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Tag: Mahabharata

Shami Tree and Vijayadashami

Today is Vijayadasami, the tenth day following the ‘Nine Nights’ or ‘Navaratri’. This was the day when Goddess Mahishasura Mardhini gained victory over the evil Asura clan, and also Rama’s victory over Ravana. The day is also considered auspicious to start new ventures and for learning.

On this day, in most parts of our country ‘Ayudha Pooja’ is done for tools of work and war, and musical instruments. They are cleaned and decorated with flowers, sandal and ‘kumkum’, and are worshipped. The Shami tree and Goddess Durga are worshipped as well, and the leaves of this tree exchanged among people.

Today’s story relates to this practice of worshipping the tools of work and the worship of the Shami tree on Vijayadashami day.

 In the Mahabharatha, as a result of the Game of Dice played between the cousins Pandavas and Kauravas, the losing side – the Pandavas – were punished to a twelve year exile in the forests, followed by one year of ‘Agyaata Vaasam’ which means living in disguise incognito. A further condition was that if any one of them were to be recognized in public during this one year, they would have to go in exile again for a period of thirteen years.

The Pandavas had to agree to this condition and they, along with Draupadi were roaming in the forests from place to place like nomads for most part of their exile. Some of their hardship was eased when they acquired the ‘Akshaya Patra’ from Lord Surya, which gave them abundant food.

Arjuna spent most of these twelve years acquiring divine weapons like the Paasupata in preparation for the Great War. But he already possessed the great bow ‘Gandeeva’, acquired from Lord Agni. It is said that even the twang of the Gandeeva when the arrows were shot was deadly. The other brothers also had weapons in which they specialized in. Yudhishtira, in addition to his bow ‘Mahendra’, was well versed in fighting with his spear. Bhima’s favourite weapon was his lethal mace and both Nakula and Sahadeva were practiced archers. Their weapons were so well known that even if the Pandavas were in disguise, they could be recognized by the weapons they held.

Now, this was a problem. According to the condition of the Game of Dice, in the thirteenth year of the Pandavas’ exile, if they were recognized, they would have to go back in exile for twelve years. So they had to plan to keep the weapons safely in some place for a year after which they could retrieve them.

Duryodhana had his spies working overtime to find out the plans of the Pandavas and was hell-bent on finding them out when they were in disguise, so that he could send them back for another round of exile into the forest.

The Pandavas had decided that they would enter the Kingdom of Matsyadesha ruled by Virata in different disguises and seek employment with the king there, but the weapons were a problem. They prayed to Lord Krishna, their friend and guide, and there he was.

“What is your worry, dear Yudhishtira?” said the Lord.

“We have decided where to go incognito, but we don’t know what to do with the weapons, dear Krishna” replied Yudhishtira.

Krishna thought for a while and advised him suitably. The Pandavas thanked him and proceeded. On their way to the kingdom of Virata, there was a forest and a burial ground which looked very eerie. There was a Shami tree near the burial ground which had thick foliage. The Shami tree is known as ‘Vanni maram’ in Tamil, ‘Banni’ in Kannada, ‘Jammi’ in Telugu and Shami in other parts of India. This tree is a very versatile tree which has many medicinal properties and serves as fuel (firewood), and the leaves, as nutritious food for livestock. Perhaps because it has so much energy, it is called ‘Vanni’. ‘Vahni’ in Sanskrit means fire.

 The Pandavas took all their weapons and bundled them up in a cloth. Arjuna then took the bundle to the top of the tree and tied it securely to the sturdy branches, which had thick foliage. The parcel resembled a corpse and looked dreadful. Being near a thick forest, there were snakes slithering up and down the tree which made it look all the more fearsome.

Yudhishtira then prayed to Goddess Durga to bless them with success during the ‘Agyaata Vaasam’ and to keep their armaments safe. He sang verses in praise of the Goddess, which has come to be known as ‘Yudhishtira Krutha Durga Stuthi’. It starts with the verse ‘Yashodha Garba Sambhootam, Narayana Vara Priyaam, Nanda Gopa Kule Jaatham, Mangalya Kula Vardhaneem’.

So ardent was his prayer, that the Goddess Durga appeared before him and answered him. She assured him that victory would be theirs and that they would not be recognized while in the kingdom of Virata. Having blessed the Pandavas thus, the Devi disappeared.

The Pandavas then disguised themselves. Yudhishtira disguised himself as Kanka, an expert in administration and in the game of dice and joined the King Virata’s court. Bhima disguised himself as Ballava and joined the king’s royal kitchen as a chef. Arjuna used a curse he had earlier begotten (but could use at his will), and transformed himself into Brihannala, the eunuch and went to teach music and dance to the ladies in the palace. Nakula, disguised as Granthika, joined as a caretaker of horses in the King’s stables. Sahadeva disguised himself as Tantipala and joined as a caretaker of the cows in the palace, and Draupadi, disguised as Sairandhri, took up a job as maid to queen Sudeshna, King Virata’s wife.

The Pandavas lived up to the disguise successfully through the year, although towards the end, Duryodhana suspected that they might be living in Virata’s kingdom since Virata’s brother in law Keechaka, was killed mysteriously. Duryodhana knew that it would take the might of a person like Bheema to kill Keechaka. The prosperity of the Virata kingdom had also increased in recent times due to the effort of Sahadeva, who was tending to cows in the palace.

 In those days the quality and quantity of the livestock, especially the cows, used to determine the prosperity of a kingdom. This was because cattle was the backbone of the economy. Agriculture was the main occupation and cow dung, cow urine and buttermilk were natural pesticides and fertilizers. Bulls were the only animals used for ploughing the land and cows were the source of milk, curd, butter and ghee apart from giving natural manure. So, whenever a kingdom was attacked, the first objective would be to drive away the cattle to the aggressor’s kingdom.

The period of ‘Agyaat Vaasam’ was coming to an end and there were only two to three weeks left for the exile to come to an end. Duryodhana was desperate to expose the disguise of the Pandavas. So after careful planning, Susharman – a king who had been constantly attacked by Keechaka – was roped in by Duryodhana to attack Virata, considering that Keechaka was dead and gone. Susharman, went with his army and started driving away herds of cattle from Virata’s kingdom to his, and this was reported to Virata. Virata immediately went to war and also took Kanka (Yudhishtra) and Ballava (Bhima) with him. Susharman attacked Virata very fiercely and almost captured him, but on the advice of Yudhishtra, Bhima (Ballava) came to the forefront and captured Susharman alive instead.

While this was going on, Duryodhana came to know that Virata was not in his palace, and went personally to attack the palace. Virata’s son Uttarakumar was there, but he had never faced war in his life and was frightened. Brihannala (Arjuna) was furious and told Uttara Kumar that he would come as his charioteer to fight Duryodhana.

Arjuna then rushed to the Shami tree and to his great relief, the parcel of weapons was intact on the branch. He paid his obeisance to the tree which had borne the weapons for a year, and retrieved his weapons, taking them back to the palace. This was the day of Dashami, after Navaratri. Uttarakumar mounted the chariot with Arjuna as his charioteer, and went out to fight with Duryodhana, but the fighting was mostly by Arjuna! When he took out the Gandeeva, Duryodhana recognized Arjuna and was momentarily ecstatic, but to his dismay, he found that the thirteen years were over one day before. He retreated hastily and the war was thus won.

 The Pandavas felt that the Shami tree had bestowed energy on the weapons and thereby they were victorious. It is said that Arjuna took a vow to worship the Shami tree every year on this day. Therefore the Shami tree is worshipped on this day and so also, all tools of work and weaponry.

There is also a belief that since ‘Vijaya’ (Arjuna was also known as Vijaya) retrieved his weapons on this Dashami day and attained ‘Vijaya’ (Victory), the day is known as Vijaya Dashami.

In some states of our country, people gift Shami leaves to each other on this day, as they believe the leaves are worth their value in gold and will bring prosperity. This practice is prevalent in Maharashtra and Karnataka, in particular.

The kings of Mysore used to take their Royal Sword in a grand procession on this day to the Shami tree which they call ‘Banni’ tree and pray to the Shami tree and the Goddess Chamundeswari (Durga). This practice is continued even now and the Dussehra procession culminates in the Banni Mantapa.

Even as I am writing this, I am witnessing the Mysuru Dusshera procession on TV!

Karna – From the Mahabharatha

Karna is a character without whom Mahabharatha would be incomplete. It is his story we are going to read now.

Lord Krishna’s father Vasudeva had a sister by name Pritha. She was a very bright, beautiful and lovely girl. Even while she was very young, her father gave her in adoption to Raja Kuntibhoja who was his nephew. Kuntibhoja was childless till then and so he adopted Pritha with great affection and took her to his kingdom. There he renamed Pritha as Kunti.

Kunti grew up to be a beautiful maiden and possessed all good qualities. Once when the sage Durvasa, who was known for his terrible temper visited Kuntibhoja’s palace, the duty of looking after the guest was assigned to the young Kunti. Kunti did her job perfectly well that the sage had no complaints during his stay and in fact, he was extremely happy and wanted to give something in reward to Kunti.

He taught Kunti some mantras, through which, he said Kunti could invoke any celestial being and beget a son.

After the sage left, Kunti was filled with the curiosity which is natural to a teenager and wanted to try out the mantra taught by Durvasa.

One day as she was witnessing the beautiful sun rising, she meditated upon Lord Surya and chanted the mantra. Lo and behold, there was a blaze of dazzling light which almost blinded her and Lord Surya appeared before her in all his grand splendour, wearing a lotus garland. Kunti was amazed and dumbfounded.

Lord Surya addressed her “You have called me O Princess and I shall give you the son you sought!”

A shocked Kunti stammered, “But…. but… I am not married yet. I was just curious to try out the mantra. What will people say if I have a child? Please, please go back O Surya Deva!”

She was in tears at her doing but Lord Surya said, “Kunti, The mantra is in control of me and once having come, I cannot go back without giving you the son you desired”

Kunti had no choice but to lament at her predicament and thus was born Karna. He was born with a celestial armour and earrings and was a beautiful child. Kunti was in a deep dilemma as she could not keep this secret for long and even to conceal the birth of the baby had been a herculean task which would have not been possible without the help of her friend and matron. With the help of the same lady, with a heavy heart, she placed the baby on a silk cloth in a bamboo basket, kept some jewels along and let the basket afloat in the mighty Ganga, which flowed beside their palace.

A sobbing Kunti returned to the palace burying the secret deep in her heart.

The baby floated in the basket and in Hastinapur, the charioteer of Dhritharashtra, by name Adhiratha was bathing in the river. He was childless and when he saw the basket with a divine looking baby floating, he was overjoyed. Taking the baby, he thanked the gods for giving him this beautiful child and took the baby home. He and his wife Radha overwhelmed by this unexpected gift, named the child Vashusena, but he was well known as Radheya, meaning the son of Radha.

After a year or two Kunti was married to the prince Pandu of Hastinapur and in course of time came to live in the palace with her five sons who she got by invoking celestial beings (Lord Yama – Yudishtira, Lord Vayu- Bhima, Lord Indra – Arjuna. Pandu’s other wife Madri who was taught this mantra by Kunti got Nakula and Sahadeva by invoking the Ashwini Devas (twins).

Karna grew up to be a valiant boy but he always yearned to find out who this heartless woman was, who had abandoned him at birth.  He also had an undying thirst to learn warfare, archery in particular. As a young boy, he approached Dronacharya in the Kuru palace, who was teaching the Pandavas and Kauravas archery.

“Accept me as your disciple O Revered One”, said he to Drona.

Drona gave him a disdainful look and said in the most harsh and unkind tone, “I do not teach boys who do not know their lineage. I teach only Kshatriyas”

Deeply hurt and extremely ashamed, his anger mounting on his heartless mother whose identity he did not know, his mind was working at the next strategy to gain knowledge. He wanted to acquire the knowledge by hook or crook and he decided to approach the teacher of Bhishma, Sage Parasurama.

Parasurama had retired. Also his hatred of Kshatriyas was well known.

Though Karna did not know that he was born a Kshatriya, he did not want to have another issue based on his lineage and this time disguised as a brahman boy and approached the sage. Parasurama believed him and accepted him as his disciple and imparted to him all the knowledge that there is to acquire on archery and warfare. In no time Karna was an expert archer, more than a match to Prince Arjuna.

Sadly, destiny was always more powerful against Karna and this time it came in the form of a wasp. One day, Sage Parasurama was taking a nap placing his head on Karna’s lap. A wasp appeared and started to sting Karna’s thigh. It started boring his thigh and blood started trickling. Even though it was extremely painful for him, Karna bore the pain, as he thought that if he moved, his teacher’s sleep would be disrupted. So, when the trickling warm blood touched the sage’s face he woke up to find Karna’s thigh bleeding profusely. Parasurama was furious.

“You have cheated me boy!” he said, his voice trembling with anger. “Only a Kshatriya will be capable of withstanding this pain and agony and you told me you are a Brahmana boy! You are not. Tell me who you are really!”

Karna stood dumbstruck rooted to the ground. He was neither a Kshatriya nor a Brahmana. He  would never be able to explain to his Guru that it did not matter who he was and all that mattered to him was the yearning for knowledge of archery and warfare.

Karna’s silence infuriated Parasurama and strengthened his suspicion.

“You have cheated your Guru and you shall suffer for that. I curse you that you will forget the knowledge you have acquired till now”

Karna, was shattered by what had happened in a few minutes. He fell at the feet of the sage and pleaded with him to revoke the curse.

Parasurama relented a bit and said, “I cannot take back a curse once I utter it. Anyhow, you will not forget the knowledge now, but only at the moment you really need it”. So saying he gave his own bow to Karna and left.

Karna was directionless. He felt as if he was abandoned in the mid sea in a boat without oars. Seething with anger at his destiny which had again been cruel to him as always, he picked up the bow and wandered aimlessly in the woods. To vent his anger, he shot an arrow without any particular aim and to his dismay, it hit a farmer’s cow and it died instantaneously.

To a shocked Karna, the farmer angrily shouted, “O young man, you have shot my cow which was vulnerable and so you shall be attacked and you shall die when you are vulnerable and helpless!”

As the farmer was grieving over his cow, Karna, wounded to the core in his heart, went back to his parents. They were as affectionate as ever and welcomed him with open arms. He did not tell them about the curses though. They were glad that he had mastered archery.

Some days later, there was a grand competition in Hastinapur between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. The princes were to showcase all that they had learnt in front of the Kuru elders who were seated in an amphitheatre.

Each of the prince had mastery over one weapon. Yudhishtira excelled with the spear, while Bhima and Duryodhana had mastered fighting with the mace. Nakula was skilled in fighting unusual weapons and Sahadeva was skilled at wielding the sword. The other princes had all mastered one weapon or the other but it was Arjuna who caught the attention of everyone. He was dazzling with his bow and arrow and the onlookers were wonderstruck at his abilities wielding the bow and arrow.

Just as the competition was about to end and Arjuna announced as the winner, Karna entered the arena. With his shining armour and princely look, he caught the attention of all and requested permission to participate in the competition and took out an arrow when Drona suddenly remembered him and shouted “Stop, young man. This is a competition for princes. We shall not allow commoners to participate in this”

Karna’s face fell. Here also destiny was playing against him. But the cunning Duryodhana saw the opportunity here to have an archer equal to Arjuna in his side  and as the competition ended, suddenly  Duryodhana called Karna and putting his hand on Karna’s shoulder announced “I am making this young man my friend and the King of Anga!”

There was a mixed feeling of shock and surprise, pleasant for some and unpleasant for some others. Kunti who was in the audience recognised Karna and was having mixed feelings. Sad for having abandoned him, happy that he had been made a prince now and worried that he had accepted Duryodhana’s friendship. But she could do nothing about it.

Years rolled on and the friendship of Duryodhana and Karna became known to everyone and both trusted and respected each other unconditionally. Being with Duryodhana and not knowing who he really was, it was natural for Karna to harbour ill feelings and hatred against the Pandavas.

After the infamous game of dice when Draupadi was dragged into the court by the order of Duryodhana, it was Karna who instigated Duryodhana to disrobe Draupadi.

Though Duryodhana gave him the status of a prince, he was still not accepted as one by the elders of the Kuru clan. Thus, when the battle of Mahabharata was to be fought, Bhishma refused to fight if Karna was made commander and Karna also resolved he would not fight till Bhishma fell in the battlefield.

Kunti was the one whose mind was in the greatest turmoil. She could not tell her five sons that Karna was their eldest brother and she did not want them to kill him and vice versa. Lord Krishna, being the all-pervading supreme power, knew this thought of Kunti and one day he approached Karna when he was alone and revealed the secret of his birth. After hearing Krishna, it was only hatred that brewed in Karna’s mind about the way his mother had abandoned him.

He told Krishna “Lord, you may say all this to protect the Pandavas, but it was Duryodhana who gave me an entity of a prince even without knowing I was one and the status and life I live now is solely due to him. I value that friendship more than the affection of this mother who has been ever ashamed of me. So I will not leave his side”

Krishna was proud that Karna was upholding his principles of gratitude and friendship and left with a smile.

Kunti’s turmoil was multiplying day after day and one day she dared to go to Karna as he was performing his morning prayers to the Sun.

Even as he knew that she was his mother, he pretended not to know anything. Kunti broke down as she told him of the events that had happened early in her life and that he was the son of Lord Surya who he worshipped daily. She pleaded with him to leave Duryodhana and join hands with the Pandavas. “My sons will be at your beck and call O Valiant one,” she said “and you shall rule the world after the war is over”.

Karna did not show any emotion. “O mother, please do not compel me to switch sides. My duty is to Duryodhana” he said calmly. “However, I shall not kill any of your sons except Arjuna. And if he kills me or I kill him, you will still be the mother of five sons. I have a request though…..”

“Tell me son, what is it?” asked a shaken Kunti.

“If I die in the hands of Arjuna, you should proclaim me as your son in public and lament keeping my head on your lap. Will you do it mother? Will I get a place on your lap at least in my death?”

Kunti broke down completely having to hear such harsh words from her first born, but could not do anything about it. She returned to the palace with a heavy heart.

Karna’s protective armour and earrings were invincible and everyone knew that he could not be killed with them on. Lord Indra who was Arjuna’s father was more worried about this.

Karna was also a known philanthropist. Every day at a certain time he would give charity to people and give them whatever they asked for. He is known as Daanveer (warrior in charity).

So, Indra, disguising himself as a commoner came to Karna as he was giving alms. When Karna asked Indra what he wanted, Indra said without a moment’s hesitation, “The armour and the earrings you are wearing”. Karna had been warned of this by Lord Surya in his dream, but still knowing that his end would be near, he took his knife and tore open the armour which was a part of his body. Though bleeding profusely, he handed them over to Indra with a calm face. Indra was stunned by this act of Karna that he blessed him that his wound would heal instantaneously and it did!

On the tenth day of the war of Mahabharata, Bhishma fell. Duryodhana proceeded to make Karna the Commander in Chief. One by one the various brave hearts of the Kaurava side were falling. Karna had encounters with all his brothers except Arjuna and true to his word he did not kill them but let them escape.

By his virtuous acts of charity, Karna had accumulated lot of blessings and positive energy which we may call punya and this was protecting him all the while. If he had to fall, he had to willingly surrender them and so Krishna went to him disguised as an old man and sought the punya as charity. Karna knew his days were doomed and the curses of his Guru and the cowherd had to come true and he whole heartedly willed that all the positive energy leave him as he granted Krishna’s wish.

The power of the mind is enormous and the day he gave up all the positive energy that he had, his bad time started and the wheel of his chariot got caught in a slushy area of the battlefield. His charioteer ditched him and as Karna was helplessly trying to retrieve the wheel out of the slush, Arjuna shot him mercilessly.

As he lay waiting for his soul to leave the body, Karna asks Krishna the reason for destiny being always against him and the reason for him to lose the affection of everyone right from his mother, his brothers to his Guru and the Kuru elders. Krishna tells him the story of his earlier life where he wore a thousand armours and was known as “Sahasra Kavach”. Just as he had accumulated lot of positive energy in this life, he had earned the wrath and negatives in his last life. He had lost nine hundred ninety nine armours and had sought refuge in Lord Surya. The one armour he was left with was the one he was born with. And there was a story why it was necessary to remove his armour before killing him.

We shall see that story of Sahasra Kavach in the next post.

After the death of Karna, Kunti true to her word rushed wailing to the battlefield and cried her heart out with his head on her lap. The shocked Pandava brothers did the last rites and paid their respects to this brother of theirs to whom destiny was always cruel.

 

 

 

 

The Story Of Tilottama

This is the story of Tilottama, who was an Apsara or celestial maiden created by Lord Brahma for a special purpose. This story is told by Sage Narada in the Mahabharata to the Pandavas.

Long long ago in the Asura clan was an Asura by name Nikhumba. Nikhumba had two sons, Sundan and Upasundan. Both looked alike and were more like twins. They shared the same interests, were equally handsome, valiant and strong. They loved each other very much and jointly decided all their activities. The younger one looked upon his brother as God and listened to whatever he said and Sundan in turn took good care of his younger brother.  Their strength was known in all the three worlds. Though they were very strong and did not have any enemies, they both had the wish to be immortal.

They had a discussion amongst themselves as to how to get this boon and from whom. After a long discussion, they decided that Lord Brahma was the easiest to please amongst the Gods and therefore, it would benefit if they did penance to attain his grace. The brothers were equally determined and strong minded and were ready to do penance for many years at a stretch. So giving the charge of the kingdom to one of the ministers, they both went to a deep jungle and started doing penance. For years they meditated without food or drink and with single minded concentration.

Seeing this, the King of Gods, Indra was jittery. He knew that his position would weaken if the brothers succeeded. So, he sent his courtesans to go and distract the brothers from succeeding. The brothers, though wary of this, did not get a wee bit distracted and continued their meditation.

Lord Brahma was pleased after a few hundred years and appeared before the brothers.

“I am pleased by your devotion” said he. “What boon do you seek?”

The brothers were equally pleased at the Lord appearing before them and said in one voice, “Lord! We wish to be immortal!”

“Immortality cannot be granted to anyone” said Brahma.” Seek something else.”

“Then, in that case” said Sundan, “please grant the boon that we should not be killed by any god or human. Death can come to us only at the hands of one another” Upasundan also nodded in agreement. Both of them were very sure that there could not be any instance where one of them would kill the other. They could not even imagine that such a thing could happen.

“Granted!” said Lord Brahma. “You will not be killed by anyone else excepting by one another”.

The asura brothers were very happy and went back with the satisfaction that they were indeed immortal!  A fight amongst themselves was not even a remote possibility according to them. They went back to their kingdom and lived happily for some years. Then life was boring with no activity. They started harassing the neighbouring kingdoms and other countries. Of course, they won the wars, killed the other kings, amassed their wealth and carried away their women. After all, no one could kill them!

The harassment continued and became their favourite pastime. The next target was Indra who had tried to distract them from pursuing their penance. They were preparing for the mega battle, when the Devas got the news and rushed to Lord Brahma.

“Lord Brahma!” they cried, “Your boon has empowered the Asura brothers to create chaos in the world and now they are going to attack us and we will not be able to kill them even if we want, due to the boon. Please help, please….”

Lord Brahma thought for a while. Yes, he had also been hearing of the unprovoked attacks and unjustified killings going on for which Sundan and Upasundan were solely responsible. But they were protected by the boon given by him and he had to provide a solution.

“Please rest assured. I will see that something is done!” said Brahma.

The gods left.

Immediately, Lord Brahma created the most beautiful woman the worlds had ever seen. He had the most beautiful things from all the worlds collected by the divine architect Vishwakarma and he incorporated the beauty of everything in each cell of the woman created by him. He named her Tilottama. “Tila” in Sanskrit is sesame seed and “Uttama” in Sanskrit means the finest or of highest quality and therefore Tilottama meant each little part of the highest quality.

True to her name, Tilottama was enchanting and extremely beautiful. Brahma looked at his marvellous creation with pride and said, “Tilottama, I have created you for a special purpose. You are going to be the main reason for the destruction of Sundan and Upasundan”. He then went on to tell her the story of the boons and the arrogant behaviour of the brothers after the boons.

“Go to their kingdom” said he. “Go and do the job you have been created for. May you win!”

Tilottama bowed to Lord Brahma and descended in the kingdom of Sundan and Upasundan. The brothers were making merry in their beautiful garden throwing a party and there was lot of music and dancing going on.

Suddenly, Sundan noticed this beautiful woman behind a tree. “Who is she?” he asked. Upasundan also asked “Who is she? I have not seen her also before!”

Tilottama came near them and said in a very sweet voice “I am Tilottama. I am on a tour to see the cities of the world and I was fascinated by the beauty of your kingdom”

“You are most welcome … “ said Sundan. “ Please stay with us and we shall give you all the comforts you need. What can I get for you? Jewels, silks, servants? Command and I shall get them for you!” he offered.

“ Wait, do not be in a hurry” said Tilottama. “Give me some time to think. I am touring the world and cannot stay in one place.”

“ Why should you tour the world when you can be my wife, O’ beautiful damsel?” said Sundan. “Marry me and I shall take you around, not only this world, but all the three worlds. Come on”

Immediately Upasundan piped in “Why do you propose brother?” he said sounding cross. “Let Tilottama decide whom to marry. Is it not Tilottama?” he asked her.

“I am hungry. Let us think of marriage later. Can I have something to eat?” Tilottama asked.

Immediately the choicest food was ordered by the brothers and Tilottama had a good meal. “I also want to dance and sing and make merry with the other ladies” she said and without waiting for their approval, she joined the other ladies who were dancing.

For the first time in his life Upasundan was annoyed at his brother. “Who is this fellow to offer to marry this beautiful woman? I am equally handsome and more than a perfect match to her beauty” thought he.

While the party was going on, both the brothers vied with each other to catch her attention. When Tilottama got an opportunity, she came to Sundan who immediately offered to marry her.

“I like you very much but your brother told me that he loves me better!” said Tilottama shyly.

“Is that so? “ asked a visibly angered Sundan. “He is blabbering nonsense. I am the elder one and I have the first right.  Just a nod from you and I shall arrange for our wedding today itself”

“Well, give me some time to decide” said Tilottama with a confused look and thereafter went to meet Upasundan.

“Come Tilottama, I have been waiting for you. I want to make you my wife. When can we marry?”, he asked expectantly.

Tilottama continuing to feign a confused look said, “Well, I also like you, but… I do not know what to do. Your elder brother told me that loves me better. He also told me that he would eliminate any one who competes with him”

Upasundan was furious. How dare Sundan talk like that? “I shall talk to him Tilottama” he said. “He cannot talk in this manner.”

“Okay, we will see” said Tilottama and moved away from the scene.

After a while the party was over and they all walked back to the palace and as soon as they reached, Sundan declared to Upasundan, “Brother, I have decided to marry Tilottama as I am the elder one”

“Do not talk nonsense!” said Upasundan. “I have already asked her hand and she told me she loved me better and we are going to marry”

“What audacity!” thundered Sundan. “Have you become so great to disobey me ? Remember I am your elder brother  and you have to obey me.”

“Not in this matter” shouted Upasundan. “She will be mine and mine alone. I will not let anyone come in between”. Saying so he went to take the hand of Tilottama, when Sundan sprang in between his brother and Tilottama and landed a blow on his brother’s shoulder.

“How dare you?” shouted Upasundan and raised his arm when Tilottama spoke.

“Please do not fight for my sake dear princes. If you both are going to fight, I shall go to Indra who is very fond of me. I cannot marry two of you. Please decide and tell me who is going to marry me.”

“Me” said both the brothers and in a split second were engaged in raining blows on each other. They fought savagely with all the weapons they could lay their hands on the onlookers in the palace were shocked as they had never seen the brothers even having a simple argument in all these years.

Soon they were rolling on the ground, punching each other and when they got up, they simultaneously pulled out their swords and exactly at the same moment cut off the other’s head.

Both the heads rolled down in two directions and the world was rid of Sundan and Upasundan.

Tilottama smiled to herself for her success and went back to Lord Brahma who congratulated her on her success and assigned her a place in the court of lord Indra.

The Story of Mars (Chevvai)

India has succeeded in the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) in the first attempt just a few days ago and it occurred to me that I should write the mythological story of Mars.

In our Puranas, it is said that once when Lord Shiva was in deep meditation, a drop of sweat from the brow of the Lord fell on the ground. It was transformed into a boy named Angarakan.

Since it fell on earth, Mother Earth known as Bhooma Devi took him and brought him up as her own son. When he was a young child, she took him to Sage Bharadwaja who took him under his tutelage and taught him all the knowledge there was to be learnt especially in the martial arts and warfare. After his learning was over Angaraka wanted to do severe penance and did penance for many years and Lord Shiva, who was pleased with his penance appeared before him and granted him the status of a planet.

Mars is known in modern times as the red planet. But amazingly, our Puranas have told this long back wherein he is called “Chevvai” which word has its origins in the word “chemmai” meaning red. Chevvai is described as being red, wearing red garland and red clothes. He is supposed to affect the blood and bone marrow of the human beings. His influence is also attributed to war or warlike situations, sibling rivalry and land dealings.

It is known that even the Romans considered Mars as the God of War and the month March is named after him. It is said that they celebrate festivals in honour of Mars. The festivals consist of mainly military activities.

Now for some interesting titbits.

In Astrology and numerology, the number nine is assigned to Mars or Chevvai. An interesting thing is that in the bloodiest war which is there in the Puranas, that is the Mahabharata war, the number 18 is predominant. 18 when added as 1+8 totals to 9.

The Mahabharata war lasted for 18 days

The Gita which was told by the Lord has 18 chapters

There were a total of 18 divisions or “akshauhinis” as there were called – 11 of the Kauravas and 7 of the Pandavas.

Each Akshauhini had chariots, elephants, horses and infantry in the ratio 1:1:3:5 and had 21870 (2+1+8+7+0=18) chariots, 21870 elephants, 65610 (6+5+6+1+0=18) horsemen and 109350(1+0+9+3+5+0=18) infantry in each Akshauhini.

 

 

Krishna To The Rescue

In the Story of Mahabharatha, the five Pandava Princes along with their wife Draupadi were banished from the kingdom to live in exile in the forest, following their defeat in a game of dice with Duryodhana.

The Princes had no other go but to undergo this punishment and were living in the jungle. They were collecting roots and fruits available to meet their food requirements but felt very bad when any guest visited them. Being used to be generous and most hospitable, they found it extremely insulting not being able to provide food for their guests.

Yudishtira used to perform many penances while in exile and after one such penance to propitiate Surya, the Sun God, Surya, pleased with his penance appeared before him with his entire glorious splendor and gifted him an “akshaya patra”. In Sanskrit, “Kshaya” means waning or declining  and when an ‘a’ is added to it means the opposite that is inexhaustible, growing etc. So the ‘patra’  (vessel) which Surya gave was capable of giving food continuously. But Surya, very well knowing their living conditions gave the ‘patra’ with another boon that the vessel would be full of food from the time the brothers or Draupadi wanted it to be, till such time Draupadi had her food and once Draupadi had her food, the vessel would be empty and after being kept away after washing would resume its duty the next day.

The Pandavas and Draupadi were extremely happy that by this boon, they could provide tasty food to their visitors who were sages, kings, noblemen and sometimes some strangers too. Such was the spirit of hospitality and the value this virtue carried. Every day the brothers would feed their guests , eat themselves and Draupadi ate last of all, almost in the evening. The vessel was washed and put away for the next day.

Things went on smoothly and the news of this reached Duryodhana the envious and wicked cousin of the Pandavas. Duryodhana had his spies planted everywhere and all the news of his five cousins was reported to him immediately. He was very much enraged, at the thought that not only the cousins were no more troubled for food, but were able to get the wholehearted blessings of all those they fed. His mind started to think of what impediment could be created to thwart this.

Much to his joy, one day the sage Durvasa came to visit him with one hundred of his disciples. Durvasa was well known for his anger and the number of curses he hurled upon the ones who had angered him. Duryodhana, who was very much aware of this trait of Durvasa, welcomed him and offered him the best hospitality ever and  after enjoying few days of this hospitality, Durvasa wanted to leave to his ashrama. He called Duryodhana and said, “Son, you have taken care of me and my disciples very well. I wish to leave  for my ashram now. But I would like to give you a boon for the excellent treatment you have given to me. Tell me, what is it that you seek?”

Duryodhana, who was waiting for this very moment, said in a very humble tone, “Sire, it is indeed my greatest fortune to have had an opportunity to serve you and your disciples and get your blessings. I wish that my Pandava cousins who are living in the jungle also get your blessings. Just as you have visited me with your disciples, please visit them also and shower your blessings. But take care to go in the late afternoon since they might have gone out in the mornings for collecting wood or hunting. This is the boon I want”

Durvasa was a bit surprised, but happy at this ‘good intention’ of Duryodhana, granted the boon. “Done” he said, and  went the next day with the same hundred disciples  to the jungle where the Pandavas where. It was late afternoon and just a while back, Draupadi had had her food and washed and kept away the ‘akshaya patra’.

The brothers, not aware of this, wholeheartedly welcomed the sage and washed his feet and  Yudishtira said, “O Holy one, you have blessed our abode with your coming. You should partake food here and give your blessings!”

“Why not?” said Durvasa, “I will certainly take food with my disciples, but I need to have a bath first. I shall go to the river nearby and have a bath and come back.” So saying, he along with his disciples, went towards the river which was nearby.

Draupadi was aghast. “What shall we do now?” she asked the brothers. “Just a while back, I had my food and washed the vessel. Now, how do we feed the sage and his disciples? If we now tell him that,  he will surely curse us out of his anger. As it is we are suffering in the  jungle and do we need the sage’s curse now?”  She was in tears and started sobbing. The brothers also realized the gravity of the situation and were in a fix, not knowing what to do. To feed one person would be possible, but to feed a hundred and one?

All of them knew that their cousin Krishna, the Lord of this Universe could alone save them from this embarrassment. They all prayed with folded hands inviting him from the bottom of their hearts and there he came, the ever delightful Krishna, with his mischievous smile.

“Draupadi” said he as soon as he came . “I am terribly hungry. I want some food immediately. Bring some, my dear sister!” The Pandavas and Draupadi were even more puzzled. What was this, the omniscient Lord was asking. They never had to spell out their difficulties to Him. He knew it all and now, he was asking them food?  The Pandavas said, “Krishna, we are in great difficulty….” He cut them short and said, “Draupadi, can you not feed a hungry being at your doorstep. You have the great ‘akshaya patra’ and yet, when I ask for food, there is so much delay… Go, bring the vessel!”

Unable to disobey his command, Draupadi brought the vessel muttering to herself, “The vessel has been washed for the day…” Krishna heard it and said, “Do not worry Draupadi, show it to me” and snatched the vessel from her. Looking inside and near the inner rim, he suddenly exclaimed, “Aha, here is a morsel of rice, and here, what is this, a bit of greens?” Draupadi  peered in to see a small morsel of rice and a wee bit of greens sticking to the rim. The vessel had not been washed completely clean. And to the surprise of the Pandavas and Draupadi, Krishna took out the morsel of rice and greens carefully and popped it into his mouth and chewed it as if he were having a mouthful. Swallowing it he said, “Hmmm.. my hunger is satiated. Bhima, I think Durvasa and his disciples are getting ready to come here. Go to the riverfront  and welcome them”. A puzzled Bhima hesitated to which Krishna said, “Go my dear Bhima, go fast!” Bhima, still puzzled rushed to the riverfront.

At the riverfront  Sage Durvasa and his disciples suddenly experienced a strange phenomenon. Their stomachs became suddenly full, as if they had eaten two full meals. Their bellies were bulging  and some of them were literally dragging themselves out of the water! “I cannot eat even one morsel of rice now !” exclaimed one . “Yes, same here!” chorused many others. They all looked pathetically at Sage Durvasa, who was also no different from them , feeling  full and satiated. All they needed was a good nap. As Durvasa said, “Let’s go away”, he saw Bhima approaching. “Hurry, hurry”, he told his disciples, “Let’s move fast!” And seeing Bhima at a distance he waved and said in a loud voice, “Thank you Bhima for your hospitality, but we are in some urgency, we shall come later some day” And raising his hands he said “My blessings are always with you” And all of them hurried away into the thick jungle.

Bhima could not understand what had happened for the sages to go away, but he and his brothers and Draupadi understood one thing clearly, that Krishna had come to their rescue!!.

Crows and Owls

This is a story from the Panchatantra about the Crows and Owls.

Long long ago in the forests of Central India there was a huge banyan tree in a place called Mahilaropya, on which a whole colony of crows lived. Their king’s name was Meghavarna. The crows had only one grievance that a pack of owls that lived in a cave on a mountain nearby had made it their habit to come in the nights and attack any crow that was sighted outside the tree. The king of the owls was Arimardana and he with his cunning army derived sadistic pleasure in simply attacking the crows which were sighted out of the tree every night.

Meghavarna was sad at losing his flock slowly like this. As a wise saying goes, anyone who neglects an enemy or disease perishes and knowing this, Meghavarna called a meeting of his senior counsel of six crows one day and asked them what should be done. “This menace is growing day by day” said he. “Tell me O wise ministers of mine, what should I do?”

The first minister suggested that compromise with the enemy was the best policy. It would allow them time to build up their resources and thereafter attack the enemy. “Bend to the enemy when he is strong; attack him when he is vulnerable. Don’t wage a war if it doesn’t bring Power, or wealth or friendship,” said he.

The second minister completely disagreed with the first and suggested that trickery would be the wisest thing to do.“Never accept peace with an enemy who is not just, for, he will break his word and stab you in the back” said he. He went on to quote the story of How Bheema killed Keechaka through trickery in the Mahabharata. He went on to say that enemies like the owls who were blinded by anger would refuse to see peace.

Meghavarna looked at his third minister who said, “My Lord, both compromise and trickery will not work out with the owls, our enemies as they are strong and wicked. The best way I feel is to go away from here on exile and wait for a long time and strike back.” He went on, “Neither peace nor bravado can subdue a strong enemy, where these two do not work flight is the best alternative.”

The fourth minister opposed all these ideas and said they should all stay in their own place and mobilize support and then attack the enemy.“A king who flees is like a cobra without fangs. A crocodile in water can haul an elephant.” He quoted this advice and said that when a crocodile goes to the land it loses all its strength and can be even chased by a dog whereas if it stayed in water it could pull in even an elephant. “So it is best to stay where we are and mobilize support instead of going on exile”.

The fifth minister agreed fully with the fourth minister and said that this was the best strategy.

Meghavarna looked at his sixth minister Sthirajeevi by name and Sthirajeevi said, “You have to practice duplicity my Lord!” Meghavarna looked puzzled as Sthirajeevi continued, “The best thing would be to gather information about our enemies, somehow befriend them and divide their clan and gradually finish them off!”

“But who will do this?” asked a startled Meghavarna. “I Will” said Sthirajeevi, and as he suddenly caught sight of a lone owl on a distant tree, whispered, “Now, in front of everyone, abuse me and peck me as if pecking me to death. The friend sitting on a tree far away will tell his king that we have fallen out with each other and I will remain here till they come in the night. I will earn their sympathy and find out about them. All of you exile to the Rishyamuka Hills and I shall meet you there later on. Come on, pounce on me, quick”

Meghavarna pounced at Sthirajeevi hurling abuses at him and started pecking him hard. All the other crows thought it was a real fight and they also started to attack Sthirajeevi when Meghavarna said aloud, “Enough my friends, Let him learn a lesson, I shall come in the morning and finish him” and they all flew away.

It was already late evening and the owls had started to come out when the lone owl went and reported what he saw, to Arimardana. Arimardana was delighted that there was a divide amongst the crows and he gave a blood curling hoot “Whoooooooa”   and flew with his ministers hoping to attack all the crows. But to their utter surprise there were no crows on the banyan tree. All they could hear was a moaning “Caw.. Caw…” from somewhere on the ground. They looked around and found Sthirajeevi. “Attack him,” cried one of the ministers of Arimardana. He was Rakthaksha, the most shrewd and cunning minister of Arimardana.

“I want to convey something to your king before you kill me,” moaned Sthirajeevi in a feeble voice. “Take me to your king.”

Arimardana came in front. “I am the king,” said he. “Who are you?”

“I am Sthirajeevi, Meghavarna’s minister. I am reduced to this state as I fought for your sake with my king.” Arimardana looked at Sthirajeevi puzzled as he continued, “I advised my king to surrender to you as I know that you owls are very powerful. But my king not only ignored my advice but attacked me left and right, leaving me here to die. Please give succour and I shall show you where the crows are once I recover.”

“Finish him my lord, with no second thought,” said Rakthaksha, “There can be nothing more foolish than pampering your enemy. Kill him in one stroke.” Arimardana looked at his second minister, Deepaksha. “I don’t agree with what Rakthaksha said. If anybody seeks a truce, he should be honoured.” said Deepaksha.

The third minister Kruraksha also agreed with Deepaksha. “Anybody seeking asylum, even if an enemy should be given succour.”

Arimardana looked at his two other ministers, Vakranasa and Prakarakarna.

Both of them said in unison, “It is indeed wise to grant asylum to this enemy of ours as he will help us in finishing their clan. We agree with Kruraksha and Deepaksha.

“So be it” said Arimardana, “take him to our fortress”, and he flew leading the group. Rakthaksha was fuming with anger at his king’s foolishness and Sthirajeevi was very happy that his plan was working well, but he pretended to be writhing in pain due to the injuries ‘inflicted’ by his flock. He also flew behind the owls. When they reached the mountain where the cave was, Arimardana said to Sthirajeevi, “ Respected Sir, Please honour me by accepting this as your home. Please stay with us inside the cave and make yourself comfortable.” Sthirajeevi replied, “O King! Thank you for your grace. I shall stay outside the cave as I am a humble servant of yours from today and I shall discharge my duties faithfully.” Seeing this fake act of Sthirajeevi, Rakthaksha was seething with anger.

True to his words, Sthirajeevi stayed outside the cave, moaning and groaning as if in great pain. Arimardana believed that Sthirajeevi was recovering very slowly and arranged to feed him with whatever they hunted at night. Sthirajeevi happily ate the food while Rakthaksha was more and more incensed day by day at this drama being enacted by Sthirajeevi.

Finally Rakthaksha could take it no more and one day, he with some of his faithful friends, told the king Arimardana that he was not willing to stay at a place where his advice was not heeded. He told him the story of the Talking Cave wherein one survives if he anticipates and averts danger. He also told the king that encouraging Sthirajeevi, would lead to the end of the owl clan and quoted the saying, “Vinaasha kale vipareetha buddhi” which meant that as one’s destruction time comes, one thinks unintelligently or the thinking becomes warped. Saying thus, Rakthaksha and his friends flew away without looking back.

Sthirajeevi was extremely happy as the one impediment in his plan had also been removed without much effort. After a few days, Sthirajeevi started bringing twigs of all sizes and putting it near the narrow entrance of the cave. To the puzzled look of the owls he gave a reply that he was building a nest for himself. The collection of twigs grew by the day and the owls were so foolish not to even notice or think that a crow would need so many twigs for a small nest.

When there were enough twigs to make a fire, Sthirajeevi, at dawn one day, flew to the Rishyamuka hills where his friends were and told them, “Come on friends, each of you pick a burning twig and fly fast with me” Accordingly, each of them picked a burning twig from the brick kilns which were being fired in the country side and flew fast with Sthirajeevi.

The owls had just returned from their night hunt and were in deep slumber. Sthirajeevi flew near the cave and dropped the burning twig on the mound of twigs collected by him. “All of you do the same,” he ordered. All the crows dropped the burning twigs as Sthirajeevi said and the mound of twigs caught fire rapidly and before the owls could realise it, they were done to death by the choking smoke.

Sthirajeevi and his friends with King Meghavarna, returned to their old Banyan tree where Meghavarna praised Sthirajeevi for being persistent in his efforts of decimating the enemy, even in the face of difficulties. He quoted the scriptures which said “It is dangerous to leave a fire unextinguished, a debt unredeemed, an enemy uncrushed and a disease untreated.”

Sthirajeevi blessed Meghavarna to rule for a long time with all virtue and gain the blessings of God. And then, the crows started living peacefully.

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