Statue of Sesha Nag in Dakshinkali, Khatmandu, Nepal (Image contributed by Rajesh Dhunganga on a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 International Licence)

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Names of the Principal Snakes Involved in the Tryst With Garuda

Note: In the previous post, we learned the names of the principal snakes that were involved in the misadventure with Garuda.

In this post, we will find out what a noble snake, called Shesha, did after he and his siblings were cursed by their mother, Kadru.

After hearing the names of several snakes, Saunaka Kulapati asked Sauti, “O child, you have named many powerful serpents who were difficult to defeat but now I want to know what these serpents did after hearing the curse that their mother had pronounced on them.

Sauti replied, “One of Kadru’s sons called Shesha, left his mother and practised hard penances. He lived only on air. He also made ascetic vows which he followed rigidly. He did these penances at several sacred places like Gandhamadana, Badri, Gokarna, the woods of Pushkara, and at the foothills of the Himalayas. Some of these places were considered sacred because of their waters and others were considered sacred because of their soil. 

While doing these penances, Shesha kept his mind fixed single-pointedly on his practices and he also kept his passions completely under control.

Brahma Deva saw Shesha with knotted hair and dressed in rags. The hard penances had caused his skin, muscles, and sinews to dry up. Seeing the serpent in that state, Brahma Deva said, “O Shesha, what are you doing? Your hard penances are disturbing the balance and causing suffering in other creatures. O sinless one, tell me what you desire. Tell me the reason for your penances.”

Shesha replied, “My siblings are very wicked. I do not wish to live with them. They are always jealous of each other and fight as if they were enemies. They are harsh towards Garuda and his mother, Vinata. They don’t realise that the powerful ranger of the skies, Garuda, is also our brother. They are constantly jealous of him. I am engaged in ascetic penances because I do not wish their companionship. I am doing these penances so I may never have to stay with them again. 

Upon hearing Shesha’s words, Brahma Deva said, “O Shesha, I am aware of how your siblings behave and I’m also aware of the great danger they face because of Kadru’s curse. But I have already provided a remedy for all this. I am very pleased that your heart is set upon virtue. I would like you to always keep your heart directed towards virtue. Now ask for whatever you want. I wish to give you a boon.”

Sesha replied, “O divine Grandsire, bless me that my heart always delights in virtue and ascetic practices.”

Brahma said, “O Shesha I am very happy because you love peace and are practising self-denial, but O best of snakes, now I ask you to do an act for the benefit of all creatures. The earth has an unsteady and dangerous wobble. I want you to bear the earth in such a way that its rotation becomes steady.

Note: The Mahabharata does not specifically use the words ‘dangerous’, ‘wobble’, and  ‘rotation’. It simply says that the earth was unsteady and Shesha was given the task of bearing the planet to make it steady. However, I believe Brahma Deva was asking Shesha to become the axis around which the earth could rotate steadily. This story might be describing a time when the earth’s wobble was very unsteady and certain natural forces — like gravitational or geo-magnetic — caused the earth to rotate relatively steadier around her axis.

You may have a different,
and perfectly valid, interpretation for this story. Do read the next post, tomorrow, and share your thoughts.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Sesha Naga Becomes the Earth’s Axis

The victorious Garuda

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: How the Snakes Became Garuda’s Natural Food

Note: In the previous post, we read how the snakes became Garuda’s natural food.

In this post, we will find out how Garuda frees his mother from slavery.

Upon reaching the island with the pot of amrit in his claws, Garuda addressed the snakes joyfully in the following words, “Here, I have brought the amrit for you. I’ll place it on a bed of kusa grass. O snakes, sit here and drink the amrit after performing your ablutions and religious rites.”

Garuda continued, “Since I have brought the amrit, free my mother as you had promised.” 

The snakes said to Garuda, “So be it,” and went to perform their ablutions so they could drink the amrit.

As soon as the snakes went to perform their ablutions, Indra came to that spot, quickly took the amrit, and returned to heaven. 

The snakes returned after completing their ablutions, but, to their dismay, the bed of Kusa grass was empty. The amrit was no longer there.

Note: Here, Vyasa Muni mentions the plan that Garuda and Indra had made, as a counter-act of deceit.

Disappointed and saddened at not finding the amrit, the snakes began to lick the kusa grass on which the amrit was placed. Licking the kusa grass caused the initial part of the snakes’ tongues to become split into two parts.

From that day onwards, having come in contact with amrit, kusa grass became sacred.

Thus, the illustrious Garuda brought the amrit by battling the devas, freed his mother, did not allow the snakes to take the amrit, and also caused the snakes’ tongues to be split.

Garuda, that bird of fair feathers, roamed the beautiful woods of that island with his mother. He also gratifiedehis mother by devouring the snakes.

It is said that great merit is acquired by the person who listens to this story or recites it to an assembly of good brahmanas.

Reading or reciting this story of Garuda’s feats creates the conditions for a person to go to heaven.

Note: It’s worth contemplating on Garuda’s decisions of not battling the snakes but, instead, battling the devas to seize the amrit, and then, eventually supporting Indra and not allowing the snakes to drink the amrit, and finally, devouring the snakes after freeing his mother. 

In the next post, we will find out the names of the principle snakes involved in this tryst with Garuda.

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Next Post: Names of the Principal Snakes Involved in the Tryst With Garuda

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

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Next Post: Garuda’s Fierce Battle With the Devas

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

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: Garuda Questions his Slavery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Previous Post: Garuda Meets His Father, Sage Kasyapa

Garuda at Srivilliputur Temple, Tamil Nadu, India

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: An Island Called Ramanayika

Note: In the previous post, we read about the island called Ramanayika that the creator (Brahma) had dedicated to the Makaras (crocodiles). Kadru and her snake sons had commanded Vinata and Garuda to take them to the beautiful island on their backs.

In this post, we will find out what happened when the snakes made further demands of Garuda.

The snakes began to enjoy themselves after arriving in the forest in Ramanikiya. After they had satisfied themselves, they commanded Garuda once again.

“O Garuda, ranger of the skies, you must have seen many beautiful regions while flying. Now take us to another excellent island that has pure water.” The snakes said to Garuda.

When Garuda was thus commanded for the second time, he reflected for a moment and asked his mother, Vinata, “Mother, why do I have to obey the snakes?”

Vinata looked at her son who had been blessed with immense energy, strength, and every virtue. She said, “The snakes committed an act of deception and caused me to lose a bet because of which I was enslaved by my co-wife, Kadru.”

A word of thanks to the sponsor of this page: Shri Srinivas Solapurkar.

I met Srinivas Ji at Sri Aurobindo Nivas in Vadodara. He was very generous in sharing his spiritual knowledge and wisdom about the “Guru Charitra Granth — A text about the Leela of Shri Bhagwan Dattatreya.

Along with yoga and naturopathy guidance, he also offers services as a Heritage Tour Guide in Vadodara.

Garuda became dejected after hearing his mother’s story. He was filled with sadness. Wanting to find a way out of slavery, he asked the snakes, “Tell me O snakes, how can we gain freedom from this bondage to you? Do you desire an object or some knowledge? I can bring them for you to win our freedom. If you desire, I can do an act that requires immense strength. Tell me, what can I do to acquire freedom?”

The snakes replied, “O great bird, bring us the amrit from the gods, even by force, if you must. You and your mother will be freed if you can do this for us.”

Note: The next few posts contain the adventures of Garuda as he goes to heaven and battles with the devas for the amrit.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Garuda Begins his Quest for the Amrit

Sun Dhoka Golden Gate with the Goddess Taleju Bhawani and Garuda, leading to the Royal Palace in Nepal

Table of Contents (Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: How Aruna Shielded the Earth From Surya’s Wrath

Note: In the previous post, we read about how Garuda’s brother, Aruna, saved the earth from Surya’s wrath.

In this post, we will read about how Vinata and Garuda served Kadru and her son’s by taking them on their backs to a charming island in the middle of the ocean, and what happened when Garuda soared high in the sky with the snakes on his back.

After appointing his elder brother, Aruna, as Surya’s charioter, Garuda, filled with great strength and energy and capable of traveling to any place at will, went to his mother who was on the other side of the great ocean with Kadru and her Snake sons.

On the other side of the ocean, Garuda’s mother, Vinata, had been enslaved by her sister Kadru, and lived the life of a slave. 

Garuda saw his mother Vinata prostrate in front of Kadru when she was called. Kadru said, “There is a delightful place in the middle of the ocean that’s inhabited by the nagas. Take me there.”

Hearing Kadru’s command, Vinata bore her sister on her shoulders and asked Garuda to allow Kadru’s snake sons on his shoulders.

With the snakes on his shoulders, Garuda, the ranger of the skies, started ascending towards the sun. As he ascended, the sun’s rays started scorching the snakes, putting them in distress and danger. When Kadru saw her sons in that state, she immediately prayed to Indra, for their protection, in the following words:

“I bow to you, O lord of the gods!

I bow to you, O Slayer of Vritra!

I bow to you, O Slayer of Namuchi!

O, Indra of a thousand eyes and consort of Sachi!

You have the power to protect the snakes by causing rainfall.

O best of deities, you are our great protector.

O Purandara, you are able to cause torrential rainfall. You are vayu (air), clouds, fire, and lightning. You are the force that moves the clouds. You have also been called the great cloud.

Note: The Great Cloud refers to the phenomenon that will cause darkness in the universe at the end of a yuga.

You are the fierce and incomparable thunder. You are the roaring clouds.

You are the creator and destroyer of the worlds. You are unconquered.

You are the light of all creatures, Aditya, Vibhavasu, and the wonderful elements.

You are the king of gods. You are Vishnu. You have a thousand eyes. You are a god and the final resource. 

O Indra, you are the amrit and the adored soma.

You are the moment, the lunar day, the bala (minute), and the kshana (4 minutes). In the two fortnights that constitute the lunar month, you are the fortnight of the waxing moon and the fortnight of the waning moon. You are the kala, kashtha, and truti. You are the year, the seasons, the months, the nights, and the days.

Note: Kala means time. According to the Shrimad Bhagavatam, truti is the smallest unit of time, and is described as follows:

Quoting, “Truti is described in following way – the combination of two paramaanu forms an anu. Three anu combine to form a trasarenu. Trasarenu are the particles that are visible as particles when a beam of sunlight enters the room through window.”

You art the beautiful earth with her mountains and forests. You are also the sky, brightly lit up with the sun. You are the great ocean with its massive waves, filled with whales and large creatures that swallow the whales, and crocodiles, and various fishes.

You are the great one who is always adored by the rishis and wise people whose minds are in a state of deep contemplation.

For the good of all creatures, you drink the ghee (clarified butter) and the soma offered in sacrifices. You are always worshipped at sacrifices by brahmanas who desire the fruits of their sacrifices.

O Indra of incomparable strength and size, you are mentioned in the Vedas and the Vedangas. That is the reason why learned Brahmins, who have the desire to perform sacrifices, study the Vedas carefully.”

When Indra, the king of the gods, who had the best of horses to ride on, heard this adoration by Kadru, he covered the entire sky with blue clouds. And he commanded the clouds to pour down with rain. Upon Indra’s command, the clouds roared and hit each other causing thunder and lightning and a downpour of rain.

The terrible and roaring clouds with their torrential rain gave the impression that the end of the yuga had come. The overcast sky blocked the rays of the sun and the moon.

The snakes on Garuda’s back rejoiced as they found relief from the sun’s scorching rays. The whole earth was filled with water. There was so much water everywhere that it seeped into the earth and reached the nether regions. 

The snakes, thus protected by Indra, safely reached the beautiful island, in the middle of the ocean, called Ramaniyaka.

Note: In the next post, we will find out how the island called Ramanayika looked and what Kadru and the snakes did there.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: An Island Called Ramanayika

Image by Meursault2004, Own Work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

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

Note: In the previous post, Vinata and Kadru flew across the great ocean to check the color of Uchchaihsravas’ tail. 

The description of the great ocean (the ocean of desires and illusions) was allegorical to the illusory world and all the creatures that inhabited it were symbols for various aspects of the material reality that have to be transcended to attain freedom from the illusion. I hesitate to equate that ‘freedom’ to moksha because on the other side of the ocean was the celestial horse, so the freedom that is referred to here might be freedom from the gross material reality of earth and an entry into the subtler celestial regions. This is only a hypothesis. I do not speak as an expert. Having said that, I will reach out to experts and request them to comment on the allegorical meaning of “the ocean and it’s inhabitants.” Their thoughts will appear in the comments section at the end of the post.

In this post, we will find out how Vinata became Kadru’s slave.

Meanwhile, as Vinata and Kadru crossed the great ocean, Kadru’s snake children, whom she had recently cursed, were terrified of the cruel destiny that awaited them. The snakes consulted with each other and came to the conclusion that it would be best to obey their mother. They were afraid she might completely withdraw her affection towards them if they disobeyed her, while, on the other hand, if they followed her instructions, she might be pleased and free them from the curse. Having made that decision, they turned themselves into black hair and covered the celestial horse’s tail.

After crossing the ocean (as if flying over it), the sisters came down to the place where the celestial horse stood. They saw the great steed. Its body was as white as the moon but its tail had black hair.

Kadru won the bet and her dejected sister, Vinata, was immediately enslaved.

Note: If you remember, a few posts back, we had read about how Vinata was jealous because her sister’s thousand snake children were born before her two sons. In her impatience, she had poked open one of her eggs causing her first son to be born malformed in the lower half of the body. In anger, he cursed his mother that she would become a slave. 

Coming back to the bet, we may be horrified by Kadru’s behavior. She cursed her own children with a terrible fate because they refused to participate in her deception and then she enslaved Vinata by that very deception. We aren’t privy to Kadru’s inner thoughts and what caused her to perform these adharmic actions. In all likelihood, she might have been a vicious woman and would suffer the consequences of her actions in the future, but, in the present moment, her viciousness set into motion events that were aligned with destiny. Thus the great wheel of time moved ahead bringing karmic fruit to Vinata because her son was born malformed due to her impatience. Kadru’s actions also set the stage for the snakes to suffer the karmic results of their own viciousness towards other creatures since she did not take back her curse even though they eventually obeyed her command and covered the horse’s tail with black hair.

In the next post, we will read about the greatness of Vinata’s second child – Garuda.

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Next Post: Garuda’s Splendor

Photo by Michael Krahn on Unsplash

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: The Bet Between Vinata and Kadru

Note: In the previous post, we read about Vinata and Kadru placing a bet on the color of the celestial horse’s tail. The wager was that the loser would become enslaved to the winner.

In this post, we will read about what the sisters saw as they crossed the great ocean to reach the other side where the celestial horse – Uchchaihsravas – stayed.

The great ocean represents the ocean of the illusory senses and everything that is attributed to the great ocean in this post is allegorical in nature. They represent various spiritual concepts.

After having placed a bet involving slavery, both the sisters were impatient to verify the color of Uchchaishravas’ tail. The next day, after the sun arose, Vinata and Kadru hastened to see the celestial horse from a closer distance.

On the way, they saw the vast and deep ocean that rolled with waves and roared with a tremendous sound. It was filled with massive fishes that could swallow an entire whale. It also had huge crocodiles and tortoises and thousands of water creatures of different forms. There were also large, dark, and fierce monster-shaped creatures that made crossing the ocean a scary endeavor.

The ocean was the water god, Varuna’s, home. It was also a mine of beautiful gems. 

This ocean was the lord of all rivers because every river ultimately went into the ocean. This great ocean was the residence of Nagas, an abode for the subterranean fire, and a safe place for asuras.

This ever-immutable body of water was holy, beneficial to the gods, and a great source of nectar.

They saw that this dark ocean which resounded with the terrible sound of water animals. Filled with deep whirlpools, it was a terror to all creatures, but it was also without limits, inconceivable, sacred, and immensely wonderful.

In former times, the great Govinda of immeasurable power had taken the form of a wild boar to raise the submerged earth. This had caused an immense disturbance in the ocean, whose mine of gems had also yielded Vasudeva’s great conch called Panchajanya.

It is impossible to find the bottom of this great ocean. Once Rishi Atri tried, for a hundred years, to find its bottom, but failed to do so.

When a Yuga ends, the great lotus-navaled Vishnu lays on this ocean, which becomes his bed, as he enters the state of deep sleep of spiritual meditation, called yoga nidra.

The asuras retreat into the ocean to rest after they are defeated in fierce battles, and Maunaka, afraid of the falling thunder, also takes refuge in the ocean. 

 It offers water as sacrificial butter to the blazing fire issuing from the mouth of Varava (the Ocean-mare). It is fathomless and without limits, vast and immeasurable, and the lord of rivers.

Vinata and Kadru saw that thousands of mighty rivers rushed into the ocean, and as they rushed with a proud flowing motion, it seemed like they competed with each other to enter the ocean first. 

They also noticed that this ocean was always full and it felt like it danced with its waves. They saw that the ocean was deep and was filled with fierce whales and crocodiles and resounded with the terrible sound of its creatures. They saw that this ocean – the grand reservoir of water – was vast, wide, limitless, and unfathomable like the space that fills the universe.

Note: In the next post, we will find out the color of Uchchaihsravas‘ tail and the result of the bet.

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Next Post: Vinata Becomes Kadru’s Slave

Seven-Headed Uchchaihsravas

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image of the ‘churning of the ocean’ by ‘bazaar art print’. Image credits at the end of the article.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Previous Post: The Birth of Garuda – the Serpent Eater

Note: In the previous post, we read about the birth of Garuda – the serpent eater. In this post, we will read about how the churning of the ocean, also known as Samudra Manthan, began.

Soon after Garuda’s birth, his mother (Vinata) and her sister (Kadru) saw a beautiful horse called Uchchaihsravas that had come into being when the churning of the ocean for nectar (Samudra Manthan) was performed. This divine and graceful horse was blessed with eternal youth. It was full of energy and had every auspicious mark on it. It was also worshipped by the gods.

When Sauti narrated this incident of the two women seeing Uchchaihsravas who had arisen from the Samudra Manthan, Saunaka Kulapati (the ascetic of Naimisha forest) immediately became curious to know why the Samudra Manthan had taken place and what caused such a fine horse to be born from it. He asked Sauti to go off a tangent and tell him about the Samudra Manthan first.

Sauti answered Saunaka Kulapati’s question with the following words: 

“There is a blazing and radiant mountain called Meru. The whole mountain appears golden as it reflects and disperses the sun rays that fall on its slopes. The gods and the gandharvas love spending time on this mountain.

Regular humans whose consciousness has been made heavy by the consequences of their sins cannot even approach this mountain.

Terrible wild animals roam around on this mountain, but it’s also filled with many divine, life-giving herbs. It has beautiful trees, and streams, and the entire mountain resounds with charming melodies of celestial music. 

Mount Meru is so high that it appears to be kissing the heavens.”

One day, the gods had a meeting on Mount Meru. They had performed several penances and had observed excellent vows for obtaining the amrit (celestial ambrosia). Having done what was necessary, they were now eager to receive the fruits of their penances (the amrit). 

When Narayana saw the anxious gods, he approached Brahma and said, “O Brahma, please churn the ocean with the gods and the asuras. By doing so, amrit, along with several other substances, medicines, and gems will be obtained.”

Sauti paused for a moment. After telling the ascetics in Naimisha forest about Mount Meru, the meeting of the gods, and Narayana’s words to Brahma, Sauti told the ascetics about another mountain called Mandara.

This mountain was covered with intertwining herbs and was adorned with cloud-like peaks. Dangerous animals lived on it along with countless birds who sang in beautiful melodies. Mandara mountain was often visited by gods, apsaras, kinnaras. The mountain arose for 11,000 yojanas over the earth and its base extended inside the earth for an equal distance.

Note: A yojana is a measure of distance used in ancient India, Thailand, and Myanmar. It is approximately 12-15 Kilometres.

The gods wanted to tear up Mandara and use it as a churning rod. However, being unable to tear that massive mountain from the earth, they approached Vishnu and Brahma and help.

Vishnu assigned this difficult task to the prince of the snakes – the powerful Ananta. The mighty snake succeeded in tearing up the mountain with its forests and the animals that lived on it. Having obtained the mountain, the gods decided to use it as a churning rod for churning the ocean. They, along with Ananta, approached the ocean and said, “O Ocean, we have come to churn your waters for obtaining nectar.”

The ocean replied, “Go ahead. I am capable of bearing the disturbance that the churning will cause in my waters, and I am glad, for, I too will get a share of the nectar.”

Note: Throughout the Mahabharata, you will come across these themes of ‘fair exchange’ and ‘manageable load’. The ocean agreed to the churning that would disturb its waters and cause it significant discomfort, for two reasons:
1. Because it had the capability to bear the churning. It was a manageable load.
2. Because it too would benefit by receiving a share of the amrit. It was a fair exchange.

This balance is worth keeping in mind when we are often told, under the guise of spirituality and religion, to bear unmanageable loads and give to people or circumstances who don’t appreciate us or don’t reciprocate appropriately. 

Having obtained Mount Mandara as a churning rod and permission from the ocean to perform the churning, the gods went to the king of tortoises and requested him to hold the mountain on his back. The tortoise king agreed and Indra devised a mechanism to place Mount Mandara on the tortoise’s back.

Finally, Vasuki (the mighty serpent chief) was requested to be the churning rope.

Note: You might remember Vasuki as the serpent chief who married his sister to Sage Jaratkaru.

Thus, with Mount Mandara as the rod, the tortoise king as the base, and Vasuki as the rope, the Gods and Asuras began churning the depths of the ocean for amrit.

Note: In the next post, we will read about the gods and asuras getting fatigued while churning the ocean and how they were re-energized by Vishnu.

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: The Tired Gods are Re-Energized by Narayana to Continue Churning

Image Credit:

By bazaar art print –, Public Domain,

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

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table of Contents (The Complete Mahabharata in Simple English)

Next Post: Samudra Manthan Begins