Bhagirath – Mission Accomplished
I stood waiting with bated breath amidst the ashes abandoned for hundreds of years. She was finally coming! After centuries of relentless, rigorous penance by four generations, the curse was finally ready to be lifted.
Strangely, patience was running out. It was strange because it didn’t run out for years while I prayed to her, often without food and water for days on end, standing undeterred, regardless of the pitiless sun, chilling, biting cold, or torrential rains! I had lived like a hermit with one focus only. Until she agreed to come down!
And when she agreed, then more years of penance to call upon Lord Shiva, the only one who could rein in her unrestrained deluge. The merciful Lord of Kailash contained her magnificent unbridled strength in the lock of His hair as she began her torrential cascade from heaven, releasing her slowly so that humans could harness her energy without being swept away by it.
And then came Sage Jahnu who had one day angrily swallowed her whole. She had utterly ruined and destroyed his ashram as her gay, unbridled spirit skipped, gushed, and surged forth everywhere, unmindful of the destruction she was causing. She was overly excited about her sojourn to earth and she just couldn’t stem her joy!
I had to wait until Sage Jahnu gave up his anger and let her out of his body through his right ear so that she could continue her long, arduous journey through vast plains, big and small mountains and crevices, and cliffs, purifying and lighting up everything she touched.
I’m not even beginning to talk about the interminable amount of hard work my ancestors had put into this exercise, the cumulative effort of which was finally coming to fruition. After all that, my patience was running out now!
I wanted to scream in frustration. Come! Come quick, my dear Ganga! We have waited too long!
Lord Shiva, please rein in my impatience! Teach me to accept I cannot control her journey. I’ve done my bit. Now I only have to wait patiently. Dear Lord, let not my last-minute restlessness undo years of indescribable hard work!
The lord reminded me to accept that everything will happen in its time. I sat down on the ashes, breathed, relaxed, and started meditating, this time for myself, not for my ancestors, not for my subjects, kingdom, or clan. Just for myself.
As soon as I heard her gurgling sounds, I stood up excitedly. She sounded beautiful, lyrical, like music to my ears. The hitherto unmoving ashes seemed to get a life of their own. They seemed to dance joyfully in tune with her gushing music, the ash particles forming patterns in the air. Their time of redemption had finally come!
The ashes came swirled around my legs.
Thank you! They seemed to say!
No! No! Don’t thank me! It was my duty. Nay! It was my honour. You are my ancestors! I am here because of you. I thank you for helping me accumulate good karma that will last for aeons in this family. The people of this holy land will never forget the Suryavanshi clan. My name will become of this land’s history, through her, through Ganga, the river of Devaloka, now Bhagirathi, now my daughter.
She took her time to make an appearance. As if she wanted to savour her first big act of redemption. She started as a mere trickle, teasing my toes, a wee bit of wetness that made the ashes damp, breathing life into their deadness. The trickle became a little stream which thickened as her waters surged forth.
The unending stream of water turned the space into a gigantic lake that kept getting bigger until it became one gargantuan, seamless water mass whose horizon went beyond what the human eye could see. Sagara, the ocean, came into existence.
The souls of my ancestors were released from Sage Kapila’s curse. My family’s mission was complete, the mission that started four generations ago with my great-grandfather, the mighty King Sagara. Ganga was down on earth and she will live here forever, redeeming lost souls, purifying everything she touches.
Tears streamed down my face as I lay on my deathbed. My heart was full of sadness. I had failed. I couldn’t keep the promise I made to my father. I may be a powerful king of the Suryavanshi Dynasty. But this birth of mine was a failure.
Just then, the door opened and Bhagirath walked in.
If there was one thing I had done right in this birth, it was this man. Dutiful, diligent, loving son, the best anyone could desire.
But right now, his face registered shock and horror. After all, this is the first time he saw me crying.
“Father, what happened? Are you in too much pain? Should I call for the vaid? Have I done something wrong? Tell me what brings tears to your eyes.”
Bhagirath was totally flustered. I quickly dried my eyes and calmed him down.
“No! No, my dear son. I’m fine. The tears are my own doing. Come, sit near me. I have something to discuss with you.”
When he sat down, I said, “You are aware of our ancestors lying unredeemed down in Patal-Lok.”
“Yes, of course, I know how much you have been trying to keep the promise you made to Grandfather Anshuman. But you know it’s a gargantuan task, and that it’s going to take many generations. My great-great-grandfather, the mighty King Sagara in whose time this task began, was also not successful. He passed it on his son. I assure you that I will also do my best to bring her down. If I don’t succeed, my children will take over and we’ll keep trying until she relents.”
“That’s exactly my point, my dear son. We’ll keep living our lives. We’ll keep trying and keep passing on the task to the next generation. Do we even think for a second how much our ancestors would be suffering, stagnating for centuries in the in-between realm? How helpless they must feel? Yes, they made a grave mistake. But haven’t they suffered enough? When will it end for them?”
“And you know what hurts me most. We’ve all lived our lives fairly well. Yes, the constant nagging of having to keep our promise did bother us. And yet, we’ve lived in royal luxury. We’ve all been good kings to our subjects, have expanded the Suryavanshi territories, married, had children, and been happy. Maybe I should’ve given up all that and focused only on getting our ancestors their much-needed liberation. That’s why I’m crying. I think I’ve not done as much as I should have.”
Bhagirath was quiet for a while. Suddenly, his face glowed with a new light as he turned to me and said, “I promise you this, my dear father. Nothing will swerve me from the task of liberating our ancestors’ souls. I will not ascend the throne nor marry until this work is done. It means I will have no children to pass on the baton to. So, I have to make sure I don’t fail.”
When I heard Bhagirath’s resolute words, I was at peace.
My grandfather was dying, sad and flustered that he couldn’t break the curse of Sage Kapila. I tried to console him.
“Don’t worry, grandfather. I will do my best and try and finish what you started. I will not let my 60,000 uncles’ souls lie unredeemed in Patal-Lok.”
My grandfather was a wise king and ruled well. His subjects loved him. But his sons gave him a lot of grief. Sadly, my father, Asamanjas, my grandfather’s eldest, born of Queen Kesini, and the one who should have been heir to the Suryavanshi throne, was also a mean, cruel man.
In fact, I know that my 60,000 uncles who were born of Queen Sumati, my younger grandmother, learnt the ways of cruelty, vanity, and harassment from my father. I don’t remember my father much. He was always in his own world, and rarely interacted with me. I only know the love and care of my grandfather. I owe it to him to redeem his sons’ souls. And so, I made that promise.
He died smiling, happy that the task will be carried forward in the family.
I stood looking at the orange-hued sky as the sun set on the far horizon. It was beautiful, as always. Ayodhya was the epicentre of beauty and culture. It was the capital, the crowing glory of the Suryavanshi Dynasty. I was loved and respected by my subjects. I had two gorgeous wives, Sweet Sumati and beautiful Kesini. I was happy, well almost happy. The one thing I didn’t have was an heir to the throne of Ayodhya.
Is this what the wise sages call that “bit of imperfection” needed to ground human beings? To have an unfulfilled want always so that we don’t forget our place in the universe? So that we don’t forget the Almighty and His all-pervading cosmic power?
I was pulled out of my reverie by a knock on the door.
“Come in,” I hollered from the balcony of my bedroom where I was sitting, soaking in my thoughts and in the beauty of the sunset.
It was Queen Kesini.
“Lord, Sage Aurva seeks an audience with you,” she said.
I hurried out and welcomed the venerable sage with folded hands. I sat him down on a comfortable seat, washed his tired feet, and my queens fed him a lavish dinner. He was happy with our hospitality.
“Thank you, King Sagara. You and your wives have lived up to the Suryavanshi hospitality. Do you have a wish that I could grant?”
Before I could answer, he stopped me and said, “Think well before you wish. Remember that wishes when granted need not be what you initially imagined at all.”
I stopped, startled at his words.
Does he want to give me my desire or not?
Sage Aurva read my mind. “I don’t give desires. You have them. I only help to manifest them.”
I bowed low, knowing and acknowledging his wisdom that was way above my understanding.
“Revered Sage, I am just a king who seeks an heir who will take on the mantle of this kingdom after me. I owe it to my subjects. That’s all I know. So, I humbly ask you for your blessings.”
Sage Aurva smiled. “Thathasthu! One of your queens will have one son and the other will beget 60,000 sons. Let them choose who wants what.”
He then blessed us and went his way.
Queen Kesini chose to have one son and Queen Sumati chose to be the mother of 60,000 sons. My joy knew no bounds. I thought I was going to die heirless. And now, I was the father of 60,001 sons. I was completely happy, not almost happy! Or so I thought.
I named my eldest from Queen Kesini, Asamanjas, the heir to the throne! And the rest were collectively called Sagaraputras.
But it was soon evident that my 60,001 sons were evil incarnate. It was then I realized the purport of Sage Aurva’s words. Desiring is one thing, getting it granted and dealing with the outcomes is quite another.
My sons were a group of hooligans and rowdies led by Asamanjas, who was the worst of the lot, the black sheep of the Suryavanshi Dynasty.
I thought getting my sons married might help smother their rashness. The only good thing that came out of Asamanjas’ marriage was my dear, dear grandson, Anshuman, the beloved boy whom I chose as my successor over my tempestuous sons.
One day, Asamanjas did a terrible thing, so terrible that even his brothers ran away from the scene, so terrible that banishing him from my kingdom was the only option left for me. Thinking of that incident gives me goosebumps even now!
He took a group of children playing on the street and lured them to a lonely stretch on the banks of River Sarayu. When they reached there, he thoughtlessly picked up the children one by one and dropped them into the river, and watched them as they drowned, smiling evilly at their helpless shrieks. The scene was so bizarre that the one eyewitness who came forward with this story did not recover from the shock of seeing such evil. He died within a few days of heart failure.
And the worst was that he simply smiled and did nothing else when I confronted him with this gruesome act. My heart broke into a million pieces. My son had crossed all boundaries of humanity. I didn’t have the heart to sentence him to death!
Banish him forever from my kingdom was what I could bring myself to do. He left wordlessly, neither protesting against my decision nor pleading for mercy.
I thought exiling Asamanjas, their leader, would make the rest of my sons more compassionate and understanding. They would not be under his evil influence anymore. Well, that seemed to be a futile hope because they never changed their arrogant ways at all. But they were scared of and revered me, so I could keep them on a tight leash.
When Asamanjas left us, I had to do something to keep my sanity. Losing a son was not easy. What does a warrior need to keep his calm? Battles and expansion of his kingdom, that’s all.
So, I organized an Ashwamedha Yajna. It was a huge success and the Suryavanshi kingdom grew in leaps and bounds as we kept annexing smaller kingdoms into our suzerainty, some peacefully and some with bloodshed.
All was going fine until one day when the sacrificial horse escaped. My sons were certain the animal was stolen by some miscreants. So, I decided to send them to find our horse and bring it back soon. The horse was important for the completion of the yajna, and maybe a bit of arrogance might help, I had thought when I chose to send them instead of my army.
They left. That was the last I saw them. After a few days, some people came and said they had seen the Sagaraputras going underground into Patal Lok. I began to worry for their safety.
Anshuman left in search of his uncles and within a few days returned with the horse and some horrible news. Anshuman related his tale.
He followed his uncles’ path into Patal Lok and soon reached Sage Kapila’s ashram. The place was strewn with bones that were slowly but surely turning to dust. He was aghast at the gruesome sight. He then spied the sacrificial horse, tied to a tree. Sage Kapila was meditating under a tree.
He feared the worst, knowing that his uncles must have ignited the revered sage’s in some way. He sat at Sage Kapila’s feet, shedding silent tears, waiting for the sage to emerge from his meditation. The sage soon opened his eyes and saw Anshuman weeping.
“You are right, my dear boy! They did anger me. They accused me of stealing the horse. I couldn’t help the power of my meditation. When they rudely prodded me with a stick, I opened my eyes. The instant I turned my eyes on them, they were burned to ashes. But don’t weep for your uncles, Anshuman. They have completed their karmic cycle of this birth. Let them be.”
“But, oh sage, what about the redemption of their souls? Can you help them find their place in heaven?”
“Aah! I will tell you how. Yes, my curse can be undone, at least it can be undone in such a way that their souls will be redeemed. Your family just needs to bring down Ganga from the heavens. The minute her pure waters touch these ashes, your uncles will be redeemed.”
“What!! How is that even possible?”
“Anything is possible when a man puts his mind to it. To ignite the desire in your clan to bring Ganga down to earth was the primary purpose of your uncles’ birth. Unwittingly, they have done a great service to humankind. When she comes down, life on earth will not only be rejuvenated but also like a sponge, she will absorb the sins of humans and help them die in peace. She will be a guest here forever, a guest who will not want to leave this beautiful place.”
“Go, go tell your grandfather this.”
When Anshuman finished his story, there was absolute silence in the court. Everyone was stunned. How can Ganga be brought down here! What can be more difficult than that? And yet, the benefits for humankind would be stupendous, both materialistically and spiritually! Earth will become heaven!
There was nothing to do but follow Sage Kapila’s advice and do everything I could for my sons. When the Ashwamedha Yajna was completed. I prayed and meditated for the rest of my life, hoping against hope that Ganga would heed my plea and come down. But no, she was not ready. Or, my efforts may not have been enough.
I was on my deathbed knowing I had failed. I called Anshuman.
“I hand over this task to you, my dear child. Don’t ever forget that our family will never find peace until your uncles’ souls have found redemption.”
I breathed my last knowing that the Suryavanshi clan will not rest until Ganga comes down to salvage my sons’ souls, no matter how many generations it might take.
I looked down from heaven and watched in awe the beauty of the earth. She was gorgeous with rolling meadows, snowcapped peaks, verdant valleys, and most important, wonderful mortals. How can they be so happy despite knowing death is waiting for them? How do they handle such uncertainty?
How I wish I could be there, living among the mortals, trying to understand their minds, and adding value to their lives!
“Yes! My dear daughter! That will happen sooner than you think.” The sound of my father, Lord Brahma’s voice, startled me. But his words filled with me happiness.
“Really, Father? How wonderful! When will that happen?”
“The karmic cycle for that has already been set in motion. Can you see the bodies burning in Sage Kapila’s ashram?” He said, pointing in that direction.
The vision filled me with dread. The sage was sitting calmly, his eyes closed, undeterred by the roaring fire around him.
“What’s that?” I asked, horrified.
“That is the pyre of the 60,000 sons of King Sagara. Your dream to go to earth has just begun its manifestation there. Get ready, it will soon be time!”
Patal-Lok: The underworld
Sagaraputras – Sons of Sagara
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