The Mahabharata Home
"Narada said, 'The large-eyed lady, controlling her grief by an effort of her own, addressed the Grandsire, with joined hands and bending in an attribute of humility like a creeper. And she said, 'How, O foremost of speakers, shall a lady like me that has sprung from thee proceed to accomplish such a terrible feat,--a feat, that is, which is sure to inspire all living creatures with dread? I fear to do aught that is iniquitous. Do thou appoint such work for me as is righteous. Thou seest that I am frightened. Oh, cast a compassionate glance upon me. I shall not be able to cut off living creatures,--infants, youths, and aged ones,--who have done me no injury. O lord of all creatures, I bow to thee, be gratified with me. I shall not be able to cut off dear sons and loved friends and brothers and mothers and fathers. If these die (through my act), their surviving relatives will surely curse me. I am filled with fear
at the prospect of this. 1 The tears of the sorrow-stricken survivors will burn me for eternity. I am very much afraid of them (whose relatives I shall have to cut off). I seek thy protection. All sinful creatures (slain by me) will have to sink into the infernal regions. I seek to gratify thee, O boon-giving god! Extend to me thy grace, O puissant lord! I seek the gratification of this wish, O Grandsire, of all the worlds. O foremost of all the gods, I seek, through thy grace, even this object, viz., permission to undergo severe austerities.'
"The Grandsire said, 'O Death, thou hast been intended by me for the destruction of all creatures. Go, and set thyself to the task of slaying all. Do not reflect (upon the propriety or otherwise of this act). This must certainly be. It cannot be otherwise. O sinless one, O lady of faultless limbs, do thou accomplish the behest I have uttered.' Thus addressed, O thou of Mighty arms, the lady called Death, O conqueror of hostile cities, spoke not a word, but humbly stood there with her eyes upturned towards the puissant Lord of all creatures. Brahman addressed her repeatedly, but the lady seemed to be herself deprived of life. Beholding her thus, the god of gods, that lord of lords, became silent. Indeed, the Self-born, by an effort of his will, became gratified. Smiling, the lord of all the worlds then cast his eyes on the universe. It has been heard by us that when that unconquered and illustrious lord subdued his wrath, the lady (called Death) went away from his side. Leaving Brahman's side without having promised to accomplish the destruction of living creatures, Death quickly proceeded, O king, to the sacred spot known by the name of Dhenuka. There the goddess practised the severest austerities for five and ten billions of years, all the while standing upon one foot. 2 After she practised such exceedingly severe austerities in that place, Brahman of great energy once more said unto her, 'Do thou accomplish my behest, O Death!' Disregarding this command, the lady once more practised penances standing upon one foot for twenty billions of years, O giver of honours! And once more, O son, she led a life in the woods with the deer for another long period consisting of ten thousand billions of years. 3 And once, O foremost of men, she passed twice ten thousand years, living upon air only as her sustenance. Once again, O monarch, she observed the excellent vow of silence for eight thousand years, passing the whole time in water. Then that maiden, O best of kings, went to the river Kausiki. There she began to pass her days in the observance of another vow, living the while upon only water and air. After this, O monarch, the blessed maiden proceeded to the Ganges and thence to the mountains of Meru. Moved by the desire of doing good to all living creatures, she stood perfectly motionless there like a piece of wood. Proceeding thence to the summit of Himavat where the deities had performed their great sacrifice, she stood there for
another hundred billions of years, supporting her weight upon only the toes of her feet with the object of gratifying the Grandsire with such an act of austerity. Wending thither, the Creator and Destroyer of the universe again addressed her saying, 'Upon what art thou engaged, O daughter? Accomplish those words of mine.' Addressing the divine Grandsire, the maiden once more said, 'I am unable to cut off living creatures, O god! I seek to gratify thee (so that I may be excused of this behest).' Frightened at the prospect of demerit she prayed the Grandsire for being excused of obedience to his command, the Grandsire silenced her, and once more addressed her, saying, 'No demerit will accrue, O Death! Do thou, O auspicious maiden, set thyself to the task of destroying living creatures. That which I have uttered, O amiable girl, cannot certainly be falsified. Eternal righteousness shall now take refuge in thee. Myself and all the deities shall always be employed in seeking thy good. This other wish that is in thy heart I grant thee. Living creatures shall be afflicted by disease, and (dying) shall cast the blame on thee. Thou shalt become a male in all male beings, a female in all female beings, and a eunuch in all those that are of the third sex. 1 Thus addressed by Brahman, O king, the maiden at last said, with joined hands unto that high-souled and undeteriorating lord of all the deities, these words, 'I am unable to obey thy command.' The great God, without relenting, again, said unto her, 'O Death, do thou kill men. I shall so ordain that thou shalt not incur any demerit by doing this, O auspicious lady! Those tear drops that I see fallen from thy eyes, and that thou still boldest in thy joined hands, shall take the form of terrible diseases and even they shall destroy men when their hours come. When the end comes of living creatures, thou shalt despatch Desire and Wrath together against them. Immeasurable merit shall be thine. Thou shalt not incur iniquity, being thyself perfectly equal in thy behaviour. 2 By doing this thou wilt only observe righteousness instead of sinking thyself into iniquity. Do thou, therefore, set thy heart upon the task at hand, and addressing Desire and Wrath begin to slay all living creatures.' Thus addressed, that lady, called by the name of Death, became afraid of Brahman's curse and answered him, saying, 'Yes!' From that time she began to despatch Desire and Wrath as the last hours of living creatures and through their agency to put a stop to their life-breaths. Those tears that Death had shed are the diseases by which the bodies of men become afflicted. At the destruction, therefore, of living creatures, one should not, understanding, with the aid of the intelligence (to what cause such destruction is due), give way to grief. As the senses of all creatures disappear when the latter become plunged into dreamless sleep and return once more when they awake, after the same manner all human beings, upon the dissolution of their bodies, have to go into the other world and return thence to this, O lion among kings! The element called wind, that is endued with terrible energy and mighty prowess
and deafening roars, operates as the life in all living creatures. That wind, when the bodies of living creatures are destroyed, escaping from the old becomes engaged in diverse functions in diverse new bodies. For this reason, the wind is called the lord of the senses and is distinguished above the other elements constituting the gross body. The gods, without exception, (when their merits cease), have to take birth as mortal creatures on earth. Similarly, all mortal creatures also (when they acquire sufficient merit), succeed in attaining to the status of gods. Therefore, O lion among kings, do not grieve for thy son. Thy son has attained to heaven and is enjoying great happiness there! It was thus, O monarch, that Death was created by the Self-born and it is in this way that she cuts off duly all living creatures when their hours come. The tears she had shed become diseases, which, when their last hours come, snatch away all beings endued with life.'"
223:1 The commentator explains that the accusatives in the first line of verse 5 governed by hareyam in the previous verse.
223:2 A Padmaka consists of ten digits, i.e., a thousand millions or a billion according to the French method of calculation.
223:3 To lead a life in the woods with the deer and after the manner of the deer confers great merit. Vide the story of Yayati's daughter Madhavi in the Udyoga Parvam ante.
224:1 The commentator explains that this means that Death would attain to the status of all-pervading Brahma. Even this is the boon that the Self-born grants her for protecting her against iniquity and allaying her fears.
224:2 i.e., being freed from wrath and aversion.
Next: Section CCLIX