The Mahabharata Home
"Vaisampayana said, 'Upon the completion of this discourse, Nakula who was an accomplished swordsman thus questioned the Kuru grandsire lying on his bed of arrows.'
"Nakula said, 'The bow, O grandsire, is regarded as the foremost of weapons in this world. My mind, however, inclines towards the sword, since when the bow, O king, is cut off or broken, when steeds are dead or weakened, a good warrior, well trained in the sword, can protect himself by means of his sword. 1 A hero armed with the sword can, single handed, withstand many bowmen, and many antagonists armed with maces and darts. I have this doubt, and I feel curious to know the truth. Which, O king, is really the foremost of weapons in all battles? How was the sword first created and for what purpose? Who also was the first preceptor in the weapon? Tell me all this, O grandsire.'
"Vaisampayana continued, 'Hearing these words of the intelligent son of Madri, the virtuous Bhishma, the complete master of the science of the bow, stretched upon his bed of arrows, made this answer fraught with many refined words of delightful import, melodious with vowels properly placed, and displaying considerable skill, unto the high-souled Nakula, that disciple of Drona, endued with skilful training.'
"Bhishma said, 'Hear the truth, O son of Madri, about what thou hast asked me. I am excited by this question of thine, like a hill of red-chalk. 2 In ancient times the universe was one vast expanse of water, motionless and skyless, and without this earth occupying any space in it. Enveloped in
darkness, and intangible, its aspect was exceedingly awful. Utter silence reigning all over, it was immeasurable in extent. In his own proper time the Grandsire (of the universe) took his birth. He then created the wind and fire, and the sun also of great energy. He also created the sky, the heavens, the nether regions, earth, the directions, the firmament with the moon and the stars, the constellations, the planets, the year, the seasons, the months, the two fortnights (lighted and dark) and the smaller divisions of time. The divine Grandsire then, assuming a visible form, begot (by power of his will) some sons possessed of great energy. They are the sages Marichi, Atri, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Vasishtha, Angiras, and the mighty and puissant lord Rudra, and Prachetas. The last begat Daksha, who in his turn, begat sixty daughters. All those daughters were taken by regenerate sages for the object of begetting children upon them. From them sprang all the creatures of the universe, including the gods, Pitris, Gandharvas, Apsaras, diverse kinds of Rakshasas, birds and animals and fishes, monkeys, great snakes, and diverse species of fowl that range the air or sport on the water, and vegetables, and all beings that are oviparous or viviparous or born of filth. In this way the whole universe consisting of mobile and immobile creatures sprang into existence. The universal Grandsire, having thus evoked into existence all mobile and immobile creatures, then promulgated the eternal religion laid down in the Vedas. That religion was accepted by the gods, with their preceptors, priests, the Adityas, the Vasus, the Rudras, the Sadhyas, the Maruts, the Aswins, Bhrigu, Atri, Angiras, the Siddhas, Kasyapa rich in penances, Vasishtha, Gautama, Agastya, Narada, Parvata, the Valikhilya Rishis, those other Rishis known under the names of Prabhasas, the Sikatas, the Ghritapas, the Somavayavyas, the Vaiswanaras, Marichipas, the Akrishtas, the Hansas, those born of Fire, the Vanaprasthas, and the Prasnis. All of them lived in obedience to Brahman. The foremost of the Danavas, however, setting at night the commands of the Grandsire, and yielding to wrath and covetousness, began to cause the destruction of righteousness. They were Hiranyakasipu, and Hiranyaksha, and Virochana, and Samvara, and Viprachitti, and Prahlada, and Namuchi, and Vali. These and many other Daityas and Danavas, transcending all restraints of duty and religion, sported and took delight in all kinds of wicked acts. Regarding themselves equal in point of birth with the gods, they began to challenge them and the sages of pure behaviour. They never did any good to the other creatures of the universe or showed compassion for any of them. Disregarding the three well-known means, they began to persecute and afflict all creatures by wielding only the rod of chastisement. Indeed, those foremost of Asuras, filled with pride, forsook every friendly intercourse with other creatures. Then the divine Brahman, accompanied by the regenerate sages, proceeded to a delightful summit of Himavat, extending for a hundred Yojanas in area, adorned with diverse kinds of jewels and gems, and upon whose surface the stars seemed to rest like so many lotuses on a lake. On that prince of mountains, O sire, overgrown with forests of flowering trees, that foremost of the gods, viz., Brahman, stayed for some time for accomplishing the business of the world. After the lapse of a thousand years, the puissant
lord made arrangements for a grand sacrifice according to the ordinances laid down in the scriptures. The sacrificial altar became adorned with Rishis skilled in sacrifice and competent to perform all acts appertaining thereto, with faggots of sacrificial fuel, and with blazing fires. And it looked exceedingly beautiful in consequence of the sacrificial plates and vessels all made of gold. All the foremost ones among the gods took their seats on it. The platform was further adorned with Sadasyas all of whom were high regenerate Rishis. I have heard from the Rishis that soon something very awful occurred in that sacrifice. It is heard that a creature sprang (from the sacrificial fire) scattering the flames around him, and whose splendour equalled that of the Moon himself when he rises in the firmament spangled with stars. His complexion was dark like that of the petals of the blue lotus. His teeth were keen. His stomach was lean. His stature was tall. He seemed to be irresistible and possessed of exceeding energy. Upon the appearance of that being, the earth trembled. The Ocean became agitated with high billows and awful eddies. Meteors foreboding great disasters shot through the sky. The branches of trees began to fall down. All the points of the compass became unquiet. Inauspicious winds began to blow. All creatures began to quake with fear every moment. Beholding that awful agitation of the universe and that Being sprung from the sacrificial fire, the Grandsire said these words unto the great Rishis, the gods, and the Gandharvas. This Being was thought of by me. Possessed of great energy, his name is Asi (sword or scimitar). For the protection of the world and the destruction of the enemies of the gods, I have created him. That being then, abandoning the form he had first assumed, took the shape of a sword of great splendour, highly polished, sharp-edged, risen like the all-destructive Being at the end of the Yuga. Then Brahman made over that sharp weapon to the blue-throated Rudra who has for the device on his banner the foremost of bulls, for enabling him to put down irreligion and sin. At this, the divine Rudra of immeasurable soul, praised by the great Rishis, took up that sword and assumed a different shape. Putting forth four arms, he became so tall that though standing on the earth he touched the very sun with his head. With eyes turned upwards and with every limb extended wide, he began to vomit flames of fire from his mouth. Assuming diverse complexions such as blue and white and red, wearing a black deer-skin studded with stars of gold, he bore on his forehead a third eye that resembled the sun in splendour. His two other eyes, one of which was black and the other tawny, shone very brightly. The divine Mahadeva, the bearer of the Sula, the tearer of Bhaga's eyes, taking up the sword whose splendour resembled that of the all-destructive Yuga fire, and wielding a large shield with three high bosses which looked like a mass of dark clouds adorned with flashes of lightning, began to perform diverse kinds of evolutions. Possessed of great prowess, he began to whirl the sword in the sky, desirous of an encounter. Loud were the roars he uttered, and awful the sound of his laughter. Indeed, O Bharata, the form then assumed by Rudra was exceedingly terrible. Hearing that Rudra had assumed that form for achieving fierce deeds, the Danavas, filled with joy, began to come towards him with great speed, showering huge
rocks upon him as they come, and blazing brands of wood, and diverse kinds of terrible weapons made of iron and each endued with the sharpness of a razor. The Danava host, however, beholding that foremost of all beings, the indestructible Rudra, swelling with might, became stupefied and began to tremble. Although Rudra was alone and single-handed, yet so quickly did he move on the field of battle with the sword in his arm that the Asuras thought there were a thousand similar Rudras battling with them. Tearing and piercing and afflicting and cutting and lopping off and grinding down, the great god moved with celerity among the thick masses of his foes like forest conflagration amid heaps of dry grass spread around. The mighty Asuras, broken by the god with the whirls of his sword, with arms and thighs and chests cut off and pierced, and with heads severed from their trunks, began to fall down on the earth. Others among the Danavas, afflicted with strokes of the sword, broke and fled in all directions, cheering one another as they fled. Some penetrated into the bowels of the earth; others got under the cover of mountains, Some went upwards; others entered the depths of the sea. During the progress of that dreadful and fierce battle, the earth became miry with flesh and blood and horrible sights presented themselves on every side. Strewn with the fallen bodies of Danavas covered with blood, the earth looked as if overspread with mountain summits overgrown with Kinsukas. Drenched with gore, the earth looked exceedingly beautiful, like a fair-complexioned lady intoxicated with alcohol and attired in crimson robes. Having slain the Danavas and re-established Righteousness on earth, the auspicious Rudra cast off his awful form and assumed his own beneficent shape. Then all the Rishis and all the celestials adored that god of gods with loud acclamations wishing him victory. The divine Rudra, after this, gave the sword, that protector of religion, dyed with the blood of Danavas, unto Vishnu with due adorations. Vishnu gave it unto Marichi. The divine Marichi gave it unto all the great Rishis. The latter gave it to Vasava. Vasava gave it to the Regents of the world. The Regents, O son, gave that large sword to Manu the son of Surya. At the time, of giving it unto Manu, they said, 'Thou art the lord of all men. Protect all creatures with this sword containing religion within its womb. Duly meting out chastisement unto those that have transgressed the barriers of virtue for the sake of the body or the mind, they should be protected conformably to the ordinances but never according to caprice. Some should be punished with wordy rebukes, and with fines and forfeitures. Loss of limb or death should never be inflicted for slight reasons. These punishments, consisting of wordy rebukes as their first, are regarded as so many forms of the sword. These are the shapes that the sword assumes in consequence of the transgressions of persons under the protection (of the king). 1 In time Manu installed his own son Kshupa in the sovereignty of all creatures, and gave him the sword for their protection. From Kshupa it was taken by Ikshvaku, and from Ikshvaku by Pururavas. From Pururavas it was taken by Ayus, and from Ayus by Nahusha. From Nahusha it was taken by Yayati, and
from Yayati by Puru. From Puru it was taken by Amurtarya, From Amurtarya it descended to the royal Bhumisaya. From Bhumisaya it was taken by Dushmanta's son Bharata. From Bharata, O monarch, it was taken by the righteous Ailavila. From Ailavila it was taken by king Dhundumara. From Dhundumara it was taken by Kamvoja, and from Kamvoja it was taken by Muchukunda, From Muchukunda it was taken by Marutta, and from Marutta by Raivata. From Raivata it was taken by Yuvanaswa, and from Yuvanaswa by Raghu. From Raghu it was taken by the valiant Harinaswa. From Harinaswa the sword was taken by Sunaka and from Sunaka by the righteous-souled Usinara. From the last it was taken by the Bhojas and the Yadavas. From the Yadus it was taken by Sivi. From Sivi it descended to Pratardana. From Pratardana it was received by Ashtaka, and from Ashtaka by Prishadaswa. From Prishadaswa it was received by Bharadwaja, and from the last by Drona. After Drona it was taken by Kripa. From Kripa that best of swords has been obtained by thee with thy brothers. The constellation under which the sword was born is Krittika. Agni is its deity, and Rohini is its Gotra. 1 Rudra is its high preceptor. The sword has eight names which are not generally known. Listen to me as I mention them to you. If one mentions these, O son of Pandu, one may always win victory. Those names then are Asi, Vaisasana, Khadga, sharp-edged, difficult of acquisition, Sirgarbha, victory, and protector of righteousness. Of all weapons, O son of Madravati, the sword is the foremost. The Puranas truly declare that it was first wielded by Mahadeva. As regards the bow, again, O chastiser of foes, it was Prithu who first created it. It was with the aid of this weapon that that son of Vena, while he governed the earth virtuously for many years, milked her of crops and grain in profusion. It behoveth thee, O son of Madri, to regard what the Rishis have said, as conclusive proof. All persons skilled in battle should worship the sword. I have now told thee truly the first portion of thy query, in detail, about the origin and creation of the sword, O bull of Bharata's race! By listening to this excellent story of the origin of the sword, a man succeeds in winning fame in this world and eternal felicity in the next.'"
361:1 Nilakantha correctly explains the connection of Susamsitah.
361:2 Nilakantha explains that the question of Nakula excited the heart of Bhishma and caused a flow of blood through his wounds. Hence Bhishma compares himself to a hill of red-chalk.
364:1 Durvarani, Durvaradini, Durvachadini, are some of the readings of the first line.
365:1 Literally, family or clan; here origin.
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