Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Mahabharata: Astika, Savior of the Snakes

The following is from a work-in-progress called The Mahabharata: a Book Report, in which I'm slowly reading through the Hindu epic poem The Mahabharata, and writing a book report on what I read. 

Kadru’s snake sons got nervous because their mother had cursed them to die in a snake sacrifice.  One of the snake-boys named Sesa left his brothers and devoted his life to asceticism.  Pleased with this, the great god Brahma appointed him to support the earth, sort of like the Greek god Atlas.  The remaining sons were encouraged when they heard a prophecy that an ascetic named Jaratkaru would have a son named Astika, who would save them from their curse.

Meanwhile, a king named Pariksit went hunting in the forest.  While pursuing a deer, he came across a sage named Samika, and asked if he’d seen the deer.  However, Samika had taken a vow of silence, so he didn’t respond.  Angered, king Pariksit placed a dead snake around the seer’s neck, and left.  When the seer’s son Srngin saw his father’s shame, he cursed king Pariksit to die within seven days from a snake bite by the snake king Taksaka.  Samika, angered by his son’s rash curse, somehow warned the king, who invited the seer Kasyapa to protect/cure him should he be bitten.  But it was to no avail.  Taksaka bit the king and he died, leaving the throne to his son Janamejaya (the king who would ultimately perform the snake sacrifice).

Meanwhile, the ascetic Jaratkaru married a snake woman, also named Jaratkaru, and she had a son named Astika, who was destined to save the thousand snake-sons of Kadru from king Janamejaya’s impending snake sacrifice.

As he grew up, king Janamejaya learned of his father’s death by snake-bite, and resolved to take revenge on Taksaka and all snakes with a giant snake sacrifice.  Ultimately, however, Astika gained favor with the king and managed to halt the snake sacrifice before the sons of Kadru perished.  Thankful to their savior, the snakes granted Astika a boon (special gift), and Astika chose that anyone who recites his story will be protected from snake bites.

Astika requesting Janamejaya to stop the snake sacrifice.

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