Saturday, June 19, 2010


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.

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 Yuga began. 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 of Kali. 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. 

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’.

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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