The Skanda Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 750,347 words

This page describes Previous Birth of the Hunter which is chapter 18 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 eighteenth chapter of the Vaishakhamasa-mahatmya of the Vaishnava-khanda of the Skanda Purana.

Chapter 18 - Previous Birth of the Hunter

The hunter said:

1-4. I have been blessed by you, O sage, (though) I am a sinner and very wicked-minded. Indeed great men are compassionate and good by nature. Where am I, a hunter of ignoble birth? Where is the mind such as this (of yours)? (There is such a great difference between us!) I value only your excellent blessings.

O pious Sir, I am worthy of being guided and instructed by you. O bestower of honour, I am a deserving person to receive your mercy.

I should be blessed. I am your son. Be merciful, O storehouse of mercy, so that I will no longer have this vicious inclination that causes harmful and adverse results. By association with good people no one ever experiences any misery anywhere.

5. Hence, O Brāhmaṇa, enlighten me with such wise sayings as are destructive of sins, whereby those who are desirous of salvation certainly cross the ocean of worldly existence.

6. In the case of honourable and pious men of impartial mind, endowed with kindness and compassion for all living beings, no one is lowly and vulgar or high and excellent; no one is one’s own or a stranger.

7-8. Whoever thinks with mental concentration and enquires about (the means of) mental purity and whoever repents even though he may be contaminated by all defects, and though he be deprived of all holy rites, whenever he enquires about this of his preceptors, they immediately impart to him the knowledge that certainly liberates one from the worldly existence.

9. Just as Gaṅgā is the cause of destruction of sins of men, so also pious and noble persons are proclaimed as the natural redeemers of the stupid and dull-witted people.

10. Do not hesitate in the matter of enlightening me, O compassionate one, favourably inclined towards your devotees, as I have a desire to hear (serve), have bowed down to you and have become pure due to the contact with you.

11. On hearing these words of the hunter, the sage became surprised in his mind once again. After exclaiming “Excellent! Excellent!” he spoke of these holy rites.

Śaṅkha said:

12. If you wish for welfare, O hunter, perform these holy rites in the month of Vaiśākha. They are excellent and cause delight to Viṣṇu. They liberate the devotees from the ocean of worldly existence.

13-15a. A fierce heat oppresses us here. There is neither shade nor water here. So we shall go to some other place where there is plenty of shade. After drinking water I shall resort to the shade. There I shall describe unto you the greatness (of the holy rites) destructive of sins. I shall recount the greatness of the month of Vaiśākha that pertains to Viṣṇu. I shall recount it in the manner as has been heard and seen (by me).

15b-17. On being told thus by the sage, the hunter said with palms joined in reverence: “A little away from here, there is water in an excellent lake. There are wood-apple trees there fully laden with fruit. We shall go there. There is no doubt about this that you will be satisfied.”

On being directed thus by the hunter, the sage went along with him.

18-24a. After going a little distance from there he saw the excellent lake. It was full of cranes and Kāraṇḍava ducks. It was rendered beautiful by ruddy geese. There were swans, Sārasa ducks, storks etc. all round rendering it very splendid. Bamboo-reeds with holes therein produced a loud and sweet musical note along with the humming of bees.

It was very charming with tortoises, crocodiles, fish etc. swimming about. It was a large lake abounding in lilies, blue lotuses, red lotuses, white lotuses etc.

There were hundred-petalled lotuses of the Kokanada variety all round, beautifying the lake splendidly. The sweet chirping sounds of the birds reverberated. The lake was one that afforded the pleasure of a festival unto the eyes.

There were hedges of bamboo reeds and many trees adorning the banks. It was rendered beautiful by various trees such as banyan trees, Karañja, Nīpa, tamarind, margosa, Plakṣa, Priyāla, Caṃpaka, Bakula, Punnāga, Tumbara, Kapittha, Āmalaka (Emblic myrobalan), Nīṣpeṣaṇa and Jambū (rose apple tree) all round.

24b-29a. There were many types of animals all round such as wild elephant, deer, boar, buffalo etc. There were hares, porcupines, blue oxen etc. beautifying the place. There were rhinoceroses, musk deer, antelopes etc., tigers, lions, wolves, the fabulous eight-footed Śarabhas that killed donkeys, Camarī deer, etc. adorning the forest all round.

There were monkeys leaping from branch to branch quickly. The place was rendered fearful by (wild) cats and bears as well as Ruru deer. There were the sounds of crickets, the ‘Kreṅ’ sounds of great harshness as well as the sounds of bamboo reeds. Agitated by violent gusts of winds, the trees produced great rustling sounds.

The tiger among sages, who was much oppressed by thirst, saw the lake of great excellence like this as pointed out by the hunter.

29b-34. He took his midday bath in this fascinating lake and wore his clothes once again. Then he performed religious rites prescribed for midday. After performing the worship of the Lord, he eagerly ate the very tasty wood-apple and other fruits brought by the hunter that dispelled his fatigue.

Thereafter, he seated himself comfortably and asked the hunter who was interested in Dharma: “O (hunter) interested in Dharma, what is it that has to be said by me at the outset to you now? There are many holy rites of several and separate kinds. Among them those holy rites that are specially laid down for the month of Vaiśākha, yield great benefits though they are subtle. They bestow benefits on all living beings both here and hereafter. What you have in your mind as worthy of being asked, ask it at the outset itself’.

On being told thus by that sage, the hunter said with palms joined in reverence:

The hunter said:

35-36. What was that Karma as a result of which (I got) this birth as a hunter full of Tamoguṇa? What is the reason for such an inclination as this? How did I come into contact with (you) the noble-souled one? Relate this as well as other things, O holy lord, if you consider me worthy of the same.

On being requested thus, the great sage named Śaṅkha spoke once again in a majestic tone like that of a cloud. There was smile on his lotus-like face.

Śaṅkha said:

37-41. Formerly you were a Brāhmaṇa named Staṃba in the city of Śākala (modem Sialkote, Panjab). You had mastered the Vedas and were very brilliant. You were born of Śrīvatsa Gotra. You had a prostitute as your beloved. On account of the fault of associating with her, you had forsaken your daily rites. You returned home like a Śūdra. You were devoid of good conduct. You were vicious with all holy rites cast off.

You had a Brāhmaṇa wife named Kāntimatī. That beautiful lady served you along with that prostitute (though) you were a base Brāhmaṇa. In order to please you, she washed the feet of both of you. She obeyed the words of both of you. She slept below on the ground allowing both of you to sleep (on the cot).

42-48a. Though she was prevented by that prostitute (your Brāhmaṇa wife) adhered to her chaste activities. Serving her husband and the prostitute together, she continued to be miserable on the earth. A great deal of time elapsed thus.

One day the husband consumed the Māṣa pulse along with radish. Following the custom of Śūdras, he ate the Niṣpāva pulse mixed with gingelly seeds. Having consumed those unwholesome things, he suffered from vomiting and diarrhoea.

On account of the unwholesomeness of the food, he became a prey to the dreadful disease of fistula of anus. On account of that ailment it appeared as though he was being burned day and night.

As long as there was ample wealth in the house, the prostitute continued to stay there, but having deprived him of his wealth, she no longer stayed in his abode. The terrible, merciless courtesan went away and stayed with someone else. Afflicted very much with the ailment, with his mind agitated on account of the pain, he spoke to his wife cryingly in a pitiable tone:

48b-51. “Protect me, O gentle lady, ruthless though I was due to my attachment to a prostitute. O holy and beautiful lady, I have not at all helped you so far. O gentle lady, that despicable sinner who does not honour his wife who bows down to him, shall become a eunuch in the course of fifteen births. O highly fortunate lady, day and night I am censured by honourable and virtuous men. Since I have disrespected a chaste lady like you, I will be reborn of a sinful womb. I burn within myself with the anger arising from the dishonour done to you.”

52-55. When her husband said thus, she spoke these words with palms joined in reverence:

“You need not feel any wretchedness or shame, O my husband, on account of me. I do not entertain any anger towards you, whereby, you say, you bum within yourself. Sins committed previously turn into miseries. A chaste lady or man who brooks the same is the most excellent one. I am (must have been) a sinful woman. If I reap the fruit of sin committed by me in the previous birth, I feel no remorse or sorrow thereby.”

Saying thus she rendered all help to her husband.

56. The lady of excellent complexion brought money from her father and other kinsmen (in order to help him). She considered her husband (on a par with) the Lord (Viṣṇu) who resides in the Milk Ocean.

57. By day as well as by night, she regularly washed the urine and excreta of her husband. With her nails, she pulled out slowly the worms (from the ulcer).

58. Neither at night nor during the day did the fair-complexioned lady get a wink of sleep. Sad and dejected on account of the misery of her husband, she said thus:

59-63. “May Devas and Manes who are well-known protect my husband. Let them absolve my husband of sins and free him from sickness. For the sake of the health of my husband, I shall offer to Caṇḍikā excellent and well-cooked food mixed with blood and flesh along with (products of) buffalo-milk. I shall get Moḍaka sweets prepared for the noble-souled Vighneśa (Gaṇeśa). I shall observe ten fasts on Saturdays. I will not take sweet things. I will not use ghee. I will not smear oil over my body, Undoubtedly I will remain thus. Let this husband of mine live for a hundred years free from ailments.”

That gentle lady said like this everyday as it rolled by.

64. Then a noble-souled sage named Devala came to his abode in the evening on a day in the month of Vaiśākha. He was distressed due to heat.

65. At that time your wife said: “The physician has come to our house. Therefore, the sickness will be removed. I shall be hospitable to him.”

66. Knowing that you were averse to pious activities, she tricked you and got him in under the pretext that he was a physician. Washing the feet of the sage, she sprinkled the water on your head.

67. Encouraged by you, she gave sweet drink to that noble-souled one, distressed with heat in the evening. It dispelled all the heat.

68. In the morning, when the sun arose, the sage went back on his way. Then within a short while you had an attack of Sannipāta (a combined derangement of all the humours of the body).

69-74. When she was administering the three pungent substances (ginger, black pepper and long pepper), the husband bit off her finger. The two teeth (upper and lower ones) suddenly came close together. The tender finger remained within the mouth of the husband. After biting the finger off, the husband died on the excellent bed thinking about the beautiful courtesan. On coming to know that her husband was dead, your wife Kāntimatī sold her bangles and bought fuel. The chaste lady made up a funeral pyre thereby, keeping (the dead body of) her husband in the middle. She embraced him with her hands, entwined the feet with his feet, placed her face against his face, kept her chest close to his chest and placed her pudenda over his. Thus placing herself on his body, that auspicious lady burned the sick body of her husband along with that of hers in the burning fire. [see notes below]

75. Embracing her husband, she forsook her body and went to the world of Murāri, due to the merit of giving sweet drink in this month of Vaiśākha, as well as that of washing the feet (of a sage). She attained the world worthy of being attained by Yogins.

76. You got rid of all your sins, but since you were engrossed in the thought of a courtesan at the time of death, you attained the birth as a hunter with a terrible form. You became interested in violence. You always caused heart-burn (to others).

77-78. Permission was given by you for the gift of the sweet drink in the month of Vaiśākha, O (hunter) with a chaste wife. Hence when you were born as a hunter, you had the good inclination of asking about holy rites that cause all happiness. You got your head sprinkled with ṭhe water with which the feet of the sage were washed. It was conducive to the destruction of all sins. Therefore, you had the opportunity of contacting me in this forest now, and due to this you will have further riches etc.

79. Thus whatever was done by you in the previous birth has been recounted to you. Your meritorious and sinful Karmas have been seen by me through divine vision.

80. Whatever you wish to hear, I shall recount unto you even if it be a secret. Your mind has become purified, O highly intelligent one. Hail unto you!

Notes regarding Satī:

The self-immolation of the widow along with the dead body of the husband described here, is called Satī. This was a respectable practice in higher castes as recorded in various mediaeval inscriptions. Curiously enough the practice has no Vedic sanction. The two Mantras, RV X.18.8 and AV XVIII.3.1, mention some pre-Vedic custom when the widow, as a formality, used to lie by the side of the deceased husband on the funeral pyre and return to “life”. The first ‘historical’ reference to Satī, viz. queen Mādrī’s self-immolation with king Pāṇḍu in Mbh, Ādi 116.31 is nullified by Mbh, Ādi 118.21-22 which states that the dead bodies of Pāṇḍu and Mādrī were brought to Hastināpura and were given a royal funeral on the same pyre. How Mādrī died is a matter of anybody’s conjecture. Her inability to fulfil Pāṇḍu’s last desire for sexual intercourse must have broken the heart of the pious lady. Old Gṛhya Sūtras, and old Smṛtis like Manu and Yājñavalkya do not support Satī. In the dark middle age of India (to which SkP belongs) the so-called Dharmaśāstra writers even distorted older texts to support widow-burning.

Thus Kamalākara Bhaṭṭa in Nirṇaya Sindhu quotes an imaginary Manu’s authority to advocate widow-burning as an alternative to life-long celibacy of a widow as follows:

brahmacaryaṃ cared vā'pi, praviśed vā hutāśanam |

On the contrary Medhātithi (9th cent. CE), the famous commentator of Manusmṛti, on Manu V.156 plainly states that ‘Dying after the husband is against the Vedas’ (śruti-virodho'yam).

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