Tuesday, December 31, 2013

16. Garuda's Quest for Food

Garuda took leave of his mother, saying “I  shall go and bring Amrita. But I am terribly hungry and needd to eat something on the way. Where can I find something to eat?”  

Vinata replied, "You can eat the Nishadas who live in a region in the midst of a ocean. But be careful to not eat a Brahmin. Even Surya and Agni won’t burn you as intensely as the anger of a Brahmin observing rigid vows will.”

Garuda asked his mother how he could identify a Brahmin. Vinata advised him to use his best judgement and cautioned him that if he ate a Brahmin, the Brahmin would torture him like a fish hook, once he entered his throat and would burn like a charcoal. A Brahmin would not be digested in the stomach, added Vinata.

She then blessed her son by saying, “Let Marut, the God of Winds protect your wings, Surya and Soma your head and the Vasus (there are eight of them called ‘Ashtavasus.’) your whole body. I will also perform rituals for your welfare.”

Garuda stretched his wings and ascended the skies. And endowed with great strength, he soon fell upon the Nishadas. He was very hungry and it was as if he was another Yama, the God of Death. He raised a huge quantity of dust that spread over the firmament. He sucked up water from the ocean and shook the trees on the mountains. He then obstructed the major roads of the town of the Nishadas by his mouth, increasing its orifice at will. The Nishadas, blinded by the dust, entered Garuda’s mouth in large numbers and were swallowed by him.

A Brahmin, along with his wife,  had entered the throat of Garuda. He began to burn Garuda’s throat like a piece of burning charcoal. Garuda prayed to him to come out of his mouth. The Brahmin asked Garuda to let his wife who belonged to the Nishada caste, also to come out along with him. Garuda agreed to this. The Brahmin came out of his mouth, along with his wife and blessed Garuda.

As Garuda continued his flight, he met his father Sage Kasyapa. Kasyaa enquired him of the welfare of his family members and also asked him whether Garuda got sufficient food to eat everyday.

Garuda replied, “My mother and brother are well. I do not always get enough food to satisfy my hunger. I have been sent by the snakes to fetch the Amrita. I expect to get hold of the Amrita today. My mother and I will then be emancipated from slavery. My mother advised me to eat the Nishadas. I had eaten them by thousands, but my hunger is not satiated. Therefore, I would request you to advise me on what I should eat to appease my hunger and thirst.”

His father did not answer his question but showed him a lake in which an elephant was trying to pull a huge tortoise out of water, using his trunk. He then narrated a story.

Next Post:   Vibhasu and Suparika

Previous Post:  Garuda Forced Into Slavery

Monday, December 30, 2013

15. Garuda forced into Slavery

Garuda returned to be near his mother Vinata who was suffering the pains of slavery.. Once, Kadru asked Vinata to carry her to a remote place in the midst of the ocean inhabited by the Nagas. The mother of the bird of fair feathers carried the mother of the snakes on her shoulders. Garuda also carried the snakes on his back, as directed by his mother.

Carrying the snakes on his back, Garuda began to ascend towards the Sun. The snakes, scorched by the rays of the Sun, swooned. Seeing the plight of her sons, Kadru prayed to Indra, the Chief of the Devas, to protect her sons by causing showers to fall on them.

Indra answered her prayers by causing the clouds to cover the sky above the snakes and then to come down on the earth as heavy downpour. The earth was flooded by the torrent of rain and the rain waters reached even the Netherlands. The snakes were delighted by the rain. They, along with their mother, eventually reached the island called Ramaniyaka.

This island had a pleasant appearance with bountiful tress bearing fragrant flowers full of honey. The snakes enjoyed themselves for sometime. Then they commanded Garuda to carry them to some other island that had pure water (since the water in this island was salty). Garuda having been on the air often should have flown through some such places, they reasoned.

 Garuda asked his mother why he should do what the snakes ordered him to. Vinata told him about the wager that led to her becoming a slave to Kadru. Garuda, grieved at learning this, asked the snakes what he should do to free his mother from slavery. The snakes asked him to bring them Amrita (the divine elixir that would grant immortality to anyone who drinks it, the substance that caused the Deva-Asura war), getting it by force. They promised to free him and his mother, if he did that.

Next Post:  Garuda's Quest For Food
Previous Post:  Aruna and Garuda, Two Great Brothers

Sunday, December 29, 2013

14. Aruna and Garuda- Two Great Brothers

The next morning, the two sisters Kadru and Vinata, went out to view the divine horse Uchchaisravas from a close point.

In the meanwhile, the Nagas (serpents), after discussing among themselves, had decided to do what their mother wanted them to, hoping that she would free them from her curse. They also feared that they would lose her affection completely if she lost the wager. They made the horse's tail look black by becoming hairs in the horse's tail.

The two sisters reached the abode of the horse after crossing the ocean. They observed that the horse had a white body and a black tail as a result of the black hairs on the tail. In terms of the wager, Kadru put Vinata  into slavery.

This happened before the birth of Garuda. Thus the curse of Aruna on his mother Vinata came true.

Then Garuda was born when the time came, bursting out from the egg. Soon after his birth, he  grew in size and ascended the skies. Suffering from the fangs of hunger, Garuda looked fierce and his roaring made him appear terrible. He looked like an ocean fire.  The Devas were terrified of him and sought the protection of Agni, the God of Fire.

Agni said, “He is Garuda. He is equal to me in strength  and splendour. He is the mighty son of Kasyapa and is born to make Vinata happy. He is the destroyer of the Nagas, a foe of the Asuras and a well-wisher of the Devas. So there is no need for you to fear him. Come with me and look at him from close quarters.”

The Devas then praised Garuda acknowledging his greatness and appealed to him to decrease his body size and splendor since his mighty stature and roar were making many creatures panic. Garuda accordingly diminished his size and splendor. He then carried his elder brother Aruna on his back and went to his mother’s place.

In the meanwhile Surya, the Sun God who was sought to be swallowed by Rahu during the Solar eclipse became angry that he had to bear the brunt of Rahu’s anger though he had acted only in the interest of all the Devas and for the well being of the world. He was sore that the world was watching passively when he was being devoured by Rahu. So he decided to destroy the world using his rays. He went to the mountains of the West and began to radiate his heat towards the world.

The sages who were surprised by the intensity of heat at midnight went to Brahma, the Creator and expressed their anguish and consternation. Brahma told them of Sun’s resolve to destroy the world. As soon as the Sun rose in the East, the world would be burnt to ashes, he said. But he assured the sages that he had already provided a remedy to the problem by making Aruna, the elder son of Kashyapa the Sun’s charioteer. Aruna would absorb all the Sun's heat and save the world from destruction, he said.

Aruna, at the behest of Brahma, did all that he was ordered to do. And Surya (the Sun God) rose, veiled by Aruna's person.

Next Post: Garuda forced into slavery

Previous Post: The curse on the serpents 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

13. The Curse on the Serpents

In an earlier post, I was narrating the story of the sisters Kadru and Vinata who were married to  Sage Kasyapa.  Then we digressed into the story of the churning of the ocean culminating in the Deva-Asua battle.

There is a reason for this digression.

When Sage Sauti was narrating the story of Kadru and Vinata, he mentioned about a wager between the sisters about  the divine horse Uchaisravas that was obtained during the churning of the ocean by the Devas and the Asuras. Sage Saunaka was curious to know why the churning of the ocean was undertaken. In reply, Sage Sauti narrated the entire story. I have also done accordingly. Now, I will continue with the story of the sisters.

Once  Kadru asked Vinata, “Can you tell me quickly, without much thinking, what the color of the divine horse Uchaisravas is.”

Vinata replied that the horse was white in color. She also asked her sister to say what the color was and that they could lay a bet on it.

Kadru relied, “I think the tail of Uchaisravas is black. Let us lay a wager on it. Whoever loses will be the slave of the other.” They decided to check the color of the horse in person the next day.

Kadru decided to practice a deception. She asked her thousand serpent sons to envelop the tail of the horse so as to make the tail appear black. But the serpents initially refused to carry out this deception.  Angered by her sons’ defying her command, Kadru cursed them that they would be consumed by Agni (fire) during the sacrifice to be performed by King Janamejaya of the Pandava race.

Brahma, the Creator conveyed this curse to Kasyapa, the father of the cursed serpents and asked him not to grieve over this since the serpents that were causing the death of many other creatures by their poisonous bite had to be contained to save the other creatures. In any case this was ordained long time back, he said. Having thus consoled Kasyapa, Brahma  imparted to him the knowledge of neutralizing poisons. 

Next Post:  Aruna and Garuda

Previous Post: The Deva-Asura Battle

12. The Deva-Asura Battle

Vishnu who had taken the form of the damsel Mohini distributed the Amrita to the Devas. The Devas were drinking the Amrita with great delight. A member of the Asura clan Rahu was also drinking it, in the guise of a Deva. But even before he could swallow it, two of the Devas Surya (the Sun God) and Soma (also known as Chandra, the Moon God) discovered his identity and exposed him by shouting aloud. Vishnu, angered by the deception, cut off  Rahu’s head by hurling his discuss (the Sudarsana Chakra, the weapon in the form of a wheel, always wielded by Vihnu  on his right hand) at him.

The huge head of Rahu cut off by the discus rose up to the sky even as dreadful cries emanated from his mouth, while his headless body fell on the earth, making the Earth tremble with her mountains, forests and islands. From that time, there has been a long standing feud between Rahu (represented by his head) and the two Gods that exposed his deception - Surya and Soma. During the Solar and Lunar eclipses, Rahu's head attempts to swallow Surya and Soma respectively.

Lord Vishnu then quitting his enchanting female form hurled many terrible weapons at the Asuras, making them tremble with fear. The battle between the Devas and the Asuras was fought on the sea  shore. After a long fight involving the use of many weaons by both sides, the Asuras were vanquished by the Devas. Most of the Asuras fell down to the earth or were drowned in the sea.

After winning the battle,  the Devas paid due respect to the Mandara mountain and placed it again on its own base. The Devas returned  to their own abodes after making  the heavens resound with their shouts On returning to the heavens, Indra and the other deities made over to Narayana the vessel of Amrita for safe custody.

Next Post:  The Curse on the Serpents

Previous Post: The Churning of the Ocean

11. The Churning of the Ocean

There was a mountain called Meru, with peaks of golden lustre. It had an immeasurable size. It was beyond the reach of ordinary people. Only the Devas and the Gandharvas (celestial beings) would visit its peaks.

Once the Devas  assembled there to plan how they could obtain the Amrita (celestial ambrosia or nectar that would make anyone who drinks it immortal). Seeing this, Lord Vishnu told Lord Brahma that Amrita can be obtained if the Devas and the Asuras (demons) together churned the ocean. The churning would also release various other precious things like gems, drugs etc.

The Devas proposed to tear up the the giant Mandara mountain and use it as the shaft to churn the ocean. Vishnu agreed to this and asked Ananta (also known as Adhisesha), the thousand-hooded serpent that served as the seat and bed of Vishnu, to tear up the mountain.

The Devas along with Ananta went to the shore of the ocean and expressed their intention to churn the waters of the ocean. The ocean consented to it but wanted a share of the nectar as a compensation for its bearing the agitation of its waters.

The Devas approached the king of the tortoises and asked him to hold the mountain on his back. He agreed.

 The Devas and the Asuras started churning the ocean by placing the torn up Meru mountain on the back of the tortoise king and using it as the churning staff. Vasuki, the serpent was used as the chord, the Asuras holding its hood and the Devas, its tail.

Ananta, who was on the side of the Devas would, now and then, raise the snake's hood and suddenly lower it. As a result, black vapours with flames came out of Vasuki's mouth. While the impact of these vapors caused discomfort and agony to the Asuras, the vapors, after going up, turned into clouds and poured showers that refreshed the tired Devass. Fragrant flowers from the trees on the whirling Mandara also fell on the Devas and refreshed them.

The churning of the ocean produced a loud roar like that of the clouds. A large number of aquatic animals were crushed by the whirling movement of the great mountain. Large trees with birds on the whirling Mandara were torn up by the roots and fell into the water. The friction among the trees produced fires that blazed up frequently. The mountain thus looked like a mass of dark clouds charged with lightning. The fire spread, and many animals like lions, elephants etc. living on the mountain were consumed by the fire. Indra, the King of the Devas extinguished the fire by causing heavy showers to pour down.

After some time, gummy exudations of various trees and herbs having the properties of Amrita mingled with the waters of the Ocean. The Devas attained immortality by drinking this water. The milky water of the agitated deep gradually turned into clarified butter by virtue of those gums and juices. But nectar still did not appear.

The Devas went to Brahma and lamented at the nectar not coming out even after so much of churning. They said they were not left with any more strength to continue the churning. Hearing their plea, Brahma requested lord Vishnu to help them. Vishnu granted them the strength they needed and asked them to resume the churning.

The churning was accordingly resumed. After sometime, various objects emerged out of the ocean one by one. The major objects/beings that came out were:

1) The Moon

2) Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, dressed in white.
3) Soma, the divine elixir
4) Uchaisravas, the White Horse
5) the divine gem Kaustubha

Then came Dhanvantri, the God of Wellness with the white vessel of Nectar on his palm.

Then came Airavata, the celestial white elephant with a huge body and  two pair of white tusks.

Lord Vishnu took the Kaustubha and also took the hand of Lakshmi in marriage. Airawata was taken by Indra.

As the churning still went on, the poison Kalakuta emerged,blazing up like a fire attended with fumes. The three worlds were stupefied by the trenchant odour of the fumes.At the request of Brahma, Lord Siva, swallowed the poison but managed to hold it in his throat. He is therefore called called Nilakanta (blue-throated).

The Asuras were  about to  enter into a confrontation with the Devas for the possession of Amrita, when Lord Vishnu called his bewitching Maya (illusive power) to his aid, and assuming the form of an enticing female, made the Asuras hand over  the pot of Amrita to him (her!)

 Next Post:  The Deva-Asura Battle

Previous Post: The Birth of Garuda

Friday, December 27, 2013

10. The Birth of Garuda, the King of Birds

Prajapati had two daughters by name Kadru and Vinata, Both were given in marriage to Sage Kasyapa. Kasyapa offered to give each of them a boon of their choice. 

The two sisters had developed some rivalry between themselves. Kadru was the first to ask for the boon. She wanted to have for sons a thousand snakes, all of equal splendour. Vinata wished to have two sons surpassing the thousand offsprings of Kadru in strength, energy, body size and prowess.  Kasyapa granted them the wishes they had asked for. Kadru produced thousand eggs and Vinata two eggs. Kasyapa asked his wives to preserve the embryos carefully and went to the forest for doing penance. The maids deposited the eggs separately in warm vessels.

After Five hundred years, the thousand eggs produced by Kadru burst open and thousand snakes came out. But the two eggs produced by Vinata did not hatch. Vinata was jealous and impatient. She broke one of the eggs. It had an embryo with the upper part developed but the lower part undeveloped. The child in the egg became angry and cursed his mother, saying "Since you broke the egg in haste and prevented the full development of my body. I curse you to become a slave. If you wait for for five hundred years and allow the other egg to develop fully, an illustrious son will emerge out of it and will free you from slavery."

Immediately after pronouncing this curse on his mother, the child rose to the sky. Surya, the Sun God  saw him and immediately took him as his charioteer. He is Aruna, who is seen in the morning at the time of sunrise. (The term Arunodhayam is used to refer to the sunrise)

After five hundred years, the other egg burst out and Garuda, the Eagle (commonly called Pakshiraja, the King of Birds) came out. Garuda, the serpent-eater felt hungry immediately on his birth and started flying in quest of the food assigned to him by the Creator

Next Post:  The Churning of the Ocean

Previous Post: Jaratkaru Weds Jaratkaru

Sunday, October 13, 2013

9. Jaratkaru weds Jaratkaru!

Before we could learn the story of Astika and how he saved the serpents from extinction, we should learn about his birth.

There was an austere Brahmachari (an unmarried Brahmin) by name Jaratkaru. He was an ascetic, leading an abstemious life, eating sparingly and keeping his mind away from lustful thoughts. He once went on a pilgrimage. He visited many shrines, bathed in diverse sacred waters, resting wherever he could, during the nights. Drawing upon the huge reservoir of energy he had within him, the sage lived only on air, and renounced sleep. Once, while going about his way like a fire walking on its feet,  Jaratkaru noticed some human bodies hanging from the fibres of a tree with their heads down, inside a cave. He asked them who they were, pointing out that the fibres supporting them were being fast eroded by rats. 

They replied: "We are souls that have departed from the earth. We are to be fed by our lineage (sons, grandsons and great grandsons) through offerings in ceremonies. We have a son by name Jaratkaru who has been living an austere life and not contemplating marriage. Because of his attitude, our dynasty is facing extinction. That’s why we are suspended in this hole. Who are you, kind man, that grieves for us?”

Jaratkaru said, “ Pardon me ancestors. I am Jaratkaru! Please tell me how I may serve you.”

The forefathers said, “You should beget a son to extend our line. That is the only way you can serve us, not by your ascetic way of life.”

Jaratkaru agreed to marry, for the sake of his forefathers. But he said that he would marry a woman only if she had the same name as him and given to a poor man like him as a gift by her parents or other relatives.

After this incident, Jaratkaru wandered through many places in search of a bride but he couldn’t find one.

One day, he went to a forest and openly prayed for a bride. He pleaded in a low voice three times. Vasuki, a serpent that was near him happened to hear the sage's prayer. He came before Jaratkaru and said that he would offer his sister in marriage to the sage. The sage asked Vasuki. the name of his sister. Vasuki said, “Jaratkaru.”

Jaratkaru married Vasuki’s sister bearing his own name and begot a son by name Astika. Thus Jaratkaru was able to fulfill his duty to his ancestors.

(Vasuki had a motive for giving his sister in marriage to the sage. We will see this in another post.)

Next Post:  The Birth of Garuda

Previous Post: Ruru

Saturday, October 12, 2013

8. Ruru

Chyavana had a son by name Pramati and Pramati had a son by name Ruru.

There was a saint by name Sthulakesha. Once, a newborn female baby was left outside his hermitage by Menaka, the celestial dancer. This child was the result of Menaka's secret intimacy with the Gandharva King Vishwavashu. Menaka was forced to abandon the child due to a sense of shame.

Sage Sthulakesha brought her up. He gave her the name Pramadvara.

Ruru happened to see Pradamvara and fell in love with her. He conveyed his desire to his father Pramati who took up the matter with Sage Sthulakesha. The marriage was agreed upon and a date was also fixed. However, before the marriage could take place, Pradamvara inadvertently stepped on a serpent which bit her. Pradamvara succumbed to the serpent's bite.

When Ruru was lamenting his fiancee's death, he heard a message from the heavens that said he could restore Pradamvara to life by offering a part of his life span to her. Ruru instantly agreed to this. The celestial messenger and the Gandharva King who was Pradamvara's father appealed to Yama, the God of death to give a new lease of life to Pradamvara by taking away a part of the lifespan of Ruru.

Pradamvara was thus brought back to life and the marriage was performed on the date fixed earlier. Unable to stomach the fact that Pradamvara was bitten by a serpent, Ruru developed a deep sense of antagonism and anger towards the serpent race. Whenever he saw a serpent, he would kill it using a weapon.

Once when he was about to kill a snake belonging to the Dundubha species, the snake asked him why he had to be killed when he had not committed any offense towards Ruru. Ruru then explained that since a serpent had bitten his wife, he was determined to kill all snakes. The snake said that all snakes were not alike and that the snakes belonging to the Dundubha race were harmless.

Observing that the snake was gripped by fear, Ruru asked the snake, "You don't appear to be a snake. Who are you?"

The serpent replied, "Formerly, I was a Rishi (sage) by name Sahasrapat. I was transformed into a serpent due to the curse of a brahmin."

Prompted by Ruru, the sage-turned-serpent narrated his story. "I had a friend by name Khagama. He had developed spiritual powers by practice of severe austerity. But he was impetuous by nature. One day, when he was doing Agnihotra (fire sacrifice), I made a snake using grass blades and threw it on him just to frighten him  He swooned, out of shock and fear. Once he regained consciousness, he cursed me to become a snake. I told him that I had only played a joke on him just for fun and pleaded with him to pardon me and revoke his curse. He said 'A curse once given can't be revoked. I can only mitigate its effect. You will e freed from this curse when Ruru, the son of Pramati appears before you.'  And his words have come true with your appearance before me a
nd I am now relieved of the curse"

Instantly, the serpent was transformed back to his original form of a sage. He thanked Ruru, blessed him and said "A brahmin should be well versed in the Vedas. He has a sacred duty of inspiring all creatures with faith in God. He should be kind, benevolent, truthful and forgiving. He should not take away the life of any creature. Nor should he be harsh towards anyone. These are the injunctions of the Vedas. A kshatriya (one belonging to the warrior sect) should, on the other hand,  be stern and should weild the sword."

He then narrated the story of the destruction of the snakes in the Sarpa Yaga (a ritual for destroying the snakes) performed by King Janamejaya, a descendant of the Pandavas to avenge the killing of his father Parikshit by a serpent and how the serpent race was saved from decimation by Sage Astika.

Next Post:  Jaratkaru Weds Jaratkaru!

Previous Post: The Curse on Agni

Thursday, October 10, 2013

7. The Curse on Agni, the God of Fire

There was a sage by name Brighu. Brighu was created by the Creator Brahma from the fire at a sacrificial rite performed by Varuna, the God of rain. Thus Brighu is to be considered the son of Brahma, the Creator.

Brighu married Puloma. Puloma became pregnant after some time. One day Brighu left her alone in his hermit and went to the river to perform ablutions. At that time, a Rakshasa (demon) entered Brighu's house. Puloma entertained him offering him fruit and snacks, taking him for a guest. (It was a practice in ancient India to offer food to anyone, including a stranger, who visits one's house. In fact, feeding at least one stranger before the people in the house took their food was even considered an obligation.) The rakshasa was attracted by Puloma's beauty and was instantly consumed by intense lust.

He saw the sacrificial fire (Agni) that was earlier lit by Brihu and was still burning. He asked Agni, "This woman's father had betrothed her to me and I had also accepted her as my wife. (When Puloma, as a child, was committing small acts of mischief, her father had threatened her that he would hand her over to a demon, as parents generally do. This demon was trying to literally interpret this as Puloma having been offered to him by her father!). But she was subsequently appropriated by Sage Brighu. Tell me whom she rightly belongs to - to me or to Brighu."

Agni was scared to speak the truth, fearing that doing so would infuriate the demon, and said, "It's true that Puloma's father offered her to you first. But this was not done in a formal way through performing the necessary rituals. But she was married to Sage Btighu with vedic rites performed in my presence." Discarding Agni's equivocal reply, the demon took the form of a boar, carried Puloma and flew fast like the wind. Upset by this violent movement, the child in Puloma's womb fell down on the earth. The child was (later) named Chyavana (born premature)

Stunned by the sight of the child falling down, the demon let Puloma out of his grip and fell down. He got instantly immolated and was turned into ashes. Puloma picked up her child Chyavana from the earth and walked away, sobbing uncontrollably. Her tears followed her like a stream of water. Seeing this sight, her grandfather Brahma named this river Vadhusara.

Brighu saw his wife carrying the baby and crying uncontrollably. He ascertained from her what had happened. He was enraged by the behavior of Agni and cursed him, "You will eat everything."

Agni was outraged by this curse.He protested to Brighu that as an impartial witness, he only spoke the truth. To show his protest, Agni withdrew from all places ranging from the sites of the daily homa (a fire ritual) of the brahmins to the places of sacrificial rites of sages. Since  food and other contributions were being offered to the gods and deceased forefathers through the medium of Agni, Agni's refusal to appear affected every one. The sages went to Brahma and prayed to him.

Brahma pacified Agni by saying that he would turn Brighu's curse positive. As a consequence of Brighu's curse, Agni would consume everything without any discrimination and would make things pure in the process. Brahma also granted him a boon that in sacrificial rituals, a share of the offerings made to the gods would also be given to Agni.

Mollified by Brahma's words, Agni started performing his role of receiving the offerings on behalf of the gods and the deceased souls and delivering the offerings to them, while also getting his own share in the process.

Next Post:  Ruru

Previous Post: Utanka

Saturday, October 5, 2013

6. Uttanka

Veda (the disciple of Dhaumya, whose story was narrated in the previous post) had a pupil by name Uttanka. Once, Veda left for another place for performing a sacrifice. He told Uttanka, "I will be away for some time. You will have to take care of this household the way I will."

Once, the maids of Veda's wife came to Uttanka and said that Veda's wife was ready for  a connubial connection after her menstrual period and since Veda was absent, Utanka should take his place. 

Uttanka refused to do so saying that his Guru had not implied that he should do improper things. After Veda returned home, he learnt what had happened during his absence and was immensely pleased with his pupil's moral values. He gave Uttanka permission to leave, his term in Gurukula having been successfully completed.

Uttanka wanted to offer Gurudhakshina (honorarium) to his Guru Veda. Veda, who had no desire for material things, advised Utanka to ask his wife what she wanted and offer that as the honorarium. 

When Uttanka approached Veda's wife, she  asked him to approach King Paushya, request him to gift him the pair of ear-rings worn by his queen and bring it to her. That would be the honorarium Utanka could offer to his Guru Veda. 

She said that she wanted the ear-rings in four days, for wearing them during a ceremony in which she would be feeding some Brahmins. She also said that if Uttanka could get her the ear-rings within four days he would be blessed with good fortune adding that he couldn't expect anything good in life if he failed to do so.

Uttanka took up the mission and proceeded to the country of King Paushya. On the way, he saw a giant bull with a large sized man riding it. 

The man sitting on the bull asked Uttanka to eat the dung of the bull. When Uttanka hesitated, the man said, "Your Guru had eaten this." Uttanka ate the bull's dung, drank its urine, washed his hands and mouth and proceeded to Paushya's place.

He met Paushya and asked him to donate the ear-rings of his queen. Paushya asked him to meet the Queen in her chamber and ask her for the rings. 

When Uttanka entered the Queen's chamber, he couldn't find her. He returned to the King and told him that the Queen was not present in her chamber. He also accused the King of playing tricks with him.

The King said that the Queen being a chaste woman would not be visible to anyone tainted with even a slight impurity. Uttanka confessed that he had performed his ablutions (washing the body with water) in a standing position which would have made him impure (since ablutions had to be performed in a sitting position.) 

He then purified himself by sitting down facing the east and washing his hands, feet and face. He then sipped a little water from his palm thrice and touched his eyes, ears etc.with his wet fingers by way of purifying his entire body*

He then entered the Queen's chamber in his purified state. He was able to see the Queen. He requested her to gift him her ear rings, which were sought by his Guru's wife by way of honorarium. 

The Queen removed her ear rings and gave them to Uttanka. She said Takshaka, the King of Serpents was after the ear rings and advised him to be cautious.

When Uttanka went to take leave of the King, the King requested him to accept the food he wanted to offer his forefathers through Uttanka in a Sraadhdhaa** ceremony. 

Uttanka acceded to the King's request but insisted that the food be pure. The King agreed. 

Uttanka found that the food offered to him was cold. It also contained strands of human hair. 

Uttanka got angry and told Paushya, "Since you have given me unclean food, you will lose your eyesight." Offended by this curse, Paushya hit back saying that the food was not impure and since Utanka had called a clean food unclean, he won't beget children.

Challenged by Uttanka to check the food, Paushya found that the food was cold and had a few strands of human hair. He apologized to Uttanka and requested him to revoke his curse. 

Uttanka replied that he couldn't revoke the curse but agreed to mitigate it saying that Paushya would get back his eyesight soon. He then asked Paushya to revoke his own curse on Uttanka. 

Paushya said that he couldn't do so since his anger still remained unsubdued. He pointed out to Uttanka that a Brahmin's heart was soft like butter though his words were sharp like a knife while in the case of a Kshatriya (a King), the reverse was the case.

However, Uttanka told him, "I was on firm ground when I said that the food was impure. You have cursed me on the wrong presumption that I called the food that was clean unclean. Since I had been truthful, your curse won't have any effect on me." He then left the palace.

On his way back home, Uttanka observed a scantily clad beggar crossing his path now and then. At one time, Utanka stepped into a river for his ablutions after leaving the ear rings on the bank. The beggar grabbed the ear rings and ran away. 

After completing his ablutions, Uttanka realized that the ear rings were stolen and seeing the image of the beggar at a distance, started pursuing him. Eventually, he caught hold of him. 

At that time, the beggar assumed his real form, that of Takshka, the Serpent King and escaped by entering into a large hole on the ground. Uttanka tried to broaden the hole with a stick but couldn't. 

Indra, the King of the Devas (Celestials) came to his help. Using his Vajrayudha (a weapon as hard as the diamond), he dug deep into the earth and created a path to the Naga Loka ( the land of the serpents.)

After entring the Naga Loka, Uttanka recited a prayer requesting Takshaka to return the ear rings to him but his prayer evoked no response.

He then looked around and observed a few things:

  • Two women were weaving a cloth in a loom. The loom had black and white threads.
  • Six boys were turning a wheel that had 12 spokes.
  • There was a man sitting on a handsome horse.
Seeing these sights, Uttanka recited a mantra (a sacred verse) which carried the meaning: 

"The wheel represents the 12 divisions (lunar months) of a year and the six boys, the six seasons (Spring, Summer, Monsoon, Autumn, Pre-Winter and Winter)

The two women represent the universal nature, constantly weaving the cloth representing the continuous evolution of manifold worlds and the living beings that inhabit them.

You, the rider of the horse is the Lord of the universe."

The man on the horse, pleased by this verse, asked Uttanka what he wanted.

Uttanka replied that he wanted to bring the serpents under his control.

The man on the horse asked Uttanka to blow into the mouth of the horse. When Uttanka did this, flames emanated from all the apertures of the horse.

Terrified by the intensity of  the heat resulting from the fire, Taksha rushed out of his abode and offered the ear-rings to Uttanka. But Uttanka was still concerned about reaching his Guru's place within the deadline fixed by the Guru's wife. 

Comprehending Uttanka's problem,  the man on the horse offered his horse to Uttanka, telling him that the horse would take him to his destination within a moment.

Uttanka thanked the man and mounted on the horse. He reached his Guru's place almost instantly. The Guru's wife was pleased to receive the ear-rings from Uttanka and blessed him with good fortune.

Uttanka waited for his Guru to come home. He narrated his experience to his Guru Veda.  Veda revealed to him the significance of what Uttanka saw and experienced. 

He said, "The large bull you saw on your way to Paushya's palace was Iravata, the celestial elephant and the man who had mounted it was Indra, the King of the Devas (angels). 

"The dung you were asked to consume was Amrita, the elixir of the Deva Loka that will give immortality to anyone who partakes it. It was due to the effect of the Amrita that you were unharmed during your visit to the Naga Loka. 

"Indra who is a friend of mine had intercepted you and made you consume Amrita, in order to protect you from death. The two women you saw weaving a loom are known as Dhata and Vidhata. 

"The white and black threads signify day and night, the twelve spokes the twelve months in a year and the six boys the six seasons. The man on the horse was Parjanya, the Deity of Rain and the horse was Agni, the God of Fire."

Uttanka took leave of his Master who appreciated his sense of dedication and duty and blessed him. 

Uttanka was very angry with Takshaka for having stolen the ear-rings from him and having made him undergo a strenuous ordeal. He wanted to avenge Takshaka. 

He visited King Janamejaya, whose father Parikshit, grandson of Arjuna, was bitten by Takshaka and persuaded him to avenge his father's death. 

On his advice, Janamejaya performed a Sarpa Yaga (a ritual to decimate the serpents). And Uttanka conducted this Yagna as the Chief Purohit (Priest/Guide).

*This purification process is known by the name aachamaneeyam, which is first performed before beginning any ritual, ceremony or puja.
**Sradhdha is a ceremony in which food is offered to one's deceased forefathers by feeding brahmins. The brahmins are believed to represent the forefathers.

Next Post: The Curse on Agni
Previous Post: Three Disciples

Thursday, October 3, 2013

5. Three Disciples

There was a Rishi (sage) by name Ayoda Dhaumya. He had three students in his Gurukila - Upamanyu, Aruni and Veda. In the Gurukula system, the students staying in the Guru's house were expected to do domestic chores at the bidding of the Guru and his wife. Since they were residing in the Guru's house, they would be spending some time attending the classes, some time doing sundry jobs connected with the Guru's household and sometime studying alone or spending time with the other students.

Aruni was one day asked by the Guru to go to the fields and repair the breach in the water canal feeding the fields. Aruni tried to pluck the breach with mud and stones but the breach didn't get fixed. Then he decided to lay his body against the breach. Since the flow of water was stopped by the weight of his body, he just lay there without moving.

Finding that Aruni had not returned by late evening, Dhaumya went to the fields along with his other students in search of him. He called out Aruni's name repeatedly. Hearing the Guru's voice, Aruni got up from where he was lying down and came to him.

Aruni said, "Revered Master, as per your command I tried to repair the breach and since I couldn't repair it, I was laying my body against the breach to prevent the water from coming out. I got up and came here on hearing you call my name. Please tell me what I should do now."

Dhaumya was pleased by Aruni's dedication, blessed him and told him that he had successfully completed his stay in the Gurukula and he was now qualified to go into the world on his own.

Dhaumya asked another of his disciples Upamanyu to take the cattle out for grazing every day. Upamanyu would leave for the grazing fields with the cattle before sunrise and would return only after sunsight. Dhaumya observed that in spite of spending a whole day out, Upamanyu was physically strong and energetic. When he asked him about it, Upamanyu said, "After leading the cattle to the grazing fields, I would go to the houses nearby and seek alms."

The Guru said that Upmanyu should not eat anything obtained by him as alms without offering it to the Guru. The next day, Upamanyu offered the grains he received as alms to Dhaumya but Dhaumya sent him away without giving him anything.

After sometime, Dhaumya observed that Upamanyu continued to remain robust. When asked about this, Upamanyu said that after offering the grains he obtained as alms to the Guru, he would seek alms again. The Guru forbode him from doing this for the reason that Upamanyu's seeking alms twice would deprive other alms seekers of their share.

But Upamanyu continued to remain physically strong. When queried, he said that he was drinking the milk of the cows. The Guru pointed out that drinking cow's milk without offering it to the Guru was wrong. He also said that milking the cows would result in the calves not getting adequate milk. Thus, even milk was denied to Upmanyu.

But Upamanyu was still hale and strong. Dhaumya again called him and tried to find out what he was eating. Upamanyu said that he was eating the froth coming out of the calves' mouths after they fed themselves off their mothers. Dhaumya said that the calves were releasing a large quantity of milk drunk by them by way of froth out of compassion for him. Upmanyu was asked not to drink the froth also.

The next day, Upamnayu, having nothing to eat, ate the leaves of a tree. The leaves happened to be of a poisonous plant and he was blinded by the effect of the poison. Stumbling his way, he fell into a dry well.

When Upamanyu didn't return home till late in the evening, Dhaumya went in search of him. He called out his name. Upamanyu said, "Master I became blind on eating the leaves of a poisonous tree and fell into a well." Dhaumya advised him to pray to Aswini Devatas, the twin gods of Health and Medicine, to get his eyesight restored.

Invoked by Upamanyu's sincere prayer, the Aswini Devatas appeared before him. They offered him a medicine in the form of a cake. But Upamanyu refused to eat the cake without first offering it to his Guru. The Aswini Devatas revealed to him that Dhaumya himself, on an earlier occasion, had eaten the cake offered by them without offering it to his own Guru. But Upamanyu stuck to his stand. Pleased by his devotion to his Guru and strict adherence to the Guru's words, the Aswini Devatas restored him his eyesight.

Upamanyu returned to the Guru's house. Pleased by his discipline and honesty, Dhaumya blessed him and allowed him to leave the Gurukula and pursue his interests in the world.

The third disciple Veda was asked to work in Dhaumya's house. He performed his tasks with sincerity and dedication enduring all kinds of hardships including hunger, thirst, heat and cold. He was also eventually discharged.

Veda chose the domestic way of life. He got married and lived with his wife in a house. His house became the Gurukula for three pupils. But Veda didn't ask them to perform any arduous tasks in his house. He didn't like his pupils to suffer the way he, Aruni and Upamanuyu had suffered under Dhaumya. He treated his disciples with kindness and dignity.

Next Post:  Utanka

Previous Post: Drona and Drupada Part II

Friday, September 27, 2013

4. Drona and Drupada - A Study in Contrast, Part 2

Drona and Drupda happened to study together under sage Bharadwaj. While Drona was the son of Sage Baharaswaj, Drupda was the Prince of Panchala. They became good friends. Their friendship became so intimate that at one stage, Drupada told Drona that when the former became the King of Panchala, he would gift half of his country to his dear friend Drona.

After completing his studies in the Gurukula, Drupada returned to his country and was eventually crowned as the King. Drona married Kripi, sister of Kripacharya (a descendant of sage Gautama but brought up by King Shantanu, the ancestor of the Pandavas and Kauravas). Drona was engulfed by poverty at the time his son Aswathama was born. He was unable to feed the child even.

At that time, he remembered his Gurukula friend Drupada who had offered to give him half of his country after becoming the king. Drona approached Drupada but the reception he got was not very encouraging. Drupada didn't even seem to remember their friendship. Yet, Drona briefed him of his plight and sought his help, reminding him of his generous promise made in the Gurukula days.

Drupada chided Drona for taking words said during childhood serious and for his temerity in talking about their friendship. He pointed out that friendship could exist only between equals and not between a King and a beggar. Stomaching the insult, Drona pleaded Drupada to at least provide him with a cow to enable him to feed his starving child but Drupada mercilessly showed him the door.

After sometime, Drona was chosen by Bhishma to teach archery and other martial arts to the Pandavas and the Kauravas and Drona's life changed for the better. He was a highly respected and admired teacher of the Hastinapura princes. Arjuna emerged as the most skilled archer and consequently as Drona's favorite student.

When the training was over, it was time for the students to offer Gurudhakshina (honorarium ) to the teacher. Drona used this occasion to avenge his humiliation at the hands of Drupada. He told Arjuna that capturing Drupada and presenting him before himself would be the Gurudhakshina he expected from Arjuna. Respecting the Guru's wishes, Arjuna challenged Drupada for a fight and conquered him. Drupada was chained and brought before Drona.

Drona reminded Drupada how the latter humiliated him when he approached him for help. He pointed out to Drupada that his country Panchala  now belonged to him, having been offered as Gurudhakshina by his disciple Arjuna. He recalled Drupada's words that friendship could exist only between equals and pointed out that having been deprived of his country, Drupada was not fit to be Drona's friend! Yet, Drona said that he was magnanimously returning half of his country Panchala to him, retaining the other half for himself. Drona then released Drupada and sent him back after giving him half of the country back

Now Drupda had suffered a humiliation. He wanted to avenge his humiliation. But he had the wisdom to differentiate between Drona, who perpetrated the humiliation on him and Arjuna, who was only used as a weapon. So, he had no feelings of resentment or anger towards Arjuna. On the other hand, he admired Arjuna's valor and wanted to bring Arjuna to his side.

Drupada performed a Yagna (a sacrificial ritual) and begot as fruits of this sacrifice, a son Drishtadhyumna who would kill Drona in a battle and a daughter Draupati. who would marry Arjuna.

Draupati grew up to be won over by Arjuna in a Swayamvara (a contest among prospective bridegrooms to win the bride) and became his wife.

In the Kurukshetra war between the Pandavas and Kauravas, Dristadhyumna, fighting on the side of the Pandavas, killed Drona who fought on the side of the Kauravas. (It is another matter that Dhrishtadhyumna learned archery from Drona himself and Drona had the magnanimity to teach him the arts as sincerely as he taught the other students, in spite of knowing that Drishtadhyumna would use the  skills to kill him in the war.)

Both Drona and Drupada faced humiliations. One may be inclined to sympathize with Drona but it is also possible to say that Drona had gone too far  by punishing Drupada, since Drupada was under no obligation to help Drona. Anyway, I don't like to go into the question who was more wronged or who was more unreasonable. 

But I think that Drupada's response to the humiliation was more pragmatic than Drona's. While Drona focused only on revenge, Drupada adopted a positive approach. He chose to gain from his defeat by winning over Arjuna. That way, I think that Drupada's approach was more positive than Drona's. This may be due to the fact that Drupada was a king and focused more on winning than on avenging.

Next Post: Three Disciples

Previous Post: Drona and Drupada Part I

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

3. Drona and Drupada - A Study in Contrast Part 1

Most of the people even with a faint idea of the Mahabharata story will recognize the name Drona as that of the teacher of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Mahabharata is an intricately carved out story with fine character sketches and interesting anecdotes built around even minor characters. One can take up Drona's story alone to elaborate and narrate in an interesting way.

But not many may readily recognize the name Drupada, who is also a key character in the epic. He was the king of Panchala and a childhood friend turned enemy of Drona. Let us look at the events that brought these two characters together first to collaborate and then to conflict.

Drona was the son of Sage Bharadwaja. Sages and scholars were the sources of education and training. At any time, a number of students would be learning at the feet of a sage by staying with him for a number of years. This system called Gurukula was like the system of a residential school in the present times. The main difference is that students didn't pay any tuition fee upfront. Only after completing their studies would the students be expected to make a contribution to the Guru, by way of Gurudhakshina (Guru-Teacher. Dhakshina-contribution). The Gurudhsksina was not always in the form of money. It often involved doing something for the Guru. Students would invariably find out the Guru's preference before offering him (I am using the word 'him' with no hesitation because the Gurus were all men!) the Gurudhakshina.

Without collecting any money from the students, how could a Guru feed his family and the students for years? The students who were invariably bachelors (there were no girl students!) had a duty to seek alms for their food. This was a responsibility enjoined on all bachelors with a view to make them learn the virtue of humility. The food grains collected by the students would not only cover their needs but the needs of the Guru's family also. The idea was to free the scholar from the rigors of earning for his family and encourage him to focus on continued learning and research.

The simple yet immensely powerful system produced many scholars from among the students who in turn carried the legacy of imparting education to a next generation of students that would seek these scholars out as their Guru.

Next Post: Drona and Drupada (contd.)      

Previous Post: The Significance of the Number 18

Saturday, June 29, 2013

2. The Significance of the number 18.

For some unknown reason, the number 18 keeps appearing several times in the Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata has got 18 volumes (called parvas).- I mentioned this in my first post as well.

The Mahabharata war was waged for 18 days.

The two warring sides together had 18 Akshauhinis of army units between them. Of the 18 Akshauhinis, the Pandavas had only 7 and the Kauravas 11.The army had 4 divisions - Chariots, Elephants, Horses and Foot Soldiers. 

A basic unit comprising 1 chariot, 1 elephant, 3 horses and 5 soldiers was called Patti. 3 units of Patti made a Sena-Mukha. A Gulma was made of 3 units of Sena-Mukha and 3 units of Gulma, in turn, constituted a Guna. 

As you would have guessed, 3 units of Guna would give rise to a larger unit called  Vauhini, 3 units of a Vauhini to a Pritana, 3 units of Pritana to a Chamu and 3 units of Chamu to one Anikini. But then, we started with Akshauhini, if you would remember! Combine 10 units of Anikini and you will get an Akshauhini.

If you do the Math right, you will find that one Akshauhini had 21,870 chariots, 21,870 elephants, 65,610 horses and 109,350 soldiers. So, how many were there in 18 Akshauhinis? There were 393,660 chariots, 393,660 elephants, 1,180,980 horses and 1,968,300 foot soldiers. If you include the people mounting horses, elephants and chariots, the number of people engaged in the war comes to nearly 4 million. And the tragic thing is that almost all of them, bearing a few people on the side of the Pandavas were killed in the war!

Mahabharata is also known by another name Jaya. This Sanskrit word means victory. But Sanskrit alphabets also denote the numerical digits. 'Ya' stands for 1 and 'Ja' for 8. But the convention to depict numbers with alphabets is to write them in the reverse order. Thus 'JAYA', the other name by which Mahabharata is known, stands for the number 18!

One can also add that the Mahabharata has  about 1.8 million or 18 lakh words. You have the number 18 again, though it is only an approximate figure here.

Mercifully, I have not written 18 paragraphs about the significance of 18 in the Mahabharata, but only 8, including this!

Previous Post:  Introduction

Next Post: Drona and Drupada - A Study in Contrast