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The man from the egg, p.9
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       The Man from the Egg, p.9

           Sudha Murty
 
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  These are the only snakes that exist in the world today, and now you know why they have forked tongues!

  The Honest Cheater

  One day, Indra went to visit Shiva on Mount Kailash. But instead of Shiva, he found an unfamiliar person there, deep in meditation. ‘That must be one of Shiva’s ganas,’ he thought. He said aloud, ‘I want to meet your master. Where is he?’

  The man did not reply.

  Indra tried again and again, but there was no response. ‘I am the king of the gods,’ thought Indra, feeling insulted. ‘How dare he ignore me?’ He picked up the Vajrayudha and threw it at the man.

  Finally, the man opened his eyes and, annoyed by the disturbance, shot a fiery arrow at Indra, while transforming into Shiva. That’s when Indra realized that Shiva had simply been meditating in an altered form. Scared for his life, Indra begged him for forgiveness.

  Shiva calmed down just in time to redirect the arrow towards the ocean. The arrow fell into the deep waters and manifested itself as a crying baby boy. The king of the ocean heard the wailing and decided to adopt the newborn. He asked Brahma to suggest a name for the child.

  ‘Call him Jalandhara, the boy born out of water,’ replied Brahma. ‘He will not be destroyed by anyone other than Shiva as it was his arrow responsible for the boy’s creation—that’s my boon to him.’

  Jalandhara grew up into a fine young man, and the king of the ocean crowned him the ruler of the asuras. Jalandhara was a fair and just king, and he married a beautiful girl named Brinda.

  One day, a few old asuras visited Jalandhara and told him about the churning of the ocean and how Vishnu had cheated them out of the nectar in the guise of Mohini. Enraged by the deception, Jalandhara swore to take revenge on the gods.

  Brinda was a devotee of Vishnu; she advised her husband not to wage war on the gods, but he did not heed her words. So there was nothing else she could do but pray fervently to Vishnu for Jalandhara’s safe return.

  It was a fierce battle, and just when Indra was about to land a terrible blow on Jalandhara’s head, Vishnu’s Sudarshan Chakra came to protect him and Indra had no choice but to run away.

  Jalandhara now knew that he had two advantages. Not only was he almost unmatched in strength, but he was always protected by Vishnu because of Brinda’s prayers. Soon, Jalandhara began conquering kingdom after kingdom in all the realms.

  His victories made him so proud that, one day, he decided to fight Vishnu himself.

  Vishnu did not want to fight him because of Brinda, so he tried to handle Jalandhara in a tactful manner, ‘It’s not that I can’t fight you. However, the fact is that you are born from the ocean and thus you are like a brother to my wife, Lakshmi, who also emerged from the ocean. I do not wish to fight my wife’s brother.’

  Jalandhara was speechless. He had never thought of Vishnu as his brother-in-law! He replied, ‘May my sister and you be happy forever.’

  Now that that was settled, Jalandhara decided to go to war with Shiva. Jalandhara had forgotten who was responsible for his birth or the blessings he had received as an infant.

  Brinda tried to stop her husband. ‘Please don’t do this! You will never win against Shiva.’

  But Jalandhara, as usual, refused to listen and left for Mount Kailash.

  This time, Brinda knew that there was a chance her husband might not return, and so she again prayed to Vishnu with all her heart and soul.

  Jalandhara reached Shiva’s abode and roared, ‘Mount Kailash now belongs to me! If you surrender, I will allow you to leave and reside elsewhere.’

  Shiva thought for a bit. He was reluctant to slay Jalandhara, who was technically his son and under Vishnu’s protection. However, Shiva was also aware that Jalandhara had gone over to the dark side.

  When the news reached Vishnu, he thought to himself, ‘I can’t protect Jalandhara forever. Brinda is the epitome of all that is good, and she is the strength behind Jalandhara’s triumph and his continued well-being. The gods can only defeat him by deceiving Brinda.’

  So Vishnu disguised himself as Jalandhara and went to his palace to meet Brinda. ‘My dear wife,’ he said, ‘I have won the war. You need not pray to Vishnu any more. Instead, prepare for an extravagant celebration.’

  Brinda was ecstatic to see her husband and learn of his victory. She stopped praying and began to plan the festivities.

  Shiva realized what had taken place—Brinda had stopped her prayers. He seized the opportunity to use his trident and kill Jalandhara.

  When Brinda found out about how Vishnu had misled her, she was furious. ‘How could you trick your own devotee?’ she cried out. ‘It is heartless . . . and your heart must be made of stone. Well, may you turn into one then!’

  Vishnu smiled at her and said, ‘Brinda, there is nothing wrong with deceiving someone for the greater good, and I had no choice, for while you were good and sincere, your husband was not. He hurt many sages, scholars and his own subjects. However, I accept your curse with all my heart, my child. I will turn into a shaligrama near River Gandaki. Whenever someone wants to worship my form, they can pick up a shaligrama from the river and pray to me, and I will always hear them. Despite all that has happened, your devotion has pleased me. You will be reborn as a tulsi plant, and my worship will only be complete with tulsi leaves. In fact, you will be worshipped before me. People will revere you for your piety and keep tulsi plants in their homes, where you will bring prosperity.’

  This is why it is common to see the tulsi plant in many Indian homes.

  The Choice of Death

  Madhu and Kaitabha were two asura brothers who once prayed to Goddess Parvati in the hope of attaining immortality. But Parvati, like the other gods, denied their request. However, taking pity on them, she said, ‘I will give you one more chance to ask for something more reasonable.’

  The two brothers looked at each other. ‘In that case, we want to die at the time of our choosing,’ they said cleverly, absolutely sure that they would never wish to die.

  Parvati smiled. ‘So be it.’

  Like all other power-hungry asuras, the two brothers soon became evil and insufferable. They seized whatever they wanted and killed whoever tried to stop them.

  One day, they went to meet Brahma. The god was sitting high atop his lotus and appeared to be busy sculpting his next creation.

  The two brothers were irked to see him so high up. ‘Come down, old man!’ they said to Brahma. ‘Only people with strength and mental fortitude such as ourselves should sit so high. If you want to stay up there, fight and defeat us first. Come down now! We are ready whenever you are!’

  Brahma knew that he could not fight them and win, and so he simply ran away.

  The two brothers were happy to have humiliated the eternal creator.

  Brahma, in the meantime, kept running without looking back even once, until he reached Vishnu and related everything that had happened. ‘Lord, if these two asuras can behave so badly with me, imagine how they must be treating other beings. You must destroy them!’

  As Vishnu pondered over the situation, Madhu and Kaitabha reached Vaikuntha in search of Brahma. When they saw Vishnu, they smirked and said, ‘O great Vishnu, how can you protect another when you yourself are so weak compared to us?’

  Without waiting for an answer, the asuras looked around Vaikuntha and liked what they saw. ‘Why don’t you give your abode to us?’ they demanded. ‘We are more suitable inhabitants. Come, we will allow you to try to defeat us first.’

  ‘Then let us fight,’ agreed Vishnu placidly.

  As the sparring began, Vishnu reached out to Goddess Parvati with his mind. ‘You gave these two asuras such power, so you must be accountable for their actions. I need your help.’

  The goddess responded, ‘Don’t worry, Vishnu. I will enter the asuras’ minds and enable you to trick them.’

  After the fight had gone on for some time, the two asura warriors wanted to rest. They asked Vishnu, ‘Would you like to take a break and rest be
fore we continue?’

  ‘Of course we must rest. We must respect each other as warriors.’

  While they were resting, the two brothers looked at Vishnu with pity. ‘You have unnecessarily picked a fight with us because of Brahma. We have no enmity with you, so we are very happy to find such a worthy opponent. We would like to bless you with a boon. Tell us what you want.’

  They were quite sure that Vishnu’s wish from them would be for a truce.

  Vishnu instantly realized that this was Parvati’s doing. He knew what to do. ‘You are both honourable warriors and I am thankful for the boon that you have offered. I desire that both of you perish by my hand,’ said Vishnu.

  The deed was done and the goddess vanished from the minds of the asuras. Madhu and Kaitabha now realized their folly, but it was too late. A word of honour must be kept and, reluctantly, they agreed to die.

  Despite his victory, Vishnu regretted the result of his trickery. So he said to them, ‘You may ask me for anything except for your lives, and I will do my best to fulfil it.’

  They said, ‘O lord! After our death, we wish for a temple each to be built in our names. Since we are devotees of Goddess Parvati, we would like an eshwaralinga in each temple too.’

  Vishnu nodded, and then executed them with his Sudarshan Chakra.

  Later, Madhukeshwara Temple was built on the very spot where the asuras had perished, on the banks of River Varada, and Kaitabeshwara Temple was erected nearby, with a linga in each.

  Today, the two temples are in Karnataka and approximately twenty kilometres apart—one is in Banavasi and the other is in Kotepura.

  To Marry a Monkey or a Bear

  A long time ago, there lived a king named Ambarish, who had a beautiful daughter named Shrimati. She was a charming princess and the king was in search of a good match for her.

  Narada, the wandering sage and one of the sons of Brahma, was known to be an eternal bachelor. The thought of marriage had never crossed his mind and he was happy singing the praises of Vishnu while travelling around the world with his tambura.

  One day, Narada and a young sage named Parvata went to visit Ambarish. The king asked his family to attend to them with great care.

  Princess Shrimati brought some water to the sages. The moment Narada and Parvata saw her, they both fell head over heels in love with the beautiful princess!

  Parvata asked Ambarish, ‘Your Majesty, are you looking for a suitable husband for the princess?’

  ‘As a matter of fact, yes, respected sage. If you know of a good match for her, please let me know.’

  ‘The truth is, my king, I have fallen in love with your daughter and want to marry her,’ said Parvata boldly.

  King Ambarish was taken aback. The thought of getting his daughter married to an ascetic had never occurred to him. However, before he could respond, Narada jumped into the conversation, saying, ‘O Ambarish, I am also in love with your daughter. I too am ready to marry her.’

  Ambarish could not hide his surprise.

  Parvata, however, was very upset at Narada’s words. ‘I am the one who asked for the princess’s hand in marriage first and so I must be the one to marry her,’ he said. ‘Also, I am closer to her in age and thus more suited to be her groom.’

  ‘Yes, but I am your superior both in life and knowledge. The whole world respects me—I am the son of Brahma! It is clear that I am the more deserving candidate,’ retorted Narada.

  The argument went on until Ambarish decided to intervene. ‘Dear sages, I have only one daughter and this is about her future,’ he said. ‘I suggest that we retire for the day. This will give Shrimati some time to think about your proposals. I invite both of you to come back tomorrow for an official swayamvara, where she will garland the groom of her choice. Until then, I request you both to avoid speaking to her as it would not be fair for either of you to try and sway her.’

  King Ambarish’s reasonable solution calmed the sages down a little. They agreed to return the next day and honour the princess’s decision.

  Still, they both left the court unhappy and insecure.

  ‘Maybe Parvata is right,’ thought Narada. ‘He is younger than me and was the first to propose to her. The princess might just choose him.’

  Meanwhile, Parvata wondered, ‘Shrimati will most likely pick Narada because of his popularity and lineage. I really think that he has a better chance than I do.’

  The thought took root in Parvata’s mind and he decided to do something to tilt the scales in his favour. He stole into Vishnu’s abode late in the night.

  Vishnu was surprised to see him. ‘Why are you here in the middle of the night? Has something untoward happened?’

  ‘My lord, I . . . I want to marry Shrimati!’ replied Parvata.

  ‘Then go ahead and do that. This discussion must be between Shrimati and you. I have no role to play here.’

  Parvata bowed his head. ‘My lord,’ he said, ‘please let me explain. I have come to you in desperate need of a favour. Narada is competing against me for the princess’s hand at the swayamvara in the king’s court tomorrow. I request you to ensure that when Shrimati looks at Narada, she only sees the face of a monkey.’

  Lord Vishnu smiled, amused at the things men did for love, and blessed Parvata, saying, ‘As you wish.’

  Meanwhile, Narada was lying wide awake in bed, restless and unable to sleep. ‘Vishnu will surely help me—I’m his greatest devotee,’ he thought.

  When Narada knocked on Vishnu’s door a few hours later, the god was not surprised and welcomed him with open arms. Yet he asked Narada, ‘Why have you come here at this time, my beloved devotee?’

  ‘Lord, Parvata is my rival at the swayamvara for Shrimati’s hand tomorrow. Please help me win!’

  ‘O my dear Narada,’ said Vishnu. ‘The swayamvara is a system that gives the woman the freedom to choose her groom without any pressure from others. If she likes you, I am certain that she will choose you.’

  ‘My lord, the problem is that I want to be sure that she likes me. I beseech you,’ pleaded Narada, ‘let Parvata’s face appear to be that of a bear’s whenever Shrimati looks at him.’

  Vishnu smiled. ‘All right then.’

  The next morning, the two sages woke up feeling confident and prepared to face the swayamvara.

  King Ambarish’s palace was decorated magnificently with flowers, and the one garland that would adorn the groom was displayed prominently.

  The two sages sat in their respective seats, each sure of being the chosen one.

  At the designated hour, Shrimati and the king approached them. The princess carried the special garland in her hands.

  When Shrimati saw the suitors, she whispered to her father, ‘Where are the sages? I can only see two beings before me—one with the face of a monkey and the other with the face of a bear!’

  King Ambarish wondered what his daughter was talking about. He looked at the sages again. They seemed exactly like they were the day before. He gently replied, ‘No, my dear. These are the two sages who want your hand in marriage. Maybe you need to get a closer look at them.’

  Shrimati went near the sages but they still had animal faces. So she said to them, ‘I don’t know who you both are—but you look like a monkey . . . and you look like a bear! My heart won’t allow me to pick either one of you. However, I do see one man standing between the two of you.’

  Parvata and Narada looked at each other. ‘Describe him,’ they said in unison.

  ‘I see a handsome man in a yellow dhoti smiling at me. His skin is an ethereal blue and he is holding a conch, a mace, a discus and a lotus—one object in each of his four hands. I am drawn to him for some reason . . . in fact, I wish to marry him.’

  The sages realized that the man was none other than Vishnu.

  ‘Lord, you have cheated me!’ cried out Parvata. ‘I asked for Narada’s face to look like a monkey’s but you changed my face too! Why are you here?’

  Narada also said accusingly, ‘You betr
ayed me too! I know why you are here! This was your plan all along. You want to marry the princess yourself!’

  As the voices rose, Shrimati quietly put the garland around Vishnu’s neck.

  The sages said to Vishnu, ‘Your deception has hurt us terribly. May you be in the company of bears and monkeys.’

  The god nodded. ‘When I come to earth as Rama, monkeys and bears will be my greatest friends and supporters. The truth is that I did you both a favour, just as you asked. You have deceived each other. I decided to come here and take part in the swayamvara only after you both approached me with your selfish requests. Now, the bride has chosen me. I don’t think you know who Shrimati is, my dear sages. She is an avatar of Lakshmi and can only be with me. Let this incident be a lesson, so you never resort to cheating again.’

  Narada and Parvata were truly mortified at their behaviour. They hung their heads in shame and left the palace in silence.

  The lesson would not be forgotten.

  The Web of Illusion

  Sage Narada could travel instantly to any part of the world, whether it was the skies, the earth or below the ground. He did not possess a home or a vehicle, and was notorious for mischievously engineering many misunderstandings. However, he would always side with the truth and his words were taken seriously. His presence was always welcomed by devas, asuras and humans.

  Narada advised everyone he met to become a sage like him and constantly pray to Vishnu. This upset his father greatly. Brahma said to his son, ‘Look, you are free to do whatever you want to do—you have few responsibilities and almost no attachments, but the common man on earth has much more to worry about and must undergo his share of suffering. Don’t think that you know what’s best for others, especially when you have no understanding of a mortal life, of marriage and children, of joy and sorrow.’

 
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