(Saaphri Part 2)
By Yugal Joshi
Copyright 2017 Yugal Joshi
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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Sometimes like sunlight it steers away the inertia,
Sometimes it marvels like splendor of million stars,
Sometimes it caresses like moonlight,
Sometimes it flickers like a flame,
Sometimes it is the glow of a lamp.
Ever victorious is the light of wisdom,
We worship her.
Charudatt had recently migrated from Sage Vashishtha’s school to Sage Vishwamitra’s school. His father was a trader. In an unfortunate incident, his father and fellow caravan-men were killed by the dacoits when they were returning from Kaikeya, a state in the far northwest to Ayodhya. After his father’s death when his mother could not afford to continue his studies in Vashishtha’s expensive school, she decided to admit him in Vishwamitra’s school. Though, in comfort and convenience, Vishwamitra’s school was much inferior to that of Vashishtha’s, yet everyone knew about very high academic standards maintained in Vishwamitra’s school.
Charudatt took no time in charming most of his teachers and fellow students. Students were in an awe of his elephant-like memory and his art of story telling. Vishwamitra could see that Charudatt was indeed popular among them. He was curious to know more about his new student.
Once Vishwamitra saw him surrounded by his ten friends sitting and intently listening to his stories. The sun was approaching to west. Vishwamitra was at a hearing distance but not in their sight.
‘Is it true that King Dasaratha is a friend of Indra, the mighty lord of adityas and the possessor of divine powers?’ One of the boys asked.
‘Yes. The reigning Indra is said to be his friend.’
‘How many Indras had there been in the past?’
‘Many. I don’t remember the number. It is a title for the lord of adityas as Siva is the title of powerful lord of mountainous tribes.’
‘Adityas, the sons of Aditi, is a powerful civilization, extremely wealthy, prosperous, supremely arrogant and dominating!’ Charudatt replied patiently. ‘With their military might and the highest level of unity among their clans, adityas have huge political influence all over the world. Directly opposed to them were dityas, the sons of Diti. Though, like adityas, dityas’ also was predominantly an urban civilization yet both were always at loggerheads for the control over resources of the world. Both claimed their origin from Sage Kashyapa, the ruling Lord of Caspian Sea. Their mothers, Aditi and Diti were sisters and the two wives of Sage Kashyapa.
‘Is it true that one of the Sun Dynasty kings fetched River Ganga from heaven to earth?’ Another curious boy asked.
‘How can that be?’ Someone challenged.
‘That’s true.’ Charudatt said with an authority. Many students looked at him in disbelief.
‘How? Tell us about that.’ The challenger asked and others nodded in agreement.
Charudatt was ready for this question; he knew the reply so well from hearing it for umpteen times in Vashishtha’s school.
‘Long ago, King Sagar was the ruler of Kosala. He had two wives. From the first wife, he had a son, Asmanjas. From the second wife, Sagar had as many as sixty thousand sons. Though prosperous and healthy, these sixty thousand sons were proud and haughty therefore nobody liked them. Asmanjas, the son from the first wife, was of unsound mind and cruel in nature. Asmanjas’ son Anshuman, literally meaning the sun, was the exact opposite of his father. He was brave, virtuous, and had an amiable nature.
King Sagar wanted to extend the frontiers of his kingdom far and wide to establish his supremacy. Therefore, he decided to perform an Aswamedha Yagna, the Horse Sacrifice Ceremony. In this ceremony, the king lets his sacrificial horse to wander and wherever the horse goes that land is considered to belong to the king unless resisted. Sagar sent a strong force to follow the horse to overcome any resistance, if offered. No king on the earth dared to cross the path of his sacrificial horse. Indra, the powerful king of Adityas, planned a conspiracy to stop the Yagna. He managed to steal the horse and hid it in Sage Kapil’s ashram in the nether world.
Sage Kapil was the founder of Samkhya School of thoughts, one of the oldest philosophical systems existing. Samkhya philosophy is enumerationist and denies the existence of God. It regards the universe to be consisting of two realities, purusa, the consciousness, and prakriti, phenomenal realm of the matter.’
Charudatt was continuing his story.
‘King Sagar became greatly upset when he heard that his horse had been stolen. He sent his sixty thousand sons to find the sacrificial horse. They spread out and searched intensely for the horse, but could not find it. In their quest they even began to dig up the earth. But the horse wasn’t there. After months of toil, they reported back to the king and admitted their failure.
A furious Sagar ordered his sons to find the horse at any cost. Looking for the horse, they went up to the nether world. There they saw an ashram. In front of the ashram, they saw a sage sitting deep in meditation and not far from him, a horse grazing peacefully. After a closer look, the princes identified their stolen horse. Ignorant about the identity of the revered Sage Kapil, they abused and accused him of stealing their horse. Their rudeness and false charges made Kapil very agitated. In anger, he glared upon those sixty thousands arrogant princes, and reduced all of them to ashes.
In Kosala, King Sagar waited anxiously for the return of his sons. But when, after a considerable time, they did not return, he sent his grandson Anshuman to find his uncles. Following the path taken by his uncles, Prince Anshuman finally arrived at Sage Kapil’s hermitage. There, he saw the horse and a heap of ashes. He took the reins of the horse to lead him home. On his way back he met Garuda, the king of birds, who revealed that the heap of ashes, which he saw in Sage Kapil’s hermitage, was the remains of his sixty thousand uncles consumed by a single angry glance of Sage Kapil. The sixty thousand princes were cursed to remain like that forever.
Garuda also told Anshuman that the salvation of his sixty thousand uncles was possible only when the water of River Ganga would wash their ashes. Anshuman returned home and reported it to Sagar. Sagar vowed that he and his descendants would try to bring the River Ganga on earth.’
‘What? River Ganga was not here before?’ A small boy sitting in a corner asked.
‘No. Ganga is a cosmic river. Do you see the milky river in the sky? Our Ganga was a part of that. Prince Anshuman tried for years but failed to bring River Ganga on earth. After his death, his successors also tried persistently, but failed. Thus, sixty thousand sons of Sagar remained cursed in the nether world. Many generations after Anshuman, brave Bhagiratha became the king of Kosala. He had no children and eagerly desired to have an heir to continue his lineage. He was told that salvation of his ancestors and the birth of his inheritor was possible if he could bring the celestial River Ganga on earth. He became determined to do so. Bhagiratha entrusted the administration of his kingdom to his ministers and left for the Himalayas to perform penance.
Bhagiratha went through the severest austerities. He rarely ate. He sat in meditation for years with a ring of fire burning all around him in all seasons and his head exposed to the blazing sun. Finally, the Creator, Brahma became pleased with his penance. He appeared before Bhagiratha and asked him,
“Ask whatever you desire?”
Bhagiratha fell at Brahma’s feet.
“Lord, I desire for two things. Instruct River Ganga to come down on earth to liberate my ancestors from the curse of Sage Kapil. Secondly, bless me with a son so that I can pay my paternal debt by propagating the line of my forefathers.”
“Son, no human had done such severe penance before. I shall happily grant you both your wishes. But there is a difficulty. Ganga must descend from heaven, but the earth cannot withstand the force of her fall. The mighty Shiva alone can stabilize that charge. Please him by prayers.” Brahma granted the boons and guided the way ahead.
Bhagiratha resumed his penance and continued to meditate for a long time without food or water, praying constantly to Lord Shiva. Finally, he succeeded in invoking Shiva. A pleased Mahadeva appeared and blessed him.
“I shall receive Ganga on my head before she touches on the earth. May her grace be upon earth.”
With Shiva’s promise, safety of the earth was assured. There was no longer any fear of earth being washed away. But, Ganga was not an ordinary river. Beautiful beyond description and pampered by the gods, she had become very arrogant. She thought she would fall heavily on Shiva’s head and sweep the great god down with her. So, when Brahma released her from the sky, with a demonic force she gushed on Shiva. Gods trembled with fear and nature became apprehensive with the fright of destruction. A calm Shiva firmly locked the floodwaters in his matted hair as not even a drop of water could escape. Ganga tossed and turned with all her might but failed to get free. Bhagirathi requested Shiva to release the river water with a controlled speed.
A pleased Shiva gently let out the water of Ganga. The water was divided into seven streams as it fell. Three of them flowed to west and three made their way to east. The seventh stream followed Bhagiratha, who led the way. Bhagirath drove a grand chariot and Ganga followed him, her water rippling and dancing as she carved out a path for herself. Wildly leaping over cliffs and leisurely gliding over plains, Ganga went where Bhagiratha took her. It was such a divine sight to see that even gods left their abode and assembled in the sky. Bhagiratha took Ganga all the way to the nether world. There, with the holy waters of Ganga, he performed the last rites for his ancestors. Thus, the souls of sixty thousand cursed princes got liberated.’
Spellbound, everybody listened attentively to each and every word of Charudatt.
One more disciple to preserve the tradition of Shruti (The oral tradition of passing down the knowledge of sacred Vedas to generations). But in doing so, this unjust glorification of gods at the cost of intense toil of humans was an attempt to perpetuate the greatness of unworthy kings. The association of the kings’ ancestors and the gods makes their acts unquestionable in the eyes of the people and subsequently projects them as invincible. It makes dynastic monarchs despotic. Vishwamitra was worried with this growing trend.
‘From where did you hear this story, Charudatt?’ He softly enquired.
Everybody was surprised to find Vishwamitra among them. A range of colors came and went on Charudatt’s face. But he immediately recovered and replied, ‘Lord! At Brahmarishi Vashishtha’s school.’
Vishwamitra could not hide his disappointment and spoke in a controlled yet simmering voice.
‘Charudatt, I do not know what they teach there. But, I believe that the education institutes dependent on state funds rewrite and recite history as it suits to their sponsors. Nobody knows the real story of Bhagiratha, but what I trust as true, I shall tell you.’
History is always rewritten by the rulers. This clash is imminent in this story as a part of staunch rivalry between the education provided by state sponsored school of Vasishtha and independent school of Vishwamitra. A migrant student in Vishwamitra's school when tells his fellow students the classic story of Ganga's descends on earth, Vishwamitra gets alerted. How to counter state sponsored propaganda, is the question.