The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said,--'O grandsire, O thou of great wisdom, O thou that art conversant with all branches of knowledge, I desire to hear thee discourse on topics connected with duty and Righteousness. Tell me truly, O chief of Bharata's race, what the merits are of those persons that grant protection to living creatures of the four orders when these pray for protection.'
"Bhishma said, 'O Dharma's son of great wisdom and widespread fame, listen to this old history touching the great merit of granting protection to others when protection is humbly sought. Once on a time, a beautiful pigeon, pursued by a hawk, dropped down from the skies and sought the protection of the highly-blessed king Vrishadarbha. The pure-souled monarch, beholding the pigeon take refuge in his lap from fear, comforted him, saying, Be comforted, O bird; do not fear, Whence hast thou taken such great fright? What hast thou done and where hast
thou done it in consequence of which thou hast lost thy senses in fear and art more dead than alive? Thy colour, beautiful bird, is such as to resemble that which adorns a fresh-blown lotus of the blue variety. Thy eyes are of the hue of the pomegranate or the Asoka flower. Do not fear. I bid thee, be comforted. When thou hast sought refuge with me, know that no one will have the courage to even think of seizing thee,--thee that hast such a protector to take care of thy person. I shall for thy sake, give up today the very kingdom of the Kasi and, if need be, my lice too. Be comforted, therefore, and let no fear be thine, O pigeon.'
"The hawk said, 'This bird has been ordained to be my food. It behoves thee not, O king, to protect him from me. I have outcoursed this bird and have got him. Verily, with great effort have I got at him at last. His flesh and blood and marrow and fat will be of great good to me. This bird will be the means of gratifying me greatly. Do not, O king, place thyself between him and me in this way. Fierce is the thirst that is afflicting me, and hunger is gnawing my bowels. Release the bird and cast him off. I am unable to bear the pains of hunger any longer. I pursued him as my prey. Behold, his body is bruised and torn by me with my wings and talons. Look, his breath has become very weak. It behoves thee not, O king, to protect him from me. In the exercise of that power which properly belongs to thee, thou art, indeed competent to interfere in protecting human beings when they are sought to be destroyed by human beings. Thou canst not, however, be admitted to have any power over a sky-ranging bird afflicted with thirst. Thy power may extend over thy enemies, thy servants, thy relatives, the disputes that take place between thy subjects. Indeed, it may extend over every part of thy dominions and over also thy own senses. Thy power, however, does not extend over the welkin. Displaying thy prowess over such foes as act against thy wishes, thou mayst establish thy rule over them. Thy rule, however, does not extend over the birds that range the sky. Indeed, if thou hast been desirous of earning merit (by protecting this pigeon), it is thy duty to look at me also (and do what is proper for enabling me to appease my hunger and save my life)!
"Bhishma continued, 'Hearing these words of the hawk, the royal sage became filled with wonder. Without disregarding these words of his, the king, desirous of attending to his comforts, replied unto him saying the following words.'
"The king said, 'Let a bovine bull or boar or deer or buffalo be dressed today for thy sake. Do thou appease thy hunger on such food today. Never to desert one that has sought my protection in my firm vow. Behold, O bird, this bird does not leave my lap!'
"The hawk said, 'I do not, O monarch, eat the flesh of the boar or the ox or of any of the diverse kinds of fowl. What need have I of food of this or that kind? My concern is with that food which has been eternally ordained for beings of my order? Hawks feed on pigeons,--this is the eternal ordinance. O sinless, Usinara, if thou feelest such
affection for this pigeon, do thou then give me flesh from thy own body, of weight equal to that of this pigeon.'
"The king said, 'Great is the favour thou showiest me today by speaking to me in this strain. Yes, I shall do what thou biddest. Having said this, that best of monarchs began to cut off his own flesh and weigh it in a balance against the pigeon. Meanwhile, in the inner apartments of the palace, the spouses of king, adorned with jewels and gems, hearing what was taking place, uttered exclamations of woe and came out, stricken with grief. In consequence of those cries of the ladies, as also of the ministers and servants, a noise deep as the roar of the clouds arose in the palace. The sky that had been very clear became enveloped with thick clouds on every side. The Earth began to tremble, as the consequence of that act of truth which the monarch did. The king began to cut off the flesh from his flanks from the arms, and from his thighs, and quickly fill one of the scales for weighing it against the pigeon. In spite of all that, the pigeon continued to weigh heavier. When at last the king became a skeleton of bones, without any flesh, and covered with blood, he desired to give up his whole body and, therefore, ascended the scale in which he had placed the flesh that he had previously cut off. At that time, the three worlds, with Indra at their head, came to that spot for beholding him. Celestial kettle-drums and diverse drums were struck and played upon by invisible beings belonging to the firmament. King Vrishadarbha was bathed in a shower of nectar that was poured upon him. Garlands of celestial flowers, of delicious fragrance and touch, were also showered upon him copiously and repeatedly. The deities and Gandharvas and Apsaras in large bands began to sing and dance around him even as they sing and dance around the Grandsire Brahma. The king then ascended a celestial car that surpassed (in grandeur and beauty) a mansion made entirely of gold, that had arches made of gold and gems, and that was adorned with columns made of lapis lazuli. Through the merit of his act, the royal sage Sivi proceeded to eternal Heaven. Do thou also, O Yudhishthira, act in the same way towards those that seek thy protection. He who protects those that are devoted to him, those that are attached to him from love and affection, and those that depend upon him, and who has compassion for all creatures, succeeds in attaining to great felicity hereafter. That king who is of righteous behaviour and who is observant of honesty and integrity, succeeds by his acts of sincerity in acquiring every valuable reward. The royal sage Sivi of pure soul and endued with great wisdom and unbaffled prowess, that ruler of the kingdom of Kasi, became celebrated over the three worlds for his deeds of righteousness. Anybody who would protect in the same way a seeker for protection, would certainly attain (like Sivi himself) to the same happy end, O best of the Bharatas. He who recites this history of the royal sage Vrishadarbha is sure to become cleansed of every sin, and the person who hears this history recited by another is sure to attain to the same result.'"
Next: Section XXXIII