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Chapter 90

Mahabharata English - ASWAMEDHA PARVA

“Janamejaya said, ‘It behoveth thee to tell me of any wonderful incidentthat occurred in the sacrifice of my grandsires.’

“Vaisampayana said, ‘Hear, O chief of kings of a most wonderful incidentthat occurred, O puissant monarch, at the conclusion of that greathorse-sacrifice. After all the foremost of Brahmanas and all the kinsmenand relatives and friends, and all the poor, the blind, and the helplessones had been gratified, O chief of Bharata’s race, when the gifts madein profusion were being spoken of on all sides, indeed, when flowers wererained down on the head of king Yudhishthira the just, a blue-eyedmongoose, O sinless one, with one side of his body changed into gold,came there and spoke in a voice that was as loud and deep as thunder.Repeatedly uttering such deep sounds and thereby frightening all animalsand birds, that proud denizen of a hole, with large body, spoke in ahuman voice and said, ‘Ye kings, this great sacrifice is not equal to aprastha of powdered barley given away by a liberal Brahmana ofKurukshetra who was observing the Unccha vow.’ Hearing these words of themongoose, O king, all those foremost of Brahmanas became filled withwonder. Approaching the mongoose, they then asked him, saying, ‘Whencehast thou come to this sacrifice, this resort of the good and the pious?What is the extent of thy might? What thy learning? And what thy refuge?How should we know thee that thus censurest this our sacrifice? Withouthaving disregarded any portion of the scriptures, everything that shouldbe done has been accomplished here according to the scriptures andagreeably to reason, with the aid of diverse sacrificial rites. Those whoare deserving of worship have been duly worshipped here according to theway pointed out by the scriptures. Libations have been poured on thesacred fire with the aid of proper mantras. That which should be givenhas been given away without pride. The regenerate class have beengratified with gifts of diverse kinds. The Kshatriyas have been gratifiedwith battles fought according to just methods. The grandsires have beengratified with Sraddhas. The Vaisyas have been gratified by theprotection offered to them, and many foremost of women have beengratified by accomplishing their desires. The Sudras have been gratifiedby kind speeches, and others with the remnants of the profuse wealthcollected on the spot. Kinsmen and relatives have been gratified by thepurity of behaviour displayed by our king. The deities have beengratified by libations of clarified butter and acts of merit, anddependants and followers by protection. That therefore, which is true, dothou truly declare unto these Brahmanas. Indeed, do thou declare what isagreeable to the scriptures and to actual experience, asked by theBrahmanas who are eager to know. Thy words seem to demand credit. Thouart wise. Thou bearest also a celestial form. Thou hast come into themidst of learned Brahmanas. It behoveth thee to explain thyself.’ Thusaddressed by those regenerate persons, the mongoose, smiling, answeredthem as follows. ‘Ye regenerate ones, the words I have uttered are notfalse. Neither have I spoken them from pride. That which I have said mayhave been heard by you all. Ye foremost of regenerate persons, thissacrifice is not equal in merit to the gift of a prastha of powderedbarley. Without doubt, I should say this, ye foremost of Brahmanas.Listen to me with undivided attention as I narrate what happened to theetruly. Wonderful and excellent was the occurrence that fell out. It waswitnessed by me and its consequences were felt by me. The incidentrelates to a liberal Brahmana dwelling in Kurukshetra in the observanceof the Unccha vow. In consequence of that incident he attained to Heaven,ye regenerate ones, along with his wife and son and daughter-in-law. Andin consequence of what then happened half my body became transformed intogold.’

“The Mongoose continued, ‘Ye regenerate ones, I shall presently tell youwhat the excellent fruit was of the gift, made by a Brahmana, of a verylittle measure (of powdered barley) obtained by lawful means. On thatrighteous spot of ground known by the name of Kurukshetra, which is theabode of many righteous persons, there lived a Brahmana in the observanceof what is called the Unccha vow. That mode of living is like unto thatof the pigeon.[214] He lived there with his wife and son anddaughter-in-law and practised penances. Of righteous soul, and withsenses under complete control, he adopted the mode of living that isfollowed by a parrot. Of excellent vows, he used to eat everyday at thesixth division.[215] If there was nothing to eat at the sixth division ofthe day, that excellent Brahmana would fast for that day and eat the nextday at the sixth division. On one occasion, ye Brahmanas, there occurreda dreadful famine in the land. During that time there was nothing storedin the abode of that righteous Brahmana. The herbs and plants were alldried up and the whole realm became void of foodstore. When theaccustomed hours came for eating, the Brahmana had nothing to eat. Thisoccurred day after day. All the members of his family were afflicted withhunger but were obliged to pass the days as best they could. One day, inthe month of Jaishtha, while the Sun was in the meridian, the Brahmanawas engaged in picking up grains of corn. Afflicted by heat and hunger,he was practising even this penance. Unable to obtain grains of corn, theBrahmana soon became worn out with hunger and toil. Indeed, with all themembers of his family, he had no food to eat. That best of Brahmanaspassed the days in great suffering. One day, after the sixth divisioncame, he succeeded in obtaining a prastha of barley. That barley was thenreduced by those ascetics to powder for making what is called Saktu ofit. Having finished their silent recitations and other daily rites, andhaving duly poured libations on the sacred fire, those ascetics dividedthat little measure of powdered barley amongst themselves so that theshare of each came up to the measure of a Kudava.[216] As they were aboutto sit down for eating, there came unto their abode a guest. Beholdingthe person who came as a guest, all of them became exceedingly glad.Indeed, seeing him, they saluted him and made the usual enquiries ofwelfare. They were of pure minds, self-restrained, and endued with faithand control over the passions. Freed from malice, they had conqueredwrath. Possessed of piety, they were never pained at the sight of otherpeople’s happiness. They had cast off pride and haughtiness and anger.Indeed, they were conversant with every duty, ye foremost of regenerateones. Informing their guest of their own penances and of the race orfamily to which they belonged, and ascertaining from him in return thoseparticulars, they caused that hungry guest of theirs to enter theircottage. Addressing him they said, ‘This is the Arghya for thee. Thiswater is for washing thy feet. There are scattered some Kusa grass forthy seat, O sinless one. Here is some clean Saktu acquired by lawfulmeans, O puissant one. Given by us, O foremost of regenerate persons, dothou accept it,’ Thus addressed by them, that Brahmana accepted theKudava of powdered barley that was offered to him and ate it all. But hishunger, O king, was not appeased by what he ate. The Brahmana in theobservance of the Unccha vow, seeing that his guest’s hunger was stillunappeased, began to think of what other food he could place before himfor gratifying him. Then his wife said unto him,–‘Let my share be givenunto him. Let this foremost of regenerate persons be gratified and lethim then go whithersoever he will.’ Knowing that his chaste wife who saidso was herself afflicted by hunger, that best of Brahmanas could notapprove of her share of the powdered barley being given to the guest.Indeed, that best of Brahmanas possessed of learning, knowing from hisown state that his aged, toil-worn, cheerless, and helpless wife washerself afflicted by hunger and seeing that lady who had been emaciatedinto mere skin and bone was quivering with weakness, addressed her andsaid, ‘O beautiful one, with even animals, with even worms and insects,wives are fed and protected. It behoveth thee not, therefore, to say so.The wife treats her lord with kindness and feeds and protects him.Everything appertaining to religion, pleasure, and wealth, carefulnursing, offspring for perpetuating the race, are all dependent on thewife. Indeed, the merits of a person himself as also of his deceasedancestors depend also on her. The wife should know her lord by his acts.Verily, that man who fails to protect his wife earns great infamy hereand goes into Hell hereafter. Such a man falls down from even a positionof great fame and never succeeds in acquiring regions of happinesshereafter.’ Thus addressed, she answered him, saying, ‘O regenerate one,our religious acts and wealth are united. Do thou take a fourth of thisbarley. Indeed, be gratified with me. Truth, pleasure, religious merit,and Heaven as acquirable, by good qualities, of women, as also all theobjects of their desire, O foremost of regenerate ones, are dependent onthe husband. In the production of offspring the mother contributes herblood. The father contributes his seed. The husband is the highest deityof the wife. Through the grace of the husband, women obtain both pleasureand offspring as the reward. Thou art my Pati (lord) for the protectionthou givest me. Thou art my Bhartri for the means of sustenance thougivest me. Thou art, again, boon-giver to me in consequence of thy havingpresented me a son. Do thou, therefore, (in return for so many favours),take my share of the barley and give it unto the guest. Overcome bydecrepitude, thou art of advanced years. Afflicted by hunger thou artexceedingly weakened. Worn out with fasts, thou art very much emaciated.(If thou couldst part with thy share, why should not I part with mine)’Thus addressed by her, he took her share of the powdered barley andaddressing his guest said,–‘O regenerate one, O best of men, do thouaccept this measure of powdered barley as well.’ The Brahmana, havingaccepted that quantity, immediately ate it up, but his hunger was not yetappeased. Beholding him ungratified, the Brahmana in the observance ofthe Unccha vow became thoughtful. His son then said unto him, ‘O best ofmen, taking my share of the barely do thou give it to the guest. I regardthis act of mine as one of great merit. Therefore, do it. Thou shouldstbe always maintained by me with great care. Maintenance of the father isa duty which the good always covet. The maintenance of the father in hisold age is the duty ordained for the son. Even this is the eternal sruti(audition) current in the three worlds, O learned Rishi. By barely livingthou art capable of practising penances. The life-breath is the greatdeity that resides in the bodies of all embodied creatures.'[217]

“The father, at this, said, ‘If thou attainest to the age of even athousand years, thou wilt still seem to me to be only a little child.Having begotten a son, the sire achieves success through him. O puissantone, I know that the hunger of children is very strong. I am old. I shallsomehow succeed in holding my life-breaths. Do thou, O son, become strong(by eating the food that has fallen to thy share). Old and decrepit as Iam, O son, hunger scarcely afflicts me. I have, again, for many years,practised penances. I have no fear of death.’

“The son said, ‘I am thy offspring. The Sruti declares that one’soffspring is called putra because one is rescued by him. One’s own self,again, takes birth as one’s son. Do thou, therefore, rescue thyself bythy own self (in the form of thy son).’

“The father said, ‘In form thou art like me. In conduct and inself-restraint also thou art my like. Thou hast been examined on variousoccasions by me. I shall, therefore, accept thy share of the barley, Oson.’ Having said this, that foremost of regenerate persons cheerfullytook his son’s share of the barley and smilingly presented it to hisregenerate guest. Having eaten that barley also, the guest’s hunger wasnot appeased. The righteous-souled host in the observance of the uncchavow became ashamed (at the thought that he had nothing more to give).Desirous of doing what was agreeable to him, his chaste daughter-in-lawthen, bearing her share of the barley, approached him and said, ‘Throughthy son, O learned Brahmana, I shall obtain a son. Do thou, therefore,take my share of the barley and give it unto this guest. Through thygrace, numerous regions of beatitude will be mine for eternity. Throughthe grandson one obtains those regions repairing whither one has not toendure any kind of misery. Like the triple aggregate beginning withReligion, or the triple aggregate of sacred fires, there is a tripleaggregate of everlasting Heavens, depending upon the son, the grandson,and the great-grandson. The son is called Putra because he frees hissires from debt. Through sons and grandsons one always enjoys thehappiness of those regions which are reserved for the pious and the good.’

“The father-in-law said, ‘O thou of excellent vows and conduct, beholdingthee wasted by wind and sun, deprived of thy very complexion, emaciatedand almost destitute of consciousness through hunger, how can I be such atransgressor against the rules of righteousness as to take thy share ofthe barley? O auspicious damsel, it behoves thee not to say so, for thesake of those auspicious results for which every family must strive.[218]O auspicious damsel, how can I behold thee: at even this, the sixthdivision of the day, abstaining from food and observing vows? Thou artendued with purity and good conduct and penances. Alas, even thou hast topass thy days in so much misery. Thou art a child, afflicted by hunger,and belongest to the softer sex. Thou shouldst be always protected by me.Alas, I have to see thee worn out with fasts, O thou that art thedelighter of all thy kinsmen.’

“The daughter-in-law said, ‘Thou art the senior of my senior since thouart the deity of my deity. Thou art verily the god of my god. Do thou,therefore, O puissant one, take my share of the barley. My body,life-breaths, and religious rites have all one purpose viz., the serviceof my senior. Through thy grace, O learned Brahmana, I shall obtain manyregions of happiness hereafter. I deserve to be looked after by thee.Know, O regenerate one, that I am wholly devoted to thee. Cherishing alsothis thought, viz., that my happiness is thy concern, it behoveth thee totake this my share of the barley.’

“The father-in-law said, ‘O chaste lady, in consequence of such conductof thine thou wilt for ever shine in glory, for endued with vows andsteadiness in religious rites, thy eyes are directed to that conductwhich should be observed towards seniors. Therefore, O daughter-in-law, Ishall take thy share of the barley. Thou deservest not to be deceived byme, reckoning all thy virtues. Thou art truly, O blessed damsel, theforemost of all persons observing the duties of righteousness.’ Havingsaid so unto her, the Brahmana took her share of the barley and gave itunto his guest. At this the guest became gratified with the high-souledBrahmana endued with great piety. With gratified soul, that first ofregenerate person, possessed of great eloquence, who was none else thanthe deity of Righteousness in a human form, then addressed that foremostof Brahmanas and said, ‘O best of regenerate ones, I am exceedinglygratified with this pure gift of thine, this gift of what was acquired bylawful means by thee, and which thou didst freely part with, agreeably tothe rules of righteousness. Verily, this gift of thine is being bruitedabout in Heaven by the denizens of that happy region. Behold, flowershave been rained down from the firmament on the Earth. The celestialRishis, the deities, the Gandharvas, those who walk before the deities,and the celestial messengers, are all praising thee, struck with wonderat thy gift. The regenerate Rishis who dwell in the regions of Brahma,seated on their cars, are solicitous of obtaining thy sight. O foremostof regenerate persons, go to Heaven. The Pitris residing in their ownregion have all been rescued by thee. Others also who have not attainedto the position of Pitris have equally been rescued by thee for countlessYugas. For thy Brahmacharyya, thy gifts, thy sacrifices, thy penances,and thy acts of piety done with a pure heart, go thou to Heaven. O thouof excellent vows, thou practisest penances with great devotion. Thygifts have, therefore, gratified the deities highly, O best of regenerateones. Since thou hast made this gift, in a season of great difficulty,with a pure heart, thou hast, by this act of thine, conquered Heaven.Hunger destroys one’s wisdom and drives off one’s righteousunderstanding. One whose intelligence is overwhelmed by hunger casts offall fortitude. He, therefore, that conquers hunger conquers Heavenwithout doubt. One’s righteousness is never destroyed as long as onecherishes the inclination of making gifts. Disregarding filial affection,disregarding the affection one feels for one’s wife, and reckoningrighteousness as the foremost, thou hast paid no heed to the cravings ofnature. The acquisition of wealth is an act of slight merit. Its gift toa deserving person is fraught with greater merit. Of still greater meritis the (proper) time. Lastly, devotion (in the matter of gift) is fraughtwith the highest merit. The door of Heaven is very difficult to see.Through heedlessness men fail to obtain a sight of it. The bar ofHeaven’s door has cupidity for its seed. That bar is kept fastened bydesire and affection. Verily, Heaven’s door is unapproachable. Those menwho subdued wrath and conquered their passions, those Brahmanas who areendued with penances and who make gifts according to the measure of theirability, succeed in beholding it. It has been said that he that givesaway a hundred, having a thousand, he that gives away ten, having ahundred, and he that gives a handful of water, having no wealth, are allequal in respect of the merit they earn. King Rantideva, when divested ofall his wealth, gave a small quantity of water with a pure heart. Throughthis gift, O learned Brahmana, he went to Heaven. The deity ofrighteousness is never gratified so much with large gifts of costlythings as with gifts of even things of no value, if acquired lawfully andgiven away with devotion and faith. King Nriga had made gifts ofthousands of kine unto the regenerate class. By giving away only one cowthat did not belong to him, he fell into Hell. Usinara’s son Sivi ofexcellent vows, by giving away the flesh of his own body, is rejoicing inHeaven, having attained to the regions of the righteous. Mere wealth isnot merit. Good men acquire merit by exerting to the best of their powerand with the aid of pious meals. One does not acquire such merit by meansof even diverse sacrifices as with even a little wealth that has beenearned lawfully. Through wrath, the fruits of gifts are destroyed.Through cupidity one fails to go to Heaven. One conversant with themerits of gift, and leading a just course of conduct succeeds, throughpenances, in enjoying Heaven. The fruit, O Brahmana, of this gift made bythee (of a prastha of powdered barley) is much greater than what oneacquires by many Rajasuya sacrifices with profuse gifts or manyHorse-sacrifices. With this prastha of powdered barley thou hastconquered the eternal region of Brahman. Go thou in happiness, O learnedBrahmana, to the abode of Brahman that is without the stain of darkness.O foremost of regenerate persons, a celestial car is here for all of you.Do thou ascend it as pleasest thee, O Brahmana, I am the deity ofRighteousness. Behold me! Thou hast rescued thy body. The fame of thyachievement will last in the world. With thy wife, thy son, and thydaughter-in-law, go now to Heaven.’–After the deity of Righteousness hadsaid these words, that Brahmana, with his wife, son and daughter-in-law,proceeded to Heaven. After that learned Brahmana, conversant with allduties, had thus ascended to Heaven with his son, daughter-in-law, andwife numbering the fourth, I came out of my hole. There with the scent ofthat powdered barley, with the mire caused by the water (which theBrahmana had given to his guest), with the contact (of my body) with thecelestial flowers that had been rained down, with the particles of thebarley-powder which that good man had given away, and the penances ofthat Brahmana, my head became gold, Behold, in consequence of the gift ofthat Brahmana who was firm in truth, and his penances, half of this myample body has become golden. Ye regenerate ones, for converting the restof my body into gold I repeatedly repair, with a cheerful heart, to theretreats of ascetics and the sacrifices performed by kings. Hearing ofthis sacrifice of the Kuru king endued with great wisdom, I came hitherwith high hopes. I have not, however, been made gold. Ye foremost ofBrahmanas, it was for this that I uttered those words, viz., that thissacrifice can by no means compare with (the gift of) that prastha ofpowdered barley. With the grains of that prastha of powdered barley, Iwas made gold on that occasion. This great sacrifice however, is notequal to those grains. Even this is my opinion.’ Having said those wordsunto all those foremost of Brahmanas, the mongoose disappeared from theirsight. Those Brahmanas then returned to their respective homes.’

“Vaisampayana continued, ‘O conquerer of hostile towns, I have now toldthee all relating to that wonderful incident which occurred in that greatHorse-sacrifice. Thou shouldst not, O king, think highly of sacrifice.Millions of Rishis have ascended to Heaven with the aid of only theirpenances. Abstention from injury as regards all creatures, contentment,conduct, sincerity, penances, self-restraint, truthfulness, and gifts areeach equal in point of merit to sacrifice.”‘

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