The Legend of Vasishtha and Viswamitra

There was, in Kanyakuvja, O bull of Bharata’s race, a great king of worldwide fame named Gadhi, the son of Kusika. The virtuous Gadhi had a son named Viswamitra, that grinder of foes, possessing a large army and many animals and vehicles. And Viswamitra, accompanied by his ministers, used to roam in quest of deer through the deep woods and over picturesque marshes, killing deer and wild boars.

Once on a time, while out in quest of deer, the king became weak with exertion and thirst. The monarch arrived in that state at the asylum of Vasishtha, and the blessed and illustrious Rishi beholding him arrive, reverenced with his homage that best of men, king Viswamitra. And O Bharata, the Rishi saluted the monarch by offering him water to wash his face and feet with, and Arghya, and wild fruits, and clarified butter. For the illustrious Rishi had a cow yielding anything that was desired of her. When she was addressed, saying, ‘O give‘,–she always yielded the article that was sought. And she yielded various fruits and corn, wild or grown in gardens and fields, and milk, and many excellent nutritive viands full of six different kinds of juice (taste?) and like unto nectar itself, and various other kinds of enjoyable things, O Arjuna, of ambrosial taste for drinking and eating, and for licking and sucking, and also many precious gems and robes of various kinds. With these desirable objects in profusion the monarch was worshipped. And the king with his minister and troops became highly pleased. And the monarch wondered much, beholding that cow with six elevated limbs and the beautiful flanks and hips, and five limbs that were broad, and eyes prominent like those of the frog and beautiful in size, and high udders, and faultless make, and straight and uplifted ears, and handsome horns, and well-developed head and neck.

And, O prince, the son of Gadhi, gratified with everything and applauding the cow named Nandini, addressed the Rishi, saying, ‘O Brahmana, O great Muni, give me thy Naridini in exchange for ten thousand kine, or my kingdom. Enjoy thou my kingdom (giving me thy cow).’

Hearing these words of Viswamitra, Vasishtha said, ‘O sinless one, this cow hath been kept by me for the sake of the gods, guests, and the Pitris, as also for my sacrifices. I cannot give Nandini in exchange for even thy kingdom.’ Viswamitra replied, ‘I am a Kshatriya, but thou art a Brahmana devoted to asceticism and study. Is there any energy in Brahmanas who are peaceful and who have their souls under perfect command? When thou givest me not what I desire in exchange even for ten thousand cows, I will not abandon the practice of my order; I will take thy cow even by force!’

Vasishtha said, ‘Thou art a Kshatriya endued with might of arms. Thou art a powerful monarch. O, do in haste what thou desirest; and stop not to consider its propriety.’

Thus addressed by Vasishtha, Viswamitra, O Partha, then forcibly seized Nandini, that cow (white) like the swan or the moon, and attempted to take her away, afflicting her with stripes and persecuting her otherwise. The innocent Nandini then began, O Partha, to low piteously, and approaching the illustrious Vasishtha stood before him with uplifted face. Though persecuted very cruelly, she refused to leave the Rishi’s asylum.’

Beholding her in that plight, Vasishtha said, ‘O amiable one, thou art lowing repeatedly and I am hearing thy cries. But, O Nandini, even Viswamitra is taking thee away by force, what can I do in this matter, as I am a forgiving Brahmana?’

Then, O bull in Bharata’s race, Nandini, alarmed at the sight of Viswamitra’s troops and terrified by Viswamitra himself, approached the Rishi still closer, and said, ‘O illustrious one, why art thou so indifferent to my poor self-afflicted with the stripes of the cruel troops of Viswamitra and crying so piteously as if I were masterless?’ Hearing these words of the crying and persecuted Nandini, the great Rishi lost not his patience nor turned from his vow of forgiveness. He replied, ‘The Kshatriya’s might lies in physical strength, the Brahmana’s in forgiveness. Because I cannot give up forgiveness, go thou, O Nandini, if thou choosest.’ Nandini answered, ‘Castest thou me away, O illustrious one, that thou sayest so? If thou dost not cast me off, I cannot, O Brahmana, be taken away by force.’ Vasishtha said, ‘O blessed one, I do not cast thee off! Stay if thou canst! O, yonder is thy calf, tied with a stout cord, and even now being weakened by it!’

Then the cow of Vasishtha, hearing the word stay, raised her head and neck upward, and became terrible to behold. With eyes red with rage and lowing repeatedly, she then attacked Viswamitra’s troops on all sides. Afflicted with their stripes and running hither and thither with those red eyes of hers, her wrath increased. Blazing with rage, she soon became terrible to behold like unto the sun in his midday glory. And from her tail she began to rain showers of burning coals all around. And some moments after, from her tail she brought forth an army of Palhavas, and from her udders, an army of Dravidas and Sakas; and from her womb, an army of Yavanas, and from her dung, an army of Savaras; and from her urine, an army of Kanchis; and from her sides, an army of Savaras. And from the froth of her mouth came out hosts of Paundras and Kiratas, Yavanas and Sinhalas, and the barbarous tribes of Khasas and Chivukas and Pulindas and Chinas and Hunas with Keralas, and numerous other Mlechchhas. And that vast army of Mlechchhas in various uniforms, and armed with various weapons, as soon as it sprang into life, deploying in the very sight of Viswamitra, attacked that monarch’s soldiers. And so numerous was that Mlechchha host that each particular soldier of Viswamitra was attacked by a band of six or seven of their enemies. Assailed with a mighty shower of weapons, Viswamitra’s troops broke and fled, panic-stricken, in all directions, before his very eyes. But, O bull in Bharata’s race, the troops of Vasishtha, though excited with wrath, took not the life of any of Viswamitra’s troops. Nandini simply caused the monarch’s army to be routed and driven off.

And driven (from the asylum) twenty-seven full miles, panic-stricken, they shrieked aloud and beheld not anyone that could protect them. Viswamitra, beholding this wonderful feat that resulted from Brahmana prowess, became disgusted with Kshatriya prowess and said, ‘O, fie on Kshatriya prowess! Brahmana prowess is true prowess! In judging of strength and weakness, I see that asceticism is true strength.’ Saying this, the monarch, abandoning his large domains and regal splendour and turning his back upon all pleasures, set his mind on asceticism. Crowned with success in asceticism and filling the three worlds with the heat of his ascetic penances, he afflicted all creatures and finally became a Brahmana. The son of Kusika at last drank Soma with Indra himself (in Heaven).

MAHABHARATA, 1.177

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One thought on “The Legend of Vasishtha and Viswamitra

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