Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ashtavakra - Part 2 of 3

After Ashtavakra was born, Sujatha realized that if she wanted her son to have a better future, she should have some money...more than what her father and husband had now...

She talked with Kahoda that night, 'Kahoda! I wanted to talk to you about our son's future!' Kahoda was already feeling very guilty. He had made a mistake.. and when the mistake had been pointed out to him...he had cursed his own child...His child was deformed because of him...

Kahoda listened to what Sujatha had to say, 'Kahoda! I hear that King Janaka is organizing a yagna..If you go and attend the yagna, I think you will be paid well for it...We can use the money for bringing up Astavakra better....'

Kahoda immediately agreed. If he could bring some riches, then probably he stop feeling so guilty...

The next day Kahoda went to King Janaka's Court.

'King Janaka! I am Kahoda! I am a student of Uddalaka!' King Janaka immediately looked at Kahoda and smiled. Uddalaka's students were very special all over the kingdom.... King Janaka immediately offered him a throne to sit as Kahoda continued, 'I am also a Guru in Uddalaka's Gurukul and his son-in-law. I have come here to help you perform the yagna sir!...But...' Kahoda looked around and saw that there were no preparations going on for the ceremony, 'Why is there no ceremonies?...Is something...'

King Janaka said unhappily, 'Kahoda! I had the idea to conduct this yagna a few years back...I have never been able to even start it....'

Kahoda looked surprised and spoke, 'Why?'

Janaka said, ' There is a sage called Bandhi! I don't know from where he has come...He said that the yagna could be started only after he is defeated in a debate with the sages participating in the yagna....Bandhi is extremely skilled. Nobody has been able to defeat him in argument...'

King Janaka looked at Kahoda and continued, '...That is not all, Kahoda! According to Bandhi's condition, all the sages who have been defeated by him have to be drowned!' Kahoda paled when he heard this. King Janak continued angrily, '...This wretched Bandhi! So far he has killed so many sages and scholars...' King Janaka completed with a pained voice.

I cannot go back empty handed...Kahoda took a deep breath and talked to King Janaka,'I accept the challenge of Sage Bandhi!'

The debate between Kahoda and Bandhi, was organized the very next day. However much to King Janaka's dismay, Kahoda was no match for Bandhi. He lost the debate. Kahoda was drowned and killed!

Back at the ashrama, Sujatha was filled with grief to know that he husband had been killed by Bandhi! She felt guilty that she had been the one who had sent her husband to the court of King Janaka. Uddalaka then came to speak with her. 'Child! Please do not grieve for you husband! You have a child...you have a life...Get on with your life...'

Sujatha yelled, 'My husband is dead!...My child will never see its father again...' She broke down sobbing. Uddalaka said gently, 'Sh! It is ok...Ashtavakra can grown up as my son...Besides it is for the good. If Ashtavakra were to know that his father was killed than he would go seeking for Bandhi in revenge and who knows what would happen!...I think it is best if the death of his father was not told to him...'

Sujatha slowly tearfully nodded her head.

As Ashtavakra grew up, he believed that Uddalaka was his father. Now Uddalaka had a son, a very young son called Shvetaketu, who was about the same age as Ashtavakra. Ashtavakra grew up believing that Uddalaka was his father and Shvetaketu was his brother.

Ashtavakra was a brilliant student and sharp in intellect.

Shvetaketu who knew Ashtavakra's true story, was jealous of Ashtavakra. Shvetaketu could not believe that a boy who was so deformed and ugly in appearance could be so intelligent and be a darling of his father....

When Ashtavakra became twelve years old, Shvetaketu could take it no more..One day as Ashtavakra was sitting on Uddalaka's lap, Shvetaketu dragged Ashtavakra out of Uddalaka's lap and yelled at him, 'That is my father...Not your father...Don't come and claim my father as yours...I will not allow it...'

Ashtavakra was first astonished. But looking at the horrified expressions on the face of Uddalaka and Sujatha, he realized that something was wrong. He looked at Uddalaka and asked him, ' Who are you?' He said firmly, 'Looking at your expressions I think Shvetaketu's is right...You are not my father...then who are you...Where is my father?'

The words tumbled out one after the other, as Sujatha burst out crying. She said softly, 'Uddalaka is not your father, he is your grandfather..son' Between tears she told him the whole story of how Kahoda had lost the debate with Bandhi and had been drowned.

Ashtavakra listened to the whole story, without interrupting. He looked at the weeping face of his mother and his grandfather. He then looked at Shvetaketu who was looking guilty as if he was regretting his bout of jealousy.

Shvetaketu hesitantly came forward and talked to Ashtavakra, 'I...I am sorry...I behaved badly...I should not have...'

Ashtavakra held up his hands. 'You spoke the truth...I do not hold any grudge against you...' He said speaking gently to Shvetaketu, 'All this is Bandhi's fault...He is the one, who is responsible for all this..' Ashtavakra finished angrily, looking at all of them.

Sujatha and Uddalaka looked at each other with worried eyes. This was what they had wanted to avoid. Sujatha came forward hesitatingly, 'Son! Please listen to me...D..Don't go there...I have already lost my husband because I wanted to become rich...I do not wish to lose my son too....Please...' She looked at Ashtavakra with pleading eyes.

Ashtavakra looked at her and said firmly, 'You are not going to lose your son, mother!'

Sujatha looked at Ashtavakra's steely eyes and wanted to believe him, '...But...But...Son...your father went there 12 years back...Till date no one has ever beaten Bandhi...You are twelve years old...How can you hope to beat such a man...He is more experienced and...'

'Bandhi has not yet been beaten, because he has not yet met me!' Ashtavakra said quietly. Uddalaka realized that nothing was going to change Astavakra's mind. He looked at his daughter, 'Sujatha! I think you have to let Ashtavakra go...He has to fulfill his destiny..'

'He is my son..He is only twelve years old...I cannot just...' Sujatha wailed in frustration.

Uddalaka shook his head patiently, 'You are blinded by your love for him. You cannot see the great, enlightened soul, which lives within that young body...You have to let him go...let him realize his greatness...'

Sujatha looked at her father and her son. She thought through everything and slowly nodded her head. She looked at Ashtavakra, 'Go forth my son! Go and fulfill your destiny...'

Ashtavakra's face broke into a smile as he embraced his mother.

Shvetaketu came and spoke to Ashtavakra, 'Ashtavakra! I am sorry! I...do...not know...' Ashtavakra said quietly, 'It is okay! You have always been my friend..Nothing will change that...'

Shvetaketu smiled halfheartedly as he spoke, 'Then let me come with you! You do not need much help! But I want to come with you...'

Ashtavakra smiled again as he embraced his childhood friend.

With the blessings of his grandfather, Ashtavakra and Shvetaketu left for Mithila, the kingdom of King Janaka. 

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