The Mahabharata Home
(Sambhava Parva continued)
"Vaisampayana said, 'The monarch then, as he proceeded, left even his
reduced retinue at the entrance of the hermitage. And entering quite alone he saw not the Rishi (Kanwa) of rigid vows. And not seeing the Rishi and finding that the abode was empty, he called loudly, saying, 'What ho, who is here?' And the sound of his voice was echoed back. And hearing the sound of his voice, there came out of the Rishi's abode a maiden beautiful as Sri herself but dressed as an ascetic's daughter. And the black-eyed fair one, as she saw king Dushmanta, bade him welcome and received him duly. And, showing him due respect by the offer of a seat, water to wash his feet, and Arghya, she enquired about the monarch's health and peace. And having worshipped the king and asked him about his health and peace, the maiden reverentially asked, 'What must be done, O king! I await your commands.' The king, duly worshipped by her, said unto that maiden of faultless features and sweet speech, 'I have come to worship the highly-blessed Rishi Kanwa. Tell me, O amiable and beautiful one, where has the illustrious Rishi gone?'
"Sakuntala then answered, 'My illustrious father hath gone away from the asylum to fetch fruit. Wait but a moment and thou wilt see him when he arrives.'
"Vaisampayana continued, 'The king not seeing the Rishi and addressed thus by her, beheld that the maiden was exceedingly beautiful and endued with perfect symmetry of shape. And he saw that she was of sweet smiles. And she stood decked with the beauty of her faultless features, her ascetic penances, and her humility. And he saw that she was in the bloom of youth. He therefore asked her, 'Who art thou? And whose daughter, O beautiful one? Why hast thou come into the woods also? O handsome one, gifted with so much beauty and such virtues, whence hast thou come? O charming one, at the very first glance hast thou stolen my heart! I desire to learn all about thee; therefore tell me all.' And thus addressed by the monarch, the maiden smilingly replied in these sweet words, 'O Dushmanta, I am the daughter of the virtuous, wise, high-souled, and illustrious ascetic Kanwa.'
"Dushmanta, hearing this, replied, 'The universally-worshipped and highly-blessed Rishi is one whose seed hath been drawn up. Even Dharma himself might fall off from his course but an ascetic of rigid vows can never fall off so. Therefore, O thou of the fairest complexion, how hast thou been born as his daughter? This great doubt of mine it behoveth thee to dispel.'
"Sakuntala then replied, 'Hear, O king, what I have learnt regarding all that befell me of old and how I became the daughter of the Muni. Once on a time, a Rishi came here and asked about my birth. All that the illustrious one (Kanwa) told him, hear now from me, O king!
"My father Kanwa, in answer to that Rishi's enquiries, said, 'Viswamitra, of old, having been engaged in the austerest penances alarmed Indra, the chief of the celestials, who thought that the mighty ascetic of blazing energy
would, by his penances, hurl him down from his high seat in heaven.' Indra, thus alarmed, summoned Menaka and told her, 'Thou, O Menaka, art the first of celestial Apsaras. Therefore, O amiable one, do me this service. Hear what I say. This great ascetic Viswamitra like unto the Sun in splendour, is engaged in the most severe of penances. My heart is trembling with fear. Indeed, O slender-waisted Menaka, this is thy business. Thou must see that Viswamitra of soul rapt in contemplation and engaged in the austerest penances, who might hurl me down from my seat. Go and tempt him and frustrating his continued austerities accomplish my good. Win him away from his penances, O beautiful one, by tempting him with thy beauty, youth, agreeableness, arts, smiles and speech.' Hearing all this, Menaka replied, 'The illustrious Viswamitra is endued with great energy and is a mighty ascetic. He is very short-tempered too, as is known to thee. The energy, penances, and wrath of the high-souled one have made even thee anxious. Why should I not also be anxious? He it was who made even the illustrious Vasishtha bear the pangs of witnessing the premature death of his children. He it was who, though at first born as Kshatriya, subsequently became a Brahmana by virtue of his ascetic penances. He it was who, for purposes of his ablutions, created a deep river that can with difficulty be forded, and which sacred stream is known by the name of the Kausiki. It was Viswamitra whose wife, in a season of distress, was maintained by the royal sage Matanga (Trisanku) who was then living under a father's curse as a hunter. It was Viswamitra who, on returning after the famine was over, changed the name of the stream having his asylum from Kausik into Para. It was Viswamitra who in return for the services of Matanga, himself became the latter's priest for purposes of a sacrifice. The lord of the celestials himself went through fear to drink the Soma juice. It was Viswamitra who in anger created a second world and numerous stars beginning with Sravana. He it was who granted protection to Trisanku smarting under a superior's curse. I am frightened to approach him of such deeds. Tell me, O Indra, the means that should be adopted so that I may not be burnt by his wrath. He can burn the three worlds by his splendour, can, by a stamp (of his foot), cause the earth to quake. He can sever the great Meru from the earth and hurl it to any distance. He can go round the ten points of the earth in a moment. How can a woman like me even touch such a one full of ascetic virtues, like unto a blazing fire, and having his passions under complete control? His mouth is like unto a blazing fire; the pupils of his eyes are like the Sun and the Moon; his tongue is like unto Yama himself. How shall, O chief of the celestials, a woman like me even touch him? At the thought of his prowess Yama, Soma, the great Rishis, the Saddhyas, the Viswas, Valakhilyas, are terrified! How can a woman like me gaze at him without alarm? Commanded, however, by thee, O king of the celestials, I shall somehow approach that Rishi. But, O chief of the gods, devise thou some plan whereby protected by thee, I may
safely move about that Rishi. I think that when I begin to play before the Rishi, Marut (the god of wind) had better go there and rob me of my dress, and Manmatha (the god of love) had also, at thy command, better help me then. Let also Marut on that occasion bear thither fragrance from the woods to tempt the Rishi.' Saying this and seeing that all she had spoken about had been duly provided, Menaka went to the retreat of the great Kausika.'"
Next: Section LXXII