Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Balarama’s Pilgrimage (Part 6)

Balarama continued with his journey visiting places of great spiritual heritage along the banks of the river, Saraswati. Where he stopped next had its fame because several great sages had performed deep penances there. One was AarshtisheNa who gave up studying the Vedas finding no end to what remained to be learned. It is said that he went to that spot and meditated deeply for a long period. At the end, it is reported that all the Vedas appeared to him in a vision. The sage felt extremely pleased with his achievement and blessed the place with holiness. He proclaimed. “Those who take a dip in Saraswati here shall earn enough merit as though they have performed a horse sacrifice (ASwamedha)”. Then, he ascended to heaven.


ViSwaamitra was a Vedic seer. He was born in a royal family as the son of king Gaathi. He ascended the throne at the death of his father. The sage appears in the story of RaamaayanNa.

During those days the demons (Raakhshasas) used to terrify the land of ViSwaamitra. The king once went on a hot chase of the demons with a vast army. He soon ended up in a forest. Unwittingly his army had ransacked the very same forest in which the great sage Vasishtha had his hermitage. The sage became very angry with the rude intrusion.

Vasishtha had a divine cow which was capable of fulfilling every wish of the sage (Kaamadhenu). He asked his cow to produce an army and destroy the soldiers of ViSwaaqmitra with its help.

Soon ViSwaamitra found a large number of hunters appearing from nowhere and annihilating his own army in front of his eyes. He also could see the sage standing nearby unarmed and unperturbed, giving cool orders against his men.

It was a great revelation to the king that his powers as the supreme monarch of the land was nothing compared to what the frail looking sage acquired through penance. It was also a challenge to him, to meet his adversary on equal footing.

ViSwaamitra gave up his throne and his entire royal belongings. He went to a forest and started meditating. His sole aim was to match the powers sage Vasishtha. Gradually, the king increased the intensity of his penance, giving up all food and drinks.

Soon, Brahma appeared before him ready to grant boons. What would the monk want? Wealth, powers, good life? ViSwaamitra asked for Brahminhood, nothing less. It is said that the god conferred the status to the king at the end.

It is said that two other sages, Sindhudweepa and Devaapi, born into non-Brahmin communities attained Brahminhood through meditation at the very same place .

There are several stories associated with him, especially, about his quarrel with the sage Vasishtha which is the theme of this story. The latter also happens to play a central role in RaamaayaNa, being the chief priest of Rama’s royal family.

Before we continue with the pilgrimage of Balarama let us return briefly to the main story of Mahabharatam. Henceforth, we may follow that pattern of making a little head way with the war along with the stories of pilgrimage of the great Yadava prince.