Before we could learn the story of Astika and how he saved the serpents from extinction, we should learn about his birth.
There was an austere Brahmachari (an unmarried Brahmin) by name Jaratkaru. He was an ascetic, leading an abstemious life, eating sparingly and keeping his mind away from lustful thoughts. He once went on a pilgrimage. He visited many shrines, bathed in diverse sacred waters, resting wherever he could, during the nights. Drawing upon the huge reservoir of energy he had within him, the sage lived only on air, and renounced sleep. Once, while going about his way like a fire walking on its feet, Jaratkaru noticed some human bodies hanging from the fibres of a tree with their heads down, inside a cave. He asked them who they were, pointing out that the fibres supporting them were being fast eroded by rats.
They replied: "We are souls that have departed from the earth. We are to be fed by our lineage (sons, grandsons and great grandsons) through offerings in ceremonies. We have a son by name Jaratkaru who has been living an austere life and not contemplating marriage. Because of his attitude, our dynasty is facing extinction. That’s why we are suspended in this hole. Who are you, kind man, that grieves for us?”
Jaratkaru said, “ Pardon me ancestors. I am Jaratkaru! Please tell me how I may serve you.”
The forefathers said, “You should beget a son to extend our line. That is the only way you can serve us, not by your ascetic way of life.”
Jaratkaru agreed to marry, for the sake of his forefathers. But he said that he would marry a woman only if she had the same name as him and given to a poor man like him as a gift by her parents or other relatives.
After this incident, Jaratkaru wandered through many places in search of a bride but he couldn’t find one.
One day, he went to a forest and openly prayed for a bride. He pleaded in a low voice three times. Vasuki, a serpent that was near him happened to hear the sage's prayer. He came before Jaratkaru and said that he would offer his sister in marriage to the sage. The sage asked Vasuki. the name of his sister. Vasuki said, “Jaratkaru.”
Jaratkaru married Vasuki’s sister bearing his own name and begot a son by name Astika. Thus Jaratkaru was able to fulfill his duty to his ancestors.
(Vasuki had a motive for giving his sister in marriage to the sage. We will see this in another post.)
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