The Snake-Sacrifice

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Previous Post: Janamejaya Decides to Avenge His Father’s Death

Note: In the previous post, Janamejaya resolved to conduct a snake sacrifice to avenge his father’s death caused by the evil and deceitful Takshaka. 

In this post, we will read about the events that happened after the snake sacrifice began.

The snake sacrifice commenced after Janamejaya was installed as the head of the sacrifice and he commanded his guards to be vigilant and prevent any outsider from entering the sacrificial space.

The priests were dressed in black garments and their eyes were red from contact with the smoke that emanated from the sacrificial fire as they poured clarified butter into it while chanting the appropriate mantras. This yagna was such that the snakes’ hearts trembled with fear.

Very soon, the priests started mentioning the names of specific snakes as they chanted the mantras and offered libations. As their names were mentioned, the snakes were pulled into the sacrificial fire. These snakes called out piteously to each other and intertwined their bodies with their brethren as they fell into the fire. Some of the snakes were old, some were young, some were black, some were blue, while some were white. These snakes were of different sizes too. Some measured a yojana, some a krosa, while some measured a gokarna. Hundreds of thousands of immensely poisonous snakes lost control over their movement and fell into the fire with swollen bodies, breathing hard, and uttering fear-filled cries. 

The snakes fell in such large numbers that after some time, their burnt fat overflowed from the sacrificial altar and started flowing towards the rivers. The whole environment was filled with cries of the snakes who were pulled into the fire and their burnt bodies filled the space with an insufferable stench.

Note: In the next post, we will find out the names of the rishis, priests and ritwika who participated in the sacrifice.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Names of the Rishis, Priests, and Ritwika Who Participated in the Snake Sacrifice

The sage Vyasa and King Janamejaya

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Rishi Astika is Born

Note: In the previous post, we read about Rishi Astika’s birth and the qualities of the high-souled child.

In this post, Janamejaya asks his ministers to tell him the circumstances in which his father, Parikshit, lost his life.

At the time when Rishi Astika was growing into a wise boy, Janamejaya became interested in finding out all the details of his father’s death. He asked his ministers to tell him everything they knew. Based on what he discovered, he would take action if it was for the benefit of the world, or do nothing, if an action would not benefit the world.

A minister replied, “O king, your father was very virtuous and high-souled. He always protected the people of his kingdom. He was virtue and justice personified. He was a powerful king who protected all the four varnas impartially and they, in turn, performed all their duties. He loved his subjects and kept them contended. Having learnt the science of warfare from Saradwat, he he protected his kingdom and the Goddess Earth. Ever virtuous,no one hated him and he hated no one. He cared for the widows, orphans, maimed, and poor subjects of his kingdom. Not only was the king virtuous, he was also handsome like Chandra Deva. O Janamejaya, your father was very dear to Sri Krishna and loved by everyone.

Your father was born from the womb of Queen Uttara when the Kuru race was almost extinct. That’s how he got the name, Parikshit, which means born in an extinct line.

The virtuous King Parikshit had gained complete control over the six passions. He was intelligent, had an excellent memory, and was well-versed in the treatises of the king’s duties. His sharp mind understood exactly how to interpret the texts. Well-versed with the science of morality and political science, he ruled for 60 years, and when he died, all the people of the kingdom were filled with grief. O Janamejaya, being his son, you were appointed the next monarch, and since then you have also engaged in protecting all creatures.

In response to his minister’s words, Janamejaya said, “All the kings of the Kuru race have cared for their subjects. Not a single king in this noble race was disliked by his subjects. My ancestors, especially, were always engaged in great achievements. I want to know how my father, who was so virtuous, met with his death.”

King Janamejaya’s ministers always spoke words that were helpful to the king. They said, “Even though your father was a great protector and always followed the scriptures, he became addicted to hunting just like your noble ancestor, King Pandu. When your father went hunting, he handed over the responsibility of the kingdom to us.

One day while hunting, he shot a deer which escaped into the forest. Your father pursued the deer deep into the woods on foot with his sword and quiver. However, even after searching everywhere, he could not find the animal.

Being sixty years of age and having lost his youthful strength, he became tired and hungry in the forest. There, seated deep in the forest, he saw a person. Your father asked him if he had seen the deer, but this person did not give any answer. Your father, who was very tired and hungry, suddenly became angry, picked a dead snake from the ground with the end of his bow and put it on the person’s shoulder. Unfortunately, the king did not know he had insulted a very virtuous and high-souled rishi. The great ascetic did not say anything. Feeling no anger towards your father, the rishi forgave your father, and continued sitting in the same posture without even moving to remove the dead snake. After this incident, your father left the forest and returned to his capital city.

The rishi had a son called Sringin who was born from a cow. He was famous for his brahmin prowess and anger. Sringin used to visit his teacher’s ashram everyday to pay his respects to his teacher. That day too, Sringin went to worship his teacher, and after he completed, his teacher commanded Sringin about to return home. 

On the way home, Sringin met a friend who told him about how his father was insulted by the king. Sringin, who was still a boy, was, however, very powerful in his ascetic penances. He was filled with wrath when he heard about his father being insulted, and cursed King Parikshit saying, “Watch the power of my words. Influenced by what I’m about to say, Takshaka, the powerful and venomous snake will burn down the wretch who placed the dead snake on my innocent father’s shoulder.

After uttering the disastrous words, Sringin went to his father and told him everything. The great rishi, immediately sent a virtuous and well-mannered disciple, called Gaurmukha, to the king. Gaurmukha rested for sometime after reaching the palace and informed the king about the curse with the intention of saving the monarch. Hearing Gaurmukha’s words of caution, the king took every precaution to protect himself from Takshaka.

King Parikshit remained safe for the first six days. On the seventh day, a Brahma Rishi, called Kasyapa, went to meet the king to cure him in case he was bitten by Takshaka. However, Takshaka saw the rishi going to Hastinapur and immediately asked him where he was going in such a hurry. Kasyapa replied that he was going to King Parikshit to cure him if the deadly snake, Takshaka, bit him. 

“Why do you want to cure the king who I’m going to bite?” Takshaka asked Kasyapa. After saying this, Takshaka unleashed his venom on a nearby banian tree which immediately collapsed into a heap of ashes. Having burnt the tree, Takshaka challenged the rishi to revive it. To Takshaka’s surprise, Kasyapa was able to revive the tree.

Seeing the rishi’s power, Takshaka asked the rishi his true reason and desire for wanting to save Parikshit. Kasyapa replied, “I’m going there for wealth.” Takshaka said in a very well-mannered way to the rishi, “O sinless one, take wealth from me instead. You can return home with more wealth than the king would give you. Kasyapa, took the wealth Takshaka offered, and returned home.

After Kasyapa had left, Takshaka disguised himself, reached King Parikshit’s protected mansion, and burnt the king down with his venom. 

O Janamejaya, being the monarch’s son, you were then crowned the king.”

The minister continued, “I have told you everything there was to know in relation to your father’s demise. Takshaka destroyed your father and insulted Rishi Utanka. With this knowledge, decide the correct course of action.”

After hearing his minister, Janamejaya asked, “How did you know that Takshaka had burnt down a banian tree when he met Rishi Kasyapa and that the rishi had revived it?”

The minister replied, “O king, when Takshaka unleashed his venom on the tree, there was a person standing on the branches of the tree collecting wood for sacrificial rituals. Neither Takshaka nor Kasyapa saw him there. That man was also burnt into ashes with the tree, and when the rishi revived the tree, he too was revived. That person, who was in the service of a brahmin, came and told us about these events.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Janamejaya Decides to Avenge His Father’s Death

Death of King Parikshit

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Sage Kasyapa Heads to Hastinapur to Save Parikshit From Takshaka

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Takshaka deceived Sage Kasyapa to prevent him from going to Hastinapur to save King Parikshit.

In this post, we will see how he deceived the king, his ministers, and guards to accomplish his purpose.

On the way to Hastinapur, Takshaka heard that Parikshit had become cautious because of the curse and was living in a protected manner surrounded by physicians and brahmins who knew poison-neutralizing mantras.

In view of the security surrounding Parikshit, Takshaka decided to use illusion and deception to get to the king.

He called some snakes and said, “Go to the king disguised as ascetics. Carry fruits, kusa grass, and water as gifts for the king. If the guards ask about your purpose of visit, tell them you have an important matter to discuss with the king, but do not appear impatient when talking with the guards.”

Following Takshaka’s Advice, the snakes, disguised as ascetics, reached the king in his protected chamber and gifted him fruits, water, and the kusa grass they had carried with them. The king accepted the gifts, spoke with the ascetics, and asked them to retire. 

After the ascetics left, the king, impelled by fate, felt a desire to eat the fruits that had recently been gifted to him. He said to his ministers, “Let’s eat these fruits brought by the ascetics.”

Unbeknownst to anyone else, Takshaka had disguised himself as a worm and hid in one of the fruits. As if, once again, impelled by fate, Parikshit picked up the very fruit in which Takshaka had hidden himself. 

While eating the fruit, the king saw an ugly insect come out of it. It had black eyes and a copper coloured body which did not have any distinct shape. 

Parikshit took the insect in his hands and said to his ministers, “The sun is setting on the seventh day from the curse. Now, I have no more fear.”

He looked at the insect and said, “Let this insect become Takshaka and bite me so that my sinful act towards Rishi is neutralised and the words of his son, Rishi Sringin, can come true.”

Note: Parikshit wasn’t trying to be boastful when he out the insect on his neck. He genuinely thought that he was out of danger and wished the insect would bite him so that his karma of insulting Sage Samika would neautralized and Sringin’s words would also not be falsified. But this is how karma or fate works. When the time for an event has come, no amount of safety is good enough and even a virtuous action can become the cause of destruction.

The king’s virtuous ministers should have cautioned him, but such are the ways of fate, that they could not see any danger in what Parikshit was doing. Influenced by fate, they approved of the king’s action without thinking of its implications.

Parikshit smiled and placed the insect on his neck, and In that very moment, the insect transformed back into its original form of Takshaka whi coiled himself around Parikshit’s neck. 

The minister’s faces became pale when they saw that serpent coiled around the king’s neck. They felt a wave of grief through their body and started crying.

Takshaka then let out a tremendous roar which caused the ministers to run away. He opened his fangs and bit the great monarch, Parikshit.

After biting the king, Takshaka left the mansion and flew across the sky. The fleeing ministers saw that brilliant serpent looking like a lotus-coloured streak across the blue sky, very similar to the vermilion coloured line that women put on their crown dividing the dark masses of hair in the middle.

The king’s mansion, which stood on a single pillar, blazed up in flames due to Takshaka’s poison and Parikshit fell down as if struck by lightning.

Note: In the next post, we will read about Parikshit’s last rites and the crowning of the next king of Hastinapur.

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Next Post: Parikshit’s Son Janamejaya is Crowned the Next King