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

Kuru and other kingdoms of the Vedic period. Image source.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: King Parikshit’s Response to Sage Samika’s Message

Note: In the previous post, we read about how King Parikshit (after being forewarned by Sage Samika), had a mansion built on a single column and took various measures to protect himself from Takshaka. 

In this post, we will read about the incident where Sage Kasyapa, who could revive people suffering from snake bites, decided to hasten to Hastinapur to save thecking in case he was attacked by Takshaka.

On the seventh and final day of Sringin’s curse to King Parikshit, Sage Kasyapa, who had also heard about the curse, set forth to Hastinapur to save Parikshit in case Takshaka bit the monarch. The sage knew mantras and other techniques of reviving any life-form bitten by a snake. As he walked towards Hastinapur, Kasyapa thought of the virtue and wealth he would gather by curing the king.

However, the deadly snake, Takshaka, saw Kasyapa walking rapidly towards Hastinapur. He immediately took the guise of an old Brahmin and intercepted Sage Kasyapa.

“Where are you going in such haste, O great sage, and for what reason?” The disguised Takshaka asked Kasyapa.

“I have heard that Takshaka is going to inflict death on Parikshit, the powerful king of the Kuru race, by his poison. I’m going to Hastinapur to save the king,” Kasyapa answered.

“I am Takshaka, O Brahmana, and I’m going to burn that king with my poison. It is impossible for you to cure someone who has been affected by my poison,” Takshaka said.

Kasyapa replied, “I’m sure I’ll be able to cure the king with my knowledge of mantras and healing.”

“O Kasyapa, if that is true then try and revive that tree which I’m soon going to burn down with my poison,” Takshaka challenged the sage.

“O king of snakes, do so if you will. I will revive the tree,” Sage Kasyapa answered.

Takshaka went to a nearby banyan tree and bit it, injecting his deadly poison in the tree. At that very moment, the tree started blazing all around.

After burning down the tree, Takshaka said, “O sage, try and revive this tree.”

The banyan tree (also referred in the Mahabharata as the king of the forest), was reduced to ashes by then. Sage Kasyapa took the ashes in his hands and said to Takshaka, “O king of snakes, now witness the power of my knowledge as I revive the tree from these ashes.”

Kasyapa piled the remains of the tree and used his knowledge (most likely of mantras) to make a sprout to grow in that mound of ashes. Then he caused the sprout to grow until there was a stem. Soon after that, branches appeared. Within some time, the revived tree that had started as a sprout was once again a full-fledged tree.

When Takshaka saw the tree fully revived, he said, “O sage, you have revived the tree, but it is not an admirable act for someone whose wealth is asceticism. What reward do you seek by curing the monarch? I will give you the same reward the king would have given you.”

Takshaka continued, “O sage, you are very famous. Think about what you are going to attempt. The king has been cursed by a brahmin whose words carry immense power. This curse has certainly reduced the lifespan of the king. Therefore, even though you revived the tree, you may not be able to revive the king, and this failure will wipe out all the glory and fame you have accumulated till now.”

Kasyapa heard Takshaka’s words and said, “I’m going to Hastinapur for wealth. Give me the gold I would have received there, and I will return to my home.”

Takshaka said, “O best of sages, I will give you more wealth than you would have received in Hastinapur. Therefore, do not proceed in that direction.”

Hearing Takshaka’s words, that great sage, Kasyapa, sat down on the ground and entered a state of meditation. He meditated over the king, and, through his spiritual sight, saw that the king’s lifespan was indeed about to end and there was no way to save him.

After coming out of the meditative state, sage Kasyapa turned away from Hastinapur, and Takshaka went towards Hastinapur.

Note: This incident is very interesting because it is full of contradictions. 

1. It shows a noble sage like Kasyapa hastening to Hastinapur to cure the king only for the sake of money. 
2. Kasyapa was a sage who could clearly discern the past, present, and future of anything or anyone, yet, he is so easily deceived by Takshaka.
3. Kasyapa sits in meditation to ascertain Parikshit’s future only at the end of this incident, and not at the beginning before he left his home to proceed to Hastinapur.

All these seem to be strange for a wise sage.

These contradictions remind me of what a very learned and wise person had said: “First sit at the feet of these great epics and learn from them before finding mistakes in them.”

I wholeheartedly agree with the above statement. I believe that the Mahabharata is a multi-layered story, and such an obvious contradiction is an invitation (a marker) to the discerning reader to introspect beyond the obvious.

I think it will be a good exercise to think about what really happened in this scene and why it happened.

In the next post, we will see Takshaka at his deceptive best, once he reaches Hastinapur.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Takshaka Goes to Hastinapur

Indra is usually the guardian deity of the eastern direction in a Hindu temple (This image was contributed by Nomu420 on a Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0, license)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Indra’s Past Mistake That Created Karmic Disturbances in Heaven

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Indra’s rude words infuriated the Valakhilya Rishis and they performed a sacrifice where they wished for a second Indra who would be more powerful than the current Indra and would strike fear in his heart. When Indra heard about Valakhilya Rishi’s prayer, he was scared of losing his position of power and went to Sage Kasyapa for help.

In this post, we will read about what Sage Kasyapa does regarding the matter of a second Indra.

After hearing Indra’s concerns, Sage Kasyapa (who was also one of the Prajapatis) went to the Valakhilya Rishis and asked them if their sacrifice was successful. The truth-speaking Valakhilya Rishis said, “O Kasyapa, may its success depend on your wish.”

Sage Kasyapa then pacified the Valakhilya Rishis and explained that the current Indra had been appointed by Brahma Deva and that creating another Indra would nullify Brahma Deva’s word. However, Sage Kasyapa did not want the Valakhilya Rishi’s sacrifice to go in vain. He found a way out by requesting the Valakhilya Rishis in the following words:

“O excellent ones, be gracious to Indra who is now bowing before you for forgiveness, and let the being who is born as a result of your sacrifice be the king of birds. This second Indra, who will be the king of winged creatures, will be born with all the qualities you have asked for.”

The Valakhilya’s replied, “O Prajapati Kasyapa, we performed this sacrifice for two reasons: a second Indra and also for a son who will be born to you. We now leave the final decision to you. Do what is proper in this situation.”

Note: You might remember from a few posts back that Sage Kasyapa had offered a boon to both his wives: Kadru and Vinata. Kadru had asked for a thousand splendid serpent sons and Vinata had asked for two sons who would surpass Kadru’s thousand. However, only one part of the details was revealed to us at that time. We learned that, very soon, Kadru received a thousand eggs and Vinata received two. Back then, we did not know about Sage Kasyapa’s sacrifice for begetting children and about the conflict between Indra and the Valakhilya Rishis. The story narrated in this post is the piece of the jigsaw puzzle that would fit between the time Vinata asked for two sons from Sage Kasyapa and the time she conceived.

At the time when this conversation was going on between Sage Kasyapa and the Valakhilya Sages, Vinata completed her ascetic penances and purified herself by having a bath. Her body was in the fertile period when a sexual relationship would be fruitful to have children. She approached Sage Kasyapa. 

The Sage said to Vinata, “O respected one, the sacrifice I did for children has been successful. You will be the mother of two heroic sons. By the penances of the Valakhilya Rishis and by the desire with which I began the sacrifice, these sons will be very fortunate and will rule over the three worlds. Bear the auspicious seed with care for your sons will be the chiefs of all birds and will be respected by everyone. They will also have the power to assume any form at will.”

Sage Kasyapa, happy with the result of all the events that took place, addressed Indra saying, “O Indra, you will soon have two brothers of great strength and power. They will help you and not injure you in any way. Do not be sad, you will continue to be the king of the devas. But, be careful to never mock those who are engaged in ascetic practices and whose very words are like the thunderbolt.”

Sage Kasyapa’s words gave relief to Indra who subsequently returned to heaven.

Vinata was also very happy to have her wishes granted. Eventually, she gave birth to two sons: Aruna and Garuda. Aruna, whose body was underdeveloped, became the forerunner of the Sun and Garuda became the king of the birds.

Note: In the next post, we will read about how Garuda vanquished the devas in the battle for the amrit.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Garuda’s Fierce Battle With the Devas

Indra with Indrani — 12th-century image at Hoysaleshwara Temple, Karnataka. Image by Ms. Sarah Welch, contributed on a Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: The Devas Get Ready For a Battle With Garuda

Note: If you recollect, the Mahabharata that you’re reading was narrated by Ugrasrava Sauti to Saunaka Kulapati and the ascetics who had attended his 12-year sacrifice.

After listening to how the devas got themselves ready for the battle with Garuda, Saunaka Kulapati interrupted Sauti and asked him about Indra’s mistake that caused Garuda to attack heaven.

In this post, we will find out what mistake Indra committed in the past that caused Garuda to attack heaven for the amrit.

Saunaka Kulapati asked Sauti, “O son of Suta, what was Indra’s fault? What careless action did he do? Why was Garuda born as a result of the penance of the Valakhilyas? Why did Sage Kasyapa have a bird as a son? Why was this bird invincible? How did he have the power to travel to any place by will? How did he get the ability to muster any amount of energy from the universe at will? If the reasons have been described in the Puranas, I would like to hear them.”

Sauti said, “These points have indeed been described in the Puranas. I will answer your questions in detail.”

Note: The following words were spoken by Sauti to the ascetics in Naimisha Forest.

A long time back, Sage Kasyapa had decided to conduct a sacrifice for begetting children. Everyone, including the rishis, devas, and gandharvas helped him. Indra, a few other deities, and the Valakhilya Rishis had been given the task of getting materials to burn the sacrificial fire.

Indra, the king of the devas, took on his strong shoulders a mountain-like weight that he carried effortlessly. On his way to the site of the sacrifice, he saw a group of tiny thumb-sized Valakhilya rishis struggling with a single stalk of Palasa leaf. Those rishis had become physically weak because of severe penances, and, as they struggled to walk with a load of that single leaf, they stumbled into a small puddle of water created by the weight of a cow’s hoof. When Indra saw the rishis in that state, he became proud because of his strength. He laughed at them and spoke rude words before speeding past them toward his destination.

Indra’s insulting words filled the rishis with anger and sadness. As a result, these excellent, vow-observing rishis conducted a great sacrifice in which they wished for another Indra. Uttering mantras and offering libations into the sacrificial fire, they wished for another Indra who would have the power of travelling anywhere at will and mustering any amount of energy from the universe. And they also wished that this second Indra would strike fear in the heart of the current king of devas who had laughed at their plight.

Indra was terrified when he heard of the sacrifice of the Valakhilya rishis. He immediately went to Sage Kasyapa for protection.

Note: In the next post, we will find out what happened when Indra went to Sage Kasyapa for protection.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Sage Kasyapa’s Decision Regarding a Second Indra

Today being Vasant Panchami, the post’s featured image is a statue of Goddess Saraswathi (from the Fine Arts College, Davanagere)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Garuda Takes a Detour to Protect the Valakhilya Rishis

Note: In the previous post, we read how Garuda went in search of a place where he could put the massive elephant and tortoise to eat them. Invited by a huge banian tree, he tried sitting on its branch, but the branch broke with his weight. Garuda immediately caught the branch with its beak because it was home to tiny Valakhilya Rishis who were hanging upside down performing ascetic penances. In his attempt to understand how to ensure the rishis’ safety, Garuda reached Mount Gandhamadana, where his father, Sage Kasyapa, was engaged in ascetic practices.
In this post, we will read about how Sage Kasyapa guided Garuda and the Valakhilya Rishis.

As Garuda approached Mount Gandhamadana, he looked like a huge mountain filled with divine splendor. This noble bird, who could fly with the speed of the wind or even the mind, possessed immense strength. He was invincible. No human, deva, or danava could defeat him in battle. Even the invincible rakshasas were incapable of defeating him. He looked frightful like Agni himself, and indeed, he was capable of splitting mountain peaks, sucking up all the water from the great oceans, and even destroying the three worlds. 

Sage Kasyapa, who was performing ascetic devotions on the mountain, also saw his son. The great sage immediately noticed the Valakhilya Rishis hanging on the branch that Garuda held in his beak.

“Be careful, my child,” the sage cautioned his son. “These Valakhilya Rishis, who sustain themselves with the rays of the sun, have acquired great powers through their ascetic penances. When angered, they are capable of blasting anything, including you.”

Kasyapa turned to the Valakhilya Rishis, whose sins had been burnt away through ascetic penances, and propitiated them to help Garuda. He said, “O great ones whose wealth is asceticism, the work Garuda is doing right now is for the good of all creatures. This task is immensely difficult, therefore, it is fitting that you give him your permission.”

When the Valakhilya Rishis heard Sage Kasyapa’s words, they immediately left the branch and went to the sacred Himavat mountains to continue their penances. 

After the rishis had left, Garuda spoke to his father, with the huge branch still in his beak. “O illustrious one, where shall I throw this branch? Please recommend a place that doesn’t have any human beings.”

Kasyapa directed Garuda to a snow-clad mountain, that was incapable of being approached by ordinary creatures and asked him to throw the branch there. 

The mountain indicated by Sage Kasyapa was hundreds of thousands of yojanas away, yet, Garuda, still holding the huge branch, elephant, and tortoise, reached it within a few moments. As Garuda flew over the mountain, the flapping of his wings created such a storm that the entire mountain shook. All the trees swayed violently dropping their flowers to the ground. The peak of the mountain was filled with gold and jewels. When the mountain shook, the gold and precious stones started tumbling down the slopes.

Finally, Garuda released the branch, whose circumference was so huge that even a thousand cow hides were less to tie it. When that branch fell on the mountain it took down several trees that bore golden flowers and had trunks covered with bright mountain metal.

After dropping the branch, Garuda sat on the mountain peak to eat the elephant and the tortoise. Once his meal was over and hunger satisfied, he flapped his wings once again and flew with great speed towards the abode of the gods to take the amrit.

Note: In the next post, we will read about the strange omens that appeared in Indra’s abode when Garuda flew to accomplish his mission.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Garuda’s Mission Causes Disturbing Omens in Heaven

A view of the western part of Pamban island from the summit of Mt. Gandhamadana which is the tallest peak on Pamban Island, which lies in the Palk Strait between mainland India and Sri Lanka. It is believed by many people that Hanuman Ji resides on this mountain. (The image is available on a Creative Commons — CC BY 2.5 IN — license and has been contributed by Ravichander84).

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Vibhavasu the Tortoise and Supritika the Elephant

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Vibhavasu became a tortoise and Supritika became an elephant.

In this post, we will read about how Garuda seized the fierce and violent animals and what happened when he went in search of a place where he could eat them.

After telling the story of the hostile brothers who were reborn as an elephant and a tortoise, Sage Kasyapa blessed his son, Garuda, with the following words. 

“O son may you be blessed when you have to fight the gods. May water pitchers filled to the brim, brahmanas, cows, and other auspicious objects bless you. O Garuda of great strength, when you are in combat with the gods, may the Riks, the Yajus, the Samas, the sacred sacrificial butter, and all the mysteries explained in the Upanishads contribute to your strength.”

Blessed by his father, Garuda went to the sacred lake of clear water with birds all around. The noble bird, who could move very quickly seized the elephant with one flaw and the tortoise with another.

With the violent animals in his claws, the noble bird soared high into the sky to search for a proper location where he could place the animals to eat them. In his search, he first reached a sacred place called Alamva which had many divine trees that were capable of granting any wish. When Garuda flew close to the trees the tremendous wind created by his flapping wings caused those holy trees, which had golden branches, to tremble with fear. Garuda saw the trees filled with fear and decided to go somewhere else.

As he flew ahead, he soon reached another sacred place that had huge trees adorned with fruits of gold and silver. The branches of these trees were covered with precious gems. Being close to the sea, these trees were washed by sea-water. Among these trees was an unusually large banian tree which had a branch that was a hundred yojanas long. The tree called out to Garuda and said, “Sit on this branch that is a hundred yojanas long and eat the elephant and tortoise.

However, when the massive bird, Garuda, who resembled a mountain, sat on the branch, it shook and snapped. The branch which was a hundred yojanas long and filled with leaves and birds, detached from the tree and fell due to Garuda’s impact. When Garuda looked around, he saw Valakhilya rishis, who were engaged in severe penances, hanging upside down from the branch. The noble bird was afraid that the rishis might die because of his fault and he also desired to save them. Therefore, without wasting any time, he caught the massive branch firmly in his beak while still clutching the elephant and the tortoise with his claws

The Valakhilya rishis were filled with wonder when they saw Garuda hold such a massive branch with his beak – a feat that would have been difficult even for the devas. The great rishis said, “May this foremost of birds be called Garuda.”

Note: The name, Garuda, means — one who can bear heavy weights.

Desirous to save the rishis, Garuda flew over many places searching for a location where he could gently place the huge branch and allow the rishis to escape unhurt. However, unable to find any suitable place, he flew towards Mount Gandhamadana, where he once again saw his father, Sage Kasyapa, performing ascetic devotions.

Note: In the next post, we will read about how Sage Kasyapa guides Garuda to avoid sin, and also guides the Valakhilya Rishis to safety.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Sage Kasyapa guides Garuda and the Valakhilya Rishis

Image of Kaurava warrior Bhagadatta seated on another elephant also called Supratika during the Kurukshetra war (Chennakesava Temple, Belur)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Garuda Meets His Father

Note: In the previous post, we read about the interaction between Sage Kasyapa and Garuda. When Garuda expressed that he needed to eat more food before he could fight the gods for the amrit, Kasyapa suggested that he eat a violent elephant and tortoise who lived in a sacred lake.

In this post, we will find out the identity of that elephant and tortoise and why they constantly fought with each other.

Sage Kasyapa said to Garuda, “O son, now I will tell you who this violent elephant and tortoise were in their past lives.”

There was once a great but wrathful rishi called Vibhavasu. He had a younger brother called Supritika.

These brothers had inherited wealth which they managed jointly. However, Supritika did not like keeping his share of the wealth jointly with Vibhavasu. Therefore, at every opportunity, he would insist upon partitioning the wealth so he could get full ownership of his share.

Annoyed by his continuous insistence, Vibhavasu told Supritika, “It is due to foolishness that people who are blinded by wealth wish to partition their inheritance. Such deluded people continue to fight with each other even after they have taken their share. Moreover, there are people in society who are enemies in the guise of friends. Such people will create further quarrels between siblings after they’ve separated. Such siblings, once separated, stop following the shastras and live in constant fear of each other. Eventually, the separated family faces absolute ruin. That is the reason wise people do not approve of partitioning ancestral wealth.”

As Vibhavasu spoke, he became angrier and cursed Supritika saying, “O Supritika, but you always insist on partitioning your share of the wealth. Therefore, you shall become an elephant.”

Hearing his brother’s words, Supritika also cursed Vibhavasu. He said, “Then you shall become a tortoise who lives in water.”

Sage Kasyapa explained to Garuda how, because of their anger, Supritika and Vibhavasu became inferior animals and, proud of their strength, still continue to fight with each other.

“Look there!” Kasyapa once again pointed to the lake. 

Garuda saw a huge elephant roaring with anger. Hearing the loud voice of the elephant, the tortoise, who lived deep within the lake, came to the surface and moved his feet wildly to create turbulence in the water. Following the tortoise, the elephant also curled his trunk and began to agitate the water with his curled trunk and feet.

These two animals were huge. The elephant’s height was six yojanas and his overall circumference was twelve yojanas. The tortoise was three yojanas in height and ten yojanas in circumference. Both animals rushed toward the other, with their heads raised, for an encounter, bent upon killing each other.

Sage Kasyapa said, “O Garuda, eat these fierce animals, and then, accomplish your task of bringing the amrit.”

Note: In the next post, we will read about how Garuda seized the violent brothers (who had become animals) and went in search of a place where he could eat them. However, due to a certain incident, Garuda had to take a detour to protect a group of tiny, thumb-sized rishis, called Valakhilya rishis.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Garuda Takes a Detour to Protect the Valakhilya Rishis

Statue of Sage Kasyapa in Andhra Pradesh, India

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Garuda Wants to Eat Before Battling for the Amrit

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Garuda ate the Nishadas to satisfy his hunger, and, as advised by Vinata, he did not hurt any brahmanas. 

In this post, we will read about Garuda’s interaction with his father.

After eating the Nishadas, Garuda once again ascended the skies. This time, he saw his father, Sage Kasyapa, meditating on Gandhamadana mountain. Garuda flew towards his father.

The noble sage greeted his son and asked him some questions. Garuda’s answers pleased the sage and then he inquired about his son’s welfare. 

“O child, is everything well with you? Do you get enough food everyday in the world of humans?”

Garuda replied, “My mother is well. My brother and I are also fine, but father, I don’t always obtain sufficient food. I am going to heaven to fetch the excellent amrit for the snakes to free my mother from bondage.”

Garuda continued, “I wanted to eat before seeking the amrit. Mother commanded me to eat the Nishadas. I ate thousands of them but my hunger is not yet satisfied. Therefore, O father, direct me to some other food so I may gain the strength to take the amrit by force from the beings of heaven.”

Kasyapa pointed to a lake and said, “This lake is sacred. It is well-known even in the heavens, but an elephant and a tortoise who are hostile toward each other have made this lake their home. Their constant hostility is disturbing the peace of the creatures that live in these sacred waters. Eat that elephant and tortoise to satisfy your hunger and proceed to get the amrit.”

“But before you go,” Sage Kasyapa added, “let me tell you the story of the elephant and, his older brother, the tortoise.”

Note: In the next post, we will find out the identity of the elephant and the tortoise and why they were constantly fighting with each other.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Vibhavasu the Tortoise and Supritika the Elephant

This image is from the Ramayana where Guha, the king of the Nishadas, helps Shri Ram cross the Ganga

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Garuda Questions his Slavery

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Garuda questioned his Slavery to the serpents and agreed to bring the amrit, they desired, to free his mother and himself.

In this post, Garuda will begin his quest to get the amrit from the gods. However, the young bird is hungry, so his mother directs him to food, along with a cautionary note about what he should not eat.

Garuda turned to his mother and said, “I am leaving to bring the amrit, but I’m hungry. I want to eat before I go to heaven. Please tell me where I can get food.”

Vinata replied, “The Nishadas live in a beautiful place in a remote region in the middle of the ocean. Eat all the Nishadas that live there and proceed to bring the amrit.”

Along with guiding Garuda towards food, Vinata also gave him some cautionary advice. She said, “But remember son, don’t ever eat a brahmana. When angered, a brahmana becomes like fire. He becomes dangerous like a sharp weapon or like poison. It has been said that the brahmana is the master of all creatures. It is for this and various other reasons that Brahmanas are adored by the virtuous. However angry you are, you should be careful to never slay a brahmana. O sinless Garuda, when a brahmana of rigid vows becomes angry, he can cause more destruction than the fire or the sun.”

Upon hearing his mother’s advice, Garuda asked, “O mother, what does a brahmana look like? What is his behaviour? What are his powers? Does a brahmana shine like fire or does he have a calm demeanour? What auspicious signs does he bear? O mother, advise me on how to recognise a brahmana.”

Vinata replied, “O Garuda, if you ever swallow a good brahmana, you will immediately feel as if a fish hook is torturing your throat or you will feel as if a blazing fire is burning you. You will never be able to digest a good brahmana.”

Vinata blessed Garuda and said, “May the god of wind protect your wings, may Surya and Soma protect your spine, may Agni protect your head, and may the Vasus protect your entire body.”

After blessing Garuda, Vinata said, “I will sit here and perform ceremonies for your safety and welfare. Go safely, O child, and bring the amrit.”

Blessed by Vinata, Garuda stretched his wings and ascended to the sky. When he reached the place where the Nishadas stayed, he swooped down upon them with great strength. At that moment, he was like another Yama

The powerful bird raised a dust storm covering the entire sky. Then he blocked all the exit roads of the Nishadas and enlarged his beak in such a way that the fleeing Nishadas went straight into his mouth. Then the hungry lord of the bird closed his mouth, eating a large number of Nishadas who worked as fishermen.

A brahmana and his wife also got caught in Garuda’s mouth along with the Nishadas. The great bird’s throat began to burn like a flaming charcoal when the brahmana reached his throat.

Garuda remembered his mother’s cautionary words. He immediately addressed the brahmana, saying, “O brahmana, I will open my mouth for you. Come out quickly because I will not slay a brahmana even if he’s engaged in sinful practices.”

The brahmana replied, “O Garuda, this Nishada woman with me is my wife. Allow her also to escape with me.”

“Take your wife and come out of my mouth without any delay,” Garuda said.

As soon as the brahmana and his wife came out of Garuda’s mouth, the great bird once again spread his wings and ascended the sky.

After some time, as he flew across the sky, Garuda saw Sage Kasyapa, his father.

Note: In the next post, we will read about Garuda’s interactions with his father.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Garuda Meets His Father, Sage Kasyapa

Seven-Headed Uchchaihsravas

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: The Battle Between Danavas and Devas After Samudra Manthan

Note: In the previous post, we read about the battle between the devas and the asuras after the Churning of the Ocean, and how Nara and Narayana defeated the asuras.

In today’s post, we will return to the story of Vinata and Kadru, and learn about the bet they wagered that eventually led to Vinata becoming Kadru’s slave.

After narrating the story of Samudra Manthan, Sauti said to the ascetics in Naimisha Forest, “I have told you the whole story of how the amrit was obtained and when the celestial horse, Uchchaihsravas, emerged from the ocean.”

After that, Sauti returned to the earlier story of Vinata and Kadru. After speaking about the celestial horse, Kadru said to Vinata, “Tell me, sister, what do you think is the color of Uchchaihsravas?”

Vinata answered, “The celestial horse is most certainly white in color. What do you think, sister? Let’s place a bet on its color.”

Kadru replied, “In that case, I think its tail is black in colot. O beautiful sister, let us place a bet that the person who loses will have to serve the winner as a slave.”

After agreeing on the terms of the bet, Vinata and Kadru returned home and decided to visit Uchchaihsravas, the next day, to verify its color.

Determined to win the bet by deceit, Kadru commanded her thousand snake sons to transform themselves into black hair and quickly cover Uchchaihsravas’ tail so it would appear black. Her sons, however, refused to follow her order. Angered by their refusal, Kadru cursed her thousand sons with the following words, “A wise king called Janamejaya, of Pandava race, will perform a snake sacrifice one day, and, in that sacrifice, the fire god, Agni, will consume all of you!”

Lord Brahma heard these cruel words that Kadru had uttered to her sons, but he knew that these words were influenced by destiny. The population of snakes had increased a lot and had created an imbalance in the ecosystem. The snakes were strong and poisonous and they were always bent upon biting and persecuting other creatures.

Lord Brahma, driven by compassion for the suffering creatures, did not intervene in this issue. The snakes had inflicted immense harm to other creatures and something had to be done to stop their suffering.

When the other gods discussed this matter, they also agreed that fate always punished creatures who harmed others. Therefore, they supported Kadru’s curse because they considered it in line with fate.

Even though the destiny of the snakes was sealed, Lord Brahma felt sorry for their father, Sage Kasyapa. Therefore, Brahma called the noble sage to his abode and explained that his snake children had been cursed by their mother and that he should not grieve about it because it was preordained by destiny. After comforting Sage Kasyapa, Lord Brahma taught him the science of neutralizing snake poison.

Note: In the next post, we will read about Vinata and Kadru going to check the color of Uchchaihsravas’ tail.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Vinata and Kadru cross the great ocean to see Uchchaihsravas

Image of one of the oldest statues of Garuda on a 1st-century BCE portable pillar in Bharhut, Madhya Pradesh, India.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Jaratkaru’s Son Astika the Saviour of Serpents

Note: In the previous post, Ugrasrava Sauti narrated a short description of Sage Astika’s birth and how he helped his parents through his wise actions. 

In this post, the ascetics of Naimisha forest express their desire to hear the story in detail including why the Nagas were cursed.

The great sage of Naimisha forest, Saunaka Kulapati, said to Sauti, “O Sauti, narrate once more, in detail, the history of the learned and virtuous Astika. We are very curious to know more about it.”

Saunaka Kulapati continued, “O Sauti, you speak very sweetly with correct pronunciations and emphasis. We are very pleased with your speech. You speak just like your father. Do narrate this story just like your father had narrated it.”

Sauti addressed Saunaka Kulapati, “O sage, you who are blessed with the longevity of age, I shall narrate the story of Astika exactly as I heard it from my father.”

Note: Sauti begins the story from a period much before Astika’s birth. He does so to explain why the Nagas were cursed. The following words were spoken by Sauti to the ascetics in Naimisha forest.

O brahmana, in the Satya Yuga, Prajapati had two beautiful daughters called Kadru and Vinata. They both became the wives of Sage Kasyapa. The sage received much pleasure and gratification from his wives. One day, he offered each of them a boon.

The two sisters were overjoyed when they heard Kasyapa’s words. Kadru wished to have as sons a thousand splendid snakes and Vinata asked for two sons who would be greater than Kadru’s thousand in terms of strength, energy, body size, and prowess. Sage Kasyapa granted both of them what they had asked for and left for the forest. Before leaving, he asked them to take proper care of the embryos until their children were born.

After a long time, Kadru produced a thousand eggs and Vinata released two. Their maids placed the eggs carefully in warm vessels. After five hundred years, Kadru’s thousand eggs burst open resulting in the birth of her thousand snake children. 

However, Vinata became jealous of Kadru because her eggs had not yet hatched. In her impatience, she broke open one of the eggs and saw in it an embryo whose upper part was developed properly but the lower part was not yet fully developed. The unformed child became angry with its mother and cursed Vinata, in the following words, “Because you have broken this egg prematurely, you will serve as a slave. However, if you take good care of the other egg and not break it prematurely, the illustrious child who is born from it will deliver you from slavery.”

After cursing his mother, this child rose to the sky. He eventually became the charioteer of Surya – the Sun God.

This time, Vinata did not repeat her mistake. After another five hundred years, her second egg burst open, and Garuda, the serpent-eater, was born. As soon as Garuda – this lord of the birds – was born, he began to feel hungry. He left his mother, Vinata, and flew in search of the food the Divine Lord had assigned to him.

Note: I would like to point out a pattern of narration in the Mahabharata. We are first given a summary of a story and then the details. This pattern takes the form of stories within stories. This can often be confusing, so I’d like to remind you of where this particular narration started. 

Till now, we have been told that the Nagas were cursed to perish in Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. We were also told that the Naga chief, Vasuki, had been advised to marry his sister (Jaratkaru) to a sage called Jaratkaru because their son would neutralize the curse on the Nagas.

However, Sage Jaratkaru had adopted the brahmachari way of life and was not interested in getting married. One day, while he was traveling, he came across his ancestors who were agonized by the fact that their lineage would end if Jaratkaru did not marry. The sage agreed to marry only if he found a woman called Jaratkaru and she was happily bestowed by her family as his wife. When the sage went to a forest and prayed for a wife, his prayers were heard by Vasuki who bestowed his sister in marriage to the sage. Their union gave birth to Astika – the sage who would eventually save the serpents at Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice.

At this point, we still don’t know why the nagas were cursed, what conditions led Janamejaya to perform the snake sacrifice, and how Astika saved the serpents. These stories will unravel in future posts.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Samudra Manthan Begins