Uttanka returns the earrings on time

Image: Uttanka received earrings from King Paushya’s wife.

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Previous Post: Rishi Ayodha-Dhaumya Tests His Pupils

Rishi Veda is Appointed as Janamejaya’s Upadhyaya

After passing Rishi Ayodha-Dhaumya’s test, Veda entered worldly life, got married, and had his own disciples over time. One such disciple was Uttanka. Having learned under a teacher who although loving was a hard taskmaster, he did not want to subject his pupils to harsh discipline. Therefore, he never forced them to obey his commands or perform difficult tasks.

One day, King Janamejaya and Paushya came to Veda’s residence and appointed him as their Upadhyaya (spiritual guide). Sometime after being appointed the Upadhyaya, Veda had to leave his house to attend to work related to a yajna. Before leaving, he asked Uttanka to take care of the house in his absence. His parting words to Uttanka were:

“Do whatever needs to be done in my house without neglect.”

Having said these words, Rishi Veda left to attend to his work.

Uttanka’s Respect & Restraint

Uttanka stayed back ever mindful of his teacher’s instructions.

One day, the women in Rishi Veda’s house approached Uttanka and said, “O Uttanka, the mistress of this house is in the season when a sexual connection may be fruitful for bearing children. The rishi has gone out for work, so, in his absence, you have to perform what needs to be done.”

Uttanka answered, “I cannot do this. My teacher has not instructed me to do that which is improper.”

When Rishi Veda returned from his journey and learned what had happened, he was pleased with Uttanka’s conduct. He called Uttanka and said, “Uttanka, my child, you have served me well. Your restraint has increased our friendship. Therefore, I give you permission to leave. Go where you choose and may your wishes be fulfilled.”

Uttanka, however, insisted on giving guru-dakshina to his teacher. He replied, “The person who teaches incorrectly and one who receives teachings incorrectly, are doomed to enmity, and one of them dies. Therefore, I wish to do something for you as an honorarium.”

Instead of asking Uttanka to do some task, Veda simply asked him to stay at his house for some more time.

After some time had passed, Uttanka once again asked Rishi Veda to give him a task. However, Veda did not want anything for himself, so he told Uttanka to ask his wife if she wanted anything.

Uttanka went to his teacher’s wife and requested her to ask for something so he could leave their house without being in indebted to them.

Veda’s wife asked Uttanka to go to King Paushya’s kingdom and bring the queen’s earrings for her. She said, “The fourth day from today is sacred. Several brahmanas will come to dine at this house. I wish to wear those earrings when I appear before them. Accomplish this task, O Uttanka. You will have good fortune if you succeed, but if you don’t, then it will be difficult for good fortune to come to you.”

Uttanka Goes to Paushya’s Kingdom

Having received his guru-ma’s command, Uttanka left for Paushya’s kingdom. On the way, he saw a huge bull with a large man seated on it. The man said to Uttanka, “Eat this bull’s dung.”

Uttanka hesitated, but the man insisted, saying, “O Uttanka, don’t think so much about it. Your teacher has also eaten this bull’s dung in the past.”

Uttanka agreed when he heard this. He ate the dung and drank the urine of the bull, got up respectfully, washed his hands and mouth, and resumed his journey.

Uttanka soon reached Paushya’s palace where he blessed the king and explained why he had come to his palace.

Upon hearing Uttanka’s request, King Paushya said, “O Uttanka, go to the women’s chambers and ask the queen for her earrings.”

However, when Uttanka went to the women’s chambers, he did not find the queen there. A little upset, he returned to Paushya and said, “O king, it is not proper for you to deceive me. The queen is not in her chamber.”

Paushya thought for a moment and replied, “The queen is very pure and chaste. Therefore, she can be seen only by those people who are perfectly pure and have not come into contact with anything impure.”

Uttanka reflected for a moment and said, “After having my meal, I performed my ablutions while standing. Maybe that is why I could not see her.”

“Yes, that’s a transgression. A person cannot purify himself properly while standing or walking,” Paushya said.

Uttanka agreed with the king’s logic and went to clean himself properly.

He sat down facing the east and washed his face, hands, and legs thoroughly. Then he took some clean water, that was free of froth and not too warm, and drank it twice, taking just enough so that it would reach his stomach immediately. After that, he cleaned his eyes, ears, and other openings of his body by touching them with water.

Thus, having cleaned himself properly, Uttanka, once again went to the women’s chambers.

This time, he was able to see the queen.

The queen greeted Uttanka respectfully and asked him what he wanted.

Uttanka replied, “I have come to beg for your earrings which I wish to take as a present for my guru-ma”

The queen was pleased with Uttanka’s conduct and felt that he was worthy of charity. She took off her earrings and gave them to Uttanka saying, “You will have to carry these earrings very carefully because Takshaka, the king of serpents, also covets them.”

“Don’t worry O queen, Takshaka, will not be able to take these earrings from me,” Uttanka assured. After thanking the queen, he took her leave and went to express his gratitude to Paushya.

The Quarrel Between Uttanka and Paushya

Paushya requested Uttanka to stay in his palace a little longer to perform a shraddha ceremony.

Uttanka agreed and requested the king for some clean food to eat. When the food was brought to him, Uttanka noticed that it was cold and there was hair in the food.

The unclean food displeased Uttanka.

Uttanka became angry and said to the king, “You have given me unclean food, therefore, you will lose your sight.”

Hearing Uttanka’s words, Paushya also became angry and cursed him back saying, “You have falsely labelled cleaned food as unclean, therefore, you will not have any children.”

“It doesn’t befit you to curse me in return after having offered me unclean food. Here, you can see for yourself that the food is truly unclean,” Uttanla replied.

When Paushya examined the food, he realised that it was indeed unclean. It was cold and had hair in it because it was prepared by a woman who had not braided her hair. Paushya tried to pacify Uttanka by saying, “Sir, the food is indeed cold and it contains hair. It has been prepared without sufficient care. I pray to you, please pardon me. Let me not become blind.”

Uttanka replied, “What I have said will happen. I cannot prevent that. However, you will regain your sight soon after losing it. Now, grant me that your curse also does not have any effect on me.”

Paushya, however, did not take back his curse. He said, “I am unable to take back my curse because my anger has not yet calmed down. You may not be able to understand this because a brahmana’s heart is soft even though his words may be sharp. In the case of a kshatriya, it is the opposite. His words are soft but his heart is like a sharp-edged tool. I am unable to neutralise my curse because of the hardness of my heart.”

Uttanka replied, “Even though I showed you that the food offered by you was indeed unclean, I still softened my curse when you requested me to do so. However, you cursed me when you were in the wrong. Therefore, your curse will not have any effect on me. I am certain of this.”

Having said this, Uttanka took the earrings and left Paushya’s court to return to his teacher’s house.

The Serpent King, Takshaka, Steals the Earrings

On the way, Uttanka noticed a naked idle beggar who came in and out of his vision. Uttanka did not pay much attention to this beggar. He put the earrings on the ground and went to clean himself in a body of water.

In the meantime, the beggar, whom Uttanka had ignored, took the earrings and ran away.

Utanka noticed the thief, but he decided to complete his ablutions. Having purified himself, he bowed to the Gods and his spiritual teachers, and after that, he chased the thief and overtook him with great difficulty. However, the moment he seized the thief, the beggar changed his form and stood before Uttanka as his real self – that of Takshaka, the serpent king.

Having returned to his real form, Takshaka the serpent entered a large hole in the ground and proceeded toward the region of the serpents, which was also his own abode.

Uttanka Pursues Takshaka

Seeing Takshaka slither into the ground helped Uttanka remember the queen’s words about how Takshaka also coveted the same earrings. The hole that Takshaka had entered was wide enough for snakes but too small for humans. Uttanka picked up a stick and began expanding the hole to pursue the serpent, but he wasn’t able to make much progress.

When Indra, the king of the Gods, noticed Uttanka’s problem, he sent his thunderbolt to the brahmin boy. That thunderbolt entered Uttanka’s stick and rapidly enlarged the hole leading the way for Uttanka to follow. Following his stick powered by the thunderbolt, Uttanka went deep into the earth until he reached the region of the serpents.

The region was vast. It felt like it extended infinitely in all directions. There were hundreds of elegant mansions with gateways, turrets, and domes. There were also wonderful places for entertainment and games.

Uttanka glorified the serpents with the following shlokas.

Uttanka Retrieves The Earrings From Takshaka

Uttanka was hoping that Takshaka would return the earrings after he glorified him and the serpents. But he didn’t respond to Uttanka’s praises. When Uttanka realized that Takshaka wasn’t going to return the earrings, he looked around and thought of an alternate plan.

As he looked around, he noticed two women at a loom weaving a piece of cloth with black and white threads. The warp was of white thread and the weft, which was of black thread, was being woven using a very fine tool.

Near the loom was a wheel with twelve spokes. It was being turned by six boys. He also noticed a man with a healthy and well-groomed horse. Uttanka addressed them with the following mantras.

“This wheel whose circumference is marked by twenty-four divisions representing lunar fortnights is furnished with three hundred spokes! It is kept in continuous motion by six boys representing the six seasons!

These two women representing universal nature are continuously weaving a cloth of black and white threads, ushering into existence the manifold worlds and the beings that live in those worlds.

O wielder of the thunder, the protector of the universe, the slayer of Vritra and Namuchi. O illustrious one, wearing the black cloth, you show truth and untruth in the universe. You own the horse which was received from the depths of the ocean. This horse is another form of Agni (the God of fire). I bow to you, O supreme Lord of the three worlds. O Purandara!”

Note: Purandara is another name for Indra.

Hearing these words, the man with the horse said to Uttanka, “I am gratified by your adoration and I want to do something good for you. What can I do?”

Uttanka replied, “Help me bring the serpents under my control.”

“Blow into this horse,” the man said.

Uttanka did as he was told and the moment he blew into the horse, fire and smoke came out from the horse’s ears, nose, and every opening. The fire along with the smoke began to spread over the entire region of the serpents.

Takshaka was so surprised and shaken by what was happening that he rushed out of hiding and returned the earrings to Uttanka.

When Uttanka took the earrings, he realized that today was the sacred day when his guru-ma wanted to wear the earrings. He needed to give them to her immediately, however, he was very far from his teacher’s house. Uttanka was once again in a fix because there was no way he could reach his teacher’s house on time.

Uttanka Gifts The Earrings To His Teacher’s Wife

Upon seeing Uttanka anxious about running out of time, the man standing next to the horse, said, “Ride this horse, Utanka. He will take you within a moment to your master’s house.’

Uttanka mounted the horse and immediately reached his teacher’s house.

Uttanka’s guru-ma, Veda’s wife, had just finished bathing and was dressing her hair. She was thinking to herself what curse she should give Uttanka if he did not return on time. However, Uttanka did return on time and respectfully presented the earrings to her.

Rishi Veda’s wife addressed Uttanka, saying, “Uttanka, welcome my child. You have arrived at the proper time and at the proper place. You are innocent. Therefore, I will not curse you. Good fortune lies before you. May you be successful in obtaining your wishes.”

After giving the earrings, Uttanka went to his teacher – Rishi Veda. The rishi said to Uttanka, “Welcome to the ashram. What happened that caused you to get delayed?”

Uttanka told his teacher about Takshaka stealing the earrings and that he had to go to the region of the Nagas to get them back. Uttanka also described what he saw in the region of the Nagas: the two ladies who were weaving cloth with black and white threads, the wheel with twelve spokes that was kept in motion by six boys, the man, and the extraordinary horse. Uttannka also told his teacher about the man sitting on the large bull, who he met on the way to Paushya’s palace, and how that man had lovingly asked him to eat the bull’s dung.

After telling Rishi Veda all the details, Uttanka requested his teacher to enlighten him about everything he saw and all the people he met.

Next Post: Uttanka Goes to Hastinapur to Meet Janamejaya

Note: In the previous post, we saw that about the same time king Janamejaya marched to Takshashila, rishi Ayoda-Dhaumya decided to test his three pupils, starting with Aruni. 

In the Mahabharata, we often find the main storyline going off on such tangents. However, every tangent has a purpose and it always merges into the main storyline soon. 

This tangent will also come together with Janamejaya soon, but for now, let’s enjoy the Puranic story of how rishi Ayoda-Dhaumya tested his second pupil, Upamanyu.

After testing Aruni, rishi Ayoda-Dhaumya addressed his pupil Upamanyu: 

“My child, Upamanyu, go and look after the cows.”

Upamanyu, having received instructions from his teacher, spent the entire day looking after the cows and returned to his teacher’s house in the evening. Upamanyu stood before the rishi and bowed to him respectfully.

The rishi seeing Upamanyu looking very plump asked him: “Upamanyu, my child, you are very plump. How do you support yourself?”

“Sir, I support myself by begging for food,” Upamanyu replied.

Rishi Ayoda-Dhaumya thought for a moment and said, “You should not eat the alms you obtain by begging without first offering them to me.”

The next day, Upamanyu went to his teacher with everything he had obtained in alms. The rishi took all the food leaving Upamanyu with nothing to support himself during the day when he would tend to the cows.

That day, once again, Upamanyu returned to the rishi, after completing his work, in the evening and bowed to his teacher with respect.

The rishi looked at Upamanyu and asked, “My child, Upamanyu, I took all your food in the morning, but you still look quite healthy. How did you support yourself today?”

Upamanyu replied, “Sir, after giving you all the food I obtained in alms, I went begging once again for my own food.”

“This is not the way you should obey your teacher, my child,” the rishi said. “By begging for food twice, you are depriving others who support themselves through alms.”

Upamanyu promised his teacher that he would not beg for food twice. The next day, after offering the alms to his teacher, he again spent the day looking after his teacher’s cows and returned to his teacher in the evening. 

The rishi observed that Upamanyu was still in good bodily condition. 

“Upamanyu, my child, I take everything you obtain by alms and you don’t beg for alms for the second time, but you are still in a good bodily condition. How do you support yourself?”

“Sir, I drink the milk of these cows,” Upamanyu replied.

“Upamanyu, my child, it is not correct for you to take the cows’ milk without first asking for my consent.”

Upamanyu agreed with his teacher’s logic. The next day, the entire routine repeated. In the evening, rishi Ayoda-Dhaumya was surprised to see Upamanyu in great condition. He asked Upamanyu how he supported himself without taking alms or drinking the cows’ milk.

“Sir, now I drink the froth that the calves throw out after suckling their mother’s milk.”

“No my child, you should not do that. The calves, out of compassion, are throwing out large amounts of froth to help you. By taking their froth, you are depriving them of the nourishment that is lawfully theirs.”

Upamanyu once again agreed with the logic of his teacher. 

The next day, he did not eat any of the alms he had begged, nor did he drink the milk of the cows, and neither did he take the froth from the calves. By evening, he was very hungry. Unable to control himself, he ate some Arka leaves in the forest. The Arka leaves being harmful to humans because of their pungent, acrimonious, and saline properties, caused Upamanyu to lose his eyesight. Unable to see, he crawled about and fell into a pit.

When Upamanyu did not return by sunset, rishi Ayoda-Dhaumya along with the other students went to search for him. They went into the forest shouting, “Ho Upamanyu, where are you?”

“Here I am teacher, at the bottom of the pit,” Upamanyu shouted back when he heard the rishi’s voice.

Seeing Upamanyu’s condition, the rishi asked him what caused him to fall into the pit. Upamanyu told him about how he ate some leaves, lost his sight, and fell into the pit.

“Oh my child, glorify the Ashwin twins. They are the physicians of the Gods. They will restore your sight.”

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Previous: Rishi Ayoda-Dhaumya Tests his Pupil Aruni

Next: Upamanyu Glorifies the Ashwin Twins to Regain his Sight

Note: At about the same time as Janamejaya went to Takshashila to bring the region under his control, a rishi called Ayoda-Dhaumya decided to test his disciples. This post describes how he tested his disciple, Aruni.

Rishi Ayoda-Dhaumya had three disciples called Upamanyu, Aruni, and Veda. 

There was a water-course that brought water to the nearby fields. However, an opening in the water-course near a certain field caused problems for the farmers. Rishi Ayoda-Dhaumya asked his disciple, Aruni, to fix the problem.

Aruni went immediately to the place pointed out by his teacher. However, he soon realized that the problem could not be fixed by ordinary means. Aruni felt dejected because he could not succeed in the task his teacher had asked him to do.

Aruni stayed there for a long time, observing the problem. After much observation, he was able to think of a solution. He entered the water and placed himself in the location where the breach had developed, thus stopping the water from leaking. 

When Ayoda-Dhaumya did not see Aruni in his hermitage, he asked his disciples where Aruni had gone. His disciples told him that he had gone to fix the breach in the water-course in a nearby field. Ayoda-Dhaumya, remembered his instructions to Aruni, and immediately went to that field along with the other disciples.

At the field, he shouted out to Aruni saying: “Ho Aruni of Panchala! Where are you?”

Aruni, upon hearing his teacher, rushed out of the water-course and stood before Ayoda-Dhaumya. Aruni explained to his teacher how he had placed himself in the breach to prevent the water from leaking. Thus standing there, he asked his teacher for further instructions.

Rishi Ayoda-Dhaumya looked at his disciple and said: “Because, in getting out of the breach, you caused it to open up, you shall henceforth be known as Uddalaka. And because you obeyed my words, you will obtain good fortune. All the Vedas and Dharmashastras will shine in you.”

Aruni had completed his education under the rishi. This was the last test. Having completed it and received the blessings of his teacher, Aruni (now known as Uddalaka) left for the country that was dear to his heart (most likely Panchala). 

Note: The name, Uddalaka, means “burnt open”. It also refers to a kind of honey. This name refers to a person who others can depend upon.