Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Atri Debates Gautama

Stories From the Mahabharata


[This story is from [Maha:3.184]. This story glorifies the role of Kings, and provides somewhat of an argument for the "divine right" to rule.] This story was narrated by the sage Maarkandeya to the Pandavas when they were spending their time in the forest in exile.

Once, a renowned king named Vainya was performing a major sacrifice, and had resolved to give huge wealth to those Brahmana that sought alms from him during the sacrifice. The sage Atri had originally planned to go to this Yagna and obtain riches that way. However, upon further consideration, he decided not to go, due to certain religious scruples.

Anasuya, his wife, who had been counting on his bringing back gifts from the King, asked him, "My Lord, why haven't you travelled yet to King Vainya's sacrifice? I have heard that he is going to give wealth in the form of both gold and Kine to all Brahmanas who attend his Yagna. It would be a welcome opportunity for us to obtain some material comforts."

The sage replied, "My dear, I have resolved to follow the ascetic mode of life. I have no need for wealth. One must not seek riches, we must seek only that which is sufficient for the bare necessities of life."

His wife interrupted him and said, "You may wish to lead the life of a hermit, but there is no need for our children to suffer because of it. Go to the prince, who, I am told, is a virtuous and Kind ruler, and obtain wealth from him. You can then distribute it among our children and then retire to the forest as you desire."

"The sage Gautama has told me that though the prince is pious, there are Brahmanas at his court who have a jealous nature. If I venture there, they will try to draw me into injudicious speech, and will seek to quarrel with me. It does not behoove me to give way to anger, nor to go in search of a fight. Still, since you wish so much to have wealth for our children, I will go there", said her husband.

Sage Atri went to Vainya's sacrifice, and eulogized the King. He said, "May heaven bless you O King! You are foremost among sovereigns! You are praised by all sages, and you are universally acknowledged to be pious!".

The sage Gautama, who heard this, indignantly said, "Atri, do not repeat this nonsense. Only Indra, the ruler of heaven is foremost among the sovereigns! Do not twist the truth from a base motive to flatter this king and obtain riches."

Atri replied, "Just as Lord Indra rules over our destinies from heaven, this sovereign controls the well being of his subjects. You are lacking in spiritual perception and thus are not able to grasp this essential fact!".

"I am not mistaken; it is you who are laboring under a misconception. To secure the King's grace, you are indulging in unworthy analogies and like a child, are speaking without understanding the meaning of your words."

The argument between these two learned men began to attract the attention of other people. Kashyapa, who was present at the sacrifice, intervened between the adversaries and asked them what the reason for their quarrel was.

When they replied that they were debating about whether the King could be considered to be the determinant of the destiny of his subjects, he decided that only the sage Sanatkumara could clarify this point.

Accordingly, he took both combatants to the sage Sanatkumara and asked them to state their case. After listening carefully to the particulars of the arguments made by both sages, pronounced his verdict. "As fire assisted by wind burns down forests, so does a Brahmana's energy in union with a Kshatriyas can destroy his enemies. The sovereign is the maker of laws and the protector of his subjects. He, like Indra is the protector of created beings, like Shukra a propounder of morals, and like Brihaspati as a counselor, and is thus worthy of being called the ruler of men's destinies. Such an individual, who is called, 'royal', 'lord of earth', 'emperor' etc. is worthy of praise. The king is the prime cause of maintaining social order, he is the guide to salvation of his subjects. He is the embodiment of Vishnu on earth. Just as Surya dispels darkness by his effulgence, the King roots out sin from the earth. All this is stated in many sacred books. Therefore, I must agree with Atri that this King rules our destinies."

King Vainya was very pleased with sage Atri and showered him with gold and gave him many heads of excellent cattle. Victorious, and considerably enriched, Atri returned home. He then distributed all the wealth among his sons, and then repaired to the forest with the object of performing penances.


Last Modified At: Sun Oct 2 17:41:29 2005