38. A Curse and Its Consequences
King Kalmashapada, belonging to the Ikshvaku race, was an avid hunter. Once, after hunting and killing many deer, wild boars and rhinoceroses, in the forest, he became fatigued and looked for a place to rest.
As he was walking in the forest, he saw Sage Saktri, the eldest of the hundred sons of Sage Vasishta coming from the opposite side.The king told the sage “Keep out of my way!”
Sakri replied politely, ”Oh king! This is my way. All religious and moral scriptures say that the king should make way for a Brahmin.”
Angered by the sage’s reply, the king stuck the sage with a whip. The sage lost his cool and cursed the king saying,“Since you behaved like a Rakshasa (demon), you will become a Rakshasa subsisting on human flesh. You will wander over the earth, assuming a human form.”
At that time, Sage Viswamitra,who was harboring a desire to make Kalmashapada his disciple, perceiving what happened through his mental eye, came to that place. He stood aside, invisible to both.
The king realized that the sage was the son of the illustrious Vasishta and beseeched him to forgive him for his misdeed. Viswamitra commanded a Rakshasa by name Kinkara to enter the body of Kalmashapada and after watching Kinkara entering the body of the king, left the place.
The king, possessed by the Rakshasa, began to wander in the woods. A hungry Brahmin met him in the forest and begged him to give him some food including meat to eat. The king asked him to remain there, promising to bring him the food and the meat.
The king wandered for a while and then returned to the palace. He forgot about the promise he had made to the Brahmin and went to bed. He woke up in the midnight and remembered his promise. He summoned the cook, told him about the Brahmin waiting in the woods and asked him to send him some food including meat.
The cook could not find any meat in the palace and informed the king accordingly. The king, possessed by a Rakshasa,said “Then feed him with human flesh.”
The cook took some human flesh, washed and cooked it and then covered it by boiled rice and took it to the Brahmin. The Brahmin, through his spiritual powers, was able to discern that the food was not fit to be eaten, became angry and said, “Since the worst of all kings offered this unholy food to me, he will develop a fondness for such food. As per the curse of Sage Saktri, he will wander over the earth and cause trouble to other creatures.”
The curse given by Sakri was thus reinforced by the Brahmin’s repeating it. The curse thus became stronger. The king lost his senses completely.
Sometime after this, the king met Saktri and told him, ”Because you cursed me to become a cannibal, I will practice my cannibalism on you by devouring you.” He then killed Saktri and ate him up, like a tiger eating an animal it had killed.
Viswamitra instigated the Rakshasa Kinkara, dwelling within King Kalmashapada to kill the other sons of Vasishta also. Soon, Kinkara, acting through the king, killed all other sons of Vasishta and ate their flesh, like a lion killing small animals and eating them.
Vasishta knew that Viswamitra had caused his sons to be killed. But he bore the grief like the earth bearing the weight of a great mountain. Rather than punish Viswamitra for his misdeeds, Vasishta chose to sacrifice his own life. He jumped from the peak of the Meru mountain but he descended on the stony ground like a heap of cotton, without suffering any injury or pain.
He then lighted a fire and entered it, but the fire, did not consume him. He felt cool when the flames touched his body. He then tied a huge stone to his neck and threw himself into the waters. But the waves brought him to the shore. Frustrated at his attempts to end his life, Vasishta returned to his hermitage.