Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Ambarisha included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Ambarīṣa

A King of the Ikṣvāku dynasty.

Genealogy and Birth.

From Viṣṇu was born in the following order: Brahmā-Marīci-Kaśyapa.-Vivasvān-Vaivasvatamanu-Ikṣvāku-Vikukṣi-Śaśāda-Purañjaya-Kukutstha-Anenas-Pṛthulāśva-Prasenajit-Yuvanāśva-Māndhātā-Ambarīṣa. Māndhātā had three sons: Ambarīṣa, Mucukunda and Purukutsa and fifty daughters. The Muni (Sage) Saubhari married the daughters.

Ambarīṣa’s Yāga (sacrifice).

In Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa there is a story of Devendra’s theft of the sacrificial cow from Ambarīṣa’s yāgaśālā. Devendra could not bear the thought of King Ambarīṣa winning worldrenown and glory by performing yāgas. Therefore Indra stole the sacrificial cow and took it away. The Upādhyāya (Chief Priest) was alarmed at the disappearance of the cow and expressed his opinion to the King that it would be enough to sacrifice a human being instead of the cow. The King searched for the cow in all countries, cities and forests. At last he reached the peak of Bhṛgutuṅga where the sage Ṛcīka lived with his wife and children. The King explained to the sage the whole story. He requested him to sell one of his sons in exchange for 100,000 cows. Ṛcīka had three sons. The eldest was his father’s favourite and the youngest was the mother’s pet. In the end, Ṛcīka sold the second son, Śunaśśepha in return for 100,000 cows.

On his return journey with Śunaśśepha the king rested for a while at Puṣkara Tīrtha. There Śunaśśepha happened to meet his uncle Viśvāmitra and complained to him about his sad plight. Śunaśśepha’s wish was that the king’s yāga should be performed and at the same time his own life-span should be extended. Viśvāmitra promised to save Śunaśśepha. He called Madhucchandas and his other sons and said to them: "One of you must take the place of Ambarīṣa’s sacrificial cow and save the life of Śunaśśepha. God will bless you."

But none of the sons of Viśvāmitra was prepared to become the sacrificial cow. Viśvāmitra uttered a curse on his sons that they would have to spend a thousand years on earth, eating dog-flesh. Then he turned to Śunaśśepha and told him that if he prayed to the gods at the time of Ambarīṣa’s yajña, they would save him.

So Śunaśśepha went to Ambarīṣa’s yāgaśālā. As ordered by the assembled guests, Ambarīṣa bound Śunaśśepha and had him dressed in blood-red robes, ready for the sacrifice. Śunaśśepha began to praise and pray to the gods. Soon Indra appeared and blessed him with longevity. He also rewarded Ambarīṣa for his yāga. Thus Śunaśśepha was saved.* (Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa Bāla Kāṇḍa, Sarga 61).

Ambarīṣa and Durvāsas.

In Bhāgavata we see a story which describes how the Sudarśana Cakra which emerged from Ambarīṣa’s forehead chased Durvāsas in all the three worlds. Ambarīṣa was a devout worshipper of Viṣṇu. From the very beginning of his reign, peace and prosperity spread all over the country. Mahāviṣṇu who was pleased with the deep piety and devotion of Ambarīṣa appeared to him and bestowed on him the control of his (Viṣṇu's) Sudarśana Cakra. After that Ambarīṣa started the observance of Ekādaśī vrata. The rigour of the observance alarmed even Indra. He decided to obstruct the observance somehow or other. At that time, Durvāsas arrived in devaloka. Indra instigated Durvāsas to spoil the Ekādaśī observance of Ambarīṣa.

Durvāsas went to Ambarīṣa’s palace. There the King received him with due respect and sent him to the river Kālindī for his bath and morning rites. Durvāsas went for his bath and deliberately stayed away till the conclusion of Ambarīṣa’s Ekādaśī observance. At the end of the observance, after feeding the gods with his offerings, Ambarīṣa kept the remaining portion for Durvāsas. After his bath etc., Durvāsas returned, but he was furious when he was offered the leavings of the food of the gods and refused to take any food. In his anger he advanced towards Ambarīṣa. A terrible monster Kṛtyā emanated from the Maharṣi and was about to destroy Ambarīṣa. Ambarīṣa at once called upon Sudarśana Cakra, which appeared instantly and after cutting the throat of Kṛtyā, turned against Durvāsas. Terrified by it, Durvāsas began to flee for life. The Cakra pursued him at his heels. Durvāsas went to Indra and sought refuge with him. But the Cakra followed him there. Indra pleaded helplessness. Then the Maharṣi went to Brahmā and sued for his help. There also the Cakra pursued him. Brahmā sent him to Śiva. Śiva was also unable to give him shelter. Sudarśana continued to chase him. Durvāsas then sought shelter with Mahāviṣṇu. Viṣṇu told him plainly that there was no alternative but to go and sue for mercy to Ambarīṣa himself and advised him to do so. At last Durvāsas returned to Ambarīṣa and begged his pardon. Ambarīṣa saved him from Sudarśana Cakra and described to him the glory resulting from the observance of Ekādaśī vrata. (Bhāgavata, Navama Skandha).

Other Details

(1) Ambarīṣa performed a yāga in the Yamunā valley. (Mahābhārata, Ādi Parva, Chapter 1, Verse 277; Bhīṣma Parva, Chapter 9, Verse 6; Vana Parva, Chapter 129, Verse 2).

(2) Maharṣi Durvāsas recalled Ambarīṣa’s power. (Mahābhārata, Vana Parva, Chapter 263, Verse 33).

(3) The Sage Vyāsa once told Dharmaputra that Ambarīṣa was one of the 16 great kings who lived in ancient times. The 16 reputed Kings were: Marutta, Suhotra, Paurava, Śibi, Śrī Rāma, Bhagīratha, Dilīpa, Māndhātā, Yayāti, Ambarīṣa, Śaśabindu, Gaya, Rantideva, Bharata, Pṛthu and Paraśurāma. (Mahābhārata, Droṇa Parva, Chapter 64).

(4) Ambarīṣa fought single-handed against thousands of Kings. (Mahābhārata, Droṇa Parva, Chapter 64).

(5) He performed one hundred yāgas. (Mahābhārata, Droṇa Parva, Chapter 64).

(6) Ambarīṣa once questioned Indra about his (Ambarīṣa's) army Chief Sudeva becoming more mighty than himself. (Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, Chapter 98, Verses 6-11).

(7) Ambarīṣa gave 110 crores of cows to the Brahmins. (Mahābhārata, Śānti Parva, Chapter 234, Verse 23).

(8) Ambarīṣa was also among the Munis who committed theft of Agastya’s lotuses. (Mahābhārata, Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 94, Verse 24).

(9) Besides giving cows to Brahmins, Ambarīṣa gave them the country also. (Mahābhārata, Anuśāsana Parva, Chapter 137, Verse 8).

*) The story of Śunaśśepha may be seen with slight variations in the Devī Bhāgavata and other Purāṇas. In those versions, Śunaśśepha has been described as the sacrificial cow at Hariścandra’s yāga, and moreover, Ajīgarta is referred to as the father of Śunaśśepha. (Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, Chapter 58 gives the same story as in Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa).

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