Last few weeks I have been seeing a sea of red . As I watch news during the lunch hour in office – I cannot decide – which is redder – my stock value or my carrots .  I lost quite a bit of my portfolio value and wealth, as the Adani group stocks  I had invested in , sank in a seemingly bottomless pit . The jury is still out on if this is a propaganda driven hammering of the group and the Indian  market or there is more than a grain of truth in the Hindenburg accusations.

 Nonetheless , nobody lost more – wealth , credibility ,reputation and peace in this – than the man himself . He found himself unceremoniously thrown from the seat of the richest man on earth and shown the door of the Top 500 billionaires club . A fall he certainly did not see coming . And a fall that just underscores the impermanence of everything in life for everyone – from a mighty billionaire to a hopeless pauper.  Adani had everything going for him until last year. A meteoric rise in fortunes – establishing him at the very top of the global billionaires club, limitless wealth, unlimited power and unending adoration of the media and the investors. In just December 2022 – India Today magazine had profiled Adani – as the richest man and the growth king and the January 2023 cover changed to if he can handle the fallout of the controversy .

It reinforced for me the supposed bubble nature of maya and life – the bubble can burst in an instant – and everything that looked real yesterday  looks like a  fantasy today.

But it also reminded me  so much of the story of the mighty king Nahusha from our scriptures . The only  King ( and one of the very rare souls )who went to Swarga or heavens alive to rule as Indra – with unimagined power – but one  who got thrown to earth as a serpent and had to do penance for centuries as a serpent before he was healed by the Pandavas- his story came repeatedly to my mind as I read the  Adani saga. 

 Have you heard the story of Nahusha?

Nahusha was one of the most illustrious kings of Chandravansha – the grandson of Pururava and the father of the mighty and famous king Yayati – and therefore a luminous ancestor of the mighty Kuru dynasty. Pururava’s son and successor – Emperor Ayu was childless and desperately wanted an heir. He served  Bhagwan Dattatreya with devotion and surrender – and bhagwan , pleased with his service fulfilled his deepest desire through his boon .

Once Lord Shiva took Devi Parvati to Nandan-kanana (grove)- the divine garden of Swargaloka. Devi was instantly attracted to a beautiful tree that stood out. The Lord lovingly explained to her that it was Kalpavriksha – the wish fulfilment tree . Devi Parvati wanted to test- if it was really true and wished for a daughter . Lo and behold – a beautiful and mesmerizing daughter appeared .Parvati named her Ashoksundari . When Ashoksundari asked her mother, what her future will look like- the Devi prophesized that she will be married to the mighty Nahusha- who will be born as Emperor Ayu’s son . Devi left her daughter there with her blessings . Ashoksundari sat under a tree and did penance to find her husband.

Once the powerful demon Hunda, who had terrorized the Devas entered the Nandan-vana. He was instantly drawn to the mesmerizing beauty of Ashoksundari . He begged her to marry him. Ashoksundari , politely told him about the prophecy made by her mother and told him with an air of finality that despite his many persuasions, she cannot marry anyone else but the son of Ayu.

Dejected but not defeated Hunda made a crooked plan. He turned himself into a beautiful damsel and came back to Nandnvana. He tried to befriend Ashoksundari and in the process learnt a bit more about the prophecy .Eventually , he won her trust and then tricked her into visiting his palace . Once there, he revealed his true form and tried to violate her chastity . Ashoksundari , aghast at the betrayal , thundered  that her husband – Nahusha will kill him .She  then immersed herself in intense penance .

Furious with repeated rejections and madly in love with Ashoksundari- Hunda now decided to kidnap Ayu’s son, the moment he was born and nip the prophecy in its bud . He kidnapped the baby successfully  and brought him to his palace .He then ordered his minions to kill him. And as often happens with delegation of work down the line (in corporates)– it never got done. Taking pity on the baby, one of the minions left him in a forest and told the superiors – the task was done . The news travelled up and Hunda finally relaxed . He went and boasted to Ashoksundari – that her prospective husband was now dead and she should now give up hope and accept him instead .

Thrown in an ocean of grief , Ashoksundari didn’t give up her faith in her mother’s words. And once again sent Hunda back empty handed .Narada later reassured her that her future husband was indeed alive and she should keep up her penance . Narada assured the grieving couple of Ayu and his queen Prabha too, that their son was alive and well and will return with a daughter in law .

The baby in the forest was found by Sage Vashishtha – who being omniscient knew who the baby was . He named the baby Nahusha – the fearless one and brought him up lovingly in his ashrama. He trained Nahusha in Vedas and in the art of warfare.  He bestowed Nahusha with several divine weapons .Eventually , the sage revealed to Nahusha, his true parentage and also about the fate of his beloved future wife – Ashoksundari. Outraged by how Hunda had caused immeasurable grief to both his parents and his wife – Nahusha bravely attacked Hunda. Hunda now cursed himself ,why he didn’t oversee the task himself ( like a lot of corporate bosses do) but as prophesized was killed in battle . Nahusha rescued Ashoksundari and married her- bringing to fruition Devi’s words. He then returned to his parents, who were overjoyed to see their long lost son.

Nahusha expanded Ayu’s empire and ruled over earth as a chakravarti for ages. He  was known to be just ,compassionate and kind . In Swargaloka on the other hand , the Deva power was on decline as Indra was exiled to do penance for his unholy act of killing Vritta. Fearful of the Asuras – the Devas looked for a replacement – and found nobody better suited than the mighty Nahusha to lead them in battle .

 They approached him and pleaded with him to take Indra’s place. Initially , Nahusha hesitated but then he consented and became the first earthling to rule Swargaloka. Now he ruled over the earth and the heavans and became immeasurably powerful. He soon became arrogant and started abusing his power. Leaving his previous good conduct behind – he started lusting after Shachi- Indra’s wife and tried seducing her .He forgot the lesson he should have taken from Hunda’s fate. Shachi – reached out to Indra and beseeched him to protect her . As a part of a well thought of plan – Shachi told Nahusha that she would accept him if he came to her palace in a beautiful palanquin carried by none other than the divine saptrishis ( the 7 divine sages).

Nahusha accepted the terms and dressed up with all pomp and finery .He then commanded the saptrishis to carry his palanquin. Insulted but forced to carry out the order- the saptrishis started walking with the palanquin.

Nahusha was growing impatient by the minute however fueled his overpowering lust . He found the speed too slow and kept reprimanding  the rishis to walk faster, yelling ‘sarpa sarpa’ ( faster ! faster!)(* sarpa also means the serpent in Sanskrit) . Unable to control his anxiety, he kicked Sage Agastya – shouting at him – ” Have you not heard I said , Sarpa Sarpa!”.

Finally , the time had come . Agastya lost his cool and cursed the emperor to fall back to earth as a serpent ! Nahusha beseeched the sage to forgive him and the ever compassionate sage told him that one of his descendants only will set him free.

And so the once powerful emperor Nahusha waited on earth as a serpent for that day to come .Pandavas on their final journey were going through the Himalayas . That’s where Bhima passing through the forest, stepped on Nahusha who instantly gripped him in his powerful hold. Remember Bheema was super powerful too but he couldn’t free himself . Yudhishthira came looking for Bheema and found him trapped in Nahusha’s hold. As Yudhishithra introduced himself , Nahusha realized the time for his mukti had finally come and he was freed from his serpent form. He exchanged views with Yudhishithira on dharma and a king’s duties asking him to learn his lessons from his( Nahusha’s) fate.

Nahusha’s story as  that of countless other powerful seemingly invincible leaders, businessmen and intellectuals – only goes to show how we get drunk on power , wealth or fame and abuse it as our birthright and entitlement. And when  that bubble bursts, there is no saving grace . Secondly and most importantly , everything in life is impermanent and nobody is immune from that fate . And finally one always receives the fruits of their karma – nobody can run away from it- be it Nahusha , you or me .

Source : Nahusha’s story finds mention in Rigveda , Harivansha and Padma Purana.  The above story is heavily paraphrased from these 3 sources. Any mistakes are mine alone. Pics – covers from India Today issues 

PS : Nothing should be taken as an accusation- implicit or otherwise against Adani group or any individual. What I have mentioned here is just a sequence of events and my own reflections .