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)

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