All stories in the present collection are taken from Shrimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, said to be composed by Veda Vyasa after he had written the epic, Mahabharata. It is in the ‘Navama Skandha’ the epic, Mahabharata. It is in the ‘Navama Skandha’ (the ninth canto) of this Purana that some of the interesting historical and biographical sketches are recorded. These episodes delineate histories of two ruling dynasties, Chandravansha and Suryavansha, which ruled from the capital cities of Hastinapuri and Ayodhya respectively. The chronicles selected for this book (eighteen out of a total of twenty-four) are of high interest and relevance to modern man. Veda Vyasa wrote the Bhagavata Purana to recover from the mental turmoil that the writing of the Mhavharata had left him with. The present author has tried to retain this spirit of human values and message peace intact.
It was Veda Vyasa’s son, Shukdev, who inspired him to write a book of devotion to the supreme deity, Vishnu. And Lord Krishna was the avatar or incarnation of Vishnu. Bhagavata Purana, therefore, essentially is devoted to the power and glory of Lord Krishna, the supreme.
These stories can be read as parables and, at times, even as allegories. Their relevance to human
condition transcends the bounds of time and space. l have tried to give the characters and
situations of these tales ‘a habitation and a name’ so that they get a recognisable validity in
today’s world. Here is an instance of how the Purana uses a history to carry forth its message:
A prince and the son of a sage both want to marry a beautiful young woman. They are both good matches. But the lady leaves the decision to the better judgment of the king, the ultimate dispenser of justice, to declare who is nobler. The king is caught in a dilemma that any father can face in his life. He knows that his judgment will cost his son’s life and he shall lose the heir to his throne, for, it had been agreed that the suitor, who married the maid, would kill the rival. Yet, upholding justice, he declares, ‘the sage is nobler than l am and therefore his son is nobler than the prince} justice is not only done but also established. The ruler must dispense justice without any prejudice and T personal considerations. Furthermore, going into the human and social aspect of the characters involved in the situation it shall be noticed that, the condition that stipulated the elimination of one rival shows profound understanding of elemental human nature and the necessity of upholding the values that govern life in society. The vengeful demand of the ego succumbs to the sagacity of the sage.
The stories presented here have such interesting episodes that bring to light a complexity of characters, situations and emotions.
In the story of King Ambareesha and Sage Durvasa, the righteousness of the king is pitted against the fiery anger of the sage, provoked by an imagined vilification propriety. The king had invited the sage to the ceremonies and happened to partake of the Prasad at conclusion of the yagya before the sage arrived. Ambareesha had to meticulously abide by the fixed time for the concluding ceremony of the yagya. The sage interpreted it as an affront to him. He flew into a rage and cursed the king. Lord Krishna protected the king. The curse not only became ineffectual but the sage had to run for his life, trying to escape the fury of the Lord. His egoist rage had destroyed his wisdom and judgment and he had to learn the lesson of humility that Ambareesha practised.
Similar are the episodes in the life of the sages like Chyavana and Saubheri. Both of them were highly esteemed among the contemporary scholars and ascetics. Yet when stricken by the human infirmity of one or the other elemental passion they both have to face the consequences of the lapses. Saubheri was stung by desire to have Wives and family at the sight of Matsyaraja and his shoal of fish Wives having a ravishing time in their under-water world He was dragged into the quagmire of mundane living. The sage Chyavana on the other hand was aroused in angst against the prank of a princess. He was pacified only when her father agreed to give the princess to serve him as his Wife, This then plunges him into a complexity of Worldly existence. Even as great a sage as Vasishtha had to suffer humiliation and atone for his hasty judgement and curse on the very righteous King Nimi.
The histories and biographies of princes and kings too are full of interesting situations that give rise to meaningful interaction at almost all levels of human existence.
The evil in Saudasa metamorphoses him into a demon in human form under a curse and is redeemed by the good sense of his wife. Pururavas the scholar and righteous king l was so enthralled by the beauty and enchantment of Urvashi. That he had to go through an experience of utmost T humiliation to awaken him from the quagmire of his fleshly desires. Besides, it was his essentially chaste spirit that turned him towards his redemption. So too, in King Yayaati one may detect the attribute of a-libertine having children on the wrong side of the blanket. But his surfeit and natural good sense is reflected in the manner he begins to narrate a fable of a lecherous goat to his wife just as he decides to give up his life of corporal desires. He decides to devote the rest of his days to a life of self-abnegation and austerities for the attainment of salvation of spirit.
In the tale that covers the life story of Shantanu the number of characters considerably increase, which gives rise to some very complex situations and brings out complex emotional tangles in which the characters are involved and bound. Of special interest are the shades of filial relationship between Shantanu and Devavrata. All characters situations and emotional issues from their relationships and interaction are of great human interest for any modern reader. Intensity of the relationships is such that the horizon of the family begins to darken with clouds of a family feud. The family tensions then finally break out into a conflagration of a fiercely fought war we know as Mahabharata. But the taste of the pudding, as they say, is in eating. The reader, it is hoped, would enjoy the tales as much as the author enjoyed the choosing and telling of them.
Since these are tales and not histories per re, it is not really necessary to ascribe them to any exact period of historical timeframe. What can be said, however, borne out by Veda Vyasa's Srimad Bhagavata is that, the period from the tale of Sudyumna up to the tale that covers the life and times of King Nimi, according to Vedic reckoning is known as the Treta Yuga. The aeon Satyuga had been left behind. The life to a large extent was still dominated by Satogun, when the people were by and large given to righteous life. The rituals of yagyas performed efficaciously bore the desired fruit.
These kings and rulers on whose lives and times the tales have been drawn belonged to the Suryavans dynasty. They ruled from their capital Ayodhya or from cities they established around Ayodhya. The most eminent among these rulers was King Rama Chandra, son of Dasharatha, whose tale has not been taken up since the author feels that his life and times have been told and retold so many times.
From the tale that covers the life and time of Pururavas up to that of King Shantanu these eminent rules were of Chandravansha. It was also roughly the time of transition from Treta Yuga to Dwapara Yuga. The time of this aeon Dwapara Yuga, was largely dominated by Rajoguna, when rituals and religious ceremonies increasingly became a matter of ostentatious façade. The tales of these kings therefore belong to Dwapara Yuga, which ended with the passing away of Lord Sri Krishna. The capital of these rulers was chiefly Hastinapuri. Here, too, the Tales have been concluded with the life and time of King Shantanu. For the history of the family internecine squabbles, jealousies and intrigues that led to a bloody and destructive war, latter known as the Mahabharata dharma yuddha, has been epically treated by the sage poet Veda Vyasa himself.
About the Book:
Vyasa wrote Shrimad Bhagavata after he had finished composing the Mahabharata. It is in the ninth
Canto (Navama Skandha) of Bhagavata that some of the interesting anecdotes are included. These
anecdotes retold here bring to light a complex web of human characters, situations and emotions.
The subtle development of the human element makes these characters, their motivations and
circumstances, relevant to all times. The attempt here, the author says, is to "give the
characters and situations in these tales a habitation and a name so that they get a recognizable
validity in today's world"
About the Author:
S.C. Narula was born in Rangoon, Burma, in 1930. During the Second World War, when Burma fell to
the Japanese, his family shifted to India. A Post-graduate in English literature, he got his
Doctorate from Delhi University while he was teaching at the University. His Post-doctoral work on
the shorter poems of John Milton studies. His works include The Third Passenger besides a
collection of his own poems. He has been regularly contributing to the Sahitya Akademi Journal
Indian Literature. He is an elected Fellow of the International Academy of Poets, International
Biographical Centre, Cambridge; and has been listed in the International Who's Who of Poetry,
Published by the I.B.C. Cambridge.
The Strange Life of Sadyumna
The Sage Chyavana and Sukanya
King Ambareesha and Durvasa
The Story of Vikukshi
The Strange Birth of Mandhaata
The Tale of Stage Saubheri
The Fate of Childless Saudasa
King Pururavas of the Chandra Dynasty
Dushyanta and the Birth of Bharata
The Royal House of Shantanu and the Pandavs