Third time around – Part 1

In my earlier series on the Varaha Avatar (read Part 1 here) I had alluded to the curse placed on the doorkeepers of Vaikunta, Jaya and Vijaya where they would attain salvation only at the hands of the Supreme Godhead, Lord Vishnu three times over as human beings.

The first instalment of the salvation was when Hiranyaksha was killed by the Varaha avatar (read that series here) and Hiranyakasipu was killed by the Narasimha avatar (read that series here). The second instalment of the salvation was when Ravana and Kumbhakarna were killed by Rama in the great epic, the Ramayana.

This series of posts will narrate the third and final instalment of the salvation where Jaya and Vijaya take birth as Sisupala and Dantavakra and how they attain salvation by being killed by Lord Vishnu in his avatar as Krishna.

At the outset, let me confess that some versions of the story and religious texts state that Kamsa was one of the doorkeepers, but a majority of the versions of the religious texts allude to Sisupala and Dantavakra as the third time that Jaya and Vijaya were born as human beings.


Sisupala was born to the king of Chedi with three eyes and four hands. It is said that as soon as he was born he screamed and cried with sounds similar to the ones that a donkey makes. Beholding these extraordinary omens, the king and queen of Chedi (who happened to be Krishna’s paternal aunt, ie, Vasudeva’s sister) resolved to abandon this abnormal child.

However, a celestial voice addressed the king and the queen, with the court ministers and priests in attendance – This son of yours who has been born thus, will have good fortune and extraordinary strength. You need not fear him or his appearance. He is not destined to die anytime soon. His time has not yet come. The one that will slay him has also been born.

Hearing these words, Sisupala’s mother, rendered anxious due to the affection for her son addressed the invisible voice – I desire to hear who will slay my son.

The voice then said – He shall be slain by the person, upon whose lap when he is placed his third eye and additional arms will drop off.

The king of Chedi then undertook an exhaustive exercise where he placed his son on the lap of all the kings assembled there to witness this abnormal son of his. And though the child was placed on the laps of a thousand kings, the prophesied ‘slayer’ was not revealed.

A few days later, Balarama and Krishna representing the Yadavas arrived at the court of the king of Chedi. After paying due obeisance to their elders, when the brothers took their seats at the court, the queen with great pleasure placed their young cousin Sisupala in Krishna’s lap.

As soon as the child was placed on Krishna’s lap, his third eye and additional arms dropped off. Alarmed at this turn of events and in anticipation of her son’s long life, the queen then asked Krishna for a boon. O Krishna, assurer of afflicted ones and dispeller of fears, grant me a boon that you will forgive my son Sisupala’s offences, for my sake – she said.

Krishna granted her the boon saying – O aunt, do not despair, even when your son will deserve to be slain, I shall grant him pardon for a hundred offences. 

<< PART 2 >>

Sahadeva’s secret

Years of meditation and austerities in exile had rendered Pandu, the father of the Pandavas a wise and learned man. He had a premonition of his death and instructed his sons –

Years of celibacy and meditation in the forest have given me great knowledge which is embedded in my body. When I die, eat my flesh and all of you will be blessed with great knowledge. That shall be your true inheritance from me.

After Pandu died, his sons cremated his body, but could not bring themselves to follow their father’s instructions. But Sahadeva, the youngest of the sons noticed that ants were carrying a tiny piece of their father’s body before it burnt. Unable to resist himself, he took that piece and put it in his mouth.

In an instant, he knew everything about the world – all that had happened in the past, and all that was going to happen in the future as well.

He started running towards his mother and brothers to tell them about this, when he was stopped by a stranger –

Do you want God as your friend?

Yes said Sahadeva. Then, never voluntarily tell anyone about this wonderful gift of yours. And when any question is asked of you, always reply with another question he was instructed.

Sahadeva immediately realized that he was being addressed to by none other than the Supreme Lord himself. He agreed to these terms and lived a life where he always kept silent despite knowing all the events that were about to transpire and being able to do nothing about them.

As time went on, he realized that the future that he knew about could be deciphered by observing nature and celestial bodies very carefully. He is therefore credited with putting together various occult sciences which help man predict the future.

As for his whole life, Sahadeva kept waiting for people around him, including his brothers to ask the right questions of him and hence was always pictured as a silent, thoughtful person.


Story courtesy: Dr Devdutt Pattanaik’s ‘Jaya : An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata


I am just speculating here, but while I always knew about the fact that Sahadeva is credited with coming up with the science of astrology, this is the first time I have read about the story of Pandu and his flesh being consumed by his youngest son.

However, this does give a lot of credibility to the stories and legends that one keeps hearing of people practicing some occult sciences and tantric events consuming human flesh and the like.

One way or the other, this does make for an interesting small little tale from the Mahabharata, doesn’t it.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 >>



Today’s prompt was to write about a book which I recently read, the impact it had on me and the reasons for the same.

At the outset let me confess that it has been at least a month now since I have read any book, and anybody who has been following my book reading habits on Goodreads since the start of 2014 will know that this is the longest that I have gone without reading a book this year. A plethora of reasons have contributed to this long gap, but that is material for another post and not this one.

Given this background, I am not going to restrict my discussion to just one book which I recently read, but am broadening the scope to a genre which I thoroughly enjoy and have learnt a lot from – Indian mythology.

The advent of high speed unlimited broadband has meant that most of us spend more time googling for resources in topics and subjects that we are interested in, and to me, this means more time, bandwidth and resources to search for stories from Indian mythology. And one such source has provided me with access to some of the best English translations of the great epics, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and other seminal Sanskrit works. To me, this has been a treasure trove of information on Indian mythological and religious texts.

As a child growing up in pre-satellite TV India, my primary source of Indian mythological stories were ones that my grandparents narrated to me as bedtime tales, Amar Chitra Katha comics and the BR Chopra TV serials – Ramayana and Mahabharata on Doordarshan. When I grew older, C Rajagopalachari’s abridged editions of both these great epics also provided a lot of information to me on stories from them.

However, the last couple of years have been quite an eye opener in terms of understanding the vast ocean of knowledge these epics were when it came to the lessons to be learnt, the characters in them, their stories, and the sheer variety of human emotions they dealt with.

Take the Ramayana as an example. While most of us immediately think of Rama, Sita’s abduction, Rama slaying Ravana and Hanuman’s exploits during the great war as the main points of this great epic, lots of little stories and incidents such as Kaikeyi’s motivation behind demanding that boon from Dasharatha, Vibhishana’s motivation behind switching sides in the great war, Sita’s travails after she is rescued by Rama, these are some parts of the epic that I read about only in the recent past. These give me a better, deeper and healthier understanding of the great epic itself. Further, reading multiple interpretations of the great epic, both online and offline also meant that I appreciate the nuances, lesser known tales and the human emotions behind the individual characters in these stories better today.

The Mahabharata still remains that formidable mountain range (notice I use the word ‘range’ here rather than ‘peak’ as the epic contains multiple stories within itself) which I still kind of struggle getting my hands around. Irrespective of the number of times I read about incidents which are popular like the Game of Dice, Abhimanyu’s death, the Palace of Illusions, I am left spell bound by the sheer depth of information and subsequent interpretative knowledge in this great epic. It is not simply that wise men of the past and present state that the Mahabharata is nothing, if not a lesson for all of us humans in how to lead our lives. All that we need in terms of knowledge, information and guidance are there in different parts of this great epic.

Another profound religious text that I have been introduced to in the recent past has been the Srimad Bhagavatham or the Bhagavatha Purana, one of the great Puranic texts of Hinduism, focusing on devotion to the Supreme Lord, Vishnu. This text provides so much of information about Krishna and other forms of Vishnu that it is mind-blowing at all levels. As is that wasn’t enough, there are so many other stories of deities, humans and others in this text that one could probably spend a better part of a lifetime trying to read, understand and imbibe the lessons here.

I could go on and on about some of the other epics that I have had the pleasure of having glanced through during the last couple of years, but I will restrict myself to these three for now. If, like me, you are a fan and aficionado of Indian mythology and religious texts, then you surely have to keep coming back to this blog from time to time to read up on some retellings of well known and lesser known tales in this genre.


This post has been written for Project 365 :  A post a day where the objective is to publish at least one post a day based on the prompts provided by the WordPress team.