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.

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