Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Swetaki's Sacrifice

Stories From the Mahabharata

This story is from [Maha:1.225]

Long ago, there was an illustrious king named Swetaki. He was very desirous of accumulating merit by performing many Yagnas. In his realm, there was a constant stream of religious rituals. Still, the king was not satisfied. He wished to perform a sacrifice, the likes of which had never been seen, and would never be seen again.

Unfortunately, all the Ritwiks(conductors of sacrifices), employed by the king, had become tired of the constant procession of Yagnas. From the smoke issuing from the sacrificial fire, their eyes had become weak and they forsook the monarch. When the King looked around for suitable Ritwiks, he could find no one to conduct the ritual.

The King went to the abode of those Brahmanas and said, "If I were an irrelegious person, not observing the vows as they are ordained in the scriptures, your conduct in refusing to conduct this sacrifice would be proper. It is the duty of the Brahmana to conduct Yagnas for the greater good of the world. Come back to my kingdom and assist me in this hundred years' sacrifice!"

The Ritwiks said, "O King, Your sacrifices are incessant. There should be method and moderation in everything. Due to conducting these Yagnas, our eyes have become weak from the sacrificial smoke. Find someone else to assist you further."

The King then decided that only Rudra (Shiva) could assist him in completing the sacrifice. He therefore retired to the foothills of Mt. Kailasa and devoted himself to asceticism. He performed a rigid penance for six months, eating only fruits and roots. At last, pleased with his devotion, Lord Sankara (Shiva) appeared before him and said, "I cannot conduct the sacrifice myself. It is the duty of Brahmanas to conduct these rituals. However, there is a Brahmana on earth, by the name of Durvasa, who possesses a portion of my energy. If you will undertake to pour the sacrificial libations into the sacred fire for twelve years without pause, I shall instruct this devotee of mine to help you in this sacrifice."

Swetaki said, "O Lord, I accept your condition. Give me some time to accumulate the material needed for this Yagna."

The King managed to get the sacrificial hall constructed and all material accumulated for it in a few days. He then prayed to Rudra again. Rudra appeared before Durvasa and said, "There is a King named Swetaki, a great devotee of mine. He desires my assistance in a conducting a great Yagna. I have promised him that you shall be its Ritwik. Go to him and ensure the proper conduct of this sacrifice."

Accordingly, the sage went to Swetaki and the rituals were begun. As promised to Shiva, Swetaki sat near the sacrificial altar and poured libations of clarified butter into the fire nonstop for twelve long years. The Yagna was a great success. When his time came, the King died and went to heaven on the strength of his meritorious deeds.

However, his long sacrifice had created a problem for one of the immortals. As a result of continuously partaking clarified butter at this sacrifice for twelve years, Agni had become completely satiated. He did not want to drink butter again from anyone else in any other sacrifice. As a result of this surfeit, he became pale and lost his golden lusture. Of course when Agni becomes sick, the rest of creation also suffers, for he is the life force within all creatures.

Agni went to Lord Brahma and said, "Sire, I have become sick due to drinking clarified butter at the hands of King Swetaki for twelve years. How can I regain my previous strength and energy?"

Brahma said, "Fear not O Agni! I know of a suitable medicine for your sickness. The Khandava forest has become the haunt of the enemies of the Gods. The fat of the demons and snakes and other vile creatures there will be the medicine that shall cure your stomach ailment. When you have burned all the creatures in this forest, you will be cured."

Agni immediately proceeded to the forest and tried to consume it, but Indra and Vayu thwarted him with rain and wind respectively, for some of the residents of that forest were their friends. Agni saw that he would need help to accomplish his goal, so he took the help of Arjuna and Krishna in burning the forest, and was at last cured of his ailment. The episode is narrated here.

Last Modified At: Sun Oct 31 19:47:50 2004