The story of Ambarisa and the sage Durvasa

The story of the king Ambarisa is yet another interesting story which impressed me in terms of its uniqueness in content.
Ambarisa is one of the royal sages with rich spiritual leanings and attainments. He is a worthy successor to the King Naabhaaga whose virtues we have already seen in an earlier story.
King Ambarisa inherited enormous amount of wealth,power and luxuries. In spite of that,he was endowed with so much of spiritual wisdom that he treated all the material possessions as totally unreal and merely equivalent to things seen in a dream. He used his entire physical and mental energies in worshiping the Lord Hari. And while performing ‘yajnas'(a spiritual practice),he gifted away precious valuables to all(Gods,Brahmanas as well as other human beings)without any discrimination. Even as he was involved in his spiritual pursuits,he never ignored his duties as a king. He grew in stature as a royal sage and gradually started withdrawing from all attachments.
As part of his spiritual practices,the king along with his wife, took a vow to undertake fast on every Ekadasi / Dwadasi day for one full year.
Traditionally,on such days,the king would be expected to conclude his fast before the end of ‘dwaadasi’ (Ekaadasi & Dwaadasi are the 11th & 12th days of the lunar month respectively).
On one particular Dwaadasi, as usual,the king worshiped the Lord Vishnu and distributed lots of wealth and food to deserving Brahmanas. After making sure that everyone was happily taken care,he sat down to take food in order to conclude his fast. As he was about to take food,the sage Durvaasa appeared all on a sudden. Thereupon,the king along with his entire retinue welcomed the sage and sought his blessings. Durvaasa accepted the king’s invitation and then set out to a river nearby to take bath and to perform other rituals,which had to be completed before taking food.
However,as it turned out,there was an inordinate delay on the part of the sage in returning to the king’s place. The king Ambarisa,in the meanwhile, was getting restless because the auspicious time by which he was supposed to end his fast was fast approaching(as per the tradition he should conclude his fast during the hours of the Dwaadasi itself to avoid incurring any sin). He, therefore,sought the counsel of all the Brahmanas assembled there to find a solution to the dilemma faced by him. The dilemma has to do with the question of Dharma to be followed. The king would be committing a sin either way – that is, if he ended his fast and ate before Durvaasa returned,it would be considered a grave sin committed against a distinguished guest. On the other hand it would be equally sinful not to conclude his fast before the end of the auspicious hour which was fast approaching. The brahmanas gave a very interesting compromise formula to the problem. They advised the king to sip a small amount of water as a token to end the fast and then wait for the sage to return and have food.
King Ambarisa did just as he was advised. The sage Durvaasa arrived after a while and as the king got ready to serve him,the sage at once found out(through his intuition) that Ambarisa had already sipped water before serving him. Inflamed with anger at the indiscretion committed by the king,the sage Durvaasa created a female evil spirit to attack Ambarisa. Ambarisa was too stunned to react or defend himself and remained completely quiet.
What transpired later was really amazing and mysterious. Lord Vishnu dispatched his powerful weapon(Discus),which is well known as ‘Sudarshana'( This is used on very rare occasions by the Lord to protect his loving devotees). The Discus instantly destroyed the female evil spirit and eventually started chasing the sage. The sage got frightened and went all over the worlds to save himself from destruction. He approached Brahma and then Rudra and both expressed their inability to rescue a person attacked by the wrath of Lord Vishnu. And,therefore, the sage was advised to approach the Lord Vishnu himself. Durvasa,then, landed straight into Vaikunta and surrendered before the Lord.
Lord Vishnu declares that none in the world is dearer to him than his devotees and he would do anything to protect such devotees from any harm. He elaborates further and adds that pious souls such as Ambarisa are His heart and in turn He is in their heart. Therefore He can not take back the weapon once launched.(“Saadhavo hridayam mahyam,sadhunam hridayam tvaham. Saadhushu prahitam tejah prahartukuruteshivam”.
The Lord also states a fundamental law that an unjust force employed against his righteous devotee will hit back the striker himself. Therefore,Vishnu concludes that He is incapable of taking the weapon. The only power on earth which can stop it is the king Ambarisa himself.
Therefore,Durvaasa was asked to take refuge in Ambarisa for getting relief from the powerful weapon. As Durvaasa approached the king and touched his feet,the latter was terribly embarrassed. Ambarisa,in turn,prayed and worshiped the ‘Sudarsana’-the powerful weapon of Vishnu-and asked for withdrawing itself. The ‘Sudasana’,then,stopped the chase and returned to its place,thereby ending the misery of the sage Durvaasa.

The contents of the story are quite unique in many ways and bizarre in some respects.
Firstly,isn’t it amusing to find that a sage is behaving like a king(showing anger,pride,vanity etc)while a king is exhibiting a conduct typical of a sage?
The story is also an example to show that even a renowned sage is not immune to punishment if he violates rule of Law,while at the same time the king is rewarded (protected)for diligently practicing Dharma.

Another interesting highlight of the story is the manner in which the question of Dharma was settled by the wise men(Brahmanas)when the king encountered a serious dilemma(‘Dharma sankat’). It is a fantastic example of accommodation of ideas. The solution provided goes to show that our ancestors were not lacking in pragmatism in resolving questions of Dharma. It is a different matter that the sage did not appreciate the same. Obviously,the sage was enraged because of a sense of undue importance to himself. This was a result of a deluded mind which led to uncontrollable anger.
The third aspect which I found very unique was that Brahma, Rudra or even Vishnu(who had dispatched the destructive weapon)could not save the sage – only the king Ambarisa was given that privilege of forgiving and saving the sage.
All the drama that took place was in accordance with Laws of Dharma. Look at the events, which speak for themselves:-
– King Ambarisa,who is the upholder of Dharma is protected against the misdeeds of a great sage
– The unrighteous act of a great sage (provoked by his unjustified anger)boomrangs. No-one(even the holiest of holy sages) is exempt from the law of Dharma.
– None including Vishnu could help the sage out of the mess he landed himself in. Even the Lord,who is the incarnation of Truth and Righteousness(satyam & dharma)had to play the game according to the laws of Dharma. It is,like they say in the modern days,the law has to take its own course.
– Only Ambarisa could forgive and protect the sage.
The last aspect of the story proves another law that the sinner can be exonerated only by the victim of the sin.

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Published in: on April 16, 2009 at 9:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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