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Chapter 12: Snake Sacrifice of Janamejaya

Posted by Arun Mohan ~ on ~ 0 comments

Parikshit, the King of Hastina-puri was a descendant of a notable Kuru clan. He is now scared of snakes. So he had isolated himself from his wives, children and from rule. His son King Janamejaya is now ruling the kingdom. He suffered day and night and also he was unable to eat or sleep. Several Bards tried him to relieve his fear by telling tales, but nothing relieved him. People were murmuring that why Parikshit fears as he has an illustrious lineage as he was the son of Abhimanyu and also the grand children of Arjuna, who defeated the Kauravas. But finally the king revealed the reason that he is going to die within seven days by snakebite. That’s why he is isolated in a tower and he doesn’t want to die. Guards are watching all the time at every corner of tower for snakes. Everything that entering the tower is also been searched. Since Nagas could hide anywhere. Six days passed and on the seventh day, the hungry king took a fruit and bit into a fruit. Suddenly a hidden worm in the fruit transformed into a terrifying serpent called Naga Takshaka. Takshaka spiraled forward and sank his deadly fangs into Parikshit’s flesh. The venom spread quickly into his body and the king died instantly and the Naga had slithered away.

The angry Parikshit’s son, Janamejaya under the instruction of sage Uttanka, took a decision to avenge all snakes by performing Sarpa Satra (Yajna), which had the power to destroy all the snakes on earth. He called all the Brahmans of his empire to execute the Sarpa Satra. They started the Sarpa Satra with the fire burned in the centre of Hastina-puri and a cloud of black smoke goes up to the sky. The hundreds of priests sat near the yaga were putting ghee inside the fire to stoke the flames. They chanted the mantras of hymns for sacrifice and invoked the invisible forces that pulled the Nagas out to fire from their abodes. Hastina-puri saw a large group of flying snakes that was being directly drawn towards the sacrificial fire. Some people were pity on snakes and they murmured about this mindless massacre.

Suddenly a youth shouted and walked into the Sacrificial Hall. He told the king to stop this massacre, since it is adharma.  The furious king roared by saying that who are you and who the person you to accuse me of adharma. He introduced that his name is “Astika”, and was the nephew of Vasuki, the king of the Nagas. The king replied “you can’t save the Nagas and you are also one among them who are going to sacrifice”. Hearing this, Astika said that he is the son of Rishi Jaratkaru, who was a man and his mother is a Naga. So he should be a man and also a snake. He then tried to convince king by saying that “the king want to listen him, otherwise the king’s descendants will suffer the consequences of this sacrifice”. King allowed him to speak, what he want to say.

Astika unwind the truth of Parikshit’s death. When Parikshit was on a hunt, he experienced thirst. On the way, he saw a sage sitting beneath a banyan tree. The king asked him for some water. But the sage was in deep meditation and he did not respond to him. The king annoyed and he tried to wake him from meditation by picking a dead snake and put it round the sage’s neck. The sage’s student sawed this from far and he could not bear this. He cursed Parikshit that he is going to die by snakebite within seven days. Thus Parikshit brought his death himself.

Janamejaya inquired Astika, why Takshaka bite his father. Astika said the reason with another tale. Arjuna the grandfather of Parikshit destroyed a forest called Khandava-prastha by setting up fire inorder to find land for constructing the city of Indra-prastha. The forest set by fire was the abode of several Nagas. It made the Nagas homeless and they orphaned. Takshaka was one among the victim. Takshaka pledged to take revenge against Arjuna. But the fate let Takshaka to kill one of his descendants. But the king Janamejaya is continuing the history of Arjuna by burning Nagas. This will create more orphans of Nagas. Janamejaya will suffer the consequences and blood will flow and widows will weep as their ancestors suffered from Kurukshetra war.

Astika’s statements boomed across the sacrificial hall. Everybody in the hall become silent. Astika continued by saying that Takshaka killed Parikshit for justice. As revenge, his son Janamejaya kills the Nagas for justice. The orphans of these Nagas will crave for justice and they do the same tomorrow. Eveybody in this world believes that they are right and their opponents are wrong. The King then ordered to suspend the chant for some time.At that time Takshaka is suspended just over the sacrificial fire.

Janamejaya then inquired Astika with a little hesitation; Did Pandavas fight the Kauravas for justice? Astika answered that Pandavas not fight for justice but for dharma. The word dharma has not relation with justice. Dharma is all about empathy and wisdom. It doesn’t have a meaning of defeating others and it is about conquering us. Everybody wins in dharma. Even the Kauravas were sent to paradise after their death in war. The King surprised. Astika explained that the Kauravas, baddies as believed by the king and their ancestors were gone to Swarga and the Pandavas were gone to Naraka. Astika continued that the king Janamejaya had not yet known the meaning of dharma, that revealed by God to Arjun. The curious king wanted to know more about this dharma and also about this God. Astika cleared his doubt that God is Lord Krishna and also said to bring Sage Vaisampayana (a student of Vyasa) and ask him to narrate the tale composed by Vyasa, and written by Ganesha. It is the tale of Janamejaya’s forefathers and all the kings who ruled the land before Janamejaya.

Messengers fetched Vaisampayana to the sacrificial hall. When Vaisampayana arrived, he looked the atmosphere of hall. At that time serpents were suspended above a sacrificial fire, hundreds of priests are present there and the king is curious to hear the tale of his ancestors. The King presented a deer skin for sitting along with a pot of water and a case of fruits to Vaisampayana. Vaisampayana became happy towards the king’s hospitality and he slowly began to tell the tale from Jaya (later it is called as Mahabharata). Astika whispered King to listen the tale carefully to know about his true inheritance. Vaisampayana finally completed the story telling. Hearing the story, everybody in the hall including sages and saints requested king to stop the sacrifice. After, hearing the story, king's mind also pressed him to stop the sacrifice. He then asked Astika to ask his desire for teaching him the meaning of Dharma. Astika asked his desire is to release the remaining serpents including Takshaka who suspended above the fire. King then stopped the sacrifice on hearing this; Takshaka had a sigh of relief. He then returned to Nagaloka. Astika thus finally fulfilled his mother and uncle Vasuki's desire. It was due to bitch’s curse, the sacrifice is interrupted.

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