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Chapter 18
The Escape of Takshaka


Observing the fight between the disappointed groups of suitors and the Pândava brothers, Krishna and Balarâma were smiling within themselves in appreciation of the successful feat of Arjuna. Your grandfathers had no knowledge who they were; they had not seen them any time previously.

But when the Pândavas reached their residence, the humble home of a potter, with the newly-won bride, the daughter of Drupada, and when Dharmaraja, the eldest brother, was describing with great exultation the events of the day, Balarâma and Krishna, dressed in yellow silk and magnificent to behold, entered that lowly cottage. They fell at the feet of aged Kuntî, mother of your grandfathers. "Auntie! We are your nephews", they said. "We are the children of Nanda and Yas'odâ", and introduced themselves. Then, they touched the feet of Dharmaraja, prostrating themselves before him. Krishna approached Arjuna and drew him aside, with a sweet simple expression of affection. "I know you, but you do not know me, I am seeing you now for the very first time. I am the son of Vasudeva, my name is S'rî Krishna. I am younger than you are; still, when you achieved that victory in the Royal Palace, I recognised that you are one of the Pândava brothers and so, I understood that you had escaped from the palace of lac wherein you were when it was set on fire. From the moment my eyes fell on you at the gathering of suitors there, I somehow felt that you are Arjuna; I told my brother so. This is my brother, Balarâma. I was very happy that I recognised you and my brother too shared the joy. At last, I am able to meet you. The bride is the embodiment of virtue and intelligence."

Speaking thus, Krishna called Arjuna to a distance and whispered in his ear, "Cousin! It is not advisable that you come out in the open so soon. Stay on in disguise, for short periods, in one place or other, for some more time". Then, He took leave of His aunt and others and left, with His elder brother Balarâma.

From that day, the affection between Krishna and Arjuna grew more and more intense; it grew into a huge tree and yielded fruits rich with sweetness, which they shared. In that sweetness, their minds merged and became one. Mark! The first time your grandfather met Lord S'rî Krishna, He was at the Wedding Hall of Draupadî, the Kalyana Mantapa. The significance of this lies in the fact that they too were bound throughout the years in bonds of love and affection of unfailing friendship. To consummate that friendship, Krishna taught him the highest wisdom. "Did you note how chummy that consummate trickster was with your grandfather?" With that question, Vyâsa rose and collected his things, in an attempt to depart.

Observing this, Parîkchit pleaded piteously, wiping the tears of joy that filled his eyes, "Master! You have made the Lord stand clear before me, with your description of His lîlâ and His grace. Please tell me more of the many occasions on which the Lord showered His mercy on my grandfathers, how He moved close with them and rescued them from calamity; sleep is deserting my eyes and prompting me to listen to the stories of God. Make this night holy by relating to me the glory of the Lord. That alone can give me satisfaction. Let me spend the night in His thoughts...., your silence is causing me great agony."

Vyâsa saw the steadfastness and devotion of Parîkchit and changed his decision. He said, "Son! Were the mighty miracles of Krishna one or two in number, I could have described them to you. If one had a billion tongues, and the whole of eternity before him, description of His majesty can never be exhausted. All the Gods bowed before Him with folded hands. Sometimes He would raise His bhaktas to the skies; very soon He will drag them down into the depths. He treated the world as a puppet show. He was always radiant with His smile. He never knew anxiety, disappointment or distress.

He behaved sometimes like a common man, sometimes as an innocent child, at other times as a near kinsman, or as an intimate friend, or as a masterful monarch. Sometimes He behaved as a playful cowherd boy. He had the capacity and cleverness to play all roles with unique distinction. He loved your grandfather, Arjuna, with special fervor. He used to take him with Him, whatever the occasion or place. Arjuna could move about freely even in the inner apartments of the residence of the Lord. The Lord used to play with your grandfather in the waters of the Yamunâ, diving at one place and rising at a distant spot to surprise him, calling on him to do likewise if he could, competing with him in various games, games which defy description and identification. All of a sudden, He would take Arjuna to a solitary place and converse with him there on some mysteries. He used often to discard the smooth silken bed and sleep with His head on Arjuna's lap instead.

Your grandfather too, reciprocated that love to the full. Though sometimes they were found angry against each other, talking as if they were enraged, they made up very soon and resumed friendly conversation quickly. My dear son, it can be said that they were Nara and Nârâyana, like the body and the breath; there was no Arjuna without Krishna and no Krishna without Arjuna. There was no secret which your grandfather did not share with Krishna or which Krishna did not share with your grandfather. Which particular episode in their relationship am I to tell you now? Ask me any one which you would like to hear and I shall gladly relate it to you."

The Escape of Takshaka

When Vyâsa yielded thus to his importunity, Parîkchit who was all attention replied in a voice stuttering with emotion, "Master! I do not see clearly the reason why my grandfather destroyed the Khândavavana (the Khândava Forest) by means of a conflagration. Tell me how Lord Krishna helped him in the exploit. Make me happy by relating to me this episode". Parîkchit fell at the sage's feet and prayed that this may be described to him. Vyâsa complimented him and said, "Right, you have made a request which does credit to you. I shall comply."

He continued, "Once, when Krishna and Arjuna were resting happily on the sands of the Yamunâ, oblivious of the world and its tangles, an aged brahmin approached them and said, 'Son! I am very hungry. Give me a little food to appease it. I cannot keep alive, unless you give me this'. At these words, they were suddenly made aware of a strange presence. Though outwardly he appeared natural, there was a divine effulgence around him which marked him out as someone apart. Meanwhile, Krishna came forward and accosted him. 'Great brahmin! You do not appear merely human. You will not be satisfied with ordinary food, I can surmise. Ask me the food that you desire for; I shall certainly give you that'. Arjuna stood at a distance watching this conversation with amazement. For, he heard Krishna, who allayed the hunger of all beings in all the worlds, asking this lean hungry brahmin, what food will satisfy him! Krishna was enquiring so quietly and with so much consideration that Arjuna was filled with curiosity and surprise." 

The brahmin suddenly burst into laughter and said, "Lord! Do you not recognise me? There is nothing in this world - nay - in all the fourteen worlds that is beyond your ken. I am Prâna, one vital principle, in your creation. I am Agni the fire-principle. I regret to inform you that even I have fallen ill. To cure my indigestion I feel I must consume the arboreal juice of the Khândava forest. That forest must be burnt in flames. That alone can appease my hunger and restore my appetite."

At this, Krishna asked him, "Well, consume it; why did you come to Me for this? This is indeed amazing; you have power to reduce the universe into ash! Why do you crave another's help?" When Krishna asked him thus, pretending that he did not know, Agni answered, "Lord! You know everything. Does not the great serpent, Takshaka live in this Khândavavana, with his kith and kin, his attendants and associates? Indra, the god of rain is his close friend; so, he has undertaken the responsibility of guarding that forest against fire and other calamities. He has given his word of honor that he will save the forest and thus, save Takshaka. So, as soon as I start eating up the forest, Indra will send his minions and soak the place with rain. I will be scotched into inaction; I cannot eat any more. So, I am taking refuge in You."

Krishna laughed at his fears. He said, "If so, we shall help you out. Tell us what we should do and we are ready." Agni was delighted. He exclaimed, "I am indeed blessed; I am saved. You can, if you only decide to keep back the rain that Indra showers by covering the forest with a roof of arrows that will allow me to consume the Vana undisturbed." Krishna assured him that his request will be fulfilled.

Your grandfather addressed Agni thus: "You can burn up the Vana, without hesitation. My arms have enough strength to oppose and overwhelm not one Indra but even ten millions of them. But, I have not got with me the arrows necessary for this operation and the chariot that can carry all that weight. If these are supplied, I shall carry out your task, with the gracious permission of Krishna."


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