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.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

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

Sage Shukadeva narrating the story of Krishna, to Parikshit

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Sage Samika Tries to Help King Parikshit Escape Sringin’s Curse

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Sage Samika felt compassion for the king and sent his disciple, Gaurmukha, as a messenger to forewarn the monarch about the curse.

In this post, we will read about Parikshit’s response to the sage’s message.

Parikshit himself, along with being a king, also practised ascetic penances. He was what we would call a royal sage, and he felt exceedingly sad when he learnt that he had insulted a sage who had undertaken a vow of silence. The anguish he felt because of his past action became even more magnified when he realised that, in spite of the insult, Sage Samika had responded with kindness by trying to save his life through Gaurmukha’s message. The monarch became deeply repentant, and at that moment, as he grieved, not for his own life, but for his conduct towards Rishi Samika, he looked very noble, magnificent, and even divine.

The king asked Gaurmukha to return to Sage Samika saying, “May the worshipful sage be gracious to me.” 

After Gaurmukha had left, the king immediately consulted with his ministers for to decide the future course of action, and in the discussion, the wise king himself decided to ask his artisans to build a house on a single column. 

This house was guarded day and night by soldiers. It was stocked with all the necessary medicines, while physicians, the king’s virtuous ministers, and Brahmanas who were well-versed in healing mantras stayed in that mansion with the king for his well-being. Protected on all sides, the king discharged his duties from that house for six days and six nights.

Note: A few posts back, we read about the incident where Samika explained to his son, Sringin, that Parikshit was a very noble king who discharged his duties well, and did not deserve to be cursed. Here, above, we see that nobility through Parikshit’s words, actions, and emotions.

And then, the sun arose on the seventh and final day of the curse.

Note: In the next post, we will find out what happened on the seventh (last) day of the curse.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Sage Kasyapa Heads to Hastinapur to Help Parikshit

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Did Sringin Regret His Rash Action?

Note: In the previous post, we learnt that Sage Samika’s wise words did not have much effect on Sringin. 

After explaining to Sringin the importance of keeping his anger under control, the rishi turned his attention to helping the king. 

In this post, we will find out how Rishi Samika tried to help King Parikshit.

Sage Samika said to Sringin, “O child, by forgiveness you can obtain worlds that are beyond the reach of Brahma Deva also. In my own ascetic practice, I have adopted peacefulness and have the desire to do as much good as I possibly can. Therefore, right now, I must do something to help the king.”

The Sage summoned one of his disciples called Gaurmukha who also practised ascetic penances and possessed excellent manners. He explained the recent events to Gaurmukha and advised him to go to the King, inquire about his welfare, and then give the actual message of the danger he faced because of the curse.

When Gaurmukha reached Parikshit’s palace in Hastinapur, he sent a message to the king through a royal servant, to inform the king about his arrival. 

Upon reaching the Parikshit’s court, Gaurmukha was respectfully worshipped by the noble monarch. After resting for some time, Gaurmukha relayed the Sage’s message to the king in the presence of his ministers.

Gaurmukha said, “O king of kings, I have been sent by a rishi called Samika who lives in your kingdom. The rishi practises hard ascetic devotions, has gained control over his passions, and is a peaceful as well as virtuous soul. O tiger among men, when the rishi was observing a vow of silence, a snake was placed on his shoulder by thyself. Even though the sage forgave you, his son, who is young and gets angry very quickly, was unable to forgive you. You have been cursed by the child that Takshaka will cause your death within seven nights. The sage asked his son to save you, but the child is unable to overcome his anger. His words are powerful and there’s nobody who can counter them. Therefore, I have been sent to convey this message for your safety.

Note: I loved Sage Samika’s patience, compassion, courage, and wisdom. He is patient towards his son’s immaturity, he feels compassion for the king and wants to save him, he is fearless in sending a messenger with such a dangerous message to the king, and he is wise because he teaches Gaurmukha the proper protocol and the correct words to use when approaching the king. Through this action, he practises what Sri Krishna taught in the Bhagwat Gita – to perform his duty with love, without fear, and without being attached to the result. 

In the next post, we will find out how Parikshit responded to the sage’s message.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: King Parikshit’s Response to Rishi Samika’s Message

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: The Wise Sage is Displeased With Sringin’s Rash Action

Note: In the previous post, we read about why Sringin’s wise father, Sage Samika, was displeased with his son for cursing King Parikshit.

In this post, we will find out if Sage Samika’s words had any effect on Sringin.

After hearing his father’s words, Sringin replied, “O father, regardless of whether my action was rash or not, regardless of whether you like it or dislike it, the words I have spoken will have their effect. I have never uttered a lie, even for fun, and, therefore my words will come true.”

Samika, Sringin’s father, heard his son’s words calmly and replied, “Dear son, I know you are very truthful because of which your words have great power, and what you have spoken will come true, but, my child, I want to tell you something important. A father continues to guide his son even when he becomes mature, so that the son may acquire good qualities and fame (resulting from virtue). When even a mature offspring needs guidance, a child who is very young, like you are, needs even more guidance. My child, you are always engaged in ascetic penances, but even great ascetics who have all the six attributes (of greatness) experience an increase in anger when they perform such penances. That is the reason I feel the need to guide you. It’s because I am aware how strictly you observe your ascetic vows and I’m also aware that you’re still a child and often rash in your actions.”

Note: In the next post, we will see how Sage Samika tries to help King Parikshit escape his fate.

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Next Post: Sage Samika Tries to Help King Parikshit Escape Sringin’s Curse

A temple relief of a rishi

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Sringin’s Wrath

Note: In the previous post, we read about how an angry youth, Sringin, cursed King Parikshit because the monarch had insulted his father.

In this post, we will find out what Sringin’s father told his son when he learned of the curse.

After cursing King Parikshit, Sringin continued on his homeward journey to his father. There, he saw his father sitting in the cow-pen with the dead snake on his shoulder.

Seeing his father in that state, Sringin was once again filled with anger and grief. With tear-filled eyes, he said to his father, “O father, I was informed about how that wicked king, Parikshit, insulted you. It filled me with anger and I cursed that king. He very well deserves to be thus cursed. Within seven days, the powerful snake, Takshaka, will send that king to the abode of death.

Hearing Sringin’s angry words, his father, the wise sage, said, “My child, I am not pleased with your action. Ascetics should not act like this. We live in King Parikshit’s kingdom. He is a righteous monarch who always protects us. A reigning (and righteous) king should always be forgiven by ascetics. My child, if you destroy dharma, then dharma will destroy you. We depend on the king’s protection to perform our ascetic practices without being disturbed by outlaws. It is because of his protection that we earn the merit from our ascetic practices. Therefore, the king also deserves a share of our merit.”

The sage continued, “O Sringin, Parikshit is very similar to his great-grandfather (King Pandu). He performs his duties well and cares for us like a king should care for his subjects. He made the mistake of putting a dead snake on my shoulder because he was hungry and tired. O child, a country without a king has to suffer many difficulties. The king maintains law and order by punishing offenders. The fear of punishment results in peace and peace ensures that the righteous can perform their duties and rites without being disturbed. This way the king establishes dharma and the way of heaven on earth. Because of the king’s protection, we are able to conduct yagnas and sacrifices. These please the devas, and the devas cause rain. The rains help in the production of grains and herbs which are very useful to humans. Manu says that a good king who rules over the destinies of humans is equal, in dignity, to ten priests who have studied the Vedas. The noble king committed this mistake due to hunger and fatigue. Why then have you cursed the king, O Sringin? Your action is childish, rash, and unrighteous. O son, the king has not done anything wrong to deserve a curse from us.”

Note: In the next post, we will find out if Sringin regrets his rash action, after hearing his father’s words.

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Next Post: Did Sringin Regret His Rash Action?

An image of Rishyashringi’s (most likely Rishi Sringi) hermitage

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: King Parikshit Commits the Mistake of Insulting a Noble Sage

Note: In the previous post, we saw how King Parikshit, in a state of hunger, thirst, and exhaustion, made the mistake of insulting a Brahmin.

In this post, we will read about the repercussion of that mistake.

The sage whom King Parikshit had insulted had a son called Sringin. He was young and a bit immature, but he sincerely practised strict ascetic penances. Sringin also had an angry disposition and was difficult to please.

Sringin studied with a guru whose hermitage was not too far from where his father stayed. Commanded by his teacher, Sringin was going home when a fellow student called Krisa met him on the way. Krisa told Sringin in a playful way, “O Sringin, you are very proud of your asceticism and energy but I have heard that your father is sitting with a dead snake on his shoulder. Where was your manliness when the snake was placed on him? Henceforth, don’t show-off or talk rudely to students like us who also have knowledge of the truth. We have not done anything to deserve such treatment from you just as your father had done no wrong to deserve such an insult. I feel sad because of the insult your father had to suffer. 

Hearing Krisa’s words made Sringin burn with anger. However, he spoke softly to Krisa and asked, “Please tell me, why is my father bearing a dead snake on his shoulders?”

Krisa replied, “King Parikshit was in this region for the purpose of hunting. He placed the dead snake on your father’s shoulder.”

“Did my father commit any mistake?” Sringin asked, “what wrong did he do to that wicked king? O Krisa tell me the details and witness the power of my asceticism.”

Krisa said, “King Parikshit, the son of Abhimanyu, wounded a deer while hunting. The deer ran into the forest. King Parikshit pursued it but the deer managed to escape. He saw your father in the forest and asked him if he had seen the deer. Your father did not reply because he was observing a vow of silence. In a state of hunger, exhaustion, and thirst, the king asked your father again and again about the deer, but received no reply. That’s when, the king picked up a dead snake with his bow and put it on your father’s shoulders. Your father was in a state of deep devotion at that time, because of which he did not remove the snake. King Parikshit has returned to his capital, Hastinapur, and your father is still sitting with the snake on his shoulder.”

Sringin was filled with anger when he heard Krisa’s account of what had happened. His eyes enlarged and became red. He touched water and cursed the king in the following words, “That sinful wretch of a king who placed a snake on my old father’s shoulder, that insultee of Brahmins and tarnisher of the fame of kurus, will be taken to the abode of Yama within seven nights by Takshaka, the king of the serpents. The power of my words will stimulate Takshaka to perform this act.”

Note: In the next post, we will find out how Sringin’s father reacted when he heard about Sringin’s curse to the king.

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Next Post: The Wise Sage is Displeased With Sringin’s Rash Action

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.

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Next Post: A Friend Taunts the Sage’s Son