The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'How great was the love of virtue possessed by Vritra of immeasurable energy, whose knowledge was incomparable and whose devotion to Vishnu was so great. The status occupied by Vishnu of immeasurable energy is exceedingly difficult of apprehension. How, O tiger among kings, could Vritra (who was an Asura) comprehended it (so well)? Thou hast spoken of Vritra's acts. I too have listened to thee in full faith. In consequence, however, of my seeing that one point (in thy discourse) is unintelligible (and that, therefore, it requires explanation), my curiosity has been roused for questioning thee again. 1 How, indeed, was Vritra, who was virtuous, devoted to Vishnu, endued with knowledge of truth derivable from a just comprehension of the Upanishads and Vedanta, vanquished by Indra, O foremost of men? O chief of the Bharatas, resolve me this doubt. Indeed, tell me, O tiger among kings, how Vritra was vanquished by Sakra! 2 O
grandsire, O thou of mighty arms, tell me in detail how the battle took place (between the chief of the deities and the foremost of Asuras). My curiosity to hear it is very great.'
Bhishma said, 'In days of yore, Indra, accompanied by the celestial forces, proceeded on his car, and beheld the Asura Vritra stationed before him like a mountain. He was full five hundred Yojanas in height, O chastiser of foes, and three hundred Yojanas in circumference. Beholding that form of Vritra, which was incapable of being vanquished by the three worlds united together, the celestial became penetrated with fear and full of anxiety. Indeed, suddenly seeing that gigantic form of his antagonist, O king, Indra was struck with palsy in the lower extremities. Then, on the eve of that great battle between the deities and the Asuras, there arose loud shouts from both sides, and drums and other musical instruments began to beat and blow. Beholding Sakra stationed before him, O thou of Kuru's race, Vritra felt neither awe nor fear, nor was he disposed to muster all his energies for the fight. 1 Then the encounter commenced, inspiring the three worlds with terror, between Indra, the chief of the deities, and Vritra of high soul. The entire welkin was enveloped by the combats of both sides with swords and axes and lances and darts and spears and heavy clubs and rocks of diverse sizes and bows of loud twang and diverse kinds of celestial weapons and fires and burning brands. All the celestials with Grandsire at their head, and all the highly-blessed Rishis, came to witness the battle, on their foremost of cars; and the Siddhas also, O bull of Bharata's race, and the Gandharvas, with the Apsaras, on their own beautiful and foremost of cars, came there (for the same purpose). Then Vritra, that foremost of virtuous persons, quickly overwhelmed the welkin and the chief of the deities with a thick shower of rocks. The celestials, at this, filled with rage, dispelled with their showers of arrows that thick downpour of rocks showered by Vritra in battle. Then Vritra, O tiger among the Kurus, possessed of mighty strength and endued with large powers of illusion, stupefied the chief of the deities by fighting wholly with the aid of his powers of illusion. When he of a hundred sacrifices, thus afflicted by Vritra. was overcome by stupefaction, the sage Vasishtha restored him to his senses by uttering Somanas.' 2
"Vasishtha said, 'Thou art the foremost of the gods, O chief of the deities, O slayer of Daityas and Asuras! The strength of the three worlds is in thee! Why, then, O Sakra, dost thou languish so! There, Brahman, and Vishnu, and Siva, that lord of the universe, the illustrious and divine Soma, and all the highest Rishis (stand, beholding thee)! Do not, O Sakra, yield to weakness, like an ordinary person! Firmly resolved on battle, slay thy foes, O chief of the celestials! There, that Master of all the worlds, viz., the Three-eyed (Siva), the adored of all the worlds, is eyeing thee! Cast off this stupefaction, O chief of the celestials! There, those regenerate Rishis, headed by
[paragraph continues] Vrihaspati, are praising thee, for thy victory, in celestial hymns.' 1
"Bhishma continued, 'While Vasava of great energy was thus being restored to consciousness by the high-souled Vasishtha, his strength became greatly enhanced. The illustrious chastiser of Paka then, relying upon his intelligence, had recourse to high Yoga and with its aid dispelled these illusions of Vritra. Then Vrihaspati, the son of Angiras, and those foremost of Rishis possessed of great prosperity, beholding the prowess of Vritra, repaired to Mahadeva, and impelled by the desire of benefiting the three worlds, urged him to destroy the great Asura. The energy of that illustrious lord of the universe thereupon assumed the character of a fierce fever and penetrated the body of Vritra the lord of Asuras. 2 The illustrious and divine Vishnu, adored of all the worlds, bent upon protecting the universe, entered the thunderbolt of Indra. Then Vrihaspati of great intelligence and Vasishtha of exceeding energy, and all the other foremost of Rishis, repairing to Him of a hundred sacrifices, viz., the boon-giving Vasava, the adored of all the worlds, addressed him, saying, 'Slay Vritra, O puissant one, without delay!'
"Maheswara said, 'Yonder, O Sakra, stands the great Vritra, accompanied by a great force. He is the soul of the universe, capable of going everywhere, endued with large powers of illusion, and possessed of great celebrity. This foremost of Asuras is, therefore, incapable of being vanquished by even the three worlds united together. Aided by Yoga, do thou slay him, O chief of the deities. Do not disregard him. For full sixty thousand years, O chief of the celestials, Vritra practised the severest penances for obtaining strength. Brahman gave him the boons he had solicited, viz., the greatness that belongs to Yogins, large powers of illusion, excess of might, and superabundant energy. I impart to thee my energy, O Vasava! The Danava has now lost his coolness. Do thou, therefore, slay him now with thy thunderbolt!'
"Sakra said, 'Before thy eyes, O foremost of gods, I shall, through thy grace, slay with my thunderbolt this invincible son of Diti.'
"Bhishma continued, 'When the great Asura or Daitya was overtaken by that fever (born of Mahadeva's energy), the deities and the Rishis, filled with joy, uttered loud cheers, At the same time drums, and conchs of loud blare, and kettle drums and tabors began to beat and blow by thousands. Suddenly all the Asuras became afflicted with the loss of memory. In a trice, their powers of illusion also disappeared. The Rishis and the deities, ascertaining the foe to be thus possessed, uttered the praises of both Sakra and Isana, and began to urge the former (to make no delay in destroying Vritra). The form that Indra assumed on the eve of the encounter, while seated on his car and while his praises were being hymned by the Rishis, became such that none could look at it without awe.'" 3
304:1 A Pyakta-parsant is explained by the commentator in this way. Vritra was a firm devotee of Vishnu. He did not, therefore, deserve defeat and fall. How, then, was he vanquished by Indra? Avyaktam is equivalent to aspashtam.
304:2 The word used in verse 4 is vinihatah and that in verse 5 is nirjitah. There can be no doubt that both imply the same idea.
305:1 Astha is efforts.
305:2 Rathantara is another name for certain Samans, which are so called because of men being able to cross the world with their aid as by a car. (Ratha car, and tri to cross).
306:1 'Praising thee, for thy victory, etc.,' i.e.. the Rishis are uttering hymns of praise for conferring victory on thee.
306:2 Raudrah may mean also 'appertaining to Rudra, which is another name of Mahadeva.'
306:3 This account of the encounter between Vritra and Indra is substantially different from what occurs in the Vana Parva. Then again the part the Rishis are made to take in the slaughter of the Asura is certainly censurable. The great Rishis, even for benefiting the three p. 307 worlds, would not certainly injure any creature. In the above account, Vasishtha and Vrihaspati and the others are very much represented as persons who have bet largely on Indra's success. In the account occurring in the Vana Parva, Indra is represented as standing in awful dread of Vritra and hurling his thunderbolt without even deliberate aim, and refusing to believe that his foe was dead till assured by all the deities. The present account seems to be a much older than that in the Vana Parva.
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