Vengeance - The Sarpa Yanga
Updated: Aug 7
(From Sharala Mahabharata)
‘O noble king- Janamejaya! Do you know the cause of your father’s death?’ asked the sage Uttanga, his voice boomed in the royal court.
The new king had yet to get comfortable sitting in what was once his father’s place. Word had first reached him when he heard a flurry of cries among the usually peaceful palace. The nobility whispered as the servants wrung their hands nervously and a single, grim-faced attendant had approached him and delivered the news.
His father was dead.
Almost immediately a hush fell upon his world as a whirlwind of attendants descend upon him to prepare him for all the kingly duties he must now perform. In less than two hours, the ceremonies had been completed and now Janamejaya sat numbly in place as the court adjusted to the new king.
The words, despite how loudly the sage had spoken them, had taken a moment to reach him. A brief burst of anger took over Janamejaya- finally feeling the grief of his father’s death hit him.
“I do not know, for no one deemed it worthy to tell me before placing me here.”
The court became tense at the bitterness colouring his voice. Noting this Janamejaya reeled in his impatience and anger: “Oh wise sage, do tell me how it had happened.”
The tension dissipated at the calmer tone and the sage sucked in a deep breath.
“O, King, it had been done by Takshak, a snake destined to kill your father. King Parikhit had known that a snake would be his downfall, and he had employed many measures against snakes of all kinds.
However, curses work in mysterious ways and the snake- Takshak- took on the form of a brahmin instead. On his way to complete his mission, the disguised curse had encountered the divine healer of the gods, Dhanyantri. He too had disguised himself as a brahmin. The cunning Takshak had seen through his disguise and had decided to test out the divine healer’s ability.
“Oh Dhanyantri, why should we play innocent? We both know who the other is, however, I do not truly believe in your healing capabilities. I have heard much of your power, say if I turn this tree and the man sitting on the branch to ashes would you be able to heal them from that?”
Dhanyantri would never back away from a challenge and an opportunity to show off his power hastily agreed and Takshak had immediately turned the man and tree into dust.
The healer took one look at the ashes and brought forth his divine power and in a flash, the tree and man had both been brought back with barely a scratch on them. Takshak had no doubt that the healer would foil his destiny of killing King Parikhit.
The snake decided to appeal to Dhanyantri’s greedier nature and offered him possessions unknown, “Why bother with an old king whose fate has long been decided? Surely, the great Dhanyantri should be more selective of who he heals!”
Thus, Takshak successfully managed to convince the healer to leave with a great number of possessions in exchange for King Parikhits life.”
The sage stopped to take a drink of water. Janamejaya in the meanwhile had felt a storm of emotions cloud over his mind, he had felt a great amount of rage envelop him at first, but it soon dissolved into a quiet shock.
The sage continued unaware of the turmoil visible on the young king’s face.
“Takshak went ahead in his disguise and fooled the guards into believing he was a well-meaning brahmin bearing gifts for his beloved king. He got past them, transformed into a small bug to hide in the fruit and killed the King with a snake’s bite.”
Janamejaya sat stone still as the narration ended and soon after, he dismissed the court. As he sat alone in his chambers, the young king who still felt like a prince allowed the earlier rush of emotions to overtake him. He spent his time mourning his father but decided that to take action was meaningless and shunned all thoughts of revenge.
He must focus on the legacy his father left behind.
The next couple of days had been filled with kingly activities and Janamejaya had barely found the time to breathe as the crush of duties threatened to overwhelm him. He managed to escape the parade of attendants long enough to take a walk in the jungle.
Sounds of chittering animals and a rushing stream provided much peace to the king. As he wandered further into the heart of the jungle, strange noises caught Janamejaya’s attention and he found a couple of rishis uprooting kusha (small, sharp plants) and vehemently tossing it into the fire.
“For what reason do you toss the small plant into the fire with such anger?”, asked the curious king.
The young rishis responded with words sharper than the plants they tossed into the fire, “Unlike you, beloved king, we are not forgiving enough to pardon our father’s killer. This wretched plant was the reason for our father’s demise and we will avenge him by uprooting all the kushas on earth, even if our hands are torn to pieces. We will do it if it means we have avenged our father.”
Shame rolled deep in Janamejaya’s gut as he understood the hidden meaning behind their barely polite words: unlike you, beloved king, we are good sons.
The shame and humiliation festered long after Janemejaya had left the angry sons and withdrawn into his chambers. Night came and his attendants had been crowded outside the door, worried for their king who had not eaten a bite or spoken a word after his walk. Soon, after every light in the palace had been snuffed and the bright moon hung heavy in the deep blues of the night sky, Janamejaya had come to a decision.
Morning came, and Janamejaya called all the wisest sages to the court. Perhaps they could see the effects the sleepless night reflected on the king’s face, for they remained quiet- diligently waiting for the king to speak. Earnestly he addressed- ‘O holy noble hearts! Kindly advise me on how I could take revenge for King Parikhit’s death.’
This caused a ripple of surprise to erupt among the small crowd of sages and almost instantly some voices cried out, “Sarpa Yagna!’ Janamejaya nodded and a sage stepped forward to explain.
‘The moment you pour the ghee in Havan Kund (sacred yagna) chanting mantras with the name of any snake, no matter how powerful a snake might be, the snake would be compelled into entering the burning fire. This would kill that treacherous snake immediately.’
“Fortunately, it is an auspicious day for the Yagna, we can commence with it in less than an hour if you would like, King.”, the sages had come to a consensus and Janamejaya readily agreed.
As promised, the yagna began within the hour, the brahmins stood around the fire and began chanting heavy words, pulling their power forth. The deep, guttural chanting could be heard all over the forest. Janamejaya began sacrificing any and every snake species he could think of.
We will kill all the kushas on earth even if our hands are torn if it means we have avenged our father.
Surely, Janamejaya could do the same for his own father. He could not touch the greedy, divine healer as Dhanyantri might heal himself back to life. However, he could take revenge on Takshak, he will remove every last snake on earth no matter how innocent. Janamejaya would do anything if it meant he avenged his father.
When the Brahmins finally recited the mantra with the name of Takshak, he didn't appear. The angry king looked around wildly, searching for an answer, one brahmin stepped forward and used his yogi power to discover that Takshak had taken shelter under Indra Dev.
Janamejaya would not allow anything to come in between him and avenging his father, his humiliation still burned deep in his gut and he had to prove himself to be a good son.
He allowed rage to colour his voice and declared, ‘If God Indra has given the shelter to my enemy then Indra too is my enemy! Let both of them be sacrificed in the yagna!’
Almost immediately, a sage appeared before his enraged yell had stopped echoing.
It was Astik, a sage known for his wisdom. “Dear king, I understand your pain. You have already proven your worth as a good son, your father has been appropriately avenged. Don’t fall prey to your rage, let your noble heart prove its worth now by allowing the rest of the snakes to live. The snakes are innocent, they are my maternal cousins. I know them well. I believe you are as merciful as you are a good son.”
Janamejaya’s anger quelled some at being acknowledged by the sage. Another sage approached the calmer king. Brihaspati, the wisest of the sages- had come forward. Even divine beings would seek his advice at times.
‘O Janamejaya, now that the fire of your anger has cooled somewhat, listen to reason. Undoubtedly, you have proved your worth as a good son, however, King Parikhit’s death was the result of another son being loyal to his father.”
This made Janamejaya pause. The tension holding his shoulders tight dissipated and the king nodded towards the sage, silently asking him to continue.
“King Parikhit had been cursed by another’s son for dishonouring his father.
Long ago, your father had been hunting but had faced little success. His throat was parched and his stomach was empty. Searching for water, he found a meditating sage and asked him to quench the king’s thirst. The meditating sage however did not hear any of the king’s requests as he had left that plane of the world. The thirst crazed mind of the king had become enraged.
Believing the meditating rishi to be a false sage disrespecting his king, Parikhit found a dead snake and wrapped it around the shoulders of the rishi. He left soon after and the sage’s son discovered his meditating father with a snake wrapped around him.
Furious at the disrespect shown he used his divine power to recognise King Parikhit to be the culprit. The son immediately avenged his father’s honour by cursing your father to die by snake bite.
Dear Janamejaya, your father’s fate had been sealed that day. He was a noble, kind hearted king, but the thirst had driven him mad and so your father’s destiny had been bound.”
Janamejaya had loved his father but even he recognised how grave an insult the dead snake had been.
“If it is any comfort, I assure you that your father’s soul does not linger, in search of revenge. He has joined the Almighty, his soul became one with the mass. He is a part of the one true soul, you can let go of your anger now.”
Janamejaya’s shame and humiliation had burned away long ago, he’d proved his worth. Takshak had only fulfilled what had long been coming. There was no need to go hunting for revenge, he must focus on becoming a kind, noble king for his subjects.
All the sages stood, backs taut and waiting. Janamejaya nodded his consent. In an instant everyone relaxed, the delight visible on their beaming faces.
Astik blessed the king with a boon. He said, ‘O Janamejaya- if anybody in this universe would recite the name of Astik and Janamejaya, they would have no reason to fear any snake. This shall be your eternal legacy: the protector of people from snakes.
Thus ended the last Sarpa Yagna, never to be conducted again.