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The Curse On King Dasaratha

This is a story from the Valmiki Ramayana.

Dasaratha, who was the emperor of Kosala, died a painful death separated from his four sons- Rama, Lakshmana, Bharata and Shatrugna. It is indeed ironic that a powerful emperor who had not one, but four valiant, handsome and righteous sons, did not have even one of them near him, while he passed away.

On the sixth night after Rama left Ayodhya, the devastated King Dasaratha could not have a wink of sleep. It was past midnight and the King lay wide awake, his heart full of grief at the injustice he had done to his beloved Rama. His mind was looking back at all the events in his life and he suddenly remembered this incident. He asked Kausalya to come nearer and started narrating the incident to her.Dasaratha said, “When a person does good things, he reaps good things and the same way, when he does bad things, he reaps its effect. By the time one realises this principle, it is too late to make amends. I am also a victim of this cycle and I want to relate to you an incident which happened when I was a young prince.” Dasaratha then shared his story with Kausalya.

When Dasaratha was a young prince, he was a master archer and had learnt a difficult technique in archery by name “Shabdavedi”. By mastering Shabdavedi, he could, by listening to the sound made by any animal, kill it with his arrow aimed from a distance. Dasaratha was very proud of his achievement and it helped him in his hunting.

One day during the rainy season, Dasaratha went to the banks of the Sarayu, to hunt. It was raining and it was exciting for him to hunt in the rain. As he stood near the Sarayu, he could hear the noise made by an elephant drinking water with its trunk. Since Dasaratha was well versed in Shabdavedi, he shot an arrow in the direction from which the sound came. After a moment, much to the dismay of Dasaratha, a human voice cried in pain and someone said, “Who has done me to death? Why should I be hunted like an animal? Who is this shameless man who has done this heinous crime?” A horrified Dasaratha rushed to the spot to see a young man lying along the banks of the river, with mud and blood smeared on his body. Beside him was a pot half filled with water.

Dasaratha at once realised the grave mistake he had committed. He had mistaken the sound of the pot being filled up with the river water to be that of an elephant drinking water. The young man looked at Dasaratha and said, “You are a prince! And yet, you have hunted me like an animal? I was going to carry water to my old parents who are both blind. They are totally dependent on me and now you have hunted me, who was their only support….” Shravan Kumar, the young man, was now speaking with great difficulty due to the pain he was suffering on account of the arrow which was embedded on his chest. He continued, “My parents will be helpless without me and they do not even know that I am dying.” Shravan stopped talking, writhing in pain. Dasaratha, overcome with emotion, fell at the feet of the young man pleading with him to be forgiven.

The man could not be pacified and after a while, told Dasaratha to take the pot full of water to his parents who were waiting with thirst at the ashrama which was some distance away from the river. He also said, “O Prince! Please tell my father what you have done and please ask for forgiveness as he may curse you in his anger. Please also remove this arrow from my chest so that I may die in peace.” A reluctant Dasaratha obeyed Shravan and removed the arrow from his chest after which Shravan died almost immediately. Then, with a heavy heart, he proceeded to the ashrama with the pot of water in his hands.

The old couple were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their son at the doorway of the ashrama. Hearing Dasaratha’s footsteps, they were impatient as their son had gone a long time back to fetch them water. So, mistaking Dasaratha for Shravan, they called out to him in endearing words to give them water without delay.

Dasaratha, mustering enough courage, broke the tragic news to them. The couple were shocked beyond words. After a long moment of silence, Shravan’s father spoke, “If you hadn’t admitted your guilt, my anger would have caused your head to explode. Lead us to our son.”

Dasaratha witnessed heart-rending scenes as the couple mourned their son and performed his last rites. Still unable to reconcile with what had happened, Shravan’s father turned to Dasaratha and cursed him, “I’m suffering the pain of separation from my son on account of your thoughtless action! I CURSE YOU THEREFORE TO SUFFER A DEATH SIMILAR TO MINE! YOU WILL DIE WHEN YOUR SON IS SEPERATED FROM YOU!!” Saying thus, the couple entered the fire which had been created for the last rites of their son.

As he ended the story, Dasaratha’s eyes were flowing with tears. Kausalya too wept as she was too stunned to react. Dasaratha lay,lamenting his fate, and his life ebbed out that tragic night. The Sun of the Ikshwaku clan had set.

This is the story of The Curse On Dasaratha.

The Story Of How Tirugnanasambandar Revived Poompavai

In the present day Mylapore (in Chennai), there lived a merchant by name Shivanesan during the period of Tirugnanasambandar (7th Century AD). Shivanesan was a prosperous merchant who owned ships and traded in gold and precious gems. He was a devotee of Lord Shiva and greatly revered all Shaivite saints, especially  Tirugnanasambandar about whom he had heard a lot. (You can read the story of how  Tirugnanasambandar was blessed by Lord Shiva here.)

Shivanesan had a daughter by name Poompavai. She had been born to him after years of penance and therefore he loved her very dearly. Poompavai was an icon of beauty with eyes of a doe, thick, black and curly hair, a broad forehead and a charming face. Since Shivanesan had heard the greatness of  Tirugnanasambandar so much, he had decided to give his daughter’s hand in marriage to  Tirugnanasambandar only and had also publicly announced so even without meeting Sambandar in person, even once.

One day, Poompavai , when she was twelve years old, had gone to play in the garden with her friends. Unfortunately, there, she was bitten by a poisonous snake, when she was plucking jasmine flowers and the poison caused her to swoon immediately. Her friends rushed in carrying her. Shivanesan immediately summoned the best doctors but his efforts were of no avail. Poompavai died shortly thereafter. Shivanesan and his family were totally shattered by this incident. Shivanesan was so attached to his daughter that even after her death, he announced that if anyone could revive his daughter he would gift all his wealth to them. In the three days following her death, many magicians and reputed physicians came and tried their luck but their efforts bore no fruit.

Then Shivanesan consoled himself that since he had already decided to give her to Tirugnanasambandar, he would mourn no more. So after her cremation, he collected her bones and ashes and placed them in an urn made of clay. He decorated the urn with sandal, jewellery and flowers and silks and placed it on the bed of her room . He offered rice and milk every day to the urn and also kept an attendant in the room for the urn, treating it as his daughter herself.

Years passed and one day Shivanesan heard that Tirugnanasambandar was visiting Tiruvotriyur which is in the north of today’s Chennai. Shivanesan arranged a floral pandal all the way from Tiruvotriyur to Mylapore and went with his assistants to request Tirugnanasambandar to come to Mylapore. Coincidentally, Sambandar was leaving from Tiruvotriyur to visit Mylapore to have darshan of Lord Kapaleeshwara. Shivanesan gladly accompanied the saint to Mylapore.

On the way, some of Shivanesan’s assistants told the saint about the incident that had happened concerning Poompavai. Sambandar smiled but did not say anything. The entourage of Sambandar accompanied by Shivanesan and his men went to the Kapaleeshwara temple and had darshan of the Lord. After that when they came out of the temple, Tirugnanasambandar turned to Shivanesan and said, “ Please bring the urn in which you have placed your daughter’s remains to the entrance of this temple, which is the abode of the Lord who dances in cremation grounds ” .

Shivanesan, was greatly pleased and after bowing to Sambandar, went home, and brought the urn in a palanquin, accompanied by his daughter’s friends and placed it where Sambandar told him to. Meanwhile lot of crowd had gathered in curiosity to see what was going to happen.

Sambandar looked intently at the urn for some time meditating upon the Lord Shiva. Then, he called out her name and started to sing the hymn starting with the words “Mattitta Punnai” . He sang ten hymns and in each hymn, the first three lines would describe the various festivals of Kapaleeshwara temple and the beauty of the Lord and the last line said “Is it fair for you to have gone away without seeing all this, Poompavai?”

The divine hymns had a marvellous effect. As he sang the tenth hymn “Urinchaya Vaazhkai”, the urn broke open and Poompavai appeared, as grown up as she would have been if she would have been alive. She appeared like a goddess, extremely beautiful with no trace of anything having happened.

All the people were overwhelmed and uttered “Hara Hara , Hara Hara” marvelling at the grace of the Lord Kapaleeshwara. Poompavai , walking gracefully came and bowed to Tirugnanasambandar praying to him. Sambandar turned to Shivanesan and told him to take his daughter home. Shivanesan, bowing to the saint said,” Sir, I have vowed to get my daughter married to you and request you to please accept her hand”.  Sambandar looked at him and said, “Your daughter died of a snake bite. Due to the grace of the Lord, she got her life back for which I have been an instrument in the hands of the Lord and it is not proper for me to marry her (for he was like a father to her now) . She is now the daughter of Lord Shiva. Hence, it is not appropriate for you to speak thus”

Shivanesan and his family were not at all convinced and fell at the feet of Sambandar to accept their request. But Sambandar consoled them with quotes and advices from the ancient texts and took leave of them and went his way.

Eventually Shivanesan gave up his idea, but thought that since he had mentally given away his daughter to Sambandar, he could never accept anyone else as his son-in-law. Poompavai also thought exactly the same way and spent her life as a spinster indulging in devotion to Lord Shiva.

This is the story of how Tirugnanasambandar revived Poompavai from death.

Interestingly , the songs sung in this set (Padhigam) about 1300 years ago, (Sambandar’s period is said to be 7th century AD), mentions Aippasi Onam, Karthikai Deepam, Margazhi Tiruvadirai, Thai Poosam, Masi Magam (bathing in sea), Panguni Uthiram, and the Pavitrotsavam and Tirukkalyanam festivals. This, as a form of recorded history, shows how ancient these festivals are which are being still celebrated today in Kapaleeshwara Temple!!

Shambho Mahadeva!!

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