(Astika Parva continued)
“Astika said, ‘Soma and Varuna and Prajapati performed sacrifices of old in Prayaga. But thy sacrifice, O foremost one of Bharata’s race, O son of Parikshit, is not inferior to any of those. Let those dear unto us be blessed! Sakra performed a hundred sacrifices. But this sacrifice of thine, O foremost one of Bharata’s race, O son of Parikshit, is fully equal to ten thousand sacrifices of Sakra. Let those dear unto us be blessed! Like the sacrifice of Yama, of Harimedha, or of king Rantideva, is the sacrifice of thine, O foremost one of Bharata’s race, O son of Parikshit.
Let those dear unto us be blessed! Like the sacrifice of Maya, of king Sasavindu, or of king Vaisravana, is this sacrifice of thine, O foremost one of Bharata’s race, O son of Satyavati, in which he himself was the chief priest, is this sacrifice of Nriga, of Ajamida, of the son of Dasaratha, is this sacrifice of thine, O foremost one of Bharata’s race, O son of Parikshit. Let those dear unto us be blessed! Like the sacrifice of king Yudhishthira, the son of a god and belonging to Ajamida race, heard of (even) in the heavens, is this sacrifice of thine. O foremost one of Bharata’s race, O son of Parikshit, let those dear unto us be blessed! Like the sacrifice of Krishna (Dwaipayana), the son of Satyavati, in which he himself was the chief priest, is this sacrifice of thine, O foremost one of Bharata’s race, O son of Parikshit Let those dear unto us be blessed! These (Ritwiks and Sadasyas) that are here engaged in making thy sacrifice, like unto that of the slayer of Vritra, are of splendour equal to that of the sun. There now remains nothing for them to know, and gifts made to them become inexhaustible (in merit).
It is my conviction that there is no Ritwik in all the worlds who is equal to thy Ritwik, Dwaipayana. His disciples, becoming Ritwiks, competent for their duties, travel over the earth. The high-souled bearer of libation (viz., Agni), called also Vibhavasu and Chitrabhanu, having gold for his vital seed and having his path, marked by black smoke, blazing up with flames inclined to the right, beareth these thy libations of clarified butter to the gods. In this world of men there is no other monarch equal to thee in the protection of subjects. I am ever well-pleased with thy abstinence. Indeed, thou art either Varuna, or Yama, the god of Justice. Like Sakra himself, thunderbolt in hand, thou art, in this world, the protector of all creatures. In this earth there is no man so great as thou and no monarch who is thy equal in sacrifice.
Thou art like Khatwanga, Nabhaga, and Dilipa. In prowess thou art like Yayati and Mandhatri. In splendour equal to the sun, and of excellent vows, thou art O monarch, like Bhishma! Like Valmiki thou art of energy concealed. Like Vasishtha thou hast controlled thy wrath. Like Indra is thy lordship. Thy splendour also shines like that of Narayana. Like Yama art thou conversant with the dispensation of justice. Thou art like Krishna adorned with every virtue. Thou art the home of the good fortune that belongs to the Vasus. Thou art also the refuge of the sacrifices. In strength thou art equal to Damvodbhava. Like Rama (the son of Jamadagni) thou art conversant with the scriptures and arms. In energy thou art equal to Aurva and Trita. Thou inspirest terror by thy looks like Bhagiratha.’
“Sauti said, ‘Astika, having thus adored them, gratified them all, viz., the king, the Sadasyas, the Ritwiks and the sacrificial fire. And king Janamejaya beholding the signs and indications manifested all around, addressed them as follows.'”
(Astika Parva continued)
Janamejaya said, ‘Though this one is but a boy, he speaks yet like a wise old man. He is not a boy but one wise and old. I think, I desire to bestow on him a boon. Therefore, ye Brahmanas, give me the necessary permission.’
“The Sadasyas said, ‘A Brahmana, though a boy, deserves the respect of kings. The learned ones do more so. This boy deserves every desire of his being fulfilled by thee, but not before Takshaka comes with speed.’
“Sauti continued, ‘The king, being inclined to grant the Brahmana a boon, said ‘Ask thou a boon.’ The Hotri, however, being rather displeased, said, ‘Takshaka hath not come as yet into this sacrifice.’
“Janamejaya replied, ‘Exert ye to the best of your might, so that this sacrifice of mine may attain completion, and Takshaka also may soon come here. He is my enemy.’
“The Ritwiks replied, ‘As the scriptures declare unto us, and as the fire also saith, O monarch, (it seems that) Takshaka is now staying in the abode of Indra, afflicted with fear.’
“Sauti continued, ‘The illustrious Suta named Lohitaksha also, conversant with the Puranas, had said so before.
“Asked by the king on the present occasion he again told the monarch, ‘Sire, it is even so as the Brahmanas have said–Knowing the Puranas, I say, O monarch, that Indra hath granted him this boon, saying, ‘Dwell with me in concealment, and Agni shall not burn thee.’
‘Sauti continued, ‘Hearing this, the king installed in the sacrifice became very sorry and urged the Hotri to do his duty. And as the Hotri, with mantras, began to pour clarified butter into the fire Indra himself appeared on the scene. And the illustrious one came in his car, adorned by all the gods standing around, followed by masses of clouds, celestial singers, and the several bevies of celestial dancing girls. And Takshaka anxious with fear, hid himself in the upper garment of Indra and was not visible. Then the king in his anger again said unto his mantra-knowing Brahmanas these words, bent upon the destruction of Takshaka, ‘If the snake Takshaka be in the abode of Indra, cast him into the fire with Indra himself.’
‘Sauti continued, ‘Urged thus by the king Janamejaya about Takshaka, the Hotri poured libations, naming that snake then staying there. And even as the libations were poured, Takshaka, with Purandara himself, anxious and afflicted, became visible in a moment in the skies. Then Purandara, seeing that sacrifice, became much alarmed, and quickly casting Takshaka off, went back to his own abode. After Indra had gone away, Takshaka, the prince of snakes, insensible with fear, was by virtue of the mantras, brought near enough the flames of the sacrificial fire.’
“The Ritwiks then said, ‘O king of kings, the sacrifice of thine is being performed duly. It behoveth thee, O Lord, to grant a boon now to this first of Brahmanas.’
“Janamejaya then said, ‘Thou immeasurable one of such handsome and child-like features, I desire to grant thee a worthy boon. Therefore, ask thou that which thou desirest in thy heart. I promise thee, that I will grant it even if it be ungrantable.’
‘The Ritwiks said, ‘O monarch, behold, Takshaka is soon coming under thy control! His terrible cries, and loud roar is being heard. Assuredly, the snake hath been forsaken by the wielder of thunder. His body being disabled by your mantras, he is falling from heaven. Even now, rolling in the skies, and deprived of consciousness, the prince of snakes cometh, breathing loudly.’
‘Sauti continued, ‘While Takshaka, the prince of snakes was about to fall into the sacrificial fire, during those few moments Astika spoke as follows, ‘O Janamejaya, if thou wouldst grant me a boon, let this sacrifice of thine come to an end and let no more snakes fall into the fire.’
‘O Brahmana, the son of Parikshit, being thus addressed by Astika, became exceedingly sorry and replied unto Astika thus, ‘O illustrious one, gold, silver, kine, whatever other possessions thou desirest I shall give unto thee. But let not my sacrifice come to an end.’
“Astika thereupon replied, ‘Gold, silver or kine, I do not ask of thee, O monarch! But let thy sacrifice be ended so that my maternal relations be relieved.’
“Sauti continued, ‘The son of Parikshit, being thus addressed by Astika, repeatedly said this unto that foremost of speakers, ‘Best of the Brahmanas, ask some other boon. O, blessed be thou!’ But, O thou of Bhrigu’s race, he did not beg any other boon. Then all the Sadasyas conversant with the Vedas told the king in one voice, ‘Let the Brahmana receive his boon!'”
(Astika Parva continued)
“Saunaka said, ‘O son of a Suta, I desire to hear the names of all those snakes that fell into the fire of this snake-sacrifice!’
“Sauti replied, ‘Many thousands and tens of thousands and billions of snakes fell into the fire. O most excellent Brahmana, so great is the number that I am unable to count them all. So far, however, as I remember, hear the names I mention of the principal snakes cast into the fire. Hear first the names of the principal ones of Vasuki’s race alone, of colour blue, red and white of terrible form and huge body and deadly poison. Helpless and miserable and afflicted with their mother’s curse, they fell into the sacrificial fire like libations of butter.
“Kotisa, Manasa, Purna, Cala, Pala Halmaka, Pichchala, Kaunapa, Cakra, Kalavega, Prakalana, Hiranyavahu, Carana, Kakshaka, Kaladantaka–these snakes born of Vasuki, fell into the fire. And, O Brahmana, numerous other snakes well-born, and of terrible form and great strength, were burnt in the blazing fire. I shall now mention those born in the race of Takshaka. Hear thou their names. Puchchandaka, Mandalaka, Pindasektri, Ravenaka; Uchochikha, Carava, Bhangas, Vilwatejas, Virohana; Sili, Salakara, Muka, Sukumara, Pravepana, Mudgara and Sisuroman, Suroman and Mahahanu. These snakes born of Takshaka fell into the fire. And Paravata, Parijata, Pandara, Harina, Krisa, Vihanga, Sarabha, Meda, Pramoda, Sauhatapana–these born in the race of Airavata fell into the fire. Now hear, O best of Brahmanas, the names of the snakes I mention born in the race of Kauravya: Eraka, Kundala Veni, Veniskandha, Kumaraka, Vahuka, Sringavera, Dhurtaka, Pratara and Astaka.
There born in the race of Kauravya fell into the fire. Now hear the names I mention, in order, of those snakes endued with the speed of the wind and with virulent poison, born in the race of Dhritarashtra: Sankukarna, Pitharaka, Kuthara, Sukhana, and Shechaka; Purnangada, Purnamukha, Prahasa, Sakuni, Dari, Amahatha, Kumathaka, Sushena, Vyaya, Bhairava, Mundavedanga, Pisanga, Udraparaka, Rishabha, Vegavat, Pindaraka; Raktanga, Sarvasaranga, Samriddha, Patha and Vasaka; Varahaka, Viranaka, Suchitra, Chitravegika, Parasara, Tarunaka, Maniskandha and Aruni.
“O Brahmana, thus I have recited the names of the principal snakes known widely for their achievements–I have not been able to name all, the number being countless. The sons of these snakes, the sons of those sons, that were burnt having fallen into the fire, I am unable to mention. They are so many! Some of three heads, some of seven, others of ten, of poison like unto the fire at the end of the yuga and terrible in form,–they were burnt by thousands!
“Many others, of huge bodies, of great speed, tall as mountain summits, of the length of a yama, of a yojana, and of two yojanas, capable of assuming at will any form and of mastering at will any degree of strength, of poison like unto blazing fire, afflicted by the curse of a mother, were burnt in that great ‘sacrifice.'”
(Astika Parva, continued)
“Sauti said, ‘Listen now to another very wonderful incident in connection with Astika. When king Janamejaya was about to gratify Astika by granting the boon, the snake (Takshaka), thrown off Indra’s hands, remained in mid air without actually falling. King Janamejaya thereupon became curious, for Takshaka, afflicted with fear, did not at once fall into the fire although libations were poured in proper form into the blazing sacrificial Agni in his name.’
“Saunaka said, ‘Was it, O Suta, that the mantras of those wise Brahmanas were not potent; since Takshaka did not fall into the fire?’
“Sauti replied, ‘Unto the unconscious Takshaka, that best of snakes, after he had been cast off Indra’s hands, Astika had thrice said, ‘Stay,’ ‘Stay,’ ‘Stay.’ And he succeeded in staying in the skies, with afflicted heart, like a person somehow staying between the welkin and the earth.
“The king then, on being repeatedly urged by his Sadasyas, said, ‘Let it be done as Astika hath said. Let the sacrifice be ended, let the snakes be safe, let this Astika also be gratified, O Suta, thy words also be true.’ When the boon was granted to Astika, plaudits expressive of joy rang through the air. Thus the sacrifice of the son of Parikshit–that king of the Pandava race–came to an end. The king Janamejaya of the Bharata race was himself pleased, and on the Ritwiks with the Sadasyas, and on all who had come there, the king, bestowed money by hundreds and thousands. And unto Suta Lohitaksha–conversant with the rules of building and foundations–who had at the commencement said that a Brahmana would be the cause of the interruption of the snake-sacrifice, the king gave much wealth.
The king, of uncommon kindness, also gave him various things, with food and wearing apparel, according to his desire, and became very much pleased. Then he concluded his sacrifice according to the prescribed rites, and after treating him with every respect, the king in joy sent home the wise Astika exceedingly gratified, for he had attained his object. And the king said unto him, ‘Thou must come again to become a Sadasya in my great Horse-sacrifice.’ And Astika said, ‘yes’ and then returned home in great joy, having achieved his great end after gratifying the monarch. And returning in joy to his uncle and mother and touching their feet, he recounted to them everything as it had happened.’
“Sauti continued, ‘Hearing all he had said, the snakes that had come thither became very much delighted, and their fears were allayed. They were much pleased with Astika and asked him to solicit a boon, saying, ‘O learned one, what good shall we do unto thee? We have been very much gratified, having been all saved by thee. What shall we accomplish for thee, O child!’
“Astika said, ‘Let those Brahmanas, and other men, who shall, in the morning or in the evening, cheerfully and with attention, read the sacred account of this my act, have no fear from any of you.’ And the snakes in joy thereupon said, ‘O nephew, in the nature of thy boon, let it be exactly as thou sayest. That which thou askest we all shall cheerfully do, O nephew!
And those also that call to mind Astika, Artiman and Sunitha, in the day or in the night, shall have no fear of snakes. He again shall have no fear of snakes who will say, ‘I call to mind the famous Astika born of Jaratkaru, that Astika who saved the snakes from the snake-sacrifice. Therefore, ye snakes of great good fortune, it behoveth you not to bite me. But go ye away, blessed be ye, or go away thou snake of virulent poison, and remember the words of Astika after the snake sacrifice of Janamejaya. That snake who does not cease from biting after hearing such mention of Astika, shall have his hood divided a hundredfold like the fruit of Sinsa tree.’
“Sauti continued, ‘That first of Brahmanas, thus addressed by the foremost of the chief snakes assembled together, was very much gratified. And the high-souled one then set his heart upon going away.
“And that best of Brahmanas, having saved the snakes from the snake-sacrifice, ascended to heaven when his time came, leaving sons and grandsons behind him.
‘Thus have I recited to thee this history of Astika exactly as it happened. Indeed, the recitation of this history dispelleth all fear of snakes’
‘Sauti continued, ‘O Brahmanas, O foremost one of Bhrigu’s race, as thy ancestor Pramati had cheerfully narrated unto his inquiring son Ruru, and as I had heard it, thus have I recited this blessed history, from the beginning, of the learned Astika. And, O Brahmana, O oppressor of all enemies, having heard this holy history of Astika that increaseth virtue, and which thou hadst asked me about after hearing the story of the Dundubha, let thy ardent curiosity be satisfied.'”
“Saunaka said, ‘O son, thou hast narrated to me this extensive and great history commencing from the progeny of Bhrigu. O son of Suta, I have been much gratified with thee. I ask thee again, to recite to me, O son of a Suta, the history composed by Vyasa. The varied and wonderful narrations that were recited amongst those illustrious Sadasyas assembled at the sacrifice, in the intervals of their duties of that long-extending ceremony, and the objects also of those narrations, I desire to hear from thee, O son of a Suta! Recite therefore, all those to me fully.’
‘Sauti said, ‘The Brahmanas, in the intervals of the duties, spoke of many things founded upon the Vedas. But Vyasa recited the wonderful and great history called the Bharata.’
“Saunaka said, ‘That sacred history called the Mahabharata, spreading the fame of the Pandavas, which Krishna-Dwaipayana, asked by Janamejaya, caused to be duly recited after the completion of the sacrifice. I desire to hear duly. That history hath been born of the ocean-like mind of the great Rishi of soul purified by yoga. Thou foremost of good men, recite it unto me, for, O son of a Suta, my thirst hath not been appeased by all thou hast said.’
‘Sauti said, ‘I shall recite to thee from the beginning of that great and excellent history called the Mahabharata composed by Vyasa. O Brahmana, listen to it in full, as I recite it. I myself feel a great pleasure in reciting it.'”
(Adivansavatarana Parva continued)
‘Sauti said, ‘Hearing that Janamejaya was installed in the snake-sacrifice, the learned Rishi Krishna-Dwaipayana went thither on the occasion. And he, the grand-father of the Pandavas, was born in an island of the Yamuna, of the virgin Kali by Sakti’s son, Parasara. And the illustrious one developed by his will alone his body as soon as he was born, and mastered the Vedas with their branches, and all the histories. And he readily obtained that which no one could obtain by asceticism, by the study of the Vedas, by vows, by fasts, by progeny, and by sacrifice. And the first of Veda-knowing ones, he divided the Vedas into four parts. And the Brahmana Rishi had knowledge of the supreme Brahma, knew the past by intuition, was holy, and cherished truth. Of sacred deeds and great fame, he begot Pandu and Dhritarashtra and Vidura in order to continue the line of Santanu.
“And the high-souled Rishi, with his disciples all conversant with the Vedas and their branches, entered the sacrificial pavilion of the royal sage, Janamejaya. And he saw that the king Janamejaya was seated in the sacrificial region like the god Indra, surrounded by numerous Sadasyas, by kings of various countries whose coronal locks had undergone the sacred bath, and by competent Ritwiks like unto Brahman himself. And that foremost one of Bharata’s race, the royal sage Janamejaya, beholding the Rishi come, advanced quickly with his followers and relatives in great joy. And the king with the approval of his Sadasyas, gave the Rishi a golden seat as Indra did to Vrihaspati. And when the Rishi, capable of granting boons and adored by the celestial Rishis themselves, had been seated, the king of kings worshipped him according to the rites of the scriptures. And the king then offered him–his grandfather Krishna–who fully deserved them, water to wash his feet and mouth, and the Arghya, and kine.
And accepting those offerings from the Pandava Janamejaya and ordering the kine also not to be slain, Vyasa became much gratified. And the king, after those adorations bowed to his great-grandfather, and sitting in joy asked him about his welfare. And the illustrious Rishi also, casting his eyes upon him and asking him about his welfare, worshipped the Sadasyas, having been before worshipped by them all. And after all this, Janamejaya with all his Sadasyas, questioned that first of Brahmanas, with joined palms as follows:
‘O Brahmana, thou hast seen with thy own eyes the acts of the Kurus and the Pandavas. I am desirous of hearing thee recite their history. What was the cause of the disunion amongst them that was fruitful of such extraordinary deeds? Why also did that great battle, which caused the death of countless creatures occur between all my grandfathers–their clear sense over-clouded by fate? O excellent Brahmana, tell me all this in full as everything had happened.’
“Hearing those words of Janamejaya, Krishna-Dwaipayana directed his disciple Vaisampayana seated by his side, saying, ‘The discord that happened between the Kurus and the Pandavas of old, narrate all to the king even as thou hast heard from me.’
“Then that blessed Brahmana, at the command of his preceptor recited the whole of that history unto the king, the Sadasyas, and all the chieftains there assembled. And he told them all about the hostility and the utter extinction of the Kurus and the Pandavas.'”