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The man from the egg, p.8
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       The Man from the Egg, p.8

           Sudha Murty
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‘With such a boon, I can conquer the world without an army,’ replied the asura.

  Brahma smiled and blessed him. ‘So be it. From this day on, you will be known as Bhasmasura.’

  The moment Bhasmasura acquired the power he had asked for he decided that he wanted to defeat the Trinity so no one could stand in his way.

  A wicked plan hatched in his mind, and he resolved to implement it soon. He wanted to keep his palm on Brahma’s head and destroy him. Even as the plan took shape in Bhasmasura’s mind, Brahma realized the asura’s malicious intent through his divine powers. Lord Brahma was shocked! He had never imagined that his boon would be used against him. Brahma had no choice but to flee as fast and as far as he could—with Bhasmasura right behind him.

  The chase lasted for months. While on the run, Brahma finally called out to Vishnu, ‘Help me! You must protect me or the balance of the whole world will be in danger!’

  ‘If that’s the case, you should think twice before granting such boons,’ replied Vishnu.

  ‘But I am bound by the affection of my devotees and compelled to give them what they desire. After all, I am their father and creator. But I also know that you are always there to help me,’ said Brahma.

  ‘Hmm,’ said Vishnu non-committally.

  Bhasmasura, who had been in hot pursuit of Brahma and was about to exit the earthly realm, came to a sudden halt. He had just spotted an exquisite woman strolling in a garden nearby. Forgetting all about Brahma, Bhasmasura inched towards the maiden. The closer he got, the more enchanted he became. He hadn’t seen such a beauty in his life! Even the apsaras Menaka and Rambha couldn’t hold a candle to her.

  The maiden smiled politely when she found the asura standing right in front of her.

  ‘O enchanting lady, you must be the most beautiful woman in the world,’ he said. ‘I am Bhasmasura and I have the power to reduce anyone to a heap of ashes. Everyone, including Brahma, is afraid of me. I wish to marry you.’

  The maiden’s smile widened.

  Bhasmasura continued, ‘You are fortunate to have found someone like me. If you agree to be my queen, you will find the whole world waiting on you. I can make any deva or king listen to you and fulfil all your desires. But first, tell me, what is your name?’

  The maiden bowed. ‘My lord, my name is Mohini. I am indeed fortunate to have a suitor like you. But there is something you must know about me. I . . . happen to be an extraordinary dancer and—’

  ‘What is it, my dear Mohini? What is the problem?’ Bhasmasura interrupted impatiently.

  ‘I have taken a vow that whomever I marry must also be a good dancer. I don’t have any other condition. I will not dare to demand anything else from you.’

  Bhasmasura felt awkward and a little helpless. ‘I don’t know how to dance, Mohini,’ he admitted. ‘But I can make other people dance to your tunes.’

  ‘O Bhasmasura, it is nothing! A person like you can learn to dance quickly and easily. If you like, I can be your guru. Will you at least allow me to teach you for a few minutes? I am confident you will be an expert in no time. It will make me very happy if you agree to do this for me.’

  Bhasmasura looked at Mohini. Her bright brown eyes twinkled at him, and Bhasmasura was immediately convinced that she was telling the truth about her vow. He thought, ‘If I dance a little with her, she will most likely agree to marry me. With her beauty and my might, we will make the most perfect couple in the world and rule over everyone!’

  He nodded.

  Without further ado, Mohini began the lesson. ‘Turn your foot to the left and take a step forward like this,’ she said.

  Bhasmasura tried to mirror her moves.

  ‘Now come this way and take two steps to the right.’

  After a few minutes, she exclaimed with happiness, ‘You are such an excellent student. I’m afraid you will become an even better dancer than me!’

  Bhasmasura was overjoyed and continued to follow her movements.

  Then Mohini suggested, ‘Let me teach you a few hand movements and postures now.’

  ‘Of course,’ agreed Bhasmasura.

  ‘Stretch out your left hand and hold it this way,’ she said, showing him the stance.

  Her instructions now became more demanding and came quickly, one after the other.

  ‘Extend your right hand.

  ‘Rotate the left wrist.

  ‘Now do the same with the other hand.

  ‘Now spread your left hand outwards and extend your right leg until it looks like this.’ She demonstrated promptly as she moved on to the next instruction. ‘Now do the same action with the opposite hand and leg.’

  Bhasmasura tried to copy her as best as he could, but he was a terrible dancer. There was nothing graceful about him.

  And yet, Mohini looked at him in awe. ‘Oh my God! You are dancing like a bird. You are agile and your swiftness is unmatched. Now let’s try something a little more complicated.’

  Bhasmasura beamed.

  ‘Take your right hand and put it on your waist. Put your left hand on your waist as well,’ Mohini said.

  Bhasmasura followed her instructions meekly.

  ‘Now put your right hand on your shoulder, and then your left hand too. Look at me and repeat,’ she said, smiling at her student.

  ‘Swing your left hand back and forth, and place the right hand on your head. And go around in a circle like this,’ said Mohini, demonstrating.

  Bhasmasura was so busy looking at her and appreciating her expertise that he swung his left hand and placed the right one on his head blindly, without realizing what was going to happen. Within seconds, he was reduced to a heap of ashes.

  And Mohini instantly transformed into Vishnu!

  Many paintings and statues depict this incident, which is popularly known as Mohini Bhasmasura. The most captivating of them can be viewed in the temple of Belur in Karnataka, where Mohini is portrayed as dancing with her right hand on her head.

  The Elephant and the Crocodile

  There once lived a king named Indradyumna, who was a devotee of Vishnu.

  One day, the great sage Agastya came to visit Indradyumna on a hot summer’s day. At the palace, the king did not bother to attend to Agastya or offer him something to drink. The sage was tired, thirsty and hungry, and so he was reasonably upset by the king’s disrespectful behaviour.

  The enraged Agastya cursed the king. ‘May you be born as an elephant in your next life and search desperately for water to quench your thirst.’

  The king realized his folly and begged for forgiveness. ‘I am really sorry for my behaviour. Please take back the curse!’

  The sage said, ‘I cannot do that, but I grant that you will return to your true form when the lord comes for you.’

  In another part of the world, a handsome gandharva was bathing in a river with his wife, when the sage Devala passed by. The gandharva threw some water at him playfully and asked him to join them. Devala, however, was livid at the gandharva’s immaturity and cursed him. ‘May you be born as a crocodile in your next birth,’ shouted the sage.

  Thus, the poor gandharva was reborn as a crocodile.

  Meanwhile, Agastya’s curse also came to pass and Indradyumna was reborn as an elephant. He eventually became the king of elephants and was called Gajendra.

  One day, Gajendra was in his favourite lake with his herd, when suddenly something caught hold of one of his feet under the water. It turned out to be a monstrous crocodile! Gajendra was aware of his own strength and was sure that no animal could continue to hold him for long. But to his surprise, no amount of struggle could loosen his foot from the jaws of the crocodile. He called out to his relatives and friends for help, but even they couldn’t get him free. After hours and days, they all left, leaving Gajendra alone in the lake with the crocodile.

  All of a sudden, he had a vision of his past life as Indradyumna and the memories came flooding back. Gajendra started praying to Vishnu. ‘There is no one in the universe but you whom I can call upon.
Please help me, O lord! I used to think that I was very powerful and strong, but now I realize that nothing is in my hands. I know that you help your devotees when they are in distress, so I will pray and wait for you, no matter how long it takes.’

  Finally, Vishnu appeared and launched his Sudarshan Chakra at the crocodile. The creature was killed and, in its place, the gandharva who had been cursed appeared, back in his true form. Gajendra also transformed back to Indradyumna.

  This incident is frequently referred to as Gajendra Moksha and is said to have occurred on top of the Tirumala Hills in Tirupati.

  The Man from the Egg

  The sage Kashyapa is considered to be one of the seven holy rishis and the father of all living species. One day, Sage Kashyapa said to his wives Kadru and Vinata, ‘I would like to give you each a boon. Tell me, what do you want the most?’

  Kadru smiled and said, ‘Bless me with a thousand sons.’

  The sage nodded and then turned to Vinata.

  ‘Dear husband, I want two sons who will be stronger than all the sons of Kadru,’ said Vinata.

  ‘So be it,’ said Kashyapa, blessing both the women.

  In time, Kadru and Vinata both laid eggs. Kadru’s children hatched first, and that is how the first nagas, or the serpent tribe, came to be. The oldest of them was Adisesha, who forms the bed that Vishnu lies on, and he was followed by Vasuki, who would later become the king of snakes.

  Vinata waited and waited, but her eggs showed no sign of hatching.

  One day, when the two women were out for a stroll on the seashore, Vinata spotted Uchaishravas, the seven-headed horse that had emerged from the churning of the ocean, flying in the sky.

  Vinata exclaimed, ‘Kadru, look at that horse! It is absolutely snow-white. How beautiful it is!’

  Kadru looked at the horse galloping away from them in the darkening skies. ‘No, Vinata,’ she said. ‘Can’t you see? His tail is black.’

  By the time they both glanced at the sky again, Uchaishravas had vanished.

  Vinata was certain that the horse was unquestionably white and said so to Kadru. Kadru was now not so sure about the tail being black, but she was too proud to admit that she may have been wrong. The two argued for some time, and in the end, they decided to bet on it and agreed to return to the seashore at the same time the next day, in the hope that Uchaishravas would return.

  The bet was simple. If the horse’s tail was black, Vinata would become Kadru’s slave and if it wasn’t, Kadru would become Vinata’s slave.

  Late that night, Kadru called her children and told them about the wager. Some of her children remarked, ‘Mother, you are wrong. Uchaishravas does not have a black tail. It is all-white. You are going to lose.’

  Kadru was worried—she did not want to become Vinata’s slave. ‘Will you not help your mother?’ she asked her children. ‘Some of you can cover Uchaishravas’s tail, and because you are serpents, you will appear black from a distance. You only have to stay there for as long as Vinata and I look at the horse. After that, you can return. I can’t afford to lose this bet!’

  ‘You can’t cheat someone like that, Mother. After all, you are the one who always tells us to be fair and truthful,’ they protested.

  But the idea of being Vinata’s slave was too humiliating. Kadru cried out in anger, ‘I will become a slave because of all of you! Well, since you don’t want to protect your own mother, I curse you with death. All of you will be destroyed in a mighty Sarpa yagna.’10

  Only one serpent, Karkotaka, agreed to help his mother.

  The next day, Vinata and Kadru went to the seashore to see Uchaishravas; and there he was, happily flying around in the sky. This time, both of them could see that the horse had a black tail.

  Not suspecting any foul play, Vinata admitted that she had lost and became Kadru’s slave.

  Kadru said, ‘Your slavery will come to an end only when your future son brings nectar from the heavens and revives my children, who will all perish one day. Until then, you must remain my slave.’

  Vinata had no choice but to agree.

  Years passed by, and Vinata’s eggs still didn’t hatch. Tired of being a slave to Kadru and overcome by frustration, Vinata decided that she couldn’t wait any longer and used her hands to gently break one of eggs. To her surprise and distress, she found a beautiful boy inside the egg with undeveloped legs.

  ‘Mother,’ he said sadly, ‘I am glad to see you, but why were you in such a hurry to break this egg? Good things take time and your impatience has cost me my legs. Now I will not be able to retrieve the nectar to free you.’

  Vinata cried out, ‘My dear child, you have suffered because of my mistake! Please forgive me. Where will you go? Who will look after you? I wish you would stay here with me.’

  ‘No, Mother, I must leave. I will become the charioteer of the sun god. I will manage his seven horses and ride from dawn to dusk. It is the best job for me, as I won’t really need to walk.’

  ‘When will I see you, my child?’ pleaded Vinata, still upset over losing her son so soon.

  ‘Every morning, Mother. I will be known as Aruna, and I will accompany the sun god every day. I implore you not to be impatient next time. If you can wait a little longer, you will be blessed with another son, who will bring you your freedom.’

  Aruna then left his mother to fulfil his destiny as Surya’s charioteer. This is why the sunrise is also known as arunodaya, or ‘the coming of Aruna’.

  After this incident, Vinata took care of the second egg as best as she could and the guilt from her past mistake restrained her from forcing it to hatch. Months and years passed.

  Finally, one day, the egg broke and a strong-winged, healthy bird-faced man emerged from it. ‘Mother, I have arrived,’ he declared. ‘Thanks to your patience, I am strong and can fly anywhere. I am the mighty Garuda. I will be the primary vehicle of Lord Vishnu and his consort, Lakshmi. I promise to free you from your slavery.’

  Without another word, he soared high up in the sky, while his mother watched him from below with pride, happy to finally see him and reassured by his promise.

  She had waited long for her freedom.

  The Forked Tongues

  Garuda was born with great might and intellect. Also known as Vainateya, the son of Vinata, Garuda knew that the only way to free his mother from slavery was to bring the nectar of immortality to Kadru. As the pot of nectar was in the possession of Indra, Garuda requested the king of the gods to give it to him.

  Indra, however, refused. He knew that the price the world had paid for the nectar was high and he could not just hand it over to Garuda.

  Garuda had no choice but to fight Indra.

  Indra used the weapon Vajrayudha to try and cut off Garuda’s wings, but the weapon only managed to snip off one of his feathers. Garuda remained unharmed and as strong as ever. Indra was simply no match for Garuda, so he ran to Vishnu with the nectar. Vishnu assured him that he would take care of the pot and sent Indra back home.

  Just as Indra left, Garuda came to Vishnu asking for the pot of nectar. When Vishnu did not agree, Garuda attacked him. Vishnu understood that the nectar meant freedom for Garuda’s mother but, for the sake of mankind, there was no way he could part with it. If the pot went to Kadru, she could give it to whomever she wanted and the long-term consequences had great potential to diminish the survival of the human race. So Vishnu fought back fiercely.

  By the end of the day, Garuda and Vishnu were both tired and there was no winner in sight.

  Vishnu appreciated Garuda’s spirit and devotion to his mother. He said, ‘Young one, though you are my opponent in this fight, it brings me joy to witness your power. I wish to give you a boon. Ask me for whatever you desire, except the nectar.’

  Happy to hear Vishnu’s words, Garuda bowed and said, ‘I am blessed indeed to have the opportunity to fight you as an equal. Though I am not a great person, allow me to give you a boon as well. Please tell me what you want.’

  Vishnu smile
d, ‘As I am older than you, I will ask for my boon first. I want you to be my devotee and my eternal vehicle. In your honour, I will also be known as Garuda Vahana.’ This way, Vishnu could always keep an eye on Garuda.

  Garuda smiled and agreed. ‘O lord, to be allowed to carry you throughout my life is truly my privilege,’ he said. ‘However, now it is my turn. I wish to always be above you.’

  ‘Of course! The flag above me that heralds my arrival will now forever have your image imprinted on it, and hence, your condition will be met. The flag will be called Garuda Dhwaja.’

  Thus, the battle ended on a happy note.

  Now that an agreement had been reached, Vishnu calmly explained the consequences of handing over the nectar to Garuda.

  ‘Lord,’ said Garuda, ‘I only want to rescue my mother from Kadru’s clutches. I beg you, please do something!’

  ‘Very well. Take this pot of nectar, hand it over to Kadru and set your mother free. However, you will not question my actions after that,’ Vishnu replied firmly.

  So Garuda offered the pot to Kadru, who said, ‘You have done your duty. I am pleased. Vinata is now free from slavery.’

  After rescuing his mother, Garuda took to the sky for his next task for Vishnu.

  Meanwhile, Vishnu had already set his plan to recover the nectar in motion.

  Indra went to Kadru in disguise. Knowing just how precious the nectar was, Kadru was clutching the pot rather tightly.

  ‘It must be wonderful to possess the gift of immortality,’ said Indra. ‘However, before you distribute this among your children, is it not one’s duty to cleanse themselves before they drink something so pure?’

  Kadru was so euphoric that she was easily convinced. ‘Let us first go have a bath,’ she said to her children, and they all went to the nearest river.

  Indra seized the opportunity to grab the pot of nectar and ran back to his abode. Unfortunately, he spilt a few drops of the liquid on a pile of hay that was lying outside Kadru’s home.

  A few of the snakes managed to finish their bath early and came looking for the nectar, but alas, the pot was no longer there! But when they noticed a few drops on the hay, they quickly licked off what they could before their brothers arrived. The hay was dry and its edges were sharp, so as the snakes licked the nectar, the edges cut their tongues, almost splitting them into two.

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