became well nigh insupportable. He said
"You know that our life depends on
Arjuna. He has been away very long, and
we have had no tidings of him. If he
should be lost to us, then neither the king
of Panchala, nor Satyaki nor even Sri
Krishna can save us, and I for one cannot
survive that loss. All this we owe to that
mad game of dice, our sorrows and
sufferings, as well as the growing strength
of our foes. To be dwelling in the forest is
not the duty enjoined on a kshatriya. We
should immediately recall Arjuna and
wage war with the sons of Dhritarashtra,
with the help of Sri Krishna. I shall be
satisfied only when the wicked Sakuni,
Karna and Duryodhana are slain. After
this clear duty is done, you may, if you
like, return to the forest and live a life of
asceticism. It is not a sin to kill by
stratagem an enemy who has resorted to
stratagem. I have heard that the Atharva
Veda has incantations, which can
compress time and reduce its span. If we
could, by such means, squeeze thirteen
years into thirteen days, we would be
perfectly justified in doing so, and you
will permit me on the fourteenth day to
Hearing these words of Bhima,
Dharmaputra affectionately embraced him
and sought to restrain his impetuosity.
"Beloved brother, as soon as the period of
thirteen years is over, Arjuna, the hero,
with the Gandiva bow, and yourself will
fight and kill Duryodhana. Be patient till
then. Duryodhana and his followers, who
are sunk in sin, cannot escape. Be assured
of it." While the sorrow-stricken brothers
were thus engaged in debate, the great
sage Brihadaswa came to the hermitage of
the Pandavas and was received with the
After a while, Yudhishthira said to him:
"Revered sage, our deceitful enemies,
drew us into this game of dice and cheated
us of our kingdom and riches, and drove
my heroic brothers, as well as Panchali
and myself, to the forest. Arjuna, who left
us a long time ago to get divine weapons,
has not returned as yet and we miss him
sorely. Will he return with divine arms?
And when will he be back? Surely never
was there in this world a man who
suffered so much sorrow as myself."
The great sage replied: "Do not let your
mind dwell on sorrow. Arjuna will return
with divine weapons and you will conquer
your enemies in the fitness of time. You
say that there is no one in this world that
is as unfortunate as you. Now, that is not
true, though everyone, tried by adversity,
is inclined to claim pre-eminence in
sorrow, because things felt are more than
things heard or seen. Have you heard of
king Nala of Nishadha? He suffered more
sorrows than yourself even in the forest.
He was deceived by Pushkara at a game
of dice. He lost his wealth and kingdom
and had to go in exile to the forest. Less
fortunate than you, he had not with him
his brothers or brahmanas. The influence
of Kali, the spirit of the dark age, deprived
him of his discrimination and good sense.
And not knowing what he was doing, he
deserted his wife who had accompanied
him, and wandered about in the forest,
solitary and almost mad. Now, compare
your state with his. You have the
company of your heroic brothers and
devoted wife and are supported by a few
learned brahmanas in your adversity.
Your mind is sound and steady. Self-pity
is natural, but you are really not so badly
The sage then narrated the life of Nala
which constitutes twenty-eight chapters of
the great epic. The sage concluded with
"O Pandava, Nala was tried by sorrows
more agonising than yours, yet he
triumphed over them all and his life ended
happily. You have the alleviations of
unclouded intellect and the society of your
nearest and dearest. You spend much of
your time in exalted contemplation of
dharma and in holy converse with
brahmanas who are learned in the Vedas
and Vedantas. Bear your trials and
tribulations with fortitude, for they are the
lot of man and not peculiar to you."
Thus did the sage Brihadaswa console
THE brahmanas, who had been with
followed him to the forest. It was difficult
to maintain such a large establishment.
Some time after Arjuna had gone on his
quest of Pasupata, a brahmana sage named
Lomasa came to the abode of the
He advised Yudhishthira to minimize his
retinue before going on pilgrimage as it
would be difficult to move freely from
place to place with a large following.
Yudhishthira, who had long felt that
difficulty, announced to his followers that
such of them, as were unaccustomed to
hardship and to hard and scanty fare and
those who had followed merely in token
of loyalty, might return to Dhritarashtra
or, if they preferred it, go to Drupada, the
King of Panchala.
Later, with a greatly reduced retinue, the
Pandavas started on a pilgrimage to holy
places, acquainting themselves with the
stories and traditions relating to each. The
story of Agastya was one such.
Agastya, it is said, once saw some
ancestral spirits dangling head down and
asked them who they were and how they
had come to be in that unpleasant plight.
They replied: "Dear child, we are your
ancestors. If you discharge not your debt
to us by marrying and begetting progeny,
there will be no one after you to offer us
oblations. We have, therefore, resorted to
this austerity, in order to persuade you to
save us from this peril."
When Agastya heard this, he decided to
The king of the country of Vidarbha was
childless and, so, careworn. He repaired to
Agastya to get his blessing. In granting
him the boon, Agastya announced that the
king would be the father of a beautiful
girl, who, he stipulated should be given in
marriage to him.
Soon the queen gave birth to a girl who
was named Lopamudra. She grew with
years into a maiden of such rare beauty
and charm that she became celebrated in
the kshatriya world. But no prince dared
to woo her for fear of Agastya.
Later, the sage Agastya came to Vidarbha
and demanded the hand of the king's
daughter. The king was reluctant to give
the delicately nurtured princess in
marriage to a sage leading the primitive
life of a forester but he also feared the
anger of the sage if he said nay, and was
plunged in sorrow.
Lopamudra, greatly concerned, discovered
the cause of her parent's unhappiness and
expressed her readiness, nay her desire, to
marry the sage.
The king was relieved, and the marriage
of Agastya and Lopamudra was celebrated
in due course. When the princess set out
to accompany the sage, he bade her give
up her costly garments and valuable
Unquestioningly Lopamudra distributed
her priceless jewels and garments amongst
her companions and attendants, and
covering herself in deerskin and garments
of bark, she joyfully accompanied the
During the time Lopamudra and Agastya
spent in tapas and meditation at
Gangadwara, a strong and abiding love
sprang up between them. For conjugal
life, Lopamudra's modesty shrank from
the lack of privacy in a forest hermitage.
And one day, with blushing and
humbleness she expressed her mind to her
She said: "My desire is that I may have
the royal bedding, the beautiful robes and
the valuable jewels I had when I was in
my father's place and that you too may
have splendid garments and ornaments.
And then we shall enjoy life to our heart's
Agastya smilingly replied: "I have neither
the wealth nor the facilities to provide
what you want. Are we not beggars living
in the forest?"
But Lopamudra knew her lord's yogic
power, and said: "Lord, you are all-
powerful by the strength of your
austerities. You can get the wealth of the
whole world in a moment if you but will."
Agastya said that no doubt that was so,
but, if he spent his austerities in gaining
things of such little moment as riches,
they would soon dwindle to nothing.
She replied: "I do not wish that. What I
desire is that you should earn in the
ordinary way sufficient wealth for us to
live in ease and comfort."
Agastya consented and set out as an
ordinary brahmana to beg of various
kings. Agastya went to a king who was
reputed to be very wealthy. The sage told
the king: "I have come in quest of wealth.
Give me what I seek, without causing any
loss or injury to others."
The king presented a true picture of the
income and expenditure of the State and
told him he was free to take what he
deemed fit. The sage found from the
accounts that there was no balance left.
The expenditure of a State turns out
always to be at least equal to its income.
This seems to have been the case in
ancient times also.
Seeing this, Agastya said: "To accept any
gift from this king, will be a hardship to
the citizens. So, I shall seek elsewhere,"
and the sage was about to leave. The king
said that he would also accompany him
and both of them went to another State
where also they found the same state of
Vyasa thus lays down and illustrates the
maxim that a king should not tax his
subjects more than necessary for rightful
public expenditure and that if one accepts
as gift anything from the public revenues,
one adds to the burden of the subjects to
Agastya thought he had better go to the
wicked asura Ilvala and try his luck.
Ilvala and his brother Vatapi cherished an
implacable hatred towards brahmanas.
They had curious plan for killing them.
Ilvala would, with effective hospitality,
invite a brahmana to a feast.
By the power of his magic he would
transform his brother Vatapi into a goat
and he would kill this pseudo-goat for
food and serve its meat to the guest. In
those days, the brahmanas used to eat
meat. The feast over, Ilvala would invoke
his brother Vatapi to come out, for he had
the art of bringing back to life those
whom he had killed.
And Vatapi, who as food had entered the
vitals of the unlucky brahmana, would
spring up sound and whole and rend his
way out with fiendish laughter, of course
killing the guest in doing so.
In this manner, many brahmanas had died.
Ilvala was very happy when he learnt that
Agastya was in the neighborhood, since
he felt that here was a good brahmana
delivered into his hands.
So, he welcomed him and prepared the
usual feast. The sage ate heartily of Vatapi
transformed into a goat, and it only
remained for Ilvala to call out Vatapi for
the rending scene. And, as usual, Ilvala
repeated the magic formula and shouted:
"Vatapi come out!"
Agastya smiled and, gently rubbing his
stomach, said: "O Vatapi, be digested in
my stomach for the peace and good of the
world." Ilvala shouted again and again in
frantic fear: "O Vatapi, come forth."
There was no response and the sage
explained the reason. Vatapi had been
digested. The trick had been tried once too
The asura bowed to Agastya and
surrendered to him the riches he sought.
Thus was the sage able to satisfy
Lopamudra's desire. Agastya asked her
what she would prefer whether ten
ordinarily good sons or one super-good
son with the strength of ten.
Lopamudra replied she would like to have
one exceptionally virtuous and learned
son. The story goes that she was blessed
with such a gifted son.
Once the Vindhyas became jealous of the
Meru Mountain and tried to grow in
stature, obstructing the sun, the moon and
the planets. Unable to prevent this danger,
the gods sought aid from Agastya. The
sage went to the Vindhya Mountain and
"Best of mountains, stop you’re growing
till I cross you on my way to the south and
return north again. After my return, you
can grow, as you like. Wait till then."
Since the Vindhya Mountain respected
Agastya, it bowed to his request.
Agastya did not return north at all, but
settled in the south and so the Vindhyas
remain arrested in growth to this day.
Such is the story as narrated in the
IT is an error to think that it is easy for a
person to lead a life of chastity if he is
brought up in complete ignorance of
sensual pleasures. Virtue guarded only by
ignorance is very insecure as illustrated by
the following story. It is told in the
Ramayana also, but not in the same detail.
Vibhandaka who was resplendent like
Brahma, the Creator, lived with his son
Rishyasringa in a forest. The latter had not
come across any mortal, man or woman,
except his father.
The country of Anga was once afflicted
with a dire famine. Crops had withered for
want of rain and men perished for lack of
food. All living things were in distress.
Romapada, the king of the country,
approached the brahmanas to advise him
of some means of saving the kingdom
The brahmanas replied: "Best of kings,
there is a young sage called Rishyasringa
who lives a life of perfect chastity. Invite
him to our kingdom. He has won the
power, by his austerities, of bringing rain
and plenty wherever he goes."
The king discussed with his courtiers the
means by which Rishyasringa could be
brought from the hermitage of the sage
Vibhandaka. In accordance with their
advice, he called together the most
charming courtesans of the city and
entrusted them with the mission of
bringing Rishyasringa to Anga.
The damsels were in a quandary. On the
one hand, they feared to disobey the king.
On the other, they also feared the sage's
wrath. Finally, they made up their minds
to go, relying on Providence to help them,
in achieving the good work of rescuing
the stricken land from famine.
They were suitably equipped for their
enterprise before being sent to the
hermitage. The leader of this band of
courtesans made a beautiful garden of a
big boat, with artificial trees and creepers,
with an imitation ashrama in the center.
She had the boat moored in the river near
courtesans visited the hermitage with
quaking hearts. Luckily for them, the sage
was not at home. Feeling that this was the
opportune moment, one of the beautiful
damsels went to the sage's son.
She thus addressed Rishyasringa: "Great
sage, are you well? Have you sufficient
roots and fruits? Are the penances of the
rishis of the
satisfactorily? Is your father's glory
constantly growing? Is your own study of
the Vedas progressing?" This was how
rishis used to accost one another in those
The youthful anchorite had never before
seen such a beautiful human form or heard
such a sweet voice.
The instinctive yearning for society,
especially of the opposite sex, though he
had never seen a woman before, began to
work on his mind from the moment he
beheld that graceful form.
He thought that she was a young sage like
himself, and felt a strange irrepressible joy
surging up in his soul. He answered,
fixing eyes on his interlocutor:
"You seem to be a bright brahmacharin.
Who are you? I bow to you. Where is
your hermitage? What are the austerities
you are practising?" and he rendered her
the customary offerings.
She said to him: "At a distance of three
yojanas from here is my ashrama. I have
brought fruits for you. I am not fit to
receive your prostration, but I shall return
your greetings and salutation in the way
customary with us." She embraced him
warmly, fed him with the sweets she had
brought, decorated him with perfumed
garlands, and served him with drinks.
She embraced him again, saying that that
was their way of salutation to honored
guests. He thought it a very agreeable
Shortly after, fearing the return of the sage
Vibhandaka, the courtesan took her leave
of Rishyasringa saying it was time for her
to perform the agnihotra sacrifice and
gently slipped out of the hermitage.
When Vibhandaka returned to the
hermitage, he was shocked to see the
place so untidy with sweet meats scattered
all over, for the hermitage had not been
cleansed. The shrubs and creepers looked
draggled and untidy.
His son's face had not its usual lustre but
seemed clouded and disturbed as by a
storm of passion. The usual simple duties
of the hermitage had been neglected.
Vibhandaka was troubled and asked his
son: "Dear boy, why have you not yet
gathered the sacred firewood? Who has
broken these nice plants and shrubs? Has
the cow been milked? Has anyone been
here to serve you? Who gave you this
strange garland? Why do you appear
The simple and ingenuous Rishyasringa
replied: "A brahmacharin of wonderful
form was here. I cannot describe his
brightness and beauty or the sweetness of
his voice. My inner being has been filled
with indescribable happiness and affection
by listening to his voice and looking at his
eyes. When he embraced me, which it
seems is his customary greeting, I
experienced a joy which I have never felt
before, no, not even when eating the
sweetest fruits," and then he described to
his father the form, beauty and the doings
of his fair visitor.
Rishyasringa added wistfully: "My body
seems to burn with desire for the company
of that brahmacharin and I should like to
go and find him and bring him here
somehow. How can I give you any idea
about his devotion and brightness? My
heart pants to see him."
When Rishyasringa had thus brokenly
expressed yearnings and disturbances to
which he had hitherto been a stranger,
Vibhandaka knew what had occurred. He
said: "Child, this was no brahmacharin
that you saw, but a malignant demon who
sought, as demons do, to beguile us and
hinder our penances and austerities. They
take recourse to many kinds of tricks and
stratagems for the purpose. Do not let
them come near you."
After that Vibhandaka searched in vain
for three days in the forest to find out the
wretches who had done this injury, and
returned baffled it his purpose.
On another occasion, when Vibhandaka
had gone out of the hermitage to bring
roots and fruits, the courtesan again came
softly to the place where Rishyasringa
was seated. As soon as he saw her at a
distance, Rishyasringa jumped up and ran
to greet her gushingly, as pent up water
surges out of a reservoir that has sprung a
Even without waiting for prompting this
time, Rishyasringa went near her and after
the customary salutation said: "O shining
brahmacharin, before my father returns let
us go to your hermitage."
This was just what she had hoped and
worked for. And together they entered the
boat, which had been made to look like a
hermitage. As soon as the young sage had
entered, the boat was freed from its
moorings and floated easily down with its
welcome freight to the kingdom of Anga.
As might be expected, the young sage had
a pleasant and interesting journey and
when he reached Anga, he certainly knew
more about the world and its ways than he
had done in the forest.
The coming of Rishyasringa delighted
Romapada infinitely and he took his
welcome guest to the luxuriously provided
inner apartments specially prepared for
As foretold by the brahmanas, rain began
to pour the instant Rishyasringa set his
foot in the country. The rivers and the
lakes were full and the people rejoiced.
Romapada gave his daughter Shanta in
marriage to Rishyasringa.
Though all ended as he had planned, the
king was uneasy in his mind, for he was
afraid that Vibhandaka might come in
search of his son and pronounce a curse
So, he sought to mollify Vibhandaka by
lining the route he would take with cattle
and kind and by instructing the cowherds
in charge to say that they were
Rishyasringa's servants and had come to
welcome and honor their master's father
and place themselves at his service.
Not finding his son anywhere in the
hermitage, the enraged Vibhandaka
thought that this might be the work of the
king of Anga.
He crossed intervening rivers and villages
and marched to the capital of the king as if
to burn him in his anger. But as at each
stage of the journey he saw magnificent
cattle which belonged to his son and was
respectfully welcomed by his son's
servants, his angry mood passed gradually
as he approached the capital.
When he came to the capital, he was
received with great honor and taken to the
king's palace where he saw his son sitting
in state like the king of the gods in
heaven. He saw by his side his wife, the
princess Shanta, whose great beauty
soothed and pleased him.
Vibhandaka blessed the king. He laid this
injunction on his son: "Do all that will
please this king. After the birth of a son,
come and join me in the forest."
Rishyasringa did as his father bade him.
Lomasa concluded the story with these
words addressed to Yudhishthira: "Like
Damayanti and Nala, Sita and Rama,
Arundhati and Vasishtha, Lopamudra and
Agastya, and Draupadi and yourself,
Shanta and Rishyasringa repaired to the
forest in the fullness of time and spent
their lives in mutual love and the worship
of God. This is the hermitage where
Rishyasringa. lived. Bathe in these waters
and be purified." The Pandavas bathed
there and performed their devotions.
33. FRUITLESS PENANCE
IN the course of their wanderings, the
Pandavas reached the hermitage of
Raibhya on the banks of the Ganga.
Lomasa told them the story of the place:
"This is the ghat where Bharata, the son of
Dasaratha, bathed. These waters cleansed
Indra of the sin of killing Vritra unfairly.
Here also Sanatkumara became one with
God. Aditi, the mother of the gods,
offered oblations on this mountain and
prayed to be blessed with a son. O
Yudhishthira, ascend this holy mountain
and the misfortunes, which have cast a
cloud on your life, will vanish. Anger and
passion will be washed off if you bathe in
the running waters of this river."
Then Lomasa expatiated in greater detail
on the sanctity of the place.
He began the story thus: "Yavakrida, the
son of a sage, met with destruction in this
He continued: "There lived in their
hermitages two eminent brahmanas,
named Bharadwaja and Raibhya, who
were dear friends. Raibhya and his two
sons, Paravasu and Arvavasu, learnt the
Vedas and became famed scholars.
Bharadwaja devoted himself wholly to the
worship of God. He had a son named
Yavakrida who saw with jealousy and
hatred that the brahmanas did not respect
his ascetic father as they did the learned
Raibhya. Yavakrida practised hard
penance to gain the grace of Indra. He
tortured his body with austerities and thus
awakened the compassion of Indra, who
appeared and asked him why he so
mortified his flesh."
Yavakrida replied: "I wish to be more
learned in the Vedas than any has ever
been before. I wish to be a great scholar. I
am performing these austerities to realise
that desire. It takes a long time and
involves much hardship to learn the Vedas
from a teacher. I am practising austerities
to acquire that knowledge directly. Bless
Indra smiled and said: "O brahmana, you
are on the wrong path. Return home, seek
a proper preceptor and learn the Vedas
from him. Austerity is not the way to
learning. The path is study and study
alone." With these words Indra vanished.
But the son of Bharadwaja would not give
He pursued his course of austerities with
even greater rigor, to the horror and the
distress of the gods. Indra again
manifested himself before Yavakrida and
warned him again:
"You have taken the wrong path to
acquire knowledge. You can acquire
knowledge only by study. Your father
learnt the Vedas by patient study and so
can you. Go and study the Vedas. Desist
from this vain mortification of the body."
Yavakrida did not heed even this second
warning of Indra and announced defiantly
that if his prayer were not granted, he
would cut off his limbs one by one and
offer them as oblations to the fire. No, he
would never give up.
He continued his penance. One morning,
during his austerities, when he went to
bathe in the Ganga, be saw a gaunt old
brahmana on the bank, laboriously
throwing handfuls of sand into the water.
Yavakrida asked: "Old man, what are you
doing?" The old man replied: "I am going
to build a dam across this river. When,
with handful after handful, I have built a
dam of sand here, people can cross the
river with ease. See how very difficult it is
at present to cross it. Useful work, isn't
Yavakrida laughed and said: "What a fool
you must be to think you can build a dam
across this mighty river with your silly
handfuls of sand! Arise and take to some
more useful work."
The old man said: "Is my project more
foolish than yours of mastering the Vedas
not by study but by austerities?"
Yavakrida now knew that the old man was
Indra. More humble this time, Yavakrida
earnestly begged Indra to grant him
learning as a personal boon.
Indra blessed, and comforted Yavakrida
with the following words:
"Well, I grant you the boon you seek. Go
and study the Vedas; you will become
34. YAVAKRIDA'S END
YAVAKRIDA studied the Vedas and
became learned. He grew vain with the
thought that he had acquired the
knowledge of the Vedas through the boon
of Indra and not through human tutelage.
Bharadwaja did not like this and feared
that his son might ruin himself by
slighting Raibhya. He thought it necessary
to warm him. "The gods," he said, "grant
boons to foolish people who persistently
practise penances, as intoxicants are sold
to fools for money. They lead to loss of
self-control, and this leads to the warping
of the mind and utter destruction." He
illustrated his advice by the ancient tale,
which is given below.
In olden times there was a celebrated sage
named Baladhi. He had a son whose
untimely death plunged him into grief. So,
be practised rigorous penance to get a son
who would never meet with death.
The gods told the sage that this could
never be, for the human race was
necessarily mortal, and there need must be
a limit to human life. They asked him to
name his own limit.
The sage replied: "In that case grant that
the life of my son may persist as long as
that mountain lasts." The boon was
granted to him and he was duly blessed
with a son named Medhavi.
Medhavi grew conceited at the thought
that he was safe from death forever, since
he would live as long as the mountain
existed, and he behaved with arrogance
One day, this vain man showed disrespect
to a great sage named Dhanushaksha. At
once that sage cursed that he might be
turned to ashes, but the curse took no
effect on Medhavi who remained in
Seeing this, the high-souled sage was
puzzled and then remembered the gift
Medhavi had been endowed with at birth.
Dhanushaksha took the form of a wild
buffalo and by the power of his penances
butted at the mountain and broke it to
pieces and Medhavi fell down dead.
Bharadwaja concluded the story with this
solemn warning to his son: "Learn
wisdom from this old story. Be not ruined
by vanity. Cultivate self-restraint. Do not
transgress the limits of good conduct and
do not be disrespectful to the great
It was springtime. The trees and creepers
were beautiful with flowers and the whole
forest was gorgeous with color and sweet
with the song of birds.
The very earth seemed to be under the
spell of the god of love. Paravasu's wife
was strolling alone in the garden near the
hermitage of Raibhya. She appeared more
than human, in the sweet union in her of
beauty, courage and purity.
At that time Yavakrida came there and
was so overwhelmed by her loveliness
that he completely lost his sense and self-
control and became as a ravening beast
He accosted her and taking brutal
advantage of her fear and shame and
bewilderment, he dragged her to a lonely
pot and violated her person.
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