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Anecdotes 19&20 of Part I: Myths

From: VVijay236 (
Date: Tue May 12 1998 - 13:35:55 PDT

Dear Bhagavatas,
Given below are Anecdotes 19 and 20 from Part I Myths
Anbil Ramaswamy
19. The power of Penance (  Bhagirata, Dhruva and Viswamitra )

A king called Sagara performed a horse sacrifice.(Aswamedha yaga). Indra
captured the horse, took it to the nether world and left it in the hermitage
of Sage Kapila who was in deep meditation. Sagara's 60,000 sons came searching
for the horse and found it in the hermitage. Believing that the Sage it was
who had stolen the horse accused him vehemently. Rudely awakened from his
penance, the Sage cursed them to be reduced to ashes. 

In the lineage of Sagara was born Bhagirata. He desired to perform the
obsequies to his forebears who had turned into cinders.He was advised that if
he could sprinkle the waters of Ganga, they could be saved. He performed a
penance  for bringing down the waters of Ganga - the  river that was flowing
in the celestial world then. Pleased, Ganga was prepared to come down but
stipulated that she would come down flowing so forcefully that the world would
be deluged. Bhagirata was in a fix and prayed to Siva to help in  controlling
the force of the river.When Ganga came down with all her torrential and
terrific flow, Siva stood in her way and locked her up in his matted locks and
released her in the form of a mild and sudued stream which followed Sagara to
the nether world where  lay the ashes of his ancestors. Sprinkled with the
waters of Ganga, the souls  of the 60000 ancestors ascended the heavens.


There lived a great king by name, Uttaanapaada. He had two wives named
Suneethi and Suruchi. Once, when the 5 year old Dhruva, son through Suneethi
wanted to sit on the lap of his father, the stepmother dragged him and drove
him out saying that only a child born to herself could have the privelege of
sitting on the lap of the king. Hurt by her rude behavior, Dhruva reported the
incident to Suneethi and with her permission went into exile to  do penance.
On the way, he met Sage Narada who initiated him into the sacred Narayana
Mantra. Dhruva reached
the banks of river Jamuna and did severe penance invoking Lord Narayana. When
the Lord appeared before him, he did not ask for any boon except God's grace.
The Lord was pleased and declared that after his present life, he would ascend
the heavens where he would shine forever as the Pole star in the firmament- a
place of honor no one could hope to achieve. It is believed that the North
Pole star is verily Dhruva. 


King  Trisanku wanted to ascend to the heavens with his gross human body.
Vasishta, his preceptor  refused to help him. He turned to Viswamitra who was
only too eager to help especially because his arch rival, Vasishta had
refused. With all the might of his penance, he sent up Trisanku but Indra, the
Lord of Heavens hurled him down. Trisanku dangling in mid air upside down
cried for help. Enraged, Viswamitra shone like another Brahma,  used  up all
his power of penance,  stopped Trisanku midway, created  a duplicate heaven
(Trisanku Svarga) with all
the appurtenances like the starry horizon, a duplicate Saptarishi Mandala (
Realm of the seven sages)  galaxy 
et al. He is even credited with having created a copy- cat - wise counterpart
beings like the buffalo for the cow, donkey for the horse etc. 


The three episodes highlight the efficacy of penance. Penance does not mean
mere meditation. It means a severe self-inflicted discipline involving, as it
does, long and excruciating self abnegation  of things sensual and extreme
devotion to things spiritual, with an incessant concentration on the deity
invoked. Sages who performed penance in this way acquired enormous powers
which they could use for  conferring a boon  or pronouncing a curse on others
out of anger or dissipate them through lust and  other distractions. But, one
thing is certain. Every
exercise of the power diminished the store of merits so painfully accumulated.

In the case of Bhagirata, he used it up for a good cause;

In the case of Dhruva, penance helped him to attain the pinnacle of glory as
the Polestar. 

In the case of Viswamitra, he had to forfeit all his merits and had to start
de novo only to lose the accumulated merit again in another outburst of anger
or lust. The bottomline of the story of Viswamitra  is to emphasize the
importance of penance and how it could confer ceratin Siddhis like
materialization of objects and things much alike the real ones already
created. These Siddhis can endow extraordinary powers like performing
superhuman feats of weightlessness, being lighter than feather, becoming
unbelievably heavy, controlling others' minds and bodies, creating objects
from nowhere, becoming invisible etc. 

But, all these Siddhis are distractions in the path of one desiring salvation.
Our scriptures advise that while these Siddhis are inevitable in one's
spiritual evolution, one should not fall for them. Even these Siddhis will
fade away after sometime so that them practioner will be a non-starter all the
time, having neither the powers on earth nor salvation in heaven. Thus, we
find the Rishis  in our lores as very human ( maybe, wiser  than the run of
the mill personalities ) liable to love. hate, lust, fear, anger and other
human failings.

20. The power of Pathi / Pitru Sisrusha ( Service to Husband / Parents)

Kousika, a brahmin had studied all the Vedas and was a righteous person. But,
he had one failing. He neglected his duties towards his aged  parents. One
day, when he was on his tour, he sat under a tree. A crane perching on top of
the tree released its droppings on his head. When Kousika stared at it
angrily, it fell down dead.

After sometime, on his itinerary, he reached a house and begged for his food
as the brahmins were expected to live on alms. The lady of the house was a
little busy and asked him to wait. Just then, her husband returned home
hungry. She first attended to her husband. And, in the process, she forgot
Kousika. When she remembered, she begged pardon and offered the usual
courtesies. Kousika started staring at her angrily as he did to the crane. The
lady remarked "Don't think I am also  a crane. Your anger can do no harm to me
since I was engaged in serving my husband as a dutiful wife ought to". 

Kousika was surprised as to how she came to know the fate of thecrane and
begged her excuse. She advised him on Dharma of a wife and asked him to learn
further from one Dharmavyaada who was living in Mithila. Kousika straight made
it to Mithila where he saw Dharmavyaada who was selling meat. On seeing
Kousika, he came running to welcome Kousika and told him how he was aware of
the crane incident and the lady's directions to come to him for advice. This
second revelation astonished Kousika  still further since there was no way for
them to have communicated to each other. Kousika pleaded with Dharmavyaada to
enlighten him. 

Dharmavyaada advised him on several matters including Aachara, Anushtana,
Ahimsa,Way to salvation, Control of senses, and above all the value of parents
and the services to be rendered to them as a sine qua non for being fit to
perform other duties.  Kousika realized his fault in neglecting his parents
and returning home, commenced doing loyal service to them.


Among the advice of  the lady and Dharmavyaada, the importance of service to
husband and parents stand foremost. Time and again, our scriptures harp on the
theme of how an ideal wife would and should serve her husband and how an ideal
son would and should serve his parents. In these days of egalitarianism, these
values may seem out of place especially in the West where the  concept of
family values is fast vanishing due to several factors. 

No doubt, the husband should act in such a way as to deserve the service of a
dutiful wife and the parents
should act in such a way as to deserve the service of  a dutiful son.

While there is no denying this, the values propounded in the stories are as
valid today as in the days of Dharmavyaada and cannot de disputed.  Sometimes,
the morals emphasize one side of the picture. But, the other
side has to be inferred as prerequisite. This is because all human
relationship can only be reciprocal and both parties should strive consciously
for harmonious equations in life.