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THE MAHABHARATA ADI PARVA
“Saunaka asked, ‘What great Rishis became the Ritwiks at the snake-sacrifice of the wise king Janamejaya of the Pandava line? Who also became the Sadasyas in that terrible snake-sacrifice, so frightful to the snakes, and begetting such sorrow in them? It behoveth thee to describe all these in detail, so that, O son of Suta, we may know who were acquainted with the rituals of the snake-sacrifice.’
“Sauti replied, ‘I will recite the names of those wise ones who became the monarch’s Ritwiks and Sadasyas. The Brahmana Chandabhargava became the Hotri in that sacrifice. He was of great reputation, and was born in the race of Chyavana and was the foremost of those acquainted with the Vedas. The learned old Brahmana, Kautsa, became the Udgatri, the chanter of the Vedic hymns. Jaimini became the Brahmana, and Sarngarva and Pingala the Adhvaryus, Vyasa with his son and disciples, and Uddalaka, Pramataka, Swetaketu, Pingala, Asita, Devala, Narada, Parvata, Atreya, Kundajathara, the Brahmana Kalaghata, Vatsya, old Srutasravas ever engaged in japa and the study of the Vedas. Kohala Devasarman, Maudgalya, Samasaurava, and many other Brahmanas who had got through the Vedas became the Sadasyas at that sacrifice of the son of Parikshit.
“When the Ritwiks in that snake-sacrifice began to pour clarified butter into the fire, terrible snakes, striking fear into every creature, began to fall into it. And the fat and the marrow of the snakes thus falling into the fire began to flow in rivers. And the atmosphere was filled with an insufferable stench owing to the incessant burning of the snakes. And incessant also were the cries of the snakes fallen into the fire and those in the air about to fall into it.
‘Meanwhile, Takshaka, that prince of snakes, as soon as he heard that king Janamejaya was engaged in the sacrifice, went to the palace of Purandara (Indra). And that best of snakes, having represented all that had taken place, sought in terror the protection of Indra after having acknowledged his fault. And Indra, gratified, told him, ‘O prince of snakes, O Takshaka, here thou hast no fear from that snake-sacrifice. The Grandsire was pacified by me for thy sake. Therefore, thou hast no fear. Let this fear of thy heart be allayed.’
Sauti continued, ‘Thus encouraged by him, that best of snakes began to dwell in Indra’s abode in joy and happiness. But Vasuki, seeing that the snakes were incessantly falling into the fire and that his family was reduced to only a few, became exceedingly sorry. And the king of the snakes was afflicted with great grief, and his heart was about to break. And summoning his sister, he spake unto her, saying, ‘O amiable one, my limbs are burning and I no longer see the points of the heavens. I am about to fall down from loss of consciousness. My mind is turning, my sight is falling and my heart is breaking. Benumbed, I may fall today into that blazing fire! This sacrifice of the son of Parikshit is for the extermination of our race.
It is evident I also shall have to go to the abode of the king of the dead. The time is come, O my sister, on account of which thou wert bestowed by me on Jaratkaru to protect us with our relatives. O best of the women of the snake race, Astika will put an end to the sacrifice that is going on. The Grandsire told me this of old. Therefore, O child, solicit thy dear son who is fully conversant with the Vedas and regarded even by the old, for the protection of myself and also of those dependent on me.”‘
“Sauti said, ‘Then the snake-dame Jaratkaru, calling her own son, told him the following words according to the directions of Vasuki, the king of the snakes. ‘O son, the time is come for the accomplishment of that object for which I was bestowed on thy father by my brother. Therefore, do thou that which should be done.’
“Astika asked, ‘Why wert thou, O mother, bestowed on my father by my uncle? Tell me all truly so that on hearing it, I may do what is proper.’
“Then Jaratkaru, the sister of the king of the snakes, herself unmoved by the general distress, and even desirous of the welfare of her relatives, said unto him, ‘O son, it is said that the mother of all the snakes is Kadru. Know thou why she cursed in anger her sons.’ Addressing the snakes she said, ‘As ye have refused to falsely represent Uchchaihsravas, the prince of horses, for bringing about Vinata’s bondage according to the wager, therefore, shall he whose charioteer is Vayu burn you all in Janamejaya’s sacrifice. And perishing in that sacrifice, ye shall go to the region of the unredeemed spirits.’ The Grandsire of all the worlds spake unto her while uttering this curse, ‘Be it so,’ and thus approved of her speech. Vasuki, having heard that curse and then the words of the Grandsire, sought the protection of the gods, O child, on the occasion when the amrita was being churned for. And the gods, their object fulfilled, for they had obtained the excellent amrita, with Vasuki ahead, approached the Grandsire. And all the gods, with king Vasuki, sought to incline Him who was born of the lotus to be propitious, so that the curse might be made abortive.’
“And the gods said, ‘O Lord, Vasuki, the king of the snakes, is sorry on account of his relatives. How may his mother’s curse prove abortive?’
“Brahman thereupon replied, saying, ‘Jaratkaru will take unto himself a wife of the name of Jaratkaru; the Brahmana born of her will relieve the snakes.’
“Vasuki, the best of snakes, hearing those words, bestowed me, O thou of godlike looks, on thy high-souled father some time before the commencement of the sacrifice. And from that marriage thou art born of me. That time has come. It behoveth thee to protect us from this danger. It behoveth thee to protect my brother and myself from the fire, so that the object, viz., our relief, for which I was bestowed on thy wise father, may not be unfulfilled. What dost thou think, O son?’
“Sauti continued, ‘Thus addressed, Astika said unto his mother, ‘Yes, I will.’ And he then addressed the afflicted Vasuki, and as if infusing life into him, said, ‘O Vasuki, thou best of snakes, thou great being, truly do I say, I shall relieve thee from that curse. Be easy, O snake! There is no fear any longer. I shall strive earnestly so that good may come! Nobody hath ever said that my speech, even in jest, hath proved false. Hence on serious occasions like this, I need not say anything more, O uncle, going thither today I shall gratify, with words mixed with blessings, the monarch Janamejaya installed at the sacrifice, so that, O excellent one, the sacrifice may stop. O highminded one, O king of the snakes, believe all that I say. Believe me, my resolve can never be unfulfilled.’
“And Vasuki then said, ‘O Astika, my head swims and my heart breaks. I cannot discern the points of the earth, as I am afflicted with a mother’s curse.’
“And Astika said, ‘Thou best of snakes, it behoveth thee not to grieve any longer. I shall dispel this fear of thine from the blazing fire. This terrible punishment, capable of burning like the fire at the end of the Yuga, I shall extinguish. Nurse not thy fear any longer.’
“Sauti continued, ‘Then that best of Brahmanas, Astika, quelling the terrible fear of the Vasuki’s heart, and taking it, as it were, on himself, wended, for the relief of the king of the snakes, with speed to Janamejaya’s sacrifice blessed with every merit. And Astika having gone thither, beheld the excellent sacrificial compound with numerous Sadasyas on it whose splendour was like unto that of the Sun or Agni. But that best of Brahmanas was refused admittance by the door-keepers. And the mighty ascetic gratified them, being desirous of entering the sacrificial compound. And that best of Brahmanas, that foremost of all virtuous men, having entered the excellent sacrificial compound, began to adore the king of infinite achievements, Ritwiks, the Sadasyas, and also the sacred fire.’”