Bhishma is telling Dharmaraja, what Saunaka Maharshi told Janamejaya. (The Bharata talks of Janamejaya an ancestor of the Pandavas, in addition to Janamejaya, the great grandson of Arjuna and Subhadra. Saunaka is the recipient of all the Puranas and Mahabharata as well as author of Rg Vidhana. Whatever Vyasa edited, classified and wrote it was Saunaka who received it from Vyasa’s students.). Bathing in the Manasa Sarovar is purifying.
The discussion is on actions that purify one.
Visiting sacred spots has also been said to be highly cleansing.
“In this connection are cited the following verses sung by Yayati: ‘That mortal who would earn life and longevity should, after having performed sacrifices with devotion, renounce them (in old age) and practise penances.’ The field of Kuru has been said to be sacred. The river Saraswati has been said to be more so. The tirthas of the Saraswati are more sacred than the Saraswati herself; and the tirtha called Prithudaka is more sacred than all the tirthas of the Saraswati. One that has bathed in Prithudaka. and drunk its waters will not have to grieve for a premature death. Thou shouldst go to Mahasaras, to all the tirthas designated by the name of Pushkara, to Prabhasa, to the northern lake Manasa, and to Kalodaka. Thou shalt then regain life and acquire longevity. Lake Manasa is on the spot where the Saraswati and the Drisadwati mingle with each other. A person possessed of Vedic knowledge should bathe in these places. Manu has said that liberality is the best of all duties and that renunciation is better than liberality. In this connection is cited the following verse composed by Satyavat. (One should act) as a child full of simplicity and destitute of either merit or sin. As regards all creatures there is in this would neither misery nor happiness. (That which is called misery and that which is called happiness are the results of a distraught imagination.) Even this is the true nature of all living creatures. Of all creatures, their lives are superior who have betaken themselves to renunciation and abstained from acts both meritorious and sinful.”
“From a sinful act committed only once, one may cleanse one’s self by repenting of it.
From a sinful act committed twice, one may cleanse one’s self by vowing never to commit it again.
From such an act committed thrice, one may cleanse one’s self by the resolution to bear one’s self righteously ever afterwards.
From an act committed repeatedly, one may cleanse one’s self by a trip to sacred places.
One who is desirous of obtaining prosperity should do all that results in blessedness. They who live amidst fragrant odours themselves become fragrant in consequence. They, on the other hand, who live in the midst of foul stench themselves become foul. One devoted to the practice of ascetic penances is soon cleansed of all one’s sins.
By worshipping the (homa) fire for a year, one stained by diverse sins becomes purified.
One guilty of foeticide (abortion) is cleansed by worshipping the fire for three years. One guilty of foeticide becomes cleansed at even a hundred Yojanas from Mahasaras, or the tirthas called Pushkara, or Prabhasa, or Manasa on the north, if only one gets out for any of them.
Manu has said that by diving in water after thrice reciting the Aghamarshana mantras, one reaps the fruits of the final bath in a Horse-sacrifice.”
A slayer of creatures is cleansed of his sins by saving from imminent peril as many creatures of that particular species as have been slain by him. (How many mosquitoes and bacteria will I have to save from imminent peril? Yikes!)
“Brihaspati said :
If having committed sin through folly, one does meritorious acts understanding their nature, one succeeds, by such righteousness, in cleansing one’s self from sin even as a piece of dirty cloth is washed clean by means of some saline substance.
One should not boast after having committed sin. By having recourse to faith and by freeing one’s self from malice, one succeeds in obtaining blessedness.
That person who covers the faults, even when exposed, of good men, obtains blessedness even after committing faults. As the sun rising at morn dispels darkness, one dispels all ones sins by acting righteously.”
“Yudhishthira said, ‘Do thou tell me, O grandsire, of that which is regarded as the foremost of all Tirthas.
“Bhishma said, ‘Without doubt, all Tirthas are possessed of merit. Listen, however, with attention to me as I tell thee what the Tirtha, the cleanser, is of men endued with wisdom. Adhering to eternal Truth, one should bathe in the Tirtha called Manasa, which is unfathomable (for its depth), stainless, and pure, and which has Truth for its waters and the understanding for its lake.
The fruits in the form of cleansing, that one acquires by bathing in that Tirtha, are freedom from cupidity, sincerity, truthfulness, mildness (of behaviour), compassion, abstention from injuring any creature, self-restraint, and tranquillity.
Those men that are freed from attachments, that are divested of pride, that transcend all pairs of opposites (such as pleasure and pain, praise and blame, heat and cold, etc.), that have no spouses and children and houses and gardens, etc., that are endued with purity, and that subsist upon the alms given to them by others, are regarded as Tirthas. He who is acquainted with the truths of all things and who is freed from the idea of meum, is said to be the highest Tirtha.
In searching the indications of purity, the gaze should ever be directed towards these attributes (so that where these are present, thou mayst take purity to be present, and where these are not, purity also should be concluded to be not). Those persons from whose souls the attributes of Sattwa and Rajas and Tamas have been washed off, they who, regardless of (external) purity and impurity pursue the ends they have proposed to themselves, they who have renounced everything, they who are possessed of omniscience and endued with universal sight, and they who are of pure conduct, are regarded as Tirthas possessing the power of cleansing.
That man whose limbs only are wet with water is not regarded as one that is washed. He, on the other hand, is regarded as washed who has washed himself by self-denial. Even such a person is said to be pure both inwardly and outwardly. They who never concern themselves with what is past, they who feel no attachment to acquisitions that are present, indeed, they who are free from desire, are said to be possessed of the highest purity. Knowledge is said to constitute the especial purity of the body. So also freedom from desire, and cheerfulness of mind.
Purity of conduct constitutes the purity of the mind. The purity that one attains by ablutions in sacred waters is regarded as inferior.
Verily, that purity which arises from knowledge, is regarded as the best.
Those ablutions which one performs with a blazing mind in the waters of the knowledge of Brahma in the Tirtha called Manasa, are the true ablutions of those that are conversant with Truth.
That man who is possessed of true purity of conduct and who is always devoted to the preservation of a proper attitude towards all, indeed, he who is possessed of (pure) attributes and merit, is regarded as truly pure. These that I have mentioned have been said to be the Tirthas that inhere to the body.
Do thou listen to me as I tell thee what those sacred Tirthas are that are situated on the earth also. Even as especial attributes that inhere to the body have been said to be sacred, there are particular spots on earth as well, and particular waters, that are regarded as sacred. By reciting the names of the Tirthas, by performing ablutions there, and by offering oblations to the Pitris in those places, one’s sins are washed off.
Verily, those men whose sins are thus washed off succeed in attaining to heaven when they leave this world. In consequence of their association with persons that are righteous, through the especial efficacy of the earth itself of those spots and of particular waters, there are certain portions of the earth that have come to be regarded as sacred. The Tirthas of the mind are separate and distinct from those of the earth. That person who bathes in both attains to success without any delay. As strength without exertion, or exertion without strength can never accomplish anything, singly, and as these, when combined, can accomplish all things, even so one that becomes endued with the purity that is contributed by the Tirthas in the body as also by that which is contributed by the Tirthas on the earth, becomes truly pure and attains to success. That purity which is derived from both sources is the best.‘”
This is one of the stories told by Salya, the brother of Madri, who was tricked into being a charioteer to Karna, in order to discourage him.
In this story there is a crow that is fed on leftovers by Vaisya children and praised by them to the point of a swollen head. One day it meets a swan of the manasa sarovara and arrogantly claims superiority to it. In a contest it displays more than a hundred styles of flight while the swan using one single style leads it to a crocodile infested ocean. Here the crow has no place to rest and begins to drop into the ocean, tired. It realises its limitations and apologises to the swan and seeks its help. The swan takes it on its back and brings it home. Salya makes it clear to Karna, that for all his styles of fighting, he was like the crow fed on the left-overs of the Kauravas and he had lost to Arjuna on three occasions, at Virata, after Draupadi‘s swayamvara, and in the incident of the battle against Chitrasena, the Gandharva, where the Pandava Arjuna who had to free Duryodhana.
The Swans of the Manasa Sarovara are “of cheerful hearts, of great speed and capable of going everywhere at will and equal unto Garuda himself in range and speed of flight. They are birds of tireless wings. They were capable of going everywhere at will. They traverse the whole Earth, and amongst winged creatures were always applauded for the length of the distances they traversed.”
This incident occurs just after Bhishma falls in the war. (Sadly enough towards the end he was attacked by all together much as Abhimanyu was, at a later date, when the Kaurava army abandoned him and retreated. This was on the tenth day of the war.) Ganga sends him RSis (Rishis, Rushis) in the shape of Swans of the Manasa Lake,
Sanjaya said, ” …. there was not in Bhishma’s body space of even two fingers’ breadth that was not pierced with arrows….Pierced all over with arrows, his body touched not the ground. At that moment, O bull of Bharata’s race, a divine nature took possession of that great bowman lying on a bed of arrows. The clouds poured a (cool) shower (over him) and the Earth trembled… He observed that it was still Dakshinayana, the sun had not yet turned northwards…(Uttarayanam had not yet started).
Ascertaining that to be his resolve, Ganga, the daughter of Himavat, sent unto him the great Rishis in swanlike form. Then those Rishis in the forms of swans inhabiting theManasa lake, quickly rose up, and came together, for obtaining a sight of the Kuru grandsire Bhishma, to that spot where that foremost of men was lying on his bed of arrows. Then those Rishis in swanlike forms, coming to Bhishma, beheld that perpetuator of Kuru’s race lying on his bed of arrows. Beholding that high-souled son of Ganga, that chief of the Bharatas, they walked round him, and the Sun being then in the southern solstice, they said, addressing one another, these words, ‘Being a high-souled person, why should Bhishma pass out (of the world) during the southern declension?’ Having said these words, those swans went away, proceeding towards the southern direction. Endued with great intelligence, Bhishma, O Bharata. beholding them, reflected for a moment. And the son of Santanu then said unto them. ‘I will never pass out (of the world) as long as the Sun is in the southern solstice. Even this is my resolve. I will proceed to my own ancient abode when the Sun reacheth the northern solstice. Ye swans, I tell you this truly. Expectant of the northern declension I will hold my life. Since I have the fullest control over the yielding up of my life, I will, therefore, hold life, expectant of death during the northern declension. The boon that was granted to me by my illustrious sire, to the effect that my death would depend on my own wish O, let that boon become true. I will hold my life, since I have control in the matter of laying it down.’ Having said these words to those swans, he continued to lie down on his bed of arrows.
This occurs just before the Rajasuya Yagnya, Arjuna set out to conquer the Northern Regions and concludes a treaty with people of Harataka where the Manasa sarovar is.
Vaisampayana said,–”that heroic and foremost of the Pandavas endued with great energy, crossing the White mountains,
- subjugated the country of the Kimpurushas ruled byDurmaputra, after a collision involving a great slaughter of Kshatriyas, and brought the region under his complete sway.
- Having reduced that country, the son of Indra (Arjuna अर्जुन) with a collected mind marched at the head of his troops to the country called Harataka, ruled by the Guhakas.
- Subjugating them by a policy of conciliation, the Kuru prince beheld (in that region) that excellent of lakes called Manasa and various other lakes and tanks sacred to the Rishis.
- And the exalted prince having arrived at the lake Manasa conquered the regions ruled by the Gandharvas that lay around the Harataka territories. Here the conqueror took, as tribute from the country, numerous excellent horses called Tittiri, Kalmasha,Manduka.
- At last the son of the slayer of Paka, arriving in the country of North Harivarsha desired to conquer it. Thereupon certain frontier-guards of huge bodies and endued with great strength and energy, coming to him with gallant hearts, said, ‘O son of Pritha, this country can be never conquered by thee. If thou seekest thy good, return hence. He that entereth this region, if human, is sure to perish. We have been gratified with thee; O hero, thy conquests have been enough. Nor is anything to be seen here, O Arjuna, that may be conquered by thee. The Northern Kurus live here. There cannot be war here. Even if thou enterest it, thou will not be able to behold anything, for with human eyes nothing can be seen here. If, however thou seekest anything else, O Bharata tell us, O tiger among men, so that we may do thy bidding. Thus addressed by them, Arjuna smilingly addressing them, said,–’I desire the acquisition of the imperial dignity by Yudhishthira the just, of great intelligence. If your land is shut against human beings, I shall not enter it. Let something be paid unto Yudhishthira by ye as tribute. Hearing these words of Arjuna, they gave him as tribute many cloths and ornaments of celestial make, silks of celestial texture and skins of celestial origin.
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