The eight cardinal directions resonated with the sound of ‘Namah Shivay’, high in the cold environs of the Mount Kailash, the land of the Gods, the ‘Devbhumi’. No one sang it; no singing was necessary; nature herself sang praise to her lord, the Mahadev, the master of all realms. Near the very top of the mountain, on a stone platform, in front of a cave hewn out of the frozen rock face of the mountain, sat a very tall and fair Yogi. His eyes half closed, a gentle smile playing on his lips, the center of his forehead glowing a soft crimson, his handsome face framed with matted locks, strewn about his head like angry serpents, the Mahayogi sat on the Kailash surrounded by his ‘ganas’, or followers, and made a benevolent pose with his hands, the Abhaya Mudra! He was pleased!
His ganas, dressed in fearful attires, looked on amusedly at the ascetic who lay prostrated at the feet of Shiva, for that was the name with which the world knew this timeless Yogi who resided on Kailash. Nandi, Shiva’s chief gana, had sought out this ascetic and ushered him in the presence of his lord. He now stood by at a distance, wearing the headdress of a bull, and waited patiently for the man lying on Shiva’s feet to say something. The man was Bhagirath, the Emperor of Bharatvarsh, the land named after his ancestor Bharat.For years he had performed ‘tapa’ or mortification of the self, for pleasing the Gods, to grant him his wish. Years of worshipping the Gods and tormenting his mortal body had made him look less like a King and more like an ascetic.
Bhagirath came from the illustrious Solar line of kings, the Suryavansham. His ancestors before him had carved out a name for them, and were well known around the world for their valor and their benevolent rule. The present line had started from Ikshvaku and included giants like the valiant Prithu, the handsome Mandhata, , the truthful Harishchandra, known all over the world for his righteousness, Trishanku, who had aspired to reach the heavens in his physical form and the great Bharat, after whom the country was named Bharatvarsha, land of Bharat.
Harishchandra’s tales were folklore; he had been reduced to penury by the Gods as a test of his truthfulness, and had been forced to sell off his wife and son in bondage, but had not deterred from the path of truth. The Gods had restored his Kingdom and all his glory to him after his test, and his undying fame had lived on since then.
Trishanku, had been obsessed with immortality and reaching the heavens in his human form. He had nearly succeeded when Vishwamitra, the great sage, had promised to help him with his venture. Vishwamitra had raised him to the heavens with his great yogic powers, but the Gods that ruled the heavens had pushed him back from there. Angry at the Gods’ insolence, Vishwamitra had stopped Trishanku’s fall midway between heaven and earth and had designed an entire universe, complete with new constellations, around him, to give him his hallowed status in the skies.
The burden of such great ancestry weighed heavily on Bhagirath’s shoulders, and he had made a solemn vow to undertake the most difficult task known to man till date.
Bhagirath lay still at Shiva’s feet, overcome by tiredness, happiness and devotion. His arms were stretched out in front of him in supplication, nearly reaching the Yogi’s feet but not touching them. Touching the immortal Shiva was impossible, he knew. The ageless Yogi was the powerhouse that kept the world going, it was not possible for any mortal or immortal to touch him. The yogic energy inside that timeless being would be too much for any man, beast or God to bear. He would be reduced to ashes. And so, Bhagirath lay still; wanting to say something to his God, his Mahadev, but not able to muster the courage. The sight of Shiva’s abhaya mudra had given him what even the Gods did not have the fortune of witnessing. He did not want anything more, but still, he had to ask. For the greater good of humanity, he had to ask for something more than what he had just been awarded.
‘Prabhu’, Bhagirath stirred after some time, ‘ I come to you seeking help, to rid my ancestors from the curse of Kapil Muni. I need to perform their last rites for them to be able to take their rightful place among the pitr, the manes. Due to Kapil Muni’s curse, sixty thousand of my ancestors lie reduced to a heap of ashes. Performing their last rites with the heavenly waters of the celestial river Ganga, will release them from their curse and let them ascend to the heavens, as they should. For innumerable years, I have prayed to the grandfather Brahma and have secured his boon that he will ask Ganga to descend to the realm of the mortals for my sake. But the earth will not be able to bear the great pressure of the divine river descending to the earth, and will sink to the nether worlds. The grandfather (Brahma) has asked me to seek your help to sustain the weight of the celestial river. You are the only one who can help with this venture, which will help not only my ancestors but also all the men, women, animals, birds and heavenly creatures for all times to come. O Neelkanth(blue throated one), you saved the world from the dangerous poison, halahal, which issued from the ocean during the great churning, by drinking it and holding it in your throat. Only you have the great strength to sustain the descent of Ganga to earth. Please help me, OAshutosh (one who is easily pleased)!’
Saying so, Bhagirath fell silent, closed his eyes and waited for the Mahayogi to respond…… ……….(To be continued in Part II of III)