When death was born again – Part 2


Dharmaraj_and_animandavya

<< PART 1 >>

The guards arrived at the spot on the next day and surprised to find the holy man alive immediately informed the king about it. The king realized that this was no ordinary mortal to have survived impalement and came there with his advisers.

O rishi, forgive me for my transgression. I have offended you in my ignorance. I beseech you to please forgive me and not be angry with me the king said.

Pleased with the king’s genuine repentance for his deed, Mandavya was pacified.

The king then proceeded to try and remove the stake from the holy man. But despite his best efforts, he could not extract it out. He therefore proceeded to cut it off at the point just outside the body. From that day onwards, Mandavya began to be known as Ani-Mandavya (Mandavya with the nail).

After very many years, when Mandavya passed on from the mortal world and went to the abode of Yama, the god of justice, he questioned him on why he was subject to this punishment and why he had to live a life with a stake half buried in his mid-riff.

O Mandavya, you were forced to undergo this punishment because you pierced a little insect with a blade of grass Yama answered.

When Mandavya questioned as to when her performed this act of violence against an insect Yama replied stating that he had committed it when he was a child.

Mandavya immediately flew into a rage O Yama, know this. Any act done by a child until the twelfth year of his birth is not considered a sin. The scriptures do not recognize such acts as sins. The punishment that you had meted out to me is extremely disproportionate of the severity of the act committed by me.

O Yama, know this, the act of killing a brahmana is unpardonable. It is a sin greater than any other sin committed by a living being.

You will therefore have to atone for you sin by being born as a human being; a human being who despite having all the virtues, foresight, the tranquility of mind and intellect of a king will never get an opportunity to be a king.

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Thus, Yama was born in the world of mortal beings as Vidura, the step-brother of the Kuru princes Pandu and Dhritarashtra of a maid servant of Ambika. Although he was the most accomplished of the three brothers in terms of knowledge, virtues, wisdom, character, he could never become the king as he was born of a maid servant, and was not of royal blood.

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Read my other posts on Vidura below

Vidura – A Dharma Putra

Vidura meets Maitreyi

When death was born again – Part 1


Most of us know of Vidura as the wise minister of the court of Hastinapur and as somebody who guided the blind king Dhritarashtra when he governed the large kingdom. We are all also aware that he was the brother of Pandu and Dhritarashtra, but was denied the opportunity to become the king when Pandu died because he was born of a maid and not from either of Vichitravirya’s queens, Ambika or Ambalika. However, what most of us might now know is the fact that Vidura was an incarnation of Yama, the God of Death. The story goes thus.

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Dharmaraj_and_animandavya

Once upon a time a holy man named Mandavya had taken a vow of silence and was engaged in severe austerities and penance at his hermitage in the forest. He stood near the door to his hermitage, his arms upraised and mind devoted to the Gods.

One day a gang of robbers with their loot, who were being pursued by the king’s guards came across the hermitage. Finding no other place to hide their loot and themselves, they barged into the holy man’s hermitage and hid themselves there.

When the king’s guards arrived on the spot, they noticed the holy man and began questioning him. Sir, did you see any robbers run past you this way? – the chief of guards asked him. O best of brahmanas, which way did the robbers run? Let us know so that we may pursue and capture them, he said.

As Mandavya had taken a vow of silence, he didn’t respond to these questions posed to him. The guards, on the orders of their chief, then searched the hermitage and easily located the robbers hidden there. Considering the circumstances and the holy man’s silence, they seized him as well along with the thieves and presented the group to the king. The king ordered the entire group to be executed by impaling them on sharp stakes.

The guards carried out the king’s orders and impaled Mandavya along with the group of thieves on sharp stakes. However, they were in for a rude surprise.

Mandavya, by virtue of his penance and austerities managed to stay alive, and also continued his meditative state even though he was stuck on a sharp stake. Using his magical asetic powers, he summoned other holy men to the spot he was impaled, and they came there in the dark of the night in the guise of birds.

They asked Mandavya O brahmana, please tell us for what sin of yours have you been punished so? Why have you been forced to suffer this torture of impalement?

Mandavya replied I have nobody other than myself to blame for this current predicament of mine. Had I spoken the truth when required, I would not be in this position.

<< PART 2 >>

Everything happens for a reason – Part 2


<< PART 1 >>

Parikshit’s son Janamajeya, who was unaware of the reasons behind the serpent attacking his father then set about avenging his death. He arranged for a large Sarpa Sattra, a sacrificial ritual to destroy as many snakes and serpents that they could lay their hands upon.

In a matter of a few days from the start of the ritual, hundreds and thousands of snakes were sacrificed in the holy fire, drawn there by the mystic rituals, and hypnotic hymns that were recited by the priests at the sattra.

220px-Snakesacrifice

Dismayed at this turn of events, Astika, the nephew of Vasuki, the king of Nagas approached Parikshit and asked him to refrain from continuing with the ritual. He narrated to Janamajeya as to how his father had managed to enrage a holy man engaged in penance and how his subsequent death was the result of the curse.

Unappeased with this explanation, the young king then asked Astika as to why Takshaka had killed his father. Astika then went on to narrate an incident from very many years ago when Arjuna, Janamejaya’s great grandfather had set ablaze the forest of Khandava leaving Takshaka and many of his family and friends homeless. At that time Takshaka had sworn to take revenge on Arjuna or one of his descendants. And by killing Parikshit, Takshaka had made good on his words.

Unknown to both Astika and Janamajeya, there was yet another willing participant to the Sarpa Sattra who had his own revenge planned against the Nagas. The chief priest Uttanaka had faced an issue in the past where his teacher had asked for the queen’s jeweled earrings as his guru dakshina. And after undergoing great difficulties, when Uttanaka had managed to procure the earrings, they were stolen by the Nagas which ended up with him not being able to offer appropriate guru dakshina.

To avenge this theft, Uttanaka had wanted to perform the Sarpa Sattra then itself, but he lacked the economic resources to do so. However fate intervened in the form of Janamajeya providing him with an opportunity by anointing him the chief priest for this ritual.

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The above story therefore clearly lives up to the statement everything happens for a reason, more so in the context of our mythological stories. While the reasons themselves might not be very apparent immediately, more detailed readings of the entire stories (rather than parts of them) and also readings of associated and ancillary stories and understanding of the characters more often than not provide us with relevant justifications for most actions.

What’s more my opinion is that our 21st century understanding of dharma and karma (duty and action) are radically different from how they were interpreted in our epics. But that is material for another blog post and not this one.

So readers, do you agree with me when I state, that as far as our mythological stories and epics are concerned, everything happens for a reason. It’s just that sometimes these reasons are not very apparent and require additional efforts from us to be uncovered, that’s all.

Everything happens for a reason – Part 1


Most of my mythological posts invariably have a comment where one of the readers tries to ‘rationalize’ parts of the story or the whole story based on their interpretation of the events from a contemporary perspective. For example, any post or story involving the infamous ‘Game of Dice’ episode and Draupadi instigates a discussion about whether Yudhishtira was right and correct in placing Draupadi as wager on the game and whether it was right for him to do so after he had lost his own freedom in the game. Another oft repeated question is whether Rama was right in making Sita go through the ‘ordeal by fire’, the agni-pariksha at all.

While there are no easy and unambiguous answers to questions such as the ones above, which deal with moral dilemmas, I have a simple thumb rule when I respond to such queries. One, do not judge characters, their choices, their decisions keeping our ‘contemporary world view’ as the yardstick. The world in which these characters lived, the age in which their stories took place, the circumstances they found themselves in when these incidents occurred, were all completely different and none of us should even pretend to understand the justifications behind their actions.

Two, and this probably is the most sagely advice that I have ever received when I used to pose such questions was “everything happens for a reason.” When I was younger, I used to think that this particular answer was escapist at best and the person who gave that answer didn’t really have the answer himself and he hid behind this statement as a reason. However, as I read more and more of these great texts and stories, I have begun to realize that all of them are one giant jigsaw puzzle as Dr Devdutt Pattanaik quotes. Each of these stories, characters, events are all part of one giant mosaic which forms the fabric of Indic thought (the word ‘Indic’ is purposely used to broaden the ambit beyond specific religions, once again a contribution from the Doctor).

Let me narrate a story to prove the statement I made earlier – everything happens for a reason.

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Arjuna’s grandson and Abhimanyu’s son Parikshit was out hunting when he experienced great thirst. He reached the hermitage of a holy man who was in deep penance. When he asked the holy man for water to quench his thirst, his requests were not heeded to as the holy man remained in his meditative state. Annoyed at being ignored, Parikshit picked up a dead snake which was nearby and placed it on the sage’s neck. One of the sage’s disciples who saw this from afar was so enraged with the king’s action and cursed him that he would die of snakebite within the next seven days.

PARIKSIT_SNAKE

Realizing that he had committed a grave mistake, Parikshit begged for the sage’s forgiveness and requested that he be excused from the curse. However, as things stood, the curse could not be withdrawn and he was destined to die within seven days from this event.

He immediately ran back to his capital city and locked himself up in a high tower. He ordered his guards to keep a watch out for any snakes and serpents within the kingdom and kill them immediately. He refused to allow anybody to visit him in the tower and only allowed servants to serve him food and drink. He however, did not share details of the rationale behind these actions of his with anybody.

Thus, he managed to stay alive for six days and nights. However, on the seventh day, when he bit into a fruit, hidden within it was a worm. And the worm on being freed from the fruit, transformed into a serpent, Takshaka, the Naga.

Before Parikshit could even get over his shock of seeing Takshaka and react, the serpent sank his deadly fangs into him and spread his venom killing the king.

<< PART 2 >>

Two half empty lives – Part 3


Bhima-killing-Jarasandha

<< Part 1 | Part 2  >>

Upon hearing Krishna’s challenge Jarasandha responded- I have captured and imprisoned all these kings with the sole intention of sacrificing them. How can I therefore let them go just because you ask me to?

I accept your challenge, against two of you or all three of you, if you so desire.

He then proceeded to install his son Sahadeva on the throne and prepared himself for the challenge issued by Krishna.

Mindful of the fact that Jarasandha was destined to be slain by Bhima, Krishna did not want to kill the king himself. Addressing the king he said- O king, who amongst us three do you desire to fight? Which of us three needs to prepare for the fight against you?

Addressing Bhima, the king said- O mighty one, I choose you to battle against. I would rather fight the strongest opponent.

Saying so, he rushed at Bhima with great energy, thereby signaling the start of the fight.

The two warriors then engaged in a fierce unarmed duel which brought out the best of their abilities. With bare arms as their only weapons and roaring like wild beasts, they struck each other like mad elephants encountering each other. Incensed at each other’s’ blows, they fought like enraged lions jumping at each other vengefully. Since both of them were well versed with the skills and techniques of wrestling, they tried a lot of moves on each other and gave a wonderful display of the same.

The sound made by both of them brought forth almost the whole of the capital city of Magadha to the arena. Both of them were so evenly matched that their fight continued for thirteen days and nights without a break.  On the fourteenth day, to prod Bhima to fulfill his destiny, Krishna addressed him- O son of Pandu, your foe is greatly exhausted, put forth all the strength you can muster and finish him off.

Hearing Krishna say so, Bhima dug deep into his reserves of energy and prepared himself for the final assault on the king of Magadha. He lifted Jarasandha up high above his head and began to whirl him. He then brought him down, pressed his knee on his backbone and broke his body in half. Having killed him thus, Bhima let out a mighty roar in jubilation.

The trio then proceeded to Jarasandha’s dungeons and freed all the kings and monarchs that the evil king had imprisoned over the years. To express their gratitude for having received their freedom all the kings pledged their allegiance to Yudhisthira, his brothers and Krishna.

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A lot of popular versions of Jarasandha’s story suggest that at the end of thirteen days, Bhima was clueless as to how to defeat the king. Despite his best attempts and skillful fighting, Jarasandha refused to be defeated. And it was at this juncture that Krishna suggested that the king be torn into two vertical halves and each half be thrown in opposite directions.

Krishna is supposed to have made this suggestion by taking a small stick, breaking it in half and throwing the halves in opposite directions (ie, threw the left piece on the right side and the right piece on the left side) when Bhima was looking at him. By doing so, Bhima would ensure that Jarasandha’s two halves (by virtue of his miraculous birth) would not be able to fuse together again to form a whole.

Following Krishna’s instructions Bhima proceeded to tear the evil king in half and threw his right half on the left side and his left half on the right side, thereby preventing the halves from joining together.

<< CONCLUDED >>