12. Six Monumental Witnesses - A Dose of mythology
Religious minded devotees usually quote the various scriptures as proof of their conviction that God takes care of His devotees. The sceptics on the other side have a hard time believing such naïve statements. This dichotomy of opinion has been there ever since Man started questioning the Faith of his fellowmen in the supernatural. Kuresa, one of the foremost disciples of Sri Ramanujacharya has written a short poem of seven verses called ‘Arta-trANa-parAyaNa-stotram’. In the very first sloka he says that God is our sole refuge, saviour and support and that six mythological instances prove this beyond doubt. (For the sloka in Sanskrit and its English translation, go to the bottom of the page). But before we mention these six instances cited by Kuresa we need to recall the dimensional context of time-duration in which he is giving us this proof. The six instances identified by Kuresa is over such a long period of mythological history, namely over a period of, roughly, 1.9 billion years, which is the time elapsed since this kalpa started.
To understand the technicalities of time-duration talked about here, go to Cosmic Day of Brahma
The first instance is that of Dhruva which occurred in the early part of the first manvantara, i.e., the first 30 and odd crores (A crore is ten million) of years since the beginning of this kalpa. It was at the end of that manvantara that Prahlada, lived and it is his story that forms the core of the second instance mentioned by Kuresa. The story of Gajendra which is the third instance in the chronological order is said to have happened in the fourth manvantara. The story of Vibhishana and Ahalya occurred in Rama’s time i.e., in the 24th mahA-yuga of the current manvantara. The story of Panchali is just 5100 and odd years old. Thus the six instances which are cited as colossal witnesses for the Supreme Presence of the Lord actually span an unimaginably l…o…n…g period of time. That is one of the reasons why we call them ‘monumental’
The first story is that of the boy Dhruva who looked for God and found Him. It is a story depicting the apex of the Lord’s benefaction. Dhruva was five years old when this happened. His father was king Uttanapada, his mother was Suniti, but his father favoured his second wife, Suruchi. It was the latter who was sitting next to the throne when little Dhruva walked into the audience-hall one day. He saw his step-brother sitting on the lap of his father. He also wanted to do the same. But his step-mother Suruchi would not allow this. She almost burst out on him with the words: ‘Go and be born as my son in your next birth. Until then you cannot hope to climb to the lap of your father.’ The little boy went crying to his mother. But she, while lamenting the situation, raised her hands to the sky and said, ‘The Lord is our only Saviour’. Dhruva decided to go to the forest, do a severe penance, find God and ask Him! The divine sage Narada appeared before him on the way. Finding how steadfast he was in his determination to look for God, Narada taught him how to contemplate on the divine form. Dhruva did as told by Narada and created an all-time record of a five-year old boy doing a severe penance (tapas) for five and a half months as nobody else had ever done before. The penance was so intense that it sent vibrations of energy all through the Universe. He had the Divine Form of the Lord embedded in his heart and was immersed in the blissful vision inside himself. So when the Lord really appeared he would not open his eyes. The Lord had to take off the inside vision from Dhruva’s mind. Only then did he open his eyes and see the Lord in His full four-armed form in all His dazzling brilliance and majesty. Not being able to say a word he just prostrated before the Lord. The Lord touched his cheek with the Divine Conch and then it was that a beautiful stotra (hymn of praise) flowed out of Dhruva’s mouth. This stotra in 12 verses (called dhruva-stuti, occurring in the SrImad-bhAgavatam) is one of the most beautiful pieces in all of Hindu scriptural literature. The Lord blessed him with a long life of royalty and granted him the centre position in the celestial firmament around which everything in the sky revolves. But even as a boy of five he had already become the lodestar in the firmament of bhakti. The apex of benefaction is in the fact that Dhruva was given the topmost position in the whole universe; in other words there is nothing above him in the material universe. Dhruva is our first Witness.
The story of Prahlada, also from the bhAgavatam, must be well-known to all who have been exposed to the Hindu religion and culture. To those readers who are hearing about it for the first time, here is the story in brief: In order to put an end to the extreme cruelty which a very powerful and inhuman king, Hiranya-kazipu by name, was perpetrating on the entire world, the Lord manifested in this form. Actually the boy-son of this King was very devoted to Lord Vishnu but the King in his arrogance wanted himself to be recognised as the only God, the God, of this universe. After many horrendous but futile attempts to convince his son of his viewpoint, the King asked him to show this God Vishnu who seemed to be the protector of this boy. In extreme anger the father showed a pillar and asked: Is your God in this pillar? The son, Prahlada, with supreme confidence in the omnipresence of the Lord, answered, YES. And lo and behold, the Lord obliged this little boy by appearing in the form of a half-man-half-lion from that pillar. And this appearance proved to be the end of the demonaic King. This story is the monumental record of the efficacy of a full-fledged faith in the omnipresence of God and of the boy Prahlada as the model of such faith. Prahlada is our second Witness. For the full story from Bhagavatam go to VK2/SBAB9.html
The next is the story of the elephant king of yore who appealed to the Fountain of Godhead at his greatest crisis and got divine rescue. Once upon a time in the tAmasa-manvantara there was a King of elephants who was actually in his previous birth a human king by name indradyumna. He was cursed to become an elephant because of a mischief he played on a sage. The elephant gajendra (= elephant-king) was once caught hold of by the leg by a giant crocodile and could not free himself for years. Actually the struggle lasted for a thousand years. At the end the elephant got exhausted and appealed to the mercy of the Supreme Lord by raising a big cry: O Lord of the Universe, save me. At this great crisis it was the Lord Vishnu who answered the call. He sent His divine Disc ( = sudarSana cakra) in advance as a pilot heralding the coming of the Lord. The Disc did its job even before the Lord appered on the scene. The crocodile itself was a gandharva (resident of the world of divines, whose specialty was arts and music) by name huhu, who was living the life of a crocodile because of another curse. Both the crocodile and the elephant were thus released from their curses. This story of the release of the elephant-king is known as ‘gajendra-moksha’. It occurs in VIII – 2,3,4 of SrImad bhAgavatam. These chapters are considered by orthodox Hindus to be one of the most powerful for daily morning recitation for the purpose of obtaining mokshaat the end of one’s life . One of these verses is included as Verse No.8 in our selection in Speak to God. For the same reason it is also recited at the bed of a dying person. This story has an esoteric meaning which is unforgettable. In the language of mysticism, the soul in its distress must cry out to the Lord to come to its succour. One of the twelve AlvArs, Tirumangai-AlvArbrings out the nuance of the theory of bhakti very effectively when he sings in supplication that only one crocodile caught the leg of the elephant-king whereas five in the form of his senses are pulling him in the vortex of saMsara!
ahalya was sage gautama’s wife. She is considered as one of the leading stars in the firmament of chaste wormen in mythological history. The lord of the divines, indra, is known to have had many forays with out-of-the-law adventures, which involved even a licence for immorality. One such was his visit to the hermitage of Gautama on an early morning after he had tricked Gautama into believing that it was time for him to go to his morning river bath. When ahalyA was thus alone indra took the form of gautama, entered the hermitage and assaulted her modesty. The sage did not take much time to sense this, because on his quick return he saw indra going out of the hermitage and ahalyA was transparently repentful. While indra was given a punishment by the sage in the form of a curse, another curse was also thrown at ahalya by the sage, the curse being that she would become immobile as a stone for a long long period. The redemption from this curse was to be in the time of the descent of the Lord as rAma. Several thousands of years later, it was Lord Sri rAma therefore, who woke her up from her inert state, by a mere touch of his foot. The mere touch of the divine foot was enough to absolve her of all sins, if there were any, after all that punishment of immobility for such a long time.
The supreme example of the Lord being the sole refuge in the most trying of circumstances is also the story of the supreme example of the surrender of the ego in Hindu mythological history. This is the story of vibhISaNa, the youngest brother of rAvaNa. The story occurs in the Ramayana, which should be studied, for the esoteric implications of the story, if for nothing else. Vibhishana never liked his elder brother’s audacity in abducting Sita from Rama’s hermitage during the latter’s absence. The absence itself was engineered by Ravana. Vibhishana showered counsel upon counsel on Ravana both in private and in public. The latter would not listen but went to the extent of insulting his well-meaning brother. Finally Vibhishana decided to abandon his misbehaving brother and seek refuge at the feet of Lord Sri Rama. This surrender of Vibhishana to Lord Sri Rama is called the episode of Vibhishana SarNAgati. A hundred percent faith in the Lord is what is required. It is a conviction that ‘He will protect me under all circumstances’. This trust and confidence in the Lord is the one sure foundation on which the principle of surrender works. The trust in God should be a trust with total abandon. This is the abandon which forms the concluding part of the Lord’s advice in the Gita. It is the abandonment of all dependence on anything other than the Lord.
Infinite compassion is shown by the Lord in the story of Draupadi also known as PanchAli, the daughter of the PanchAla king.. The scene - this is the central traumatic scene in the long drama of the mahAbhArata epic - is the large assemblage of kings and princes in the Palace hall of Dhritarashtra, the Kaurava emperor where the Pandava prince has just gambled away everything he posessed - including himself, his four brothers and their devoted consort, the Princess Draupadi. The helpless princess is forcibly dragged to the hall and outraged by an attempt to strip off her sari. Draupadi cries in horror and despair. O Lord of Dwaraka, where are you? None but you can save me now. I surrender to you. The entire assemblage shamelessly watch without raising a finger. But lo! And behold, the sari starts lengthening and though it is pulled off most viciously, Draupadi remains covered. The other end of the sari never appears. It simply goes on and on. By the Infinite Grace of the Lord the sari has become as it were, infinite in length!
These are the six stories, spread over the past cosmic time in this day of brahmA, which are cited in the classic verse of Kuresa, given below.
sevyaH SrIpatir-eka-eva jagatAm ete ca shaT sAkshiNaH
prahlAdaSca vibhIshaNaSca karirAT pAncAly-ahalyA dhruvaH //
Meaning: In the entire universe, it is Sri hari (VishNu) that is to be worshipped as the Ultimate Resort. Six colossal figures stand testimony to this: Prahlada, Vibhishana, Gajendra the elephant-king, Panchali, Ahalya and Dhruva. They are the blessed ones who have received , respectively, superlative affection, supreme refuge, undisputable protection, infinite compassion, total absolution and apex of benefaction, from the Lord.