"Janamejaya said, 'O Brahmana, tell me why and when that forest burnt in that way, Agni consumed not the birds called Sarngakas? Thou hast, O Brahmana, recited (to us) the cause of Aswasena and the Danava Maya not having been consumed. But thou hast not as yet said what the cause was of the escape of the Sarngakas? The escape of those birds, O Brahmana, appeareth to me to be wonderful. Tell us why they were not destroyed in that dreadful conflagration.'
"Vaisampayana said, 'O slayer of all foes, I shall tell thee all as to why Agni did not burn up those birds during the conflagration. There was, O king, a great Rishi known by the name of Mandapala, conversant with all the shastras, of rigid vows, devoted to asceticism, and the foremost of all virtuous persons.
Following in the wake of Rishis that had drawn up their virile fluid, that ascetic, O monarch, with every sense under complete control, devoted himself to study and virtue. Having reached the opposite shores of asceticism, O Bharata, he left his human form and went to the region of the Pitris. But going thither he failed to obtain the (expected) fruit of his acts. He asked the celestials that sat around the king of the dead as to the cause of his treatment, saying,
'Why have these regions become unattainable by me, — regions that I had thought had been acquired by me by my ascetic devotions?
Have I not performed those acts whose fruits are these regions? Ye inhabitants of heaven, tell me why these regions are shut against me!
I will do that which will give me the fruit of my ascetic penances.'
"The celestials answered,
'Hear, O Brahmana, of those acts and things on account of which men are born debtors. Without doubt, it is for religious rites, studies according to the ordinance, and progeny, that men are born debtors. These debts are all discharged by sacrifices, asceticism, and offspring.
Thou art an ascetic and hast also performed sacrifices; but thou hast no offspring. These regions are shut against thee only for want of children. Beget children, therefore!
Thou shalt then enjoy multifarious regions of felicity. The Vedas declared that the son rescueth the father from a hell called Put. Then, O best of Brahmanas, strive to beget offspring.'
[Page 448] "Vaisampayana continued, 'Mandapala, having heard these words of the dwellers in heaven, reflected how best he could obtain the largest number of offspring within the shortest period of time. The Rishi, after reflection, understood that of all creatures birds alone were blest with fecundity.
Assuming the form of a Sarngaka the Rishi had connection with a female bird of the same species called by the name of Jarita. And he begat upon her four sons who were all reciters of the Vedas. Leaving all those sons of his with their mother in that forest, while they were still within eggs, the ascetic went to (another wife called by the name of) Lapita.
And, O Bharata, when the exalted sage went away for the company of Lapita, moved by affection for her offspring, Jarita became very thoughtful. Though forsaken by their father in the forest of Khandava, Jarita, anxious in her affection for them, could not forsake her offspring, those infant Rishis encased in eggs. Moved by parental affection, she brought up these children born of her, herself following the pursuits proper to her own species.
Some time after, the Rishi, in wandering over that forest in the company of Lapita, saw Agni coming towards Khandava to burn it down. Then the Brahmana Mandapala, knowing the intention of Agni and remembering also that his children were all young moved by fear, gratified the god, of the burning element, that regent of the universe, endued with great energy. And he did this, desiring to put in a word for his unfledged offspring. Addressing Agni, the Rishi said,
'Thou art, O Agni, the mouth of all the worlds! Thou art the carrier of the sacrificial butter!
O purifier (of all sins), thou movest invisible with the frame of every creature! The learned have spoken of thee as an One, and again as possessed of triple nature. The wise perform their sacrifices before thee, taking thee as consisting of eight (mouths). The great Rishis declare that this universe hath been created by thee.
O thou that feedest on sacrificial butter, without thee this whole universe would be destroyed in a single day. Bowing to thee, the Brahmanas, accompanied by their wives and children, go to eternal regions won by them by help of their own deeds.
O Agni, the learned represent thee as the clouds in the heavens charged with lightning.
O Agni, the flames put forth by thee consume every creature.
O thou of great splendour, this universe hath been created by thee. The Vedas are thy word. All creatures, mobile and immobile, depend upon thee. Water primarily dependeth on thee, so also the whole of this universe. All offerings of clarified butter and oblations of food to the pitris have been established in thee.
O god, thou art the consumer, and thou art the creator and thou art Vrihaspati himself (in intelligence). Thou art the twin Aswins; thou art Surya; thou art Soma; thou art Vayu.
"Vaisampayana continued, 'O monarch, thus praised by Mandapala, Agni was gratified with that Rishi of immeasurable energy; and the god, well-pleased, replied,
'What good can I do to thee?'
Then Mandapala with joined palms said unto the carrier of clarified butter,
'While thou burnest the forest of Khandava, spare my children.'
The illustrious bearer of clarified [Page 449] butter replied,
'So be it.'
It was, therefore, O monarch, that he blazed not forth, while consuming the forest of Khandava, for the destruction of Mandapala's children.'"