Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Vasishta and Vishwamitra

Stories From the Mahabharata


This story is based upon [Maha:1.175-183]. Note: There is some confusion regarding its exact location, for the chapters in the translation seem to be not correctly ordered at this point.

Once, there was a king named Gadhi, belonging to the clan of Kusika. After him, his son Vishwamitra became the ruler. He was a great warrior, and addicted to hunting for sport. While he was wandering in the forest in search of game, accompanied by his retinue, he came upon the hermitage of the great sage Vasishta. The king and his men were both tired and hungry by this time.

The sage welcomed the King, and caused refreshments to be brought forth. The King was very much surprised, that a complete feast had been laid out for his army! There were delectable dishes of every description and refreshing drinks of every variety. The King and his followers dined in style.

Vishwamitra then said to Vasishta, "O Sage, how is that, living isolated in the forest, with no visible means of support, you were able to provide such a lavish feast for me and my men? Is it the result of some great magic that you alone know? Or have the celestials blessed you with the means to entertain your guests in style?"

The sage said, "King, what you witnessed was no magic. Indra has given me Nandini, the calf of his divine cow Kamadhenu. Like her mother, this sacred calf is capable of yielding all manner of riches. Thanks to her, I was able to provide you with refreshments in no time."

The King felt that this calf could solve the problem of feeding his great army. He said to the sage, "O Great one, I shall give you ten thousand heads of first-class cattle. Give me this calf Nandini in exchange. She will be very useful to me."

"O King, this cow has been kept by me for the sake of Gods, guests and my Pitris (ancestors). Besides, she is essential to me for the conduct of my sacrifices. I cannot give away the gift of Indra, not even if you were to offer me your whole kingdom."

The King then grew angry. "I am a Kshatriya, endued with great energy and the scrouge of my enemies. I have all the power in the world. What power do you, a mere Brahmana, who spends his time in prayer and meditation have? Since you have refused to give me your cow in fair exchange, I shall take her away by force. She is more useful in the hands of a King than in the hands of a hermit!"

Vasishta said, "You well know the merit of a Brahmana, however drunk by power, you do not consider the propriety of your actions. Do what you will. I shall not attempt to stop you."

Vishwamitra then ordered his men to drag the cow away by force. In obedience, his soldiers tied a rope to the neck of Nandini and tried to take her away. Nandini then approached Vasishta and said, "Sir, What crime have I committed? Why do you suffer me to be insulted thus by the King's men? Are you displeased with me? Why have you given me away to the King."

The sage said, "Nandini, It is not by my will that the King is taking you. Angry that I would not sell you to him, he has decided to abduct you by force. If you do not wish to go, it is up to you."

The sacred calf then grew angry. Its wrath was terrible to behold. With eyes reddened by anger, howling with rage, it attacked the troops of Vishwamitra. From her tail, showers of burning coal shot out and burned many an unwary soldiers. In an instant, a vast army emerged from her body. The Pallavas emerged from her tail, from her udders the army of Dravidas and Sakas came forth. Her womb gave birth to an army of Yavanas (greeks), and from her dung, the Savaras emerged. From her urine came an army of Kanchis. The froth from her mouth gave rise to a host of Paundras and Kiratas and many other barbarous tribes.

This vast army, created from the body of the divine calf, attacked the armies of King Vishwamitra, and utterly destroyed them. When Vishwamitra saw the destruction unleashed on his forces by the ascetic power of Vasishta, he grew disgusted with the power of Kshatriyas. He then saw that not all his might, nor all his wealth, could hope to equal the ascetic power of a Brahmana.

He then abandoned his large kingdom and regal riches, becoming a hermit. He set his mind on asceticism. He became a great sage, famed for his yogic powers. However, he never forgot his humiliation at the hands of Vasishta, and became his enemy.

There was a king named Kalmashapada, a descendant of Ikshvaku, who was famed for his learning. (This King was orignally called Pravriddha, but his feet had become disfigured when he they came in contact with water that had been charged with incantations for a curse. Kalmashapada=blemished-feet). While traveling in a forest, he encountered an ascetic, while walking on a narrow path. The path would admit just one. An argument ensued regarding the right of way, each maintaining that the other ought to yield. Inflamed with rage, not stopping to consider his actions, the King struck out at the ascetic with his horse-whip. Angered, the Rishi cursed the King to become a flesh-eating Rakshasa.

While these exchanges were going on, the sage Vishwamitra, came that way. He recognized both the King and the ascetic, for the ascetic was none other than Shakti, the eldest of sage Vasishta's hundred son. Now, regarding the King, both Vishwamitra and Vasishta had wanted to make him their disciple, but neither had succeeded till this point. Vishwamitra seized this opportunity to revenge himself on both the king and Vasishta. Vishwamitra concealed himself by his yogic powers and made the curse of Shakti take effect immediately. By his yogic power, he caused a Rakshasa spirit named Kinkara to enter the body of the King.

The King, under the influence of this Rakshasa, turned back to his palace. On the way home, he met a Brahmana, who begged him for food. Seemingly disregarding the beggar, the King returned to his palace. Once in his palace, he ordered his chief cook to prepare a meal of human flesh mixed with rice and feed it to the Brahmana whom he had met in the forest.

When the food was offered to that Brahmana, by his spiritual sight, he saw at once that the food was unholy. In his wrath, he cursed the king saying, "Since Kalmashapada has caused unholy food, made from human flesh to be fed to me, he shall develop a hunger for such unclean food. He shall be turned into a human flesh-eating Rakshasa!"

Thus reinforced, the curse became very strong. Impelled by the workings of fate, Kalmashapada once again returned to the forest where he had been cursed first. When he encountered Shakti again, he commenced his career as a human-eating monster by devouring the Rishi. Vishwamitra, who was really the force behind the Rakshasa, then caused the King to hunt the other sons of Vasishta. One by one, Kalmashapada devoured them all.

When Vasishta came to know that all his sons were dead, by the stratagem employed by Vishwamitra, he became consumed by grief. If he had wished, he could have destroyed Vishwamitra utterly, but he had made a vow of peace, never to hurt any creature by his yogic powers. Feeling that his life had lost all meaning with the utter destruction of his sons, he tried to commit suicide by various means. He was unsuccessful in this endeavor, for the ocean would not allow him to drown, nor did fire burn him. He tried to drown in a river named Haimavati, but the river, recognizing him as a Brahmana of great merit, fled in a hundred directions to avoid him. It is known to this day as Saptadaru (of a thousand streams). Thwarted in his attempt to commit suicide, he began wandering all over the world.

At last, he returned to his hermitage. As he approached his abode, he heard a young voice reciting the Vedas. When he entered his hut, he found that only his daughter-in-law Adrisyanti was there. The mystery of the anonymous voice was solved, when the Rishi divined by his yogic power that it was the unborn child in her womb that had been reciting the Vedas! Glad that there was at least someone to propagate his race, the Rishi became consoled.

Much later, the Rishi saw the Rakshasa Kalmashapada in the forest. When the demon saw the sage, he tried to attack him with the intent of eating him. By his Yogic powers, the sage destroyed the Rakshasa spirit Kinkara and freed the King from his curse. The King, restored to his original form, fell at the feet of the sage and begged his forgiveness for his transgressions.

Vasishta said, "I have already forgiven you, for I know that your actions were the direct result of the curse. Go to your kingdom and rule justly, and never insult Brahmanas any more."

The King said, "I have one more request to make of you. I am unable to obtain issue to propagate my race. The scriptures allow a royal line to be continued by the means of an issue obtained from a Brahmana, so you must act as the savior of my race."

Granting the Kings request, the Rishi went unto his queen Madayanti, as a result of which she became pregnant. Her pregnancy endured for twelve long years, at the end of which, unable to contain her impatience, she broke open her womb by a piece of stone. The son born thus was named Asmaka, and he later founded the city-state of Paudanya.

[While Kalmashapada had been turned into the flesh eating Rakshasa, he had devoured a Brahmana while he and his wife while they were enjoying each other. The wife then cursed the King, and said, "Since you have interrupted our love making and devoured this husband of mine, you will not be able to approach your wife with amorous intent. Your race can be propagated only by your greatest enemy."

This was the reason why his race had to be continued by the means of Vasishta.]

The son born to Adrisyanti was named Parasara. He learned the scriptures under the guidance of his grandfather. He used to think that his grandfather was his father. When his mother heard him addressing Vasishta as father, she told him that his real father had been devoured by a Rakshasa, and that Vasishta was only his grandfather. When Parasara heard this story, he decided to perform a sacrifice to destroy all Rakshasa. He succeeded in killing a large number of them, before he ended his sacrifice at the insistence of Vasishta and another sage named Pulasthya. They narrated the story of Chyavana as a precedent for leniency.

[Parasara is the father of Veda-Vyasa, who composed the Mahabharata.]


Last Modified At: Wed Nov 17 22:58:34 2004