Monday, November 26, 2007

Balarama’s Pilgrimage (Part 4)

The pilgrims lead by Balarama reached the place called “the seven Saraswatis” (sapta saaraswata teertham)”. Janamejaya wanted to hear the story behind the seven Saraswati rivers and of sage MankaNaka who was associated with them. VaiSampaya, accordingly, started describing the origin of the rivers.

The sage recounted the name of the seven rivers as Suprabha, Kaancanaakshi, ViSaala, Manorama, Oghavati, SureNu and Vimalodaya. All of them made their appearance at the call of celebrities.

1. Suprabha

The first was associated with the Yajna of Brahma, himself, at a place called Pushkara. It was a long ritual, called Satra, lasting several years. All the gods and a large number of famous sages were present at that time. The Gandharvas sang and the Apsaras danced in the assembly of the guests. It was a wonderful ceremony in all respects.

Yet, the Brahmins commented. “The sacrifice is not that great. We do not find river Saraswati”. When Brahma came to know of the remarks from the learned he meditated and the holy river appeared at the place immediately. It was named Suprabha, the one with an excellent glow of light.

2. Kaancanaakshi

A large number of celebrated sages assembled once in the place called Naimisha on another occasion. They also had started a Satra as done by Brahma. They spent their leisure time discussing Vedic matters and narrating various moral stories. There the sages meditated on Saraswati and immediately the sacred river appeared bearing the name Kaancanaakshi (one with golden eyes).

3. ViSaala

The famous king, Gaya, conducted a Yajna in the land, also named after him, where he prayed to the river to make her divine presence. Saraswati answered the prayer and made her appearance with the name ViSaala (one with a wide span).

4. Manorama

Uddaalaka was another celebrated sage. He held a great sacrificial rite at Kosala. When he worshipped the river in his mind the river appeared at that place which later became famous as Manorama (pleasing to the mind)

5. Oghavati

King Puru of Mahabharata fame conducted a Yajna in which sage Vasishtha was the main priest. Saraswati made her appearance there as desired by the sage. She, later, came to be known as Oghavati (one that creates floods).

6. SureNu

River Saraswati came to know as SureNu (one with good sand) where she appeared at the great sacrifice of Daksha at the foot of the Himalayas. The river came in response to the prayer of the sage.

7. Vimaloda

Saraswati appeared as Vimaloda (one with clear water) where Brahma, himself, conducted a Yajna near the Himalaya valley.

Sage MankaNaka

MankaNaka was a sage of great penance. Once, he saw an Apsara woman bathing naked in the river Saraswati. The sage lost his self control. The result was the birth of the seven great sages (“saptarshi”), said to be in the waters of the same river.

There is another story told about the same sage MankaNaka. His finger was once cut by the KuSa grass which is used extensively in rituals. But, instead of blood, what flowed from his fingers was something like water, as if a piece of vegetable was cut. The sage thought that it was because of his power from penance and was highly excited. He was beyond himself with happiness that started dancing.

The gods reported the matter to Lord Siva who appeared before the sage. The Lord asked the sage what the matter was. When he reported his experience Siva cut his own finger. Ashes appeared on his finger in place of blood. The sage felt humbled. He prayed to the Lord for forgiveness for his haughtiness. Siva was pleased. He left saying that the waters of the seven Saraswatis was so sacred that any one praying to him at the place shall reach salvation.

Balarama stayed one night at the holy place, keeping a fast. He prayed to the sage MankaNaka there and made various gifts Brahmins and left the following morning to his next destination.

(There is confusion whether the seven rivers is at the same or different places. The narration suggests differently at different times. This is being pursued for future clarification)

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