The Skanda Purana

by G. V. Tagare | 1950 | 2,545,880 words

This page describes King Viduratha in a Hermitage 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 Tirtha-mahatmya of the Nagara-khanda of the Skanda Purana.

Chapter 18 - King Vidūratha in a Hermitage

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

Sūta said:

1-8. The king fell down on the ground utterly overwhelmed with hunger and thirst. He got up and walked on foot further into the forest.

Above in the sky, he saw three Pretas (ghosts) of terrible features. Their hairs stood up (erect). Their eyes were red, teeth black and bellies lean.

On seeing them, the king was extremely frightened. Losing all hopes of remaining alive he spoke these words with great difficulty:

“Who are you, O ghosts of hideous features. Beings like this have never been seen by me before, wandering everywhere in the moral world.

I am Vidūratha, a leading king, now excessively afflicted with hunger and thirst. I was eager to capture a deer and have reached this desolate forest.”

Thereupon Māṃsāda (Flesh-eater), the senior-most ghost bowed down humbly with palms joined in reverence. He replied:

“O great king, we are ghosts living in this forest in extremely miserable condition due to the defects of our own misdeeds. I am Māṃsādaka (Flesh-eater) by name; this second one is Vidaivata (Godless) and the third one is Kṛtaghna (Ungrateful), the most sinful of all the three.”

The king said:

9-11. All embodied persons are named by their parents. What is the reason for your having been named by yourselves?

On hearing it Māṃsāda said: “O king, these names based on our actions were given by ourselves to designate us. Listen attentively to the several activities which resulted in our ghost-hood.

12-17. By birth we are Brāhmaṇas. O king, we were born in the house of a noble-souled Brāhmaṇa Devarāta in the city called Vaidiśā (Vidiśā).

We were atheists breaking all social conventions. We were always enamoured of other men’s wives. We were devoid of auspicious rites; we indulged in sinful activities. Due to gluttonousness meat was eaten by me always. Hence my name become fixed as Māṃsādaka as based on my activity.

This fellow standing before you, O great king, used to take food always without worshipping the deities. As a result thereof he has acquired this ghost-hood. This second great sinner has become notorious by the name Vidaivata.

This third fellow has always practised ingratitude. O excellent king, in view of that evil habit, he is called Kṛtaghna.

The king said:

18-28. All creatures maintain their existence through food. What constitutes your food, may kindly be told in detail.

Māṃsāda said:

(Food suitable for ghosts)

If a quarrel arises among womenfolk at the time of taking food, ghosts partake of the food there, even if it consists of medicinal herbs or it is consecrated by means of Mantras.

O king, if food is taken by men without performance of the Vaiśvadeva rites, or without offering a part of the cooked food, ghosts partake of the food there.

O tiger among kings, if Śrāddha is performed at night or if the rite of Dāna is performed without reference to a Parva (festival or ritual) the entire thing becomes food of Pretas.

If no regular sweeping is performed in a house, if no plastering or white-washing is carried out, if no auspicious rite is performed or no hospitality is offered, Pretas partake of the food there.

If a broken utensil is not abandoned in a house, or if no Vedic chant occurs in a house Pretas partake of the food there.

If Śrāddha is unaccompanied by monetary gifts, if it is bereft of the sacred rites or if (the food) is looked at by women in their monthly course, then that belongs to us, O king.

If Brāhmaṇas invited for Śrāddha have deficiency or superfluity of limbs, or if they have kept Vṛṣalīs (Śūdra women) as their mistresses, the Śrāddha belongs to us.

At the advent of Śrāddha hour, if a guest comes but is compelled to go away unhonoured, then that Śrāddha accords satisfaction to Pretas.

Or, why elaborate it? Listen to a brief statement (of the food we get), O king. Our permanent food consists of what you will despise on (mere) hearing. That food which is defiled by hairs, urine, bone, phlegm and other things, that which is touched by persons of low caste, belongs to us.

The king said:

29. O Māṃsāda, even as I ask, do tell me everything in detail. What are those activities that result in ghost-hood in the case of men.

Māṃsāda said:

[Acts Leading to Ghost-hood (vv30-39):]

30-39. A man who is petty-minded and indulges in slandering and calumny and is addicted to flesh diet becomes a Preta.

A man who takes food without performing the worship of deities and offering libations to Pitṛs and without giving to servants, is born as a Preta.

A man enamoured of other man’s wives, one who steals other’s wealth and one who revels in slandering others becomes a Preta.

One who, out of greed for money, gives away his daughter in marriage to an old man, or a base one, an ugly person or one of foul habits becomes a Preta

A man who forsakes his righteous wife born of a noble family, modest and polite, brought up in comforts and free from faults, becomes a Preta.

A man who takes away money belonging to a deity, woman and preceptor and does not return it, particularly one who appropriates the assets of a Brāhmaṇa, becomes a Preta.

A man who is pleased with the griefs and sufferings of others, an ungrateful wretch, a defîler of preceptor’s bed and one who censures Devas and Brāhmaṇas becomes a Preta.

A great sinner who begins to put in obstacles when money is being gifted to Brāhmaṇas, becomes a Preta.

A Brāhmaṇa may be conversant with all the six Vedāṅgas but if he dies when the food offered by a Śūdra is still in his stomach, becomes a Preta.

A man who forsakes duty befitting his family and the native land and follows another avocation out of lust or greed, becomes a Preta.

40. Thus, O excellent king, everything has been narrated to you regarding the actions as a result of which a man becomes a Preta.

The king said:

41-48. O Māṃsāda, relate to me in detail those activities by doing which a man does not become (averts the possibility of becoming) a Preta.

Māṃsāda said:

A man who looks at other men’s wives like his own mother, other men’s properties like a piece of clod and all the creatures like his own self never becomes a Preta.

A man who is always devoted to making gifts of food, who is especially fond of guests and who has adopted the Vrata of self-study of the Vedas never becomes a Preta.

One who is equally disposed towards an enemy and a friend, who equally views a piece of clod, a stone and a piece of gold one who maintains equanimity when honour or insult is accorded to him, never becomes a Preta.

One who encourages persons engaged in making munificent gifts and performing pious actions and those who follow the righteous path, never becomes a Preta.

A man who looks after all living beings, even creatures like lice, bugs, flies etc., like his sons never becomes a Preta.

A man who always performs the rites of Yajñas, who always likes to go on pilgrimage to Tīrthas and who patiently listens to discourses on scriptural texts never become a Preta.

A man who gets tanks, wells and lakes dug, who plants gardens and parks and who makes drinking-water sheds always, never becomes a Preta.

49-51. Thus everything kept as great secret has been recounted, O lord of the earth. We have become vexed and fed up with our Preta state. Do be our liberator.

Do go to the meritorious Gayāśiras and perform the rites of Śrāddha for all the three of us severally so that the terrible state of being a Preta may end with your favour. Otherwise there is no liberation by any means whatsoever unto us.

The king said:

52-61. You have such a bright recollection of previous birth, in the state of a Pretā! You have the power to move in the firmament! You have sound knowledge of piety and impiety. Then why do you despise it?

Māṃsāda said:

O king, this birth and state of a Preta is termed as the ninth divine clan. It has only three good features. All other defects are present in full. These three good features are present only in this Preta state: the first is Jātismṛti (ability to remember previous birth); the second is Khecaratva (ability to move about in the firmament) and the next one is Dharmādharmaviniścaya (decisive knowledge of piety and impiety). Thus, O excellent king, the three good features in the Preta state have been mentioned. I shall mention the defects also. Listen attentively.

O king, if we move away from this forest we shall immediately be hit by unseen Mudgaras (iron rods).

Righteous religious rites have been prescribed in the case of human beings, not of Pretas or Devas or any beings other than human.

O king, we see vast expenses of water when the Sun is in Taurus. Weary and tormented by thirst if we go near those water ponds we are immediately struck by unseen Mudgara strokes.

Similarly from far-off we see kitchens and cooking chambers in the houses of householders, full of cooked foodstuffs and delicacies of various kinds. We see also trees with plenty of juicy fruits surrounded by chirping birds. They are extremely splendid and shady. But we do not get the opportunity to resort to them.

62-68. Of what avail is too much talk? Whatever is despicable and irksome comes to us by itself. Our life does not go on without holes (vulnerable things). We have no water, no shade, no cart, no vehicle. For this reason we wander incessantly for seeking holes (vulnerable points) (in others) when night falls,

O king, neither at dawn nor during day time.

O king, you seem to praise our ability to move about in the firmament. It is also futile. There is no benefit thereby. Listen to the reason thereof. By means of this ability what righteous action is done for certain? No salvation is achieved thereby. Similarly the ability to remember previous birth and similar powers are also futile. Hence, O king, although these are glorified as good features, they are only defects. By resorting to them, Pretas do not achieve any Siddhi. Only grief results from these good features, O king. Due to our associaton with Pretas, we are incapable of doing any righteous act.

The king said:

69-73. If ever I go home from this great forest I shall perform the Gayā Śrāddha for all of you undoubtedly.

With my effort I shall redeem all of you from all sins. Even if it becomes necessary, I shall sacrifice myself for this cause. This I promise. Since the doubt in my heart has been removed by you all, I shall help you on return after reaching Gayāśīrṣa.

Māṃsāda said:

Not very far from this place there is a water pond. It is extremely delightful to the mind. There are plenty of trees there. From there go northwards where those aquatic birds are seen going through the sky in all directions.

Sūta said:

74-82. The great king got up and set off slowly towards the northern direction. He was extremely miserable.

As he proceeded thus in his distress due to hunger and thirst, not far off was seen a blue cluster of trees with cranes, swans and Madgus (waterfowl) moving about here and there.

It was as though the king was beckoned by the cool wind wafting from the surface of the pond. He hastened thereafter.

Then he saw a charming hermitage resorted to by tame and gentle animals. It was on the banks of a whirlpool and there were ascetics all round.

The trees were in full bloom and laden with fruits. They were seen all round with excellent birds of various kinds chirping sweetly. There he saw the quiescent, excellent sage Jaimini attended upon by groups of ascetics. He was seated beneath a tree eagerly performing auspicious rites. The great king approached the sage and bowed down to him as well as to his disciples. He fell down on the ground in the act of humble prostration.

On seeing that king whom they had not met before, they decided that he should be a king because he had all the characteristics of a king, although his limbs were rendered grey with dust particles like a mountain covered by ashes. As soon as they decided that he was a king they spoke sweet words, with words of blessings preceding them. Their eyes beamed with delight and dismay they experienced.

83-93. “From where have you come to this desolate forest? You are alone and have come on foot. Tender in you limbs, you have become distressed due to fatigue. The signs of a king are seen in plenty in you, but we do not know anything for certain. Do tell us the reason for your coming this way.”

The king said with difficulty: “I am tormented by thirst. Give me water. After drinking it I shall tell everything.”

They pointed out the water present already near the king. He plunged himself into the water and drank it to his content. Ripe fruits had fallen beneath the trees. All those sweet fruits were gathered together and eaten by him. Fully satisfied thereby he went near Jaimini. He bowed down again to him as well as to the other sages in due order and sat there.

With palms joined in reverence, he described the details about himself on being asked by all those sages in the height of their surprise and curiosity.

“I am king Vidūratha and Māhiṣmatī is my capital. Desirous of capturing deer I had entered the terrible forest along with my soldiers. Even as I strayed from them all, the men of the army disappeared from view being hidden by thickly grown hedges and bushes. I do not know where they are now.

I was riding a splendid horse equipped with all good characteristics. Unfortunately he has died.

Since I am destined to live more, I have come here in the course of further wanderings. Do tell me, what is this place? How far is my city?”

94-102. Then those sages said: “We do not know of any city. We do not know you, O king, nor your kingdom. We do not know what this place is called. We have nothing to do with kings and emperors nor with kingdoms and cities. We are perpetual wanderers of forest but eager to propitiate Śiva. In order to sustain the body we eat withered leaves, flowers and fruits of trees. We rarely come into contact with men, nor do we converse with them. We do not even look at them. We go elsewhere far away. It is our practice to stay under a tree only for a day or two, lest we should be swayed by a sense of possession for them. Because of you, O great king, we shall pass this night under this tree. At dawn we shall go to another forest. We take pity on you because you are alone, roaming about on foot. You do not have your weapons with you and you are extremely tired. We thought, ‘How will this lonely king pass the night in this forest?’and so decided to stay here itself. We shall all stay here together for this night. Getting up in the morning, all of us shall go away.”

103-108. Even as they were saying thus, the sun set behind the western mountain. He appeared like a mass of saffron powder. Bowing down to those sages, the king said, “O excellent sages, dusk has set in now. Hence let us all perform the rites to be observed at twilight”

Thereupon all those sages and the king performed the rites of the evening as laid down by the ancients.

Then night arrived—night that was eagerly desired bylovers, lovely women, those considered as near and dear ones particularly by women of ill repute, that is welcomed as an ocean of nectar by owls and considered by Cārvāka birds as a poisonous tree at the same time.

It was the night which is sought by owls, Rākṣasas, thieves, lovers, courtesans etc. eagerly like an excellent shower of rain desired by farmers.

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