You can read the previous post in this series here: Part 6
The Birth of Astika
Sauti continued his narration:
Before entering wedlock, the ascetic Jaratkaru did something that needs a mention. He imposed a condition on his Sarpa wife-to-be.
“If she does something disagreeable to me¹, I’ll leave her immediately!”
The ascetic’s vow shocked the Sarpa-s. In desperation, to the displeasure of the bride, they agreed to it. Driven by compassion for her relatives, she obliged. Even so, the ascetic and his wife lived together happily.
One day, the ascetic dozed off on his wife’s lap. It was time for the sun to set, and his wife was in a fix.
“What should I do now? He’s meticulous about his religious duties. Waking up a tired person is a disagreeable act. But, it’s my duty as a wife to remind him of his religious obligations,” she deliberated.
Making up her mind, she woke the ascetic up.
“My dear wife of Naga race² you’ve insulted me! You woke up a fatigued person. It’s a disagreeable act!”
“Insulting you wasn’t my intention! I didn’t want you to lose your religious merits.”
“Oh! I’m sorry this happened. Still, you’ve done a disagreeable act. I’ve no choice but to leave.”
“It wasn’t my fault! I don’t get it. Why should you leave me?”
The ascetic reminded her of his vow. Then he said, “I’ve never spoken a lie in my life. To maintain that, I’ve no choice but to leave.”
“The Sarpa-s need our child! For the welfare of my relatives, please don’t go!”
“My lovely wife, there is a child in your womb! He’ll be as radiant as the fire itself! We’ve been happy together. Please don’t grieve when I’m gone,” the ascetic said, leaving his wife forever.
Soon, the ascetic’s wife gave birth to a lustrous boy. That child was gifted with great intelligence, and she raised him with care. Eventually, he learned the Vedas from a renowned sage³ and was known to the world as Astika⁴.
King Janamejaya’s Resolve
Sage Saunaka asked:
What did King Janamejaya’s ministers tell him about his father’s demise?
“What happened to my father? How did he die? I have to make an important decision for this world’s benefit,” King Janamejaya said.
“Your father was virtuous and regal looking. He performed his duties diligently. The subjects loved him, and he cherished them. He was a skilled warrior⁵ whom Govinda⁶ loved. When he died, everyone mourned. Now, you’re the ruler of this land. You are protecting every creature in this land,” the minister said.
The minister stopped, hesitating to speak about King Parikshith’s death.
“How did my father, blessed with those virtues, die? Describe it as it happened,” King Janamejaya pressed.
“Like your ancestor Pandu, your father became addicted to hunting. When he was sixty years old, he insulted a powerful sage,” the minister began and went on to narrate the incident⁷.
King Janamejaya, “Who told you about Takshaka’s meeting with Sage Kashyapa?”
“A man saw that Sarpa damage a tree. The sage revived it,” the minister reported.
King Janamejaya wept in pain and then reflected for a moment. Finally, he roared, “If not for Takshaka, my father might’ve survived. My father’s body burned due to his venom. I’ll burn that Sarpa alive! I’ll exterminate the entire race of Sarpa-s! Call the royal priest.”
“In some legendary texts, I’ve read about a sacrificial ritual. Perhaps, that’s what you desire?” the royal priest said.
“Start preparations for the Sarpa Yagna⁸. Immediately!”
Won’t See Completion
A traditional builder arrived to construct the ceremonial platform. He surveyed the place before laying the foundation.
With a concerned expression, the builder declared, “This ritual won’t see completion! Both the astrological charts and the soil at this place show that. A learned person will stop it.”
“Nobody should enter in here without my knowledge. Give the gatekeepers my orders,” King Janamejaya instructed.
- Disagreeable to me: We can view Jaratkaru as being self-centered. Or we can envision him exercising caution. The Sarpa-s weren’t in good standing because they had killed a reigning king. So, Jaratkaru might have hesitated. As they say, an act itself is neither good nor bad. It’s the intent behind it that matters more. Unfortunately, we’ll never know Jaratkaru’s intention!
- Naga: In this instance, the epic makes a direct reference to the Naga race. As seen in an earlier footnote, the words Sarpa and Naga appear interchangeably in this text.
- Renowned Sage: Astika’s teacher was Chyavana, and he was the famous Sage Bhrigu’s son. Chyavana is credited for making a rejuvenating herbal concoction called chyavana-prash. Some Upanishads refer to this sage as Bhrigu Varuni.
- Astika: Before he left, the ascetic Jaratkaru pointed out to his wife that “there is a child” in her womb. Hence, the child acquired the name Astika, which means ‘there is’ or ‘the one who is’.
- Skilled Warrior: King Parikshith’s teacher was named Saradvat.
- Govinda: An epithet of Lord Krishna. In Sanskrit, the term go means cow, and vinda means finding or gaining. So, Govinda translates to ‘the one who finds cows’ or cowherd. It refers to Krishna’s occupation as a youth. He lived in Gokula, which was a community of cow herders. In the scriptures, cattle and domestic animals are a symbolic reference to all species of life. Therefore, Govinda means the one who cares for every lifeform.
- Incident: The entire story of King Parikshith’s death repeats here. I’ve omitted it to avoid repetition.
- Sarpa Yagna: Blinded by anger, Janamejaya resorted to a heinous crime. It sounds like he was performing a human sacrifice with the Sarpa-s. Nuclear power can destroy cities, but it can also generate electricity. Likewise, a Yagna or sacred-fire ritual can affect positive changes in us. If misused, it can ruin people. It all depends on how we use the knowledge or resources given to us.
You can read the next part in this series here: Part 8