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THE MAHABHARATA ADI PARVA
“Sauti said, ‘Then Vasuki spake unto the Rishi Jaratkaru these words, ‘O best of Brahmanas, this maiden is of the same name with thee. She is my sister and hath ascetic merit. I will maintain thy wife; accept her. O thou of ascetic wealth, I shall protect her with all my ability. And, O foremost of the great Munis, she hath been reared by me for thee.’ And the Rishi replied, ‘This is agreed between us that I shall not maintain her; and she shall not do aught that I do not like. If she do, I leave her!’
“Sauti continued, ‘When the snake had promised, saying, ‘I shall maintain my sister,’ Jaratkaru then went to the snake’s house. Then that first of mantra-knowing Brahmanas, observing rigid vows, that virtuous and veteran ascetic, took her hand presented to him according to shastric rites. And taking his bride with him, adored by the great Rishi, he entered the delightful chamber set apart for him by the king of the snakes. And in that chamber was a bed-stead covered with very valuable coverlets. And Jaratkaru lived there with his wife. And the excellent Rishi made an agreement with his wife, saying, ‘Nothing must ever be done or said by thee that is against my liking. And in case of thy doing any such thing, I will leave thee and no longer continue to stay in thy house. Bear in mind these words that have been spoken by me.’
“And then the sister of the king of the snakes in great anxiety and grieving exceedingly, spoke unto him, saying, ‘Be it so.’ And moved by the desire of doing good to her relatives, that damsel, of unsullied reputation, began to attend upon her lord with the wakefulness of a dog, the timidity of a deer, and knowledge of signs possessed by the crow. And one day, after the menstrual period, the sister of Vasuki, having purified herself by a bath according to custom, approached her lord the great Muni; And thereupon she conceived. And the embryo was like unto a flame of fire, possessed of great energy, and resplendent as fire itself. And it grew like the moon in the bright fortnight.
“And one day, within a short time, Jaratkaru of great fame, placing his head on the lap of his wife, slept, looking like one fatigued. And as he was sleeping, the sun entered his chambers in the Western mountain and was about to set. And, O Brahmana, as the day was fading, she, the excellent sister of Vasuki, became thoughtful, fearing the loss of her husband’s virtue. And she thought, ‘What should I now do? Shall I wake my husband or not? He is exacting and punctilious in his religious duties. How can I act as not to offend him? The alternatives are his anger and the loss of virtue of a virtuous man. The loss of virtue, I ween, is the greater of the two evils. Again, if I wake him, he will be angry. But if twilight passeth away without his prayers being said, he shall certainly sustain loss of virtue.’
‘And having resolved at last, the sweet-speeched Jaratkaru, the sister of Vasuki, spake softly unto that Rishi resplendent with ascetic penances, and lying prostrate like a flame of fire, ‘O thou of great good fortune, awake, the sun is setting. O thou of rigid vows, O illustrious one, do your evening prayer after purifying yourself with water and uttering the name of Vishnu. The time for the evening sacrifice hath come. Twilight, O lord, is even now gently covering the western side.’
“The illustrious Jaratkaru of great ascetic merit, thus addressed, spake unto his wife these words, his upper lip quivering in anger, ‘O amiable one of the Naga race, thou hast insulted me. I shall no longer abide with thee, but shall go where I came from. O thou of beautiful thighs, I believe in my heart that the sun hath no power to set in the usual time, if I am asleep. An insulted person should never live where he hath met with the insult, far less should I, a virtuous person, or those that are like me.’ Jaratkaru, the sister of Vasuki, thus addressed by her lord, began to quake with terror, and she spake unto him, saying, ‘O Brahmana, I have not waked thee from desire of insult; but I have done it so that thy virtue may not sustain any loss.’
“The Rishi Jaratkaru, great in ascetic merit, possessed with anger and desirous of forsaking his spouse, thus addressed, spake unto his wife, saying, O thou fair one, never have I spoken a falsehood. Therefore, go I shall. This was also settled between ourselves. O amiable one, I have passed the time happily with thee. And, O fair one, tell thy brother, when I am gone, that I have left thee. And upon my going away, it behoveth thee not to grieve for me.’
“Thus addressed Jaratkaru, the fair sister of Vasuki, of faultless features, filled with anxiety and sorrow, having mustered sufficient courage and patience, though her heart was still quaking, then spake unto Rishi Jaratkaru. Her words were obstructed with tears and her face was pale with fear. And the palms of her hands were joined together, and her eyes were bathed in tears. And she said, ‘It behoveth thee not to leave me without a fault. Thou treadest over the path of virtue. I too have been in the same path, with heart fixed on the good of my relatives. O best of Brahmanas, the object for which I was bestowed on thee hath not been accomplished yet. Unfortunate that I am, what shall Vasuki say unto me? O excellent one, the offspring desired of by my relatives afflicted by a mother’s curse, do not yet appear! The welfare of my relatives dependeth on the acquisition of offspring from thee. And in order that my connection with thee may not be fruitless, O illustrious Brahmana, moved by the desire of doing good to my race do I entreat thee. O excellent one, high-souled thou art; so why shall thou leave me who am faultless? This is what is not just clear to me.’
“Thus addressed, the Muni of great ascetic merit spake unto his wife Jaratkaru these words that were proper and suitable to the occasion. And he said, ‘O fortunate one, the being thou hast conceived, even like unto Agni himself is a Rishi of soul highly virtuous, and a master of the Vedas and their branches.’
“Having said so, the great Rishi, Jaratkaru of virtuous soul, went away, his heart firmly fixed on practising again the severest penances.’”
“Sauti said, ‘O thou of ascetic wealth, soon after her lord had left her, Jaratkaru went to her brother. And she told him everything that had happened. And the prince of snakes, hearing the calamitous news, spake unto his miserable sister, himself more miserable still.’
“And he said, ‘Thou knowest, ‘O amiable one, the purpose of thy bestowal, the reason thereof. If, from that union, for the welfare of the snakes, a son be born, then he, possessed of energy, will save us all from the snake-sacrifice. The Grandsire had said so, of old, in the midst of the gods. O fortunate one, hast thou conceived from thy union with that best of Rishis? My heart’s desire is that my bestowal of thee on that wise one may not be fruitless. Truly, it is not proper for me to ask thee about this. But from the gravity of the interests I ask thee this. Knowing also the obstinacy of thy lord, ever engaged in severe penances, I shall not follow him, for he may curse me. Tell me in detail all that thy lord, O amiable one, hath done, and extract that terribly afflicting dart that lies implanted for a long time past in my heart.’
“Jaratkaru, thus addressed, consoling Vasuki, the king of the snakes, at length replied, saying, ‘Asked by me about offspring, the high-souled and mighty ascetic said, ‘There is,’–and then he went away. I do not remember him to have ever before speak even in jest aught that is false. Why should he, O king, speak a falsehood on such a serious occasion? He said, ‘Thou shouldst not grieve, O daughter of the snake race, about the intended result of our union. A son shall be born to thee, resplendent as the blazing sun.’ O brother, having said this to me, my husband of ascetic wealth went away–Therefore, let the deep sorrow cherished in thy heart disappear.’
“Sauti continued, ‘Thus addressed, Vasuki, the king of the snakes, accepted those words of his sister, and in great joy said, ‘Be it so!’ And the chief of the snakes then adored his sister with his best regards, gift of wealth, and fitting eulogies. Then, O best of Brahmanas, the embryo endued with great splendour, began to develop, like the moon in the heavens in the bright fortnight.
And in due time, the sister of the snakes, O Brahmana, gave birth to a son of the splendour of a celestial child, who became the reliever of the fears of his ancestors and maternal relatives. The child grew up there in the house of the king of the snakes. He studied the Vedas and their branches with the ascetic Chyavana, the son of Bhrigu. And though but a boy, his vows were rigid. And he was gifted with great intelligence, and with the several attributes of virtue, knowledge, freedom from the world’s indulgences, and saintliness. And the name by which he was known to the world was Astika. And he was known by the name of Astika (whoever is) because his father had gone to the woods, saying. ‘There is’, when he was in the womb.
Though but a boy, he had great gravity and intelligence. And he was reared with great care in the palace of the snakes. And he was like the illustrious lord of the celestials, Mahadeva of the golden form, the wielder of the trident. And he grew up day by day, the delight of all the snakes.’”