Krishna against the Kuru-Paandavs
– The apocryphal Dandi Parva of the Mahabharata
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The Tale of Shrivatsa
“This is what happens,” said Shuka, “when the planets are unfavourable. Because of that Raja Shrivatsa had to live among the lowly born with his wife like an orphan.” Parikshit then begged him to narrate this tale of Shrivatsa that was unknown to him. Shuka told him that during the period of exile in the forest, Yudhishthira was deeply depressed. That is when Krishna came to him and narrated the story of Shrivatsa to console him. First, at Parikshit’s request, after narrating the lineage of Parikshit, starting from Daksha Prajaapati’s 50 daughters from 13 of whom rishi Kashyap produced humans and others, Shuka narrated the deeds of the Paandavs in brief till the forest-exile.
Shri Krishna told Yudhishthir that in the past noble Citrarath was installed as emperor of the earth. Shrivatsa was his only son, a store of all qualities. He was a king during whose rule the happiness of subjects was boundless. Constantly all of them sincerely prayed for the king’s long life and welfare. His chief queen was Citrasen’s daughter Cinta, unrivalled in devotion to her husband and in beauty.
Once in the abode of the gods Lakshmi Devi said to Shanaishcar, “Look, I am the chief in the universe because everyone in the three worlds desires me. Can you say that even by mistake someone takes your name? Your sight, even your shadow, is the cause of all types of misfortune in the world.” Shani was enraged at Lakshmi’s words and said, “If I am not supreme among all and more honoured than you, then why should the three worlds shiver fearing me? You will be a laughing stock by claiming you are the best.”
To settle the dispute, both appeared before Raja Shrivatsa as he was preparing to bathe. Startled and wonder-struck, he greeted them humbly and enquired why they had come. Shani explained the entire matter. Bewildered, the king kept silent for a while. Begging time for a day, he requested them to appear in the court the next day when he would present an answer to the best of his abilities. Blessing him, the gods left.
Thinking and consulting all day long with his ministers and others, Shrivatsa decided not to say anything. In the court two seats were placed: one of gold, another of silver. The golden one was kept to the right of the royal throne and the silver seat to its left. The two gods entered and Lakshmi promptly sat on the golden seat, while Shani sat on the silver one. After a while, Shani asked the king to indicate who was the superior of the two. Softly and humbly Shrivatsa said that how could he as a mere human decide about gods. They themselves had decided their relative greatness. Enraged, biting his lips and red eyes Shani declared that as he had ruined Raja Nala, so would he deprive Shrivatsa of kingdom, happiness and wife. Lakshmi was delighted and left, blessing the king.
Day after day, month after month passed as Shani kept searching for a misstep on Shrivatsa’s part. Once, after bathing the king sat on the throne while the washed off water had not been wiped away. Suddenly a black dog appeared and lapped up that water. The shastras state that water washed off the body if fallen on the ground must immediately be removed, never touched. Moreover if polluted creatures like dogs touch it, the bathed person becomes unclean and loses prosperity. Therefore, the instant Shani spotted this flaw, he saw the right moment had arrived and gleefully entered the king’s body.
By and by the kingdom was overshadowed by ill omens: sudden outbreaks of fire, meteor showers, cloud-less lightning strikes and bloody rainfall at some places; somewhere drought, elsewhere floods. Blights of locusts, insects, rats, birds destroyed crops. By Shani’s wrath, Raja Shrivatsa’s prosperity gradually dwindled away. Wailing and lamentation arose everywhere as lawlessness prevailed. Subjects rebelled against the king. Finding no way out, at the dead of night Shrivatsa fled the land with his wife on foot. Covering a long distance, Shrivatsa and his queen arrived at an enchanting wood whose beauty enraptured them. There they saw a fisherman and, suffering from hunger and thirst, begged him for a single fish. Seeing their divine appearance, the fisherman was stunned. Considering them as divinities in disguise, he gave them some fine fish and pranam-ing them left.
Shrivatsa asked his wife not to spurn the fish begged for as this was their only means of sustenance at present. He told her to roast them for eating. After all, he said, in the past the royal rishi Vishvamitra had begged dog-meat from an untouchable to satisfy his hunger. The queen immediately lit a fire by rubbing dry sticks together and roasted the fish. Sadly she went to wash off the burnt parts in the lake, but when she dipped them in the water, they swam away! As she related the misfortune to the king and he burst out laughing, a skyey voice was heard, “Maharaj! Publicly you demeaned me by giving me an inferior seat in front of everyone and enhanced Lakshmi’s glory by giving her a golden seat. Where is she now? O Shrivatsa! As a judge you had displayed bias and now you suffer its just consequences.” Saying this, invisible Shani vanished.
Amazed, the raja told his beloved wife that it was because of his ill fortune that the roasted fish had swum away and she should not weep, for she was not at fault. Shani was not content having deprived him of kingdom and prosperity and making him a forest-dweller. Shrivatsa pledged that as long as he lived he would never abandon the way of dharma and resort to evil. Plucking fruit from trees and with water from the stream they assuaged their hunger and thirst. With grass and creepers they made a hut at the base of a tree and rested therein. Thus they passed the days.
Finding that fruits were becoming scarce, Raja Shrivatsa left that wood and went to a small village nearby where many woodcutters lived. Impressed by his demeanour, they gave him shelter and honoured his wife. Daily he would go into the forest with them to collect wood and thus eked out a livelihood. The river Kaushiki flowed by that village and once a merchant arrived carrying his goods on a barge which suddenly came to a stop. Shanideva, assuming the form of an old Jain mendicant approached him and said, “Sir, by astrology I am aware of the cause of your boat stopping. When you left home, your wife was busy arranging puja of the nine planets. As you left ignoring that, this crisis has occurred. No worries, however! I will give you the way out. In this village of woodcutters there is a chaste wife. If she touches your boat, it will immediately move as before.”
The merchant went to the village and stated his predicament. The woodcutters agreed and sent their wives to touch the boat. Queen Cinta went too. One by one the women touched the boat but it did not move. Finally when Queen Cinta touched it, it immediately began to flow with the current. Amazed, the wicked merchant thought that such a woman was rare indeed and having her with him would be best. He dragged Cinta aboard his boat. Chinta wailed aloud to no avail. The merchant’s boat vanished along the Kaushiki.
Meanwhile Shrivatsa had returned to his hut and on hearing the entire matter fell senseless. Regaining his senses after a while he ran out of the hut like a madman to the riverbank and without stopping to eat, or drink, or rest, proceeded southwards. Crossing many places, towns, habitations, hills, woods and wildernesses the king reached a splendid grove. As he rested under a huge tree, suddenly the immortal cow Surabhi arrived there and, surprised to see a human being, asked him who he was. Shrivatsa told her everything. Reassuring him, Surabhi asked him to stay in her ashram there as by divine foresight she knew that soon his queen and his lost royal glory would be restored to him.
Shrivatsa obediently stayed there. From the mud from the froth of the milk falling on the ground as Surabhi’s calf Nandini suckled her mother he began making clay bricks. Because of that divine milk the brick turned into gold. Amazed, the king devoted himself to making more and more bricks daily.
One day when he was standing on the bank of the Kaushiki musing on his state a trading vessel arrived. Seeing it, Shrivatsa decided that by taking all the gold bricks elsewhere he could earn a lot by selling them and also seek out his queen. The cunning merchant immediately agreed to his proposal and took Shrivatsa with him on the vessel. After a while the vessel reached the sea and the merchant decided to take all the gold for himself. So he threw Shrivatsa into the sea. It was this same trader who had abducted Cinta and kept her in a room in the vessel. Hearing Shrivatsa outcries, she flung a plank into the waters. Floating on that plank, Shrivatsa landed in the town of Sautipur where a garland-maker named Rambhaabati lived. In rags Shrivatsa arrived at her home and said that while sailing his ship had sunk and he begged shelter from her. Rambhaabati said, “Oh, on seeing you I am reminded of my dead nephew! My heart brims over with affection for you. I will look after you as best as I can. You stay with me.” Shrivatsa, keeping his identity secret, stayed in her home.
Baahudev, the ruler of Sautipur, had only one daughter, fifteen year old Bhadraa who used to pray to Devi Bhagavati daily wanting Shrivatsa for her husband. The day he arrived in that town, Bhagavati appeared before her and said that the one she had been desiring as husband had reached that kingdom and was living in the garland-maker’s home. In a bridegroom-choice ceremony she could garland him herself. The ceremony was announced and Shrivatsa wanting to witness it stood under a tall kadamba tree at one end of the palace. Stunning all assembled royal suitors, the princess garlanded this poorly clad stranger. Raja Baahudev in shame retreated indoors and all the invitees stormed out. The queen could not abandon her daughter and arranged for her and the son-in-law to stay in a building. The king appointed Shrivatsa as tax-collector on the banks of the river from all craft sailing by.
The period of Shani’s evil-eye is twelve years. As this passed, Shrivatsa’s depression ebbed and he found the world delightful again. On a summer noon Shrivatsa was seated on the river-bank when a merchant craft arrived and he recognised the wicked trader who had thrown him into the sea. He seized the ship and had all the gold bricks retrieved, imprisoning the merchant. Hearing this, the king arrived at the spot and found Shrivatsa’s appearance totally changed. He was glowing with beauty and health as Shani’s influence had passed. Shrivatsa declared his identity and past history. Baahudev immediately rescued Cinta from the ship and sentenced the trader to jail for his crimes.
Goddess Lakshmi appeared in the firmament and addressed Baahudev: “O king! Fortunately lovely Bhadraa has been born to you and you have obtained Raja Shrivatsa as son-in-law and been able to have darshan of me. Now go and pass the time happily with daughter and son-in-law.” Saying this, the goddess vanished. Shanaishcar appeared before Shrivatsa and said, “Raja, overcome by anger I have inflicted much suffering upon you. Do not bewail recalling all that. This is the way of the world. Be that as it may, I am granting you a boon that whosoever listens full of bhakti to this holy tale of yours, that person will never suffer from my evil eye.” Shani vanished saying this. All rejoiced and after a while Shrivatsa returned to his kingdom with the permission of Baahudev. By the grace of Lakshmi drought, famine and epidemics all disappeared from his kingdom.
Krishna told Yudhishthir that joy and sorrow were cyclical phenomena in life and like Shrivatsa he should be patient, bear happiness and grief staying on the path of dharma. In time surely the sun of happiness would rise and flood his heart with the waters of joy.
Suta told the group of ascetics that this holy tale of Shrivatsa had first been related to Vishnu by Devi Lakshmi. The Lord of Vaikuntha had recounted it to Indra, he to thousand-headed Ananta and the great sage Durvasa. From Ananta it was spread in the netherworld and by Durvasa among humankind. At the end of Dvapar Yuga, Krishna narrated it to Janamejay’s great grand-uncle Yudhishthir.
Parikshit lamented before Shuka that he had dearly hoped to listen to the salvific Bharata Samhita that cleansed all sins, but that was not to be and he was doomed to perdition. Shuka assured him that having heard even parts of Vyas’ Bharata he would gain all the benefits of listening to all of it, as Vyas had declared to him. Rishi Kapil reassured him too and declared that in future his son Janamejay would also be purified of his sins of Brahmin-hatred and incomplete snake-sacrifice by listening to the entire Bharata Samhita from Vaishampaayan at the behest of Vyas.
Shukadeva resumed the tale of Dandi. The Avanti ruler was bewildered. Seeing him weeping and lamenting like a child, not knowing what to do the mare spoke to him in human speech, “Master, why weep thus? It is women who weep and lament in danger. Control yourself and think what should be done. It is not proper for the intelligent to waste time in vain. I had warned you earlier but blinded by arrogance you did not pay heed. Now you will definitely have to suffer the consequences of your actions. O Raja! My state is like yours. I will never be able to live without you, nor do I wish to. It is not possible to bear the suffering of this sinful mortal world. Alas, what misery has the maha-ascetic, wrathful Durvasa wrought upon me! He pitied me not—orphaned, helpless and weak. A dweller of Svarga I have to suffer torture in the mortal world. What need have I to live? Therefore, raja, see where the Bhagirathi flows fast! Let us surrender our lives to her and put an end to all suffering. I see no alternative to this. By the grace of this heavenly river so many great sinners have attained supreme salvation.”
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