You can read the previous post in this series here: Part 7
The Sarpa Yagna
In the presence of priests and sages¹ from across the land, the Yagna commenced. Mantras resounded, and the ritualistic fire-pit blazed.
While the Sarpa-s trembled in terror, Takshaka had taken off in fear of his life. He reached the palace of Indra², the King of Devas.
“Don’t worry, Takshaka. You’re safe with me,” Indra said.
Janamejaya’s Yagna consumed the Sarpa-s³ one at a time. They screamed for help, and their pitiful cries filled the air. Young and old alike, none were spared. Takshaka’s absence had made them vulnerable. They ran to Astika’s mother for help.
“King Janamejaya will kill us all! Our entire race will perish,” they howled.
Instructed⁴ by his mother, Astika set out on his mission. King Janamejaya’s gatekeepers refused to give him entry. Devising a plan, he volunteered to become a priest in that multiday event. That gave him access to the Sarpa Yagna arena.
“Almighty King! Your event overshadows the hundreds of Yagna-s performed by Indra. It is as great as your ancestor King Yudhishthira’s! Your splendor shines like Narayana⁵, and your virtues are like Lord Krishna himself! You are our magnificent savior. I seek your blessings even for those near and dear to me,” Astika said when he met King Janamejaya.
King Janamejaya was mighty pleased by those complimentary words!
“Such wisdom from someone so young! I desire to give you a boon…,” the King started.
“Wait! Please don’t grant any boon now. Indra will be here with Takshaka soon,” the chief priest protested.
“Please don’t worry. Focus on your duties! If Indra doesn’t relent, we’ll throw him into the fire with Takshaka,” King Janamejaya bellowed.
As they spoke, Indra made an entry⁶ with Takshaka. Ignoring Indra’s words, King Janamejaya captured Takshaka.
“Victory to us! The mission is almost accomplished. Now, let me grant this boy’s wish,” King Janamejaya announced. Then he turned to Astika and said, “Handsome young ascetic! Please ask me for whatever you desire.”
“Almighty King, please stop this Yagna. Now!” Astika said.
King Janamejaya was stunned. He pleaded with Astika and lured him with large sums of wealth. Still, that young ascetic stood firm on his request.
Grabbing the opportunity, all the priests and sages attending the event stepped up. They persuaded the King to end the event. Amongst them was Vyasa, along with his son and disciples.
A man of his word, King Janamejaya signaled the end of the Yagna. The Sarpa-s rejoiced, but the King remained displeased.
The Epic’s Narration Starts
Sage Saunaka said:
Gratitude for your narration of King Janamejaya’s Sarpa Yagna. When and how did Vyasa narrate the Mahabharata? Can you please relate that history to us?
Many sages had gathered for King Janamejaya’s Yagna. Since it was a long-term event, the scholars decided to sermon between the ceremonies. Many spoke about profound topics from the Vedas. Veda Vyasa’s student narrated that remarkable history called Bharata.
When King Janamejaya announced his event, Vyasa hurried there with his disciples. The King was elated to receive the sage.
“Learned sage, you’ve witnessed the acts of the Kurus and the Pandavas. I wish to hear your rendition of their history.”
Accepting Janamejaya’s request, Vyasa directed his disciple Vaisampayana to narrate the same.
“I’ll give you a summary⁷ between your Sarpa Yagna. I’ll recite the full story at an appointed time at the end of your event,” Vaisampayana said.
As promised, Vaisampayana started his rendition at the end of the event.
I offer obeisance to my guru Sage Vyasa. He completed this work in three years. During that entire time, Sage Vyasa observed a strict schedule. He woke up early, purified himself, and performed his ascetic devotions. I will render whatever I’ve learned from him.
The crux of this story is the discord between the Kurus and the Pandavas. It is the history of those Pandavas who never acted under the influence of negative passions. I will narrate the Bharata that consists of 100,000 verses as composed by Vyasa. Those who learn this Bharata are considered knowledgeable in the Vedic teachings.
- priests and sages: This epic gives a huge list of sages who were invited to that event. I’ve omitted that information to prevent deviation from the main narrative.
- Indra: In the Devi Bhagavatam, Sage Veda Vyasa mentions that Indra is a person rather than an immortal. Later on in this epic, we’ll see more details about this. For now, Indra doesn’t seem to be a single person. Indra seems to be a title for the King of Deva clan. He is also referred to as Sakra at many places.
- Consumed the Sarpa-s: A massive list of Sarpa-s has been provided here.
- Instructed: Astika’s mother narrates the events of his birth. I’ve omitted that to avoid repetition.
- Narayana: Lord Vishnu is referred to as Narayana. This epic uses this name frequently. Lord Krishna is said to be an incarnation of Narayana.
- Made an entry: There is a flowery, poetic, and exaggerated narration of how Indra and Takshaka enter. I’ve removed that because it looks like an interpolation. Besides, it does not add to the main narrative.
- Summary: Vaisampayana narrates a long summary during the intervals of the ceremonies. Then, he recounts the entire epic after the event. I’ve omitted the long summary given during the event.
- Vaisampayana’s narration: The Mahabharata’s storyline gets complex here. At this point, it has become a narration within a narration! Sauti is reciting the epic at Sage Saunaka’s event. Within Sauti’s narration, Vaisampayana is narrating the epic to King Janamejaya!
You can read the next part in this series here: Part 9