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Part I: Myths-Sec. 2-Anec 9&10

From: Nutech (Nutech_at_ix.netcom.com)
Date: Tue May 05 1998 - 09:28:01 PDT

Dear Bhagavatas,
Given beloe are Anecdotes 9 and 10 from Section 2 of Part - I Myths.
Dasoham
Anbil Ramaswamy
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9. The power of chastity (Damayanti, Mandavya and Savitri).

Damayanti

King Nala of Nishada country and Damayanti,daughter of  King Sura of
Vidharba country had heard about each other and fell in love  and their
love was strengthened by a swan that was a sort of go-between for them.
When Sura arranged for a Swayamvara 
(the girl choosing her husband from among princes specially invited for
the purpose), the four Lokapalakas (guardians of the world) viz Indra,
Agni, Varuna and Yama learned about the beauty of Damayanti and also
about the love Damayanti and Nala had for each other. They approached
Nala himself and asked him to go to Damayanti to request her to marry
one of them. Damayanti refused and wanted to marry Nala only. The four
suitors came to the Swayamwara hall taking the form of Nala so that
there were five look-alikes, Damayanti was so steadfast in her love for
Nala that soon she could spot him apart from the other suitors. The
secret is that the feet of Devas would not touch the earth while that of
a human being would. The Lokapalakas revealed themselves and praised
Damayanti for her shrewdness and helped in uniting Nala and Damayanti.

Mandavya
Sage Mandavya was doing penance under a tree near his hermitage. Some
robbers brought their booty and found no place to hide it. So, they hid
it in the Ashram of the sage for safe custody thinking that nobody would
suspect the sage. The king's men who came searching for the robbers
found out the booty hidden in the hermitage. They thought that the sage
was an accomplice and reported the matter to the king. Without making
proper investigations, the king ordered the sage to be crucified on a
spike and expected him to die by sunrise the next day.

Mandavya's wife was a model of chastity and she invoked her chastity to
declare that the sage should not die and that the Sun should not rise
until and unless the punishment was revoked. Accordingly, the sage did
not die but was in a deep trance  nor was there a sunrise the next
morning. The king was surprised and rushed to the spot. On learning what
had happened, he apologised for his mistake and immediately released the
sage from the spike and then only there was the Sunrise.

Savitri
Savitri was the beautiful daughter of King Aswapathi of Ujjain. She fell
in love with Satyavan, the son of a hermit. Sage Narada appeared and
clarified that the hermit was none other than a former King Dyumatsena
who lived as a hermit having lost his kingdom and his eyesight and
therefore it would be a marriage between two kshatriya families. But,
Narada also cautioned that Satyavan was fated to die one year after his
marriage.

Savitri was undaunted. She had chosen Satyavan to be her husband and
even if he were to die the next day after marriage she said,  she would
live as a widow for the rest of her life. The wedding was celebrated and
Savitri went to the hermitage as a dutiful wife and a dutiful
daughter-in-law.

Satyavan was not aware of his fate as no one ever informed him. Just on
the day of wedding anniversary, Savitri beseeched him to take her along
on his outing. And, Satyavan consented. 

While climbing a tree, he suddenly fell sick and in a moment fell flat
motionless on her lap. The messengers of death who came to take away his
soul could not approach the body of Satyavan as the chastity of Savitri
was like a burning flame. When they reported the matter to the lord of
death, Yama, Yama  himself came to the spot on his buffalo and with all
his insignia. But, he also could not go near Satyavan's body. He
announced himself to Savitri and explained his mission. Savitri holding
tightly to the body of Satyavan asked Yama to take her life also, since
a wife followed her husband through life and death. Yama could not
concede as he had no authority to take her life. Instead, he offered to
grant her a boon.Savitri desired that her father should have a son. She
still followed Yama who could not ward her off and offered to grant
another boon. This time she asked that her father-in-law should regain
his kingdom and his eyesight.This was also granted but Savitri  still
pursued Yama. Not knowing what to do, Yama offered to grant her a final
boon. Saviti caught him unawares when she asked that she should have one
hundred sons through Satyavan each born after an interval of 100 years.
Yama thoughtlessly said "It shall be so". Now, Savitri stood right
across Yama's path and demanded Satyavan to be returned alive since she
could not have sons through Satyavan without his being alive. Yama
realized the truth in her plea and had to yield. Thus, by dint of her
chastity and self-sacrificing devotion, she won her point with Yama and
returned home with her husband. Her father-in-law regained his kingdom
and eyesight and her father also was blessed with a son

Comment

Damayanti
The story of Damayanti aims to show that when a woman is steadfastly in
love with a man she had chosen to be her husband,no force on earth that
can stand in her way. She can by her chastity bring about a change of
heart even in the competing suitors to help her in uniting with her
lover.

Mandavya and Savitri
To understand and appreciate the moral of the stories, it would be
necessary to forget for the moment whether such events are possible at
all. One should develop an empathy with the characters in the stories,
accept whatever the story requires one to accept and believe what they
ask one to believe.

Though Mandavya and Satyavan were fated to die, the stories suggest that
Hinduism is not that fatalistic as some would have us believe. There is
always some margin of choice within the limiting circumstances of fate
and destiny. A judicious exercise based on firm grounds of
devotion,chastity,truth,steadfastness and sincerity can change even the
course of fate- ordering even the heavenly bodies like the Sun and the
Gods like Yama to obey their commands and wishes. 

The moral of these stories is to highlight the importance of chastity
and other virtues- which have  value and validity today as they were in
the days of Damayanti, Mandavya and Savitri.

10. The power of Compassion ( Sibhi)

Sibhi was an emperor known for his compassion. To test the depth of his
compassion, Indra took the form of an eagle and Agni the form of a
dove.The eagle was chasing the dove as if in hunt. The dove suddenly
fell on the lap of Sibhi who was sitting on a bench in his garden. The
eagle came to him and demanded him to give up the dove which was its
natural prey. Sibhi who felt that the dove had surrendered to him
seeking protection from the eagle wanted to save its life. He refused to
yield the dove but offered the eagle anything else as food. The eagle
demanded that it could be satisfied only if Sibhi could offer his own
flesh of weight equivalent to that of the dove. Unperturbed, Sibhi
started chopping off flesh from his thigh. However much of flesh he
placed on the scale, the weight of the dove seemed to be heavier.
Finally, he got on the scale and offered himself as food for the eagle.
That was test enough and the angels showered confetti of flowers on
Sibhi. Indra and Agni revealed themselves to Sibhi and praising Sibhi
for his unprecedented compassion,restored him to normality and blessed
him. Sibhi who was prepared to sacrifice himself in an effort to save
one who had surrendered to him earned everlasting fame and name.

Comment

As indicated earlier, we have to take 'as it is' what the story wants us
to take, believe what it would have us believe. An undue obsession with
whether an eagle could talk and whether any person in his senses would
venture to cut off flesh from his own body and that for the sake of a
mere bird- should be ruthlessly set aside, if we are to appreciate the
finer sentiments underlying the story. Any legend in any religion does
have a liberal sprinkling of hyperbole if only to bring home graphically
some subtle point. That being compassionate and rushing to the rescue of
a person in distress especially when that person had sought refuge in
one who has the capacity to protect - is a salutary lesson that this
story conveys. And, in doing this, no amount of personal loss, injury or
inconvenience should be allowed to detract. The extent to which one
could accomplish this determines the moral stature of the protector.
This moral is as valid today as in the days of Sibhi. Great men and
women in history have time and again proved the efficacy of
self-sacrifice for the good of others. 
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