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THE MAHABHARATA ADI PARVA
“Sauti said, ‘That best of snakes, viz., Vasuki, hearing the curse of his mother, reflected how to render it abortive. He held a consultation with all his brothers, Airavata and others, intent upon doing what they deemed best for themselves.’
“And Vasuki said, ‘O ye sinless ones, the object of this curse is known to you. It behoveth us to strive to neutralise it. Remedies certainly exist for all curses, but no remedy can avail those cursed by their mother. Hearing that this curse hath been uttered in the presence of the Immutable, the Infinite, and the True one, my heart trembleth. Surely, our annihilation hath come. Otherwise why should not the Immutable Lord prevent our mother while uttering the curse? Therefore, let us consult today how we may secure the safety of the snakes. Let us not waste time. All of you are wise and discerning. We will consult together and find out the means of deliverance as (did) the gods of yore to regain lost Agni who had concealed himself within a cave, so that Janamejaya’s sacrifice for the destruction of the snakes may not take place, and so that we may not meet with destruction.’
“Sauti continued, ‘Thus addressed all the offspring of Kadru assembled together, and, wise in counsels, submitted their opinions to one another. One party of the serpents said, ‘We should assume the guise of superior Brahmanas, and beseech Janamejaya, saying, ‘This (intended) sacrifice of yours ought not to take place.’ Other snakes thinking themselves wise, said, ‘We should all become his favourite counsellors.
He will then certainly ask for our advice in all projects. And we will then give him such advice that the sacrifice may be obstructed. The king, the foremost of wise men, thinking us of sterling worth will certainly ask us about his sacrifice. We will say, ‘It must not be!’ And pointing to many serious evils in this and the next worlds, we will take care that the sacrifice may not take place. Or, let one of the snakes, approaching, bite the person who, intending the monarch’s good, and well-acquainted with the rites of the snake-sacrifice, may be appointed as the sacrificial priest, so that he will die. The sacrificial priest dying, the sacrifice will not be completed. We will also bite all those who, acquainted with the rites of the snake-sacrifice, may be appointed Ritwiks of the sacrifice, and by that means attain our object.’ Other snakes, more virtuous and kind, said, ‘O, this counsel of yours is evil. It is not meet to kill Brahmanas. In danger, that remedy is proper, which is blessed on the practices of the righteous. Unrighteousness finally destroyeth the world.’ Other serpents said, ‘We will extinguish the blazing sacrificial fire by ourselves becoming clouds luminous with lightning and pouring down showers.’ Other snakes, the best of their kind, proposed, ‘Going, by night, let us steal away the vessel of Soma juice. That will disturb the rite. Or, at that sacrifice, let the snakes, by hundreds and thousands, bite the people, and spread terror around. Or, let the serpents defile the pure food with their food-defiling urine and dung.’ Others said, ‘Let us become the king’s Ritwiks, and obstruct his sacrifice by saying at the outset, ‘Give us the sacrificial fee.’
He (the king), being placed in our power, will do whatever we like.’ Others there said, ‘When the king will sport in the waters, we will carry him to our home and bind him, so that that sacrifice will not take place!’ Other serpents who deemed themselves wise, said, ‘Approaching the king, let us bite him, so that our object will be accomplished. By his death the root of all evil will be torn up. This is the final deliberation of us all, O thou who hearest with thy eyes! Then, do speedily what thou deemest proper.’ Having said this, they looked intently at Vasuki, that best of snakes. And Vasuki also, after reflecting, answered saying, ‘Ye snakes, this final determination of you doth not seem worthy of adoption. The advice of you all is not to my liking. What shall I say which would be for your good? I think the grace of the illustrious Kasyapa (our father) can alone do us good. Ye snakes, my heart doth not know which of all your suggestions is to be adopted for the welfare of my race as also of me. That must be done by me which would be to your weal. It is this that makes me so anxious, for the credit or the discredit (of the measure) is mine alone.’”
So ends the thirty-seventh section in the Astika Parva of the Adi Parva.
“Sauti said, ‘Hearing the respective speeches of all the snakes, and hearing also the words of Vasuki, Elapatra began to address them, saying, ‘That sacrifice is not one that can be prevented. Nor is king Janamejaya of the Pandava race from whom this fear proceedeth, such that he can be hindered. The person, O king, who is afflicted by fate hath recourse to fate alone; nothing else can be his refuge. Ye best of snakes, this fear of ours hath fate for its root. Fate alone must be our refuge in this. Listen to what I say. When that curse was uttered, ye best of snakes, in fear I lay crouching on the lap of our mother. Ye best of snakes, and O lord (Vasuki) of great splendour, from that place I heard the words the sorrowing gods spake unto the Grandsire. The gods said, ‘O Grandsire, thou god of gods who else than the cruel Kadru could thus, after getting such dear children, curse them so, even in thy presence? And, O Grandsire, by thee also hath been spoken, with reference to those words of hers, ‘Be it so.’ We wish to know the reason why thou didst not prevent her.’ Brahman replied, ‘The snakes have multiplied. They are cruel, terrible in form and highly poisonous. From desire of the good of my creatures, I did not prevent Kadru then.
Those poisonous serpents and others who are sinful, biting others for no faults, shall, indeed, be destroyed, but not they who are harmless and virtuous. And hear also, how, when the hour comes, the snakes may escape this dreadful calamity. There shall be born in the race of the Yayavaras a great Rishi known by the name of Jaratkaru, intelligent, with passions under complete control. That Jaratkaru shall have a son of the name of Astika. He shall put a stop to that sacrifice. And those snakes who shall be virtuous shall escape therefrom. The gods said, ‘O thou truth-knowing one, on whom will Jaratkaru, that foremost Muni, gifted with great energy and asceticism, beget that illustrious son?’ Brahma answered, ‘Gifted with great energy, that best Brahmana shall beget a son possessed of great energy on a wife of the same name as his. Vasuki, the king of the snakes, hath a sister of the name of Jaratkaru; the son, of whom I speak, shall be born of her, and he shall liberate the snakes.’
“Elapatra continued, ‘The gods then said unto the Grandsire, ‘Be it so.’ And the lord Brahman, having said so unto the gods, went to heaven. O Vasuki, I see before me that sister of thine known by the name of Jaratkaru. For relieving us from fear, give her as alms unto him (i.e., the Rishi), Jaratkaru, of excellent vows, who shall roam abegging for a bride. This means of release hath been heard of by me!’”
“Sauti said, ‘O best of regenerate ones, hearing these words of Elapatra, all the serpents, in great delight, exclaimed, ‘Well said, well said!’ And from that time Vasuki set about carefully bringing up that maiden, viz., his sister Jaratkaru. And he took great delight in rearing her.
“And much time did not elapse from this, when the gods and the Asuras, assembling together, churned the abode of Varuna. And Vasuki, the foremost of all gifted with strength, became the churning-cord. And directly the work was over, the king of the snakes presented himself before the Grandsire. And the gods, accompanied by Vasuki, addressed the Grandsire, saying, ‘O lord, Vasuki is suffering great affliction from fear of (his mother’s curse). It behoveth thee to root out the sorrow, begotten of the curse of his mother, that hath pierced the heart of Vasuki desirous of the weal of his race. The king of the snakes is ever our friend and benefactor. O Lord of the gods, be gracious unto him and assuage his mind’s fever.’
“Brahman replied, ‘O ye immortals, I have thought, in my mind, of what ye have said. Let the king of the snakes do that which hath been communicated to him before by Elapatra. The time hath arrived. Those only shall be destroyed that are wicked, not those that are virtuous. Jaratkaru hath been born, and that Brahmana is engaged in hard ascetic penances. Let Vasuki, at the proper time, bestow on him his sister. Ye gods, what hath been spoken by the snake Elapatra for the weal of the snakes is true and not otherwise.’
“Sauti continued, ‘Then the king of the snakes, Vasuki, afflicted with the curse of his mother, hearing these words of the Grandsire, and intending to bestow his sister of the Rishi Jaratkaru, commanded all the serpents, a large numbers of whom were ever attentive to their duties, to watch the Rishi Jaratkaru, saying, ‘When the lord Jaratkaru will ask for a wife, come immediately and inform me of it. The weal of our race depends upon it.’”