Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Vamana Avatar

The Vamana Avatar is the first Avatar in which Lord Vishnu incarnated as a human. This is the fifth of the Dasavatar, where Lord Vishnu incarnates as a dwarf to protect Indra. ['Vamana' in Sanskrit means dwarf]

The Vamana Avatar starts with Mahabali the Asura King. Mahabali was the grandson of Prahlada and the son of Virochana. Mahabali was a a great ruler and his people loved him. The people were very happy and prosperous under his rule. He was taught the Vedhas by his grandfather Prahlada and after that by his teacher Shukracharya. [After the churning of the ocean, when the Devas had taken the Amrit, Indra had killed Bali. Shukracharya brought back Bali to life, with the help of his mantras and power.]

Mahabali performed severe penance to Lord Brahma. Finally Lord Brahma appeared him, 'My Lord!' Bali said bowing before Lord Brahma, 'The people are always afraid of Asuras. I want to show the world that we are good. I want to have the power equal to Indra. I also should not be defeated in battle, sir!'

Lord Brahma sensed that Mahabali was a righteous man, meant for great things. Without asking any questions, he granted Mahabali his boon.

Shukracharya was a very good teacher and a very good battle strategist. With his help, Bali soon conquered the three worlds. Bali defeated Indra, the King of the Gods and took over the heavens. However Bali aided by his Guru was always righteous and was devoted to Lord Vishnu.

Shukracharya once called him, 'Bali! You have now conquered the three worlds. However if you wish to always be the Lord of the three worlds, you have to perform 100 Ashwamedha Yagnas. It is befitting that a king like you should perform the Ashwamedha Yagna, then you will always be the king of the 3 worlds.'

Bali who respected his teacher nodded his head and started about making preparations for the Yagna. Preparations were going on full scale.

Meanwhile, elsewhere Indra was lying dejected. Bali had not only defeated him, but was also showing the world, how a great ruler should behave! Bali was a good king and people loved him. Indra was actually feeling jealous of him. Indra had a feeling that all the Gods would also be on the side of the Asura – Bali.

He was sitting beside his mother Aditi in his father – Kashyap's hermitage. Aditi looked at her son and asked him. 'What is the matter son? You look unhappy...'

Indra looked at his mother and said quietly, 'Mother, it is Bali...'

Aditi looked at his son, waiting for him to explain.

'Mother, not only did he manage to defeat me, he is such a good king! People will always say that I am not that good a king as him...' Indra said angrily, 'They will compare me to that Asura and say he is better... I cannot bear it...' He said burying his hands in his lap.

Aditi looked at her son and took pity on him. 'I will see what I can do...But you have to promise me son that you will be a good king and not be hasty and act rashly henceforth...'

Indra looked at his mother, wondering what she could do. But Indra did not doubt even for a minute that his mother would solve his problem.

Aditi prayed to Lord Vishnu and started performing penance to invoke Lord Vishnu. After some time Lord Vishnu appeared before Aditi, 'Aditi! Open your eyes!'

Aditi opened his eyes and bowed to Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu spoke, 'Why did you pray to me, Aditi?'

Aditi said, 'There is nothing you do not know. You know that Bali has taken over my son's kingdom...'

Lord Vishnu interrupted softly, 'Aditi, Bali is a great man and he is good devotee and he deserves to be the Indra...'

Aditi took a deep breath and spoke again, 'My Lord! I have no doubt, Bali is a fit king. But are the other Asuras fit to rule? I am sure the other Asuras would fall to their old cruel ways and go back to hurting people...Is that what you wish?'

Lord Vishnu looked at Aditi thinking something, 'Well what do you wish?'

Aditi smiled, 'I wish that you are born as my son to end Bali's menace...'

Lord Vishnu smiled, 'Bali is not a menace. But there is one thing. Bali is destined to be the Indra.' Aditi looked at Lord Vishnu with fear. 'But... not just yet. It will be after some time.' Lord Vishnu said smilingly.

'I will take care of this. I will be born as your son, Aditi.' Aditi left home a slightly happy woman.

Soon Aditi and Kashyap were the parents of a black, beautiful short boy. He was extremely intelligent and full of pranks and was the darling of the house.

In those days at the age of five, the sacred thread ceremony was performed, to send the children for their education. Vamana's sacred thread ceremony was also performed.

Meanwhile Mahabali had performed 99 Ashwamedha Yagna and had to perform just one more yagna after which he could be crowned as the King of the Gods.

The final Ashwamedha Yagna was about to be get completed, when the entire kingdom saw a handsome dark boy approach the throne. He looked radiant and looked as if he had mastered all the arts in the universe.

Mahabali felt a surge of love towards the boy. He got up from the throne and offered it to the boy and bowed before him.

'Sir! I am honoured that you have come to my hundredth Ashwamedha Yagna. I now feel it will be a success.' Mahabali said looking at the boy lovingly.

However Guru Shukracharya was looking at the boy suspiciously.

Mahabali said again, 'Sir! Today happens to be the day I give away any alms to any person. I will give you anything you want. Please...

'Mahabali!' Shukracharya interrupted. Mahabali turned around surprised. His guru never spoke out of turn. Something was surely wrong. He looked at his Guru who spoke quietly, 'I wish to talk with you, my Lord!'

'You wish to talk with me now, sir!' Mahabali spoke incredulously. The guru nodded curtly and went inside the main hall to a private room. Mahabali hurriedly apologized to the dwarf boy and went to with his Guru.

'Sir! What hap...' Mahabali asked in an agitated manner.

'Silence!' Shukracharya spoke firmly, 'The boy is none other than Lord Vishnu. He has come here on behalf of Indra. If you give him what he wants, all will be lost...'

However it seemed as if Mahabali heard only half of what his Guru had said. 'Lord Vishnu...! He looked like a man in a daze. 'My Lord has come here to ask something from me...Than I must go...' He said going towards the door.

'Stop! You will do no such thing' The guru thundered, 'Will you disobey your guru and do what your enemy wants...'

'There is no rule as far as my Lord is concerned. And...' Mahabali looked with loving eyes, 'He has come to ask something from me...I will give him anything...' Mahahabli said with a simple devotion, from his heart.

'You disobeyed me!' Shukracharya said angrily, 'You will lose your all your splendour, Mahabali!'

Mahabali listened to the sages words and remained unchanged. It did not matter to him anymore. He looked at his Guru, 'Sir! I am not afraid of anything that will happen from giving my Lord what he wants'

Saying thus Mahabali walked out of the room followed by a furious Shukracharya.

Mahabali went to the boy again and spoke lovingly, 'Sir! We were rudely interrupted...For that I am sorry. As I was saying, today is the day I will give anything to any person who comes asking from me. What is your wish sir?'

The dark boy looked at Mahabali quietly, 'I want three steps of land, measured by my feet!'

Whatever Mahahbali had expected this was not it! He expected the boy to ask for his life, his...anything but not this...this was simple...too simple. He almost laughed. 'Three steps! That is all you want! I will give you....'

The boy interrupted, 'If any person cannot be satisfied by three steps, of land there is nothing much he can be satisfied with, your Majesty! That is all I wish...'

Looking at the dark boy, the king felt the same magnetic effect. He nodded his head, 'Anything you wish sir!'

As soon as Mahabali uttered these words, Vamana grew. Vamana grew...and grew and grew. He grew so huge, that from where Bali stood, he could see only the boy's feet, nothing else. The boy had grown so huge that the earth itself seemed to measure up in his one step!

Next the boy lifted his other leg and measured up the entire skies with his other step! [The avatar where Lord Vishnu grew to such a huge size is called as Trivikrama Avatar]

Mahabali stood there astounded watching the Dark Lord's brilliance! The boy called Mahabali. 'Oh Great King! You promised me three steps... I have measured the earth and the skies in two steps. I have nowhere to keep my third step. Where shall I keep my third step?'

Mahabali heard the boy and smiled, 'My Lord! I am not someone who breaks his promises. I offer my head as your third step my Lord!'

Lord Vishnu gave a beautiful smile, a melancholy smile and kept his third step on the Asura's head. The Asura was pushed to the Nether world [Paatala] by the force of the third step on his head.

Thus Mahabali was removed from his splendour of being the king of the Three Worlds and was pushed to the Nether worlds....

Indra and the other Devas came back to their skies grateful that they had got back their kingdom. They were happy.

However Lord Vishnu was perturbed. Mahabali had been his true devotee. He had not faltered even when his guru had warned him. He remained true to what he had said...Lord Vishnu went to the underworld.

In the underworld, Mahahbali was rebuilding his kingdom. He did not once regret the fact that he was back in the underworld...He had served his Lord and had kept his promise. He was happy. He saw a dark man approaching him. 'Your majesty! I hear you are rebuilding your kingdom. I will be your watchman your majesty! I will protect you and be part of your army!'

Mahabali looked at the dark strong young man. He agreed. The man stayed along as his watchman.

Meanwhile a very beautiful woman also came up to Mahabali. She looked powerful and graceful at the same time. She said to Mahabali, 'Your Majesty! My husband...he has gone to fulfill some errands and is not yet home. I feel lonely without him. I also need protection. I heard that in Mahabali's kingdom, you look after everyone like your own children. Please give me protection too!'

Mahabali was moved when he heard the woman. He said, 'Lady! You are like my sister to me1 Please come and stay in my palace. You can stay there as long as you wish!'

The lady thanked Mahabali. Very soon the Nether world became a very prosperous place. People lived very happily and without any worries.

Soon Mahabali relied on the watchman and his sister's counsel heavily. His kingdom was flourishing.

One day Mahabali heard the lady saying some prayers. 'Whom are you praying for?' Mahahbali asked the woman.

The woman turned and looked at Mahabali and said, 'You are my brother! I am praying for you!'

Mahabali was moved and again said, 'Whatever you want, I will give you, my sister!'

The lady smiled, 'I want my husband, Mahabali. You are the only one who can give it to me...'

Mahabali looked confused, 'Me..give your husband...?'

The lady pointed to the watchman, 'That is my husband...'

Mahabali blinked and stared as the two people vanished and there stood Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi in their places. Mahabali was flabbergasted that the great Lord had been his watchman! And that the Goddess of Fortune – Lakshmi had been with him all these days!

Lord Vishnu spoke, 'Your devotion dragged me here Mahabali! I had to be with you...'

Mahabali fell to his feet and looked at the Lord. The Lord continued. 'After this Indra's rule, you are the next Indra...That is my promise. Be a good ruler, my son!'

Mahabali then turned to the Goddess, 'I am sorry for keeping your husband from you, sister! Take him and go back!'

The goddess smiled, 'Thank you! And you did not keep him! He always is with people who love him most! May you always be!'

Saying thus the two of them vanished to went back to Vaikunta. The bond between Mahabali and Lakshmi is said to be one of the reasons for celebrating the Raksha Bandhan, where the sisters prays for the welfare of the brothers and the brothers protect the sisters from any harm!

Nahusha and Indra

Once there was a very powerful demon by name Vritasura. In order to defeat him, Indra had pretended to be his friend. After learning of Vritasura's weakness, Indra then killed Vritasura. After killing the demon Vritasura, Indra, felt very uneasy. He knew that he had committed a sinful act and that he could never forgive himself.

Indra, the king of the Devas, relinquished his throne and his kingdom and went away. He hid himself so that the other Devas would not be able to find him and make him come back.

'Who should take the place of Indra?' Agni said looking around at his friends.

Vayu nodded, 'Yesterday I tried looking for Indra. I searched everywhere, still I could not find him anywhere. I do not think there is any chance that Indra would come...come...' Vayu did not complete the sentence. The other Gods understood. Even if Indra was found, he would not come back and rule them. Indra had lost the will to rule the Devas.

Varuna spoke softly, 'I think we will have to choose someone else to be our king...' He looked around. All the other Devas looked at each other. They knew that this was the only option available to them.

'We cannot just choose anybody to be our king...' Agni said, 'I mean, we need someone who is deserving. Some one who can handle the pressures of being the king well...'

Vayu said softly, 'Nahusha would be a good option.'

All the Devas looked at Vayu but did not say anything. They were all thinking about Nahusha...

Nahusha was the son of Aayu and a king of the Lunar Dynasty. He was taught by Sage Vasishta and had learnt the Vedas and the Shastras when he was very young. Nahusha had ruled well and had performed a 100 Ashwamedha Yagnas. His fame had spread all over the world and the heavens and people were in awe of him.

As the Devas thought of this, they slowly nodded their head. Nahusha would be a perfect man to be their king.

So with the permission of their Guru - Brihaspati, the very next day all the Devas went to Nahusha.

Nahusha was delighted on seeing them. He welcomed them heartily, 'Welcome Devas! Please come...' He offered them food to eat. The Devas enjoyed his hospitality.

Then after some time hesitatingly Agni talked to Nahusha, 'Nahusha you must know that we are not without a king....'

Nahusha gravely nodded his head as Agni continued, 'It is for that reason that we have come to see you...'

Nahusha frowned wondering where this was leading to. But Nahusha did not say anything.

Varuna continued from where Agni left off, '...Nahusha, we need a good king and one who can handle the pressures of ruling the Devas and also control the natural elements of the earth...'

Nahusha nodded still not saying anything as Agni said, 'Would you consider becoming our king, Nahusha?'

Nahusha looked flabbergasted at the Devas. He wondered whether this was all some sort of joke. He was just plain Nahusha, and these Devas wanted him to be their king...Surely there was some mistake. He croaked out, 'Devas! I am very happy that you considered me for this post. But seriously, why me? I mean there are better people suited for this job...Not only that Indra....' Nahusha snapped his fingers as he remembered Indra, 'I am sure Indra will come back...Why are you being so hasty?'

Vayu shook his head, 'Indra will not come back. After the death of Vritasura, Indra has always felt uncomfortable...I seriously doubt whether he would come back soon...The Devas need a king, Nahusha....We cannot be without a king. What if the Asuras were to attack when we are without a king....'

The others Devas shuddered as they heard these words. Vayu continued, 'So you see Nahusha, we have to crown a king and fast...'

Agni spoke, 'You seem to be a good king. Your people are happy under your rule and you have completed a hundred Ashwamedha Yagnas...I think we are right in offering you the crown...You truly deserve it...

Nahusha watched the Devas and thought for some time. He was not influenced by pride or arrogance as he was a good king. Finally he decided that everything the Devas said was right and slowly nodded his head. 'I think you are right Devas! But...' He frowned, 'I am just an ordinary humans, how will I have the powers of Indra? Do I have to do something....'

Agni shook his head, 'Nahusha! We are the Devas, once you become our king, our powers will be added to you and you will become powerful as the King of Devas. You will become invincible.'

Nahusha nodded without any feeling. If he was to lead the Devas to war, these powers would be handy...

Nahusha was appointed the King and at the right time, a great yagna was conducted and he was made the King of the Devas. Nahusha continued to be a good king. Looking at Nahusha rule, the Devas felt happy that they had made a good choice. Nahusha proved to a very good diplomat and negotiator.

However things did not stay the same. Nahusha for all his skill, the continuous exposure to the unlimited power had weakened his resolve. Slowly the power eroded him. Nahusha was soon drunk by the power that he wielded and became arrogant and haughty. He soon became thinking that he was the reason everything was going so smoothly. He wanted more and more power and grew more and more corrupt and vain.

Nahusha would call up the court and scold people who did not bow to him properly or when he felt that they were disrespectful to him. He asked people to write stories and poems of his greatness and have them put on the palaces. The Devas were stunned by the change over Nahusha. However now that Nahusha was their king, they could not do anything about that....They grumbled in private hoping that Indra would come back and become their king...

Once as Nahusha was going through the palace he saw the beautiful and intelligent Shachi – wife of Indra, in the palace. Shachi was one of the reasons, Indra had not strayed from the path of righteousness often. She mostly kept him in line with her wit and intelligence. However when Nahusha saw Shachi, Nahusha felt that he had marry the beautiful queen!

He called her, 'Shachi! I am the king of the Devas now! Now that your husband has left you, you have to become my wife now....'

Sahachi stared at Nahusha as if he had gone mad. 'Giving up Indra...her Indra for this wretched man...Never....! She looked at Nahusha straight in the eye, 'Nahusha! You may be the king of the Devas! But I am the wife of only one Indra...whom I shall not give up for anything....'

Nahusha smiled at her cruelly, 'Well this is my palace and you are here! Everything here is mine....' He said looking at the queen with dark eyes.

The queen flashed her eyes angrily, 'Fine!' She turned to her maid, 'Arrange my chariot! Take me to the palace of Guru Brihaspati!' She looked at Nahusha angrily, 'It seems I do not have the right to stay here any more! The maid left.

Nahusha looked angrily as the queen left. He could not stop the queen by force.

After the queen had left, Nahusha could not think of anything else. He needed to have her! How dare she refuse him! The King of Gods...! Who does she think she was!

He finally sent a messenger to Shachi Devi, though the Devas. The Devas came to see Shachi. 'Shachi! He is making us miserable!' Agni said angrily, 'He keeps on ranting about what a great man he is and that it was our duty to fulfil his wishes! Please come and talk to him...'

Shachi flashed at Agni, 'I love only one man, Agni!...'

'And you shall have that man...' Guru Brihaspati came inside the room and talked to her. The Devas and Shachi bowed to Brihaspati. Brihaspati looked to Shachi. He knew she was strong-willed and intelligent enough to get rid of Nahusha. He repeated, 'You shall have your man, if you act intelligently, Shachi!'

Shachi looked at Guru Brihaspati uncomprehendingly as he continued, 'Remember he desires you! And also remember that blind desire can make a man act without common sense and make him behave rashly!'

Shachi looked at Guru Brihaspati for a long minute as the other Devas looked on. Shachi slowly nodded and smiled. She then turned to Agni, 'Agni! Tell your King, I am willing to see him privately! At once!'

Agni looked surrprised but left immediately. Shachi then turned to Vayu, 'Vayu, Can you please find Indra! It is important! You will otherwise not have a king soon!'

Vayu was confused but said, 'I will find him!' and left.

However Vayu could not find Indra anywhere.

Nahusha on the other hand was very happy when he heard Agni's words! He dressed himself well and went to Gurru Brihaspati's palace. There he saw Shachi. He looked at her and saw her sitting regally and smirked So the great queen finally realized how powerful I am and has decided to fall on her knees before me...

Shachi looked at Nahusha, 'Nahusha! I apologize for acting so rashly then...' She said in a sweet voice. Nahusha nodded his head curtly. The queen has to apologize later...But that I will take care later...

'Nahusha, 'I...I am doing a yagna for fifteen days! After it is over, I want you to come to me and pick me up from this palace and take me to our palace, with pomp and show...'

Nahusha nodded. A grand homecoming for the queen..He asked the queen, 'Is there any particular chariot, the queen loves...?'

'Chariot?' Shachi looked at his as if he was mad...'A chariot?' No I do not want a chariot... I have something even more grand..'

Nahusha frowned, 'What does the queen have in mind?'

'Kings always come on horse back, elephants or chariots...But you must be different, because you are the king of Gods! You must come in a palanquin!'

Nahusha frowned even more, 'A palanquin?'

'Yes!' Shachi said, with a small smile, 'A palanquin carried by the greatest sages of all times...I will come only when you come in such a palanquin...' Shachi said softly looking at Nahusha.

Nahusha not realising the trap, nodded. He was after all king. Who could refuse him?

Nahusha nodded and went away to his palace. He called in the greatest sages including Agastya to lift his palanquin for him to meet Shachi. The sages agreed. He was after all the king of the Devas...

Shachi used the fifteen days well. With the help of Goddess Upashruti, she found Indra. Indra was hidden in a great Lake called Manasarovar. He had hidden himself inside a lotus in the lake. He was meditating there to remove the sin of killing Vritrasura.

Shachi then convinced Indra that he was now fit to rule the Devas and that she planned to get rid of Nahusha. She told him of his plan. Indra nodded and smiled at his wife's boldness. He decided that the time had come to become the king again and reclaim his crown.

On the fifteenth day, Nahusha called eight sages and ordered them to carry the palanquin. Nahusha had become so arrogant that he had not realized that these men were powerful rishis with great powers - these men were more powerful than the King of Gods!

The sages carried the palanquin. Agastya was a short man and the palanquin titlted to one side and Agastya was slow too. Nahusha was enraged by this and kicked Agastya in the back saying Sarpa...Sarpa ' [meaning faster....faster]

That was the last straw! Nahusha had committed his last act of arrogance as Sage Agastya was enraged by the appalling behaviour of the king, 'Sarpa?' He said angrily, 'May you become a sarpa [serpent]!'

Nahusha felt himself slither away and change into a serpent! He looked at his snake like body and suddenly his mistakes flashed before him. He was appalled of his arrogance. He looked at the Sage and bowed to him, 'Sir! I was blind! Please save me!'

Sage Agastya shook his head, 'You will remain a snake till you learn the rules of being a good king...Go!'

And the sages vanished from there as Nahusha the Great king fell on earth as the python!

Many years later, when the Pandavas [the heroes of the Mahabharatha] came to the jungle where Nahusha was living as a serpent. Nahusha caught Bheema, the second Pandava. In order to free his brother, Yudhistara, the eldest Pandava explained to the serpent the rules of being a good king...After learning this, Nahusha released Bheema and Nahusha became his old self without arrogance and pride.

Shachi was a happy woman. She had got back her Indra and had got rid of the arrogant Nahusha all in one masterly stroke!

Ganesha and Kubera

In Hindu Mythology, Kubera is the God of Wealth. He controlled all the riches in the world. He was also one of the protectors of the world [Lok Pala]. Kubera lived in the Himalaya mountains with Shiva and Parvati as his neighbours.

Kubera wanted to show off to the world how rich and hospitable he was. So he organized lavish parties and made sure everyone attended it. Though all the Devas came and appreciated Kubera's palace and his hospitality, he was not satisfied. Only if I get Shiva and the Goddess to my parties, would people praise me even more...When people realize that even the great God and the Goddess looked at my palace in awe, well people would respect me even more....

With this in mind, he went to Kailash – Shiva's home. As he entered the home, he saw the simple surroundings and smirked. Even the Great God and the Goddess lives here in the open mountains, whereas I live in a lavish palace...Being such a great God can't he not even provide a better home for his family....Why, the living room of my palace is larger than Shiva's home...

Shiva and Parvati were sitting and talking, when Kubera came inside. He bowed before the Lord and the Goddess.

'What brings you here, Kubera?' Shiva asked looking at Kubera with a smile.

Kubera spoke slowly, 'My Lord! I have organized a party....'

Parvati spoke interrupting Kubera, 'Party? What is the occasion Kubera?'

Kubera was stumped. He fumbled as he stared at the Goddess. He could not explain that he had given a party merely to show off how wealthy he was...That would be so embarrassing...

'Goddess! I... I wanted to celebrate....celebrate life...because it is so enjoyable....So I am throwing a party....' Kubera said rather lamely.

Shiva looked at Parvati. They both understood immediately that Kubera had kept the party for no reason other than to show off his wealth. Parvati nodded her head at Shiva and smiled. She looked at Kubera.

'Kubera! I would be so glad to come with you....its just that we are so busy...' Parvati said firmly.

'My Lord! My Goddess! I know you are so busy. Please I organized this party so that you could come and relax....Please...' Kubera folded his hands and looked at Parvati desperately.

'Well Kubera! Right now my son Ganesha is going to come home. He has to eat...I will have to feed him....' Parvati said with a quiet smile which Kubera missed.

Kubera laughed, 'Oh my Goddess! Then please come to my party with Ganesha so that you can all have dinner there.'

Parvati smiled at Kubera, who had not realized that he had walked into a trap.

Shiva spoke, 'Well Ganesha likes parties and he likes eating...Why don't you take him with you to the party. You see both of us have other things to do now....'

Kubera beamed and nodded. If I cannot get the Lord and the Goddess, Ganesha would be great!

Just then Ganesha returned home, 'Mother! I am home! I am hungry! Whats for dinner....How was your....'

Ganesha saw his parents talking with Kubera. He looked at his mother who was looking at him with twinkling, mischievous eyes. He silently raised his eyes as his mother nodded towards Kubera. Ganesha understood and greeted Kubera.

'Welcome Kubera! What a splendid surprise! What are you doing here?' Ganesha asked Kubera politely.

Kubera said, 'Sir! I had organized a party...'

Ganesha clapped his hands with glee, 'Party? I love parties...But what is the occasion?' He asked as he frowned.

Both Shiva and Parvati refrained from looking at each other, or they would have burst out laughing. Kubera said haltingly, 'Sir, I have a party for celebrating life...because it is so enjoyable...'

Ganesha looked at Kubera for a minute and immediately understood everything. He then said, 'My parents are very busy! I guess then I will have to come with you...'

Kubera beamed and nodded. Nodding to his parents, Ganesha set off with Kubera. Soon both of them arrived at Kubera's palace. Kubera arrived ans started, 'Sir, do you see this fountain in the park...It is built by the most precious stones....'

'Kubera!' Ganesha said sternly, 'You heard me tell my mother I was hungry! Do you really think I can admire all these things...' Ganesha asked waving his hands all over the palace, '...with a hungry stomach...'

Kubera flustered and shook his head. He summoned all his servants. He said in a hurry. 'Quick lay out the plates and bring out the food. Ganesha is going to eat the food with us...' Kubera said smirking at Ganesha. How much could the little elephant-headed boy eat?

Kubera was about to find out the answer to that question the hard way...

Ganesha said down and started eating the food placed before him. It is customary to feed a person till he says he has had enough.

Ganesha started eating all the food placed before him, the food which was actually made for hundreds of people. However Ganesha wanted some more food and looked at Kubera after the plate was empty. Kubera ordered his servants to bring more food. The servants brought in some more food, which Ganesha finished even before Kubera could blink. The servants were getting apprehensive as they brought in the last amount of food they had cooked. Kubera also watched this with mild apprehension, hoping Ganesha would get satisfied with this food.

After finishing his plate Ganesha still looked hungry. 'Food!' He bellowed angrily. The servants flustered and whispered to Kubera that the food in the palace was over. Looking at the furiously eating Ganesha, the servants even dumped the uncooked food on his plate, which vanished into Ganesha's stomach like the rest of the food!

Kubera was alarmed. 'Go to the surrounding villages and get some food immediately!'

The servants and the soldiers ran out. In a hurry, they brought some food and laid it down before Ganesha. It too vanished inside Ganehsa's stomach, who was looking more and more annoyed. 'Is this all you have? That was just an appetizer! I want FOOD!' Ganesha yelled. As Kubera backed away with fright.

Kubera said with a frightened tone, 'Sir! All my food is over. The soldiers are going to get some food for you....'

'OVER!' Ganesha yelled, 'OVER! How could this much quantity be enough for me? You cook so little and you called the Lord, Goddess and me for dinner?' Ganesha looked more and more furious with every second, 'Kubera! You promised my mother you would feed me! Now I am still hungry so I am going to eat you...'

'Aaah!...' Kubera yelled as he ran out of the palace. He ran and ran and ran straight to the only person who could protect him from Ganesha.

Kubera ran to Kailash and flung himself on Shiva's and Parvati's feet. 'My Lord and Goddess! Please save me...Please...' Kubera struggled with his breath as he tried speaking.

'What is the matter?' Shiva asked with a twinkling eye.

Kubera almost broke down crying, 'Lord please do not make fun of me! I was vain and proud, thinking I could do anything because I had all the money in the world....Please I have learnt my lesson! I will never be proud of my wealth...Please...' Kubera looked back to see if Ganesha was still behind him...'Please save me from Ganesha!'

Shiva took some rice from his house and gave it to Kubera. 'Go and give this to Ganesha, after you have given up your pride!'

'Sir! I gave him a lunch fit for hundreds of people and he is still hungry! Do you really think this will satisfy him...' Kubera wailed.

Shiva smiled, 'You gave Ganesha a feast with pride, to show-off your money, which will never satisfy him. If you give Ganesha anything with a clean mind and pure heart, whatever you give him will satisfy him....

Kubera looked at the three-eyed God, as if looking at him for the first time understood how wise the Lord and the Goddess were. He took the rice. Ganesha had entered the house and was looking at Kubera. But when Ganesha saw the subdued Kubera, Ganesha stopped and gave him a dazzling smile!

Kubera hesitatingly came forward and offered Ganesha the rice. 'Sir! I hope this satisfies you!

Ganesha smiled and ate the rice without any question. He patted his stomach and said to Kubera, 'I am full! Thank you!'

Kubera went home a wiser man as Ganesha enjoyed his feast and had eaten to his full! 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Origins of Panchatantra

Long time ago, there lived a king called Amarshakti, who ruled the kingdom of Mahilaropya. He was a good kind man and a very able administrator. The people in his kingdom loved him. The king had three sons - Bahushakti, Ugrashakti and Anantshakti.

The King was extremely busy in the matters of the state and could not spend much time with his family. As he got older, the King decided that he had to crown one of his sons as the King after him. He called with his sons and talked with them. However after talking with his sons, the King was appalled! His sons were not interested in learning anything. His sons would not learn anything in school or about the stately arts of ruling the kingdom. The king was disheartened when he saw his sons.

The very next day he called his council of ministers, 'Ministers' He said as soon as the meeting started, 'There is a problem...a big problem if we don't solve it now....Ever since I started ruling the kingdom, it has taken the sole priority over everything else. I...' Amarshakthi looked at his ministers, 'I spent all the time for the kingdom...Now I am regretting that...I...' The king gulped, '...I did not spend any time with my sons. Had I spent anymore time with them earlier I would have known how they have become....' The king was quiet and closed his eyes. The ministers did not say anything...

The king opened his eyes and looked around at his ministers. 'They have become...dull and disinterested....' The king looked at the ministered once more. 'How can such people become good persons...let alone good rulers....' The king despaired and closed his eyes again.

One of the minsters spoke, 'Your Majesty! Education is the only means to remove this disinterest....'

However another minister intervened, 'It is going to take atleast 12 years for them to learn the grammar of the Sanskrit...and they are royal children...We have to teach them the rules of administration...We do not have that much time....' The minster glanced at the old king and murmured apologetically, 'I am sorry sir!'

The king nodded and waved his hands, 'You speak the truth, I am getting old and these children need to learn fast...'

The king heard some more ideas, none of them good.... Finally one of the minsters - Sumati spoke, 'Science, Politics and diplomacy were limitless and it would take your whole life time to master them...Instead of teaching the princes scriptures and texts, we have to teach them the wisdom within them...Sir! We could call in Vishnu Sharma....'

The King sat up and as did the other minsters. 'Vishnu Sharma? Who is that?'

'Sir he is an excellent guru sir! He can teach Neethi Shastra in a very short time...'

The other ministers also said, 'Yes sir! That is an excellent idea! Vishnu Sharma is well known throughout the kingdom and is an excellent teacher...'

Looking at his ministers the King felt some hope. 'Request Vishnu Sharma Guru to come and see me as soon as possible...'

The very next day Vishnu Sharma came to the royal palace with the Kings messengers. The king received the teacher with great respect and honoured the teacher.

After the hospitality, the king told the Guru all about his problem. 'Sir! I do not mean to be rude. I would give you a hundred villages and a lot more..Just...Just teach my sons sir!' The king was looking at Vishnu Sharma desperately.

Vishnu Sharma smiled and shook his head. 'Sir! I never sell knowledge for money! But...' Vishnu Sharma said looking at the dejected king, 'I will teach the princes....I will take up the challenge and I will do it....'

The king looked at Vishnu Sharma hopefully, 'If you can do that sir, I will...'

Vishnu Sharma cut off the king with a wave of his hands, ' I would like to talk to your sons sir!

Overjoyed, the king called his sons. Vishnu Sharma talked with the sons for some time. The king watched. Looking at the disinterested manner in which his sons were replying, the king was sure that Vishnu Sharma was going to walk out of the palace, without taking up the job.

Finally Vishnu Sharma finished talking and sent the sons away. He then turned to Amarshakthi and spoke, 'Your Majesty! Have no fear! I will take up the teaching of your sons! I will teach them everything they need to know and that too within six months!'

The king looked at Vishnu Sharma with tears in his eyes. 'Sir, if you do that I will give you anything you want....Why I will...'

Vishnu Sharma cut off the King for the second time, 'Your Majesty! I am an old man. You need not have to waste money on me. I do this work because it challenges me! Your sons...they are intelligent...just bored....I will make my stories interesting and present them well. If...' Vishnu Sharma said with conviction, 'I do not teach your sons within six months, I will change my name...'

The king looked at Vishnu Sharma with disbelief, but he knew enough of human nature to realize when a man spoke with utter conviction and believed in what he said. The king nodded his head. Vishnu Sharma looked at the king and spoke again, 'Send the princes with me to my hermitage. I will teach them there...'

The king nodded and made preparations for the travel of the princes the very next day.

Vishnu Sharma was busy thinking as he was lying in the royal bed that night. These princes cannot be taught by conventional teaching. I have to teach them stories in a simple manner. Probably using animals and teach morals to them...and to teach them the art of managing the kingdom after their father...

The next day the princes left with their Guru to his hermitage. During the course of teaching the princes, Vishnu Sharma compiled the Panchatantra - books based on animal stories. [In Sanskrit 'Pancha' means five and 'Tantra' means 'principles']. Most of the stories were written by Vishnu Sharma himself. However some stories were thousand years older and Vishnu Sharma incorporated these stories inside the main story.

The Panchatantra is a collection of short stories under five headings - Mitra Bhedha [The loss of friends]; Mitra Samprapti [How to win friends]; Kakolukiyam [Of owls and crows]; Labdha Prasanam [Loss of Gain] and Aparikshita Karakam [Rash Actions]

Vishnu Sharma told the stories in such a way that each collection of story started with one main story, with other stories woven inside the main story. Each story gave insight into politics and practical wisdom as the essence or moral of the story was always similar to what a person would face in day-to-day life.

Taught in such a manner, the princes listened to each story with great interest and wonder. Within a very short time the three princes became highly knowledgeable in politics and became able administrators.

After six months when the sons returned to the kingdom, the king was amazed at how much the princes had picked up in a short span of six months! Though he tried to give gifts to the Guru, who refused it, Vishnu Sharma became popular throughout the kingdom.

The stories of the Panchatantra are not just relevant that day, but still holds good even now!

The beginning sentence of the Panchatantra in Sanskrit reads like this:
'All the worldly wisdom and inner meaning of life which was written anywhere in any book was compressed in the five books by the shrewd Vishnu Sharma!'

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Indra and the ants

After the defeat of Vritra, Indra had no interest in ruling the kingdom of the Devas. However the other Devas convinced Indra that he had done a great service to all people everywhere. Vritra was an evil asura. Indra being the King of the Devas, had done his duty to defeat Vritra, by hook or crook.

Though Indra was not convinced at first, subsequently he saw all the Devas looking at him with pride for his accomplishments. I guess what I have done is not that bad a thing...Vritra was an asura and I killed him by cunning...I had no choice. I had to do what I had to do, otherwise the Vritra would have kept the waters of the earth imprisoned...People would be died without water...

Finally Indra agreed to stay on as the King of the Devas. The Devas were happy. They felt proud of having such a brave man like Indra as their leader. They worshiped him and adored him. For some time, Indra resisted all this. But after some time, all this got into his head. He began to feel that he was the only person in the whole world who could have killed Vritra. Soon Indra again grew proud and arrogant.

As Vritra had overthrown Indra, the Devas decide that Indra had to again be crowned as the King. The Devas performed elaborate yagnas and ceremonies. The festivities went for a long time and finally Indra was again crowned as the King of the Devas.

After being crowned as the King, Indra went to his palace. However now everything had changed in his eyes. He felt that his huge palace was no longer sufficient for him. I am the King of the whole world. People pray to me for their victories. I control the rains and I am the King of the Devas...I cannot live in such a pathetically small palace.

He called Vishwakarma, the architect of the Devas. 'Vishwakarma! To celebrate my victory over Vritra, I am going to built a big palace...'

Vishwakarma nodded, 'Is there any specific design you have in mind, my Lord?' He asked Indra.

Indra said carelessly, 'The palace should be very big...much bigger than this..' Indra said pointing at his own palace...And it should be grand...I want the fountain area to be bigger. My main court is so small...I want it to be ….

Indra spoke vehemently for a long time as Vishwakarma listened. After Indra finished, Vishwakarma nodded and set about designing a big palace.

He showed the plans to Indra. Indra looked at them and nodded appreciatively. Vishwakarma started the building and a year later had completed the palace. Vishwakarma proudly asked Indra to come and see the construction.

It was a huge palace by any stretch of imagination. However Indra was now ruled by greed. He still found the palace small. He angrily turned to Vishwakarma. 'You call this grand....! Why my private room is so small....' Vishwakarma looked dejected as Indra angrily continued to find faults in the palace.

Vishwakarma agreed to rebuilt the palace. This time he spent more and more time decorating the palace lavishly. After he had painstakingly finished, he felt as if he had fulfilled Indra's wishes. He again called Indra to look into the palace.

However Indra was far from satisfied. He wanted the palace to be more and more grand. Unhappy Vishwakarma set about reconstructing the palace for the third time. He made the palace bigger than anything he had ever designed. Finally when the palace was over, he fearfully called Indra. Just as he had feared, Indra was still not satisfied with the palace. He wanted it bigger...

Vishwakarma realized that he could never satisfy Indra. No matter how grand the palace was, Indra would want it bigger. Desperately Vishwakarma went to Lord Brahma for help 'My Lord! I need your help...' He fell on Lord Brahma's feet almost weeping.

'What is the matter Vishwakarma?' Lord Brahma asked concerned. Vishwakarna told about Indra's palace. Lord Brahma got more and more angry as he heard Vishwakkarma's story. Indra still has not understood to become humble. He has to be taught a lesson...VIshwakarma looked desperately at Lord Brahma, 'Lord! I am immortal...Indra is immortal...If this goes on Indra would have me building his palace for all eternity...Nothing seems to satisfy him...Please...'

Lord Brahma held up his hands and looked at Vishwakarma, 'Go forth in peace son! Go home and and don't worry about this. I will take care of this...'

Vishwakarma left Lord Brahma's place a relieved man.

Lord Brahma then went to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. He told them the whole story, 'Lords, Indra has not yet learnt to control himself. His pride needs to be humbled...'

Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu looked at each other with tight lips. They both nodded.

The next day, outside Indra's palace was a beautiful dark boy admiring Indra's palace. He admired the beauty of the palace and spoke greatly of it. Indra who was passing by called the boy. He looked at the boy and told him proudly, 'Do you like my palace? I am having it built to celebrate my victory over the asura Vritra.' Indra said, 'Of course it is not yet the way I want it...It has to be bigger...See how small the front garden is...'

The dark boy listened to everything and nodded. He looked around and said, 'Well Indra, I have to tell you..This is by far the biggest and grandest palace built by any Indra so far...'

Indra's throat constricted in his chest when he heard this, 'What...' He crocked and said again, 'What did you say?'

The dark boy said quietly, 'This is the biggest palace built by any Indra...'

'Other Indras?...' Indra asked feebly.

'Yes.' The boy said frowning as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. 'Each time Brahma wakes up, he creates the universe and an Indra to rule over it. Every time Brahma goes to sleep, the universe is destroyed with everything on it. Even Lord Brahma himself has a life cycle. After 4,32,000 years, he will also cease to exist. Then another Brahma comes into existence.' The dark boy looked at Indra puzzled, 'I have seen all the Indra till date. Have you never seen them?'

Meanwhile a row of ants were marching inside Indra's palace. Looking at them, the boy started laughing. Indra was now feeling afraid. Hearing the boy laugh terrified him. He swallowed and opened his mouth but no words came out. He slowly got out the words, 'Wh...Why do you laugh?'

The boy looked at Indra with narrowed eyes, 'Are you sure you want to know?'

Indra hurriedly nodded his head finding that he was not able to talk. 'They are all former Indras.' Indra looked aghast as the boy continued. 'They begin from the smallest creatures and become the most enlightened people. And you know what happens after that...' The boy continued looking at Indra, 'They destroy one monster and they suddenly think they are the King of the Universe...' Indra winced as the boy continued, 'And then they start from the beginning as ants...'

Indra was looking as if somebody had slapped him. The boy turned at that time to see an ascetic come in. Indra if anything looked even more alarmed then before. The ascetic had some hair on his chest in a circular pattern. The hair in the centre had fallen off. However there was still some hair on the circumference on the chest.

The boy saluted the hermit, 'Great sir! What are you doing here?'

'I am just roaming, young sir!' The hermit said.

The boy asked, 'What is the hair in your chest sir?'

The ascetic shrugged, 'Well every time an Indra dies, a hair falls of. All the hair in the centre have fallen off...Soon all of this would be gone too..'

'Stop! Please stop!' Indra yelled. 'I have learnt my lesson. Who are you? Please tell me...' I was an ignorant fool. I thought I was great because of something I had done...I am sorry. There are so many things I need to know...' Indra glanced at his feet. 'I have been so silly. I have been thinking...'

The boy and the hermit vanished and Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva appeared in their place. Indra fell on their feet. He got up and looked at them. 'Sir, I have become proud and arrogant. I want to go away from all this.' Indra said pointing at his unfinished palace...'I want to understand so many things. My Lord, I wish to go away and meditate and repent for my sins.'

Both Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu nodded as Indra gave up his kingdom and went to repent for his mistakes.

After Indra left, the Devas elected Nahusha as their next Indra. However that is another story!