Category Archives: Traditional Tales

Krishna Avatar – Part 17

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Having just married Kunti, Pandu went to war, conquering or allying with many kingdoms in the name of Hastinapura.  When he approached the Madra Kingdom, he found a huge army awaiting him.  During the battle, he saw King Shalya’s charioteer driving the chariot as fast as lightning.  After the war ended in a truce, Shalya revealed that the charioteer was none other than his own sister, Madri.  Shalya proposed that the two kingdoms avoid war in the future through marriage and a gift of their friendship.  Pandu accepted his wish willingly and married Madri. 

He brought his new bride to Hastinapura.  At the first sight of another woman with her husband, and due to the behavior of Madri acting smart, Kunti got a bit upset. But as time passed, she became a loving sister of Madri.  However, Madri continued to have a little bit of a superiority complex, thinking that the kingdom of Madra was superior to the kingdom of the Yadavas, the cattle clan, into which Kunti was born. But they were both devoted to Pandu and Pandu loved them both equally. They later grew into loving each other as sisters.

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Under Pandu’s rule, the Hastinapura kingdom flourished.  He was a passionate hunter and an excellent archer.  During one of his hunting trips, he killed a pair of deer who were engaged in romance, which was against the rules of hunting.  The pair was Rishi Kindama and his wife who were making love in the form of deer.  The dying sage placed a curse on Pandu, that if he were to approach his wife with the intent of sexual relations, his head would explode and he would die.  Before Pandu could defend himself, the sage died.  With the curse on his head, he returns to the palace with a heavy heart.

He couldn’t forgive himself for the crime he committed.  He decided to abdicate the throne of Hastinapura and go into a hermetical retreat.  Bhishma and Vidura tried convincing him otherwise, but Pandu couldn’t be convinced. The governance of Hastinapura, in the absence of a king, was bestowed upon Dhritarashtra, until Pandu returned or Pandu’s son came to claim the throne.  Dhritarashtra was happy to be the governor of Hastinapura, thinking that, due to Pandu’s curse, he and his children will get to rule the kingdom.  Pandu left for his hermetical retreat with by his two wives, Kunti and Madri. 

Pandu got unhappier by the day due to not being able to give an heir to the Hastinapura kingdom.  Also Kunti and Madri were directly affected by the curse as they were denied the opportunity to bear children.  Kunti had not revealed to anyone the boon she had, due to the secret she carried with it, her first-born whom she left afloat in the river Ganga. 

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Unable to bear husband’s sorrow, Kunti revealed the boon that she received from Sage Durvasa, though not about her first-born, Karna.  When Pandu heard about this blessing, he was in ecstasy.  He asked Kunti to use the five mantras to give birth to heirs to the Hastinapura kingdom. 

First, Pandu suggested that Kunti call Dharmaraj, to get a truthful, knowledgeable and righteous son to rule Hastinapura.  Kunti used the Mantra for Dharmaraj, the God of Dharma, Lord Yama.  Dharmaraj appeared and gave Kunti the boon of a son.  This eldest son of Pandu was named Yudhishthira.  Pandu was overjoyed, as he had become a father. 

He asked Kunti to use her second mantra.  This time she called upon the Vayu Bhagavan, the God of Wind. Vayu Bhagavan appeared and gave Kunti the second son.  A big fat bonny baby, they called him Bhima. 

Then Kunti invited God Indra, the king of the Devas, as requested by Pandu, Indra gave her their third son, who they named Arjuna. 

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Pandu wanted more children and asked Kunti to use the rest of the two mantras she had.  Kunti thought for a minute and called Madri, who was feeling sad as she was not part of bearing children for her husband, Pandu.  Kunti gave the final two mantras to Madri to use for the boon from the Ashwini Kumaras, the divine twin horsemen, who were Physicians for all the other Devas.  They appeared in front of Madri and gave her twin sons, Nakula and Sahadeva.  Madri was so thankful to Kunti, and from that day forward, they became two mothers with one heart.

Pandu was filled with happiness and thanked Kunti for keeping his dynasty going.  Pandu and his family continued to live in the forest hermitage happily.  These five children were called the Pandavas.

In the meantime, in Hastinapura, Gandhari was carrying her child for more than a year. Dhritarashtra was furious about the delay in his child’s birth.  To revenge Gandhari, he took one of Gandhari’s maids to bed.  On top of all this, hearing the news about the birth of Kunti’s eldest child made things worse for Gandhari.  She fell into jealousy and frustration, hit her stomach so strong, desperately wanting to give birth, only to result in the birth of lump of flesh.  

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Once again Great-grand Queen Satyavati’s firstborn Vyasa came to the rescue. With the help from Sage Vyasa, Gandhari’s lump of flesh turned into hundred sons and a daughter.  The hundred sons were the blessings of Lord Shiva to Gandhari and the daughter was an additional blessing from Vyasa himself.  Among the hundred sons of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, the eldest was named Duryodhana, meaning unconquerable, the second born was named Dushasana, meaning bad governance and the third was named Vikarna, meaning large eared.  The daughter was Dushala. 

Dhritarashtra loved them all very much, especially Duryodhana.  Dhritarashtra also had a son named Yuyutsu, from the maid, making him a half-brother to the children of Gandhari.  The hundred sons of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari were called the Kauravas.  Even though Kauravas were born as a blessing from Lord Shiva, their untimely arrival was at an inauspicious time, due to Gandhari’s impatience.  This changed their destiny forever.

A few years passed and the children were growing up.  Yudhishthira, being the oldest was very mature and saw the good in every person, even of the worst people.  As he was a boon of Dharmaraj, Yudhishthira upheld the Dharma, righteousness all the time, never to lie and always to keep his word.  He was always following the path of Dharma. 

Bhima was mighty as the wind, having the power of hundred elephants.  He was a great fan of food.  His appetite was so huge such that he would consume half of the food prepared by Kunti and Madri.  He was the strongest of the five. 

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Arjuna had the skills like no other, in politics and the art of warfare.  He was the most loving of them all, giving affection towards all his loved ones.  His skill in archery was amazing. 

Nakula was great in religion and science, he was the most handsome of them all.  He was also Bhima’s favorite brother.  He made fun of Bhima and his appetite any chance he got. 

Sahadeva was a very learned, the most knowledgeable of the five.  He was an astrologer beyond any other.  He had great intuition and could foresee the near future.  His intuition never failed him and his brothers. 

Kunti and Madri looked after the five without any difference.  They preached to the five to be always united, never to divide.  They explained that if they were united, no power would be able to defeat them.  They always obeyed their mothers’ wishes.  If one got punished, all of them took the same punishment and when one was praised all of  them took the praise. 

In Hastinapura, Duryodhana and his brothers were growing up too.  Shakuni, the brother of Gandhari, was always with the children, ill advising them and making them hate their cousins, the children of Pandu who were in the hermitage with Pandu, even before the Kauravas knew the Pandavas.

One day, Madri as usual was plucking flowers in the garden.  By the looks of Madri, Pandu felt desire for Madri.  The memory of the curse briefly eluded him.  He approached her filled with desire; death struck Pandu immediately.  Madri was filled with remorse.

Pandu’s death brought so much grief to Kunti, Madri and the Pandavas.  Kunti, being the first wife, decided to become “sati,” meaning to throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.  This worried Madri as she thought Kunti would be a better mother to the Pandavas than her.  Also, her guilt at being the cause of her husband’s death, prevented her to live another day on earth without him.  She knew Kunti would do justice to all the five children and that she could leave them in her motherly care while joining her husband peacefully.  

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At first Kunti refused the idea.  After Madri’s enormous efforts, at last Kunti was convinced and agreed.  She promised Madri that she had always considered Nakula and Sahadeva as her own children and now more than ever she would give special attention towards them.  Hearing this Madri sat with Pandu’s dead body on the funeral pyre and became “sati.”  Kunti performed the last rites with the five children.  She vowed to dedicate herself to the upbringing of the Pandavas.  The Pandavas under the loving care of their mother Kunti became a united force.

The Rishis of the forest took them to Hastinapura to hand them over to Bhishma.  The eldest of the Pandavas, Yudhishthira was sixteen. The dreadful news about Pandu’s death had reached the palace.  Bhishma immediately rushed in with Vidura, Dhritarashtra and all the royal family members to welcome Kunti and the Pandavas.  The whole of Hastinapura mourned Pandu’s death as though one of their family members had died.  It showed that Pandu was loved by all the citizens of Hastinapura wholeheartedly. The Sage Vyasa warned Great-grand Queen Satyavati, saying that all that had happened until now was to be considered good compared to what would happen in the future of Hastinapura.  There would be deceit, hatred and sorrow.  He advised her not to witness this by staying at the palace, but to go to the forest to live peacefully in her old days, living a hermit’s life.  After listening to her Sage son’s advice, Satyavati agreed to leave the palace with her two daughters-in-law, Ambika and Ambalika.  All three of them lived a hermitic life through their last days on earth, escaping the horrible future of Hastinapura.

Krishna Avatar – Part 16

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

After the incident with Amba, with Parashurama’s blessings, Bhishma returned to the palace.  Life went on with Vichitravirya happily spending time with Ambika and Ambalika.  Unfortunately, even after seven long years, Vichitravirya wasn’t blessed with a child.  Everyone was starting to get worried.  Then, one dreadful day, all of a sudden, Vichitravirya became ill and passed away without leaving any heir to the throne of Hastinapura.  This created a great problem for the kingdom.  Bhishma was there to defend it and safeguard it from other kingdoms, but bound by his vow, he refused Satyavati’s repeated requests to ascend the throne.  Dishonoring his vow was something he could not accept; it would be the ultimate shame.  Satyavati felt the brunt of it, as it was her doing or her father’s doing that the kingdom was without a king or an heir.  This was bad omen for sure.

Satyavati was trapped in a dilemma with no solution in sight, until one day she remembered her other son, the sage Dvaipayana.  Also known as Vyasa, he had been born to her and the sage Parashara.  As Vyasa had promised when he left to do penance in the forest, the moment she thought about him, he appeared in front of her.  Vyasa had done a great many things since he last saw his mother.  Satyavati cried as soon as she saw her long-forgotten son.  Vyasa consoled her and asked what he could do for her to help her with her predicament.  Satyavati told Vyasa the whole story and the situation with the vacant throne of Hastinapura.  Vyasa promised his mother that he would not leave until the situation was resolved.  Vyasa’s words calmed Satyavati down.  Vyasa offered that he would bless each of the queens with a boon, a son.

Satyavati was delighted that her problem was going to be solved.  She called both Ambika and Ambalika the widows of Vichitravirya, to tell them that sage Vyasa will be giving them a boon of a son, and for them to go to him one by one.  They were both astonished by this command from their mother in law.  As mentioned earlier, Vyasa was already a less handsome person, and with all his penance in the forest, he was ugly and crude looking. 

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Ambika went in first, as she was the elder queen.  Vyasa’s looks frightened her, so she closed her eyes in horror while Vyasa was giving her the boon.  He called Satyavati and told her that the son born to Ambika will be healthy, powerful, and have great physical strength, but will be blind because Ambika had her eyes closed. 

Disappointed by these words from her son, Satyavati next sent the younger queen, Ambalika.  Ambalika saw Vyasa’s dreadful ugly face and turned extremely pale out of fear while he was giving her the boon.  Again, Vyasa called his mother and told her that the son of Ambalika would be pale in complexion and likely to have illness all through his life, but that he would be brave.  Satyavati felt awful and hurt. 

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She requested her son to give one more chance to Ambika.  She again sent Ambika to the sage.  But Ambika was so afraid to see Vyasa again that, without her mother-in-law knowing, she sent one of her maids, Parishrami, disguising her in grand garments.  Parishrami was fearless and greeted the sage humbly with respect & devotion.  Vyasa gave her the boon and told her that her son would be talented, wise, artful, diplomatic and a great learned man.  He also said that her son would free her from her life of being a maidservant.  Just after this, Vyasa left Hastinapura.  Satyavati doesn’t come to know about this mix-up until later.

In due course, each of the three women gave birth to a son.  Ambika’s son was blind, and he was called “Dhritarashtra.” Ambalika’s pale son was named “Pandu” and Parishrami’s son was named “Vidura.”  All three were brought up in the palace with all the training that a prince would get.  Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura were taught the fields of archery, politics, administration and religion by Bhishma and Kripacharya, the kula guru of the Kuru dynasty.  As Vyasa had said, Dhritarashtra was hindered by his handicap, thus unable to wield weapons, but he had the strength of multiple elephants.  Pandu was an excellent archer.  Vidura was well balanced in weaponry and diplomacy.  Vidura too was a great archer.  The three of them grew up to be young adults. 

Bhishma and Satyavati decided that it was time to crown the new king.  As Dhritarashtra was the eldest, he was named to be the king. 

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All his life Dhritarashtra dreamt himself to be a king.  That consoled him from not being able to see.  On the day of the coronation, Bhishma first appointed Vidura as the Chief Minister of Hastinapura, saying he is the best person for the position as he was very learned.  Then Dhritarashtra was called upon to be crowned.  Just then, Vidura, as the Chief Minister of Hastinapura, intervened to stop the coronation, saying that, according to the law, a blind person cannot be crowned as a king of a country as he will not be able to use the most important sense of all, sight.  Sight is the most important sense to a person uses to dispense justice.  When he was questioned about why he brought this matter up at the last moment, he said that he would have been the happiest person to see his brother Dhritarashtra crowned as the king, and therefore he would have not intervened in the matter.  But since he has been appointed as the Chief Minister of Hastinapura, his duty was not to let something against the law take place in the kingdom. 

Dhritarashtra stormed out of the royal court, and accused Pandu and Vidura of conspiring against him, as Vidura suggested that the next in line be crowned, which was Pandu.  Pandu was heartbroken as he loved his elder brother, Dhritarashtra, more than anything in the world.  He loved him so dearly that it was so hard for him to take his place, especially without his blessings.  Since there was no other way, Pandu agreed to be crowned and rule the kingdom.  Dhritarashtra’s enmity for Pandu grew day by day as he saw him on the throne, thinking the kingdom was robbed from him by his brother.  But there was nothing he could do.

Time passed, and it was time for them to get married.  Dhritarashtra was looking forward to getting married so that he could see the world through his wife’s eyes and that there will be someone he could completely trust.  Bhishma and Satyavati thought that Gandhari, the princess from the Gandhara kingdom, daughter of king Subala and his wife Vasumathi, would be a good fit for Dhritarashtra.  Gandhari was the most beautiful woman in Bharatvarsha.  She had worshipped Lord Shiva and gained the boon that she could have one hundred sons.  This was indeed one of the reasons why Bhishma and Satyavati wanted her to be married to Dhritarashtra.  Gandhari’s brother was Shakuni, who loved her very much and would not let anything bad happen to his beloved sister. 

Bhishma visited king Subala and forced him to agree to the marriage between his daughter and Dhritarashtra.  Everyone feared Bhishma so it was not any different in the case of king Subala.  To avoid a war with Bhishma and to strengthen his kingdom, king Subala agreed to the marriage, knowing Dhritarashtra was blind.  Gandhari was happy that her parents had found her a suitable groom, though at that point she didn’t know that Dhritarashtra was blind. 

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Gandhari’s brother Shakuni was not in the kingdom when the agreement between Bhishma and king Subala took place.  When he returned to Gandhara and heard about the arrangement, he was furious with his father.  As he was so protective of his sister, he couldn’t bear the thought that his cherished sister was getting married to a blind man.  During the argument with his father, Shakuni took a dagger and inflicted a wound to himself, saying he will remember the injustice to his sister, in every moment in his life.  On that day, he vowed that his only goal was to bring down the kingdom of the Kuru dynasty and make Bhishma pay for his arrogant way of getting his sister into a marriage to a blind person.  Gandhari, overhearing the argument, came to know that her husband-to-be is blind.  Instantaneously she made a vow that she will only see the world the way her husband sees it.  Sacrificing her sight by blindfolding herself with a piece of cloth, she vowed never to take it off. 

The wedding of Gandhari to Dhritarashtra happened in a grand way.  At the wedding Dhritarashtra found out about his wife’s vow of blindfolding herself for the rest of her life.  Dhritarashtra was furious, in disbelief that his dream of looking at the world through his wife’s eyes has been smashed into pieces.  He didn’t give Gandhari proper respect for a long time, as he was thinking she deceived him.  With time as the healer, they made amends and carried forward with their lives.

After the wedding of Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, Bhishma and Satyavati started looking for a suitable wife for Pandu.  Shurasena’s daughter, Pritha, came up on the top of the list.  Pritha was better known as Kunti as she was brought up by Shurasena’s childless cousin, Kuntibhoja.  Krishna’s grandfather, Shurasena, gave his daughter to Kuntibhoja to be brought up as his own.  Therefore, Kunti is indeed Krishna’s aunt, his father Vasudeva’s sister. 

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Kunti was a very beautiful, humble, down to earth, intelligent and a straight-forward person.  But she had a secret buried deep within her, known only to her and one of her maids.  From her youth, Kunti had great respect towards the sages and rishis.  Once she was serving and looking after sage Durvasa when he visited her father.  Sage Durvasa was very pleased with Kunti’s care and devotion for him, so he blessed her with six mantras which she could use to invoke a particular God for each mantra.  The God would then bless her with a child with the God’s characteristics.  After the sage left, out of childish curiosity, Kunti uttered the mantra for the Sun God, to test the authenticity of the mantras.  Immediately the Sun God appeared in front of her.  Astonished by his presence, she didn’t know what to do.  She was happy that the mantra worked, and the Sun God was in front of her, but she also knew what was coming next.  The Sun God blessed her with a baby boy.  Kunti pleaded with the Sun God, saying she uttered the mantra by mistake, and to relieve her from having the baby as it will be a taboo to have a child without getting married.  The Sun God refused, saying once the mantra is used, there is no way to take it back.  But he blessed her that, by having the baby, she will not lose her virginity. 

The baby boy was born with the brightness of the Sun God himself.  Also, the baby was born with a set of golden earrings and a sacred armor attached to his body.  Out of fear of the public, Kunti, with a heavy heart, decided to abandon the child.  With the help of one of her trusted maids, she placed the baby in a basket wrapped with one of her sacred cloths and set it afloat on the waters of the Ganga river.  Even though the baby floated away, the guilt stayed in Kunti’s heart forever. 

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The basket with the baby floated downstream and reached Hastinapura.  A charioteer named Adhiratha and his wife Radha found the basket with the baby.  They longed for a child so they started bringing up the baby as their own.  They thought it was a blessing for them from the Gods and told nobody about their finding.  Even though he was lovingly named as Vasusena by his foster parents, he was mostly known as Karna because of his golden earrings.  The rest of Karna’s story will come later. Pandu and Kunti were wedded, making Kunti the Queen of Hastinapura.  When the couple came to Hastinapura after the wedding, Dhritarashtra was not there to welcome them due his grudge against Pandu, but Gandhari was there with a smile to welcome the newlyweds.  Gandhari continued to be a big sister for Kunti.  Pandu ruled Hastinapura and started expanding his kingdom.

Krishna Avatar – Part 15

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Reaching the Yamuna river, the fishermen village, Devavrata met Satyavati and her father Dashraj, the tribal fishermen chief.  Devavrata spoke to them about his father’s desire and the refusal due to the condition imposed by Dashraj.  Dashraj emphasized again the importance of his daughter becoming the queen, saying that he didn’t have any doubt that she would fit into that role beautifully.  Also, he reiterated that her children should be the ones who would rule Hastinapura after King Shantanu. 

Devavrata promised that he would give up the right to the Hastinapura throne, so that his father could marry Satyavati.  Satyavati’s father thought for a minute.  Then he said that he was happy to see a son who is willing to give up the throne for his father’s happiness, which had never been heard of in any kingdom.  But he said that he was not sure that Devavrata’s sons will give up the right to the throne as easily as their father.  They may be as valiant as their father and therefore become a threat to his daughter and her children. 

“Bhishma’s Oath” by Raja Ravi Varma

Hearing this, Devavrata, determined to fulfill his father’s desires, unexpectedly took his knife out and cut his palm.  He said, “I, Devavrata, with my blood, make a vow in my mother Ganga’s name, that I will remain a brahmachari (celibate) for the rest of my life, and not produce any heir.” 

All the devas appeared in the sky and showered flowers on Devavrata for the unbelievable vow he had taken.  Satyavati’s father was speechless.  After a while, he then said, “Devavrata, I truly admire your love towards your father.  Taking a vow not to marry for the happiness of your father, I am flabbergasted.  It has never been done before and I am certain it will never be done in the future too.  I give my daughter in marriage to your father with honor.  Please take her to your father at once.”  Devavrata was so happy.  He set off to the palace with Satyavati in the chariot.

When King Shantanu saw Satyavati coming to the palace in Devavrata’s chariot, he was overwhelmed with happiness.  He praised his son for bringing his love to him.  He hugged him with affection and blessed him with all his heart.  Then he held Satyavati’s arm and took her into the palace.  Devavrata bowed down to his father and returned to his chambers with heart filled with joy that he could see his father happy again.

King Shantanu was anxious to know how Satyavati’s father had agreed for their marriage.  So, at the first chance he got, he asked from Satyavati, what transpired between her father and Devavrata.  Satyavati told him the complete story, and when she finished it, the king was shocked beyond his limits.  Understanding the extreme severe vow his son had taken to make him happy, he felt giddy.  He passed out, in such grief that he had never felt in his life before, uttering the words, “Ek Bhishma Pratigya!” meaning, a most dreadful pledge. 

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All the Devas appeared in the sky and called out, “Bhishma! Bhishma! Bhishma! Blessed Devavrata,” and said that going forward Devavrata will be known as Bhishma.  They also gave him a boon that he could decide the time and place of his death.  From that day onwards, Devavrata was called Bhishma!  Only then did Satyavati come to understand the seriousness of the situation that her father and she had created for the throne of Hastinapura . 

As everyone knows, time is the great healer.  So, in time, Shantanu and Satyavati were reconciled to what happened.  In due course, Satyavati had two boys.  The elder was named Chitrangada and the younger was named Vichitravirya.  Years passed and after Shantanu’s death, Chitrangada was crowned as the king of Hastinapura, but he didn’t last long.  Though he was a great warrior, he fell in a battle a short time later.  The king of the Gandharvas, for his name’s sake, came to challenge Chitrangada.  A fierce battle took place between the two warriors which lasted a long time, but in the end the king of the Gandharvas defeated Chitrangada and killed him.  This made the Hastinapura throne vacant.  Though Vichitravirya was a minor, he was crowned to be the ruler of Hastinapura.  As Bhishma promised to Satyavati, that he would protect the throne of Hastinapura and treat whoever sits on it as his father’s image, he served the king faithfully.  Bhishma became the Guru and guardian of Vichitravirya.  Unfortunately, Vichitravirya grew up to be a person who was not physically strong and lacked qualities to be a true king.

When Vichitravirya came to age, Bhishma and Satyavati were looking for a suitable bride for him.  At the same time, the king of Kashi organized a Swayamvara, a groom selection event, for his three daughters, Amba, Ambika and Ambalika.  He had invited all the eligible kings and princes from around his kingdom, but excluded Vichitravirya and Hastinapura due to an old grudge.  This was considered an insult to Hastinapura. 

Satyavati took this seriously and wanted Bhishma to go to Kashi to bring the princesses back to be wedded to Vichitravirya, as she thought they were the best fit for Vichitravirya.  Bhishma argued against abducting the princesses during a Swayamvara, by using strength, even though it’s a common practice among big kingdoms.  He finally agreed to do what Satyavati wanted, as he also considered the Kashi princesses to be good matches for Vichitravirya.  Also, disobeying the Queen Mother was unacceptable for Bhishma, as he had vowed to protect Hastinapura as its servant. 

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On the day of the Swayamvara, Bhishma stormed into Kashi and challenged all the participants for a fight.  At the end, he seized the three princesses.  Some of the eligible kings and princes in attendance didn’t even think of crossing Bhishma’s path, nor did the king of Kashi.  They knew the power and valor of Bhishma.  Bhishma was so daunting, none of them or their armies could mount a challenge to him.  The only king who stood against him was King Shalva.  But he was defeated badly. Therefore Bhishma forcefully brought all three princesses to Hastinapura without any major issues. 

In Hastinapura, Satyavati and Bhishma ordered the formal wedding ceremonies, to wed the princesses to Vichitravirya.  While the second and third princesses, Ambika and Ambalika, were agreeable and cooperating, the eldest, Amba, was not.  She had already accepted the proposal from King Shalva of the Saubala kingdom and was in love with him.  Amba was furious with the way things turned out, as she was sure the King of the Saubala kingdom would have been her choice in the Swayamvara.  She brought this up with Satyavati and Bhishma, requesting them to send her to King Shalva.  Advised by Satyavati, Bhishma immediately accepted her request and sent her to the Saubala kingdom with all honors and respects. 

While Amba was on her way to the Saubala kingdom, her sisters were married to king Vichitravirya in an exuberant way.  The whole of Hastinapura was in celebration mode; the singing and dancing went on for days.

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Amba reached the Saubala kingdom and announced that she was sent back by Satyavati and Bhishma to marry King Shalva.  King Shalva rejected her saying that he no longer desired her, as she was to be wed to another man.  He also said that she was rightfully won by Bhishma, who insulted him and the other kings and princes who were at the Swayamvara.  Amba pleaded with Shalva, whom she considered as her true love, to accept her, but Shalva refused to accept her.  Rejected and heart-broken Amba left the Saubala kingdom and went to the forest, not knowing what to do.  She felt enraged and humiliated.  She thought for some time, then headed towards Hastinapura . 

Seeing Amba returning, Bhishma knew that the King Shalva had refused her hand.  Seeing tragedy written all over Amba’s face, his eyes emitting sparks, Bhishma, took his bow and quiver, asking her to come with him to the Saubala kingdom so he could teach the King a lesson and make him honor his love.  Amba refused, saying that she could not go to the coward lover and that she could not go through that type of humiliation all over again. 

So Bhishma went to Vichitravirya, asking him to marry Amba.  He too refused, saying he was not willing to marry her because she had someone else in her heart.  Amba was getting angrier by the minute due to what she was going through.  Bhishma then asked Amba to go back to her parents in the Kashi kingdom.  Amba refused, saying she was abducted, a humiliation to her father, thus she was sure that he would not accept her back.  Bhishma tried to persuade her otherwise, but it didn’t work. 

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Her anger towards Bhishma flared up, burning like wildfire in her heart, as she had concluded that Bhishma was the reason her life was in a mess.  She turned to Bhishma and said, “You are the person who came to my Swayamvara, and brought me here, therefore it is you who needs to marry me!”  Bhishma refused immediately, saying he cannot do so due to his Vow!  Driven to extreme desperation, Amba flew into a rage.  With her eyes raging fire, she Vowed, “Bhishma!  You are the cause for this utter hopeless state of mine.  I will not rest until I take revenge on you!”

Amba decided to do severe penance dedicated to Lord Kartikeya, seeking his help to avenge Bhishma.  Lord Kartikeya, delighted with her devotion, appeared in front of her and gave her an ever-fresh flower garland.  He said that whoever wears this garland would become the arch enemy of Bhishma and be the cause of Bhishma’s death. 

Receiving the garland with satisfaction, Amba went to every single kingdom around, asking the kings to wear the garland to help her out.  None of them were willing to do this, as they were too afraid to go against Bhishma.  At last she went to the King of Panchala, Drupada, hoping he might agree, as he was not on good terms with Bhishma anyway.  He too refused to wear the garland.  Amba with a broken heart, frustrated, tired and exhausted, hung the garland on the palace door of King Drupada and went into the forest. 

Amba marched into the forest and sought shelter that night with a group of ascetics along the riverbank.  The next day, upon listening to Amba’s ordeal, the sages advised her to approach the great Parashurama, Bhishma’s Guru.  Taking their advice Amba went to Parashurama at once.  Amba conveyed her predicament to Parashurama and prayed to him for help.  Parashurama gave his word to Amba that he would make Bhishma marry her or else would destroy him. 

Parashurama went to the vicinity of Hastinapura and sent word to Bhishma to meet him.  Parashurama tried to convince Bhishma to marry Amba, but Bhishma refused due to his vow.  Parashurama called him out for a battle, but Bhishma said he would not battle his Guru.  Parashurama said that if Bhishma refused the battle, it would be disobeying his Guru.  Hearing this, Bhishma agreed to fight.

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Thus, the battle between the teacher and the taught began.  The battle was fierce, lasting for days without anyone emerging as the winner.  With no way out, Bhishma took hold of the celestial weapon that Indra had bestowed on him, and Parashurama readied his great Parashu for the fight.  Seeing this from far away, Mother Ganga prayed to Lord Shiva to stop the fight, as she knew that, if these weapons clash, it will lead to universal destruction.  When both Parashurama and Bhishma used their weapons on each other, Lord Shiva appeared and absorbed both the weapons within him, answering Ganga’s prayers. 

Seeing Lord Shiva, both Parashurama and Bhishma dropped everything and worshipped the Lord.  Lord Shiva returned the weapons to each of them and told them to stop their fighting. 

Watching this, Amba worshipped Lord Shiva and requested a resolution to her ordeal.  Lord Shiva asked what she wanted.  She replied that she wants to end Bhishma’s life.  Lord Shiva granted her wish, saying that she will be the cause of Bhishma’s death, but it will only be possible in her next birth.  Amba accepted the Lord’s words and walked away to end her life, so that she can be born again to fulfill her ambition of killing Bhishma.  Bhishma assures Amba, that he will one day, when the time comes, make her wish come true.  Her story will be followed in a later chapter.  Bhishma fell on Parashurama’s feet, asking for forgiveness for taking up arms against him.  Parashurama blessed his disciple and returned to continue his meditation.

Krishna Avatar – Part 14

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

When Ganga took their eighth son to Indra’s heaven with her, King Shantanu was very disappointed.  He returned to the palace deeply saddened, missing his sons and, most of all, he missed his beloved Ganga.  Hastinapur went into a gloomy period, as the king lost interest in everything and didn’t pay much attention to the welfare of the country.  The ministers managed the affairs to the best of their ability but, as everyone knows, it was not the same as having a king managing the nation.

Almost every day, King Shantanu returned to the banks of the river Ganga, anticipating the return of Ganga and his eighth son.  A number of long years passed, with his grief growing worse each and every single day of those years.  One day, on his daily trip to the river, he saw a young, handsome adolescent boy playing, shooting arrows.  Shantanu was fascinated by the talent this young lad had with his bow and arrows.  He had built a dam across the river by shooting arrows into the river, blocking the flow of the water. Who could have such a great talent to be able to block the flow of Ganga?

As Shantanu was watching the young man with awe, Ganga emerged from the river, saying that the young lad was his eighth son, Devavrata.  She had taken Devavrata to different realms where he was brought up and learned all the Vedas, arts of war and statecraft.  From Brihaspati, the guru for all the devas, he learned the duties of kings.  From Vasishta, one of the Sapta (seven) Rishis, he learned the Vedas.  From Shukracharya, the guru for all the asuras, he learned politics.  From Sanatkumara, one of the sons of Lord Brahma, he learned the mental and spiritual sciences.  From Markandeya, one of the immortals who had acquired the everlasting youth from Lord Shiva himself, he learned the duties of a man.  From Parashurama, one of the immortals and the sixth Avatar of Vishnu, he learned the art of warfare.  Finally, Indra, the king of the devas, bestowed celestial weapons on him.

King Shantanu was delighted to have Devavrata, his eighth son, back home.  He tried to convince Ganga to stay with him, though he knew it was not going to happen.  But in the end, he had a suitable successor to his throne.  He returned to the palace, accompanied by Devavrata.  At getting his son back, Shantanu’s joy knew no bounds.

Within a day of Devavrata’s arrival, King Shantanu ordered his ministers to arrange a grand celebration welcoming his son.  The day after the celebrations, King Shantanu called his court for a meeting and declared Devavrata as the Crown Prince of Hastinapura.  The whole of Hastinapura was thrilled and jubilant.

Devavrata was a very courageous and valiant young prince.  He had no fear about anything.  One day when he was training a new horse, he rode the horse a fair distance, from Hastinapura to one of the kingdom’s borders.  There he saw the neighboring Salva king and his army marching to invade Hastinapura.

Devavrata challenged him single-handedly and put Salva’s army to a decisive defeat.  Devavrata captured Salva king and brought him to his father, King Shantanu.  King Shantanu was very happy and proud of his son.  Yet his thoughts were still with Ganga.  He missed her very much.  It made him sad.  On most days,  he went out on his own, riding in the countryside in hopes of seeing her again.

A few years passed. Hastinapura was back to its glory days, flourishing because Crown Prince Devavrata stepped in for the king most of the time.  One day, when King Shantanu was riding in his chariot along the river Yamuna, he smelled a heavenly fragrance unlike anything he’d ever smelled before.  He searched for the source and found it to be an extremely beautiful young lady.  He asked who she was.  She replied that she was Satyavati, the daughter of the tribal fishermen chief, Dashraj.

Who is Satyavati?  There once lived a King named Vasu, a very pious and truthful King who was married to Queen Girika, a devoted wife.  By his intense penance towards Lord Indra, Vasu gained Indra’s eternal friendship, and the gift of an evergreen garland and an aircraft to travel to the heavens.  Thus, he received the name Uparichara Vasu (Upward-Going One).

On one of his hunting trips, while he was resting under an ashoka tree, the cool fragrant breeze from the leaves and the sound of singing birds provoked his lust and a longing for his wife.  A wave of passion heated him, and he couldn’t restrain his physical response.  The thought of wasting his semen bothered him, so he collected it in a leaf and called upon a hawk to carry it quickly to his beloved queen.  While carrying the leaf with the semen, the hawk was seen by another hawk who misunderstood the leaf to be food, so he attacked for it.  The fight between these two hawks made the leaf fall into the river Yamuna, landing in the mouth of a fish.

Actually the fish was a celestial nymph named Adrika, who was born as a fish due to a sage’s curse.  Catching the leaf full of semen, Adrika (as a fish) conceived twins: a boy and a girl.  Some fishermen belonged to Uparichara Vasu’s kingdom caught the fish.  When they cut the fish open and found the babies, they took the babies to their king, Uparichara Vasu.  The King chose the boy to be raised in his palace, naming him Matsya because he was born out of a fish; Vasu returned the girl to the fishermen.

The tribal chief brought her up as his daughter, naming her Kali, the dark one, which was later changed to Satyavati.  However, she was commonly called Matsyagandha, meaning one who smells like fish.  Indeed, she smelled like fish.

The tribal chief also was a ferryman on the river Yamuna, taking people across the river.  Satyavati helped her father with ferrying people.  One day, Satyavati was ferrying the sage Parashara across the river.  Through his meditative powers, he felt that the time was right for a great sage to be born.  This inner knowing would become manifest in the world if he had coitus within a short period of time.  Therefore, he wanted Satyavati agree to his wish.

She tried to dissuade him, but Parashara was persistent, desperate not to miss the opportunity to have a great sage as his heir.  Satyavati said that, with her fish-like smell, it will be hard for sage Parashara to be with her.  With a touch, sage Parashara, turned her fish-like smell into yojan-gandha, the fragrance of musk.  Satyavati was taken by this, but then she pleaded that it was not appropriate to have sex in broad daylight, such that her father and the others will be able to see them.  Sage Parashara used his powers to shroud the entire area in thick fog.  Still she protested that he would to rob her virginity and leave her shamed in society.  He blessed Satyavati that it would be a secret and her virginity would remain intact.  Unable to dissuade him, also scared that he would get angry and curse her, she agreed.

After the act, the sage had a bath in the river and left, never to meet her again.  In accordance with the sage’s blessings, Satyavati gave birth to her baby in secrecy on an island in the river Yamuna. It was a boy, who grew up in a short period of time to be a youth.  He was less handsome, but he had a blissful radiance, definitely indicating that he would become a great sage.  His name was Krishna (dark) Dvaipayana (born on an island).  He later became known as the great sage Vyasa, compiler of the Vedas, author of the Puranas and the Mahabharata, this great epic.

Krishna Dvaipayana promised his mother that he would come to her aid every time she called on him, which she could do by a mere thought.  He then left to do penance in the forest.  After this, Satyavati returned home and continued to help her father.  No one knew what had happened.  Her virginity was intact and she now had an everlasting sweet fragrance.

Let’s return to King Shantanu.  On the banks of the river, seeing and smelling her, he became love-struck.  For the second time in his life, he requested a maiden, who he saw only moments before, to marry him.  Satyavati said she had no right to answer that question, that he must ask her father, the tribal chief, for her hand.  Immediately, King Shantanu went to her father, explained who he was and requested Satyavati’s hand.

Her father said he had to marry Satyavati to someone soon, that he had no objection and it would be a great honor to give her in marriage to King Shantanu.  However, he had one condition, that a son born to Satyavati should be the successor to the Hastinapura throne.  But King Shantanu had gotten burnt due to the conditions from Ganga and had already named Devavrata to be Crown Prince.  How could he go back on his word to his son?  Rejecting this condition, disappointed and unhappy, and with a very heavy heart, King Shantanu returned to the palace.

A few days passed.  Devavrata noticed that his father was more dejected than usual.  He understood that his father missed his mother and therefore was sad all the time, but this was different.  Devavrata wanted to find out about it.  King Shantanu would not disclose anything to his son.  Determined to find out what happened, Devavrata inquired from all of the workers and others close to the king if anything happened in the past few days that would make his father unhappy.  From his father’s charioteer, he found out about the whole ordeal which had transpired at the banks of Yamuna.  Devavrata wanted to do something to make his father happy, so had the charioteer take him to Satyavati and her father at once.

Krishna Avatar – Part 13

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

Even though Krishna returned from Hastinapura in haste due to Satrajit’s death, he never stopped fulfilling his duties to the Kuru family.  Knowing in his heart that the Kuru cousins were safe, still he sent Uddhava to find them and report back to him.

So, who are these cousins of Krishna from the Kuru family?

The above question takes us into the epic of Mahabharata!  They were the Pandavas of the Lunar Dynasty.  We have to go back a few generations to start the story of the Pandavas.  Let’s begin with the name of the epic, “Mahabharata.”  While it is a long story, we will look at a concise version of it.

There once lived a king of the Lunar Dynasty, named Dushyanta.  He had a great passion for hunting.  On one of his hunting trips in the jungle, he found Shakuntala, the daughter of Menaka, a celestial nymph of Lord Indra’s court and the great sage Vishwamitra.  It is said that Lord Indra himself, frightened by Vishwamitra’s yogic powers and fearful of losing his position as Lord of the devas, sent Menaka from heaven to earth to lure Vishwamitra and disturb his intense meditation.  Menaka successfully inflamed Vishwamitra’s lust and passion; she succeeded in breaking his meditation.

However, she genuinely fell in love with him and had a baby girl.  The baby girl born to them was left at Rishi Kanva’s ashram with both the parents departing to follow their own pursuits.  Rishi Kanva found the baby surrounded by shakunta birds, so he named her Shakuntala.  Thus Shakuntala became the foster-daughter of Rishi Kanva.

Mesmerized by her beauty, Dushyanta married Shakuntala in a Gandarva marriage (love marriage with no rituals or witnesses), promising to return for her even though being with her in the jungle for only a few days.  He gave his royal ring, embossed with his name, as a token of love.  Shakuntala anxiously waited for Dushyanta, losing herself in thoughts of him.

One day Sage Durvasa, known for his fiery temper, visited Rishi Kanva.  However, Shakuntala was inattentive to Durvasa as she was thinking about Dushyanta.  Angered, Durvasa cursed that the person of whom she was thinking would forget her.  Shakuntala pleaded with Durvasa, but he said he couldn’t take the curse back, but that she could show Dushyanta something he had given her, such as the ring, and he would be freed from the curse.

Due to the curse, Dushyanta forgot Shakuntala.  He never came back for her.  Desperate, Shakuntala went to Dushyanta’s kingdom.  On the way, she lost the ring in the river.  A fish swallowed it and swami away.  As Shakuntala didn’t have the ring to bring Dushyanta out of the curse, he didn’t recognize her.  Shakuntala had to return to the forest and remain deserted by Dushyanta.

In time, Shakuntala gave birth to a baby boy.  Shakuntala’s son was brave and courageous.  His name was Bharata.  From an early age, he played with lions, tigers, elephants and other wild animals.  It is told that he opened a lion’s mouth with his bare hands to count the number of teeth it had.  Shakuntala, watching her son, was sure that he would become a great courageous leader one day.

A few years later, a fisherman found the royal ring in a fish in his catch.  He took it to Dushyanta, as his name was on it.  Upon seeing the ring, the curse was lifted.  Dushyanta remembered Shakuntala and rushed to the jungle to find her.  Arriving at Rishi Kanva’s Ashram, he found Bharata playing with the wild animals like toys.  He approached the little boy, asking who he was?  The little boy replied that he was Bharata, the son of the great king Dushyanta and Shakuntala.  Astonished by this answer, Dushyanta sadly realized his error of leaving Shakuntala.  He hugged his son with great love and affection.  He took Shakuntala and Bharata back to the palace.  Succeeding his father, Bharata became the king and soon an Emperor.  He became the greatest of all the kings, a universal emperor.  India’s original name came from him, “Bharat” or “Bharatavarsha,” before the European invasion.  Hence we see the name, “Mahabharata,” which is Maha + Bharata, meaning Great Bharata.

A number of descendants in Bharata’s line ruled Bharatavarsha.  In that line, King Hasti and his grandson King Kuru, were very popular.  Hastinapura was named after King Hasti and the Kuru family got the name after King Kuru.  Kuru’s son was Pratipa, whose son was Shantanu.  The saga of Mahabharata formally begins with the rule of King Shantanu, known for his valor and wisdom.

King Pratipa had three sons; Shantanu was the youngest.  King Pratipa’s eldest son, Devapi, had leprosy and therefore gave up his inheritance to the throne and became a hermit.  The second son, Bahlika, abandoned Hastinapura, and lived with his uncle in Balkh, later inheriting his kingdom.  Thus, Shantanu was crowned as the king of Hastinapura.  He was young when crowned because his father had him later in life.

Shantanu was a benevolent and wise ruler, very much liked by the people of his nation.  One day, the young king Shantanu was walking along the river Ganga, and saw a beautiful young lady.  She walking on the water as though she was walking on the ground, then came ashore and continued to walk on the riverbank.  He was mesmerized and fell in love with her in an instant.  He told the beautiful lady that he had lost his heart to her, that he is the king of Hastinapura who wants to marry her.  He would make her the queen of Hastinapura.  She said she would accept his proposal under two conditions: 1) he must never ask her about who she is or where she came from, and 2) he should never interfere in what she does.  Continuing, she told him that if he violated either of these conditions, she will leave him immediately.

The conditions stunned Shantanu; they would never be agreeable to a king.  But, for the love stricken Shantanu, it was unthinkable to refuse any of her demands, in order to have her hand.  He accepted both conditions immediately.  The beauty married Shantanu under the Gandarva marriage rites (love marriage with no rituals or witnesses) on the spot.

King Shantanu left his ministers to take care of the kingdom and completely concentrated only on his wife.  He called her “Ganga,” as he had found her near the river Ganga.  Shantanu’s life went smoothly and happily for some time.  In due course, Ganga gave birth to a lovely baby boy.  Shantanu was overjoyed to hear the news and rushed to his wife’s quarters.  The queen was silently taking the newborn towards the river Ganga, where Shantanu had met her for the first time.  Shantanu was puzzled but followed her quietly.  When she arrived at the riverbank, she turned and smiled at Shantanu, then put the newborn into the river, letting the currents wash the baby away.  She started walking back to the palace with satisfaction in her face.  Shantanu was speechless, unable to believe what he had seen the love of his life do to their child.  He wanted to ask her, why she did it, but remembered the conditions and kept quiet.

A few weeks passed, then Shantanu came to know that Ganga was pregnant again.  His sadness about the earlier son faded away.  He was eagerly awaiting the birth of his child.  The day came and he was blessed with another son.  To his astonishment, Ganga marched with the baby in her arms towards the river again.  It was the same fate for the second son as the earlier one.  Shantanu was in great grief, but he could not say or do anything as he was bound by his promise.

Ganga did the same thing over and over again, giving Shantanu’s sons to the river.  After she drowned the seventh son, Shantanu was lost in deep thought all the time.  Life was very painful for him.  He couldn’t tolerate what Ganga was doing, but his love for her prevented him from saying anything as he didn’t want to lose her.

Running out of patience, Shantanu decided to stop the drowning of the eighth child.  The time came.  His eighth son was born.  As usual, the queen was off to the river.  When she was about to drop the baby into the river, Shantanu shouted “Stop!  You are murdering my eighth son, and I can’t allow it to happen.  Are you here to put an end to my kingdom and my dynasty?  Why, my love?”

The queen looked at Shantanu.  She said “Dear King, I am Ganga, the river itself, who came from the heavens.  Now that you have questioned me, you have broken your promise.  As for the conditions, I will not be able to stay with you any longer.  But before I leave, I will reveal the entire secret of what has happened here.”  She continued, “The children born to you were the eight Vasus, the eight elemental attendants of Indra, representing the aspects of nature.  Once, sage Vasishta got angry with them as they stole his pet cow Nandini.  He cursed them to be born as humans and undergo mental embarrassments.  Hearing this curse, seven of them implored the sage to be excused, but the eighth stood without any remorse.  Vasishta compassionately amended his curse for the first seven, so they would as soon as they are born on earth, to be able to return to Indra’s heaven.  But the eighth would have a very long miserable life due to mental suffering.  The eight Vasus came to me, asking me to be their mother on earth.  To fulfill their wish, I had to take a human form and free them from their curse.  I liberated the first seven.  My job is done here.  I will take your eighth son with me, to teach him to be potent enough to withstand what this world is going to throw at him, mentally and physically.  When he grows up to an age, studying everything he needs to know, I will come back and return him to you.”  Saying this, hugging her baby, she flashed into the sky.

Traditional Tales:  Shiva’s Guru

by Nirooshitha:Sethuram

It was a beautiful day on Mt.  Kailasa, where Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati were spending time together with their two children, Ganesha and Skanda.  The two children went off to play in the foothills of the mountain while Shiva and Parvati were giving blessings to devotees.

On that day Lord Brahma, the Creator-God, decided to visit Mt.  Kailasa to worship Shiva.  On his way, he saw Skanda at the foothills of Mt.  Kailasa, but ignored him, and went past him without paying his respects.  Lord Skanda got angry and, mischievous as he was, wanted to bring Brahma out of his egoism.

He patiently waited until Brahma returned from worshipping Shiva, heading back to Satya Loka where he resides with his wife Goddess Saraswati.  When he passed Skanda, ignoring him again, thinking that he is just a child, the little boy Skanda ran to Brahma, asking who he was, what he does, and what he is proficient in?

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Brahma replied that he is Brahma, the creator of the beings of the three worlds and that he is proficient in the Vedas.  He proudly said that he was creating the beings who have knowledge of the Vedas, and started to recite the Rig Veda text, beginning with the pranava (the primordial sound “OM”),

Immediately Skanda interrupted Brahma, and asked him to explain the meaning of the pranava.  Brahma couldn’t explain the meaning.  Skanda said, “Without knowing the meaning of the first word you use to do your job, you are incompetent to create the beings!”  He knocked Brahma on his forehead with his knuckles, and imprisoned him in Skanda Giri.  Skanda took up the role of Creator and continued with the creation.

The Devas (Divine Beings) were worried and surprised by the absence of Brahma.  They went to Lord Vishnu complaining that his son, Brahma was missing, asking for Vishnu to help them find him.  Vishnu, the Protector-God , came to know what had happened. He wanted to leave it to Shiva to attend to this matter, since Vishnu couldn’t win the argument with Skanda.  Vishnu, with the other Devas, went to Shiva and explained the situation.

Shiva decided to deal with this himself and went down to see his beloved son, little Skanda.  He with all three of his eyes stood watching Skanda play.  Then he went near his little boy with affection, embraced him and requested him to release Brahma.  Honoring his father’s request, Skanda released Brahma immediately.  Shiva was pleased by his son’s obedience and sat him on his lap.

Then, Shiva asked, “Do you know the meaning of the pranava?”  Being the son of the Supreme Being, Skanda smiled.  He mischievously replied that he does but will only tell the meaning if Shiva was prepared to learn the mantra in a proper manner, as a shishya (disciple) learning it from a Guru.

Agreeing to Skanda’s conditions, giving the proper respect to a Guru by a disciple, Shiva knelt with folded hands and bowed head, before his young son Skanda, the Guru, with great veneration and learnt the mantra from him.  Then Shiva blessed his son, giving him the name Swaminatha, meaning “Guru to the Guru himself.” Brahma went back to his duties, never to ignore anyone again, no matter how young they were.

The hillock on which this took place thus came to be known as “Swamimalai.” Today, thousands of devotees yet go to this holy place, seeking “True Knowledge” from Swaminatha.

Through this act of giving the proper respect to Skanda, Shiva, wanted to show the importance of the Guru.  He also wanted to show that we should never disrespect anyone however young, small or insignificant you may think they are.

Om Namah Shivaya.

 

Mystical Meaning

By Swami Nirmalananda

Devas, Gods and Goddesses, oh my!   Is the Creator-God really different from the Protector-God?  And who is Shiva anyway?

Mythology activates a part of your brain that nothing else touches, which is why superheroes are so popular.  I read Ovid’s Metamorphosis to my children, followed by the rich and meaningful tales from ancient India.  But the Western-trained mind asks, “Just how many Gods are there?”

The answer is simple.  One.

Though called by different names in different languages, different times, traditions and religions, the One is still the One.  Just like water, agua and pani all refer to the same liquid, each name points to something beyond the word being used.

You probably have many names, from a childhood nickname, relationship names like “Sis” or “Mom,” screen names, a professional name, pet names used by those closest to you, and maybe even a Sanskrit name to invoke your deepest sense of spirituality.  Each name brings forth a different quality from you, while you are more.

In India, the One Reality is called by different names when performing different functions.  When creating, the One is called Brahma, expressing qualities that makes creating possible:  innovative, focused on the moment instead of the future, and with quick-trigger reflexes.  Yoga’s sages described Brahma, even seeing him in Divine visions, thus making us able to depict him in paintings, statues and stories.

………Rama………………………Shiva……………………….Krishna……….

Vishnu is the name of the One Reality while nurturing and protecting that which Brahma created.  And the Goddesses are the energies that they use in their various tasks.  Since we’re talking about the One Divine Reality, how many functions are possible?  Thus, how many names are possible?  Millions!  But they are all forms of the One.  The Sanskrit word, “deva,” is the root word for the English word, “divine.”  Devas are Gods, Devis are Goddesses, each of which is the One Reality in a different guise.

This glorious multiplicity is not limited to the celestial sphere, for the One has become everything that exists, including you and me.  The goal of yoga is to know yourself as the Divinity you are, thus being able to see the One shining as all.  Yogis usually name the One as Shiva, which is technically “Paramashiva,” meaning the One who is beyond your idea of who the One is.

Skanda on Shiva’s lap – yogaxtc.com

In this story, the many forms of the One play out a drama complete with insult, confrontation, imprisonment, a “presidential pardon,” all superimposed on against a mystical background of the ever-reverberating primordial sound.  Then sweetest of all, the great Shiva takes on the role of a humble student, learning from his own son, Skanda, while knowing that Skanda got everything from Shiva himself.

Nirooshitha says that she chose this story because it’s all about the Guru principle.  “This story is from Skanda Purana, as is Shree Guru Gita.  This is one of the stories, which I was told and read many times while growing up. For me this story is about Shiva being himself and being his own son.”

It’s really a picture of your own condition.  While you are currently experiencing the limitation of human individuality, you are more.  To find the more, you go to one who knows, one who serves by sharing that knowing with you – the Guru.  While bowing to the Guru, you’re bowing to your Self, one really you but simply in another form.  It’s all done with mirrors!

OM svaroopa svasvabhavah namo namah

Traditional Tales and Mystical Meanings

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

The mythic dimension of our lives is a doorway to the mystical dimension of our beings.  Today we welcome a new writer to our blog team, a yogi who grew up with these stories in her native Sri Lanka.  The classical Hindu tales always offer a yogic teaching, which I will draw out in each blog, both to warm your heart as well as to expand your understanding.

Nirooshitha Sethuram is a Svaroopa® yoga teacher in America, bringing both western and Hindu perspectives to our profound yogic tradition.  She explains, “The Mango Story is the first story that most Hindu children hear from their parents.  Very simple, yet very rich in its essence.”

 

The Mango Story

By Nirooshitha Sethuram

It was another beautiful day on Mt.  Kailash, where Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati were with their two children, Ganesha and Karttikeya.

On this day Sage Narada was visiting.  Narada is the son of Brahma, the creator, also known to be the creator of problems which end in goodness to the world.  Narada brought a special mango in his hand, claiming he had come to pay respects to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, but they knew that it was not the case.  He was there to start some mischief.  They were right; he had come to test the two children, Ganesha and Karttikeya.

Sage Narada offered the special mango to Lord Shiva, saying it was a very special mango, sweeter than the nectar of any fruit there was.  Narada also said it was to be eaten by one person only and should not be shared.  With a smile, Lord Shiva asked, “Have you started to execute your mischief yet?”  Then Shiva said, “I can’t eat it, as I share everything with Parvati,” so He offered it to Parvati.  Parvati said that She can’t have it either, as She also shares everything with Lord Shiva.

Sage Narada pretended to be sad because they rejected what he offered, though he was happy that his plan was working.  He says, “Oh my Lord, please, one of you in your family should eat it!  Maybe it can be one of your children.”  Knowing what was happening, Lord Shiva called for his sons, Ganesha and Karttikeya.

Shiva said, “I have a mango which cannot be shared, so one of you can have it.”  Both Ganesha and Karttikeya said, “I want it, I want it…”  Sage Narada, pretending to be shocked, said, “I had no idea that the children will fight for it.”  Lord Shiva smiled and said to Narada in a low voice that only he can hear, “You purposely brought this mango, knowing this would happen…” Goddess Parvati continued, “Yes, I agree, but we need to resolve this now.”

Lord Shiva said, “My dear children, this is the time in your life in which you must face the world.  Unless you know your world, you cannot lead your life in prosperity.  Both of you must travel around the world three times.  The first one to return will get the mango.”  Narada was extremely happy that his plan was being executed.

Karttikeya was a beautiful strong boy born to defeat demons, whereas Ganesha had the head of an elephant, with a potbelly and short stubby legs.  Kartikeya’s vehicle was a peacock and Ganesh’s vehicle was a mouse.  Karttikeya was thinking his brother didn’t have a chance, so without a word he jumped on his peacock and off he went.  With great determination Karttikeya flew around the world.  Along the way, he faced terrible storms, fought with demons and helped people in danger.  His journey was much more difficult than he thought.  His thoughts went back to his brother, “Oh, my poor brother.  How is he going to survive all this while competing for the mango?”

Ganesha knew he will not be able to win the race on his mouse and started thinking.  Then an idea struck him.  He said, “My parents, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, are my world, therefore I will go around them thrice.”  Ganesha fastened a tiny harness around Mushika, his mouse.  He went thrice around his parents and was just receiving the mango from Goddess Parvati when Karttikeya returned after circling the world thrice.

Karttikeya saw Ganesha holding the mango in his hand.  He was so angry!  He said that Ganesha had done nothing while he traveled around the world.  “So have I,” replied Ganesh.  He said, “I traveled all around my father and mother.  They are my world.”

Karttikeya knew what had happened, and though he knew his brother won it fair and square, he still got angry with his parents.  Seeing this, Ganesha offered the mango to Karttikeya.  But Karttikeya flew away on his peacock, leaving all his luxuries, including all his clothes.  He went to a hill known as “Palani” in the south of India (palani = palam + nee in the Tamil language, meaning, “you are the fruit”).

Goddess Parvati came right behind Karttikeya to bring him back to Kailash.  When She arrived, She said to him, “You both have won in your own ways.  Karttikeya, you won by your single-minded determination and endurance, while your brother Ganesha won by balance of heart, mind, love and intellect.”  Hearing this from his beloved mother, Karttikeya was satisfied and lifted out of his anger.  He became calm and happily went back to Kailash with his mother.  He apologized to his father, Lord Shiva, and to his brother Ganesh, for his earlier behavior.

Lord Shiva, through Sage Narada’s drama, wanted to show everyone that their parents are their first world.  He also wanted to show that you could gather knowledge and answers by traveling the world as Karttikeya did, or stay in the same place looking inward to get them as Ganesha did.  Om Namah Shivaya.

 

Mystical Meanings

By Swami Nirmalananda Saraswati

My Guru told us this story many times, but with one small alteration.  Ganesha decided to circle his parents three times because they are the source and container of all the worlds.  Shiva is the primordial reality, who has taken form within this universe, sitting on Mt. Kailasa so that He is in the world that He has created.  He is not merely an observer; He is a participant-observer.  That makes Him available to us!

Shree Parvati is a human girl who became a Goddess, specifically for the purpose of marrying Shiva.  She had a head start, of course, for She was an incarnation of the primordial energy, Shakti, drawn into human birth by the pleas of humankind.  Her intense practices transformed her into a Goddess, which She already was, as are you.  But you need to do some work on yourself before you discover your inherent Divinity.

Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati sit on Mt. Kailasa, both in the world and beyond the world.  They are the substance and energy of which the world is made, which means the world is within them, while they are within it.  Ganesha used this mystical truth to win the race, and his boon was not only a mango, but that he would be invoked at the beginning of every ceremony and every venture.  It is Ganesha that opens the doorway to the celestial and cosmic realms, so every puja (classical ceremony) begins with worship of Ganesha .

This mystical truth is true of you as well, you are in the universe, but the universe is within you.  When you look outside, you can see only part of the universe, plus you get ensnared in it,  When you look inside, you see the whole, which is the universe and the One who has become it, who is Shiva, who is you.