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

This article is part 103 of 112 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.




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.



Arjun is a writer, translator, engineer, and enjoys composing poems. He is well-versed in Sanskrit, Kannada, English, Greek, and German languages. His research interests lie in comparative aesthetics of classical Greek and Sanskrit literature. He has deep interest in the theatre arts and music. Arjun has (co-) translated the works of AR Krishna Shastri, DV Gundappa, Dr. SL Bhyrappa, Dr. SR Ramaswamy and Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh


Hari is a writer, translator, editor, violinist, and designer with a deep interest in philosophy, education pedagogy design, literature, and films. He has (co-)written/translated and (co-)edited 35+ books, mostly related to Indian culture. He serves on the advisory board of a few educational institutions.

Prekshaa Publications

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fourth volume, some character sketches of the Dewans of Mysore preceded by an account of the political framework of the State before Independence and followed by a review of the political conditions of the State after 1940. These remarkable leaders of Mysore lived in a period that spans from the mid-nineteenth century to the...

Bharatiya Kavya-mimamseya Hinnele is a monograph on Indian Aesthetics by Mahamahopadhyaya N. Ranganatha Sharma. The book discusses the history and significance of concepts pivotal to Indian literary theory. It is equally useful to the learned and the laity.

Sahitya-samhite is a collection of literary essays in Kannada. The book discusses aestheticians such as Ananda-vardhana and Rajashekhara; Sanskrit scholars such as Mena Ramakrishna Bhat, Sridhar Bhaskar Varnekar and K S Arjunwadkar; and Kannada litterateurs such as DVG, S L Bhyrappa and S R Ramaswamy. It has a foreword by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective to every discussion. These essays deal with the philosophy, history, aesthetics, and practice of...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...