The Mahabharata Home
"Bhishma said, 'There, under that banian, for the protection of his guest, the prince of birds had kindled and kept up a fire with high and blazing flames. 1 On one side of the fire, the bird slept trustfully. The ungrateful and wicked-souled wretch prepared to slay his sleeping host. With the aid of that blazing fire he killed the trustful bird, and having despatched him, became filled with delight, never thinking there was sin in what he did. Peeling off the feathers and the down, he roasted the flesh on that fire. Then taking it up with the gold he had brought, the Brahmana Red quickly from that spot. The next day, the Rakshasa king, Virupaksha, addressing his son, said, 'Alas, O son, I do not behold Rajadharman, that best of birds, today. Every morning he repairs to the regions of Brahman for adoring the Grandsire. While returning, he never goes home without paying me a visit. These two mornings and two nights have passed away without his having come to my abode. My mind, therefore, is not in peace. Let my friend be enquired after. Gautama, who came here, is without Vedic studies and destitute of Brahmanic splendour. He has found his way to
the abode of my friend. I greatly fear, that worst of Brahmanas has slain Rajadharman. Of evil practices and wicked understanding, I read him through by the signs he showed. Without compassion, of cruel and grim visage, and wicked, that vilest of men is like a robber. That Gautama has gone to the abode of my friend. For this reason, my heart has become extremely anxious. O son, proceeding hence with great speed to the abode of Rajadharman, ascertain whether that pure-souled bird is still alive. Do not tarry.' Thus addressed by his sire, the prince, accompanied by other Rakshasas, proceeded with great speed. Arrived at the foot of that banian, he saw the remains of Rajadharman. Weeping with grief, the son of the intelligent king of the Rakshasas, ran with great speed and to the utmost of his power, for seizing Gautama. The Rakshasas had not to go far when they succeeded in catching the Brahmana and discovering the body of Rajadharman destitute of wings, bones, and feet. Taking the captive with them, the Rakshasas returned with great speed to Meruvraja, and showed the king the mutilated body of Rajadharman, and that ungrateful and singing wretch, viz., Gautama. Beholding the remains of his friend the king, with his counsellors and priest, began to weep aloud. Indeed, loud was the voice of lamentation that was heard in his abode. The entire city of the Rakshasa king, men, women, and children, became plunged in woe. The king then addressed his son saying, 'Let this sinful wretch be slain. Let these Rakshasas here feast merrily on his flesh. Of sinful deeds, of sinful habits, of sinful soul, and inured to sin, this wretch, I think, should be slain by you.' Thus addressed by the Rakshasa king, many Rakshasas of terrible prowess expressed their unwillingness to eat the flesh of that sinner. Indeed, those wanderers of the night, addressing their king, said, 'Let this vilest of men be given away to the robbers.' Bending their heads to their king, they told him so, adding, 'It behoveth thee not to give us this sinful wretch for our food.' The king said unto them, 'Let it be so! Let this ungrateful wight be given to the robbers then without delay.' Thus addressed by him, the Rakshasas armed with lances and battle-axes, hacked that vile wretch into pieces and gave them away to the robbers. It so happened, however, that the very robbers refused to eat the flesh of that vile man. Though cannibals, O monarch, they would not eat an ungrateful person. For one that slays a Brahmana, for one that drinks alcohol, for one that steals, for one that has fallen away from a vow, there is expiation, O king. But there is no expiation for an ungrateful person. That cruel and vile man who injures a friend and becomes ungrateful, is not eaten by the very cannibals nor by the worms that feed on carrion.'
377:1 Agni or fire is a deity that is said to have Vayu (the wind-god) for his charioteer. The custom, to this day, with all travellers in India is to kindle a large fire when they have to pass the night in woods and forests or uninhabited places. Such fires always succeed in scaring off wild beasts. In fact, even tigers, raging with hunger, do not approach the place where a blazing fire is kept up.
Next: Section CLXXIII