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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.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

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.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

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

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

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

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.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: How Takshaka Was Saved

Astika asks Janamejaya to stop the snake sacrifice

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

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.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Janamejaya Grants Astika’s Boon

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

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

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.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Takshaka Appears in the Sky

13th-century Cham sculpture depicting Garuda devouring a Naga serpent (Image by DoktorMax – Own work. Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by User:Vinhtantran using CommonsHelper)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Indra and Garuda Become Eternal Friends

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Indra and Garuda became eternal friends.

In this post, we will find out how the snakes became Garuda’s natural food.

After the friendship between Indra and Garuda was sealed, Indra said, “If you don’t need the amrit, return it to me because the beings to whom you plan to give the amrit have always been opposed to us.”

Garuda replied, “I have taken the amrit for a specific reason. However, I won’t allow anyone to drink it. O Indra, when I place the amrit on the ground, you can take it immediately and bring it back to heaven.”

Indra was very pleased with Garuda’s reply and offered the king of birds a boon.

Having been offered a boon, Garuda recollected how the serpent sons of Kadru had deceived his mother into slavery. But Garuda also knew that his mother’s misfortune was due to his brother, Aruna’s curse. That’s the reason he did not fight the snakes even though he could have easily overpowered them. Remembering all this, Garuda asked Indra for the following boon. He said, “O Sakra, let the mighty snakes become my food.”

“So be it,” Indra replied. However, Indra also considered it necessary to seek Vishnu’s permission before Garuda could make snakes his natural food. Therefore, Garuda and Indra approached the great Shri Hari Narayan, who immediately consented to the boon.

Note: Once again, we are given a window into Indra’s wisdom, discernment, and nobility. In the previous post, we got a glimpse into Indra’s nobility when defeated by Garuda, he reached out to the great bird for eternal friendship instead of harboring ill-will against him.

In this post, we get a glimpse of Indra’s wisdom and understanding of his limits. He knew that the natural order of the food chain would be affected when the snakes became Garuda’s food. So, even though he had himself given the boon to Garuda, Indra did not allow his ego to bypass Narayana and enforce the boon simply because he was the king of the devas. Here we see Indra as someone who knew his limits, and therefore, consulted Shri Hari Narayan, to validate the boon he had granted to Garuda.

After meeting Vishnu, Indra turned to Garuda and informed him that he would take possession of the pot of amrit as soon as Garuda had placed it on the ground.

Having reached an understanding about how the amrit was to be safeguarded, Garuda sped to the island where the snakes had held his mother in slavery.

Note: In the next post, we will read about how Garuda deceived the snakes and freed his mother from slavery.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Garuda Frees His Mother From Slavery

Painting of Garuda as Vishnu’s vehicle (Image by Unknown author – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Garuda Breaks Past Obstacles to Seize the Amrit

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Garuda broke through the three layers of obstacles to get hold of the amrit. Once he got the amrit, he did not drink it to benefit himself. Instead, he left immediately for the island where his enslaved mother was waiting for him.

In this post, we will read about the interaction Garuda had with Vishnu when the kind of birds met the great lord while flying with the amrit, and how Garuda became Vishnu’s vehicle.

As he flew towards the island, Garuda met Vishnu who was pleased with Garuda for not drinking the amrit. And Narayana (another name for Vishnu), the deity who knew no deterioration, said to Garuda, “O ranger of the skies, I want to give you a boon.”

Garuda said, “O great one, I wish that I should always stay above you and I should be immortal and free of disease without drinking the amrit.”

The great Vishnu said to Vinata’s son, Garuda, “So be it!”

Having received his two boons from Vishnu, Garuda said to Vishnu, “O great one who possesses the six attributes, I also wish to give you a boon.” Granted a boon by Garuda, Vishnu asked the king of the birds to be his vehicle. After that Vishnu put Garuda’s image on his flagstaff which always flew above him and said, “O Garuda, this way, through your image on my flagstaff, you shall always be above me.”

“So be it,” Garuda replied to the great lord and swiftly flew toward his destination.

Note: In the next post, we will read about another conflict between Indra and Garuda, following which they became eternal friends.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Indra and Garuda Become Eternal Friends

After Draupadi’s swayamvar, when she went with Arjuna to the potter’s house where the Pandavas were staying (in disguise), it was soon proposed that Draupadi marry all the five Pandava brothers. Polyandry was not socially common or acceptable at that time. Therefore, it concerned her father, King Drupada. He did not want her to perform an act that might be sinful.

It is at this critical time of the epic, that Ved Vyasa assuaged King Drupada’s concern by telling him the story of a boon Lord Shiva had given to Draupadi in one of her previous lives.

This narration can be found in the Adi Parva (Vaivahika Parva subsection) of the Unabridged Mahabharata.

In one of Draupadi’s previous lives, she was the daughter of an illustrious Rishi. Even though Draupadi was very beautiful and virtuous, in that life, she was unable to find a good husband. So she prayed to Lord Shiva by performing various ascetic practices.

Image of Draupadi (far right) with the five Pandavas — Dasavatar Temple, Deogarh

Lord Shiva was soon pleased with her penance and appeared before her to grant a boon.

“Ask thou the boon thou desirest.”

— Lord Shiva to the maiden (who was Draupadi in a previous life)

This virtuous maiden overwhelmed and delighted by the great lord’s presence repeated her desire multiple times:

“I desire to obtain a husband possessed of every accomplishment.”

— The maiden asking a boon from Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva smiled and said:

“Thou shall have, amiable maiden, five husbands.”

— Lord Shiva to the maiden

The maiden was confused. She had asked for only one husband. Why did the Lord bless her with five? She folded her hands and said:

“O Sankara, I desire to obtain from thee only one husband possessed of every virtue.”

— The maiden to Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva continued smiling. He was pleased with her, so he explained that she had repeated her request five times and hence she was blessed with five virtuous husbands. However, he added, the blessing would come to fruition in a future life.

Through this story, Ved Vyasa explained to King Drupada that it wasn’t sinful for Draupadi to marry the five Pandavas since this destiny was pre-ordained by Lord Shiva himself.

Credits

Image Credit: By User:Arjuna Filips – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0