Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

The Birth of Astika

Stories From the Mahabharata


[This story is from [Maha:1.13,47]] Once there was a Rishi named Jaratkaru, who had devoted his entire life to austerities, starting at a very young age. He had conquered desire, and spent all his time in severe penances. He undertook a journey around the world. He bathed in various sacred-rivers and worshiped at many sacred places.

While traveling in a forest, he saw that a large number of men were suspended upside down from a tree. They were being slowly lowered into a gaping hole in the ground. He then approached them and asked, "Who are you? What is your crime that such a punishment has been inflicted upon you?"

They replied, "We are the souls of dead men. We were Rishi's of great austerities called the Yavyavaras. We have only one descendant alive now. But that wretch, instead of marrying and begetting offspring to continue our line, has devoted his entire life to penances. Since we do not have offspring to deliver us from the hell known as Puth (Since the son delivers one from this hell, he is called Putra), we have been condemned to be slowly tortured thus. That worthless offspring of our race is called Jaratkaru. If you ever meet him, tell him of our plight!"

Jaratkaru was filled with wonder. He said, "I am that wretch that is your descendant. I did not know that my celibacy had affected your status in after life. Tell me, what is to be done now."

The said, "As soon as possible, marry and beget children. That is the only thing that can save you. Besides, your son is the guarantee for your afterlife also. Go forth and marry."

The Rishi Jaratkaru then wandered all over the earth, in search of a wife, but he did not find a wife. He was too old, and not pleasant to look at, so it was no wonder that no one would marry his daughter to him. In desperation, for he really wished to rescue his ancestors from the hell known as Puth, he retired to a dense forest, and repeated his request for a bride in a faint voice to the Gods.

Vasuki, the king of the serpents, appeared in front of him and said, "O Great One, I have a beautiful sister who is of marriageable age. I am desirous of wedding her to you. Please accept her hand in marriage."

The Rishi then said, "I am thankful to you, O King of serpents, but it has been foretold that my wife will be of the same name as me. Unless your sister is also called Jaratkaru, I cannot marry her."

Vasuki said, "I am aware of that prophesy. Rejoice, for my sister is also named Jaratkaru. Right from the time she was a child, I had reserved her for marrying you. Accept her."

The Rishi said, "I shall marry your sister only upon one condition. She should never question anything I do. She should obey my orders implicitly. She ought not do anything that I will not like. I do not have the wealth to maintain a wife. Therefore you must maintain your sister even after the marriage. If you consent to these conditions, let the marriage be performed."

Vasuki accepted these conditions on behalf of his sister, and the marriage was duly performed according to the prescribed Vedic rites.

[Note: The snakes had refused to assist their mother Kadru in winning a bet by cheating. Enraged, their mother cursed them to be burnt in the sacrificial fire. Thanks to the grace of Lord Brahma, it was modified such that many snakes shall perish, but a few shall survive to propagate the race. It had been foretold that the son of Jaratkaru and Vasuki's sister was the only one who could save the snakes. This is the reason why Vasuki was so anxious to marry his sister to the sage. The bet of Kadru and her curse can be found in this article.]

The newly-weds began their life together. Vasuki's sister proved to be a devoted wife, and she stuck the condition imposed by her husband, never acting contrary to his wishes. A son was conceived out of their conjugal union, but the woman was not aware of it yet.

One day, the Rishi was sleeping with his head placed on the lap of his wife. He slept for a longer time than usual, and the sun began to set. His wife was in a dilemma now. On one hand, she wanted to wake her husband up, for he had to perform the rituals ordained for the sunset time, or his virtue will be diminished. She was also afraid to wake him up, for he would be angry at being disturbed in his sleep. She finally decided, that the greater danger lay in his loss of his ascetic powers, due to his missing the evening ritual.

She gently shook him, and sprinkled water to awaken him. At last he awoke. As she feared, he was exceedingly angry on being woken up. His wife pleaded with him, "O my husband, I did not want you to miss the evening rituals ordained in the Vedas. I was afraid that all the ascetic merit that you have accumulated by long penance would be destroyed, by your untimely sleep!"

The Rishi said, "Know that I have never done anything unseasonably in the night. If I had not performed my evening rituals, the sun would not have set, for such is the power of my ascetism. Since you have broken the pledge your brother made, and disobeyed me, I shall leave you forth-with."

She became fearful of her husband's wrath and pleaded again and again with him, but the Rishi was adamant. In desperation, she said, "My kinsmen are dependent upon the son who would be born to us to deliver them from danger. If you leave me now, how can a son be born to me. I have failed my brother Vasuki, for I have not yet produced a child!"

But by his divine insight, the Rishi knew that she was pregnant, so he said, "There is" and went away. [ By this he meant that there is already a son conceived. The son thus conceived was named Astika (whoever is) ]

Jaratkaru then returned to her brother's abode, and made him acquainted with all that had happened. Initially Vasuki was alarmed that the heir that he had been hoping for, was not to be, but he was consoled when she assured him that her husband had said that she already was carrying a child.

The child was born in due course, and he was given the name of Astika. He was a brilliant scholar, and was very learned in the Vedas and scriptures. When he was about sixteen, King Janamejaya performed the great snake-sacrifice with the aim of destroying all the snakes. At his mother's request, Astika went to the sacrifice, and obtained a boon from Janamejaya that the snake-sacrifice should be abandoned mid way. [That story is told here.]. Thus he fulfilled the purpose of his birth, saving his kinsmen, the snakes from utter destruction.


Last Modified At: Thu Nov 4 00:22:43 2004