Chapter 179

Mahabharata English - ARANYAKA PARVA

Vaisampayana continued, “Yudhishthira, finding his beloved brother coiledby the body of the serpent, said these words: ‘O son of Kunti, how hastthou come by this misfortune! And who is this best of serpents having abody like unto a mountain mass?’ Bhimasena said, ‘O worshipful one, thismighty being hath caught me for food. He is the royal sage Nahusha livingin the form of a serpent.’ Yudhishthira said, ‘O longlived one, do thoufree my brother of immeasurable prowess; we will give thee some otherfood which will appease thy hunger.’ The serpent said, ‘I have got fordiet even this son of a king, come to my mouth of himself. Do thou goaway. Thou shouldst not stay here. (If thou remainest here) thou tooshall be my fare to-morrow. O mighty-armed one, this is ordained inrespect of me, that he that cometh unto my place, becometh my food andthou too art in my quarter. After a long time have I got thy youngerbrother as my food; I will not let him off; neither do I like to have anyother food.’ Thereat Yudhishthira said, ‘O serpent, whether thou art agod, or a demon, or an Uraga, do thou tell me truly, it is Yudhishthirathat asketh thee, wherefore, O snake, hast thou taken Bhimasena? Byobtaining which, or by knowing what wilt thou receive satisfaction, Osnake, and what food shall I give thee? And how mayst thou free him.’ Theserpent said, ‘O sinless one, I was thy ancestor, the son of Ayu andfifth in descent from the Moon. And I was a king celebrated under thename of Nahusha. And by sacrifices and asceticism and study of the Vedasand self-restraint and prowess I had acquired a permanent dominion overthe three worlds. And when I had obtained such dominion, haughtinesspossessed me. And thousands of Brahmanas were engaged in carrying mychair. And intoxicated by supremacy, I insulted those Brahmanas. And, Olord of the earth, by Agastya have I been reduced to this pass! Yet, OPandava, to this day the memory (of my former birth) hath not forsakenme! And, O king, even by the favour of that high-souled Agastya, duringthe sixth division of the day have I got for meal thy younger brother.Neither will I set him free, nor do I wish for any other food. But ifto-day thou answerest the questions put by me, then, I shall deliverVrikodara!” At this Yudhishthira said, ‘O serpent, ask whatever thoulistest! I shall, if I can, answer thy questions with the view ofgratifying thee, O snake! Thou knowest fully what should be known byBrahmanas. Therefore, O king of snakes, hearing (thee) I shall answer thyqueries!’

The serpent said, ‘O Yudhishthira, say–Who is a Brahmana and what shouldbe known? By thy speech I infer thee to be highly intelligent.’

“Yudhishthira said, ‘O foremost of serpents, he, it is asserted by thewise, in whom are seen truth, charity, forgiveness, good conduct,benevolence, observance of the rites of his order and mercy is aBrahmana. And, O serpent, that which should be known is even the supremeBrahma, in which is neither happiness nor misery–and attaining whichbeings are not affected with misery; what is thy opinion?’

“The serpent said, ‘O Yudhishthira, truth, charity, forgiveness,benevolence, benignity, kindness and the Veda[42] which worketh thebenefit of the four orders, which is the authority in matters of religionand which is true, are seen even in the Sudra. As regards the object tobe known and which thou allegest is without both happiness and misery, Ido not see any such that is devoid of these.’

“Yudhishthira said, Those characteristics that are present in a Sudra, donot exist in a Brahmana; nor do those that are in a Brahmana exist in aSudra. And a Sudra is not a Sudra by birth alone–nor a Brahmana isBrahmana by birth alone. He, it is said by the wise, in whom are seenthose virtues is a Brahmana. And people term him a Sudra in whom thosequalities do not exist, even though he be a Brahmana by birth. And again,as for thy assertion that the object to be known (as asserted by me) dothnot exist, because nothing exists that is devoid of both (happiness andmisery), such indeed is the opinion, O serpent, that nothing exists thatis without (them) both. But as in cold, heat doth not exist, nor in heat,cold, so there cannot exist an object in which both (happiness andmisery) cannot exist?”

“The serpent said, ‘O king, if thou recognise him as a Brahmana bycharacteristics, then, O long-lived one, the distinction of castebecometh futile as long as conduct doth not come into play.’

“Yudhishthira said, ‘In human society, O mighty and highly intelligentserpent, it is difficult to ascertain one’s caste, because of promiscuousintercourse among the four orders. This is my opinion. Men belonging toall orders (promiscuously) beget offspring upon women of all the orders.And of men, speech, sexual intercourse, birth and death are common. Andto this the Rishis have borne testimony by using as the beginning of asacrifice such expressions as–of what caste so ever we may be, wecelebrate the sacrifice. Therefore, those that are wise have assertedthat character is the chief essential requisite. The natal ceremony of aperson is performed before division of the umbilical cord. His motherthen acts as its Savitri and his father officiates as priest. He isconsidered as a Sudra as long as he is not initiated in the Vedas. Doubtshaving arisen on this point, O prince; of serpents, Swayambhuba Manu hasdeclared, that the mixed castes are to be regarded as better than the(other) classes, if having gone through the ceremonies of purification,the latter do not conform to the rules of good conduct, O excellentsnake! Whosoever now conforms to the rules of pure and virtuous conduct,him have I, ere now, designated as a Brahmana.’ The serpent replied, ‘OYudhishthira, thou art acquainted with all that is fit to be known andhaving listened to thy words, how can I (now) eat up thy brotherVrikodara!”

Chapter 178
Chapter 180
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