Trisanku: In between heaven and earth

Trisanku - viswamitra-menaka-ramayan-desibantu










That was the time when the famous king of the Solar dynasty, Trisanku, reigned. He was so much in love with the beauty of his body that he could not hear the thought of parting with it at death and desired to ascend in that very body.

Vasishtha, his preceptor, whom he approached for help in realising his wish, advised him to give up attempting the impossible. Dissatisfied with Vasishtha’s response, the King approached the sage’s sons and sought their help.

They were wroth at being asked to do something which their father had pronounced impossible, ridiculed his vanity and curtly showed him the door.

King Trisanku would not give up his aim and told them that, since they and their father were too poor in merit to help them, he would find others who were richer. Vasishtha’s sons were provoked beyond endurance, and said: “Be you a chandala.”

The curse began to act and the next morning Trisanku woke up a different person altogether, an untouchable, ugly of form, attired in dirty clothes.

His ministers and his people could not recognise him. Driven out of his kingdom he wandered hungry and weary almost to death, till the destiny took him to Viswamitra’s ashrama.

The King’s appearance moved the heart of the sage, who enquired, “Aren’t you King Trisanku? What has brought you to this plight? Whose curse?”

Recounting all that had happened he fell at the sage’s feet and said, “I have been a good king and never swerved from the path of dharma. I have committed no sin and wronged none. My preceptor and his sons have deserted me and cursed me and you see me thus before you.”

Viswamitra took pity to the King converted by a curse into a chandala. This was Viswamitra’s great weakness; he was impulsive and easily powered by emotions like anger, sympathy and love.

In sweet words, he made the king happy: “O, King, I have heard of your righteous rule. I offer you refuge, be not afraid. I will arrange for sacrifice which will enable you to enter heavens in your own body. And in this very chandala form you shall reach heaven despite your Guru’s curse. Of this you may be sure.”

And he made arrangements for a great and unprecedented  yaaga.

Viswamitra directed his discipline for the proposed yaaga. Afraid of saying “No” to what was more or less a command, all the rishis agreed to be present.

But the sons of Vasishtha declined the invitation and made merry about a yaaga at which the officiating priest was once-in-a-time Kshatriya and the yajamaana stinking chandala. This reply, duly conveyed, enraged Viswamitra who exploded into a curse that Vasishtha’s sons do die and be re-born for seven generations in a tribe given in eating dog’s flesh.

The sage then began the yaaga. Extolling Trisanku’s eminent virtues, Viswamitra sought the help of the other rishis in effecting the bodily translation of Trisanku to heaven.

Well aware of the sage’s mighty powers and fulminous temper, the invitees lent their support, and the yaaga went on. It reached the stage when the gods were invoked to descend and accept the offerings.

But no god came. It was clear that Viswamitras’ yaaga was a failure. And the rishis who had attended the ceremony, laughed within themselves at Viswamitra’s discomfiture.

Wild with rage, Viswamitra held the ladle of ghee over the flames and said: “O Trisanku, here behold my power. I now transfer for your benefit all the merit I have earned. If my austerities have any value, they should lift you to heaven in your physical frame. I care not if the Devas reject my offerings O King Trisanku! Ascend!”

A miracle followed to the astonishment of those assembled, Trisanku in his chandala body rose heavenward. The world saw the power of Viswamitra’s tapas.

Trisanku reached Swarga. But Indra forthwith pushed him down saying, “Who are you, entering heaven with a chandala body? You, fool, that earned the curse of your preceptor go down again.”

Trisanku - viswamitra-2

Trisanku fell down from heaven, head downwards, screaming, “O Viswamitra! Save me!”

Viswamitra, seeing this, was beside himself with rage. Determined to teach the gods a lesson, he shouted to Trisanku, “Stop there! Stop there!” and, to the amazement of all, Trisanku’s earthward descent came to an abrupt stop and he stopped in midair, shining like a star. Like a second Brahma, Viswamitra proceeded to create a new starry horizon to the south as well as a new Indra and new Devas.

Alarmed at their supremacy, the Devas now came to terms and humbly entreated Viswamitra to desist. They said, “Let Trisanku stay where he is at present. Let the other stars of your creation shine forever, like your own fame and honour. Control your anger and be friends with us.”

Gratified at this submission, and as easily appeased as provoked, Viswamitra halted his creative process. But his stupendous activities had consumed the whole of the power that he had thus far acquired by his austerities, and he found he had to begin again.

Viswamitra now proceeded westwards in Pushkara and resumed his austerities. For years the rigorous tapas continued, but once again as it was about to bear fruit something happened to rouse his anger and he lost his balance and cursed his own sons. Soon recovering himself, he firmly resolved never again to yield to anger, and resumed his tapas.

After many years of austerities, Brahma and the Devas appeared before him and said, “O Kausika! Your tapas has borne fruit. You are no longer in the ranks of kings; you have become a real rishi.” Having thus blessed Viswamitra, Brahma returned.

This was again a disappointment. He wanted to become a Brahma Rishi and Vasishtha’s peer and he had only been acknowledged an ordinary rishi. It was a recognition as futile as the missiles of power which Vasishtha’s Brahmadanda had swallowed.

He, therefore, decided to go on with his tapas, making it more severe than ever before.

The Devas did not like this. They sent the heavenly damsel Menaka to tempt him with her celestial beauty and allurements. She went to Pushkara where Viswamitra was undergoing austerities and played to catch his eye with a hundred wiles of charm and grace.

Viswamitra saw her and was fascinated with her beauty. His vow was broken and he spent ten years in a dream of joy, forgetful of his high resolve.

Awaking at last, he looked at the trembling Menaka sorrowfully and said he would not curse her, for it was his own folly, and not her fault, as in tempting him she was only carrying out the orders of her master. And sadly he wended his way to the Himalayas to resume his broken tapas.

There, for a thousand years, controlling his senses, he performed rigorous tapas. At the request of the Devas, Brahma appeared before Viswamitra, and spoke to him thus sweetly, “I welcome you as a Maharishi, my son. Pleased with your soulful tapas, I confer on you that title and the sanctity it imparts.”

Unmoved alike by gratification or disappointment, Viswamitra folded his hands in adoration and asked the Father of the Universe if the boon meant conquest over the senses.

“By no means”, said the Creator, “but strive to subjugate the senses, O tiger among munis!”

Resolved on the supreme conquest, Viswamitra entered on another thousand years of even harder tapas which threw the Devas into even greater consternation.

Trishanku - rambha-apsara-kishan-soni

Indra called unto him the celestial damsel Rambha, and enjoined on her as a vital service to the Devas, to employ all her art to bring Viswamitra under the spell of her charm, and divert him from his purpose. She was surely afraid, but Indra assured her that she would not be left alone, but he accompanied by the God of Love and the Spirit of Springtime would be with her for support. Unwillingly she went and as she entered the precincts of the hermitage the forest blossomed into vernal beauty, and the south wind blew gently laden with the scent of flowers, and kokilas burst into song. Love and Spring were both there to assist Beauty.

Disturbed by stirrings to which he had long been a stranger, Viswamitra opened his eyes and saw a smiling damsel of surpassing beauty, who seemed the very soul of the spring with its flowers and fragrance and song. All this vision of soft voluptuousness, a white heat of anger surged through him as he recognised in it another temptation thrown in his way by the envious gods, and he cursed the temptress, “O Rambha, for seeking to tempt me who am striving to conquer anger and desire, be thou frozen to an image of stone for ten thousand years.”

But his explosion of rage made him see how far he was from the fulfillment of his purpose and sadly he quitted into Himalayan forests, and sought the solitude of the east. There, he restrained his breathing, gave up all thought of the things of the world, and performed austerities so stern that smoke and flames issued from his body and enveloped the universe. Then at the prayer of the panic-stricken gods, Brahma again appeared before him, and hailed him as Brahma Rishi ”“ “All hail, Brahma Rishi, I am pleased with you. Blessed be your life.”

Viswamitra was happy.

But humbly he said, “How can I be happy unless from Vasishtha’s lips I hear that I am a Brahma Rishi!”

Vasishtha smiled remembering his fight with Viswamitra and said to him, “You have achieved the fruit of your great austerities. Indeed you are a Brahma Rishi, my brother.”

There was joy all around.




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