Parikesit in the Javanese wayang kulit shadow theatre.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: The Meaning of the Name Jaratkaru

Note: In the previous post, we learned the meaning of the name Jaratkaru. 

As you might remember, Brahma Deva had said that Jaratkaru’s son, Astika, would save the innocent serpents from perishing in Janamajeya’s snake sacrifice. 

This post begins with Saunaka Kulapati’s curiosity to know more about Astika’s birth, but soon goes into flashback with a sub-story about how King Parikshit made the mistake of insulting a noble sage. This event is narrated because it played a role in Janamajeya’s snake sacrifice. We’ll discover the details over the next few posts.

After hearing Sauti explain the meaning of the name ‘Jaratkaru’, Saunaka Kulapati said, “I wish to know how Jaratkaru’s son, Astika, was born.”

Sauti replied based on what was written in the shastras.

Eager to bestow his sister in marriage to Sage Jaratkaru, the serpent chief, Vasuki, commanded the serpents to keep an eye on the sage and notify him as soon as the sage started his search for a bride. However, days went by but the sage continued to be busy with his ascetic penances and studies. With his sexual desires under full control, he roamed to many places, but did not have any wish for a wife.

Note: Here’s where the narrative of the Mahabharata briefly pauses Jaratkaru’s story and goes into the past to king Parikshit. Jaratkaru’s story will continue from where we left it, after a few posts.

Once upon a time, there was a king called Parikshit. He was the great-grandson of King Pandu of the Kuru lineage. Just like his great-grandfather, Parikshit was also very strong, skilled in archery, and fond of hunting. He often hunted deer, wild boar, wolves, buffaloes, and other animals.

One day, he shot a deer with a sharp arrow. However, the deer ran into the forest with the arrow pierced in its body. No animal in the past had been able to run once it was shot by Parikshit. The king put his bow on his shoulder and pursued the deer in the forest just like Rudra had once pursued a deer in the heavens. 

Note: Rudra is Lord Shiva and the deer he had pursued was the tatva of ‘sacrifice’ that had transformed itself into a deer.

Unknown to King Parikshit, the deer he had wounded would become one of the causes of his demise. 

Parikshit pursued the deer far into the forest, but could not catch it. Tired and thirsty, he came across a sage who was drinking the milk that oozed out of the calves’ mouth while drinking their (cow) mother’s milk.

Note: The sages/ascetics lived in the forest and consumed milk as part of their diet. However, they did not take milk directly from the cow, because that would result in depriving the calves of the nourishment that was rightfully theirs. Therefore, they would wait for the calves to drink their mother’s milk, and the sages would take the milk and froth that would naturally come out of the calves’ mouths. That way, the sages nourished themselves without depriving the calves.

Parikshit approached the sage impatiently, raised his bow, and said, “O brahmana, I am King Parikshit, the son of Abhimanyu. A deer I shot with my arrow has run into this forest. Have you seen it?”

The sage did not reply because he was observing a vow of silence. Parikshit did not know about the sage’s vow of silence. He simply noticed a sage who did not reply to his question. This angered the king who was already tired and thirsty. Parikshit saw a dead snake lying nearby. He picked it with the end of his bow and put it on the sage’s shoulder, in a state of irritation. The sage, however, did not speak a word. He did not even remove the snake from his shoulder. 

When the sage suffered his insult without responding, Parikshit’s anger immediately subsided. He felt remorse for what he had done and returned from the forest back to his capital city.

The sage forgave Parikshit because he knew the king was noble and fulfilled his duties truthfully. He continued sitting with the dead snake on his shoulder.

Note: Even though the sage had forgiven the king, there was someone else with a very short temper who became angry with the king. In the next post, we will discover the identity of that person and what he did when he saw a dead snake on the sage’s shoulder.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: A Friend Taunts the Sage’s Son

Image of Kunti apologizing in front of Draupadi, and her son, Yudhishthira

After the swayamvara, Druapadi, Arjuna, and Bhima walked to the potter’s house where the Pandavas and their mother, Kunti, were staying disguised as brahmanas.

Upon entering the cottage, Arjuna did not tell his mother about what had transpired at the swayamvara. He did not tell her that he had fulfilled the challenge designed by King Drupada and that Draupadi had chosen him as her husband. He did not tell his mother that he had returned home accompanied by Draupadi (also known as Yajnaseni) herself.

He simply told his mother, perhaps as he had been doing every day after they started staying at the potter’s house, that he had bought home alms. Here are the exact words used in the unabridged Mahabharata.

We don’t know why Arjuna said “alms” instead of Draupadi. It’s possible he wanted to surprise his mother, but that’s just my extrapolation. However, what we do know is what Kunti said next and how she responded when she realized she had made a mistake.

Kunti, without seeing Arjuna, simply said: “Enjoy ye all.” A moment after that, Kunti saw Draupadi (also known as Krishna) and she immediately realized her mistake and exclaimed, “Oh, what have I said?” Quoting the exact passage below.

Upon realizing her mistake, she took Draupadi gently by her hand and went to her eldest son Yudhishthira, who was well-known for his wisdom and knowledge of dharma, to ask him for a solution. Presenting a passage from the Mahabharata.

The passage above clearly shows that the Pandavas did not marry Draupadi simply because their mother said so. In fact, Kunti, herself, confessed that she had uttered those words out of ignorance. She wanted to find a solution that fulfilled three criteria:

  1. Her speech should not become untrue.
  2. Draupadi should remain without sin (as a result of the solution).
  3. Draupadi should not be uncomfortable with the solution.

Modern readers might be surprised about Kunti’s concern for her speech not becoming untrue. We might think all she had to do was take back her words, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. In those times, words, once spoken, had a certain power. They could not be recalled or gone back upon with the same ease with which we do so in modern times.

We have to understand the mindset of people who followed the dharma during those times. They gave a lot of importance to truth and purity of speech. Words were not uttered frivolously, and a noble person would think a hundred times before uttering even half a lie. Thoughts and words were treated with reverence. From that perspective, it is not very difficult to understand why Kunti was concerned about her words becoming untrue. However, she did not want Draupadi to bear the consequence of the mistake she’d made out of ignorance. She made that very clear when she said that Draupadi should remain without sin and should not be uncomfortable with the solution.

So, Kunti’s response upon realizing her mistake was to explore a solution that was correct and in accordance with the dharma. In those times, when faced with a dilemma, people of a noble disposition tried to find a solution that was aligned with the dharma and also correctly balanced all the issues involved.