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THE MAHABHARATA ADI PARVA
“Saunaka said, ‘O son of Suta, I desire to know the reason why the illustrious Rishi whom thou hast named Jaratkaru came to be so called on earth. It behoveth thee to tell us the etymology of the name Jaratkaru.’
“Sauti said, ‘Jara is said to mean waste, and Karu implies huge. This Rishi’s body had been huge, and he gradually reduced it by severe ascetic penances. For the same reason, O Brahmanas, the sister of Vasuki was called Jaratkaru.’
The virtuous Saunaka, when he heard this, smiled and addressing Ugrasravas said, ‘It is even so.’
Saunaka then said, ‘I have heard all that thou hast before recited. I desire to know how Astika was born.’
“Sauti said, ‘Vasuki, desirous of bestowing his sister upon the Rishi Jaratkaru, gave the snakes (necessary) orders. But days went on, yet that wise Muni of rigid vows, deeply engaged in ascetic devotions, did not seek for a wife. That high-souled Rishi, engaged in studies and deeply devoted to asceticism, his vital seed under full control, fearlessly wandered over the whole earth and had no wish for a wife.
“Afterwards, once upon a time, there was a king, O Brahmana, of the name of Parikshit, born in the race of the Kauravas. And, like his great-grandfather Pandu of old, he was of mighty arms, the first of all bearers of bows in battle, and fond of hunting. And the monarch wandered about, hunting deer, and wild boars, and wolves, and buffaloes and various other kinds of wild animals. One day, having pierced a deer with a sharp arrow and slung his bow on his back, he penetrated into the deep forest, searching for the animal here and there, like the illustrious Rudra himself of old pursuing in the heavens, bow in hand, the deer which was Sacrifice, itself turned into that shape, after the piercing. No deer that was pierced by Parikshit had ever escaped in the wood with life.
This deer, however wounded as before, fled with speed, as the (proximate) cause of the king’s attainment to heaven. And the deer that Parikshit–that king of men–had pierced was lost to his gaze and drew the monarch far away into the forest. And fatigued and thirsty, he came across a Muni, in the forest, seated in a cow-pen and drinking to his fill the froth oozing out of the mouths of calves sucking the milk of their dams. And approaching him hastily, the monarch, hungry and fatigued, and raising his bow, asked that Muni of rigid vows, saying, ‘O Brahmana, I am king Parikshit, the son of Abhimanyu. A deer pierced by me hath been lost. Hast thou seen it?’ But that Muni observing then the vow of silence, spoke not unto him a word. And the king in anger thereupon placed upon his shoulder a dead snake, taking it up with the end of his bow. The Muni suffered him to do it without protest. And he spoke not a word, good or bad.
And the king seeing him in that state, cast off his anger and became sorry. And he returned to his capital but the Rishi continued in the same state. The forgiving Muni, knowing that the monarch who was a tiger amongst kings was true to the duties of his order, cursed him not, though insulted. That tiger amongst monarchs, that foremost one of Bharata’s race, also did not know that the person whom he had so insulted was a virtuous Rishi. It was for this that he had so insulted him.
“That Rishi had a son by name Sringin, of tender years, gifted with great energy, deep in ascetic penances, severe in his vows, very wrathful, and difficult to be appeased. At times, he worshipped with great attention and respect his preceptor seated with ease on his seat and ever engaged in the good of creatures.
“And commanded by his preceptor, he was coming home when, O best of Brahmanas, a companion of his, a Rishi’s son named Krisa in a playful mood laughingly spoke unto him. And Sringin, wrathful and like unto poison itself, hearing these words in reference to his father, blazed up in rage.’
“And Krisa said, ‘Be not proud, O Sringin, for ascetic as thou art and possessed of energy, thy father bears on his shoulders a dead snake. Henceforth speak not a word to sons of Rishis like ourselves who have knowledge of the truth, are deep in ascetic penances, and have attained success. Where is that manliness of thine, those high words of thine begotten of pride, when thou must have to behold thy father bearing a dead snake? O best of all the Munis, thy father too had done nothing to deserve this treatment, and it is for this that I am particularly sorry as if the punishment were mine.’”
“Sauti said, ‘Being thus addressed, and hearing that his sire was bearing a dead snake, the powerful Sringin burned with wrath. And looking at Krisa, and speaking softly, he asked him, ‘Pray, why doth my father bear today a dead snake?’ And Krisa replied, ‘Even as king Parikshit was roving, for purpose of hunting, O dear one, he placed the dead snake on the shoulder of thy sire.’
“And Sringin asked, ‘What wrong was done to that wicked monarch by my father? O Krisa, tell me this, and witness the power of my asceticism.’
“And Krisa answered, ‘King Parikshit, the son of Abhimanyu, while hunting, had wounded a fleet stag with an arrow and chased it alone. And the king lost sight of the animal in that extensive wilderness. Seeing then thy sire, he immediately accosted him. Thy sire was then observing the vow of silence. Oppressed by hunger, thirst and labour, the prince again and again asked thy sire sitting motionless, about the missing deer. The sage, being under the vow of silence, returned no reply. The king thereupon placed the snake on thy sire’s shoulder with the end of his bow. O Sringin, thy sire engaged in devotion is in the same posture still. And the king also hath gone to his capital which is named after the elephant!’
“Sauti continued, ‘Having heard of a dead snake placed upon his (father’s) shoulders, the son of the Rishi, his eyes reddened with anger, blazed up with rage. And possessed by anger, the puissant Rishi then cursed the king, touching water and overcome with wrath.’
“And Sringin said, ‘That sinful wretch of a monarch who hath placed a dead snake on the shoulders of my lean and old parent, that insulter of Brahmanas and tarnisher of the fame of the Kurus, shall be taken within seven nights hence to the regions of Yama (Death) by the snake Takshaka, the powerful king of serpents, stimulated thereto by the strength of my words!’
“Sauti continued, ‘And having thus cursed (the king) from anger, Sringin went to his father, and saw the sage sitting in the cow-pen, bearing the dead snake. And seeing his parent in that plight, he was again inflamed with ire. And he shed tears of grief, and addressed his sire, saying, ‘Father, having been informed of this thy disgrace at the hands of that wicked wretch, king Parikshit, I have from anger even cursed him; and that worst of Kurus hath richly deserved my potent curse. Seven days hence, Takshaka, the lord of snakes, shall take the sinful king to the horrible abode of Death.’ And the father said to the enraged son, ‘Child, I am not pleased with thee. Ascetics should not act thus. We live in the domains of that great king. We are protected by him righteously. In all he does, the reigning king should by the like of us forgiven. If thou destroy Dharma, verily Dharma will destroy thee. If the king do not properly protect us, we fare very ill; we cannot perform our religious rites according to our desire.
But protected by righteous sovereigns, we attain immense merit, and they are entitled to a share thereof. Therefore, reigning royalty is by all means to be forgiven. And Parikshit like unto his great-grandsire, protecteth us as a king should protect his subjects. That penance-practising monarch was fatigued and oppressed with hunger. Ignorant of my vow (of silence) he did this. A kingless country always suffereth from evils. The king punisheth offenders, and fear of punishments conducteth to peace; and people do their duties and perform their rites undisturbed. The king establisheth religion–establisheth the kingdom of heaven. The king protecteth sacrifices from disturbance, and sacrifices to please the gods. The gods cause rain, and rain produceth grains and herbs, which are always useful to man. Manu sayeth, a ruler of the destinies of men is equal (in dignity) to ten Veda-studying priests. Fatigued and oppressed with hunger, that penance-practising prince hath done this through ignorance of my vow. Why then hast thou rashly done this unrighteous action through childishness? O son, in no way doth the king deserve a curse from us.’”