The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'Hast thou, O grandsire, ever seen or heard of any mortal restored to life after having succumbed to death?'
"Bhishma said, 'Listen, O king, to this story of the discourse between a vulture and a jackal as happened of old. Indeed, the occurrence took place in the forest of Naimisha. Once upon a time a Brahmana had, after great difficulties, obtained a son of large expansive eyes. The child died of infantile convulsions. Some (amongst his kinsmen), exceedingly agitated by grief and indulging in loud lamentations, took up the boy of tender years, that sole wealth of his family. Taking the deceased child they proceeded in the direction of the crematorium, Arrived there, they began to take the child from one another's breast and cry more bitterly in grief. Recollecting with heavy hearts the former speeches of their darling again and again, they were unable to return home casting the body on the bare ground. Summoned by their cries, a vulture came there and said these words: 'Go ye away and do not tarry, ye that have to cast off but one child. Kinsmen always go away leaving on this spot thousands of men and thousands of women brought here in course of time. Behold, the whole universe is subject to weal and woe. Union and disunion may be seen in turns. They that have come to the crematorium bringing with them the dead bodies of kinsmen, and they that sit by those bodies (from affection), themselves disappear from the world in consequence of their own acts when the allotted periods of their own lives run out. There is no need of your lingering in the crematorium, this horrible place, that is full of vultures and jackals and that abounds with skeletons and inspires every creature with dread. Whether friend or foe, no one ever comes back to life having once succumbed to the power of Time. Such, indeed, is the fate of all creatures, In this world of mortals, every one that is born is sure to die. Who shalt restore to life one that is dead and gone on the way ordained by the Destroyer? At this hour when men are about to close their daily toil, the Sun is retiring to the Asta hills. Go ye to your homes, casting off this affection for the child.' Hearing these words of the vulture, the grief of the kinsmen seemed to abate, and placing the child on the bare ground they prepared to go away. Assuring themselves of the
fact that the child had died and despairing of seeing him again, they began to retrace their steps, indulging in loud lamentations. Assured beyond doubt, and despairing of restoring the dead to life, they cast off that offspring of their race, and prepared to turn back from that spot. At this time a jackal, black as a raven, issued out of his hole and addressed those departing kinsmen, saying, 'Surely, ye that are kinsmen of that deceased child have no affection. There the sun still shineth in the sky, ye fools! Indulge your feelings, without fear. Multifarious are the virtue of the hour. This one may come back to life! Spreading a few blades of Kusa grass on the ground and abandoning that dear child on the crematorium, why do ye go away with hearts of steel and casting off every affection for the darling? Surely, ye have no affection for that sweet-speeched child of tender years, whose words, as soon as they left his lips, used to gladden you greatly. Behold the affection that even birds and beasts bear towards their offspring. Theirs is no return for bringing up their young ones. Like the sacrifices of the Rishis (that are never undertaken from desire of fruit or rewards) the affection of quadrupeds of birds and insects, bears no reward in heaven. Though delighting in their children, they are never seen to derive any benefit from the latter either here or hereafter. 'Yet they cherish their young ones with affection. Their children, growing up, never cherish them in age. Yet are not they grieved when they do not behold their little ones? Where, indeed, is affection to be seen in human beings that they would own the influence of grief? 1 Where would you go leaving here this child who is the perpetuator of his race? Do you shed tears for him for some time, and do you look at him a little longer with affection? Objects so dear are, indeed, difficult to abandon. It is friends and not others that wait by the side of him that is weak, of him that is prosecuted in a court of law, of him that is borne towards the crematorium. Life-breaths are dear unto all, and all feel the influence of affection. Behold the affection that is cherished by even those that belong to the intermediate species! 2 How, indeed, can you go away, casting off this boy of eyes large as the petals of the lotus, and handsome as a newly-married youth washed clean and adorned with floral garlands?' Hearing these words of the jackal that had been indulging in such expressions of touching grief, the men turned back for the sake of the corpse.'
"The vulture said, 'Alas, ye men destitute of strength of mind, why do ye turn back at the bidding of a cruel and mean jackal of little intelligence? Why do you mourn for that compound of five elements deserted by their presiding deities, no longer tenanted (by the soul), motionless, and stiff as a piece of wood? Why do you not grieve for your own selves? Do you practise austere penances by which you will succeed in cleansing yourselves from sin? Everything may be had by means of penances. What will lamentations do?
ill-luck is born with the body. 1 It is in consequence of that ill-luck that this boy has departed, plunging you into infinite grief. Wealth, kine, gold, precious gems, children, all have their root in penances. Penances again are the results of yoga (union of the soul with Godhead). Amongst creatures, the measure of weal or woe is dependent on the acts of a previous life. Indeed, every creature comes into the world taking with him his own measure of weal and woe. The son is not bound by the acts of the sire, or the sire by those of the son. Bound by their own acts, good and bad, all have to travel by this common road. Duly practise all the duties, and abstain from acts of unrighteousness. Reverentially wait, according to the directions of the scriptures, upon the gods and the Brahmanas. Cast off sorrow and cheerlessness, and abstain from parental affection. Leave the child on this exposed ground, and go ye away without delay. The actor alone enjoys the fruit of acts, good or bad, that he does. What concern have kinsmen with them? Casting off a (deceased) kinsman, however dear, kinsmen leave this spot. With eyes bathed in tears, they go away, ceasing to display affection for the dead. Wise or ignorant, rich or poor, every one succumbs to Time, endued with acts, good and bad. What will you do by mourning? Why do you grieve for one that is dead? Time is the lord of all, and in obedience to his very nature he casts an equal eye on all things. In pride of youth or in helpless infancy bearing the weight of years or lying in the mother's womb, every one is subject to be assailed by Death. Such indeed, is the course of the world.'
"The jackal said, 'Alas, the affection cherished by your weeping selves that are overwhelmed with grief for your deceased child has been lessened by that light-brained vulture. Even this must be the case, since in consequence of his well-applied words fraught with tranquillity and capable of producing conviction, there that one goes back to the town, casting off affection that is so difficult to abandon. Alas, I had supposed that great is the grief felt by men indulging in loud lamentations for the death of a child and for the corpse on a crematorium, like that of kine bereft of calves. Today, however, I understand what the measure of grief is of human beings on earth. Witnessing their great affection I had shed tears myself. (It seems however, that their affection is not strong)! One should always exert oneself. Thence does one succeed through destiny. Exertion and destiny, joining together, produce fruit. One should always exert oneself with hopefulness. How can happiness be had from despondency? Objects of desire may be won by resolution. Why then do you go back so heartlessly? Where do you go, abandoning in the wilderness this son of your own loins, this perpetuator of the race of his sires? Stay here till the sun sets and the evening twilight comes. You may then take away this boy with yourselves or stay with him.'
"The vulture said, 'I am, ye men, a full thousand years of age today, but I have never seen a dead creature, male or female or of ambiguous sex, revive after death. Some die in the womb; some die soon after birth; some die (in
infancy) while crawling (on all fours); some die in youth; and some in old age. The fortunes of all creatures, including even beasts and birds, are unstable. The periods of life of all mobile and immobile creatures are fixed beforehand. Bereaved of spouses and dear ones and filled with sorrow for (the death of) children, men leave this spot every day with agonised hearts for returning home. Leaving on this spot both friends and foes numbering by thousands, kinsmen afflicted with grief go back to their homes. Cast off this lifeless body with no longer any animal heat in it and which is as stiff as a piece of wood! Why then do you not go away, leaving the body of this child which has become like a piece of wood and whose life has entered a new body? This affection (which ye are displaying) is unmeaning and this hugging of the child is fruitless. He does not see with his eyes or hear with his ears. Leaving him here, go ye away without delay. Thus addressed by me in words which are apparently cruel but which in reality are fraught with reason and have a direct bearing with the high religion of emancipation, go ye back to your respective homes.' Addressed thus by the vulture endued with wisdom and knowledge and capable of imparting intelligence and awakening the understanding, those men prepared themselves to turn their backs upon the crematorium. Grief, indeed, increaseth to twice its measure at sight of its object and at the remembrance of the acts of that object (in life). Having heard these words of the vulture, the men resolved to leave the spot. Just at that time the jackal, coming thither with quick steps, cast his eyes on the child lying in the sleep of death.'
"The jackal said, 'Why, indeed, do you leave, at the vulture's bidding, this child of golden complexion, adorned with ornaments, and capable of giving the obsequial cake to his ancestors? If you abandon him, your affection will not come to an end, nor these piteous lamentations. On the other hand, your grief will certainly be greater. It is heard that a Sudra named Samvuka having been slain and righteousness having been upheld by Rama of true prowess, a (dead) Brahmana child was restored to life. 1 Similarly, the son of the royal sage Sweta died (prematurely). But the monarch, devoted to virtue, succeeded in reviving his dead child. After the same manner, in your case also, some sage or deity may be willing to grant your desire and show compassion to you that are crying so piteously.' Thus addressed by the jackal, the men, afflicted with grief and full of affection for the child, retraced their steps, and placing the child's head on their laps one after another, began to indulge in copious lamentations. Summoned by their cries, the vulture, coming to that spot, spoke unto them as follows.'
"The vulture said, 'Why are you bathing this child with your tears? Why are you pressing him in this fashion with the touch of your palms? At the command of the grim king of justice the child has been sent to that sleep which knows no waking. Those that are endued with the merit of penances, those that are possessed of wealth, those that have great intelligence, in fact, all succumb to death. Even this is the place intended for the dead. It is always to be seen that kinsmen casting off thousands of kinsmen young and old, pass their nights and days in grief, rolling on the bare ground. Cease this ardour in putting on the trappings of woe. That this child would come back to life is what passes belief. He will not get back his life at the bidding of the jackal. If a person once dies and takes leave of his body, his body never regains animation. Hundreds of jackals, by laying down their own lives, 1 will not succeed in reviving this child in hundreds of years. If, however, Rudra, or Kumara, or Brahman, or Vishnu, grant him a boon, then only may this child come back to life. Neither the shedding of tears, nor the drawing of long sighs, nor copious lamentations, will bring back this one to life. Myself, the jackal, you all, and all the kinsmen of this one, with all our merits and sins, are on the same road (that this one has taken). For this reason one possessed of wisdom should, from a distance, avoid behaviour that displeases others, harsh speeches, the infliction of injury on others, the enjoyment of other people's wives, and sin and falsehood. Carefully seek righteousness, truth, the good of others, justice, compassion for all creatures, sincerity, and honesty. They, incur sin who, while living, do not cast their eyes upon their mothers and fathers and kinsmen and friends. What will you do, by crying, for him after death, that sees not with his eyes and that stirs not in the least?' Thus addressed, the men, overwhelmed with sorrow and burning with grief on account of their affection for the child, departed for their homes, leaving the body (on the crematorium).
"The jackal said, 'Alas, terrible is the world of mortals! Here no creature can escape. Every creature's period of life, again, is short. Beloved friends are always departing. It abounds with vanities and falsehoods, with accusations and evil reports. Beholding again this incident that enhances pain and grief, I do not for a moment like this world of men. Alas, fie on you, ye men, that thus turn back, like foolish persons, at the vulture's bidding, though you are burning with grief on account of the death of this child. Ye cruel wights, how can you go away, casting off parental affection upon hearing the words of a sinful vulture of uncleansed soul? Happiness is followed by misery, and misery by happiness. In this world which is enveloped by both happiness and misery, none of these two exists uninterruptedly. Ye men of little understanding, whither would ye go, casting off on the bare ground this child of so much beauty, this son that is an ornament of your race. Verily, I cannot dispel the idea from my mind that this child endued with comeliness and youth and blazing with beauty is alive. It is not meet that he should die. 2 It seems that
ye are sure to obtain happiness. Ye that are afflicted with grief on account of the death of this child will surely have good luck today. Anticipating the probability of inconvenience and pain (if you remain here for the night) and fixing your hearts on your own comfort, whither would you, like persons of little intelligence, go, leaving this darling?'
"Bhishma continued, 'Even thus, O king, the kinsmen of the deceased child, unable to decide upon what they should do, were, for accomplishment of his own purpose, induced by that sinful jackal who uttered agreeable falsehoods, that denizens of the crematorium who wandered every night in quest of food, to stay in that place.'
"The vulture said, 'Dreadful is this spot, this wilderness, that resounds with the screech of owls and teems with spirits and Yakshas and Rakshasas. Terrible and awful, its aspect is like that of a mass of blue clouds. Casting off the dead body, finish the funeral rites. Indeed, throwing away the body, accomplish those rites before the sun sets and before the points of the horizon become enveloped in gloom. The hawks are uttering their harsh cries. Jackals are howling fiercely. Lions are roaring. The sun is setting. The trees on the crematorium are assuming a dark hue in consequence of the blue smoke of the funeral pyres. The carnivorous denizens of this place, afflicted with hunger, are yelling in rage. All those creatures of horrible forms that live in this frightful place, all those carnivorous animals of grim features that haunt this desert, will soon assail you. This wilderness is certainly frightful. Danger will overtake you. Indeed, if you listen to these false and fruitless words of the jackal against your own good sense, verily, all of you are sure to be destroyed.'
"The jackal said, 'Stay where you are! There is no fear even in this desert as long as the sun shines. Till the god of day sets, do ye remain here hopefully, induced by parental affection. Without any fear, indulging in lamentations as ye please, continue to look at this child with eyes of affection. Frightful though this wilderness be, no danger will overtake you. In reality this wilderness presents an aspect of quiet and peace. It is here that the Pitris by thousands took leave of the world. Wait as long as the sun shines. What are this vulture's words to you? If with stupefied understandings ye accept the cruel and harsh speeches of the vulture, then your child will never come back to life!'
"Bhishma continued, 'The vulture then addressed those men, saying that the sun had set. The jackal said that it was not so. Both the vulture and the jackal felt the pangs of hunger and thus addressed the kinsmen of the dead child. Both of them had girded up their loins for accomplishing their respective purposes. Exhausted with hunger and thirst, they thus disputed, having recourse to the scriptures. Moved (alternately) by these words, sweet as nectar, of those two creatures, viz., the bird and the beast, both of whom were endued with the wisdom of knowledge, the kinsmen at one time wished to go away and at another to stay there. At last, moved by grief and cheerlessness, they waited there, indulging in bitter lamentations. They did not know that the boast and the bird, skilled in accomplishing their own purposes, had only stupefied them (by their addresses). While the bird and the beast, both possessed of wisdom.. were thus disputing and while the kinsmen of the deceased child
sat listening to them, the great god Sankara, urged by his divine spouse (Uma), came there with eyes bathed in tears of compassion. Addressing the kinsmen of the deceased child, the god said, 'I am Sankara the giver of boons.' With hearts heavy with grief, those men prostrated themselves before the great deity and said unto him in reply, 'Bereft of this one who was our only child, all of us are at the point of death. It behoveth thee to grant us life by granting life to this our son.' Thus solicited, the illustrious deity, taking up a quantity of water in his hands granted unto that dead child life extending for a hundred years. Ever employed in the good of all creatures, the illustrious wielder of Pinaka granted a boon unto both the jackal and the vulture in consequence of which their hunger was appeased. Filled with delight and having achieved great prosperity, the men bowed unto the god. Crowned with success, they then, O king, left that spot in great joy. Through persistent hopefulness and firm resolution and the grace of the great god, the fruits of one's acts are obtained without delay. Behold, the combination of circumstances and the resolution of those kinsmen. While they were crying with agonised hearts, their tears were wiped and dried up. Behold, how within only a short time, through their steadiness of resolution, they obtained the grace of Sankara, and their afflictions dispelled, they were made happy. Indeed, through Sankara's grace, O chief of the Bharatas, those sorrowing kinsmen were filled with amazement and delight at the restoration of their child to life. Then, O king, casting off that grief of which their child had been the cause, those Brahmanas, filled with delight, quickly went back to their town taking the restored child with them. Behaviour like this has been laid down for all the four orders. By frequently listening to this auspicious story fraught with virtue, profit, and salvation, a man obtains happiness both here and hereafter.'"
336:1 In the first line of 26 the correct reading is Kutah not Kritah as adopted by the Burdwan translators.
336:2 i.e., beasts and birds. The vernacular translators wrongly render it--'Behold the affection that is cherished by those that are good towards even the beasts and birds!'
337:1 The correct reading is Murtina (as in the Bombay text) and not Mrityuna. The Burdwan version adopts the incorrect reading.
338:1 The allusion is to the story of Rama having restored a dead Brahmana boy. During Rama's righteous reign there were no premature deaths in his kingdom. It happened, however, one day that a Brahmana father came to Rama's court and complained of the premature death of his son. Rama instantly began to enquire after the cause. Some sinful act in some corner of the kingdom, it was suspected, had caused the deed. Soon enough Rama discovered a Sudra of the name of Samvuka engaged in the heart of a deep forest in ascetic penances. The king instantly cut off the man's head inasmuch as a Sudra by birth had no right to do what that man was doing. As soon as righteousness was upheld, the deceased Brahmana boy revived. (Ramayana, Uttarakandam).
339:1 Literally, 'by giving up their own bodies'.
339:2 i.e., he is sure to come back to life.
Next: Section CLIV