Sunday, April 11, 2010
THE BLUE LOTUS
Century after century has passed away since Ambarisha, King of Ayodhya, reigned in the city founded by the holy Manu, Vaivasvata, the offspring of the Sun. The King was a Suryavansi (a descendant of the Solar Race), and he avowed himself a most faithful servant of the God, Varuna, the greatest and most powerful deity in the Rig-Veda.(3) But the god had denied male heirs to his worshipper, and this made the king very unhappy.
"Alas!" he wailed, every morning while performing his puja to the lesser gods, "alas! What avails it to be the greatest king on earth when God denies me an heir of my blood. When I am dead and placed on the funeral pyre, who will fulfil the pious duties of a son, and shatter my lifeless skull to liberate my soul from its earthly trammels? What strange hand will at the full moon-tide place the rice of the Shraddha ceremony to do reverence to my shade? Will not the very birds of death(4) themselves turn from the funeral feast? For, surely, my shade earthbound in its great despair will not permit them to partake of it."(5)
The King was thus bewailing, when his family priest inspired him with the idea of making a vow. If God should send him two or more sons, he would promise God to sacrifice to Him at a public ceremony the eldest born when he should have attained the age of puberty.
Attracted by this promise of a burnt-offering of flesh -- a savoury odour very agreeable to the Great Gods -- Varuna accepted the promise of the King, and the happy Ambarisha had a son, followed by several others. The eldest son, the heir to the throne for the time being, was called Rohita (the red) and was surnamed Devarata -- which, literally translated, means God-given. Devarata grew up and soon became a veritable Prince Charming, but if we are to believe the legends he was as selfish and deceitful as he was beautiful.
When the Prince had attained the appointed age, the God speaking through the mouth of the same Court Priest, charged the King to keep his promise; but when each time Ambarisha invented some excuse to postpone the hour of sacrifice, the God at last grew annoyed. Being a jealous and angry God, He threatened the King with all His Divine wrath.
For a long time, neither commands nor threats produced the desired effect. As long as there were sacred cows to be transferred from the royal cow-sheds to those of the Brahmans, as long as there was money in the Treasury to fill the Temple crypts, the Brahmans succeeded in keeping Varuna quiet. But when there were no more cows, when there was no more money, the God threatened to overthrow the King, his palace and his heirs, and if they escaped, to burn them alive. The poor King, finding himself at the end of his resources, summoned his first-born and informed him of the fate which awaited him. But Devarata lent a deaf ear to these tidings. He refused to submit to the double weight of the paternal and divine will.
So, when the sacrificial fires had been lighted and all the good towns-folk of Ayodhya had gathered together, full of emotion, the heir-apparent was absent from the festival.
He had concealed himself in the forests of the Yogis.
Now, these forests had been inhabited by holy hermits, and Devarata knew that there he would be unassailable and impregnable. He might be seen there, but no one could do him violence -- not even the God Varuna Himself. It was a simple solution. The religious austerities of the Aranyakas (the holy men of the forests) several of whom were Daityas (Titans, a race of giants and demons), gave them such dominance that all the Gods trembled before their sway and their supernatural powers -- even Varuna himself.
These antediluvian Yogis, it seems, had the power to destroy even the God Himself, at will -- possibly because they had invented Him themselves.
Devarata spent several years in the forests; at last he grew tired of the life. Allowing it to be understood that he could satisfy Varuna by finding a substitute, who would sacrifice himself in his place, provided that the sacrificial victim was the son of a Rishi, he started on his journey and finally discovered that he sought.
In the country which lies around the flower-covered shores of the renowned Pushkara, there was once a famine, and a very holy man, named Ajigarta(6), was at the point of death from starvation, likewise all his family. He had several sons of whom the second, Sunahsepha, a virtuous young man, was himself also preparing to become a Rishi. Taking advantage of his poverty and thinking with good reason that a hungry stomach would be a more ready listener than a satisfied one, the crafty Devarata made the father acquainted with his history. After this he offered him a hundred cows in exchange for Sunahsepha, a substitute burnt-offering on the altar of the Gods.
The virtuous father refused at first point-blank, but the gentle Sunahsepha offered himself of his own accord, and thus addressed his father: "Of what importance is the life of one man, when it can save that of many others. This God is a great god and His pity is infinite; but He is also a very jealous god and His wrath is swift and vengeful. Varuna is the Lord of Terror, and Death is obedient to His command. His spirit will not for ever strive with one who is disobedient to Him. He will repent Him that He has created man, and then will burn alive a hundred thousand lakhs(7) of innocent people, because of one man who is guilty. If His victim should escape Him, He will surely dry up our rivers, set fire to our lands and destroy our women who are with child -- in His infinite kindness. Let me then sacrifice myself, oh! my father, in place of this stranger who offers us a hundred cows. That sum would prevent thee and my brothers from dying of hunger and will save thousands of others from a terrible death. At this price the giving up of life is a pleasant thing."
The aged Rishi shed some tears, but he ended by giving his consent and began to prepare the sacrificial pyre.(8)
The Pushkara lake(9) was one of the spots of this earth favoured by the Goddess, Lakshmi-Padma (White Lotus); she often plunged into the fresh waters that she might visit her eldest sister, Varuni, the consort of the God Varuna.(10) Lakshmi-Padma heard the proposal of Devarata, witnessed the despair of the father, and admired the filial devotion of Sunahsepha. Filled with pity, the Mother of Love and Compassion sent for the Rishi Visvamitra, one of the seven primordial Manus and a son of Brahma, and succeeded in interesting him in the lot of her protégé. The great Rishi promised her his aid. Appearing to Sunahsepha, but unseen by all others, he taught him two sacred verses (mantras) of the Rig-Veda, making him promise to recite these on the pyre. Now, he who utters these two mantras (invocations) forces the whole assembly of the Gods, with Indra at their head, to come to his rescue, and because of this becomes a Rishi himself in this life or in his next incarnation.
The altar was set up on the shore of the lake, the pyre was prepared and the crowd had assembled. After he had laid his son on the perfumed sandal wood and bound him, Ajigarta equipped himself with the knife of sacrifice. He was just raising his trembling arm above the heart of his well-beloved son, when the boy began to chant the sacred verses. There was again a moment of hesitation and supreme grief, and as the boy finished his mantram, the aged Rishi plunged his knife into the breast of Sunahsepha.
But, oh! the miracle of it! At that very moment Indra, the God of the Blue Vault (the Universe) issued from the heavens and descended right into the midst of the ceremony. Enveloping the pyre and the victim in a thick blue mist, he loosed the ropes which held the youth captive. It seemed as if a corner of the azure heavens had lowered itself over the spot, illuminating the whole country and colouring with a golden blue the whole scene. Filled with terror, the crowd, and even the Rishi himself, fell on their faces, half dead with fear.
When they came to themselves, the mist had disappeared and a complete change of scene had been wrought.
The fires of the funeral pyre had rekindled of themselves, and stretched thereon was seen a hind (Rohit)(11) which was none else than the Prince Rohita, Devarata, who, pierced to the heart with the knife he had directed against another, was burning as a sacrifice for his sin.
Some little way apart from the altar, also lying stretched out, but on a bed of Lotuses, peacefully slept Sunahsepha; and in the place on his breast where the knife had descended was seen to bloom a beautiful blue lotus. The Pushkara lake, itself, covered a moment before with white lotuses, whose petals shone in the sun like silver cups full of Amrita's waters(12), now reflected the azure of the heavens -- the white lotuses had become blue.
Then like to the sound of the Vina(13) rising to the air from the depths of the waters, was heard a melodious voice which uttered these words and this curse:
"A prince who does not know how to die for his subjects is not worthy to reign over the children of the Sun. He will be reborn in a race of red haired peoples, a barbarous and selfish race, and the nations which descend from him will have a heritage ever on the decline. It is the younger son of a mendicant ascetic who will become the king and reign in his stead."
A murmur of approbation set in movement the flowery carpet that o'erspread the lake. Opening to the golden sunlight their hearts of blue, the lotuses smiled with joy and wafted a hymn of perfume to Surya, their Sun and Master. All nature rejoiced, save Devarata, who was but a handful of ashes.
Then Visvamitra, the great Rishi, although he was already the father of a hundred sons, adopted Sunahsepha as his eldest son and as a precautionary measure cursed in advance anyone who should refuse to recognise, in the last born of the Rishi, the eldest of his children and the legitimate heir of the throne of Ambarisha.
Because of this decree, Sunahsepha was born in his next incarnation in the royal family of Ayodhya, and reigned over the Solar race for 84,000 years.
With regard to Rohita -- Devarata or God-given as he was -- he fulfilled the lot which Lakshmi Padma had vowed. He reincarnated in the family of a foreigner without caste (Mlecckha-Yavana) and became the ancestor of the barbarous and red-haired races which dwell in the West.
. . . . . . . . . .
It is for the conversion of these races that the Lotus Bleu has been established.
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