|Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)|
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This chapter is based on [Rama:1.11-1.18].
King Dasharatha traveled to the kingdom of Anga, accompanied by his queens and his ministers. His kinsman Romapada, the King of Anga, welcomed the royal party with all due honor. After enquiries about mutual welfare were exchanged, Dasharatha introduced the topic of his visit.
He said, "My dear friend, you know that I am childless and desirous of progeny. It has been foretold by the great sage Sanat Kumara that only Rishyashringa, the husband of your daughter Shanta, can conduct the ritual that can give me children. In the absence of his father Vibhandaka, you are like a father to him. Kindly accompany him to Ayodhya with your family, and enable me to conduct the Ashwamedha Yagna for obtaining offspring."
Romapada said, "Dear King, It has been said that a man without a son cannot aspire to reach the blessed regions of his ancestors. I would be greatly honored if my son-in-law can help in the propagation of the Ikshvaku dynasty. I shall certainly be present at this noble Yagna to be conducted by Rishyashringa."
With these words, Romapada then sent a messenger to inform Rishyashringa about the request made by King Dasharatha. After the consent of that Brahmana was obtained, Dasharatha returned to his Kingdom of Kosala and made preparations for the Yagna.
The entire town of Ayodhya was decorated in preparation for the vedic ritual. Many eminent scholars were invited to participate and observe the ceremony. The citizens were eagerly awaiting the day of the Yagna, for that was the day they would obtain a heir to the throne. When the eminent Ritwik Rishyashringa arrived, the King and his ministers received him at the city gates and greeted him with the sounding of conch shells and drum beats. Dasharatha then took Rishyashringa to the palace and offered him worship as ordained in the scriptures and formally invested him with the office of the chief-conductor of sacrifices. When he beheld the radiance born of knowledge and penance emanating from the young Rishi, Dasharatha rejoiced, and considered that his wish was as good as fulfilled. Shanta, the wife of Rishyashringa was similarly welcomed and worshiped by the women of the royal family.
Before performing a Vedic ritual of the highest order, the Yajaman (performer, here Dasharatha) has to observe various subordinate rituals and prepare himself for a period of one year. Dasharatha observed these rituals diligently under the supervision of Rishyashringa and became eligible to perform the sacrifice at the beginning of the spring of the next year.
At the end of the year long penance, Dasharatha requested his chief-priest Vasishta to begin the main ritual. The sage Vasishta then instructed Brahmana scholars, talented architects and other experts to construct the ritual hall in accordance with the scriptures. Some of the close allies of Dasharatha had come to stay in Ayodhya a year ago, to participate in the festivities surrounding the Vedic ritual. Rest of his allies were invited to grace the occasion now. Among the Kings who came to participate in the sacrifice were: Janaka, the king of Mithila, the King of Kashi, Dasharatha's father-in-law the King of Kekeya and his sons, Romapada the King of Anga, Bhanumanta the King of Kosala, Praptijna the King of Magadha, and many others. These kings brought many costly gifts to affirm their affection for Dasharatha.
At the appointed auspicious hour, the Brahmanas led by Rishyashringa and guided by Vasishta entered the ritual hall. First, King Dasharatha and his wives took formal vows for conducting the ritual. With the installation of the Yajaman of the Yagna, the ritual commenced. The air was filled with the vibrations from the ritual chanting of the Vedas. One by one, all the Gods were invoked and oblations were poured into the ritual fire for them. With the faultless Rishyashringa and noble Vasishta directing the ceremony, there was not even the smallest mistake in the customary rites.
Durin the Yagna, all those arrived in the city were fed sumptuously. None went hungry during the ceremony. While the oblations were being offered in the central hall, many debates and other scholarly contests were conducted in the outer buildings. Plays were staged, musical and dance performances were also conducted for the entertainment of the assembled guests.
The main sacrificial hall was in the shape of a great eagle, symbolizing the flight of Garuda, the mount of Lord Vishnu. The wings of this altar were decorated with pure gold. Countless animals of all kinds were readied to be sacrificed to the Gods as ordained in the scriptures. Of course, the main sacrifice was that of the horse, that had already been killed. The three wives of king Dasharatha symbolically pierced the dead animal with needle like golden knives to signify that it was being offered to the Gods.
Queen Kausalya, the chief-queen of Dasharatha spent a night with the dead horse. Then the ritual offering of all the wealth of the King to the Ritwiks of the sacrifice was performed. The King symbolically donated his kingdom, his cattle, his wives to the Ritwiks, and redeemed them immediately. The Ritwiks then cooked the fat of the dead horse and dropped it into the altar, into the sacrificial fire as an offering to the celestials. One by one, the remaining body parts of the horse were thrown into the sacrificial fire by the sixteen officiating priests.
Then the King donated land and millions of cattle to the four chief priests of the sacrifice. Untold wealth in gold was also distributed to the other Brahmanas who assisted in the sacrifice. Gladdened by these meritorious deeds of Dasharatha, Rishyashringa blessed him, saying, "You will obtain four illustrious sons."
After finishing the Ashwamedha Yagna, the Putra Kameshti ritual was begun for the purpose of obtaining progeny. As that ritual was conducted, the Gods and other noble souls assembled in the skies to receive their share of the sacrificial oblations. Seeing that Lord Brahma was amongst the assembled multitude, Indra said to him, "Sire, the ravages of that Rakshasa Ravana have become intolerable. Armed with boons from Lord Shiva, he has become invincible. You have also blessed him with many powerful boons and that has made him arrogant. He is torturing the sages, celestials and even the Brahmanas. Please suggest a way to end this misery."
Lord Brahma said, "He has obtained a boon that he shall not be slain by the Devas, the divine beings, Gandharvas, the Yakshas or by the Rakshasas. He has omitted humans from this list, thinking them of no account. Therein lies the means of his death. Do not worry, for Lord Vishnu shall be incarnated as a mortal and slay him."
Meanwhile, Rishyashringa began pouring the sacrificial oblations into the altar, accompanied by the chants from the Atharva Veda. From the sacrificial fire, there arose a divine being, the Prajapatya pursha (प्रजापत्य पुरुष), who held a glowing vessel in his hands. He was clad in red and black, had a fierce mustache and his voice was like that of rolling thunder. This deity turned towards King Dasharatha and said, "O King, know me to be the messenger of Prajapati."
The King revered him with folded hands and bowed head and said, "O divine being, welcome to my realm. I have conducted this ritual with the intention of obtaining progeny. What should I do next?"
The being then said, "Look O King, at this golden vessel, glowing like the midday sun, and covered with silver lid of intricate workmanship. It contains the divine dessert that is the result of your worship. Pleased with your devotions, the Gods have sent me to offer you this son-giving divine dessert as your portion. Let this be consumed by your wives, they shall bear children in course of time."
Gratified, the King accepted the vessel from the deity. Then he worshiped him by circumambulating both the deity and the sacrificial fire. The Prajapatya pursha then disappeared back into the fire.
The King then gave half of the dessert to his first queen Kausalya. He gave one fourth to queen Sumitra and one eighth to queen Kaikeyi. He then saw that there was still one eighth of the dessert left, so he gave it again to Sumitra, who was thus fed twice. By the power of the divine dessert, all three soon became pregnant.
When the final rites of the sacrifice were completed, the festivities came to an end. One by one, the various Kings who had come to witness the vedic ritual took their leave. Romapada went back to Anga, accompanied by his daughter Shanta and son-in-law Rishyashringa, who had obtained great wealth as the chief Ritwik of the ritual.
Twelve months after the completion of the Ashwamedha, on the ninth day of the month of Chaitra, when the star Punarvasu was ascendant, and the presiding deity of the star was Aditi, when the planets Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Venus were at their highest position, when Jupiter and moon were ascendant in the sign of Cancer, Queen Kausalya gave birth to a son possessed of all divine attributes. This lotus-red eyed, long armed, rose-lipped boy, the incarnation of Vishnu was named Rama. Kausalya was radiant with her son Rama in her arms, as Aditi had shone with her son Indra in days of yore.
Soon after, Kaikeyi gave birth to Bharata, who would be famed for his sense of justice. Queen Sumitra gave birth to the twins Laxmana and Shatrughna, who would become great warriors, skilled in all weapons. Bharata was born under the sign Pisces, with the star Pushyami ascendant. The twins were born under the sign Cancer, with the star Asresha ascendant.
The people rejoiced at the birth of their princes. The king gave rich gifts to bards, panegyrists, to Brahmanas and other worthy people. He gave away thousands of heads of cattle to mark the occasion. Eleven days after the birth of the princes, the naming ceremony was held, presided over by the chief-priest Vasishta. The four brothers grew up, delighting their parents by their childish antics and their mutual affection.
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|Last Modified At: Thu Nov 25 16:58:03 2004||© ApamNapat, All rights reserved|