The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'If, O prince, Brahmanahood be so difficult of attainment by the three classes (Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras), how then did the high souled Viswamitra, O king, though a Kshatriya (by birth), attain to the status of a Brahmana? I desire to know this, O sire. Therefore, do thou truly relate this matter to me. That powerful man, O sire, by virtue of his austerities, destroyed in a moment the hundred sons of the high-souled Vasishtha. While under the influence of anger, he created numerous evil spirits and Rakshasas of mighty vigour and resembling the great destroyer Kala himself. The great and learned race of Kusika, numbering hundreds of regenerate sages and belauded by the Brahmanas, was founded in this world of men by him. Sunasepha of austere penances, the son of Richika, having been sought to be slain as an animal in the great sacrifice of Amvarisha, obtained his deliverance through Viswamitra. Harishchandra, having pleased the gods at a sacrifice, became a son of the wise Viswamitra. For not having honoured their eldest brother Devarat, whom Viswamitra got as a son from the gods, the other fifty brothers of his were cursed, and all of them became Chandalas. Trisanku, the son of Ikshwaku, through the curse of Vasistha became a Chandala, and when abandoned by
his friends, and remaining suspended with his head downwards in the lower regions, was translated to heaven at the pleasure of Viswamitra. Viswamitra had a large river, by name Kausika, that was frequented by celestial Rishis. This sacred and auspicious stream was frequented by the gods and regenerate Rishis. For disturbing his devotions, the famous celestial nymph Rambha of fine bracelets, was cursed and metamorphosed into a rock. Through fear of Viswamitra the glorious Vasishtha, in olden times, binding himself with creepers, threw himself down into a river and again rose released from his bonds. In consequence of this, that large and sacred river become thenceforth celebrated by the name of Vipasa. 1 He prayed to the glorious and puissant Indra who was pleased with him and absolved him from a curse. 2 Remaining on the northern side of the firmament, he sheds his lustre from a position in the midst of the seven regenerate Rishis, 3 and Dhruva the son of Uttanpada 4. These are his achievements as well as many others. O descendant of Kuru, as they were performed by a Kshatriya, my curiosity has been roused in this matter. Therefore, O foremost one of Bharata's race, do thou relate this matter to me truly. How without casting off his corporeal frame and taking another tenement of flesh could he become a Brahmana? Do thou, O sire, truly relate this matter to me as thou hast related to me the story of Matanga. Matanga was born as a Chandala, 5 and could not attain to Brahmanahood,(with all his austerities) but how could this man attain to the status of a Brahmana?"
11:1 Literally, the releaser from bonds.
11:2 Refers to the curse pronounced on Viswamitra by the son of Vasishtha, when the former acted as the priest of Trisanku. The curse was that Viswamitra would partake of canine flesh by officiating as the priest of one who himself was the partaker of such flesh. It is said that at a time of great scarcity, Viswamitra was obliged to resort to dog's flesh for food, and that as he was about to cook it, Indra pounced upon it and took it away.
11:3 The constellation of the Great Bear.
11:4 The Pole Star.
11:5 Matanga was begotten upon a Brahmana woman by a Sudra father.
Next: Section IV