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