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.”

Saturday, April 4, 2015

4. The Devas and the Asuras

Sage Kashyapa had many wives. Among them were the sisters Diti and Aditi. The sons of Aditi were virtuous and called Devas (meaning the gods or the celestials.) The sons of Diti were wicked by nature and were called the Asuras ( meaning the demons.) There were frequent wars between the Devas and the Asuras and the Asuras lost all the battles.

After having been defeated repeatedly, the Asuras lost their kingdom in the heaven and were also stripped of their sovereignty. Using their powers, the Asuras got themselves reincarnated on the earth. They were born into various forms like human beings and animals. They began to oppress all kinds of people causing them immense hardship. They also harassed the rishis (sages) and obstructed their penances and other rituals.

Mother Earth, finding it unable to withstand the burden created by the oppressive acts of the Asuras went to Brahma, the Creator and pleaded with him to ease her burden. Brahma assured her that he would ask the Devas to come to her help. Accordingly, Brahma commanded the Devas to take birth on the earth, confront the Asuras and eliminate them eventually.

The Devas accepted the command of Brahma. Then they went to Vaikunta, the abode of Lord Vishnu (Narayana), the God of all gods and the destroyer of evil and requested Him that he should also become incarnate on the earth. Vishnu acceded to their prayer. They discussed with Vishnu on the parts they have to play on the earth. The Devas were born in the race of sages. Eventually, they destroyed the Asuras completely and made the earth a safe place to live.

Sage Vaisampayana narrates the names of all those born on the earth as per Brahma's command. Since the list is too long, I am not giving the names here. Knowing these names may not be necessary to understand the story of Mahabharata.

Friday, April 3, 2015

3. Vaisampayana narrates the Mahabharata

King Parikshit was the son of Abhimanyu and the grandson of Arjuna. Once, while hunting in a forest, he pierced a deer with his arrow. The wounded deer ran away. Parikshit went in search of the deer. He walked a long distance in the forest but could not find the deer. Fatigued and thirsty, he came across Sage Samika seated in a cow-pen and drinking the froth oozing out of the mouths of calves after they had fed themselves of the cows. He asked the sage, “Oh saint, I am King Parikshit, son of Abhimanyu. A deer pierced by me has been lost. Did you see it?'

Since the sage was observing a vow of silence, he didn’t rely. Angered by the sage’s silence, Parikshit picked up a dead snake with the end of his bow and placed it on the sage’s shoulder.  Even then, the sage didn’t react and suffered the insult silently.

Finding that the sage didn’t protest at the treatment meted out to him, Parikshit felt sorry for his act and returned to his palace quietly. Sage Samika had a son by name Sringin who had gone out. He had great energy and observed severe austerities. He was severe in his vows, very wrathful, and difficult to be appeased. One of his friends told him that King Parikshit had insulted his father by placing a dead snake on his shoulder.

Sringin became very angry on hearing this and cursed Parikshit to be bitten within seven days, by Thakshaka, the King of snakes. After throwing this curse, Sringin went to his father and found him sitting with the dead snake on his shoulder. He told his father that he had cursed Parikshit.

The sage chided his son saying, “I am not happy about what you have done. Ascetics should observe restraint. We live in the country ruled by King Parikshit and we are protected by him. If he didn’t protect us, we wouldn’t be able to perform the penances peacefully. Parikshit was tired and thirsty when he came here. He was not aware of my vow of silence and had acted in haste. We should have forgiven him.. The king protects the sacrificial rites and these rites please the gods who give us rains which help the plants and trees that provide food to us grow. A country without a king will suffer. You have acted rashly and immaturely.”

Sirgin relied, “Whether what I have done is right or not, the words I have uttered will come true and a curse can never be revoked.”

Sage Samika sent one of his disciples named Gurumukha to King Parikshit for apprising the king of the curse.  Gurumukha went to the palace met the king and apprised him of the developments. Parikshit grieved not so much about the curse as about the fact that he had insulted the great sage without being aware of his vow of silence.

Parikshit then consulted his ministers and as per their advice, had a mansion erected on a solitary column. The mansion was closely protected by guards and no one could enter the palace unseen. Brahmins sitting in the mansion were engaged in chanting mantras continuously.

Thakshaka devised a deception to enter the mansion. He made some snakes take the form of ascetics and enter the palace with gifts of fruits for the king. Thakshka took the form of a small insect and penetrated one of the fruits. The snakes accordingly disguised themselves as ascetics, entered the mansion and met the king . The unsuspecting king accepted the gifts offered to him. After the ‘ascetics’ had left, King Parikshit, along with his ministers began to eat the fruits. As fate would have it, the fruit in which Thakshaka was hiding came to be eaten by the king. Parikshit observed a small insect coming out of the fruit and took it in his hand.

He told his ministers, “The sun is about to set. The deadline for the curse is about to end. Let this insect become Thakshaka and bite me so that my sin will be expiated by the words of the sage coming true.” This was seconded by all the wise men assembled there.

King Parkikshit placed the insect on his neck. Even as the King was smiling, Thakshaka assuming his real form coiled around the king's neck and bit him causing him to die instantly. The entire mansion blazed with the fire of Thakshaka’s poison making all  the ministers flee the scene. They saw Thakshaka coursing through the sky.

You can read this story in more detail here:

The councillors of Parikshit had his last rites performed and crowned his eldest son Janamejaya the king. Janamejaya was only a boy at that time. After sometime his ministers, intending to provide a strong support to the young monarch  approached Suvarnavarman, the King of Kasi and asked him to give his daughter Vapushtama in marriage to Janamejaya. The king acceted the proposal and got his daughter Vapushtama married to Janamejaya. After the marriage, Janamejaya travelled to many places along with his wife, enjoying life in the company of his wife.

After sometime, Janamejaya asked his ministers about his father and his achievements. The ministers told him what a great virtuous and compassionate ruler Parikshit was. Then he asked them about the cause of his father’s death. They told him all the details including Thakshaka’s persuading Kasyapa to go back by giving him the wealth he wanted to get from the king.

Janamejaya asked them how they came to know of what transpired between Thakshaka and Kasyapa, they said that this was revealed by a person who was sitting on a dry branch of a banyan tree with the intention of cutting some wood to be used as a sacrificial fuel. He had overheard their conversation. He was also burnt to ashes when the tree was bitten by Thakshaka but was subsequently revived when Kasyapa brought the tree back to life.

On learning that his father was bitten by the serpent Thakshka using deception, Janamejaya decided to avenge the death of his father. His anger was directed at Thakshaka for having prevented Kasyapa from coming to the palace and bringing the king back to life after he was bitten by Thakshaka. He felt that Thakshaka should have done this because he would have become an object of ridicule if the king was brought back to life by Kasyapa after he was bitten by Thakshaka.

Janamejaya was also prodded by Utanka to avenge his father’s death. He called the chief priest of his country and expressed his intention to burn Thakshaka and other snakes who had burnt his father through his poison. The priest told him that there was a sacrificial ritual called Sarpa Yaga through which the snakes could be offered to Agni, the God of Fire. The king ordered that arrangements be made to perform such a sacrifice by engaging the services of Brahmins well versed in the rites.

The Snake Sacrifice was performed following due procedure, Many snakes were drawn to the sacrificial fire by the power of the mantras chanted by the Rishis (sages) and were burnt to ashes. However, Thakshka himself was saved by the intervention of sage Astika who sought and got a boon from Janamejaya that Thakshaka would be spared.

Sage Vyasa himself attended the sacrifice. Janamejaya requested him to narrate the story of his ancestors, the Pandavas, which Vyasa had already recorded in the form of the epic, later came to be known as Mahabharata. Vyasa asked his disciple Vysampayana to narrate the story.

This is how Mahabharata was narrated before an audience for the first time. One of those who listened to this discourse, Sage Ugrasrava, subsequently narrated the story to a group of sages who were doing penance in the forest of Namisaranyam.

You can read the incidents relating to Janamejaya's sacrifice at the following links: