The Mahabharata Home
"Janamejaya said, 'It behoveth thee to tell me of any wonderful incident that occurred in the sacrifice of my grandsires.'
"Vaisampayana said, 'Hear, O chief of kings of a most wonderful incident that occurred, O puissant monarch, at the conclusion of that great horse-sacrifice. After all the foremost of Brahmanas and all the kinsmen and relatives and friends, and all the poor, the blind, and the helpless ones had been gratified, O chief of Bharata's race, when the gifts made in profusion were being spoken of on all sides, indeed, when flowers were rained down on the head of king Yudhishthira the just, a blue-eyed mongoose, O sinless one, with one side of his body changed into gold, came there and spoke in a voice that was as loud and deep as thunder. Repeatedly uttering such deep sounds and thereby frightening all animals and birds, that proud denizen of a hole, with large body, spoke in a human voice and said, 'Ye kings, this great sacrifice is not equal to a prastha of powdered barley given away by a liberal Brahmana of Kurukshetra who was observing the Unccha vow.' Hearing these words of the mongoose, O king, all those foremost of Brahmanas became filled with wonder. Approaching the mongoose, they then asked him, saying,
[paragraph continues] 'Whence hast thou come to this sacrifice, this resort of the good and the pious? What is the extent of thy might? What thy learning? And what thy refuge? How should we know thee that thus censurest this our sacrifice? Without having disregarded any portion of the scriptures, everything that should be done has been accomplished here according to the scriptures and agreeably to reason, with the aid of diverse sacrificial rites. Those who are deserving of worship have been duly worshipped here according to the way pointed out by the scriptures. Libations have been poured on the sacred fire with the aid of proper mantras. That which should be given has been given away without pride. The regenerate class have been gratified with gifts of diverse kinds. The Kshatriyas have been gratified with battles fought according to just methods. The grandsires have been gratified with Sraddhas. The Vaisyas have been gratified by the protection offered to them, and many foremost of women have been gratified by accomplishing their desires. The Sudras have been gratified by kind speeches, and others with the remnants of the profuse wealth collected on the spot. Kinsmen and relatives have been gratified by the purity of behaviour displayed by our king. The deities have been gratified by libations of clarified butter and acts of merit, and dependants and followers by protection. That therefore, which is true, do thou truly declare unto these Brahmanas. Indeed, do thou declare what is agreeable to the scriptures and to actual experience, asked by the Brahmanas who are eager to know. Thy words seem to demand credit. Thou art wise. Thou bearest also a celestial form. Thou hast come into the midst of learned Brahmanas. It behoveth thee to explain thyself.' Thus addressed by those regenerate persons, the mongoose, smiling, answered them as follows. 'Ye regenerate ones, the words I have uttered are not false. Neither have I spoken them from pride. That which I have said may have been heard by you all. Ye foremost of regenerate persons, this sacrifice is not equal in merit to the gift of a prastha of powdered barley. Without doubt, I should say this, ye foremost of Brahmanas. Listen to me with undivided attention as I narrate what happened to thee truly. Wonderful and excellent was the occurrence that fell out. It was witnessed by me and its consequences were felt by me. The incident relates to a liberal Brahmana dwelling in Kurukshetra in the observance of the Unccha vow. In consequence of that incident he attained to Heaven, ye regenerate ones, along with his wife and son and daughter-in-law. And in consequence of what then happened half my body became transformed into gold.'
"The Mongoose continued, 'Ye regenerate ones, I shall presently tell you what the excellent fruit was of the gift, made by a Brahmana, of a very little measure (of powdered barley) obtained by lawful means. On that righteous spot of ground known by the name of Kurukshetra, which is the abode of many righteous persons, there lived a Brahmana in the observance of what is called the Unccha vow. That mode of living is like unto that of the pigeon. 1 He
lived there with his wife and son and daughter-in-law and practised penances. Of righteous soul, and with senses under complete control, he adopted the mode of living that is followed by a parrot. Of excellent vows, he used to eat everyday at the sixth division. 1 If there was nothing to eat at the sixth division of the day, that excellent Brahmana would fast for that day and eat the next day at the sixth division. On one occasion, ye Brahmanas, there occurred a dreadful famine in the land. During that time there was nothing stored in the abode of that righteous Brahmana. The herbs and plants were all dried up and the whole realm became void of foodstore. When the accustomed hours came for eating, the Brahmana had nothing to eat. This occurred day after day. All the members of his family were afflicted with hunger but were obliged to pass the days as best they could. One day, in the month of Jaishtha, while the Sun was in the meridian, the Brahmana was engaged in picking up grains of corn. Afflicted by heat and hunger, he was practising even this penance. Unable to obtain grains of corn, the Brahmana soon became worn out with hunger and toil. Indeed, with all the members of his family, he had no food to eat. That best of Brahmanas passed the days in great suffering. One day, after the sixth division came, he succeeded in obtaining a prastha of barley. That barley was then reduced by those ascetics to powder for making what is called Saktu of it. Having finished their silent recitations and other daily rites, and having duly poured libations on the sacred fire, those ascetics divided that little measure of powdered barley amongst themselves so that the share of each came up to the measure of a Kudava. 2 As they were about to sit down for eating, there came unto their abode a guest. Beholding the person who came as a guest, all of them became exceedingly glad. Indeed, seeing him, they saluted him and made the usual enquiries of welfare. They were of pure minds, self-restrained, and endued with faith and control over the passions. Freed from malice, they had conquered wrath. Possessed of piety, they were never pained at the sight of other people's happiness. They had cast off pride and haughtiness and anger. Indeed, they were conversant with every duty, ye foremost of regenerate ones. Informing their guest of their own penances and of the race or family to which they belonged, and ascertaining from him in return those particulars, they caused that hungry guest of theirs to enter their cottage. Addressing him they said, 'This is the Arghya for thee. This water is for washing thy feet. There are scattered some Kusa grass for thy seat, O sinless one. Here is some clean Saktu acquired by lawful means, O puissant one. Given by us, O foremost of regenerate persons, do thou accept it,' Thus addressed by them, that Brahmana accepted the Kudava of powdered barley that was offered to him and ate it all. But his hunger, O king, was not appeased by what he ate. The Brahmana in the observance of the Unccha vow, seeing that his guest's hunger was still unappeased, began to think of what other food he could place before him for gratifying him. Then his
wife said unto him,--'Let my share be given unto him. Let this foremost of regenerate persons be gratified and let him then go whithersoever he will.' Knowing that his chaste wife who said so was herself afflicted by hunger, that best of Brahmanas could not approve of her share of the powdered barley being given to the guest. Indeed, that best of Brahmanas possessed of learning, knowing from his own state that his aged, toil-worn, cheerless, and helpless wife was herself afflicted by hunger and seeing that lady who had been emaciated into mere skin and bone was quivering with weakness, addressed her and said, 'O beautiful one, with even animals, with even worms and insects, wives are fed and protected. It behoveth thee not, therefore, to say so. The wife treats her lord with kindness and feeds and protects him. Everything appertaining to religion, pleasure, and wealth, careful nursing, offspring for perpetuating the race, are all dependent on the wife. Indeed, the merits of a person himself as also of his deceased ancestors depend also on her. The wife should know her lord by his acts. Verily, that man who fails to protect his wife earns great infamy here and goes into Hell hereafter. Such a man falls down from even a position of great fame and never succeeds in acquiring regions of happiness hereafter.' Thus addressed, she answered him, saying, 'O regenerate one, our religious acts and wealth are united. Do thou take a fourth of this barley. Indeed, be gratified with me. Truth, pleasure, religious merit, and Heaven as acquirable, by good qualities, of women, as also all the objects of their desire, O foremost of regenerate ones, are dependent on the husband. In the production of offspring the mother contributes her blood. The father contributes his seed. The husband is the highest deity of the wife. Through the grace of the husband, women obtain both pleasure and offspring as the reward. Thou art my Pati (lord) for the protection thou givest me. Thou art my Bhartri for the means of sustenance thou givest me. Thou art, again, boon-giver to me in consequence of thy having presented me a son. Do thou, therefore, (in return for so many favours), take my share of the barley and give it unto the guest. Overcome by decrepitude, thou art of advanced years. Afflicted by hunger thou art exceedingly weakened. Worn out with fasts, thou art very much emaciated. (If thou couldst part with thy share, why should not I part with mine)' Thus addressed by her, he took her share of the powdered barley and addressing his guest said,--'O regenerate one, O best of men, do thou accept this measure of powdered barley as well.' The Brahmana, having accepted that quantity, immediately ate it up, but his hunger was not yet appeased. Beholding him ungratified, the Brahmana in the observance of the Unccha vow became thoughtful. His son then said unto him, 'O best of men, taking my share of the barely do thou give it to the guest. I regard this act of mine as one of great merit. Therefore, do it. Thou shouldst be always maintained by me with great care. Maintenance of the father is a duty which the good always covet. The maintenance of the father in his old age is the duty ordained for the son. Even this is the eternal sruti (audition) current in the three worlds, O learned Rishi. By barely living thou art capable of practising penances. The life-breath is the great deity that resides in the bodies of all embodied
"The father, at this, said, 'If thou attainest to the age of even a thousand years, thou wilt still seem to me to be only a little child. Having begotten a son, the sire achieves success through him. O puissant one, I know that the hunger of children is very strong. I am old. I shall somehow succeed in holding my life-breaths. Do thou, O son, become strong (by eating the food that has fallen to thy share). Old and decrepit as I am, O son, hunger scarcely afflicts me. I have, again, for many years, practised penances. I have no fear of death.'
"The son said, 'I am thy offspring. The Sruti declares that one's offspring is called putra because one is rescued by him. One's own self, again, takes birth as one's son. Do thou, therefore, rescue thyself by thy own self (in the form of thy son).'
"The father said, 'In form thou art like me. In conduct and in self-restraint also thou art my like. Thou hast been examined on various occasions by me. I shall, therefore, accept thy share of the barley, O son.' Having said this, that foremost of regenerate persons cheerfully took his son's share of the barley and smilingly presented it to his regenerate guest. Having eaten that barley also, the guest's hunger was not appeased. The righteous-souled host in the observance of the unccha vow became ashamed (at the thought that he had nothing more to give). Desirous of doing what was agreeable to him, his chaste daughter-in-law then, bearing her share of the barley, approached him and said, 'Through thy son, O learned Brahmana, I shall obtain a son. Do thou, therefore, take my share of the barley and give it unto this guest. Through thy grace, numerous regions of beatitude will be mine for eternity. Through the grandson one obtains those regions repairing whither one has not to endure any kind of misery. Like the triple aggregate beginning with Religion, or the triple aggregate of sacred fires, there is a triple aggregate of everlasting Heavens, depending upon the son, the grandson, and the great-grandson. The son is called Putra because he frees his sires from debt. Through sons and grandsons one always enjoys the happiness of those regions which are reserved for the pious and the good.'
"The father-in-law said, 'O thou of excellent vows and conduct, beholding thee wasted by wind and sun, deprived of thy very complexion, emaciated and almost destitute of consciousness through hunger, how can I be such a transgressor against the rules of righteousness as to take thy share of the barley? O auspicious damsel, it behoves thee not to say so, for the sake of those auspicious results for which every family must strive. 2 O auspicious damsel, how can I behold thee: at even this, the sixth division of the day, abstaining from
food and observing vows? Thou art endued with purity and good conduct and penances. Alas, even thou hast to pass thy days in so much misery. Thou art a child, afflicted by hunger, and belongest to the softer sex. Thou shouldst be always protected by me. Alas, I have to see thee worn out with fasts, O thou that art the delighter of all thy kinsmen.'
"The daughter-in-law said, 'Thou art the senior of my senior since thou art the deity of my deity. Thou art verily the god of my god. Do thou, therefore, O puissant one, take my share of the barley. My body, life-breaths, and religious rites have all one purpose viz., the service of my senior. Through thy grace, O learned Brahmana, I shall obtain many regions of happiness hereafter. I deserve to be looked after by thee. Know, O regenerate one, that I am wholly devoted to thee. Cherishing also this thought, viz., that my happiness is thy concern, it behoveth thee to take this my share of the barley.'
"The father-in-law said, 'O chaste lady, in consequence of such conduct of thine thou wilt for ever shine in glory, for endued with vows and steadiness in religious rites, thy eyes are directed to that conduct which should be observed towards seniors. Therefore, O daughter-in-law, I shall take thy share of the barley. Thou deservest not to be deceived by me, reckoning all thy virtues. Thou art truly, O blessed damsel, the foremost of all persons observing the duties of righteousness.' Having said so unto her, the Brahmana took her share of the barley and gave it unto his guest. At this the guest became gratified with the high-souled Brahmana endued with great piety. With gratified soul, that first of regenerate person, possessed of great eloquence, who was none else than the deity of Righteousness in a human form, then addressed that foremost of Brahmanas and said, 'O best of regenerate ones, I am exceedingly gratified with this pure gift of thine, this gift of what was acquired by lawful means by thee, and which thou didst freely part with, agreeably to the rules of righteousness. Verily, this gift of thine is being bruited about in Heaven by the denizens of that happy region. Behold, flowers have been rained down from the firmament on the Earth. The celestial Rishis, the deities, the Gandharvas, those who walk before the deities, and the celestial messengers, are all praising thee, struck with wonder at thy gift. The regenerate Rishis who dwell in the regions of Brahma, seated on their cars, are solicitous of obtaining thy sight. O foremost of regenerate persons, go to Heaven. The Pitris residing in their own region have all been rescued by thee. Others also who have not attained to the position of Pitris have equally been rescued by thee for countless Yugas. For thy Brahmacharyya, thy gifts, thy sacrifices, thy penances, and thy acts of piety done with a pure heart, go thou to Heaven. O thou of excellent vows, thou practisest penances with great devotion. Thy gifts have, therefore, gratified the deities highly, O best of regenerate ones. Since thou hast made this gift, in a season of great difficulty, with a pure heart, thou hast, by this act of thine, conquered Heaven. Hunger destroys one's wisdom and drives off one's righteous understanding. One whose intelligence is overwhelmed by hunger casts off all fortitude. He, therefore, that conquers hunger conquers Heaven without doubt. One's righteousness is never destroyed as long as one cherishes the inclination of making gifts. Disregarding filial affection, disregarding the
affection one feels for one's wife, and reckoning righteousness as the foremost, thou hast paid no heed to the cravings of nature. The acquisition of wealth is an act of slight merit. Its gift to a deserving person is fraught with greater merit. Of still greater merit is the (proper) time. Lastly, devotion (in the matter of gift) is fraught with the highest merit. The door of Heaven is very difficult to see. Through heedlessness men fail to obtain a sight of it. The bar of Heaven's door has cupidity for its seed. That bar is kept fastened by desire and affection. Verily, Heaven's door is unapproachable. Those men who subdued wrath and conquered their passions, those Brahmanas who are endued with penances and who make gifts according to the measure of their ability, succeed in beholding it. It has been said that he that gives away a hundred, having a thousand, he that gives away ten, having a hundred, and he that gives a handful of water, having no wealth, are all equal in respect of the merit they earn. King Rantideva, when divested of all his wealth, gave a small quantity of water with a pure heart. Through this gift, O learned Brahmana, he went to Heaven. The deity of righteousness is never gratified so much with large gifts of costly things as with gifts of even things of no value, if acquired lawfully and given away with devotion and faith. King Nriga had made gifts of thousands of kine unto the regenerate class. By giving away only one cow that did not belong to him, he fell into Hell. Usinara's son Sivi of excellent vows, by giving away the flesh of his own body, is rejoicing in Heaven, having attained to the regions of the righteous. Mere wealth is not merit. Good men acquire merit by exerting to the best of their power and with the aid of pious meals. One does not acquire such merit by means of even diverse sacrifices as with even a little wealth that has been earned lawfully. Through wrath, the fruits of gifts are destroyed. Through cupidity one fails to go to Heaven. One conversant with the merits of gift, and leading a just course of conduct succeeds, through penances, in enjoying Heaven. The fruit, O Brahmana, of this gift made by thee (of a prastha of powdered barley) is much greater than what one acquires by many Rajasuya sacrifices with profuse gifts or many Horse-sacrifices. With this prastha of powdered barley thou hast conquered the eternal region of Brahman. Go thou in happiness, O learned Brahmana, to the abode of Brahman that is without the stain of darkness. O foremost of regenerate persons, a celestial car is here for all of you. Do thou ascend it as pleasest thee, O Brahmana, I am the deity of Righteousness. Behold me! Thou hast rescued thy body. The fame of thy achievement will last in the world. With thy wife, thy son, and thy daughter-in-law, go now to Heaven.'--After the deity of Righteousness had said these words, that Brahmana, with his wife, son and daughter-in-law, proceeded to Heaven. After that learned Brahmana, conversant with all duties, had thus ascended to Heaven with his son, daughter-in-law, and wife numbering the fourth, I came out of my hole. There with the scent of that powdered barley, with the mire caused by the water (which the Brahmana had given to his guest), with the contact (of my body) with the celestial flowers that had been rained down, with the particles of the barley-powder which that good man had given away, and the penances of that Brahmana, my head became gold, Behold, in consequence of the gift of that
[paragraph continues] Brahmana who was firm in truth, and his penances, half of this my ample body has become golden. Ye regenerate ones, for converting the rest of my body into gold I repeatedly repair, with a cheerful heart, to the retreats of ascetics and the sacrifices performed by kings. Hearing of this sacrifice of the Kuru king endued with great wisdom, I came hither with high hopes. I have not, however, been made gold. Ye foremost of Brahmanas, it was for this that I uttered those words, viz., that this sacrifice can by no means compare with (the gift of) that prastha of powdered barley. With the grains of that prastha of powdered barley, I was made gold on that occasion. This great sacrifice however, is not equal to those grains. Even this is my opinion.' Having said those words unto all those foremost of Brahmanas, the mongoose disappeared from their sight. Those Brahmanas then returned to their respective homes.'
"Vaisampayana continued, 'O conquerer of hostile towns, I have now told thee all relating to that wonderful incident which occurred in that great Horse-sacrifice. Thou shouldst not, O king, think highly of sacrifice. Millions of Rishis have ascended to Heaven with the aid of only their penances. Abstention from injury as regards all creatures, contentment, conduct, sincerity, penances, self-restraint, truthfulness, and gifts are each equal in point of merit to sacrifice."'
155:1 Nilakantha explains that Khandavaraga was made of piper longum and dried ginger (powdered), and the juice of Phaseolus Mungo, with sugar. Probably, it is identical with what is now called Mungka laddu in the bazars of Indian towns.
156:1 The unccha vow consists of subsisting upon grains of corn picked up after the manner of the pigeon from the field after the crops have been cut and removed by the owners.
157:1 The day of 12 hours is divided into 8 divisions.
157:2 A prastha is made up of four Kudavas. A Kudava is equal to about twelve double handfuls.
159:1 This verse is rather obscure. I am not sure that I have understood it correctly. The sense seems to be this: thou art capable of enduring much. Indeed, by barely living, thou art capable of capable of earning religious merit, for life-breath is a great deity. He should not be cast off. Thy life is at stake, for if this guest be not gratified, the thought of it will kill thee. Do thou, therefore, protect thy life by gratifying this guest with my share of the barley.
159:2 The sense is this: for the sake of those auspicious results after which every family should strive, the daughter-in-law should be well treated. How then can I deprive thee of food?
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