Thursday, September 17, 2015

16. Yudhishtira is Born

After sometime, Pandu retired to the woods along with his two wives. He chose to live in a place on the southern slope of the Hmalayas. He wandered in the forest like the Iravata (the white elephant owned by Indra) accompanied by two she-elephants.  People who dwelled in the forest considered him to be God himself wandering among them. As per the command of Dritharashtra, people supplied Pandu  with many things  for his needs and enjoyment.

Pandu who was residing in the woods with his two wives and was hunting once killed a male and female deer when they were mating each other. In fact, a son of a sage of great ascetic powers  had assumed the form of a deer and was mating with his wife who was also in the form of a deer. Hit by Pandu’s arrow, the Rishikumara (son of the sage) spoke to Pandu in an agonizing voice.

"Oh Pandu, you were born in the virtuous Bharata race. How did you commit such an act which even a man under the grip of lust or anger won’t commit?”

 Pandu replied, 'O deer, hunting animals is a normal practice for kings. Why do you blame me for following this practice. Even Sage Agastya sacrificed deer in a sacrifice.”

The deer replied, “I don’t blame you for hurting me with your arrows. But you should have waited till I had completed my intercourse. This is a cruel act. As a king, you are expected to chastise people who do cruel things. But you have chosen to commit a cruel act yourself. I, now disguised as a deer am a sage by name Kindama. I have been living peacefully in the woods, consuming only fruits and leaves. I have not harmed you in any way. But you have killed me mistaking me for a deer. Since you  killed me when I was united with my wife, you will meet with instant death when you unite with your wife. Your wife will also follow you by giving up her life in grief.” The sage disguised as a deer breathed his last after inflicting this curse on Pandu.

Pandu narrated this incident to his wives and felt remorseful that despite being a son of Sage Vyasa, he had committed a sin by acting in haste. He told his wives that he would leave them, become a recluse and  adopt a Brahmacharya (celibate) way of life by controlling his passions through ascetic penance.  He also asked them to convey his decision to his mother, his grandmother Satyavati, Bhishma, Dritharashtra, Vidura and others.

Both Kunti and Madri pleaded with him that he could remain ascetic even while living with his wives and that he need not abandon them and go back to the Brahmachari way of life. They said that they would also control their passions and practice austerities along with him. He agreed to their request and said that he would live in solitude following the strictest practices of the vanaprastha way of life and that he won’t meet anyone including his relatives. He gave away all his valuables including precious ornaments, costumes and other physical possessions of himself and his wives to the Brahmins and his servants. He asked his servants to go back to Hastinapura.

On hearing the news about Pandu, Dritharshtra was plunged into grief.

Pandu began his ascetic way of life along with his two wives. He travelled from place to place in the mountains. By virtue of his strict adherence to austerity, he became the favorite of various groups of ascetics like the Siddhas and Charanyas living in the woods. Many Rishis (sages) also adored Pandu, some treating him as their son, some as their brother and some as their friend.  Some even treated him as a Brahmarishi, a title that could be earned only by a Brahmin.

One day, Pandu lamented to the sages about his fate of having to go with no children because of the curse delivered on him by sage Kindama. He said, “Men  born in this world have four obligations or debts that they owe, one to the gods, one to the rishis, one to their ancestors and one to other men.  The gods have to be pleased by performing sacrifices; the debt owed to rishis can be repaid  by doing meditation and practicing asceticism; the debt owed to the ancestors can be repaid by begetting sons who would continue the tradition of performing rites for the deceased; and the debt to the fellow human beings  should be repaid by leading a humanitarian life and by ensuring that one doesn’t do anything that will offend other people. I believe that I have discharged my debt to the other three but not to my ancestors. My inability to beget children has kept me from fulfilling my debt to my ancestors.”

The Rishis said they were able to foresee Pandu having children and advised him to deliberate on getting children.

Reflecting on what the sages had said, Pandu called Kunti and spoke to her in privacy.”Kunti, it is said that charitable actions, austere practices and vows observed do not confer religious merit on a person who has no sons.  The religious texts mention six kinds of sons. 1) the son  born to one’s wedded wife. 2) the son begotten upon one’s wife  by an accomplished person motivated by kindness. 3) the son begotten upon one’s wife by a person for  pecuniary consideration. 4) the son begotten upon the wife after the person’s death. 5) the son born to a maid and 6) the son born of an unchaste wife. Manu has said that a person unable to raise an offspring of his own can have offspring begotten upon their wives by others. There is a story of the daughter of Saradandayana who was asked by her husband to raise offspring. That warrior-dame, on a night  during her monthly season, went out and stood on a spot where four roads met. When she saw a Brahmin of ascetic powers, she solicited him and requested him to raise offspring for her husband.  After performing the purifying ceremony called Punsavana, she united with that Brahmin and brought forth three sons who became mighty car-warriors and of whom Durjaya was the eldest.  I command you to follow the example of that lady and raise offspring for me.”

Kunti replied, “ O king, as your wedded wife, I will beget children only through you. Please embrace me. You may die after the intercourse because of the sage’s curse. I will also leave this world and join you after delivering the children. I can’t even imagine being in the embrace of any other person."

She then narrated the story of  King Vyushitaswa.Vyushitaswa was a king in the Puru race. He had a wife by name Badra. Vyushitaswa conquered many kingdoms and performed the Aswameta Yaga (the horse sacrifice). However Vyushitasa was often intoxicated  by drinking the Soma juice (the liquor of the celestials). He also enjoyed the company of many women when he was intoxicated. He soon died of a disease that resulted from sexual excesses. His wife Badra, holding on to the corpse of her husband cried, “A woman has no life after her husband leaves her. Please take me with you. Otherwise I will lie down on the Kusa grass and starve to death.”

She then heard a voice apparently emanating from the corpse. “Lie down with me on my bed on the 8th or 14th day of the moon.”   She did accordingly. Seven children were born to her through her dead husband.

After narrating this story, Kunti  told Pandu “You can also beget offspring on me as Vyushitawa did.”

Pandu replied, “What you said is true. But Vyushitasa was like a celestial. I don’t have the powers that he had.  In the olden days women were confined within their houses. They were free to move about. They did not have to live with one husband. A woman having relationship with more than one person was not considered sinful. This practice was sanctioned by the sages. This is still being followed by certain kings in the North, belonging to our race. The present system of a woman being confined to one husband for life was established later.’

Pandu narrated to her the story of sage Uddalaka.  Once, Uddalaka was sitting with his wife and son Swetaketu. At that time, a Brahmin came to their place, pulled the hand of Uddalaka’s wife and took her with him. Swetaketu was angered by this but his father told him that a woman was  free to leave her husband and live with another man. However, Swetaketu disapproved of this practice and established the present practice. As per the practice established by Sweataketu and being followed now, not adhering to her husband would be sinful for a woman.  Men violating a chaste wife would also be guilty. A woman who refuses to raise offspring as commanded by her husband would also be committing a sin.”

Pandu continued “Madyanti, the wife of Sudasa raised offspring through Sage Vasishta as commanded by her husband. We three (Dritharashtra, Vidura and I) were also raised by Sage Vyasa, for the perpetuation of the Kuru race. Since I have been deprived of the power of procreation, you should listen to my plea.”

Kunti then told Pandu of the boon given to her by Sage Durvasa. She said she would invoke the celestial chosen by Pandu.

Pandu was excited by his information. He asked Kunti  to summon the God of Justice, the most virtuous of all celestials. Kunti did accordingly.

She chanted the mantra given to her by Durvasa invoking the God of Justice, who appeared before her presently. He united with her in his spiritual form and gave her a son. The child was born at noon in the seventh month (Karthika) when the star Jyeshta was in conjunction with the moon. As soon as the child was born, a voice was heard from the skies saying, “This child will earn a reputation for being truthful and virtuous. He will go by the name Yudhishtira and he will become the ruler of the earth.

At the time Yudhishtira was born to Kunti, Gandhari had been conceiving for one year.

There were also some developments in Hastinapura.

Bhishma came to know that King Devaka had a beautiful daughter born to a Sudra wife.  Bhishma brought her to Hastinapura  after getting her father’s consent and got her married to Vidura.

One day Vyasa visited the palace of the Kurus and he was taken care of by Gandhari. Pleased by Gandhari’s  hospitality, he granted her a boon she asked for that hundred sons each with the strength of Dritharashtra be born to her.  Soon Gandhari  became pregnant  but no child was delivered even after two years. She was grieved by this.

She heard that Kunti  had given birth to a son whose splendor was like that of the morning sun. Feeling frustrated over the long period of gestation, she struck her womb violently. Immediately, a hard mass of flesh like an iron ball was delivered by her. Learning about this through his spiritual powers, Vyasa appeared on the scene and inquired of her what she had done. She said, “Hearing of Kuntu having delivered a beautiful son, I struck my womb out of frustration. But you gave me a boon that I would get hundred sons. But there is only a ball of flesh here!”

Vyasa said, “My words won’t go futile.”

He then ordered that hundred pots full of clarified butter  be brought and kept in a concealed spot. He also had cold water sprinkled on the ball of flesh.  The ball of flesh, sometime after water was sprinkled on it got divided into hundred and one parts, each about the size of the thumb. These parts put into the pots containing clarified butter already kept in a concealed place.
As the parts were being put into the pots, Gandhari wished that she had a daughter too. Vyasa who was supervising the task sensed her feelings. It so happened that after 100 parts were put into the pots, one more ball of flesh remained, Vyasa said that this additional part would be born as a daughter. It was put in another pot.

Duryodhana was born from among those pieces of the ball of flesh that had been deposited in those pots.  Bhima was also born the same day. (Bhima’s birth will be described later)

"As soon as Duryodhana was born, he began to cry and bray like an ass. The asses, vultures, jackals and crows responded with their cries. There were violent storms at many places. Concerned by these symptoms, Dhritarashtra sought the counsel of  Bhishma and Vidura and others.

He asked them, “Yudhishtira, who was the first to be born would perpetuate the lineage of the Kurus. But will my son become the king?”

On hearing Dritharashtra’s words, jackals and other wild animals began to howl.

The Brahmins and Vidura said that the bad omens indicated that Duryodhana would be the exterminator of the race. They suggested that the king abandon the child since he would still have 99 sons.They reminded him of the principle that an individual could be sacrificed  for the sake of his family, a family for the sake of a country and the earth itself for the sake of the soul.

But, Dritharshtra, out of his affection for his son, rejected this advice.

Within a month, the other 99 children were born. A daughter was also born from the 101st part, as ordained by Vyasa. The daughter was named Dushala. A son was born to a Vaisya woman who was attending on Dritharashtra. He was named Yuyutsu. He grew to be a man of intelligence and virtues.

The names of the hundred and two children of Dritharashtra, in the order of their birth, are as below:

Duryodhana, Yuyutsu, Duhsasana, Duhsaha, Duhsala, Jalasandha, Sama, Saha, Vinda and Anuvinda, Durdharsha, Suvahu, Dushpradharshana, Durmarshana and Durmukha, Dushkarna,  Karna; Vivinsati and Vikarna, Sala, Satwa, Sulochana, Chitra and Upachitra, Chitraksha, Charuchitra, Sarasana, Durmada and Durvigaha, Vivitsu, Vikatanana; Urnanabha and Sunabha, then Nandaka and Upanandaka; Chitravana, Chitravarman, Suvarman, Durvimochana; Ayovahu, Mahavahu, Chitranga, Chitrakundala, Bhimavega, Bhimavala, Balaki, Balavardhana, Ugrayudha; Bhima, Karna, Kanakaya, Dridhayudha, Dridhavarman, Dridhakshatra, Somakitri, Anudara; Dridhasandha, Jarasandha, Satyasandha, Sada, Suvak, Ugrasravas, Ugrasena, Senani, Dushparajaya, Aparajita, Kundasayin, Visalaksha, Duradhara; Dridhahasta, Suhasta, Vatavega, and Suvarchas; Adityaketu, Vahvashin, Nagadatta, Agrayayin; Kavachin, Krathana, Kunda, Kundadhara, Dhanurdhara; the heroes, Ugra and Bhimaratha, Viravahu, Alolupa; Abhaya, and Raudrakarman, and Dridharatha; Anadhrishya, Kundabhedin, Viravi, Dhirghalochana Pramatha, and Pramathi and the powerful Dhirgharoma; Dirghavahu, Mahavahu, Vyudhoru, Kanakadhvaja; Kundasi

Monday, August 31, 2015

15. Pandu

Kuntibhoja arranged for a Swayamvara for his daughter and invited all eligible monarchs and princes. During the Swayamvra, Kunti chose the Kuru prince Pandu and garlanded him. Kuntibhoja  got  the marriage between Kunti and Pandu performed in the traditional way and sent the couple off to the Kuru kingdom after presenting his son in law with a lot of wealth.  After returning to his capital, Pandu installed Kunti  as the queen.

After sometime, Bhishma wanted to get Pandu married to a second wife.  He went to meet Salya, the King of Madra taking along with him several sages, Brahmins and other councilors. He was received by the King of Madra  in an appropriate way. After extending his hospitality to Bhishma and his entourage, King Salya politely asked Bhishma of the purpose of his visit.  Bhishma said, “I have come here to seek your beautiful sister Madri for Pandu. You are worthy of an alliance with us and we too are worthy of an alliance with you.”

King Salya said, “There is no one other than a member of your family with whom I can enter into an alliance. But there is a custom in our family which I can’t violate.”

Bhishma was aware of the custom referred to by Salya. He said, “I respect your family custom and I will comply with it.” He then offered to Salya a lot of gold, precious stones, ornaments, clothes, elephants, horses and chariots as gift. Accepting these gifts, Salya gave away his sister. Bhishma returned to the capital of the Kuru kingdom, taking Madri along with him.

Pandu was married to Madri on an auspicious day.

Pandu lived happily in the company of his two wives for about a month. After thirty days, he left the palace for conquering the world,  taking leave of his wives, Bhisma, Dritharashtra and other elders. When his entourage comprising an army of soldiers, elephants, horses and chariots left the capital, it received an enthusiastic ovation from the people.

Pandu first subjugated the robber tribes of Asrana. He then attacked the kingdom of Mabhadha. He killed the King of Maghadha and defeated  his army. He then vanquished the kingdoms of Mithila, Kasi, Sumbha and Pundra. All the kings vanquished by Pandu along with their forces were made vassals of the Kurus.  All the kings regarded Pandu as one single hero on earth just as the Celestials regarded their chief Indra.  On hearing of Pandu’s victories, people of Kuru kingdom exclaimed “The glory of the achievements of Santanu,  and of the wise Bharata, which was about to die, has been revived by Pandu”

When  Pandu returned to Hastinapura, he was given a rousing reception by the  citizens with Bhishma leading them. Everyone was astounded by the quantum of wealth brought by Pandu, carrying it on the elephants, horses , chariots, camels etc. and the  long line of elephants, horses and other animals that was following the victorious Pandu.

Pandu fell on the feet of Bhishma and offered his respects. He also saluted the citizens who greeted him.

At the command of Dhritarashtra, Pandu  offered the bulk of the wealth he had acquired to Bhishma, their grand-mother Satyavati and their mothers.  He also distributed  some of the wealth to Vidura and his other relatives. Using the wealth brought in by Pandu, Dritharashtra performed five great sacrifices which were equal to hundred great Aswameta Yagas (horse-sacrifices,) during which he offered a lot of wealth to the Brahmins.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

14. Karna

Surasena was a chief of Yadavas. He was the father of Vasudeva, (father of Krishna). Surasena  had a daughter by name Pritha. As per a promise he had made to his cousin Kuntibhoja, Sura gave his daughter in adoption to him. After becoming the adopted daughter of Kuntibhoja, Pritha came to be known as Kunti. She was engaging herself in extending hospitality to the guests of Kuntibhoja, by taking care of their needs.

Once, Sage Durvasa, known for his rigid vows and short temper visited Kuntibhoja’s palace. Kunti  looked after his needs diligently as she would of any other guest. Gratified by her care and attention, Durvasa imparted to her a formula for invoking certain gods, who summoned by her would bless her with children. Being an ascetic endowed with the knowledge of the future, Durvasa  had known that Pandu, whom Kunti would marry, won’t be able to beget any children because of a curse. He gave this boon to Kunti to enable her to get children so that Pandu’s lineage would continue.  

Sometime after the sage had left, Kunti  became curious to find out whether the formula would work. She pronounced the Mantra invoking Surya, the Sun God. Immediately, Surya  appeared before her, the effulgent light emanating from him momentarily  blinding her. 

He asked her, “Tell me what you want.” 

Kunti said that  she was just testing the Mantra given to her by Sage Durvasa and pleaded with him to pardon her for her impropriety. 

Surya  said, “Since you have summoned me, I can’t leave without granting you a child.”  

He tried to allay her fears and then embraced her. Instantly, a male child was born to Kunti as a result of her union with Surya. The child, who would become famous for his valor, had natural armor embedded on him. Surya  restored the maidenhood to Kunti and then took leave of her.

Kunti  reflected  on what she could do with the child. Since she would be shamed if the birth of the child was known to anyone, she cast the child into the waters of the river Yamuna. The child was picked up by Suta, a charioteer and was brought up by him and his wife Radha. Since the child was born with a natural armor and ear rings, they named it Vasusena, meaning born with wealth.

As Vasusena  grew up, he became skilled in all weapons. He adored the Sun and would worship the Sun from the dawn till mid-day. During that time, he would give anything sought by Brahmins. Taking advantage of this, Indra, the Lord of the Celestials, intending to protect his son Arjuna, came to Vasusena in the guise of a Brahmin and asked for his natural armour. Without any hesitation, Vasusena  cut off his armor and gave it to Indra.  This feat earned him the name Karna (Peeler of his own cover).

Pleased by Karna’s magnificent gesture, Indra gifted him a Dart named Indrashakti , which he said had the power to kill anyone whether he was a  human being, a celestial or a demon.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

13. Gandhari

After the birth of the three children - Dritharashtra, Pandu and Vidura - the Kuru kingdom grew in prosperity.  The citizens  were filled with hope when they saw the youthful faces of their princes.

Dritharashtra, Pandu and Vidura were brought up by Bhishma, as if they were his own sons. The children grew up into young men well versed in Vedas and skilled in athletics. They became skilled in the use of a bow, fighting on horsebacks and riding elephants. While Dritharashtra excelled in personal strength, Pandu excelled in archery. There was no one to match Vidura in his devotion to virtue and his knowledge of the rules of ethics and morality

 Since the eldest of the brothers Dritharashtra was blind, Pandu was crowned the king.

One day, Bhishma told Vidura, “We should take steps to perpetuate our race. I find that there are three maidens worthy of being allied to our race. One is the daughter of Surasena of the Yadava race. Another is the daughter of Suvala and the third is the princess of Madra. I think we should choose them for the growth of our race. Tell me what you think.”

Vidura said, “You are our father. You are our mother too. You are also our teacher. Therefore, please do what you think is the best for us.”

Bhishma sent messengers to Suvala, the king of Gandhara seeking his daughter for Dritharashtra. Though Sulava  was initially reluctant to accept the proposal because of Dritharashtra’s blindness, he subsequently agreed to the proposal considering  the glory of the Kurus. He gave his daughter Gandhari in marriage to Dritharashtra.

Learning about Dritharashtra’s blindness, Gndhari blindfolded her eyes, resolving not to have the faculty of vision which her husband did not possess. Sakuni, the son of Suvala, formally gave her away to Dhritarashtra.  Gandhari was  devoted to her husband. She  gratified her superiors by her good conduct.

Friday, August 28, 2015

12. The three brothers

Santanu married Satyavati. Two sons, Chitrangada and Vichitravirya  were born to them. After Santanu’s death, Bhishma installed Chitrangada  on the throne. Chitrangada was a man of great prowess. He vanquished many kings.  It was widely accepted that Chitrangada could not be vanquished by any human being and that only the Asuras (the demons) and the Gods (the celestials) could d defeat him.

A Gandharva once approached Chitrangada and challenged him for a fight. The two fought for three years on the banks of the river Saraswati.  Chitrangada was killed in the encounter by his stronger opponent.  After his obsequies were performed, Bhishma installed Vichitravirya on the throne. Since Vichitravirya  was too young to understand the intricacies of governance, Bhishma ruled the country under the command of his stepmother Satyavati.

When Vichitravirya reached the age of marriage,  Bhishma wanted to get him married. He heard that the king of Kasi had  arranged for the Swayamvara of his three beautiful daughters. (Swayamvara, meaning self selection of the groom, is a system  that  enabled a princess to choose one of the kings assembled at the place, offering themselves as grooms) Bhishma went for the Swayamvara as a representative of Vichitravirya, after conveying his plan to his step-mother and getting her approval.

Many kings were assembled  in the king’s court. The kings were  introduced one by one so that the brides would know their identities. When Bhishma's name was mentioned, he  rose from his seat and addressed  the king telling him about the eight kinds of marriage and pointed out to him that  sages had said that if a woman was considered a prized possession, a king could take her by force. Bhishma then took the three brides along and placed them in his chariot.  He then challenged the kings assembled there to stop him, if they could.

The monarchs took up arms and began to fight Bhishma. However, Bhishma chased them away after destroying their weapons and inflicting injuries on them. One of them,  King Salya was not willing to give up and challenged Bhishma for a fight. With the other kings witnessing the fight as spectators, Bhishma humbled Salya in the fight but refrained from killing him. Salya went back to his country.

Bhishma brought the three young women to Hastinapura, the capital city of the Kuru kingdom and offered them to his step brother Vichitravirya. After consulting with his step mother Satyavati, Bhishma began to make arrangements for the marriage of the three girls with Vichitravirya. 

As arrangements were being made for the marriage, the eldest of the three girls, Amba, came to Bhishma and told him, “I have already chosen the king of Saubha as my husband and he has also agreed to marry me. My father has given his consent for the marriage too. It was arranged that I would choose him during the Swayamvara.  You know everything about morality and justice. Do what you think is right.”

Bhishma being a man of virtues consulted the  Brahmins well versed in the Vedas. he then  told Amba that she was free to do what she wanted to. She left the palace to meet her lover. 

The marriage between Vichitravirya and the other two girls Ambika and Ambalika was performed.
Vichitravirya lived a happy life in the company of his two wives for seven years. After this period, he was inflicted by a deadly disease.  No treatment worked and he soon died.

Satyavati was plunged into grief not only by the death of her two sons but also by the fact that the Kuru race was left with no heir, the only surviving prince Bhishma having renounced his right to become a king. 

She pleaded with Bhishma to raise offspring on the two young widows, ascend the throne and to marry another woman lest his ancestors, with their race cut off, should be plunged into hell. This advice was endorsed by the learned and wise men and the sages present there.

Bhishma said, “Oh mother, though what you want me to do is sanctioned by tradition, I can’t do so because I have taken a vow of celibacy and have also avowed not to ascend the throne.  I won’t  deviate from my  avowed status under any circumstance.” He also pointed out to her that he had given this pledge to her father and that a Kshatriya (one who belongs to the warrior race) should never commit a breach of trust.

Bhishma cited a few incidents from history to apprise her of what the right course was in situations similar to that. He first cited the story of Parasurama, the son of Sage Jamadagni, who, angered by the death of his father at the hands of the three sons of King of Haihaya, killed the king and subsequently wiped out the entire Kshatriya race. The widows of the Kshatriya kings, not out of lust, but out of a desire to keep their race alive, had offspring raised by Brahmins. As per the Vedas (the scriptures), a son so raised belonged not to the Brahmin, the child’s biological father, but to the Kshatriya who had married the child’s mother.

Bhishma cited another historical event involving Sage Dirghatamas. Dirghatamas, at the request of King Vali raised five illustrious sons through Vali’s wife Sudeshana. These sons were considered the sons of Vali. Bhishma suggested a course of action in these lines. He said that an accomplished Brahmin be invited to raise offspring on the wives of Vichitravirya.

Hearing Bhishma’s words, Satyavati said, “When I was a young woman, I was rowing the boat kept by my father for ferrying passengers across the river Yamuna. Once I was carrying the great sage Parasara. He was attracted by me and I yielded to his desire fearing that he would curse me if I resisted him. There was a revolting fishy odour in my body. The sage dispelled it and replaced it with a fragrance which is emanating from me even now. He said that after I gave birth to his child in an island on the river, I would become a virgin again. The child of Parasara born of me had become a great sage himself. He is known by the name  Dwaipayana (born in an island). That great sage has classified the Vedas into four parts. For this reason, he is called Vyasa (one who divides or arranges) and Vedavyasa. He went  with his father immediately after his birth. He had asked me to think of him when I needed his help. I think he can be asked to beget the children upon the wives of your brother. I will call him, if you agree with my suggestion.”

Bhishma endorsed Satyavati’s proposal since he knew Vyasa to be an ascetic of great virtues and immense power. Satyavati thought of Vyasa and Vyasa sensing her call appeared before her instantly.
After receiving Vyasa with due respect and offering him food, Satyavati requested him to beget children upon the wives of Vichitravirya, his step brother. Vyasa agreed to this request since it was sanctioned by custom. He said that the women should first be purified by observing for one year the vow to be prescribed by him. Only after that he would give them children. 

Satyavati pleaded with him to do it immediately since the Kuru race had been without a heir for sometime. Vyasa said that in that case the women had to bear his ugliness and strong odour. This would be the most austere penance for the women, he said. He told his mother to ask her daughter in law to be attired well wearing ornaments and wait for him in her bed chamber.

Satyavati went to her elder daughter in law Ambika and persuaded her to agree for the proposal in the interest of  continuation of the Kuru race. Ambika agreed to this after a lot of persuation from her mother in law. She was waiting in her bed when Vyasa entered. Seeing his  matted her and ugly appearance, she closed her eyes. She never opened her eyes once when Vyasa had been in unison with her. When Vyasa came out,  he was met by Satyavati.  He told her that a strong, valiant and intelligent son would be born but he would be born blind because of the fault of his mother.

Satyavati was upset on hearing this. She asked him to give another King since a blind person won’t be able to protect the kingdom.  Vyasa said 'So be it,' and left. Eventually, Ambika gave birth to a blind child.

After securing the assent  of her younger daughter in law Ambalika, Satyavati summoned Vyasa again. Ambalika, terrified by the looks of Vyasa,  became pale with fear. Vyasa told Satyavati that Ambalika’s son would be pale in complexion and suggested that he be called Pandu (the pale.) Satyavati requested him for one more child. Again Vyasa said, ‘So be it’ and left the palace.

After sometime, Satyavati solicited Ambika to approach Vyasa. Recalling the ugly looks of the sage and the strong odour emanating from him, Ambika wanted to avoid him. She sent her maid, a beautiful woman, after adorning her with her own ornaments.  When Vyasa arrived, the maid saluted him, treated him with respect and waited on him pleasingly. Pleased with her, Vyasa said, "Oh maid, you will no longer be a slave. You will give birth to a virtuous child who will be known as the most intelligent man on the  earth."

He told his mother how he was deceived by her daughter in law and was made to beget a son upon a Sudra woman. He then went away.

The son born to the maid was named Vidura. He was considered the brother of Dritharashtra and Panduby virtue of being the son of Vyasa. Vidura was free from desire and passion. He was conversant with the rules of governance. He was in fact the Lord of Justice born on earth under the curse of sage Mandavya.

Monday, August 17, 2015

11. Bhishma's Vow

King Santanu built up a reputation for being wise, virtuous and truthful.. He ruled the whole world from Hastinapura, the capital of the kings belonging to the Kuru dynasty.  Kings of the neighbouring countries lived without fear since Santanu, the emperor, never troubled them.

One day, when Santanu was pursuing a deer he had struck with an arrow on the banks of the Ganges, he was amazed to find that the river had become shallow at one place. Then he noticed a young man of strong build and beautiful appearance keeping the river in check using his celestial weapon. The youth was none other than Shantanu’s son Devavrata. While Devavrata had recognized Santanu, Santanu couldn’t recognize his son immediately.

Presently, Devavrata vanished from Santanu’s sight. It then struck Santanu that the youth he just saw was his own son. He mentally appealed to his wife Ganga to show him his son. Responding to his appeal,  Ganga appeared along with Devavrata and presented the young man to his father. “Oh king, here is your son Devavrata. He has learned the Vedas from Sage Vasishta. He has also been trained in the use of weapons. He has acquired all knowledge about the duties of a king. I am handing him over to you as per my promise.”

Ganga took leave of Santanu. Santanu took Devavrata to his palace, introduced him to his ministers and others and installed him as his heir-apparent.

Four years after this, when Santanu was hunting on the banks of Yamuna, he perceived a sweet fragrance. When he went in pursuit of this scent, he found that the fragrance was emanating from a young woman of exquisite beauty.  Santanu went to her and asked her who she was. She said that she was Satyavati,  the daughter of the Chief of the  fishermen and that she was engaged in carrying people across the river on a boat.

Santanu met the Chief and sought the hand of his daughter in marriage. The Chief said that he would be glad to get his daughter married to Santanu, if Santanu gave a pledge that the son born to his daughter would be Santanu’s successor for the throne.

Unwilling to accept this stipulation, Santanu left for his palace. However, he was unable to forget Satyavati, the fisher woman of exquisite beauty. He was in a melancholy mood always. Noticing this, Devavrata asked his father the reason for his somber mood. Santanu replied, “You are my heir. I am not interested in marrying again. But the scriptures say that having one son is equivalent to having no son at all. You have been engaging yourself in valiant acts. You may get killed in a battle. I am worried about what will happen to the Bharata race, if something were to happen to you.”

Devavrata, being an intelligent person realized that his father had been facing a dilemma which he was reluctant to share with him. He asked the King’s ministers whether they knew what the reason for the king’s grief was. The minister who accompanied Santanu when he met Satyavati’s father told Devavrata about the king’s desire to marry Satyavati and the condition stipulated by her father for getting her married to the king.

Devavrata, accompanied by some Kshatriya chiefs, went to the Chief of fishermen and requested him to give his daughter Satyavathi in marriage to his father Santanu. The Chief reiterated his condition that the son born to his daughter should ascend the throne.

Devavrata then took a vow that he would abdicate his right to the throne in favor of Satyavati’s son. The Chief appreciated Devavrata for his sacrifice and said, “I have no doubt that you will keep your word. But how can I be sure that your sons won't stake a claim to the throne?’

Hearing this, Devavrata said, “Right at this moment, I take the vow of Brahmacharya (celibacy). I will not marry or beget children as long as I live.”

Once Devavrata uttered these words, flowers were showered on him from the heaven by the celestials and the sages. A chorus of voices from the heaven said, “You are Bhishma (the terrible – one who performed a great feat).”  Satyavathi’s father accepted the marriage proposal and told Bhishma “I bestow my daughter to your father.”

Bhishma told Satyavati, “Oh mother, please get into the chariot and let us go to our house.”

After reaching Hastinapura, Bhishma narrated the events to his father . Hearing this, those assembled  in the palace exclaimed, “He is really Bhishma.”

Santanu was overwhelmed by the sacrifice of his son for the sake of his happiness and gave him a boon that Bhishma would live as long as he wished to. “Death will approach you only after obtaining your command,”  he said.(Bhishma made use of this boon by postponing his death till an auspicious time arrived after he was pierced by Arjuna’s arrows in the war.)   

Prince Devavrata thus transformed himself into Bhishma, a man of sacrifice who would devote his entire life to safeguard the rulers of Hatinapura.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

10. Ashta Vasus (The Eight Vasus)

Vasishta, the son of Varuna, the God of Rains, was a great sage who had attained an exalted status through intensive penance. He was also known as Apava. He had his abode in Mount Meru, where he was doing penance.

Daksha had a daughter by name Surabhi who was married to Sage Kasyapa.  Surabhi  gave birth to Nandini, a cow. This divine cow was a Cow of Abundance, capable of granting any wish sought from it. Vasishta obtained this cow for performing the rites. This cow would provide him things like Ghee required for performing a Homa (fire sacrifice), which was a routine activity for sages like him. Nandini dwelled in Vasishta’s Ashram, roaming in the woods freely. Nandinin was adored by all sages for its divine power of delivering whatever was requested of it.

The Vasus, the eight brothers with Prithu as their head, came to the forests, along with their wives. When they were wandering in the forests, they sighted Nandini, magnificent in appearance. The wife of Dyu, one of the Vasus pointed the cow to her husband and asked about it. Dyu told her that it was a divine cow that belonged to Sage Vasishta and that those who drank its milk would retain their youthfulness for 10000 years. She said that she had a friend Jitavati, who was a daughter of Sage Usinara and who was endowed with intelligence and was devoted to truth. She wanted Nandini’s milk to be given to her so that she could live long without being affected by any disease.
Intending to please his charming wife, 

Dyu momentarily failed to realize that he would be committing a sin and stole the cow with the help of his brothers. Sage Vasishta returned to his abode in the evening and fund that Nandini was missing. Through his divine vision, he realized what had happened. He got angry and cursed that the eight Vasus be born on earth.

The Vasus, on learning about the sage’s curse, returned the cow to him and begged him to forgive them. The sage said that he could not take back his curse but agreed to tone down the curse to the effect that the seven brothers other than Dyu would be freed from his curse within a year of their being born on earth. However, Dyu, the main culprit, would have to spend a long time on earth. He would not beget children and would remain a celibate throughout his life.

After narrating the story of the Astavasus to Santanu, Ganga told him about her meeting the Vasus and their requesting her to be their mother when they would be born as human beings.

Ganga suggested the names Gangeya and Devavrata to the child. She then went away taking the child with he,r after promising to send the child back to Santana after he grows up to become a youth.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

9. Santanu

Pratipa, while being a powerful monarch was also an ascetic.  He would often do penance sitting on the banks of the river Ganga.

One day, when he was meditating on the river bank, the river Ganga assumed the form of a beautiful damsel and sat on the right side of his lap. When the king asked her what she wanted, Ganga said that she wanted him to marry her. Pratipa told her that the right thigh was the seat for the daughters and daughters in law while the left thigh was the seat for the wife. Since she had sat on his right lap, she couldn’t become his wife, he clarified.

Ganga then beseeched him to accept her as his daughter in law. She said that she would make his son happy and bear him children and thus help him reach heaven. However, she told Pratipa that his son should never question the propriety of her actions. She then left for her abode.

After some time, Pratipa got a son. It was Mahabhisha who was born as his son as per Brahma’s curse. He was named Santanu. The name was derived from the word ‘Santi’ meaning tranquility and equanimity, the state of mind of Pratipa!

Santanu, like his father, grew up as a man of virtues. When he became a youth, his father told him “A beautiful young woman approached me sometime back and expressed her wish to marry you. She said she would bear you children and keep you happy. If she approaches you and offers to marry you, accept her offer. However, you should not question the propriety of any of her actions. He then crowned Santanu as the King and retired to the forests for doing penance.

King Santanu was fond of hunting and spent most of his time hunting animals in the forest. One day, he saw a beautiful lady on the banks of Ganga. Enchanted by her looks, he approached her and asked her who she was.

She said that she won’t reveal her identity but offered to marry him. However, she said that he should not question any of her actions, however disagreeable they might be. Santanu accepted her condition and married her, without knowing her identity. She conducted herself with dignity and the couple had a happy living. After sometime, a child was born to them. Immediately after giving birth to the child, Ganga carried the child to the Ganga and drowned it in the river. Though shocked by this cruel act, Santanu had to restrain himself from questioning her, since he was bound by the word he had given her before marrying her.

Ganga drowned her second child also and then went on to drown the next five children too. When she was about to drown her eighth child, Santanu stopped her and wanted to know why she was doing that cruel thing.

Ganga said that she won’t drown the eighth child but told him that she had to leave him since he had, in violation of his promise, questioned her action. She then revealed her identity to him and narrated the story about the curse of the Ashta Vasus and about why she was born as the mother of the Ashta Vasus.

Santanu wanted to know why the Ashta Vasus had to bear the curse of being born into the world as human beings. Ganga then narrated the story of the Ashta Vasus.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

8. Mahabhisha

King  Mahabhisha born in the Ikshvaku vamsa (race) achieved glory by conquering many countries and by performing  many sacrifices including the Rajasuya, considered  the greatest of all sacrifices. Yet, he was brought down by his lust.

There was an occasion during which all the celestials had assembled at a place to worship Brahma, the Creator.  King Mahabhisha was a part of the assembly. Many royal sages and Ganga, the sacred river, were also present. 

Brahma graced the gathering by appearing before them. There was a sudden gust of wind which momentarily lifted up Ganga’s garment. All the celestials bowed their heads down so as to avoid looking at the exposed part of Ganga’s body. But  Mahabhisha, unable to resist his temptation, stared at Ganga.

Angered by Mahabhisha’s conduct, Brahma cursed him to be born on the earth. He ordained that Ganga be born on the earth and cause him mental hurt.  When Mahabhisha was sufficiently provoked and showed his anger, he would be freed from the curse, said Brahma.

King Mahabhisha prayed that he be born as the son of King Pratipa, a monarch of great prowess. Ganga felt an attraction towards Mahabhisha caused by his lustrous gaze of her body.

While returning home from the assembly, Ganga met Vasus, a celestial tribe. Intrigued by their despondent looks, she asked them what their problem was. 

They said that while walking in the forest in the early hours of the morning, they had inadvertently stumbled on Sage Vasishta who was doing penance, because they were unable to see him in the dim light of twilight. Sage Vasishta had cursed them to be born as human beings. 

Learning that Ganga was also to be born as a human being as per Brahma’s edict, the Vasus requested that she be their mother. When Ganga asked them who would they choose to be their father, they mentioned  the name of Mahabhisha who would be born as Santanu, the son of King Pratipa.

The Vasus requested that Ganga throw them into the river as soon as they are born so that they would be relieved of the curse quickly. Ganga said that she should leave at least one son to Santanu. The Vasus accepted this. They said that they would each contribute one eighth of their energy to the one that would survive. However, they said that this son would have no children.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

7. Yayati

Prachetas had a son (his 11th son) by name Dhaksha from whom all creatures have emanated. He is therefore called the Prajapati (Godfather). 

Dhaksha begot 1000 sons and fifty daughters. His sons were taught the Sankhya philosophy (a religious path for salvation) by Narada, the son of Brahma. 10 of his daughters were married to Dharma, 13 to Sage Kashyapa, the son of Mariachi and 27 to Chandra, the Moon God.  These 27 wives of the Moon are known as the 27 stars of the constellation.

Aditi, the eldest wife of Kashyapa gave birth to Adityas, also known as the Devas (the Celestials). Indra was the eldest.  Vivaswat (the Sun) was among the other sons. Vivaswat gave birth to Yama (who became the God of Death) and Manu .

Manu was endowed with intelligence and wisdom.  The human race emanated from him. The human beings are therefore called Manavas (and also Manushyas). In Manu’s race was born Ila to whom was born Puruvaras.  

Puruvaras had six sons of whom Ayus was the eldest. Ayus had four sons, Nahusha being the eldest. Nahusha had great prowess. He conquered many kings and through practice of asceticism qualified to become Indra, the head of the Celestials. He made the seven great sages (Saptharishis) Vashista, Bharadwaja, Jamadagni, Gautama, Atri, Viswamitra and Agasthya to  carry his palanquin and commanded them to go fast. Agastya, angered by Nahusha's arrogance cursed him to become a snake. Nahusha instantly became a snake and fell down from the planquin. He also fell from grace.

Nahusha had six sons.  Since his eldest son Yati chose to become an ascetic, his second son Yayati became the king. He conquered the whole world through his valor. Yayati had two wives Devayani and Sarmishta.  He begot two sons Yadu and Turvasu through Devayani and three sons  Drahyu, Anu, and Puru through Sarmishta.  

Since Yayati had married Sarmishta who was Devayani's slave going against the word of Devayani's father Sukracharya, he was cursed by Sukracharya to lose his youth and be gripped by decrepitude. However, Sukra had given him a reprieve by providing that he could exchange his decrepitude for the youth of any of his sons and that the son who gave Yayati his youth would ascend the throne and attain virtue and fame.

As a result of the curse, Yayati became old but he still had a keen desire for worldly pressures. He called his five sons and told them, “I want to be young and be enjoying the pleasures of life for some more time. Will you take my old age and give me your youth for some time? You can take my aged body and be the king.”

While four of his five sons declined his request, his youngest son Puru exchanged his youthful body with his father’s aged body. Yayati enjoyed the worldly pleasures for many years but realized at the end that the desire for pleasures won't be quenched by enjoyment but would only be intensified. 

He then gave the youthful body back to his son Puru and said, “You are my true son and my race will be known by your name.”

His other sons protested but Yayati justified his decision by pointing out that only his youngest son showed a willingness to fulfill his desire.

Yayati then went to the Mount of Brighu to do penance. He eventually left his mortal body and ascended to heaven along with his two wives.

Yadu's descendants were called the Yadavas, those of Turvasu the Yavanas, those of Drahyu the Bhojas and those of Anu the Mlechchas. 

The descendants of Puru became the Pauravas. The Kauravas and he Pandavas were Pauravas. One of the descendants of Puru was Kuru. Since Kuru was a virtuous and renowned king, the dynasty began to be called the Kuru vamsa. The princes and kings who came in the lineage are called Kauravas. The sons of Dritarashtra as well as those of Pandu are Kauravas. However, with Pandu's sons having been called Pandavas, the term Kauravas are usually applied only to the sons of Dritarashtra.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

6. Bharata

On hearing her story, King Dushmanta said, "You spoke well. Oh beautiful girl, will you be my wife? I will shower you with golden ornaments, rare pearls from various countries, finest carpets and more. My entire kingdom will be yours! Let us marry in the Gandharva1 style.”

Shakuntala said, “Let us wait for my father’s return. He will give my hand in marriage to you.”

Dushmanta said, “Oh beautiful and faultless girl! You can present yourself to me. This is permitted by the scriptures. There are eight kinds of marriage viz Brahma, Daiva, Arsha, Prajapatya, Asura, Gandharva, Rakshasa and Paisasa. Manu2 says any of these eight systems of marriage will be appropriate depending on the circumstances, though certain systems have been considered appropriate for certain castes. The Gandharva and Rakshasa systems are permitted for kings. You don’t have to have any fear. Let us get married in the Gandharva style.”

Sakuntala said, “If this is permitted by tradition, then I accept your proposal.  But I need a promise from you. My son should be your heir-apparent.”

The King, driven by an impulsive desire to possess her, readily agreed to Sakuntala’s condition, without even thinking about it. 

They got married in the Gandharva style. The king took leave of her, promising to take her to his capital in a formal way, by sending all the four divisions of his troops to escort her with honor.

Sage Kanwa returned to his Ashram soon after Dushmanta had left. Sakuntala did not dare to tell him of what happened, out of a sense of shame. However, Kanwa, who possessed immense spiritual powers, was able to discern what had happened. He told Sakuntala, “Don’t worry, my daughter. You have not done anything wrong. The Gandharva style of marriage is appropriate for the kings. Dushyanta is a man of virtues. The child to be born to you will be a man of great prowess and valor and will rule the world.”

Shakuntala, moved by her father’s kind words, washed his feet and sought his blessings for Dushmanta. Kanwa blessed that all kings of the Puru race would remain virtuous and would never be deprived of their thrones.

Sakuntala gave birth to a boy. The baby had auspicious signs on its palm indicating that it would grow into a man of great prowess and virtues. Even at the age of six, the boy would capture wild animals like lions and tigers and tie them to the trees. By virtue of his performing this feat, he was nicknamed Sarvadamana (one who can subdue all.)

Kanwa decided that it was time that the boy was taken to King Dushmanta and made the heir-apparent. He asked some of his disciples to take Sakuntala and her son to Hastinapura, the Capital of the Puru kingdom. The disciples took both of them to the King’s palace. They left the mother and son in the king’s court and returned to their place.

Sakuntala told the king, “Oh king! Here is your son. Please make him the heir-apparent as per your promise made to me.”

Dushmanta said, "Who are you? I don’t remember to have seen you at all. Please go away.”

Astounded by the king’s words, Sakuntala became furious and her eyes turned red. However, controlling her anger, she said, “Oh king! Though you know the truth, you behave like a mean person. One who is dishonest with himself robs himself. Don’t be under the illusion that no one else knows what has happened. The omniscient Narayana, who resides in you has witnessed everything. You have sinned in his presence. He is aware of all your sins.

"The acts of a man are also witnessed by The Sun, the Moon, the Air, the Fire, the Earth, the Sky, Water, the heart, Yama, the day, the night, the two twilights, and Dharma. A person who degrades himself by telling lies will not be blessed by the gods. Even his own soul won’t forgive him.

“Just because I have come to you on my own without your having brought me here as promised by you, don’t treat me lightly. I am your wife and I deserve to be treated with respect. The husband who enters the womb of a woman emerges as the son. The son so born rescues his ancestors from the hell called ‘Put.’ That is why he is called a putra (son). One who begets a son conquers the three worlds. One who begets a grandson attains eternity. Through his grandson’s son, he gets everlasting happiness.

“A woman who has borne a son is considered a true wife. She is a true wife who is devoted to her husband. She is a man's half. The wife is a man’s first friend. Only a person who has a wife can perform religious rites. The wife is thus a man’s most valuable possession. A wife who predeceases her husband waits for his arrival at Yama’s world. A husband enjoys the company of his wife both in this world and in the other world.

“It has been said by learned people that a man himself is born as his son. So, a man should look upon his wife who has borne his son as his mother. Looking at the face of his son will make a man feel that he is looking at his own face in the mirror. The pleasure derived by a man by looking at the face of his son is like the pleasure derived by a virtuous man when he reaches the heaven. All physical and mental discomforts of a man will disappear when he looks at the face of his son.

“Why do you  treat with indifference your son who has come to you and who is eager to climb up on your knees? Even ants support their eggs. Why shouldn’t you, a virtuous man, support your son? The touch of soft sandal paste, cool water or of a woman won’t give you as pleasing a sensation as the touch of a son!

“At the time your son was born into this world, there was a divine voice from the sky proclaiming, “He will perform 100 Aswametha  yagas (Horse sacrifices)."

“My life depends on you and so does the continuation of my race. I was born to Menaka, the foremost among the six celestial women  (Urvasi, Purvasithi, Sahajanya, Viswasi and Ghritasi being the other five), who descended from the heaven and Sage Viswamitra whom she enticed. She cast me in the forest and went away. I was a virgin in Sage Kanwa’s Ashram before I met you. I don’t know what sin I had committed to be cast away  first by my parents and now by you! I can go back to my father’s place. But please don’t cast off your son."

Dushmanta said, “Women generally tell lies. Who will believe your words? After all, you were born to the lewd Menaka and the lustful Viswamitra! Your mother discarded you after giving birth to you, the way one throws away the flowers offered to God, after the worship is over. You speak like a lewd woman. I don’t know you. I am not the father of your son."

Sakuntala said, “My mother Menaka is the first among the celestial women. My birth is superior to yours. I have the power to go to the abodes of Indra, Yama, Kubera and Varuna.  I am like the Mountain Meru and you are like a mustard! An ugly person deludes himself to be better looking than others until he looks at his face in the mirror. But one who is handsome will not taunt others. One who is pure will never speak ill of others. But one who is wicked will derive pleasure from insulting good people. 

"Nothing can be more ridiculous than the wicked people calling the honest ones wicked! The swine will always look for the dirt and filth even if it is in a flower garden, while a swan will take only the milk after separating it from the water it is mixed with. A man, who, after having begotten a son, refuses to regard him as his son, will never attain the worlds he seeks to attain. He will find the gods destroying his possessions and fortune. 

"I appeal to you to honor the truth by accepting your son. When hundred Aswameta yagnas were weighed against Truth, Truth weighed heavier! Truth has the same value as have the study of the Vedas and ablution in holy places.Truth is God himself. Don’t violate your pledge. I desire that you and Truth be united. In case you don’t believe my words, I will go away. But take it from me that after you are gone from this world, my son will rule the entire world surrounded by the four seas."

After saying these words, Sakuntala left the palace. Immediately after this, Dushmanta, when he was among his ministers and priests, heard a voice from the skies uttering, “Dushmanta! What Sakuntala told you is the truth. Accept your son and don’t insult Sakuntala. Since the boy is to be cherished by you as per our word, he will go by the name Bharata (the cherished).”

Hearing these words, Dushmanta told his ministers and priests, “Did you hear the words uttered by people from the heavens? I knew all along that he was my son. But if I had accepted him based on Sakuntala’s words alone, my people would have been  harboring some doubts about his birth and he would not have been considered him pure."

The king accepted the boy as his son and performed all the rites that a father was required to perform. He hugged his son and experienced the delight that a father derived from the touch of his son. The Brahmins blessed the boy and the bards applauded him.

Dushmanta also accepted Sakuntala as his wife. He told her, "Oh Goddess! Since our union took place without the knowledge of anyone, I wanted to get it authenticated. If I had accepted you and our son on the basis of your words, my people would have deemed our union to have resulted from lust and our son to have been a product of an impure birth. Please forgive me and take back the harsh words you spoke against me in anger.”

Dushmanta then named his son Bharata and installed him as his heir-apparent.

Eventually Bharata became the king. The wheels of his chariots traversed the entire world. He conquered all the kings of the earth. He earned great fame. He was known as Chakravarti (the Emperor) and Sarvabhauma (Ruler of the whole Earth.) He performed many sacrifices including the Cow Sacrifice and Horse sacrifice and Sage Kanwa was the chief priest at those sacrifices.

It is from Bharata that the great Bharata race emanated. Many godlike monarchs had been born in this race.

Sage Vaisampayana mentioned the names the important monarchs in the Bharata race.

1 - Gandharva style of marriage is a marriage based on mutual attraction between a man and a woman, with no rituals, witnesses or the presence of family members of the bride and groom.

2 - Manu is the author of Manu Smriti, a code of ethics and behavior

Saturday, April 11, 2015

5. The Birth of Sakuntala

King Dushmanta once went to a forest for hunting. He was accompanied by his army and other followers. He killed a large number of animals. Seeing the wide destruction around, many animals including lions, tigers and deer began to flee the forest. Some animals fainted due to thirst and fatigue. The elephants that were injured became wild and started running amok, vomiting the contents of their stomach and trampled many warriors to death.

The king then moved to another forest. He was fatigued with thirst and hunger.  He first came across a large desert at the end of the forest. But after crossing the desert, he found another forest lush with plants and inhabited by many ascetics. All the trees were full of fruits. 

He saw an attractive retreat of ascetics in the midst of trees. The sacred fire had been lit and was burning. The retreat had many chambers with sacrificial fires. The floor was covered by flowers that had dropped from the trees. The river Malini was flowing near that retreat. There were many animals like the deer, lions, tigers, elephants, monkeys and bears on the banks of the river.

Dushmanta realized that it was the retreat of the illustrious sage Kashyapa which, at that time, was inhabited by sage Kanwa, belonging to his race. He told his followers, “I will enter the retreat, pay obeisance to Sage Kanwa and come back. Stay here till I come back.”

The king entered that retreat along with his minister and priest. He called out "Who is there?" A charming young lady, dressed as an ascetic's daughter, came out. She welcomed him and asked him to come in. She made him sit comfortably and then politely asked him of the purpose of his visit.

The king said, "I have come to pay my respects to Sage Kanwa. Where has he gone?"

The young lady replied that the sage had gone to fetch some fruit and requested him to wait. The king found the young lady to be exceedingly beautiful and pleasantly smiling. He asked her, “Who are you?  You have stolen my heart even at the first glance. I would therefore like to know more about you.”

The young lady replied, "Oh king! I am Sakuntala, daughter of Sage Kanwa.”

The king asked her, “How could you be the daughter of Sage Kanwa, who is an ascetic of severe vows?"

Sakuntala replied, “Oh king! I will tell you what I heard my father tell another Rishi (sage) about my birth.” 

She then began to narrate her story.

Sage Viswamitra was once engaged in austere penances. Indra, the God of the celestials, worried that the sage, through his penances might supplant him, summoned Menaka, the celestial dancer and asked her to wean the sage away from his penances by enticing him through her beauty. Menaka was reluctant to accept the assignment, considering the fact that Viswamitra was endowed with a lot of power and that he was short tempered. She feared that he might curse her for attempting to disrupt his penance.

Viswamitra was born as a Kshatriya (King) but subsequently became a Brahmana through his austere penances. He created a river called Kausiki for performing his ablutions. During the time, Viswamira was away from his country for doing penance, his wife was taken care of by the royal sage Matanga (Trisanku). Matanga was living as a hunter because of his father’s curse.

In return for the services rendered by Matanga, Viswamitra chose to be the priest for a sacrifice performed by Matanga. When the celestials refused to admit Matanga into the heaven, Viswamitra created a new heaven for Matanga, in between the earth and the heavens. This is known as Trisanku's Heaven. 

Recalling the above facts relating to Viswamitra, Menaka told Indra that she was afraid to approach him. She pointed out that she could be burnt alive by the sage who was capable burning the three worlds, making the earth quake by stamping on it and severing the mighty Meru mountain from the earth and hurling it to any distance.

She further said, “His mouth can emit fire,  the pupils of his eyes are like the Sun and the Moon and his tongue is like a weapon of Yama, the God of death. Even gods like Yama and Soma and the great saints like the Saddhyas, the Viswas, Valakhilyas are terrified of his prowess! How can a woman like me even touch him? 

"However, since you have commanded me, I will approach the saint. But you have to devise some plan to protect me.

“When I go near him and try to divert his attention from his penance by enticing him through my overtures, please ask Marut, the God of Winds to rob me of my dress. Let Manmata (Cupid), the God of  Love also help me in my endeavour.”

Menaka went to the retreat of Sage Viswamitra. She first saluted him and then began to sport. Lord Marut ensured that her garments were flown by the wind. Menaka, pretending to be bashful, ran as if attempting to retrieve her garments and showing her irritation with Marut.

Viswamitra who watched the drama enacted by her was instantly captivated by her beauty. Instantly consumed by lust, he indicated to her that he desired her company. Menaka was only too glad to accept his invitation. They spent a lot of time together. 

Eventually Menaka became pregnant. She delivered a female child on the banks of the river Malini and left the child there. The infant was protected by vultures that squatted around her. Kanwa saw the child lying on the river bank, while going to the river for his ablution and carried the child to his retreat. Since the baby was surrounded by Sakunta birds, he named her Sakuntala and brought her up as his own daughter.

Sakuntala narrated this story of her birth as she heard Kanwa narrating to another sage and said, “I consider Sage Kanwa as my own father.”