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ANU’S STORIES FOR CHILDREN Tales from Indian Mythology and Folk Lore


Table of Contents 1. When the Lord became a Weaver.... ____________________________________________________ 2 2. Uddalaka and Swetaketu _____________________________________________________________ 8 3. Hidden Treasure __________________________________________________________________ 12 4. The Wheel Bearer _________________________________________________________________ 14 5. The Six Blind Men and the Elephant __________________________________________________ 17 6. The Dove's Sacrifice _______________________________________________________________ 20 7. Strangers are dangerous ____________________________________________________________ 23 8. Sri Krishna's Hunger _______________________________________________________________ 26 9. Satyakama Jabala _________________________________________________________________ 30 10. Krishna, I only need you! ___________________________________________________________ 34 11. Kannappa Nayanar - The Saint who gave his eyes to the Lord ______________________________ 36 12. How a Great King was Yoked to the Plough_____________________________________________ 40 13. The Kind Hearted Dacoit ____________________________________________________________ 43 14. Beware of Evil Friends _____________________________________________________________ 46 15. Parikshit _________________________________________________________________________ 51 16. Hanuman ________________________________________________________________________ 55 17. Puru - The Obedient Son ____________________________________________________________ 61 18. Arjuna Passes the Test ______________________________________________________________ 64 19. Nachiketa ________________________________________________________________________ 67 20. Abhimanyu _______________________________________________________________________ 69 21. Sabari ___________________________________________________________________________ 72 22. Markandeya ______________________________________________________________________ 74 23. Draupadi _________________________________________________________________________ 77 24. Vidura ___________________________________________________________________________ 82 25. Yudhishtra and the dog _____________________________________________________________ 85 26. Lord Rama and the squirrel _________________________________________________________ 89 27. Karna - The Generous ______________________________________________________________ 92 28. Vamana Avatar ___________________________________________________________________ 96 29. Harishchandra - The Truthful King __________________________________________________ 100 30. Bhishma ________________________________________________________________________ 105 31. Valmiki _________________________________________________________________________ 109 1


When the Lord became a Weaver.... Once upon a time, there lived two young men in a village. One was a weaver and the other a carpenter. They were very good friends, and were extremely attached to each other.

One day, they attended the annual village festival, which was a grand affair. People had come from far flung places to pay their respects to the deity.

One of the visitors was the young princess of their kingdom. All eyes were on her as she alighted from the elephant. Her long dark hair flew in the wind, while her lotus-shaped eyes took in all the happenings around her. Everyone seemed to be enraptured by her beauty, but the weaver fell in love with her the moment he set eyes on her. He could not take his eyes off her all day long, it was only when she left, that he turned to go back home.

The weaver was unable to get the princess out of his heart, and spent the night lost in her thought. Even the rising sun did not succeed in weaning him away from his dreams, and his friend was surprised by his behavior. “My friend, what is it that ails you?” asked the carpenter, in concern.

“My friend, I have fallen in love! This is the source of my unhappiness, for I know that I can never gain her hand!” replied the weaver, sadly. The carpenter continued to question his friend till at last, he learnt the whole story. He could not bear to see his friend grieve in this manner, and so he decided to help him.

“My dear friend,” he said, “Do not give up so easily. I assure you that I shall help you marry the princess.” The weaver was thrilled hearing his friend’s words, but he was also doubtful of success. “She lives in a palace surrounded by guards, and is the daughter of the king! How can I, a mere weaver, get to meet her, let alone marry her?”

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The carpenter replied, “We may be ordinary men, but we are devout, and intelligent. If we use our intelligence, the Lord will surely help us achieve our goals. So, do not worry, but get ready and weave wonderful clothes for yourself so that you can meet the princess!”

Heartened by his friend’s assurance, the weaver got to work, and wove the most beautiful and expensive clothes he had ever made, his mind and heart fixed on the woman of his dreams.

Meanwhile, the carpenter was busy at work too. He returned the next day, bringing with him a mechanical contraption, which looked like the Garuda, the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. The bird was fitted with different levers, which enabled it to fly.

He taught his friend how to use the bird, and said, “Friend, using this bird, you can easily fly high over the houses in our kingdom and reach the palace. No one can obstruct you, and you can easily reach the palace, without bothering about the guards who maintain a watch over the princess. Go late at night, so that no one will observe you, but just in case someone does catch a glimpse, he will think you are the lord Vishnu, and thus you shall be safe. Just in case, dress yourself as Lord Vishnu, which will aid you in concealing your identity, as well as winning the hand of the princess.”

The weaver was so happy with the plan that he hugged his friend and thanked him, and began preparations for his night-time jaunt. He wore the wonderful clothes he had made for himself, and adorned himself with jewelry fit for a God, and prepared to meet his love. Bowing before the lord, and asking for His blessings, he set off towards the palace.

Easily avoiding the palace guards, the weaver made his way on his mechanical Garuda to the princess’ apartments. The princess was stunned to see the Lord in front of her, but even more surprised when he said, “O Princess, I have fallen in love with you and have arrived here to marry you. Please consent to be my wife!”

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The princess replied, with all due modesty, “O lord, I am honored by your words, but I am just a mortal girl. How can I marry you? Besides, the goddess Lakshmi is your rightful consort. How can you approach me thus?”

The weaver was well prepared for just such a question, and replied with a smile, “My dear, it is you who are my wife, born in this form due to a curse. I have sheltered you from other suitors for so long, but now it is time for me to make you my wife.”

The princess blushed and replied, “In that case, my lord, please talk to my father and take his permission. I shall marry you at once with his blessings.”

The weaver interrupted her, “My dear, it is not easy for mortals to set eyes on me. They have to perform severe penances for just a glimpse of me. I cannot grant your father this boon without due cause. Marry me at once in the Gandharva style, or I shall curse your family!”

The princes did not want to be the cause of her family’s doom, and she was also thrilled by her good fortune in being the wife of Lord Vishnu. Agreeing to the terms laid down by the weaver, she married him in the Gandharva style at once. The weaver spent the night happily with his wife and left at dawn. Thereafter, he visited the princess every night and left before sunrise.

Meanwhile, the princess’ attendants suspected that the princess was meeting a man. However, since they did not see any man near the palace, they were confused. At last, one of them went to the king and voiced his suspicions.

The king was very angry when he learnt of the intruder, and he and his wife questioned the princess in detail. Unable to lie to her parents, she blurted out the truth – “My dear parents, you have no cause to worry, but instead, you should rejoice, for it is no common man who has chosen your daughter as his life

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partner. It is the Lord Vishnu himself, who comes to me every night. If you do not believe me, you can hide in my apartment and see Him for yourself tonight!”

The king and queen were so happy to hear this that they hid themselves that night and saw the weaver appear on his mechanical Garuda. The king was thrilled to see that it was the Lord Himself who had wed his daughter.

However, the knowledge that the Lord was his son-in-law led to the ego of the king getting a boost, and he started attacking the neighbouring kingdoms, sure that his son-in-law would come to his aid.

The neighbouring kings, however, were strong and united, and they attacked his kingdom in retaliation.

Faced with such a huge army, the king sent word to his daughter. “My dear,” he said. “I have waged war against our neighbouring kingdoms, relying on your husband’s aid, but now, the enemies are attacking our land, but there is no sign of your husband. Please ask him to come to help us wage war against our enemies.”

The princess obediently relayed her father’s message to her husband when he arrived that night. Now the weaver was in a quandary. But he bravely assured his wife, “My dear, why are you afraid of these mortal enemies? I shall crush them in a moment, do not fear! I shall appear in the battle and kill your enemies with my Sudarshan Chakra (discus)!”

The princess was comforted when she heard his words, and the king was pleased when he heard the news. He made arrangements for facing the enemy the next day.

The weaver meanwhile was in a fix. He did not know what to do. In a moment of recklessness, he had assured the princess that he would appear and slay the enemies. But what if the army recognized him as 5


a simple weaver, and not Lord Vishnu? What if he was killed? On the other hand, if he did not appear on the battlefield, or just disappeared from the land, the attackers would surely kill the king and take the princess captive. He could not allow that! Even if she was safe, he could never see her again, and that was unbearable! Such thoughts tormented him all through the night, and finally, he came to a decision – he would go ahead and fly over the battlefield in his disguise. If he was killed, so be it. But there was just a chance that the army might mistake him for the genuine Lord and flee at once. He would give it a try, and trust the Lord to help him out of the mess.

Meanwhile, the real Lord Vishnu and his Garuda were having a related conversation. They had just learnt about the weaver who was going to dress up as the Lord and appear in the battle. This was a matter of concern, and Lord Vishnu said, “The weaver is prepared to meet his death bravely, but if he succumbs to a mortal’s arrow, people will lose faith in me. I can not allow that. The weaver has taken my form, and trusts in me to help him out, and I can not let him down. I myself shall go into battle at dawn tomorrow!”

The lord then instructed Garuda thus – “I shall enter the body of the weaver tomorrow and possess his chakra too. You must enter the mechanical contraption that he calls his vehicle, and must help me defeat the enemies.”

Accordingly, the next morning, when the weaver got himself ready for battle, he found himself infused with a new strength. Even his vehicle flew more like a real bird than ever, and he confidently entered the battleground, where he fought the army with ease, and killed the enemy king with his discus.

The army scattered with the death of their king, and onlookers were stunned to hear that it was the Lord himself who had aided their king! Meanwhile, as the Lord left the weaver’s body to go to His abode, the king and others recognized in him, the weaver of the kingdom!

At first, the king was wild when he realized that his son-in-law was not Lord Vishnu, but a humble weaver. But then, when the weaver related his story, the king realized that his son-in-law was not just 6


an honest and clever man, but he was also an ardent devotee of the Lord, since the Lord himself had come to his aid. He decided to get his daughter married to him at once.

The weaver thus became a prince, and in time, the King. He ruled wisely and well, and always had complete faith in the Lord.

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Uddalaka and Swetaketu Have you ever wondered who and where is God? Why can we not see Him? How did he create the world? Here is a story from theBrihadaranyaka Upanishad which answers your doubts.

Long, long ago, there lived a sage named Uddalaka. He had a son named Swetaketu. When Swetaketu was seven years old, Uddalaka invested him with the sacred thread and sent him to a gurukul to continue his studies under a suitable guru.

Swetaketu was a bright and diligent student, and learnt all he could from his guru, pleasing everyone at the gurukul. Finally, his studies complete, he returned home, bursting with pride at his achievement.

Uddalaka saw his son approaching the ashram, and realized at once that his son had returned filled with pride and ego. He was saddened, for true learning and knowledge brings not pride, but humility. A true scholar is one who has subdued his ego and humbly bows before the Supreme.

Uddalaka decided that he would have to complete his son’s education himself, and called Swetaketu. The boy arrived with a smile, ready to tell his father about all that he had learnt and all the praises he had received.

Swetaketu was received by his father with a question. “My son,” said Uddalaka “I am sure you have learnt all there is to learn at the gurukul. Do you now have the knowledge by which one can hear what can not be heard, by which one can see what can not be seen, and by which one can know what can not be known?”

Swetaketu was not only stunned, but also confused by his father’s question. How could one hear that which could not be heard, see what could not be seen, or know what could not be known? His father was a great rishi. Surely he had some knowledge that he hadn’t learnt so far. Part of his pride fell away as he asked his father respectfully, “Father, I do not have the knowledge of what you speak. Can you please explain this to me, since I do not understand?” 8


Uddalaka replied, “My son, I am talking about that which is inherent in all things. For example, once you have seen a lump of clay, you can recognize all objects made of clay. Similarly, once you have seen a nugget of gold, you can identify all items made of gold. In the same way, once you have seen a piece of iron, you can recognize all objects made of iron, no matter how different they may seem. For, it is not the shape, size or use of the object, but what they are made up of, which is important. Similarly, everything in the universe has different names and forms, but there is something inherent in all of them. Do you know what that is?”

Swetaketu bowed before his father and said, “Father, I do not know of these things. Perhaps my gurus too did not know of this, for if they had, they would surely have taught it to me. Please teach me this knowledge of which you speak.”

Pleased with his son’s humble request, Uddalaka said, “Listen, my son, I shall tell you how this world was created. In the beginning, there was only the ‘Sat’ or the One True Being. Having decided to create other beings, he first created Tejas (Fire), Apas (Water) and Annam (Food). Entering them as theJivatma (Soul), he brought them to life and gave them name and form. He then decided to multiply further, and made them merge in different ratios to create more beings. These are what we know by various names today as Indra, Surya, and others.”

The rishi continued, “The three basic forms had merged to create more forms, but the basic nature of the three constituents were retained. Agni or fire showed itself as the red colour, while water showed itself as white and food as black. Even in their new forms, they showed themselves, for example, in the sun, what we call Surya or Aditya, the red colour is due to the fire, the white due to water and black due to food or earth.”

The sage explained further, “The basic forms of all beings are only the first three forms to be created – Tejas, Apas and Annam. Even in these three forms, it is the Sat, the True Being, who is the one form within all these three. Thus, the Sat alone is all, for all are different names for Him!” 9


Uddalaka concluded, “My son, the Sat is all powerful, for all beings are just His reflections. We call Him by many names, the True Being, the Supreme, and the Brahman. But they are all just different names for the all powerful One who is the essence of all life. Once we know Him, we know everything else. It is from Him that we all are born, and it is into Him that we merge when we die. We come into contact with Him within ourselves when we meditate. He pervades all and destroys all. He is the only perfect One. My dear son, you are not Him!”

Swetaketu was humbled by his father’s words, for he realized how little he knew. He said, with folded hands, “Father, please tell me more about the Supreme Being, for I want to know more about Him.”

Uddalaka was happy to see that his son was showing the signs of humility and a desire for knowing the real truth. He said, “My son, observe how the bees collect nectar from different flowers and make honey in their hive. Is it possible to distinguish the nectar of the different flowers from the honey? So also, we are all different, but in essence, it is the one true being that unites us all!”

He continued, “My son, see the rivers which merge into the sea. The waters of the different rivers appear different. But the sea into which the merge does not change. So also, we are all different forms of the true being. We appear different due to our forms, but we arise from the same source, and merge into the same – which is the Supreme!”

The sage then asked Swetaketu to bring a fruit and cut it into two. Uddalaka asked, “What do you see?” Swetaketu replied, “I can see seeds.” Uddalaka said, “Cut a seed into two and tell me what you see.” Swetaketu replied, “Father, there is nothing inside the seed.” Uddalaka smiled and replied, “Son, you can not see anything inside this seed, but from this tiny seed sprouts a huge tree. So also from the One True Being sprouts the entire universe!”

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Next, Uddalaka asked Swetaketu to bring a glass of water and some salt. He asked Swetaketu to put the salt in the water and asked, “Can you see the salt now? Can you take it out?” Swetaketu replied, “Father, I can not see the salt, for it has dissolved in the water, and I can not take it out.” Uddalaka now asked Swetaketu to take a sip from the glass. Swetaketu replied, “The water is salty.” Uddalaka asked Swetaketu to taste the water from all portions of the glass, and Swetaketu replied that the water tasted salty everywhere. Uddalaka explained, “My son, you can not see the salt, but you can taste it. Similarly, the Supreme being pervades every atom of this universe, even though we can not see Him.”

Swetaketu understood at last the significance of Sat, and felt humble as he realized the magnitude of the One True Being. In course of time, he became a great rishi himself.

Thus, we too should understand that the only perfect one is the Lord, and all we see around us are His forms. We are, but tiny specks of his creation, and must remember this and learn to be humble. Humility is indeed the greatest of all virtues, for only then can we realize the truth.

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Hidden Treasure Once upon a time, there was an old man who owned a vineyard. He was a hard worker, and took care of his vines, growing some of the best grapes in the area. He had three sons, but was an unhappy man, because all his sons were lazy.

He worked hard from dawn to dusk in the vineyard, but none of his sons even offered to help him! They spent their time sleeping or whiling away the time in useless activities. As he grew older, the old man grew weaker, and was not able to work as hard as before, but he continued to tend to his grapes as best as he could. However, he was now worried, for none of his sons had learnt anything about the vineyard.

He was old and knew he would die soon, and wondered, “How will my sons manage after I die? If they continue to be as lazy as they are, the vines will wither and there will be no harvest. How will they earn money?” Tormented by such thoughts, the old man’s health deteriorated. “I should somehow make them aware of their duties and the importance of work” he thought.

One day, the old farmer was working on his farm in the cold, and he fell sick. He was bedridden, and could not move. He knew he would die soon, and called his sons. “My sons, the time has come for me to die. I wanted to teach you how to work on the farm, but you never listened to me. I know that you have no idea how to tend to a vineyard, but I do not want you to starve, so I have accumulated a treasure for you. Dig in the vineyard and you will find it. You can live happily on the treasure for your entire life!” As he said these words, the old man breathed his last.

The three sons were excited! Treasure! Their father had buried a treasure in the vineyard! “We only have to dig once for the treasure. Once we find it, we can easily live on it all our lives!” they said. “We shall never have to work again!”

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Early the next morning, they began their work, digging up the vineyard bit by bit. They were too lazy to uproot the grape vines growing there, so they dug all around the roots carefully so that they would not miss the treasure.

It took them a month to dig up the entire vineyard, but they could not find the treasure. They decided to try again, this time digging a little deeper. Again, they could not find anything. They decided to try one last time, but again, they returned, disappointed! Dispirited, and angry with their father, they gave up.

Meanwhile, that year, the rainfall was not good, and all the vineyards in the area suffered. The harvest was bad, and the grapes that did grow were dry and looked lifeless. However, the old man’s vineyard flourished, since the earth dug again and again near the roots of the vines had absorbed all the water there was, and provided plenty of nourishment to the growing grapes. In time, the fattest, juiciest grapes grew on the vines! No one in the area had seen such grapes before! They came to the three brothers and asked them how they had managed to grow such grapes.

The lazy brothers realized that all their digging had resulted in a great harvest. Spurred on by their friends and neighbours, they set to work at once, harvesting the grapes, and carting them to the market. At the market, their grapes sold at a price higher than ever before, for they were the best grapes of the year!

When the three brothers returned home and counted their earnings from the sale, they realized that it was a small fortune! By digging in the vineyard they had really found a treasure! This was the treasure their father had spoken about! They finally understood that hard work would always yield results. They silently thanked their father for his clever way of making them realize their error, and resolved never to be lazy again, but to work hard, so that they could reap such wonderful grapes again!

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The Wheel Bearer Once upon a time, there lived four young Brahmin boys in a small village. They were bored of the simple life they led, and wanted to earn money and live a comfortable life. They did not want to work hard as farmers or acquire learning as Brahmins did in their little village.

They decided to leave their village and set out into the world. “We shall visit other places and find a way to make lots of money” they decided, and set out on their journey.

They visited towns and great cities, but all the methods to make money involved a lot of hard work as well as knowledge, and they were unable to find any task to their liking. Finally, one day, they met an old and wise-looking sage who asked why they were wandering about.

“O wise one, we want to make lots of money, as fast as possible, so that we can spend our life in comfort and happiness. We do not want to remain as poor as the rest of the people in our village, and that is why we are travelling, looking out for the right opportunity” they said.

The sage replied, “Sons, your travelling has borne fruit with our meeting. I can help you achieve your goals. Here are four cotton wicks. Take them and go to the slopes of the mighty Himalayas. Where your wicks fall, you will find a great treasure!” Handing over one wick to each of them, the sage disappeared.

The boys were thrilled, and set out for the Himalayas. Just as they began ascending the snow covered mountain, the first wick fell.

The boy who had held that wick began digging, and found copper-ore in that spot. He was very happy and collected all the copper he could carry and said, “Our quest has ended, for this will gain us a lot of money. Let us take this copper and return.” But the other boys said, “it is just your wick which has fallen, and this is just copper, the basest of all metals. We shall journey further, and seek a better fortune.” The first boy said, “You can proceed. I am satisfied with this, and shall return home with what I have.” 14


A little further up the hill, the second wick fell, and they found the area full of silver. Again, the boy who had held that wick was satisfied, and decided to return with all the silver he could carry. The other two however said, “First we found copper and then silver. We shall surely find gold and diamonds next.” They left their friend alone and climbed up further.

At last, the third wick fell, and as they had anticipated, they found gold. The boy said, “My friend, this is what we came for, and here it is, at last – So much of gold, and all for us. Let us take all the gold we can carry and return home. Our family must be missing us.”

But his friend was not yet satisfied. “It is your wick which has fallen, and if you are satisfied, you can return like the others. My wick is yet to fall, and I shall surely find diamonds next. What is gold when compared to diamonds? I do not wish to return” he said.

The third boy did not want to leave without his best friend, so he said, “Friend, we know by now that these wicks are magical, but we have been taught to be wary of magic. I feel in my heart that we should not be greedy and return home now, but if you insist, you can go further. However, I shall not return alone, but shall wait for you here till you return with what you find.”

The fourth boy continued up the steep mountain, until at last he came to a plateau. He was hungry and thirsty, and fatigued by the difficult climb. All he wanted was water, but there wasn’t a sign of it. Instead, he saw a haggard-looking man with blood dripping down his body, for there was a wheel whirling on his head.

He went up to the man and asked, “Sir, why are you standing here, and in this shape, and why is that wheel on your head?” As soon as he said these words, the wheel left the man’s head and settled on his own!

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Suffering from the pain from the whirring wheel, and absolutely shocked by the change of events, he asked the man who was now stretching his limbs happily “What is this? Why has this happened? When will I be freed?”

The man replied, “This is a device set by the Lord of Wealth to safeguard his treasures. Anticipating that magicians would send their disciples to gather wealth, he has arranged that whoever gets so far with a magic wick in his hands will have to undergo this suffering. You will be freed only when another man like you comes here with a wick in his hands and asks you the same question you asked me. Till then, you will not know hunger or thirst, sickness or death. You just have to stand here and experience the suffering as a punishment for your greed.” Saying this, the man walked away, happy to be free at last.

Meanwhile, the third boy was waiting for his friend, and started worrying when there was no sign of him. When he at last saw a strange man going down the hill happily, and still couldn’t see his friend, he decided to search for him. He also climbed up and reached the plateau and saw the strange sight, and it was a while before he recognized his friend.

Hearing the sad tale from his friend’s lips, he said, “My friend, I asked you to be satisfied with the gold, and beware of the magic wick, but you would not listen to me. This suffering is the outcome of your greed, and I cannot do anything to help you. I do not know how long it will take you to be free of this curse, so I cannot wait for you any longer. Allow me to return to the village.”

Saying thus, the third friend returned to the city, sold all his gold at a high price, and returned to his village a rich man. He was satisfied with his wealth, and now worked hard, and also helped others, for he had learnt that it was not wise to be greedy.

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The Six Blind Men and the Elephant Once upon a time in a village, there lived six blind men. In spite of their blindness, they had managed to educate themselves. Seeking to expand their knowledge, they decided to visit a zoo and try out their skills in recognizing animals by their touch.

The first animal they came across, as soon as they entered the zoo, was an elephant. Remember, these men were blind, and they had no idea what an elephant looked like. They sensed an animal nearby and went closer so that they could feel it and see what it was like.

As the first man approached the elephant, the elephant waved its trunk, and the man felt something brush past him. Managing to hold on to it, he felt it, and found something long and moving. He jumped back in alarm, shouting “Move away! This is a snake!”

Meanwhile, the second man had moved closer, and walked right near its legs. Thankfully, it was a tame elephant, and it did not crush the man at once, but allowed him to touch its legs. As the man touched the thick, cylindrical –shaped legs, he called out “Do not worry. These are just four trees here. There is certainly no snake!”

The third man was curious hearing the other two, and moved forward. As he walked towards the elephant, it bent, and he felt his hand touch one of the tusks. Feeling the smooth, sharp ivory tusk, the man cried out “Be careful! There is a spear here! A sharp one!”

The fourth man cautiously walked up behind the elephant, and felt its swinging tail. “It’s just a rope! There is nothing to be afraid of!” he said.

The fifth man had meanwhile reached out and was touching the huge ears of the animal. “I think all of you have lost your sense of touch!” he said. “This is nothing but a huge fan!”

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The sixth man did not want to be left out. As he walked towards the elephant, he bumped into its massive body, and he exclaimed, “Hey! This is just a huge mud wall! There is no animal at all!”

All six of them were convinced that they were right, and began arguing amongst themselves. “It’s a snake!” said one. “No, its not!” said the second. “It’s a tree!” “You are wrong!” cried the third “It’s a spear!” “You are all wrong! It’s just a rope!” shouted the fourth! “It just a fan!” said the fifth, and the sixth insisted “You are all wrong. There is no animal, just a mud wall here!”

Wondering about the commotion, the zoo keeper arrived on the scene, and was surprised to see 6 blind men surrounding an elephant, each of them shouting at the top of their voices! “Quiet! Quiet! Quiet!” he shouted out, and when they had calmed down, he asked, “Why are all of you shouting and arguing in this manner?”

They replied, “Sir, as you can see, we are all blind. We came here to expand our knowledge. We sensed an animal here, and tried to get an idea of its appearance by feeling it. However, we are not able to arrive at a consensus over its appearance, and hence are arguing. Can you please help us and tell us which of us is right? Does the animal resemble a snake, a tree, a spear, a fan, a rope, or a wall? Please enlighten us!”

The zoo keeper laughed and laughed before answering, “My dear men, each of you have touched just one portion of the animal. The animal you see is neither a snake, nor any of the other things you have mentioned. The animal in front of you is an elephant!”

Turning to the men one by one, he continued, “Sir, you touched the trunk, which is long and curved, hence you thought it to be a snake. Sir, what you thought were trees are just the elephant’s legs. They are so thick and strong, because the animal is huge. Its body is what you thought was a mud wall” he said, turning to the sixth man.

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He continued further “Sir, what you thought of, as a spear is just the tusk of the elephant, and what you thought was a fan is one of its ears. As to what you thought was a rope, it is its tail!”

As the six men bowed their head, ashamed of the scene they had created, the zoo keeper said, “My dear men, this is a huge animal, and luckily, it is tame. It stood by calmly as each of you touched it. You are extremely lucky that it stayed calm even during your argument, for if it had got angry, it would have trampled all of you to death!”

He continued further, “It is not enough to gather knowledge, but also important to learn to share and pool your knowledge. If, instead of fighting amongst yourselves, if you had tried to put all your observations together, you might have had an idea of the animal as a whole! Also, when you can not see the entire truth, it is better to go to someone who does know the complete truth, rather than guess about small parts of it. Such half-knowledge is not just useless, but also dangerous. If you had come directly to me, I would have helped you identify all the animals without putting you in danger!”

The six men apologized to the zoo keeper, and assured him that they had learnt their lesson. From now on, they would seek true knowledge from the qualified people, and would also try to work together as a team so that they could learn more.

The zoo keeper took them on a tour of the entire zoo, and showed them all the animals, describing each of them in detail, so the men got a clear mental picture of the animals. The six men returned home, more knowledgeable and much wiser than they had been when they left!

(Note: This story is originally from the Panchatantra, but it has been adapted to appeal to today's generation. The essentials of the story and the moral value have been retained in the spirit of the original)

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The Dove's Sacrifice There was once a hunter who lived in a village at the edge of a forest. Everyday, he would go into the forest and ensnare animals or birds, and selling them, would return home with the money.

One day, he was unable to catch any animals, but just a single she-dove. Putting her in a cage he always carried along, he turned homewards. Suddenly, the sky was rent by thunder and lightning, and soon, it started raining heavily. Finding himself unable to proceed in the rain, he took shelter under a tree, praying aloud, “O Lord, I am caught in this terrible thunderstorm, tired, cold and hungry. Please help me and show me a way out of my troubles.”

Now, on the same tree lived a dove, the husband of the same she-dove who had been captured by the hunter. The dove was worried about his wife, and wondered what had become of her. He voiced his worries aloud, “My beloved has not yet returned. Has she been stranded by this terrible thunderstorm, or has she become the target of some hunter. Is she alive or dead? My nest feels too lonely without her, and I can not live in her absence. O my beloved, where are you?”

The she-dove heard the lamentations of her husband, and thanked the lord for giving her such a wonderful and caring mate. She felt sad that she was unable to return to him. But she called out to him, saying, “My dear husband, please do not grieve so. I cannot bear to hear your lamentations. As a wife, I have tried to be true and good to you, so please remember the good times we had together.”

She continued, “I have been caught by the hunter who rests under this tree, which is our home. But before you get angry with him, let me tell you that he is only doing his duty, which is to capture or kill animals and birds. It is our misfortune that I have fallen into his hands. But he is cold and hungry in this thunderstorm, and has taken refuge under our home. He is thus like a guest to us, and it is our duty to serve him to the best of our ability.”

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Filled with emotion, she advised her husband, “helping our enemy might land you in danger, and you might even lose your life, but we should never budge from our duty, so I pray to you to help the poor man!”

Hearing the words of his wife, the dove wept for her, but then, flew down to the hunter and said, “O hunter, in the midst of this thunderstorm, you have taken refuge under the tree I call home. You are thus my guest, and I welcome you. Please tell me what I can do for you.”

The hunter was surprised to hear the words of the bird, but he said, “O bird, I am cold and hungry. Is there something you can do to relieve my misery?”

The dove thought for a moment, and then flew off, returning with a burning piece of twig. Placing it on the ground, he gathered some half-dried leaves and tried to add fuel to the fire. When it still wouldn’t burn, he picked up his nest and threw it on the embers, and at last the fire was big enough for the hunter to warm himself.

While the hunter tried to bring some life into his numbed limbs, the dove addressed him again – “O hunter, I have tried to give you warmth, as best as I could. I can see that you are hungry, but I have nothing to offer you as food. I therefore, offer myself to you, and hope that you fill your stomach and return home refreshed. This is the only way I can serve you, who are my guest.” Before the hunter could say a word, the dove jumped into the fire so that the hunter could eat him!

The hunter was left speechless at the great sacrifice of the bird. He felt disgusted with himself and said, “I am the lowliest of all creatures on this earth, for I have been hunting and capturing these creatures, which are kinder and better than I am. From now on, I shall give up this terrible profession. I shall not harm any other creatures ever again!”

Taking this oath, he set free the she-dove he had in his cage, and turned his feet homewards, for the thunderstorm had passed. 21


The she-dove saw the body of her dear husband, who had sacrificed himself performing his duty, and said, “My dear husband, you perished doing your duty, and shall surely attain heaven. Of what use is my life without you by my side. I do not want to live any more!” and she too jumped into the fire which had consumed her husband!

As she stepped into the fire, a divine vehicle appeared from the heavens, with the dove seated in it. He called out to his wife – “Come dear, come and join me, for we shall live together now in heaven!” Thus the dove and his wife, having performed their duty righteously, attained heaven.

The hunter saw this sight from afar, and repented for his deeds which had separated such a pair. Immersed in his thoughts, and unwilling to live such a cursed life, he walked into a forest fire. The fire consumed all his evil deeds, and he too attained heaven.

There are two things we can learn from this story – first, that sacrifice is the key to happiness, and second, that we should never harm any creatures, however small they are.

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Strangers are dangerous Once upon a time, in a palace, there was a huge and beautiful bed with soft pillows and warm sheets. The mattress was filled with feathers, and was fit for a king, for it was the king himself who slept on it. In a corner of this wonderful bed lived a flea with her family.

Every night, when the king was deep in sleep, the flea bit him and drank his blood. She was careful not to bite the king before he was fast asleep, and wasn’t too greedy, and just bit him once, so the king never realized her presence. Thus, she continued to live on the bed, undiscovered, and soon grew plump and healthy, feasting on the royal blood. Her family too learnt the art of sucking blood inconspicuously, and prospered on this feast.

One day, a mosquito happened to enter the royal chamber through an open window. She saw the wonderful bed and the decorations, and realized that it must be some great personage who resided there. She wondered how the blood of such a rich man would taste, and decided to stay back to try it out.

The flea saw the mosquito and asked, “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

The mosquito replied, “I am a mosquito, and I have come from the stagnant pond outside the garden. I am tired and hungry. Could I please stay here tonight?”

The flea angrily replied, “No, you cannot. This is my area, and I have not invited you. I do not like strangers, so leave at once!”

The mosquito continued to plead. She said, “Please allow me to stay here just for the night. I can see that you are healthy and strong. The person who sleeps here must indeed be something special, since you are well fed. Look at me; I am so thin because I have not tasted good blood in a very long time. I have been living only on the blood of the vagrants who sleep near my pond, and their blood is as thin as water, for they are a malnourished lot. Please tell me who is it that sleeps in this magnificent bed!” 23


The flea replied, “You are right. It is no ordinary human who sleeps in this bed. This is the abode of the king himself, and it is on his blood that we feed everyday. I have lived here all my life, and have learnt to suck the king’s blood without making him aware of me. I have marked out my area, and no one is allowed here. So please leave. I am sure you will find other beds in the palace with other occupants as well nourished as the king.”

The mosquito would not give up so easily. “Please, please allow me to stay just for tonight” he said, but the flea was adamant in her refusal.

As a last resort, the mosquito resorted to flattery. “You are blessed to feast on the king’s blood. Indeed, you are the king of us vermin. I am a simple insect who has come to ask you for help. Will you turn me away without even a meal? I have never tasted royal blood, and am not likely to do so again. Please do not turn me away like this.”

The poor flea was moved by this entreaty. She did not have the heart to turn away such a supplicant, and relented. But she also laid down a condition. She said, “All right. You may stay here tonight and taste royal blood, but since you are in my domain, you must follow my rules. Do you agree?”

The mosquito was thrilled, and agreed. She said, “Thank you so much for allowing me this pleasure Please tell me your rules. I shall surely obey them.”

The flea replied, “There is a place and time for every deed. You must only bite the king at the right place and at the right time.”

The mosquito said, “I am an ignorant mosquito. Please tell me which is the right place and the right time.”

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The flea was happy to enlighten the mosquito. She said, “You must only bite the king when he is fast asleep. That is the right time. Further, you must bite him only on the feet where the sensations are the least. That is the right place.”

The mosquito replied, “Thank you for teaching me. I shall abide by your rules.”

The mosquito waited in a corner of the room, while the flea returned to her home in the mattress. Soon, night fell, and the king returned to his room. The mosquito was awed by the sight of the royal personage, and looked forward to tasting his blood.

As the king got into the bed and closed his eyes, the mosquito was overwhelmed by her good fortune, and forgot all the warnings and the rules laid down by the flea. She rushed to the king and bit him on his arm!

The king was not yet asleep, and the mosquito bite seemed to him like the sting of a scorpion! He woke up in alarm and called out to his guards –“There is some insect on my bed which just bit me. Find it at once and kill it!”

As the guards began combing the mattress and the pillow for the insect, the mosquito flew away. Meanwhile, the guards found the flea and its family in a crevice, and killed all of them!

Thus, the mosquito brought about the destruction of the family who had granted him sanctuary. This is why we must never trust strangers or allow them into our homes.

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Sri Krishna's Hunger The Pandavas were the true heirs to the throne of Hastinapur. However, the Kauravas, their cousins, led by the evil Duryodhana, would not allow them their right. The kingdom was finally divided, and the Pandavas given thekingdom of Indraprastha. The envy of the Kauravas did not cease, and they managed to trick the Pandavas out of Indraprastha through a deceitful game of dice. Moreover, they even managed to get the Pandavas exiled to the forest for 13 years.

The Pandavas left for the forest accompanied by their wife Draupadi and a few sages and their disciples. During these 13 years, they were also regularly visited by many sages as well their relatives. Yudhishtra foresaw the problems of feeding such a large number of people, and, on the advice of the sages, prayed to Surya, the Sun God. In response to his prayers, Surya gave him a bowl – an Akshayapatra – a vessel which manifested and held unlimited amounts of food. While giving this wonderful gift to Yudhishtra, Surya said, “Through this vessel, you shall obtain, for the entire period of your exile, as much food as is needed for you and all those who accompany you. Only when everyone has been fed, and Draupadi has her share, will the vessel become empty for the day. Once empty, the vessel will fill again, only the next day!”

The Pandavas were careful in using the vessel, and had no trouble feeding all the people who came to visit them. This, in turn, provoked the Kauravas’ ire, for they could not bear even the slightest happiness for the Pandavas.

One day, the sage Durvasa arrived at Hastinapur with ten thousand disciples! The sage was known for his great anger, and Duryodhana hurried to serve the sage himself. He looked after the sage’s every need, and made sure all his followers were contented and comfortable. As he had hoped, the sage was pleased with the prince, and asked him what he wanted.

This was the opportunity Duryodhana had been waiting for! Instead of asking something for himself or his family, or for the good of his subjects, Duryodhana tried to make use of the opportunity to belittle the Pandavas. He said, bowing with false humility, “Great Sage, you have blessed us by your visit here. My 26


cousins, the Pandavas are living in the forest. All I ask of you is that you visit them and bless them too, as you have blessed me. Please go late in the afternoon, so that they can complete their chores and look after you and your followers well.”

Duryodhana had phrased his request well, for the sage was impressed by his love for his cousins, and agreed to go to the Pandavas at once. He did not realize that Duryodhana was trying to get his cousins into trouble, sending the sage to them at a time when they would not be able to provide food for the sage and his huge retinue.

As Duryodhana had expected, the sage and his disciples arrived at the Pandavas’ ashram just after they had all finished their meal. Yudhishtra welcomed the sage warmly and asked how he and his brothers could serve him.

The sage replied, “O eldest of the Pandavas, we are coming from Hastinapur, where we learnt that you were living here in exile. You cousin took good care of us and asked us to pay you a visit. We are tired from our long journey, and wish to have food. But before that, we shall take a bath in the river. Please keep the food ready for us, for we are very hungry!”

As soon as the sage had left for the riverbank, Yudhishtra turned towards Draupadi, who had a shocked look on her face. “My lord” she said, “the Akshayapatra is empty, for I have just had my food. What can we do now?”

Now the Pandavas panicked! If they did not serve the sage food, he would be angry and curse them! No doubt, this was what Duryodhana had intended when he had sent the sage to their abode.

As the Pandavas wondered what to do and how to inform the sage that they could not provide food to such a huge number of people, Draupadi thought of the only one who could help them – Krishna! She was an ardent devotee of the lord, and had complete faith and belief in Him! She called out to him “Krishna, 27


please help us. There is no one but you who can help us. If you do not come to our aid, the sage will surely curse us!”

The lord always responds to a sincere prayer, and Krishnaappeared at once, miraculously, in their midst. As the Pandavas and Draupadi stared at him, stunned by his sudden appearance, Krishna looked at Draupadi and said, mischievously, “Draupadi, I am hungry. Can you please give me something to eat?”

Draupadi found her tongue at last, and pleaded, “Krishna, how can you tease me like this? The sage Durvasa has arrived with ten thousand disciples, and we are wondering how to feed them, and now you come here and ask for food too! Don’t you know that there isn’t a morsel of food here?”

Krishna replied, with a smile, “Draupadi, are you sure there is no food in the house? Come, show me your vessel, and let me see.”

Draupadi went inside the ashram and brought out the Akshayapatra, which she had just cleaned after eating her share of the food.Krishna took it in his hand and peered into it. Suddenly, he put his hand in and picked out a morsel of food from the rim. “See” he said, “There is some food left!”

While

Draupadi

bowed

her

head, ashamed

that

she

hadn’t

cleaned

the

vessel

properly, Krishna put the morsel into his mouth, and said, “Aah! This is just what I wanted! Now my stomach is full. I am satisfied!”

Turning to the Pandavas, who were looking at him open-mouthed, Krishna said, “Bhima, go and inform the sage and his disciples that food is ready for them. Ask them to come and eat soon!”

Bhima was surprised by Krishna’s words, but he trusted the lord and obeyed him at all times. He walked towards the river, where the sage and his disciples had just completed their bath.

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Meanwhile, the sage and his ten thousand disciples, as they were emerging from the river, suddenly felt their ravenous hunger disappearing, and in no time, they felt as if they had just had a full meal. Seeing Bhima approaching, they wondered how to inform him that they could not eat another morsel!

The sage wondered what had happened to make him feel so satiated, and realized through his powers, the entire sequence of events. He said to Bhima, “Son, we came here sent by your cousin, knowing that you would not be able to provide us food. I wished to test you, and you have passed the test with your love and devotion to the lord. I realize that it is Krishna, who has accepted a morsel of food from you and satiated the hunger of the whole world. I bow before the lord who rescues his devotees in distress. You are all blessed, because of your devotion to the lord. Please forgive me for refusing your hospitality and allow us to take your leave.�

The sage left the ashram at once, blessing the Pandavas, and the Pandavas heaved a sigh of relief. Krishna had saved them once again! Such is the love of the Lord towards his devotees.

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Satyakama Jabala There was once a young boy named Satyakama, who lived with his mother. His father had died many years ago, and they lived all alone. The young boy saw his friends being sent to the gurukul, where they would gain knowledge at the feet of the guru, and wanted to go to the gurukul too.

He went to his mother and said, “Mother, I want to go to a gurukul and gain knowledge like all other Brahmin boys. Please tell me our gotra(family name) so that I can inform my guru.”

His mother replied, “My dear son, when you were born, I was busy with household duties, and had no time to ask your father his gotra. Unfortunately, your father died soon after, and the two of us were left all alone. Your name is Satyakama, and mine is Jabala. So call yourself ‘Satyakama Jabala’. Tell your guru the entire truth and he will accept you as his disciple.”

Satyakama bowed to his mother and left for the nearest ashram. It was the ashram of the great rishi, Gautama. He told the sage his mother’s words, and the sage was pleased to see the truthful boy. He said, “You have proved that you are a Brahmin by your adherence to truth. Bring me the samith(sacred twigs of the peepal tree which are used as fuel), and I shall initiate you.”

Satyakama began his duties by fetching the fuel as instructed, and was initiated into brahmacharya – the celibacy stage of a Brahmin, with the Gayatri Mantra. Given the sacred thread, Satyakama took his place amongst the other Brahmin boys and began his education.

A few days later, the sage called him aside and gave him 400 lean and weak cows. “My son,” he said, “Take these cows to the forest and graze them. They are your charge now, so take good care of them.”

Satyakama, the ever obedient student said, “Sir, I will care for them well, and bring them back when they multiply into a thousand.”

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With his guru’s blessings, he entered the forest with his herd, built a small hut for himself and a shed for the herd, and started his duties. He cared well for the cows, at the same time practicing the duties of a Brahmachari, and time flew. The cows grew fat on the lush green grass of the forest, and thrived on his love for them. Well fed and satisfied, the cows began to multiply, and soon there were many calves among them.

One day, a bull in his herd spoke aloud to him, “Satyakama, have you noticed that there are now a thousand of us here? It is time for you to take us back to the ashram. In return for the love and affection you have shown to us, I shall teach you one-fourth of the sacred truth about Brahman or God!”

The bull continued, “The east is part of the lord, and so is the west. So are the south and the north. The four cardinal points are the four parts of the Brahman. He is named ‘Prakasavan’ – the shining. This is all I can teach you. Agni, the lord of fire shall teach you more when the time comes.”

Thanking the bull, Satyakama collected the herd and started back towards the ashram of Gautama. He walked all through the day and stopped at night so that the cows could rest. After making arrangements for the herd, he lit a fire and performed his duties, and sat thinking of the lord.

Suddenly, he heard a voice. It was Agni – the lord of fire, speaking from the fire he had lit. “Satyakama!” it said, “I am here to teach you another fourth part of Brahman. The earth is a portion of Brahman, and so is the sky. The heavens and the oceans too are part of the Brahman. This portion of Brahman is called ‘Anantavan’- the endless. This is all I can teach you. You will learn another portion from a swan.”

Satyakama thanked the God of fire and continued his journey the next day. That evening, as he performed his evening duties by a river, a swan flew towards him from the river and said, “Satyakama, I am here to teach you another fourth part of Brahman. The fire you worship is one part of Brahman. The sun is one part and so is the moon. The Lightning is also part of the same Brahman. This aspect of Brahman is called Jyotishman – the luminous. This is all I know. You will learn the rest from another bird, a water fowl.

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Satyakama thanked the swan and continued his journey towards his guru’s ashram the next day. That evening, after he performed his rituals and sat by a pond, a waterfowl appeared and said, “Satyakama, I am here to teach you the final fourth part of Brahman. Hear it and be blessed.”

The water fowl continued, “Satyakama, the prana, or breath, is itself a part of the Brahman. The eyes and its sense of sight are another part, and so are the ears and their sense of hearing. The final part is the mind and its thoughts. These are what make up the final one fourth part of Brahman, and this portion of Him is called Ayatanavan – the support. You now know the complete secret of Brahman.”

Satyakama thanked the water fowl and continued on his journey the next day, and finally reached the ashram of Gautama. Prostrating himself before his guru, he said, “Guruji, I have fulfilled my duty and brought back the cows which now number a thousand. Please accept them and give me your blessings.”

Gautama welcomed his disciple with open arms, and was struck by the luster on his face. He said, “Satyakama, you have performed your duty well and your face now shines with the luster of Brahman. You have surely gained the supreme knowledge. Tell me, how did you learn the secret of Brahman?”

Satyakama replied with folded hands, “Guruji, I learned about Brahman through beings which were not men. However, I have heard that it is only the knowledge which is gained through the guru, which is considered the true knowledge. Therefore, kindly instruct me in the true knowledge of Brahman, yourself!”

Sage Gautama replied, “My son, the knowledge you have gained is the result of performing your duties with diligence and sincerity. You have served your guru well, and it is this service which has gained you the ultimate knowledge. You have earned it well, and are blessed. There is nothing I can add to this, and hence your education is now complete.”

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The story of Satyakama Jabala occurs in the Chandogya Upanishad, and teaches us that service towards our teachers, adherence to truth and sincere performance of our duties are the only paths towards the real knowledge.

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Krishna, I only need you! War had been declared between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Both sides were busy, trying to amass the larger army, and sent envoys to all the kings to ask them to take their side in the war.

The Yadavas, led by Krishna, were a sizeable force, one to reckon with. Knowing that Krishna, with his army, had the capacity to tilt the scales in the war, Duryodhana decided to go to Dwaraka himself and secure the co-operation of Krishna, especially his army. Meanwhile, the Pandavas who were truly devoted to Krishna, only wanted his support, and they sent Arjuna, the one closest to Krishna, to Dwaraka to humbly ask Krishna to join them.

Arjuna and Duryodhana arrived at Dwaraka at the same time.Krishna was having his siesta when the two of them arrived. Since both, Arjuna and Duryodhana were closely related to Krishna, they were allowed to wait in his room till he woke up. At once, Arjuna went to wait humbly at Krishna’s feet while Duryodhana, as haughty as ever, took a seat near the head of the bed.

As soon as Krishna woke up, his eyes fell on Arjuna. He sat up and then saw Duryodhana. He welcomed them and asked them the reason for their visit. Arjuna said, “Krishna, you know that war has now been declared. I have come to ask you to join us and give us your blessings.” Duryodhana said, “Krishna, I too have come to ask you for your help. Since I arrived here first, you must fulfill my desire before you grant Arjuna his wish.”

Krishna looked at them and said, “Duryodhana, you might have arrived here first, but it was Arjuna whom I saw first when I woke up. Besides, Arjuna is younger than you and has the right to be heard first. So it is Arjuna who shall have the first say.” Duryodhana was miffed, but he kept quiet.

Krishna continued, “Listen Arjuna and Duryodhana, both of you are my cousins and have equal rights over me. I would not like to take sides and have opposed the war from the very beginning. However, since the war is now going to take place, I am offering you a choice between me and my army. I shall not 34


participate actively in the war, shall not take up any weapons, and shall only be the charioteer of the one who chooses me. My army, however, is free to fight for the side that chooses it.”

As soon as Krishna stopped, Arjuna said, “Krishna, I have made my choice. I only want you, not your army.” Krishna advised Arjuna to think again, but Arjuna was adamant, and Krishna granted him his wish.

Meanwhile, Duryodhana was thrilled! “Arjuna is a fool. He has chosen Krishna, who isn’t even going to take up arms. How can he help Arjuna? Now I have Krishna’s powerful army, and that I what I really wanted!” he thought. Outwardly, he humbly thanked Krishna for his army and left with a smile on his face.

When Duryodhana had left, Krishna asked Arjuna why he had chosen him. Arjuna said, “Krishna, you are divine and the greatest of all. If you are by my side, I will surely win the war!” Krishna was happy and smilingly blessed Arjuna.

The Great War began and both sides faced each other. As Arjuna’s charioteer, Krishna held the reins and guided Arjuna without taking up any weapons. It was he who counseled Arjuna on the means to defeat his enemies and guided them to victory. Without Krishna, the Pandavas could never have won the war. It was Arjuna’s humility and devotion to Krishna which secured them the support of the Lord, and helped them trounce their enemies.

The true devotee is one who has a firm faith in the Lord, and performs his duty in a humble manner. Such a devotee always has the lord by his side, guiding him and steering him towards success and happiness.

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Kannappa Nayanar - The Saint who gave his eyes to the Lord The holy shrines of Tirupati and Kalahasti stand amidst seven hills even today covered with jungles. Long long ago, this area was one vast jungle, inhabited by few, except the tribes who considered the jungle their home. This is the story of one such tribal boy , Thimman, who came to be known as Kannappa Nayanar.

Thimman was the son of a tribal chief. A reputed archer in his tribe, he often led his people on hunting expeditions. On one such hunt, Thimman was separated from his friends, and he found himself in an unknown part of the jungle. Trying to find his way out, he came across a small shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.

The shrine was a small one, consisting of just a Shiva lingam, but was clean and neat. Thimman found himself inexplicably attracted to the lingam. He was filled with a desire to make an offering to the deity.

Thimman had no idea about the correct way to pray to the Lord, but he was so consumed with love for Him that he offered the meat he had with him to the Lord. The Lord was touched by the love of the young boy, and happily accepted the meat. Satisfied, Thimman went away, determined to find his way back to the shrine.

The shrine was an ancient one, and was cared for by a Brahmin who lived in the nearest town, many miles away. The poor Brahman was an ardent devotee of Shiva, but could not make the long journey every day, so he came to the shrine once a fortnight, bringing the items of puja along with him. He cleaned and prayed to the deity and made his offerings before returning home.

The Brahmin returned to the shrine the day after Thimman had made his offerings, and was shocked to see the meat lying next to the lord! He assumed that some animals must have left the meat there, and

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cleaned it well with fresh water from a nearby stream before continuing with his routine. The Brahmin left that day, satisfied that he had done his duty.

The next day, Thimman returned, bringing more meat for the lord. He did not know any prayers or rituals, and spent some time talking to the lord and pouring out his heart. This gave him so much pleasure that he started coming to the shrine everyday, bringing with him the catch of the day.

One day, he felt that the lord looked a little dirty, and needed a bath. But how could he give the deity a bath? He had no vessels to bring water! As he walked towards the shrine carrying the day’s catch in both arms, he noticed the small stream flowing nearby and had an idea! He bent and filled water in his mouth and went to the shrine where he poured the water from his mouth on the lingam, thus bathing it. He then made his offerings and spoke to the lord before leaving for the day.

The next time the Brahmin returned to the shrine, he was repulsed by the sight he saw! There was meat all over the place again, and this time, the lingam was covered by spittle! This was not the work of an animal, but a human being! How could anyone thus defile the Lord? He patiently cleaned up the shrine before chanting the mantras and purifying the lingam before making his offerings. Again, he left, having done his duty, hoping that such sacrilege would not occur again.

Imagine the Brahmin’s predicament when he saw the same thing every time he arrived there! Disgusted by the situation, he could not control his tears and addressed the lord aloud, “O Lord, you are the purest of all, the greatest of all Gods. How can you allow such indignities to happen to you yourself? You are the protector of the universe. Please protect yourself from such a sinner!”

Lord Shiva was moved by the Brahmin’s plea, and spoke out to his devotee, “My dear devotee, what you consider indignities is the offering made to me by another devotee. He knows nothing of rituals and correct practices, but, like you, he loves me with all his heart. I am bound by his devotion, and have to accept all

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that he offers me. If you wish to see the extent of his love for me, hide somewhere and see what happens. It is time for him to come.�

The Brahmin was curious about this devotee whom the Lord himself praised and hid himself behind some bushes. Thimman came very soon, as usual carrying meat in his hands and water in his mouth. As he poured the water from his mouth on the lingam and made his offerings, the Brahmin shuddered in his hiding place.

Meanwhile, Thimman was surprised when the lord did not accept his offerings as usual. Wondering what he had done wrong, he looked closely at the Lord. Suddenly, he noticed that there was something oozing from the Lord’s left eye! Horrified, he collected herbs and applied them to the eye, hoping to cure the problem, but it only made it worse, for blood started oozing instead of the water. He tried out a few more remedies, none of which worked.

Finally, he decided that the only way he could solve the problem was by offering the Lord his own eye. Taking one of his knives, he cut his left eye out of its socket, and placed it on the lord! At once, the blood stopped oozing, and Thimman heaved a sigh of relief!

Suddenly, he was shocked to notice that the right eye was now bleeding the same way! He now knew the solution and decided to offer his other eye too. But once he had taken his right eye out, how would he see where to place it? He pondered for a minute, and came up with a solution. Lifting his leg, he placed it on the place where the Lord had his right eye, and with his knife, proceeded to take out his right eye from its socket!

Even the lord could not bear to see this great sacrifice by his devotee, and appeared in front of him! At once, Thimman regained his sight, and prostrated before the Lord. The Brahmin too came out from hiding, and bowed before the Lord.

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Lord Shiva blessed both of them and praised them for their devotion, in their own way. He especially lauded Thimman, and declared him to be a saint – a Nayanar, as the greatest of Shiva’s devotees were known. Since he had given up his eyes (kann is one of the words for eye) for the Lord, he would henceforth be known as Kannappa Nayanar.

By conferring the title of a saint on a lowly tribal boy, the Lord reiterated that it is true love and devotion for the Lord which matter, not the prayers and rituals we perform. Only those who love the Lord with all their heart can hope to attain Him!

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How a Great King was Yoked to the Plough Raja Bhoj was a great king who ruled over Malwa (part of present day Madhya Pradesh). He was a just and kind king, and was always very attentive to the problems of his subjects. He used to disguise himself and move around his kingdom, trying to understand the real situation, and took steps to improve the conditions.

On one such trip, the king came across a farmer who was ploughing his field, but with a difference. Instead of the two bulls which are yoked to the plough, he had yoked a bull to one end, and his wife to the other! The bull and his wife were pulling the plough with great difficulty, and the king was saddened by their plight.

He called out to the farmer, “My dear man, what are you doing? Can you not see that your wife is suffering, yoked as she is with the bull? How can you treat her thus?”

The man, who obviously could not recognize the king in his disguise, continued his work without a pause and replied, “I do not have the time to stop and explain things to you, but in any case, she is my own wife, and this is our own farm. What I do is no concern of yours!”

The king would not give up so easily, and went along with the man, asking for an explanation. At last, the man said, “I had two bulls, but one died recently, and I have no money to buy another one. If I do not plough the field now, I shall not be able to grow anything, and we shall starve this year. I had no choice but to yoke my wife to the plough. I would have yoked myself, but she cannot handle the plough by herself. What else can I do?”

The king was consumed by pity and said, “My dear man, please come along with me, and I shall give you a bull. You do not have to pay me any money.”

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The man replied, “If I leave my work now, the rains might arrive before I plant the seeds. I cannot come with you. If you really want to help me, bring the bull here.”

The king did not want to leave while the woman was still yoked to the plough. He was a righteous king, and could not bear to see such pain. So he said, “Let your wife go along with my men to my wife, and collect the bull. Meanwhile, I shall take her place and plough your field.”

The farmer had no answer to this, and he agreed. Accordingly, he un-yoked his wife, and yoked the king to the plough, and continued his work.

The woman went with the king’s companions to the palace,where she met the queen and told her the tale. The queen was as generous and kind hearted as the king, and she said, “My dear lady, our bulls are well fed and strong. If you yoke them with your old bull, they will not be able to match their speed and energy, and will fall. Hence, take two of our bulls so that you can plough your field properly.”

Thanking the queen for her generosity, the woman returned home with the two bulls, and told her husband that the man who had taken her place was none but the king himself!

The farmer was shocked, and aghast at his treatment of the king. He apologized profusely for his behavior and asked the king to pardon him. Raja Bhoj however was happy with the farmer, for he had not turned to bad deeds even in his misfortune. He took his leave and returned to his kingdom, asking the man to approach him if ever he was in trouble or needed anything.

Time passed, and soon it was time to harvest the crops. The farmer reaped a wonderful harvest, but what stunned him was that the place which the king had ploughed yielded a harvest of real pearls instead of grains!

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Being an honest man, he took the pearls to the king and offered it to him, saying, “O Great king, you helped me in my time of need, and I have reaped a bountiful harvest. I have come to give you your share of the harvest.” Saying this, he handed over the pearls to the king, explaining the matter, and surprising everyone in the court.

The king said, “My dear man, these pearls have grown on your farm, and belong to you. I can not lay any claim on them. So please take them back.”

The farmer replied, “O king, I have reaped the harvest which I sowed, but these are the fruits of your labour, and it would not be proper of me to have them in my possession. Please accept them and use them for the good of others!”

The king had no answer to this, and he humbly accepted the pearls, and rewarded the farmer for his honesty.

There are many things we can learn from this story, but most importantly that there is no work beneath us, for when the great king ploughed the earth to help the farmer, it yielded pearls. Thus, the fruits of our labour will always yield spectacular results.

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The Kind Hearted Dacoit Long, long ago, when the British ruled over India, there were many dacoits in the hilly areas surrounding cities and villages. While some of these dacoits were simply robbers, robbing anyone who came their way, some of them were, at heart, kind and helpful, robbing only the rich, and helping the many poor people of the area. This is the story of one such dacoit named ‘Dilbar’.

Dilbar was a dreaded name in the area he operated in, for there was hardly a rich merchant or landowner who hadn’t suffered at his hands. On the other hand, he was a friend of the poor, whom he often helped in some way or the other. The police were no match for him, since he operated with a trusted band of supporters, and it was difficult to learn his whereabouts. Moreover, Dilbar and his gang knew the area very well and it was not an easy task to catch them. The police finally tried to incite the villagers to hand over Dilbar to them by offering a reward of five thousand rupees – a huge amount in those days!

One day, Dilbar was returning from a heist when the police, acting on information, started chasing him. Riding his horse, which was as agile as he was, he managed to get away, but in the process, he was separated from his gang, and found himself near an old temple on a hill. Hoping to find some water at the temple, he made his way up the hill, but there was no source of water there. By now, Dilbar was really tired and thirsty. Just then, he saw an old woman walking slowly up the hill, carrying a small vessel filled with water, and also a few flowers and fruits.

Dilbar asked her, “Mother, I am very thirsty. Can you please give me some water from your vessel?” The old lady replied, “My son, I had brought this water to pour on the Shiva Lingam inside this temple, but I can see that you are really thirsty. You can drink this water. I shall get more for the Lord later.” The small vessel of water did not have enough to quench the thirst of the burly dacoit, but it helped him regain some of his energy, and he was grateful to the old woman.

He asked her, “Mother, why do you come to this old temple which is up the hill? At your age, it is not easy for you to come all this way. So why don’t you visit a temple which is easier to approach?” The old 43


woman replied, “Son, this is our family temple. It is an old temple which was rebuilt by my son. Some years back, my son and his wife were killed in an accident, leaving behind their young daughter. I have been taking care of my grand daughter for the last few years, though I have no source of income. She is now old enough to get married, and I have arranged her marriage on the coming panchami – the fifth day of the fortnight. I have come to the temple today to pray for her well being, and to ask for the lord’s help in conducting the ceremony. I am, after all, just an old woman, and have none but the Lord by my side.”

Dilbar was touched by the tale of the woman, and resolved to help her. He said, “Mother, you gave me water when I most needed it. Please think of me also as your son, and allow me to help you perform the ceremony. Tell your grand daughter not to grieve for her father. Tell her that I shall arrive and do for her, all that would have been done by her father. I shall give her away in marriage like she was my own daughter!” Saying this, Dilbar rode away to his hideout.

The old woman had no idea about who her benefactor was, and she happily told everyone in the village that a kind man had offered to help her. Within the next few days, bullock carts arrived at her house, filled with the requirements of the marriage ceremony – grains, sweets, fruits, flowers, ornaments and bridal finery!

The rich men in the village looked at all the goods that had arrived with suspicion, and soon guessed that it must be the dreaded dacoit, Dilbar who had sent them. They themselves had borne the brunt of Dilbar’s activities in the past, and informed the police about the happenings. They asked the police to arrive at the wedding venue and nab the dacoit.

Panchami arrived, and, as promised, Dilbar arrived at the wedding venue with his henchmen, and gave away the girl in marriage, performing the functions of the bride’s father. He completed his duties and left, only to be ambushed by the police, who were lying in wait for him.

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Dilbar and his horse were too fast for the police, but he was no match for their long-range guns, and a policeman managed to shoot the fleeing dacoit through his back! The dreaded dacoit fell on the ground, with an expression of utmost happiness on his face, for he had managed to repay the debt of water!

Even though Dilbar was a dacoit, a robber by profession, he was a kind man at heart, and that is how he is remembered, years after his death. Hate and misdeeds are soon punished and forgotten, but kindness and good deeds remain alive long, far longer than life itself.

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Beware of Evil Friends Our parents always tell us to associate with good people, and stay away from those who are bad. We should especially be careful of evil friends, who do us more harm than good. Choosing our friends wisely is one of the most important things we should learn, and there are many stories illustrating this. Here is one story which occurs in both, the Panchatantra as well as the Hitopadesha. This is the story of a lion and his selfish friends.

There once lived a lion in a thick forest. He was a brave and good animal who hunted only for food, and never for pleasure. Among his followers were three crafty animals – a jackal, a crow and a wolf – who tagged along with the lion for selfish reasons. They were lazy, and depended on the lion for food, preferring to eat his leftovers rather than hunting their own prey. The lion did not mind this, since he anyway had his fill of food. Moreover, they knew that they were safe from the other animals as long as they were known to be the lion’s friends.

The lion was ignorant of the truth, and continued to regard the three as his friends, and continued to help them. Thus, the three animals lived a happy and contented life along with the lion.

One day, a camel wandered into the jungle by mistake, and could not find his way out. The three friends happened to see the camel trying in vain to find his way, and realized that he was a stranger. The jackal suggested to his friends, “Let us kill and eat him. He will provide us with food for many days.”

The crow was a bit wary. “He is a large animal, and it might be difficult for us to kill him. Moreover, he might injure one of us. Let us go and ask the lion to kill him. Then we can have the pleasure of tasting him without making any effort” he said.

The other two agreed with his suggestion, and went to the lion. “My lord” they said, “An animal has entered our forest. Please kill him for trespassing on our area, so that we can feast on his flesh!”

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The lion was enraged, and roared “How dare you say that? If the animal has indeed entered our forest, it might be by mistake. We must give him refuge, not kill him. Go and bring him to me, so that we can learn more about him. If he is a danger to me, then we shall see what is to be done.”

The crow flew off and soon came back with the camel. The camel bowed before the lion and said, “O king of the jungle, I am a camel. I was travelling to the city with my master, passing through this jungle, when I got separated and lost my way. Please help me and allow me to stay on here. The grass is lush and green and will provide me sustenance. That is all I ask for.”

The lion was happy and agreed to let the camel stay on.Moreover, he enjoyed talking to the camel, who was unselfish and helpful. Soon, they became good friends. This angered the jackal, the crow and the wolf, who could not bear to see the camel’s influence on the lion.

Then one day, the lion entered into a fight with an elephant, and was badly hurt. He was not able to hunt for himself. A lion never eats what another animal has killed, so he soon grew weak due to hunger.

The three friends were in trouble, for they had forgotten the skills of hunting. They were so used to eating what the lion had killed, that they were unable to hunt for themselves now. They were hungry and wondered how they could secure a meal for themselves.

Meanwhile, the camel was concerned about the health of his friend the lion, but he had plenty of lush green grass to eat, and was growing fatter day by day.

The three friends’ mouths watered as they saw the fat and healthy camel. They wanted to eat him, but were too scared of the lion to kill him by themselves. They went to the lion with a plea. “My lord,” they said, “We cannot bear to see you so thin and weak while your friend the camel grows fatter by the day. Why don’t you kill and eat him? After all, you are a lion and he is a camel. You are justified in eating him, as he is your natural prey.” 47


The lion roared with anger “How dare you make such a suggestion? First of all, I have granted him protection and refuge. Second, he is my friend. How can I kill him now, even though he is my natural prey?”

The jackal was a cunning one, who immediately had a plan. He said, “My lord, under normal circumstances, we would never suggest something like this. You are right. You have given him refuge and assured him protection. But now you are hurt and wounded. You are weak and incapable of hunting. In such a situation, it would not be wrong to eat someone who offers himself to you as food. If the camel himself comes to you and offers himself as food to build up your health, there is nothing wrong in killing him.”

The lion was struck by this argument, and thought for a while. He could not think of anything to counter it, and finally replied, “What you say is right. If the camel himself offers to be my food, there can be no harm in my killing him. But why will he do that?”

This was the answer the jackal was waiting for. He said, “My lord, please do not worry. We shall talk to the camel and explain matters to him. I am sure he will come forward and offer himself as your food!”

As the three walked away, the wolf and the crow were sceptical. They asked the jackal, “Friend, indeed, it would be great if the camel offered himself, but won’t he refuse? Why will he agree to be slaughtered?” The jackal laughed and replied, “I have a plan. Just follow my lead, and see how the camel becomes our food!”

The three of them went to the camel, and sat down with mournful faces. The camel wondered what had happened, and asked, “My friends, why are you looking so sad? What is the matter?”

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The jackal replied, “My friend, our friend the lion is wounded and incapable of hunting. He asked us to go and find a prey for him, but we have not been able to catch a single animal. If he goes hungry any longer, he will be too weak and will die soon. We do not want him to die, and have decided to sacrifice ourselves for him. We are going to offer ourselves to him and ask him to kill one of us to keep up his strength. This is why we are sad.”

The camel was perturbed on hearing this, but he too was worried about his friend’s health, and could not dissociate himself from the plan. He agreed to go along with his three friends, hoping that his friendship with the lion would keep him safe.

As soon as the four friends appeared in front of the lion, the crow said, “My lord, we have searched for a suitable prey for you all over the jungle, but have been unsuccessful. I cannot bear to see you growing weak day by day. Please kill me and satisfy your hunger, at least for a while!”

Hearing the crow speak thus, the jackal came forward and said, “Friend crow, you are indeed a true friend, but I cannot allow you to die while I am alive. Moreover, you are too small to satisfy our friend’s hunger.” He then turned to the lion and said, “My lord, please kill and eat me. I shall be blessed if my flesh will help satiate you!”

It was now the turn of the wolf, who played up to the plan and said, “No my lord, my friend the jackal is too good to be sacrificed. We shall be lost without his intelligence. Instead, please kill and eat me. I am the largest of all and shall satisfy you for the longest period.”

Hearing the animals speak thus, the camel was confused. He did not want to appear selfish by not offering himself for his friend’s health, but was afraid of being killed. However, he took heart from the fact that the lion had not killed anyone yet, and thought that the others would stand up for him. Hence, he too stood up and said, “My lord, my friends have all offered themselves to you, but none of them can fill your stomach. I

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am larger than all of them, and have grown healthy thanks to the lush vegetation here. Please eat me and fill your stomach.�

This was just what the others were waiting for. As soon as he said these words, the lion leaped on him and killed him with a blow. He saw nothing wrong in it since the camel had offered himself.

Once the lion had eaten his fill, the others ate the remnants as usual. The three selfish friends were happy that the situation was back to normal. The lion sometimes regretted his action, for he missed his only unselfish friend, but it was too late.

The camel and the lion, both suffered due to their bad friends. The camel lost his life, while the lion lost his only good friend. This is why we must be extremely careful while choosing friends, and must stay away from bad people. We must make friendship with those who are good at heart and help us, not with those who only want help from us. Such friends are dangerous in the long run.

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Parikshit The Mahabharata war was almost over – most of the warriors, not just the evil and wicked ones, but also those who were good, innocent and brave, were lying dead on the battlefield. However, the hatred and anger in the hearts of the Kauravas and their supporters was not yet dead.

Spurred by such anger and hatred, Ashwatthama, the son of Dronacharya, decided to wreak havoc upon the Pandava forces in the dead of the night. Seeking revenge against Drishtadyumna for killing his father, he entered the Pandava camp while all were deep in sleep and killed Drishtadyumna before he could wake and defend himself. In a last attempt at avenging his friend Duryodhana, he also massacred all the sons of Draupadi, who were fast asleep in their tents. The morning brought despair and grief to the Pandava forces that had been jubilant the night before. When Krishna and the Pandavas managed to track down Ashwatthama at last, he was deep in meditation, but his hatred still had not abated, for he made one last attempt to ensure that the Pandavas would have none of their dear ones left.

Taking up a sacred darbha grass, he turned it into a weapon, and aimed it at the unborn child in the womb of Uttara, the wife of Abhimanyu.Krishna, realizing the danger, immediately took a minute form and entered the womb, and, taking on the effect of the weapon, saved the child, who was the only scion of the Pandavas to survive the war!

This child, son of the brave Abhimanyu, remembered the handsome face of the one who had saved him, and once he was born, tried to recognize the person who had given him life. Even as a new born, he looked searchingly at all who came to see him, earning the name – Parikshit – the one who examines all! His eyes stopped searching the day Krishna came to visit, for he had found the divine being he was looking for.

Parikshit was well tutored by his grandfathers and Krishna, but he was just a young boy when Krishna left for his abode, and the Pandavas, unable to think of living without the guidance of Krishna, attained heaven too, crowning Parikshit as the king.

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The young king had all the qualities of his father and his grandfather, and ruled well with the guidance of those older and more experienced than him. It was during his reign that the Dwapara Yuga ended, and Kali Yugabegan. As soon as Parikshit heard of the advent of Kali into his kingdom, he set out in search of it, so that he could contain it before it created havoc in his peaceful kingdom. He soon saw an old bull with three broken legs, dragging itself by its fourth leg, while a well dressed, but evil-looking man whipped it to go faster! He tried to stop this atrocity, but the man prostrated himself before the king, saying that he was the age of Kali, and he wanted a place to live.

As a king, Parikshit could not refuse one who begged for mercy, so he allowed Kali to dwell in five places – in gambling dens, in taverns where wine was drunk, in places where women of low characters lived, in slaughtering places (where violence was the norm) and in gold. During the reign of Parikshit, Kali remained true to his word, dwelling in only those places he had been allowed to. It was only later that he started extending his activities to other areas too.

Meanwhile, even Parikshit was not immune to the effect ofKali. He had succeeded in limiting his influence, but forgot that he had allowed the demon a home in gold, and thus, Kali took up abode in the golden crown of the king himself, and brought about his downfall!

One day, Parikshit went hunting in the forests surrounding Hastinapur, but was unable to bag a single animal. Wandering deep into the forest, he came across an ashram. Hungry and thirsty, he entered the ashram, hoping to get some food and water, but found no one, but a sage deep in meditation. Overcome by his need, he tried to wake the sage, but to no avail. Normally a patient and sensible man, Parikshit was tired after a hard and unproductive day, and not in the best of moods. Moreover, under the influence of Kali, who was on the lookout for a suitable opportunity, he was overcome by anger, and filled with a desire to punish the sage. Looking around, he saw a dead snake on the floor, and picking it up with his sword, put it around the sage’s neck, and went away.

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The sage was the great Samika, who was engaged in deep austerities, and was completely unaware of the events taking place around him. The misconduct of the king came to light only when the sage’s son, Shrungi, himself a sage of the highest order, returned to the ashram and found his father with a dead snake around his neck. He was able to identify the culprit through his powers, and he cursed the king that he would die in seven days, bitten by the king of the snakes, Takshak himself!

Meanwhile, the sage woke up, and regretted the hasty action of his son, which would cause the death of a great and just king. Unable to convince his son to retract the curse, the sage set out for the palace and informed the king of his approaching demise.

Parikshit, meanwhile had also regretted his actions, and was wondering how he could make amends. He apologized to the sage and thanked him for his information, and started making arrangements for meeting his death.

While all his subjects were deep in despair, Parikshit handed over the reigns of his kingdom to his son Janamejaya, and giving up his possessions, took up residence in a hut on the banks of the Ganga, and started fasting and meditating on the Lord.

The king’s advent to the ashram drew crowds of sages to the place, and soon, there arrived on the scene, Sage Suka, the son of Vyasa. Parikshit was thrilled to see the sage, for this was the best opportunity for him to learn the story of Krishna as well as his own forefathers, for the sage had learnt these stories from his father, the man who had composed the epics himself!

It was then that Suka narrated to Parikshit and the other sages, the story of Lord Vishnu – his many forms as well his teachings, his advice to people, and the rules of good living. This is what is today known as the ‘Srimad Bhagavatham’.

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Having related the story of the lord in the seven days left to Parikshit, the sage left, blessing the king, saying, “O King, you have been blessed, using your last moments to listen to the name of the Lord. In the age of Kali, where even taking the Lord’s name gives salvation, you have already gained your place in heaven. Go and meet your fate with open arms.”

Soon after, when Takshak arrived to perform his duty of killing the king, he found that Parikshit had already merged with the Krishna he adored. It was only the physical body that he bit and turned to ash.

Parikshit lived a short life, but he attained greatness through his thoughts and actions. He paid dearly for one mistake – giving in to anger. His story reminds us never to give in to negative emotions such as anger, and remain in control of our senses.

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Hanuman Hanuman – just the name of the great Vanara warrior brings to mind his extraordinary strength and his devotion to Rama. Indeed, he is the ultimate superhero of Indian mythology!

There are many legends concerning the birth of Hanuman. He was the son of Anjana, an apsara cursed to take the form of a monkey, who married Kesari, a Vanara (a tribe of monkeys) chieftain. But Hanuman was also the son of Vayu, who blessed Anjana with a child who would have his immense strength. It is also said that Hanuman was a form of Lord Shiva, who had appeared on earth to help Lord Vishnu, in his form as Rama, fight the demons. Thus, Hanuman was no ordinary Vanara, but one marked out, by divine will, for great deeds.

As a child, he was known as Anjaneya – the son of Anjana, and was very mischievous, and constantly kept the household on their toes by his antics. One day, he caught sight of the rising sun through the leaves of a mango tree, and mistook it to be a luscious mango. He jumped into the air, trying to catch it, and, with the power of Vayu behind him, soon approached the sun. The sun god, Surya, was alarmed seeing someone hurtling through the air towards him, and summoned Indra, the king of the gods. Indra, without stopping to notice that it was just a child, hurled his Vajra – the thunderbolt, which struck Anjaneya on the chin, making him unconscious. Vayu scooped up his falling son, and attempted to revive him, but with no success. In his anger, he drew all the air from the three worlds, suffocating all forms of life. Brahma and the other gods rushed to Vayu and made amends, reviving his son and giving him special powers. It was then that he earned the name ‘Hanuman’ – the mark of the thunderbolt having been left on his chin (Hanu in Sanskrit).

As he grew older, Hanuman grew even more mischievous, using his special powers to trouble the people around him, having fun at their expense. One day, he troubled a rishi to the extent that the sage cursed him to forget his special powers! However, knowing of the deeds Hanuman was born to perform, the sage added a clause that he would recollect all his powers at the appropriate time, when someone reminded him.

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The loss of his powers turned Hanuman to better deeds, and he was accepted by Surya as his pupil. Once Surya had taught him all he could, as Guru Dakshina, he asked that Hanuman go to the aid of Sugreeva (a Vanara king, who was one of the sons of Surya) when the time came. Hanuman promised to do so, and took his leave from his guru.

The time for Hanuman to fulfill his pledge came when Sugreeva was exiled from his own kingdom by his brother, Vali. He joined Sugreeva and his band of Vanaras on the Rishyamukha Mountain, which Sugreeva had made his abode. It was there that he realized his purpose in life, when he met Rama.

Rama had been exiled from Ayodhya for 14 years, and was living in the forest with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana. Hearing the beauty of Sita and enamored by her, the demon king Ravana kidnapped her and took her away to his far off kingdom of Lanka.

Rama and Lakshmana wandered around the forests searching for Sita. They were directed to Sugreeva by well wishers, and finally arrived at theRishyamukha Mountain. Sugreeva was suspicious about all strangers in the vicinity, assuming them all to be spies sent by his brother, so he sent Hanuman to find out their identity. No sooner had Rama introduced himself that Hanuman felt a strange kinship with him, and he gladly took them to Sugreeva.

Sugreeva and the other Vanaras had seen the beautiful woman being carried away by the demon, but had no idea who she was. They, had, however, collected and kept carefully, the pieces of jewelry she had thrown from the skies towards them. Rama identified the jewelry as his wife’s, and wept for her. Steeling himself to avenge her humiliation, he asked Sugreeva’s help in locating and freeing Sita from the clutches of the demon.

Sugreeva agreed to help him, provided Rama helped him get his kingdom back. Accordingly, Rama killed Vali and made Sugreeva the king, and in turn, Sugreeva sent his Vanaras in all the directions to search for Sita. 56


Hanuman was part of the Vanara group which went south. After much searching, they arrived at the ocean, tired and dispirited. There was no place left to search, yet they had found no sign of Sita. As they prepared to abandon their search, they met an aged vulture, Sampati, who told them that Sita had been taken across the ocean to Lanka, the abode of Ravana.

The Vanaras jumped and shouted in jubilation, but only for a while, for they realized that they still had a long way to go – across the ocean, in fact. Crossing the ocean was an impossible task, but they could not return without news of Sita either!

While the Vanaras argued and discussed amongst themselves, one of them sat apart, deep in gloom. It was Hanuman, who felt even more than the others the responsibility entrusted to him, and had the deep desire to bring Rama news of Sita.

The aged and wise bear, Jambavan, who, along with his army of bears was aiding the Vanaras in their mission, knew that the time had come for Hanuman to realize his abilities, and reminded him of his powers and the curse which had made him forget them.

At once, Hanuman was conscious of a great strength, and the capability of doing the impossible. He willed himself to grow in stature till he stood taller than the tallest hills on the sea shore, and with a thrust which pushed one of those hills into the earth, leaped into the air and flew over the ocean!

He met many obstacles on the way, but he met them all with his strength and intelligence, and landed on the island of Lanka. Overpowering the guardian of the city, he entered the city and after a long search, found Sita imprisoned in the Ashoka Van. He introduced himself to Sita and proved his good intentions by showing her a ring he had brought from Rama. He volunteered to carry Sita back to Rama at once, but this the virtuous lady refused, as it would not be right. She wanted her husband to be the one to free her from the

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demon. Finally, he reassured Sita that her Lord would soon come to Lanka and defeat Ravana, and avenge her humiliation.

His mission accomplished, Hanuman pondered on a way to reassure Sita further and put the fear of Rama into the hearts of the people, as well as the king of Lanka. He created a disturbance in the gardens, and killed the guards sent to catch him, inviting the army to a fight. He fought bravely and succeeded in killing quite a few demons before allowing himself to be caught and taken to the palace, so that he could meet the demon king.

He warned Ravana to set Sita free at once, for Rama was on his way to redeem his wife, but Ravana laughed at the impertinence of the monkey, and ordered his tail set on fire. With the name of Rama on his lips, Hanuman allowed his tail to be set on fire, but the fire did not scorch him. Instead, he managed to set the city on fire, leaving only the Ashoka van unblemished, before setting out on his return journey.

The good news spurred the army to move faster, and soon the army of monkeys and bears with Rama leading them reached the ocean. A bridge was built of stones, boulders and hills with the name of Rama inscribed on them, and the army crossed the ocean with ease and reached Lanka. Once again, Ravana was offered peace, provided he set Sita free, but Ravana preferred to fight, and so the war began.

Hanuman was one of the bravest warriors, killing many demons with his great strength, and making a name for himself by his valorous deeds. When Lakshmana was fatally wounded by Indrajit, the son of Ravana, the physician Sushena announced that the only herb capable of saving Lakshmana was the Sanjeevani, which grew on the Dronagiri Mountain in the Himalayas. But theHimalayas were far, far away, and the herb had to be brought back before sunrise for it to work! How was it possible?

For Hanuman, nothing was impossible, and he set out for theHimalayas, taking his immense form, and flying through the air. Ravana learnt of his intention and sent his uncle, the dreaded Kalanemi to stop him, but Hanuman killed Kalanemi and reached the mountain. However, here he encountered a problem he had 58


not anticipated. The mountain was covered with herbs, and he was unable to identify the right one. There was no time to lose, so he simply lifted the whole mountain and flew back to Lanka!

The Vanaras were stunned at the sight of Hanuman carrying the mountain, but they set to work, collecting the right herbs and reviving not just Lakshmana, but all the Vanaras who had been wounded. After the war was over, Hanuman made the journey again, to replace the mountain at its rightful place.

Hanuman showed his prowess yet again, when Ravana’s half-brothers Ahi Ravana and Mahi Ravana captured Rama and Lakshmana and took them to the netherworld, Patala. It was Hanuman, who bravely entered the nether regions, and rescued the brothers, after killing the twin demons.

Hanuman had formed a very special bond with Rama, and it was Hanuman who was deputed to go to Bharata and inform him of Rama’s return, since the period of exile was over.

Rama’s coronation was a great and much anticipated event, which was attended by the entire army who had helped Rama. After the coronation was over, Rama and Sita gifted everyone with expensive gifts. When it was the turn of Hanuman, Sita took off one of her own pearl necklaces and handed it to Hanuman. Everyone was surprised when Hanuman did not show much enthusiasm over the gift, but instead, scrutinized each pearl and appeared unsatisfied. Finally, Sita asked him if he was unhappy with the gift, to which Hanuman replied, “Of what use is something which does not have Rama in it?” This answer stunned everyone, and finally one of them asked flippantly, “If that is so, is Rama inside you too?” Hanuman did not utter a word, but simply tore his chest open, and there, in plain view to everyone, were Rama and Sita! Such was the devotion and love of Hanuman towards Rama!

When Rama decided to go back to heaven, he asked those who wanted to join him, to come along. While most of the Vanaras and his citizens elected to accompany Rama, Hanuman had a unique request – he wanted to stay on earth till the name of Rama was venerated by the people! Rama granted Hanuman the boon of immortality so that he could forever dwell where the name of Rama was taken with love and reverence. 59


It is said that Hanuman arrives whenever the name of Rama is chanted, and comes to the aid of those who chant Rama’s name. Such is the devotion of Hanuman!

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Puru - The Obedient Son Yayati, the son of Nahusha, was an ancestor of the Pandavas. He was married to Devayani, the daughter of Sukracharya, the preceptor of the asuras. However, Sarmishtha, the daughter of the asura king Vrishaparva, and a rival of Devayani, also fell in love with him, and they secretly got married. Yayati had two sons from Devayani – Yadu and Turvasu; and three sons from Sarmishtha – Druhyu, Anu and Puru.

One day, Devayani suddenly discovered her husband’s secret marriage with her arch rival, and was furious. She rushed to her father, complaining about her husband’s infidelity. Sukracharya was a powerful sage who loved his daughter very much. Saddened by her predicament and angry with his son-in-law, Sukracharya cursed Yayati that he would lose the youth and strength he was so proud of. Immediately, Yayati grew prematurely old.

Stricken with old age in the prime of youth, Yayati begged for forgiveness, reminding the sage that he had once rescued Devayani. The sage relented, and told him that while the curse could not be revoked, he could exchange his old age with anyone who would agree to give him his youth in return.

While Yayati had grown prematurely old, his desires had not abated, and he found himself with the cravings of his natural age in the body of an old man. Eager to revert to his normal appearance, he returned to his kingdom, trying to find someone to exchange his age with. However, he was unable to find anyone who would agree to such a deal, and he turned homewards, hoping that one of his five young sons would help him out.

He first went to his oldest son, Yadu, and asked him to exchange his youth with his old age, but Yadu flatly refused! “People will laugh if they see me so old! You have four more sons whom you love more dearly than me. Why don’t you go and ask them?” he said.

Next, Yayati went to Turvasu, who said, “Father, I do not want to grow old so soon. Please excuse me. Ask one of your other sons.” 61


Yayati then went to Sarmishtha’s sons, since it was his marriage to Sarmishtha which had resulted in his premature aging. But here again, he was repulsed by Druhyu, who said, “Father, if I take up your age, I cannot do any of the activities I enjoy. I cannot agree.” Anu, the fifth son was no more helpful. “The old are helpless and cannot do anything by themselves. I am too young to accept this, father, so please excuse me”, he said.

Yayati was devastated by the refusal of his four sons. His last resort was his youngest son, Puru. If Puru refused, he would have to stay an old man for the rest of his life. He went to Puru and asked him, “Puru, you are my youngest and dearest son. I have been afflicted by this old age due to the curse of Sukracharya. If you take over this old age for a few years, and give me your youth, I can enjoy life for just a little longer, and give you back your youth when I satisfy my desires. All your four brothers have refused. You are my only hope. If you too do not agree, I shall be stuck like this for the rest of my life, however long it might be.”

Seeing the piteous state of his father, Puru was moved, and he said, “Father, you have given me life. The least I can do for you in this state is to give you my youth.” Saying this, he embraced his father. As soon as father and son touched each other, Puru assumed the old age of his father while Yayati became as young as his youngest son.

Leaving the aged Puru to rule the kingdom in his stead, Yayati roamed the three worlds, enjoying his youth, giving in to his desires and experiencing sensual pleasures. Puru proved himself to be a just and able king and gained great renown, while Yayati occupied himself trying to quench his desires and wandered around in search of fulfillment.

After years of such aimless wanderings and indulgences, Yayati realized that giving in to his desires would not bring the ultimate fulfillment. Returning to his kingdom, he confessed the error of his ways to Puru and begged him to take back his youth and return the old age he had so kindly taken away.

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“Freedom from desires is the only way to gain true happiness, my son”, he advised Puru, and, giving up his kingdom to Puru, decided to go to the forest to perform penance.

Yayati’s decision of giving the kingdom to Puru was questioned by many, since he had four older sons, and according to tradition, it is the oldest son who inherits the kingdom. When he was asked the reason for this path-breaking decision, he said, “When a father asks for something from a son, it is not to be taken as a request, but a command. When I asked my older sons for their youth, they flatly refused, thus disrespecting as well as disobeying me. A son who disobeys his father can no longer be considered a son. It was only my youngest son, Puru, who truly loved and respected me, for it was only he who obeyed me. Thus, he alone is my true son, and it is only he who deserves to rule my kingdom.”

Truly, the true son is the one who loves and respects his parents, and obeys them at all times. . By doing so, they become dear to God, and receive His blessings.

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Arjuna Passes the Test Dronacharya was one of the greatest Brahmin warriors of his time. He had learnt the secret of powerful weapons from the great Parasurama himself. When he arrived at Hastinapur to meet his brother–inlaw, Kripacharya, Bhishma entrusted the Pandavas and the Kauravas to his care, and asked him to teach them the skill of wielding weapons.

The Pandavas and the Kauravas were quick to learn, and soon picked up various skills. While all the princes learnt the use of all the weapons, each of them had their own favorites. While Duryodhana and Bhima favored the mace, Yudhishtra’s choice of weapon was the spear. Arjuna was fascinated by bows and arrows, and the twins Nakula and Sahadeva were most comfortable with swords.

While Dronacharya was a fair teacher and treated all the students equally, he couldn’t help admiring Arjuna the most. Arjuna was not only the best archer of all, he was the most focused, he most enthusiastic and the most driven. However, this admiration was misconstrued as favoritism by the Kauravas, and they continually complained against it.

Deciding that it was time these misunderstandings were set at rest, Dronacharya decided that it was time to prove Arjuna’s uniqueness to the rest of the students. He called all the students to the grove outside the ashram. He had placed on one of the trees a wooden bird with a prominently painted eye.

He addressed all the students and said, “Young princes, you have learnt most of the skills necessary for a warrior, and it is time you take a test and show me your abilities. Right now, I want you to show me your skill in archery. There, on that tree is a wooden bird with a painted eye. You have to aim for, and hit that eye.”

The first one to be called was Yudhishtra. Dronacharya asked him to aim at the bird, but wait for him to say the word before letting the arrow loose. When Yudhishtra was ready, Dronacharya asked, “Yudhishtra, please tell me what you can see.” 64


Yudhishtra replied, “I can see the bird, the tree, the fruits on the tree and more birds.” Dronacharya replied, “All right. Leave your bow and arrow and go.” Yudhishtra was surprised, but obeyed his guru and did as he was told.

Next was the turn of Duryodhana. Asked the same question, he replied, “Gurudev, I can see the bird, the tree, the leaves, the fruits, another bird…” But before he could complete, Dronacharya said, “You can go!” Duryodhana was wild, and he flung the bow and arrow to the ground before he stood aside.

Next was the turn of Bhima. Again, he was asked the same question by Dronacharya, and he replied, “Gurudev, I too can see the bird, the tree, the fruits……” he too was interrupted and made to stand aside.

Next was the turn of the twins, one by one. When posed the same question, Nakula said, “I can see the people, the trees and the bird” and Sahadeva said, “I can see the bird, the fruits and the tree.” They too were turned away.

Finally, it was the turn of Arjuna. As soon as Arjuna was ready, Dronacharya asked, “Arjuna, what can you see?” Arjuna replied, “Gurudev, I can see only the eye of the bird, and nothing else.” With a smile on his face, Dronacharya said, “Fire!” and Arjuna let loose the arrow which found its mark.

Dronacharya turned to the other princes and said, “Did you all understand the point of this test? When you aim for something, you must look at nothing else but the target. Only intense concentration can help you strike the target. All of you could see the other things like the trees, the fruits, the leaves and the people because you were not concentrating on the task given to you. It was only Arjuna who was really concentrating. So now all of you know why Arjuna is the best student!”

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Dronacharya’s test silenced the Kauravas, and all understood that Arjuna was indeed the best student.

There is another story which also illustrates the perseverance of Arjuna. Bhima was a voracious eater, and ate all through the day. Sometimes, he woke up hungry at night and continued to eat. One day, Arjuna woke up in the middle of the night and saw Bhima busy eating, even though it was pitch dark, and practically nothing could be seen.

At first he was surprised that his brother could eat in such darkness, but then he realized that if one tried, one could practice and adapt ones eyes to the darkness. This also made him realize that he could learn to practice archery in the darkness too, and immediately began practicing.

To use a bow and arrow in the darkness is no easy task, and it is even more difficult to hit the target under such conditions. However, with his diligence and perseverance, Arjuna soon mastered this skill too. He was one of the few archers who were as good with a bow and arrow at night as they were in the daytime.

Perseverance and concentration help us not just with archery, as in the case of Arjuna, but in all the tasks we perform everyday. Whether it is a project or just homework, working diligently and with concentration, we can complete our work faster, and in a much better way!

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Nachiketa The Kathopanishad deals with the complex matter of life and death, dealt in the simple manner of a dialogue between the lord of death, Yama, and a little boy named Nachiketa. The story of Nachiketa is an inspiring one, and is what forms the basis of the entire Kathopanishad.

Nachiketa was the son of the rishi Uddalaka. Uddalaka was a greatRishi with great capability, but just one flaw – he was a miser. Once, he performed a great Yagna to please the gods. It is customary to donate cows, money, clothes and food to Brahmins during a yagna, but Uddalaka loathed spending precious money to make the donations. He sought an easy way out, donating old and weak cows past their milk-bearing stage, which no one would otherwise take, to the Brahmins who arrived for the yagna. Nachiketa was aware of this, and was deeply disturbed by the parsimony of his father.

He attempted to speak to his father, warning him of the effect of his wrongdoing, but Uddalaka turned a deaf ear to his wise son. Nachiketa did not give up, but instead asked his father, “I too am your property, a property which does not yield any returns. Whom will you donate me too?” This question annoyed Uddalaka so much that he finally lost his patience and shouted, “I shall donate you to Yama!” Yama was the lord of death, presiding over the nether regions called‘Yama Puri’, and Nachiketa decided to go there, as commanded by his father.

As soon as Uddalaka realized what had happened, he repented for his anger as well his greed, and tried to persuade Nachiketa to stay back. However, Nachiketa was firm. He had been given to Yama in charity by the word of his father, and he would gladly go to the abode of death in fulfillment of his father’s command.

Nachiketa found his way to Yama Puri, only to find that the lord was out, and wouldn’t return for 3 days. The guards refused to let him enter the palace in the absence of their master, and the little boy spent the 3 days and nights outside the palace gates of Yama, without a morsel of food or a drop of water! What endurance! and that too for a boy barely 7 years old!

When Yama returned, he was stunned to see the child waiting for him at his doorstep, and was aghast when he learnt that no one had even offered him food or water for 3 days! He reprimanded his wife and servants, and ordered them to serve Nachiketa at once. He himself took the little boy inside and fed him with the choicest delicacies, and made him comfortable. 67


However, he still felt responsible for violating the rules for treatment of a guest, and, in an effort to make up for it, said, “Nachiketa, I have sinned by making a Brahmin child like you wait without food or water. Allow me to cleanse myself by offering you three boons. Ask for whatever you wish, and it will be yours!”

Nachiketa explained the situation to Yama and said that as per his father’s word, he was now a property of Yama, and that he would stay back in Yama Puri as his servant. But Yama pacified him, and assuring him that he was relieved from his bondage, and insisted that he ask for the 3 boons he wanted. Finally, Nachiketa replied, “Lord, thank you for welcoming me so warmly, setting me free of bondage, and offering me the boons. My first wish is that when I return home, my father should welcome me warmly, without any ill feeling.” Yama replied “Let it be so.” Nachiketa then said, “My second wish is that I acquire the knowledge through which I can attain immortality and go to heaven.” Yama was pleased and taught him the secrets of the sacred fire which unveiled the secrets of heaven and immortality. Nachiketa learnt this so fast and easily, that Yama further declared that this fire would henceforth be known by his name, as ‘Nachiketa Agni’.

It was time for the third and final boon. Nachiketa asked for the knowledge of self – Atma gnanam – which is also the secret of life after death. Yama was stunned that such a little boy could ask for such a profound knowledge, and tried to dissuade him, offering him wealth and heaven, instead. But Nachiketa was steadfast. He said to Yama, “you are the only one who can grant met this knowledge, and this is all I want from you. Please grant it to me.” Finally, Yama realized that this little boy was a great soul, and was ready for this profound wisdom, and taught him the secret of ‘OM’, which is the greatest knowledge of all.

Thus was Nachiketa enlightened, and when he returned, he was warmly welcomed by his father and the other rishis, and he grew up to become a great rishi himself before attained the heavens, free from death.

The story of Nachiketa inspires us to be kind to animals, generous with our fellow-men, respect our parents and be steadfast in our resolve.We also learn that Divine knowledge is more valuable than worldly luxuries.

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Abhimanyu Abhimanyu was the son of Arjuna, a young warrior as brave and skillful as his father, probably the youngest warrior on the battlefield, but one who made a name for himself by his valorous deeds.

Arjuna was married to Subhadra, the sister of Krishna. He enjoyed relating to her, tales of his days at the gurukul, and she was always an interested listener. One day, while she was pregnant, Arjuna started relating to her the story of how he had learnt the secret of the army formation – theChakravyuha – the wheellike formation which is extremely difficult to penetrate, but even more difficult to exit! Subhadra was tired, and after a while, she dropped off to sleep while Arjuna continued to talk. However, the child in her womb was interested in his father’s words, and continued to listen, absorbing the information, and learnt the secret of entering the formation. Unfortunately, Arjuna just then realized that his wife was asleep, and stopped. The child was upset, and kicked, waking up his mother, but it was too late, for Arjuna would not continue. Thus, the child, who grew up to be Abhimanyu, learnt the secret of entering theChakravyuha, but he did not know the method of exit.

Abhimanyu grew up at Dwaraka with his maternal family, since the Pandavas were in exile in the forest. Once the period of exile was over, they spent a year incognito in the kingdom of Virata. At the end of the year, the king of Virata, overjoyed at making the acquaintance of the Pandavas, offered his daughter Uttara in marriage to Arjuna. However, Arjuna, who considered Uttara as his daughter, accepted her as his daughterin-law – Abhimanyu’s wife. Thus was Abhimanyu married at an early age, but he scarcely had time to spend with his father or his new bride, for war was declared between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The young warrior refused to stay home, and chose to fight in the war, against scores of warriors older and more experienced than him!

Abhimanyu fought bravely and won the admiration of those much older than him. He was a serious threat to the Kaurava army. The thirteenth day of the battle dawned with Arjuna busy in a far corner of 69


the battlefield, while Dronacharya, the Kaurava commander arrayed his army in the Chakravyuha formation, well aware that none but Arjuna would be able to break the formation. Yudhishtra was at a loss, not knowing how to cope with the situation, knowing that his inability to break the formation would lead to massive losses for them. As a last resort he turned towards Abhimanyu and asked him to lead them and enter the Chakravyuha.

Abhimanyu replied, “Uncle, I will be happy to lead the army and enter the formation, but there is just one thing. I do not know the secret of exit, and once inside, I will be unable to come out. I am not worried about losing my life, but I will not be able to contain the army single handedly.” Yudhishtra was happy with his brave nephew’s answer, and said, “Son, you will not be alone, for all of us will be right behind you and enter the formation after you succeed in breaking it. Even though we do not know the way out, we shall fight together and somehow manage to escape after wreaking havoc within the enemy ranks!”

Thus encouraged, the brave young lad took charge and led the army straight towards Dronacharya at the head of the formation. He charged into the formation, breaching it effortlessly, but the Kauravas had been prepared for just such an assault, and they succeeded in closing the breach almost as soon as it opened. Abhimanyu was left all alone inside the formation, surrounded by the best warriors among the Kauravas – Karna, Duryodhana, Dushasana, Dronacharya, Ashwatthama, and many others.

The young warrior met them all in battle single-handedly with bravery that drew even the seasoned warriors’ grudging appreciation. He made the best use of all the arts he had learnt from his uncle, Krishna, and managed to oppose the best of the Kaurava forces.

Duryodhana was wild when he saw the skill of his sworn enemy’s son, and even more angry at Dronacharya’s appreciation of his mastery over the art of war. He reminded Dronacharya of his duty towards the Kaurava forces and egged him on to perform his duty and defeat the enemy. Much against his will, Dronacharya brought all his experience and skill to the fore, and systematically broke down Abhimanyu’s resistance.

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Surrounded by warriors on all sides, Abhimanyu did not give up, but fought even more spiritedly. When he lost his chariot, he descended on the ground and faced his opponents bravely. When his bow was broken, he picked up a sword and shield. When the sword broke, he took up a mace and then a spear. Even when all his weapons were lost, he picked up one of the wheels of his broken chariot and used it like a discus, facing many enemies at once!

At last, the wheel too broke, but Abhimanyu was not yet through! He engaged Dushasana’s son in mortal combat, where, against all rules, his opponent carried weapons, while he had none. It was so that he ultimately met his end.

Abhimanyu died on the battlefield on the thirteenth day of the war, but his name lives on, as an example to bravery and perseverance in the face of all odds. His story teaches us to face obstacles bravely and perform our duty with diligence and perseverance.

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Sabari The story of Sabari, who was born in a hunter’s family, but attained the feet of Rama, is an inspiring one, occurring in the Ramayana.

Sabari, though born in a low caste hunter’s family, was, from her childhood, averse to killing animals for pleasure, game, or even for food. When, at her wedding, she realized that animals would be sacrificed for her well being, she ran away, and hid in the forest. Seeking succor, she arrived at the ashram of the sage Matanga, who welcomed her with open arms. She was content performing the menial tasks at the ashram, and spent every minute of the day in the contemplation of God.

When the time came for Sage Matanga to depart from his body, Sabari asked him to give her deliverance too. The sage replied, “Sabari, I am an unfortunate soul, whose time has come, and has to leave just when the lord himself is about to arrive at my doorstep. It is you who are fortunate enough to meet the Lord in his form as Rama, and gain deliverance by his own hands. Stay on in this ashram and wait for the day Rama will arrive here with his brother Lakshmana, searching for his wife Sita. Serve him well and your devotion will bear fruit.” Telling her the story of Rama, the sage departed, leaving Sabari alone at the ashram.

Sabari continued her tasks at the ashram, keeping it ready for Rama’s arrival. She woke up everyday, wondering if this would be the day Rama would arrive. After completing her chores, she would make the place ready for Rama’s arrival, and collect fruits and berries for him to eat if he did come. She tasted every berry and kept aside the best and the sweetest of them for her lord. She spent hours removing the thorns from the bushes along the path and the stones on the path, so that her beloved lord wouldn’t be hurt. Thus, she spent many years waiting for her lord who was on his way to her abode.

Rama and Lakshmana arrived at the ashram while searching for Sita, who had been abducted by Ravana. Seeing the lord in front of her eyes, Sabari felt blessed, and happily welcomed him inside, telling him that she had been awaiting him these many years. Making him comfortable, she offered him the fruits she herself had tasted and found the sweetest. 72


Lakshmana was shocked to see the old lady offering fruits that she herself had tasted before offering to Rama. However, Rama was happy to accept the sincere offerings, and blessed the old lady for her piety.

Sabari felt that her greatest desire had been fulfilled by meeting her lord, and, asking Rama to give her salvation, she entered the fire. As the old and crooked lady wearing rags entered the fire, she was transformed into a beautiful young woman wearing silken cloth and many ornaments. In this form, she gained deliverance at the hands of the lord, as Sage Matanga had foretold, and joined her lord and her guru in the heavens.

The story of Sabari teaches us the merits of unflinching devotion to the lord. It shows us that no matter our caste or creed, it is always possible to attain the Lord through pure devotion.

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Markandeya Sage Mrikandu was a great rishi and an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. He and his wife Marudvati dedicated their life to the worship of the lord, and their only regret was that they had no child to pass on their piety to.

One day, Lord Shiva himself appeared before Mrikandu in response to his prayers, and said, “Mrikandu, I am very happy with you and your wife. I have decided to grant you your dearest wish – a child. However, you have a choice. Do you want a son who will be smart and intelligent, but will only live for 16 years, or do you want a long-lived, but foolish son?”

Mrikandu replied immediately, “Lord, we would rather have the intelligent son, even if his life will be short. Of what use is a long life if one is not intelligent enough to make use of it for the right purpose?” Lord Shiva was happy, and disappeared, granting the sage his wish.

In due course of time, a child was born to Marudvati. He was named ‘Markandeya’, literally meaning ‘the son of Mrikandu’. Even as a child, he stood out among the other children of the ashram with his divine luster, which grew as he absorbed knowledge like a sponge.

At a young age, his father performed his thread ceremony and started teaching him the Vedas and the Puranas. The child picked up the mantras easily, stunning the inmates of the ashram. In a few years, he had mastered all theVedas and the Shastras, and made his parents proud of him.

As his sixteenth birthday drew near, Sage Mrikandu and Marudvati started becoming apprehensive, remembering Shiva’s injunction, and fearing that they would soon lose the son whom they loved so much.

Markandeya noticed his parents’ apprehension and asked them the reason for their sadness. Sage Mrikandu explained to him the circumstances of his birth, the conditions laid down by Lord Shiva, and his 74


approaching death. “My son, we were so happy at the prospect of getting an intelligent son that we did not worry about the short life span. But now, we cannot bear to be parted from you, and thus are worried about what will happen just a few days from now” he said.

Markandeya smiled and said, “Father, you have taught me theVedas, the Puranas and the Shastras. You have taught me that the lord always listens to the sincere prayers of his devotees. So please do not worry on my account. It is lord Shiva who has decreed that I should live for 16 years. I shall pray to him, and ask him to extend my life span. He will surely answer to my sincere prayers.” Speaking thus, with a confident smile, Markandeya went to the river bank, and, making a Shiva lingam with sand, started praying to it with all his heart.

Days passed, and Markandeya was immersed in his prayers, when Yama, the lord of Death, arrived to take his soul from his mortal body. Seeing the fearful form of Yama, Markandeya hugged the lingam he had made, tightly.

Yama laughed, and said, “Child, it is my duty to take you today. Nothing and no one can save you now.” Saying this, he threw his noose over the boy, but he was so close to the lingam that the noose encircled the Shiva lingamalong with Markandeya.

As soon as the noose touched the lingam, Shiva was enraged, and burst out of the lingam, and kicked Yama. “How dare you throw your noose on me!” he shouted, stunning Yama. Caught off-guard, Yama tried to explain that it was his duty, but Shiva was furious. He said, “This boy has come to me for protection, and he shall have it. Yama, you can never touch him. He will be immortal.”

Yama was disappointed, but had no choice, and thus chastised, left for his abode. Shiva blessed Markandeya not just with a long life, but also with immense knowledge.

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Markandeya returned home, making his parents very happy. He went on to become one of the most learned rishis of all time.

There are many powerful stotras, such as the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra, which protect one from death, which are ascribed to him. He is also mentioned in many of the sacred epics and Puranas. The Markandeya Purana comprises of a conversation between Markandeya and the rishi Jaimini, and is a storehouse of knowledge and information. The Devi Mahatmayam, a treatise on the Devi, is part of this Purana.

The story of Markandeya shows us how our love for god is reciprocated by the gods themselves, and how far they go to protect their devotees.

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Draupadi Draupadi is one of the most enigmatic characters in the Mahabharata. Daughter of Drupada, the king of Panchala, and the wife of the Pandavas, she was a heroic princess and queen who became well known for her great beauty as well as her strength of mind. A woman who had to undergo great tribulations, she was at once compassionate and generous to the good, but could be fiery and vengeful against her enemies. She was no less heroic than Arjuna or Bhima, for it was she who brought about the ruin of the Kauravas, who had tried to strip her of her dignity.

She shared a very special relationship with Krishna – that of friendship mixed with devotion. She considered Krishna her only true friend; and he too treated her as his best friend. Shree Krishna had taken birth to annihilate the evil kings, and for the destruction of the Kauravas, it was Draupadi, who was his instrument. He gave her the courage to handle all the problems she had to face, coming to her aid each and every time, and he stood by her while she wreaked vengeance on Duryodhana and his brothers.

Her devotion and love for Shree Krishna was great, and she never hesitated to do what she could for him. Once, during the Sankranti festival,Krishna, surrounded by his wives and gopis, was having the fresh sugarcane offered to him. Inadvertently, he cut his finger, and at once, the gopis rushed here and there looking for something to stem the flow of blood. Satyabhama, the dearest wife of Krishna, with characteristic pride, ordered the maids to get a bandage. Meanwhile, Draupadi, who was also present, calmly tore off the end of her new saree and tied it as a bandage. The mutilation of a brand new saree meant nothing to her, but the sight of blood on Krishna’s finger was an unbearable sight to her. Such was her love and devotion to him!

Krishna’s love and affection for her was no lesser, for he always came to her aid, no matter what the situation.

Once, Duryodhana planned to cheat the Pandavas out of theirkingdom of Indraprastha by inviting them to a game of dice. Yudhishtra was a skilled player, but he was no match for Shakuni, the evil uncle of Duryodhana, who was a cunning and deceitful player, with exceptional skills. Duryodhana’s plan 77


worked, and Yudhishtra lost all his possessions, his kingdom, and finally his brothers and himself. Finally, he staked Draupadi, and lost her too!

Thrilled at having the Pandavas and Draupadi as his slaves, Duryodhana ordered Draupadi to be dragged to the court. Yudhishtra hung his head in shame, realizing the unjustness of his action in staking his wife, but it was too late. Draupadi was dragged into the court full of men, dazed and unbelieving in the turn of events.

Draupadi was no meek wife who followed her husband blindly. In the court full of men, she, a lone woman, challenged her husband with questions – Had he lost her before or after he had lost himself? If he had already lost himself, what right did he have to pledge her, since as a slave he had lost all rights over her? As Yudhishtra hung his head, unable to answer his wife, she turned to the old and wise men in the court. “How had they allowed such an act to occur in their presence? Why had none of them protested at such an injustice? She further challenged the game itself – why was Shakuni playing on behalf of Duryodhana? Why had Duryodhana not placed his brothers or his wife as a matching stake?

Draupadi’s spirited questioning made the elders squirm in their seats, but none of them had the courage to oppose Duryodhana, who grew even bolder and ordered Dushasana to disrobe Draupadi.

As Dushasana dragged Draupadi by the hair to the centre of the court, she cast her pleading eyes towards her husbands who did not have the courage to look at her, and the elders present – Bhishma, Dronacharya, Kripacharya and Vidura, who sat silent in their misery, regretting their inability to stop the wicked act. She reprimanded them all for tolerating wickedness and allowing it to flourish.

Any other woman would have drowned in her tears at such humiliation, but Draupadi was no ordinary woman. She was a true Kshatriya queen, fiery and intense. She was knowledgeable and intelligent, and did not hesitate to take a stand against evil. Even as she was being dragged by Dushasana, she ridiculed him for

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choosing to show his prowess against her, an unarmed woman. She challenged him to do the same with her husbands, taunting him that he wouldn’t dare to take on any of her husbands in a fight!

Not finding one soul in the entire court ready to come to her help, she turned to the only one who would aid her – her Krishna! If there was anyone who could help her and save her from disgrace, it was her friend and mentor, Shree Krishna. She started repeating his name again and again, believing fervently that he would come to her aid.

The lord never abandons a devotee in distress, and Krishnadid not wait a moment! As soon as Draupadi uttered his name with devotion, he came to her aid, providing unending lengths of cloth to preserve her modesty!

As the wicked Dushasana began the despicable act of disrobing Draupadi, he was stunned to see that as one saree left her body, another miraculously appeared to clothe her, not allowing an inch of the great woman to lie exposed! He continued to pull her saree, and more appeared, to the growing awe of the whole court, and the utter bewilderment of the wicked Kauravas. At last, Dushasana was so tired and fatigued that he collapsed on the floor, while Draupadi stood tall and proud, surrounded by the unending yards of cloth, her gift from her beloved friend, Krishna.

This was not the only occasion Shree Krishna came to Draupadi’s aid. He continued to come to her aid, no matter when and where she remembered the Lord. Once, when the Pandavas were in exile in the forest, the sage Durvasa arrived with thousands of his disciples. As was the custom in those days, Yudhishtra invited him to partake of food, to which the sage agreed, saying that he would come to eat after having a bath in the river. When Yudhishtra informed Draupadi, she was crestfallen, for she had just cleared up all the vessels for the day, and there was no food left!

Scared at the prospect of inviting the wrath of the sage, who was known for his anger, Draupadi turned to Shree Krishna again, calling out to Him with all her heart. Krishna appeared at once, and 79


mischievously asked her for food. The exasperated Draupadi showed him her cleaned vessels, from which Shree Krishna picked up a bit of rice stuck to the rim, and teased her saying that she did not know how to clean vessels! As Draupadi bowed her head, Krishna ate the rice, and said, “Ah! That has satisfied my hunger! Now go and call the sage for food!” Draupadi looked on in amazement, but she trusted Shree Krishna, and immediately obeyed him.

Meanwhile, the sage and his disciples, emerging from their bath, suddenly felt so full and satiated that they realized they could not eat another morsel, and excusing themselves from Yudhishtra, left the forest at once!

Shree Krishna continued to help Draupadi through all her troubles, while his wives wondered what was so special about her. Krishna’s two principal wives, Rukmini and Satyabhama asked him in what way Draupadi’s love and devotion superior to theirs. To answer their question, Shree Krishna took them along when He went to visit the Pandavas. Draupadi had just had a bath and was drying her hair when they arrived. Krishna asked Rukmini and Satyabhama to comb Draupadi’s hair, since it was tangled. Usually, combing hair is the duty of the maids, but when Krishna asked them to do so, they agreed, for none of them could refuse Shree Krishna. Imagine their surprise, when, as they combed the hair, they heard the name of Krishna repeated again and again. After searching all over for the source, they realized that the sound was coming from the hair itself! Each hair was calling out Shree Krishna’s name! Such was the devotion of Draupadi. Rukmini and Satyabhama realized that Draupadi was indeed one of the greatest devotees of Shree Krishna.

Draupadi’s story teaches us to develop the mental strength to face all sorts of trials and tribulations that life may throw at us. While we should never harm or hurt the good, we must never tolerate wickedness. We should always be devoted to the Lord, and have firm faith in His protection.

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We must always remember how Draupadi never wavered from her devotion to Shree Krishna in spite of all the troubles she had to face, and how the Lord proved repeatedly that he always responds to our sincere prayers.

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Vidura Vidura is one of the wisest characters in the Mahabharata. Born of the servant maid of Ambika and Ambalika, the wives of Vichitravirya, Vidura was the half brother of Pandu and Dhritarashtra.

Though he had two wives, Vichitravirya was unable to beget children, and the great sage Vyasa was summoned for consultation. Faced with the powerful aura of the sage, Ambika shut her eyes while Ambalika turned pale and weak. It was only the servant maid accompanying them who remained calm, and in due course, children were born to all three of them. While Ambika’s son was born blind, Ambalika’s son was weak and pale. It was the maid’s son who was born with the knowledge and the wisdom of the great sage, and grew to be Vidura – respected by the young and old alike.

It is believed that Vidura was an incarnation of Yama orDharmaraja – the lord of righteousness and also of death. Yama incarnated as Vidura due to the curse of the sage Mandavya.

Sage Mandavya had acquired great strength of mind and knowledge of the scriptures and spent his time in penance, living in his ashram on the outskirts of a city. Once, a band of thieves who had robbed the palace came that way, followed by the king’s guards. Seeing the ashram, they hid the loot in a corner and ran away. The king’s guards entered the ashram and asked the sage about the robbers, but he was so deep in meditation that he was not aware of the happenings around him. Meanwhile, the guards discovered the loot in the cottage and came to the conclusion that the sage was one of the robbers, so disguised. They impaled the sage on a spear and returned to the city.

Meanwhile, the other sages in the area came to know of the incident and arrived at the ashram, and the king, getting the news, arrived too, afraid of the sage’s reaction. However, the sage, when he came to himself, was far from angry at the king or his guards. He wondered which of his past misdeeds would have earned him such torture, and accordingly went to Yama with the question.

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Yama answered, “O sage, it is indeed your past deeds which earned you this punishment. As a child, you tortured insects and other small creatures, which is why you suffered the same fate as them!” Hearing this, the sage was angry “The punishment you have decreed for the act of an innocent child is far too harsh. Be born, therefore as a mortal on earth!” it was in response to this curse that Yama incarnated as Vidura, and epitomized the ideal of knowledge without attachment, ego or anger.

As the son of a servant, Vidura was never considered a contender for the throne of Hastinapur. However, Bhishma insisted on educating him on par with his brothers and made him their minister. Even at an early age, Vidura showed his greatness and his statesmanship, guiding his royal half-brothers on the right way to rule the kingdom.

Vidura, as the chief counsel to Dhritarashtra, continually advised him against wrongdoing, even when he knew that his advice would go unheeded. Once, Dhritarashtra was so angry with his advice that he ordered him to leave the city at once. Vidura, without an angry word or rancor, left the city and headed towards the abode of the Pandavas. However, Dhritarashtra soon realized his error and sent messengers to bring back Vidura, who agreed at once and came back, without any negative feelings; for he knew he was on the right path and simply doing his duty. Such was his attachment to duty, without any attachment to the people involved!

Vidura

was

also

among

the

few who

were

aware

of

the

divinity

of Krishna.

When Krishna arrived at Hastinapur to advise Duryodhana against the war, it was at Vidura’s house that he elected to stay, instead of the grand palace designated for him. Vidura and his wife were thrilled and made every arrangement possible for their divine guest. An interesting story illustrates the love that Krishnahad for Vidura.

While at Vidura’s house, Krishna and Vidura spent the time discussing the various scriptures and exchanging knowledge. The conversation was so engaging that Vidura, who was peeling bananas and handing them over to Krishna to eat, mistakenly started handing over the peels to Krishna instead of the fruits! Krishna calmly ate the peels without uttering a word, and this blunder was discovered only when 83


Vidura’s wife interrupted them! Vidura was appalled at his behavior, but Krishna assured him that this was one of his ‘leelas’ – his doings, so that people would understand that the lord would accept anything offered with love, not just the fruits, but the peels too!!!

Once the Mahabharata war was over, Vidura continued to counsel the Pandavas and guide them in the righteous way of governance. When the time came, it was he who made Dhritarashtra and Gandhari aware that it was time for them to leave for the forest, giving up their attachment to worldly life. Kunti elected to go with them too, and all four of them entered the forest together. While Kunti, Dhritarashtra and Gandhari soon left their bodies and attained heaven, Vidura continued his penance till the time came for him to leave his mortal coil.

Vidura proved himself to be the embodiment of Dharma – truth and righteousness. Moreover, he lived his life by the rules of non-attachment and forgiveness, and most of all, devotion to the lord.

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Yudhishtra and the dog The great Mahabharata war, fought between two factions of the same family – the Pandavas and the Kauravas – was an epic battle, fought by the righteous against the wrongdoers, a war which brought sadness to the hearts of all, on both sides, proving that indeed war, even as a last resort, was something which only brought about destruction, and was to be avoided at all costs.

The Pandavas, under the guidance of Lord Krishna, won the Great War, and ruled Hastinapur righteously and well for many years. Yudhishtra was a kind and just king, and took care of his subjects as if they were his own children. He was good to all, no matter what his status or position. He not only cared well for his mother, Kunti, but he also took good care of the old king Dhritarashtra and Gandhari, the parents of his enemies, the Kauravas, right till the very end of their lives.

One day, a messenger came to Hastinapur with the news that Lord Krishna had left his corporeal body and ascended to his place in the heavens, along with all his kinsmen, the Yadavas. This news left Yudhishtra heartbroken and he felt the time had come to give up the throne and proceed to the forest. He could not bear to rule, bereft of Sri Krishna.

When he put forth his intention of relinquishing the throne and departing to the forests, his brothers and wife also insisted on going with him. Handing over the reins of the kingdom to their grandson Parikshit, who was then a young boy, the Pandavas, along with their faithful wife Draupadi left for the forest.

They gave up all their wealth and weapons, and, clad like ascetics, left on their last journey towards the Himalayas. The people of Hastinapur were sad to see their wise and noble king leave, and followed them for a short while before turning back to lead their normal lives. However, a dog continued to follow them towards the mountains. As they started ascending the mountains covered with snow, Yudhishtra turned to the dog, and asked it to return, explaining that it would be difficult to survive the extreme cold and the rough terrain. However, the dog refused to turn back, and continued to follow Yudhishtra.

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A short way up the mountain, it was Draupadi who first succumbed to the lord of death. Bhima asked Yudhishtra, “Brother, we have lived together in life, why is Draupadi first in death?” Yudhishtra replied, “Bhima, we all lived together, and Draupadi was affectionate towards all of us, but it was Arjuna she was partial to. This was her only fault, and it is why she has fallen first.”

As they ascended higher, it was the twins turn next. Sahadeva fell first, followed by Nakula. Again, Bhima was curious about the reason for their death, to which Yudhishtra replied, “Sahadeva was too proud of his wisdom, and Nakula was vain about his good looks. These were the sins for which they have been taken at this stage.”

Next was the turn of the courageous Arjuna. Bhima was stunned and again asked the reason for his early demise, to which Yudhishtra replied, “Arjuna was too proud of his valour and his prowess. He has paid for this, leaving us now.”

A little further on, Bhima himself fell, and as he was dying, asked, “Brother, which are the faults for which I am paying with my life?” Yudhishtra replied without turning back, “Brother, your gluttony and boastful nature have brought you to this. Even you can not accompany me any higher than this.”

Finally, it was just Yudhishtra and the dog who continued higher, towards the peak of the mightiest of the mountains, the abode of the gods. As they approached the peak, Indra, the king of the gods appeared with his chariot, and welcomed Yudhishtra to heaven, informing him that the gods had granted him a boon to attain heaven in his mortal form.

Yudhishtra replied, “O king of the gods, I am honoured by your boon, but please tell me what has become of my brothers and my wife who departed this world before me.” Indra replied, “Do not worry about them. All your kinsmen have reached heaven, and are awaiting your arrival there.” Yudhishtra then asked, “But what about Krishna, and all the Yadavas? They are my kinsmen too.” Indra smiled and said, “They are

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also in heaven. Please climb into the chariot so that you can meet them soon.” Yudhishtra was happy, and moved towards the chariot, accompanied by the dog.

As the dog was about to step into the chariot, Indra said, “Stop! Dogs are not allowed here!” Yudhishtra was stunned as the dog turned back, its head and tail cast down. He said, “If the dog cannot ascend the chariot, neither can I. you can return without us. Indra was astounded. “But this is just a dog. You are a great King and a great human being, and have earned the right to attain heaven, and that too in your mortal form. I cannot grant the same boon to a common dog!”

Yudhishtra replied, “This dog followed me as I left behind all my personal possessions. He stayed with me even as my wife and my brothers departed for the heavens. I cannot desert him at this stage, repaying his loyalty with ingratitude. I do not wish to enter the heavens if he is not allowed to do so.”

Indra continued to argue, pointing out that Yudhishtra had not even stopped to perform the last rites of his brothers and wife when they died along the way. Why should he now wait for a dog who wasn’t even related to him? Yudhishtra patiently answered, “My brothers and wife completed their span of life on earth and passed on when their time came. We had severed all bonds of family and relationships when we left our kingdom to go to the forest. Why should I stop for them when they have already gone on their way? This dog is in no way related to me, but it is he who has given me company even when those closest to me have left my side. It would be sheer ingratitude if I went on my way, leaving him behind.”

Seeing Yudhishtra adamant, Indra thought for a while and said, “I cannot allow both of you to enter the heavens together, but if you like, you can exchange positions with him. He can go to heaven in your place, while you will enter hell in his place. Will you agree to this?” Yudhishtra replied, without even pausing to think, “I agree. Please take him to heaven in your chariot. I shall take his place in Hell.”

As Yudhishtra spoke these words, the dog disappeared, and there stood in its place, Dharma – the lord of righteousness. Indra and Dharma both applauded Yudhishtra’s adherence to his principles, and 87


his immense love and kindness for all creatures. Thus did Yudhishtra justify the title ofDharmaraja – The Righteous King.

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Lord Rama and the squirrel You know that Rama was not just a great king; he was also an avatar of Lord Vishnu. But, did you know that a little squirrel once helped Lord Rama? How? Well, here is the story.

The wicked demon king Ravana had carried away Sita, the wife of Rama, the great prince who was in exile. Along with his brother Lakshmana, Rama went in search of his wife, and enlisted the help of the Vanara king, Sugreeva. Learning that Sita was kept at Lanka, the kingdom of Ravana, which lay across the ocean, Rama, along with the Vanara army, arrived at the seashore.

To reach Lanka, they had to cross the vast ocean, and after much discussion, it was decided that a bridge would be built across the ocean. The multitudes of monkeys and bears which formed the Vanara army were asked to bring stones and boulders to the seashore, so that a bridge could be built.

Shouting with excitement, and happy at the prospect of helping Rama, who was a form of Lord Vishnu, the monkeys and bears ran around, looking for the biggest stones they could find. The Vanaras were a strong race, and they carried huge boulders, and even hills, on their shoulders easily, and dropped them in the ocean to help build the bridge.

The other animals at the seashore too wished to help Rama, and each of them helped him in his own way – the fishes and the other sea creatures did their bit by helping the boulders rest at the right place, while the birds flying overhead brought small stones to fill the gaps.

A small squirrel was seeing this huge effort, and he too wished to help. He thought for a moment, and then started collecting small pebbles lying on the shore, and dropped them in the ocean. After a while, he was too tired to even carry those pebbles, but still wanted to participate. He ran to the edge of the water, and, after rolling in the sand, ran to the water and washed himself. He ran back to the shore and rolled again, and more sand got stuck to him, since he was now wet. Again he ran to the water to wash himself. The

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small grains of sand which stuck to his body were all he could contribute to the massive task of building a bridge across the ocean!!

However, the small squirrel rushing to and fro on the shore was now getting in the way of the monkeys who were carrying huge boulders, and they started shouting at him, asking him to get out of the way.

“Brothers, I too want to help you. These small grains of sand are all I can throw into the ocean as my contribution to the bridge. Please do not shout at me”, said the little squirrel.

The monkeys laughed out aloud, and shouted, “Of what use are these tiny grains of sand, which can scarcely be seen among the huge boulders and hills we are bringing. Get out of the way and let us do our work!”

The squirrel was unperturbed, and continued its work calmly. Finally one of the monkeys, in his anger, picked up the squirrel and flung him far away from the shore.

Rama, who was watching this, caught the squirrel before it fell, and set it down carefully. He then addressed the Vanara army, “O Vanaras, you are brave and strong, and are doing a wonderful job bringing all these huge boulders and stones from far and dropping them in the ocean. But did you notice that it is the tiny pebbles and stones brought by this small squirrel and some of the other smaller creatures which are filling the small gaps left between the huge stones? Further, do you not realize that the tiny grains of sand brought by this squirrel are the ones which bind the whole structure and make it strong? Yet you scold this small creature and fling him away in anger!”

Hearing this, the Vanaras were ashamed, and bowed down their heads. Rama continued, “Always remember, however small, every task is equally important. A project can never be completed by the main people alone. They need the support of all, and however small, an effort should always be appreciated!”

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Rama then turned to the squirrel and said softly, “My dear squirrel, I am sorry for the hurt caused to you by my army, and thank you for the help you have rendered to me. Please go and continue your work happily.” Saying this, he gently stroked the back of the squirrel with his fingers, and three lines appeared where the Lord’s fingers had touched it.

Thus did the squirrels get the 3 stripes on their backs, as a blessing from Lord Rama, to remind us that no task, however small, is unimportant! Every task should be looked upon as service to the lord, and his blessings will always be with us.

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Karna - The Generous Karna is one of the most fascinating characters in the Mahabharata. Born of Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, he was fated to fight on the side of the Kauravas. However, Karna stands out among the other warriors thanks to his generosity and his gratitude to those who helped him in his time of need.

Kunti was a young princess when the great sage Durvasa visited her father’s kingdom. She took great care of the sage and looked to his comforts with humility. The sage was pleased and decided to grant her a boon. With his unique powers, he foresaw the future, and taught her a mantra which would invoke a god of her choice, who would give her a son.

The young Kunti was curious about the mantra, and seeing the sun shining brightly, invoked the Sun God, but was appalled when she found herself with a small child, bright as the sun himself, wearing golden earrings and armour. Afraid of the consequences of her rash action, Kunti abandoned the child, placing him in a basket floating down the river.

The child was found by Adhirath, a charioteer of Hastinapur. A childless man, he took the child as a gift from the gods and brought him up as his own son. Named Vasusena by his adoptive parents, the child came to be known as Karna due to the golden earrings he was born with, in his ears (ears are called 'karn' in sanskrit).

Kunti was later married to Pandu, the king of Hastinapur, and had three children. Pandu had two more children through his other wife. These five children were known as the Pandavas. After the death of Pandu, it was Kunti who brought them up together, proud of her five sons, though never forgetting her first born, the one she could never call her own.

Karna grew up in the charioteer’s house, but his illustrious lineage showed through his actions. Wishing to learn the arts of war, he tried to gain acceptance into one of the many ashrams teaching young Kshatriyas and Brahmins the skill of handling weapons, but was refused admission since he was the son of a 92


charioteer, considered to belong a low caste. Tutoring himself, he mastered many skills, and finally gained the tutelage of the great Parasurama, but under the guise of a Brahmin, since there was no other caste the sage would teach. Parasurama started teaching him the secret of the Brahmastra, the greatest of all weapons, believing him to be a Brahmin. One day, as Parasurama reclined on Karna’s lap, a bee bit Karna, and, unwilling to wake the sage, Karna bore the pain as well as he could. The sage awoke and realized Karna’s predicament, but was furious, for he realized that no Brahmin could bear the kind of pain Karna had. He knew at once that Karna was a Kshatriya, and refused to accept Karna’s assurance to the contrary. In his anger, the sage cursed Karna that since he had lied to his guru, he would forget the skill he had learnt through deceit at the moment he most needed them.

Karna’s misfortune continued when he mistakenly shot a cow and was cursed that he himself would be killed when he was as helpless as the cow he had killed.

In spite of such misfortunes, Karna continued to master all the skills he could learn. His caste again came in the way when he tried to prove himself as a talented archer, and he was not allowed to showcase his skills against those of the princes.

Duryodhana recognized the talent of the young man, and was quick to enlist his friendship, making him the King of Anga, thus elevating his status. It was a favor Karna never forgot, considering himself indebted to Duryodhana for the gesture, and stood by his friend through thick and thin, even after he learnt the story of his birth. While he was aware of Duryodhana’s wrongdoing, and continually advised him against it, he was always grateful for his friendship, and always stood by his side, to the extent of fighting the war with Duryodhana even when he knew he was doomed to die.

Arjuna and Karna were bitter enemies, especially since they were both equally adept at archery.

Kunti worried about the rivalry between her sons and Karna. She recognized him as her abandoned son and regretted her hasty action. In an attempt to make amends, she went to meet him as he 93


performed his oblations in the river, a ritual he performed every day at dawn. Surprised to see the mother of his rival waiting for him, he asked her the reason for her presence.

Kunti related to Karna the story of his birth and begged him to join the Pandavas, his brothers. Karna was saddened by the tale, but he said, “I can never abandon Duryodhana, since he befriended me when I had no friends. I can not be so ungrateful as to abandon him in his need.” However, he reassured Kunti that his rivalry was with Arjuna; and Arjuna alone. He would not fight or kill any of her other sons during the battle. He would only fight with Arjuna.

Indra was also worried, since he knew that Karna was the only danger to Arjuna. He also knew that as the son of the Sun God Surya, Karna was born with golden earrings and armour which made him invincible. He therefore decided to trick Karna into parting with them. Surya was aware of Indra’s intention, and warned Karna.

Indra arrived in the guise of a Brahmin when Karna was completing his morning rituals, knowing that Karna would give alms to the poor Brahmins after he finished. Karna at once recognized Indra, but graciously asked him to accept something. Indra was waiting for Karna’s word, and at once asked him for his earrings and armour. Karna smiled, and taking his knife, immediately cut off the armour which grew with his body, and his earrings, and handed them over to Indra, remarking that he was happy to be able to give alms to the king of the gods himself.

Indra was stunned by Karna’s generosity, and offered him a boon in return. Karna asked for Indra’s Shakti, an invincible weapon which always found its mark. Indra had no choice but to grant his wish, but he added a condition that Karna would be able to use it just once.

Karna was surely the most generous of men, but his misfortunes in the form of various curses, and his bad choice of companions proved to be his downfall. Keeping his promise to Kunti, he refused to fight any of the Pandavas except Arjuna, saving his most potent weapon for his arch rival. Unfortunately, he was 94


forced to use the Shakti when Bhima’s rakshasa son Ghatotkach threatened to wipe out the Kaurava forces, since nothing else seemed to work against the giant. At the final battle with Arjuna, all his curses seemed to work together, when he first forgot the mantras which he had learnt from Parasurama, and finally when his chariot wheel got stuck in the mud, and he was killed by Arjuna while he was helpless, trying to get it out.

Karna might have been one of the Kauravas, a close friend of Duryodhana, but he will always be remembered for his generosity. Indeed, he earned well the name “Daanveer Karna�!

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Vamana Avatar Bali, the king of the demons, was the great grandson of Prahalada, one of the greatest devotees of Lord Vishnu. Unlike many of the other demons, Bali was a devotee of Lord Vishnu, and a just and kind ruler. He was righteous and truthful, and ruled his kingdom so well that there was peace, prosperity and happiness all around.

He conquered the three worlds and usurped the throne of Indra, the King of the Gods. Seeking to take over Indra’s position for ever, he started conducting horse sacrifices, known as the Ashwamedha Yagna. Indra was now worried, for if Bali succeeded in completing 100 Ashwamedha Yagnas, he would be successful, and Indra would lose his position for ever!

Indra and the other gods rushed to Lord Vishnu, and asked him to stop Bali. However, Lord Vishnu refused. “Bali is a righteous king, and he has not committed any sins. Besides, he is a devotee of mine. How can I go and stop him from performing the sacrifices?” he asked.

Indra pleaded with him, asking him to consider, since Balibecoming Indra meant the rise of the demons, most of whom were evil. Moreover, Indra and the other gods’ parents – the sage Kashyapa and his wife Aditi – also beseeched Lord Vishnu to help. Finally, Lord Vishnu agreed, saying that he would neither kill nor punish Bali, but would just cut down his powers and get back Indra’s kingdom for him. He also blessed Aditi, the mother of the gods, saying that he would be born as her son to help her children.

In due time, Lord Vishnu was born to Aditi and Kashyapa. He grew soon, but had the form of a dwarf, and came to be known as ‘Vamana’ (a Sanskrit word for dwarf). Sage Kashyapa was thrilled at his good fortune, and performed the ceremony investing him with the sacred thread.

Carrying an umbrella and a kamandalu (jar of water), wearing the simple garb of a Brahmin boy, Vamana proceeded to the place where Emperor Bali was performing the yagna. In those days, it was the

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custom to give cows, clothes and money to Brahmins in charity while performing a yagna, and many Brahmins had collected at the site to accept the offerings.

Vamana joined a group of Brahmins and awaited his turn, but his luster shone among them, and was noticed by Sukracharya, the preceptor of the demons. Sukracharya realized that something was amiss, and suspected that it was none other than Lord Vishnu. He warned Bali immediately, asking him to adjourn for the day and not give anything in charity. However, Bali said, “Guruji, even if it is Lord Vishnu himself who has come to test me or take away all that I have, I shall be thrilled to do his bidding!”

Finally it was Vamana’s turn to accept charity. As soon asBali set eyes on him, he felt blessed, and bowing reverentially before him, asked him what he desired. “O great one, your beautiful face shines like the sun. I shall be gratified by giving you what you desire. Please let me know what would be of use to you. Can I give you cows, or do you need gold coins, or is it silken clothes that you desire? Please do not hesitate to ask me” he said, very humbly.

Vamana replied, “O great king, I do not desire any of these things. I do not have need for silken robes or gold coins. What will I do of those? Cows may be useful to me, but I have no place to keep them. I have

no

land

I

can

call

my

own.

Can

you

give

me

a

bit

of

land?”

Bali laughed, “O Brahmin, I can give you as many acres of land as you wish!”, but before he could complete, Vamana had interrupted him, “O king, I do not desire acres and acres of land. All I want is three steps of land that I can measure with my own feet. That is enough for me!”

Hearing this, the whole assembly laughed! The lad was so small, and yet he only desired three paces of land, and that too, paced by his tiny feet! Only Sukracharya was wary. Sensing trouble, he once more warned Bali against giving in. But Bali said, “Guruji, I have given my word. No matter what he asks, I shall give. Please do not interfere.”

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He turned to Vamana, and tried to convince him to accept more, but seeing him adamant, picked up the water vessel to seal the charity. Sukracharya made one last effort to stop Bali, and, taking the form of a bee, entered the vessel, blocking its mouth. When the water did not flow out, Vamana took a blade of darbha (sacred) grass, and pierced the mouth of the vessel. It pricked Sukracharya in one eye, and the pain forced him out of the vessel. Since then, Sukracharya has only one eye!

Water flowed freely as Bali and his wife gave in charity the land asked by Vamana, and the king asked him to measure the land he wanted.

As people looked on, the short form of Vamana started growing, and steadily grew till he touched the skies. As everyone looked up, thunderstruck, Vamana took the first step, encompassing the whole earth, and the second, which covered the heavens. Two of the three worlds gained, Vamana looked down atBali and said, “O king, I have taken two steps, but I can’t find place to keep the third. You have promised me 3 steps of land. If you do not give me a place to keep my third step, you will be breaking your promise and shall go to hell. Tell me what I should do!”

Bali, who was looking open-mouthed at the turn of events, collected himself and said, “Lord, I am thrilled to have the opportunity of serving you. You have already blessed me by appearing before me in this form. I do not want to incur the sin of breaking my promise. Therefore, please bless me by placing your foot on my head as the 3rd step.”

As Bali bowed down, Vamana brought his foot down, and gently placed it on Bali’s head, sanctifying him with the contact. He said, “Rise, O King! You have justified well the belief I had in your integrity, and proved to the world that you are a true devotee. I have taken away two of the three worlds you have conquered, but you still have the nether regions. Go there with your clan, and rule as wisely and as well as you have ruled the earth and the heavens. Since you aspired to become Indra and performed these sacrifices righteously, I also grant you the boon that you shall be born as Indra in another Manvantara.” Saying this, Vamana disappeared, having completed his mission. 98


Vamana was the fifth avatar of Lord Vishnu, one where he does not kill any asuras, but teaches us the lesson of truthfulness and integrity.

This wonderful leela between God and His devotee teaches the lesson of truthfulness and integrity. Like Bali, we must be willing to offer everything we have to keep our promise to God.

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Harishchandra - The Truthful King Harishchandra, the son of Trishanku, was an ancestor of Rama. He ruled over Ayodhya with his wife Taramati and son Rohitashwa. He was a just and kind king, and his subjects led a happy and peaceful life during his reign.

Harishchandra had, early in his life, learnt the value of truth, and decided to never tell a lie, or go back on his word. In time, he gained fame for his truthfulness, honesty and integrity. This fame reached the ears of the gods in heaven, and they decided to test him. The sage Vishwamitra was selected to be the one to test the king, and accordingly he set out on his task.

Seeking to accomplish his task, Vishwamitra tried many things to get Harishchandra to lie or to renege on a promise, but all his efforts proved in vain, for Harishchandra was as committed to his values as had been heard by the gods.

Finally, Vishwamitra manipulated circumstances into a situation where Harishchandra was obliged to give up his kingdom and all his possessions to the sage. Even when thus tricked, Harishchandra gave up his kingdom with a smile, and with his wife and son, wearing only rags and barks of trees, set out for the forest. Stunned by such generosity, and in a last attempt at provoking the king, Vishwamitra asked him for the donation which is given to a sage after charity – the Dakshina.

The king, having given up everything he owned, had nothing left to give as Dakshina, but unwilling to commit the sin of refusing a Brahmin hisDakshina, asked Vishwamitra for a reprieve. He said, “O sage, at present I have nothing to call my own. Please give me a month to pay your Dakshina.� Faced by such a humble request, the sage could not, but help accede, and gave him the grace period of a month to pay the Dakshina.

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Harishchandra wandered all over the country, trying to earn enough money to pay the sage, but even the gods seemed to be against him, for he was unsuccessful wherever he went. Finally, he reached the holy city of Kashi – today known as Varanasi.

Kashi was a town full of people. Learned people came there to gather even more knowledge, pilgrims turned up in large numbers, full of devotion, and people came there in their old age, hoping to die in the holy city and attain heaven. Even in this crowded city, Harishchandra was unable to find any employment.

The grace period was drawing to a close, and Harishchandra was worried. He couldn’t bear to go back on his word, yet he couldn’t find a way to honor it either. Finally his wife, Taramati, who was as righteous as her husband, made a suggestion, “My lord”, she said, “in just a few days, the sage will arrive asking for his Dakshina. We have so far been unable to make a single penny. I have a suggestion to make, which, though it sounds improper, is the only way left to us. There is a great demand in this city for slaves, who can work for the many rich people who live here. Please sell me and use the money to pay off the sage. Later, when you make enough money, you can buy me back again.”

Harishchandra was aghast at this suggestion! “Sell off my wife, who has stood by me through all my troubles! Impossible!” he cried. However, as time passed, and he was unable to earn money, he had to give in to wife and agreed to sell her.

Taking his wife to the slave market, he sold her to the highest bidder, an aged Brahmin who agreed to pay even more for the little boy accompanying her. Faced with no choice, Harishchandra accepted the money and let his wife and child go with the Brahmin. Just then, Vishwamitra arrived and demanded his Dakshina again, and Harishchandra handed over all the money he had just received, but Vishwamitra was not satisfied. He said, “Is this theDakshina you pay a sage of my caliber? I cannot accept such a pittance!”

As Harishchandra was pondering over what to do, a chandala– a man of the lowest of the lower castes, those who are only permitted to work and live on cremation grounds – arrived, and said he was looking 101


for an able bodied man to work for him. Immediately Vishwamitra turned to Harishchandra and said, “Why don’t you sell yourself to this man and pay me my due?”

Harishchandra was appalled! Chandalas were considered untouchables! When it was forbidden to even touch a chandala, he, a king, had to work for a chandala! How had he fallen to such a low state, lower than even a chandala! Even as such thoughts passed through his mind, he realized that he had no other option, and agreed to work for the chandala. Vishwamitra was finally satisfied with the money he received, and left, leaving Harishchandra with the chandala.

The chandala put Harishchandra to work in the cremation ground, teaching him how to cremate bodies, how to separate the burnt body parts, how much to charge, and so on. Harishchandra started living on in the cremation ground, working conscientiously, though with a heavy heart.

He was continually troubled by thoughts of his wife and son. “What condition would they be in? Were they waiting for him to come and rescue them? They do not even know that I am a slave myself!” he thought.

Time passed, and Harishchandra grew used to the work. His wife and son too got used to the poverty and the hard life they led, working in the Brahmin’s house. One day, the young boy went to the garden to collect flowers, was bit by a snake, and died. Taramati was disconsolate! She cried and cried, but finally she had to agree to consign the body to flames, and started for the cremation ground with her child in her arms.

Harishchandra was on duty at the cremation ground, and he saw the woman bring a child for cremation. Poverty and difficulty had so changed all of them so much, that neither of them recognized the other. As per his duty, Harishchandra asked for the charge of cremation. Taramati began crying, saying, “I am a slave and have nothing except these clothes on my body. Even my only child is dead! What can I pay you?” Harishchandra was moved by her piteous cry, but he could not budge from his duty of collecting the charge.

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Suddenly he noticed that the woman was wearing a ‘mangalsutra’ – the sign of her marriage and said, “Woman, why do you lie when you say you have nothing to give? You can give me your mangalsutra in exchange for the cremation!”

Taramati was astonished! Her mangalsutra was a special one which could only be seen by her husband! She burst into tears at her predicament, and said, “My Lord, we must have committed many sins in our previous lives to be in this state today. I am your wife, but you do not recognize me! This is our son, who is a prince, but lies here, dead, without even the benefit of cremation!”

When his wife spoke thus, Harishchandra recognized her, and wept for his dear son, as well as their condition, but would not budge. “It is my duty to collect this tax, and I shall never budge from my duty, no matter what happens!” he said.

Taramati was as good and virtuous as her husband, and she said, “All I have are the clothes on my body. Will you accept half of them and cremate our child?” When Harishchandra agreed, she started tearing off her clothes, but just then, the heavens erupted in applause!

The gods in heaven rained flowers on the couple, and Vishwamitra appeared. He said, “O King, all the troubles you have faced have been created by the gods to test your commitment to truth and honesty. You have not only emerged unscathed from these tests, but have earned a place in heaven due to your merits. You can now return to your kingdom with your wife and son and continue to rule till it is time to enter heaven.” As the sage said these words, the little boy lying dead on the pyre sat up and rubbed his eyes, as if waking from sleep.

Harishchandra was thrilled to see his son alive, and glad to hear that his troubles were ending. But he said, “O sage, you might have given me these troubles to test me, but the fact remains that I am the slave of a chandala and my wife the slave of a Brahmin. While we remain slaves, we cannot accept anything.”

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The sage was very happy. He said, “Harishchandra, you are indeed the most truthful and honest man ever. Look, there are the chandala and the Brahmin. See who they are.” Indeed, the chandala and Brahmin were coming towards them, but suddenly, their forms changed, and as they approached, the king realized that the Brahmin was Indra and the chandala, Dharma (Yama). They said, “We took these forms to test you, Harishchandra. Please forgive us and consider yourself free. Go and rule your kingdom in peace!”

Harishchandra went back to Ayodhya and ruled righteously for some more years, and when the time came, handed over the reins of the kingdom to Rohitashwa and attained heaven.

The name ‘Harishchandra’ has become synonymous with truthfulness and honesty. The story of the truthful king has inspired many and continues to inspire people even today. Indeed, the king is truly immortal!

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Bhishma Shantanu, the king of Hastinapur married Ganga, the river goddess, and had a child named Devavrata. Ganga left for her heavenly abode once the child was born. Devavrata spent his early years with his mother, being taught by the gods and the greatest of the rishis, and returned to his father as a young boy. Shantanu was so happy to see his son back that he anointed him as the crown prince.

Shantanu had lived an austere life since the departure ofGanga. However, one day, as he walked along the banks of the river Yamuna, he smelt a wonderful fragrance, and curious, he traced the fragrance to a young fisherwoman. He was surprised that such a divine fragrance could emanate from a common fisherwoman, and asked her who she was.

“I am Satyavati, the daughter of the chief of fishermen” she said, and added that the fragrance emanating from her was the gift of a sage she had pleased. Shantanu was so enamored by her that he asked her to marry him, but she said it was up to her father to decide whom she was to marry.

Shantanu sought out the chief of the fishermen, and humbly requested her hand in marriage. Satyavati’s father replied, “O King, we are flattered and honored by your request. We know you are a great king, and we respect you. It would indeed be an honour for my daughter to become your queen. However, as a king of my clan, I have a condition to put forward. The son born to you from my daughter should be king after you. If you agree to this, the marriage can take place at once!”

Shantanu was stunned! He had already anointed Devavrata as his heir-apparent. Moreover, as his first born, and an able one at that, Devavrata certainly had every right to the throne. How could he now promise the fisherman that his grandson alone would be king? It would be unfair, and Shantanu was above all, known as a fair and just king. He could not allow that to happen.

Shantanu returned to the palace sadly, knowing that he had lost his heart to Satyavati, but could never marry her. However much he tried to conceal his sadness, Devavrata soon was aware that something was 105


troubling his father. When a straight question failed to elicit a clear answer, Devavrata questioned the charioteer about the places his father had recently visited, and soon arrived at the fisherman’s doorstep.

Learning that his father had been enamored of Satyavati, he asked for her hand on behalf of his father. Satyavati’s father replied, “O Prince, your father did come here and ask for my daughter’s hand, but he could not meet the condition I set for him. As a king, I can understand his predicament, but as a father, it is my duty to ensure a bright future for my daughter and her children. My condition still stands. If your father agrees to it, I will consent to the marriage.”

Devavrata asked, “Sir, please let me know the condition you have set for your daughter’s marriage. I will fulfill it on behalf of my father.” The chief explained, “Prince, if my daughter is to be the queen, I desire that it should be her children who should rule Hastinapur after the demise of your father. The king has already named you as his successor, and hence is loath to agree to this condition of mine.”

At once, Devavrata replied, “If that is all, I pledge that it shall be the son born to your daughter who shall be the king. I renounce my right as heir-apparent!”

However, the fisherman was still not satisfied, “Prince, you are a man of your word, and I believe you when you say that you will lay no claim to the throne, but what of your descendants? They will surely be as heroic as you are, and will be serious contenders to the throne. How can you assure my daughter’s children their rights?”

Devavrata was bent on fulfilling his father’s desire, and scarcely waited a moment before raising his right hand to the heavens and declaring, “I vow that I shall never marry and beget children. I shall remain chaste all my life, and dedicate my life to the throne of Hastinapur!”

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As he uttered these words, flowers rained from the heavens, and the skies resounded with cries of “Bhishma! Bhishma!” ‘Bhishma’ means the one who undertakes a terrible vow, and fulfills it. From then on, Devavrata came to be known by the epithet, ‘Bhishma’.

Satyavati’s father was silenced by the terrible vow of the young prince, and he allowed him to lead his daughter to marry the king. When Shantanu heard of the great oath taken by his son, he was overwhelmed with love and blessed him. He conferred upon him the gift of ‘iccha mrityu’, the ability to choose his time of death.

Bhishma stood by his oath till the end of his life, ably justifying his name. He remained true to Hastinapur, guiding the sons and grandsons of Satyavati in their duties. He was always aware of the righteousness of the Pandavas, and encouraged them on their adherence to truth. Well aware of the wrongdoings of the Kauravas, he continually advised Dhritarashtra to be stern with his sons, especially Duryodhana. Even when he realized that his advice fell on deaf ears, he nevertheless continued to advise the king, knowing that it was his duty towards the throne of Hastinapur. He was among the few people who realized the divinity of Krishna and the role he was fated to play in the war amongst his family members. Surrendering to the divine, Bhishma decided to stand by his oath towards the kingdom, and sided with the Kauravas in the Mahabharata war, even though he knew the outcome of the war. His chivalry did not leave his side even in his last moments, when he refused to fight Sikhandi, aware that he was really a woman, born to destroy him. Lying on a bed of arrows, life ebbing out, he refused to leave the body and chose to cling on to life till the war was over and Yudhishtra was crowned the king, so that he could instruct the righteous king in his duties. It was only after he finished his discourse to Yudhishtra that he welcomed death with open arms, having completed all the vows he had taken upon himself. Such was the greatness of Bhishma, the great grandsire of the Kauravas and the Pandavas, the one who took a terrible oath, and lived his life to fulfill it!

The story of Bheeshma illustrates the importance of not compromising on our principles. Out of respect for his father, Bheeshma took an oath that he would always act in the best interest of

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Hasthinapur. He stayed true to his oath and lived his life to fulfill it. He had to make many sacrifices and uncomfortable choices along the way, but he never wavered.

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Valmiki Thousands of years ago, there lived in a jungle, a robber by the name “Ratnakar’. He was a dreaded dacoit who robbed anyone who passed through the jungle. Stealing and hunting were the only things he knew; and he managed to raise his family by such means. One day, the sage Narada passed that way, and was accosted by Ratnakar, who ordered him to hand over all his valuables.

Narada smiled and said, “Dear man, I have nothing but the Tambura (a musical instrument) that I hold in my hand. Of what use are worldly possessions to me, one who roams around the three worlds like a nomad?” Ratnakar was stunned by this attitude, and wanted to know more about the sage. The sage, with his divine knowledge realized that this was the time for Ratnakar to assume his real role, and asked him why he robbed the wayfarers.

Ratnakar replied simply, “To feed and clothe my family!” The sage replied, “You steal and kill to help your family. But it is you who will pay for these actions. Not your family.” Ratnakar disagreed, saying that his family would certainly understand that his actions were performed for them, and they would share the responsibility too. Narada challenged Ratnakar to go and ask his family if they would share the sins he had earned by his actions, and Ratnakar agreed.

He went straight home and put forth the question to his family members. His parents refused to accept the sins, saying that as their son, it was his responsibility to provide for them, and the method he used had nothing to do with them. His wife said that she shared all his happiness and his grief, but his deeds were his alone. She could have no part of them. His children said that as a father, it was his duty to teach his children the rights and wrongs, and if he performed misdeeds himself, it was up to him to reap the fruits too.

It was a different Ratnakar who returned to the waiting sage, his eyes opened, and bonds of attachment broken for ever. Narada was pleased to see the change, and instructed him to meditate on the lord.

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Years passed, and Narada passed that way again, curious to know what had become of the repentant thief. He expected to see an ashram, but all he could see was an overgrown ant hill. It took him a moment to realize that Ratnakar was inside the anthill! The man had been so deep in meditation that an ant hill had grown up around him!!!

Dug out from the ant hill, Ratnakar began a new life, that of one devoted to the lord, with a new name – Valmiki – the one who emerged from an ant-hill (Valmik in Sanskrit).

Valmiki was curious about the ideal person on earth. “Who could be considered the epitome of virtue and wisdom in this world?” It was Narada again who provided the answer. He told Valmiki about Rama, the king of Ayodhya, and his story, where time and again, Rama demonstrated his virtues and his wisdom, right from an early age.

Valmiki was moved by this story, and continued thinking about it long after Narada had left. Walking to the river Tamasa for his daily ablutions, his eyes fell on a pair of mating Krauncha birds, and he paused a moment to savor the moment and share their happiness. Suddenly, the calm was shattered by an arrow which found its mark, and the male bird fell down dead! The female bird lamented over the corpse of her lover in a piteous manner, which tugged at the heart of the sage.

Catching sight of the hunter who had separated the loving birds, he cursed “you have separated these birds who were deeply in love. Never in your life will you be able to rest, but shall wander homeless all your life!”

No sooner had he cursed the man that he regretted his action, for he had succumbed to emotion and attachment to the birds. But then again, as he recollected his words, he realized that the words he had spoken in anger and pity had taken the form of a rhyme – a sloka – moreover, a sloka which rhymed with the wailing of the bereaved Krauncha bird!

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Valmiki realized that it was the will of God which had made him utter those words in what was to be the first sloka in Sanskrit literature. Coming to the conclusion that there must have been a reason for this occurrence, he went into meditation. Brahma soon appeared in front of him, and said, “Son, these things have happened to help you begin your story of Rama. It is time the world learnt of the ideal man – the man all must learn to emulate.” Brahma gave Valmiki the special vision which enabled him to see the events as they occurred, as if he were part of it, so that he could write down the story in great detail.

It was thus that Valmiki composed the Ramayana – literally ‘the story of Rama’ – in the same metre and rhyme that he had uttered the words of the curse. Since this was the first composition in Sanskrit, it is also known as the ‘Adi Kavya’ – the first poem!

To continue with Valmiki, he was acclaimed as a great rishi, and he set up his ashram on the banks of the Ganga. He himself became part of the epic he had composed when he gave refuge to Sita and took over her children as his disciples.

Sita’s children, Luv and Kush were the first to learn the Ramayana from their guru, and when they sang it in the court of Rama, even Rama was moved by the beautiful narration of his own story!

Valmiki’s story teaches us that it is never too late to repent, or to mend our ways. The lord always gives us the chance to tread the right path. It is up to decide whether we wish to learn from our mistakes and become a better person, or continue in our erroneous ways and reap the fruits of our actions.

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Anu's Stories for Children  

Tales from Indian Mythology and Folk Lore

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