Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Trishanku's Heaven

Stories From the Ramayana

This story is from [Rama:1.57-1.60]

Trishanku was a king of the solar dynasty, the ruler of the Kingdom of Ayodhya. He was a braver warrior and a learned man. As he pondered over the role of merit and the promise of heaven, he began to think, "Why should we ascend to heaven only on death? Is it not possible to go there alive?"

He then went to his perceptor Vasishta and said, "O Guru, I am filled with the desire to ascend to Swargaloka in my mortal body. With your wide knowledge of the Vedas and the scriptures, surely you must know of a suitable ritual that will allow me enter heaven while still living?"

Vasishta was alarmed at this unnatural request from his king. He said, "O King, perish this thought. It has been ordained by the Gods that the virtuous go to heaven upon their death. The mortal body is unclean, it accumulates good and bad deeds. Only the soul is pure. A man may enter heaven in his incorporeal body and none other. That is how it was, and that is how it shall be. Continue your good deeds and you shall certainly reach the heaven of your forefathers after your death."

Denied by his Guru, the King returned to his palace. He tried to take the advice of Vasishta to heart, but his desire was still strong. He then looked around for another Ritwik (master of sacrificial ritual) who could help him achieve his wish.

The King remembered that the sons of Vasishta had their hermitage in a nearby forest. Trishanku went there and offered them his worship. He then broached the subject of his visit. He said, "Sirs, I wanted to perform a sacrifice that would allow me to ascend to heaven in my mortal body. I approached my perceptor, your father Vasishta with this request, but he refused to perform the ritual, calling it against the laws of men and God. Since my Guru has forsaken me, you are my only hope. Kindly consent to perform this sacrifice, you shall achieve great fame, and shall become wealthy, for I shall reward you handsomely."

Angered, the sons of Vasishta said, "Wretch! How dare you approach us with a request that our father has declined? Do you not know that if he has deemed something as unworthy, we will also follow his lead. Has he not advice you to give up this unnatural longing of yours? Begone from our presence."

Dejected, Trishanku said, "May you be safe from harm. I shall achieve this objective some other way."

[NOTE: At this point, there is some confusion. The sons of Vasishta have already denied the request. It is unclear why the rather mild response of Trishanku should cause them to curse him.]

Upon hearing that Trishanku was going to persist in his mission, the hundred sons of Vasishta grew exceedingly angry. They cursed him, saying, "Since you have entertained thoughts unworthy of a king, may you become a Chandala (outcast, performer of funeral rites)! Your subjects shall forsake you!"

Immediately, the handsome form of the King was transformed into that of an ugly old man. His royal robes of white silk were turned into black rags of the cremator. Rueing his fate, the King returned to his kingdom. However, when his ministers and subjects beheld him, they chased him away from the kingdom, deeming him unfit not just to rule them, but to even reside in their kingdom.

Trishanku wandered far and wide and suffered many trials. Throughout, he never wavered from his desire to ascend to heaven in his own body. At last, he came upon the hermitage of sage Vishwamitra. Now, he knew that this sage was a sworn enemy of Vasishta, and was also jealous of Vasishta's fame. He approached the sage and prostrated himself at his feet.

By his Yogic powers, Vishwamitra divined the complete story of the King. He said, "Fear not. Due to the sins committed in your previous births, you have been reduced to this plight in this birth. I know of your heart's desire. Vasishta may be incapable of gratifying it, but my ascetic merit is certainly up to the task. I shall perform the ritual, the great Yagna that shall let you into heaven as you are."

The King said, "O sage! Great is your benevolence. You have taken pity on this wretch and have granted him a great boon. You must know that before the sons of Vasishta cursed me, I was a illustrious King. I never swerved from the path of truth. I observed all the Vedic rituals as ordained in the scriptures. I honored the Brahmanas and ruled over my subjects without partiality. I consider myself as deserving of heaven. Please conduct this sacrifice as soon as possible."

The sage said, "O King! I am well aware of your record. I know you were a good king, a virtuous man. In their arrogance, the sons of Vasishta have reduced you to this plight. Do not worry, the sacrifice shall be begun shortly."

Vishwamitra then ordered his sons to make all arrangements for the ritual. Invitations were sent out to all the great sages of the land. Even Vasishta and his sons were invited to the ceremony. Almost everyone who was invited, accepted the invitations. However, as expected, the sons of Vasishta would not come. Indeed, when the got the message, they became very angry. They said, "A Kshatriya (Vishwamitra) is the officiator, a profaner (Trishanku) is the Yajaman (performer), and the Vedic ritual itself is unworthy. How can the Gods or the sages accept the Havis from this travesty of a Yagna? Fie on this ritual, fie on those who will be attending it!"

When these derisive words were reported to Vishwamitra, he became exceedingly angry. He said, "Though I be born a Kshatriya, I have attained Vedic knowledge by virtue of my ascesis. Those idiots have ridiculed me and this sacrifice to be conducted by me. May they be burned to ashes and take birth hundred times as devourers of corpses. They shall wander in this world as a clan called Mushtikas. Disfigured, deformed, dog flesh shall be their staple food."

After uttering the curse, the sage then turned to the assembled Brahmanas and said, "I thank you for coming to this sacrifice to be conducted by me. You all know that King Trishanku is a worthy ruler. He wishes to ascend to heaven in his mortal body, and for that purpose, I shall perform a Yagna. Assist me in chanting the Mantras and in completing the rituals."

The assembled sages conversed among themselves. Many of them had misgivings about the objective of the sacrifice, but were at the same time afraid of the wrath of Vishwamitra. In the end, their enthusiasm to be part of this great ceremony won out. The Vedic chants began. Vishwamitra himself sat at the center, and poured the offerings into the sacrificial fire.

As the ritual neared the completion, Vishwamitra uttered the sacred incantations inviting the Gods to partake of Havis. However, the Gods would not appear to accept the oblations from this unnatural ritual. Vishwamitra was growing angrier by the minute at the disrespect shown by the Gods to his sacrifice. He repeatedly poured the oblations into the sacrificial fire with a wooden spoon, uttering the incantations in a voice that was becoming louder each time.

He then turned to Trishanku and said, "The Gods have not appeared to accept their portions. Never mind. You shall see the power of my ascetic merit. O King, you shall now ascend to heaven as you are, impelled by the power of my penance!"

With these words, Vishwamitra then willed the king to ascend. Immediately, Trishanku started rising up towards heaven before the startled eyes of the assembled sages. However, as the King reached the gates of heaven, Indra and the other Gods said, "O Trishanku! Retrace your steps, as you are not yet deserving of heaven. You have been cursed by your perceptor and are unworthy of this exalted station. You foolish human, fall down again to earth!"

With these words, Trishanku started to fall headlong towards the earth. As he was falling, the King beseeched sage Vishwamitra to save him. Immediately, Vishwamitra said, "Stay! Stay!", and the fall of Trishanku was arrested. The King was suspended in mid air.

By his Yogic powers, the sage divined that the Gods were opposed to letting Trishanku enter heaven. In his great anger, he then resolved to create a parallel universe. By the power of his ascesis, he began by cloning the Sapta Rishi Mandala (the constellation Ursa Major) in the southern sky. He then created a clone of heaven in this southern sky. As he was about to create a parallel Indra to rule over his new creation, the Gods were alarmed. They appeared before the sage and spoke placatory words.

They said, "O Vishwamitra, this king has been cursed by his mentor. He is unfit for entering heaven. Besides, it is a law of nature that none may enter heaven in their corporeal body. Desist from your unworthy endeavor."

By now, the anger of Vishwamitra had also waned. He said, "I have promised to this Trishanku that he will reach heaven in his mortal body. I do not wish to go against your advice either. As a compromise, let this King inhabit this heaven created by me. Let the stars and galaxies created by me also continue to exist."

The Devas said, "So be it! The stars and constellations created by you shall exist for all eternity. The King shall reside in your heaven, to be called Trishanku's heaven from now on. But since Indra's edict should not be contravened, he shall remain upside down there."

Satisfied with this compromise, Vishwamitra ceased his attempts to clone Indra. From that day on, a situation where one is neither happy or unhappy is referred to as being in Trishanku's heaven.

Last Modified At: Wed Nov 17 22:57:43 2004