The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'O grandsire, O wisest of men, O thou that art learned in all the scriptures, I have listened to this great story, O foremost of intelligent men. I am desirous of again hearing the recital of some history full of religious instruction, and it behoves thee to gratify me. O lord of Earth, tell me if any householder has ever succeeded in conquering Mrityu by the practice of virtue. Do thou recite this to me with all details!'
"Bhishma said, 'This ancient history is recited as an illustration of the subject of the conquest by a householder, over Mrityu, through the practice of virtue. The Prajapati Manu had a son, O king, of the name of the Ikshwaku. Of that king, illustrious as Surya, were born a hundred sons. His tenth son, O Bharata, was named Dasaswa, and this virtuous prince of infallible prowess became the king of Mahismati. Dasaswa's son, O king, was a righteous prince whose mind was constantly devoted to the practice of truth and charity and devotion. He was known by the name of Madiraswa and ruled over the Earth as her lord. He was constantly devoted to the study of the Vedas as also of the science of arms. Madiraswa's son was the king named Dyutimat who possessed great good fortune and power and strength and energy. Dyutimat's son was the highly devout and pious king who was famous in all the worlds under the name of Suvira. His soul was intent on religion and he possessed wealth like another Indra, the lord of the deities. Suvira too had a son who was invincible in battle, and who was the best of all warriors and known by the name of Sudurjaya. And Durjya too, possessed of a body like that of Indra, had a son who beamed with splendour like that of fire. He was the great monarch named Duryodhana who was one of the foremost of royal sages. Indra used to pour rain profusely in the kingdom of this monarch, who never fled from the battlefield and was possessed of valour like unto Indra himself. The cities and the kingdom of this king were filled with riches and gems and cattle and grain of various kinds. There was no miser in his kingdom nor any person afflicted with distress or poverty. Nor was there in his kingdom any person that was weak in body or afflicted with disease. That king was very clever, smooth in speech, without envy, a
master of his passions, of a righteous soul, full of compassion, endued with prowess, and not given to boasting. He performed sacrifices, and was self-restrained and intelligent, devoted to Brahmanas and Truth. He never humiliated others, and was charitable, and learned in the Vedas and the Vedanta. The celestial river Narmada, auspicious and sacred and of cool waters, in her own nature, O Bharata, courted him. He begot upon that river, a lotus-eyed daughter, by name Sudarsana, who was, O king, endued with great beauty. No creature, O Yudhisthira, had ever been born before among womankind, that was, possessed of such beauty as that excellent damsel who was the daughter of Duryodhana. The god Agni himself courted the beautiful princess Sudarsana, and taking the shape of a Brahmana, O monarch, sought her hand from the king. The king was unwilling to give his daughter in marriage to the Brahmana who was poor and not of the same rank with himself. Thereupon Agni vanished from his great sacrifice. The king, grieved at heart, then addressed the Brahmanas, saying,--Of what sin have I, ye excellent Brahmanas, or you, been guilty, that Agni should disappear from this sacrifice, even as good done unto wicked men disappears from their estimation. Great, indeed, must that sin of ours be for which Agni has thus disappeared. Either must the sin be yours, or, it must be mine. Do you fully investigate the matter.--Then hearing the king's words, O foremost prince of Bharata's race, the Brahmanas, restraining speech, sought with concentrated faculties the protection of the god of fire. The divine carrier of oblations, resplendent as the autumnal Sun, appeared before them, enveloping his self in glorious refulgence. The high-souled Agni then addressed those excellent Brahmanas, saying,--I seek the daughter of Duryodhana for my own self. At this all those Brahmanas were struck with wonder, and rising on the morrow, they related to the king what had been said by the fire-god. The wise monarch, hearing the words of those utterers of Brahma, was delighted at heart, and said,--Be it so.--The king craved a boon of the illustrious fire-god as the marriage dower,--Do thou, O Agni, deign to remain always with us here.--Be it so--said the divine Agni to that lord of Earth. For this reason Agni has always been present in the kingdom of Mahismati to this day, and was seen by Sahadeva in course of his conquering expedition to the south. Then the king gave his daughter, dressed in new garments and decked with jewels, to the high-souled deity, and Agni too accepted, according to Vedic rites, the princess Sudarsana as his bride, even as he accepts libations of clarified butter at sacrifices, Agni was well pleased with her appearance, her beauty, grace, character, and nobility of birth, and was minded to beget offspring upon her. And a son by Agni, of the name of Sudarsana, was soon born of her. Sudarsana also was, in appearance, as beautiful as the full moon, and even in his childhood he attained to a knowledge of the supreme and everlasting Brahma. There was also a king of the name of Oghavat, who was the grandfather of Nriga. He had a daughter of the name of Oghavati, and a son too of the name of Ogharatha born unto him. King Oghavat gave his daughter Oghavati,
beautiful as a goddess, to the learned Sudarsana for wife. Sudarsana, O king, leading the life of a householder with Oghavati, used to dwell in Kurukshetra with her. This intelligent prince of blazing energy took the vow, O lord, of conquering Death by leading the life of even a householder. The son of Agni, O king, said to Oghavati,--Do thou never act contrary to (the wishes of) those that seek our hospitality. Thou shouldst make no scruple about the means by which guests are to be welcomed, even if thou have to offer thy own person. O beautiful one, this vow is always present in the mind, since for householders, there is no higher virtue than hospitality accorded to guests. Do thou always bear this in mind without ever doubting it, if my words be any authority with thee. O sinless and blessed one, if thou hast any faith in me, do thou never disregard a guest whether I be at thy side or at a distance from thee! Unto him, with hands clasped and placed on her head, Oghavati replied, saying,--'I shall leave nothing undone of what thou commandest me.--Then Mrityu, O king, desiring to over-reach Sudarsana, began to watch him for finding out his lathes. On a certain occasion, when the son of Agni went out to fetch firewood from the forest, a graceful Brahmana sought the hospitality of Oghavati with these words:--O beautiful lady, if thou hast any faith in the virtue of hospitality as prescribed for householders, then I would request thee to extend the rites of hospitality to me to-day.--The princess of great fame, thus addressed by that Brahmana, O king, welcomed him according to the rites prescribed in the Vedas. Having offered him a seat, and water to wash his feet, she enquired, saying,--What is thy business? What can I offer thee? The Brahmana said unto her,--My business is with thy person, O blessed one. Do thou act accordingly without any hesitation in thy mind. If the duties prescribed for householders be acceptable to thee, do thou, O princess, gratify me by offering up thy person to me.--Though tempted by the princess with offers of diverse other things, the Brahmana, however, did not ask for any other gift than the offer of her own person. Seeing him resolved, that lady, remembering the directions which had before been given to her by her husband, but overcome with shame, said, to that excellent Brahmana,--Be it so.--Remembering the words of her husband who was desirous of acquiring the virtue of householders, she cheerfully approached the regenerate Rishi. Meanwhile, the son of Agni, having collected his firewood, returned to his home. Mrityu, with his fierce and inexorable nature, was constantly by his side, even, as one attends upon one's devoted friend. When the son of Pavaka returned to his own hermitage, he called Oghavati by name, and (receiving no answer) repeatedly, exclaimed,--Whether art thou gone?--But the chaste lady, devoted to her husband, being then locked in the arms of that Brahmana, gave no reply to her husband. Indeed, that chaste woman, considering herself contaminated became speechless, overcome with shame. Sudarsana, addressing her again, exclaimed,--Where can my chaste wife be? Whither has she gone? Nothing can be of greater moment to me than this (her disappearance). Why does not that simple and truthful lady,
devoted to her husband, alas, answer to my call today as she used to do before with sweet smiles? Then that Brahmana, who was within the hut, thus replied to Sudarsana,--Do thou learn, O son of Pavaka, that a Brahmana guest has arrived, and though tempted by this thy wife with diverse other offers of welcome, I have, O best of Brahmanas, desired only her person, and this fair-faced lady is engaged in welcoming me with due rites. Thou art at liberty to do whatever thou thinkest to be suitable to this occasion. Mrityu, armed with the iron club, pursued the Rishi at that moment, desirous of compassing the destruction of one that would, he thought, deviate from his promise. Sudarsana was struck with wonder, but casting off all jealousy and anger by look, word, deed, or thought, said,--Do thou enjoy thyself, O Brahmana. It is a great pleasure to me. A householder obtain the highest merit by honouring a guest. It is said by the learned that, as regards the householder, there is no higher merit than what results unto him from a guest departing from his house after having been duly honoured by him. My life, my wife, and whatever other worldly possessions I have, are all dedicated to the use of my guests. Even this is the vow that I have taken. As I have truly made this statement, by that truth, O Brahmana, I shall attain to the knowledge of Self. O foremost of virtuous men, the five elements, viz., fire, air, earth, water, and sky, and the mind, the intellect and the Soul, and time and space and the ten organs of sense, are all present in the bodies of men, and always witness the good and evil deeds that men do. This truth has today been uttered by me, and let the gods bless me for it or destroy me if I have spoken falsely. At this, O Bharata, there arose in all directions, in repeated echoes, a voice, crying,--This is true, this is not false. Then that Brahmana came out of the hovel, and like the wind rising and encompassing both Earth and sky, and making the three worlds echo with Vedic sounds, and calling that virtuous man by name, and congratulating him said,--O sinless one, I am Dharma; All glory to thee. I came here, O truth-loving one, to try thee, and I am well pleased with thee by knowing thee to be virtuous. Thou hast subdued and conquered Mrityu who always has pursued thee, seeking thy laches? O best of men, no one in the three worlds has the ability to insult, even with looks, this chaste lady devoted to her husband, far less to touch her person. She has been protected from defilement by thy virtue and by her own chastity. There can be nothing contrary to what this proud lady will say. This utterer of Brahma, endued with austere penances, shall, for the salvation of the world, be metamorphosed into a mighty river. And thou shalt attain to all the worlds in this thy body, and as truly as the science of Yoga is within her control, this highly blessed lady will follow thee with only half of her corporeal self, and with the other half will she be celebrated as the river Oghavati! And thou shalt attain with her to all the worlds that acquired through penances, Those eternal and everlasting worlds from which none cometh back will be attained by thee even in this gross body of thine. Thou hast conquered Death, and attained to the highest of all felicities, and by thy own power
[paragraph continues] (of mind), attaining to the speed of thought, thou hast risen above the power of the five elements! By thus adhering to the duties of a householder, thou hast conquered thy passions, desires, and anger, and this princess, O prince of virtuous men has, by serving thee, conquered affliction, desire, illusion, enmity and lassitude of mind!'
"Bhishma continued, 'Then the glorious Vasava (the lord of the gods), riding in a fine chariot drawn by a thousand white horses, approached that Brahmana. Death and Soul, all the worlds, all the elements, intellect, mind, time, and space as also desire and wrath, were all conquered. There-fore, O best of men, do thou bear this in mind, that to a householder there is no higher divinity than the guest. It is said by the learned that the blessings of an honoured guest are more efficacious than the merit of a hundred sacrifices. Whenever a deserving guest seeks the hospitality of a householder and is not honoured by him, he takes away (with him) all the virtues of the latter giving him his sins (in return). I have now recited to thee, my son, this excellent story as to how Death was conquered of old by a householder. The recital of this excellent story confers glory, fame, and longevity (upon those that listen to it). The man that seeks worldly prosperity should consider it as efficacious in removing all evil. And, O Bharata, the learned man that daily recites this story of the life of Sudarsana attains to the regions of the blessed.'"
Next: Section III