Saturday, November 11, 2017

40. Vasishta's Grandson

In due course Adrisyanti gave birth to a male child who was like his illustrious father Saktri, in all aspects.

Vasishta himself performed the after-birth rituals for the child.  Since Vasishta gave up his intention to kill himself only after he came to know that Adrisyanti was conceived, the child was named Parasara (meaning one who revives the dead)

Parasara grew up, considering Vasishta to be his father. Once, when he addressed Vasishta as father, Adrisyani said with tears in her eyes “He is your grandfather. Don’t address him as father. Your father was devoured by a Rakshasa.”

Hearing this, Parasara became very sad. Soon his sorrow was transformed into anger and he resolved to destroy all the worlds.

Vasishta dissuaded his grandson from pursuing his resolve by narrating him a story.
There was a king by name Kritavarya. He was the disciple of a set of Brahmins called  Bhrigus. The king performed a Soma Yagna ( sacrifice). At the end of the yagna, he gave rich presents to the Brahmins.

After the king’s death, his descendants ascended the throne. Once, these descendants felt the need to increase their wealth.

Knowing that the Bhrigus were rich, the princes went to their place, disguised as beggars. Sensing the plan of the princes, some of the Bhrigus buried their wealth, and some gave away part of their wealth to other Brahmins and to Kshatriyas.

However, the princes found a large treasure hidden in the house of one of the Bhrigus. Enraged by the deceitful behaviour of the Bhrigus, the princes insulted them. The Bhrigus begged for pardon. But the unrelenting princes began to attack the Brahnins using their weapons. 

They slaughtered the Brahmins and intending to exterminate the Bhrigu race, the prince pursued them.  Many of the Brhigus took shelter in the mountains of Himavat.

One of the women was holding her embryo in one of her thighs. Tipped about this by another Brahmin woman, the princes came to the woman intending to destroy the embryo.

When they came near that woman, the child came out of her thigh by tearing it up. It looked at the princes with its dazzling eyes. The princes were instantaneously blinded by the dazzling brilliancce resembling that of the midnight sun.

Distressed at the loss of sight, the princes decided to seek the help of the child’s mother. They sought her pardon for their sinful acts and begged her to advise her son to restore their eyesight.

She told them, “I have not deprived you of your eyesight nor am I angry with you. This child of the Bhrigu race is definitely angry with you for your attempt to destroy the race. 

When you were destroying the embryos of the Bhrigu race, I was holding this child in my thigh for hundred years. The entire Vedas with their branches were bestowed on this child even when he was in my womb with a view to preserve the heritage of the Bhrigu race. You have to pray to this child for getting your eyesight restored.

The princes then appealed to the child and the child pardoned them and restored their eyesight to them.

Since the child came from its mother’s thigh, it was called Aurva (born of the thigh)
The princes went back after getting their sight restored. But Aurva resolved to destroy the entire world.

Aurva engaged himself in very austere penances to propitiate his ancestors and seek their blessings for carrying out his resolve.

His ancestors appeared before him and said “We have witnessed the intensity of your asceticism. Control your anger, We were not destroyed because of our incapacity to defend ourselves. We deliberately hid our wealth because we wanted to provoke the princes. We wanted to go to heaven. So we had no use for wealth.

“ We wanted to leave this world. We found that death was not coming to us. Committing suicide would not take us to the heaven. So, we wanted to be slain. Hence we created this provocation. We do not approve of your resolve to kill the whole world to avenge our deaths. So, drive out from your mind the thought of committing the sin of destroying the world.”

Aurva replied, “The vow I made out of anger cannot go futile. If I do not accomplish my vow, my rage will consume me like fire consuming dry wood. While residing inside my mother’s thigh before I was born, I heard the sorrowful cries of my mother and other women of our race.  

“Only if the crimes are punished, people will be afraid to commit a crime. If a man who has the power to punish a sin fails to do so, he will also be tainted by the sin. I have good reasons to be angry. I am unable to obey your command. The fire of my wrath which is ready to consume the world will consume me instead, if I repress it. I know that you have the good of the world in your minds. Please advise me what course will benefit me and the world.”

The Pitrus replied “Throw the fire that is born of your anger into the waters. Let this fire abide in the great ocean, consuming the waters of the ocean. This will ensure that your words prevail and that the worlds will not be destroyed.”

Accordingly, Aurva cast the fire of his anger into the abode of Varuna. That fire which consumed the waters of the ocean became like the head of a large horse and is known to people conversant with the Vedas as Vadavamukha.  Emitting itself from the mouth in the shape of a horse’s mouth, this fire  consumes the waters of the mighty ocean.

After narrating this story, Vasishta advised Parasara not to harbor the thought of destroying the worlds.

Responding to the counsel of the wise Vasishta, Parasara gave up his resolve to destroy all the worlds. However, he performed a grand Rakshasa sacrifice. Vasishta did not restrain his grandson from this act.

Parasara sat before three blazing fires with himself being like a fourth fire. He illuminated the whole firmament as if he was a second Sun.

Sage Atri along with sages Pulastya, Pulaha and Kratu, came to the venue of the sacrifice with the objective of ending that sacrifice, in which many Rakshasas were already slain.

Atri told Parasara “Don’t take pleasure in killing these Rakshasas, many of whom are innocent and who have nothing to do with your father’s death. A Brahmin has to be devoted to asceticism. How can you engage yourself in this sinful practice? You should not violate the principles of morality followed by your father. You should not extirpate any creature.

“Your father’s death was brought by his own curse. No Rakshasa was capable of devouring your father. Your father was taken away from this world because of his own fault in pronouncing the curse on King Kalmashapada. Viswamitra was only an instrument. 

"Your father and his  younger brothers who were slain by Kalmashapada and Kalmashapada himself have ascended to heaven and have been enjoying great happiness there. You have also been only an instrument in the destruction of these innocent Rakshasas. So, abandon this sacrifice.”

With Vasishta also endorsing the plea of the wise Atri, Parasara abandoned the sacrifice. Sage Atri cast the great fire ignited for the sacrifice into the deep woods on the north of the Himavat.

The Gandharva who narrated this story to Arjuna concluded by saying “That fire has been consuming the Rakshasas, trees and stones till this day.”

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

39. Kalmashapada is freed from his curse.


Vasishta returned to his hermitage but, unable to bear the emptiness of the place which was earlier inhabited by his sons, he began to wander again.

He came across a river swollen with water and decided to make another attempt  to kill himself. He tied himself with several cords and plunged into the river. But the force of the stream broke the cords and cast him on the shore.

Since the river broke the cord, Vasishta named the river Vipasa (pasa – cord or rope, vipasa -the cord-breaker). He continued to wander.

He came across another river named Haimavati which was full of crocodiles and other monsters. Vasishta flung himself into the river hoping to be eaten by the crocodiles and other monsters. But the river mistook him for an unquenchable mass of fire  and flew in hundred different directions. The river came to be called Satadru (the river of hundred courses).

Vasishta found himself on a dry land, with the river having flown away in different directions. He exclaimed “Oh! I can’t kill myself.” He then returned to his hermitage.

As he was entering the hermitage, he heard a very intelligent recitation of the Vedas. He turned back and found that his daughter in law Adrisyanti, wife of Saktri, was coming behind him. He asked her who was reciting the Vedas with the six angas, in the voice of his deceased son Saktri.

Adrisyanti replied “The voice is coming from my womb. I have been carrying the child of Saktri for the past 12 years.”

Vasishta was very happy that his race would continue. He gave up all thoughts of ending his life and resided in his hermitage with Adrisyanti.

One day, as Vasishta was walking in the woods along with Adrisyanti, they were met by King Kalmashapada. Being under the possession of the Rakshasa Kinkara, the king came towards Vasishta desiring to devour him. Seeing this, Adrisyanti said, “He is coming towards us with a club in his hand. Please protect me.”

Vasishta replied, “Don’t fear. He is not a Rakshasa. He is King Kalmashapada.”
Vasishta sprinkled water sanctified by incantations on the king and freed him from the curse.

The king who had been seized by the curse of Saktri for twelve years like Surya seized by Rahu,during an eclipse, got freed from the curse.

Liberated from the grip of the Rakshasa, the king illuminated the forest with his splendor like the sun illuminating the evening clouds. He paid obeisance to Vasishta and said “Oh! Great Sage! I am the son of Sudasa and your disciple. Please tell me what I should do to please you.”

Vasishta replied, “My desire has already been fulfilled. Please return to your kingdom and take care of your subjects. Never insult the Brahmins.”

The king replied, “Hereafter, I will never insult Brahmins but will show them the respect due to them. Please grant me a boon for begetting a son who will possess beauty, perform accomplishments and perpetuate the Ikshvaku race.”

Vasishta granted him the boon. He then accompanied King Kalmashapada to his capital Ayodhya. The citizens came out of their houses with overwhelming joy, to receive the sage.

The king, along with the sage, reentered his capital after a long time. His splendor filled the city like the moon filling the whole firmament with its splendor during the autumn.

The streets of the city were swept clean, sprinkled with water and decorated with banners and pendants when the news of the king returning to the capital reached the city sometime before his arrival. The city looked like Amaravathi, the capital of the Celestials.

After the King and the Sage had entered the palace, the Queen approached the Sage at the king’s command.

The sage entered into a covenant (a solemn agreement) with the queen and united with her as permitted by the rules and custom then prevailing. The queen soon became conceived, after which the sage left the palace.

The queen bore the embryo in her womb for a long time. In the twelfth year, she tore her womb open with a piece of stone. At that time, the child was born and named Asmaka, He grew to become a royal sage and founded the city of Paudanya.

Listening to this story narrated by the Gandharva, Arjuna asked him “Why did Kalmashapada command his queen to unite with Sage Vasishta for begetting a son? Why did Sage Vasishta who was well versed in all rules of morality unite with the queen? Was this not a sin on his part?”

The Gandharva replied “Arjuna! There is a reason for this. After Kalmashapada was cursed by Saktri, he went to the forest with his queen Madayanati. He became very hungry and began to search for some food.

“He saw a Brahmin and his wife enjoying themselves. Seeing the king, the couple ran away before their union was consummated. The king pursued the Brahmin and caught him.


The Brahmin’s wife told the king, “O king! You are born in the Surya Vamsa (Sun Dynasty). You are devoted to the observance of morality. My season has come and I am uniting with my husband. My desire has not been gratified yet. So, please release my husband.”

However, the king, ignoring the pleas of the woman, devoured the Brahmin. 

Gripped by grief and anger, the woman cursed the king “You killed my husband before we could consummate our union. When you unite with your wife, you will meet with instant death. Your wife will bring forth a son by uniting with Sage Vasishta whose sons were devoured by you. And that child will be the perpetrator of your race.”

After pronouncing this curse on the king, that woman threw herself into fire right before the eyes of the king.


Vasishta, through his ascetic powers, was aware of this curse. King Kalmashapada, however, forgot about the curse and approached his wife Madayanati after he was freed from the Rakshasa dwelling in him by Vasishta. Madayanati gently reminded him of the curse. The king became alarmed and approached Vasishta.

Monday, November 6, 2017

38. A Curse and Its Consequences

38. A Curse and Its Consequences
King Kalmashapada, belonging to the Ikshvaku race, was an avid hunter. Once, after hunting  and killing many deer, wild boars and rhinoceroses, in the forest, he became fatigued and looked for a place to rest.

As he was walking in the forest, he saw Sage Saktri, the eldest of the hundred sons of Sage Vasishta coming from the opposite side.The king told the sage “Keep out of my way!”
Sakri replied politely, ”Oh king! This is my way. All religious and moral scriptures say that the king should make way for a Brahmin.”

Angered by the sage’s reply, the king stuck the sage with a whip. The sage lost his cool and cursed the king saying,“Since you behaved like a Rakshasa (demon), you will become a Rakshasa subsisting on human flesh. You will wander over the earth, assuming a human form.”

At that time, Sage Viswamitra,who was harboring a desire to make Kalmashapada his disciple,  perceiving what happened through his mental eye, came to that place. He stood aside, invisible to both.

The king realized that the sage was the son of the illustrious Vasishta and beseeched him to forgive him for his misdeed. Viswamitra commanded a Rakshasa by name Kinkara to enter the body of Kalmashapada and after watching Kinkara entering the body of the king, left the place.

The king, possessed by the Rakshasa, began to wander in the woods. A hungry Brahmin met him in the forest and begged him to give him some food including meat to eat. The king asked him to remain there, promising to bring him the food and the meat.

The king wandered for a while and then returned to the palace. He forgot about the promise he had made to the Brahmin and went to bed. He woke up in the midnight and remembered his promise. He summoned the cook, told him about the Brahmin waiting in the woods and asked him to send him some food including meat.

The cook could not find any meat in the palace and informed the king accordingly. The king, possessed by a Rakshasa,said “Then feed him with human flesh.”

The cook took some human flesh, washed and cooked it and then covered it by boiled rice and took it to the Brahmin. The Brahmin, through his spiritual powers, was able to discern that the food was not fit to be eaten, became angry and said, “Since the worst of all kings offered this unholy food to me, he will develop a fondness for such food. As per the curse of Sage Saktri, he will wander over the earth and cause trouble to other creatures.”

The curse given by Sakri was thus reinforced by the Brahmin’s repeating it.  The curse thus became stronger. The king lost his senses completely.

Sometime after this, the king met Saktri and told him, ”Because you cursed me to become a cannibal, I will practice my cannibalism on you by devouring you.” He then killed Saktri and ate him up, like a tiger eating an animal it had killed.

Viswamitra instigated the Rakshasa Kinkara, dwelling within King Kalmashapada to kill the other sons of Vasishta also.  Soon, Kinkara, acting through the king, killed all other sons of Vasishta and ate their flesh, like a lion killing small animals and eating them.

Vasishta knew that Viswamitra had caused his sons to be killed. But he bore the grief like the earth bearing the weight of a great mountain. Rather than punish Viswamitra for his misdeeds, Vasishta chose  to sacrifice his own life. He jumped from the peak of the Meru mountain but he descended on the stony ground like a heap of cotton, without suffering any injury or pain.

He then lighted a fire and entered it, but the fire, did not consume him.  He felt cool  when the flames touched his body. He then tied a huge stone to his neck and threw himself into the  waters. But the waves brought him to the shore. Frustrated at his attempts to end his life, Vasishta returned to his hermitage.

Monday, September 11, 2017

37. A Kshatriya Becomes A Brahmin!


After listening to the story of Tapati and Samvarana, Arjuna wanted to know the reason for Vasishta’s confrontation with Viswamitra. The Gandharva narrated the story to him.

Viswamitra was born to Gadhi, the king of Kanyakubja. Gadhi was the son of Kusika. Thus, Viswamitra was also known as Kousika (meaning the descendant of Kusika).

Viswamitra had a huge army. He also possessed a large number of animals. He would often roam in the forest along with his ministers and soldiers, hunting for deer and wild boars

Once Viswamitra and his men were exhausted after hunting. They were thirsty and hungry. Viswamitra arrived at the hermitage of Sage Vasishta.

Vasishta welcomed Viswamitra and offered him and his men fruits and water. Viswamitra was amazed to see that Vasishta asked his cow for various food items like fruits, milk, grains etc. And the cow instantly yielded whatever was asked for.  Viswamitra learnt that the cow with a majestic appearance was named Nandini.

Viswamitra requested Vasishta to give him Nandini and offered to give him anything, including his kingdom, in exchange.

Vasishta said “I am keeping this cow for making offerings to the gods, the pitrus (the deceased ancestors) and guests and for performing sacrifices. So, I can’t  part with Nandini for anything you may offer in exchange.”

Viswamitra said, “You are a Brahmin. You are ordained to live an ascetic way of life. I am a King. The cow will be more useful to me for providing for my people. I will offer you 10,000 cows in exchange. But if you don’t accept my offer, I will take this cow by force.”

Vasishta said, “You are a powerful monarch. You have a mighty army. If you want to do something in haste without considering the propriety of your action, it is your choice.”

Viswamitra’s men, at his behest, seized the cow and tied her with stripes. The cow went to Vasishta and looked at him, looking for his support.

Vasishta told Nandini, “I can feel your suffering. But what can I do when you are being taken away forcibly by Viswamitra’s men? I am a Brahmin with a forgiving nature.”

Nandini asked Vasishta  “Why are you indifferent to my suffering? Am I without a master?”

Vasishta replied “The might of a Kshatriya may lie in his physical strength. But the Brahmin’s greatness lies in forgiveness. Go with them, Nandini, if you choose to.”

Nandini said, “Oh sage! Tell me you have abandoned me. Then I will go. But if you don’t abandon me, I cannot be taken by force.”

Vasishta said, "Nandini! I am not abandoning you. If you don't want to go, then stay.”

Hearing Vasishta’s words, the cow raised its head and began to attack Viswamitra’s troops. Blazing with rage, she became terrible to look at. From her tail, she rained showers of burning coal. An army of Palhavas emerged from her tail, while an army of Dravidas and Sakas came out of her udders. From her womb, an army of Yavanas were released. And various other armies were released from other parts of her body. All these armies attacked Viswamitra’s men, using various weapons.

Viswamitra’s army, unable to withstand the attack, soon began to break up and flee in all directions. However, not a single soldier of Viswamitra was killed. Nandini only caused them to be defeated and driven out. Viswamitra’s troops were driven to a distance of twenty seven miles from the hermitage.

Witnessing this in awe, Viswamitra exclaimed "Kshatriya prowess is nothing. Only the Brahmana prowess is true prowess! Asceticism is true power.”

Viswamitra immediately gave up his kingdom and undertook a penance. As a result of his austere penance, he became a Brahmin.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

36. Tapati and Samvarana

This story is narrated to Arjuna by a Gandharva. This Gandharva tried to stop the Pandavas when they were walking on the banks of the Ganga after escaping from the House of  Lac but was overpowered by Arjuna.

The Gandharva told the story to emphasize the need for a king to have a Guru.

Samvarana, the son of Riksha, once met Tapati, the daughter of Surya, the Sun God. in the forests and instantly fell in love with her.  When Samvarana expressed his love to Tapati, she said that she had also fallen in love with him but that he should seek her father’s consent for having her as his wife.

After Tapati went away, Samvarana became unconscious, unable to bear the separation.  His minister came to him and helped him gain consciousness by sprinkling water on him.

When the minister advised Samvarana to return to his kingdom, the king refued to come. He sat there in penance prating to Surya. He also prayed to Vasishta, the Guru of his kingdom, to help him.

Sage Vasishta appeared befoer him on the 12th day and offered to help him.

Vasishta went to Surya and asked him to give his daughter Tapati in marriage to Samvarana, after apprising Surya of Samvarana's virtues.  Suryawas pleased. He said that he had always considered Samvarana to be a prospective groom for his daughter. He  handed over Tapati to Vasishta and requested him to get her married to Samvarana

Accordingly, Vasishta performed the marriage of Tapati with Samvarana.

Vasishta having been the Guru of Samvarana’s ancestors came to the help of Samvarana, said the Gandharva.  The ancestors of the Pandavas were able to perform grand sacrifices by having Vasishta as their priest, the Gandharva added

After marrying Tapati, Samvarana remained in the forest for 12 years. He did not visit his capital even once. There were no rains in the kingdom for these 12 years. Affected by the severe drought, people began to leave the country. Seeing the plight of the people affected by the drought, Vasishta came to Samvarana and asked him to return to his capital.

After Samvarana returned to his capital, it began to rain and the drought came to an end. To express his gratitude to Indra for blessing his kingdom with rain and ending the drought, Samparana, in the company of his wife Tapati, performed a sacrifice for 12 years.

Kuru was born to Samvarana and Tapati.  It was after him that Arjuna’s ancestors began to be called Kauravas (the descendants of Kuru), said the Gandharva.

The above story appears simple and straightforward. But it has several messages, some explicit and some subtle.

1) A king has the primary duty to govern his kingdom. Samvarana abdicated his responsibility by keeping away from his kingdom for 12 years. His country suffered on account of the king's dereliction of hid duty.

2) While the advice of a Guru/ Counselor/ Minister  is essential and valuable, the governing of a country cannot be  delegated by the king.

3) After the king had realized his mistake and came back to his kingdom, the country was blessed with rains. But the king performed a sacrifice for 12 years. This can be considered to be by way of making amends for his sin of abdicating his responsibility. It can also be considered as an act of thanksgiving. We need to offer prayers not only seeking certain thinks but also thanking God for the things we have got from him.