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.

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