- Ashtavakra’s marriage – 1 : aSTAvakrA’s northward journey to Kubera’s kingdom, kailAsa and beyond : from Mahabharata Anusasana Parva
- Lineages and Contemporaries : Uddalaka (Aruni), Dhaumya, Svetaketu, Ashtavakra, Vandin, Varuna, Pandavas, Draupadi, Jayadratha, Janaka
- Ashtavakra : The debate with Vandin, the son of Varuna
Ashtavakra reached the beautiful hermitage that he had set out to find and announced that an atithi had come.
Seven beautiful, charming and captivating damsels appeared and for a moment Ashtavakra found himself attracted to them. With an effort he regained control over his mind. The beautiful ladies conducted him into the presence of an old lady, dressed in white and wonderful ornaments. Ashtavakra blessed her and she courteously offered him an aasana.
Ashtavakra said, “Let all the damsels go to their respective quarters. Only let one stay here. Let that one remain here who is possessed of wisdom and who has tranquillity of heart. Indeed, let all the others go away at their will.”
They talked all day and as night approached, Ashtavakra asked the lady to go and sleep and take rest. However later in the night, she pretended to feel cold and came over to Ashtavakra’s bed. Ashtavakra was courteous but the old lady was amorous.
The old lady said,
- The only pleasure that women get from the society of men is physical pleasure. I desire you. Please accept me and desire me in return.
- All my wealth and I will be yours if you do.
- I will be obedient to you.
- “When urged by the god of desire, women become very capricious. At such times they do not feel any pain, even if they walk over a desert of burning sand.”
- I never approach one that is another’s spouse.
- It is condemned by persons conversant with the scriptures on morality.
- “I have become desirous of wedlock for obtaining offspring. I swear by truth itself. Through the aid of offspring righteously obtained, I shall proceed to those regions of felicity which cannot be attained without such aid. O good lady, know what is consistent with morality, and knowing it, desist from thy efforts.”
The lady said,
- The very deities of wind and fire and water, or the other celestials, O regenerate one, are not so agreeable to women as the deity of desire.
- Among a thousand women, or, perhaps, among hundreds of thousands, sometimes only one may be found that is devoted to her husband.
- “When under the influence of desire, they care not for family or father or mother or brother or husband or sons or husband’s brother (but pursue the way that desire points out). Verily, in pursuit of what they consider happiness, they destroy the family (to which they belong by birth or marriage) even as many queenly rivers eat away the banks that contain them. The Creator himself had said this, quickly marking the faults of women.”
Ashtavakra asked the lady to desist from talking like this. He found her very unattractive. He also contemplated that all was not as it seemed. She asked him to stay on at the hermitage for a while and asked him how she could serve him. He asked for water for his evening prayers and ablutions.
She brought fragrant oil which she put on his limbs and then washed him pleasantly lukewarm water, and time passed so quickly that Ashtavakra was surprised to see the sun rising in the east.
Ashtavakra worshipped Aditya of the thousand rays. Then the old lady served him food as nourishing and delicious as amRta. He could only eat a little of that wonderful food.
Again at night, the old lady tried to come to Ashtavakra’s bed. She told him that she was her own mistress and not the wife of another.
Ashtavakra said, ‘Women can never be their own mistresses. This is the opinion of Brahma, viz., that a woman never deserves to be independent.’ (na strI svAtantram arhati – please read also : (Daksha : He named the fixed stars!)
The old lady told him that no sin would accrue to him on accepting her.
Ashtavakra said, ‘Diverse faults, drag away the man that acts as he likes. As regards myself, I am able to control my inclinations by self-restraint. O good lady, do thou return to thy own bed.’
The old lady persuaded him to marry her and accept her if he was so worried.
Ashtavakra said, ‘How is it, O good lady, that thou art thy own mistress. Tell me the reason of this. There is not a single woman in the three worlds that deserves to be regarded as the mistress of her own self. The father protects her while she is a maiden. The husband protects her while she is in youth. Sons protect her when she is aged. Women can never be independent as long as they live!’
The lady said, ‘I have since my maidenhood, adopted the vow of Brahmacharyya. Do not doubt it. I am still a maid. Do thou make me thy wife. O Brahmana, do not kill this devotion of mine to thee.’
Suddenly the old lady appeared very beautiful to Ashtaavakra and adorned with lovely ornaments. And he wondered what form she might take thereafter. He remembered the word that he had given to RSi vadanya and became firm in his mind.
He then asked the lady who she really was and how she suddenly turned into a beautiful maiden. Then the lady said that She was the embodiment of the Northern point of the compass. She said that the trial was devised by her to see if he remembered his resolution and was true to it. She said that Brahma, Indra and all other dEvAs were very pleased with his resolve. She also wanted to show him the lightness of female nature and that even old women could be tortured by desire.
She blessed him that he would have an easy journey home and marry the daughter of rishi vadanya as he had decided. She told him that this whole trial was as per the prArthana of rishi vadanya. And asked him if there was anything else he wanted to know.
Ashtavakra then went home, rested, took the permission of his kinsmen and went to meet Rishi Vadanya and said “Commanded by thee I proceeded to the mountains of Gandhamadana. In the regions lying to the north of these mountains I beheld a very superior goddess. I was received by her with courtesy. She named you in my hearing and also instructed me in various matters. Having listened to her I have come back, O lord.”
And then the learned Vadanya said,–Take my daughter’s hand according to due rites and under the proper constellations. Thou art the fittest bridegroom I can select for the girl!
Then Ashtavakra married the lovely suprabha and was filled with joy.
My Comments :
After seeing the photographs of kailAsa parvatham in many lights, I can see how snowy mountains can look like pure gold in the morning light.
I am guessing that the wonderful jewels described in the himalayas are light reflections on the spectacular crystals and may also refer to the wonderful starry skies as seen from the himavat mountains. (which no banglorean can even image, we drool over photographs and wish we could go there).
It is now medical knowledge that women of any age can be amorous and legally, if not socially, women are their own mistresses. However I was interested to know that even traditionally, a woman who practices brahmacharya is considered her own mistress as the North Goddess said. But I do agree that anyone in the world who is under the protection of someone else – father, husband, son, uncle, mother, a superpower etc – cannot claim to be independent.
As for the lightness of the female character – I have seen very strong women too – my Guruji being one of them. It is a question of what they focus their minds on. Guruji is focused on brahmagnyaana, some ladies are focused on keeping their house clean or family well fed. I hover between all worlds (like nArada, I suppose) and have found that even housework strengthens sankalpa and I think it best not to risk a mother’s curse!!
I can only think that the goddess was setting Asthavakra’s expectations about women, since he was RSi and might not have had enough knowledge in this area.
It occurs to me that the seven beautiful damsels that led him to the goddess of the northern point, could be a hidden reference to the seven stars of the saptarishi mandala (URsula major).
Story retold by Satya Sarada Kandula : based on Mahabharata translation by Kisari Mohan Ganguli