Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Curse of Parikshit

Stories From the Mahabharata

[This story is from [Maha:1.49-50]]

King Parikshit, the son of Abhimanyu, inherited the kingdom of the Kurus after the Pandavas. True to his lineage, he was a valorous warrior, just monarch and very well liked by his subjects. He was very fond of hunting for sport.

One day, while hunting in the forest, he was separated from his followers, and got lost. He wandered around, in search of water to quench his thirst, but did not find any. He was, at this time, around 60 years of age. Soon hunger added itself to the set of ills plaguing him.

In this emaciated state, deep in the woods, he came across a humble hermitage. A high-souled Rishi was sitting in a posture of meditation below a nearby tree. The King thought that, here at last, there is some means to relieve my hunger and thirst. He then went near the Rishi and humbly requested him for food and water.

The Rishi was observing an oath of silence, which prevented him from even trying to communicate with the King. He remained deep in meditation, as one oblivious to the King's presence. The King was extremely angry. He saw that a dead snake was lying in the grass nearby. He lifted the snake with the corner of his bow, and garlanded the Rishi with this unclean object. After offering this insult, he went his way. Throughout this, the Rishi remained silent, continuing his meditation.

This ascetic had a son named Sringin (whom he had begotten on a cow). A few days after the incident of the dead snake, Sringin got into an argument with his friend. This friend taunted him by saying, "After all what else can one expect from someone whose father is shameless, oblivious to insults!"

Intrigued, Sringin demanded an explanation from his friend. The friend narrated to him the incident of the dead snake. Sringin was extremely angry when he heard of the King's actions. He cursed him, saying, "Since out of the arrogance of his power Parikshit has garlanded my father with a dead snake, may he die before the seventh day from today, bitten by a snake. The impious king shall be sent to the abode of Yama by Takshaka, the king of the serpents. Thus shall the king whose very existence is an offense to the high-souled people, meet with an untimely death!"

When the Rishi heard that his son Sringin had cursed Parikshit, he was sad. He called his son to his abode, and said, "Son, When I myself have forgiven King Parikshit for the insult offered, why did you curse him? Do you not know that he is a just and illustrious king? He was tired and hungry that day, and committed this venial offense in a fit of rage. Except for this one instance, he has been an exemplary ruler. Thanks to his just rule, the Rishi's can continue their penances without fear of interruption. It behooves a Brahmana to keep his anger and passion under strict control. It is evident that you are yet to reach the mental maturity required to become an ascetic. Your education is, therefore, incomplete. Go to the forest and learn to control your anger by indulging in constant penance!".

The Rishi then summoned his disciple named Gurumukha, and told him, "Go to the palace of king Parikshit. Offer my regards to him. Tell him that he has been cursed by my son Sringin, who was unable to bear the insult offered to me. According to the curse, King Parikshit will die before the seventh day from now. There is a chance that the curse might be thwarted. Ask the King to take all precautions."

The disciple carried the message to the King. The King grieved more for the insult that he had offered to the Rishi, than for his own imminent death. He thanked the messenger, and asked him to carry back his greetings to the Rishi. He then called all his courtiers and informed them about the curse.

Overnight, a magnificent new palace was constructed for the King. It was raised on a single tall pillar, and the base of the pillar was inside a moat. Many warriors and Brahmanas skilled in the art of repelling snakes were placed around the palace to protect the King. An announcement was made, that anyone who had skill in the art of counteracting snake-venom should report to the king. They would be recompensed handsomely for their trouble.

The King spent all the time in this palace, surrounded by Brahmanas learned in the Vedas. Six days passed in this manner, with the King listening to the recitations of the Vedas and Puranas. Meanwhile, impelled by the curse, Takshaka was on his way to the kingdom of Parikshit.

He met a Brahmana named Kashyapa (this might be "the" Kashyapa). They both started traveling together. Kashyapa mentioned that he was visiting the kingdom of Parikshit to save the king from death by snake bite. He claimed that he knew the art of counteracting poison, whereby he could prevent death, regardless of the potency of the poison.

Takshaka assumed his true form and said, "I doubt whether anybody can counteract my poison. Know that I am that very same Takshaka, the king of the serpents. I am the most venomous amongst them. I am certain that you shall fail."

Kashyapa then proposed a trial of strength. Takshaka said, "Look at this banyan tree. It is a very large tree, in full bloom. Behold its destruction by my poison!". He then bit his fangs into the trunk of the tree. Such was the potency of his venom, that the tree was immediately burned to ashes.

The Brahmana first went around the tree. He then started chanting the Mantras to counteract the snake venom. He then took out a little water from his Kamandal (Vessel for carrying water meant for rituals), and sprinkled it on the ashes. Within seconds, fresh shoots started appearing in the ashes. In a minute, the tree started growing from its charred remains. Finally, the tree stood in all its glory, just as it was before Takshaka destroyed it.

Takshaka said, "O Brahmana, great indeed is thy prowess. You have humbled me. I have a request to make of you. You know that Parikshit has been cursed to die this day at my hands. If you attempt to revive him, you will certainly have an element of doubt in your mind when you are chanting the Mantras. If doubt enters a ritual, there is a good chance that the spell won't work. Your fame will be diminished if you fail. It is best that you turn back now. If you are trying to help Parikshit to obtain wealth, I can give you more wealth than he can. Think carefully before you return an answer to my proposal."

The ascetic thought for a while. He used his Yogic powers and divined that the end of Parikshit was near. He then accepted wealth from the king of snakes, and returned to his home.

Now the coast was clear for Takshaka. He sent some of his fellow snakes, disguised as traveling ascetics, to meet King Parikshit. He transformed himself into an insect and entered a fruit that they were carrying. The fake ascetics were admitted to the King's presence. As fate would have it, the King chose exactly the same fruit that Takshaka was present in. He took one bite, then the insect came out of the fruit. The sun was setting on the seventh day. Parikshit thought that he had escaped the curse of Sringin. He mockingly said, "Let the Rishi's curse work! I shall assume that this tiny insect is Takshaka, the king of serpents. May he bite me and send me to my death!". He then placed the insect on his neck.

In an instant, Takshaka assumed his form as a great serpent. He then entwined himself around the hapless king, and sunk his great fangs in Parikshit's neck. As was to be expected, the King fell down dead, charred by the potency of the snake's venom.

His son Janamejaya, who was a minor at that time, inherited the Kingdom. Long after this, after Janamejaya had attained his majority, he performed a great snake-sacrifice in revenge for his father's death at the hands of Takshaka. That story can be read here.

Last Modified At: Sat Nov 6 11:58:31 2004