The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'I desire, O king, to hear thee discourse in detail upon those high ordinances which regulate gifts of kine, for it is by making gifts (of kine) according to those ordinances that one attains to innumerable regions of eternal felicity.'
"Bhishma said, 'There is no gift, O lord of Earth, that is higher in point of merit than the gift of kine. A cow, lawfully acquired, if given away, immediately rescues the whole race of the giver. That ritual which sprang for the benefit of the righteous, was subsequently declared for the sake of all creatures. That ritual has come down from primeval time. It existed even before it was declared. Verily, O king, listen to me as I recite to thee that ritual which affects the gift of kine. 1 In days of yore when a number of kine (intended to be given away) was brought (before him), king Mandhatri, filled with doubt in respect of the ritual he should observe (in actually giving them away), properly questioned Vrihaspati (the preceptor of the celestials) for an explanation of that doubt. Vrihaspati said, 'Duly observing restraints the while, the giver of kine should, on the previous day, properly honour the Brahmanas and appoint the (actual) time of gift. As regards the kine to be given away, they should be of the class called Rohini. The kine also should be addressed with the words--Samange and Vahule--Entering the fold where the kine are kept, the following Srutis should be uttered,--The cow is my mother. The bull is my sire. (Give me) heaven and earthly prosperity! The cow is my refuge!--Entering the fold
and acting in this way, the giver should pass the night there.' He should again utter the formula when actually giving away the kine. 1 The giver, thus residing with the kine in the fold without doing anything to restrain their freedom, and lying down on the bare earth (without driving away the gnats and other insects that would annoy him as they annoy the kine), becomes immediately cleansed of all his sins in consequence of his reducing himself to a state of perfect similitude with the kine. When the sun rises in the morning, thou shouldst give away the cow, accompanied by her calf and a bull. As the reward of such an act, heaven will certainly become attainable to thee. The blessings also that are indicated by the Mantras will also be thine. The Mantras contain these references to kine: Kine are endued with the elements of strength and energetic exertion. Kine have in them the elements of wisdom. They are the source of that immortality which sacrifice achieves. They are the refuge of all energy. They are the steps by which earthly prosperity is won. They constitute the eternal course of the universe. They lead to the extension of one's race. Let the kine (I give away) destroy my sins. They have that in them which partakes in the nature of both Surya, and Soma. Let them be aids to my attainment of heaven. Let them betake themselves to me as a mother takes to her offspring. Let all other blessings also be mine that have not been named in the Mantras I have uttered! In the alleviation or cure of phthisis and other wasting diseases, and in the matter of achieving freedom from the body, if a person takes the help of the five products of the cow, kine become inclined to confer blessings upon the person like the river Saraswati--Ye kine, ye are always conveyers of all kinds of merit! Gratified with me, do ye appoint a desirable end for me! I have today become what ye are! By giving you away, I really give myself away. (After these words have been uttered by giver, the receiver should say),--Ye are no longer owned by him who gives you away! Ye have now become mine. Possessed of the nature of both Sutya and Soma, do ye cause both the giver and the receiver to blaze forth with all kinds of prosperity!--(As already indicated), the giver should duly utter the words occurring in the first part of the above verse. The regenerate recipient, conversant with the ritual that regulates the gift of kine, should, when receiving the kine in gift, utter (as already) said the words occurring in the latter half of the above verse. The man who, instead of a cow, gives away the usual value thereof or cloths or gold, comes to be regarded as the giver of a cow The giver, when giving away the usual value of a cow (as the substitute of a cow) should utter the words,--This cow with face upturned is being given away. Do thou accept her!--The man who gives away cloths (as the substitute of a cow) should utter the words,--Bhavitavya--(meaning that the
gift should be regarded as representing a cow). The man who gives away gold (as the substitute of a cow) should utter the word,--Vaishnavi (meaning, this gold that I give away is of the form and nature of a cow).--Even these are the words that should be uttered in the order of the kind of gift mentioned above. The reward that is reaped by making such vicarious gifts of kine is residence in Heaven for six and thirty thousand years, eight thousand years, and twenty thousand years respectively. Even these are the merits, respectively, of gifts of things as substitute of kine. While as regards him who gives an actual cow all the merits that attach to vicarious gifts of kine become his at only the eight step (homewards) of the recipient. 1 He that gives an actual cow becomes endued with righteous behaviour in this world. He that gives the value of a cow becomes freed from every kind of fear. He that gives a cow (as a substitute in way for a real cow) never meet with sorrow. All the three, as also they that regularly go through their ablutions and other acts at early dawn, and he that is well-conversant with the Mahabharata, it is well-known, attain to the regions of Vishnu and Soma. Having given away a cow, the giver should, for three nights, adopt the vaccine vow, and pass one night with kine. Commencing again from that lunation, numbering the eight, which is known by the name of Kamya, he should pass three nights, supporting himself entirely on milk and urine and dung of the cow. 2 By giving away a bull, one attains to the merit that attaches to the divine vow (Brahmacharya). By giving away a couple of kine, one acquires the mastery of the Vedas. That man who performs a sacrifice and makes gifts of kine agreeably to the ritual laid down, attains to many regions of a superior character. These, however, are not attainable by the person who is unacquainted with that ritual (and who, therefore, gives away kine without observing the scriptural declarations). That man who gives away even a single cow that yields a copious measure of milk, acquires the merit of giving away all desirable things on Earth collected together. What need, therefore, be said of the gift of many such kine as yield Havya and Kavya in consequence of their full udders? The merit that attaches to the gift of superior oxen is greater than that which attaches to the gift of kine. One should not, by imparting a knowledge of this ritual, benefit a person that is not one's disciple or that is not observant of vows or that is bereft of faith or that is possessed of a crooked understanding. Verily, this religion is a mystery, unknown to most people. One that knows it should not speak of it at every
place. There are, in the world, many men that are bereft of faith. There are among men many persons that are mean and that resemble Rakshasas. This religion, if imparted unto them, would lead to evil. It would be productive of equal evil if imparted to such sinful men as have taken shelter in atheism.--Listen to me, O king, as I recite to thee the names of those righteous monarchs that have attained to regions of great felicity as the reward of those gifts of kine which they made agreeable to the instructions of Vrihaspati, Usinara, Viswagaswa, Nriga, Bhagiratha, the celebrated Mandhatri the son of Yuvanaswa, king Muchukunda, Bhagiratha, Naishadha. Somaka, Pururavas, Bharata of imperial sway to whose race belongs all the Bharatas, the heroic Rama the son of Dasaratha, and many other celebrated kings of great achievement, and also king Dilipa of widely known deeds, all, in consequence of their gifts of kine agreeable to the ritual, attained to Heaven. King Mandhatri was always observant of sacrifices, gifts, penances, kingly duties, and gifts of kine. Therefore, O son of Pritha, do thou also bear in mind those instructions of Vrihaspati which I have recited unto thee (in respect of gifts of kine). Having obtained the kingdom of the Kurus, do thou, with a cheerful heart, make gifts of good kine unto foremost of Brahmanas!'
"Vaisampayana continued, 'Thus addressed by Bhishma on the subject of properly making gifts of kine, king Yudhishthira did all that Bhishma wished. Verily, king Yudhishthira bore in mind the whole of that religion which the preceptor of the deities imparted unto the royal Mandhatri. Yudhishthira from that time began to make always gifts of kine and to support himself on grains of barley and on cowdung as both his food and drink. The king also began to sleep from that day on the bare earth, and possessed of restrained soul and resembling a bull in conduct, he became the foremost of monarchs. 1 The Kuru king from that day became very attentive to kine and always worshipped them, hymning their praises. From that day, the king gave up the practice of yoking kine unto his vehicles. Wheresoever he had occasion to go, he proceeded on cars drawn by horses of good mettle.'"
106:1 The orthodox belief is that all rituals are literally eternal. As eternal, they existed before anybody declared them or set them down in holy writ. The ritual in respect of gifts of kine sprang in this way, i.e., in primeval time. It was only subsequently declared or set down in holy writ.
107:1 In verse 5, if instead of the reading swah, swa be adopted, the meaning would be knowing that he would have to die. A Rohini is a red cow. The words Samanga and Vahula are Vedic terms applied to the cow. The Sandh; in vahuleti is arsha. The formula or Mantras that should be uttered in actually giving away the kine occur in the scriptures.
108:1 The Commentator explains that gavadinam in the first line refers to gopratindhinam. The second line is very terse. The sense is that at only the eight step in the homeward journey of the recipient, all the merits attaching to vicarious gift become his who gives an actual cow: what need, therefore, be said of that merit when the recipient reaches home and draws from the cow the means of worshipping his domestic fire, entertaining his guests, etc?
108:2 Ashtami is the eighth day of the lunar fortnight. There must be two Ashtamis in every lunar month. A particular Ashtami is known as the Kamya or the Goshtha. On that day, kine are worshipped with sandalpaste, vermilion, floral wreaths, etc.
Next: Section LXXVII