Episode # 50 – Who is Sage Aasthika? A detailed background!!!

In the previous episode, we had witnessed the completion of the “Puloma Parva” and a brief commencement of the “Aasthika Parva”. All these are “Upa-Parvas” under the main “Aadhi Parva” and readers should remember this always as we go through further. In the “Puloma Parva”, we had witnessed Sage Bruhu’s family lineage and how Sage Ruru was born. Eventually when Sage Ruru was about to get married, his wife was bitten by a snake, and henceforth Sage Ruru had this notion of seeking vengeance against all snakes in the world. As he was going on a rampage of killing each and every snake that was coming to his vicinity, one day he came across Snake Dunduba, alias, Sahasrapaada. On the advice given by Sahasrapaada, Sage Ruru was extremely eager to know about King Janame-Jaya and how he wanted to perform the “Sarpa-Yaaga” to bring all the snakes into the “Agni” (Fire). Hence, Sage Ruru rushed to his father, Sage Pramati to seek more details on this. As Sage Pramati begins his accord, he explains why Sage Aastika arrived at King Janame-Jaya’s palace and why did he stop the “Sarpa-Yaaga” from proceeding further. All this is covered in the next “Upa-Parva” called “Aastika Parva” and this is where we are currently. 

Moving on further, we shall move back to the scene at King Janame-Jaya’s palace. Readers should remember here – Sage Utthanga makes his way to King Janame-Jaya and motivated him to perform the “Sarpa-Yaaga”. It should be remembered that Sage Utthanga too had a bad experience with Snake Takshaka, wherein he tried to steal away the diamond rings that he had to give to Guru Veda’s wife as the Guru Dakshina. We’ve witnessed all this in our previous episodes. Subsequently we’ve also seen that Indra intervened in the middle and he made sure that Takshaka gave back the diamond rings to Sage Utthanga before he escaped away! Post this, Sage Utthanga was fuming with anger and he was seeking the right opportunity to avenge Takshaka for what he had done. In this way, Sage Utthanga came across King Janame-Jaya, whose father, King Parikshit was also killed by Snake Takshaka earlier. Thus, Sage Utthanga motivated King Janame-Jaya to seek revenge and perform a grand “Sarpa Yaaga” to bring all the snakes to justice. Now, as we move on, Sage Pramati is going to narrate the entire story of the “Sarpa-Yaaga” to Sage Ruru. All this is going to be covered under the “Aasthika Parva”. This “Upa-Parva” obtained its name after Sage Aasthika as he is going to be the central point in this entire stage. 

Before we move into what King Janame-Jaya did, we would first look into who is this Sage Aasthika. There was a person by name “Jarath-Kaaru”. This Jarath-Kaaru marries a “Naaga-Kaanika” (A woman from the Naaga Lokha). In fact, this Sage Jarath-Kaaru was in no mood to get married. He was in extreme levels of penance, and did not have any connection with what was happening in the world around him. He was steadfast in his “Brahmacharya-Vratha”. Thus, at one stage when Sage Jarath-Kaaru relents from his extreme “Tapas”, he comes across this “Naaga-Kannika” who is none other than the sister of Snake Vaasuki. Readers might be knowing by now, who is Snake Vaasuki. He was instrumental in drilling the “Ocean of Milk” where Bhagawan Vishnu resides, isn’t it? He was instrumental in helping the Devas obtain the divine “Amrita” from beneath the ocean floor. We’re going to witness this story again in this “Upa-Parva” as we move on. Here, readers might have a doubt – We’re currently talking about people in the “Dvaapara Yuga”, whereas, this story of Bhagawan’s Mohini Incarnation and the divine Amrita takes place during the “Krita Yuga”, which was thousands of years before. What is the connection between the two? 

This is where the Mahabharata has its own significance. If someone utters a single word from somewhere, the Sages who are listening to the story continuously, would intervene in the middle, and would ask the narrator to explain that one word in detail before continuing further. This is why we would have several hundreds of “sub-stories” inside the main story of the Mahabharata text. Just like how a huge banyan tree would have several hundreds of branches arising out of a single stem, the Mahabharata story too has several stories branching out of a single stem. Coming back to the context now, Sage Jarath-Kaaru cites this Naaga-Kannika, who is Snake Vaasuki’s sister and falls in love with her. Eventually, they marry each other and have a son by name Aasthika. This Aasthika is also a great sage by birth itself. As he grows up, Sage Aasthika immerses himself into extreme “Tapas” just in lines with his father. Upon seeing this, Bhagawan Brahma is impressed and he wants to give Sage Aasthika a boon. It is only with this boon given by Bhagawan Brahma, Sage Aasthika is able to protect all the snakes that were about to fall into the “Sarpa Yaaga” conducted by King Janame-Jaya. 

We can see the link here isn’t it? Again, another speciality of this Mahabharata text is that, although it might have thousands of sub-stories in it, each and every sub-story would have a definitive link with the main story. They are not stand-alone stories by themselves. So in this case, now we’ve witnessed how Sage Aasthika had a connection with snakes – It is because he was born to a “Naaga-Kannika” isn’t it? Now, we’re going to witness in the next episode, how Sage Aasthika made his way into King Janame-Jaya’s “Sarpa Yaaga” and how did he protect the snakes from it! Stay tuned! 🙂 

Published by Dr. Jeayaram

Holds a PhD in Management Psychology from Universite Paris Saclay, Paris, France. Also an Asst. Professor of Human Resources management at International School of Business & Media, Pune, India. A professional South Indian classical musician (singer) performing concerts. Through this blog, I'm trying to bring out the richness of Indian culture & values and I request your support and feedbacks in making this humble effort a success!!

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