Friday, March 14, 2014

28. High Drama at Janamejaya's Sacrifice.

Astika was impressed by the grandeur of the sacrifice being performed by Parikshit. He went to Parikshit and expressed his appreciation saying, 'In an earlier period, Soma, Varuna and Prajapati  had performed sacrifices at  Prayaga. Your sacrifice matches theirs. Your sacrifice  is equal to thousand sacrifices of Sakra who had performed hundred sacrifices. Your sacrifice also compares well with the sacrifices of Yama, Harimedha, Rantideva, Maya, Sasavindu, Vaisravana, Nriga, Yudhishthira and several others. The priests who are conducting the sacrifice are erudite and have nothing left to learn. In this world, there is no other king equal to you in protecting his subjects. I am highly pleased with your abstinence. You are like Yama, the God of Justice. In this earth there is no man so great as you are and no King who can conduct such a great sacrifice. You are like Khatwanga, Nabhaga, and Dilipa. In prowess, you are equal to Yayati and Mandhatri. In splendour, you are on par with the Sun and in taking a vow and fulfilling it, you are like Bishma! Like Valmiki, you are full of energy stored within you. Like Vasishtha, you have controlled your anger. You are a lord like Indra. Your splendor resplends like that of Narayana. Like Yama, you know how to dispense justice. Like Krishna, you are adorned with every virtue. You are the home of the good fortune and the refuge of the sacrifices.”

Astika then conveyed his appreciation to all the priests conducting the sacrifice.

Janamejaya told the sages assembled there, “Though he is only a boy, he speaks like a wise old man. I want to bestow on him a boon. Please give me the necessary permission.”
The sages said, “'A wise man deserves the respect of kings. This boy deserves every desire of his being fulfilled by you but not before Takshaka comes and falls into the sacrificial fire.”

Janamejaya, however, requested Astika to ask for a boon. The priests protested saying that Thakshaka had not yet come near the sacrificial fire.

The King requested the sages to use their powers for early completion of the sacrifice by making Thakshaka arrive soon.

The sages said that Thakshaka was taking refuge in the kingdom of Indra. Indra had assured him that he would protect him from being consumed by Agni.

The king asked the priests to do what was required. The priests then chanted the mantras (holy hymns) and poured ghee into the fire. As a consequence of this,  Indra himself arrived on the sky above the venue of the sacrifice in his chariot along with other devas (celestials), celestial singers and dancers, Takshaka was hiding  in the upper garment of Indra and was not visible.

Janamejaya, filled with anger. told the priests to ordain that if Takshaka was in the abode of Indra, he be cast into the fire along with Indra himself. As the priests uttered the mantras, Thakshaka became visible in the skies. Indra became alarmed and beat a hasty retreat to his abode, abandoning Thakshaka to his fate. Thakshaka was brought near the sacrificial fire by the power of the mantras.

The priests said, “Oh King, your sacrifice is being performed duly and is nearing fruition. If you please, you can now grant the boon to this brahmin Astika.”

Janamejaya then told Astika, "Oh sage with a handsome and child-like appearance, I desire to grant you a boon. Ask whatever you desire. I will grant it even if it is ungrantable.”

The priests said, “'O King, Takshaka will be coming under your control soon. We are all hearing his terrible cries, after being forsaken by Indra. His body is falling from the heaven due to the effect of the mantras.”

Even before Thakshaka would fall into the fire, Astika said, “Oh King, if you want to grant me a boon, let this sacrifice come to an end immediately and let no more snakes fall into the fire.”

Dismayed by Astika’s request, Parikshit told him, “ 'O illustrious one, I will give you gold, silver, or whatever other possessions you desire. But let not my sacrifice come to an end before its objective is realized.”

Astika replied, “I don’t  ask for Gold or Silver. I only ask for the termination of this sacrifice so that my mother’s relatives will be relieved of sorrow.”

Janamejaya repeatedly pleaded with Astika to ask for some other favour but Astika   was firm on his plea. The sages advised Janamejaya to grant Astika what he had asked for.

Though considerable time had lapsed between the moment Takshaka was thrown off Indra's hands, the snake remained in mid air without falling into the sacrificial fire, in spite of the fact that the priests had been chanting the mantras and pouring ghee into the fire by way of libations. This was because Astika had said ‘Stay (where you are)’ thrice into the ears of Thakshaka who had become unconscious after being thrown off by Indra.

Janamejaya finally yielded to the advice of the priests and granted the wish of Astika saying, “ Let Astika’a wish be fulfilled. Let the sacrifice be ended and let the snakes be safe."

 The sacrifice of Janamejaya, the King of the Pandava race and the son of Parikshit came to an end.

Rather than getting disappointed by the premature ending of the sacrifice, Janamejaya was pleased with the performance of the sacrifice.  He concluded his sacrifice according to the prescribed rites and rewarded all the priests who conducted the rituals, the sages that graced the ritual by their presence and all those present at the site with liberal grant of money and goods. 

He also rewarded Lohitaksha, the architect  well versed in  the rules of building and foundations, who even at the time the  construction was being made had predicted that the sacrifice wouldn’t be completed.  

The king also honoured  Astika  and told him , “You  come again to preside over the  horse sacrifice (Aswameta Yaga), I plan to perform in the near future.” Astika accepted the invitation and returned home with the satisfaction of  having achieved his objective.

After reaching home, Astika narrated the events to his mother and uncles. The snakes  were very much pleased with Astika and asked him to ask for a favor in return for the service he had rendered to them.

Astika said, 'Let those who, in the morning or in the evening, read the sacred account of this may be bestowed with concentration, have no fear from any of you.' And the snakes gladly agreed to his request. They said those who will call Astika to mind won’t l have no fear of snakes. They also ordained that a snake that does not refrain from biting after hearing the mention of the name Astika would have its hood divided a hundredfold like the fruit of  Snsa tree.

Astika who  saved the snakes from the snake-sacrifice ascended to heaven when his time came, leaving sons and grandsons behind him.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

27. Vasuki seeks Astika's help to save the snakes

Takshaka, the prince of snakes whose action gave rise to the sacrifice, on hearing about the sacrifice, went to Indra and sought his protection, admitting his own sin of biting King Parikshit to death. Indra gave him solace and granted him refuge in his abode.

Vasuki was grieved over many snakes getting killed and his own family getting reduced to only a few. He went to his sister Jaratkaru and apprised her of the situation. Saying that his own turn to be drawn into the sacrificial fire might come that day, he pointed out that the time had come to fulfill the purpose for which she was married to Jaratkaru. Reminding her of Brahma’s prophesy that her son Astika would save the snakes from extinction, he  asked her to persuade Astika to act immediately to put an end to the sacrifice.

Jaratkaru called her son Astika and told him " O son, the time has come for the accomplishment of that object for which I was married to your father by my brother. Therefore, do what should be done.”

"Astika asked, 'What was the purpose for which you were bestowed on my father by my uncle? Tell me about it.”

Jaratkaru told him the entire story starting from the curse of Kadru on her sons.

Hearing the story, Astika  promised his mother and uncle that he would act immediately.

After allaying the fears of  his uncle Vasuki, Astika rushed to the site of Janamejaya's sacrifice. He was initially denied admission by the gatekeepers but he managed to enter the site after gratifying them.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

26. Sarpa Yaga - The Sacrifice that Pulled the Snakes to Death!

The snake-sacrifice commenced following the due procedure. Many eminent sages like Chandabhargava (belonging to  the Chyavana lineage), Kautsa, Jamini, the Sarngarva and Pingala duo, Vyasa, his son Sukha and Vyasa’s disciples, Uddalaka, Pramataka, Swetaketu, Pingala, Asita, Devala, Narada, Parvata, Atreya, Kundajathara, Kalaghata, Vatsya, Srutasravas, Kohala Devasarman, Maudgalya, Samasaurava) participated in the sacrifice playing various roles.

The priests, well-versed in the nuances of the rituals were clad in black. Their eyes, in contrast, were red from contact with the smoke from the sacrificial fire. As they poured ghee into the sacrificial fire raised and contained in the huge homa kundas (trough like structures for containing the sacrificial fire) chanting the appropriate mantras, the snakes were lifted up from where they were, carried to the site of the sacrifice and fed to the fire.

The snakes came in large numbers, many of them twining with others and uttering loud cries out of fear fell into the fire and were quickly burnt into ashes. The snakes were of different colors, sizes and breed. Thousands of snakes including some giant ones of the sizes of a horse and an elephant were killed. The atmosphere was filled with a pungent and unpleasant stench due to the incessant burning of the snakes.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

25. Janamejaya Plans the Serpent Sacrifice

Parikshit having been bitten to death by Thaklshaka, his councilors 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 Thajshaka. 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 can 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.

When the platform for the sacrifice was being built, a construction expert, by examining the soil on which the platform was being constructed, said that the type of soil and the time at which the measurement was made indicated that the sacrifice won’t be completed.

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Previous Post:     The Story of Parikshit

Saturday, January 18, 2014

24. The Story of Parikshit

There was a king by name Parikshit. He was the son of Abhimanyu and the grandson of Arjuna. After the Mahabharata war, Drona’s son Aswathama tried to decimate the entire Pandava race to avenge the killing of the Kauravas by the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war using the most powerful Narayana Astra. Parikshit who was in the womb of Uthara, Abhimanyu’s wife was protected by Krishna using his Sudarsana Chakra.

Parikshit was a great warrior. He was also fond of hunting. 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 place 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 by Thakshaka, the King of snakes within seven days. 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.

On the seventh day, a Brahmin named Kasyapa decided to go to the palace with the intention of curing the king in case he was bitten by Thakshaka, the snake, thereby earning the goodwill of the king. On the way he was met by Thakshka in the guise of a Brahmin. After ascertaining the intention of Kasyapa, Thakshaka revealed his identity and told him that Kasyapa couldn’t cure the king after he was bitten by him. But Kasyapa claimed that he had the power to cure the king of snake bite.

Thakshka  said that he would bite a banyan tree on the side of the road and challenged Kasyapa to bring it back to life. Kasyapa accepted the challenge. Thakshaka bit the banyan tree. The poison released by the snake blazed like a fire and burnt the tree to ashes. But Kasyapa brought back the tree to life by first reviving its sprout, then making two leaves appear, then creating the stem, then the branches and so on.

Impressed by Kasyapa’s feat, Thakshaka asked Kasyapa why he wanted to save the king. When Kasyapa said that he wanted to get huge wealth from the king, Thakshaka offered to give him more wealth than the king would give. Tempted by this offer, Kasyapa sat in meditation and through his spiritual powers learnt that the king’s life span was coming to an end. So he accepted the large quantity of gold given by Thakshaka and went away.

Thakshaka then 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.

Next Post:           Parikshit Plans the Serpent Sacrifice

Previous Post:    The Snakes Discover A Way Out

Sunday, January 12, 2014

23. The snakes discover a way out

Vasuki, another son of Kadru pondering over the curse of his mother, reflected how to render it abortive. He held a consultation with all his brothers. Since, as per their mother’s curse, the snakes would be destroyed during King Janamejaya’s sacrifice, they should find a way to prevent the sacrifice itself, he said.

Several suggestions were offered.

One snake said that one of them should approach Janamejaya in the guise of a learned Brahmin and advice him against performing the sacrifice.

Another said that they should all become the king's favourite counsellors. Since  he would seek their advice on any issue, they could dissuade him from performing the sacrifice.

Another snake said that one of them could bite the priest conducting the sacrifice, thereby aborting the event.

Yet anothr snake said that they could together become clouds and extinguish the sacrificial fire by causing heavy downpours.

Another said that they should bite everyone around and spread terror.

One more suggestion was to steal the vessel of Soma juice and thereby disturb the rite.

Another suggestion was that they should bite King Janamejaya himself and preempt the event.

Vasuki dismissed all these suggestions and said that only the grace of their father  Kasyapa could save them.

Another snake by name Elapatra began to address them, saying, “That sacrifice is not one that can be prevented. Nor can king Janamejaya of the Pandava race be stopped in his tracks. Our fear is rooted in fate. Therefore, fate alone must be our refuge.“

“When that  curse was uttered by our mother, I was lying on her lap. From that place, I heard the words some gods spoke to Brahma. The gods said, 'Oh Brahma, who but the cruel Kadru could curse her own children like this? You have also endorsed her curse by saying 'Thadhastu (So be it).' We wish to know why you didn’t prevent her from throwing this curse.' Brahma replied, 'The snakes have proliferated. They are cruel, terrible in form and highly poisonous. I did not prevent Kadru from uttering the curse because I wanted those poisonous serpents that are sinful and biting others for no reason to be destroyed, but  not those that are harmless and virtuous. And when the hour comes, the snakes may escape this dreadful calamity. There shall be born in the race of the Yayavaras a great sage by name Jaratkaru. That Jaratkaru shall have a son by name Astika. He will put a stop to that sacrifice. And those snakes that are virtuous shall escape from death.’"

“The gods asked Brahma through whom would Jaratkaru  beget that illustrious son. Brahma said ‘He will beget a son possessed of great energy on a wife of the same name as his. Vasuki, the king of the snakes, has a sister by name Jaratkaru. Astika will be born of her. He will liberate the snakes.’”

Elapatra advised Vasuki to give his sister Jaratkaru in marriage to Sage Jaratkaru.

Hearing Elapatra’s words, the serpents were delighted. From that time Vasuki took great care in bringing up his sister Jaratkaru.

Soon after this, the gods and the demons churned the ocean.  And Vasuki had the chance to be used as the churning cord. After the event was over, Vasuki went to Brahma along with the gods. The gods told Brahma that Vasuki had been living in fear of his mother’s curse and requested Brahma to assuage his fears considering the help he had rendered in the churning of the ocean.

Brahma advised Vasuki to follow the advice of Elapatra. He added, “Only the wicked snakes will be destroyed. The virtuous ones will be saved. Sage is engaged in ascetic penances. Vasuki can offer his sister in marriage to Jaratkaru at the proper time.”

Vasuki asked the serpents to keep a watch on Sage Jaratkaru and to inform him when Jaratkaru would ask for a wife “The very survival of our race depends upon it,” he said.

The serpents kept their watch on Jaratkaru but for a long time to come, Jaratkaru was engaged in penance and didn’t think of getting married.

Next Post:            The Story of Parikshit

Previous Post:    Sesha, the Virtuous Snake

22. Sesha, the Virtuous Snake

We have seen earlier how the snakes were cursed by her mother Kadru. Sesha was the eldest of her sons followed by Vasuki, Airavata, Takshaka, Karkotaka, Dhananjaya, Kalakeya and others.

With a view to overcoming the effects of the curse, Sesha left his mother and  went to the forest of Pushkara located at the foot of the Himalaya. There he practised hard penances, living upon air and rigidly observing vows. Pleased by his penance, Brahma appeared before him and asked him what he wanted. Sesha said, “My brothers are all of wicked hearts. They are jealous of one another. They have been unkind to Vinata and her illustrious son Garuda. I don’t like to live in their company. So I would like to cast off this body of mine so that I may avoid companionship with them, even in another state of life. Please bless me that my heart always delight in virtue and in blessed ascetic penances.”

"Brahman said, 'O Sesha, I am exceedingly gratified with your self-denial and love of peace. The Earth is unsteady with her mountains and forests, her seas and towns and retreats. Bear the earth so that she may be steady.”

"Sesha said, “I will hold the Earth steady as per your command. Please place her on my head."

Brahma said, 'O best of snakes, go underneath the Earth. She will herself give you a crevice to pass through. By holding the Earth, you will be doing something that  is prized by me very greatly."

As instructed by Brahma, Sesha, entering a hole, passed to the other side of the Earth, and supported the earth with his head.

Pleased by Sesha’s act, Brahma said, “You are are the embodiment of Dharma (Virtues), by virtue of your supporting all alone this huge earth with everything on her,  a feat only Indra and I are capable of.”

Sesha who came to be called Ananta, meaning one of unlimited powers, lives underneath the Earth, supporting the world, at the command of Brahma. 

Next Post:  The Snakes Discover A Way Out

Previous Post:  Garuda Frees His Mother From Slavery

Saturday, January 11, 2014

21. Garuda frees his mother from slavery

Garuda said, "Let there be friendship between you and me as per your wish. You have asked me to spell out the limit of my strength. As you know, good people do not speak highly of their own strength or of their other merits. Since you have made me your friend and asked me the question, I have to give you an answer. I can bear, on a single feather of mine, this Earth, with her mountains and forests and with the waters of the ocean, and with you also stationed thereon. I can bear without fatigue even all the worlds put together, with their mobile and immobile objects."

Hearing this, Garuda said,”Please accept my friendship and if you don’t need the Amrita, return it to me. People to whom you intend to give this will always be inimical to us."

Garuda said, 'I am taking this Amrita for a purpose. I shall not let anyone drink the Amrita. After I put it down, you can take it back immediately.”

Pleased by this assurance from Garuda, Indra  offered to grant Garuda any boon that he asked for. Recollecting the slavery imposed on his mother by the deception carried out by the snakes, Garuda asked for the boon that the mighty snakes be his food. Indra granted it and also got it ratified by Vishnu, the God of gods.

Garuda then went to the snakes carrying the pot of Amrita and told them, "I will place the pot of Amrita on this Kusa grass. You can drink of it after you perform your ablutions and religious rites. Please release my mother from slavery as promised by you."

The snakes released Vinata from slavery and then went to perform their ablutions. Meanwhile Indra took the form of a bird and flew away with the pot of Amrita. The snakes, returning after performing their ablutions found that the Amrita has been taken away. Expecting that some Amrita might have spilled on the place where the pot of Amrita was kept, licked the Kusa grass. The sharp blades of the grass cut the tongues of the snakes and their tongues became split.

The Kusa grass became sacred because of its coming into contact with the pot of Amrita.

Garuda delighted by his mother having been freed from slavery due to his efforts enjoyed himself in the woods accompanied by his mother. Revered by all birds, he gratified his mother by devouring the snakes.

Next Post:  Sesha, the Virtuous Snake

Previous Post:  Garuda Frees His Mother From Slavery

Sunday, January 5, 2014

20. Garuda's Boon To Vishnu!

Garuda descended on the heaven in pursuit of the Amrita and was resisted by Indra’s men guarding it. Many of them were unable to face Garuda’s onslaught and got killed. The immortals who guarded the Amrita were blinded by the dust raised by Garuda’s feet and wings and hence could not see him.

Indra  commanded Vayu (the God of wind) to dispel the shower of dust. Accordingly, Vayu  drove away that dust. With the dust cleared off and their vision restored, the celestials resumed their attack on Garuda.  Roaring like a cloud appearing on the sky at the end of  the Yuga, Garuda rose on his wings and attacked them on all sides. He overpowered his adversaries and went to the place where the Amrita was.

Seeing that the pot of Amrita was surrounded on all sides by fire, Garuda assumed hundreds of  mouths and filled them with waters of many rivers. Returning with great speed, he extinguished the fire with that water. After extinguishing the fire, he assumed a very small form with the intention of entering into the place where the Amrita was kept.

As Garuda entered the place, he saw that a wheel of sharp steel razors revolving incessantly near the pot of Amrita. The instrument had been devised by the gods for cutting into pieces all intruders attempting to rob the Amrita.

Garuda, seeing a passage through the wheel, stopped for a moment and diminishing his body, instantly passed through the spokes of that wheel. Having passed through the wheel, he saw two large snakes guarding the Amrita. The snakes had a fierce appearance with eyes blazing like fire, tongues shining like a flash of lightning, and mouths emitting fire . Their eyes were inflamed with rage and anyone coming under their gaze would instantly be reduced to ashes.

Garuda suddenly covered their eyes with dust and attacked them from all sides. After crushing them to pieces, he approached the pot of Amrita without loss of time. He lifted the pot from the place where it was kept and rose on his wings with great speed, breaking into pieces the machine that had been placed there. 

Garuda then came out, taking the Amrita but without drinking it himself. He then wended his way without the least fatigue, darkening the splendour of the Sun by covering its rays with his giant wings. On the way, he met Lord Vishnu. Lord Visnu was gratified at Garuda’s act of self denial in not drinking the Amrita and offered to grant him a boon. Garuda asked for two boons, “I should be above you. I should be immortal again and free from any disease even without drinking Amrita."

Vishnu granted him the two boons. Garuda told Vishnu that he would also like to grant a boon to Vishnu. Vishnu asked him to be his carrier. He made Garuda sit on the flagstaff of his car so that he would stay above Vishnu, thereby fulfilling his first boon! Garuda then took leave of Vishnu and resumed his flight.

Trying to stop Garuda from taking away the Amrita, Indra hurled his Vajrayudha (a deadly weapon made with the hardened bone of a sage named Dadhichi) at Garuda. Struck by this weapon which was like a thunderbolt, Garuda laughed and told Indra, “ Your Vajrayudha has not caused me even a slight pain. But I will respect the sage from whose backbone this weapon was made. I will also respect you and the Vajra. So, I will let the weapon cut away this feather of mine.” He then cast one of his several  feathers

All creatures were amazed at Garuda’s invulnerability to the Vajrayudha. Looking at the  golden color of the feathers, they  gave him the name Suparna (having fair feathers).

Indra was also fascinated by what he witnessed and told Garuda, “I desire to know the limit of your strength. I also desire eternal friendship with you.”

Next Post: Garuda Frees His Mother From Slavery

Previous PostThe Genesis of Garuda's Birth

19. The Genesis of Garuda's Birth

Once upon a time, Prajapati* Kasyapa, (the Lord of Creation) was performing a sacrificial rite with the objective of begetting a child. The Rishis (sages), the Devas, and the Gandharvas (celestial beings) extended their help in his performing the sacrifice. Kasyaa assigned the task of bringing the sacrificial fuel to Indra. Various ascetics like the Valakhilyas, also engaged themselves in this task.

Indra carried a mountain-like  object without any fatigue. On the way he saw some Rishis, of bodies of the size of a thumb together carrying one single stalk of a  Palasa (Jackfruit) leaf. Those Rishis , due to their abstemious way of life were very lean. They were so weak that they had great difficulty in walking through the water collected in a tiny pit on the road produced by the hoof of a cow.

Indra, proud of his strength, mocked at them and walked over their heads. 

Those Rishis were aggrieved and outraged by this insult.  Soon afterwards they performed a sacrifice wishing that there be anther Indra that would become the nightmare of the present Indra.

Learning of this, Indra sought the protection of Kasyapa. Kasyapa asked the Valakhilyas who had performed the sacrifice whether their sacrifice was successful. They said, “Let it be as you say!”

Kasyapa, the Prajaati, who had the responsibility of protecting all creatures, said, “Indra has been made the Lord of the three worlds by the word of Brahma, the Creator.  Your seeking to create another Indra will amount to falsifying the word of Brahma. However, you can have your wish fulfilled by having another Indra – the Lord of Winged Creatures.”

The Valakhilyas accepted the Prajapati’s word and left the matter to him.

In the meanwhile, Vinata approached her husband Kasyapa seeking to be blessed with children. Kasyapa told her that she would beget two heroic children. As a result of the penance of the Valakhilyas, these two sons would be of exceedingly good fortune and worshipped in the three worlds, he added. He also said that the two would be capable of assuming any form at will and be respected in all the three worlds.

Kasyapa then told Indra that he would have two brothers of great energy and prowess, who would be his helpmates and cause him no harm.

 Indra then went to heaven, his fears dispelled. Subsequently, Vinata gave birth to Aruna and Garuda. And Aruna, of undeveloped body, became the fore-runner of the Sun. And Garuda was vested with the lordship over the birds. 

*Prajapati meaning ('leader of all creatures') is a post held by different people at different times. Kasyapa was holding this post at this particular time.

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Friday, January 3, 2014

18. Garuda in Quest of Amrita

Even at the touch of the tree by Garuda’s feet, the branch of the tree broke. He noticed that some sages known as Valakhilya Rishis hanging from the tree with heads downwards and doing penance. Fearing that if the branch was broken, the sages would have a fatal fall, Garuda held the broken branch of the tree with the sages hanging from it on his beak, even while holding the elephant and the tortoise still more firmly with his claws and rose on his wings. The sages were struck with wonder at this feat and gave him the name Garuda meaning bearer of heavy weight. (It has to be presumed that he was not christened till then. Garuda had another name Vainatheya, meaning son of Vinata.)

Shaking the mountains by his wings, Garuda rose on the sky holding the branch in his beak and the two animals in his claws. Not finding any spot to rest on, he travelled long and went to the mountain called Gandhamadana. There he saw his father Kasyapa engaged in ascetic rituals.  Kasyapa also saw his son and advised him against landing on the mountain  lest the sages should get hurt and curse him. He then appealed to the Valakhilyas to help Garuda. The sages abandoned the tree branch and went to the sacred Himavat mountain to continue their penance.

Garuda asked his father where he should drop the branch of the tree. Kasyapa directed him to a mountain always covered with snow and beyond the reach of ordinary creatures. Garuda travelled a long distance to reach the place and let the giant branch fall. And it fell with a great noise.

Garuda then sat on the summit of that mountain, ate both the elephant and the tortoise, and rose on his wings with great speed from the top of the mountain.

Various omens began to appear among the Devas foreboding danger. Indra asked his Guru Brihaspati the reasons behind these omens. Brihasati  said that the son of Kasyapa and Vinata, a bird with immense strength and having the blessings of Valakhilyas was coming to take away the Soma (Amrita) from Indra and that he was capable of achieving his goal.

Hearing this Indra cautioned those who guarded the Amrita to be wary of Garuda’s plan to take away the Amrita by force. The guards tightened the security by arming themselves with powerful weapons.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

17. Vibhasu and Supritika

There was a great saint named Vibhavasu. He was known for his short temper. He had a younger brother by name Supritika. Supritika did not like the idea of the joint ownership of  (ancestral) wealth with his brother. He had been asking for a partition. Vibhavasu was against the idea of partition and told his brother that people who desired partition had a  blind love for wealth and that even after partition the fight would  continue. The estrangement and resulting feud would ultimately lead to absolute ruin of everyone involved. But Supritika persisted with his demand for partition.

Angered by Supritika’s intransigence, Vibhavasu cursed him to become an elephant. In retaliation, Supritika cursed his elder brother to become e a tortoise moving in the the waters.

In their next birth, the brothers were born an elephant and a tortoise.

Kasyaa showed Garuda the  elephant and the tortoise engaged in a tussle in the lake. Those animals were the reincarnation of the two foolish brothers, he said.

He then blessed Garuda that when he entered a combat with the Devas for getting the Amrita, he would be blessed by the Brahmins and other people with divine powers and that he would gain the needed strength from the four Vedas and the Upanishads.

Garuda took leave of his father and, taking a cue from the story narrated by him, went to the lake in pursuit of his food. He seized the elephant and the tortoise, one in each claw and soared high into the air. He came upon a sacred place called Alamva. The place had many divine trees which were struck by the wind raised by Garuda's wings and began to tremble with fear.

Considering that these trees capable of granting every wish, Garuda left them undisturbed and went for a group of giant trees. There was a large Banian tree among them. It requested Garuda to sit on its large branch. Garuda accordingly alighted on a huge branch of that tree.

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