Tales from Srimad Bhagavatam: Rishabhah – XVI

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Rishabhah of Narayana was a live demonstration as to how riches, fame, power and everything that human beings pine for cannot overrule the detachment of one who is centered. This taught his contemporaries and generations to come that the life of a grihasta (family oriented person) can be so arranged that he can be in touch with the Divine and selflessly serve the country and others all the time. Rishabhah ruled the kingdom like an ideal king with all detachment. Nilanjana retells the story of Rishabhah, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

Priyavrata was Svayambhu Manu’s son, who chose a life of solitary bliss dedicated to the Divine over that of a King. However, a time came when he needed to hold the reigns of the kingdom. Svayambhu Manu tried his best to coax his son, but failed. Helplessly, he requested his father Brahma to make Priyavrata understand.

Brahma, the Creator, went to meet his , Priyavrata. He explained, “This human life and the human body are given for a purpose. You are expected to live the life of a human being and fulfill the purpose you are created for. For example, bullocks have ropes running through their nostrils that would make them follow the instructions of the farmer. In the same way, we have to follow what is ordained for us. We do not have the freedom to act as per our will since everything is the Divine’s will. Pleasure and pain are sent to us alternately, or maybe even together or singly and we have to learn to bear them with equanimity. However, if human beings can perform their duties without any attachment, then they become jivanmukta (free from the results of action). They can live this life like a , and be free of vasanas (desires) that leads to further births. If they fail to do so, they get trapped in the forest of birth after birth. Six evils trap humans – Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Lobha (greed), Moha (Delusion), Mada (arrogance) and Matsarya (envy). They ensure that human beings get trapped in the cycle of birth and death.

However, if one can perform one’s duties without any attachment, fully knowing that they are a part of the Paramatma (Divine soul) then they can complete the purpose of this life and also help others in need. Hence my request to you is that you come back and rule the kingdom like an ideal king. Since you are already an emancipated soul, you are not likely to get lost in this world of pleasures. For my sake, perform the selfless action of ruling the kingdom and continuing the line.” Priyavrata chose to obey his grandfather and was crowned the King.

Since Priyavrata was already detached from worldly entanglements, he ruled his kingdom very well. He was righteous and his subjects were very happy. He did not have any enemies. Besides, he was blessed with divine powers.

He married Barhismati, the daughter of Vishwakarma. The couple was blessed with ten sons and a daughter. The eldest son was called Agnitra. Three of the younger sons had become sanyasis (renunciates), like their father in early days. Once Priyavrata felt that he had completed his duty as a king, he renounced the kingdom and his family and moved on to the forest to continue his tapas (penance) that his grandfather Brahma had interrupted.


Agnitra was Priyavrata’s son and Nabhi was Agnitra’s eldest son. Since Nabhi had no children, he performed sacrifices where he worshipped Narayana in the form of Yagnyapurusha.

Pleased with his devotion, Narayana appeared in front of him. The rishis (sages) and Nabhi were thrilled by the grace they received. They could not hold themselves back at they spoke, “You are moved only by bhakti (devotion). It is your love for your devotees that bring you here, else what are all these mere offerings that we make? Worship should be selfless, but this ceremony was done with an objective. And yet you rush here to fulfill our wishes.”

Narayana smiled, “Do you consider yourself any less? Since Nabhi wants a son like me, I will be born as his son.”

The child was named Rishabhah. In due course of time, Nabhi crowned him king and renounced the world in search for the Divine.

Rishabhah married Jayanti (the daughter of Indra) and was a father to hundred sons.

Rishabhah avatar of Narayana was a live demonstration as to how riches, fame, power and everything that human beings pine for cannot overrule the detachment of one who is centered. This avatar taught his contemporaries and generations to come that the life of a grihasta (family oriented person) can be so arranged that he can be in touch with the Divine and selflessly serve the country and others all the time. Rishabhah ruled the kingdom like an ideal king with all detachment.

In fact, Rishabhah imparted his wisdom to his sons. “The human body is given to us not only for enjoyment, like animals, but also for a higher purpose. We must try and maintain purity of the mind. There are two gateways to salvation. The first gateway is to serve those who are already enlightened. The second one leads one to the sensory world of pleasure. But one should, by practice, be able to master the capability to stay calm under all circumstances. One should not get attached to worldly relations and focus on the Divine, for devotion to the Divine leads to salvation. One should only that much that is required for the maintenance of the body. Inappropriate actions of the past have led to this body and this birth. Many temptations are bound to seduce you. Hence one should act in such a manner that one does not repeat this cycle of birth and death again. As long as one holds the body dear, as long as the mind does not ponder about truths beyond the senses, karma (result of inappropriate actions) is bound to impact one’s life. The atman (soul) is shielded by  (ignorance). Avidya leads one to be deluded by maya (illusion) about the sensory nature of existence. This leads to more accumulation of karma because of attachment to material things. The two most dreaded enemies of human beings are ‘I’ and ‘mine’. These bind him to the false materialistic world. Gradually these false chains binding him become stronger. Salvation becomes a distant dream. Wisdom and truth can gradually loosen the binding from this maya (illusion). The moment one sees the truth, the knots in the heart start loosening up leading one to wisdom. The ahankara(I) and mamakara(mine) gradually disappears.

The only pursuit worth pursuing is the quest for the Divine. Listen to stories about the Divine, dedicate all your actions to the cosmic spirit, spend time with those who are obsessed by the quest of the ultimate and surrender yourself to the omnipresent. Since everyone is an image of the omnipresent cosmic spirit, hate no one. Try and share the pain that others go through with empathy. Perform all your duties. Speak sparingly, calm your anger and be in solitude as much as you can. Solitude will acquaint you with the presence of the Divine. The guru (teacher, often means the spiritual teacher) is supposed to lead the way for the sishya (disciple). For the son, the greatest guru is his father. The father is supposed to lead the son to the right path. Similarly, it is the role of the king to lead his subjects to the right path.

When the guru can see his disciples getting entangled in karma (action), it is his responsibility to show the path to salvation. With experience and compassion, he is aware of the pitfalls that one can encounter. I am your guru, and hence I can tell you what all to do. Since the guru (spiritual teacher) has gone through the bumpy ride of life, he is aware of the pitfalls that the shishya (disciple) may encounter. If the guru is not compassionate, then what is the use of the knowledge? The guru pays the combined roles of the parents, guide, well-wisher and a companion. Very carefully reflect on what all I have told you. Bhakti (devotion to the divine) is the only way you can get over attachments and entanglements of the world. And with Bhakti, you can also move over from the cycle of birth and death.”

Rishabhah completed speaking to his sons. Since, they were already wise, they perhaps knew all this. But for the benefit of the whole world, Rishabhah and his sons went through the knowledge once again.

After having crowned his son Bharata as the king, Rishabhah renounced his kingdom and went away. Eventually when his time came, he was united with the Divine.

Bharata was Rishabhah’s son.  He was an ideal king, a righteous man and a perfect ruler. All his subjects were so happy under his rule, that the land was called “Bharat-varsha.”

 [To be continued next week]

Footnote: Srimad Bhagavatam is often called the Bhagavad Purana. Authored by Ved Vyasa, the stories are about the various avatars (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu, also known as Narayana.

©Nilanjana Dey

Photos from the internet.

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Nilanjana Dey

Nilanjana Dey

A story-teller at heart, Nilanjana Dey is on a journey to experiment with fiction and poetry. Her first novel, largely aimed towards children, is titled ‘The Adventures of Puti – The Cheese Trail’. Her poems have been published at various prestigious portals. An alumni of English Literature from Jadavpur University (Kolkata), she is a marketing and communication professional based in Mumbai. She volunteers with a Mumbai based NGO working with the marginalised sections of the society.
Nilanjana Dey