Tales from Srimad Bhagavatam: Vishwamitra – XXIII

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Nilanjana retells the story of Rishi Vishwamitra and how he changed, through penance, from a proud King Kaushika, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

King Kaushika was a renowned king of his time. His subjects were with him and his fame spread wide. Once, while he was touring his kingdom, he decided to pay Rishi (sage) Vasistha a visit.

The sage was very pleased with his royal guest and extended all possible courtesy to him. He even invited the king and his entourage to stay back for a hearty meal. Now the king was a little embarrassed since he thought that the sage might be resource-crunched. But he was pleasantly to see that Rishi Vasistha had a magical cow, Kamdhenu, who fulfilled all the needs in a very short span of time. Kamdhenu was gifted to Rishi Vasistha during amrita manthan (we have discussed this story earlier).

King Kaushika thought that Kamdhenu could be put to better use in a royal palace. A hermitage has far lesser needs and hence he made the request to Rishi Vasistha. He offered quite a many cows in return. The sage did not agree. King Kaushika did not stop bargaining and tried his level best to lure the sage with more wealth. When nothing worked, King Kaushika used force. He asked his men to tie Kamdhenu and drag her to the palace.

Kamdhenu was very upset since she thought that the sage was giving her away. She broke all the ropes that tied her and reached Rishi Vasistha to look for an answer. The sage sadly informed her that the king was using force since he had denied his request.

King Kaushika was unaware of Kamdhenu’s powers. She created an even bigger army who defeated the king’s men and his sons. The king lost everything in the battle but his jealousy and ego got him to seek higher powers.

Kaushika handed over his kingdom to his son and went into the forest. He performed severe penance there. Lord Shiva, happy with his efforts, manifested himself to gift the king his desired boon. The king requested that he should be holding mastery over all divine . Lord Shiva granted the boon and restored the king’s self-respect. With that his pride also increased.

The King visited Rishi Vasistha’s ashram with his newly acquired weapons. He began targeting his weapons without any notice. The animals and birds fled in panic. The sage was not too happy with him and tried to hold the king back. He just kept his staff in front of him and challenged the king. All the weapons that the king had acquired failed in front of the staff.

Kaushika began his penance once again. It is believed that after a thousand years, appeared in front of him and anointed him as Rajarshi Kaushika. The king still persisted with his penance.

King Trishanku had a rather strange desire. He wished to reach the in his mortal frame. His guru (spiritual guide), Rishi Vasistha, would not help him achieve this desire. Neither did the guru’s sons. Moreover, they got so angered by Trishanku’s stubbornness that they cursed him. The curse robbed him of his royal looks and made him look like a low and despicable man.

Eventually, Trishanku approached Kaushika for help. Kaushika decided to fulfill Trishanku’s wish. With the help of other sages, Kaushika performed a yagna (ceremony) to send Trishanku up to the heavens in his mortal frame. Indra and the other gods were not happy with this and immediately pushed him out. As Trishanku was falling, he cried to Kaushika for help. Kaushika arrested his fall half-way and created another for Trishanku. This is known as Trishanku swarga.

Kaushika again began severe penance to gain back his powers that he had lost while creating the heaven for Trishanku. After a thousand years, Brahma anointed him with the title of the Rishi. But Kaushika was greedy for more and continued his penance.

Indra, the king of heavens was getting nervous about the powers that Kaushika was acquiring. He asked Menaka, an apsara (divine ), to go and distract Kaushika. She did as requested and managed to divert his attention from his penance. After ten years, Kaushika finally realised his mistake and abandoned Menaka and their new-born daughter. He continued with his penance for a long time and Brahma now anointed his as Maharshi. Still greedy to be called Brahmarshi, Kaushika continued his penance.

This time around, Indra solicited another apsara, Rambha to lure Vishwamitra. Indra himself chose to assist Rambha by calling in spring ahead of its time. Vishwamitra realized the conspiracy and cursed Rambha turning her into a stone. He also realised that he did not have complete control over his senses since anger got the better of him. He continued with his penance.

After a long time and very severe penance, Brahma anointed Kaushika as Brahmarishi. Though the king was born a kshatriya (a member of the warrior caste as per caste system), he moved over to being a Brahmin (priestly caste as per the caste system) by his self-effort. Kaushika had one request – that Rishi Vasistha acknowledges him as Brahmarishi. The wise sage had no qualms to do so. Since Kaushika was always eager to help others, he was also given the name ‘Vishwamitra’ (friend of the universe).

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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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.