart Church outside Ghat Gate.

The discussion on Tesu and Jhainji after a drinks session turned into an animated one, in which the women too joined in. The Thakur said, according to what he had heard in childhood Tesu had been found in the hills of Rajputana in the 13th year of the exile of the Pandavas in Birat. His mother, it seems, was a Mina princess, who had wed Bhimsen but since the Pandavas were on the move most of the time the princess was left behind because of a misunderstanding and her insistence on being treated on par with Draupdi ~ a demand that was rejected.

So Tesu grew up under the care of a single mother who, during the course of her wanderings in search of Bhim, settled down in the Chambal Valley. When Tesu reached the age of 17 he met Jhainji during an excursion as she was the daughter of a tribal king, whose territory was then attacked by a rakshash (demon). Tesu, with the superhuman strength that flowed in his veins because of Bhim, slew the demon with the huge club he carried and earned the gratitude of the king, who left his kingdom to him on his death.

Thakur Raghunath Singh said his ancestors claimed to have seen the cave in the hills around Jaipur in which Tesu was born on an amavasya (New moon) night by the light of mysterious rays that appeared in the sky. He was naturally curious to know who his father was and when he learnt from his mother that it was no other than the great warrior Bhimsen, he vowed to meet him and claim his inheritance, if needed be by might and main.

As he grew stronger and stronger with each passing year Tesu acquired a taste for two things ~ milk and ghee, and the sweets made from them. While still a toddler and not satisfied with his mother’s milk he is said to have drunk the milk of wild bears, who had lost their cubs.

Mention of sweets at the Tesu- Jhainji wedding ritual in the Thakur’s haveli led to another discussion. Legend says it was a laddoo given by Shiva to Parvati that made her conceive. The history of sweets goes back at least 5,000 years if not more. They were there in the Ramayana and Mahabharata days in India. Egypt, Greece and Rome had them too ~ and earlier still the Phoenicians. Some assert that their traders came to buy not only jewellery, cloth and spices but also basketfuls of sweets made from ghee, milk, khoya, dahi and sugar.

Rama’s wedding to Sita was significant because of the large number of sweets served ~some say 19 kinds. When Draupadi was brought home by the Pandavas, their mother is said to have offered kheer to her as there was no other sweet to welcome the new bride. During the exile of the Pandavas, Draupadi is said to have offered half a stale laddoo to Lord Krishna, who was very fond of sweets. But as soon as it came into his hands it turned fresh and wholesome again.

In contrast, Rajputana Rajas and Maharajas had huge laddoos made at festivals and marriages, inside which were hidden gold coins (asharfis). Helen of Troy probably ate Trojan sweets after her abduction by Prince Paris. Perhaps she found them tasting different than the ones she had in Greece at the home of her husband Menelaus, whose merchants brought cloth and mithai from India. Cleopatra, Queen of Upper and Lower Egypt, must have been offered Roman sweets by her lover Antony, but she was fonder of Indian sweets made by her maids from Malabar.

Mumtaz Mahal’s fondness for sweets was well-known and after each of the 14 deliveries she had, several thals (dishes) full of sweets and fruits when presented to her and her maids of honour. Shah Jahan, who fulfilled his beloved wife’s every wish, incidentally, was the one who is said to have created the sweet petha, not only as dessert for the 20,000-odd workers building the Taj but also as nourishment for them.

Even to this day the city of the Taj is famous worldwide for its petha. As a matter of fact, it was believed that basketfuls of petha were bought by the Jinns from the Mithai-ka-Pul every night for their human sweethearts. Mithai-ka- Pul, or bridge of sweets, was not confined to Agra alone. Delhi also has a Mithai-ka-Pul in the Pul Bangash area but whether Jinns visited it too is not known.

In Parantha Gali of Chandni Chowk people, who eat different kinds of paranthas, end up by eating the sweet placed on their pattal, or a leaf spread. A favourite is rabri, though some prefer rasmalai. The shop of Ghantewala was actually started after a Rajasthani kalakand-seller migrated to Delhi from Jaipur. He sold his sweets on a cart, ringing a bell to attract customers.

He becomes so popular that he later opened a shop in Chandni Chowk but retained the bell (ghanta) that gave it the name of Ghantewala, which rivalled the famous petha-dalmoth shop of Bhimsen-Baijmath. Harnam Singh Uncle related this before he died in Shimla in December 1982. The Thakur also is no more but that night after Dussehra the songs linked to the legend kept everyone present in high spirits. One of them went like this:

Tesu Rajo laya bankie
Lugaiye Jhainji ko
Chanda Mama door ke
Bhi dekh us lugaiyi ki
Prem se bharlo apno dil
Aur phir harsai apni
Poori roshni ko
Taki Tesu-Jhainji ka
Milan mangalmai ho

(When Tesu brought his wife, even the old maternal uncle moon got infatuated and with love overflowing in his heart, poured forth his moonbeams in full glory so that the union of the young couple may be prosperous) One wonders if Tesu and Jhainji still excite children of today, who play with mechanical toys.

But according to an old story toys of clay or any other make come alive at dead of night, when everybody is asleep, and make merry. Maybe Tesu and Jhainji also could be doing the same too on their annual mystical night ritual!