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The man from the egg, p.5
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       The Man from the Egg, p.5

           Sudha Murty
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Shiva held on to Kodagusu as the linga began to close. He obviously intended to take her with him.

  Kodagusu’s shocked father ran to the linga but only managed to grab a few strands of her hair before it shut completely.

  Legend has it that this is why when a person touches the shivalinga in Koluru village, they feel like they are stroking someone’s hair.

  The Story of Adi Shankara

  Kaladi is a village located to the east of River Periyar in the Ernakulum district of Kerala. In the early eighth century, a young widow named Areyamba lived there with her son, Shankara.

  Young Shankara was a keen observer of life and the events that happened around him. He was exceptionally intelligent and had taken to the idea of becoming an ascetic since he was a child. He would ask his mother every now and then, ‘Will you allow me to become a hermit?’

  Areyamba was afraid of losing her only son and vehemently disapproved of the notion.

  Shankara did not want to displease his mother, so he remained quiet. But he did not give up hope.

  One day, when he was eight years old, a crocodile grabbed his foot and bit into it savagely while he was bathing in the river. His mother screamed for help but there was no one around.

  ‘Amma!’ cried out Shankara. ‘If you give me permission to become a sage, the crocodile will let go of my foot. Don’t ask me how I know—I just do!’

  His mother sobbed, completely helpless.

  ‘Please, Amma. Say something. Will you let me follow the path my heart desires?’

  Areyamba wanted to save her son at any cost and so she nodded.

  Immediately the crocodile opened its jaws and swam away.

  Days later, as Shankara was about to depart from his mother’s home in search of truth, Areyamba extracted a promise from him. ‘No matter where you are, my son, you must come back when you hear of my death to perform my last rites,’ she said.

  Shankara soon became the disciple of Guru Govindapada. The young prodigy studied the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Brahmasutra and many more texts. He travelled all over India and spread the philosophy of Advaita,9 for which he is remembered even today. He established many mathas or monasteries, of which four are still famous. The first was Sringeri in Karnataka, where he established the Saraswati temple. The other mathas are in Kedar, Puri and Dwarka. Shankara also had many illustrious disciples, such as Sureshvara, Prithvidhara, Bodhendra and Brahmendra. He is believed to be an avatar of Shiva. Eventually, he settled down in the ancient village of Maheswati in Mithila, which is now in Bihar, where he wrote several important books that are still read today.

  Shankara was known to frequently defeat the most learned scholars in debates with his logic and the skillful expression of his extraordinary thoughts and beliefs. Once, in a debate, he was pitted against the celebrated philosopher Mandana Misra. The referee was to be Mandana Misra’s wife, Ubhaya Bharati, who was known for her impartiality. Both husband and wife were famous for their knowledge and understanding of Indian philosophy. The agreement was that if Mandana Misra lost, he would live the life of a hermit; and if Shankara lost, he would marry and live the life of a householder.

  The debate went on for days until, finally, Shankara won. The win was especially hard for Ubhaya Bharati as it affected her life as well. However, she remained objective and pronounced the verdict in Shankara’s favour.

  Following the decision, Mandana Misra took on the name of Sureshvara and became Shankara’s follower. He was supposedly one of the first acharyas of the matha in Sringeri.

  At the age of thirty-two, though, Shankara suddenly disappeared from Kedarnath, never to be heard of again. However, his legacy remains intact even today, and he is still considered to be one of the brightest minds in Indian history.

  The King of Kerala

  A long time ago, there lived a pious king in Kerala, who was a great devotee of the goddess Bhagavati. He ruled his kingdom justly, and his subjects adored him. He would frequently disguise himself as a common man and wander around to observe and talk to people about the true state of the kingdom.

  One day, while returning to the palace after one of his visits, he passed Bhagavati’s temple. It was the middle of the night and the premises were deserted. There, he saw a well-dressed lady with long hair sitting in the temple veranda, crying. Seeing how late it was, he was surprised to find her alone.

  He approached her. ‘Mother, I see that you are crying. Please tell me what is bothering you. Perhaps I can help.’

  Wiping her tears, the lady said, ‘Oh my dear child, I am truly in distress for I have to leave this place forever.’


  ‘I am the Rajalakshmi of this kingdom. I bring prosperity and peace, along with wealth. But my time here is over and I must leave.’

  ‘But what has changed? Why must you leave?’ asked the king.

  ‘Life is filled with ups and downs, and this kingdom’s downfall begins tomorrow. I don’t want to leave, but I must.’

  ‘Is there anything I can do?’ the king asked, still not revealing his identity. He was rather concerned by the lady’s mysterious words.

  ‘Only the people of this land can help—they must somehow make me stay here.’

  The king was quiet for a minute. ‘All right, let me think about this. In the meantime, I want to go inside the temple and pray to the goddess to show us the way. But first, I must have a bath. Kind lady, will you please do me a favour and hold my clothes for me until I come back from the stepwell?’

  The lady nodded. ‘Come back quickly. Dawn is near and I don’t have much time left,’ she said sadly.

  ‘Will you promise to wait till I return?’

  ‘I promise, and I always keep my word. Just come back as soon as you can,’ she replied.

  The king went to the stepwell on the temple grounds. He turned back to look at the lady holding his clothes and prayed to the goddess, ‘O devi, it doesn’t matter if I lose my life, but I can’t let you leave this kingdom and watch my subjects fall into despair. My people must always be prosperous, and it is my duty to see that they never suffer.’

  Then the selfless king entered the stepwell and drowned himself in the water.

  The lady waited and waited. When it was morning, she realized that he would never come back. Since she had given her word that she would wait for him, she quietly went back inside the temple.

  And that is how the king took care of his subjects and the goddess of wealth remained in the state of Kerala.

  The Bones of Dadhichi

  Dadhichi was a pious and kind sage, and an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. He was the author of the famous Narayana Kavacham stotra.

  Whenever the devas lost to the asuras in battle, they would leave their weapons with Dadhichi, who stood guard over them.

  Once, the devas did not come for their arms for a long, long time because there was no war. Decades went by, and Dadhichi got bored of taking care of the munitions. He knew a special mantra called Madhuvidya, by which he used to transform the weapons into liquid. He would then immerse that in water and drink the solution. That way he was free to travel around and carry the arms with him.

  Meanwhile, a mighty asura named Vritrasura had obtained a rather dangerous boon from Lord Brahma. No weapon made of either wood or metal could kill him. His immunity to weapons made him even more powerful and, as a result, Vritrasura became arrogant and malevolent.

  One day, he stole all the water in the world. Men, women and children began to die of thirst everywhere. Their desperate prayers and cries for help eventually reached Indra, the king of the devas, who immediately went to Sage Dadhichi to reclaim the divine weapons.

  Since the weapons were nowhere in sight, Indra shouted at Dadhichi, ‘What have you done with all our arms? Did you lose them? How could you be so irresponsible?’

  Dadhichi listened patiently as Indra raged about Vritrasura and the boon that had made him unbeatable.

  Finally he smiled and said, ‘I have all the weapons you need. I used my
powers to dissolve the weapons in water, which I drank. But don’t worry. I will leave my body—the devas can use my bones to create weapons made of neither wood nor metal. Your victory is certain.’

  Ashamed of his outburst, Indra hastily apologized to Dadhichi, while wondering if there was a way to save the sage somehow.

  ‘This body is not permanent, my lord,’ the sage said.

  ‘I have to die some day. You must let me do it now, when I can be of assistance to the gods.’

  Indra nodded sadly.

  Dadhichi then left his physical form through his yogic powers as well as blessings from the lord. Indra created a weapon named Vajrayudha from the sage’s spine and other arms from the remaining bones. The weapon Vajrayudha was as hard as a diamond, and Indra used it to defeat Vritrasura.

  Finally, water was restored to the earth, thanks to Dadhichi’s noble sacrifice, and the people celebrated with much joy and relief.

  The Churning of the Ocean

  One day, the short-tempered sage Durvasa happened to meet a celestial nymph named Sumati, who was carrying a lotus garland giving off a heady fragrance. Enchanted by the smell, Durvasa immediately wanted it for himself. So he asked Sumati, ‘Please may I have that garland?’

  Sumati did not want to part with it, but she was afraid of the sage’s unpredictable temper and gave it to him reluctantly.

  Durvasa enjoyed the fragrance of the garland for a while and then decided that he would offer it to Indra. Indra was proud of his handsome looks, his station and his gorgeous wife, Shachi.

  However, to Durvasa’s disappointment, Indra didn’t seem to care for the gift at all. He just accepted it and immediately placed it on the trunk of his favourite elephant. The elephant, unable to stand the strong aroma for too long, threw the garland to the ground and stomped on it.

  Predictably, Durvasa lost his temper and cursed Indra. ‘The power that comes with being the king of the gods has obviously gone to your head. You have lost the ability to graciously receive a gift. I curse you as well as your subjects because they have failed to stand up to you and inform you of your shortcomings. You will all soon lose your strength and become a weak reflection of your old selves.’

  The curse came to fruition and the devas began losing all their battles against the asuras. At the time, the king of asuras was Bali, grandson of the famous Prahlada, and he had control over almost the entire earth.

  Overcome by despair, the devas approached Vishnu.

  ‘You need to learn some diplomacy,’ he said with a mysterious smile. Then he added, ‘There is a pot of nectar at the bottom of the ocean. Churn the ocean, and the pot is yours. One sip is enough to make you immortal. Be warned that Bali is also aware of its existence, and the ocean can only be churned with the combined strength of the devas and the asuras. Now it is up to you to accomplish this, and I will, of course, be there to guide you.’

  Happy that there was a solution in sight, Indra approached Bali and somehow convinced both sides to join forces for this one task.

  Using Mount Mandara as a churning rod and Vasuki, the king of serpents, as the rope, the churning began. The asuras chose the end with Vasuki’s head, which they assumed was stronger, while the devas decided to follow Vishnu’s advice and stay towards the serpent’s tail. Vishnu knew that Vasuki’s mouth would emit poisonous fumes during the process of churning and did not want the gods to inhale those fumes. He also knew that the asuras would be able to withstand the poison.

  After some time, the rod began to sink. Vishnu immediately took the form of a turtle and balanced Mount Mandara on his back. And so the ocean continued to be stirred.

  The churning released many unexpected and magical things.

  The first was Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. She emerged from a lotus, bejewelled and wearing a red sari. When she saw the handsome Vishnu in his true form, she accepted him as her husband and became his eternal consort.

  Next was the Kaustubha, the most valuable jewel in the world, which Vishnu claimed.

  The Kaustubha was followed by the fragrant divine flowering tree, Parijat, that Indra was happy to plant in his royal garden.

  The asuras, however, ignored all these things and focused only on getting the nectar.

  But there was more to come.

  The moon god Chandra emerged and adorned Shiva’s head.

  Chandra was quickly followed by the deadly poison Halahala. At this, the asuras and devas panicked. If even one drop of the poison fell on earth, it would ignite and burst into flames, destroying everyone. When nobody offered to take the responsibility of handling the Halahala, Shiva decided to take matters into his own hands. He drank the venom before Parvati could stop him. The goddess frantically grasped his neck to avoid the poison from going further down his body. As a result, Shiva’s neck turned blue and has remained so ever since. This is how he earned the name Neelkanth, or ‘the lord with the blue throat’, and Najunda, or ‘the lord who has consumed poison’.

  Then came the Ashwini Kumars, the divine physicians. As the devas wanted them, the twins went to Devaloka.

  Next was Kamadhenu, the divine cow that could fulfil all the desires of her owner. Vishnu granted her to the sages who performed penance for him.

  She was followed by a stunning white elephant with five trunks, named Airavata, who became Indra’s primary vehicle. And he was followed by the seven-headed horse called Uchaishravas. Then the apsaras, the ethereal dancing maidens, emerged, whom Indra wanted in his court.

  At last, the moment everyone had been waiting for arrived—the pot of immortality in the form of sweet nectar surged out of the ocean of milk.

  Vishnu knew that the asuras would not give up the pot and that if they drank it, it would unleash hell on earth. So he took the form of a striking maiden named Mohini and began to distract the asuras.

  ‘Oh, you poor asuras!’ said Mohini. ‘All of you have suffered from Vasuki’s toxic fumes. Why don’t you have a bath and wash yourselves? I will serve you this precious nectar myself then.’

  The asuras, hypnotized by Mohini’s words and beauty, did as she said and scurried away to the nearest river.

  Seizing the opportunity, Mohini started ladling out the nectar to the devas.

  What Vishnu didn’t know was that there were two asuras, Rahu and Ketu, who had been wary of Mohini’s charm and had not left the place. They sat amidst the devas silently and in disguise, waiting for the nectar. It was only after Vishnu had given them the nectar that he realized who they were. Without waiting for a single moment, he beheaded them with his divine discus. But because their mouths were already filled with nectar, they survived.

  Meanwhile, Vishnu asked his vehicle, Garuda, to transport the remaining nectar to Devaloka.

  When the asuras came back after their bath to drink the nectar, there was no sight of Mohini, the devas or the nectar. Disappointed and enraged, Bali vowed to take revenge when the time was right.

  Legend has it that the birth of Vishnu’s turtle avatar (called Kurma) took place at Sri Kurma Temple near Srikakulam, in Andhra Pradesh.

  The Kaustubha jewel can be seen today at Venkateshwara Temple in Tirupati, where the jewel is located on the deity’s shoulder.

  Rahu and Ketu are worshipped as planets today.

  When Garuda was carrying the nectar to Devaloka, a few drops fell to the earth and today that place is home to Garuda’s temple, named Vainateya, located in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

  It is believed that a drop each from the pot (or kumbh) containing nectar fell in four spots: in present-day Haridwar, which is on the banks of River Ganga; in Prayag Raj (present-day Allahabad), which is at the confluence of the rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati; in Nasik, on the banks of River Godavari; and in Ujjain, on the banks of River Kshipra. At each of these four places, the Kumbh Mela is celebrated once in twelve years, and legend goes that whoever takes a dip in the river at this time will be absolved of their sins.

  The story about the churning of the ocean remains popular wit
h artists all over India and is frequently depicted in various forms and styles. Carvings of this can be seen along the walls of the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia, while a statue of Vishnu in the form of Mohini can be found at Shri Mahalasa Temple of Goa.

  The Ten Avatars

  Mother Earth, who was also known as Bhu Devi, once came to Vaikuntha seeking Vishnu. She seemed to be greatly upset about something and was in tears.

  Vishnu tried to console her. ‘Bhu Devi, why are you so unhappy? You are the one responsible for the survival of all animals, plants and the human race. You have endless patience and kindness in your heart. People walk all over you, but still you smile and give them food, shelter and clothing. You are such a great mother. It pains me to see you like this. Tell me, what is troubling you so much?’

  ‘My lord,’ sobbed Bhu Devi. ‘My burden has multiplied—there are far more evil people in the world than the good ones. These people are constantly lying, cheating, killing animals or harassing everybody around, including women and children. Their greed has no end. To make things worse, sometimes they even get boons from Brahma or Shiva. If this anarchy continues, a day will come when I won’t be able to bear it any more and the world will end. Will you help me?’

  Vishnu smiled. ‘Yes, Bhu Devi. I understand what you are saying, but I promise you, whenever the bad outweighs the good, I will come to earth in an avatar and protect all that is good in the world.’

  ‘How many avatars will there be, my lord?’

  ‘Ten,’ said Vishnu. ‘They will be called the dashavatars. I will always be born as a mortal and die as one too, and my consort, Lakshmi, will be born as my wife on some of these visits. I will kill great asuras and fight many wars in these forms.’

  ‘What kind of avatars will they be?’

  ‘The first will be the Matsya avatar, in which I will be born as a fish and protect the earth at the time of the jalapralaya, when the earth will be struck by a great flood. The second will be the turtle Kurma and I will play my role during the churning of the ocean. Third, I will come as the wild boar Varaha to slay the great asura Hiranyaksha and protect the earth. In the fourth avatar, I will come as the half-lion and half-man Narasimha to kill Hiranyakashipu. Then I will appear as the learned dwarf Vamana in my fifth avatar and defeat the mighty Bali.’

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