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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Maha Bharata - Some Hidden Gems 7 - Mandapala

In the story of Mandapala in Book 1, section 281, the four debts of human beings are mentioned – to the Gods, to the Ancestors, to animals and birds and to all visitors (athithi). Mandapala is told that in order to discharge his duties to his ancestors he needs sons. Mandapala, wondered how best he could obtain the largest number of offspring within the shortest period of time. He realized that of all creatures, birds produce the maximum number of offsprings. Assuming the form of a Sarngaka bird, the Rishi married another bird of the same species (name Jarita) and had four sons who were all reciters of the Vedas. The youngest of them was Drona.

Leaving all those sons (still in the eggs), Mandapala went to Lapita (another wife). When he found that the forest was about to be consumed by fire and that his sons will also be destroyed by the fire, the Rishi prayed to Agni. The contents of the prayer seems to indicate the importance of fire (Agni) in all the Vedic rituals, including the sacrifices to the demi- gods (devas) and the ancestors (pitris). It also shows that Agni is the medium of communication between the demi-gods and the humans.

The prayer is as follows: "Thou art, O Agni, the mouth of all the worlds! Thou art the carrier of the sacrificial butter! O purifier (of all sins), thou move invisible with the frame of every creature! The learned have spoken of thee as One, and again as possessed of triple nature. The wise perform their sacrifices before thee, taking thee as consisting of eight (mouths). The great Rishis declare that this universe hath been created by thee. O thou that feed on sacrificial butter, without thee this whole universe would be destroyed in a single day. O Agni, the learned represent thee as the clouds in the heavens charged with lightning. O Agni, the flames put forth by thee consume every creature. This universe hath been created by thee. The Vedas are thy word. All creatures, mobile and immobile, depend upon thee. Water primarily depends on thee, so also the whole of this universe. All offerings of clarified butter and oblations of food to the pitris have been established in thee. O god, thou art the consumer, and thou art the creator and thou art Intelligence. Thou art the twin Aswins; thou art Surya; thou art Soma; thou art Vayu”. Agni was pleased and agreed to spare the four children.

During the fire, Jarita, the mother is trying to protect her children without the help and support of their father, Mandapala.  Jarita and her sons have interesting discussions in their attempt to escape from fire. I found the following comments made during that discussion very interesting and shows the wisdom of the writer of Maha Bharata.

  1. A position in which death is uncertain is better than that in which it is certain.

 2. A wise person remains wakeful in the presence of death. When the hour of death approaches, he feels no fear. But the person of perplexed soul is afraid in the face of death and never attains salvation.

3. Mandapal’s comment to Jarita: “Women, when they become mothers, do not much care for their husbands". That is why he goes to another woman!

4. When people are in distress they say things without too much thinking.

 5.  One who abandons what he has in his hands for the sake of what he may acquire in the future is foolish.

Finally, Drona’s prayer to Agni to spare him and his brothers is also interesting:  'O lord of the universe, growing in strength and remaining within their bodies, you cause the food that living creatures eat to be digested. Everything therefore, is established in thee. O Sukra, O thou from whose mouth the Vedas have sprung, it is you who assumes the form of the sun, and sucking up the waters of the earth and every liquid juice that the earth yields, gives them back in time in the form of rain and cause everything to grow! From you, arise these plants and creepers with green foliage! From you have sprung these tanks and pools, and the great ocean also that is ever blessed! O thou of fierce rays, this our (human) body depend on Varuna (the water-god)! We are unable to bear thy heat. Be thou, therefore, our auspicious protector! O, destroy us not! O thou of copper-hued eyes, O thou of red neck, O thou whose path is marked by a black color, save us by going along any remote route, as indeed, the ocean saves the house on its banks!' 

In essence, Agni is considered of greater importance for the existence of even water and for all of life.

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