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Mahabharata : Vana Parva Part 4

Rishi Lomasa arrives While Arju­na is in Indra loka, the oth­er Pan­davas and Drau­pa­di are ill at ease. They sore­ly miss Arju­na. That is when the won­der­ful Rishi Nara­da appears at Dwai­ta vana, where they are stay­ing, and advis­es them, “This is the time for you to go on a theerthay­a­tra”. And then, Rishi Lomasa arrives there. Lomasa has been sent by Indra him­self from Deva loka. Indra and Arju­na have request­ed Rishi Lomasa, who had var­i­ous super­nat­ur­al pow­ers, to pro­tect and guide the oth­er Pan­davas, includ­ing Drau­pa­di, when they under­take the theerthay­a­tra. Rishi Nara­da also explains how Bheesh­ma, the grand­fa­ther of the Pan­davas and the Kau­ravas, learnt about the impor­tance of theerthay­a­tra from Rishi Pulasthya. Pulasthya nar­rates diverse aspects of many theerthas-holy places of wor­ship, all over the world, and espe­cial­ly in India.

The sig­nif­i­cance of a theerthay­a­tra In India, many peo­ple under­take theerthay­a­tras-holy pil­grim­ages. Mod­ern peo­ple think that all of this is just super­sti­tion, but it is not so. Let us see how a theerthay­a­tra helps us evolve as a per­son, how it helps us dis­solve our papa, sins, how it helps us move towards Dhar­ma, and how it helps us empathize not just with fel­low human beings, but with oth­er beings that share this plan­et with us. We shall see all this and more, in the course of this chap­ter.

A theertha­yartra is a won­der­ful phe­nom­e­non. It is sup­posed to be extreme­ly dif­fi­cult. These days, one sim­ply uses one’s pri­vate vehi­cle, goes to a par­tic­u­lar theertha, spends some time there and gets back home. This is not the way it used to be. A theerthay­a­tra was designed to include a lot of dif­fi­cul­ties. For exam­ple, even today, most peo­ple who wish to under­take a theerthay­a­tra to the great Vel­lingiri moun­tains-the sev­en hills (locat­ed in Coim­bat­ore), do not make it to the top, and they return because it is real­ly tough. Before one under­takes a theerthay­a­tra, one is sup­posed to puri­fy one’s body and mind.

The process of purifi­ca­tion must be con­tin­ued dur­ing the jour­ney as well, in order that one receives the full ben­e­fit of vis­it­ing the theerthastha­la. The body is puri­fied by tak­ing earth­ly vows, vrathas. A sim­ple vratha is that of fast­ing for a day. For exam­ple, on Ekadashi, one fasts the entire day and breaks the fast after the evening prayer or at night, and one does not con­sume grains upon break­ing the fast. Like­wise, there are many holy vrathas that puri­fy the body and make it sen­si­tive to sub­tle ener­gies in the envi­ron­ment that one can then receive and drink in. One puri­fies one’s mind with spir­i­tu­al vows. A pow­er­ful vratha to puri­fy the mind is that of mau­na, silence. Mau­na vratha , the vow of silence, helps us ret­ro­spect, go deep­er into our­selves, under­stand our lim­i­ta­tions, gives us strength to face our lim­i­ta­tions and over­come them.

There are peo­ple who take a vratha that they will not speak ill of oth­ers. This is also a spir­i­tu­al vratha, that puri­fies the mind. The ten­den­cy to speak ill of oth­ers is almost spon­ta­neous for many peo­ple. With this vratha, one takes great care not to slan­der any­body. Through all these process­es, one becomes aware of the deep­er work­ings of the mind, and hence, one gains greater con­trol over the mind and the abil­i­ty to direct the process­es of the mind. It is like a men­tal exer­cise. Just the way phys­i­cal exer­cise makes one more pow­er­ful, strong, and gives one greater con­trol over the mus­cles of one’s body, so too, these process­es of purifi­ca­tion with vrathas gives one con­trol over the ‘mus­cles’ of one’s mind.

The Pan­davas begin the theerthay­a­tra The theerthay­a­tra is bound to pro­vide solace to the aching hearts of the Pan­davas and Drau­pa­di. Hence, var­i­ous vrathas are advo­cat­ed, and the four Pan­da­va broth­ers and Drau­pa­di pre­pare them­selves. Rishi Lomasa takes up the role of the guide of the Pan­davas through­out their theerthay­a­tra. There is a huge ret­inue of peo­ple, who wish to accom­pa­ny them on their holy jour­ney. Raja Yud­hishthi­ra humbly requests them, espe­cial­ly those who depend on him for food, to stay back. Yud­hishthi­ra knows the per­ils that they might have to face while on the jour­ney. They might encounter unfore­seen dan­gers, they will be exposed to the cold, the wind, and the ele­ments. There will be no com­forts. In fact, it will be worse than for­est life, because atleast in the for­est, they are all stay­ing at one place. But dur­ing the theerthay­a­tra, they would be con­stant­ly on the move. They might not get food, they may not find shel­ter. They might have to face wild ani­mals and rak­shasas. And hence, Yud­hishthi­ra requests the peo­ple to approach King Dhritha­rash­tra, “If you request the king, he will sup­port you, because that is Raja Dhar­ma-to sup­port the peo­ple who come to him. If he does not sup­port you, do not wor­ry. Go to Dru­pa­da, my father-in-law, and he will take care of all of you. “ And hence, many peo­ple leave, though very unwill­ing­ly and sad at heart. Some peo­ple stay on. In fact, some rishis say to them, “By our­selves, we would not have been able to under­take the theerthay­a­tra. But now, with your com­pa­ny, under your pro­tec­tion, we will be able to. “

Rishi Lomasa is a pos­ses­sor of many sid­dhis. The pri­ma­ry sid­dhis are the Ash­ta Maha Sid­dhis , which are eight in num­ber. There are many oth­er sid­dhis of low­er degree. A sid­dhi is essen­tial­ly a state of per­fec­tion with respect to a cer­tain pow­er. One may pos­sess var­i­ous pow­ers ‑pow­ers over nature, pow­ers over one’s body, pow­ers over the mind, pow­ers over the intel­lect and so on. There are var­i­ous kinds of sid­dhis, of dif­fer­ent degrees.

Tapasya and recep­tiv­i­ty Since Lomasa pos­sess many sid­dhis, he is direct­ed by Indra, the great Deven­dra, to help keep the Pan­davas safe dur­ing their theerthay­a­tra. So they start out on a spec­i­fied day and time. Enroute, Rishi Lomasa gives them the sig­nif­i­cance of each theertha. At dif­fer­ent theerthas they vis­it, the Pan­davas and Daru­pa­di observe dif­fer­ent kinds of vrathas, and fast for dif­fer­ent lengths of time, to puri­fy them­selves. In some, they have to fast for three days, in some, for six days, in oth­ers, for one day. In some theerthas, they have to under­go a cer­tain process of purifi­ca­tion, in oth­ers, a dif­fer­ent process has to be fol­lowed. Basi­cal­ly, all of this is meant to make them open and recep­tive to the ener­gies of that par­tic­u­lar place. Each theertha is asso­ci­at­ed with some form of tapasya, aus­ter­i­ty. The ener­gies are always avail­able, but a per­son who wish­es to get ben­e­fit­ted by those ener­gies has to make him­self open and recep­tive. Being open and recep­tive is not an easy thing. We may think in our minds, “Let me be open-mind­ed. “ But how many of us are?How many of us are able to detect it when we are closed, and rec­ti­fy it at that moment? It requires tremen­dous detach­ment to be able to observe our­selves con­stant­ly and cor­rect our course as we move ahead.

Towards vis­it­ing a theertha, there are many rules and injunc­tions. Not every­body can approach a theertha. Peo­ple who are unclean, and peo­ple who have sinned tremen­dous­ly can­not approach a theertha. One should be blessed already to be able to under­take a theerthay­a­tra.

The Pan­davas and Drau­pa­di have a won­der­ful time. Rishi Lomasa is extreme­ly knowl­edge­able, and is able to clear many of their doubts. He leads the Pan­davas and Drau­pa­di to dif­fer­ent theerthas, one after the oth­er. He nar­rates the sig­nif­i­cance of each theertha, and he fur­ther nar­rates some excep­tion­al sto­ries asso­ci­at­ed with those theerthastha­las.

The sto­ry of Ilvala and Vat­api In one theertha, which is relat­ed to Agastya Muni, the sto­ry goes like this. Once, there were two asura broth­ers-Ilvala and Vat­api. The word ‘asura’ is com­posed of the root words ‘a’ and ‘sura’ mean­ing, ’the oppo­site of sura’ . Suras are the devas, the gods. It is very inter­est­ing to note that the devas are sattvi­ca, asur­as are raja­si­ca, and rak­shasas are tama­si­ca. Ilvala and Vat­api con­duct a yaj­na, and Ilvala wants the brah­mana who is offi­ci­at­ing the yaj­na to give him a child like Indra. The brah­mana rishi does not agree, because Ilvala is an asura, and he does not deserve such a child. Ilvala gets angry. Now, Ilvala and Vat­api, who are great asur­as, have these pow­ers of illu­sion, by which they start devour­ing brah­manas. They invite brah­mana rishis to their house . In those times, brah­manas used to eat meat and drink wine. So Vat­api used to con­vert him­self into a ram, and he would be cut up, his meat would be pre­pared and served to the brah­manas, who would eat it. Ilvala has this pow­er by which he can make any per­son appear in flesh and blood(embodied) in front of him, sim­ply by his call­ing out to them. Even if the per­son is in Yama loka, he woud have to appear before Ilvala, if he calls his name. This is a sid­dhi that Ilvala pos­sess­es. So Ilvala calls out to Vat­api, and Vat­api comes out of the brahmana’s stom­ach by tear­ing it open, thus killing the brah­mana. This gory episode hap­pens many times and every­body is fright­ened of them.

Agastya and Lopa­mu­dra Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, Agastya Muni, in his trav­els, finds his ances­tors hang­ing upside down in a pit, suf­fer­ing ter­ri­bly. They request Agastya to have a child, so that their suf­fer­ing would come to an end. Hav­ing a child, a putra or putri, is con­sid­ered extreme­ly impor­tant, because it keeps up the race, and hence it is sup­posed to ben­e­fit one’s ances­tors sev­en gen­er­a­tions up and also one’s suc­ces­sors sev­en gen­er­a­tions down. So Agastya Muni agrees. He looks around for a bride suit­ed to his stature. Since he is a great rishi and a great tapasvi, he can­not mar­ry just about any­body. There has to be an appro­pri­ate match. He looks around, but does not find any­body. So he cre­ates Lopa­mu­dra, out of his own pow­ers. Around the same time, the king of Vidarb­ha is engaged in immense tapasya to get a child, and his queen deliv­ers Lopa­mu­dra.

Lopa­mu­dra is extreme­ly beau­ti­ful. She reach­es puber­ty and the king looks around for an appro­pri­ate match. Rishi Agastya decides that it is time, and he appears in the court of the king of Vidarb­ha, ask­ing the hand of Lopa­mu­dra. The king does not wish to give his only daugh­ter, his won­der­ful child, to a rishi of such awe­some­ness. Agastya Muni is awe­some. His ener­gy is so fierce that peo­ple can­not approach him. The king is very much aware of the strength and pow­er of Agastya, and he does not want to earn the curse of such a rishi. Hence, Lopa­mu­dra is wed­ded to Agastya Muni, out of her own choice. Agastya Muni asks her to leave all her cost­ly orna­ments and all her para­pher­na­lia behind. She is clad sim­ply in barks and fol­lows her hus­band.

Lopa­mu­dra takes great care of Agastya Muni. He engages in severe tapas, and she too, engages in tapas, along with him. A long time pass­es by, and final­ly, Agastya is grat­i­fied with his wife. She has been extreme­ly sin­cere, devot­ed, and unas­sum­ing. She has nev­er asked any­thing of her hus­band. Hence, he is grat­i­fied. Final­ly he says, “Let us have a child. “ She requests Agastya Muni, “All these years, I have been fine, liv­ing in this man­ner and engaged in tapasya. But, for hav­ing a child, I would like it to hap­pen in a palace, like my father’s. It has to have its own way, and let it not be like tapas. “ Agastya is so sat­is­fied with his wife that he agrees. But he says, “How can a poor brah­mana like me, get all the things that you desire?”For which Lopa­mu­dra says, “You have many great pow­ers. “ But Agastya says, “That is so. But I do not wish to waste my tapas shak­thi on such tem­po­rary things. Those pow­ers are meant for a high­er pur­pose, for the good of the world, and not for such ephemer­al joys and plea­sures of the world. So ask of me some­thing that does not dimin­ish my tapas shak­thi. “ She says, “Why don’t you ask for these as bhik­sha, from a king?”

So Agastya sets out. He goes to a king­dom. There, the king shows Agastya the account state­ment of his king­dom and asks Agastya to audit it, “O Rishi, here are the exact num­bers of the rev­enue and expen­di­ture. If you find that there is an excess in the income, please do take it. “ Agastya finds that the income tal­lies with the expen­di­ture, and hence he decides that he can­not be the one who takes away the king’s wealth, which is used for the good of oth­ers. Agastya, accom­pa­nied by the king, go to anoth­er king. Even there, Agastya finds that the income tal­lies with the expen­di­ture. Then, Agastya, and the first king are accom­pa­nied by this king, and they all go a third king, who is very rich. Agastya is hope­ful, but even there, there is no excess wealth that Agastya can take. Now, Agastya and these three kings decide to approach Ilvala, the asura, because he is immense­ly wealthy.

Every­body knows about Ilvala, and what he does to brah­manas, and they are ter­ri­fied for Agastya. But Agastya is cool and con­fi­dent. Noth­ing agi­tates him. When he goes there, Ilvala, as usu­al, serves him food-the meat of a ram. Agastya knows his game, so he sim­ply digests Vat­api. Ilvala shouts, Vat­api, come out!” Noth­ing hap­pens. “ Ilvala is sur­prised. He shouts again, “Vat­api, come out!” Still, noth­ing hap­pens. All that comes is a roar of a belch, out of Agastya’s mouth, and he says, “Vat­api is digest­ed!” Ilvala is sor­ry. He now under­stands Agastya’s pow­er, and he does not want to mess with him. So Ilvala says, “Can you tell me what I had in mind to give to you?” Agastya clear­ly knows, and he says, “All these rich­es are to be giv­en away to these kings and to me. “ When Ilvala checks with his min­is­ters, it is so. In fact, a char­i­ot made of gold is to be giv­en away. Now, an asura is raja­si­ca-he wants to pos­sess, he wants to hoard things. He does not wish to give. Peo­ple who are sattvi­ca, give away hap­pi­ly and will­ing­ly. Peo­ple who are raja­si­ca give away mis­er­ably. If wealth comes in, they are hap­py. If there is some expen­di­ture, they become unhap­py. So Ilvala does not want to give away, but because he knows the pow­er of Agastya Muni, he gives away the rich­es, though grudg­ing­ly. After that, Agastya goes back to Lopa­mu­dra, sires a son on her and retires to the for­est.

So all this is nar­rat­ed by the great Lomasa. He leads the Pan­davas on. One of the theerthas they vis­it is ded­i­cat­ed to Bhar­ga­va Rama.

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