by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 2,142,515 words
This page describes Redemption of Five Apsaras by Arjuna which is chapter 1 of the English translation of the Skanda Purana, the largest of the eighteen Mahapuranas, preserving the ancient Indian society and Hindu traditions in an encyclopedic format, detailling on topics such as dharma (virtous lifestyle), cosmogony (creation of the universe), mythology (itihasa), genealogy (vamsha) etc. This is the first chapter of the Kaumarika-khanda of the Maheshvara-khanda of the Skanda Purana.
The holy sages said:
1. O wide-eyed one, recount those five Tīrthas (i.e. holy places of ablution) which are on the shores of the Southern Sea. They are spoken of very highly (by people).
2. Nārada and others say that these Tīrthas yield the benefit of all the Tīrthas We wish to hear the story and the greatness of those Tīrthas.
3. Listen to the great power of Kumāranātha with wonderfully meritorious holy stories. It is what Dvaipāyana (Vyāsa) formerly recounted to me with body covered with hair standing on end and drops of perspiration of delight.
9-12. Out of fear, ascetics always used to avoid those Tīrthas. The first Tīrtha of Kumāreśa (Lord Kārttikeya) is a favourite of the sage Kumāreśa. The second one of Staṃbheśa is a favourite of the sage Saubhadra. The other (third) one is Barkareśvara. It is an excellent Tīrtha loved by Paulomī. The fourth one is Mahākāla, a favourite of the king Karandhama. The fifth one is called Siddheśa. It is a favourite Tīrtha of Bharadvāja. The leading scion of the family of Kuru saw all these five Tīrthas. They were highly meritorious but they were avoided by ascetics.
13-15. On seeing them nearby, he asked the great sages, the followers of Nārada: “These Tīrthas are very beautiful and have wonderful powers. Tell me, why are they always avoided by the expounders of the Vedas?”
The Ascetics replied:
Five crocodiles live in them. They take away the ascetics. Hence, O Scion of the family of Kuru, these Tīrthas are avoided.
On hearing this (that warrior) of great arms made up his mind to go to those Tīrthas.
16-17. Then those ascetics told him: “O Phālguna, it does not behove you to go therein. Many kings and sages have been killed by crocodiles. In the course of the last twelve years, you have taken holy dips in millions of Tīrthas. Of what worth are these Tīrthas unto you? Do not become one observing (the suicidal vow of) Pataṅgavrata (i.e. way of moths falling into the fire).”
18. May the quintessence of what has been spoken (advised) by (you) people showering kindness (on me) be explained here (and now). A man seeking piety and virtue should not be prevented by noble-souled ones.
19. If a foolish-minded person prevents a man desirous of performing holy rites, he will be reduced to ash by the deep sighs of the people dependent on him.
20. Life is momentary like the lightning-streak. If that is spent for the sake of holy rites, let it pass away like that. What is the harm therein?
21. Only they are the genuine men on the earth, whose life, wealth, wives, sons, fields and abodes are utilized (and sacrificed) for the sake of Dharma.
The Ascetics replied:
22. Since you say in this manner, O Pārtha, let your life be prolonged; may your love be always directed towards righteous life. Go ahead and do as you desire.
23. On being told thus, the most excellent one among the descendants of Bharata bowed down to them. He was encouraged with blessings. He went ahead to visit those holy Tīrthas.
24. Thereafter that hero, the scorcher of enemies, went to the excellent Tīrtha of the great sage Saubhadra. He plunged into it and began to bathe in it.
25. Thereupon a great crocodile that had been moving about under the waters caught hold of Dhanañjaya, the son of Kunth a tiger among men.
26. Kaunteya seized that tremulous aquatic animal with force. That hero of mighty arms, the most excellent one among mighty persons, rose up along with it.
27. On being raised up by Arjuna of great renown that crocodile became a woman of auspicious features adorned with all ornaments.
28-30. Her tresses were lustrous, O Brāhmaṇas. She was very charming and had a divine form.
On seeing this great miracle, Dhanañjaya, the son of Kuntī, became excessively delighted. He spoke these words to that woman:
“O lady of auspicious features, who are you? Whence did this happen that you became an aquatic animal? What for have you committed this great sin?”
The woman replied:
I am a celestial damsel, O son of Kuntī, and I used to roam about and stay in the forests of Devas.
31. I am a permanent beloved of Kubera, named Varcā. O warrior of powerful arms, I had four other friends, all of whom were splendid ones, capable of going (anywhere) as they pleased.
32-36. I started along with them from the abode of the king of Devas. Then all of us saw a Brāhmaṇa who was abodeless (i.e. a Saṃnyāsin). He was handsome. He was reciting the Vedic Mantras. He was residing in a lonely place. O hero, that forest was enveloped in the splendour of his penance. Like the sun, he brightened the entire region (around him). On seeing his penance, wonderful appearance and handsome features, I descended down to that spot with a desire to cause some hindrance to his penance. All of us, Saurabheyī, Sāmeyī, Budbudā, Latā and I simultaneously approached that Brāhmaṇa, O descendant of Bharata, singing, sporting, cajoling and enticing him.
37-38. That sage of great heroism did not turn his mind or attention towards us. That excessively refulgent one did not waver at all. He remained engaged in the spotless penance. O great Kṣatriya hero, that Brāhmaṇa became angry with us and cursed us: “You will become crocodiles and stay under water for a hundred years.”
39. Thereupon all of us became distressed and pained, O most excellent one among the descendants of Bharata. We sought refuge in that Brāhmaṇa ascetic devoid of sins:
40. “We had become arrogant due to our beauty, youthful age and love. We have committed an improper thing. O Brāhmaṇa, it behoves you to forgive us.
41. This alone is a slaughter (death) of us that we came here to tempt you whose soul has reached a praiseworthy state. That is enough for us, O ascetic.
42. People who deliberate on virtue and piety consider that women have been created as those who should never be killed. Hence, O sage conversant with Dharma, this view of learned men (should be accepted by you) righteously.
43. Good men protect and defend those who seek refuge in them. You are worthy of being sought refuge in. We have approached you. Hence it behoves you to forgive us.”
44. On being told thus, that righteous Brāhmaṇa, the performer of splendid rites, having the lustre of the sun and the moon, condescended to favour us, O heroic warrior.
The Brāhmaṇa said:
45. Considering the conduct of all of you I am a bit confused in my mind. Alas, your impudence and temerity! Alas, your delusions! Your inclination towards sinful activity!
46. If people were to be aware that death is always perched on their heads, they cannot even relish their food; much less would the commission of a misdemeanour appeal to them.
47. Alas, the birth of one among human beings is the rarest among all births; even that is being slighted by certain vicious ones deluded by women!
48. We put to them this question: What is the cause of your birth? What is the gain thereby? Think about this seriously in your minds and then let it be replied.
49. We do not blame these (women) from whom comes birth. We censure only those persons who are reckless with them, who associate with them without any restraint.
50. Since couples are created by the Lotus-born Lord for the growth of the universe, that process should be maintained. There is no sin or harm in it.
51. The maintenance of the stage of a householder is blessed, if it is carried out with that woman who is given (in marriage) by kinsmen in the presence of Fire-god and in the assembly of Brāhmaṇas. Only then can it yield all benefits.
52-53. The union of Prakṛti and Puruṣa with each other can be conducive to Guṇa only when it is achieved. If it is not achieved, it is for Aguṇa (absence of Guṇa). In this manner, one’s own householdership achieved with effort is excellent and is conducive to great Guṇa (i.e. goodness, welfare). If it is not achieved, it is for Aguṇa (i.e. evil).
54. In the city with five entrances, the gatekeeper is accompanied by eleven soldiers. (Though) he is with his woman, how can he have many children if he is insentient?
56. Oh, listen. If not, your desire of listening becomes splendid (?). Still we cry and shout with our arm raised. But who hears?
57. The semen virile is the essence of the six Dhātus (‘essential constituents of the body’). If a good Yoni (vagina) is avoided and it is deposited in a Kuyoni (despicable Yoni), the defects are many as told by Yama.
58. At the outset he is the enemy of medicinal herbs. Then he is the enemy of self, enemy of departed parents, enemy of the whole universe. He goes to the hell of Andha (Tāmisra) and remains there for endless years.
59. Pitṛs, Devas, sages, common people and all living beings depend upon man. For that purpose one should put restraint on oneself.
60. They say that a man of self-restraint is a Sattīrtha (‘a holy spot’). That man has perfect control over speech, mind, tongue, hands and ears- Others are Kākatīrthas (‘contemptible ones’).
61. Men of Tāmasa nature take delight in a crow-like (i.e. evil-natured) person (mistaking him for a swan. What benefit do Devas derive thereby? Let this be thought of.
62. If one reflects in one’s heart about the structure of the universe in this manner, how can one’s mind indulge in and be diverted by sinful activities even for the sake of the three worlds?
63. This (fact) has been read by other men in the sacred literature. It has been directly perceived by me in the world of Yama. How will I become deluded then, O women?
64. What anger (should I feel) towards you all? People carry out those things for which they have been created, whether they are real or unreal.
65. (The words) Śatam (hundred), Sahasram (thousand) and Viśvam (all)—all denote inexhaustibleness. The measure ‘hundred’ only does not denote ‘inexhaustibleness’ (or unendingness).
66-67. As crocodiles you will be catching hold of persons in the water. If an excellent man takes you out of the water and throws you on the ground you will all regain your own respective forms, falsehood has never been uttered by me even in jest. The purification by his auspicious contact will be conducive to your good?
The woman said:
68-72. Thereafter, we saluted that Brāhmaṇa. After circumambulating him, we went away from that place and thought thus as we were extremely miserable and dejected: ‘Where can all of us in the shortest possible time meet that man who will give us back our own respective previous forms?’ After thinking thus for a short while, O descendant of Bharata, we saw the celestial sage Nārada of great fortune. On seeing that celestial sage of unmeasured lustre, all of us became delighted. After saluting him, O son of Pṛthā, we stood there with our misery (visible) in our faces. He asked us the cause of our misery and we told him the same.
73-76. After hearing the same exactly, he spoke these words:
“In the southern ocean there are five Tīrthas in a marshy place. Go to those beautiful and meritorious places. Do not delay. Dhanañjaya, a son of Pāṇḍu, a tiger among men, (a hero) of pure soul, will liberate you all stationed there, from this misery. There is no doubt about it.”
After hearing his words, O warrior, we have all come here. It behoves you to make those words true, O son of Pāṇḍu. Indeed the birth of good men like you is for the help of the wretched and miserable people.
77. On hearing her words, the son of Pāṇḍu took bath in all the Tīrthas one by one and redeemed them who had become crocodiles. He made them regain their original forms.
78. Then they bowed down to that warrior. They uttered blessings and good wishes for his victory. As they were about to go, Dhanañjaya, the son of Pṛthā, said to them:
79-80. “This is the doubt surging in my heart. Why did sage Nārada permit you to stay (here) in your exile? Even the basest fellow works in the interest of persons whom he adores. Why did Nārada say that you could stay in these Tīrthas worthy of his adoration?
82. Each of these is competent to ward off even Devas. How was it that none of them prevented you all from obstructing (the functioning of) these Tīrthas?
83. As I think of this my mind wavers. My curiosity has been aroused much. It behoves you to tell only the truth.”
The celestial damsels said:
84-85. You have put a relevant question, O son of Kuntī. Now look in the direction of the North. Here comes the praiseworthy sage Nārada surrounded by his Brāhmaṇa (followers). He will answer every questions you have put.
After saying this, they went up into the sky.
This refers to Arjuna’s self-exile as an expiation for his entry into the armoury to protect a Brāhmaṇa’s cows, while Draupadī and Yudhiṣṭhira were together there (Mahābhārata, Ādi 212.19-35). During his exile, he went to the South for pilgrimage, where he bathed in five lakes avoided by the public due to the crocodiles therein. Arjuna bathed in them and dragged out one by one the crocodiles, when they caught hold of him while bathing. Their curse was thus terminated and they became celestial damsels again (Mahābhārata, Ādi, Chs. 215-216).
The author of the Purāṇa has not only borrowed the story but also most of the verses from the above chapters of Mahābhārata, as can be seen from the comparative table of identical verses in Mahābhārata and Skandapurāṇa:
Mahābhārata, Ādi, Ch. 215 — Skandapurāṇa I.ii.1
Verse No. 7. — 14;
8- 23. — 23-37;
1-7. — 39-44;
9- 19a. — 66-75
Footnotes and references:
Khambhāta or Cambay in Gujarat (De 194).
V.i. Maṇipūrataḥ is better as it is supported by Mbh, Ādi, Ch. 214. This Maṇipūra was the then capital of Kaliṅga. It is identified with Māṇika Paṭṭam, a sea port at the mouth of Chilka lake (De. 126).
Mbh, Ādi 215,3 attributes this to sage Agastya and not to sage Kumāreśa. But as no name of a sage is given in the text, textually Kumāreśa becomes the sage attached to this Tīrtha.
At the time of cursing, the Brāhmaṇa meant ‘permanently’ by the term ‘śatam’, but when the celestial damsels begged pardon, he restricted the term to one hundred years only. Vide v 65 below which is a quotation from Mbh, Ādi 216.8.
City= body; five entrances=five seats of the sense organs; eleven soldiers=five organs of sense, five organs of action and mind. Woman=Prakṛti. Children=created objects. Gatekeeper=Individual Soul.
The Pañcayajñas are known as ‘Five great (Mahā) sacrifices’. They are the obligatory daily observances prescribed since early Vedic period.
They are as follows:
- Deva-yajña: Offerings in fire (even fuel sticks) or Fire worship.
- Pitṛ-yajña: Offering Svadhā (Śrāddha repast) even with water.
- Bhūta-yajña: Offering Bali (at least a ball of food) to beings (animals etc.).
- Manuṣya-yajña: Giving food to guests.
- Brahma-yajña: Recitation of the Veda—at least one Mantra.
These prescriptions are found in Śatapatha Br. (XI.5.6.1), Tait. Āraṇyaka (11.10) etc.
An echo of Mbh, Svarga 5.62.
Constituents of the body, viz, chyle, blood, flesh, faī, bone, marrow.
This chapter, a borrowal from Mbh, is used as a setting for the Kaumārikākhaṇḍa, the main narrator of which is Nārada. After the arrival of Nārada, the celestial damsels disappear from the scene.