You can read the previous post in this series here: Part 5
Takshaka and Sage Kashyapa
Counseled by his wise ministers, King Parikshith retired to a secured mansion. It was well-protected from all sides, and none could approach the king. Even air couldn’t have entered in there! Several priests chanted mantras, and physicians waited upon the king.
That dreaded seventh day arrived. Sage Kashyapa hurried towards the king’s dwelling. Hearing that Takshaka might cause the monarch’s death, he had set out to help. “Curing the king is a virtuous deed. And, I need some monetary aid from the king,” the sage had thought.
Disguised as an elderly learned person, Takshaka stopped the sage en route. He inquired, “Sage Kashyapa, where are you speeding to?”
“King Parikshith will be assassinated today! Respected one, please let me go. I’m racing to cure our mighty king. He’s the sole authority of the Pandava lineage now. Takshaka is very powerful!”
“I am that Takshaka! I’ll kill that king. You can’t cure anyone inflicted by my poison!”
“The power of my knowledge will cure him. Even out of your venom!”
“My venom will bite into that tree¹! Now, show me your mantra skills,” Takshaka challenged, pointing at a nearby tree.
“Sure! Give it a try. I’ll revive it.”
Takshaka blazed that tree with his poison. Sage Kashyapa collected the ashes and began chanting. At first, he produced a sprout, and from that emerged a couple of leaves. To Takshaka’s dismay, the tree grew a stem and few branches. In no time, it was a full-grown tree!
“Your asceticism is beyond my poison,” Takshaka muttered. Sage Kashyapa’s feat had shaken him up.
Finding himself cornered, Takshaka changed his tactics. He said, “Why should a sage of your stature run after that monarch’s wealth? An ascetic’s curse has shortened King Parikshith’s life! So, your success isn’t assured. Why risk your widespread fame? I’ll give you the wealth you need.”
Takshaka’s words unnerved Sage Kashyapa. He recollected that a powerful curse had almost ascertained King Parikshith’s death. Taking the wealth² promised to him by Takshaka, he abandoned the pursuit and retraced his path.
Fate defeats King Parikshith
Takshaka reached the city of Hastinapura. On the way, he had gathered information about all the preventive measures taken by the king. He had also discovered the presence of poison-neutralizing mantras and medicines.
“I must use the power of deception,” he thought. Takshaka pondered upon it and cooked up a wily plan. He then called for a few Sarpa-s and handed over some baskets of fruits, flowers, and water.
“Go to the king. Don’t show any sign of impatience. Tell him that you’ve come to offer these articles as gifts,” Takshaka instructed them.
The Sarpa-s, disguised as ascetics, acted as commanded. King Parikshith accepted those gifts and sent them away.
As if compelled by fate, the king felt an urge to eat those juicy-looking fruits. He moved closer to a basket, took out a tempting fruit, and started eating it.
At that time, his gaze fell upon a creature that crawled towards him. It had black eyes and was of coppery color. Suddenly, the king acted as if he had lost his mind! He let that creature coil³ around his neck.
“The sun is setting! I’ll take it that this creature is Takshaka. He has come to bite me! I will atone for my sinful act against that sage. An ascetic’s word has come true,” King Parikshith declared. The monarch smiled one last time and fell unconscious.
A Minor for King
Takshaka’s venom had gotten the better of King Parikshith! The funeral ceremonies got done, and the period of mourning ended.
When things had settled down, the citizens and ministers crowned their next king. They accepted the king’s minor son as their monarch. Even though a child, Janamejaya was wise beyond his years. He ruled the kingdom like his heroic ancestor, King Yudhishthira.
When King Janamejaya attained his youth, the ministers found him a wife in the princess of Kashi⁴. Unlike most kings, Janamejaya didn’t accept any more wives. He was happy in her company, and she remained devoted to him.
- Bite into that tree: In English, we understand that this is a figure of speech. We don’t imagine Takshaka biting a tree! The same applies to Sanskrit as well. The Mahabharata is poetry that uses umpteen figures of speech. The literal translations of poetry into prose have invented characters, beasts, and events that don’t exist in the scriptures.
- Taking the wealth: The Sarpa-s, including Takshaka, were Sage Kashyapa’s sons. Alternately, gurus were honored as the parent of their disciples. So, Sage Kashyapa might have been the Guru of the Sarpa-s. Either way, this should be treated as a son persuading his father not to work against him.
- Let that creature coil: Based on the description, that creature might’ve been a copperhead snake. King Parikshith wrung a dead snake around a sage. He atoned for it by letting a snake coil around his neck. It was a king’s duty to punish the wrong-doers. Perhaps, the wily Takshaka sensed that the king might be unhappy with himself. Maybe, he sent in a snake to evoke the king’s guilt! As they say, there’s no killer bigger than guilt.
- Princess of Kashi: Her name was Vapushtama, and her father, the King of Kashi, was Suvarna Varman. The erstwhile Kashi was a kingdom. Today, it is a city on the banks of the sacred Ganga River.
You can read the next part in this series here: Part 7