Inaaryavarta, which came to be known later as Bharat, the ethos of the land, the way of life of the inhabitants, their scriptures, spirituality are all intertwined in drawing strength and reinforcing one another. The implicit dharma derived from the Vedas is handed down from generation to generation, packed and preserved in the more readily accessible scriptures. Universal family, vasudhaika kutumbakam, universal welfare, vishwa shreya and lok kalyan, all-round well being, prosperity and happiness, are cherished ideals in aarsha dharma, the earliest known full blown culture.
Sanatana Dharma is the holy law, in accordance with which people in aaryavarta fashioned and led life. This is also loosely called Hinduism, the religion of the Hindus. Some say that Hinduism is not a religion as such but a way of life. It is also called aarsha dhrama, the law as laid down by the seers and sages drawn from the Vedas, which are supposed to be not man-made. The Vedas and the Upanishads speak of rituals where meditation, sacrificial fires called yajnas, prayers and mantras played a dominant role in the earthly life. There are varnshrama dharmas, gurus, families, teachers, society, caste, and creed. And there is belief in reincarnation and recurrent births in accordance with one’s karma or actions. A firm moral law is drawn from faith in God, which made man live in harmony with Nature and the five elements. This is spirituality at its most sublime. One spiritual thinker goes to the extent of saying that Hindu Spirituality is a misnomer: What spirituality preaches is that everything is illusion as Adi Sankara explained centuries ago. Spirituality is Sanatana Dharma, the eternal (and the ancient) order of things.
Sri Aurobindo in his Essays on the Gita takes us to the core of spirituality. “That which the Gita teaches is not a human, but a divine action, not the performance of social duties, but the abandonment of all other standards of duty or conduct for a selfless performance of the divine will working through our nature, not social service, but the action of the Best, the God-possessed, the Master-men done impersonally for the sake of the world and as a sacrifice to Him who stands behind man and Nature.”
nirmohatwe nischala tatwam
nischala tatwe jeevan muktih
And there is the rousing devotional threnody: ‘Nischala tatwam, the unmoving never vacillating quality, is the mental state on spiritual attainment. This is not automatic. One has to strive for it or intuit it by divine grace. Company of the Worthy and Wise, Satsangtwa – Unattachment, nissangtwa – Desireless State, nirmohatwa are levels for human beings to attain one after the other. Human life is a foothold, a launching pad to go up, to scale the heights. At the operational level of everyday life a human being cannot attain to the spiritual state without awareness, knowledge, a preceptor and - to begin with - a model way of life like varanashrama dharma, in this case. This dharma for the lay as well as the learned is a sure way to give an awareness of the levels ultimately to endeavour to make it to nischala tatwa, which culminates in jeeven mukti - liberation for life and the cycle of birth and death.
Sanatana Dharma is this spirituality – to realize that life in itself is ‘illusion’. Adi Sankara intuited it, so did the great seers of the recent past, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sri Aurobindo. The operational level is given importance for it is the beginning to go forward, to scale the heights. The three principal scriptures, derived largely from veddharma, the Ramayana, the Bhagavatha and the Mahabharata show human aspirations and the human actuality with glimpses of the ultimate glory man can attain through a number of parables, fables, allegories and several narrative devices.
The moral law or dharma is inviolable. There is a power that operates to maintain justice. A deviation or lapse calls for retribution. The retribution is in the form of a saapa, a curse. The reward / punishment operated through anugrah / nigrah. Divine Power has the capacity for either nigrah or anugrah. Sages, seers, mahatmas and the like have this power obtained from their own austerities, meditation, prayers, devotion and tapsya.
The principal classical epics, Srimadramayana, Srimadbhagavatha and Mahabharata, have in them umpteen episodes of curses with expiation prescribed there for or, with a divine design behind each. Right from deities to great devotees, male and female come under curses from the pious and potent for lapses as defined, explained or subtly hinted at in the inexorable, Holy Law, dharma, which it is every human being’s duty to obey.The epics have the intent of preaching spirituality, the moral and metaphysical ordering of life being the objective. The significant way this is done is by employing devices like the fable, parable, allegory and subtle narrative. There is an easily permeating immediate effect that leads the listener/reader to ponder and make judgements. A closer, in depth reading or pondering leads one to the core of the teaching. These grand narratives are literal gold mines: the deeper one digs the richer he emerges.
Materialistic pursuits and preoccupation with mere worldliness devoid of a sense of the goal cannot lead man to fulfilment, the realization of God. This is brought out again and again tirelessly in myriad ways. Lapses in the adherence to dharma lead to curses as divine dispensation at different times to different individuals with different objectives – all with an edifying purpose. The objective of the study is to unveil the basic spirituality in the devout ethos of the aaryavarta.
The narration of the course of events in the narrative Srimadbhagavata stems from the curse King Parikshit draws from Sringi, the son of the mahamuni Shameeka. The king’s deed is caused by his hurt pride that he does not get the usual hospitality at the hermitage where he comes thirsty, his throat parched after a day’s hard but satisfying sport of hunting. It is thirst that makes him lose his temper in hideous rashness to teach a lesson to the hermit. In much the same way the Ramayana centres on Sita who is Vedavati of Brahmavivartapurana. She lays a curse on the rakshas Ravana for making unholy advances to her against her will even after being warned. She immolates herself in fire imprecating the offender that she would destroy him as well as his progeny reincarnating in his own kingdom.
Parikshit is no ordinary king. While yet a foetus in his mother’s womb he is saved by Lord Krishna in accordance with the prayer and wish of his mother Uttara, after Aswaththama lays a curse on the Pandava offspring. The muni himself in his equanimity assures the angered son that he is not going to be punished by the mighty king for his hasty act. Parikshit is noble and pious by nature: he yields to what he considers the fruit of his wicked action, abdicates the throne and launches on a fast unto death. But his initial reaction to what he thinks is the hermit’s neglect is unbecoming a king. Pride and anger undo his worth. He wants expiation and he prays the holy hermits who come to him in large numbers to show him a way of redemption. Suka Maharshi appears on the scene and narrates him the tale of Srimannarayana, the pious recitation or listening of which would be expiation. This curse episode forms the base for the whole grand narrative, which inheres in it the essence of Sanatana Dharma.
A detailed study of the sequence of events leading to the imprecation and its aftermath, the personae involved their predilections and personalities, accomplishments and failings (the consequence of vasanas, encrusted qualities, carried forward from the earlier births) help us to link the event with dharma, its workings as divine dispensation.
Sringi, the son of the much revered Shameeka pronounces the curse on King Parikshit (the name is symbolic; he is the one protected while still in his mother’s womb by Lord Krishna). The deed that causes the curse is the king’s throwing a dead snake on the sage’s shoulder while the latter is in his meditation, tapasya. The passion that ignited the action is the king’s feeling of his being neglected at the hermitage. For the proud king the seer lost in his tapsya instantly becomes just an object for contempt and derision.
Sringi (the name has associations with Lord Shiva’s mount) the young man is particularly conscious of his sire’s unique traits of austerity, piety and otherworldliness. The youth of the hermitage come to tell him of the king’s misdemeanour. Sringi is stung into righteous indignation. He goes to the river Kausiki, touches the holy water and pronounces his curse that no matter who intervenes, the king would meet his death by a snake bite before seven days elapse. Sringi does not know that the king is the ruler of the kingdom he lives in. His headlong haste is a later rued by his father who is aware of the greatness of the monarch.
Shameeka the muni is an incarnation of sattwa. He mildly reprimands his son for his haste. Then he goes on to explain how a kingdom goes to ruin in the absence of a good and able king. As for the young man’s act, the muni in his piety and equanimity says that the king would not view it with severity. He also knows that Sringi is only an instrument in the working of dharma. The young man’s lapse has extenuating circumstances, which the act of the king does not have.
Parikshit, having been told about the curse, quietly yields to divine dispensation and with humility hurries to make the best of the seven days left to him to attain the lotus feet of the Lord. He abdicates the throne and goes into praayopavesa, fast unto death.
The whole episode is linked to the operation of dharma, divine law and divine dispensation. The king, being a Kshatriya is not supposed to fall prey to incontinence, hideous rashness and an obnoxious act of irreverence. It is significant that the King doesn’t protest. There is another intent and design. This curse and its offshoot is the foundation for Suka, the yogi’s recounting of the tale of Mahabhagavatha, the mere listening of which would provide expiation not just to Parikshit but for one and all and pave the way for the welfare of all the world around, for lok kalyan. Lok kalyan lies in drawing people to the significance of human life and the essence of spirituality. We are told time and again that listening to the scriptures per se has edifying influence.
In the Bhagavadgita, the Lord tells His disciple in Sradhdhaatrayavibhagayoga of three types of congenital predilection ‘sraddha’ acquired and carried forward from earlier births,: Sattwic, Rajasic and Tamasic. Swami Chinmayananda calls them three types of ‘covering’: ‘peaceful’, ‘restless’ and ‘low.’ The guna - quality one is born with can be transformed by adherence to knowledge and the holy law, dharma, under the guidance of a guru using right judgement. The sattwic and the tamasic are ever in opposition. The sattwic is the hallmark of the basic ethos of aaryavarta. It is the constant aspiration of the knowing and learned ones in the land to move high and higher and be devotees of and adherents to Sanatana Dharma.
Indic scriptures are treasure troves of jnaana which are everlasting. Jnaana is something above both knowledge and wisdom and it does include both these. Perhaps there is no equivalent to this Sanskrit word in English. Spiritual knowing or a noetic quality describes its connotation. Scriptures are written for all time. Ruskin develops the metaphor of a miner having to get deeper into the mine to get at the precious metal. The deeper the miner goes, the harder he works. The sharper and more effective his weapons and tireless his patience, the greater would he benefit from his exertions. Scriptures are 'good books for all time’1 and they deserve study with the utmost care and devotion. Carlyle said in his Hero Lectures that as a man of letters the hero puts across his divinely inspired vision. The ability to grasp the vision is a factor of the seer's own merit. He communicates the vision he sees at moments of intuitive and inspired perception.
For any thinking-being the universe and the why and wherefore of creation are an enigma. The mind-boggling questions drive him to the scriptures for an understanding of reality. It was Shelley who said: "Life like a dome of many coloured glass stains the white radiance of eternity." Quite surprisingly the conception coincides with that of Adi Shankara's as revealed in the scripture Saundaryalahari. The Supreme Being is the union of Shiva and Shakti irradiating the entire creation. Poets inspired by the divine impose the many hued rainbow colours on the white radiance of reality which it has been their merit to perceive. Absolute truth and ultimate reality are rendered intelligible, in an' artistically appealing manner by poets who are essentially seers blessed with the vision of the Supreme and the Real.
When one goes to the Holy Bhagavatham with an open mind, one is sure to be struck by its enchanting vision drawing the human mind to virtue and goodness. The fundamental questions raised by the questioning mind appear to resolve themselves in the light of the revelations the scripture enshrines. The seers teach jnaana through fables and parables. While the mundane appears to be important the other-worldly is really so, for while the former is transient the latter is everlasting. The Hindu way of life has always held, as shown in al1 our scriptures, that the earthly life is but a stepping stone or a starting pointto the eternal one. As we sow, so we reap - is the wisdom handed down to us from time immemorial.
The story of Vrittaasura and the legend of Chitraketu, an earlier incarnation of his in the Maha Bhagavatham, bring out the supremacy of jnaana which in common parlance is but a correct and valid perspective on life, which in still simpler terms is the right sense of proportion. It is the lack of this that results in misery and suffering. Jnaana cuts across barriers of all kinds and it remains the same benefiting all human beings who acquire it. A Milton, a Ruskin or a Carlyle has intuited the many aspects of jnaana and so did all the great poets and seers from all over the world. The highest jnaana is conveyed through fables and parables in the world scriptures. The teaching of jnaana the unique noetic quality is a divinely inspired talent which seers all over the ages shared.
Vrittrasura of Vrittrasura Vrittanta in Mahabhagavatham has an itihasa, legend behind him which the sage recounts in Chitraketu upakhyana. Vrittanta can be construed as a history and upakhyana as legend but the distinction between the two is only donnish. The fact remains that both are stories to put across what can be termed the initiation into nivritti marga - the path of a noetic (intellectual) resignation and surrender to God’s will.
Chitraketu was the king of Soorasena kingdom. He was virtue incarnate and intent on achieving immortal fame. Though he had many wives he did not have progeny and this rendered him sad. Sage Angirasa visited him and discovered the reason for the king's desolate mood. He advised the performance of putrakameshti and the giving of the fruit of yaga to the pattamahishi, the chief consort. The devout king followed the sage counsel and was blessed with a son by the queen Kritadyuti. The other wives of the king grew jealous and poisoned the little boy. The king was utterly desolate and inconsolably grief stricken. Sages Angirasa and Narada came and knew the cause of the King's grief.
It is in this context that sage Angirasa preaches jnaana to the king. Every thing around is Vishnu Maya, the supreme delusion, a function of the MANAS. A person who knows this reposes faith in the Supreme Being and keeps his chitta clear. The words of the sage make Chitraketu wonder as to who the two great sages could be. Then the two reveal their identity. Sage Narada assures the king that it is none other than Sage Angirasa who has earlier counselled him to perform the yaga. To convince him of the silliness of his grief, Sage Narada performs a miracle. He calls the jeeva who has left the body of the boy and asks him to reenter the frame if he so willed to make his grief stricken parents happy.
Much to the amazement of the king, the jeeva asks the sage which parents he should make happy. He has had several births and in each a different set of parents. The jeeva becomes the progeny of different parents. The realized soul simply does not bother where he is born and where he has the fetters of the body. It is only the karma of a jeeva that makes him roam about from one set of parents to another. For the praani no wife, children, parents, friends or servants are 'real’. The Being simply moves on from one body to another according to his praapta. The Almighty Narayana alone is one who is everything without being influenced by anyone. For the evolved soul there is nothing like a wife, husband, child, father or mother.
Those words stand good for all time. They move every one us, as they did Chitraketu. Enlightened by the lesson, the king goes about his duty and then retires to contemplate on the Almighty. His tapas bears fruit and he is blessed. He is given the gift of the capacity to be air borne in a vimaana, an aircraft. Flying in that, Chitraketu, the blessed one, goes about visiting places of pilgrimage. He goes to Kailasa and sees Shiva dallying with Parvathi, in full view of his assembled court. Chitraketu laughs noisily and incurs the wrath if Parvathi, It is significant that Shiva simply smiles and keeps quiet. The infuriated Parvathi pronounces a curse imprecating that Chitraketu be born in a rakshasa yoni.
The reaction of Chitraketu, once again, is full of jnaana. He deems everything God-willed and God-sent. As one who has realized God in his mind the eternal dualities do not bother him. The dwandvas, the dichotomies do not s upset him for he has the jnaana to view and accept the extremes as equal. He makes obeisance to Parvathi and much to Her own surprise tells her that Her curse has been none other than the result of his own deeds in the previous birth. Comfort and suffering are but natural for mortal beings. But those who are on the way to realizing God acquiring jnaana understand dualities as God-ordained. He leaves unperturbed by the curse. After he leaves Parama Shiva Himself tells Parvathi that those realized souls on the way to Almighty seek refuge at the lotus feet of Narayana never give way to sorrow or despair. They never allow their poise and equilibrium to be disturbed by the dualities that envelope mortals as inane things. The viparyas – reversals never belong to them for they are Bhagavatottamas, who repose faith and make absolute surrender to Almighty, Vasudeva.
Chitraketu is such an evolved soul that he is said to have had the potentiality to imprecate Bhavani Herself, But, as one who knows the nature of things, having an extensive correct sense of perspective and a valid sense of proportion as a Bhagavatottama, he accepts the curse as his desert and goes away as a true jnaani. The curse does not worry him for no knows that it is an act of the Lord Himself and so incontestable. He is blessed with the inner resources to see in the imprecation His Will and His Grace. It is His grace again that enables him to teach jnaana to no less a personage than Mahendra when the latter is rendered unarmed with the falling of the Vajrayudha from his hand, when in a latter birth as Vrittrasura, Chitraketu fought with him. It is extremely significant that Indra bows down to the asura's jnaana, the high wisdom of the demon.