Mahābhārata – Episode 94 – The Eagle-Fox Conversation (Part 1)

This article is part 94 of 96 in the series Mahābhārata

During times of adversity, if one doesn’t despair and stands firm with determination – and added to that if he received divine grace, the adversity soon passes and he is rewarded. Long back, in Vaidiśa-nagara, a boy had died. His relatives were overcome by grief, for he was the only son in the family [who had to take forward the lineage]; drowned thus in sorrow, they took the corpse to the cemetary, placed it on their laps and wept bitterly. An eagle that came there upon hearing their cries said, “How long will you hold on to the corpse? Leave it here and return to your homes. Thousands of men and women, having fallen prey to Time, have come here in the past. Didn’t they have relatives and friends? All of them are gone. The world is such – a combination of joys and sorrows. Union and separation are always on top of each other. All the pallbearers and all those who follow the corpse until the cemetary – they are alive only until their turn is due. What is use staying longer in this terrifying graveyard? Those we love, or those we hate – everyone has to die after taking birth. After death, can anyone bring them back to life? Abandon this illusory attachment towards your child and reach your homes before it is dark.”

When they were getting ready to leave, a fox emerged from its den that was nearby; poking its nose in the matter, it said, “Oh! Look how stone-hearted these humans are! The sun is still shining. Don’t fear, Time is never constant; it keeps changing. The child might even survive, who knows! Why do you leave, abandoning your love, making your hearts into stone, and letting your child become one with the earth? Have you, who found joy in merely listening to the words uttered by your child, forsaken that love for your son? Even birds and animals have such affection and love for their offsprings! They cry out in pain if their child goes out of sight. They nourish the little ones with great love and care but get nothing in return. After it grows up will it protect its parents? At least in the world of humans, children are the caretakers of parents in this world and their refuge in the hereafter. How are you going away leaving your son, who is verily the one that will take forward your gotra? Weep as much as possible and see him to your heart’s content! Is it possible to forsake at once something that we held so dear to our hearts? Who else but near and dear ones will stand firmly with one in poverty, in a court of law, and in the cemetary? Alas! How can you just leave this lotus-eyed boy and walk away?”

Listening to these words, they stopped in their tracks. At that point, the eagle said, “Fie! You have stopped after listening to the words of this dangerous and despicable fox. Why do you weep for this corpse, bereft of life and akin to a log of wood? Look after your future; perform tapas and absolve yourselves of pāpa; what’s the point in crying? Tapas can yield wealth, cattle, gold, jewels, children, and so forth.  Joys and sorrows affect one to the extent what fate has in store for him. The father’s karma is not for the son. The son’s karma cannot be given to the father. Therefore, adhere to dharma; let go of adharma; abandon your sorrow and pity, leave the boy, and return to your homes soon; each person will reap the good and bad that he has sown, each one will receive the auspicious and inauspicious that is in store for him. What role do relatives play in that? Everyone who comes here has to leave behind his friend or relative, abandon his affection, and walk away shedding tears; whether one is wise or foolish, fortunate or poverty-stricken, ultimately all of them will fall prey to Time. What do you get by shedding tears for one who is already dead? Time is something above everyone and everything. It treats everyone equally; it is a sama-varti. Young or old, boy or girl, or a child in the womb – it looks at all in the same manner. It swallows everyone. This is the way of the world!”

The fox said, “Ah! Listening to the words of this idiotic eagle, your love that was in the grip of sorrow has become pale-faced and aloof! You set off towards the lake, speaking with each other in a peaceful manner! If you return to your house, which is empty without your son, you will surely bawl like a cow without its calf. Now I realize the extent of human sorrow. My eyes are wet with tears looking at your love and your sorrow. If you constantly, tirelessly put efforts, you will attain victory by means of divine intervention. One should never lose enthusiasm. What joy is there in apathy? This progenitor of your lineage is akin to a part of your own body; where are you going, leaving him in this forest? If the sun sets and it becomes dark, then take the boy home; or else, all of your remain here.”

The eagle said, “It has been over thousand years since I was born. In the course of this time, I’ve not seen anyone being revived after they have died. Some die in the womb. Some die as soon as they are born. Some die and fall to the ground even as they walk. Some die in the peak of their youth. All that is stationary and all that is moving has to die some day and Death is always waiting ahead for them. Those who have lost their wives, those who have lost their children, come here weeping every single day and they return. There are thousands of such people. The body of this child has hardened and become like a log of wood; the life-spirit has already reached another body. Instead of weeping for a life that is roaming about somewhere, why don’t you simply return? Your love, affection, and pride will not fulfill any purpose here. Can that boy see you now? Can he hear what you’re saying? Therefore, leave him here and return to your homes soon! On my part, in simple language I have explained with examples what should be done and what should be avoided, I have spoken words pertaining to mokṣa-dharma. Listening to those words, you must have attained the power of discernment, experiential wisdom, intelligence, and learning. Go back now!”

To be continued...

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.

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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.