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The man from the egg, p.7
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       The Man from the Egg, p.7

           Sudha Murty
 
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  This was the last straw. The Kumars’ patience ran out and they cursed the two guards. ‘You have let your roles as Vishnu’s guards go to your heads. It is your arrogance that makes you treat us this way. May you be born on earth as mortals and live far away from Vishnu.’

  Suddenly, the door opened and Vishnu came out, having heard the commotion. He recognized the Kumars the moment he saw them and also understood what had passed.

  ‘Why did you stop them from entering my abode?’ he questioned his guards. ‘It is a great honour that these special sages have come to visit me.’

  Jaya and Vijaya realized their mistake—they fell at the Kumars’ feet. ‘Please forgive us,’ they begged. ‘Save us from your curse.’

  ‘Once a curse has been uttered, it cannot be taken back,’ said the Kumars. Then they paused and continued, ‘But we can give you two choices—you can either be born as friends of the lord and complete seven lives on earth, or you can be born as his enemies for three lifetimes and die at his hands.’

  Jaya and Vijaya looked at each other and immediately knew what their decision would be. ‘We can’t stay away from the lord for seven lifetimes. If we are born as his sworn enemies, then we will recall him every moment of every day. We choose to be born as his enemies for three lifetimes,’ they said and bowed.

  Vishnu smiled. ‘Arrogance has its penalty. I hope you have understood that. Your punishment begins now.’

  Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu

  Jaya and Vijaya were born as Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu, the sons of the sage Kashyapa. The two brothers were powerful asuras and the rulers of their land. They were known for their bravado and cruelty. They loathed Vishnu with an unbridled passion and were possessed by a fierce desire to destroy him. As a result, they would often torment Vishnu’s devotees.

  Unable to take it any more, the people of the land flocked to Vishnu. ‘O lord! You teach us to be kind and pious and helpful to others, but the asuras don’t follow your ways at all. They torment us every chance they get and we live in constant fear of them. We need your help.’

  Vishnu smiled and said, ‘Do not worry. I will take care of this.’

  True to his word, the next time the yellow-eyed asura Hiranyaksha ordered his soldiers to plunder the homes in his kingdom, Vishnu took the form of a wild boar—Varaha—and came down to earth, stopping the soldiers from entering the homes.

  When Hiranyaksha heard the news, he was shocked. ‘That’s ridiculous! How can a wild boar be a match for my soldiers?’

  He sent a stronger army to defeat Varaha. While the boar was decimating Hiranyaksha’s army, the asura kidnapped Bhu Devi, in an attempt to take over the world, and imprisoned her in the ocean.

  Hearing Bhu Devi’s cries, Vishnu—still in the form of Varaha—rushed to rescue her. The duel between the well-armed Hiranyaksha and the weaponless wild boar lasted many years. It was a fierce match, but finally, the boar killed Hiranyaksha, saving Bhu Devi and consequently the earth from his dark rule.

  Thus Vishnu fulfilled his prophecy in the avatar of Varaha.

  People everywhere sighed with relief and contentment, happy to have got rid of Hiranyaksha. However, there was still Hiranyakashipu to be dealt with.

  At the time of Hiranyaksha’s death, Hiranyakashipu had been away from the kingdom. When he came back and learnt about his brother’s fate, Hiranyakashipu immediately departed for the realm of the gods and performed a severe penance to please Brahma.

  Delighted with his sincerity, Brahma revealed himself and asked Hiranyakashipu, ‘What do you desire, my beloved devotee?’

  Like almost every other asura, Hiranyakashipu replied, ‘I want to be immortal.’

  Brahma refused, as usual.

  ‘In that case,’ said Hiranyakashipu, ‘please bless me so that I cannot die at the hands of a human or an animal, in the morning or at night, inside or outside the house.’

  ‘So be it,’ said Brahma.

  Hiranyakashipu’s wife, Kayadhu, who was pregnant with their child at the time, was a kind and devout woman. She did not approve of her husband’s ways and was forever begging him not to trouble his subjects.

  One day, while Hiranyakashipu was away from the capital in his quest to conquer other kingdoms, Indra invaded the city.

  Kayadhu had no choice but to flee. On the way, she met the travelling sage Narada, who took pity on her and offered her a place to stay—his ashram—until things settled down. Kayadhu was grateful for the shelter.

  As Narada was an ardent follower of Vishnu, the ashram was filled with prayers and bhajans sung in Vishnu’s praise. The child in Kayadhu’s womb could hear all this as well as all the stories of Vishnu’s glory. By the time the child was born, he was already devoted to Vishnu. Sage Narada fondly named the newborn Prahlada.

  Meanwhile, Hiranyakashipu had seized many kingdoms and come back victorious to his capital, only to find out that Indra had destroyed his palace and that his wife now resided in Narada’s ashram. He rushed to the ashram to see his wife and son and, after thanking the sage profusely, brought his family back to the capital.

  Hiranyakashipu was furious at the gods, and his vendetta against Vishnu in particular grew more intense. He thought, ‘Indra had the gall to ruin my home and capital in my absence only because of Vishnu’s support. Vishnu is my enemy and from this day on, I will not allow anyone to say his name in my kingdom.’

  Years passed and Prahlada grew into a happy and cheerful child. Still a Vishnu devotee, he would keep chanting, ‘Vishnu is the best supreme being.’

  When he went to his gurukul, his teacher tried his best to dissuade him from chanting that, following Hiranyakashipu’s instructions, but Prahlada smiled and said simply, ‘That is not the truth.’ No matter what anyone said, he just repeated what he had learnt when he was in his mother’s womb back at Narada’s ashram.

  Once, when he was visiting his parents, his father took the boy in his arms and asked him affectionately, ‘My child, you must have studied many things in your gurukul. Tell me, what have you learnt?’

  ‘Dear father, Vishnu is the greatest force that exists. He is kind and forgiving, and we should be the same. If you have faith in him, the journey of life will become much easier.’

  Shaken by what he had just heard, Hiranyakashipu threw Prahlada to the ground. Kayadhu came running to find out what was happening and was alarmed to see her husband’s face red with anger.

  Prahlada, however, was not perturbed. He just picked himself up, folded his hands and began chanting, ‘Om Narayana.’

  Hiranyakashipu summoned his son’s gurus and questioned them, ‘What have you been teaching my young son? One of you is responsible for putting these thoughts into his head! How dare you teach my child to chant the name of my sworn enemy? Tell me, who is the culprit? He will be punished severely!’

  ‘No, sir,’ replied the scared teachers. ‘We haven’t taught him anything about Vishnu. In fact, he is the one who teaches us. The truth is that he is a good boy and we have never seen him throw a tantrum or take advantage of his princely status. He studies all subjects equally diligently and we have no complaints except one—he refuses to listen to us when it comes to Vishnu. Otherwise, he is the picture of perfection.’

  Hiranyakashipu calmed down and thought for a while. Finally he decided to give Prahlada’s teachers another chance to take the boy’s mind off Vishnu.

  Time passed but nothing changed, and Hiranyakashipu soon lost his patience. ‘How can my own flesh and blood chant my enemy’s name day and night? If my subjects come to learn of this, they will lose their respect for me. I must teach Prahlada a lesson.’

  Later, when Prahlada came to see his father, Hiranyakashipu said to him, ‘I must punish you severely for your blind faith in Vishnu. I cannot spare you simply because you are my son. You are completely mistaken, Prahlada. He is not the supreme being nor will he ever come to your rescue.’

  Prahlada only said calmly, ‘Do what you will with me, Father, but I know that Vishn
u will save me.’

  ‘My soldiers will accompany you to the closest mountain range and push you down from the highest peak.’

  Hiranyakashipu was sure that Prahlada would be frightened at the mere thought of being pushed from a high mountain and thus recant his beliefs.

  Kayadhu was aghast at what was happening. She cried and pleaded with her husband. ‘Don’t be cruel. He’s just a child . . . your child!’

  Hiranyakashipu had never cared for his wife’s opinion. Still, he consoled her, saying, ‘I love my son as much as you do, but once he sees the view from the top of that mountain, he will understand that I am the one in control. He must realize that his opinions have to be a reflection of mine. Vishnu is responsible for the death of my dearest brother. Our child must understand that he was born an asura, which means that Vishnu will always be our enemy.’

  Meanwhile on the mountaintop, Prahlada remained composed and kept chanting Vishnu’s name. With no other choice but to follow the king’s orders, the soldiers pushed Prahlada from the peak to certain death. But when they reached the bottom of the mountain, the soldiers found Prahlada sitting there safely, still chanting, ‘Hari om.’

  When Hiranyakashipu heard this, he was filled with rage while Kayadhu was happy that her child had survived. But almost immediately, the relief drained out of her. ‘What punishment will the king inflict on my little boy now?’ she wondered fearfully.

  ‘It was just Prahlada’s luck that saved him. I must think of a more severe punishment,’ thought Hiranyakashipu. He then declared, ‘Prahlada should be given poison to drink in front of me. Then let’s see how his lord saves him.’

  The helpless Kayadhu cried inconsolably.

  When the time came for Prahlada to drink the poison, he turned to his mother and said, ‘Don’t worry about me, Mother. There is no reason to. The lord always helps his devotees. For all you know, the poison may turn into nectar!’

  He drank the poison cheerfully.

  To everyone’s astonishment, it was as if he had simply had a drink of water. Nothing happened, and Prahlada survived once again.

  His father, however, was not ready to give up. He devised yet another cruel punishment. ‘Throw him into a raging fire. I would rather lose a child than have an enemy like him live in the same home as me.’

  But Prahlada survived even the flames without so much as a blister.

  Hiranyakashipu did not know what to do next. He was frustrated, angry and unable to accept the fact that his child was a true devotee of his enemy.

  One day, he called Prahlada to the palace late in the evening and asked him, ‘Tell me, son, where is the lord you worship so much? Call out to him. I want to see him.’

  ‘My dear father,’ said Prahlada with a smile, ‘he is everywhere. There’s no place that can be without him.’

  ‘Is that so?’ mocked Hiranyakashipu.

  ‘Yes, Father, it is.’

  ‘Is he in this door then? Or what about this window, this wall or that chair?’ his father taunted.

  ‘Yes, Father, he’s in all the places you mentioned.’

  ‘If that is true, then he must be in this pillar too. Tell him to come out and show me his face,’ thundered Hiranyakashipu.

  Suddenly, there was a deafening blast and the pillar burst wide open. A creature with the face of a lion and the body of a human emerged from it. It was the god Narasimha, another one of Vishnu’s avatars.

  Hiranyakashipu tried to fight the creature but he was no match for the god, of course. Narasimha grabbed the king and held him down in the doorway, so Hiranyakashipu was neither inside the house nor outside. At that time, it was neither morning nor evening—it was twilight. Narasimha had thus fulfilled all the conditions of Brahma’s boon and within minutes, he killed Hiranyakashipu.

  An intense silence fell upon the palace.

  Narasimha approached Prahlada and said with love, ‘You will be remembered as one of my greatest devotees on earth. When people think of me, they will think of you too. Against all odds, you stuck to your faith in me. You are the supreme soul. May you have all the kingdoms you deserve and rule them wisely. You will be prosperous and much loved . . . and I will always be with you.’

  Thus the first mortal births of Jaya and Vijaya in the form of enemies of the lord came to an end.

  Ravana and Kumbhakarna

  All of us are aware of the story of the great epic Ramayana, in which Ravana of Lanka kidnaps Sita, Rama’s wife. This led to the great war between Rama and Ravana. King Ravana had a brother named Kumbhakarna. He was a giant—mighty and powerful—who slept continuously for six months in a year. When the war began, Ravana forced him to wake up from his slumber and asked him for his help to slay Rama. Kumbhakarna advised him against it. King Ravana, however, refused to listen to him and insisted that Kumbhakarna fulfil his brotherly duty. So the giant went off to the battlefield, only to be killed by Rama, an avatar of Vishnu. In the end, Ravana himself fought a fierce battle with Rama but died, as was his destiny.

  This is how the second mortal lives of Jaya and Vijaya, as Ravana and Kumbhakarna, finally ended.

  Shishupala and Dantavakra

  Damaghosh, king of Chedi, and his wife, Srutadevi, were extremely sad when their child was born.

  The newborn prince, who was named Shishupala, was very ugly—he had four hands and three eyes. Everybody stared at him with veiled disgust. His parents worried about his future; they wondered if Shishupala would be able to rule the kingdom once he reached adulthood.

  After some thought, the king invited learned people from all over the kingdom for advice on what could be done.

  Some people suggested, ‘Abandon him in the forest. He is a bad omen for the kingdom.’

  ‘Put him in a boat and let the boat sail away,’ said the others.

  ‘Why don’t you just give him away to someone who will raise him quietly?’

  But neither the king nor the queen accepted these as solutions. He was their son and they loved him, irrespective of his appearance.

  One day, an old man came to see the child. He advised Srutadevi, ‘O my queen, be strong. Your child will become normal and lose the extra hands and eye when he sits in the lap of a special person, who is yet to visit your palace.’

  Srutadevi was ecstatic.

  Then the old man averted his eyes. ‘But . . .’

  ‘What is it?’ asked Srutadevi, concerned.

  ‘This same person will also be responsible for the death of your son.’

  The queen’s eyes filled with tears. ‘What can we do? Is there any way to stop it?’ she asked.

  ‘I don’t know,’ said the old man gently. ‘You should ask the man himself when he comes here.’

  For the next few months, Srutadevi placed her child in the lap of all who visited the palace, but nothing happened and the extra hands and eye remained.

  One day, Srutadevi’s nephew, Krishna, came to visit his aunt. Srutadevi promptly placed the baby in his lap. Immediately, all the extra appendages disappeared and the child became normal. The moment was bittersweet for the queen, who now worried about her son’s death. She said, ‘My dear Krishna, you have given my son a new lease of life. But I also know that you will be the cause of his death. Please, I beg you, spare my son.’

  Krishna was moved by his aunt’s grief. ‘My dear aunt,’ he said, ‘I can’t see you cry. If I am the one destined to kill your son, then it must be a consequence of some terrible wrongdoing. I don’t know the future, but I advise you to ensure that your son follows the right path.’

  ‘I will try my best to raise my son to be a good man, but promise me that you will pardon him for any mistake that he might make.’

  ‘That will not do, beloved aunt. When someone makes a mistake the first time, you can pardon them, and the second time may only require a warning. However, if they repeat their mistake a third time, they must be punished. I can’t accept his faults endlessly. There has to be a limit.’

  ‘If that is so, please allow my so
n a hundred mistakes,’ begged Srutadevi.

  Krishna nodded and smiled.

  Shishupala grew up to be an arrogant prince who had no respect for anyone. He became friends with an evil king called Jarasandha and his cousin Dantavakra, who only led him further astray. When he reached adulthood, he wanted to marry Princess Rukmini though she did not return his feelings. Their marriage, however, was fixed anyway because of his insistence. But on the day of their wedding, she ran away and married Krishna. That was the day Shishupala began to hate his cousin with a vengeance.

  Time passed by until one day, Yudhishthira, the oldest of the Pandavas, decided to perform the Rajasuya yagna and honour Krishna. It was a big occasion for all the emperors of India, and Shishupala was one of the attendees. The moment he saw Krishna there and the ceremonies conducted in his honour, Shishupala couldn’t restrain the hate in his heart any more and began to hurl abuses at Krishna. Shocked by Shishupala’s filthy language, everybody around got up to stop him, but Krishna only smiled and said, ‘Please don’t worry. Stay calm and sit down.’

  Recalling the promise to his aunt, Krishna began counting Shishupala’s mistakes. Once the number crossed a hundred, Krishna used his Sudarshan Chakra to kill him.

  Shishupala was none other than Jaya and Krishna, yet another avatar of Vishnu. And Vijaya, who was in the form of Dantavakra, was also killed by Vishnu in a duel known as a gada-yuddha, in which the only weapon used was the mace.

  Thus Jaya and Vijaya completed their three mortal lifetimes and returned to Vaikuntha as Vishnu’s gatekeepers.

  A Friend in Need

  Ashes to Ashes

  Once, an asura who was a great devotee of Brahma performed an austere penance to please the god. When Brahma appeared, the asura bowed and said, ‘Lord, grant me the power to turn a person into ashes the moment I touch his head with my palm.’

  ‘Why?’ asked Brahma.

 
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