Friday, March 21, 2014

Vikramaditya's Throne

Raja Bhoja of the Paramwara Dynasty was a proud man. He had ruled his kingdom well and the subjects of his kingdom were prosperous and happy.
However, recently the people of the kingdom had complained about a man-eater tiger who had started attacking the people at the outskirts of the kingdom. It seemed like the animals of the forests were slowly venturing into the kingdom and this had resulted in loss of life and property.
Immediately the king along with a small group entered into the forest and got about systematically decimating the wild animals in the place.
Once the king and his men were reasonably certain that the wild animals would not cause any more threat to the people, the king started his journey back to the capital.
However, just outside the outskirts of the forests, the royal group saw a beautifully furnished garden. Even looking at the garden made the tired men hungry.
The king ordered his men to ask the owner about buying some of the fruits when they heard a shout from above.
The king looked up and smiled as he saw a man standing on top of a tall platform. The man was evidently a farmer and he was standing on the platform and he was chasing away the birds which were trying to venture inside the garden.
Just looking at the man made the king smile. The man seemed happy - as if he had no worries in the world.
The king was about to open his mouth when the man shouted from the top. "I am Saravana. I am the owner of the garden. All of you seem to be tired. Help yourself with some fruits, sir."
The king's face broke into a surprised laugh as he nodded his head. He signaled his men to go inside the garden.
The group entered the garden when something changed.
The king and his men were unable to explain it, but they definitely felt it.
The world suddenly seemed like a serene place where absolutely nothing went wrong.
A heady feeling came to the king as they feasted on the lovely and juicy fruits in the garden.
They had demolished many fruits when suddenly they heard the footsteps of a man running towards them.
"You thieves! You selfish thieves! You look so rich and you steal from a farmer like me..." The man shouted as he came right in front of them. The man faltered for a second as he saw the man that he had been yelling at, was the king of the land.
But then the man again started yelling. "You claim to be the king and you steal from your own subjects?"
As far as Raja Bhoja was concerned, he was more than shocked.
Because the man yelling at him was Saravana, the same man who had asked them to take the fruits.
The king and his men looked bewildered at each other because Saravana was now almost yelling himself hoarse and calling the king everything from a liar to a thief.
"You asked me to take the fruits." The king said feeling extremely embarrassed as Saravana stopped shouting.
Saravana looked shocked and bewildered. "Me? You think I would ask you to take these fruits? Just like that? I am taking care of this garden with the intention of selling the fruits for money. You think I would just give them away for free? Do you think I am a fool?"
A part of the king was disgusted with the man, but still a lingering doubt remained in his mind.
He pulled out his gold ring and handed it over to the man. "These are for the fruits that me and my men took." He said dismissively as he looked around the garden and he was thinking.
Saravana's eyes literally bulged out from its sockets as he stared at the gold ring. He swallowed once or twice and then nodded his head slowly.
"How long have you had this garden?" The king asked after he was certain that he had Saravana’s undivided attention.
"It belonged to my father, sir. Now I am taking care of it." The man mumbled still looking at the ring.
Suddenly one of Raja Bhoja's ministers came forward. "How on earth, do you have so many varieties of fruits growing in this garden at the same time?"
Saravana shrugged. "I do not know, sir. This field has been a very lucky one for us. None of the crops planted in the field have ever gone bad and we have always had a bumper harvest. No matter what the weather."
Raja Bhoja looked around. He suddenly turned to Saravana. "Would you consider selling the garden to me?"
Saravana looked wary when Raja Bhoja continued hurriedly. "You will of course, be paid. I am willing to pay twice the amount that you want."
Saravana looked like he could not believe what he was hearing. Then he looked at the gold ring in his hand and the stern face of the king and realized that the king meant what he was saying and slowly nodded his head. "I am more than willing to sell my garden to you, your majesty."
Raja Bhoja smiled as he looked at the man. "I want to see that platform that you were standing on, to chase away the birds." The king said to Saravana.
Deciding that today was going to be one of the most inexplicable days of his life, Saravana mutely led the king to the platform.
Raja Bhoja came near the platform when it almost hit him. The feeling of bliss and righteousness. The feeling which was felt mildly all over the garden, was so powerful near the platform that Raja Bhoja felt nothing for a few seconds. He had images of his kingdom as one of the most powerful and prosperous kingdoms in the entire country and he saw himself sitting proudly in the royal court.
Raja Bhoja shook his head to clear the image.
Saravana's eyes also had the same happy look that he had had when he was standing on the top of the platform. "Sir, the price that you have paid me for the garden, is more than what I need. Just give me what is necessary and no more."
Raja Bhoja lifted his eyebrows and he was studying Saravana. "The price that I paid for it, is correct. Please approach my ministers. They will make sure you are paid appropriately."
Saravana nodded and he and the king went back to the ministers. The king studied Saravana as he walked away from the platform. The further away from the platform the man got, Saravana looked like a man who had just woken up to a strong dose of reality.
The king paid the man the promised sum and Saravana departed. The king then turned to his men.
"I want you to excavate this place. Not the entire place. Just the place under which the platform is constructed. " The king smiled to himself. "I think you would be very surprised at what you find there."
If the minister found the behaviour of the king odd, he made no mention of it. He just nodded his head and set about excavating the place with the few people he had.
The king went back to the capital with the other members from the group.
Afternoon passed and the king was impatiently waiting for any news from the minister.
Evening, the king was in for a shock.
The king saw the minister himself rush towards the capital on his chariot. The king saw the minister hurriedly stop the chariot outside the palace and come inside and the minister ignored all the royal guards.
The king went down to meet the minister when the minister started speaking without a preamble. "Sir, you would not believe what we have found."
The king led the breathless minister towards a throne and made him sit down as the man continued speaking.
"There was a throne, your majesty. There was a throne buried under that platform."
The man said gasping.
Raja Bhoja looked surprised. He had expected a lot of things under the platform. But a throne?
"It is not just any throne, your majesty. It is one of the largest thrones, I have ever seen. We have been digging from the morning, since you left and we were able to excavate only half of the throne, till the time I left." The minister said taking a deep breath. "It is made of pure gold. As far as I can see, there seem to be thirty two steps leading to the seat of the throne. The steps are made of pure gold too, your majesty. And the precious stones which are used to deck the throne...." The minister shook his head, his eyes wide. "....I have never even heard of precious stones being that big."
Raja Bhoja looked surprised as the minister continued. "We have not looked at all the steps, but all the steps that we have uncovered has a beautiful female statue at the side. I have never seen a statue so clear and with so much expression. It almost looks like it was a real woman who was affixed to the throne."
The minister’s hands were trembling with excitement.
However he was not yet done with his narration.
"The craftsmanship is what is making me nervous, your majesty. I have read in the Scriptures of thrones being made that way. But till date I have never seen anything like it. I do not think that throne was made on earth." The minister finished quietly.
Raja Bhoja was deep in thought as the minister fell silent.
He had read in the Scriptures about the people in the olden days where the people from the earth visited the Devas in the Skies. But all that was part of myth. Legends. What had he found? Was it really a throne made in the heavens? If so, for whom was it made? Who was the person who had been sitting on the throne?
Raja Bhoja looked at the minister. "Please make preparations for the throne to be brought to the capital as soon as possible. I think it is necessary to perform some rituals for the throne, as well. I think a throne this ancient and which is even capable of influencing the mind of the people around it cannot be an ordinary thing." The king nodded more to himself than to the minister. "Bring the throne to the capital. We may be able to find out more about it here."
Soon the day arrived.
The priests had performed the necessary rituals.
It is said that the throne could not even be moved before the rituals were performed. Only after performing the worship of the throne, were the people able to move it.
The throne then slowly made its way to the capital.
Raja Bhoja looked at the throne when a deep sense of fear filled him.
The throne was beautiful, but it still made the king uneasy. It was an emotion he was unable to explain.
He felt it every time he saw the statues – there were thirty two steps and thirty two statues – one on each step. And it seemed to the king, like all the statues had eyes, with which they actually saw him.
Ignoring his fear, Bhoja decided that the throne had to be installed in his capital in the main court hall. Not only was the throne breathtakingly beautiful, Raja Bhoja decided that if the throne was in the centre of the kingdom, probably all the places in the kingdom would become even more prosperous by the powers of the ancient throne.
Taking a deep breath and brushing aside his fear, Raja Bhoja set foot on the first step.
Everyone in the court was stunned when they heard clapping noises coming from the throne.
Bhoja was shocked as he saw that the noises were coming from the steps of the throne.
Even before he could explain the clapping noise, the palace was filled with melodious laughter.
Bhoja went towards the side of the throne and gasped as he saw the beautiful face of one of the statues glow.
It was the first statue on the first step. The face of the statue still looked golden, but the lips of the statue were moving with laughter.
"Who are you?" The words were out of the king's mouth before he could stop himself. "Why do you laugh?"
"Answer my question first, my king." The statue spoke. "What are you trying to do?"
"I am trying to sit on the throne." The king said feeling very silly because he was explaining himself to a statue.
"Do you know to whom this throne belongs to?" The statue asked with anger.
When the king did not reply the statue continued. "This throne belongs to King Vikramaditya. He is one of the greatest kings in the world. Nothing.." The statue smiled faintly. "...Nothing you have done, matches to even half the glory of that king. Why are you attempting to sit on a throne of which you are not worthy?" The statue asked in a sneering voice.
King Vikramaditya? Raja Bhoja's head almost reeled. Bhoja was supposed to be a descendant of king Vikramaditya. But then so much had been said about Vikramaditya that his stories had almost reached the realms of legend. There was a story of King Vikramaditya receiving a throne from Lord Indra of the Heavens. But these were legends. Stories. The king had dismissed the story as a legend, nothing more.
Today he was going to listen to the story of his ancestor from a statue installed on his ancestor's throne.
Bhoja looked at the statue and he was hesitant. "Who is King Vikramaditya? Tell me, please."
So the statue told the story. It is said that the thirty two statues narrated thirty two stories extolling the greatness of King Vikramaditya.
After the end of every story, King Bhoja acknowledged that King Vikramaditya was greater than him in that particular field.
Finally after hearing the thirty second story, it is said that Bhoja gave up all desire to even sit on the throne. The last statue had told Bhoja that king Vikramaditya had been asked to bury the throne after his death, because there was supposedly no one other than King Vikramaditya who was worthy to sit on the throne.
On hearing this, Bhoja wanted to renounce his kingdom and perform penance because he felt that he could never be that good a king as Vikramaditya had been.
It was at this time that thirty two shimmering lights emerged from the throne.
Raja Bhoja looked aghast as he saw the transparent faces of the thirty two women who had been telling him the stories.
"Who are you?" The king asked flabbergasted.
"We are heavenly nymphs – the apsaras and we are the friends of Goddess Parvathi." One of them said. "At one time, when we were in Kailash, we tried.... we tried...." The woman said looking shamefaced. "....we wanted Lord Shiva, the husband of the Goddess, to see how beautiful we were and we hoped that he would fall in love with us."
"Goddess Parvathi came to know of this and cursed us. She cursed us that because we wanted to be admired for our beauty, we would all become statues in the throne of King Vikramaditya, which would be presented to him by Lord Indra. So that people would see us there and admire our beauty."
The lady took a deep breath as she continued. "After cursing us, Goddess Parvathi took pity on us and relented and said that the curse would be lifted if a king from king Vikramaditya's dynasty heard all our stories patiently." The lady smiled as she looked happy beyond words. "And today my king, you have set us free. You have listened to all our stories. For that we would always be grateful. And know this well, you are as great a man as your ancestor. You have the same magnanimity and the humility that your ancestor had. And for that, you may ask any boon of your choice."
"My ancestor – King Vikramaditya was a great man. I wish that his stories always be immortal on earth." Bhoja said with a quiet smile.
The thirty two ladies smiled and nodded their heads as they vanished from there.
Raja Bhoja looked at the throne and then at his people. This time he felt no fear. He climbed the throne with confidence and nothing stopped him.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The story of the Upa-Pandavas

Markandeya was one of the greatest devotees of Lord Shiva. It is said that he was destined to die at the age of 16. However his power of devotion was so great that not only Lord Shiva himself came to protect Markandeya from Lord Yama, the God of death, Lord Shiva granted the boon of immortality to Markandeya. It is said the Markandeya is alive even now and roams the earth, looking always young and evergreen.

It is also said that Markandeya is the author of Markandeya Purana which is a beautiful collection of stories based on the Mahabharatha. Most of the Puranas are in the form of dialogue between sages and kings or as dialogues between sages. However the Markadeya Purana is in the form of a dialogue between Jaimini, a student of Sage Veda Vyasa and four birds – Pingaksha, Sumukha, Vibodha and Suputra, who were considered as sons of Drona. The birds were spiritually enlightened and were able to clarify the doubts of the sage. One such story narrated by the birds were why the five Upa-Pandavas, the sons of Draupadi and the five Pandavas, were killed even before they were married, though they had Lord Krishna to protect them.

The birds narrated a story which went back to the Treta Yuga. In the Treta Yuga, there lived a just king from the Solar Dynasty, called Harischandra. The king was an epitome of Justice and Truth. He was a very good king and the kingdom was extremely prosperous and his people loved him.
The king was once hunting in the forest when he heard sharp cries. 'HELP! Please help me!'
The king almost faltered for a few seconds because such a cry was practically unheard of during those times. Abandoning the hunt, the king drove quickly towards the sound.
However the king was in for a world of trouble.
The entire event was nothing more than an illusion created by the Lord of Obstacles for the purpose of breaking the power of penance of Sage Vishwamitra who was performing an exceptionally powerful penance in the same place, towards which the king was coming. On hearing the sound the king shouted angrily as he burst into the place from where the screams were coming.
The king was shocked to find the forest area completely vacant save the great sage Viswamitra, who apparently had been disturbed during his meditation, by the king's shouting. Disturbing a sage during meditation was considered to be a great sin, during those days. With great fear, the king fell at the feet of the sage. 'I am sorry! I am sorry! I disturbed your meditation! Please forgive me! I just heard someone calling for help! I thought....' The king's speech faltered as he looked at the angry face of the sage.
The sage took in a deep breath and asked the king sharply. 'What would you give a sage, who has come begging alms?'
King Harischandra relaxed and smiled weakly. He was genuinely afraid that the sage would curse him. However now it looked like he was going to get out of this mess a little easily. He bowed to the sage again. 'Anything that the sage wishes!'
'I want everything that you have!' The sage said simply.
King Harischandra stared stunned for a few seconds and then almost laughed. He was a spiritually powerful man and had no attachments to his wealth or kingdom. 'Everything that I have is yours!' The king said with a smile.
The sage nodded. 'Now that your kingdom is mine...' The sage said looking with menacing eyes. '….I have no place in my kingdom for people like you! Take your family and leave! Leave immediately!'
King Harischandra went back to the palace and immediately removed his jewels and other ornaments and with his wife Queen Saiyya and son Rohitashwa, left the kingdom. However fate was not yet done with the king. On the way out, the king met sage Vishwamitra again.
'Give me some more Dakshina, king! I am not satisfied with the meagre offerings that you have made me!' Sage Vishwamitra said with calm and steely eyes.
The king looked flabbergasted and then shook his head. 'I have nothing more to offer other than our bodies! However I will pay your Dakshina, some way!'
The sage smiled with cold eyes. 'I do not wish for empty promises! Give me a specific date within which you will repay the Dakshina to me!'
'A month!' the king said looking back at the sage.
'A month it is!' The sage said and turned his back. 'Now go!'
The three of them were leaving when the subjects followed them in utter misery. They could just not believe that their beloved king was leaving them. Most of them decided that following their king would be a better option and followed him instead. The king stopped walking away from the kingdom and consoled his people and asked them to continue staying in the kingdom. As the king was speaking to his people, he was flustered to see the angry face of the sage again.
'You liar!' Sage Vishwamitra boomed angrily. 'You said you would leave the kingdom! And you are staying back here pretending your people want you to stay!' The sage was about to raise a stick to hit the king, when the king held up his hands, 'I will leave now!' He said as he rapidly walked out of the kingdom.
The story goes on to how King Harischandra and his family were sold into slavery. The king was sold to a man tending the funeral grounds and tended the bodies brought there, for his master. Misfortune also befell his wife and son who were sold to another family where Queen Saiyya worked hard as a maid in the house. Adding to the Queen's troubles, Rohitashwa was bitten by a snake and was killed. The story ended with all the misfortunes of the king amounting to performing of a yagna and the king having completed it successfully and with complete adherence to the truth, the king and the Queen attained salvation and his son was also brought to life...
However backtracking, as Sage Vishwamitra was about to raise his rod and hit the king, the people in the kingdom were filled with wrath. However it was not just the people, even the Gods in the heavens could not tolerate the treatment of the pious king. Angrily the five Vishwa Devas came down to earth and looked at the sage angrily. 'Are your inhuman? Is this how you treat a king, who has been an example for all the others in the world? This man has kept his word to you and you tried to hit him....!'
The sage looked at the Vishwa Devas angrily. 'What do you know? You think you are celestials and you can comment about what I am doing? Be born as humans, only then you will realize the reasons of what I am doing!' The sage picked up some water from his kamandalam. 'I curse you to be born as humans!'
The Vishwa Devas looked at the sage with complete fear as the sage continued. 'And you shall never have wives or children....Only after you live a life as a human, you can become celestials again!' The sage said with finality.
It is said that the five Vishwa Devas were born as the sons of Draupadi – Prativindhya (son of Yudhishtara), Sutasoma (son of Bheema), Srutakirti(son of Arjuna), Satanika and Srutakarman(sons of Nakula and Sahadeva). It was because of the curse of Sage Vishwamitra that they were killed by Ashwattama, after the end of the battle, before they could marry or have children of their own......

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

King Nimi

According to the Hindu Puranas, it is believed that there are four great yugas - Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and the Kali Yuga. In the Satya Yuga, people generally lived very happily and in harmony with each other and with Nature and all the realms were open to all the people. As the other yugas came, people get more and more corrupt and the other realms other than the Earth was closed down to people, because people focused more and more only on materialistic pleasures. It is also believed that the present age is the Kali Yuga which is considered to be the Dark Age of sin.
The new yuga was started by Manu who was the son of Lord Surya, the Sun God. Nimi was the grandson of Manu.
Once Nimi wanted to perform a particularly difficult fire sacrifice – a yagna which could go on for many years. The yagna if successful would benefit Nimi's people enormously.
However as Nimi continued with the preparations for the yagna, he realized that he had a serious problem. The yagna was not an ordinary fire sacrifice and he needed an exceptionally powerful sage as the presiding priest for it.
Nimi searched everywhere and finally settled on Sage Vasishta to be the presiding sage.
"Great Sage. I am performing a yagna for the benefit of my people. Kindly preside over it."
Vasishta frowned. "When are you going to start the yagna?"
"As soon as possible sir." Nimi said surprised.
Vasishta's face drooped. "I am afraid I cannot come now. You see, Indra, the king of the Devas is performing a yagna now. I have promised him that I would preside over his yagna. I cannot break my word to him."
Nimi was silent as he studied the sage.
The sage could complete Indra's yagna and then come to perform his Yagna.
But Indra's yagna could go on for a very long time.
Nimi’s yagna was meant for the welfare of his people.
Could he afford to wait for the sage?
Sage Vasishta was also thinking. The King has come to me first and he has come to me with all humility, love and respect. I cannot turn him back empty handed. I will go to his yagna immediately after I finish Indra's yagna.
Neither said anything and both walked their ways.
Indra's yagna went on for a long time.
Finally, Sage Vasishta was happy because he had completed the laborious and tedious yagna of Lord Indra.
As soon as Indra's yagna was over, the first thought which occurred to Sage Vasishta was King Nimi's request.
Vasishta immediately set out to perform the yagna there.
On reaching Nimi's kingdom, however, Sage Vasishta was in for a shock. King Nimi had already started the yagna with Sage Gautham as the presiding priest.
Sage Vasishta was fuming when he saw this. He felt that the King had deliberately insulted him by starting the yagna without him. In anger the sage cursed King Nimi. "You do not even have the courtesy to wait for the sage whom you came to first. Such a man like you does not need a body. I curse you, King Nimi – you will be without a body."
King Nimi was sleeping when Sage Vasishta had come to the palace and he knew nothing of the angry sage and the curse. However that did not prevent the curse from coming true.
King Nimi's soul left the sleeping body.
King Nimi woke up with a start when he realized that something was different.
He looked down and saw his own lifeless body and he saw that his loving subjects had surrounded the body and they were weeping.
Confused he closed his eyes and meditated.
The power of the king was considerable and he was able to divine what had gone wrong. He angrily realized that sage Vasishta had been unreasonable. Nimi was a king and was duty bound to do everything in his power for the benefit of his people. If he had waited for the sage, his people had to wait longer and as a king he could not allow that.
I had acted correctly and the sage had cursed me for it.
Unable to control himself, the angry Nimi cursed Sage Vasishta back. "You are unreasonable. I had to perform the yagna for the well being of my people. You were wrong in expecting me to wait for you. Sage Vasishta, I curse you that you would also be without a body."
The king had been a just and firm king and he had considerable spiritual prowess. His words also came true and Sage Vasishta's soul left the body.
Sage Vasishta was again reborn and regained use of his body, many years later.
Nimi roamed around in the form of a spirit and immersed himself in the Brahman (the Force which runs within us all) And now that he was not bound by his body or his responsibilities, he found the true joy of being one with the Brahman. The king became more and more strong spiritually, as he meditated continuously.
However King Nimi's people were very unhappy. They could not believe that the king who had looked after them like a father was no more. They preserved the body of the King with oils and scents and continued the yagna with more vigour.
Once the yagna was completed, the Devas came in for their offering. At that time the people presented their plea before the Devas.
"Our King was the greatest king in the world. He performed this yagna for our benefit. It was because of the yagna that his lifeless body lies there. Please help us."
"What do you want?" The Devas asked them.
"Let the King's spirit be reunited with the body. We want our king back."
Pleased with the love of the people, the Devas agreed to the request. Using their powers they summoned the King's soul and were about to put it back in the preserved body when the king yelled.
The Devas were surprised when the king looked at them with a forlorn expression. "I am now free. I do not wish to have any more bondage. Please do not put me back in that body. I wish to continue to be free and become part of the Brahman."
"Your people wish that you have to be with them. That is the reason we are doing this."
Nimi looked at his people and memories of his subjects came to him as if from another life. But he realized that these people genuinely loved him.
He turned to the Devas and smiled at them.
"If these people want me to be with them, I will. But not in the way they wish."
The Devas were surprised.
"I have lived like a spirit for too long and I cannot be attached to a body. However, I wish to be a part of my people. I wish to be in a spirit form with them always."
The Devas granted this boon and even now Nimi is said to stay on the eyelids of people.
(It is said that people open and close their eyelids because Nimi stays there. In fact the time it takes to open and close the eyelids is called "Nimisha" in Sanskrit.)
Though Nimi's people realized that their beloved king would always be with them, they needed a real king. Without a king they could not fight the thieves and the bandits who repeatedly threatened to loot the kingdom. So they approached the sages for another remedy.
The sages looked at the King's body and decided that the body itself could be used for creating another king. Using the powers of the mind, they churned the body of the dead king and from it a glowing person emerged.
The glowing man was named Kushadhwaja and was crowned as the king of the kingdom.
Kushadhwaja was just and firm and he kept his people very happy and prosperous.
However Kushadhwaja was not known by this name.
Because he was born from a dead body, Kushadhwaja was known as Vaideha which in Sanskrit means son of the man without a body. And because Kushadhwaja was born without an actual father or mother he was called Janaka (The man without a progenitor). Kushadhwaja was also born from the churning of the mind and hence was called Miti.
It was in the line of Kushadhwaja that there was born another great king with complete spiritual awareness. Though his actual name was Siradhwaja, this king was better known by the name of his ancestor - Vaideha Janaka from Mithila – the father of Sita – the protagonist of the epic of Ramayana.