The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'Do thou discourse to me once again, O grandsire, upon the merits attaching to gifts of sesame and of lamps for lighting darkness, as also of food and robes.'
"Bhishma said, 'In this connection, O Yudhishthira, is recited the narrative of the discourse that took place in ancient times between a Brahmana and Yama. In the country lying between the rivers Ganga and Yamuna, at the foot of the hills called Yamuna, there was a large town inhabited by Brahmanas. The town was celebrated under the name of Parnasala and was very delightful in appearance, O king. A large number of learned Brahmanas lived in it. One day, Yama, the ruler of the dead, commanded a messenger of his, who was clad in black, endued with blood-red eyes and hair standing erect, and possessed of feet, eyes, and nose all of which resembled those of a crow, saying, 'Go thou to the town inhabited by Brahmanas and bring hither the person known by the name of Sarmin and belonging by birth to the race of Agastya. He is intent on mental tranquillity and possessed of learning. He is a preceptor engaged in teaching the Vedas and his practices are well-known. Do not bring me
another person belonging to the same race and living in the same neighbourhood. This other man is equal unto him I want, in virtues, study, and birth. With respect to children and conduct, this other resembles the intelligent Sarmin. Do thou bring the individual I have in view. He should be worshipped with respect (instead of being dragged hither with irreverence).' The messenger having come to the place, did the very reverse of what he had been bidden to do. Attacking that person, he brought him who had been forbidden by Yama to be brought. Possessed of great energy, Yama rose up at the sight of the Brahmana and worshipped him duly. The king of the dead then commanded his messenger, saying, 'Let this one be taken back, and let the other one be brought to me.' When the great judge of the dead said these words, that Brahmana addressed him and said, 'I have completed my study of the Vedas and am no longer attached to the world. Whatever period may yet remain of my mortal existence, I wish to pass, dwelling even here, O thou of unfading glory! 1
"Yama said, 'I cannot ascertain the exact period, ordained by Time, of one's life, and hence, unurged by Time, I cannot allow one to take up one's residence here. I take note of the acts of righteousness (or otherwise) that one does in the world. Do thou, O learned Brahmana of great splendour return immediately to thy abode. 'I ell me what also is in thy mind and what I can do for thee, O thou of unfading glory!'
"The Brahmana said, 'Do thou tell me what those acts are by accomplishing which one may earn great merit. O best of all beings, thou art the foremost of authorities (on the subject) even in the three worlds.'
"Yama said, 'Do thou hear, O regenerate Rishi, the excellent ordinances regarding gifts. The gift of sesame seeds is a very superior one. It produces everlasting merit. O foremost of regenerate ones, one should make gifts of as much sesame as one can. By making gifts of sesame every day, one is sure to attain the fruition of one's every wish. The gift of sesame at Sraddhas is applauded. Verily the gift of sesame is a very superior one. Do thou make gifts of sesame unto the Brahmanas according to the rites ordained in the scriptures. One should on the day of the full moon of the month of Vaisakha, make gilts of sesame unto the Brahmanas. They should also be made to eat and to touch sesame on every occasion that one can afford. They that are desirous of achieving what is beneficial to them should, with their whole souls, do this in their houses. 2 Without doubt, men should similarly make gifts of water and establish resting places for the distribution of drinking water. 3 One should cause
tanks and lakes and wells to be excavated. Such acts are rare in the world, O best of regenerate persons! Do thou always make gifts of water. This act is fraught with great merit. O best of regenerate persons, thou shouldst establish resting places along the roads for the distribution of water. After one has eaten, the gift unto one should especially be made of water for drink.'
"Bhishma continued, 'After Yama had said these words unto him, the messenger who had borne him from his abode conveyed him back to it. The Brahmana, on his return, obeyed the instructions he had received. Having thus conveyed him back to his abode the messenger of Yama fetched Sarmin who had really been sought by Yama. Taking Sarmin unto him, he informed his master. Possessed of great energy, the judge of the dead worshipped that righteous Brahmana, and having conversed with him a while dismissed him for being taken back to his abode. Unto him also Yama gave the same instructions. Sarmin, too, coming back into the world of men, did all that Yama had said. Like the gift of water, Yama, from a desire of doing good to the Pitris, applauds the gift of lamps to light dark places. Hence, the giver of a lamp for lighting a dark place is regarded as benefiting the Pitris. Hence, O best of the Bharatas, one should always give lamps for lighting dark spots. The giving of lamps enhances the visual power of the deities, the Pitris, and one's own self. 1 It has been said, O king, that the gift of gems is a very superior gift. The Brahmana, who, having accepted a gift of gems, sells the same for performing a sacrifice, incurs no fault. The Brahmana, who, having accepted a gift of gems makes a gift of them unto Brahmanas. acquires inexhaustible merit himself and confers inexhaustible merit upon him from whom he had originally received them. Conversant with every duty Manu himself has said that he, who, observant of proper restraints, earns makes a gift of gems unto a Brahmana observant of proper restraints earns inexhaustible merit himself and confers inexhaustible merit upon the recipient. The man who is content with his own wedded wife and who makes a gift of robes, earns an excellent complexion and excellent vestments for himself. I have told thee, O foremost of men, what the merits are that attach to gifts of kine, of gold, and the sesame agreeably to deserve precepts of the Vedas and the scriptures One should marry and raise offspring upon one's wedded wives. Of all acquisitions, O son of Kuru's race, that of male issue is regarded as the foremost.'"
86:1 The first line of 13 and the last line of 14 are very terse: Kalasya vihitam, as explained by the Commentator, is ayuh pramanam, na prapnami is na janami. The sense is that 'unurged by rime, I cannot allow these to take up my residence here.'
86:2 i.e., invite Brahmanas to feasts in which sesame should predominate.
86:3 In Bengal, to this day, those who can afford, particularly pious ladies, establish shady resting places in the month of Vaisakha (the hottest month of the year), by the side of the public roads, for travellers, where good cool drinking water, a handfull of well-drenched oats, and a little of raw sugar, are freely distributed. Such institutions, on the old Benares Road and the Grand Trunk Road, considerably refresh travellers. There are miles upon miles along these roads where good water is not at all procurable.
87:1 What is meant by the giving of lamps is the placing of lighted lamps in dark places which are the resorts of men, such as roads and ghats, etc.
Next: Section LXIX