The day Astika saved the serpents in Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice is celebrated as Naga Panchami. The above is a hand-drawn Naga Panchami poster above the main door of a Nepalese House in USA. The image contributed to the public domain by Regmiparwat.

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Previous Post: How Takshaka Was Protected From Falling Into the Fire

Note: In the previous post, we learnt how Takshaka was saved from falling into the fire. 

In this post, the child-sage Astika returns home after successfully saving his maternal relatives and shares the good news with his mother and uncle.

Astika returned home and touched his mother’s and uncle’s feet and joyfully told them everything that had happened at the yagna.

Vasuki and Jaratkaru were delighted that their relatives were safe. Pleased with Astika, they said, “O learned child, you have gratified us with your actions. Ask for a boon, O child. What can we do for you?”

Astika replied, “Let the snakes never harm those Brahmins and other people who cheerfully read the story of my actions with proper attention.”

Vasuki said, “O nephew, it will be exactly as you say. And let me also say that anyone who calls to mind Astika, Artiman, and Sunitha shall have no fear of snakes.”

Vasuki, however, did not stop with these two boons. He wanted to grant one more boon to bring glory to his nephew. He said, “If anyone accosted by a snake says the following words, the snake will not bite him, and, in case the snake does bite him then that snake’s hood will be split into a hundred pieces like the fruit of a Sinsa tree.” 

The words designated by Vasuki were: “I call to mind the famous Astika, born of Jaratkaru, that Astika who saved the snakes from the snake sacrifice. Therefore O fortunate snakes, it is not correct for you to bite me. May you be blessed O snake of virulent poison. O snake, now leave remembering the words of Astika after the snake sacrifice of Janamejaya.”

Astika was also pleased to hear his uncle’s words. 

The child brahmin had saved his maternal relatives from the sacrifice and also having sought safety for humans who remember him when accosted by a snake. Thus having completed his deeds with snakes and humans, Astika left his relatives and went away to live on his own. When his time on earth came to an end, he ascended to heaven leaving behind sons and grandsons.

Note: According to The Mahabharata, reciting this story removes the fear of snakes.

In the next post, we will find out the names of the snakes who perished in Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice.

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Next Post: Names of the Snakes Who Perished in the Sacrifice

Idol of Takshaka at Taxakeshwar temple

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Previous Post: Janamejaya Grants Astika’s Boon

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Astika stopped the snake sacrifice just when Takshaka was about to be pulled into the fire. 

In this post, we will find what saved Takshaka from being pulled into the fire at the time when Janamajeya was urging Astika to reconsider his boon.

When Janamajeya was about to grant Astika’s boon, with no knowledge of what Astika would ask for, Astika put his attention on Takshaka and said three times, “Stay, stay, stay.”

At this time, Takshaka had already lost Indra’s protection and the Brahmanas were pouring libations taking Takshaka’s name. Takshaka was pulled all the way to the edge of the fire, but stayed there, suspended in mid-air, because of Astika’s words.

This is how Astika saved Takshaka from perishing.

Note: In the next post, Astika returns home after fulfilling his mission of protecting the virtuous snakes.

This story raises an interesting point. Since Astika saved Takshaka, he must be one of the virtuous snakes even though he took Parikshit’ life by deceit and stole the queen’s earrings from Uttanka. So, what made him virtuous? Thinking about this topic would be a good exercise to introspect into the subtle dharma.

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Next Post: Astika Returns Home

Astika requests Janamejaya to stop the snake sacrifice (Image contributed by B.K. Mitra from The Mahabharata by Ramnarayan Atri)

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Previous Post: Astika Asks For His Boon

Note: In the previous post, Astika asked Janamejaya to end the snake sacrifice. Takshaka was close to the sacrificial fire but had not yet been captured. This put Janamejaya in a dilemma because destroying Takshaka was the chief aim of his sacrifice. 

In this post, we will find out if Janamejaya granted the boon to Astika and what happened to Takshaka

Upon being repeatedly urged by the Sadasyas of the sacrifice, Janamejaya agreed to grant Astika’s boon. He said, “Let the sacrifice end. Let the snakes be safe. May Astika also be satisfied.” Then Janamejaya turned to the suta who had predicted that the sacrifice would be interrupted by a brahmin, and said, “O suta, may your prediction also come true.”

All the Sadasyas were filled with joy when Janamajeya granted Astika’s boon and stopped the sacrifice. The entire sacrificial compound was filled with words of praise for the king. 

Janamejaya also felt pleased with the decision. He gave generous gifts to all the Sadasyas, Ritwiks, and other participants of the sacrifice. He also gave generously to the suta who had predicted that the sacrifice would be interrupted. Along with money, Janamejaya, the king of uncommon kindness, also gave other items of food and clothing to the suta. Janamejaya was very generous at heart and he felt happy after bestowing gifts on everyone present at the sacrifice.

After concluding the sacrifice with proper rites, he gave due respect and gifts to Astika and let the little brahmin return home. Astika himself was also very pleased because he had succeeded in protecting his maternal relatives. Before Astika left, the king said, “O Astika, I will soon conduct an Ashwamedh Sacrifice. You must come there as a Sadasya.” Astika readily agreed and returned home.

Note: The discerning reader might have noticed that Takshaka was almost pulled into the flame when Astika asked for his boon. However, the boon was not granted immediately. Janamejaya urged Astika several times to reconsider the book and ask for something else. This much time was enough for Takshaka, who had already lost his consciousness to fall into the sacrificial fire. But yet he did not. 

In the next post, we will find out how Takshaka was saved from falling into the fire.

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Next Post: How Takshaka Was Saved

Astika asks Janamejaya to stop the snake sacrifice

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Previous Post: Takshaka Appears in the Sky

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Indra deserted Takshaka when he realised the power of sacrifice. Furthermore, once the Hotri started taking Takshaka’s name while pouring the libations, Takshaka lost his senses and was pulled towards the sacrificial fire. When he was pulled near enough to the fire, the Ritwiks urged the king to grant Astika whatever boon he requests.

In this post, we will find out what the child-sage, Astika, asked Janamejaya.

When Takshaka was about to fall into the sacrificial fire, Astika said, “O Janamejaya, if you want to grant me a book then I ask for this sacrifice to end. Let no more snakes fall into the fire.”

Astika’s words surprised and made Janamejaya unhappy. He replied, “O illustrious one, I urge you – please do not ask for this sacrifice to end. Ask for anything else. I will give you as much gold, silver, cattle, or any other possessions you desire.”

Astika replied, “I do not want gold, silver, or cattle. O king, let this sacrifice come to an end so that my maternal relatives may find relief.”

Janamejaya, seeing Astika’s resolve, repeatedly urged him to ask for something else. He said several times, “O best of Brahmanas, ask for some other boon. Be blessed O great one, ask for anything else.”

However, Astika did not change his mind. The only boon he wanted was to stop the sacrifice. After some time, the Sadasyas of the sacrifice, who were all well-versed in the Vedas, said in unison, “Let the Brahmana receive his boon!”

Note: In the next post, we will find out if Janamejaya Grants Astika his boon and what happens to Takshaka.

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Next Post: Janamejaya Grants Astika’s Boon

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Previous Post: Janamejaya Wants to Give Astika a Boon But the Hotri Wants Him to Wait

Note: In the previous post, we read about Janamejaya’s desire to grant Astika a boon because he was gratified by his words and noticed the positive signs that manifested while Astika was speaking. Janamejaya also found the child brahmin to be wise and filled with splendour. All the Sadasyas of the sacrifice also agreed with Janamejaya, but they wanted him to wait until Takshaka was captured in the sacrificial fire.

In this post, we will read about how Takshaka had to come out of hiding and appeared in the sky due to the power of the sacrifice.

Warned by his Hotri to wait till Takshaka was captured, Janamejaya said to the Ritwiks, “Takshaka is my enemy. Put all your might into the mantras to make Takshaka appear so that the aim of my sacrifice may be fulfilled.”

The Ritwiks replied, “O king, the scriptures tell us that Takshaka is staying in Indra’s abode out of fear from this sacrifice. Lohitaksha, the learned Suta and well-versed in the Puranas, has also confirmed this. Moreover, the sacrificial fire also seems to suggest the same thing.”

Note: The last line, refers to divination with fire which is known as pyromancy in contemporary times. There are many types of pyromancy. One of them involves making interpretations based on the shape of a flame.

The Suta, Lohitaksha, was also present in the sacrifice. Janamejaya asked him if this was true and Lohitaksha confirmed that it was. Indra had granted protection to Takshaka and asked the serpent to stay with him in his abode.

Janamejaya was not pleased with the knowledge that Indra was protecting Takshaka. However, he urged his Hotri to continue. 

As the Hotri continued chanting mantras and offering oblations of clarified butter to the fire, Indra appeared in the sky in his car accompanied by his retinue of clouds, devas, and apsaras. Takshaka was also with Indra but remained hidden in Indra’s upper garment.

Not being able to see Takshaka, angered Janamejaya. Bent upon destroying Takshaka, he said to his Brahmanas, “If Takshaka is under Indra’s protection, then chant your mantras to bring him into the fire along with Indra.”

Urged by the king, the Hotri continued chanting the mantras and offered the libations taking Takshaka’s name as they poured the clarified butter into the fire.

As soon as Takshaka’s name was specifically mentioned in the mantras, Takshaka was forced out of Indra’s upper garment and became visible in the sky along with Indra.

The power of the sacrifice scared Indra. He immediately abandoned Takshaka and returned to his abode. Having lost Indra’s protection, Takshaka was overcome with fear. He lost his senses and started being pulled towards the sacrificial fire by the power of the mantras. 

Once Takshaka was pulled close enough to the flames, the Ritwiks said to Janamejaya, “O king of kings, your sacrifice is proceeding as it should. You may now grant a boon to this deserving brahmin child.”

Janamejaya looked at Astika and said, “O immeasurable brahmin of handsome childlike features, I wish to grant you a worthy boon. Ask for whatever your heart desires. I will grant it to you even if it’s non grantable.”

Meanwhile, Takshaka was being drawn closer and closer to the fire. The Ritwiks said to the Janamejaya, “O king, see, Takshaka is coming under your control. Listen to his terrible cries and loud roar.  The serpent has been forsaken by Indra and your mantras have rendered his body and senses powerless. Look at him rolling in the sky and breathing loudly as he falls from heaven.”

Note: In the next post, we will find out what boon Astika asks for.

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Next Post: Astika Asks For His Boon

Image of Naga worshipped at Nagasthan, a Naag temple at ChandragiriKathmandu during Naga Panchami

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Previous Post: Astika Reaches the Location of the Snake Sacrifice

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Astika reached the location of the snake sacrifice and spoke words of adoration for Janamejaya, the Ritwiks, Sadasyas, and Agni Deva. 

In this post, we will find out how Janamejaya responded to Astika’s words.

After Astika adored and gratified the king and other participants of the sacrifice, positive signs and indications started manifesting all around. Janamejaya noticed these signs and said, “although this boy is still a child, he speaks like a wise old man. I think he’s very wise.”

Janamejaya turned to the Ritwiks and Sadasyas and said, “I Brahmanas, I wish to give this wise child a boon. Please give me the permission to do so.”

The Sadasyas replied, “A brahmana, even if he’s a boy, deserves the respect of kings, and his learned child deserves it even more so. This boy certainly deserves to have his desires fulfilled by you, but not before this sacrificial fire captures Takshaka.”

But Janamejaya, who was very keen on giving the child a boon, ignored the brahmanas’ advice and said to Astika, “Ask for a boon.”

The Hotri of the sacrifice was very displeased and immediately said, “Takshaka has not yet been captured in the sacrificial fire.”

Note: On a surface level it might seem that Janamejaya’s ego was gratified by Astika’s praise and he decided to give the child a boon. But that wasn’t the case. Janamejaya had sufficient control over his ego. He paid attention to the positive signs (Nimitas) that manifested around him and also saw the nobility, wisdom, and splendour of the little sage. 

The Mahabharata doesn’t mention the Nimitas, but they could be signs like a sudden cool breeze, a sudden appearance of a certain bird or animal, maybe a flower or fruit falling when the child was speaking, perhaps a sweet smell that seems to come out of nowhere, or other similar signs. I have not read the Atharva Veda personally, but I’ve been told that it describes various positive and negative Nimitas. While we’re on the topic of Nimitas, I’d also like to add something I heard from a wise sadhaka. He said that one should pay attention to Nimitas only after one’s consciousness has become sufficiently elevated and one’s will-power is strong. In this case, the Nimitas work as helpful signs, but if a person who doesn’t have a well-developed will power and an elevated consciousness pays excessive attention to Nimitas then there’s a good chance they will become even weaker and fall into a state of confusion.

In the next post, we will find out if Takshaka is pulled into the sacrificial fire or is saved.

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Next Post: Takshaka Appears in the Sky

Image of Agni, the deity of fire, who has a very prominent place in the RigVeda.

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Previous Post: Astika is Asked to Save the Serpents

Note: In the previous post, we read how Vasuki and his sister reached out to her son, Astika, to stop the snake sacrifice.

In this post, we will find out what Astika does when he reaches the location of the snake sacrifice.

After bringing peace to Vasuki’s heart with his words, Asika hastened to Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice where he saw the excellent compound in which it was being conducted. He also saw the Sadasyas who looked bright like the Sun itself. 

However, when Astika tried to enter the compound, the guards stopped him as commanded by the king. Astika, who was determined to meet the king, gratified the guards and convinced them to allow him to enter the location of the sacrifice.

Once Astika entered the sacrificial compound, he spoke words of adoration to Janamejaya, the Ritwiks, Sadasyas, and the sacrificial fire.

Astika said, “In ancient times, Soma, Varuna, and Prajapati performed sacrifices in Prayaga. But your snake sacrifice, O best king of Bharata’s race, is as good as those ancient sacrifices. O king, let those who are dear to us be blessed.

Indra performed a hundred sacrifices, but this sacrifice of yours, O son of Parikshit, is equal to ten thousand sacrifices of Indra. O king, let those who are dear to us be blessed.

Your sacrifice is like the sacrifices performed by Yama, or Harimedha, or Rantideva. O king, let those who are dear to us be blessed.

When King Yudhishthira, the son of a Deva and also of the Ajamida race, conducted a sacrifice, it became known even in the heavens. Your sacrifice is like King Yudhishthira’s sacrifice. O son of Parikshit, let those who are dear to us be blessed.

Your sacrifice is akin to the sacrifice of Krishna-Dwaipayana (Ved Vyasa of the Mahabharata) where he himself was the chief priest. O son of Parikshit, let those who are dear to us be blessed.

These Ritwiks and Sadasyas who are engaged in this sacrifice are like the slayer of Vritra (Indra). They are as bright as the Sun and all-knowing. Gifts made to them become inexhaustible in merit. Your Ritwika Dwaipayana is unequalled in this world. His disciples too are competent in their duties as Ritwiks And travel throughout the world to perform sacrifices. 

Agni, also known as Vibhavasu and Chitrabhanu accepts the libations of this sacrifice. He has gold as his vital seed, his path is marked by black smoke, and his flames blaze slightly to the right. He takes the libations offered by you and delivers them to the Gods. O king, there is no other monarch on earth comparable to you in the protection of his subjects.

O king, I am very pleased with your abstinence. You are either Varuna, or Yama, the God of justice. You are like Indra, who wields the thunderbolt to protect all creatures. That is no man on earth comparable to you and no king who is your equal in sacrifice. You are like Khatwanga, Nabhanga, and Dilipa. In prowess, you are like Yayati and Mandhatri. You are bright like the Sun. In your vows, you are like Bhishma. You keep your great energy concealed like Valmiki and you have controlled your anger like Vashishtha. You are like Indra in lordship and splendorous like Vishnu. You have deep knowledge of justice like Yama does and you have every virtue like Krishna. The good fortune that belongs to the Vasus has its home in you. You are the refuge of sacrifices. You have the strength of Damvodbhava and you are knowledgeable of the scriptures and weapons like Parshuram. Your energy is as great as Aurva and Trita and your fierce look is akin to Bhagiratha.

Note: In this post, we read how Astika praised and adored King Janamejaya, the Ritwiks, and Sadasyas, and the sacrificial fire (Agni).

In the next post, we will find out how Janamejaya responds to Astika’s words.

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Next Post: Janamejaya Wants to Give Astika a Boon But the Hotri Wants Him to Wait

In Bali, Hindu Brahmins are called Pedandas and Brahmin priests are called Sulinggih. Both men and women can be a Sulinggih. The image above shows a woman – a Brahmin priestess.

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Previous Post: Takshaka Seeks Indra’s Protection

Note: In the previous post, we read about the difference between how Takshaka and Vasuki responded to the threat of Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. Takshaka sought personal protection from Indra, while Vasuki, wanting to save his family and race, called out to his sister, Jaratkaru, for help.

In this post, we’ll read about how they asked Jaratkaru’s son, Astika, to bring an end to the snake sacrifice.

Calling his sister, Vasuki said, “O sister, my legs are burning and I can’t see anything clearly. I’m about to lose consciousness. I’m feeling numb and heartbroken, I think I too might fall into the sacrificial fire created to exterminate our race. O sister, O best of women from the race of the serpents, your marriage with Rishi Jaratkaru was performed to save our family and race. Your son, Astika, has been designated by Brahma Deva himself to put an end to Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. It is time, dear sister, to request Astika, who is learned in the Vedas and respected by the noble sages, to perform his role and save the serpents.”

Jaratkaru, the serpent lady, called her son and said, “O child, my brother bestowed me in marriage to your father for a special purpose. The time has come to fulfil that purpose. O son, you must do what needs to be done.”

Astika replied, “O mother, please tell me the reason why you were married to my father. I want to understand everything and take the correct actions.”

Jaratkaru, the great serpent lady, remained calm and steady even though she was aware that snakes were perishing in thousands and explained everything to her son. She said, “O son, a long time ago, Kadru, the mother of the snakes commanded her sons to make the tail of the celestial horse (Uchchaisravas) appear black because she wanted to win a bet with Vinata. However, her sons refused to do her bidding and she cursed them in anger. She cursed them saying they would perish in a sacrifice performed by King Janamejaya and would then go to the realm of unredeemed spirits. Brahma Deva himself assented to the curse as soon as it was uttered.” 

Then Jaratkaru told her son how her brother, Vasuki, played an important role in the churning of the ocean. After the ocean had been churned and the devas gratified by drinking the amrit, Vasuki approached them for help to save the serpents from perishing due to Kadru’s curse. The devas accomplished Vasuki to Brahma Deva to request him to nullify the curse and save the serpents.

Brahma Deva assured Vasuki that, in the future, a sage called Jaratkaru would marry a maiden by the same name and their brahmin son would bring relief to the snakes.

After explaining the background events to her son, Jaratkaru said, “Hearing Brahma Deva’s words, my brother Vasuki, the best of snakes, bestowed me in marriage to the high-souled sage, Jaratkaru, sometime before the snake sacrifice began. O son, O child of godlike looks, you were born from that marriage and now the time has come for you to protect us from this danger. O son, what are your thoughts on this matter?” 

Astika immediately replied, “Yes I will protect the serpents.” Then he spoke to his uncle, Vasuki, saying, “O great being, O best of snakes, please do not be overcome by worry. I will relieve you and the serpents from this curse. I have never uttered a lie even in fun, so nothing more needs to be said. I will go immediately and convince Janamejaya, with proper words and blessings, to stop the sacrifice.”

Before leaving, Astika assured his uncle that his resolve would not go unfulfilled.

However, Vasuki, being afflicted by the curse (and maybe also the sacrifice) said, “O child, my head is swimming and my heart is sinking. I’m not even able to distinguish the different points in the space around me.”

Hearing his uncle’s words, Astika once again assured him saying, “O best of snakes, please do not worry about the fire of this yagna which, right now, looks like the fire that blazes at the end of a yuga. Please be assured that I will extinguish it.”

Note: In the next post, we will find out what happens when Astika reaches the site of the snake sacrifice.

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Next Post: Astika Reaches the Location of the Snake Sacrifice

A Brahmin family, 9th century. Prambanan, Indonesia

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Previous Post: Vasuki is Anxious About the Future of the Serpents After Jaratkaru Leaves his Sister

Note: In the previous post, we read about Vasuki’s anxiety when the rishi left his sister. Vasuki was concerned about the future of the serpents because it was prophesied by Brahma Deva that the son born of the union of Rishi Jaratkaru and his sister would save the serpents in Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. His anxiety was reduced when his sister assured him that before leaving the rishi had said there was an embryo growing in her womb who was born from their union.

In this post, we will read about that child’s birth.

In due time, Vasuki’s sister gave birth to a son who was resplendent like a celestial child. His birth came as a relief to his paternal ancestors (Jaratkaru’s Pitris who were hanging upside-down on a single cord of root) and maternal relatives (the serpents he would save in the future).

The child grew up in Vasuki’s house and studied the Vedas and their branches under the tutelage of Sage Chyavana (Bhrigu’s son). This child-sage observed rigid vows from a young age. He was also intelligent, virtuous, saintly, knowledgeable, and unattached to worldly indulgences.

This child was named Astika, which means “whoever is,” because his father, (Rishi Jaratkaru) had said “there is” in reference to an embryo in his wife’s womb before leaving for the forest.

Even though he was still a child, Astika was very different from the other boys. He possessed the maturity and intelligence of a much older person. Being raised with great love and care in the palace of the serpents, the young brahmin looked like the illustrious lord of the celestials, the golden Mahadeva, and the serpents delighted in watching the noble child grow.

Note: The next post adds one more link to the impending snake sacrifice, in the form of King Janamejaya finding out the details of his father’s death and vowing to avenge it.

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Next Post: Janamejaya Inquires About the Circumstances of King Parikshit’s Death

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Previous Post: Rishi Jaratkaru’s Places Some Conditions for Getting Married

Note: In the previous post, we read about Rishi Jaratkaru’s marriage to the Naga maiden, and Vasuki’s sister, Jaratkaru. 

In this post, we will find out why Vasuki wanted his sister to marry Rishi Jaratkaru.

Sauti addressed the ascetics in Naimisha forest to tell them about why Vasuki wanted to marry his sister to Jaratkaru, “O foremost of people who are acquainted with Brahma, a long time back, a woman, who was the mother of a thousand snakes, had cursed her children. She decreed that Agni would burn them at Janamejaya’s sacrifice. Vasuki, the chief of the snakes, married his sister to Rishi Jaratkaru to neutralize that curse. A high-souled child, called Astika, was born of their union. He became an illustrious ascetic, well-versed in the Vedas and their branches, and he regarded every one with a balanced viewpoint. Thus, he removed the fears of both his parents.”

Note: Astika removed the fears of both his parents because Rishi Jaratkaru wanted a child who would please his ancestors and the Naga woman Jaratkaru wanted a child who would rescue the snakes at Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. Astika did both.

A long time after Astika’s birth, a descendant of the Pandavas conducted a great snake sacrifice for the destruction of the Nagas. 

Note: Janamejaya’s father, Parikshit, was killed by Takshaka’s bite. Janamejaya conducted the snake sacrifice to avenge his father’s death.

Because Astika’s mother was a Naga, the Nagas who were losing their lives at Janamejaya’s sacrifice were his cousins and maternal uncles. Astika was able to save many of the Nagas at the sacrifice. 

Eventually, Astika also had offspring, thus repaying the debt to his ancestors. 

By performing yagnas and making different kinds of offerings, he propitiated the Gods, and by practicing the brahmacharya mode of life, he also pleased the rishis.

Thus, by getting married, and having Astika as a child, Rishi Jaratkaru of strict vows released himself from all bondage and, after a long life, ascended to heaven. 

After narrating the story of Astika, Sauti addressed the ascetic (Saunaka Kulapati), “O tiger of the Bhrigu race, I have told you the story of Astika. Now, which story should I narrate next?”

Note: Saunaka Kulapati, wanted to hear the entire story of Astika, including the old curse on the Nagas, in more detail. In the next post, we will begin with the full story of how the Nagas were cursed and how Astika saved them.

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Next Post: The Birth of Garuda – the Serpent Eater

Credits: Image taken on Assi Ghat, Varanasi, by Miraage.Clicks

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Previous Post: Rishi Sahasrapat Regains his Human Form

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Rishi Sahasrapat regained his human form and advised Ruru to be kind toward all creatures. The rishi also mentioned Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. Ruru wanted to know more about why Janamejaya chose to conduct the sacrifice, but Sahasrapat vanished without answering. After searching in vain, Ruru returned home and asked his father (Rishi Pramati) about the snake sacrifice.

As you will remember, all of this was narrated by Ugrasrava Sauti to the ascetics in Naimisha Forest who had just completed attending Saunaka Kulapati’s 12-year yagna. 

After hearing Ruru’s story, Saunaka Kulapati was also curious to find out who Janamejaya was, and why had he conducted the snake sacrifice that took the lives of numerous snakes. Saunaka was also curious to know who Astika was, and why he saved the snakes.

At this point, in the Mahabharata, we are reminded that this narration is also known as a Purana by wise brahmins. We are reminded that Krishna Dwaipayana (Ved Vyasa) originally narrated this story and that Sauti’s wise father (Lomaharshana) was a disciple of Ved Vyasa. Sauti heard the Mahabharata from his father when Lomaharshana was narrating it to the dwellers of Naimisha forest. Coincidentally, now, Sauti was also narrating the Mahabharata in the Naimisha forest.

Sauti assured Saunaka Kulapati that he would narrate the story of Astika exactly as he had heard it from his father, Lomaharshana.

Sauti said to the ascetics, “O listen, as I recite this sin-destroying story in full.”

Astika was the son of a powerful sage called Jaratkaru. Jaratkaru was always engaged in austere devotions. He ate very little and was a brahma-chari with his bodily urges completely under his control. He was a virtuous sage of rigid vows and had great ascetic power. He was also known as a yayavara sage.

Note: ‘Yayavara’ was a term used for wandering sages.

One day, Jaratkaru decided to undertake a long journey over the entire world. He walked during the day and rested at night. Thus, he visited different places and bathed in various sacred waters. 

This great sage practiced austerities that would have been very difficult for ordinary people who did not have the same restraint as he did. On this journey, he did not eat solid food, sustaining himself entirely on air. Because he had also renounced sleep, he rested, without sleeping, at night. Due to his spiritual power, he walked about like a blazing fire.

One day, while traveling, he saw certain beings hanging upside down, on a rope made of virana fibres, in a huge hole. However, that rope had been secretly eaten by all sides by a rat who lived in that same hole. Jaratkaru approached those beings and asked them who they were.

The beings said, “We are rishis of rigid vows. We are known as  Yayavaras. We are troubled and are sinking low into the earth because we do not have descendants. We have a son named Jaratkaru, but that wretch has undertaken a life of austerities. The fool does not think of getting married and raising children. We are afraid that our race will become extinct. That is why we are suspended in this hole, and even though we have possessions, we live like beings who have nothing.”

These hanging rishis asked Jaratkaru, “Who are you, O excellent one, and why are you looking so sad after hearing our story?”

Jaratkaru replied, “O great ones, I am the Jaratkaru you spoke of, and you are my ancestors. Please tell me, how may I serve you?”

Note: In the next post, we will read about what Jaratkaru’s ancestors asked from him.

Next Post: Rishi Jaratkaru Places Some Conditions for Getting Married

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

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Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Ruru’s Anger Toward Snakes

Note: In the previous post, we read about Ruru’s decision to slay every snake and how he was pacified when he met the rishi (Sahasrapat) who had been transformed into a non-poisonous snake due to the curse of a brahmana.

In this post, we will find out why Sahasrapat was transformed into a snake and how he could regain his human form.

When asked by Ruru about who he was and how long he would have to remain a snake, the Dundubha (Rishi Sahasrapat) said, “A long time ago, I had a friend called Khagama. He had a lot of spiritual power which he had acquired through great austerities. However, he was very rash in his speech.”

One day, when Khagama was performing the Agni-Hotra Yagna, Sahasrapat made a toy snake with grass blades and tried to scare Khagama for fun. Khagama was indeed scared. He almost fainted. But when he recovered and found out that his friend had tried to mock him, he became filled with anger and said the following words to Sahasrapat, “Because you made a powerless mock snake to frighten me, you yourself will be turned into a non-poisonous serpent by my curse.”

Sahasrapat was aware that Khagama’s speech carried immense power because of his ascetic penances. He folded his hands and bowed down to his friend and said, “Dear friend, I did this as a joke to make you laugh. It is, therefore, not correct for you to curse me. Please take back your curse.”

When Khagama saw his friend in this state, he was moved by compassion, and, even though he was still very angry, he said, “O noble one, you will be freed from the curse on the day you see Ruru, the son of Pramati.”

Sahasrapat (who was still in the form of a Dundubha snake) addressing Sage Ruru said, “You are the same Ruru. I will tell you something for your good once I recover my human form.”

Saying this, Sahasrapat, transformed back into his original, bright human form, and said to Ruru, “O great one, mercy is the highest virtue of a man. Therefore, a brahmana should never kill another creature. He should always be mild. This is the most sacred teaching of the Vedas. A brahmana should be well-versed in the Vedas and Vedangas and should encourage all creatures to believe in God. Just like a brahmana should remember all the Vedas, he should also be kind to all creatures. It is the dharma of kshatriyas to be stern, to rule their subjects properly, and to use the sword. Your dharma is that of a brahmana and not a kshatriya.”

Rishi Sahasrapat told Ruru, that in the past, a king called Janamejaya had performed a sacrifice to destroy serpents. However, a brahmana called Astika saved the serpents. Astika had great knowledge of the Vedas and immense spiritual power.

Ruru was curious to know why king Janamejaya wanted to destroy the serpents. He asked the rishi, but Sahasrapat simply said that Ruru would hear Astika’s story from other brahmanas. 

Saying this, Sahasrapat vanished.

Ruru ran about in the forest to search for the rishi but couldn’t find him anywhere. Ruru sat down with exhaustion, but the words of the rishi kept going on in his mind. These constant thoughts made his mind confused and foggy. After resting for some time, Ruru regained clarity of mind and returned home where he asked his father, Pramati, to tell him the story of Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice and the brahmana (Astika) who had saved the snakes.

Note: With this post, we end the Puloma (sub) Parva of the Adi Parva. We will begin the Astika (sub) Parva in the next post, in which we will read about Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice and how Astika saved the snakes.

Next Post: Sage Jaratkaru Meets his Pitris

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)