[Advaita-l] Devas Adhikara, Rama and Sambuka

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Sun May 21 13:43:21 CDT 2006

--- "Jaldhar H. Vyas" <jaldhar at braincells.com> wrote:


> So while it is uncomplementary 
> to shudras, it is not for the reason you might think.  The point is Shri Rama
> is so diligent that even misconduct by a "nobody" did not escape his notice. 
> And even in those times in the list of possible sins, praying too much can 
> hardly have been too high up in rank. It is not that Shambuka had committed a
> heinous transgression but that he committed a very minor one.  That even the 
> smallest blemish on perfect order deserved a beheading is what the author
> wants 
> us to be impressed by.

I'm not sure that the sin was a minor one - it caused the death of a child.

Besides, a Sudra performing acts that only a Brahmin is authorized to do may
not be a problem for the Sudra at all, as the following story from the
Mahabharata illustrates. The Sudra who performs unauthorized penances actually
attains merit on account of his practices. It is the Brahmin teacher of the
Sudra who experiences demerit!

I wonder if the story of Sambuka in the Ramayana is not related to the
Mahabharata story and is a reaction to it, for in the latter, it is the Sudra
who gains and the Brahmin who loses merit. The Uttara Kanda narrative may be a
taking "revenge" on the Sudra for causing the Brahmin's downfall (i.e. losing a
child). As a matter of fact, in the Mahabharata story, the Sudra begins
practising a rite facing the South, and the Brahmin corrects him. In the
Ramayana story, Sambuka is practising a penance facing the South when Rama
beheads him!

The Mahabharata
Book 13: Anusasana Parva
Kisari Mohan Ganguli, tr.

"Yudhisthira said, 'I wish to know, O royal sage, whether any fault is incurred
by one who from interested or disinterested friendship imparts instructions
unto a person belonging to a low order of birth! O grandsire, I desire to hear
this, expounded to me in detail. The course of duty is exceedingly subtile. Men
are often seen to be stupefied in respect of that course.'

"Bhishma said, 'In this connection, O king, I shall recite to thee, in due
order, what I heard certain Rishis say in days of yore. Instruction should not
be imparted unto one that belongs to a low or mean caste. It is said that the
preceptor who imparts instruction to such a person incurs great fault. Listen
to me, O chief of Bharata's race, as I recite to thee, O Yudhishthira, this
instance that occurred in days of old, O monarch, of the evil consequences of
the imparting of instruction unto a low-born person fallen into distress. The
incident which I shall relate occurred in the asylum of certain regenerate
sages that stood on the auspicious breast of Himavat. There, on the breast of
that prince of mountains, was a sacred asylum adorned with trees of diverse
kinds. Overgrown also with diverse species of creepers and plants, it was the
resort of many animals and birds. Inhabited by Siddhas and Charanas also, it
was exceedingly delightful in consequence of the woods that flowered these at
every season. Many were the Brahmacharins that dwelt there, and many belonging
to the forest mode of life. Many also were the Brahmanas that took up their
residence there, that were highly blessed and that resembled the sun or the
fire in energy and effulgence. Ascetics of diverse kinds, observant of various
restraints and vows, as also others, O chief of the Bharatas, that had
undergone Diksha and were frugal in fare and possessed of cleansed souls, took
up their residence there. Large numbers of Valakhilyas and many that were
observant of the vow of Sanyasa also, used to dwell there. The asylum, in
consequence of all this, resounded with the chanting of the Vedas and the
sacred Mantras uttered by its inhabitants. Once upon a time a Sudra endued with
compassion for all creatures, ventured to come into that asylum. Arrived at
that retreat, he was duly honoured by all the ascetics. Beholding those
ascetics of diverse classes that were endued with great energy, that resembled
the deities (in purity and power), and that were observing diverse kinds of
Diksha, O Bharata, the Sudra became highly pleased at heart. Beholding
everything, O chief of Bharata's race, the Sudra felt inclined to

p. 26

devote himself to the practice of penances. Touching the feet of the Kulapati
(the head man of the group), O Bharata, he addressed him saying, 1 'Through thy
grace, O foremost of regenerate persons, I desire, to learn (and practise) the
duties of religion. It behoveth thee, O illustrious one, to discourse to me on
those duties and introduce me (by performing the rites of initiation) into a
life of Renunciation. I am certainly inferior in colour, O illustrious one, for
I am by caste a Sudra, O best of men. I desire to wait upon and serve you here.
Be gratified with me that humbly seek thy shelter.'"

"The Kulapati said, 'It is impossible that a Sudra should live here adopting
the marks specially intended for those practising lives of Renunciation. If it
pleases thee, thou mayest stay here, engaged in waiting upon and serving us.
Without doubt, by such service thou shalt attain to many regions of high

"Bhishma continued, 'Thus addressed by the ascetic, the Sudra began to reflect
in his mind, O king, saying, How should I now act? Great is my reverence for
those religious duties that lead to merit. Let this, however, be settled, that
I shall do what would be for my benefit.' 2 Proceeding to a spot that was
distant from that asylum, he made a hut of the twigs and leaves of trees.
Erecting also a sacrificial platform, and making a little space for his sleep,
and some platforms for the use of the deities, he began, O chief of the
Bharatas, to lead a life regulated by rigid observances and vows and to
practise penances, abstaining entirely from speech all the while. He began to
perform ablutions thrice a day, observe other vows (in respect of food and
sleep), make sacrifices to the deities, pour libations on the sacrificial fire,
and adore the worship and deities in this way. Restraining all carnal desires,
living abstemiously upon fruits and roots, controlling all his senses, he daily
welcomed and entertained all that came to his retreat as guests, offering them
herbs and fruits that grew plentifully around. In this way he passed a very
long time in that hermitage of his. 3 One day an ascetic came to that Sudra's
retreat for the purpose of making his acquaintance. The Sudra welcomed and
worshipped the Rishi with due rites, and gratified him highly. Endued with
great energy, and possessed of a righteous soul, that Rishi of rigid vows
conversed with his host on many agreeable subjects and informed him of the
place whence he had come. In this way, O chief of the Bharatas, that Rishi, O
best of men, came into the asylum of the Sudra times out of a number for the
object of seeing him. On one of these occasions, the Sudra, O king, addressing

p. 27

the Rishi said,--I desire to perform the rites that are ordained for the
Pitris. Do thou instruct me kindly in this matter.--Very well,--the Brahmana
said in reply unto him, O monarch. The Sudra then, purifying himself by a bath,
brought water for the Rishi to wash his feet, and he also brought some Kusa
grass, and wild herbs and fruits, and a sacred seat, and the seat called
Vrishi. The Vrishi, however, was placed by the Sudra towards the south, with
his head turned to the west. Beholding, this and knowing that it was against
the ordinance, the Rishi addressed the Sudra, saying,--Place the Vrishi with
its head turned towards the East, and having purified thyself, do thou sit with
thy face turned towards the north--The Sudra did everything as the Rishi
directed. Possessed of great intelligence, and observant of righteousness, the
Sudra received every direction, about the Sraddha, as laid down in the
ordinance, from that Rishi endued with penances regarding the manner of
spreading the Kusa grass, and placing the Arghyas, and as regards the rites to
be observed in the matter of the libations to be poured and the food to be
offered. After the rites in honour of the Pitris had been accomplished, the
Rishi, was dismissed by the Sudra, whereupon he returned to his own abode. 1
After a long time, the whole of which he passed in the practice of such
penances and vows, the Sudra ascetic met with his death in those woods. In
consequence of the merit he acquired by those practices, the Sudra in the next
life, took birth in the family of a great king, and in course of time became
possessed of great splendour. The regenerate Rishi also, when the time came,
paid his debt in Nature. In his next life, O chief of Bharata's race, he took
birth in the family of a priest. It was in this way that those two, viz., that
Sudra who had passed a life of penances and that regenerate Rishi who had in
kindness given the former some instructions in the matter of the rites
performed in honour of the Pitris, became reborn, the one as scion of a royal
race and the other as the member of a priestly family. Both of them began to
grow and both acquired great knowledge in the usual branches of study. The
Brahmana became well versed in the Vedas as also in the Atharvans. 2 In the
matter, again of all sacrifices ordained in the Sutras, of that Vedanga which
deals with religious rites and observances, astrology and astronomy the reborn
Rishi attained great excellence. In the Sankhya philosophy too he began to take
great delight. Meanwhile, the reborn Sudra who had become a prince, when his
father, the king died, performed his last rites; and after he had purified
himself by accomplishing all the obsequial ceremonies, he was installed by the
subjects of

p. 28

his father as their king on his paternal throne. But soon after his own
installation as king, he installed the reborn Rishi as his priest. Indeed,
having made the Brahmana his priest, the king began to pass his days in great
happiness. He ruled his kingdom righteously and protected and cherished all his
subjects. Everyday, however, the king on the occasion of receiving benedictions
from his priest as also of the performance of religious and other sacred rites,
smiled or laughed at him loudly. In this way, O monarch, the reborn Sudra who
had become a king, laughed at sight of his priest on numberless occasions. 1
The priest, marking that the king always smiled or laughed whenever he happened
to cast his eyes on him, became angry. On one occasion he met the king in a
place where there was nobody else. He pleased the king by agreeable discourse.
Taking advantage of that moment, O chief of Bharata's race, the priest
addressed the king, saying,--'O thou of great splendour, I pray thee to grant
me a single boon.'

"The king said, 'O best of regenerate persons, I am ready to grant thee a
hundred of boons, what dost thou say then of one only? From the affection I
bear thee and the reverence in which I hold thee, there is nothing that I
cannot give thee.'

"The priest said, 'I desire to have only one boon, O king, thou hast been
pleased with me. Swear that thou wouldst tell me the truth instead of any

"Bhishma continued, 'Thus addressed by the priest, O Yudhishthira, the king
said unto him--So be it. If what thou wouldst ask me be known to me, I shall
certainly tell thee truly. If on the other hand, the matter be unknown to me, I
shall not say anything.'

"The priest said, 'Every day, on occasions of obtaining my benedictions, when,
again, I am engaged in the performance of religious rites on thy behalf, on
occasions also of the Homa and other rites of propitiation, why is it that thou
laughest upon beholding me? Seeing thee laugh at me on all occasions, my mind
shrinks with shame. I have caused thee to swear, O king, that thou wouldst
answer me truly. It does not behove thee to say what is untrue. There must be
some grave reason for thy behaviour. Thy laughter cannot be causeless. Great is
my curiosity to know the reason. Do thou speak truly unto me.'

"The king said, 'When thou hast addressed me in this strain, O regenerate one,
I am bound to enlighten thee, even if the matter be one that should not be
divulged in thy hearing. I must tell thee the truth. Do thou listen to me with
close attention, O regenerate one. Listen to me, O foremost of twice-born
persons, as I disclose to thee what happened (to us) in our former births. I
remember that birth. Do thou listen to me with concentrated mind. In my former
life I was a Sudra employed

p. 29

in the practice of severe penances. Thou, O best of regenerate persons, wert a
Rishi of austere penances. O sinless one, gratified with me, and impelled by
the desire of doing me good, thou, O Brahmana, wert pleased to give me certain
instructions in the rites I performed (on one occasion) in honour of my Pitris.
The instructions thou gayest me were in respect of the manner of spreading the
Vrishi and the Kusa blades and of offering libations and meat and other food to
the manes, O foremost of ascetics. In consequence of this transgression of
thine thou hast taken birth as a priest, and I have taken birth as a king, O
foremost of Brahmanas. Behold the vicissitudes that Time brings about. Thou
hast reaped this fruit in consequence of thy having instructed me (in my former
birth). It is for this reason, O Brahmana, that I smile at sight of thee, O
foremost of regenerate persons. I do not certainly laugh at thee from desire of
disregarding thee. Thou art my preceptor. 1 At this change of condition I am
really very sorry. My heart burns at the thought. I remember our former births,
hence do I laugh at sight of thee. Thy austere penances were all destroyed by
the instructions thou gayest me. Relinquishing thy present office of priest, do
thou endeavour to regain a superior birth. Do thou exert so that thou mayst not
obtain in thy next life a birth meaner than thy present one. Take as much
wealth as thou wishest. O learned Brahmana, and cleanse thy soul, O best of

"Bhishma continued, 'Dismissed by the king (from the office of priest), the
Brahmana made many gifts, unto persons of his own order, of wealth and land and
villages. He observed many rigid and severe vows as laid down by the foremost
of Brahmanas. He sojourned to many sacred waters and made many gifts unto
Brahmanas in those places. Making gifts of kine unto persons of the regenerate
order, his soul became cleansed and he succeeded in acquiring a knowledge of
it. Repairing to that very asylum whither he had lived in his former birth, he
practised very severe penances. As the consequence of all this, O foremost of
kings, that Brahmana succeeded in attaining to the highest success. He became
an object of veneration with all the ascetics that dwelt in that asylum. In
this way, O best of monarchs, that regenerate Rishi fell into great distress.
Unto Sudras, therefore, the Brahmanas should never give instructions. Hence, O
king, the Brahmana should avoid imparting instructions (to such as are
low-born), for it was by imparting instruction to a low-born person a Brahmana
came to grief. O best of kings, the Brahmana should never desire to obtain
instruction from, or impart instruction to, a person that belongs to the lowest
order. Brahmanas and Kshatriyas and Vaisyas, the three orders, are regarded as
twice-born. By imparting instruction unto these, a Brahmana does not incur any
fault. They, therefore, that are good, should never discourse on any subject,
for imparting any instruction, before persons of the inferior order. The course
of morality is exceedingly subtile and incapable of being comprehended

p. 30

by persons of uncleansed souls. It is for this reason that ascetics adopt the
vow of silence, and being respected by all, pass through Diksha (initiation)
without indulging in speech. 1 For fear of saying what is incorrect or what may
offend, ascetics often forego speech itself. Even men that are righteous and
possessed of every accomplishment, and endued with truth and simplicity of
behaviour, have been known to incur great fault in consequence of words spoken
improperly. Instruction should never be imparted on anything unto any person.
If in consequence of the instructions imparted, the instructed commit any sin,
that sin, attaches to the Brahmana who imparted the instruction. The man of
wisdom, therefore, that desires to earn merit, should always act with wisdom.
That instruction which is imparted in barter for money always pollutes the
instructor. 2 Solicited by others, one should say only what is correct after
settling it with the aid of reflection. One should impart instruction in such a
way that one may, by imparting it, earn merit. I have thus told thee everything
respecting the subject of instructions. Very often persons become plunged into
great afflictions in consequence of imparting instructions. Hence it is meet
that one should abstain from giving instruction unto others.'"


26:1 Tapasye is Tapah karishye. There being no indirect narration in Sanskrit,
such forms cannot be helped. A Kulapati is an ascetic that owns ten thousand
ascetics for his disciples, Kanwa, the foster-father of Sakuntala, was a

26:2 i.e. renouncing service which is the duty ordained for person of his
order, he desired to betake himself to universal Renunciation or Sanyasa,
without, however, the lingam or marks of that vow.

26:3 Sankalpa-niyamopetah means Sankalpasya nigraha, of chittavritti nirodha;
tena upetah.

27:1 No Brahmana, the scriptures declare, should ever assist a Sudra in the
performance of his religious or Pitri rites. Those Brahmanas that violate this
injunction fall away from their superior position. They are condemned as
Sudra-yajins. Here the Rishi, by only giving directions to the Sudra as to how
the Pitri rites were to be performed, became a Sudra-yajin. There are many
families to this day whose status has been lowered in consequence of such or
similar acts of indiscretion on the part of their ancestors.

27:2 Atharva Veda Veda cha implies that the Atharvans were not generally
included under the term Veda by which the first three Vedas only were meant.

28:1 Punyaha-vachana is a peculiar rite. The priest or some other Brahmana is
invited. Gifts are then made to him, and he utters benedictions in return upon
the giver. Yudhishthira used to invite every day a large number of Brahmanas
and make them very valuable presents for obtaining their benedictions.

29:1 Or rather, superior. Guru is used to denote any senior as well as

30:1 The Diksha is that rite which one passes through by way of preparation for
those sacrifices and vows that one seeks to perform.

30:2 Satyanrite is equivalent to trade or barter.

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