When Garuda granted a Boon to Vishnu………

The other day, I heard an interesting story on a Tamil TV channel. It was on the Hindu mythological bird GARUDA, probably taken from Garuda Purana or Mahabharata. Very briefly, it is about the two wives of the sage Kashyap(Kadru & Vinata). Kadru had 100 chidren born in the form of snakes, while Vinata gave birth to GARUDA, the most powerful mythical bird. One day Kadru played a trick on Vinata as they both placed a bet on the colour of the tail of a celestial White horse which was flying past in the sky(The horse was one of the products of churning of ‘Kshirsagar’ by ASURAS & SURAS). While Kadru said it was black in colour Vinata claimed it was white. The bet was that whoever lost would be a slave to the other along with all their siblings. As it turned out, Vinata lost due to the trick played by Kadru. The latter ordered her ‘snake-children’ to cover the tail of the horse instantly and ensured her victory. Thus GARUDA also became a slave even though he had nothing whatsoever to do with the bet. When GARUDA came to know of this, he wanted to know the way out. Kadru said that this could be undone if Gruda could steal AMRITA from Indra, the God of angels. Stealing Amrita from Indra was no easy task though. It was well protected by a series of dangerous mechanical devices, which could cause instant death, if not negotiated properly. Speed was the name of the game and only those who can travel with speed of light would be in a position to achieve this. Garuda was well known for his unmatched speed and prowess and therefore managed to accomplish the impossible. Vishnu was a mere spellbound spectator to the great show of strength and speed of Garuda.
Vishnu got mightily impressed by Garuda on two counts – one at his speed, Power & accuracy and secondly his unselfish behaviour in not consuming AMRITA in spite of being in possession of the same. As a reward for this admirable show of strength and exemplary conduct, Vishnu granted him two boons.

At this point, the narrator of the story in the TV channel sprang a surprise saying that Garuda, instead of asking for a boon, had the audacity to retort to Vishnu: ‘I don’t need any of your boons – tell me if you need any’. Unfortunately, the TV narration stopped at this critical juncture and the viewers were asked to tune in the following day for the rest of the story. I was naturally very curious to know what happened next, but alas, my Channel service provider had other ideas. The channel was not an air on the following day due to some technical snag and I was left with an incomplete story. While admiring Garuda’s audacity, I was curious to know what was the response of Vishnu. Therefore I googled and got the rest of the story, which follows.

While the Lord granted two boons to Garuda, Garuda also offered a boon to Vishnu. Vishnu offered him a place on his celestial flag (or Banner / DWAJA) and also ensured an eternal life to the bird even without the need to consume AMRITA. In return Garuda agreed to be Vishnu’s Mount(Vaahana)as per the Lord’s desire.

Isn’t it a refreshing contrast to all our mythological stories which talk about people sitting in penance for hungreds of years, get the vision of the Lord and then seek several boons.There are very few exceptions to the rule like Prahlada. However, there is no precedence to someone asking the Lord himself what he wanted.

In fact there is a school of thought among Hindus which says that devotees should not seek any personal favours during prayers as the Lord knows best what he should bless us with.
Seeking boons is a sign of a feeling of inadequacy, incompleteness and lack of faith in His grace or compassion. Absolute peace and Freedom from misery can be achieved only if one surrenders completely to the Lord reposing full faith in Him.

Thyagaraja provides useful insights in this regard. In one kirtana, he tells the Lord- “Don’t deceive me or side-track my mind by offering some boons- I am interested in only true devotion and Your Grace.”( VARAALANDU KOMMANI NAAYANDU VANCHANA SEYA NYAAYAMA?..).

In anoher kriti, Thyagaraja says – ‘Why don’t you bless me with sublime thoughts like those of the Great souls’.(ENDUKU PEDDALA VALE BUDHI EEYAVU…). The saint is seeking only wisdom – no other material gains from the Lord.

There is another perspective to the story of Garuda. If a person is of high calibre and shows his class, God himself is sure to be impressed and offer boons spontaneously.
Lord Vishnu, in the story, was spellbound as He watched Garuda’s lightening speed and accuracy. So He spontaneously granted a boon without the latter even asking for the same. So the message for us is – “Completely focus on showing your class and calibre consistently and your efforts will get rewarded richly sooner or later. It is hard to overlook a consistent and great performer”.

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Published in: on September 3, 2011 at 6:16 pm  Comments (1)  
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Leading from the front – example of Siva and Vishnu

The story of ‘Suras'(gods) and ‘Asuras'(demons)churning the ocean for the sake of ‘Amrit'(a divine drink which is supposed to ensure immortality) is indeed fascinating.
I will not narrate the full story here but will touch upon certain events which throw interesting light on the value system that existed during that time.
As most of us know, the mount ‘Mandara’ was used as the rod(or agitator) while the great mythological snake ‘Vasuki’ was used as the rope to tie the rod(or the agitator) to facilitate churning.
As it turned out,the snake spewed out so much of poison that it started to consume the whole universe. Both Suras and Asuras approached the chief of gods,the Lord Siva and pleaded for help. Instantly Vishnu(the foremost among gods)also appeared on the scene. Seeing the devastation being caused by the poison,He told Siva rather matter-of-factly : “As you are the senior-most among the gods, always leading them from the front,whatever appears first in the process of churning truly belongs to you. So,please accept the poison as your share and mitigate its devastating effect”. On his part Lord Siva didn’t hesitate even for a moment before consuming the poison in its entirety. And sure enough Siva ensured that the poison was frozen at his throat itself and didn’t move further down.
The entire episode speaks volumes about the character and the unwritten moral principles which were operating in those days. The unstated principle seemed to be that “If you are the leader,demonstrate your commitment to the cause of your inferior colleagues through concrete action”.

To continue with the story, the churning continued and all on a sudden the ‘Mandara’ mountain(which was being used as the rod to churn the ocean)fell off and sank to the bottom of the sea. Again,the Suras and the Asuras were in trouble. They approached Vishnu and sought His help. This time around Lord Vishnu himself promptly took the responsibility to salvage the situation. He took the ‘avatar’ of the so called ‘Koorma'(the divine Tortoise),lifted the mountain all the way to the surface of the ocean and helped them to keep churning. Thus there is one more exhibition of the same principle of shouldering responsibility in crunch situations by a leader(this time by Vishnu himself).

On a totally different note,I found one thing a little amusing in this story. As the churning continued for ‘Amrit’,there emerged Varuni(the goddess presiding over spirituous liquor known as ‘SURA’ and the daughter of the god Varuna). She was not accepted by Asuras while the Suras welcomed her. Apparently,the classification of Suras and Asuras is based on this preference for the ‘Sura’ drink / liquor by the gods. Isn’t it funny that all teetotallers like me will fall into the category of Asuras by this yardstick!.

Published in: on September 18, 2009 at 5:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Krishna’s Glorification of Action and condemnation of worship of Indra

The story of Krishna lifting the Govardhana Mountain to protect the people of Vraja and in the process humbling the God of rain, Indra, is well known. While this part of the story is certainly the real highlight,the prelude to this story is equally interesting and enlightening.
The story starts with Krishna witnessing the whole of Vraja making elaborate preparations to perform ‘Yajna’ to propitiate Indra,who is the deity capable of yielding rains when needed.
Krishna was quite baffled at the grand scale in which the whole thing was being planned. And at the same time He was also aware of how proud Indra was because of all the powers bestowed on him. Krishna,therefore,wanted to teach him a lesson or two on humility.
He approached Nanda and others and highlighted quite forcefully the importance of ‘Actions’ in life. He says: Actions alone (or karma) are of paramount importance in life. Pleasure,Pain,fear,welfare -all are caused through one’s actions. The gods can only dispense fruits according to the merits of actions performed – neither more nor less. All beings are subject to their nature or ‘Gunas’ ,which in turn determine the quality of their actions. Therefore,Krishna concludes that our Actions(determined by our nature)alone stand for everything in our lives – our friend,enemy,neutral observer,preceptor and even the Almighty Lord. (“Shatrurmitramudasinah karmaiva gururishwarah”).
The Lord goes on to advocate that all of us should worship work alone as one’s deity. He concludes quite emphatically that Indra has nothing to with rain or the lack of it – rather it is the quality of our actions that causes or blesses us with the rain.
Having almost dissuaded Nanda and the other people of Vraja from the worship of Indra,Krishna urges them to worship instead the forest land,the mountain(Govardhana)and the cows for the simple reason that their lives and livelihood are entirely supported by the latter. He also advises them to go ahead and distribute the food and other sacrificial gifts(meant for Indra) among all people living in Vraja – the Brahmanas,the downtrodden, and even animals.

In this part of the story,the Lord is addressing three issues at the same time: Firstly,the gullible people of Vraja are being taught the importance and superiority of Work /Actions over everything else. Secondly,the arrogance of power displayed by Indra is being exposed and punished. And thirdly,the symbolism behind the Lord’s suggestion to worship forest,mountains and and animals is also quite evident. Protection of nature and animals which sustain our lives is being emphasized here. And finally, the virtue of being compassionate to the noble Brahmanas and the downtrodden by distributing food and gifts (instead of offering the same to Indra)is being stressed by the Lord.

Published in: on July 26, 2009 at 5:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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Enlightenment of Brahmanas engaged in mere rituals

There is another simple story in Bhagavata which beautifully exposes a common folly among human beings of ignoring greatness which exists in our own midst and search for the same or even mediocrity elsewhere.
This is the story of certain ‘Brahmanas’ who were performing ‘Yajna'(propitiating Gods with sacrifices and gifts)in order to attain material pleasures or Heaven. The ‘brahmanas’ were so deeply absorbed in what they were doing that they did not pay heed to some cowherd boys seeking food for Lord Krishna and Balarama who were very hungry. However,when the spouses were approached for food they immediately saw an opportunity to serve the Lord . And ignoring protests by their husbands, they started serving food to Krishna and Balarama. They were so enchanted by the beauty of the Lord they almost forgot about the ‘Yajna’ their husbands were performing.
Having served the Lord and enjoyed his companionship,they returned and narrated the the story of how they enjoyed bliss in the enchanting company of Krishna. One of the Brahmana ladies, who could not serve the Lord,thanks to strong protests by her husband,heard the story intently and embraced the Lord mentally with complete surrender and that was enough to attain instant Moksha.
On seeing this,the Brahmanas got very embarrassed and felt guilty of ignoring and insulting the Lord. They became repentant for the sin committed which drove them to self-condemnation. They undermined everything they stood for so far : their knowledge of vedas,their pedigree,their knowledge of conducting yajnas and other vedic rituals etc. They felt all this was useless and paled into insignificance in comparison to the simple minded ‘bhakti’ or devotion shown by their wives. The latter never performed any austerities,they never indulged in purificatory rites or rituals,they never made inquiries about Self or Spirit.They merely exhibited spontaneous and unswerving devotion to the Lord.
The Brahmanas failed to realize the fact that Krishna himself was the manifestation of all that was being carried out in the name of ‘Yajna’ – the Yajna,the performer of the Yajna,the gifts offered in the Yajna as well as the recipient of gifts offered,the time and place of performing the Yajna,the dieties propitiated in the Yajna,the ‘mantras'(the mystical vedic verses)and finally the gains accruing from the Yajna too. This message is beautifully captured in one line in Bhagavata:
“Deshah kalah Prdhak Dravyam mantra tantrat vijograyah devata yajamanscha kratur dharmascha yanmayah”
The Brahmanas,therefore, concluded that it was the power of ‘Maya’ which acted to delude their highly learned minds and blinded them to the real purpose of their lives. Not knowing their real interest (which lies in seeking the Lord), they went after cheap material pleasures afforded in heaven by performing ‘Sacrifices’ or ‘Yajnas’. It was due to His Maya that they failed to recognize the Lord who came in the form of a ‘yadava'(the community into which Krishna was born).

In this story as well as several others,Maya is invariably used as an explanation to rationalize the foolish or stupid behaviour of people. When people miss the obvious or carry out deeds against their Free Will or behave in an outrageously irrational manner,no reasonable explanation can be given except ‘Maya’.
One could find several examples of such irrationality in our present day world too(such as,chasing money all the time at the expense of happiness or at a more mundane level,buying things impulsively which we really do not need or use etc). And behavioral economists on the one hand and Biologists on the other are constantly trying to seek satisfactory answers to such an irrational behaviour through dedicated research in this direction.
We have to view the concept of Maya in this context. What is this Maya,one may wonder. According to Hindu philosophy it is that mysterious power because of which we lose our sense of proportion or priority and our intellect is completely clouded.
One may get some insight into this mystery by considering what neutralizes the effect of ‘Maya’. Meditation is considered to be one of the powerful antidotes to this(‘Bhakti’ being the other powerful antidote). A meditative mind attains a very high degree of sensitivity and clarity free from all disturbances and therefore acts with intelligence and rationality. Conversely,it is the disturbed and the troubled mind which clouds our intellect and causes ‘Maya’.

Published in: on July 18, 2009 at 8:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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Humbling Experience of Brahma

Miracles are often used with very good effect in several stories of Bhagavata. Call it by any other name like mystery,’maya’,miracle, unforeseen event – all this is manifestation of the God principle. It is through such happenings that we feel the presence of some super human power controlling or guiding our lives. It serves many purposes. For the noble minded,it is just a reaffirmation of their faith in God and the principle of ‘dharma’ protecting us,while for the evil minded it is a grim reminder of disapproval of such conduct through consistent punishment meted out. It is also used as a powerful tool to curb the occasional pride and vanity of even evolved souls. And for mortals like us such stories serve as useful lessons in developing deep faith.

In this particular story Brahma,the creator,was at the receiving end of the all powerful display of ‘Maya'(or miracle)by the Lord Krishna.
The episode takes place in Vraja,where the Lord spent considerable time entertaining the cowherd boys and the Gopis with his childhood pranks,giving them his blissful companionship and exhibiting supernatural powers by killing demons etc.
Having killled one such ‘Asura'(Demon)by name Aghasura by entering his mouth and eventually emerging out victorious,the Lord wanted all the cowherd boys to let go and enjoy a great meal in the fields earlier occupied by the Demon Aghasura. While the celebrations were in progress,the calves (let loose)soon disappeared to a place quite far from their view. The boys were advised by the Lord,however, to continue with their meal and not get perturbed as He wished to go and fetch the calves back home.
At this point, Brahma, who had earlier witnessed the battle the Lord fought with the demon Aghasura, was so overwhelmed that he decided to try out his own tricks on the Lord with the desire of witnessing a further display of ‘Maya’ by Krishna. He carried out a vanishing trick by which the calves and the entire gang of the cowherd boys disappeared. Krishna quickly realized this was the handiwork of Brahma. And in order to ensure that no one from Vraja got worried over the disappearance, the Lord decided to counter with a more powerful miracle to outwit Brahma. Through his ‘Maya’ the Lord replicated himself as calves and cowherd boys who were identical to the ones that just disappeared. All of them(the several replicates of Krishna in different forms) returned home to the relief of all the mothers at home. This went on for an year. And during this period,quite amazingly,it was observed that there was unusually high degree of warmth,affection and love exhibited by the mothers towards the cowherd boys and the the cows to the calves. There was unusual display of excitement and joy all over the place. Even Balarama (the brother of the Lord Krishna) did not have any clue as to what caused it all.
(The sage Suka who is the narrator of this story to the king Parikshit gives a philosophical answer to this question,which is presented at the end of the story).

Ultimately, Brahma,having achieved nothing by his stupid act, decided to return the calves and the boys. Now it is Brahma’s turn to face and witness the display of miracle by the Lord. He was completely embarrassed and confused as he could not differentiate between the real calves or the cowherd boys and the ones created by Krishna.
Finding that his own Maya got completely overshadowed and paled into insignificance by comparison,Brahma felt ashamed to have tried a trick on the Lord who is after all the master and architect of all ‘Maya’. The sage Vyasa says beautifully that it was as if the darkness due to mist got totally merged with real darkness and the light of fire merged with the day light. Realizing his folly and feeling repentant,Brahma profusely apologized to the Lord for all that he did and began to sing the glories of the Lord.
As the sage Suka completes narrating this story to the King Parikshit,the latter raises an important doubt as to how such an exceptional love and affection was shown by one all to the calves and the cowherd boys in Vraja during the year (when the real calves and the boys vanished). The explanation given by the sage was indeed very profound as it echoes the verses from the ‘Brihadaranyaka’ Upanishads.
In simple terms it says that the ‘Self’ is the dearest of all and everything(the mother,the father,brothers,sisters,wealth etc)is dear because of our love for the ‘Self’. Here the ‘Self’ refers to the ‘God principle’. God,in Sanskrit is referred to as ‘Bhagwaan’. And ‘Bhagwaan’ is interpreted as the supreme person endowed with 6 qualities namely, Aiswarya(Omnipotence),Virya(Prowess),Yasas(fame),Sri(wealth,Love,
beauty,auspiciousness),Jnana(Omniscience),Vairagya(non- attachment,dispassion). It is this ‘Self’ which is the common thread running through all of us and it is this principle that sustains us all. And quite naturally,we shower our affection and love to this dearest ‘Self’ which is present in all of us to various degrees.
Let me illustrate this point further with an example. Let us try to understand why we love our mothers. Mothers are synonymous with unconditional Love,affection,care,compassion etc. It is these qualities in the mother that we are in love with. And these qualities are nothing but manifestation of the ‘Self’ itself.
Likewise,we all appreciate people who attain success and wealth(material or spiritual)because the attributes of success and wealth are again manifestation of the ‘Self’ ,which we are in love with.
Essentially it is the same ‘Self’ expressing itself as qualities of excellence through all of us to various degrees.

The story,in my opinion,brings out a couple of interesting points relevant to Hinduism:
Firstly,the replication of calves and cowherd boys by Krishna is meant to signify the Hindu belief that God is one and pervades us all.
The second insight has to do with an important aspect of divinity. That is divinity consists not merely in names and forms but mainly in the display of qualities of excellence.(‘Kalyana guna ganangal’ as they say in Tamil). And ‘Maya’ or miracle is beautifully utilized to drive home the two points.

Published in: on July 9, 2009 at 4:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Angels,Demons and Mohini

The story of how demons and angels fight and finally settle scores makes interesting reading in Bhagavata.
The demons were decidedly stronger of the two both physically and mentally. Added to that they were also very cunning in their warfare especially with their mind games. They would,all on a sudden,vanish only to reappear in a different terrifying form. These occult practices(display of ‘Maya’) made it all the more difficult for the angels to engage in any reasonable fight.
In one of their battles,the angels were totally outwitted. And as they felt totally helpless,they started meditating on the Almighty Narayana. Instantly Narayana made an appearance on the battle-front. As the story goes the moment He descended on the scene,all the powers of Maya exhibited by the demons came to an abrupt halt and the entire battleground became tranquil even as the demons fled the scene. This incident is significant in two ways: Firstly,one does not have to actively seek His help when in trouble. A mere sincere meditation and a silent communication of helplessness is good enough to bring in the invisible help. Secondly,all Occult practices by human beings come to naught under the influence and powerful presence of the master of ‘Maya’ – Narayana.

The other story of angels and demons is even more interesting. It is the story in which both angels and demons are working for a common purpose – that is churning the ocean using mount Mandara for agitation. The purpose of churning was to extract ‘Amrit’ – the so called eternal juice by drinking which one remains alive for ever.
Without going into so many details,they together succeed in their common pursuit but come to blows at the time of sharing the fruits of their labour. Lord Narayana,sensing the inherent dangers of granting a share of Amrit to the demons,decides to appear as MOHINI – an attractive damsel. Both demons and angels approach ‘Mohini’ and ‘Mohini’ offers to distribute ‘Amrit’ among them in an equitable and fair manner. Rest of the story is all about how ‘Mohini’ uses her charm to deceive the demons of their share of ‘Amrit’ before disappearing into his abode Vaikunta.

Quite interestingly both angels and demons put in the same efforts for ‘Amrit’; however,the results obtained are quite different for the two. It goes to show that besides the quality of efforts,our intentions also play a decisive role in achieving results. In fact the very fight between angels and demons is said to symbolize the several battles that take place within all of us between our good and evil tendencies and intentions.

To continue with the story, Lord Siva hears about the incredible story of Mohini and decides to go to Vaikunta along with Parvati to get a first hand account of the episode from the Lord Narayana himself. Therefore He wishes to see a reenactment of the whole episode (Action Replay?)for his sake.
Narayana,in order to satisfy the curiosity of Siva, reappears as Mohini. As it turns out,Lord Siva himself gets so enchanted by Mohini’s charms that He starts chasing her all over the worlds as if intoxicated. Mohini plays ‘hide and seek’ with Siva and at the end of it all, Siva realizes his folly and aplogises to Parvati for His acts indiscretion.

The story is in fact allegorical and one has to understand the powerful symbolism to fully appreciate its significance.
The word ‘Moh’ in Sanskrit means delusion and ‘Mohini’ is the one who deludes our senses through unfulfilled desires. Indeed all of us are tormented and deluded by several ‘Mohinis’ in our lives,which we keep chasing. If a powerful God like Siva did succumb to the charms of Mohini,there is no chance whatsoever for angels,demons or lesser mortals like us to find an easy escape from the delusion.
The parallel between the the characters in the story and our lives is indeed quite compelling. Angels and Demons are our good and evil tendencies respectively,while our delusions (prompted by unfulfilled desires) are our ‘Mohinis’ distracting us from our real goal which is ‘Amrit’.

The correct interpretation of the story is not to suggest that desire is the root cause of all evil. It is just the opposite.To paraphrase Ayn Rand,desire is probably the root cause of all good! It is not desire per se which is the evil,rather the manner in which the mind goes on a hot pursuit of desire trampling all Dharma in the process is what causes all evil and self-destruction. One will find a similar message contained in Bhagavad Gita verse #5 of Chapter 6, which reads as “Atmaivahi Atmano bandhuh Atmaiva ripuratmanah”.
“Our mind alone is our best friend as well as our worst enemy”.

Published in: on June 13, 2009 at 7:45 am  Comments (2)  
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The story of King Yayati – the need for balance in life

Yayati was one of the six sons(2nd son) of Nahua and he was crowned as the king since his elder brother did not evince any interest in the throne. One day as the king was on a hunting expedition,he found Devayani(the beautiful daughter of the famous preceptor Sukracharya)thrown into a well. The king gave her a hand and rescued her. As soon as she got rescued,Devayani proposed to the king for marriage and the latter also gave his consent immediately thinking that it was all preordained. Devayani was accompanied by her female companion Sarmistha to the king’s palace after their marriage. Even as the king was leading an extremely blissful married life with his beautiful wife Devayani,he got equally attracted by her companion as well and committed an act of indiscretion. He bore children through Devayani as well as her companion Sarmista and as a result landed himself into serious trouble with Sukracharya(Devayani’s father). The latter cursed him to suffer instant old age and disfigurement. As Yayati surrendered before Sukracharya,the latter offered solace to the king and gave him an opportunity to exchange his old age with the youth of any one who would volunteer. The king approached his 3 sons for exchanging his old age with their youth and all,except his third son Puru, refused.
Thus, thanks to his third son Puru,the king’s youth was restored and he continued to enjoy all kinds of sensual pleasures once again. As the story goes,even after 1000 years of enjoyment,the king did not feel satiated and on the contrary his lust and desire was ever mounting until finally he himself finally got sick and tired. He saw no purpose in all this and in disgust returned the youth of his son Puru. Having got back his old age his desires came to an end. He,then,renounced his attachments,handed over the kingdom into the safe hands of his son Durhyu and retired to forests with Devayani to pursue a spiritual path.

The story makes an important point that it is essential for one to have a proper balance in life. The curse by Sukracharya on Yayaati indicates that one can not escape the consequences of excesses committed in life.
Another important idea that comes across clearly is that enjoying sensual pleasures to the complete exclusion of spiritual pursuits will only lead to frustration and a feeling of emptiness at the end. The life of Yayati clearly refutes the belief of one of his sons ‘Yadu’,who declared while refusing to exchange his youth with Yayati : “One does not reach a desireless state without tasting all the vulgar material pleasures of life in the first place”.
On the contrary,without proper balance of activities in life,one is likely to face a fate similar to that of Yayati.

Published in: on May 24, 2009 at 7:49 am  Comments (2)  
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The Story of Sagara

The king Sagara, having restored the empire lost by his forefathers, established himself as a benevolent king in all respects. In the process of restoring his empire he conquered several enemies but refrained from killing them in difference to his preceptor’s(Sage Aurva’s) advice. On the suggestion of the sage Aurva,he started to perform ‘Ashvamedha yagna’ which is supposed to be a vehicle to propitiate the Lord Hari himself. As was the practice in those days,the sacrificial horse was set out to roam free around the country before concluding the sacrifice or Yajna. Indra who was jealous of Sagara performing the Yajna stole the horse. On hearing this, Sagara commanded his sons(sixty thousand in number according to the story)to go,search and locate the lost horse. With a lot of enthusiasm and energy they set out in search of the horse. Not having found the horse anywhere they started digging and excavating the earth and ultimately found the horse tied close to Sage Kapila who was in deep meditation. As it turned out,the sons of Sagara were deluded as Indra(the lord of the senses)destroyed their sense of discrimination.(The horse was obviously planted by Indra close to Sage Kapila just to mislead them). Finding the horse tied up near the sage Kapila,the sons of Sagara started abusing the sage of stealing the horse and in fact wanted to kill him with their weapons. At this point the sage opened his eyes and they were burnt to ashes instantly.

Vyasa uses this simple story with very good effect to impart an important lesson in our rich philosophy. He briefly debates the question as to the cause of instant destruction of the sons of Sagara and gives a very interesting interpretation. He contends that it is not correct to say the sage Kapila reduced them to ashes by a curse(arising out of his wrath) after opening his eyes. This is because the Sage Kapila is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu himself and therefore is an embodiment of Pure ‘Sathva'(Sathva is the highest form of nobility manifested in beings). And this ‘Sathva Guna'(Guna means quality) in the Sage Kapila is so pure that it is unmixed with the other two negative qualities(gunas) namely ‘Rajas’ and ‘Tamas’. Only the latter 2 ‘gunas’ are capable of showing negative emotions like anger. Such a great Being like the sage Kapila can not differentiate between a friend and a foe.
(‘Na saaduvado munikopa bharjita nripendraputra iti sathva dhamani,katham tamo roshamayam vibhavyate jagat pavitratmani khe rajo bhuvah’).
If sage Kapila did not destroy them,what else could have burnt them to ahes? It is answered beautifully by Vyasa himself as follows: Firstly,Indra,the lord of senses, had destroyed their faculties which led to utter lack of discrimination and delusion. And the deluded mind had made them utter obscenities at such an exalted soul as sage Kapila.
Therefore Vyasa concludes that they were burnt to ashes at the very moment they committed a grave sin against the sage. Opening of eyes by Kapila,as they got burnt by the fire of their own sin, was a mere coincidence.
All this is beautifully captured in one sentence:
‘Svashariragnina taavan mahendrahrtachetasah mahat vyatikramahata bhasmasadbhavan kshanaat’

Thus the story imparts to us an important spiritual lesson from our philosophy that the effects are after all embedded in the cause itself. What exactly does this mean? Our conventional wisdom tells us that the cause and effect are separated in time,implying thereby that the consequences of an action are seen after a certain interval of time. Our philosophy teaches us differently,though. It says the moment an action is performed the effects are felt instantly through a divine dispensation. The actual punishment given for a wrong action is just a formality which may take place immediately or later. The fire-power of a negative action will show up in so many ways before the visible punishment is meted out. The effects could manifest at the spiritual or intellectual / emotional level depending on the individual. At the emotional level,the terrible feeling of guilt could burn some people up. Some,who are spiritually evolved,will feel tormented and tortured by the sinful act. Even the most remorseless characters would admit in private of being unhappy after committing a sin.

Having digressed a bit to dwell on the philosophical import of the story,let me complete the rest of the story.
Sagara’s grandson(Ansuman) went searching for the Horse and ultimately found the same close to a heap of ashes. As he saw the sage Kapila meditating nearby,he at once realized he was the divine incarnate and sang in glory of him. Thereupon,the sage asked him to take back the sacrificial horse and also brought his uncles back to life by means of sacred waters of Ganges river. The king Sagara completed the Ashwamedha Yajna and got blessed by the Lord Hari.

One can not miss the contrasting results obtained by the wicked sons of Sagara on the one hand and that obtained by Ansuman through his worship of the Lord Hari.

Narada describes different kinds of relationships with God

The king Parikshit raised the following basic question to the sage Suka(the narrator of Bhagavata): “How come the Lord who is above all ‘Gunas'(qualities)could hate some beings while loving some?” The reference here is to the Lord openly supporting the Devas against the Asuras(or the demons). Suka replies:”The Lord,although above all qualities, takes on the role of punishing the wicked for their own good”. (‘Nirgunopi Ajo Avyakto bhagavan prakriteh parah svamaya gunamavisya badhya badhakatam gatah’).

Then Suka goes on to to eloborate the point by referring to a dialogue between Yudhishthira and Narada.
The background to this dialogue is as follows: Yudhishtira performed the famous ‘Rajasuya Yaga’ which was very well attended by all dignitaries including sages ,Kings etc. On that occasion Lord Krishna was bestowed the special honour (of receiving the offerings of the yajna)by the Pandavas. Thereupon the king Sisupala ,who had always harboured jelousy,hatred and ill-will against Krishna,got enraged and started to abuse and denounce the Lord and his clan in the harshest and the most despicable manner. Krishna gave him a long rope and ultimately killed him with his powerful weapon ‘Discus’. And lo and behold, he merged with the Lord(attained Moksha) and everyone witnessed this amazing episode with great wonder.
This episode provoked Yudhishthira to get certain clarifications from Narada (who was also one of the invitees for the yajna).
The question which troubled Yudhishtira was the following:
Whereas the kings like Kamsa and Sisupala(who were Wickedness personified)instantly merged with the Lord Krishna after being slain,another wicked king by name ‘Vena’ did not get the blessings of the Lord after he was cursed and hurled into Hell by the sages .
(The story of Kamsa was also similar to that of Sisupala. He tried every possible trick to attack and kill Krishna before finally meeting his end in the hands of the Lord and attaining Moksha).

Yudhishtira was clearly confused and wanted to know as to why the two wicked guys were blessed with the favour of ‘Moksha’ while the king Vena faced a different fate altogether.
Narada gives an explanation to the question as follows:
The paths to liberation(or Moksha) are several. Sisupala,for instance,was constantly thinking of the Lord Krishna because of his intense hatred. Therefore,in spite of hatred,he was liberated due to the merit(Punya)accrued thanks to constant remembrance of the Lord. It is important to remember that the Lord has no hatred towards anybody. The only hindrance to Sisupaala’s liberation was the sin(‘Paapa’ committed by him through constant hatred of the Lord and abuses hurled at Him without any provocation. He had to pay for that sin by being slain and became eligible for absorption with the Lord immediately by virtue of the accumulated ‘Punya’ through constant remembrance of the Lord.
The case of Kamsa was slightly different. He was also constantly remembering the Lord but not because of any hatred(as in the case of Sisupala)but due to constant fear of being slain. The fear found expression through his numerous attempts made to kill Krishna. He was punished and cleansed of the sin(‘Paapa’) by the Lord by being slain. And instantly he also got liberated merging with the Lord .
There is a third category of people who attain liberation through attachment to the Lord(like the Pandavas). The cowherd boys,in turn, got liberated through kinship with the Lord while the Gopis achieved the same goal through Love for the Lord. And several, like Narada himself, attained liberation( Moksha) through the powerful medium of ‘Bhakti'(devotion).
Thus whether one is God hating type or God fearing type or God loving type,Bhagavata tells us that as long as one is constantly and intensely thinking of Him,the final outcome in terms of Moksha attainment is positive.
Narada says that the king Vena,obviously did not belong to any of the five categories above and therefore did not get liberated.

I found the story particularly interesting in the context of modern times because I hear several people(young as well as old) describing themselves as God-fearing. I am not,for a moment,suggesting that they are Kamsa-like(unless they are always worried that the God is going to kill them or punish them just as Kamsa did).
If ever they read the above dialogue between Narada and Yudhishthira,I am sure they will prefer calling themselves ‘God-loving’ instead of God-fearing!

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.

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