The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'Thou hast discoursed to us on diverse kinds of gift, on tranquillity of soul, on Truth, on compassion, on contentment with one's wedded wife, and the merits of gift. It is known to thee, O grandsire, that there is nothing whose puissance is superior to that of penances. It behoveth thee to expound to us what constitutes the highest penances.'
"Bhishma said, 'I tell thee, O Yudhishthira, that one attains to a region of felicity that corresponds with the kind of penances that one observes. This is what I hold, O son of Kunti, that there is no penance that is superior to abstention from food! In this connection is recited the ancient narrative of the discourse between Bhagiratha and the illustrious Brahman (the Grandsire of the Creation). It has been heard by us, O Bharata, that Bhagiratha attained to that region which transcends that of the deities, of kine, and of the Rishis. Beholding this, O monarch, the Grandsire Brahman, addressing Bhagiratha, said, 'How, O Bhagiratha, hast thou attained to this region that is so difficult of attainment? Neither the deities, nor Gandharvas, nor human beings, O Bhagiratha succeed in coming here without having practised the severest austerities. How, indeed, hast thou attained to this region?'
"Bhagiratha said, 'I used to make gifts of hundreds of thousands of gold coin unto the Brahmanas, observing the Brahmacharya vow all the while, it is not through the merit on those gifts, O learned one, that I have attained to this region. I performed the Ekaratra sacrifice for ten times, and the Pancharatra sacrifice for as many times. The Ekadasaratra sacrifice was performed by me eleven times. The great sacrifice of Jyotishtoma was performed by me a hundred times. It is not, however, through the merits of those sacrifices that I have attained to this region of felicity. 1 For a hundred years I lived continuously by the side of the holy Jahnavi, all the while practising the severest austerities. There I made gifts unto the Brahmanas of thousands of male and female slaves. By the side of the Pushkara lakes I made gifts unto the Brahmanas, for a hundred thousand
times, a hundred thousand steeds, and two hundred thousand kine. I also gave away a thousand damsels of great beauty, each adorned with golden moons, and sixty thousand more decked with ornaments of pure gold. It is not, however, through the merits of those acts that I have succeeded in attaining to these regions. 1 O lord of the universe, performing those sacrifices known by the name of Gosava, I gave away ten Arvudas of kine, presenting each Brahmana with ten kine, each of whom was accompanied with her calf, each of whom yielded milk at the time, and with each of whom were given a vessel of gold and one of white brass for milking her. Performing many Soma sacrifices, I gave away unto each Brahmana ten kine each of whom yielded milk, and each of whom had brought forth only her first calf, besides making presents unto them of hundreds of kine belonging to that species which is known by the name of Rohini. I also gave away unto the Brahmanas twice ten Prayutas of other kine, all yielding milk. It is not through the merit of those gifts, O Brahman, that I have succeeded in attaining to this region of felicity. I also gave away a hundred thousand horses of the Valhika breed, all white of complexion, and adorned with garlands of gold. It is not, however, through the merits of those acts that I have attained to this region. I gave away eight crores of golden coins unto the Brahmanas, O Brahman, and then another ten crores also, in each sacrifice that I performed. It is not, however, through the merits of those acts that I have attained to this region of felicity. I also gave away ten and then seven crores of steeds, O Grandsire, each of green complexion, each having ears that were dark, and each adorned with garlands of gold. I also gave away ten and seven thousand elephants of huge size, of teeth as large as plough-shares, each having those whorls on its body which are called Padmas, and each adorned with garlands of gold. I gave away ten thousand cars, O Grandsire, whose limbs were made of gold, and which were adorned with diverse ornaments of gold. I also gave away seven thousand other cars with steeds yoked unto each. All the steeds that were yoked unto them were adorned with ornaments of gold. Those cars represented the Dakshinas of a sacrifice and were of exactly that kind which is indicated in the Vedas. In the ten great Vajapeya sacrifices that I performed, I gave away a thousand horses each endued with the puissance of Indra himself, judged by their prowess and the sacrifices they had performed. Spending a vast sum of money, O Grandsire, and performing eight Rajasuya sacrifices, I gave away (unto the Brahmanas that officiated in them) a thousand
kings whose necks were adorned with garlands of gold, after having vanquished them in battle. It is not, however, through the merits of those acts that I have attained to this region. In those sacrifices, O Lord of the universe, the presents that flowed from me were as copious as the stream of Ganga herself. Unto each Brahmana I gave two thousand elephants decked with gold, as many steeds adorned with golden ornaments, and a hundred villages of the best kind. Verily, I gave these unto each Brahmana for three times in succession. Observant of penances, subsisting on regulated diet, adopting tranquillity of soul, and restraining speech, I dwelt for a long time on the breast of Himavat by the side of that Ganga whose irresistible current (as it fell from heaven) was borne by Mahadeva on his head. It is not through the merit of these acts, O Grand sire, that I have attained to this region. Throwing the Sami, I adored the gods in myriads of such sacrifices as are completed in course of a single day, and such others as take twelve days for completing, and others still as can be completed in three and ten days, besides many Pundarikas. I have not attained to this region through the merits of any of those sacrifices. 1 I gave unto the Brahmanas eight thousand white-complexioned bulls, each graced with a beautiful hump, and each having one of its horns covered with gold. Unto them I also gave beautiful wives whose necks were adorned with chains of gold. I also gave away large heaps of gold and wealth of other kinds. Verily, I gave away hills of gems and precious stones. Villages, numbering by thousands and teeming with wealth and corn, were also given away by me. With all my senses about me, I gave away unto the Brahmanas a hundred thousand kine each of whom had brought forth only her first calf, at many great sacrifices which I performed. It is not, however, through the merits of those acts that I have attained to this region. I adored the deities in a sacrifice that is completed in eleven days. Twice I adored them in sacrifices that are completed in twelve days. I adored them also many a time in the horse-sacrifices. Six and ten times I performed the Arkayana sacrifice. It is not through the merits of those acts that I have attained to this region. I also gave unto each Brahmana a forest of Kanchana trees extending for a Yojana on every side, and with each tree adorned with jewels and gems. It is not through the merits of that act that I have attained to this region. For thirty years, with heart perfectly freed from wrath, I observed the Turayana vow that is possessed of very superior merit, and gave away unto the Brahmanas every day nine hundred kine. Indeed, O Lord of the universe, every one of those kine belonged to the Rohini species, and yielded milk at the time I gave them away. It is not through the merits of those acts, O chief of the deities,
that I have attained to this region. I worshipped thirty fires, O Brahmana, every day. I adored the deities in eight sacrifices in which the fat of all animals was poured on the fire. I adored them in seven sacrifices in which the fat of human beings was poured on the fire. I adored them in a thousand and twenty-eight Viswajit sacrifices. It is not through the merits of those sacrifices O Lord of all the deities, that I have attained to this region. On the banks of Sarayu and Vahuda and Ganga as also in the woods of Naimisha, I gave away millions of kine unto the Brahmanas. It is not through the merits of those acts that I have attained to this region. The vow of fast had been known to Indra. He had, however, kept it a secret. Sukra, the descendant of Bhrigu, obtained a knowledge of it by means of spiritual sight acquired through penances. Blazing with energy as he does, it is Usanas who first made it known to the universe. I observed that vow, O boon giving Deity! When I accomplished that very superior vow, the Brahmana became all gratified with me. A thousand Rishis came thither. All those Brahmanas and Rishis, O puissant lord, gratified with me, said, 'Do thou repair to the region of Brahmana! It is in consequence of the merits of that vow that I have succeeded in attaining to this region of very superior felicity. There is no doubt in this. Asked by the Supreme Ordainer of all things, I have duly expounded the merits of the vow of fast. In my opinion, there is no penance higher than fast. I vow to thee, O foremost of all the deities! Be thou propitious unto me!'
"Bhishma continued, 'King Bhagiratha, who had said so and who deserved every honour was on the conclusion of his speech, honoured by Brahman according to the rites ordained for that purpose. Do thou, therefore, O Yudhishthira, observe the vow of fast and worship the Brahmanas every day. The words uttered by Brahmanas can accomplish everything both here and hereafter. Indeed, the Brahmanas should ever be gratified with gifts of robes food and white complexioned kine and good dwelling houses and mansions. The very deities should gratify the Brahmanas. Freeing thyself from cupidity, do thou practise this vow of very superior merit that is not known to all!'"
192:1 The Ekaratra, Pancharatra, and Ekadasaratra, sacrifices consist of fasts and gifts for the periods indicated by the names, viz., one night, five nights, and eleven nights.
193:1 'Golden moons' imply those well-carved and beautifully fringed discs of gold that are worn by Hindu ladies on the forehead and that hang by thin chains of gold attached to the, hair. In Bengal, ladies of respectable houses wear a kind of ornament called 'Chandrahara' or the moon-wreath. This ornament is worn round the waist, on the hip. Several chains of gold, from half a dozen to a dozen, having a large disc of well-carved gold to which they are attached, constitute this really very beautiful ornament. The disc is divided into two halves, attached to each other by hinges, so that in sitting down, the ornament produces no inconvenience.
194:1 In the Santi Parva it has been explained that in ancient times kings sometimes performed sacrifices causing altars to be raised at small distances from one another. These distances were measured by hurling a heavy piece of wood called Sami, so that throwing the Sami from one altar, the next altar would be created upon the spot where it fell.
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