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The man from the egg, p.6
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       The Man from the Egg, p.6

           Sudha Murty
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  Bhu Devi listened carefully, as if she was memorizing every word.

  ‘The sixth one will be Parashurama, and I will punish the powerful and mighty rulers for their thoughtless actions and their horrendous mistakes,’ continued Vishnu. ‘In the seventh avatar, I will kill King Ravana in my form as Rama. The eighth avatar will be Krishna, through whom I will kill Dantavakra, assassinate the cruel kings Kansa and Shishupala and become an integral part of the Mahabharata war. My ninth will be Buddha, the peaceful sage, who will teach the importance of following the middle path between materialism and spiritualism. In my

  last and final birth, I will appear as the white horse Kalki and destroy the evil in the world.’

  Finally, Vishnu looked at Bhu Devi affectionately and said, ‘You don’t have to worry about the weight of evil in the world. Whenever you need me, I will come and reduce your burden.’

  Bhu Devi bowed her head and smiled, thankful for the assistance she would be given in the times to come.

  The Big Fish

  The first human creation of Lord Brahma was a man named Manu. We are believed to be his descendants.

  One day, when Manu was offering water to the sun god, Surya, he noticed a tiny fish in the water cupped in his palms. He took pity on the little thing, put it in his kamandalu and brought it home.

  The next morning, Manu saw the fish peeping out from the small water pot. When he went closer, he found that the fish had grown many times its original size. So he took the fish and released it in a pond nearby.

  Within a day, the fish grew to such a size that it occupied the entire pond.

  Manu was surprised at the rate at which the fish was growing, but he still wanted to save it. So he transported the fish to the closest lake.

  But even the lake wasn’t big enough for it. Soon, the fish was placed in a river and eventually, in the sea. But it wouldn’t stop growing.

  Finally, Manu asked the fish, ‘Who are you?’

  ‘I am Vishnu,’ replied the fish. ‘I have come to warn you of an impending disaster. The world is about to be submerged in water. Gather as many seeds, plants, animals, men, women, children and sacred texts as you can, and build a boat that can carry all of it. When the flood comes, tie the boat to my fins and I will take you to a safe spot. After the water recedes, you can rebuild the world. Everyone will remember you, and you will come to be known as the father of mankind, or Manukula.’

  Manu didn’t quite understand the gravity of the situation but decided to obey the god anyway.

  Just as the end of the world was about to begin, an asura named Hayagriva stole the Vedas. And then, as predicted, the flood hit the earth and within seven days, it was completely submerged.

  Once Vishnu had transported Manu and the boat to a safe haven, he went in search of Hayagriva and killed him. He rescued the Vedas, which became a guide for the new world and the future generations.

  This story appears in various mythologies and holy texts in different forms. It is similar to the story of Noah’s ark, which is said to have taken place in the region of the Caspian Sea. According to an old Indian legend, the Caspian Sea is none other than the Kashyapa Samudra of the ancient world, named after the famous sage Kashyapa.

  The Large Dwarf

  The great asura king Bali, grandson of Prahlada, was frequently referred to as Mahabali because of his greatness. Unlike a lot of his ancestors, he was good to his subjects and very generous.

  Bali’s consistently fair and just rule as well as his increasing strength worried Indra. He wondered what would happen if Bali ever decided to fight the devas and usurp his own throne. If such an event were to occur, Indra wasn’t sure if he’d be able to defeat Bali.

  As feared, as the decades passed, Bali changed, becoming proud and arrogant. Inevitably, his actions took a turn for the worse. So Vishnu decided that Bali must be taught a lesson that he would never forget.

  It was common knowledge that Bali fulfilled the desires of anyone who asked him for a gift during the performance of his yagnas. So Vishnu took the form of a young dwarf named Vamana and approached the king during one of his yagnas.

  When Bali saw the dwarf coming towards him, he stood up and offered Vamana a seat.

  Vamana said, ‘Emperor Bali, I have heard that you are a very generous man. So I have come to ask you for something.’

  ‘What is it that you want, little one?’ asked Bali. ‘If it is in my power, I will give you whatever your heart desires.’

  ‘My request is quite insignificant. But you have to promise to grant it.’

  Bali smiled. ‘I promise,’ he said.

  ‘In that case, I want three steps of land. Each step must equal the size of one of my feet,’ said Vamana humbly.

  Bali laughed and laughed. It took him several minutes to settle down from the hilarity of the idea—a request for such a small piece of land! ‘Ask for more than that, little man. You should request for something more befitting an emperor’s donation.’

  Vamana bowed. ‘I know that you are a generous man, but I know my limits. Please forgive me if this is too trivial for a man such as yourself.’

  Bali’s teacher Shukracharya, who had been observing this interaction keenly, instinctively grasped that something was out of place and that Vamana was not who he appeared to be. He called Bali and advised him, ‘O my king, please don’t accept Vamana’s condition. Something is wrong here and it makes me uneasy. I fear that this may be a scheme by the devas who are too afraid to face you directly. As your teacher and a well-wisher, I must advise you against getting entangled in this.’

  ‘Respected guru, I have already given my word to Vamana and hence I must fulfil it. In any case, what can this little man do to a mighty king like me?’ said the king.

  Saying thus, Bali turned to Vamana, who was patiently waiting behind him.

  Bali’s wife, who stood nearby, nodded to indicate that she was in agreement with her husband.

  ‘May I take the first step?’ asked Vamana.

  ‘Yes,’ replied Bali.

  As was the custom in the olden days, the gift-giver would take some water in their right palm and drop it gently on to Mother Earth. This was a sign that the giver was donating wholeheartedly with Mother Earth as his true witness. The actual gift could only be given after this ritual was completed. Thus, a jug was brought to Bali, who cupped a little water in his palm and let it trickle on to the ground.

  Vamana lifted one foot, ready to take his first step. To everyone’s amazement, he no longer remained a dwarf. He grew taller and taller until the top of his head went beyond the clouds. His feet became so huge that they occupied all of the earth.

  ‘The earth is mine,’ announced Vamana and shrunk back to his original size.

  Bali was aghast. He had lost all that he had conquered. His guru had been right. Vamana was not an ordinary dwarf, after all. A fleeting thought crossed Bali’s mind. ‘Maybe he is Vishnu?’

  ‘O Mahabali, where should I take my second step?’ asked Vamana.

  ‘The sky, sir,’ replied Bali. Again, he took water from the jug and poured some on to the earth.

  Vamana grew in size again and took possession of the sky with one stride. With that, there was nothing left for the king to give.

  Vamana diminished in size and looked at Bali. ‘What about my third footstep?’ he questioned him.

  This time, Guru Shukracharya could not restrain himself any longer. He turned himself into a mosquito and entered the water jug. Quickly, he flew to the mouth of the jug and blocked the opening with his tiny body in such a way that no water would flow from the jug even when it was tilted.

  King Bali, however, was ignorant of his guru’s activities. He bowed his head and spoke to Vamana. ‘Sir, it is clear that you are none other than Vishnu. You first appeared in the form of a boar in front of my great-granduncle, Hiranyaksha, and then visited my great-grandfather, Hiranyakashipu, and my grandfather, Prahlada, in the form of Narasimha. You assisted the churning of the ocean in the fo
rm of the turtle Kurma. Now you have blessed me with your presence as Vamana. Our family is lucky indeed that you have chosen us to be in your presence four times. May I request you to place your foot on my head as your third and final step?’

  Saying thus, Bali tried to pour the water from the jug again but Shukracharya kept blocking the flow of water.

  Clever Vamana picked up a thin stick and poked the water jug precisely where the mosquito was hiding. The stick pierced Shukracharya’s eye, and he immediately flew out of the jug writhing in pain. Instantly, a stream began flowing from the jug, and from that day onwards, Shukracharya had to live with only one eye.

  Now Vamana placed his foot on Bali’s head and pushed him to Pataal, the lower realm of the world, thus removing him from earth.

  Once the dust had settled, Vamana said to Bali, ‘I know that you are one of the finest and kindest emperors any subject can dream of, but your arrogance is responsible for what has happened to you. Still, I am struck by your large-heartedness and your commitment to keeping your word, and so I’d like to grant you a boon. Tell me, what do you want?’

  Bali smiled. ‘I don’t want anything grand, my lord. Your presence and teachings are a boon for me on their own. Great sages and devotees spend their lifetimes just to get a glimpse of you. I am indeed fortunate. However, if you really want to grant me something, then please let me visit my kingdom once a year to check on the welfare of my subjects. I need nothing more.’

  Vishnu, surprised by Bali’s simple appeal, granted him his wish. Then he said, ‘O Bali, but I would like to give you a boon too. You had graciously offered your head for me to place my foot on, knowing the potential consequences. From this day on, I will be your guard in Pataal. This will show the world that I can even be a devotee’s servant if his devotion is pure.’

  Bali bowed in happiness.

  Hence the festival of Onam is celebrated today in Kerala, as it is the day Bali comes to earth and visits his kingdom to see his people.

  This avatar of Vishnu is also known as Trivikrama because of his conquest of the three worlds with three steps. Many sculptures and paintings of this incident are found in our country, the most famous of which can be seen in cave three of the Badami Caves.

  The Axeman

  A long time ago, there lived a scholarly and quick-tempered sage named Jamadagni. He resided in a small home deep in a forest and lived a simple life.

  Princess Renuka lived a life of luxury, in a palace in the capital city of the kingdom. Renuka was both intelligent and stunning. One day, she and her friends went to a forest, where Jamadagni was staying for a trip. As was destined, Renuka met the sage in his abode. The stark lack of grandeur was apparent in the sage’s appearance and yet the sense of calm and contentment he exuded enchanted the princess. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from him. When she returned to the palace, she told her father that she desired to marry Jamadagni.

  Renuka’s father sent word to the sage, telling him about his daughter’s wish, but Jamadagni refused the proposal. He said, ‘I am a hermit and I reside on the outskirts of the forest with very few comforts. My mind is busy with questions of spiritual learning. Renuka is a beautiful princess and she is used to a life of luxuries. She will be unable to adjust to my way of life.’

  But Princess Renuka remained adamant. She went to meet the sage herself in order to convince him. ‘I am sure that I want you to be my life partner, and I am prepared to change my way of living to suit yours,’ she said.

  ‘Renuka, I don’t want you to regret your decision and long for the lost luxuries later on. That, in itself, will reflect your yearning for your earlier lifestyle, and I am afraid my temper may lead to some terrible curse that will spell your doom.

  I will not take such a risk. It is better that we don’t marry.’

  ‘I swear I will forget my past life completely and never even think of it once we are married,’ replied the princess. She was persistent, and in time, Jamadagni gave in.

  Soon, the two were wed and Renuka began to live her husband’s simple, austere way of life. Later, they had many children, the eldest of whom was Parashurama. He grew up to be an obedient son devoted to his parents. His temper, however, was inherited from his father.

  One day, when Renuka was fetching water from a river nearby, she saw a gandharva and an apsara locked in a passionate embrace. For an instant, she forgot about the vow she had taken before her marriage and envied the couple their love and the luxuries they obviously possessed.

  By the time she reached home, her husband had already realized through his spiritual powers that she had broken her vow. Losing his temper along with his common sense, he roared, ‘I warned you, Renuka! You know the punishment for this. Why, oh why, did you marry me?’

  In fury, Jamadagni ordered his children, one by one, to kill their mother, but they all refused.

  Parashurama, who had just arrived home, immediately sensed the tension in the air and asked his father, ‘What’s the matter?’

  The sage replied, ‘Will you help me, son?’

  ‘Of course! I promise I will do whatever it is you need me to do.’

  ‘You must kill your mother,’ said the sage.

  Reluctantly, Parashurama nodded and executed his father’s orders.

  After the deed was done, Jamadagni said, ‘I can only imagine how hard that was for you, my son. Ask me whatever you desire and I will give it to you.’

  ‘Bring my mother back and erase the memory of this tragedy from her mind. That is all I ask,’ replied Parashurama instantly.

  Sage Jamadagni smiled and brought Renuka back to life.

  Years later, when Jamadagni was performing penance, Kartavirya Arjuna, the ruler of the land, came to visit him in the ashram. Arjuna was known for his cruel nature.

  Despite the king’s reputation, the sage took care of him and his retinue in the grand fashion that the king was accustomed to.

  Arjuna was surprised to see such prosperity in a sage’s home. ‘Tell me, how can you afford to treat my men so grandly?’

  ‘The truth is, I have been blessed with a wonderful cow, Nandini, the daughter of the divine Kamadhenu. She gives us whatever we need, but we don’t use her for our needs every day. As a hermit, my disciples and family lead a simple life. We don’t have property, we don’t store anything or buy anything that is not absolutely essential. However, when guests like you come to my home, I request Nandini to fulfil their desires. If there is anything you admire in my humble home, it is not mine but rather Nandini’s gift to you.’

  ‘That is simply wonderful, dear Jamadagni,’ said the king, while in his heart, he was consumed by envy. ‘I must own this cow,’ he thought. ‘She will be helpful to our army in times of war.’

  Arjuna turned to the sage and asked, ‘Will you give Nandini to me? In return, I will always give you whatever you want.’

  Jamadagni shook his head. ‘Nandini is not to be used for material gains, my king. She is meant to live in a sage’s abode.’

  The king returned to his palace unhappy. Once he was home, he told his family about the magical cow. His commander and children decided that they must possess the cow, no matter the cost.

  The king’s soldiers stormed the ashram and took the cow by force. When Jamadagni tried to stop them, the soldiers killed him.

  Parashurama, who had been away from the ashram that day, came back to find his mother beside herself and his brothers in deep sorrow. When he learnt what had happened, he vowed to avenge his father with his powerful axe, by defeating Kartavirya Arjuna as well as all the arrogant and ruthless kings he could lay his hands on.

  From that day onwards, he was called Parashurama, from the word parasu, which means axe. He conquered the world sixteen times and gave away the land and treasures to ascetics.

  Himself an avatar of Vishnu, Parashurama meets another avatar—Rama—during Sita’s swayamvara. The challenge of the swayamvara was to lift and string the bow Shivadhanush. When Rama broke the bow in half, Parashurama
realized that his time as an avatar had ended and he went to meditate in the mountains of Mahendra.

  The White Horseman

  Kalki is supposed to be the last avatar of Lord Vishnu. When the evil in the world outweighs the good, Vishnu will come charging on a white horse with a blazing sword. He will remove the darkness of the era and begin a new one. This avatar is yet to come.

  Three Mortal Lifetimes

  Vishnu’s abode in Vaikuntha was guarded by two demigods named Jaya and Vijaya. The guards were devoted to their lord and proud of their job because they could see the lord every day and almost any time they wanted.

  Now, Brahma had created a group of special beings called the Sanath Kumars. The Kumars were very learned and pure of heart, and even though they were extremely powerful and mature, they were somehow small in size and looked like young children.

  One day, four Kumars came knocking on Vishnu’s door.

  Jaya and Vijaya immediately accosted them at the entrance, thinking that they were just pesky children. ‘You can’t come in at this time,’ they said. ‘The lord is resting.’

  The Kumars were surprised by this behaviour, but they said patiently, ‘We are great followers of the lord. We love him and we know that he doesn’t mind his devotees visiting him at any time. Please inform him that we are here.’

  ‘I’m sorry, but we haven’t received any instructions to let you through,’ said Jaya and Vijaya firmly.

  The discussion soon escalated into a heated argument.

  Finally, Jaya and Vijaya barked in frustration, ‘You are only children! Who are you to tell us what to do?’

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