by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 750,347 words
This page describes The Previous Births of the Tortoise which is chapter 11 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 eleventh chapter of the Kaumarika-khanda of the Maheshvara-khanda of the Skanda Purana.
The Tortoise narrated:
1-2. Formerly I was a Brāhmaṇa well-known as Śāṇḍilya. During my childhood, O king, even as I was playing, a lofty shrine of Śiva was made by me. It was made of wet sand and dust particles during the rainy season. It was rendered splendid by a lofty rampart-wall.
3-4. It was highly charming due to the five Āyatanas (i.e. separate abodes of the deities), O king. It contained the idols of Vināyaka, Śivā (i.e. the goddess Pārvatī), Sun-god and the Slayer of Madhu (i.e. Viṣṇu). Yellow clay was used to make a replica of the Kalaśa (i.e. rounded pinnacle on the top of a temple). It was beautified with clusters of banners and festoons. The arched gateway was made of wood. It was adorned with a swing.
5. It was rendered brilliant with a series of steps made very firm. It was sufficiently high. It was full of many wonderful features and very divine. I did all these things in the company of my friends.
7-11. Bakapuṣpas (‘Agati grandiflora’) and other flowers were fetched from the fields. Other tender flowers plucked from creepers such as Kūṣmāṇḍas (a variety of pumpkin gourd) etc., many thousands of flowers from the thorn-apple plants having excellent colours, Mandāras, Bilvapatras, Dūrvā grasses and fresh sprouts were used by me to worship Śiva. A beautiful worship was arranged by me. Thereafter the Tāṇḍava dance was started wherein no particular holy rite had to be performed. Due to my childishness, I sang too in front of Śiva but the tone was devoid of musical charm. I did this worship only once in the course of my childhood, surrounded by groups of other children. Then I died, O king. I was reborn as a Brāhmaṇa with the power of recollecting (incidents of) the previous birth. I was born in the city of Vidiśā where I performed a special worship of Śiva.
12-15a. I had due initiation in the worship of Śiva and was blessed by the Śivāgamas (i.e. sacred literature of the cult of Śiva).
He who constructs a temple of Śiva and instals with great faith, the Liṅga, in the palace of Śiva, shall live in heaven for a crore of Kalpas. A maker of a temple of Śiva stays in the abode of Śiva for as many years as there are atoms of earth, O king, in the shrine of Śiva.
15b-17. The abode of Śiva can be made of clay, wood, burnt bricks or rocky slabs. The merit accrued in each case is ten times greater than that in the previous case. (I practised all the rituals, viz.) I lay on ash; I took bath three times everyday; I had my meal of food received as alms while begging; I wore matted hair and performed penance eagerly devoted to the propitiation of Śiva. Even as I was practising all these rites, O king, I had my death once again.
18-19. In my third birth I was born as an Emperor of all the earth ruling in the excellent city of Pratiṣṭhāna. I could then remember (the incidents of) the previous birth. Born in the Solar race, I was well-known by the name Jayadatta. Then, O king, many kinds of palaces were built by me.
20-22. In that birth I was eagerly absorbed in propitiating Śaṃbhu. Flowers, of which Bakapuṣpa (‘Agati grandiflora’) was prominent, were simply selected. I performed the worship with the flowers made of gold, silver and precious stones, O king. Charitable gift of cooked food etc., O excellent king, I made in such (dishes) (i.e. made of gold, silver etc). The worship of Śivaliṅgas only I performed with (genuine, real) flowers. Thereupon Lord Śaṃbhu was pleased with me and granted boons.
23-25a. Śiva granted me, O king, the boon of immortality and freedom from old age with the same physical body.
Having acquired such an extra-ordinary boon, I wandered over the whole of this earth like an elephant (as if) blinded with intoxication. I, the king, abandoned devotion to Śiva. Being affected with lust, I began to molest women (who were) the wives of others.
25b-30. Molestation of other men’s wives is the main cause of destruction of longevity, penance, fame, splendour, renown and glory.
Though he (such a person) has ears, i.e. the power of audition, he becomes (behaves) as if bereft of that (power). Though he has eyes, he becomes dull (or senseless) like a (really) blind person. Though he is endowed with consciousness, he behaves as if he is lacking in it. Though he appears to be learned, he clearly becomes a fool.
O king, a man becomes like this within a moment.when he becomes the object of the gaze of fawn-eyed women.
If he dies he has to stay in hell; if he is alive he has to be afraid of the ruler. Thus molestation of other men’s wives ruins both the worlds.
Since I had the firm knowledge that I was free from death and old age, I gave up fear of this world or of hereafter and so, O king, I began to molest and outrage the women of others.
31. Having come to know that I was transgressing all bounds of decorum and propriety, due to the fact that Īśa had bestowed some boons on me, Yama approached Śaṃbhu and he informed him about my transgression of piety and virtue.
32-36a. O lord, I am unable to curb and restrain this sinner, because he is well protected by your might and greatness. Direct someone else for my job.
O Īśa, O lord, the following have been mentioned by you as the basis and support of the universe: chaste women, cows, Brāhmaṇas learned in Vedas, liberal-minded people who are not greedy and those who abide by truth. The most important among them are chaste women.
Chaste women have been outraged by him. My rule of virtue has been violated by Jayadatta, the resident of Pratiṣṭhāna, who has become mad and proud due to boons granted by you, O lord of Devas. He has vanquished and humiliated me.
36b. On hearing these words of Dharma, the lord became infuriated. He brought me to his presence even as I was trembling with palms joined in reverence. He cursed me.
37-39. O (fellow) of wicked conduct, chaste women have been outraged by you who are mad with lust. So you are cursed by me to become a tortoise instantaneously.
Thereupon after humbly bowing down to him, the lord, the dispeller of the grief of the curse, was entreated by me. He said, “In the sixtieth Kalpa you shall become free from the curse. You shall become a Gaṇa of mine.”
After saying this, Śiva vanished.
41. You were a great performer of Yajñas and you took me ahead. Even as I remember it, I am afraid. My back has been burnt by you. See these wounds on any back.
42. At that time, O Indradyumna, many Cayanas (i.e. keeping the sacred fires) were conducted by you on my back in accordance with the injunctions of the Kalpasūtras (i.e. liturgical treatises in the form of aphorisms).
44-46. One is liberated from all sins by taking bath in it. Once, during a certain Naimittika Pralaya (‘periodical deluge’), O king, I came to this Mānasa lake that was being flooded to the extent of a hundred Yojanas. Fifty-six Kalpas have elapsed. Four more remain. Thereafter, I will have liberation. Thus I obtained long life and due to a curse of Īśvara, O king, I, the outrager of the modesty of chaste women, became a tortoise.
47-49. Tell me what shall be done unto you who happen to be my enemy and now a guest in my house. My back was scorched by you for a long time by fire formerly. Even now I perceive the back burning as it were due to the fire. (Hence due to the continuance of the memory of your reputation, you have been eligible for Svarga.) Why was that aerial chariot attended by messengers of gods that had come here rejected by you? Enjoy the pleasures earned and acquired by you.
50. I have been banished from heaven by the Four-faced Lord himself. Ashamed that I am, I will not go back (to heaven) which is defiled due to the great dangers of downfall etc.
51-52. Hence I will practise discrimination and detachment which destroys ignorance and sin. I shall endeavour to obtain enlightenment for the sake of liberation (from Saṃsāra). Just as you receive me with hospitality because I have come to your abode, in the same manner, kindly advise me as to who will be my preceptor and take me across the ocean (of worldly existence) that is boundless.
The Tortoise said:
54-55. So come. We, all of us together, shall go to him (i.e. Lomaśa) only. Learned men say that association with good people is more sacred than visits to Tīrthas.
On hearing these words of the king, all those six persons thought about that prominent sage and were delighted.
Desirous of knowing the cause of his great longevity, they started immediately to meet that eminent Brāhmaṇa.
Footnotes and references:
A synthesis of the five sects of Śiva, Viṣṇu, Devī, Gaṇeśa and the Sun-god. If Śiva is given the central position and the above four gods around him it is Śiva-pañcāyatana; if Viṣṇu is in the central position and other four gods around, it is Viṣṇu-pañcāyatana. Here it is Śiva-pañcāyatana.
A town 26 miles north-east of Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh). Kālidāsa mentions it in the Meghadūta and his play Mālavikāgnimitra. In British days it was called Bhilsa but now its original name is restored.
This is the Pāśupata way of asceticism (vide Lakulīśa’s Pāśupatasūtra with Com. of Kauṇḍiṇya).
Probably Jhusi opposite to Allahabad. It was the capital of Purūravas. The life of this king cannot be connected with Paiṭhaṇ (old name Pratiṣṭhāna) in Maharashtra.