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The Mahabharata - First Book

Adi Parva

Section CCXXXII

"Vaisampayana said, 'When the fire blazed forth in the forest of Khandava, the infant birds became very much distressed and afflicted. Filled with anxiety, they saw not any means of escape. Their mother, the helpless Jarita, knowing that they were too young to escape, was filled with sorrow and wept aloud. And she said,

'Oh, the terrible conflagration, illuminating the whole universe and burning the forest down, approacheth towards us, increasing my woe. These infants with immature understanding, without feathers and feet, and the sole refuge of our deceased ancestors, afflict me.

Oh, this fire approacheth, spreading fear all around, and licking with its tongue the tallest trees. But my unfledged children are incapable of effecting their escape.

I myself am not capable of escaping, taking all these with me. Nor am I capable of abandoning them, for my heart is distressed on their account. Whom amongst my sons, shall I leave behind, and whom shall I carry with me? What (act) should I do now that is consistent with duty? What also do you, my infant sons, think?

I do not, even by reflection, see any way of escape for you. I shall even cover you with my wings and die with you. Your cruel father left me some time before, saying,

'Upon this Jaritari, because he is the eldest of my sons, will my race depend. My second Sarisrikka will beget progeny for the expansion of my ancestors' race. My third, Stamvamitra, will be devoted to asceticism, and my youngest, Drona, will become the foremost of those acquainted with the Vedas.'

But how hath this terrible calamity overtaken us! Whom shall I take with me? As I am deprived of judgment what should I do that is consistent with duty? I do not see, by the exercise of my own judgment, the escape of my children from the fire!'

"Vaisampayana said, 'Unto their mother indulging in these lamentations, the infant ones said.

'O mother, relinquishing thy affection for us, go thou to a place where there is no fire. If we are killed here, thou mayest have other children born to thee.

If thou, O mother be killed, we can have no more children in our race. Reflecting upon both these calamities, the time hath come for thee, O mother, to do that which is beneficial to our race.

Do not be influenced by affection for thy offspring, which promises to destroy both us and thee. If thou savest thyself, our father, who is even desirous of winning regions of felicity, may have his wishes gratified.'

"Hearing what the infants said. Jarita replied,

'There is a hole here in the ground near to this tree, belonging to a mouse. Enter this hole without loss [Page 450] of time. You shall have then no fear of fire. After ye have entered it, I shall, ye children, cover its mouth with dust. This is the only means of escape that I see from the blazing fire. Then when the fire will be put out, I shall return hither to remove the dust.

Follow my advice if you are to escape from the conflagration.'

"The infant birds replied,

'Without feathers we are but so many balls of flesh. If we enter the hole, certain it is that the carnivorous mouse will destroy us all. Beholding this danger before us, we cannot enter this hole. Alas, we do not see any means by which we may escape from the fire or from the mouse. We do not see how our father's act of procreation may be prevented from becoming futile, and how also our mother may be saved.

If we enter the hole, the mouse will destroy us; we remain where we are and the sky-ranging fire will destroy us. Reflecting upon both the calamities, a death by fire is preferable to a death by being eaten up. If we are devoured by the mouse within the hole, that death is certainly ignoble, whereas the destruction of the body in fire is approved by the wise.'"

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