by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 2,545,880 words
This page describes The Story of a House-Lizard which is chapter 6 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 sixth chapter of the Vaishakhamasa-mahatmya of the Vaishnava-khanda of the Skanda Purana.
1. O king, one who does not offer water in the month of Vaiśākha to those who are excessively thirsty and tired of journey over a long way, shall be born as an animal (in lower species).
2. In this connection they cite the following old story and a very wonderful dialogue between a Brāhmaṇa and a house-lizard.
3. Formerly in the family of Ikṣvāku, there was a king named Hemāṅga. He was a benefactor of Brāhmaṇas. He was exceedingly munificent. He had conquered enemies and had all the sense-organs perfectly under his control.
4. He gifted away as many cows as there are particles in the earth, as there are drops of water (in seas etc.) and as there are stars in the sky.
5. The whole earth became splendid with plenty of Kuśa grass as they were left strewn by him after his Yajñas were over. Many Brāhmaṇas were propitiated by him with the donation of cows, lands, gingelly seeds, gold and other things.
6. It is well-known that there were no charitable gifts not made by him. Of course, water was the sole thing not given by him, O king, because he thought that it was easily available.
7-8. He was advised by Vasiṣṭha, the noble-souled son of Brahmā. Yet he argued, “What fruit can a donor acquire—a donor of a valueless thing which is available everywhere?” With this wrong notion and arguments in support thereof, he did not offer water to any Brāhmaṇa. His statement (apparently) well-founded was, “There shall be merit in giving what is not available.”
9. He worshipped Brāhmaṇas wanting in limbs, poor Brāhmaṇas and those devoid of means of livelihood. He did not adore those Brāhmaṇas who were well-versed in the Vedas, were knowers of truth and those who expounded Brahman.
10-11. ‘All people will worship well-reputed persons, offering them rich presents. Who will help the helpless ones—Brāhmaṇas without learning, those disabled ones without limbs and the poor ones? Hence they deserve sympathy.’ Thinking thus he, of his own accord, offered some (wealth) to undeserving persons (without the concurrence of his preceptor).
12-15. On account of this great sin the king became a Cātaka bird in the course of three births, a vulture in one birth, and a dog in the course of seven births. Afterwards he was born as a house-lizard in the abode of a king of Mithilā named Śrutakīrti. O king, he sustained himself by feeding on insects. That evil-minded one remained thus in the loft of the inner apartment for eighty-seven years.
16-17. On seeing him the king was highly delighted. He got up promptly and adored him with Madhuparka and other things offered by way of reception. He sprinkled over his own head the water with which he washed his fed. As good luck would have it, the house-lizard too was sprinkled with a few drops.
18. Immediately the lizard could remember (previous births). Having remembered the previous Karmas, it became exceedingly distressed. It cried and prayed, “Save me, save me” to the Brāhmaṇa who had come to that abode.
19-20. The Brāhmaṇa was surprised on hearing the sound of a being of lower stratum. He asked: “O lizard, where are you crying from? What Karma has brought you to this condition? Are you a Deva, an ordinary man, a king or a Brāhmaṇa? Tell me who you are, O highly blessed one. To-day I shall redeem you.”
21-28a. On being asked thus the king spoke to Śrutadeva of great intellect: “I am born of the race of Ikṣvāku. I was an expert in the Vedas and scriptural texts. I had gifted away as many cows as there are particles in the earth or as there are drops of water (in seas etc.) or as there are stars in the sky. All the Yajñas were performed by me. I performed acts of public utility such as digging lakes, wells etc. Charitable gifts were given and the rites due for the month of Vaiśākha were performed. Still I have fallen in this miserable state to suffer instead of (being rewarded with) a higher status. Three times I was born as a Cātaka bird and once as a vulture. Previously, O Brāhmaṇa, birth as a dog had been gone through by me seven times. As this king sprinkled himself with the water after washing your feet, some drops fell on me accidentally. Thereby I have been reminded of the previous births. All the sins of mine have been dispelled. I have yet to take twenty-eight births as a house-lizard. They appear to have been ordained by fate. I am extremely afraid of the same. I do not see any reason therefor. Explain to me fully.”
28b-31. On being told thus that sage saw everything with his vision of perfect knowledge and said: “Listen, O king. I shall tell you the reason for your birth in the lower species of beings. Water was not offered by you in the month of Vaiśākha, of which Lord Viṣṇu is fond. Since water is easily available, you decided that it was worthless. Due to your ignorance even in summer season water was not offered by you to wayfarers and Brāhmaṇas. Further, you made charitable gifts to undeserving persons, ignoring deserving ones. Oblations are never offered on ash, after leaving aside blazing fire.
32-33. A tree may have different colours. It may possess sweet fragrance etc. But if it is overgrown with thorns, no one adores it. Among excellent trees Aśvattha has attained the status of one worthy of being resorted to. Is an egg-plant worshipped after setting aside a Tulasī plant?
34. Helplessness is no criterion for worship. Those helpless persons such as lame and disabled ones are merely to be pitied.
35. Those who strictly adhere to penance, those who possess perfect knowledge, those who are experts in the Vedas and scriptures are like Viṣṇu incarnate. They should be worshipped always and never the others.
36. There too, those Brāhmaṇas who are endowed with perfect knowledge are always great favourites of Viṣṇu. O king, Viṣṇu too is always loved by persons having perfect knowledge. Hence a man with knowledge is worthy of being adored. He is remembered as the greatest among those who are worthy of being worshipped.
37. Contempt of persons of excellent conduct leads to misery both here and hereafter. Service rendered to great men is the cause of achievement of the aims of life.
38. Even if crores of blind people (join together), they will not be able to see things as they really exist. In the same manner even an association of ten thousands of dull-witted persons cannot be fruitful in any manner.
39. Tīrthas are not mere waters; the deities are not mere clay or stone. As for good men, they sanctify merely by their sight but only after lapse of a great deal of time.
40. Those who are well trained by them do not become distressed, thanks to the service rendered lo good men, just as the persons nourished with nectar are not afflicted with births, deaths, old age etc.
41. O scion of the family of Ikṣvāku, water was not offered by you, nor were good men served. Therefore, this misfortune (birth in a low species) has befallen you.
42. For the purpose of quelling the evil and attaining peace, I shall give you all the merit acquired by me through the holy rites performed by me in Vaiśākha. Thereby you will get rid of all the evil fruits of the past, present and future Karmas.”
43-46. After saying this and ceremoniously sipping water he donated the excellent merit. When (the merit of) the holy bath taken in the course of a day was gifted away by the Brāhmaṇa, that king had all his sins quelled. He cast off the body of the house-lizard. He had divine garlands, garments and ornaments. Even as all the living beings were watching, he stood with palms joined in reverence within the mansion of the king of Miṃilā. He circumambulated them and bowed down to them. On being permitted by them the king got into a divine aèrial chariot. Eulogized by the immortal ones he went to heaven.
48. That great lord was a part of Viṣṇu. He was a friend of Devendra. He protected the entire earth consisting of seven continents. He was a patron of Brāhmaṇas and was honoured by good people.
49. Enlightened by Vasiṣṭha, he performed all the fine rites prescribed for (to be performed in) Vaiśākha. Thereby he got rid of all the inauspiciousness and evils.
50-52. After attaining divine knowledge he obtained salvation in the form of Sāyujya with Viṣṇu. Hence Vaiśākha is auspicious. If the rites are performed by all men, Vaiśākha bestows longevity, fame and affluence. It is destructive of masses of great sins. It is the cause of the achievement of all aims of life. Viṣṇu becomes pleased hereby.
In the month of Vaiśākha, during vernal season great holy rites are to be performed by all men of the four castes as well as four stages of life.
Footnotes and references:
The story of King Hemāṅga illustrates how free offer of water in Vaiśākha is superior to all other gifts, Yajñas etc. and refusal to do it leads to terrible punishment. Neither PE nor Mbh record any such king. The names may be imaginary but they emphasize the importance of gifts of water.
Kākutstha: a descendant of Kakutstha. The author probably means Kakustha, son of Śaśāda (and not Kākutstha), as he was ‘a friend of Indra’. VāP, 11.26.24-25 records how he helped Indra against Asuras—a feat eulogized by Kālidāsa in Raghuvaṃśa, VI.71. Kakustha’s greatness is attributed to the fructification of the merit of Vaiśākha-Vrata performed in his past birth.