Astika asks to stop the snake sacrifice.

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Previous Post: Astika Returns Home

Note: In the previous post, we read that Astika went home after saving the snakes and shared the news with his family. When his family expressed the desire to give him a boon, he asked for the protection of humans from virulent snakes.

In this post, we will find out the names of the principal snakes who perished in Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice.

You’ll recollect that Ugrasrava Sauti narrated the Mahabharata to Saunak Kulapati and the ascetics who attended his 12-year yagna in Naimisha Forest.

After hearing Astika’s story, Saunak Kulapati wanted to know the names of the snakes that fell into the fire.

Sauti said that billions of snakes fell into that fire. Their number was so great that it was impossible to count them, let alone narrate their names. However, Sauti narrated the names of the principal snakes.

The principal snakes from Vasuki’s race that fell into the fire were huge-bodied and possessed deadly poison. They were blue, red, and white in colour. Their names were:

  • Kotisa
  • Manasa
  • Purna
  • Cala
  • Pala
  • Halmaka
  • Pichchala
  • Kaunapa
  • Cakra
  • Kalavega
  • Prakalana
  • Hiranyavahu
  • Carana
  • Kakshaka
  • Kaladantaka

The principal snakes from Takshaka’s race who perished were:

  • Puchchandaka
  • Mandalaka
  • Pindasektri
  • Ravenaka
  • Uchochikha
  • Carava
  • Bhangas
  • Vilwatejas
  • Virohana
  • Sili
  • Salakara
  • Muka
  • Sukumara
  • Pravepana
  • Mudgara
  • Sisuroman
  • Suroman 
  • Mahahanu

The principal snakes who perished from Airavata’s race were:

  • Paravata
  • Parijata
  • Pandara
  • Harina
  • Krisa
  • Vihanga
  • Sarabha
  • Meda
  • Pramoda
  • Sauhatapana

The principal snakes from the Kauravya race were:

  • Eraka
  • Kundala Veni
  • Veniskandha
  • Kumaraka
  • Vahuka
  • Sringavera
  • Dhurtaka
  • Pratara
  • Astaka

The snakes born in Dhritarashtra’s race were highly poisonous and could move at the speed of wind.

  • Sankukarna
  • Pitharaka
  • Kuthara
  • Sukhana
  • Shechaka
  • Purnangada
  • Purnamukha
  • Prahasa
  • Sakuni
  • Dari
  • Amahatha
  • Kumathaka
  • Sushena
  • Vyaya
  • Bhairava
  • Mundavedanga
  • Pisanga
  • Udraparaka
  • Rishabha
  • Vegavat
  • Pindaraka
  • Raktanga
  • Sarvasaranga
  • Samriddha
  • Patha
  • Vasaka
  • Varahaka
  • Viranaka
  • Suchitra
  • Chitravegika
  • Parasara
  • Tarunaka
  • Maniskandha
  • Aruni

“O Brahmana,” Ugrasrava Sauti said to Saunaka Kulapati after naming the snakes, “There were so many snakes who perished. Some had three heads, some had seven, while others had ten. Their poison was terrible and dangerous. It was capable of creating a fire similar to the fire at the end of a yuga. Many snakes had huge bodies that were as large as a mountain summit, and in length, some of them were as long as two yojanas. They could change their form at will, they could move very fast and were immensely strong. All of them were burnt in that fire.”

Sauti continued, “O Brahmanas, O great descendant of Bhrigu’s race, your ancestor, Pramati, had cheerfully narrated this story to his son, Ruru. And now, I have narrated the same history of the learned Astika, exactly as I heard it. I hope this story that increases the listener’s virtue has satisfied you.”

Note: This post ends the Astika (sub) Parva. 

In the next post, we begin the  Adivansavatarana (sub) Parva, which begins with Janamejaya requesting Rishi Vyasa (during the snake sacrifice) to tell him the Bharata: the complete story of the Kuru clan. Rishi Vyasa directs his disciple Vaishampayana to narrate the Bharata. The story of the Kuru race begins from the Adivansavatarana (sub) Parva.

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Next Post: King Janamejaya Requests Rishi Vyasa to Narrate the Story of His Ancestors

Idol of Takshaka at Taxakeshwar temple

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Previous Post: Janamejaya Grants Astika’s Boon

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Astika stopped the snake sacrifice just when Takshaka was about to be pulled into the fire. 

In this post, we will find what saved Takshaka from being pulled into the fire at the time when Janamajeya was urging Astika to reconsider his boon.

When Janamajeya was about to grant Astika’s boon, with no knowledge of what Astika would ask for, Astika put his attention on Takshaka and said three times, “Stay, stay, stay.”

At this time, Takshaka had already lost Indra’s protection and the Brahmanas were pouring libations taking Takshaka’s name. Takshaka was pulled all the way to the edge of the fire, but stayed there, suspended in mid-air, because of Astika’s words.

This is how Astika saved Takshaka from perishing.

Note: In the next post, Astika returns home after fulfilling his mission of protecting the virtuous snakes.

This story raises an interesting point. Since Astika saved Takshaka, he must be one of the virtuous snakes even though he took Parikshit’ life by deceit and stole the queen’s earrings from Uttanka. So, what made him virtuous? Thinking about this topic would be a good exercise to introspect into the subtle dharma.

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Next Post: Astika Returns Home

Astika requests Janamejaya to stop the snake sacrifice (Image contributed by B.K. Mitra from The Mahabharata by Ramnarayan Atri)

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Previous Post: Astika Asks For His Boon

Note: In the previous post, Astika asked Janamejaya to end the snake sacrifice. Takshaka was close to the sacrificial fire but had not yet been captured. This put Janamejaya in a dilemma because destroying Takshaka was the chief aim of his sacrifice. 

In this post, we will find out if Janamejaya granted the boon to Astika and what happened to Takshaka

Upon being repeatedly urged by the Sadasyas of the sacrifice, Janamejaya agreed to grant Astika’s boon. He said, “Let the sacrifice end. Let the snakes be safe. May Astika also be satisfied.” Then Janamejaya turned to the suta who had predicted that the sacrifice would be interrupted by a brahmin, and said, “O suta, may your prediction also come true.”

All the Sadasyas were filled with joy when Janamajeya granted Astika’s boon and stopped the sacrifice. The entire sacrificial compound was filled with words of praise for the king. 

Janamejaya also felt pleased with the decision. He gave generous gifts to all the Sadasyas, Ritwiks, and other participants of the sacrifice. He also gave generously to the suta who had predicted that the sacrifice would be interrupted. Along with money, Janamejaya, the king of uncommon kindness, also gave other items of food and clothing to the suta. Janamejaya was very generous at heart and he felt happy after bestowing gifts on everyone present at the sacrifice.

After concluding the sacrifice with proper rites, he gave due respect and gifts to Astika and let the little brahmin return home. Astika himself was also very pleased because he had succeeded in protecting his maternal relatives. Before Astika left, the king said, “O Astika, I will soon conduct an Ashwamedh Sacrifice. You must come there as a Sadasya.” Astika readily agreed and returned home.

Note: The discerning reader might have noticed that Takshaka was almost pulled into the flame when Astika asked for his boon. However, the boon was not granted immediately. Janamejaya urged Astika several times to reconsider the book and ask for something else. This much time was enough for Takshaka, who had already lost his consciousness to fall into the sacrificial fire. But yet he did not. 

In the next post, we will find out how Takshaka was saved from falling into the fire.

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Next Post: How Takshaka Was Saved

Astika asks Janamejaya to stop the snake sacrifice

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Previous Post: Takshaka Appears in the Sky

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Indra deserted Takshaka when he realised the power of sacrifice. Furthermore, once the Hotri started taking Takshaka’s name while pouring the libations, Takshaka lost his senses and was pulled towards the sacrificial fire. When he was pulled near enough to the fire, the Ritwiks urged the king to grant Astika whatever boon he requests.

In this post, we will find out what the child-sage, Astika, asked Janamejaya.

When Takshaka was about to fall into the sacrificial fire, Astika said, “O Janamejaya, if you want to grant me a book then I ask for this sacrifice to end. Let no more snakes fall into the fire.”

Astika’s words surprised and made Janamejaya unhappy. He replied, “O illustrious one, I urge you – please do not ask for this sacrifice to end. Ask for anything else. I will give you as much gold, silver, cattle, or any other possessions you desire.”

Astika replied, “I do not want gold, silver, or cattle. O king, let this sacrifice come to an end so that my maternal relatives may find relief.”

Janamejaya, seeing Astika’s resolve, repeatedly urged him to ask for something else. He said several times, “O best of Brahmanas, ask for some other boon. Be blessed O great one, ask for anything else.”

However, Astika did not change his mind. The only boon he wanted was to stop the sacrifice. After some time, the Sadasyas of the sacrifice, who were all well-versed in the Vedas, said in unison, “Let the Brahmana receive his boon!”

Note: In the next post, we will find out if Janamejaya Grants Astika his boon and what happens to Takshaka.

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Next Post: Janamejaya Grants Astika’s Boon

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Previous Post: Janamejaya Wants to Give Astika a Boon But the Hotri Wants Him to Wait

Note: In the previous post, we read about Janamejaya’s desire to grant Astika a boon because he was gratified by his words and noticed the positive signs that manifested while Astika was speaking. Janamejaya also found the child brahmin to be wise and filled with splendour. All the Sadasyas of the sacrifice also agreed with Janamejaya, but they wanted him to wait until Takshaka was captured in the sacrificial fire.

In this post, we will read about how Takshaka had to come out of hiding and appeared in the sky due to the power of the sacrifice.

Warned by his Hotri to wait till Takshaka was captured, Janamejaya said to the Ritwiks, “Takshaka is my enemy. Put all your might into the mantras to make Takshaka appear so that the aim of my sacrifice may be fulfilled.”

The Ritwiks replied, “O king, the scriptures tell us that Takshaka is staying in Indra’s abode out of fear from this sacrifice. Lohitaksha, the learned Suta and well-versed in the Puranas, has also confirmed this. Moreover, the sacrificial fire also seems to suggest the same thing.”

Note: The last line, refers to divination with fire which is known as pyromancy in contemporary times. There are many types of pyromancy. One of them involves making interpretations based on the shape of a flame.

The Suta, Lohitaksha, was also present in the sacrifice. Janamejaya asked him if this was true and Lohitaksha confirmed that it was. Indra had granted protection to Takshaka and asked the serpent to stay with him in his abode.

Janamejaya was not pleased with the knowledge that Indra was protecting Takshaka. However, he urged his Hotri to continue. 

As the Hotri continued chanting mantras and offering oblations of clarified butter to the fire, Indra appeared in the sky in his car accompanied by his retinue of clouds, devas, and apsaras. Takshaka was also with Indra but remained hidden in Indra’s upper garment.

Not being able to see Takshaka, angered Janamejaya. Bent upon destroying Takshaka, he said to his Brahmanas, “If Takshaka is under Indra’s protection, then chant your mantras to bring him into the fire along with Indra.”

Urged by the king, the Hotri continued chanting the mantras and offered the libations taking Takshaka’s name as they poured the clarified butter into the fire.

As soon as Takshaka’s name was specifically mentioned in the mantras, Takshaka was forced out of Indra’s upper garment and became visible in the sky along with Indra.

The power of the sacrifice scared Indra. He immediately abandoned Takshaka and returned to his abode. Having lost Indra’s protection, Takshaka was overcome with fear. He lost his senses and started being pulled towards the sacrificial fire by the power of the mantras. 

Once Takshaka was pulled close enough to the flames, the Ritwiks said to Janamejaya, “O king of kings, your sacrifice is proceeding as it should. You may now grant a boon to this deserving brahmin child.”

Janamejaya looked at Astika and said, “O immeasurable brahmin of handsome childlike features, I wish to grant you a worthy boon. Ask for whatever your heart desires. I will grant it to you even if it’s non grantable.”

Meanwhile, Takshaka was being drawn closer and closer to the fire. The Ritwiks said to the Janamejaya, “O king, see, Takshaka is coming under your control. Listen to his terrible cries and loud roar.  The serpent has been forsaken by Indra and your mantras have rendered his body and senses powerless. Look at him rolling in the sky and breathing loudly as he falls from heaven.”

Note: In the next post, we will find out what boon Astika asks for.

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Next Post: Astika Asks For His Boon

Image of Naga worshipped at Nagasthan, a Naag temple at ChandragiriKathmandu during Naga Panchami

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Previous Post: Astika Reaches the Location of the Snake Sacrifice

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Astika reached the location of the snake sacrifice and spoke words of adoration for Janamejaya, the Ritwiks, Sadasyas, and Agni Deva. 

In this post, we will find out how Janamejaya responded to Astika’s words.

After Astika adored and gratified the king and other participants of the sacrifice, positive signs and indications started manifesting all around. Janamejaya noticed these signs and said, “although this boy is still a child, he speaks like a wise old man. I think he’s very wise.”

Janamejaya turned to the Ritwiks and Sadasyas and said, “I Brahmanas, I wish to give this wise child a boon. Please give me the permission to do so.”

The Sadasyas replied, “A brahmana, even if he’s a boy, deserves the respect of kings, and his learned child deserves it even more so. This boy certainly deserves to have his desires fulfilled by you, but not before this sacrificial fire captures Takshaka.”

But Janamejaya, who was very keen on giving the child a boon, ignored the brahmanas’ advice and said to Astika, “Ask for a boon.”

The Hotri of the sacrifice was very displeased and immediately said, “Takshaka has not yet been captured in the sacrificial fire.”

Note: On a surface level it might seem that Janamejaya’s ego was gratified by Astika’s praise and he decided to give the child a boon. But that wasn’t the case. Janamejaya had sufficient control over his ego. He paid attention to the positive signs (Nimitas) that manifested around him and also saw the nobility, wisdom, and splendour of the little sage. 

The Mahabharata doesn’t mention the Nimitas, but they could be signs like a sudden cool breeze, a sudden appearance of a certain bird or animal, maybe a flower or fruit falling when the child was speaking, perhaps a sweet smell that seems to come out of nowhere, or other similar signs. I have not read the Atharva Veda personally, but I’ve been told that it describes various positive and negative Nimitas. While we’re on the topic of Nimitas, I’d also like to add something I heard from a wise sadhaka. He said that one should pay attention to Nimitas only after one’s consciousness has become sufficiently elevated and one’s will-power is strong. In this case, the Nimitas work as helpful signs, but if a person who doesn’t have a well-developed will power and an elevated consciousness pays excessive attention to Nimitas then there’s a good chance they will become even weaker and fall into a state of confusion.

In the next post, we will find out if Takshaka is pulled into the sacrificial fire or is saved.

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Next Post: Takshaka Appears in the Sky

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

Note: In the previous post, we read the names of the Hotri, Adhvaryu, Brahmana, and the Udgatri who officiated and the Sadasyas who participated in Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. We also learned the meaning of these roles.

In this post, we will read about what Takshaka did when he found out that
snakes were perishing in the sacrifice.

As soon as Takshaka heard about King Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice, he went straight to the palace of Indra and sought refuge from the king of the devas after acknowledging his fault (of killing King Parikshit by deceit).

Indra, the king of the devas, and Takshaka, the king of the serpents, were close friends. Indra was gratified when he heard Takshaka acknowledge his fault and ask for protection. He immediately consoled his friend saying, “O Takshaka, do not be afraid. I have already pacified Brahma Deva on your behalf. You do not need to have any fear from the sacrifice.”

Encouraged and protected by the king of devas, Takshaka stayed joyfully in Indra’s abode. 

While Takshaka stayed happily in heaven, Vasuki became filled with sorrow seeing the multitude of snakes falling into the sacrificial fire. Heartbroken seeing the serpent family being destroyed, he called out to his sister for help.

Note: The difference in how Takshaka and Vasuki responded to the danger is striking. Takshaka cared only for his own safety while Vasuki’s heart broke seeing the plight of the serpents.
An interesting detail about both, Takshaka and Vasuki, is that they are mentioned (in Tibetan Buddhism) as two of the eight great dragon kings who attended Shakyamuni Buddha’s preaching of the Lotus Sutra.

In the next post, we will read about Vasuki asking his sister’s son, Astika, to save the serpents.

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Next Post: Astika is Asked to Save the Serpents

Modern replica of utensils and falcon-shaped altar used for Agnicayana, an elaborate Śrauta ritual originating from the Kuru Kingdom 1000 BCE (image contributed by Arayilpdas at Malayalam Wikipedia)

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Previous Post: Janamejaya Inquires About the Circumstances of King Parikshit’s Death

Note: In the previous post, Janamejaya asked his ministers about the circumstances of his father’s death. The ministers related the entire story beginning with King Parikshit going on a hunt, to him being cursed by a brahmin’s son for insulting the brahmin, to Takshaka using deceit to send away Sage Kasyapa, to how Takshaka entered the palace and destroyed Parikshit with his poison.

In this post, we will read about Janamejaya’s response after hearing about the above incidents.

Janamejaya said, “My father would definitely have survived if Rishi Kasyapa had reached Hastinapur. That horrible snake, Takshaka, must have thought that if the king survived his bite then he would be mocked for not being poisonous enough. I’m sure that was the reason why Takshaka convinced the brahmin to turn back. 

Having said this, King Janamejaya became filled with grief. He squeezed his hands and wept. The king who had lotus eyes began to breathe long and hot breaths and shrieked aloud with tears in his eyes. In this state, he touched water and thought carefully as if deciding an important matter in his mind. After some time, when he had achieved clarity about the issue, the angry and grieving king said to his ministers, “I have heard your description of my father’s demise and I have also decided the further course of action. I don’t believe my father died because of Sringin’s curse. It is my belief that Takshaka took advantage of that curse to destroy my father. I cannot understand how Takshaka would have lost anything if my father had lived. It was because of this ill intention that he also made Sage Kasyapa return. The act of giving wealth to the great brahmin, Kasyapa, to prevent him from saving my father was an act of great aggression on Takshaka’s part. Therefore, I will take revenge on Takshaka immediately. Takshaka is unaware of the consequences of my wrath. I will destroy my father’s enemy to bring myself peace of mind and also for the sake of my father’s subjects and Rishi Uttanka.”

Note: Rishi Uttanka was mentioned a long time back in the Paushya (sub) Parva. I’ll briefly describe his story and why Janamejaya mentions him. Rishi Ayodha-Dhaumya had three disciples called Aruni, Apamanyu, and Veda. Even though the rishi was loving and caring, he was very strict with his disciples. When his third disciple, Veda, became a rishi, he decided to be very gentle with his disciples. One of his disciples was Uttanka. Rishi Veda trusted this disciple because of his sincerity. One day, when Rishi Veda had to be away from his home for some work, he entrusted the care of his house to Uttanka. At that time, Rishi Veda’s wife came into the season when a union with a man would produce children. She summoned her husband’s disciple, Uttanka, for a union. Uttanka, however, did not feel such a relationship would be correct and politely declined the lady of the house. When Rishi Veda returned home, he was pleased with Uttanka for his conduct. After Uttanka’s education got over, he requested his teacher to take guru-dakshina. Rishi Veda did not want any dakshina but upon Uttanka’s insistence, he told his disciple to bring whatever would please his wife. Rishi Veda’s wife asked Uttanka to bring her the earrings of King Paushya’s wife. Uttanka succeeded in acquiring the earrings from the King’s wife, however, when he was returning, the serpent king, Takshaka, stole the earrings from Uttanka. He chased the serpent and eventually succeeded in getting the earrings back but Takshaka’s action angered the young sage. After gifting the earrings to his teacher’s wife, Uttanka went to Hastinapur and told Janamejaya how Takshaka had deceitfully killed the king’s father Parikshit. Uttanka also told the king how Takshaka had tried to steal the earrings he had acquired for his teacher’s wife as guru-dakshina. He suggested Janamejaya perform a sacrifice to burn Takshaka to avenge his father’s death and also as a favour to Uttanka.

Janamejaya’s ministers approved of his plans and the king told them about his desire to perform a snake sacrifice.

Having thus decided, Janamejaya called his priest and ritwiks (a person who performs Vedic yagnas) and said, “I want to take revenge on Takshaka, the wretch who killed my father. Do you know how I can cast Takshaka and his relatives into a fire and burn them just as he burned my father with his poison?”

The chief priest said, “Those who are well-versed in the Puranas have spoken about such a sacrifice called the snake sacrifice that was devised by the Gods themselves. However, O king, only you can accomplish that sacrifice.”

Hearing these words, Janamejaya felt certain that Takshaka would perish in the blazing flames of the sacrificial Agni. He said to his priests, “I will make preparations for the sacrifice. Please tell me everything that is necessary for it.”

Seeing their king determined to perform the snake sacrifice, his ritwiks, who were well-versed in the details of the sacrifice, first measured out the land for performing the rituals according to calculations given in the scriptures. Then they created a platform and placed valuable articles along with paddy on it. Finally, they installed the king on the platform for performing the snake sacrifice for the desired aim. 

However, before the sacrifice began, a wise suta who was well-versed in the Puranas, and was also a professional builder, approached the assembly and said, “O king, the time at which the measurements were taken to build the sacrificial platform and the land on which the platform has been erected, indicate that this sacrifice will not be completed successfully. A brahmin will be the cause for the sacrifice’s failure.”

Heeding the wise suta’s words, the king commanded his gatekeepers to be extra vigilant and prevent anyone from entering the sacrificial space without his knowledge.

Note: In the next post, we will read about the snake sacrifice.

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Next Post: The Snake Sacrifice (Sarpa Satra) Begins

The sage Vyasa and King Janamejaya

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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.

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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

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.

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Next Post: Takshaka Goes to Hastinapur

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Indra helped Uttanka reach his teacher’s house on time and gift the queen’s earrings to Veda’s wife. Pleased with Uttanka, his teacher, Veda, gave him permission to leave and lead his life independently.

In this post, we will read about Uttanka’s continued anger toward Takshaka which led him to go to Hastinapura to seek revenge.

Uttanka left his teacher’s house after obtaining his leave. Even though Uttanka was able to give the guru-dakshina on time, he was very angry with the serpent king, Takshaka. He wanted to take revenge on the serpent. With this in mind, he proceeded toward Hastinapura to meet king Janamejaya.

Note: You may remember from a previous post that Janamejaya and his brothers were cursed by the celestial she-dog, Sarama, for harassing her son. Disturbed by the curse, the king appointed an accomplished sage called Somasrava (who could neutralize the curse) as his purohit. Soon after appointing Somasrava, Janamaejaya marched towards Takshashila to bring that region under his control.

When Uttanka reached Hastinapur, Janamejaya had won the battle in Takshashila and was on his way back to Hastinapura.

After reaching Hastinapurs, Uttanka waited for Janamejaya to return from the battle. When he saw the victorious king enter Haspinapura, surrounded by ministers on all sides, he pronounced blessings on the king in a proper manner (as would befit an emperor). After that, at an opportune moment, Uttanka spoke to the king in a melodious way with the correct accent, saying, “O best of monarchs, how is it that you spend your time like a child when another matter urgently requires your attention?”

Janamejaya also greeted the excellent brahmin respectfully and replied, “In caring for my subjects, I perform the duties of my noble tribe. What is this matter that requires my urgent attention and has brought you here?”

When the excellent king, Janamejaya, of generous heart addressed the great brahmin known for his good deeds, he replied to the monarch, “O king, the matter that demands your attention is closely related to you. Therefore please do it. The serpent king, Takshaka, was responsible for your father’s death. He bit your father and reduced him to the five elements like a tree stricken by thunder. The wicked Takshaka committed this unnecessary act because he was intoxicated with power. Not only did he bite your father, but he also caused Kasyapa, the great physician, to run back when he was coming to Hastinapura to help your father recover from the deadly bite. The time, ordained by the fates, has come for you to avenge your father’s death at the hands of that vile serpent. It is therefore your duty to burn the wicked serpent in the blazing fire of a snake sacrifice. O king, give immediate orders for the sacrifice. That way, you will avenge the death of your father and you will also do me a great favor because that wicked serpent had once obstructed me when I was doing important work for my teacher.”

Janamejaya became sorrowful about his father’s death when he heard Uttanka’s words. Furious with Takshaka, Janamejaya asked his ministers to explain to him all the details of his father’s demise. The details, narrated by Uttanka himself, caused Janamejaya to become overcome with pain and sorrow.

Note: With this post, we end the Paushya (sub) Parva of the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata. The next post begins with the Pauloma (sub) Parva of the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata.

You might recall that all the stories we have read till now were narrated by Ugrasrava Sauti (a bard) to a group of ascetics in the Naimisha forest. These ascetics had gathered to attend Saunak Kulapati’s 12-year yagna. In the next post, Sauti again asks the ascetics which story they want to hear. We’ll find out if they want to hear about Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice immediately or later.

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