Mahābhārata – Episode 103 – Aśvamedha-yāga and the Mongoose Story

This article is part 103 of 109 in the series Mahābhārata

Dharmarāja went to the Himalayas with his younger bothers and gathered the ingredients required for the Aśvamedha-yāga. He also found large quantities of wealth there. He got them loaded on to the backs of elephants and camels and got his servants bring them to the capital city. Days rolled on and the day of the yāga came closer. Kṛṣṇa came to Hastinagara with his sister Subhadrā, brother Balarāma and several other Yādavas. Uttarā gave birth to a baby boy when Kṛṣṇa was in Hastināpura. Just as was expected, the baby was born dead. Everyone in the family was thrilled as there was a newborn in the lineage, but their pleasure was short lived. The baby was dead the next moment because of the effect of the arrow hurled on it by Aśvatthāma. Kuntī, Draupadī, Subhadrā and all others present there begged Kṛṣṇa to bring it back to life – “Kṛṣṇa! You had promised us that you would bring the baby back to life if he was found to be lifeless at birth. If you bring it back to life, we will all survive. All our lives reside in that baby now!”

Kṛṣṇa then said – “If it is true that I have never lied in the past even for fun and if I have never stepped back on the battlefield, may be baby get back its life. Dharma and brāhmaṇas have always been dear to me. If Dharma and Satya are still residing in me, may this baby come back to life!” He touched it from its feet until its head. The next moment the baby started breathing. As the baby was born after everyone belonging to the Kuru lineage had examined it, it came to be called ‘Parikshit’.

All preparations were done for conducting the yajña. They let a horse free to roam around. Arjuna went behind the horse as its main guardian. Dharmarāja took up the dīkṣā. Arjuna won over the provinces of Tirgarta, Prāgjyotiṣa and Sindhu and went ahead to Maṇalūrapura. Babhruvāhana who was ruling Maṇalūrapura was the son of Arjuna through Citrāṅgadaa. He welcomed his father with reverence and did not capture the Aśvamedha horse. Arjuna was not happy because of this. He said “If I had come here without carrying weapons, then all the respect you have displayed would have been relevant. I have come here, prepared for a war. It is right for you to welcome me in a peaceful manner? This isn’t the dharma of the Kṣatriyas!” Upon hearing this, Ulūpī, Arjuna's wife from the Nāga clan came out from the earth. She looked at her step-son who stood there with his head bent down and said “Dear child! Go, fight Arjuna! He will be pleased if you do so”. Inspired by her words, Babhruvāhana captured the horse and instigated Arjuna to fight with him. Arjuna was happy looking at the valour displayed by his son. Babhruvāhana, out of his juvenile enthusiasm shot an arrow at Arjuna’s chest who fell to the ground losing his consciousness. Babhruvāhana too fainted, as he was tired due to constant fighting. Citrāṅgada who came to know of this rushed to the battlefield. She was heart-broken seeing both her husband and son fallen unconscious there. She reprimanded Ulūpī – “It is only because of you that all this happened!”

In the meantime, Babhruvāhana regained consciousness and saw that his mother was crying next to his father’s motionless body! He was deeply saddened because of this. He even got scared thinking that he might have killed his father. He decided that he too would end his life if Arjuna had been killed. Ulūpī then thought of the Sañjīvini-maṇi and the next moment it was in her palm. She gave it to Babhruvāhana and said – “Please place this on your father’s chest. He will regain consciousness. You did not kill him. He came here only to see your fighting skills. I knew this very well and that is why I instigated you to fight!”

Arjuna woke up as the Sañjīvini gem touched him. “This is the prāyaścitta you have undergone for having killed Bhīṣma. If not, you would have gone down an ugly path after-life” Ulūpī variously consoled him.

Thereafter, Arjuna left from the place and went through the provinces of Cedi, Kāśi, Kosala and Gāndhāra. He defeated the kings of those regions, gathered the tribute they offered and returned to Hastināpura.

The yāga was performed with a great deal of celebration. Kings and guests were provided with great hospitality. There were heaps and heaps of rice, jars filled with ghee, streams of sweet liquid and lakes filled with liquor and other drinks. The quantity of food served there was unmatched. People from all over the country spoke about the great yāga. Dharmarāja donated huge amounts of money and gems to everyone who attended the event. He got rid of his pāpa by performing the yāga and then entered the city.

Something strange took place at the end of the yajña. All the guests were satisfied with the proceedings of the yajña and were contented with the gifts they had received. All of a sudden, a mongoose came out from a hole. Half of its body from the head to the tip of its tail was golden. It cried out loud and sounded like thunder. Then, it started speaking in a human-like voice –

“Dear Kings! The yajña that has just been performed cannot match the dāna of a handful of flour that this brāhmaṇa did in the past!”

The people assembled there asked him who he was and what was the story. The mongoose started narrating its tale:

There once lived a brāhmaṇa who made a living by collecting nuts and beans in the Kurukṣetra region (This sort of living is called ‘ūñca-vṛtti’). He lived with his wife, son and daughter-in-law. Once, he was not able to find any nuts fallen around which he could pick up. He returned home empty-handed. There was no food at home and his family had to starve on the particular day. The next day, he roamed around many places and finally managed to collect some amount of barley flour. He handed it over to his family, got a meal cooked and as they sat down to have their meal, a guest appeared at their doorstep. The brāhmaṇa welcomed him, offered him water and gave him his share of the flour. As the guest was very hungry, the food offered to him was not sufficient. The brāhmaṇa host then requested his wife to offer her share. That did not suffice either. He served the guest with the share of his son and daughter-in-law. With this, the guest’s hunger was satiated. Though the man of the house was sad that he had to snatch away the share of the food that was meant for his family, none of his family members seemed to brother about it. They were all happy that their guest was now contented.

The guest then said – “Sir! The dāna that you have made is of the best kind. You have offered whatever you had earned in a dhārmic manner. Your forefathers will be rightly rewarded because of your good deeds. The devatās too are happy because of the tapas you have performed. Hunger hampers the intellect and can prove to be a hinderance to dhārmic thoughts. Wisdom is lost and courage is weakened. Conquering hunger is like conquering the heavens. You hardly cared for your own comfort and even did away with the comfort of your beloved ones for the sake of dharma. You considered dharma to be the supreme value and performed this dāna. A person who donates to the right person at the right time will certainly reach svarga. The quantity donated does not matter and it is only the feeling with which dāna is performed that matters the most. It is said that even if a drop of water is offered with pure heart to a person in need, the donor will reach the heavens. The small courtesies and little deeds of goodness that a man performs during his lifetime win the heart of (Yama) Dharma. Your today’s donation cannot be matched by kings who perform Rājasūya and Ashvamedha yāgas. You are going to reach the Brahmaloka just because of the handful of flour that you donated today. Look there! The vimāna has arrived. All of you go, board it!”

After they all flew away, I came out of my burrow. My body came in contact with the left over flour that was fallen there and because of that, my head and half my body turned golden. With the wish to make the remaining part of my body golden, I have been roaming several tapovanas and am present at all yajñas and yāgas. I heard that Dharmarāja was performing a yajña and came here with much enthusiasm. My body, however, did not turn golden. It is for this reason that I have stated that this yajña is not equivalent to the daana offered by the brāhmaṇa back then.”  With these words, the mongoose left the place.

Vaiśampāyana who was narrating all this to Janamejaya added -  “Agastya won the goodwill of Indra merely by performing Dhyāna-yajña. Non-violence, contentment, honesty, good character, sincerity and steadfastness – these are the best of virtues.”

 

This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form.

The original Kannada version of Vacanabhārata is available for free online reading here. To read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri, click here.


 

Author(s)

About:

Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

Translator(s)

About:

Arjun is a poet, translator, engineer, and musician. He is a polyglot, well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, Hindi, English, Greek, and German. He currently serves as Assistant Professor at Amrita Darshanam - International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Bangalore. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.

About:

Hari is a writer, translator, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in Vedanta, Carnatic music, education pedagogy design, and literature. He has worked on books like The New Bhagavad-Gita, Your Dharma and Mine, Srishti, and Foggy Fool's Farrago.

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