Shiva tests Parashuram

Shiva tests Parashuram

Shiva tests Parashuram

In the last column, in a story from Brahmanda Purana, I spoke of Parashurama reaching the Himalayas, so as to perform austerities dedicated to Shiva.

He constructed a large hermitage. He fixed his mind and atman on the lord of devas and performed austerities. He controlled himself and purified his body through yama and niyama. He controlled the breath of life in his body through pranayama. The great sage conquered everything and seated himself in padmasana. He controlled his vision and devoted himself to pratyahara. He practised dharana and steadily fixed his mind and atman. He performed dhyana on the divinity who is the lord of devas and saw Parameshvara. He thought of the lord of devas and saw the guru of the universe in his dhyana. He performed dhyana on that consciousness, his body and senses remaining immobile. He remained in that state for some time, like a lamp in a place where there is no wind. He performed japa on the divinity who is the lord of devas, using his own intelligence to perform dhyana on him. He worshipped the one whose atman is immeasurable, the Ishvara who is in all existence. This was Ishvara in his nishkala (without form) aspect, without blemishes. This was an unthinkable and supreme refulgence, the supreme form that yogis meditate on. This was eternal and always pure. It did not move and consisted only of bliss. It pervaded everything, mobile and immobile. Bhargava thought of this form of the lord of devas for a very long time, with the sentiment, “I am He”.

As Rama continued in this way, Bhagavan Shiva became extremely pleased. Shankara wished to test the extent to which he was devoted to him. He assumed the form of a hunter who hunts animals and approached him. His body was like a mass of broken collyrium. His eyes were large and red. He was young and held a bow and arrows. He was tall and his body was as firm as the vajra. His jaw, arms and shoulders were raised. The hair on his head and his beard were tawny. He smelt of flesh and fat. As a result of coming into contact with thorny bushes, there were scars and wounds on his body. He was repeatedly chewing on a piece of meat from which blood dripped. As a result of the burden of two carcasses, his shoulders were bent. As he swiftly advanced, the force of his thighs brushed against the trees. Resembling a mountain with feet, he arrived at the spot. He arrived at the shores of the lake, full of flowering trees. He laid down that burden of flesh at the root of a tree. For some time, he seated himself under the shade of the tree.

Seated near the shore of the lake, he saw the descendant of the Bhrigu lineage. He got up quickly and approached him. He spoke in a deep voice that seemed to thunder like the clouds and seemed to emerge from inside a cave. “I am Toshapravarsha. [literally, one who showers down contentment]. I reside in this great forest. I am the lord of this region, along with all its creatures, trees and creepers. I move around, impartial towards all creatures and eat their flesh. I do not pay the least bit of attention to anything that cannot be eaten or cannot be drunk. I do not pay any specific attention to what should be done and what should not be done. No one should come here, reside here, or approach this place. With my strength, I do not even allow Shakra. Everyone knows that this region depends on me. Therefore, without my permission, no one can come here. Now, you tell me the truth about yourself, especially about your conduct. Who are you? Why have you come here? Will you get up and go somewhere else?”

The immensely radiant Rama smiled. He remained silent for a while, with his face lowered. “Who is this unassailable person, with a voice that thunders like the clouds?” Bhargava thought about this in many kinds of ways. He addressed the hunter in gentle words. “I am Jamadagni’s son. I am a Bhargava, known by the name of Rama. Following the instructions of my guru, I have come here to perform austerities. Full of devotion and observing niyamas, my austerities are for the lord of all the worlds. I have worshipped him for a long time. He is the lord of everything. He is every kind of refuge. He is the one who grants freedom from fear. He is the three-eyed Shankara, who crushes sin, affectionate towards his devotees. Through my austerities, I will satisfy the omniscient one, the destroyer of Tripura. I have been practising niyamas in this hermitage, on the shores of the lake. Bhagavan is compassionate towards his devotees. Until Hara shows himself to me, I will remain here. That being the case, you should decide to go somewhere else. Otherwise, the niyamas I have set for myself will be impaired. I am an atithi who has come from some other country to the place where you reside. I am also an ascetic and a sage. Hence, I should be devotedly honoured. If I reside near you, only sin will accrue to me. Residing near me will only cause you unhappiness. Therefore, do not roam around, or do other things, within the limits of my hermitage. Move away and be happy, in this world and in the next one.”

Hearing these words, the hunter’s eyes turned coppery-red with rage. “O Brahmana! Why do you condemn the prospect of my residing near you so much? You are behaving like an ungrateful person now. Have I caused any harm to you, or to anyone else in the world? Who reprimands an innocent and controlled person? If my presence, my sight, residing with me and conversing with me are to be condemned, you should move away from this hermitage immediately. I am hungry. Why should I abandon my own residence? As you have asked me, how can I give up my own residence? I will not go far away, especially from this spot. You should go somewhere else. Or, if you so wish, remain here. Under no circumstances, can I move from this place.”

Hearing his words, Bhargava became slightly angry. “Hunters are exceedingly cruel and cause fear to all beings. They are always engaged in deceitful acts and are shamed by all creatures. Born into such a lineage, you are a sinner. You cause violence to all living beings. O evil-minded one! That being the case, why should you not be shunned by virtuous people? Accordingly, you should know that you are inferior in class. You should quickly go somewhere else. Non-violence towards all beings is eternal dharma. Since you act against this, you are always reviled by virtuous people. To sustain your own life, you kill all those with bodies. How can virtuous people converse with you? O worst among men! Therefore, you should swiftly leave this place. Otherwise, because of what I do inadvertently, there may be harm to you. If you do not leave this place on your own, I will have to use force. It is evident that if you do not use your own intelligence, I will have to do something to make you move. Your remaining here will not be beneficial for you, even for half-an-instant. How can a person who hates dharma and constantly acts against it obtain peace?”

In the form of the hunter, the wielder of pinaka was delighted. However, he replied, seemingly in rage. “I think that everything undertaken by you is futile. Are you the first person to possess jnana? Shankara will not be satisfied with this. Shambhu is satisfied with conduct that is contrary to the behaviour of the worlds. You are associated with Shambhu who is not worshipped according to the rites. Parameshthi Brahma is the grandfather of the worlds. Shambhu severed his head and suffered from the sin of killing a Brahmana. The view of the worlds is that non-violence is a sign of dharma. O Rama! If that is the case, why did you kill your mother with your own hand? After that, you wilfully profess yourself to be devoted to dharma and criticise others. I see that you are smiling, not knowing about the intolerable sin you have yourself committed. If I abandon my own dharma and roam around without any fear, it is then that you should reprimand me, not because of what you have wilfully determined in your own mind. I kill creatures only to sustain my mother, my father, my sons and others. I regard that as my own dharma. This is the means of subsistence the Creator has ordained for me in earlier times. With this meat, I constantly nourish my parents. Had I killed more than necessary, I would have committed a sin. We cannot be criticised for killing what is required for subsistence. In every possible way, I am engaged in nurturing my friends. But you abandoned your aged father and killed your mother. You then proclaim yourself to be someone who follows dharma and have come here, to engage in austerities. O Rama! Go somewhere else, where people do not know about you.”

Published originally on Open Magazine

Reproduced here with permission from Dr. Bibek Debroy